To quote Pink Floyd: Is there anybody out there? Three days from now will mark six full months since my last Teeming Brain post. Experienced readers of this blog might well surmise that my conflicted relationship with the Internet has been gaining more and more distance over time. These readers would be correct.
A number of updates seem in order.
I didn’t win the World Fantasy Award for Born to Fear last fall, but I did get to be present at the award ceremony in Saratoga Springs, New York, when David Hartwell dropped the bomb that, beginning next year, the “Howie” Lovecraft statuette by Gahan Wilson that has served as the World Fantasy Award trophy since the inception of these awards in 1975 will be retired for something else. Given that this is obviously a move in response to ongoing conflict and controversy in the speculative fiction world over Lovecraft’s racism as measured against his Titan status in the field, the announcement was the equivalent of dropping a hydrogen bomb on this particular subculture. The shockwaves continue to ripple across the landscape these three months later. So that alone was worth the money and effort to make the trek out east.
On the publication front, work on my previously announced encyclopedia of horror literature is now furiously underway. Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears will be published next year by ABC-CLIO. It will have more than 400 entries, and its structure and approach will make it a unique reference work among others of its kind. More than 60 authors and scholars have signed on to contribute to the project. You would probably recognize many of their names. I’ll have more to say about this in the future.
Additionally, my long-delayed fiction collection To Rouse Leviathan is now officially back on track with Hippocampus Press. I’ll have more to say about this, too.
I now return to the real world, although you can rest assured that I’ll resurface again here before another six months have passed.
I return from my Internet seclusion to pass along the news that I have been nominated for a 2015 World Fantasy Award for Born to Fear. This year’s nominees were announced yesterday, but I knew nothing about it until Jon Padgett sent an email to congratulate me. The whole thing comes as a complete, and considerable, shock. I didn’t even know the book was on the WFA judges’ radar.
Despite the fact that I’m the official nominee, I can’t help but think this recognition is more for Tom than for me, and rightly so, since it’s his words that make up 95 percent of the book.
As long as I’m here, I’ll also announce that the publication date for Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics has been moved up from August to this month.
Joan W. Scott in The Nation:
“Civility” has become a watch word for academic administrators. Earlier this year, Inside Higher Ed released a survey of college and university chief academic officers, which found that “a majority of provosts are concerned about declining faculty civility in American higher education.” Most of these provosts also “believe that civility is a legitimate criterion in hiring and evaluating faculty members,” and most think that faculty incivility is directed primarily at administrators. The survey brought into the open what has perhaps long been an unarticulated requirement for promotion and tenure: a certain kind of deference to those in power.
But what exactly is civility — and is it a prerequisite for a vibrant intellectual climate? As it turns out, the definitions on offer are porous and vague. University of Illinois professor Cary Nelson, who supported the decision not to hire Salaita, sees it as a “reluctance to indulge in mutual hatred,” thereby placing a limit on violence and campus warfare. Others stress courteous and respectful behavior and its concomitants: comfort, safety, and security. The University of Missouri’s “Show Me Respect” project includes a “toolbox” that offers 20 ways to achieve civility (including the reminder to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). At the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, a 2011 conference offered these words of wisdom: “Academic freedom and free speech require open, safe, civil and collegial campus environments.” And a statement from a University of Maryland discussion paper on civility in 2013 defines it “simply as ‘niceness to others.’… Additionally, the definition may be used broadly to spur discussions on how ‘nice guys and gals finish first’ and how cordiality and kindness can be tracked across campus to ensure faculty, staff, and students are indeed playing nice.”
The attempts to secure the comfort and safety of students — now recognized for their economic value as paying clients who need to be satisfied — are subjugating language and thinking to their own ends. These dictates seem to know no limits and are evident in other policies, such as the call for “trigger warnings” in college classrooms. Professors are being asked by the representatives of some students or groups — and by the anxious deans who rush to satisfy their complaints — to avoid assigning material that might provoke flashbacks or even attention to discomforting violence. The demand for trigger warnings has the same intent as the emphasis on comfort and civility in the Salaita affair and the statement to the UC Berkeley community by Dirks: to stifle thought on the part of both teachers and students who might otherwise express opinions that could make others “uncomfortable.”
All of these efforts presume a certain benign self-evidence for the use of the term “civility.” As the University of Maryland statement puts it, “niceness” is “easily understood by all parties”: We know civility when we see it. Left aside in these invocations are not only interpretive differences among individuals and groups (one man’s or woman’s presumed civility may strike another as uncivil), but also the history of the term. Although, as with any word, the meanings of “civility” have changed, the concept still carries traces of its earlier use. I’d argue further that although the contexts and specific applications have varied over time, the notion of civility consistently establishes relations of power whenever it is invoked. Moreover, it is always the powerful who determine its meaning — one that, whatever its specific content, demeans and delegitimizes those who do not meet its test.
MORE: “The New Thought Police“
Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker:
What are the qualities that make a work “relatable,” and why have these qualities come to be so highly valued? To seek to see oneself in a work of art is nothing new, nor is it new to enjoy the sensation. Since Freud theorized the process of identification — as a means whereby an individual develops his or her personality through idealizing and imitating a parent or other figure — the concept has fruitfully been applied to the appreciation of the arts. Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or of watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should not be where critical thought ends. The concept of identification implies that the reader or viewer is, to some degree at least, actively engaged with the work in question: she is thinking herself into the experience of the characters on the page or screen or stage.
But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer. The reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play: she expects the work to be done for her. If the concept of identification suggested that an individual experiences a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself, the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism.
To appreciate “King Lear” — or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars” — only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize — because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy — is our own failure. It’s a failure that has been dispiritingly sanctioned by the rise of “relatable.”
MORE: “The Scourge of ‘Relatability‘ “
From biblical theologian Wesley Hill in First Things:
Irrelevant reading is the sort of reading you do when you pick up a book that, you fear, has nothing whatever to say to your present concern, the thing that’s driving you to want to read in the first place. Say you’re a teacher and you want to learn more about your craft. You may pick up Ken Bain’s marvelous book What the Best College Teachers Do and read it dutifully, annotating the margins and writing pieces of advice to yourself about next year’s lesson plans. But then, on your nightstand, say, you plop Chaim Potok’s novel The Promise down, since you’ve told yourself you’d read it ever since finishing its prequel The Chosen a couple of years ago. Late one night, you stay up and finish it. And you read that gripping scene in the yeshiva where the protagonist Reuven is quizzed mercilessly about arcana from the Talmud, and suddenly, you see not only the kind of teacher you need to be (Socratic, inspiring, relishing the mysterious complexity of your subject) but also find the inspiration you need to finish that next lecture. Your supposedly irrelevant fiction reading becomes more, or at least as, important to you as your allegedly more relevant textbook. And you grasp intuitively what my friend Luke Neff once put into a pithy saying: “Cultural omnivores make the best teachers.”
. . . Not all reading should be “irrelevant.” Some should be assiduous study of the key texts in one’s field. Other reading, the especially pleasurable kind, should be purely recreational. But when one is reading widely, there’s a special kind of delight that emerges when an evidently immaterial book suddenly intersects with what you most need to know in that moment. There’s no telling when such a moment may arrive, so it’s best to keep up a habit of irrelevant reading.
I sometimes tell my students the most important reading they’ll do for one of my classes at the seminary where I teach may well be the reading I never thought to assign.
MORE: “In Praise of Irrelevant Reading“
New chapbook. From Dunhams Manor Press. By one of my dearest friends. Softcover and signed hardcover editions already sold out. Only a few copies of standard (unsigned) hardcover left.
You should PURCHASE. Update 04/20/15: The book is sold out.
About the book:
Dunnstown is in the midst of a strange season: the choking fogs of the “paper mill days” and the discovery of weirdly altered and elongated skeletons buried within Dunnstown’s sprawling Municipal Park. Homicide detective Raphaella Castellano — a three-year veteran of the DPD — and her partner, Detective Mike Guidry, are on the trail of the murderer responsible for these crimes, an investigation that will draw them both deep within the pall of uncanny corruption which inundates Dunnstown and its unfortunate residents.
About the author:
Jon Padgett is a professional — though lapsed — ventriloquist who lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, two cats, and a very old dog. Padgett is the founder and longtime administrator of Thomas Ligotti Online (www.ligotti.net), and has been the first publisher for a number of Ligotti’s prose works, including My Work is Not Yet Done and Crampton.
That imagination precedes reason in our lives is perhaps the most obvious truth of all. It is the foundation upon which the mind is raised. In The Infusorium Jon Padgett adeptly conjures the more terrible and, we should admit, blatantly captivating aspects of the imagination. What is not obvious is how Padgett has done this and done it so well. While the terrors of his story are imagined, they are no less real for that.”
Only a few writers are able to distill the essence of some personal, primal nightmare and transmit it to others. Only a few horror stories are so artfully constructed that they generate an authentic sense of dreadful darkness and impending doom. Jon Padgett is one of those writers. The Infusorium is one of those stories.”
— Matt Cardin
Also check out this wonderful frontispiece, which will appear in the hardcover editions, and whose kabbalistic significance is explained in the chapbook itself.
From John Michael Greer, for the recent April 1 day of foolery, here’s one of the most entertaining — and insightful — pieces of satire you’re likely to read this year. Note his use of a rather delightful name-coding, which runs throughout. And don’t worry: Nacil Buper, Grand Priestess of the Temple of the Night, who is mentioned in the excerpt below, isn’t singled out for an unfair solo slamming. Later in the piece Tarc Omed, the Hierophant of the Priests of the Sun, receives equal treatment. So does the average Atlantean citizen-on-the-street. All are weighed and found wanting for their heedlessness in ignoring the warning signs associated with continued worship of the Lord of Evil, Mu-Elortep.
If you’re like most Atlanteans these days, you’ve heard all sorts of unnerving claims about the future of our continent. Some people are even saying that recent earth tremors are harbingers of a cataclysm that will plunge Atlantis to the bottom of the sea. Those old prophecies from the sacred scrolls of the Sun Temple have had the dust blown off them again, adding to the stew of rumors.
So is there anything to it? Should you be worried about the future of Atlantis?
Not according to the experts. I visited some of the most widely respected hierarchs here in the City of the Golden Gates yesterday to ask them about the rumors, and they assured me that there’s no reason to take the latest round of alarmist claims at all seriously.
My first stop was the temple complex of black orichalcum just outside the Palace of the Ten Kings, where Nacil Buper, Grand Priestess of the Temple of Night, took time out of her busy schedule to meet with me. I asked her what she thought about the rumors of imminent catastrophe. “Complete and utter nonsense,” she replied briskly. “There are always people who want to insist that the end is nigh, and they can always find something to use to justify that sort of thing. Remember a few years ago, when everyone was running around insisting that the end of the Forty-First Grand Cycle of Time was going to bring the destruction of the world? This is more of the same silliness.”
Just at that moment, the floor shook beneath us, and I asked her about the earth tremors, pointing out that those seem to be more frequent than they were just a few years back.
“Atlantis has always had earthquakes,” the Grand Priestess reminded me, gesturing with her scepter of human bone. “There are natural cycles affecting their frequency, and there’s no proof that they’re more frequent because of anything human beings are doing. In fact, I’m far from convinced that they’re any more frequent than they used to be. There are serious questions about whether the priests of the Sun Temple have been fiddling with their data, you know.”
“And the claim from those old prophecies that offering human sacrifices to Mu-Elortep, Lord of Evil, might have something to do with it?” I asked.
“That’s the most outrageous kind of nonsense,” the Grand Priestess replied. “Atlanteans have been worshipping the Lord of Evil for more than a century and a half. It’s one of the foundations of our society and our way of life, and we should be increasing the number of offerings to Mu-Elortep as rapidly as we can, not listening to crazies from the fringe who insist that there’s something wrong with slaughtering people for the greater glory of the Lord of Evil. We can’t do without Mu-Elortep, not if we’re going to restore Atlantis to full prosperity and its rightful place in the world order, and if that means sacrifices have to be made — and it does — then sacrifices need to be made.”
Image by Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
New (and old) book projects: An encyclopedia of horror literature and a collection of horror fiction
Frontispiece to Frankenstein (1831 edition). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
On a morning when I’ve just finished up with several days of responding to publisher copy edits on Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics, I’m happy to announce the birth of another book project: I have just signed a contract with the same publisher (ABC-CLIO) to edit a two-volume reference work to be titled Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. This is all still in the early developmental stages, and the book itself won’t appear until late 2016 (at the very earliest). But I can tell you that the structure and approach of this particular project will make it something special. I will of course say more about the whole thing as additional information becomes available.
Oh, and speaking of available information, I can also report that my long-hibernating omnibus collection of horror fiction from Hippocampus Press, To Rouse Leviathan — which has been greatly delayed by my own mercurial creative cycles and outer life circumstances — is still very much alive.