From an article in the 0online NYRB by Glen H. Shepherd about photiographs of the now-nonexistent Selk'nam people of Tierra del Fuego: "There is something bewitchingly surreal about his photographs of the Hain initiation ceremony, in which young Selk’nam men are hazed by a pantheon of spirits that are revealed, in the final moments (forbidden to women), to be kinsmen in elaborate masks." An African people I read about have an inititation for young men in which weird sounds are heard in the bush, and the young men are dared to follow the sounds. When they have sufficiently faced their terror of the spirit world the elders appear and show them how the sound is made, with what in English is called a bullroarer. Basically the older men induct the younger into the facts of the world: we are the gods you fear. It's like a child being told there's no Santa Claus, it's Dad in the red suit, but don't tell the younger ones.
Women aren't part of these intitiation ceremonies -- theirs turn on menstruation and other secrets -- maybe they already guess these male secrets, or maybe they don't care.
Wouldn't it be interseting if our churches worked the same way -- you believe and pray and have magic helpers and angels and speak to Grandma in heaven, and then when you grow up your "confirmation" is actually to learn it's all not so; it's a means or a divine game but not a set of facts, and we ourselves are its origin. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Reading "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" for reasons that will be clear when my Harper's essay-after-next (November) appears. It's the best example I know -- there are many -- of the novel that contains summaries or selections of novels written by a character, to varied effect. (Nabokov's mostly to discharge ideas that sound wonderful but really couldn't be written.)
Thursday July 09
9:00 PM ENL How to Write for a Living When You Can't Live Off Your Fiction.. Leah Bobet, John Crowley, Michael Dirda, Barbara Krasnoff (leader).You've just been laid off from your staff job, you can't live on the royalties from your fiction writing, and your significant other has taken a cut in pay. How do you pay the rent? Well, you can find freelance work writing articles, white papers, reviews, blogs, and other non-SFnal stuff. Despite today's lean journalistic market, it's still possible to make a living writing, editing, and/or publishing. Let's talk about where and how you can sell yourself as a professional writer, whether blogging can be done for a living, and how else you can use your talent to keep the wolf from the door. Bring whatever ideas, sources, and contacts you have.
Friday July 10
6:00 PM F From the French Revolution to Future History: Science Fiction and Historical Thinking. Christopher Cevasco, Phenderson Clark, Jonathan Crowe, John Crowley, Victoria Janssen (leader). Arts journalist Jeet Heer wrote, "It's no accident H.G. Wells wrote both [The] Time Machine and The Outline of History (one of the most popular history books ever), [and] it's no accident that science fiction writers are also often historical novelists: Kim Stanley Robinson, Nicola Griffith, etc." For Heer, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and horror can all be grouped under the meta-genre of fantastika, and all emerged from the "epistemological rupture" of the French Revolution, which "forced us to think of history in new way, with new emphasis on ruptures and uncontrollable social forces." Is Heer right to see these commonalities? Is it useful to think of historical fiction in fantastika terms? And how do speculative genres borrow from historical ones?
Saturday July 11
2:00 PM G Imagining the Author. John Crowley, Natalie Luhrs, Kate Maruyama, Kathryn Morrow (leader), Diane Weinstein. Is it possible to read a piece of fiction without keeping in mind that the author has a gender, an age, a profession, an ethnic identification, a height, a weight, or a race? And if it is possible to truly do away with assumptions, without inserting one's own characteristics as a supposed neutral state, is it a good idea? How does assuming that the author is like or unlike the reader influence the reader's experience of a piece, or a critic's analysis of it? Is imagining the author a necessary starting point for any deep read or critique, or is this all ultimately a distraction from addressing the work itself?
3:00 PM F Shifting the Realism Conversation. Leah Bobet, Michael Cisco, John Crowley, John Langan, Yves Meynard. In a 2014 interview, James Patterson, not generally thought of as a fabulist, declared, "I don't do realism. Sometimes people will mention that something I've written doesn't seem realistic and I always picture them looking at a Chagall and thinking the same thing." Meanwhile, the SF/F world is engaged in ongoing discussions about the value and meaning of realism in epic fantasy, particularly the variety that uses claims of realism to justify portrayals of violence, bigotry, and misery in cod-medieval settings. What shifts in these discussions if we adopt Patterson's framing, setting modernism and abstraction in opposition to realism? What would abstract, modernist, Chagall-like epic fantasy look like? And would it work, or is some adherence to the real necessary in stories that explore the unreal?
8:30 PM Reading. John Crowley reading from his now completed but unpublished novel KA: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr.