Can you believe it?

March 1, 2020

Interest in hybrids

March 1, 2020

I think many cultures are interested in post-apocalyptic landscapes and human-robot hybrids — we’re always projecting ourselves into the future, aren’t we? The post-apocalyptic world of “The Future of Terror” and “Terror of the Future” arose in the writing. My interest in hybrids may go back to the centaurs in Greek mythology and, in The Chronicles of Narnia, the mermaids. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in hybrids. I recently found some mind-boggling photo-hybrids online by Khoa Tran — a cat-penguin, a horse-duck, and a dog-gull, among others. And I’ve just remembered how enchanted I was by Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies.

Matthea Harvey
Interviewed by Jeannine Hall Gailey March 5th, 2008

Yes, you have nipped me
bitten me smitten me.

How the air scalds
between the inches

of our skin. Every cell
each molecule of the air

between us teems
with pollen, replete

with honey, bursting
with sparks and

their delicious malicious
sting — of this we sing.

Neile Graham

The body is a place of violence. Wolf teeth, amputated hands. Cover yourself with a cloak of leaves, a coat of a thousand furs, a paper dress. The dark forest has a code. The witch sometimes dispenses advice, sometimes eats you for dinner, sometimes turns your brother to stone.

You will become a canary in a castle, but you’ll learn plenty of songs. Little girl, watch out for old women and young men. If you don’t stay in your tower you’re bound for trouble. This too is code. Your body is the tower you long to escape,

and all the rotted fruit your babies. The bones in the forest your memories. The little birds bring you berries. The pebbles on the trail glow ghostly white.

Jeannine Hall Gailey

First off, my intent in using these approaches is not to mystify my readers. My agent once said to me, “I know you thought no one would `get’ this in your story but I understood what you were up to.” I wrote back that if I thought no one would get it, I wouldn’t have put it in there. There’s no purpose for an author deliberately making things obscure. What I am trying to do is show the way things really seem to me — and to find the most appropriate way to tell the particular story I have to tell. I certainly never sit down and say to myself, “Gee, I think I’ll tell a story in the first person or third person.” Some stories simply seem to need a first-person narrator, others are dream stories, another might require a third person narrator. What I try to do is find the narrative approach that is most appropriate to the subject matter.

Gene Wolfe
Interview with Larry McCaffery, November 1988

..let me begin with the work of J.G. Ballard. There has been a systematic re-vision of Ballard’s work in recent years. His uneasy relation to the genre was initially figured in terms of his unrelenting pessimism, his perversion of the teleological narrative of scientific progress so central to “hard” SF. Blish objected to the passivity in Ballard’s “disaster novels”: “you are under absolutely no obligation to do anything about it but sit and worship it” (James Blish, More Issues at Hand P128). Peter Nicholls condemned Ballard’s oeuvre outright: Ballard is “advocating a life style quite likely to involve the sudden death of yourself and those you love” (Peter Nichols, “Jerry Cornelius at the Atrocity Exhibition: Anarchy and Entropy in New Wave Science Fiction.” Foundation, Nov 1975). Ballard’s nihilism is exemplified by his obsessive representations of mutilation, suicidal passivity, and the embrace, the positive willing, of death. One interpretive possibility remains: that the “disaster novels” focus on “the perverse desires, mad ambitions, and suicidal manias of aberrant personalities now free to fulfil fatal aspirations devoid of any rational motivation” (George Barlow, “Ballard.” Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers. Ed. Curtis C. Smith.P32).

However, the re-vision began with Ballard’s dismissal of this “false” reading:

I don’t see my fiction as disaster-oriented…they’re…stories of psychic fulfillment. The geophysical changes which take place in The Drought, The Drowned World, and The Crystal World are all positive and good changes…[that] lead us to our real psychological goals…. Really, I’m trying to show a new kind of logic emerging, and this is to be embraced, or at least held in regard. (David Pringle and James Goddard. Interview with Ballard. Vector , March 1976.)

Peter Brigg and Warren Wagar have subsequently offered the inverted perspective and “perverse” argument that the literal catastrophe is metaphorically “transvalued” into positive narratives of psychic transcendence: that these are fables of “self-overcoming in perilous confrontation with the world” (1991Wagar, J.G. Ballard and the Transvaluation of Utopia. SFS , March 1991). Gregory Stevenson, in Out of the Nightmare and into the Dream, has taken this position to its most religiose extreme: all of Ballard’s work is to be encoded into a pseudo-Jungian-Christian mish-mash of transcendence. Death as the terminus, as liminal facticity and the problematic of finitude, is to be re-figured as the metaphorical transgression of the bounds of the bodily into an ultimate, ecstatic (re-)unification and (re-) integration.

In adjudicating on these competing frames, death is undoubtedly pivotal. The issue comes down to what form of death the Ballardian text proposes. Clearly the narrative of transcendence is attempting to shift from the “wrong” (literal) death to the “right” (metaphorical) death. Being-towards-death is replaced by Being-beyond-death. But it is not as simple as this straightforward substitution of deaths suggests. There is a certain violence in trying to elide Ballard’s oeuvre into a singular narrative, which tends to erase important differences between The Drowned World and The Crystal World, where textual evidence for transcendence is clear, and The Drought, which is more rigorously existential in concentrating on what Jaspers would call the unreadable and unattainable “cipher-script” of the Transcendent. Such a narrative is also uncomfortable with The Atrocity Exhibition where the concern for violence and death is displaced onto the figure of the Woman. It is also useful, I think, to retain Ballard’s clear debt to Freud’s speculations on the literal fact of human aggressivity and violence in Civilization and Its Discontents, especially as it is central to the book which so influenced Ballard, Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo.

It needs re-emphasizing that the literal and figural readings of death are inextricable and intertwined; transcendence of the bodily clearly depends on the facticity of the body in order to have any productive meaning. Why is this so important? Because in terms of SF criticism this re-visioning of Ballard forms a kind of meta-commentary on the project of legitimating SF as a whole genre.

Roger Luckhurst
The Many Deaths of Science Fiction: A Polemic

God & man

March 1, 2020

In the beginning man created God in his own image…

beyond belief

March 1, 2020

You’ll ache. And you’re going to love it. It will crush you. And you’re still going to love all of it. Doesn’t it sound lovely beyond belief?

Ernest Hemingway
The Garden of Eden

The language of dream

March 1, 2020

There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists.

Derrick Jensen
A Language Older Than Words

Religion and politics

March 1, 2020

When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.

Frank Herbert
Dune