Dec 172014
 

jeff again (3)

NC’s new Special Correspondent Jeff Bursey has a very smart review of Lance Olsen’s new book in the new Winter Issue at Quarterly Conversation.

Inside, Olsen adds to the buffering by using two forms of punctuation to protect the words from the white margins (and/or vice versa), and makes clear early on what he thinks he’s going to be writing: “:::: A week before you leave, you decide to keep a trash diary: a constellation of sense, thought, memory, observation, fast fact scraps.” Those are almost the opening lines, they occur on the second page, but we have to get used to two things immediately: that brace of colons (what Olsen thinks could indicate “what cannot be articulated accurately”), as if “fast fact scraps” will be tough on the digestion, like fast food—unless the whole thing is a verbal Instagram of today’s America—and references to other artists that can, at first, look like name-dropping. On the first page Koestenbaum, Heidegger, and Derrida are brought in, while on the second there are quotes (unsurprisingly, not set within standard punctuation) from Guy Debord and Leigh Gilmore. A not-quite-scientific count yields, from page eight (epigraphs by two Germans, W.G. Sebald and Friedrich Kunath) through 139 (the last page filled with text), about 11 pages in which artists are absent. Many pages have three or more, and some are in the double-digits. As visiting writer at the American Academy in Berlin for the first five months of 2013, Olsen naturally drew strength and insight from other artists to assist with the cultural shift and, as time went on, to understand better what it means, and has meant, to live in Berlin (which at times is a synecdoche for Germany).

 

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Read the review at [[there.]] by Lance Olsen | Quarterly Conversation.

Dec 172014
 

K. T. Kahn invited a list of my favourite reads of 2014 for his site at A la recherche du temps perdu. Not a single new book on my list. Two are rereads. Click the link to his site to see.

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Dec 142014
 

wordfest b&w more

For your Sunday morning delectation, along with coffee, croissants and the crossword, you can follow the link below (or click the image) to a page containing two lectures I gave at Vermont College of Fine Arts on reading. Like a broken record, I am always saying that 80% of what I teach when I teach writing is how to read (and to write about what you read). I have twice lectured at VCFA on reading and managed to record both for a possible future essay. Go to the page, and you’ll find the recordings plus all sorts of amusing goodies (um, lecture handouts) including some hilarious examples of VERY BAD readings, a marked up reading copy of Elizabeth Tallent’s little story “No One’s a Mystery,” a reading rubric I give to students, and a 90-page pdf of excerpts from my letters two students on reading (evidence of a deeply compulsive personality).

For my money, the first lecture is more fun (it has the bad examples). The second lecture is rather more pointed at students in the program who are struggling with their critical papers.

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The lectures are here! 

 

 

 

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Dec 132014
 

eric foley2

Eric Foley used to write for NC. Click on his name at the front of this paragraph and you’ll find a page of links to his many accomplishments. And, now, after years of wandering in the wilderness (and the Far East of Europe among the post-Soviet mini-states), he has returned. All right. Maybe not “years.” Maybe just a year, a little more. I hate to lose a good writer to Moldova. It just seemed like a long time. I am very happy he’s back. He’ll be taking up his old position as Contributor.

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Eric Foley holds an Honours BA in English and Literary Studies from the University of Toronto and an MFA from Guelph University. He was a finalist for the Random House Creative Writing Award and the Hart House Literary Contest, also winner of Geist Magazine and the White Wall Review’s postcard story contests. You can see his work at Numéro Cinq and InfluencySalon.ca. He divides his time between Toronto and Eastern Europe.

Dec 102014
 

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Not so mysterious why this is here. Eilish Cleary, the author, is NC Senior Editor Gerard Beirne’s wife, and she has been in Africa the past while, first in Nigeria and then/now in Sierra Leone, as a consultant for the World Health Organization, helping to organize Ebola relief efforts. Dr. Eilish Cleary is (her day job is) Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Province of New Brunswick. Last winter, when I was in  Fredericton, one of my great pleasures was to spend an evening at their house. It’s an honour to be able link you to her words.

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Capturevia CBC

Stricken with grief – a phrase from romantic fiction. But there was nothing romantic about the scene I was witnessing. A new burial ground with 30 or more recent graves, beside an older graveyard in a small village community in the Port Loko district in rural Sierra Leone.

A few of the graves were freshly dug and open, waiting to be filled. Simple uniform markers had been placed on the graves, some with a name, some marked unknown but with a number. Perhaps some day the number might be able to help put a name to the body buried within. In the meantime there are families waiting, not knowing what happened to their loved one since they last saw them being taken away to isolation.

We were there to observe the burial process in order to give technical advice to the teams. The four strong young men on the burial crew quickly donned personal protective equipment until they were unrecognisable as humans behind the plastic.

Read the rest of Eilish Cleary’s text at Human touch essential to hold on to in response to Ebola crisis.

Dec 092014
 

JCOlsthoorn Photo by L. Cabral

It’s a pleasure to announce that JC Olsthoorn is joining the merry band of adventurers & eccentrics at NC as a Contributor. John did the What Is The Storyteller Going To Tell you? | Andrew Salgado: Art & Interview piece in the October issue and has another on the artist Chantal Gervais coming in the January issue. He’s a great interviewer, meticulous and curious. Also adventurous & eccentric. He will fit right in.

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JC Olsthoorn spends time at the Domaine Marée Estate near Otter Lake, Quebec, writing raw poetry, creating coarse art, and cooking scratch food. His poems have been published in a chapbook, ‘as hush as us’ and have appeared in literary magazines.  JC’s artwork has been exhibited and has appeared in several publications. He recently wrapped up a 30+ year career in communications and citizen engagement just in time to become a curator at the Arbor Gallery – Centre for Contemporary Art in Vankleek Hill, Ontario.

Dec 082014
 

Trimingham_Julie

 

Refreshing the magazine, that’s what is happening. A slightly new look, a juggling of the masthead, some new faces. This time it’s a new yet familiar face. Julie Trimingham has been associated with the magazine since Rob Gray featured her film beauty crowds me in NC at the Movies in the November, 2011, issue (see link below). More recently, she has been writing a series of essays for NC at the Movies (the third, and final, essay will come at the end of the current issue). She’s a novelist, filmmaker, essayist, social activist and a lovely, lovely writer (as I am sure you have all recognized by now). Now she’s joining up as a Special Correspondent to write for us regularly, to help change the blend and the brand in new and exciting ways.

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Numéro Cinq at the Movies | What I Make of Movies, and What They Make of Me: The Horror

Numéro Cinq at the Movies | What I Make of Movies, and What They Make of Me: Rosebud

 

Julie Trimingham was born in Montreal and raised semi-nomadically. She trained as a painter at Yale University and as a director at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. Her film work has screened at festivals and been broadcast internationally, and has won or been nominated for a number of awards. Julie taught screenwriting at the Vancouver Film School for several years; she has since focused exclusively on writing fiction. Her online journal, Notes from Elsewhere, features reportage from places real and imagined. Her first novel, Mockingbird, was published in 2013.

Dec 072014
 

jeff again (3)

Literary critic and novelist Jeff Bursey is joining the Numéro Cinq masthead as a Special Correspondent. You may remember his debut review for us — Sam Savage’s It Will End with Us — in the November issue. Jeff is a prolific and eloquent reviewer. We actually crossed paths, without actually meeting, years ago when he wrote a expansive and erudite essay on Blaise Cendrars that appeared in Review of Contemporary Fiction alongside Bruce Stone’s essay on me (Vol. XXIV, #1 Douglas Glover / Blaise Cendrars / Severo Sarduy). I always thought this was especially serendipitous because of my own interest in Cendrars, who influenced several of my stories at a certain point. Now that he is writing for the magazine, we are in contact (at least ethereally over the internet) and this seems fated, fitting and symmetrical. It’s terrific to have Jeff join the NC community.

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Jeff Bursey is a Canadian literary critic and author of the political satire Verbatim: A Novel (2010). He is a Contributing Editor at The Winnipeg Review and an Associate Editor at Lee Thompson’s Galleon. His reviews have appeared in, among others, American Book Review, Books in Canada, The Quarterly Conversation, Music & Literature, Rain Taxi, The Winnipeg Review and Review of Contemporary Fiction. He hails from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada’s Far East, and makes his home on Prince Edward Island (Canada’s Not Quite So Far East).

Dec 062014
 

Fernando Sdrigotti

It’s a huge pleasure to announce that Fernando Sdrigotti, Argentinian expat living in London, death-oriented belle-lettrist, flâneur, academic, and editor, has joined the NC masthead as a contributing editor.  He has fiction forthcoming in the January issue, but take a look as his recent essays “The Deathtube” and “Legibility,” which give an idea of his bent, the new vector he will bring to NC (think of him as in charge of foreign affairs, exile, displacement and miscegenation).

Fernando Sdrigotti is a writer, cultural critic, and recovering musician. He was born in Rosario, Argentina, and now lives and works in London. He is a contributing editor at 3am Magazine and the editor-in-chief of Minor Literature[s]. His new book Shetlag: una novela acentuada, has just been released by Araña editorial, Valencia. He tweets at @f_sd.

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Dec 062014
 

GerryBeirne

It’s almost like musical chairs on NC. In a flood of reorganization and repositioning, we’re moving Gerard Beirne from Contributing Editor to Senior Editor in recognition of his steady and frequent contributions to the magazine. Gerry curates the monthly feature Uimhir a Cúig (Numéro Cinq in Irish), our continuing exploration of Irish literature, our little patch of the green. He has also published poems and stories here, and, in the background, has entered into the spirit of the place in expansive and supportive ways that have made him an essential part of the organization.

Gerard Beirne is an Irish author who moved to Canada in 1999. He is a past recipient of The Sunday Tribune/Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year award. He was appointed Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick 2008-2009 and continues to live in Fredericton where he is a Fiction Editor with The Fiddlehead. He has published three novels, including The Eskimo in the Net (Marion Boyars Publishers, London, 2003) which was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award 2004 for the best book of Irish fiction and was selected as Book of the Year 2004 by The Daily Express (England). His poetry collections include Digging My Own Grave (Dedalus Press) which was runner-up in The Patrick Kavanagh Award. His personal website is here.

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Dec 052014
 

Woodard Bigger

Ben Woodard, who keeps referring to himself as a newbie at NC, is moving to Senior Editor on the masthead.  This is the first of several staff readjustments as the magazine shifts gears, re-energizes and prepares for its second five years (the current issue marks the close of our fifth year of publication). More announcements to follow.

Benjamin Woodard lives in Connecticut. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His recent fiction has appeared in Cheap PopdecomP magazinE, and Spartan. In addition to Numéro Cinq, his reviews have been featured in, or are forthcoming from, The Kenyon ReviewPublishers WeeklyRain Taxi Review of Books, and other fine publications. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

You can find him at benjaminjwoodard.com and on Twitter.

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Dec 022014
 

doireann imram 2014 3

Back in March of this year, Uimhir a Cúig was delighted to include poems by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (a bilingual writer) & video poems in collaboration with Peter Madden. Here in issue 3 of The Colony (an exciting new literary magazine whose editors include Rob Doyle whose remarkable debut novel, Here Are the Young Men, was the proverbial literary sensation and deservedly so) is another wonderful collaboration, “Rondelet on the Alchemy of Bacon Fat.” Doireann’s first collection of poems in English is forthcoming from Dedalus Press. In the meantime, forget your cholesterol and enjoy the bacon fat.

Nov 302014
 

Bruce-Stone2

In the slider at the Top of the Page this month — Bruce Stone, who, although he only recently joined the masthead  as a Special Correspondent, has been an ongoing part of the magazine since he first contributed a short story in the June, 2010, issue. He has published reviews and essays intermittently since then, always closely argued, erudite, controversial. Last month (November) we published his horrific short story “FPS,” the account of a school shooting, much like Sandy Hook, from the point of view of the teenage mass murderer. I say “horrific,” because it is; it does what are is supposed to, render the catastrophe in words.

Bruce Stone is a Wisconsin native and graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA, 2002). In 2004, he served as the contributing editor for a good book on DG’s fiction, The Art of Desire (Oberon Press). His essays have appeared in MirandaNabokov StudiesReview of Contemporary Fiction, Los Angeles Review of Books, F. Scott Fitzgerald Review and Salon.  His fiction has appeared most recently in Straylight and Numéro Cinq. You can hear him talk about fiction writing at Straylight Magazine. He’s currently teaching writing at UCLA.

Nov 272014
 

Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now: Photo by Jowita Bydlowska

It’s the turning-of-the-year, the hinge of the world creaking, the door shutting behind us, much new horror anticipated for the New Year (but before that, Christmas shopping, Black (Death) Friday, stockings hanging by the fire (image: fire leaping onto stockings, blazing up the mantelpiece, consuming the house — the usual Christmas nightmare; it used to be images of Santa dead and roasted on the glowing embers Christmas morning — I had a healthy childhood). And so we call this the Apocalypse issue, the raising of the veil issue, the revelation of a previously unfathomable future complete with dancing girls and hoola-hoops courtesy of photographer-novelist-memoirist Jowita Bydlowska who contributes to this issue a selection of disturbing, subversive, gender bending photographs of what might be best described as a dark femininity, which lifts my heart.

Chaulky-WhiteKevin & Derek White

From Derek White, the legendary artist-writer-editor at Calamari Press, we have a stunning collaboration, a multi-hybrid work of nonfiction created out of his brother Kevin’s MFA thesis, itself a recapitulation of Joyce’s recapitulation of Homer’s Odyssey written as a trip through Asia in search of his father, dead by suicide years before — Kevin himself died subsequently of a drug overdose. White adds (think: collage) Kevin’s drawings, journals, unpublished short stories and his own commentaries to create a massive art/text thing full of rhyme, cross-reference, and startling juxtaposition. This is part of a book that will be published next year under the name Chaulky White, the nom de plume of the two brothers together.

SSEY 01-1By Chaulky White

Lisa Robertson Author Image 2Lisa Robertson

Natalie Helberg contributes a review of Cinema of the Present, a new book by the Canadian experimental writer Lisa Robertson.

It is eclectic, rarified, and dense, scatterbrained and philosophical: It tells us that the stakes of writing are high, that writing sculpts subjects as much as it sculpts the domain they dwell in, and that, consequently, there is no trick-bag to rest on, no set of writing techniques we can master and remain content with.

emily_dickinson_daguerreotype_-large-Emily Dickinson

Contributing editor Pat Keane, snowed in in Syracuse, delves into the state of Emily Dickinson’s religious belief, her alignment with the Romantics, her natural supernaturalism, as he calls it.

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse—the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—

Mary-Morrissy-NLBMary Morrissy

From Gerard Beirne, editor of our Irish feature Uimhir a Cúig, we get “Déjà Vu” a gorgeous, lush story by the novelist Mary Morrissy, about a cancer patient who, instead of going home after chemotherapy, drops into a pub and falls into a chemo fugue, as she calls it, remembering old loves and betrayals, only to be, shockingly, mistaken for a bar denizen’s mother.

The treatment doesn’t make me sick, it makes me dazed. And tired. Dog-tired. Fatigue strikes like a power cut and I have to sit down ─ now ─ or I think I’ll die. The hospital is a stone’s throw from Suesey Street, the part of town I used to frequent a decade ago, when we were an item. Last week, after my session, I found myself wandering there when I had one of my turns. It was a thundery kind of day; the sun was spiteful. There I was, passing “our” pub. Where we would meet on days like this one, hot and humid, or on brown afternoons threatening rain, during our two seasons together. Either way, this was where we would meet in secret and hide from the prevailing climate of prying eyes.

Adrienne Love author photoAdrienne Love

From Adrienne Love, a funny, knowing short story about love, marriage, babies, and sudden illicit lust for a handsome young man. The story is called “Hot,” and it is.

I am beyond hot for Jeremiah, who’s only 20, half my age, and in a relationship. But the relationship isn’t the problem because Jeremiah’s not in love with his girl—he’s in love with me. And it’s not our ages either, though I could be his mother. The problem is that while I would love to shag Jeremiah silly—God knows I would—I’m in love with my husband, Thomas. Really. It’s these darned herbs I’m taking—Shitavari: Capable of 100 Husbands and Ashwaganda: Strength of a Horse—to get us pregnant.

After all baby makes three and all that crap.

I am a horny mess, what with all this bewitching of my ovaries, and Jeremiah knows I’m hot for him, Good Lord. If that boy presses his cute little checkered pants arse against my apron one more time I’m going to lose my cucumbers.

rilke babyRainer Maria Rilke

From translator David Need, we have Rilke poems about roses, in French first, then the English, from his book Roses, just out with Horse & Buggy Press. And then an interview with the translator, Need, by Dan Holmes, who last appeared on NC interviewing the travel writer Richard Grant.

I see you, rose, book half-opened,
having so many pages
of detailed happiness
we will never read. Mage-Book,
which is opened by the wind and can be read,
eyes shut …

Wallcreeper

Ben Woodard contributes an review of the Nell Zink’s debut novel The Wallcreeper.

Shambhavi Roy2Shambhavi Roy

Shambhavi Roy pens an illuminating essay on the mysteries of subplots in novels, yoking together for her purposes two disparate works: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen and Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist.

I counted seventeen different occasions when Jane Austen brings out the striking diversity in the conduct of these two sisters. The sisters form two parallel mountain ranges reflecting sound off each other so the echo reverberates in the reader’s mind. The author seems to pitch antithetical ideas because, I believe, human beings do not understand in a vacuum but in relation to one another. In E. K. Brown’s terms, the two sisters “irradiate each other and become clearer by irradiation.” By offering contrasts and similarities the author is according greater depth to these characters and the social milieu, while trying to get at the hidden truth.

Lise GastonLise Gaston

Also a clutch of poems from the delightful Lise Gaston, now living in Berkeley (via Fredericton, Victoria and Montreal).

.………from Village bacchanals I never told

you I don’t remember this let you
shake yourself alone on your way to
another part-time job imagining
bbbbbball the dark angles of my open mouth

Looking-upwardW. S. Merwin

Also a review of the latest W. S. Merwin collection by A. Anupama.

A scene from this garden opens the new poetry collection in “Homecoming.” Specific in place and time, the setting for the silent arrival of a migrating flock of birds takes shape in almost one sentence. I say almost one, because the line break that marks the end of the first sentence (I looked across the garden at evening / Paula was still weeding) suggests the conjunction “and,” which then begins two of the consecutive lines just after. The assonance and half-rhyme between “evening” and “weeding” fold the lines together, keeping the unpunctuated sentence break smooth. At the dramatic arrival of the birds, however, the line break splits a prepositional phrase: “…and at that / moment from behind me….” The other such line break splits silence open between the last two lines of the poem: “but home now arriving without / a sound as it rose to meet them.”

Trimingham_JulieJulie Trimingham

And last but never least, from Senior Editor R. W. Gray (locked away somewhere doing the last edits on his forthcoming book of stories), the last of Julie Trimingham’s triptych of essays on influences, avatars and the art of filmmaking at Numéro Cinq at the Movies.

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Nov 232014
 

I don’t know why I am always the last to know about these things. Bruce Stone just told me about the background to the recent demise of HTMLGiant. I’ve been paying too much attention to the Jian Ghomeshi scandal in Canada. And the news here is old.

The only gossip around NC is about things like Rich’s dog Petunia throwing up or the meme jokes about the Talisker locker. We are such a tame bunch. One of our writers used to have purple hair and wear a spiked dog collar, but he is in law school now. Another used to post links to his NC pieces on his dating site profile. Nepotism. We have nepotism, several parent and child writers/artists, sometimes contributing separately, sometimes together. Brothers. Even my mother has been in the magazine! Gawker, check us out.

We also don’t have a cool genre name. Alt lit.

We’re going to have to do better.

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Alt lit is caving in on itself. After a week of multiple rape and abuse allegations against prominent authors and editors, the earnest, internet-obsessed literary scene is in full crisis: Today, the alt lit criticism site and scene blog of record Htmlgiant announced that it’s shutting down. Meanwhile, in a private Facebook group associated with the blog Alt Lit Gossip, women writers have suggested forming an entirely new scene, “no boys allowed.”

Keep reading at Alt Lit Is Dead and Its Women Writers Are Creating Their Own Scene.

Nov 232014
 

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Stumbled on this in my researches. Nevermind what researches. A little gem of an early addiction movie that uses the Law of Unexpected Consequences to poke fun at the legendary roots of the soda pop industry in the legions of 19th century quack remedies that usually included hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and opium. The overture is quite upbeat for the subject matter. Aside from the music, it’s a silent movie, short, made by D. W. Griffith in 1912. The acting is strange to us, telegraphic (or cartoonish), faces almost masked to project the large emotions, even thoughts. I love the gestural decline of the son and secretary into degradation and death, the madcap crowds swilling Dopokoke (yes, that’s what it’s called) at the drug store (they really were drug stores in those days). Also, that secretary has just bags of hair. Amazing. (She went on acting right into the 1950s.) As an added  delight, I include a soda pop ad (above) from, I think, the 1950s. It’s clearly a Coca-Cola bottle, right? Also a brief (possibly truncated) docu-history of drugs in America).

(It’s Sunday, I have student packets, there are STILL leaves to be raked — I had to think of something to do to keep from actually working.)

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Nov 222014
 

It is, yes, the artist’s duty, as the Rancière to respond to the challenge of catastrophe and render the human visible again. In this, it would be remiss of me not to remind you of Bruce Stone’s brilliant short story “FPS,” his fictional recreation of a school mass shooting from the point of view of the shooter, just published in this issue on NC, a story that takes up the challenge and puts words to what cannot be said.

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Rancière ties this challenge for art to the extermination of the Jews specifically to connect between the vexed question of representation and extreme violence (a connection he has addressed elsewhere, most notably in The Future of the Image, and the chapter “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?”). As he notes in Figures, it is

sometimes too easily drawn that the extermination is “unrepresentable” or “unshowable” — notions in which various heterogeneous arguments conveniently merge: the joint incapacity of real documents and fictional imitations to reflect the horror experienced; the ethical indecency of representing that horror; the modern dignity of art which is beyond representation and the indignity of art as an endeavor after Auschwitz.[iv]

Countering this problem of representing humanity’s negation, Rancière resurrects what is for many cultural theorists an all-too-familiar (if unresolved) debate:

So we have to revise Adorno’s famous phrase, according to which art is impossible after Auschwitz. The reverse is true: after Auschwitz, to show Auschwitz, art is the only thing possible, because art always entails the presence of an absence; because it is the very job of art to reveal something that is invisible, through the controlled power of words and images, connected or unconnected; because art alone thereby makes the human perceptible, felt.[v]

Rancière’s revision of the Adorno question should be taken seriously. Its purpose is to rethink the political function of art, and, in doing so, start the process that will allow us to reimagine a more artistic conception of the political that is not simply tied to perceptions of endangerment and the pure task of human survival.

Keep reading @ Facing the Intolerable: Jacques Rancière @ LA Review of Books.

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Nov 212014
 

writing

I was thinking the other day about stereotypical situations that pop up in movies and novels. One minor sub-genre is the writing class, which either makes a sad joke of the students or reaches for kitsch. A quick scout around the Internet netted the following scenes. If you can think of/find more, pop the link into the comment box below.

First, from Finding Forrester, we have just an awful, idiotic, sentimental, condescending Sean Connery teaching an African-American kid to write (um, by automatic typing?) and defy his teacher (this is a classic teacher rhetorical gesture in movies, BTW; one teacher sets up the other teacher as the authority figure and primes the students to rebel). In this scene, Connery sets himself up as another authority figure, an old white guy possessed of mysterious wisdom. Ugh.

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Then we have two writing class scenes from Throw Mamma From the Train, a pretty awful movie redeemed by the incredible Anne Ramsay. In both these scenes, Billy Crystal (the young writer/writing teacher) — blank,vapid — suffers before his awful students. Easy to make fun of students because writing classes do attract a certain number of people with grandiose self-images and blindness to their own deficiencies. They are everywhere in life, but in writing class they get to display themselves. Too easy to lampoon them though. And I wince for the large majority of students who are decent people with a dream, often very smart, trying to make themselves better writers.

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But here we have a brief 21-second clip that flips the false humour of the classroom scenes. Teacher and student are arguing about the “right word” and Anne Ramsay, with that bubbling, catastrophically corroded voice, comes up with the right word. Very funny.

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The Sure Thing is a cute, witty movie that I use to teach narrative structure. There are some lovely writing class scenes early in the film (which I can’t find on the Internet, so get the movie). These early scenes are much funnier than the scenes from Throw Momma From the Train because the teacher is deliciously acidulous. And the movie is poking fun at a particular student, John Cusack, who has no intention of being a writer.

In the first scene (that I could find), John Cusack’s love interest has agreed to coach him with his essay writing. Cusack doesn’t care about the writing; this is just an excuse to spend time with the girl.

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And this is the final scene from the movie, back to the writing class, and the teacher reads out Cusack’s last essay, which is an improvement on what he written before and gets him the girl. A bit sentimental, better in the context of the rest of the movie, the earlier writing scenes.

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Finally, here is a segment from the animated series Home Movies.  Coach McGuirk goes to journal writing class (to meet girls — another creative writing class cliché). I dunno. North Americans seem to find stupid, offensive people funny, which I suppose is a reflexive gesture of self-doubt. But I enjoy McGuirk trampling every single workshop piety (stereotypes all) he can get a foot on.

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As you will no doubt have observed, none of this has anything to do with writing.

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Nov 202014
 

burroughs

This piece from Open Culture is a few months old, but somehow relates in my mind to the small rumblings on this blog regarding MFA programs, creative writing, and tradition. Instead of teaching creative writing (something I take from the original piece on Open Culture Burroughs hated doing) he advocated for creative reading.

From Open Culture:

Burroughs’ lectures are heavily philosophical, which might have turned off his New York students, but surely turned on his Naropa audience… Burroughs offers creative writing instruction in each talk. His discussions of writers he admires—from Carson McCullers to Aleister Crowley to Stephen King—are fascinating, and he uses no shortage of examples to illustrate various writing techniques…. [T]he course required no student writing, no office hours or admin. Just Burroughs doing what came naturally—holding court, on literature, parapsychology, occult esoterica, violence, aliens, neuroscience, and his own novels.

Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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—Jason DeYoung

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