Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ghost Stories

So, after really liking Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, I've made a foray into other ghost stories. Currently most of the way through M. R. James's work. Although it kinda reminds me why I never got into ghost stories in the first place (the "weird" factor just isn't intellectually interesting enough for me), I did have an odd de ja vu experience while reading "Casting the Runes." First, I was just predisposed to like this story -- the villain is a warlock who goes crazy after having his paper on alchemy rejected via peer review. Right up my alley, right?

But I continue on with the story, and I realize it's striking similar to an academic horror novel I once read, Publish and Perish. Well, I look things up, and sure enough, the author's note admits to using James's original story as a pastiche. Strikingly appropriate, of course, but it's odd the connections you see if you keep on reading long enough.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

If you're an academic, please don't write like this. Ever.

Cultural Studies is a nice field of study, but damn, they can be awful, pretentious, and self-indulgent writers. Examples from one article that I'm now not going to bother reading all the way through:
  • "The prowling and lurking, interrogating, and transmogrifying textual (re-)composition of monsters is deconstructive, abjective, and intertextual."

And, under the theory that no Foucault reference in an introductory clause can be too convoluted or verbose, we get the following anti-gem:
  • "Writing after, and thus chasing, Foucault's prowling, knowledge-altering (and mutating) monster . . . ."

And, in the "Short sentences and more rigorous main verbs, academics, dammit!" category, we get:
  • "The conundrum that emerges from the friction between, on the one side, the scrutinizing and destabilizing intellectual disposition of literary theory and, on the other, the metonymic and representational mode of the anthology to represent a theoretical field selectively is compounded, I would argue, by the cultural and aesthetic – the deconstructive – nature of the monster. "

I'd like to say such writing is a relic from the 1990s, but this came out just this year. Blurgh.***

 *** Actually, I remember back in grad school a professor telling us a story about a French-to-English translator friend of his. The translater friend had said, "The hardest part about translation is transforming French academic waffle into crisp clean English propositions." Personally, as some may suspect, I have a very Tolkien-esque view of the French.  :)

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Fiction Reading List: 1-1-18 through 5-31-18

So, back as an undergrad and an MA, I used to keep detailed reading lists of my reading for a semester, just as to keep track of my productivity. I eventually got out of that habit, and it actually became impractical during my doctorate -- I "read" so much literary criticism, often simply gutting the book for the main ideas and arguments, that it's not quite fair to give such books a page count. (At least with fiction you can be assured my eyes have diligently gone over every page.)

Well, I managed to do a productivity report for the first 5 months of 2018. I'm not counting any non-fiction or literary criticism, of which there was a fair bit. Here are just normal books (including some C.S. Lewis) that I've read:

N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate, 350 pg.
N.K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky, 350pg.

Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn 600 pg.
Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension, 800 pg.
Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages, 700 pg.

Blake Charlton, Spellwright, 300 pg.
David Gemmel, Legend, 300 pg.
Paul Kierney, The Ten Thousand, 350 pg.

Paul Edwin Zimmer, The Dark Border (2 vols): 750 pg.
John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost, 150 pg.
Paul Kearney, The Ten Thousand, 350 pg.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls, 450 pg.
Lovecraft, H.P. The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories, 400 pg.
Walton, Evangeline. Above Keri-Is and Other Stories, 150 pg.
Laura E. Goodin, Mud and Glass, 350 pg.

L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz, 300pg.
L. Frank Baum, The Tin Woodman of Oz, 250 pg.
L. Frank Baum, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, 200 pg.
L. Frank Baum, Tik-Tok of Oz, 200 pg.
L. Frank Baum, Rinkitink of Oz, 200 pg.
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 150 pg
Roald Dahl, Twits, 100 pg.

Jonathan Strahan, Lou Anders, editors. Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, 500 pg.

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 100 pg.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 200 pg.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 200 pg.
All in all: 8,750 pages of fiction read. So, about 60 pages per day over the course of 150 days from January through may. The bulk of this has been read during the first three months of that period -- the latter period saw a lot of time devoted to writing and reading literary criticism, which hasn't made this list.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Oh, the Fun of Searching Through Old Fanzines

Argh. So, thanks to the MLA International Bibliography, I recently saw an article on Poul Anderson's medievalism by well-known Tolkienist Richard C. West.** It appeared in a 1973 issue of a small fanzine called Unicorn. Amazingly enough, the U of A library had it as a bound volume, so I mosey on down here . . . and discover that the bound volume has all the issues of Unicorn EXCEPT the one I'm specifically looking for. 

Well, interlibrary loan, you are now my new best friend.

**West, Richard C. "Medieval Borrowings in the Fiction of Poul Anderson." Unicorn 2.5 (1973): 16-19.

Monday, May 14, 2018

And in the unexpected e-mails category . . .

Just received one from a professor in Belgrade (!) who asked me a question about Saul Kripke's modal semantics. I imagine this guy thought to contact me cuz of my article on possible worlds theory in Fastitocalon last November, but yeah, I kinda had to redirect the poor fellow on his particular question. I took a course of formal logic as an undergrad, plus a brief informal seminar on modal logic, but all that was way back in the day.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

End of Kalamazoo

So, after four sessions plus a business meeting here in Kalamazoo, I'm at the airport and ready to go home. This has probably been one of the most -- if not the most -- productive conference I've ever attended, and that includes meeting Stephen R. Donaldson during ICFA a few months ago. As I sit here, I've been ruminating about the biggest takeway. Even more than hearing many great papers, I suppose, was the chance to meet Tolkienists in person -- but even that deserves some expansion, I feel.

It's one thing of meeting Tolkienists whose work I've long admired*** . . .  but also another thing to meet Tolkienists whose names I recognized but whose work was only vaguely known to me. Tolkien Studies is such an incredibly large field, with several new books and essay collections being published each year, that as a poor hapless grad student struggling to finish his dissertation, sometimes you just have to ignore, or merely skim, some of the newest stuff. It's a sanity-saving device -- you can't keep absolutely as up to date as you'd like when you're writing, so you tend to gloss over those scholars only tangentially related to your own interests. But Kalamazoo has helped me put faces to some of those names, and that'll help to raise my awareness of their work. It's one thing to know that a book has recently been published on Topic X -- another thing to recognize how the immense amount of work-hours being put into these projects but other people. And now if I see an article by John or Jane Doe, it'll make a greater impression now than it did before.

*** and having dinner with them!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Action packed last 24 hours in Kalamazoo


So, got in at 3 am this morning -- that's the first bit of news (although, given the time zones, it was "only" midnight according to my internal body clock).

Went to the first Tolkien panel at 10:30 am, hearing papers from Dimitra Fimi, Kris Swank (who teaches at Pima C.C. in Tucson, apparently!), and Yvette Kisor. Then came my panel at 1:30 pm . . . and a rollicking good time was had by all. Andrew Higgins and Jane Chance (!) gave good papers, and my paper was . . .well, stimulating? Let's call it stimulating. It certainly spurred a fair number of questions / pressure points during the Q&A. Basically, I was explaining why Boromir got a raw deal in the text and why his thymotic qualities are being undervalued both by the text and by Tolkien scholarship alike. It's kinda tricky to make such an argument, as I'm arguing that Boromir isn't as good as someone like Faramir but that his perceived vices are not really vices. Well, not very many people seemed convinced, it seemed, but the discussion was quite lively nonetheless, and I came away with a number of argumentative points that needed sharpening.

Then, after the panel, the really big stuff happened.

At least for me, at any rate -- afterwards, I found a small group of Tolkienists, who couldn't have been more friendly or more welcoming, and spent the next 6 hours chatting with them about all things various and sundry. Had some free wine which the medievalists were giving away. Went to a lovely local Indian restaurant for dinner. Now's it's 9 pm eastern time and I'm exhausted. Too much excitement, and now it's time for bed!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Heading to Kalamazoo . . .

At the airport now, ready to make the long flight (two layovers!) from Tucson to Kalamazoo. . . will be arriving at 11:10 pm. They say that the Medieval Institute shuttle services all flights, I'm still a little nervous about how late I'll be arriving, and since the dorms apparently close at midnight, any delays might find myself sleeping out of door.s

But I'm pretty excited about this, and there'll be quite a collection of Tolkien scholars involved.

And here's to hoping that nobody notices that I'm not a medievalist!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Poul Anderson and Old Norse Poetry in Translation

So, by dint of my work on Paul Edwin Zimmer's poetry, who once dubbed J.R.R. Tolkien and Poul Anderson as his "literary masters," I'm now delving into what Poul Anderson has done poetry-wise . . . .

. . . and this has proven to be quite an interesting task. I'm pretty much getting all my information on Anderson's poetry from the wonderful Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database, and, while some of it has been reprinted in widely scattered -- and hard to find -- volumes of work, much of it first appeared, and continues to only appear, in the famous sff fanzine Amra. This was a great home for many 1960s sword and sorcery authors, including Lin Carter, L. Sprague DeCamp, and of course Anderson. So my weekend was spent basically interlibrary loaning hoards and hoards of Anderson poetry which appeared in the fanzine over the course of the decade.

Many of the poetry, intriguingly, is not original to Anderson; it's almost entirely translations from Old Norse (which largely echoes the alliterative metre of Old English). With any luck, it should start arriving within the week. Looking forward to it.

A recent excursion into C. S. Lewis

Looking for some light reading after doing some dense critical theory, I decided to wander over the local Bookman's and grab myself a number of C.S. Lewis books:
  • The Screwtape Letters
  • The Abolition of Man**
  • Mere Christianity.
My thoughts?

(1) Lewis is a remarkably clear writer, and his style is refreshingly pleasant.

(2) He may not be a genuine philosopher, but he's funny, he's charming, and he writes with an incredible honesty. He's someone who I'd really like if I ever had the chance to meet him -- and that's not something I often contemplate when reading an author. Quite the opposite, actually.

(3) On much of the practical advice that he gives, we're pretty simpatico. For example, he calls "gluttony" any situation where someone is overly picky about the food they eat. I might call it something else, but it's a tad too self-indulgent for my taste**** and also, if you're out in public, just plain bad manners. Likewise, Lewis was famously careless about the way he dressed, and that shows up in his advice about fashion.

Although, unlike Thoreau who also wrote markedly on fashion, Lewis takes an explicitly Christian take on the subject: "The aim [of fashion] is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely" (Screwtape 106). Maybe I've swallowed too much feminism, but having "marriage" be the ultimate goal of inter-gender relations seems a tad much.

(4) Sometimes Lewis has truly Straussian moments (although neither Leo Strauss nor Lewis had mostly likely ever heard of the other). For example, Screwtape: "The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase  in the writer's development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man's own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the 'present state of the question'. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge -- to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour -- this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded" (Screwtape 150-52).

(5) Still, he's about as anti-activist a writer as you can imagine. Check this out: "If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is ever-lasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment" (Mere Christianity 75).

While I agree that individuals are more important, CSL's frequent & dismissive remarks about mass political activism (a la the French Revolution and the American Revolution) suggests how strongly he feel such political activism is "unimportant" in light of "higher" concerns. No wonder establishment lit crit hates him -- critical theory is basically nothing but political activism by other means. Lewis's views on this subject nearly appall me; if accepted, in my view, they're nearly fatal to the brand of Christian humanism he advocates.

**The Abolition of Man actually came up during my dissertation defense, so I'd been meaning to read it for awhile.

*** See what I did there?