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Archive for December 20th, 2008

Dystopian Dissent

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Benjamin Kunkel has an article called Dystopia And The End Of Politics in the Fall 2008 edition of Dissent. He never manages to integrate the two parts of his title – the politics unconvincingly bookends the literary analysis – but it is still an interesting article. Interesting doesn’t mean good though. He surveys a clutch of recent literary SF novels like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Houellebecq’s The Possibility Of An Island, Crace’s The Pesthouse and McCormac’s The Road before getting bogged down in generalisations like “the signal formal trait of genre fiction is nothing so much as its lack of complex characters.” It is notable that his only actual example of a genre text is Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which is now fifty years old. When he moves beyond specific texts to wider trends the partiality of his selection becomes obvious:

This, in turn, owes something to the fact that, while both dystopia and apocalypse fall under the heading of science fiction, they descend from different prior novelistic genres… Dystopia, generally speaking, is a subgenre of the gothic or horror novel, in which the hero or heroine discovers a barbaric truth (the nature of society) lurking beneath a civilized facade, and incurs the traditional gothic-novel penalties of madness, isolation, ruin. Never mind that dystopias often propose an antiseptic horror free from the gothic elements of shadows and decay; their atmosphere of cleanliness and rationality only serves, as in a hospital, to underline the ambient dread. The apocalyptic narrative, on the other hand, derives genetically from the historical romance or adventure story; the noble and free hero’s rescue of an innocent woman and/or child from danger has been a staple of such fiction since the time of Walter Scott. The only difference is that the historical romance is set in the past and the apocalyptic one in the future.

There is no reason to believe that horror, adventure and SF and hence dystopian and apocalyptic narratives are genetically distinction rather than hybridised and Kunkel doesn’t offer one. The idea that apocalyptic fiction is simply temporally re-located historical romance is the sort of judgement you could only leap to if you had just finished Crace’s dreadful novel. I agree that apocalyptic novels by their nature are striped of complexity and reduced to the “zoological”, that is my complaint with even exemplary examples like The Road, but it seems a long way from there to his conclusion:

In sum, when the contemporary novelist contemplates the future—including, it seems, the future of the novel—he or she often forfeits the ability to imagine unique and irreplaceable characters, can no longer depict love credibly, and responds to political problems by rejecting politics for personal life, albeit one made meaningless by interchangeable characters and a zoological conception of family and love.

Written by Martin

20 December 2008 at 16:29

Posted in criticism, sf

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27 Of The 100 Best Tracks Of The Year

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Pitchfork have published their 100 tracks of the year. They are all available for streaming but 27 of them can be downloaded. Here are my three favourites:

75: Little Boots – “Stuck on Repeat”

This is a Hot Chip-produced slice of build-and-drop electro that sounds not unlike an extended, sexier version of “Over And Over”.

74: Wale – “The Kramer

Wale uses Michael Richards’s infamous tirade as a jump off to dissect the words “nigger” and “nigga”:

And niggas say nigga to a nigga,
A nigga write nigga in a lyric, expect the white boy to omit it,
The white boy spit it like he spit it,
Recite it to his friends who, by the way, ain’t niggas,
And say nigga, nigga, nigga, my favorite rapper did it,
And non-nigga friends got it with him,
Incorporate this lyric to their everyday living,
Until a black friend kinda hear it, just a tidbit,
He thinks Aw, forget it, its so insignificant and little,
The white boy sees this as a clearance, now its
Nigga, nigga, nigga, every single day,
And that little nigga nigga, thinks its okay,
And he’s the only nigga in this particular grade,
And it begins to phase him more each day,
The things they say went a little too far,
He couldn’t tell the difference between an “a” or “er”

02: Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal”

You know this already.

Number one is “Blind” by Hercules and Love Affair, if you are interested.

Written by Martin

20 December 2008 at 11:46

Posted in music

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