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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A friend recently introduced me to the joys sci-fi writer China Mieville who  has a new collection of short stories out titled Three Moments of an Explosion.  

It is not the book, which I have to get, but Rhys Williams' review in The LA Review of books that brought me to the blog in agitation.  It  raises what I think are some pretty profound questions, not the least of which come up at the end:

More is possible, these stories suggest, more is already out there — but only if we acknowledge that what we have, and what we are, is neither necessary nor proper.

It is in this utter, evangelical conviction, that I hear the echo of Jonathan Edwards crying out in the second Great Awakening to the sons and daughters of the Puritan emigrants:  "You are sinners in the hands of an angry God; " and "This world is but a shadow of a better, truer world that is heaven."

The jeremiac call that I see in so many reviews shouldn't be troubling (at least they work hard at the actual work of a review to provide critical thinking and don't simply provide summary and end with a cursory apologetic on the subjective nature of opinion.) We need clarion calls to re-evaluate the current state of affairs.  We need those calls to point to aid and succor, whether it be found in arts, technology, or some hopeful combination thereof.   

Of course, it is not only reviews that make this claim of another, truer, world:

"Only art penetrates … the seeming realities of this world," Saul Bellow asserted in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech"There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we can’t receive.” Pablo Neruda
One of  Emily Dickinson's so called Envelop Poems
(Lifted from this week's Brain Pickings ) 

It is not this questing for a truer world that niggles or even the claim that art is the truest path there.  Anything/anyone that doubts and prods the self's self-satisfaction in the world is a delight.  

William Blake, Red Dragon.  Brooklyn Museum of Art
Rather, it begins with Williams' assertion that our nature is sinful and flawed, "neither necessary nor proper"  and needs to be replaced with a better nature in order to bring about a better world that raises the hair on the back of my neck. One might manage to shrug off the puritanical ideology easily enough; however, Williams makes a fervid argument that this conviction is a radical response to the status quo:  It is not Mieville's writing per se that makes it so potent for this reviewer; it is rather that the writing can be pinned unwriggling to the template of William's revolutionary necessity.  

Against a false sense of ontological security (a trust in the rightness of our identities, ways of life, and understandings of the world) he draws on and cultivates a style of ontological insecurity that is a defining effect of the Weird tradition

To insist that the unstable is a knowable good—a transformational good that will save not just the reader but civilization as a whole—is is the first step to commodifying the arduous work of resistance.  The gratuitous sensationalizing of that work like we see in this review provides the next step.  Still, all of this might be understood to be the very real joy of a besotted reader.  Unfortunately, it does not end there.

The shift in the final paragraph to an assertion that only Mieville understands the current need for resistance to the old order leads Williams to an outrageously condescending stance toward readers:

Yet I also think it is aiming to do something more: It is attempting to be a literature adequate to our times, and it is attempting to create readers who are adequate as well.

Nebuchadnezzer from Andy White's Blog
Though as Williams goes on to articulate just what that, apparently hypothetical, reader would look like, he twins himself to Mievilles'  supposed agenda of creating the ideal reader.  In the end, it is Williams himself, purportedly speaking on behalf of Mieville, who is attempting to re-create the reader in his own image—the ideal reader adequate for the age.

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