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Showing posts from 2016

The Election of Donald J. Trump as a Two-Horse Steeplechase

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Authors’ note: The election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency in November 2016 raised many questions, not all of which have been answered. It is suggested that a less conventional view of the events of that day provide a more satisfactory explanation. In particular, Alfred Jarry’s ‘The Crucifixion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race’ and Ballard’s ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a Downhill Motor Race’ give us useful leads.
Sanders, slated to start, was scratched.
Obama was the starter. The former champion, retiring from racing, gave the send-off.
Clinton made a good start on the donkey. Some commentators have suggested that her choice of steed, and a propensity to ride facing backwards, were tactical misjudgements. Trump, on the elephant, was slow out of the gate.
The Capitol track is one of the most difficult on the circuit. We need hardly mention the deplorable events of 1865, 1881, 1897 and 1963, all of which concerned malpractice in the use of the starting p…

Self-regard

In a book I dearly love, and which I have read many many times, Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut describes a scene from his youth, in which he suggests that he wouldn't play a particular school friend at table tennis because the ball had so much spin on it, it was as liable to go up one's own nostril as back over the net. When this fiendish spinner of the ping-pong ball met another classmate, Skip, he met his Waterloo: 'Skip cut me a new asshole', the friend reported to Vonnegut. While partaking of a little schadenfreude in relation to his friend's 'colostomy to his self-regard', Vonnegut spins this into a parable about the relation of oneself to the world: no matter how much you think you're hot stuff, if you go out into the world you're bound to meet Albert Einstein or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who will inevitably provide you with a supernumerary asshole.

Well, I've never felt I was hot stuff. It's probably my working class upbringing and all that,…

Inside the Pod

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A couple of years ago now, myself and (now former) PhD student Chris organised a small symposium at our university which focused on 1964. Our paper was on 'The Future of the University', in which we referred to a famous speech by Mario Savio at the time of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in that year of 1964 (I also blogged about it). In that speech Savio's wonderful rhetoric runs:


"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"

Savio is able to make a distinction between the machine and the human, the gears and levers and the workers w…

I want to be a machine

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Six years ago now, I wrote a post called 'Android Rock', which was about synthesisers and Gary Numan and the future. In the interim my musical tastes have shifted much more to this kind of music:  not only post-punk and synth-pop from 1978 to 1982, but crucial antecedents like Krautrock or kosmische 1970s German bands (from Tangerine Dream to Kraftwerk to Manuel Göttsching, but mainly Michael Rother in Neu! or Harmonia or solo), space rock, electronic experimentation, psychedelia. And of course Bowie, always Bowie.

In 2010 Bowie was retired, 6 years hence; but in 2014 we got The Next Day, and then in January 2016 we had Blackstar, and then... I couldn't listen to Blackstar for months after Bowie died. And I put on 'I Can't Give Everything Away' as I write this, and it's a goodbye, with that harmonica, and a return to the sound of his wedding album Black Tie White Noise, and then some Fripp-guitar at the end, and I think - I miss having DB around. The title…

On the road to Barrow: cultural criticism and creative writing

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I've just changed the subtitle of this blog to 'science fiction in the cultural field', to reflect my methods and also the rather wandering nature of this blog over the last few years. A broader sense of cultural production has always been where I've come from critical, rather than a 'literature' enthusiast, student,  scholar, critic. My first degree, at the University of Warwick, was on English and American literature but contained courses on Culture and Society, Film Studies and US society and culture 1955-65. (I followed up the latter by moving to take an MA in American Studies at UEA a couple of years later.) My PhD, on American dystopias of the 50s and 60s, was resolutely culturalist. My first full-time teaching job was as a lecturer in film and media; then I moved to teach literature and film; and in my current job I teach and lecture on a wide range of courses.

One of the lovely things about teaching at my current university is that we're a departme…

What happens next

Let's be honest, I've let this blog slip a bit over the last year or so. In previous years I've posted about once every three or 4 weeks, but I didn't post much in 2015 and nothing until September this year. Partly it's because of time, and partly it's because, as a writing project, the blog has been very successful, though not in the ways I anticipated. I started it up to support my science fiction classes I teach at university, and to help in trying out some thoughts on a book I was writing (the Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism in Science Fiction, which came out in 2014, but took me an age to complete for a variety of reasons.) It only marginally helped with both, but became a kind of try-out zone, with several of the posts eventually being written up in longer, more academic pieces for journal and book publication and for talks and conference papers. So, a post on Interstellar became a talk I age at the University of Edinburgh and a conference paper…

Speaking Out and Up: me, the university and the community

Ok, this is hard to put into words. Ever since Brexit, xenophobia and racism have become mainstream discourses. This we know. Theresa May’s government is set on a ‘hard’ exit from the EU which will be economically damaging and culturally toxic, turning England into an inward-looking, nostalgic, isolated backwater. Friends and colleagues have been horrified by these events, especially those who are resident here but not UK nationals. I don't feel at home in the UK myself, so I can only guess at their feelings. Last night, a Polish woman was apparently booed on BBC Question Time for expressing these feelings, an audience who don't want to know about the pain their xenophobia is causing. I live in Wales and would dearly love for Wales to become independent (even though I was born, raised and educated in England and still work there) from an England and Englishness whose public sphere has been systematically undermined and poisoned over decades, so now The Sun – proven liars over…

Al-Andalus

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Well, I haven’t done this for a while.

Anyway, me and the family have just got back from the Altiplano de Granada in southern Spain – in Andalucia, in fact. It’s a fascinating place, of course, the region of Spain that stretches from Cadiz over on the Atlantic west coast to Almeria in the east. The Altiplano de Granada is an arid, high plain in the north-east of the region of Granada, and about 150km from that city. These high, dry uplands very much reminded me of the landscapes of the Spaghetti Westerns, of course, a lot of which were shot a bit further south of where we stayed.
We rented a cave-house built in the hillside above a dusty Andalucian village called Galera. Walking up to where the unmade and precipitous roads ended, to get a view over the town and, beyond, the plain, the area revealed itself almost as a Mars-scape, a place of dust and flattened hills and mountains erupting from the flat terrain. Up above the cave-houses sat a round, whitewashed building, part Moorish an…