Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bibliophile: Restoration Comedy and the Scottish Sci-Fi at Capilano U

I spit my truth as I say my rhyme,
Sit back, fool, it's book talking time.

I call people fools a lot.

This is Bibliophile.

This week, we're moving from Alberta to British Columbia, with Capilano University.  Talk on their library's new books, after the break.

One of the many things I hate about having to browse through other libraries for Bibliophile is that it makes it much harder to determine what is actually a book I haven't looked at before.  It's simple enough when new books are introduced every week at a single university, but when you start looking at multiple universities, you have to search each familiar sounding book for a past review.  It is anarchy, in the sense that it is not actually anarchy.  But it is metaphorical anarchy.

It also has nothing to do with Capilano, so I'll move on.  Capilano doesn't seem to have a new books feature; rather, it has the keyword, author, title, subject search elements that seem typical of many university sites.  So I'll set that to 2012, and see what we get (although I suppose I should switch that over to 2013 shortly).

Mysticism in the mid-century novel / James Clements
I'll admit, I selected this one largely to see what Clements defined as a mid-century novel.   Apparently, what he means is work by Iris Murdoch, William Golding, whom I will always confuse with William Goldman, Princess Bride author, Patrick White, and Saul Bellow.  Clements' argument is that these postwar authors were looking for an ethical engagement that wasn't about the contemporary society on either an individual or societal level, but as a transcendental consideration of God.  I can't really speaking for the other three, but that roughly works for Murdoch, on what little I've read of hers.  Anyway, this transcendentalism came about through an appeal to mystical literature.  It's an interesting period of history for literature--being post-world war and all---and Clements' point is that it deserves more attention.  It's sort of a middle point between modernism and postmodernism, as they're traditionally reckoned.  Four authors seem a little narrow a focus for such a study, but presumably, that's a reflection of the detail of the study.  H.

Elements of influence : the art of getting others to follow your lead / Terry R. Bacon
I hope that one of the ways of getting people to follow your lead is to change your last name to Bacon.  Bacon, I'm told, is the founder of the Lore International Institute, which tells us that part of influence doesn't necessarily include picking a catchy name for your company.  The book is divided into ethical and nonethical persuasion, with second half being actually called "the dark side of influence," in case you missed the Star Wars reference the first time around.  And in case you missed my tone, I'm extremely skeptical of this kind of book.  This particular one seems an odd mix of individual self-help and business management.  I think part of my problem is that its entire "manipulate others to succeed" is only a few degrees away from "The Game"-type pick-up books, which play off some very gross gender assumptions.  Bacon's book doesn't seem to go that far, and from what I've read the advice is fairly reasonable ("you can persuade people to do things they don't want to do as long as you have the legitimate authority to do so.  The problem with this type of authority is that it can be overused, especially with people who have a history of rebelling against authority"), if of the common sense variety.  But it still strikes me as somewhat unsavory.  I guess I can see the value of a book like this in a university library if you're studying it for, say, the rhetoric, but otherwise... eh.   H.

Becoming Achilles : child-sacrifice, war, and misrule in the Iliad and beyond  /Richard Holway
My favorite electives in my undergraduate course load were my classical history classes. I had this instructor who knew his Illiad, Odyssey, and Aeneid inside and out, and still had a passion for the subject after decades of teaching.  As a consequence, I still think fondly of the period.  (I'd say that's the reason I like Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze so much, but no, I like that because it's one of the best graphic novel series on the market.) Richard Holways's taking an... unusual... approach to the subject, as he's interpreting the events of the Trojan War in terms of modern psychology regarding family dynamics.  It's the sort of use of psychoanalysis that's always struck as mildly ridiculous--you're making a lot of assumptions about the universality of human nature in order to apply modern psychology to Ancient Greek storybook characters.  And even if you're successful, what then?  What's to be gained by interpreting Achilles as a petulant child with an Oedipal complex?  I mean, I can see some use in framing ancient Greek stories as metaphors for modern behavior, but the other way around just strikes me as nonsensical.  The second part of Holway's endeavor, however, may have some meat to it--he claims the reason we see these themes playing out in ancient Greek myths is so that the ancient Greeks could avoid noticing it in their more contemporary history.  That reminds me of Baudrillard's explanation for Disneyland--its artificiality is encouraged so that we avoid seeing the artificiality of our day-to-day lives.  That part of Holway's book, at least, could be very interesting. H.

Coyness and crime in restoration comedy: women's desire, deception, and agency / Peggy Thompson
 Speaking of favorite electives, my first experience with 18th century literature was a class focusing on the restoration and 18th century plays.  It was a revelation; up to that point, the only pre-20th century plays I'd been exposed to were of the Shakespearean variety.  They're good plays, but most, if not all, of the humor is a consequence of the performance and plot rather than the script, in my opinion.  (Although Shakespeare's tragedies are far ahead of the Restoration tragicomedies, in my personal canon.)  The Restoration comedies, on the other hand, were actually funny in their own right.   This book focuses on the coy female character of the period.  Thompson argues that feminine modesty in these plays were almost always mixed with duplicity and illicit desire, justifying and eroticizing forceful responses in the male characters.  She situates this dynamic with the contemporary history of the period: reformation of church and king, anxiety over the rising merchant class, and interest in liberty, novelty, and marriage. It's been a long time since I've done any scholarly research into the period, but it seems like a plausible thesis to base a book on.  H.

 Scotland as science fiction  / edited by Caroline McCracken-Flesher
One of the running jokes of a comicbook podcast I listen to, the superlative House to Astonish, has a running joke that the Netherlands is a fictional place that Marvel Comics made up, like Latveria and Wakanda.  Sadly, this book is not operating under the premise that Scotland is wholly a place that exists only in science fiction.  But it's close: essentially, as Scotland is viewed as a sort of backward place among the rest of England (their premise, not mine), its science fiction presents a contradiction, as it's progress in a place not known for progress.  They've coined "out of the mainstream but ahead of the tide"  as slogan for the book, which I think is a lovely, poetic way of referring to science fiction and Scotland.  In terms of the essays, a wide variety of authors are being investigated, and the line between fantasy and science-fiction deliberately blurred: George MacDonald, J. M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Naomi Mitchison, Margaret Elphinstone, and so forth.  There's about a dozen essays here, in all.  In particular, I'm a big Banks fan, so anything that has two essays featuring his work is immediately appealing to me. H.

The fantasy of feminist history / Joan Wallach Scott
 Sometimes, I'll pick a title because it explicitly states what its subject is, upfront, and it's something I want to learn more about.  And sometimes, it's the ambiguity that draws me in.  That was the case with this title.  Are we talking about fantasy literature?  Fantasy as a psychological term?  Fantasy, as in, the notion of a feminist history is a fantasy to begin with? (Not a premise I'd agree with, BTW.) Personally, I was hoping for the fantasy lit category, but Scott is speaking in a psychological sense.  It's a bit of a personal work for Scott, as she straces out her thinking about gender throughout her career, how her search for more mutable definitions of genre led her to psychoanalysis, and the belief that sexual difference is insoluble--which is exactly what makes the history of gender so interesting. Fantasy brings desire into rationality, and adds an element to historical feminist politics that is rarely examined.  Or so she claims.  I have no idea one way or the other, to be honest; I'm aware of feminist criticism, but not in any depth.   I came out of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own thinking not about the inequality of women, but why there were so many cats in the books.  Obviously, this is a book that you'll get the most out of with an understanding of feminism and psychoanalysis, and I don't really bring either to the table. H.

Screening the Marquis de Sade : pleasure, pain and the transgressive body in film/ Lindsay Anne Hallam
"High concept" is the term used to refer to a work of art that can be summed up in a simple phrase: "Nazis vs dinosaurs."  "Lincoln fights zombies." "Snakes on a plane."  (Art is a relative term in this context.)   On that basis, Hallam's book might be describable as "de Sade and film."  More specifically, she's looking at de Sade as someone who challenged public conceptions of body trangression, and applying that approach to film.  Judging from the table of contents, the book is divided into genre tropes rather than films: Monsters in Horror, including Vampires, Zombies, and Werewolves; Monstrous Humans such as psychopaths, cannibals, and tranhuman; victims, as in women and adolescents; and sadists and masochists in a section called sexual transgressors.  To go from the index, the selection of films is largely to be expected: American Psycho gets a lot of discussion, as does Dracula, Dawn of the Dead, and the director Cronenberg.    Lesser known films (so-called by virtue of the fact that I don't know them) that get a lot of discussion time are The Company of Wolves, Female Vampire,  For My Sister, (which I can't even find on Google, whatever it is),  and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  It's focused on horror, in other words, which is the genre where I guess you'd expect to find sadism in film.  H.

Why America failed : the roots of imperial decline / Morris Berman
This is the third book in a series: the first book, Twilight of American Culture, looked at the internal factors of the American decline, and compared it to late-empire Rome.  The second, Dark Ages America, was about the external factors--both empires in terms of their foreign policy.  And this volume looks at the "why": how America's commitment to economic liberalism keeps any other model marginal at best, and argues that this focus is doing in the country.  Obviously, the book's very premise has a number of assumptions: that Rome and America are comparable,and  that America is in decline being the big two. In fact, there seems to be a gap in logic there: if America is declining for reasons that are similar to those of ancient Rome, how can its economic liberalism, which Rome, I believe, didn't really have, be at fault?  On the other hand, I think I'm generally in favor of anything that is willing to take a critical stance on America's standing economic policies.  H. 

Their leisure studies listings is all parks and sports, without a single videogame book at all.  The mind boggles.

Distrust that particular flavor / William Gibson
This is a book collecting the nonfiction essays that Gibson has written for Wired over the past 30 years.  I haven't read a lot by Gibson, I'll admit--I've gone through Neuromancer a few times, and done a few short stories set in the same universe, but I haven't read any of his recent stuff.  Unless his style has changed considerably, he's always struck me as more of an ideas guy than an execution guy, which probably weighs in his favor when it comes to essay writing.  It's twenty-six essays in all, with topics ranging from writing science fiction to communication technologies finding their niche, to the value of E-Bay.  Obviously, it's going to be the most interesting to people who are Gibson fans, but I think it might also be valuable as a light but critical read concerning modern technology. 

The tell-tale art : Poe in modern popular culture / Christine A. Jackson
I love Poe's versatility.  He's mostly known for his horror writing, and rightly so, but he also did very well in pseudo-scientific tracts, science fiction, and detective stories.  And Jackson is clearly aware of this variety, tracing Poe's influence to mystery and thriller novels, films, and television, to works such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Laura, Vertigo, Shutter Island, The Closer, and Dexter.  Jackson spends a little bit of time on Poe's potential influence of the videogame as well.  It's not a comparison that's very easy to make though; she mentions Silent Hill, and I think there's a similarity to Amnesia: The Dark Descent as well, but Poe's stories don't really lend themselves to game-like activities.  The exception would be his cypher-riddles and his detective stories, but neither tend to be used much in videogames, though they get a bit of exposure in games as general.  M.  

Transmigration / Nicholas Maes
Our fiction book for the week.  Maes writes of a sixteen year old in Vancouver, Simon Carpenter, who is developing strange powers: he's driven crazy by certain types of music, he can see through the eyes of others, and he can talk to animals--or at least one animal.  He discovers that this animal is infested by a presence attempting to supplant the human race.   It's a very YA sort of novel; it reminds me fondly of the old Animorph books, which were also about special teenagers fighting a secret invasion.  The Canadian setting is unusual.  Maes teaches classics at the University of Waterloo, which has nothing to do with anything, but it was something I learned, so... I like YA sci-fi; generally speaking, it's mostly rough genre stuff, but the short length (this book for example is 256 pages) makes it quickly digestible.

Memory and political change  / edited by Aleida Assmann, Linda Shortt
My, that's an unfortunate last name.  I bet she got teased about it at school.  "How Shortt are you?".  Anyway, the idea behind this anthology is that memory is both a medium and impediment to change--and specifically, the change from authoritarian to democractic structures.  That strikes me a bit of a totalizing interpretation of history, that we always go from one to the other, but I'll admit that democracy is generally much better for people than the authoritarian version.  Essay topics include transgenerational transmission of traumatic loss, Germany and the National Socialist past, deliberate amnesia and the Rwandan genocide, South African Transitions in literature, the colonial frontier and reconciliation in Australian culture, and the more general concept of memory across culture.  Obviously, it's a cultural rather than personal memory that they're discussing here; it's a big issue.  Every nation has some atrocities in the past it would rather pretend never happened, and things that, for one reason or another, it feels compelled to remember.  With that in mind, there's almost an infinite number of topics, from museum displays to American Civil War, to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.  This book's only looking at a small number of the potential choices, obviously, but it's a good area to keep in mind.  H.

Capilano U strikes me as a small university, with a small library--and it's got a respectable collection.  I personally would like to see more in the way of digital media, but that's not to everyone's tastes.

Later Days. 

Updated Nov 26, 2012, to indicate which books are in my local library's holdings.

No comments: