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And the beat goes on . . .

The tattooing went well last night, though it looks like I will have one more session in about three weeks to finish details. But as promised, I will post some photos of it (nearly done) when I get a chance this afternoon. But now I am off to teach my last class of the semester! Yay!
  • Current Music
    Dead Can Dance- American Dreaming
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Ink on paper, ink on skin. Redux.

My prospectus is slowly wending its way through my committee and the reports from my chair are encouraging. I may not have to do any serious rewriting (knock on wood). Still waiting on my last member, but I'm feeling pretty good so far. I'm continuing to shape up journal submissions, and cv's, letters, abstracts, and all of that market prep stuff.

But more importantly, I had a tattoo appointment Friday. Casper (our tattooist) did some pretty intense work and it is sore, but its that good soreness you only get from tattooing. You can't see it yet, because it isn't finished. But once it is, it will be amazing.
  • Current Music
    Leonard Cohen- So Long Marianne (live)
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Ink: on paper, on skin

The dissertation prospectus has now been distributed to the rest of my committee after having finally passed muster with my chair. Hopefully there will not be a lot of rewriting after this. But of course that's what I said about the first few drafts.

While I'm waiting the assumed several weeks for them to get back to me I plan on starting the first chapter and getting as much of that done as possible. That shouldn't be too hard, since chapter one is basically my conceptual framework and that is some of the material I know really well. Chapter two is pretty familiar territory for me as well. It will be chapter three (the Brontes) that poses the major challenge. And trust me after that chapters four and five (Pater and Wilde respectively) will feel like dessert. Okay, probably not by the time I get to them.

But tonight I've been working hard on "The Bone-Garden." Its a short story I've been working on for awhile that has steadily become a novelette. It's currently at about 10,500 words and (thankfully) almost done. I don't write a lot of second-world fantasy, though there's a second-world novel I've been plotting in my head for a little under a decade, so this is a little bit of an exception to my usual routine. It has been both fun and frustrating.

And in other news, I will hopefully this coming weekend be adorned with some more ink. It has been almost four years since my last tattoo and, well, that is just too damn long.
  • Current Music
    A Perfect Circle- Judith
Blake

Fin de Siècle

I've got a number of things to work on over the next week. I need to determine how to squeeze what was supposed to be today's lecture on the context of The Tempest into Wednesday's class on the actual meat of the play. I've got to finish the third draft of my prospectus (which my chair promises is nearly there) and I also have something else in the works. I've started working freelance for Crimson Bamboo, writing tours for their app Rama. Basically its an app for walking tours that uses Google Maps and focuses on historical photos of the locations you are at. I wrote a tour for St. Augustine and I need to approve the edits before it goes live.

But tonight I decided that could wait until tomorrow. I've instead focused on the creative writing track, something I get to do little these days. A few years ago I finished the rough draft of a short story titled "Fin de Siècle." I liked it a lot, but I wasn't sure about it. I put it away and occasionally would tweak bits and pieces of it. I've always intended to work it into something finished and hopefully publishable. On a lark I opened it up tonight and worked through it, and now I think its actually in really good shape.
  • Current Music
    The Clash- Spanish Bombs
Blake

The campus blackout of 2011 and ICFA

I went to campus today, fully expecting to teach my class. And just as I was about to take roll and get things started, the power went out. After some scurrying around in the gloom to and from the English department office it was concluded that no one knew what happened and that we should give it a few minutes before letting our students go. So we sat in the dark while I attempted to make Caliban noises to entertain the class and then, when the power did not come back on I let them go. About ten minutes later as I was packing up my office in the lights shed by the emergency generator in the hall, the power came back on, much to the relief of the people trapped in the elevator.

I am back from ICFA which is always a great experience. I presented a paper, that amongst other things (briefly) quoted Brian Ateberry with Brian Ateberry in the room and he did not correct me, and indeed asked an interesting question and complimented me on the paper later.

I saw some really nice papers on a variety of topics. Kyle Stedman from my program presented on "The Rhetoric of the Ridiculous in Videogame Music Remixes" which was great especially considering how little interest I usually have (on a personal level) in fan culture stuff.

A.P. Canavan and Stefan Ekman presented papers during a session entitled "The Future and Language of Fantasy." Both were entertaining and intelligent. I am convinced that the two of them need to go on the road together.

There was a really cool panel on the work of Daína Chaviano (with the author herself attending) with Robin McAllister, Julie Lirot, and Juan Carlos Toledano Redondo. This panel was recorded with participants permission and will be up on Chaviano's website eventually.

The power-team of Jessica Jerrigan, Helen Pilinovsky, and Jeana Jorgensen presented in an excellent paper session entitled "The Laughs, Loves, and Bodies of Faerie."

There was also a great panel on Shakespeare and the Fantastic with Jim Casey, Kevin Crawford, Sharon Emmerichs, and guest of honor Connie Willis.

Speaking of Connie Willis: I've never actually read any of her work. I'm aware of her reputation, the numerous awards she has won, but I just haven't gotten around to reading her. Having heard her speak on panels now, I'm really going to have to pick something up, as she was smart, funny, and quite charming. I will have to fit her work in somewhere on my overburdned "to read" stack.

Coming to my paper session: I presented on Saturday at the cruel hour of 8:30 in the morning. It was a very good turn-out especially considering the time. I presented with Veronica Schanoes, and Taryne Taylor my compatriot (and fearless leader) in the student caucus. I really enjoyed being a part of this panel. Veronica's paper was on Lewis Carroll's Alice books, and Taryne introduced us to a much neglected Victorian poet named Rosamund Marriott Watson, whose work I need to become acquainted with. My paper was well-received, and I thought the other two papers were excellent.

In closing: ICFA always feels like home.

Edited to add:

If anyone knows Siobhan Carroll I'd really appreciate her contact information, I'd like to ask for a copy of her paper on China Mieville and Catherynne Valente. She presented opposite of me or I would have gone.
  • Current Music
    Florence + the Machine- Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)
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in the end you are just left with a stupid movie about sewing mouths to asses

I was going to include this in a breakdown of movies I've seen recently but decided I really had more to say about than that. A while ago, from what I felt was a strange sense of duty to the horror genre, I watched Human Centipede: First Sequence. My interest was the kind of prurient curiosity that got the this piece of ridiculous crap recognition in the first place. So I watched the whole thing with a fairly consistent narrative going on in my head, generally of the following kind "wow, this really does suck." It was nasty and disgusting, but those are not the reasons why it was a terrible film. I'm sure it pushed a few buttons, clearly Tom Six, the director, was counting on that, and its button pushing possibility is probably what is behind its success. But beyond the gruesomeness of "hey lets sew some peoples' mouths to other peoples' anuses and call it a movie!" there's not much else. I also would have written SPOILER ALERT there in giant bold letters, except that if you've heard the narrow premise, well then you've pretty much seen the film. Or at least the interesting bits (and they are not as interesting as they sound). Basically the movie is a mess, figuratively and literally. Its pacing is bad, its plot of full of holes, and ultimately it is boring. That's not even mentioning the sadism and sexual politics involved. As for those sexual politics, the components of the centipede are two women and a man. And the film's writer/director decides to silence the women pretty quickly (the man's the front while the women are the middle and back).

Its point of view is also incoherent, and this is apparent from the usage of various languages and subtitles in the American release. I know it seems nitpicky to point to the narrative perspective of a film I've already said fails miserably in multiple ways, but considering I'm already giving the picture a thorough lambasting, I might as well be complete. To give a rundown of Human Centipede's linguistic perspective, the director, Tom Six is Dutch. The film concerns two American girls who are kidnapped by a German as well as a random Japanese man who becomes the "head" of the centipede. So the first 15 or 20 minutes are in English (the girls setting themselves up as Ugly Americans) and is followed by an encounter with a German pervert. This encounter, which does not relate to the actual plot, is presented with the German speaking German, propositioning them in fairly vulgar fashion. We get the German's lines subtitled, so we know what he is saying while also viewing the girls' incomprehension (until one of them recognizes the word "fuck.") So the film's narrative position seems to place us, the observer, in the omniscient position. We are granted access to all of the languages spoken, including English, German, and Japanese. Yet director Six seems to forget the boundaries of this perspective, because his characters seem to incoherently merge into it. The madman who does all of the damage seems to share our linguistic omniscience, he understands English which he speaks throughout the film, even to the Japanese character. He also understands the Japanese character who speaks in subtitled Japanese. But then so do the American girls, at least at points where it seems to be increase the tension. It's as though Tom Six has forgotten that the subtitles are only visible to the audience, not the characters in the film.

Human Centipede does have some nicely composed shots. It does some interesting things with its visuals. But that, of course, is not enough. And this brings me to a larger point about horror cinema as I've watched it develop into the slick commodity it currently is. I often watch a horror movie and end up thinking about how nicely the shots were composed and how its use of light worked well and things like that, but also how the film didn't have anything beyond that. As production values have gone up and technology has made budget a little less relevant it seems that more bad films are thinking they can hide behind well-framed shots and interesting color palettes. The blood spatters more artfully, the contrast between shadows and light is more interesting, the set pieces are more dynamic, but what many of these films hide under these glossy surfaces is their vacuity, their unoriginality, their lack of compelling characters or stories. Most of the films of Alexandre Aja comes to mind for example. This isn't new exactly, Dario Argento has done this throughout his career. Suspiria is for all of its beautiful cinematography and use of color, a terrible film. And I'm not saying that the quality is worse or that more bad horror films are being made. But I do think it is getting easier to disguise a bad film with some pretty lighting and some interesting camera angles. I think directors like Tom Six believe they can come up with what they think is an audacious concept and film it well without anything else and that will somehow equal brilliant cinema. It won't and it doesn't, and in the end you are just left with a stupid movie about sewing mouths to asses.
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World Book Day Meme!

I apparently missed the memo that today is World Book Day (I've been buried under a cave in of research materials, but what else is new?)

Here's a World Book Day meme, courtesy of fjm.

The book I am reading: Multiple: Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, Burning Your Boats: The Collected Stories of Angela Carter by Angela Carter, Shirley by Charlotte Bronte.

The book I am writing: I haven't actually been writing a book proper since I finished Hallowed a year and a half ago. I've written some stories since then, but haven't put much effort into anything extended. Of course I should probably count the dissertation as a book, and that is tentatively titled "Of That Transfigured World": Realism and Fantasy in Victorian Literature.

The book I love most: Far too many to name. Liz Hand's Mortal Love remains a favorite, as does Bleak House by Dickens. But as I'm tempted to keep rattling off names of books I love, I think I'll stop.

The last book I received as a gift: I think it was a new copy of Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens from Erika

The last book I gave as a gift: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville to my brother for his birthday.

The nearest book on my desk: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by Vincent Leitch et al.

A substantive post is in order, and will happen soon.
  • Current Music
    David Bowie- The Heart's Filthy Lesson
Blake

A variety of things culled from other blogs in no particular coherence or order.

Why Egypt 2011 is not Iran 1979. I've heard a number of mainstream media commentators invoking the specter of the Iranian revolution, and I think that's generally inaccurate. This article points out why.

Vladimir Nabokov: Neglected Lepidopterist. This article is not for tendertalons

Cancun's underwater sculpture park. I can't wait to see photos in a few years when ocean life starts to colonize it and it starts to look like the "sea change" passage from The Tempest.
  • Current Music
    Fleet Foxes- Sun It Rises
Blake

Informative Coincidences

I created most of the syllabus for the class I'm currently teaching in the Fall of 2009 for the Practice Teaching Literature course. When I put it together I selected Joyce Carol Oates's story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,", Don Moser's "The Pied Piper of Tucson," and the lyrics from Bob Dylan's "Its All Over Now Baby Blue." Moser's piece is an article that appeared inLife Magazine in 1966, and it is the basis for the Oates story. "The Pied Piper of Tucson" is about Charles Schmid who murdered at least three teenagers in Arizona between 1964 and 1965. The case, because of the reporting of Moser and others like him became a national topic.

I was re-reading and annotating Moser's article this weekend in preparation for teaching it soon, and I was struck by an interesting passage at the end. After chronicling the events and the bizarre figure of Charles Schmid Moser notes: "The people of Tucson wait uneasily for what fresh scandal the two trials may develop. Civic leaders publicly cry that a slur has been cast o their community by an isolated crime."

I was struck by this, of course because I--like most people who have followed last weekends shooting spree in Tucson--have heard a number of local officials saying the exact same things. I saw the mayor himself attempt to dodge around the statements that the sheriff made, and insist on the health and happiness of the community. But, just like in 1966, there's something wrong. These claims of isolation are perhaps true on the level of the individual crime, but it's hard to deny that something is amiss. Don Moser's article focused on Charles Schmid, but it also used Schmid as a way of thinking and talking about the dark things that were going on in America. It shouldn't be surprising that Psycho which also examined the dark undercurrent in our national life opened just a few years before in 1960 and took as its territory that American no man's land between Arizona and California, (starting in Phoenix and ending in a fictional Northern California town).

The correlation between my planned teaching of this article and the more recent events in Tucson is a coincidence, but it is an informative one. Moser recognized something going wrong in America and used the story of a young and apparently popular serial killer to illuminate it. I hope we can use our current trauma to come to a better understanding of precisely what ails us now.
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    tired tired