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The ten thousand things and the one true only.

by Kip Manley

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of reversals.

After twelve years of marriage, Wheeler had a f--ry-tale-like reversal of fortune and escaped in high style. She and her daughters snuck off to the coast and her brother sailed them to Guernsey. Her uncle, who was the island’s governor, lived in splendor in the gubernatorial mansion. He retained a French governess and teachers who taught his niece along with her daughters, and he introduced her to dukes, diplomats, and European émigrés. Charmed by her intelligence, they helped her cultivate the arts of repartee and debate. One duke, a cousin of the future king of France, courted her for twelve years, ignoring the fact that she was still married (until the death of Massey in 1820). It didn’t hurt Anna’s cause that she had matured into a beauty, with pale skin, gently curled chestnut hair, grey-blue eyes, an aquiline nose, and a mouth that was, according to her uncharacteristically complimentary daughter, “the most beautiful I ever saw, teeth dazzling as a row of oriental pearls; her smile most enchanting. Anna’s voice was low and sweet,” wrote Rosina, “the most excellent thing in women.”

After Anna’s uncle returned to England, she left the island, too. One of her son-in-law’s biographers—Rosina married the bestselling novelist and politician Edward Bulwer, Lord Lytton—says that when she left, nearly everyone on Guernsey gathered on the beach to say goodbye. She moved to Caen, France, where she became, according to her grandson, “the bel esprit of a little group of socialists and freethinkers, to the support of whose doctrines she devoted both her purse and her pen.” These were the Saint-Simonistes, named after Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, a French aristocrat turned philosopher who proposed the formation of collectivist communities of industrial workers; his followers later developed a strain of eroticism (evident in Saint-Simon’s writings) that landed many of them in jail.

Trading Caen for London, Wheeler became a friend and correspondent of Robert Owen, the founder of Co-operativism, the leading British socialist movement at the time. Co-operators, also known as Owenites, were dismayed by the combined ravages of industrialization and increasing inequality, and envisioned a classless, communitarian world. This would be brought about, initially, by communities of mutual association, voluntary and democratically-governed settlements in which the fruits of all labor would be distributed to laborers (think: early kibbutzes). When industrial workers realized the advantages of self-sufficiency, Owenites reasoned, they’d abandon the factories and, with them, industrial capitalism. They’d also become happier and more benevolent, thus proving one of Owenism’s central tenets, that human character was formed by circumstance, not nature—a belief that made Owenism particularly appealing to women.

Judith Shulevitz

—posted 60 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of representation.

But to leave our Playes, and return to theirs, I have noted one great advantage they have had in the Plotting of their Tragedies; that is, they are always grounded upon some known History: accarding to that of Horace, Ex noto fictum carmen sequar; and in that they have so imitated the Ancients that they have supass’d them. For the Ancients, as was observ’d before, took for the foundation of their Playes some Poetical Fiction, such as under that consideration could move but little concernment in the Audience, because they already knew the event of it. But the French goes farther;

Atque ita mentitur; sic veris falsæ remiscet,
Primo ne medium, medio ne discrepet imum:

He so interweaves Truth with probable Fiction, that he puts a pleasing Fallacy upon us; mends the intrigues of Fate, and dispenses with the severity of History, to reward that vertue which has been rendred to us there unfortunate. Sometimes the story has left the sucess so doubtful, that the Writer is free, by the priviledge of a Poet, to take that which of two or more relations will best sute with his design: As for example, the death of Cyrus, whom Justin and some others report to have perish’d in the Scythian war, but Xenophon affirms to have died in his bed of extream old age. Nay more, when the event is past dispute, even then we are willing to be deceiv’d, and the Poet, if he contrives it with appearance of truth; has all the audience of his Party; at least during the time his Play is acting: so naturally we are kind to vertue, when our own interest is not in question, that we take it up as the general concernment of Mankind. On the other side, if you consider the Historical Playes of Shakespeare, they are rather so many Chronicles of Kings, or the business many times of thirty or forty years, crampt into a representation of two hours and a half, which is not to imitate or paint Nature, but rather to draw her in miniature, to take her in little; to look upon her through the wrong end of a Perspective, and receive her Images not onely much less, but infinitely more imperfect then the life: this instead of making a Play delightful, renders it ridiculous.

Quodcunque ostendis mihi sic, incredulus odi.

For the Spirit of man cannot be satisfied but with truth, or at least verisimility; and a Poem is to contain, if not τα ετυμα, yet ετυμοισιν ομοια, as one of the Greek Poets has expres’d it.

John Dryden, Esq.

—posted 70 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the feminine.

When I say feminine album, immediately the perception is that it must be soft and lovely, but I mean feminine in the violent sense. Desiring, but not being able to define your desire, wanting power but being powerless and blaming it on yourself, or just hurting yourself as a way to let out the aggression in you. It’s a lot of pent-up anger or desire without a socially acceptable outlet.

Mitski Miyawaki

—posted 78 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of stupidity.

A pedal voice—“…stupid, stupid, stupid…”—that had begun sometime in unremembered childhood whenever he’d been asked questions he couldn’t answer, that had continued whenever he’d been asked questions he couldn’t answer, that had continued whenever he’d been asked questions he’d had to answer “no,” and that had finally come whenever he’d been asked any questions at all or even had to ask them, suddenly became audible. A tiny voice, still it had insisted as relentlessly (and as unobtrusively) as his own heartbeat, at least since the man in a circular desk had told him to say, ”Yes.”

But the reason he heard it at all, now, was because another voice, which felt and sounded and settled in his mind as if it were his own (but had to have come from somewhere else), suddenly took that small voice up and declared: “…stupid,” on the beat, and then went on, off the beat and overwhelming it: “stupidity: a process, not a state. A human being takes in far more information than he or she can put out. ‘Stupidity’ is a process or strategy by which a human, in response to social denigration of the information she or he puts out, commits him- or herself to taking in no more information than she or he can put out. (Not to be confused with ignorance, or lack of data.) Since such a situation is impossible to achieve because of the nature of mind/perception itself in its relation to the functioning body, a continuing downward spiral of functionality and/or information dissemination results,” and he understood why! “The process, however, can be reversed,” the voice continued, “at any time…”

Samuel R. Delany

—posted 86 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the good guys.

Stories about good guys and bad guys that are implicitly moral—in the sense that they invest an individual’s entire social identity in him not changing his mind about a moral issue—perversely end up discouraging any moral deliberation. Instead of anguishing over multidimensional characters in conflict—as we find in the Iliad, or the Mahabharata or Hamlet—such stories rigidly categorise people according to the values they symbolise, flattening all the deliberation and imagination of ethical action into a single thumbs up or thumbs down. Either a person is acceptable for Team Good, or he belongs to Team Evil.

Good guy/bad guy narratives might not possess any moral sophistication, but they do promote social stability, and they’re useful for getting people to sign up for armies and fight in wars with other nations. Their values feel like morality, and the association with folklore and mythology lends them a patina of legitimacy, but still, they don’t arise from a moral vision. They are rooted instead in a political vision, which is why they don’t help us deliberate, or think more deeply about the meanings of our actions. Like the original Grimm stories, they’re a political tool designed to bind nations together.

It’s no coincidence that good guy/bad guy movies, comic books and games have large, impassioned and volatile fandoms—even the word “fandom” suggests the idea of a nation, or kingdom. What’s more, the moral physics of these stories about superheroes fighting the good fight, or battling to save the world, does not commend genuine empowerment. The one thing the good guys teach us is that people on the other team aren’t like us. In fact, they’re so bad, and the stakes are so high, that we have to forgive every transgression by our own team in order to win.

Catherine Nichols

—posted 94 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the rhizome.

Take the plunge: an ethics of engagement. One that contains, among its tics and dispositions, political tendencies that are anything but spontaneist in the way the word is thrown around to mean anything goes and nothing really matters. For speculative pragmatism, anything potentially goes. But precisely because of that, every little thing matters—more than we can ever know in advance. Everything matters; but everything also matters on, following the singular trail of potential’s unfolding. To prove equal to the import, to follow the trail of the mattering-on, to honor the potential of the process, it is necessary to participate with great pragmatic and speculative care—and just as much artfulness. There is by the nature of this activity a political element to it. The art of mutual inclusion, with care: that could stand as the very definition of the political.

Brian Massumi

—posted 102 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of perfusion.

It seems a strange thing, when one comes to ponder over it, that a sign should leave its interpreter to supply part of its meaning; but the explanation of the phenomenon lies in the fact that the entire universe—not merely the universe of existents, but all that wider universe, embracing the universe of existents as a part, the universe which we are all accustomed to refer to as “the truth”—that all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.

Charles S. Peirce

—posted 112 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of zettai ryōiki.

Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove, and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.

Roland Barthes

—posted 120 days ago

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Nine stitches saved.

I did mean to publish this here, two weeks after I published it there. One loses track of such things, one puts them off, one comes back to them eventually. Pretend, for a moment, it’s December; pretend, for a moment, the world isn’t burning; pretend—

So Thanksgiving morning I metaphorically put down the metaphorical pen: the first draft of no. 31, “ – marble sends regards – ”, was complete, at 22,675 words. —As of this morning, one week later, it’s down to about 20,000 words. Only a couple thousand more to cut?

I know I’ve said it before, “this one is different,” but, you know, this one is different. I wasn’t writing to a specific outline; I just, I knew where I was starting out, I knew where I needed to end up, and I just headed off in that direction, stopping here or there to see what I might along the way. So the first draft meanders a bit, there’s some flailing as I try to figure out what this bit’s about, or that one’s doing, or when I suddenly realize what the whole thing needs to have done already. Revision this time round mostly involves stitching those later revelations more neatly into the flow and structure of the thing, which is dimly interesting, I suppose, in that I usually front-load scenes with detail that must be pushed back, held off, removed—I’m not sure that’s making much sense, actually, outside of my head. Apologies. It’s still terribly early here. —I’ve jokingly referred to this as my Klein-bottle episode, but that’s another joke that might not make much sense in an outside voice. —Still early. I’ve had more coffee, though.

I said I wasn’t writing to a specific outline: that’s not entirely true. The first words I wrote for this draft were twelve words: six opening, well, not lines, per se, but:

The body.
The water.
The sun.
The air.
Those teeth.
The light.

So there’s that.

(Also, I’ve gotten rid of the yellow stripes. They weren’t doing anything you’d miss.)

Insofar as end-of-year what-have-we-done musings go, it’s mostly regret and chagrin. No. 30 took entirely too long to write, and no. 31 took a bit longer to write than I’d like, in general, but I’d always known it would.

There’s also the essay, half-started, that glares at me from another text-editing window: on some of the stuff roiled up by no. 31, stuff that’s been pressing pretty much since no. 2: about, among other things, the whiteness of Portland, and the whiteness of urban fantasy, and when it’s anywhere near being done you’ll be the first to see it. But it’s not. —So.

(I don’t mind a bit of regret and chagrin: like bitters in a good cocktail, they add a bit of savor and depth—but one would hardly wish to drink them straight. Look ahead, look ahead!) So! Two more numbers to write next year, and a book design to overhaul, and a third book to assemble, proof, and get to market. —More immediately: you should be seeing no. 31 in a few weeks here, just before the close of the year.

So. I should probably get back to that.

(Thanks again, so much, to all of you.)

—posted 128 days ago

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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the lightning.

All this may have something to do with cinema‘s “electricity problem.” So: electricity is a major part of modern life (and continues to play a major part in cinema’s various SFnal futures). Ah, but here’s the thing: electricity is invisible. Since cinema recoils from the visually unrepresentable a convention has grown up such that “electricity” means: “sparking electrical discharge.” That’s pretty much the height and breadth of the way all electricity is represented in popular cinema, from the animation of Frankenstein’s monster, to the Jawas zapping R2D2. Much as, in The Simpsons celebrated movie gag, cows have to be painted to look like horses because “horses don’t look like horses on screen,” the movie convention for the representation of electricity is a kind of white-blue matrix of shimmering and sparking firework light-effects. We know this isn’t how electricity works in real life, but we accept the visual convention by which something internal and invisible is externalised and visualised in order to fit the representational logic of the medium. And that’s fine, just as long as we don’t confuse a representational convention with reality.

I suspect violence is like this. The thing to bear in mind is: the fact that physical violence is simpler to represent visually than other kinds of violence doesn’t make physical violence the truth of violence as such, especially in the 21st-century world. I’m not of course denying that actual physical violence happens in the world: not denying that men beat women, that people injure and kill people. But I am suggesting that, outside actual warzones, other forms of violence are more pervasive and intrusive. A punch to the gut hurts for a while; growing up female, or gay, or Black in a sexist, homophobic and racist society presses violently upon your very soul the whole time.

Adam Roberts

—posted 157 days ago

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