Monday, 20 December 2010

The Season to Be Jolly

Seeing as how Christmas is coming up quickly, I thought I spend this post talking a little bit about just that. Obviously, it is a Christian tradition that has long since also been appropriated as a secular holiday (Santas and Elves often playing a more prominent public part than baby Jesus), and even as such it comes with traditions, both communal and personal.

Obviously, here in Sweden, the big celebration takes place on Christmas Eve (unlike the more Christmas Day-centred celebrations elsewhere). On this day, Swedes meet up, eat good food (usually a smorgasbord of ham, meatballs, sausages, herring, salmon, cheese, and whatnot, although this pescetarian needless to say stays clear of the first three) and get a visit from Santa, who delivers presents (not in socks, but in person).

One of my own (fairly recent, but nevertheless strong) personal traditions is to watch Tim Burton and Henry Selick's wonderful animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas on the day of Christmas Eve (i.e. before meeting up for the family get-together). For some reason, it simply wouldn't seem like Christmas without Jack Skellington's wonderful lament.

Music is, of course, also an important part of setting the mood. This year, I have made a playlist over at Spotify, entitled JJ's Xmas Playlist. It includes cornerstone tracks like "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues, the above-cited track from The Nightmare Before Christmas and some classical Christmas songs like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in different interpretations. Feel free to check it out and enjoy it from beginning to end!

Unfortunately the Spotify playlist does not include a track I always put on every Christmas Eve (much like The Nightmare Before Christmas), simply because it is not available at Spotify. The song in question is "For Christ's Sake", i.e. IQ's instrumental version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (available on the CD Seven Stories into 98). For those of you not lucky enough to have the currently out-of-print CD, you can always listen to the song here.

Anyway, it's a busy season, and I won't keep you all.

Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year!

I'll see you in 2011.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Dipping My Toes in the Canals of Dutch Literature

After reading Nene Ormes' Udda verklighet and John Ajvide Lindqvist's Låt den rätte komma in (Eng. Let the Right One In), I have somewhat uncharacteristically stuck to books in Swedish for my recreational reading this autumn. Having said, I should also state that I have not only been reading Swedish books, but also translations. In particular, I have been dipping my toes in the canals of Dutch literature, something which I think was long overdue. I have had a number of Dutch books in Swedish translation waiting on my shelves for quite some time (and while quite a few remain, the number has been reduced, at least), and what I have read so far has been really enjoyable.

My first Dutch literary acquaintance was Cees Nooteboom's novel Paradijs verloren (translated into Swedish by Per Holmer as Paradiset förlorat; Eng. title Lost Paradise). This short novel is divided into two halves (eventually connected through chance meetings); where the first half deals with the story of Alma, a young Brazilian woman who makes a pilgrimage to Australia with her best friend Almut after having suffered a particularly savage rape experience. This part of the novel focuses on questions of art and culture, both of which are also tied into the Romantic dream of aboriginal mythology and cosmology. Alma desperately seeks her childhood dreams of the presumably pure innocence of the these categories, which in reality can never quite be captured in such terms.

The second half of the novel deals with ageing literary critic Erik Zondag, whose reluctant visit to a retreat we are invited to join. Literature and the human condition are here fore-fronted by Nooteboom, and the chance meetings that bring his two narratives together serve to highlight this as well. All in all, it is a very interesting novel and I will definitely be reading more of Nooteboom's oeuvre.

Second out was another Dutch writer of the old garde, who sadly passed away at age 83 on October 30 this year, Harry Mulisch. I had a few books by Mulisch waiting on my shelves, but after a recommendation from a friend, I opted to begin with De Aanslag (translated into Swedish by Ingrid Wikén Bonde as Överfallet; Eng. title The Assault). It is the story of how a single horrible event, generated through a number of chance occurrences, shapes the entire life of the protagonist Anton Steenwijk.

On an evening in January, 1945, Anton's life is turned upside down when an infamous policeman and known Nazi collaborator is shot dead in front of the house of his neighbours, the Kortewegs, who move the body so that it is placed in front the Steenwijks' house. As a result, Anton loses his parents and his brother, and is placed in the care of his uncle and aunt after a harrowing experience.

Divided into five sections, set in five different time periods respectively (1945, 1952, 1956, 1966 and 1981), the novel follows Anton through his life and more specifically focuses on four chance encounters which all relate back to the traumatic events he so clearly is trying not to think about. These are accidental meetings with people who in one way or another played a part in that fateful evening's events (e.g. the son of the murdered policeman, the resistance fighter who shot the policeman, and the daughter of the neighbour who moved the body). The book is a depiction of the Second World War in the Netherlands, and its far-reaching impact on the Dutch people, as well as a crime novel or psychological thriller of sorts. Mulisch's writing drew me in, and made me contemplate difficult and sometimes troubling moral issues. He is most definitely an author I would urge anyone to read, and whom I will surely return to myself as well.

Finally, I am currently reading Anna Enquist's short story collection De kwetsuur (translated into Swedish by the aforementioned Per Holmer as Blessyr; Eng. title The Injury). Thus far I have read three out of ten stories, and they are quite impressive little pieces and highly recommended. Situated in different periods in Dutch history, these tales nevertheless focuses on individual humans and their life stories, or perhaps more accurately episodes of some kind of significance in these life stories.

When I am finished with Enquist's stories, I will most likely take a break from the canals of Dutch literature, as well as from my current reading trend (i.e. reading in Swedish), since there are many other things that call upon my attention. But rest assured. These canals will be revisited, because they have proved to be a very rich literary vein and they deserve much more than the mere dipping of toes.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Devil is in the Details, or: The Irreducible Nature of Narrative

Yesterday, I had an interesting online discussion with a Canadian acquaintance of mine. It started off as a discussion relating to what I am working on for my thesis, but swiftly covered a lot of surrounding areas.

At one point, Joseph Campbell's classic book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was brought into the discussion. While I find Campbell's ideas (as well as those of many other structuralist thinkers like e.g. Vladimir Propp, Algirdas Julien Greimas, and Claude Lévi-Strauss) interesting, I noted that there lies a problem at the heart of this kind of thinking, namely that it can easily reduce everything too much. It is not difficult to reduce the elements of narratives to the point where we can say that there only exists a very limited number of stories in the world and that any given narrative is just an interpretation of one of these stories. However, narrative (be it in literature, comics, film, music or otherwise) is in some sense irreducible. Reducing a narrative alters it, and altering it makes it into something other than what it was.

Consider the old saying, "the Devil is in the details." As it turns out, I would argue, narrative too is in the details (whether or not this, in fact, would imply that all narration is satanic or that narrative is the Devil's tool, this literary Satanist will leave unsaid). This is why abridged versions like Reader's Digest or summaries like York Notes strictly speaking does not work. Oh, don't get me wrong, I am sure that York Notes have saved many a stressed out student on more than one occasion and that there have been many people who have enjoyed abridged versions in their day, but it nevertheless raises the question of what they have read.

Reading (or watching) narratives is not simply a process of taking in information. It is about making a journey of a kind – an inner journey that can only take place in the meeting between the reader (or viewer) and any given narrative. Maybe one could even argue that any such encounter is temporally bound within the reader's (or viewer's) life span; that is, that who we are at the moment of the encounter most likely affects how we interpret that encounter – how we read the narrative.

Once again, this is not to say that the structuralists were wrong, or that the study of genres, types and the grammar of narrative is a vain effort, far from it. It is rather, perhaps, my way of saying that we need to remember that, while this repetition of a few stories keeps playing out before us, each narrative is in some sense its own entity. And perhaps we need to look not only on the components that make each narrative like another, but also on the (sometimes very fine and minute) differences that set them apart.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Muppetational Jim Henson and... The Muppet Show

I grew up in an era when there was no internet; when there were no mobile phones (and when those did arrive, they were mobile, but hardly pocket-sized); and, most importantly for this post, when there were only two channels available on television here in Sweden. Neither of which two channels were broadcasting around the clock like the multitude of channels we have nowadays do. Nope, starting late afternoons/early evenings and then keeping at it till perhaps around midnight (not that the end time was of great importance to me back then, of course), that was all the television available to us. Add to this, the simple fact that there were no DVDs (not an all-round availability of VCRs either for that matter) and you might imagine (if you were not there too) that what was on the tube was something to be watched, in most cases.

Case in point, I watched The Muppet Show as a kid. And I do think I liked it. Kind of. I'm sure some of the funny antics with the puppets were amusing to my younger self, but I'm equally certain that a lot of stuff sailed by way over my head. In fact, while some things have stayed with me (as pop cultural references are wont to do), in some other sense I left the Muppets behind me a long time ago. Until fairly recently, that is.

YouTube has over the last few years reintroduced me to the crazy world of the Muppets. For instance, there is this absolutely outstanding Muppets' version of "Bohemian Rhapsody", which cannot but melt the heart of an old Queen fan like yours truly.

Now, don't get me wrong. It is not like I've shunned the brilliance of master puppeteer (or is it perchance puppet maestro) Jim Henson or his oeuvre. I am a big fan of both his TV show The Storyteller (and its follow-up with retellings of Greek Myths) and films like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I just haven't spent many thoughts on The Muppet Show since back in the day.

Well, don't let it be said that it is ever too late to repent for one's proverbial sins of neglect. Having had the Queen extravaganza in my head for quite some time (as well as snippets with the Swedish Chef and the "Mahna Mahna" song – the latter of which can be viewed below), I started considering actually buying at the very least the first series of The Muppet Show. Most of all, what probably drove me to this was a growing suspicion that I had been missing out on something; that my memory simply wasn't good enough or too tainted by a child's p.o.v.

Yesterday, I finally acted on this suspicion and added the first series box set to my collection. Thus far I have only had the chance to watch the first two episodes, but it is funny to note that, yes, I did miss a whole lot of stuff way back when, because a whole lot of it wasn't aimed at children. Looking at it now, there is also the aspect of the show as an historical document, allowing us a glimpse into 1976. However, most of all, I cannot help but laud the late Jim Henson for his genius in setting up a rather typical kind of television show of that era in the most atypical way possible.

I am fairly sure I will be returning to this topic again, but in the meantime, there is only one thing I would like to say... Mahna mahna!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

A Change of Publishing Pace

So, here comes a belated final October post, the topic of which ties in with its belatedness.

When I started Thus Spake the Mighty Wha-keem back in May 2009, I argued that "any type of good publication (electronic or otherwise) needs to be maintained continuously" and I still stand by that motto. Obviously, I have faltered on occasion (as this week would indicate at least slightly), but if anything, I am rather proud to say that this blog has become more regular over time, finding its publishing day and time (Mondays at noon CET), once a week, and pretty much sticking to that.

In that sense, the past week has obviously been something of an anomaly to the by now established norm, but it has also forced me to look ahead a bit and see if I could keep up with said publishing deadline or if the stumbling itself would be bound to become a new (and dare I say it, unwanted) norm. The truth is that I am heading into a period in which keeping the deadline and maintaining the level of content quality simply will not be feasible.

Because of this, I have decided to turn Thus Spake the Mighty Wha-keem into a bi-weekly blog, instead of a weekly one, until further notice. In doing so, I hope to re-affirm my own commitment to have a regular publishing continuity without losing quality or my own sanity in the process.

In short, my next post will be up on Monday November 8 at noon (sticking with the established publishing day and time at least) and will then be followed by another one on November 22. Hopefully, you will all still be around for it.

Longevity and bloom to you all!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Plagiarism, Imitation, Theft and Copyright

This past Saturday, I attended an interesting symposium on plagiarism hosted by ABF Göteborg, in the of wake of which I have been thinking a lot on this matter. Hence, I have decided to put down a few of those thoughts here.

Earlier this spring, I discussed the cult of originality and its role in art (whatever the art form). The ideas expressed in that post are components that are crucial to our current understanding of plagiarism, but they are certainly not the only ones. The concept of plagiarism requires a sense of originality, true, but it also requires the concept of copyright; and this is a legal concept. As such, while artistic ideas of originality must surely have been part of the context which could give birth to copyright, it would never have come to pass unless a lucrative market had not also arisen. The market is interested in keeping intellectual property intact because it generates revenue. Do not misunderstand me, this is not necessarily, in and of itself, an altogether bad thing (artists too need to earn their living); nor in fact is it in the end the only thing protected by copyright. Copyright secures the right of an artist to be given his/her due for work done (and while copyright mostly define this in financial terms, there are nevertheless other levels added as if by default).

Now, plagiarism can be many things; maybe not all of them bad. I doubt that many would argue with me about the wrongness of say, my taking a poem by Lord Byron and publishing it as my own (i.e. without referencing Byron and consequently making explicit or implicit claims of having "done the work" as it were). But what if I composed a new poem out of quotes from a longer poem by Byron, or perhaps several different ones? Copyright in literature implies that words can be the intellectual property of an individual, yet words are parts of language and have as such always been a mass of reiterations. The sentence "I love you" cannot be ascribed to a single individual, and while other sentences may (quite obviously) be sourced to specific people, there is nevertheless a possibility that these sentences too have been stolen from sources now lost to us (perhaps not even textual sources in the first place). There is even a possibility that the same words have been banded together in that very manner by somebody else without there even existing a connection between the two parties making this specific utterance (granted that this becomes less and less likely the longer a verbatim concordance runs).

Similarly, plot structure, character and many other narrative components have always been in circulation, and before copyright (and perhaps before a demand for originality), the art of imitation was often ranked highly, albeit, perhaps performed differently in different eras. There is, for instance, an interesting question as to how much of Shakespeare's work could have been written with our current copyright laws in effect.

As such, plagiarism per se needs not be an unproductive or inartistic approach. In fact, I would argue that it both can be and have been used very productively throughout history and still to this day. Returning briefly to my Byron example above, making a condensed new poem out of an old one or a collage poem out of several old ones would entail an artistic process. While such poems would certainly be made from stolen (or at the very least borrowed) goods, they would nevertheless constitute something new, if for nothing else than the fact that the combination of sentences on a higher text level also affects the content and meaning of those sentences on lower text levels. In short, any given passage does not necessarily mean the same thing in all contexts.

Still, on a moral note, there is something appealing in paying one's dues (if not financially, then at least ethically). Artists who work with these types of collages or borrowing often do not feel the need to hide it. In fact, the reverberation achieved by such allusions might be part of the effect these artists strive for. One way of paying one's dues in such cases might be an appended list of works used. Under current copyright laws, such a list may even be more or less prompted by law and require explicit permission from the copyright holder (often, in turn, requiring a fee for that permission; depending on the circumstances). The obvious counter-effect to this is that some artists may opt not to pay their dues explicitly in the hopes of circumventing the copyright machinery altogether.

It is also worth noting that a work may lose some of its impact if its potential sources are revealed too clearly and upfront; that is, that artistic or narrative effect may be sacrificed on the altar of copyright and intellectual property. Don't get me wrong here. I am not advocating that we do away with the concepts of copyright and intellectual property. As someone who writes, I think these are important advances in how we view such work, both in financial and ethical terms; but also I think it is important that we note that these rules are not always artistically or narratively productive; that there is something inherently counter-productive within those selfsame parameters.

At the end of the day (and returning to the ethical dimensions), there needs to be a middle-ground of sorts, where artists can borrow (and perhaps steal) to create something out of something else (as it were), but without stealing the claim of originality. Outside of legal and financial issues, this may well be the critical point to make. It may not be the borrowing or stealing itself that constitutes the ethical transgression, but rather the suggestion that such borrowing or stealing constitutes some sort of ex nihilo creation; in essence making the artist into an author-ity by deviously reciting someone else's, while simultaneously erasing that other in the process.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Nine Seminars, Five Mini Seminars, Ten Signed Books and Four Days: The Göteborg Book Fair 2010, Pt 2

So, time for part two of my report from this year's Book Fair.

Saturday opened with my third and final Africa-themed seminar: "Maktens språk och språkets makt" (Eng. trans. The Language of Power and the Power of Language) featuring a discussion between Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and Professor Raoul J. Granqvist of Umeå University. The conversation focused on the importance of not depriving humans of their native languages through colonial or neo-colonial school systems. Ngũgĩ also spoke both of oriture (i.e. orality's equivalent of literacy's literature), stressing the connectivity between 0ral and textual language, and what he called cyborality/cyboriture. The latter of which, to my understanding, refers to the oral language impulses that the internet currently feeds directly back into written language; in essence generating texts that end up functioning much more like spoken language than written, in that it often tends towards a greater immediacy.

They also discussed the vicious circle of African publishing, that is, that there are few authors writing in African languages (Chinua Achebe's books for instance are not available in his native tongue, Igbo), which in turn leads to there being few publishers who publish books in African languages; which in turn... I guess, you get the picture. In this context, the importance of translation – of transferring important texts between smaller languages so as to not be overly dependent on bigger languages (i.e. the languages of the colonisers) – is of the essence.

The rest of the Saturday (four mini seminars and one more regular seminar) was coloured by the fantastic. This started with the mini seminar "Kick-ass chick-litt-fantasy" (I somehow think translation is somewhat superfluous here), in which Karin Waller ("Cap'n" of Science Fiction Bokhandeln's store in Malmö) and Nene Ormes (author and "crew") introduced the aforementioned fantasy subgenre which comes out of a combination of elements from chic lit (e.g. Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary), urban fantasy (e.g. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Jim Butcher's Dresden Case Files series) and paranormal romance (e.g. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga). This heroine based genre includes romance but never allows this to be its sole plot purpose or drive. Rather than stumbling over the mouthful of joint nomenclatures, Waller and Ormes offered the hopefully more catchy and snappy "fantzy". We will have to wait and see if the name catches on, but if you are a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the seminar suggested that this might be your kind of genre (with titles such as Jaqueline Carey's Santa Olivia and Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series).

This seminar was followed by two short solo flights by Johan Theorin and John Ajvide Lindqvist respectively: "Mord på Öland" (Eng. trans. Murder on Öland) and "Med absolut gehör för skräck" (Eng. trans. With Perfect Pitch for Horror). Both authors were a lot of fun to listen to. I had attended seminars with Ajvide Lindqvist before, but Theorin was new to me, and he really made me interested in reading his books about Öland.

After this brief interlude, it was time to see more of Ormes, this time in a mini seminar entitled "Fantasy på svenska" (Eng. trans. Fantasy in Swedish). Here Ormes was interviewed by her publisher Anna Henriksson from Styxx Fantasy. The full seminar is available on YouTube (albeit in Swedish) and is highly recommended viewing.

Finally, Saturday's seminars ended with "Det magiska norden" (Eng. trans. The Magical North), in which four Nordic authors discussed elements of the fantastic in their fiction together with moderator Janina Orlov. The authors in question were Lene Kaaberbøl (Denmark), Jo Nesbø (Norway), Andri Snær Magnason (Iceland) and John Ajvide Lindqvist (Sweden). Finland should have been represented by Maria Turtschaninoff, who for some reason or another was not able to attend the Fair (although, I did pick up her book Underfors about a secret fantastic city underneath Helsinki). The discussion was interesting even though some of the question were a bit hit and miss. That being said, the questions that really hit home went down very well indeed, and really made it a worthwhile seminar to have attended.

The evening ended with a lovely dinner with some friends from Bookcrossing, all gathering in these glorified days of bookishness.

On Sunday, I only visited two seminars: the added seminar with Jan Lööf and "Livet, universum och allting" (Eng. trans. Life, the Universe and Everything). After having had the pleasure of listening to Jan Lööf in discussion with his sometimes-partner-in-crime Carl Johan deGeer last year, I jumped at the occasion for something of a repeat performance. Granted that his discussion with Kartago's Rolf Classon did not quite match that of the preceding year, but it was nevertheless an amusing and insightful seminar, and I have certainly no regrets for having spent my time on it.

The second one featured a panel debate between science fiction writer Peter F. Hamilton, publisher, journalist and writer Johan Ehrenberg, astroparticle physicist and blogger Anna Davour, and Glenn Petersen from Science Fiction Bokhandeln's Göteborg store. The panel was moderated by Math Claesson from Science Fiction Bokhandeln's Stockholm store. The discussion touched on questions of technology (and its theoretical limits), human norms and what it is that constantly drives us to wonder what is out there among the stars. All in all, a very good seminar with a lot of highlights, and earlier in the morning, I had also had the chance to buy Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained (the first two novels in Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga) and get them signed by the author.

The afternoon was spent mingling about a bit on the floor, meeting up with friends (both old and new) and also getting my copy of Karin Tidbeck's debut collection of short fiction, Vem är Arvid Pekon? (Eng. trans. Who Is Arvid Pekon?), signed. This book is not only very good and an extremely charming read, I would also dare to say that it is a book that is necessary on the Swedish literary scene. Writing in a tradition of short fiction that sports such names as Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Ray Bradbury, Philip José Farmer and Harlan Ellison, Tidbeck tells us stories which are unabashedly fantastic in nature, yet which adhere to no strict mainstream conventions of fantasy or science fiction (in particular as such definitions are understood on the Swedish literary market). I strongly doubt that this beautiful little book will match Nene Ormes' urban fantasy debut in terms of sales and audience (sadly), but it is a truism that short story collections sell worse as if by an unfortunate default setting, and the very fact which makes Tidbeck's contribution so necessary (even more so, perhaps, than Ormes' book, which I rate very highly) will most likely be part of the obstacles it (and she) will have to overcome. The fact that the book is out there, however, speaks well for the future of the fantastic in Swedish literature.

So, nine seminars, five mini seminars, ten signed books (and a few more bought) and four days of mingling, browsing, and having an awful lot of fun. I would not trade that away for the world.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Nine Seminars, Five Mini Seminars, Ten Signed Books and Four Days: The Göteborg Book Fair 2010, Pt 1

"... and a bad cold, one could add," was how I opened my first of two posts on last year's proceedings; and here we go again. In that respect, the Göteborg Book Fair delivers like a clockwork.

This year's Fair was held between September 23–26, and the theme this year was Africa. As stated already last year, this is an event of both national and international significance (obviously, given this year's main theme), and it is not aimed exclusively at the publishing world, libraries, education and the like, but is actually open to the general public (with all that that entails, for better or worse). Unlike last year, my schedule started out much less compact, perhaps because of having had less time to pour over the program than I have had the last few years, but also, I think, because of a weaker program. Do not get me wrong. I have enjoyed some mighty fine seminars this year, but there were way too many I decided to skip on. Now, one always has to skip some (need for food breaks and whatnot), but it was much more prominent than previous years. Still, quality over quantity is the ticket, right?

On Thursday, I went to two full seminars and one mini seminar. The first one out was "Sanningen om Röda armén" (Eng. trans. The Truth about the Red Army), in which historian Catherine Merridale spoke with my all time favourite moderator Peter Whitebrook (back after last year's absence for this one seminar) about her book Ivan's War: Inside The Red Army, 1939–45. It was an interesting and rewarding discussion about her interviews with old Russian war veterans and archival research, which certainly left me interested in Merridale's book.

After some time on the floor (Thursday being the best day for milling around down there), and a few accidental meetings (and subsequent socialising), I had the immense pleasure of being present at a brimful seminar with Sofi Oksanen: "Diktaturens formationer" (Eng. trans. The Formations of Dictatorship). The following day's paper stated that the venue, which swallowed 500 people, had not been big enough, and that many people had been unable to attend the seminar because of this. While I have not yet read her work (although I have heard many fine things about it), after hearing her talk about (in particular) her novel Purge, I have to say that this Finnish author of Estonian descent has definitely caught my full interest. The layers of narrative this novel appears to have intrigues me immensely and I will definitely be reading it in the not-too-distant future.

The concluding mini seminar of the day (after some more milling about on the floor and followed by some exhibit stand mingling as the day wound down), was "Verklighetsflykt eller verklighetsspegel" (Eng. trans. Escapism or a Mirror to Reality). In this seminar, children's books author Jo Salmson (whose first book about Tam, I bought at last year's Fair and really enjoyed) talked with Maths Claesson from Science Fiction Bokhandeln about gender and evil in fantasy literature, and whether the way these concepts can be and often are dealt with justifies the genre often being written off as mere escapism. An interesting point that was raised by Salmson was that some of the more social realist children's books around has an audience for which the themes (while somewhat gruesome) may nevertheless constitute a titillating exoticism, and that maybe we need to think twice about what we actually label escapism.

After the seminar, I had wished to buy the second book in her series Drakriddare (Eng. trans. Dragon Knights) about the young boy Tam, and get it signed. Alas, fate conspired against me as only the sixth and last book in the series had been brought along to be sold outside the seminar room. However, things worked out rather well on that account any way, as I opted to pick up books two through six in the publisher's exhibit stand the following day and a few moments later more or less stumbling over a signing session she had at Science Fiction Bokhandeln's exhibit stand, leaving me a happy customer with five signed books after a quick chat about the previous day's seminar.

Friday turned out to be my "theme day", as two out the three seminars I attended that day belonged to the Fair's African theme. The day opened up with an interesting seminar featuring Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah. With the publication of her debut collection of short fiction, An Elegy for Easterly, she has risen to the ranks of notoriety, yet she proved to be a humble and humorous woman. On discussing the issue of ethnicity and identity, she candidly said that she does not first and foremost define herself as a black African woman when she sees herself in the mirror; nor does she believe anyone else has that type of self-definition as their most basic one. One may of course argue that identity always becomes a matter of power (i.e. the age-old game of "you"); we may claim that we are anything, but unless we get someone to play along with us, our own definitions becomes somewhat moot. Gappah, however, responded to the moderator Anna Koblanck's query if it would be appropriate to view her as an African writer by the witty one-liner, "You can see me however you like — as long as you buy my book." Yet, wittiness aside, Gappah pointed to her writing as a serious business, chasing a sense of truth, refusing to subscribe to a positive view of Zimbabwe or Africa; the truth, as she noted, always being a bit more complex than simple positivity.

The second seminar of the day, "Kanske finns det en Magnoliagenre" (Eng. trans. Maybe There Is a Magnolia Genre) featured a discussion between moderator Immi Lundin (literary critic and scholar) and authors Kristina Hård and Gunnhild Øyehaug. Both authors have published books that could arguably belong to a genre which could be called the Magnolia genre, after writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia; that is, multiple stories about multiple "protagonists" making up the whole of the text (in some way, generating a sense of objectivity while nevertheless maintaining subjectivity). Hård's novel in this particular genre is Himalayabreven (Eng. trans. The Himalayan Letters), which is her second novel, and Øyehaug's is Vente, blinke (Eng. trans. Wait, Blink), her fourth book albeit her first novel (her previous outings having been poetry, short fiction and essays). Both authors caught my interest during the seminar and I consequently bought a copy of Øyehaug's book (which I got signed); Hård's two books already sitting on the shelves of my better half at home. (Incidentally, in the wake of the Book Fair, I have started reading Hård's first novel Alba, a fine science fiction novel, which I am sure I will have reason to talk about more later on.)

Friday closed (after a lot of scurrying about on the floor buying a bundle of books and comics, including a copy of Anders Fager's Svenska kulter (Eng. trans. Swedish Cults), which is supposedly Lovecraftian ideas subtly transposed into a Swedish setting – who could refuse such a thing, right? I also managed to get this book signed by the author, so there is that too), with the seminar "Out of Africa". This seminar was a panel debate between Ethopian-born author Maaza Mengiste, Nigerian author Chris Abani, Swedish-Portuguese author Miguel Gullander (who writes in Portuguese and has been working out of Cap Verde and Moçambique, and currently works out of Angola), Kenyan-American poet, performer and intellectual Shaijla Patel, Nigerian author Sefi Atta (first recipient of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature) and Sierra Leonean author Brian James; moderated by author and English professor Stefan Helgesson. While I ended up only attending three of the theme related seminars on the whole, the quality of the ones I did attend were very high and really raised my level of interest in the authors in question (I will definitely be picking something up by at least Abani, Patel, James, and most likely Atta as well). This particular seminar offered not only quality, but also quantity; both in terms of time (clocking in at a full hour as opposed to the regular 45 minutes) and the number of authors present. All in all, an absolutely perfect way to end the day.

Well, I think we would better stop here for now. I will tell you all about my Saturday and Sunday at the Book Fair in my next post.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Books, Libraries and Taylor Mali

So, the 2010 edition of the Gothenburg Book Fair is over and done with. Next week, I will talk about that for a bit, but time and a post-Fair fatigue prevent me from getting right down to business this week. Instead, I thought I would fittingly (given that the Swedish name of the Fair is actually Bok- och bilbioteksmässan, i.e. The Book and Library Fair/Exhibit/Convention) leave you with some enjoyable words by master word-smith Taylor Mali (whom I have talked about on two other occasions).

I give you: "I'll Fight You for the Library."

Monday, 20 September 2010

A Brief History of Fantasy in Sweden and the Future of Swedish Fantasy

Fantasy, science fiction and horror have an interesting history in Sweden. They have clearly interested reading audiences throughout the years, and certain subgenres (mostly of the mainstream variety) of the genres have found their way over here in translation. But for the most part, there has been little to no home-grown writers within these fields making their mark within both the genres and the Swedish language (which is somewhat odd considering the huge mark left by Astrid Lindgren, not to mention a great tradition of folk tales and the like). Also, due to a certain amount of what could probably be described as understandable cowardice on the part of publishers, the genres seem to have been present mostly in their more generic or typical representations; we have had the Eddings, the Jordans, etc, yet little of (for instance) giant Michael Moorcock (despite some brave paperbacks from the role-playing game company Äventyrsspel back in the day). These two factors may, of course, be somewhat related.

Now, there have been those who have made it their business to improve conditions. The aforementioned Äventyrsspel and other role-playing game companies have made attempts at this, but writers like Andreas Roman and Niklas Krog (who should be mentioned in this context) have seemingly always existed in a paperback ghetto, away from regular publishing (and consequently, perhaps, have not had such a strong impact). Even the coming of Järnringen (who while still doubling within the field of role-playing games at least made an effort to publish hard cover books) in 2002 seemed to have little impact on the literary scene in Sweden.

Needless to say, expectations were high late in 2004 when it was announced that some of the people behind the successful book store Science Fiction Bokhandeln (which at the time had one store in Stockholm and one in Göteborg, and have since opened a third store in Malmö, thus covering Sweden's three largest cities) were starting a publishing house in the following year. The result was Förlaget Onsdag, which did publish a bunch of titles (none of which I have read admittedly, although an anthology sits on my shelves) before seemingly just fading away. Many (if not all) of these books showed a very poor understanding of the book as an artefact, sporting less than stellar covers and being littered with poor page layouts, etc, which really had me put down more than one of their books extremely fast (if I even picked it up in the first place).

Around the same time, however, the horror genre took a great leap forward as John Ajvide Lindqvist published his debut novel Låt den rätte komma in (Eng. Let the Right One In), which showed once and for all that it was A) possible to write horror in Swedish, and B) do it extremely well. While admittedly horror has always been the somewhat privileged of the three genres referred to here, I cannot help to think that that gigantic leap did open some eyes as to the possibilities of what else could be achieved in the realms of the fantastic.

The publisher Ersatz, with its focus on German, Eastern European and Russian literature (and a great sense of a book's value as an artefact), opened more doors in 2006 when they began publishing Russian author Nick Perumov's epic fantasy tale The Keeper of the Swords – a series of originally eight books in Russian, planned to be released as twelve books in Swedish (of which seven books have been published thus far). While I have not read Perumov (who incidentally is highly under-represented in English – I could only find Godsdoom: The Book of Hagen in English at Amazon (UK)), I have heard very good things about his epic saga, and also had the pleasure of listening to the man himself at last year's Göteborg Book Fair. Ersatz also decided to publish Dmitry Glukhovsky's (alt. spelling: Dmitrij Gluchovskij) Metro 2033 (also available in English) in 2009, and has as of this year started a fantasy imprint, Coltso, to which they have moved their publishing of both Glukhovsky and Perumov (also including the upcoming publication of the latter's somewhat controversial trilogy Ring of Darkness, which is a free and unauthorised follow up to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings), as well as having added Russian authors Max Frei (a pseudonym for Svetlana Yuryevna Martynchik) and Sergei Lukyanenko (alt. spelling Sergej Lukjanenko), as well as Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski to their roster. Needless to say, this enriches the Swedish fantasy scene (in particular by breaking the seeming stranglehold of Anglo-American influence on the genre in the market place), but it is also obvious that Coltso follows the basic parameters of its mother company and (as such) does not seem a likely candidate to bring forth any home-grown Swedish fantasy, science fiction or horror (the publication of Peter Bergting's The Portent notwithstanding).

Still, Ersatz was not the only Swedish publisher to start a fantasy imprint this year. Kabusa Böcker (another publisher with a great sense of a book's value as an artefact) had the same idea and thus gave birth to Styxx Fantasy, which started out with two titles in May: Danish author Lise Bidstrup's Spiralportens Vogter (Sw. title Spiralportens väktare; Eng. trans. Watcher of the Spiral Gate) and, perhaps most importantly, Swedish author Nene Ormes debut novel Udda verklighet (Eng. trans. Odd Reality, or perhaps, Udda's Reality, depending on how one decides to interpret the title). Ormes' book (which I have reviewed in Swedish) belongs to the genre of urban fantasy, set in Malmö and involves the entrance of the main character, the young woman Udda, into a fantastic reality which is somehow both in our own reality and just beside it (a world full of gifted people – shape-shifters and others). It is a strong book on oh so many levels; not the least of which is the fact that is a debut (more or less, at the very least) of an entire subgenre on the Swedish literary scene. And as such, it has also been a smash hit, staying in the number one spot on Science Fiction Bokhandeln's best-selling list for three months in a row (and quite possibly still counting). If this is the future of true Swedish fantasy, I foresee a very bright future indeed. And I truly hope this fine piece of work gets translated into English as well.

As for Styxx Fantasy, their next outing will be a long overdue Swedish translation of Richard Matheson's classic vampire novel I Am Legend (to be released in October this year with the Swedish title Legend). It might be worth noting that an older translation of this novel was published back in 1975, but that it was reputedly far from a satisfactory translation... to put it mildly.

For anyone interested, it is also worth noting that Kabusa Böcker and its imprint Styxx Fantasy will be present at the Göteborg Book Fair 23–26 September at exhibition stand B06:39 (early copies of Legend will be available to a special Book Fair price, according to their websites). Ormes will be there to sign her book on Saturday 14:00–14:30 and Sunday 12:00–12:30 (with additional opportunities at Science Fiction Bokhandeln's exhibition stand, A02:42, Saturday 15:00–15:30).

For those Book Fair visitors who happen to have a seminar card, I would also like to mention that Ormes will be participating in two mini seminars on the Saturday. The first one, "Kick-ass chick-litt fantasy" (I don't think a translation is necessary), between 11:00–11:20, is organised by Science Fiction Bokhandeln, and here she and Karin Waller (manager of the Malmö store) will be talking about kick-ass chic lit fantasy (as if there was any doubt about that). The second one, between 13:00–13:20, is organised by Styxx Fantasy and will feature a discussion between Ormes and her publisher, Anna Henriksson, on the topic of writing fantasy in Swedish. Both of these seminars will take place in room J2 at the Book Fair.

Maybe I will bump into some of you there. Who knows, eh?

Monday, 13 September 2010

On Adaptation

In March, I wrote about what constitutes a medium. At the time, I fully intended to follow up (quite shortly) with a post on adaptation, but (as so often happens) other topics of interest popped up, and the post was delayed and postponed. Until now, that is.

Later this week, I will be speaking on the topic of adaptation at the City Library here in Göteborg as an introduction to a screening of the animated film How To Train Your Dragon aimed at school teachers. As the film (as oh so many others, including the three others that are screened this autumn) is an adaptation (of Cressida Cowell's book How to Train Your Dragon), this subject will be the topic of my introduction. And needless to say, perhaps, I figured I would put some words down on the subject in here as well, while I have it fresh in my mind anyway.

In my March post, I differentiated between material and non-material mediation, and counted media like music, literature, comics and film as non-material in that they function more like languages (with a particular sort of grammar, which definitely serves to create medium specific boundaries of possibilities for these categories) while nevertheless depending on other, material media to express themselves. In short, the argument was, and is, that it is often possible to mediate non-material media through more than one material medium (e.g. the medium of film can be expressed or accessed via celluloid film, video tape, digital video, etc; the medium of music can be expressed or accessed via vinyl discs, cassette tapes, CDs, etc). This is, of course, not to suggest that the move from one material medium to another cannot affect the content at any given time, or even that it cannot affect a non-material medium itself. Clearly developments of new material media have had huge impacts on the medium of film, but these impacts and effects differ from whatever happens when content moves between non-material media.

For the sake of clarity, I suggested that we apply the term re-mediation (which I am sure we will talk more about at some point in the future) to the transfer of content or material between material media, and that we use the term adaptation to address the transfer or translation between non-material media.

In a much earlier post from last year (while discussing the fact that comics are a medium and not a genre), I briefly brought up adaptation theorist Brian McFarlane, and it would seem appropriate to return to him here, albeit a bit more in-depth than last time. McFarlane makes a useful distinction between what he calls transfer and adaptation proper. Transfer refers to all elements in a narrative that are medium non-specific. In simple narratological terms (something which we will definitely be returning to in the future), this would be elements of story. Here we could place things like character, plot, setting, other rather basic information; in other words, the raw components of any narrative. For instance, there is nothing about the character of a blue-eyed man in shorts, who is always angry, that cannot be captured equally well in film, comics or literature (which is of course not to say that such perfect transfer always happens – and we will return to that shortly). However, as soon as these elements get told and consequently embedded in any given narrative, there will arise new elements that are medium specific. These more often than not have to with how a story is told; not just the structural organisation of it but, for instance, the difference between how a film can show the audience an entire landscape in a single shot while a novel requires extended narration with specific focus given to details at any given time (or, vice versa: how a novel through verbal narration can bring story time to a complete halt and discuss a single detail in the tapestry in-depth while a film will more or less have to resort to freeze frames and metafictional devices to emulate the same, or perhaps more aptly a similar, effect).

The narrative elements that are medium specific cannot be transferred in McFarlane's terminology; they require to be somehow translated from one language to another. This act of translation is what he means by adaptation proper.

Now, it is not unimportant in this context to note that adaptation theory and theorists have moved away from questions of fidelity (questions that admittedly are still ever of interest, e.g., whenever someone watches the film version of a beloved book). The argument here is that any film (or any type of adaptation, really) has more than one intertext. That is, like any other text, an adaptation is tied to a number of cultural texts and stories, with which it interacts on a variety of levels. This is an interesting and useful argument (no doubt about it), especially since it allows us to look more deeply into processes of multiple adaptations of the same text (i.e. how such an adaptation often ends up not only referencing the source text but also commenting the preceding sequence of adaptations) or how an adaptation often ends up referencing its own contextual (historical and cultural) time frame while relating to the source text. In short, I find that this idea definitely has its merits.

But— (there is always a but is there not?) the argument also has a weak spot, in my humble opinion. The fact is that while an adaptation has several intertexts (just as any other text), it is equally true that one of these intertexts has been put in the spotlight and given an added focus. It is a truism that there is no necessary equality between intertexts in an text, but in an adaptation there is a given notion that the source text has a privileged position. If it did not, if the source text was in fact merely one of many intertexts, why would we single it out and call the adaptation an adaptation in the first place?

This is where McFarlane's distinction becomes of the essence. After all, it is an undeniable fact that there are (more often than not) changes and differences between a source text and an adaptation. While questions of fidelity in themselves are not necessarily of (at the very least) academic interest, I would argue that the reasons for why things change are of interest both for academics and the general public. Using McFarlane's distinction we can consider which of the differences between any given source text and its adaptation(s) have been susceptible to transfer and which have required adaptation proper. With this knowledge in hand, we can then consider matters of translation inherent in adaptation proper – have these acts of translation been successful, artistic, inventive, clumsy, brilliant, missed the mark, hit the spot, etc.? At the same time, we can note differences in material that could have been transferred (because let us face it, far from all the differences in adaptations stem from adaptation proper) and consider what has caused these changes.

For instance, film is a notoriously expensive artistic medium (most likely the most expensive one we have around – thus far at least). Therefore financial factors will at least affect any adaptation into film. Then we have the question of cultural context. If a source text is produced in one culture and adapted into another, this too will mark the adaptation and quite likely be responsible for at least some of the differences. The passage of time (as in the adaptation of a historical source text) will also be a possible, and quite likely, factor to consider. Then we have issues of format (which includes length) and intended audience. The list goes on, of course, but I would like to add artistic ego as a last but not least category.

Needless to say, artistic endeavours do entail a fair amount of artistic ego, but in adaptations this is a factor which is a very double-edged sword. It can be the difference between an adapter wanting to use his or her creative energies to transfer as much as can possibly be transferred from the source text and properly adapt in as faithful a manner possible that which cannot be transferred and an adapter wanting to "fix" things in the source text, to be more artistic than the original artist or put his or her fingerprints all over the place. Do not get me wrong, there are great adapters out there, many of whom have made their marks on the finished product while remaining very true to their source text; but mostly I think the ones who manage that are those who aim to do a good job. Few if any people (in whatever medium) have ever made a mark by aiming to make a mark. But in all honesty, this point seems to be heading into a completely different area, which we may well return to on a different occasion.

To wrap things up today, I would just like to say that there are many valid reasons for changes in an adaptation to occur. Some changes are necessitated by the shift between media; as McFarlane points out, some medium specific elements require to be translated. Other changes come about from other types of necessities (e.g. getting an 800 pages novel into a 2–3 hours film will, most likely, require subplots being cut, some supporting or minor characters being cut or in some cases amalgamated, etc., in order to get a watchable film), and some will come out of no necessity at all. Surely it is not unreasonable to discuss and delineate such categories of change? If nothing else than to determine which factors alters (if only ever so subtly) the contents of any given story in an adaptation.

Monday, 6 September 2010

A Quick Recommendation: Common Errors in English Usage

It is a busy, busy time at the moment, what with the autumn term starting up and all; so I will keep it very brief this time. I will however use this short space to post a fitting recommendation: the site Common Errors in English Usage, which I warmly recommend to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of English usage, and what errors to avoid.

The man behind the site, Emeritus Professor of English Paul Brians (Washington State University), has also produced a book version (with an updated second edition from 2009), which can be found and bought both on and Amazon (UK).

That will have to be it for this week. Next week, if all goes according to plan, our topic of interest will be adaptation. So stay tuned, gentle readers!

Monday, 30 August 2010

To Swim or Not to Swim: Some Thoughts on Reading and Pierre Bayard

Swimming is first and foremost non-swimming. Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong swimmers, the act of finding and diving into a body of water masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not finding and not diving into all the other bodies of water in the universe.

The paragraph above is a reworking of the following snippet from Pierre Bayard's book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. Bayard's original text reads as follows:
Reading is first and foremost non-reading. Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening all the other books in the universe.

So why did I change Bayard's focus on reading to a focus on swimming? Well, quite simply to prove the absurdity of Bayard's claim. Reading is, after all, above anything else the process of reading, that is, the imbibing of a text; in fact any text. If you are doing this, continuously (or at least somewhat continuously), then you are reading despite the fact that you are not reading everything. In fact, the notion that reading intrinsically should mean "reading everything" is ludicrous at best.

Now, before going any further, I want to state outright that I have not read Bayard's book. And that I nevertheless (perhaps against my own better judgement) have decided to discuss it anyway. I am a firm believer in the notion that in order to truly discuss a work in-depth (especially for reviewing purposes) one needs to read the whole (or view the whole; or hear the whole; since this does not only apply to books). Because without the whole, we cannot fully know the text, cannot claim that sort of intimacy with it. So why have I decided to speak about Bayard anyway then, you ask? Well, if nothing else, I seem to have his blessing to do so, since his (seemingly) quasi-intellectual writings suggest that I in fact do not have to read his book to talk about it.

And on some level, I do agree. But more on that later.

I have not read Bayard, but I did hear about his book a while back. I noted its existence and have to say that it did not make much of an impression on me. At least not an impression that had me quickly adding it to my ever-growing wish lists at Amazon (brimming with stuff to keep in mind for getting somewhere down the line; sooner or later, perhaps never, but still...). So, heard of, but almost forgotten (at least placed in the very back of my mind), and now today brought to the fore after having encountered the quote I remodelled into my opening via an acquaintance and fellow literary scholar.

In fact, when I first read the quote, I did not know its source, but a quick google search led me to a review of it by Tara over at Revish.

Tara waxes on about Bayard's book. She happily states that "[t]he terms 'read' and 'unread' are meaningless; one should speak of books in terms of Heard of, Skimmed, Forgotten, or Unknown." I take it that these "new" terms are Bayard's and I instinctively draw back from them. Do not get me wrong. There are naturally books that we have heard of even though we have not read them (and this was true way before Bayard thought of it, surely). We may even talk about such books in terms of their historical significance, their cultural context and their journey through the ages (depending on how far they have travelled thus far). Literary scholarship does in fact do this activity and have done so for a long time. This is not a critique against literary scholarship, because while the proper (if you will forgive my use of that word) discussion of a text's content does require that one, you know, reads said content (and preferably carefully), such a reading will never reveal any of the aforementioned categories (historical significance, cultural context and the journey of any work through the ages); the reason quite naturally being that none of these categories are intrinsic to the text itself, albeit tied, and thereby important, to it. We can thus discuss the importance of Shakespeare without reading Shakespeare, but we cannot fruitfully discuss the contents of Shakespeare's texts without reading them. This does not imply that it would be a downside to having read some of the texts for the former activity, just that it need not be a necessity (nor by default a help either, though I am quite certain it could not hurt).

So, Skimmed, Forgotten and Unknown... these categories also exist (and also pre-date Bayard), but I nevertheless still pull back. There seem to be categories missing. Is Bayard (at least in Tara's reading) suggesting that there is nothing between Skimming and Forgotten? There seems to be a vast gap filled with various degrees of in-depth readings, re-readings, more or less remembered texts – all of which Bayard and Tara seem to have perhaps Skimmed through and then Forgotten.

In her review, Tara writes:
Much as a mathematician can measure a splash, and without seeing the splash occur, can determine the size, weight and trajectory of the object that created it; one can know a book without reading it by observing the affect it has on society, listening (or reading) trusted opinions and probing its connection to other works you are familiar with. Talking about books is unrelated to reading books, which is unrelated to remembering the books that we have read. And here is the realization that alleviated years of unknown anxiety, no one has a perfect recollection of a book that they have read. You begin to forget even before you finish the page. And as each person is an organic entity and continues to change, even if you took meticulous notes, your interaction with a book today would be drastically different in one year, five years and in ten years.
But this is a false observation. The idea does not even hold water on its own premises. After all, Tara moves on to claim that "[w]hat matters, then, about reading, is the book's effect on you, and it's impact on your internal library, those books that you carry with you in your heart and mind, either because you believe their importance in the cultural collective library or because of your personal connection with them." I agree in full with this latter statement; but it is incompatible with her (and presumably Bayard's) mathematician's analogy. Mathematicians can calculate "the weight and trajectory of the object which created [the splash]," but if what truly matters about reading lies in its effect on its reader, on your personal experience of the book, then how can this effect be calculated mathematically without reading it? Especially given Tara's (and again presumably Bayard's) quite adequate notion that "your interaction with a book today would be drastically different in one year, five years and in ten years." For the sake of clarity, I would amend that "would be" to a "could be" if I were to subscribe to that fully. After all, change may be more or less continuous in any person's life, but I would argue that the degrees with which it is affected varies very much on an individual basis, and this would presumably very much play into the interactive process between text and reader.

Furthermore, there seems to be an extraordinary focus on "remembering the books that we have read," and even more precisely on the inadequate manner in which this remembering is performed. Tara (presumably acting as a ventriloquist's puppet for Bayard) claims that this act is, in fact, unrelated to reading. In a line of asinine quasi-intellectual thinking, that claim still has to be in the run for the title of one of the dumbest nuggets in the lot. The fact that memory itself is notoriously unreliable; that it is far from exact or even necessarily stable throughout time; is intrinsic to the very notion of memory itself. If we accept Bayard's premise that remembering books are unrelated to reading the books, we must by default also accept that anything we remember is entirely unrelated to that which we remember. Logically speaking, the fact that our memories are flawed does not equate there not being an actual origin to them. In order to remember a book we have read, we must first have read it, and that causality suggests a relation to me.

There seems to be an underlying tendency in Bayard's book that I do think is relevant; that is, that we should read what we want to read; that we should not worry too much about cultural expectations; that it is all right sometimes to know certain works more or less referentially (i.e. that we know a little about them without knowing them intimately); that there should be no cultural stigma in not having read this work or that... and thereby in essence be free to enjoy reading.

However, there is an overtone of fudging one's reading about the whole enterprise that I do not like. From the title and onwards, there is a rather nasty suggestion that we should need to talk about books that we have not read. Such a suggestion is by no means liberating the reader from cultural expectations, but rather asks the "reader" to fudge it, to pretend to having read certain books by talking about them (presumably in order to be part of the conversation). Needless to say, perhaps, such practices are nothing new. There is an entire industry of York Notes and whatnots allowing students to "cheat within reason," to get to know a text not through the text itself but through somebody else's reading of it. Depending on what one needs out of the work, such material may well provide the information needed for a specific discursive setting. All literary discussions, as I touched upon earlier, are not necessarily rooted in the text themselves. But there is a step between that and more or less suggesting that reading a work does not require actually reading it.

And there's the rub (to borrow from the Bard), because while we should feel free to read that which we want to read, and not to read that which we do not want (though in some cases, it may admittedly be beneficial for us to do so), the premise upon which we should base that argument should, I think, be that there is no shame in saying any of the phrases, "no, I have not read that;" "I actually do not know of that book;" or "I started on that, but found it dull and stopped reading it." There is a leap from moving away from the shame and the stigma of not having read, and pretending to know more than one does.

But hey, what do I know? After all, I have not actually read Bayard.

Monday, 23 August 2010

"What Teachers Make": Taylor Mali Revisited

In late June, I waxed on about my new-found appreciation for master word-smith Taylor Mali, and seeing as how schools are starting up for the autumn term (at least here in Sweden), I thought it fitting to return to master Mali for the following three minutes plus. Time very well spent in my humble opinion. I won't keep you from it any longer.

Gentle readers, "What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali: