Douglas E. Cowan’s Sacred Space: The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television gestures toward some explanation of the immense popularity of science fiction media. Cowan is a professor of Religious Studies at Renison University College, University of Wateroo, Ontario, and Sacred Space is at its best when showing the prevalence of religious imagery and allusion in a genre that is often thought to privilege reason over faith. In the preface, Cowan states that ‘There are often significant differences… between the various ways in which these concerns are portrayed in science fiction and the concept of religion in the genre itself’ (ix).
Cowan conceives ‘religion’ broadly, and doesn’t offer an explicit definition until the middle of the book, where he quotes William James’s view that ‘the life of religion’ is ‘the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto’ (152). This is not significantly different from Cowan’s own definition of ‘transcendence’ earlier in the text: ‘the search for something beyond ourselves, the belief that outside the boundaries of everyday living something greater exists’ (11). While these
A not-strictly-new new piece of mine has just been posted at Weird Fiction Review
, "Stories in the Key of Strange: A Collage of Encounters"
It's not-strictly-new because the collage is built from excerpts from things I've written over the past few years: blog posts, interviews, book reviews, Strange Horizons
columns, stray essays. When the good folks at WFR asked me to contribute, I was up to my neck in grading student papers, etc., and though I wanted to contribute, I didn't have a spare brain cell to spend on something new. I thought putting together a collage would be an interesting exercise and easier than writing a new piece. It was definitely the former, but not the latter — I forgot how much I've written over the years... (Plenty of it is best left forgotten.)
Trying to organize it all in some vaguely coherent and resonant way was a fun challenge, although I'm too close to it all to know if it's at all effective. At the very least, it provides a kind of overview of the major themes to a lot of my nonfiction.
I created the above video after failing at writing about Caravaggio for The House Next Door and the Summer of '86 series. I had a pile of fragments, quotes, scenes I wanted to somehow refer to, but couldn't make any of it cohere. A month or two ago, I thought about trying again by creating a sort of collage, and figured if it was too weird or unfinished for The House, I could at least post it here and be done with it. But as I looked over the collage, it felt more like some sort of script to me. "Wouldn't it be nice," I thought, "to make a film about Caravaggio?" In all my copious spare time. But the idea nagged at me, and finally I sat down to see what such a thing might look like. I transformed the essay-collage into a script-blueprint, recorded the narration, and then tried to fit images to it. I thought it would take an afternoon. It took substantially longer, and involved various software failures, lots of thinking and rethinking, a willingness to put up with some frustrating compromises after headache-inducing hours of work, and some serendipity.
In the end, I like what came out. Given endless time, there's plenty I'd change, and it's still very much a text essay that became a video essay rather than something that was conceived from the beginning as a video essay, but that's okay. Maybe I'll conceive some video essays now.
Below the cut, I'll post the script as originally written. It went through some edits as I put the video together, so this is essentially a shooting script rather than a transcript. But one of the problems I faced in putting the video together was how to signal quotations, and I never really solved that problem, so the script will at least help make it clear what is and isn't a quote.
PROFANE LOVE: DEREK JARMAN AND CARAVAGGIO
preliminary script-like object for narration
by Matthew Cheney
Death and nature made a cruel plot against you, Michele;
Nature was afraid
Your hand would surpass it in every image
You created, not painted.
Death burned with indignation,
Because however many more
His scythe would cut down in life,
Your brush recreated even more.
TITLE: NATURE WAS AFRAID
White letters on black, the obligatory credits.
The black background is different now -- still black, but more textured, with some white light reflected off the gloss at the lower left corner.
A film by Derek JARMAN.]
The paintbrush in the hand covers the diagonal texture with horizontal texture.
The paint is all black, but the single reflected light allows us to continue to see the texture.
The paintbrush in the hand is always painting quickly, always with black. What had been a flat screen shows depth: the force of the brush makes the canvas stretch. The sound of the brush on the canvas mixes with distant sounds of singing and chanting. The pa
By: Matthew Cheney,
Blog: The Mumpsimus
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, Robin DeRosa
, Nick Mamatas
, Jeff Ford
, Lilian Aujo
, Michaela D'Angelo
, Brian Francis Slattery
, Ed Bolman
, Beverly Nambozo
, Eric Schaller
, Add a tag
Eric Schaller and I have been working on creating an online version of a magazine some of our ancestors were involved with in 1876, and after a long period of work, with the brilliant and invaluable help of Luís Rodrigues, THE REVELATOR
can now be revealed.
In it you will find two new short stories, "Gaslight" by Jeffrey Ford and "Nick Kaufmann, Last of the Red-Hot Superwhores" by Nick Mamatas; an essay about the relationship between Salem, Massachusetts and witches by Robin DeRosa, poetry by Lillian Aujo and Beverly Nambozo, an interview with and comix by Edward Bolman, an account of The Spleen Brothers by Brian Francis Slattery, paintings by Michaela D'Angelo, and an eyewitness account of the James/Younger gang's raid on the bank in Northfield, Minnesota -- an account unlike any others, and till now lost in the archives of The Revelator
A theme of twins, doubles, and doppelgangers runs lightly through this issue of the magazine. It's present in the fiction, there's the idea of historical doubling in Robin's essay on Salem, etc. We got creative with the doubling in the poetry department -- I knew Beverly had a lot of poet friends, and so we asked her to be the commissioning editor for the second poem, and she brought Lillian to us. Never having met Lillian in real life, I don't know if she's Beverly's doppelganger, but I do know we're thrilled to be able to publish the work of both. And of everybody else who was brave enough to want to join the old, weird tradition of The Revelator
There will probably be future or past issues. Please note though that because of limited resources, we are not open to unsolicited submissions. We would love to get to that point eventually, but right now we just don't have the ability to read through a lot of unsolicited work.
My latest column is up at Strange Horizons
, and this time it's about Rainer Werner Fassbinder's epic science fiction film World on a Wire (Welt am Draht)
If you want to see World on a Wire
(and you should!), it's available on home video in the U.K. and Europe
, and in the U.S. can be seen via Hulu
if you subscribe to Hulu Plus
(you can get a free trial subscription for a week, or if you have .edu email address, for a month). Rumor has it that Criterion
will be releasing the film on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. at the end of this year or the beginning of next. It's also still touring various U.S. cities
-- at the end of this week, it will be at the Harvard Film Archive
in Cambridge, MA.
I'm a Fassbinder nut, so will passionately defend even his films that only lunatics defend, but you don't have to be as obsessed with Fassbinder as I to see get pleasure from World on a Wire.
(Although if "efficient" plotting, suspenseful storytelling, and "round" characterizations are your primary requirements for pleasure, you should probably stay away.) While World on a Wire
isn't of the power and depth of, say, Berlin Alexanderplatz
or a handful of Fassbinder's other absolute masterpieces, it's still a powerful, unsettling, beautiful movie, and the restoration that the Fassbinder Foundation
did is remarkable -- to take an old 16mm master made for TV and turn it into something that can be admired on a giant cinema screen is no easy feat.
I could go on and on. I won't. Instead, if you want a taste of the film, check out the trailer
, which I'll embed after the jump here:
I've got a couple of pieces of writing floating around out in the internets this week—
A new Sandman Meditations piece has been posted at Gestalt Mash. This week, the penultimate chapter of Brief Lives. If my counting is correct, this is the 50th Sandman Meditation. (The 50th issue of Sandman was "Ramadan", but because I'm reading the stories in the order of the trade collections rather than the original publication, I wrote about that issue back in June when I read it in Fables and Reflections.)
Over at Strange Horizons, it's Pat Cadigan week, and I've contributed an essay about some of the 1980s short stories that helped make Cadigan famous. It's a somewhat odd essay. I expect the nice young men in their clean white coats to show up at my door any moment...
Also, it's Strange Horizons Fund Drive time! The site exists through contributions. The staff are not paid, but the writers are (the reverse of many publisher's policies). Except for a brief hiatus during the end-of-the-year holidays, SH brings you new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry every week at no cost to the, uh, consumer. Donating is easy. Try it, kids, it's fun!
My latest Strange Horizons column has been posted, this time a celebration of Fritz Leiber's centennary
I mentioned last week that I needed to come up with a title for my Strange Horizons
columns. Through much of last week I was fighting off the worst illness I've had in years, so perhaps the title is simply the product of fever, but nonetheless, now in a less fevered state, I like it: Lexias
. It keeps to the pattern of the other columnists
(Scores, Diffractions, Intertitles, etc.) in being a single, plural word. And it seems mostly accurate to my project, if you think of the word as Roland Barthes used it in S/Z
: "a series of brief, contiguous fragments ... units of reading" (Richard Miller's translation). (For more on Barthes, by the way, this is an interesting site
But for my purposes, "lexias" is fun, too, because it is the term Samuel R. Delany picked up (from Barthes) for The American Shore
, which can be described as a book-length study of Thomas Disch's "Angouleme" (as S/Z
can be described as a book-length study of Balzac's "Sarrasine" -- and I say "can be described as" because to say either book is
that seems to me too reductive -- each book is
an awful lot of things).
Which is not to say that I think I belong in league with Barthes or Delany (ha!), any more than anyone who picks up a term belongs in the same league with anyone who has used it before, but that I like having a title that suggests fragmentation, experimentation, close reading, and realms of both subversive (or subverted) literature and thoughtful science fiction.
The good people at Tor.com asked me to contribute a post about the playwright Caryl Churchill for Dystopia Week
, and I was thrilled to be able to oblige them with "Dystopia on Stage: Caryl Churchill's Far Away"
Here's a taste:
Most people don’t often think of playwrights as science fiction and fantasy writers, and SF doesn’t really exist as a genre in the theatre world in the same way it does in the world of print and cinema. Yet from its earliest incarnations, theatre has reveled in the fantastic, and many of the greatest plays of all time have eschewed pure realism. Something about the relationship between performers and audiences lends itself to fantasy.Continue reading...
The British playwright Caryl Churchill has written a great number of extraordinary plays, many of them enlivened by impossible events. Churchill is a staunchly political writer, a writer who seeks to challenge audiences’ complacencies about the real life of the real world, but flights of imagination give resonance to her unblinking view of reality’s horrors, using the unreal to probe the deep grammar of reality.
Strange Horizons yesterday posted my review of Gary K. Wolfe's Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature.
That review begins by making a specific distinction between book reviews and a certain type of literary criticism, a distinction that Abigail Nussbaum considers in a blog post about the sorts of things she's looking for as Strange Horizons's reviews editor. I don't particularly disagree with the qualifications and complexities Abigail adds to what I wrote; the distinction I settled on was useful for that review, and seemed worth mentioning because it was absent from Wolfe's own taxonomy of reviews vs. criticism. As with so many things, in reality the distinctions are not hard and fast.
Aaron Bady has come up with a great idea
: since the Caine Prize for African Writing
will be awarded in five weeks, and there are five short stories nominated, why not write about one story a week until the award?
I'm going to throw myself into this, because I think the Caine Prize is important, and the exercise could be fun. I hope lots of other folks will join in.
Here are the nominated stories, all available online as PDFs:
To begin, though, and as an introduction, here's a review I wrote of Ten Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing
, for the winter 2010/11 print issue of Rain Taxi
TEN YEARS OF THE CAINE PRIZE FOR AFRICAN WRITING New Internationalist ($18.95)
The Caine Prize for African Writing was first awarded at the 2000 Zimbabwe International Book Fair. Named for Sir Michael Caine, who for many years chaired the management committee of the Booker Prize, the prize is awarded annually to a work of English-language short fiction by an African writer (the winners have all so far been from sub-Saharan countries). Before his death, Caine had been working on ways to bring African writing in English to a wider audience, and his family, friends, and colleagues created the prize after his death to honor him and his efforts.
Because of Michael Caine's connection to the Booker Prize, the Caine Priz
I've got a couple of new pieces elsewhere:
At Tor.com, "Mr. Modesitt & Me", a personal essay in honor of the 20th anniversary of L.E. Modesitt's The Magic of Recluce. An interview I did with Lee for the anniversary will be posted later this week.
And after a week's break, I'm back with a new Sandman Meditations column (the 41st!), this one on "Parliament of Rooks".
Also, I'm not the only one writing an issue-by-issue chronicle of The Sandman -- fellow Caine Prize blogger The Oncoming Hope is doing so as well. Check it out!
My latest column has been posted at Strange Horizons: "Old, Weird"
. I probably should have included links to some songs and materials discussed in it, so here are a few to get you started...
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Last summer, some friends and I got together and very quickly made a 40-minute horror movie, because ... well, that's what friends do together, right? I've now put it online so that everybody can see the sort of mischief we get up to here in the woods of New Hampshire. For more details, see its Vimeo page.
(Note: It's got adult language and some gore.)