21 August 2020

Re-re-resectioned Link Sausage Platter

Sometimes one's medical past demands immediate attention, and that's not for the blawg (I sort of resent setting off metal detectors just walking by — and would even if wearing nothing but a Speedo, and that's a scary enough thought even without the metal detectors). This platter is an extensive use of… resectioned parts appropriate to sausages.

  • Curiosity rules, although this headline writer definitely doesn't.
  • "Exclusions from canon" are almost always extremely complex, and conversely almost never susceptible to single explanations. Consider, for example, the Criterion Collection's main criterion: That the films in question were fully shot, fully produced, and fully released to the public. That is, just what did the Criterion Collection have to work with in the first place? It's very much along the lines of "Why do we have virtually no recordings of Black American composers from before Scott Joplin?" Film — even more than music, and vastly more than text — depends upon multiple, capital-intensive stages between conception and later acclaim… and it takes only one of those stages being dominated by bigoted assholes to make everyone else later on look really bad.
  • Not to mention that it only takes one of those stages in "artistic development" being subject to technological limitations and availabilty that themselves have strong components of bigotry to create a nasty positive-feedback loop of poor analysis. With all due respect to Mr Orlando's effort to yank the conversation out of a rut, he yanks it in an ahistorical direction (notice, for example, the lack of sopranos?) that's in service of his own agenda…
  • Rather like this next set of assholes. I have two words for the executives in charge of the "Women's Prize for Fiction"/Bailey's effort to republish female-presenting-author works originally published under male pseudonyms: F*ck you. The sheer arrogance involved in projecting contemporary identity politics memes onto the complex identity politics of the past is bad enough. It also ignores other valid reasons for choosing a gender-swapping pseudonym, such as the early-stage gender dysphoric (there are arguably at least two on their list). More to the point, pseudonyms usually have multiple rationales behind them, and focusing on just this one as if it's the most shameful that needs to be exposed is dishonest. Consider, for a moment, the problem of a PhD psychologist inside the intelligence community who writes fiction on the side; I have four specific individuals in mind, two of which involved swapping authorial gender, and two of which (not the same two) produced work superior to most of those on the Bailey's list but don't appear there. (And two of which — yet again, not the same two! — are not nearly as publicly known as Dr Alice Sheldon or Dr Paul Linebarger.)

    No, this is a publicity-oriented exploitation of a current meme being imposed onto historical figures for current financial advantage. F*ck you. You could have included an extensive biographical essay explaining the full circumstances of each author's original publication (which for at least three of them would have made clear that gender-swapping was intended to help throw The Authorities off the trail even farther), instead of focusing on the bloody cover credit. But noooooooooo, you had to let some assholery in "brand identification" take priority… and then you didn't publish Complete Works of editions, even for the public-domain works.

    If this was an honest effort, it would include the works of Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (which are, after all, public domain!). It might include passing references to those of Eric Blair. It might explore the unsigned/semipseudonymous Federalist Papers. In short, it might acknowledge that there's more than one meme/consideration at work here, and "gender" usually isn't the primary one. To pick on one of the particular examples, damned near any member of Ms Evans' social class would have considered adopting a pseudonym due to the potential accusations of roman á clef and libel, not to mention "unsuitable" subject matter for "serious" writing in that relatively narrow window. The tilt of these selections toward "romance" further betrays the dishonesty behind it… not to mention its own gender stereotyping.

  • But I suppose it could be even worse: We could be pondering the iniquities of the National Book Critics' Circle. Yeah, that group of white guys of a certain social class could definitely use some diversity in its membership. Even moreso, though, it could use some diversity in its focus, and some self-awareness that what it is being presented with as "worthy of its consideration" is both socioeconomically and intellectually bigoted. Two of the most-acclaimed novelists of the last thirty years in the US — one of whom has been awarded more than one major "mainstream" award — write primarily speculative fiction; but they have had attention paid to them primarily because there are no rocket ships or dragons on the covers of their books. That's both a problem with the publishing industry itself… and with the publications that "employ" those critics. The NYTBR, for example, has a column for speculative fiction — that runs once each quarter, and is primarily from a single critic (who is more qualified than most of the other regular critics, but whose provenánce is not up to that standard). Meanwhile, spy/thrillers get reviewed at least every other week, presumably because William F. Buckley used to write them, and his provenánce is definitely up to Upper East Side standards.

    The NBCC needs to look at a whole bunch of its membership criteria, not just the racial-ethnic composition of its board of directors. For example, there's a higher proportion of "persons of color" in speculative fiction (both writing and reading) than there is in spy/thriller fiction… and that needs to be followed back to its sources (McLean, Virginia is, after all, in the former Confederacy, and parts of Ft Meade, Maryland were once upon a time tobacco plantations!).

Looks like a couple of weeks of distress didn't reduce my bile production very much… oh, wait, that's something else I have to look forward to: It's election season.

Register to vote. Then do it. And remember: You have a secret ballot. Do not feed the media monster by responding to exit polls. Come to think of it, that may be a highly positive side effect of the pandemic and voting by mail…