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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 police.

Imagine, a few decades after the big changes, say, in the 2090s, when ordinary people have access to nanotech (the way today every fourth or fifth homeless guy wears a Walkman with sound quality that would have blasted a 1950s “Hi-Fi” enthusiast right out of his rumpus room). Suppose you could carry in a toothpaste tube the nanotech stuff to build a pretty decent one or two room house out of whatever junk happened to be lying around. And suppose that, after you were finished with it, the stuff went back into the toothpaste tube of its own accord so that you could use it again. Press, squeeze, and you’re a little less homeless—at least for the night. As ever, though, I imagine the police will still come by early in the morning with toothpaste tubes of their own, full of foam specially programmed to disassemble the hastily constructed shelters back into junk; and the again-homeless will be told to move on.

Samuel R. Delany

—posted 14 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of tradition.

I have, however, since entering the field, restricted the meaning I attach to the term “patriarchy.” For many, it is synonymous with “the subordination of women.” It carries this meaning for me, too, but with this qualification: I add the words “here and now.” This makes a big difference. When I hear it said, as I often do, that “patriarchy has changed between the stone age and the present,” I know that it is not “my” patriarchy that is being talked about. What I study is not an ahistoric concept that has wandered down through the centuries but something peculiar to contemporary industrial societies. I do not believe in the theory of survivals—and here I am in agreement with other Marxists. An institution that exists today cannot be explained by the fact that it existed in the past, even if this past is recent. I do not deny that certain elements of patriarchy today resemble elements of the patriarchy of one or two hundred years ago; what I deny is that this continuance—insofar as it really concerns the same thing—in itself constitutes an explanation.

Many people think that when they have found the point of origin of an institution in the past, they hold the key to its present existence. But they have, in fact, explained neither its present existence nor even its birth (its past appearance), for one must explain its existence at each and every moment by the context prevailing at that time; and its persistence today (if really is persistence) must be explained by the present context. Some so-called historical explanations are in fact ahistorical, precisely because they do not take account of the given conditions of each period. This is not History but mere dating. History is precious if it is well conducted, if each period is examined in the same way as the present period. A science of the past worthy of the name cannot be anything other than a series of synchronic analyses.

The search for origins is a caricature of this falsely historical procedures and is one of the reasons why I have denounced it, and why I shall continue to denounce it each and every time it surfaces—which is, alas, far too frequently. (The other reason why I denounce the search for origins is the use of its hidden naturalistic presuppositions.) But from the scientific point of view, it is as illegitimate to seek keys to the present situation in the nineteenth century as in the Stone Age.

Since 1970, then, I have been saying that patriarchy is the system of subordination of women to men in contemporary industrial societies, that this system has an economic base, and that this base is the domestic mode of production. It is hardly worth saying that these three ideas have been, and remain, highly controversial.

Christine Delphy

—posted 29 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of phantasy.

Psycho-analysis divides people into two types—introverted and extraverted. Introversion represents error in man, a straying away from reality into self, a going of the mind into mind. Both psycho-analysis and criticism agree that this process cannot, or rather should not produce art. Both processes, or their possibility, exist in each individual (psycho-analysis is forced to admit that introversion always exists; extraversion exists if the individual is “successful”). They may, it is held, be combined in phantasy; and phantasy produces “living reality,” art. But what is this phantasy but the whole introversive world of man behaving extraversively—the collective-real? Unless it is introversion actually transformed in the individual into extraversion, individual mind into matter of “more than individual use” (as Mr. Read defines creative phantasies)—the individual-real? The opposition between collective-real and individual-real disappears in the general agreement between all parties that, by no matter what method, introversion must be extraverted. Likewise the opposition between romanticism and classicism: romanticism is acceptable if it has an extraverted, classical touch; classicism is not necessarily damaged by an introverted, romantic touch, so long as it does not lose complete hold of extraversion.

Laura (Riding) Jackson

—posted 37 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of rhythm.

Rhythm is that property of a sequence of events in time which produces on the mind of the observer the impression of proportion between the duration of several events or groups of events of which the sequence is composed.

Edward Adolf Sonnenschein

—posted 45 days ago


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Eight for a wish.

19,204 words, this draft. A trend I’m not terribly fond of, I must admit. But at least the first draft of no. 30 is finally, finally done, though you should know that by “done” I don’t mean what I meant when I said the first draft of no. 29 was “done,” or no. 28 either, or nos. 27, 26, 25, et cetera, etcetera, for that matter.

A word, perhaps, about process? —The drafts I write are fairly polished: they begin where they’re going to begin, the end up where they’ll end up ending up, and they get there pretty much how they get there, sentences complete, dialogue neatly tied off, mostly, to a degree. I write them one word after another, start to finish, with very little skipping around, and for all that I like to imagine myself a fly-by-night, turn-on-a-dime, pants-seated improviser, the truth is I write to a pretty specific outline, one that’s pretty well fixed before I type the first word. It’s just not written down, really, beyond a simple list of scenes, usually just the names of key players, sometimes a location, or an action. Nothing more. I’ve already got the feel of the thing in my head, the weight of each scene, how it sits in the hand, a sort of synæsthetic proprioception that the list merely helps me keep straight. —Writing, then, largely consists of finding the actual-words-in-an-actual-sentence that will best fit to that inarticulable feel in the palm of my mind. (Helps to explain, perhaps, my meagre daily word counts: the fixed, unyielding goal is four hundred words a day: minuscule, perhaps, but enough to hypothetically complete a draft in a month; in terms of actual words set down in actual sentences, my average is south of two hundred words a day. Over the course of writing no. 30 alone, it fell from one hundred eighty three words or so a day to one hundred seventy words a day. —Another trend I do not like.)

Revision’s simple enough, then: each scene re-typed, descriptions rejiggered, reshuffled, removed (I tend to stick in too many to start, and all at the beginning); dialogue sanded and buffed, felicitized or awkwardified as needed; every now and then a scene’s shifted from here to there, or back again—the weight of actual words can sometimes warp a scene’s fit and feel to a whole new shape. Sometimes, a scene’s removed; sometimes, it’s replaced with something else entirely. The tyranny, of those actual words. —Then one more pass, to fit everything into the iron constraints of the 36-page ’zine format (me, a formalist! Who’d‘ve thought), and a final proofing pass (not as thorough as could be, I’ll grant, but I get what I pay for), and we’re done and on to the next.

But this draft! This draft. (Fuck this draft.) The shapes of the scenes keep slipping through the fingers of my mind, and the actual words I end up with suddenly make the shape of what happens next taste impossibly foul. (I did say it was synæsthetic.) Whole scenes written down in this “done” draft are not what they will need to be, will have entirely different people doing and saying rather different things someplace else, or probably will, or should. I realized about halfway through I actually didn’t know why what was happening was happening, or rather I came to suspect that the verse I was singing was really the chorus, which knocked the whole foyer off-kilter. (Synæsthesia! Just run with it.) —Ordinarily, when I lose my footing like this, I dry up; I poke and poke; I run up daily counts in the dozens, the handfuls, the goose-eggs. I usually wipe out the scene in question and start again, fitting new words to the shape, or weighing the shape itself against the words. A few times I’ve gone right back to the start. But not this time; not this draft. The words never petered out, per se? I just kept stacking them, one actual, actually wrong word after another, and my outline’s lit up blinking red in my mind’s eye, every written scene notional post-its: adjust, cut, rejigger, rewrite from scratch, do something, please for the love of Christ. The last two scenes aren’t even scenes as such, just copious notes as to what ought to happen, if and when, the sort of thing I never do. Placeholders.

So. But still. Done. Or “done.” Or maybe the issue isn’t that word; maybe the issue is that when I say a “draft” of no. 30, I don’t mean the same thing I meant when I spoke of a “draft” of nos. 29, or 28, or 27…

(And of course it’s the next one, no. 31, that’s supposed to be the big showstopping heavy-hitter. This one was just supposed to move the pieces into place. Make certain character A gets to point B knowing fact C in time for event D, for various values of A and B and C, etc. —Like they say, theorists study strategy; professionals study logistics.)

—posted 58 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of good fences.

As the world of the literatures of the fantastic was (we knew even then) much more extensive than the world of anything that we might end up defining as English-language science fiction (hence SF), our initial overall challenge was to work out how to sort the traffic: anything we licensed as SF please park here; everything else go somewhere else (but we knew not where).

Any initial arrogance about defining our terms was quickly chastened. The task, we decided pretty soon, was not exactly to create a universal definition of SF, for we knew (by then) that this could not be done; the task was to create an encompassing but porous boundary marker that would convince us that it plausibly enclosed something or other that fitted better inside than out (and which should be written about). Clearly we needed to operate within a narrower remit than E. F. Bleiler had applied to the construction of his brilliant Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948), which included without distinguishing amongst them “science fiction, fantasy and weird books in the English language,” and making no claim to completeness. Bleiler’s superb book was a sampler; for our part, in order to create a work of reference that left nothing out, we would attempt to adhere to a description of SF “defined” as a marriage of the various definitions of the genre that were then current. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction would be, in other words, a tenement. The published result was an interwoven edifice of entries within a boundary line marked SF, exceedingly fuzzy, leaking every which way; an eruv that did not safely distinguish the sacred from the profane. The moat protecting our tenement was a water margin.

But it worked for a while, and in a way it still works, partly because our “definition” of SF as being essentially whatever everyone else thought it was seemed sufficiently broadchurch to allow users and scholars to make use of us without surrendering their own takes on the matter. Our deliberate refusal to know exactly what we were talking about—our refusal to know what SF truly was—was, I continue to think, a good model for writing encyclopedias.

John Clute

—posted 102 days ago


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

Before we decided film should tell stories, we were content with the Lumière brothers’ slices-of-life and Méliès’ magic tricks, with workers leaving factories and trains arriving at stations, with the miracle that pictures were moving at all. And a young film viewer’s ontogeny recapitulates film-historical philogeny. Young children are at a protocinematic stage of development: they enjoy picture books and nonsense nursery rhymes, improvisational dance, scribbling with crayons, and other repetitive, relatively drama-free, narrative-free, content-free entertainments. They are attracted to cinema for its motion and its color and, for lack of a better word, its “magic.” Uncorrupted by exposure to more sophisticated entertainments, they ask no more of motion pictures than that they be what they are: motion-pictures.

As cinema grew up and learned to talk in the 1930s, it developed more rules and conventions. And as children grow, they learn how a movie is “supposed” to go; they internalize the beats of the structure. Most people spend the rest of their lives watching a type of film they were taught to enjoy in their childhood. Those who venture into the world of international film, art film, and counter-cinema may find that it’s not just about developing a taste for the slow or unusual, or getting out ahead of our desire for traditional narrative—it’s about getting back to our cinematic state of nature. Perhaps our mistake is in wanting to use films, to have them cater to us and keep us from boredom, rather than to see them, love them, and respect them as the free, precious, ephemeral things that they are.

Lauren Wilford

—posted 112 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of the cheapest and the lowest.

Consider the barrenness of the notions that earthly things fall because they sink to the earth’s center or that fire rises to the empyrean home of burning suns and stars (i.e., the Aristotelian teleologies in physics). Yes, they accord well with our sense that falling and rising are peculiarly interesting aspects of the observed world. For centuries, however, the former made it harder to get to the Newtonian insight that all matter attracts all matter—and the Earth just happens, in a boring, quantitative way, to be the largest lump around. Similarly, the latter made it harder to see that anything less dense floats in anything more dense. Fire isn’t heading home. It’s just buoyant in a limited, measurable sense that has nothing to do with its romantic and sentimental associations.

Ditto for Galileo’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities; ditto for entelechies in biology. The mechanization of the world picture had its costs: One could no longer appreciate Dante in the same way, because Satan’s imprisonment at the Earth’s center—as far as possible from the heavens—had become a matter of sound physics and cosmology.

Such developments have moved around considerations of the Platonic overworld until it becomes the object of most of Rilke’s poetry, or—in another direction—the Symbolique of that extraordinary psychoanalyst, whose seminars I attended for four months during my second stay in Paris…

Timothy Hasler

—posted 120 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of Iubhdhán’s house.

I have a house in the land to the north, one half of it red gold, the lower half of silver.

Its porch is of white bronze and its threshold of copper, and of the wings of white-yellow birds is its thatch, I think.

The candlesticks are golden, with a candle of great purity, with a gem of precious stone in the very middle of the house.

But for myself and the high-queen, none of us are sad; a household there without old age, with yellow curly-crested hair.

Every man is a chess-player, there are good companies there without exclusion; the house is not closed against man or woman going to it.

unknown Irish author,
twelfth to thirteenth century

—posted 128 days ago


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Things to keep in mind:
The secret of more.

The brevity-is-best rule seems to be supported by a much sounder maxim which reads: “Always send them away wanting more.” But that is a one-sided view. We can observe this maxim by giving them less than they want; we can also observe it by making them want more than we give them. The latter policy is clearly better.

Henning Nelms

—posted 136 days ago


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