Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Open Letter to the Usual Suspects

Dear Christian Grand High Poobahs,

By way of the lovely Cheryl Morgan, we, the Elders of Sodom, recently learned of this BBC News article regarding your recent letter to the Telegraph, in which you condemn what you see as discrimination against Christians, citing the example of Nurse Shirley Chaplin, who is currently taking Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital to an employment tribunal for refusing to let her wear a cross in a customer-facing role. We thought it only fair to respond -- Grand High Poobahs to Grand High Poobahs, so to speak.

Granted, our immediate inclination is to say, "Boo hoo, sucks to you," or perhaps, "Aw, diddums, are you not allowed to spread your ethically retarded message of salvation by blood sacrifice just anywhere and everywhere you see fit these days?" Some of our number are somewhat less than sympathetic, it has to be said, considering your belief system so heinous on so may levels that not being allowed to wear the cross is rather akin, far as we're concerned, to not being allowed to wear a Klansmen hood. Cry me a fucking river, some would say. But more conciliatory voices among us do appreciate that you just don't get where we're coming from here. In the spirit of faith -- in human reason -- we're ready to do our best to explain it. In the spirit of hope -- that you can get your heads around some very simple notions -- we're willing to give it a shot. In the spirit of charity, well, we figure we have enough to go round that we're able to buy you a fucking clue.

See, it seems to us that Chaplin and the bishops need to show that other staff are allowed to wear necklaces while carrying out the same role, or there’s no discrimination here whatsoever; and even if they do... well, we'll get to that. The point is, the trust in question, as quoted in the Sky News article, is saying this is simply a matter of “agreed uniform policy and the safety of staff and patients.” In patient-facing roles, dangly metal trinkets are considered inappropriately grabbable and such. If you'll note on Cheryl Morgan's blog, Kev McVeigh refers to how, under the policies of his NHS trust, "staff are not supposed to wear jewelry or wristwatches under infection control guidelines." So Nurse Chapel is being asked to follow the fucking dress code. What an outrage!

For sure, the trust in question admits there may be lapses in dress code that slip by, but "they got away with it" is hardly a reasonable response when one is pulled up for not playing by the rules. Shame on you, Grand High Poobahs, for buying into this most juvenile of excuses. It is no doubt somewhat unjust if others are let off the hook, but clearly the equitable enforcement of the policy you should, we rather think, be advocating would not allow Nurse Chaplin to wear her necklace, simply do its best to make sure these other lapses were dealt with the same way. End of story.

But this is not what you're really advocating is it? One rather suspects such lapses are quite common, but that most nurses pulled up for wearing dangly earrings will simply remove them; and that would be that. But Nurse Chaplin instead insisted that it was her right to continue breaching this dress code, and you seem to support her in this. Really you think her jewelery should be exempt because it is a symbol of faith. You think she should be exempt. You seek to assert a privilege on religious grounds. We appreciate that this privilege has been afforded Nurse Chaplin for most of her career, through her years of invaluable service, and that the loss of privilege is often perceived as an infringement of rights, but her reaction (and yours) is actually quite revealing as to why this is a privilege rather than a right, why her demand for exemption is of dubious merit.

Note, from the Sky News article, that while your letter and the reporting itself presents Nurse Chaplin as having been asked to remove the cross entirely, the trust spokesperson talks of having "offered her a number of different options in the hope that a mutually acceptable solution could be agreed." We can't help but wonder if one of those options was simply to hide it from view, as in the case of BA worker, Nadia Ewelda. Indeed, this BBC news article indicates that the trust was quite happy for her to wear it "pinned inside a uniform lapel or pocket." This sounds very much as if the bone of contention for Nurse Chaplin was not the wearing of the cross but the open display of the cross.

Now, clearly Nurse Chaplin has every right to wear whatever she likes within the confines of the dress code, just as we would have the right, if we were nurses, to wear t-shirts reading, "Jesus fucked His Beloved Disciple," under our uniforms. (There as those among the Elders of Sodom who hold to this doctrine as a firm tenet of their belief, by the way; they consider it a profound article of faith.) If these reminders of faith are not visible to the public, and not breaches of the policy for some health and safety reason, there's no legitimate reason to disallow us wearing them. But surely you can see that if we Elders of Sodom insisted it was our right to wear these t-shirts in such a way that the slogan was on open display, well, an employer might see it differently.

The matter of health and safety policy can be put aside now, we think. If this were originally about an injunction against dangly jewelery in general, Nurse Chaplin has made it about the open display of her cross. And certainly we can say that exemptions to dress code are sometimes offered on the basis of religious faith. But the trust addresses this where it says that the wearing of the cross is "not a requirement of Christian faith." It's not comparable to wearing the turban in the Sikh faith or similar prescriptions as regards other religions. Were this the case, were this a matter of a religious decree the believer must abide by, well, one might have grounds for saying that this is an infringement of a recognised right. Then you'd have a leg to stand on.

(Some of us within the Elders of Sodom, we should add here, have... idiosyncratic views on how such "rights" are also actually privileges, afforded the powerful mainstream religions largely because they have the power to assert that privilege. Some of the more orthodox Sodomites hold that to cover up the cock and arse is unholy, that the wearing of leather chaps that expose the crotch area is a divine decree of Pan Himself. And what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, they say. If the wearing of such clothing is a right then it applies to all; that it does not shows that it is, in fact, a privilege. We are curious as to where you would stand on this, Grand High Poobahs? Would you support our right to expose our cocks and arse as Pan decrees, or would you assert your religion's privileged status over ours? But this is to drift from the core point...)

The wearing of the cross is not a matter of religious dictate, but an outward expression of personal belief that is discretionary on the part of the believer. As such it constitutes a communication of — maybe even of an advertisement for — those beliefs. This is what makes it a privilege rather than a right. If Nurse Chaplin is under no obligation to wear a symbol of faith in open display, to grant her permission to do so at her own volition where this contradicts a dress code is to privilege her, just as granting a Sodomite permission to wear their "Jesus fucked His Beloved Disciple" t-shirt openly would be bestowing a privilege. There's no legitimate obligation on the trust's part to allow either Nurse Chaplin or a host of Sodomites to use their workplace as a platform for communicating personal beliefs. At any point the trust would be quite entitled to say, stop it, KTHXBAI.

The trust would, we presume, frown on staff handing out pamphlets advertising such beliefs, or evangelising to patients directly, urging them to pray, read the Bible, etc.. Or, for that matter, preaching the Secret Gospel of Mark, arguing that Jesus was a homosexual, or exhorting patients to emulate David and Jonathan's intimacy -- which we hold to have been sexual. The Elders of Sodom consider the trust entirely within their rights to tell us to keep our beliefs to ourselves, to say that such advocacy is entirely inappropriate in the workplace. The only question then is, how far are they entitled to extend that policy to dress code?

We tend to think an employer is within their rights to say that such tacit physical expressions are inappropriate in a customer-facing role. If it were an inverted cross, they’d be entitled to ask the wearer to remove it, to avoid offending Christians. If it were a symbol of even a mainstream political party — Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems — it still seems fair to us for the employer to say, this does not belong in the workplace. Whether it was as brash as a slogan t-shirt saying, “Jesus fucked His Beloved Disciple,” or as subtle as a badge with a Union Jack, a St. George’s Cross or a St. Andrew’s Cross, the customer-facing employee is representing their employer, and that employer has a right, we’d say, to veto symbols of allegiance, not least where such allegiance carries a suggestion of opposition to beliefs that may well be held by customers. We’d even go so far as to say that this sort of policy would equally apply to, say, a pink triangle badge as an expression of gay rights advocacy. If we believe passionately that such advocacy is crucial, an employer still has the right to tell us, no, not when you’re representing us. Fight the good fight in your own time, not against our customers.

This is by no means an easy judgement to make. There are arguments back and forth as to whether ethical discretion is applicable here, whether a badge that carried, say, the Red Hand of Ulster would be patently unacceptable as anti-Catholic while a pink triangle badge would be arguably acceptable as simply pro-homosexuality -- i.e. not anti-anything and therefore not oppositional, or oppositional only to unreasonable prejudice. Many such symbols of belief are extremely contentious in and of themselves. A Union Jack badge might be worn as a purely positive expression of patriotism but it might equally be worn as an expression of an uglier, racist nationalism. Or it might simply mean that one is a Mod. We rather suspect that the present-day employer is often in the tricky position of dealing with shifting and clashing mores in a society where many symbols previously deemed acceptable without question are now being challenged. This is clearly the case with the Christian cross.

Now here's the thing. Most of us within the Elders of Sodom are not easily offended or even discomfited by such symbols, but for all the tolerant strains of Christianity out there and all the profoundly ethical Christians that subscribe to them, the liberalising reformations of Christianity are far from universal. At its historical core and in its mainstream expressions — in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Orthodox Christianities and many if not most strains of Protestantism — Christianity retains, on the whole, a deep-rooted ideological opposition to homosexuality. Those of us within the Elders of Sodom see a cross and it may not trouble us, we may even prefer to assume the individual is actually wholly tolerant, but this is despite it being a symbol which says to us, “I disapprove of your sexuality; I subscribe to a belief system which condemns your actions as mortal sins.”

Now this message is… unwelcome to say the least. We don’t see how a Christian has the right to express that message, albeit tacitly, in a physical symbol, any more than a Northern Irish Unionist has the right to wear a badge with the Red Hand of Ulster on it when they’re dealing with Catholic patients. We can avoid this message by and large or challenge it as and when we encounter it. We don't see why we should be faced with the prospect of having this message foisted upon us when we check into an NHS hospital, where the nurse-patient relationship would render a challenge problematic. You can understand -- no? -- how a Catholic patient might feel uncomfortable being cared for by a nurse who advertises their allegiance to Unionist politics, how they would almost certainly be wary of anti-Catholic bigotry. You can appreciate -- yes? -- how they might feel uncomfortable about the deeply unpleasant situations that could arise even if they simply seek to establish an absence of bigotry by asking the questions that badge begs. The same is true with a Sodomite and a cross.

Faced with that cross, any Sodomite sees a badge that begs the question, "Are you homophobic?" If you think that question is unreasonable, Grand High Poobahs, you are so sorely in need of a clue that you must be at page one of The Mystery of the Abjected Other. Poobahs, dudes, babes, that cross is the symbol of a religion that has spent two millennia condemning us, burning us at the fucking stake when its power was such that an entire civilsation could be labelled Christendom. It's a religion that even now continues to lobby in support of values and social mechanisms we consider rooted in prejudice and profoundly unjust. You now that, right? You should do; you're the fucking figureheads of the lobby. To put it in terms you might understand, the cross, to us, is Nero's seal on an order to throw early Christians to the lions. It represents an imperial power on the socio-cultural level. It represents the fires the people like us died in because people like you believed the bullshit you're still spieling now. Every cross is a burning cross to us.

Every cross is a burning cross.

But don't worry. Our position would not be to argue for a veto of all such symbols on principle across the NHS. This seems extreme, and the Elders of Sodom are not terribly keen on draconian legislation that enacts such sweeping moral dicta. Some of us would tend toward a radical acceptance, tell you to wear your cross so we can know you for what you are; as long as we can wear badges that advertise our own beliefs in no uncertain terms, representations of Christ giving a blowjob to His Beloved Disciple, for example. If you think that would be obscene and offensive, tough shit; either you play the delicate sensibilities card and we throw your history back in your face, tell you just how obscene and offensive we consider your words and actions, and we all agree to keep our opinions to ourselves, or you suck it up, motherfucker.

Every cross is a burning cross. And if you want to wear it, expect us to be wearing an inverted one whenever and wherever the fuck we feel like it. With Jesus in a motherfucking ball-gag.

Of course, others among the Elders of Sodom tend to the opinion that some symbols represent philosophies so inarguably obscene and offensive that to say anything goes is just a step too far. Germany has legislation against the open display of the swastika, and it seems hard to argue with that. Within the NHS, we can certainly imagine a policy forbidding a Red Hand of Ulster badge as wholly inappropriate. If an extremist Christian sect adopted as its symbol a Star of David but inscribed within a circle with a line through it, you could see how many would deem that outrageous, yes? If you react with similar outrage to an inverted cross, do you get to ban that too, regardless that Satanism is largely the province of New Age eccentrics and angsty teens with a taste for loud guitar music? Meanwhile twenty centuries of outright hatred enacted in very real and physical atrocities does not justify us in condemning your crucifix?

Every cross is a burning cross.

Oh, Grand High Poobahs. Moral disfavour is something you're going to have to get used to, we fear, especially if you're going to carry on preaching the condemnation of homosexuality in a culture that now very often, and more so by the day, deems that message as obsolete and objectionable as the condemnation of "miscegenation." I have little doubt that there are many Christians who you most assuredly do not speak for, many who reject that dogma as a product of history rather than a pretty fucking decent guy called Yeshua, who preached acceptance of the Other; for that reason, this letter is not addressed to them. It may well be that Nurse Chaplin herself is amongst those for whom the symbol does not represent an opposition to our very way of life. To them we extend our sympathy that the symbol of their faith is so tainted that this sort of situation comes to pass. Those who would wear that cross and stand beside us in rejecting your message, Grand High Poobahs? Them we wholeheartedly applaud. We might echo Bill Hicks in suggesting maybe Yeshua would rather see a fish sign on their lapel than another fucking cross, but if they can redeem that tainted symbol, power to them. To you Grand High Poobahs who uashamedly adhere to your reactionary doctrines however, to you we say, deal with it, kiddy-fiddler.

Every cross is a burning cross. Either put the flames out or face the consequences.

So, on the whole, the Elders of Sodom don't ask for the privilege of wearing Cocksucking Christ badges. Nor do we even demand that the cross be treated across the board as the badge of hatred it can all too often be worn as. Ultimately, we simply support employers in their exercise of judgement -- ethical or otherwise -- over how their employees are allowed to present themselves to patients, what attire is deemed appropriate and what is not. We say that a trust which institutes a policy against religious symbols has the right to make that call. Just as it would be within its rights to institute a policy against badges expressing contentious political allegiances. Because those religious symbols do express contentious political allegiances. Largely because of you, Grand High Poobahs, because of you. You have had twenty centuries to spout your ideology under that symbol and -- surprise! surprise! -- the shit you've spewed has stuck, and -- surprise! surprise! -- all it takes is for the rest of us to smell it through the incense and realise it fucking stinks. If you think the way the shifting mores of the culture at large are playing out now is unfair on you, you are simply reaping what you yourselves have sown. Deal with it.

That sound you're not hearing right now? That's the sound of the smallest violin in the world not even being played. Cause we're too busy not losing sleep, motherfuckers. It's your cross to bear. Peace out.

Hugs and Kittens,

The Elders of Sodom

Most Rev Lord Sweary of Clitfun, Former Archbugger of Cunterbury
Rt Rev Mycock Slut-Joint, Bugger of Sinchester
Rt Rev Mycock Anti-Nazi-Rally, Former Bugger of Cockchester
Rt Rev Peepee Fister, Bugger of Chesthair
Rt Rev Hand-Any Prickis, Bugger of Hairyfnord
Rt Revd Nipple-Arse Greed, Bugger of Slackbum


Friday, March 26, 2010

Towards a Lexicon of Folly: Factard

Factard: Someone incapable of distinguishing conviction from certainty, treating a belief that X is true (a firm conviction of actuality, regardless of verification) as the knowledge that X is true (a cognizance of verified actuality). A factard may be otherwise intelligent and educated, this type of folly neither resulting from nor being equivalent to idiocy and/or ignorance. A factard is not necessarily a moron and/or an oaf.

Example 1: "The problem was not merely the extension of warfare and its exploitation on an interplanetary scale. It was also the science-fiction claim that mankind itself—fallen and corrupt, as Lewis knew—should be imagined as extending across the cosmos." (my italics)

To say that Lewis knew mankind to be "fallen and corrupt" is to ascribe verified actuality to a metaphysical theory, to treat an alethic model as an epistemic certainty. It is to say that existential actions result from and/or generate an essential state-of-being defined in spiritual terms -- "sin" or "grace" -- as a relationship to an Absolute Deity and its Laws. Since humanity can only be "fallen and corrupt" if it (and all material reality indeed) subsists within a specific metaphysical system, to say that one knows this to be so is to say that this metaphysical system is a verified actuality. The example above is therefore equivalent to an assertion, "I know that God exists." The logical response to such an assertion is, "How do you know that God exists?"

Where the answer offered does not refer to a decisive action of verification, but rather to a persuasive process of justification, where it reiterates the reasoning that underpins the alethic model rather than report the steps by which that model was proven to be not just valid but true, no matter how coherent and comprehensive the answer demonstrates that model to be, it does not legitimize the original assertion of knowledge. However justified, if a firm conviction of actuality is not verified, it is not a cognizance of verified actuality. It is not knowledge, only belief, and the person who made that assertion has revealed themself to be a frickin factard.

Where the answer offered does not even point to a persuasive process of justification, but rather to an intense sense of conviction, where it offers the experience of absolute confidence as the decisive action that legitimizes their assertion -- as in a statement like "I just know!" -- this is the conflation of conviction and certainty par excellence. Such a failure to distinguish belief and knowledge, an implicit disclosure that one is working on the principle of "I believe it so it must be true," is the very definition of a frickin factard.

Example 2: "The other is that reason reveals an underlying order so profound that even a robot can see that it is the handiwork of God. (my italics)

To say that a robot "can see" that the underlying order of reality "is the handiwork of God" is again to ascribe verified actuality to a metaphysical theory, to treat an alethic model as an epistemic certainty. It is to say that the complex order evident in existential reality is a product of deliberate design carried out by an Absolute Deity as named and characterized in a specific religious belief-system. To say the robot can verify this by observation is to say that it is a verified actuality the robot need only become cognizant of. The implicit assertion here is "I know that God created the world," which similarly begs the question, "How do you know that God created the world?"

In this example, the answer is coded into the original assertion. The teleological argument is implicit: to observe the complex order evident in existential reality is, in and of itself, the decisive action of verification; such complex order can only arise from design, so to establish the epistemic certainty of such complex order is to establish the epistemic certainty of the action of design having been carried out by a designing agency. Two follies in this argument are immediately obvious:

1) the specification of any such designing agency with the qualities of an Absolute Deity as named and characterized in a specific religious belief-system is entirely spurious, on par with taking a watch as proof not simply of a watchmaker but of Sylar, the psychopathic serial killing supervillain with a clockwork fixation, as named and characterized in the TV series Heroes; the spuriousness of such characterization is, of course, the satirical point of the Flying Spaghetti Monster;

2) the premise that "such complex order can only arise from design" is also entirely spurious, an absolutist axiom offered with no substantiation, and one that is, in fact, demonstrably unsound both in existential terms -- where the simplest principles enacted in a chaotic system result in the emergence of incredibly complex order without the action of a designing agency -- and in essential terms -- where a designing agency is, by definition, a being of such complex order that, by this premise, it too must be the product of another designing agency, which must in turn be the product of yet another designing agency, and so on, in an infinite regress.

The teleological argument is however more interesting for the folly it embodies as exemplar of the factard's conflation of conviction and certainty. This is because it predicates itself not upon a judgement of complexity ipso facto, but of a degree of complexity sufficient to induce conviction. Where it asserts that the order inherent in existential reality is "so profound" that one "can see that it is the handiwork of God," this is at root a valid description of human responses to complexity: as one becomes cognizant of higher and higher degrees of order one is quite likely to experience a higher and higher conviction that this order is the result of deliberate design. However, the teleological argument asserts that this notion becomes proven simply when the cognizance of order and resultant conviction of design become intense enough as a subjective experience that one's belief becomes absolute.

The only action of verification proposed here is, in fact, the decision to believe with an unqualified commitment that rejects all doubt, said decision being based on entirely arbitrary and personal dispositions: the extent to which we see pattern in the world; the extent to which we read pattern as purpose; the extent to which we deny the possibility of unpurposed pattern; the extent to which we allow firm convictions to become inflexible by disacknowledging contingency.

To subscribe to a teleological argument like this is to say, in essence, "I believe it so much, it must be true." And there is no weaseling out of this folly. Whether or not a high degree of belief can be justified on the basis of a high degree of order is entirely irrelevant if the argument is not presented as an explanation of faith but as an a assertion of knowledge; to say that one "can see" is not the same as to say that one "can't help believe". So it does not matter if the factard reiterates the reasoning that underpins their alethic model in terms of the connection they assert between pattern and purpose, since this establishes only grounds of belief, not epistemic certainty. The crucial import of this sort of teleological argument is the blatant disclosure it embodies, that the person utilizing it holds their action of subjective interpretation equivalent to the establishment of an epistemic certainty simply because that action was sufficient to induce a strong enough conviction. They cannot distinguish conviction from certainty. They believe that a belief held strongly enough is knowledge.

They are a frickin factard.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Upcoming Events

At which I shall be playing Mein Host.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It seems that Vellum is on the Tähtivaeltaja Award shortlist for best science fiction book (Finnish or translated):

I am a happy pirate bunny!

Indie vs Hollywood

I got a couple of interesting comments on my Racebending & Integration post which I thought I'd kick about. Here's some snippets:

Robert Reed III:

...I say, fuck Hollywood. We live in a new era. We no longer have to take what Hollywood gives us. We can make our own movies. Making indie films and distributing them is easier and cheaper than ever. If you have a digital camcorder and a PC, then you can make your own movie. There are tons of free software that you can use to make your movie. There are many video editing softwares, computer animation software, etc... I think that a new movement should be started. This would be a grass-roots movement of people dedicated to making and distributing movies. I say, if Hollywood refuses to gives us what we really want (or actually, regardless of that), then we should take control and give ourselves the movies we want.

Colin Meier:

In this particular instance (and similar instances) it doesn't actually help -- if you want to produce a faithful adaptation of an existing cartoon, or an existing book, you need the money to buy the option. Hollywood has that money, so they get first dibs.

You could, of course, blame the authors (or their agents) for "selling out" to Hollywood. But to be frank, if I had published a book, I'd rather have it in the hands of a production team who've proved themselves in the past. (Well, it would depend on the book, I suppose - most indie filmmakers can't afford to stage spectacular space battles...but they can do decent kitchen-sink drama very faithfully).

Each author is different, of course - Hal, if Vellum were optioned, would you rather see it in the hands of Hollywood (say, David Fincher), or an indie director on his first movie?


Robert: Yeah, I'm all for the indie ethos. Hell, two of the movies that fired me up about this issue (from the queer perspective) are The Curiosity of Chance and Were The World Mine, both labours of love that were put together outside the big studio system. Indeed, both show how you can go indie and still pull off something other than kitchen-sink realism; one is a pretty slick-looking high school movie, the other a teen musical -- i.e. both are aiming for places in very commercial Hollywood niches where the sheen of production counts. And they do a pretty good job of achieving that aim aesthetically.

To be fair though, they don't hit the target dead centre; with both there's something lost and something gained from going the indie route, I reckon. TCoC has the sheen but gets a weird spin from being filmed in Belgium, with supporting characters who are quintessentially American archetypes (the bullying jock, etc.) not always convincing when acted by Europeans. WtWM ends up having more of an indie movie quality that comes simply from the film stock used, I think; and I'm in two minds about the result. It works for me in some places, like the night scenes where it feels right for something riffing off A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I think with some scenes... well, the pastoral idiom of the (classic, commercial) high school movie suits a more glossy look. Still, all in all, they work for me, and work *well*.

Even with SFX... to be honest, I think District 9 simply *looks* better than what I've seen of Cameron's Avatar, for example; the latter's hyper-saturated animated prog rock album cover aesthetic is *pretty* but it's kinda like modern-day Rococo, far as I'm concerned: visual candy-floss. If you're not trying to pull off some lurid cutting edge 3d spectacle, just the effects you need... well, yeah, there are ways and means. To take another example, the movie Franklyn pulls off a Gilliamesque steampunk elsewhen that shows how much can be done on an indie budget. So, yeah, I can see where an indie filmmaker might well (now or soon) be able to do the pure eyeball kicks just as well, when it comes to someting more SFnal.

Colin: For Vellum, Franklyn is a case in point -- shows how you could pull off Jack Flash's Kentigern in an indie movie, I reckon. Indeed, the book is so fucked-up mental in terms of structure, I suspect that only a director free from studio interference could get it made in anything remotely resembling the book itself, so it would either have to be someone working as an indie, or someone who's built up *serious clout* in Hollywood. Either way, it'd be the director that mattered more than anything, though I'm fucked if I know who specifically. I'm not entirely convinced by Fincher, I have to admit; I think he's a bit fatalist in that "failed nihilism" way that irks me, so I'm not sure he'd gell with the work. Darren Aronofsky? Tarsem Singh? Actually if Gerald McMorrow -- the director of Franklyn -- came to me asking about the rights for Vellum, I'd be *well interested,* as that movie's the nearest I've seen to the mixed idiom aproach of TBoAH. Still, I'm not convinced a cinematic TBoAH is doable at all really, so it's kind of a moot point.

I think Escape from Hell! *is* filmable on the other hand, and I've always said my dream team is Sam Raimi directing, Samuel L. Jackson and Laurence Fishburne starring. Early John Carpenter is my benchmark. I mean, reviews for Legion have been pretty shit, but that's kind of the level I'd pitch it at. Or Wanted. Like, it's gotta be big and bold, brash and ballsy. So would I want a major studio behind it? I dunno. With CGI what it is now, I *could* see an indie director coming in on his first movie, sorta like a latter-day Raimi or Carpenter as they were at the start of their careers -- on the margins of Hollywood. And the option money wouldn't be such a big deal for a work like that, not compared to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I suspect most novelists would sell movie rights for a lot less than the producers of a hit cartoon series would. Getting the option for Twilight is gonna cost you, but for a relatively obscure work like EfH!... I suspect that's a fraction of the budget as a whole.

Still, whoever did it, a movie of EfH! would definitely be targeting the mainstream in a way that a Vellum adaptation wouldn't. If not *made* by a Hollywood studio, it's the sort of thing you want to get picked up by a major Hollywood distributor. You could hope for it to catch on in that cult movie way, but really you want a movie like that in the cineplexes.

This goes doubly so -- triply! quadruply! -- for Whatever the Fuck You Want, the high school movie screenplay I wrote because of the two gay films mentioned above. Really, while I'm 100% behind the idea of a grass-roots indie movement to do what Hollywood won't, the whole point is that the way that pans out is *separate water-fountains*. We do have queer cinema -- indie studios, GLBT film festivals, the whole system in which things like TCoC or WtWM come along every so often amid stuff like Eating Out or Another Gay Movie and so on. But they all exist within a ghetto to a large extent. As I've said a number of times now, I wrote WtFYW because my blog posts on TCoC and WtWM came back as top hits on a Google of "gay kid" and "high school movie". Like, there's simply no "high school movie" with a "gay kid" integral enough and a high enough profile to trump my blog post with a review or IMDB page. I want *that* movie to exist, and that means Hollywood mainstream rather than an indie flick doing the film fest circuit.

It's like... what I want to see is a water-fountain bang in the centre of town, one that isn't "straights only". If an indie director/studio wanted to make WtFYW, sure, I'd jump at it, just to get it made, but that would just be another water-fountain for us in our own neighbourhood, and really what it's all about is going the next step on. We have TCoC and WtWM. We have But I'm a Cheerleader and various others. This is all cool, but what I want is the "high school movie" with a "gay kid" as protagonist that has the sort of backing put into Ten Things I Hate About You or Bring It On! I want a director -- new or established -- who's got the budget to make it as slick as Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I want a lead actor with the balls and the skills and the pulling power of Heath Ledger. I don't mean that in a crazy "only the best will do for my precious script" way. I just mean I want WtFYW or *something like that* to have a place at the big boys' table, so to speak.

With the success of a series like Glee, actually, I think the time is ripe for exactly such a movie. I think the core audience for teen rom-coms would bite if a major studio was willing to commit to a balls-out commercial movie with a gay protagonist targeting that demographic. Sure, as a total outsider to Hollywood, I could be dead wrong, but it seems to me we're at the point where it's really worth a shot. Christ, get some major names attached to the right project, and I think you've got a guaranteed buzz of the sort you had with Brokeback Mountain. Get Chris Colfer from Glee as lead in his first full-length movie. Get Brent Corrigan into a major mainstream role. Or get some straight A-list heart-throb who ain't afraid to play gay. If there's that much fucking resistance then confronting full-on it can only create controversy and give that movie a high profile from the get-go.

So as much as I want a grass-roots indie movement too, I really want to see a movement (in all senses of the term) *within* Hollywood. Fuck, there are folk of the calibre to get 100% commercial gay stuff done if they're given the chance. Bryan Singer? Alan Ball? Shit, you've got a producer on the fricking Narnia movies, Perry Moore, who wrote a gay superhero novel, Hero, for pretty much the same reasons I wrote WtFYW -- because he thought something needed to be done for that audience, that there needed to be a gay superhero to redress the absences and mistreatments. (I recommend the book, btw -- well worth a read.) With Stan Lee endorsing it, that book's in development as a TV series (or was a while back,) so I'm *really* keeping my fingers crossed that something will come of that. Cause it's gotta be better than Dante's Cove, which is (albeit wonderfully) awful. Point is, give something like that the backing of Smallville or Lost or Heroes and you've opened a door that can't be closed, to paraphrase MLK. That would be a major victory.

So, yeah, I guess for me the "fuck Hollywood" response lets the movers and shakers there off the hook to some extent, accepts segregation. And I'm not willing to do that. Yeah, let's make our own neighbourhood the best it can be... abso-fucking-lutely, and do it ourselves if need be. But I want more, damnit. I want more than the subtext of X-Men and X-Men 2. I want more than miserable cowboys dying horrible deaths. I want a totally mainstream fun flick, a major Hollywood popcorn-munching movie with a gay protagonist. And I don't think that's an "I want a pony!" unreasonable demand. It might be a pipe-dream but I don't think it's unreasonable so I ain't giving up hope yet.


Monday, March 22, 2010


Which is to say, Ink in German:

Should be available next month, I believe. I know that just the other week I signed all the signature sheets and mailed them off to Hannes Riffel, the translator and publisher of the limited edition HB. So if you're in Germany and have been waiting eagerly for the completion of the diptych in your native language, well, lo! It cometh forth!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sometimes Viral Marketing Is Just Cool

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Reminder

In case yer missed it...

The Beast of Buskerville

Hal Duncan


The Beast of Buskerville? Now there's a tale! Why, it's only the tale of old Whelp, eh? The tale of the most frightsome hound as ever haunted London, and of Yapper, the Scruffian as learned to speak dog, the Scruffian as tamed Whelp... well, as near to tamed him as that snarling, slavering, scurrilous cur of a canine ever could be tamed. But more'n that, scamps, this here's a tale of the single most villainest villain ever to prey on the likes of us, the vulture of vagabonds, the buzzard of beggars, the scavenger of Scruffians... the Waiftaker General himself.

Now, you all's seen the Waiftaker General with yer own peepers, so there ain't no need for conjuring him, right? Back when this story took place, he'd the same beak nose of a bird of prey, the same beady eyes with pin-prick pupils, the same scrawny neck to angle his head this way and that, to size up a Scruffian just Fixed or all set for a Scrubbing. Only thing different back then... though his hair it were slicked back to his skull the same, so's he looks a true hawk -- back then it were black instead of white.

So. It began on a day as seemed like any others for the Waiftaker General, as he rose from his fancy four-poster bed, bid his butler hold the piss-pot for him whiles he drains his bladder, then pour water -- piping hot! -- for him to wash his fams. Why, that butler even buttons up his breeches, he does; helps him on with his big black frockcoat what flaps like wings when he pounces on yer; and knots his white silk cravat so sartorially sophisticated... what only makes his neck look scrawnier, poking out as a vulture's from its ruff.

All the whiles he were dressing, of course, he were already at work, calling in his lieutenant to tell him how many waifs was took for Fixing in the dead of night, and was they Jews or gypsies, paupers or carnies? Was they boys or girls with black mops or blond curls? What ages and stages of starving was they? So what was their worth at the going rates? And all of this writ in his little black book. And then lastly he spins, with a smile cruel as sin, and asks, How many scruffs did the stickmen bring in?


The Scruffians Project: the rest of this yarn for whatever ye fancy donating, or a good few others already free.

UPDATE: "The Beast of Buskerville" is also now available as EPUB rather than PDF, courtesy of Eric Rosenfield, bless him. Just let me know which you'd prefer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Racebending and Integration

From, the site set up to protest the whitewashing of characters in the Last Airbender Movie:

Earlier today, the Facebook group People Against Racebending: Protest of the Cast of The Last Airbender Movie was removed by Facebook. The group has been around since the early days of the protest (Dec. 2008) and as of last week had almost 6,000 members.

For anyone who isn't up to speed on the issues here, M. Night Shyamalan's movie adaptation of the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender made no small stir when it whitewashed the diverse ethnicities of the original characters. And if you're thinking that, as a Hollywood movie, that just means they sought out the best actors they could get, and just couldn't find minority actors of the calibre, no. Go take a look at the egregious casting calls that make it very clear they were actively seeking white actors in preference to "any other ethnicity." And if you're thinking simply, oh that's horrible... again, no. That's segregation.

As far as I know, no-one else has been putting that name to this state of affairs in the media. But I do know that the people at saw it as important enough to protest. As one does in this day and age, they set up a Facebook group as a virtual gathering of voices raised to object.

Now here's the email they received:

From: Facebook (generic notification email)
Date: Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 12:38 PM
Subject: Facebook Warning
To: (personal email redacted)


The group “People Against Racebending: Protest of the Cast of The Last Airbender Movie” has been removed because it violated our Terms of Use. Among other things, groups that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed. We also take down groups that attack an individual or group, or advertise a product or service. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page at

The Facebook Team

This is utterly abhorrent. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this is not some trivial little issue of under-representation in the media. This is not about "political correctness." This is not about "quotas." This example in particular brings that home, in the elimination of ethnic diversity that has taken place, and now -- now -- the closing down of protest: that this is about the fucking active exclusion of the abjected from the mainstream. So the faggots can play the Gay Best Friend, and the niggers -- and I use that word as a mark of the fury I feel that this is how people of colour are still being treated -- can play the Magic Negro. And the Asians can play the shopkeepers and token friends and sage advisors. But never the hero.

There is a word for what this is.


The Last Airbender movie is not just a movie. In an earlier post on my blog, a sentiment repeated in one of my BSC Review column, writing from my own queer perspective, I said this:

"Segregation still exists in the media, in the movies and the TV shows, where the abject is absented, where there is the default and the deviant, the "normal" and the "abnormal". In the media, in the mainstream, the default is white, straight, able-bodied, and so on. And those of us who watch those media, as members of any group abjected on the basis of some marker of deviance from that default, we thirst for stories in which we are represented. We thirst for the art and entertainment that refreshes and replenishes. Sometimes we have our own water-fountains to quench that thirst -- queer television, queer cinema -- movies and shows that deal with our lives, our issues. This is good. But as long as we are excluded, as long as we are allowed into the mainstream only when it is "important to the story," as long as we can walk into those stories only to carry out set roles in service of the white, straight, able-bodied heroes and heroines -- as Magic Negroes or as Gay Best Friends -- this is still segregation."

The Last Airbender is a water-fountain with a sign above it reading WHITES ONLY. Worse, The Last Airbender is a water-fountain that was once accessible to people of all colours, over which that sign has been nailed: WHITES ONLY. And what was the Facebook group People Against Racebending? That Facebook group was no more and no less than a crowd gathered at that water-fountain to raise their voices in protest, to say in no uncertain terms: this is unjust.

In closing down that protest, Facebook have become the latter-day guard dogs of segregation, sent in to break up a peaceful demonstration. They have become the National Guardsmen firing over the heads of those whose only crime is to take a stand. They have become the policemen turning the water-cannon on the crowd of concerned citizens whose cause is, as it was in 1969, only the justice and equality of integration. They have become the willing enforcers of an inequitable and iniquitous social order of segregation.

If you say to me that this comparison is unfair, that the whitewashing of a mere movie is trivial when held against the tangible injustices and outright persecution that the Civil Rights movement fought against, I would say to you that in every movie, every TV show, every novel, every story is the water of life. I would say to you that fiction refreshes and replenishes the soul. I would say to you that art can bring hope where there is despair, transform sorrow into joy, inspire action in place of anger. I would say that without the water of life our souls can only shrivel and die within us, but with it... with it we may blossom and bring forth the fruit of the greatest of human endeavours. I would say to you that Martin Luther King himself knew the importance of integration in the media when he personally urged Nichelle Nichols not to give up her role as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, when he told her she could not, that it was vital to have this role model for black children and young women.

"Once that door is opened by someone," he said, "no one else can close it again."

Oh, but The Last Airbender has set a guardian on that door. Facebook has set a guardian on that door. And where one has turned away those who would enter, the other has turned away those who would protest that refusal.

I say again that this is SEGREGATION and there is no place for it in the 21st century. There is no fucking place for it in the fucking 21st fucking century. There is no excuse. There is no justification. In the age of social networking sites, to close down a protest group as "hateful, threatening or obscene," where it has done no more and no less than take a stand against segregation -- this is to turn the water-cannons on a peaceful crowd. Even if there is incompetence at play here, it is incompetence that has made itself the willing enforcer of prejudice. If it is ignorance, it is ignorance in the service of such injustice that there is no defense for it.

I call out Facebook for what it is: segregationist.

I call out The Last Airbender for what it is: segregationist.

I call out M. Night Shyamalan for what he is: segregationist.

I call out Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures for what they are: segregationist.

I call out any who think this state of affairs is acceptable, who think the whitewashing of this major Hollywood movie makes no difference, who think that Facebook is entitled to shut down the voices of the abject on these most spurious of grounds. To dismiss the cause of integration, even through complacency, is to condemn the abject to the continuance of the system. If not by active support then by passive acceptance, those who would shrug this off are validating segregation with their indifference.

These are the water-fountains of today, that men, women and children are being turned away from because of the colour of their skin. And I will be damned if I'll stand by while the water-cannons quash dissent. I sincerely hope that others will join me in acknowledging this for what it is, not mincing words and offering mild condemnations, but pointing to the cold hard truth of those signs that read, WHITES ONLY. I'll say it again, and I'll keep fucking saying it until segregation is dismantled and integration stands in its place.

We will no longer be turned away from the water-fountains, for the water is the water of life, and it is and must be for all who are thirsty.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Watch This!

(via Chris Roberson)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the Sublime

The Import of the Sublime

In the First Century AD, Longinus wrote of the aesthetic he sought to identify:

[S]ublimity is a certain distinction and excellence in expression and... it is from no other source than this that the greatest poets and writers have derived their eminence and gained an immortality of renown.

Longinus was either overstating it here, in rooting our respect for all the greatest rhapsodes, old and new, in their ability to sing the sublime into being in their works; or he was cyclically defining as the greatest those who fit his preferred aesthetic. But if his hyperbole is a little unfair, it's not foolish; it would be far more foolish to underestimate the import of the sublime, the degree to which the fame of those rhapsodes rests on how responsive people are to that aesthetic. Hardly surpising, since the sublime is all about import.

By import I mean to distinguish a particular aspect of the meaning of an articulation, what it means to an audience as an action upon that audience, as opposed to, say, the aspect of meaning we term purpose -- what was meant by the articulation as the action of an agent. Neither of these should be confused with any notion of meaning that casts it as "content" with an articulation as its "vessel." The latter is a damnable metaphor that should be expunged from the discourse, the articulation itself the only substance there is.

[W]e see skill in invention, and due order and arrangement of matter, emerging as the hard-won result not of one thing nor of two, but of the whole texture of the composition, whereas sublimity flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt, and at once displays the power of the orator in all its plenitude.

The thunderbolt is, of course, the key image of Romanticism. In contrast with the orrery by which we might symbolise the structural integrity so crucial to Rationalism in its aesthetic of the logical, the thunderbolt signifies the dynamism of the ruptures at the heart of all strange fiction (in which I include not just the fantastic but the tragic and the comic.) It signifies the sense of disruption that goes with any challenge to suspension-of-disbelief, which is to say any testing of the baseline epistemic modality of "this did happen" adopted by the audience as a conceit. While we can talk of the other modalities introduced (e.g. "this could not happen" or "this must not happen") as forces of warp acting on the mimetic weft of the narrative, it is precisely to highlight the quality of disturbance that I cast these forces as forms, as what I call quirks, as if they were some strange exotic particle -- to emphasise their role as violations of stability.

The effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport.

This is disingenuous. The rapture effected by an aesthetic of the sublime is often more persuasive than any rational argument in its direct exploitation and manipulation of the audience's sense of actualities, possibilities, ethical duties and emotional affinities/antipathies. We need only look at propaganda and advertising for evidence of this. But this may be a disservice to Longinus.

He has, therefore, passed the bounds of mere persuasion by the boldness of his conception. By a sort of natural law in all such matters we always attend to whatever possesses superior force; whence it is that we are drawn away from demonstration pure and simple to any startling image within whose dazzling brilliancy the argument lies concealed.

Perhaps "persuasion" is just a dubious word-choice and what is meant is more specifically the negotiation of the audience to a certain point of view by logically justifying it, but even if so, it's not wise to let this contrast of reason and rapture slide by unchallenged. If this is not "demonstration pure and simple," the concealed argument may be just as effective, if not more so. We should be wary of the sublime.

[S]ublimity and passion form an antidote and a wonderful help against the mistrust which attends upon the use of figures. The art which craftily employs them lies hid and escapes all future suspicion, when once it has been associated with beauty and sublimity.

That "transport" can be a train that one enters blithely unaware that it has a planned destination of concrete and ash.

The Nature of the Sublime

First and most important is the power of forming great conceptions, as we have elsewhere explained in our remarks on Xenophon. Secondly, there is vehement and inspired passion. These two components of the sublime are for the most part innate. Those which remain are partly the product of art. The due formation of figures deals with two sorts of figures, first those of thought and secondly those of expression. Next there is noble diction, which in turn comprises choice of words, and use of metaphors, and elaboration of language. The fifth cause of elevation--one which is the fitting conclusion of all that have preceded it--is dignified and elevated composition.

With the first two components, Longinus offers features of import -- conceptual grandeur and emotional intensity -- which are essentially the key characteristics of the sublime as described in terms of audience response. While these are fair as broad glosses on the sublime, it is not that useful to talk vaguely of the "size" of a notion or the "intensity" of the charge it is imbued with, not when the real questions are what precisely is meant by "size" and how exactly is that "intensity" carried? The question is not just what is the sublime but how does it work?

In the remaining three components, Longinus does point us to the language by which that import may be achieved: 1) rhetorical figures of thought and speech; 2) register as constructed by lexical choice, grammatic complexity and semiotic layering; 3) the pure poetics of rhythm and concord. But it is worthwhile teasing this apart a little, unbinding the different aspects of rhetorics lumped together in one component and separating out the semiotic layering (i.e. the use of metaphor and metonym) stuck in with the second. Because what we have is actually two distinct strategies, one largely independent of meaning as substance -- which is to say, notation -- and one entirely bound up in it.

With the qualities of tone, tenor and structural (poetic/rhetorical/grammatic) patterning, we are dealing with fundamentally formal features of language -- not the substance of the articulation but the mode of articulation. Even specific signifiers of mode -- e.g. the loftier terms of address that signal a heightened register -- might best be considered formal features in this context rather than substantive. All of this is, in a sense, the melody the song is sung to.

Are we not, then, to hold that composition (being a harmony of that language which is implanted by nature in man and which appeals not to the hearing only but to the soul itself), since it calls forth manifold shapes of words, thoughts, deeds, beauty, melody, all of them born at our birth and growing with our growth, and since by means of the blending and variation of its own tones it seeks to introduce into the minds of those who are present the emotion which affects the speaker and since it always brings the audience to share in it and by the building of phrase upon phrase raises a sublime and harmonious structure: are we not, I say, to hold that harmony by these selfsame means allures us and invariably disposes us to stateliness and dignity and elevation and every emotion which it contains within itself, gaining absolute mastery over our minds?

With semiotic layering and the rhetorical devices that use it however, what we're dealing with becomes substantive. While the use of figurative language in and of itself doubtless raises the register of an articulation just as grammatic complexity does, what matters more here is the way those notes function as notation, creating the notion, creating the import.

The False Sublime

There is nothing in the sphere of the sublime, that is so lowering as broken and agitated movement of language, such as is characteristic of pyrrhics and trochees and dichorees, which fall altogether to the level of dance-music. For all over-rhythmical writing is at once felt to be affected and finical and wholly lacking in passion owing to the monotony of its superficial polish. And the worst of it all is that, just as petty lays draw their hearer away from the point and compel his attention to themselves, so also overrhythmical style does not communicate the feeling of the words but simply the feeling of the rhythm.

Compare the absolute regularity of "The Song of Hiawatha" with "Tyger, Tyger." Where the former remains rigidly metrical, "Should you ask me, whence these stories? / Whence these legends and traditions, / With the odours of the forest, / With the dew and damp of meadows," it's easy to demonstrate how such rigidity would ruin the latter simply by introducing it, creating a travesty of Blake's verse: "Tyger! Tyger! burning brightly / In the forests, walking nightly, / What immortal hand or eye could / Frame thy fearful symmetry, dude?" While Blake's original uses trochees, it is the disruption of such that truly shapes the rhythm. The ploddingly functional "transparent" prose in many contemporary works within the strange fiction genres is perhaps the present-day equivalent. In terms of what murders the sublime however, it is a close competition between the trudging cadences and the stilted grandiosity to be found in dialogue or description.

In lofty passages we ought not to descend to sordid and contemptible language unless constrained by some overpowering necessity, but it is fitting that we should use words worthy of the subject and imitate nature the artificer of man, for she has not placed in full view our grosser parts or the means of purging our frame, but has hidden them away as far as was possible, and as Xenophon says has put their channels in the remotest background, so as not to sully the beauty of the entire creature.

Longinus's warning against bathos is a dangerous one for those who would take it too much to heart. If he is right to challenge Herodotus on the colloquial "the wind grew fagged" or the inadequate "unpleasant end," the same bathos can be achieved by straying too far in the opposite direction, to "the wind grew enervated" or "calamitous termination," say.

[W]e must consider whether some supposed examples have not simply the appearance of elevation with many idle accretions, so that when analysed they are found to be mere vanity--objects which a noble nature will rather despise than admire.

While never one to dismiss the formal features that make an articulation poetically/rhetorically effective, I'm inclined to think that we can best find the examples Longinus is talking of where the mannerisms are present but the figurative substance does not match the performance of importance with actual import. I would point here specifically to Longinus's later comments on periphrasis, "with its odour of empty talk and its swelling amplitude." Conversely, some phrases "graze the very edge of vulgarity, but they are saved from vulgarity by their expressiveness." This is not to say that an overblown articulation lacks some denotational insight, I stress, but to say it lacks connotational impact.

Altogether, tumidity seems particularly hard to avoid. The explanation is that all who aim at elevation are so anxious to escape the reproach of being weak and dry that they are carried, as by some strange law of nature, into the opposite extreme. They put their trust in the maxim that 'failure in a great attempt is at least a noble error'. But evil are the swellings, both in the body and in diction, which are inflated and unreal, and threaten us with the reverse of our aim; for nothing, say they, is drier than a man who has the dropsy.

Such a tumidity is the key complaint we usually have when, as described above, the trite is presented with the pomp of the sublime. And the mannerisms in many cases can no doubt be viewed as over-compensation, the literary equivalent of a bad actor putting the ham into Hamlet, declaiming a soliloquy in the most "theatrical" way. But Longinus is, I think, pointing here to a distinct flaw in the nature of the figurative substance itself, a grandiosity that fails to achieve the sublime by over-egging the pudding in terms of the actual notation. If the sublime is constructed from ruptures that must be grand and striking as a thunderbolt, such a failure might come, for example, simply by having one's Frankenstein's monster revealed by a flash of lightning one too many times in the narrative. Or actually struck by it as he stands outside Victor's window, creating an import of the absurd rather than the sublime.

While tumidity desires to transcend the limits of the sublime, the defect which is termed puerility is the direct antithesis of elevation, for it is utterly low and mean and in real truth the most ignoble vice of style. What, then, is this puerility? Clearly, a pedant's thoughts, which begin in learned trifling and end in frigidity. Men slip into this kind of error because, while they aim at the uncommon and elaborate and most of all at the attractive, they drift unawares into the tawdry and affected.

We are returned to the performance of importance here however, to the formal manner absent any real import through notation. For all that the pompous and pedantic see themselves as the Last Man and are often the most prone to scorn what they disdain as naive and infantile, there is nothing more puerile than the affectation of a maturity predicated on the immaturity of others. Bollocks to it. Again, to point specifically to a later comment of Longinus, "stately language is not to be used everywhere, since to invest petty affairs with great and high- sounding names would seem just like putting a full-sized tragic mask upon an infant boy." Perhaps the epic idiom would be a better reference than the tragic though, in contemporary terms.

A third, and closely allied, kind of defect in matters of passion is that which Theodorus used to call parenthyrsus. By this is meant unseasonable and empty passion, where no passion is required, or immoderate, where moderation is needed. For men are often carried away, as if by intoxication, into displays of emotion which are not caused by the nature of the subject, but are purely personal and wearisome. In consequence they seem to hearers who are in no wise affected to act in an ungainly way.

Import is an effect upon the audience, and sometimes the articulation simply fails to have that effect; not everything is relevant to everyone. Then again, those who see this or that passion as inappropriate, unnecessary or immoderate can be wearisome in their own right, it must be said. Where Romanticism tends to restrict itself to the conventional sublime, part of the project of (post)modernist writers was to subvert this, to find the unconventional sublime, the flash of lightning in the spark of a lighter held up to a cigarette. With Joyce or Calvino, Davenport or Whittemore, the aesthetic of the domestic is an aesthetic of the domestic sublime, in many respects, purposed at transporting the audience to a Moorish wall or a café, a Scandinavian meadow or a bridge, to a moment, precisely in order to make the mundane relevant to the audience in a rapture of import. Sometimes the drunken fool is Dionysus and we ought to drink with him, and join his dance.

[S]ome passions are found which are far removed from sublimity and are of a low order, such as pity, grief and fear.

I'm not convinced.

The Quirks of the Sublime

[T]here are many examples of the sublime which are independent of passion, such as the daring words of Homer with regard to the Aloadae, to take one out of numberless instances, "Yea, Ossa in fury they strove to upheave on Olympus on high, / With forest-clad Pelion above, that thence they might step to the sky." (Odyssey XI. 315-16, at Perseus.) And so of the words which follow with still greater force:-- "Ay, and the deed had they done." (Odyssey XI. 317.)

Where Longinus allows for an absence of passion in the sublime, his example is not persuasive. This tale of two giants heaping Mounts Ossa, Pelion and Olympus one atop the other in order to storm the Heavens -- which I can't help comparing to the SFX spectacle of Magneto in X-Men 3, ripping up the Golden Gate Bridge and using it to reach Alcatraz -- offers us a chimera, a breach of the laws of nature. Is this really independent of passion or is there a thrill to the audacity of the impossible feat? On a very simple level, when presented with an alethic quirk like this, something which "could not happen," there is a response of incredulity to be expected. That we do not stop reading at this testing of our suspension-of-disbelief is precisely because this is to a large extent what we are reading for, for that curious mixture of surprise and joy and fear and interest -- that thrill -- that comes with the disruption... or, more accurately, as the disruption.

Note that the line Longinus singles out as ramming the import of this figuration home -- the line which concretises the chimera by asserting that the Aloadae not only strove to do the impossible but actually carried it out, and which thereby creates credibility warp by bringing in the alethic modality of "could not happen" -- is essentially no more than an explicit statement that "this did happen". It would be hard to find an example of the quirk that better encapsulates the tension of alethic modalities at the heart of the technique.

But there is more than just a chimera here. That Longinus sees the use of this figuration as "daring" on the poet's part, and that Homer himself presents it as enacted "in fury," points us to three other quirks that can be identified in the deontic and boulomaic modalities of the import, which is to say in terms of how this figuration exploits the audience's sense of ethical duties and emotional affinities/antipathies.

This breach of the laws of nature is also a breach of the laws of God (or Zeus rather), the Aloadae transgressing the divine order itself in their raging assault on the Heavens. As such, the action is a rupturae, the narrative taking a modality of "must/should not happen" in its violation of moral orthodoxy. It is wrong. In context, in fact, it may be about as wrong as you can get in a culture that held outrage against the gods to be the gravest crime of all.

In so far as such an offence may invoke not just ethical condemnation but emotional abhorrance, indeed, the action constitutes a monstrum, with a "must/should not happen" modaity in the boulomaic rather than deontic sense. (It may be rarer, I think, to find the ruptura and monstrum dissociated than to find them bound together in this way, as a "ruptura monstrum.")

It is the presence of the third quirk, however, I think, that renders this action sublime rather than simply monstrous, for we can see in this the very stuff of power-fantasy -- the numen -- the complement of the monstrum that so often, and not-so-secretly, goes hand-in-hand with it. Whatever the breach of ethical duty, however deep the affect of outrage, such a grand action, such an astounding feat... surely there's a part of us revelling vicariously in the audacity of it, the daring. As it enacts a glory we desire, a power we thrill to imagine -- even if our basic wish is only to see it as spectacle -- the narrative takes a modality of "must/should happen." And the sublime is born.

This besides many other things, that Nature has appointed us men to be no base nor ignoble animals; but when she ushers us into life and into the vast universe as into some great assembly, to be as it were spectators of the mighty whole and the keenest aspirants for honour, forthwith she implants in our souls the unconquerable love of whatever is elevated and more divine than we.

However terrible the beauty, we still revere it, desire it.

The Strange and the Sublime

How transcendent also are the images in the Battle of the Gods:-- "Far round wide heaven and Olympus echoed his clarion of thunder;" (Iliad 21. 388, at Perseus). "And Hades, king of the realm of shadows, quaked thereunder. / And he sprang from his throne, and he cried aloud in the dread of his heart / Lest o'er him earth-shaker Poseidon should cleave the ground apart, / And revealed to Immortals and mortals should stand those awful abodes, / Those mansions ghastly and grim, abhorred of the very Gods." (Iliad 20. 61-65, at Perseus). You see, my friend, how the earth is torn from its foundations, Tartarus itself is laid bare, the whole world is upturned and parted asunder, and all things together--heaven and hell, things mortal and things immortal--share in the conflict and the perils of that battle! But although these things are awe-inspiring, yet from another point of view, if they be not taken allegorically, they are altogether impious, and violate our sense of what is fitting.

You see, my friend, how the narrative is torn from its baseline modality, imagination itself is laid bare, the very laws of nature are upturned and parted asunder, and all things together -- reality and unreality, things possible and impossible -- share in the conflict and the import of that text! This is the chimera.

But although these things inspire credibility warp, yet from another point of view, if they be not taken as fiction, they are altogether impious, and violate our sense of what is fitting. This is the monstrum.

But although these things are altogether impious, and violate our sense of what is fitting, yet from another point of view, how transcendant also are the images. This is the numen.

...the way in which Homer magnifies the higher powers: "And far as a man with his eyes through the sea-line haze may discern, / On a cliff as he sitteth and gazeth away o'er the wine-dark deep, / So far at a bound do the loud-neighing steeds of the Deathless leap." (Iliad 5. 770, at Perseus). He makes the vastness of the world the measure of their leap. The sublimity is so overpowering as naturally to prompt the exclamation that if the divine steeds were to leap thus twice in succession they would pass beyond the confines of the world.

Longinus equates as far as a man can see with the extent of the world itself, but he still nails the point. The confines of the world are: known science; known history; (meta)physics; logic. Anything that passes beyond these, even if it is in as simple an action as a horse's leap that exceeds any actual horse's ability, is an alethic quirk. The prompted exclamation is always, at heart, "This could not happen!" The boulomaic quirk -- the numen -- is born from that alethic quirk in a simple flip from denial to plea: "Oh, could this not happen?" A horse that can leap from a clifftop, through the sky, across the whole wide sea itself, to the horizon? I mean, how cool would that be?

Much superior to the passages respecting the Battle of the Gods are those which represent the divine nature as it really is--pure and great and undefiled; for example, what is said of Poseidon in a passage fully treated by many before ourselves:-- "Her far-stretching ridges, her forest-trees, quaked in dismay, / And her peaks, and the Trojans' town, and the ships of Achaia's array, / Beneath his immortal feet, as onward Poseidon strode. / Then over the surges he drave: leapt sporting before the God / Sea-beasts that uprose all round from the depths, for their king they knew, / And for rapture the sea was disparted, and onward the car-steeds flew." (Iliad 13. 18, at Perseus).

Trees quaking in dismay at the terrible beauty of the sublime. Such chimeric numina monstrum can be pointed at in the text, but it is probably as easy to point at them in the wide eyes of a child, listening attentively as the wonders are related.

The Sublime and the Strange

[G]reat natures in their decline are sometimes diverted into absurdity, as in the incident of the wine-skin and of the men who were fed like swine by Circe (whining porkers, as Zoilus called them), and of Zeus like a nestling nurtured by the doves, and of the hero who was without food for ten days upon the wreck, and of the incredible tale of the slaying of the suitors (Perseus, Odyssey 9. 182; 10.17; 10.237; 12.62; 12.447; 22.79.) For what else can we term these things than veritable dreams of Zeus? These observations with regard to the Odyssey should be made for another reason-- in order that you may know that the genius of great poets and prose-writers, as their passion declines, finds its final expression in the delineation of character. For such are the details which Homer gives, with an eye to characterisation, of life in the home of Odysseus; they form as it were a comedy of manners.

But the strange is not the sublime, not for Longinus. The chimera alone, the merely strange, is not necessarily sublime. The fantastic events of the Odyssey he sees as absurdity, as fancy, the "dreams of Zeus." For all its strangeness, this work is not sublime to him, but something else, born in a decline of passion with age, in a turning towards character and the aesthetic of the domestic. He might well be talking about the novelistic versus the romantic. We would do well to bear this in mind with regard to contemporary strange fiction, wherever critics blinker themselves and -- whether revering or reviling it as such -- class the strange fiction genres as essentially romance.

[I]n the Odyssey Homer may be likened to a sinking sun, whose grandeur remains without its intensity. He does not in the Odyssey maintain so high a pitch as in those poems of Ilium.

If Longinus in his sympathies seems a tad unfair on the Odyssey, he is right, at least, in pointing to a narrative saturated with credibility warp as nevertheless not necessarily sublime. His examples largely seem to me to lack any great numinous quality, more weird than wondrous. And with the swine-men maybe there's even a comic aspect that undercuts the monstrous, renders it merely grotesque. (It would be worthwhile picking this apart at some point, looking for textual mechanisms that defuse the monstrum in this way, render it absurd.) Only with the last example do we have a slaughter that strikes me as having that quality of terrible beauty, that air of awe, and I might be inclined to dispute it as a valid example for that reason, to say, no, this is sublime.

Maybe it's my own imagining of the myth more than anything else. The hooded stranger who arrives in mystery, picks up the bow and strings it, reveals himself -- as in a flash of lightning -- and exacts his vengeance. I see a numina monstrum in there. Where Longinus might see grandeur here without intensity, perhaps the import is lacking for him, and if this is so, his case is completely valid; the sublime is a construct of import, existing in the personal reading of the audience. But I sense the callowness of pure Romanticism in such a rejection of restraint -- as coded into Odysseus's hood, into his arrival in disguise, as a beggar. Where Longinus sees the sublime in God's grand proclamation, "Let there be light," I see it also in the silence beforehand.

Then Ajax, at his wits' end, cries: "Zeus, Father, yet save thou Achaia's sons from beneath the gloom, / And make clear day, and vouchsafe unto us with our eyes to see! / So it be but in light, destroy us! (Iliad 17. 645, at Perseus). That is the true attitude of an Ajax. He does not pray for life, for such a petition would have ill beseemed a hero. But since in the hopeless darkness he can turn his valour to no noble end, he chafes at his slackness in the fray and craves the boon of immediate light, resolved to find a death worthy of his bravery, even though Zeus should fight in the ranks against him.

The alethic quirk, it seems, is not even entirely necessary; in the previous examples it is clearly a foundation of the sublime, but Ajax's cry is no chimera, breaches no limits of possibility, creates no credibility warp. We might perhaps stretch and blur the strictures of logic to cover the cold calculus of survival, see in the hero's embrace of death a soft sutura, a breach of human nature's basic imperative to live. But it is the numen and staccatum in his action that define the import, the fact that he does exactly what beseems a hero -- what he should do -- and that the cry embodies this as a choice, an act of will -- what he would do.

And how much of a monstrum is there also in the death he is embracing? How much is such a heroic death monstrous precisely because it is numinous, and numinous because it is monstrous? If Ajax did not die so nobly he would not be so heroic as to render his death such a terrible loss. If the death of such a hero were not so terrible a loss, it would be not be such a beautiful thing for Ajax to choose this over ignominy. The rightness and wrongness of his death each depend upon the other.

Quirks of Tense and Person

If you introduce things which are past as present and now taking place, you will make your story no longer a narration but an actuality.

A change in tense from past to present is a shift in modality from "this did happen" to "this is happening."

In like manner the interchange of persons produces a vivid impression, and often makes the hearer feel that he is moving in the midst of perils:-- "Thou hadst said that with toil unspent, and all unwasted of limb, / They closed in the grapple of war, so fiercely they rushed to the fray;" (Iliad XV. 697, at Perseus)

Second person, where it is narrative of you rather than an address to you almost automatically invokes a modality of "this did not happen" in the audience. You know that you've said nothing of the sort, did not carry out the actions described.

There is further the case in which a writer, when relating something about a person, suddenly breaks off and converts himself into that selfsame person.

There is no reason that the fourth wall can't be broken in the other direction. To do so either way is to create a sutura, a breach of logic, a rupturing of the integrity of the system of narrative itself.

The Craft of the Sublime

Nor do we view the tiny flame of our own kindling (guarded in lasting purity as its light ever is) with greater awe than the celestial fires though they are often shrouded in darkness; nor do we deem it a greater marvel than the craters of Etna, whose eruptions throw up stones from its depths and great masses of rock, and at times pour forth rivers of that pure and unmixed subterranean fire.

Yeats's "terrible beauty" is Longinus's sublime, desire and dread fused in awe of events that "must and must not happen" or "should and should not happen". Where we look for the sublime, we will invariably find these numina monstra.

Uniting contradictions, she is, at one and the same time, hot and cold, in her senses and out of her mind, for she is either terrified or at the point of death. The effect desired is that not one passion only should be seen in her, but a concourse of the passions.

Longinus on Sappho nails the tension of modalities that is the key feature of the sublime.

It must needs be, therefore, that we shall find one source of the sublime in the systematic selection of the most important elements, and the power of forming, by their mutual combination, what may be called one body. The former process attracts the hearer by the choice of the ideas, the latter by the aggregation of those chosen.

It is simply good writing as much as anything to conjure one's quirks not in an event described with tedious plainness as if leisurely studied in the light of day, but in the fractured details revealed as by a thunderbolt for only a moment, resolving into a whole in the imaginative after-image.

In a general way the name of image or imagination is applied to every idea of the mind, in whatever form it presents itself, which gives birth to speech. But at the present day the word is predominantly used in cases where, carried away by enthusiasm and passion, you think you see what you describe, and you place it before the eyes of your hearers.

The sublime is always vivid.

Let one instance be quoted from among many:-- "And he burst on them like as a wave swift-rushing beneath black clouds, / Heaved huge by the winds, bursts down on a ship, and the wild foam shrouds / From the stem to the stern her hull, and the storm-blast's terrible breath / Roars in the sail, and the heart of the shipmen shuddereth / In fear, for that scantly upborne are they now from the clutches of death." (Iliad 15. 624-628, at Perseus).

The solidity of form is lost in the wild foam. In this thunderbolt of figuration there is no ship to speak of, no wooden deck, no ropes, no oars, only the roaring in the sails and the shuddering in hearts.

For just as those who are interrogated by others experience a sudden excitement and answer the inquiry incisively and with the utmost candour, so the figure of question and answer leads the hearer to suppose that each deliberate thought is struck out and uttered on the spur of the moment, and so beguiles his reason.

The sublime is always striving for immediacy.

'By attitude, by look, by voice, when he acts with insolence, when he acts like an enemy, when he smites with his fists, when he smites you like a slave.' By these words the orator produces the same effect as the assailant--he strikes the mind of the judges by the swift succession of blow on blow.

In such asyndeta and repetitions, the sublime is always on the attack.

Hyperbata, or inversions, must be placed under the same category. They are departures in the order of expressions or ideas from the natural sequence; and they bear, it may be said, the very stamp and impress of vehement emotion.

The sublime strives to be unexpected.

Where the words are singular, to make them plural is the mark of unlooked-for passion; and where they are plural, the rounding of a number of things into a fine-sounding singular is surprising owing to the converse change.

The thunderbolt sunders and fuses.

The Rhapsode and the Sublime

Cicero differs from Demosthenes in elevated passages. For the latter is characterised by sublimity which is for the most part rugged, Cicero by profusion. Our orator, owing to the fact that in his vehemence,--aye, and in his speed, power and intensity,--he can as it were consume by fire and carry away all before him, may be compared to a thunderbolt or flash of lightning. Cicero, on the other hand, it seems to me, after the manner of a widespread conflagration, rolls on with all-devouring flames, having within him an ample and abiding store of fire, distributed now at this point now at that, and fed by an unceasing succession.

I admit to my own prejudices as regards "amplification" versus "elevation," the grandiose versus the sublime; for me, the grandiose often collapses into the tumidty Longinus warns against as it becomes gauche. Speaking as someone familiar only with the films rather than the comics, Magneto picking up the entire Golden Gate Bridge in X-Men 3 seems too crudely spectaculist when held against similar scenes in the earlier movies, too showy. Surely, I think, McKellan's Magneto would raise every car, van and lorry from the bridge, shatter it to a powder of steel, and fuse that steel into a new bridge, into something more magnificent in its slender, shining subtlety than that mere lumpen mass of man's construction, ripped from the earth and dumped in its new position.

And it seems to me that there would not have been so fine a bloom of perfection on Plato's philosophical doctrines, and that he would not in many cases have found his way to poetical subject-matter and modes of expression, unless he had with all his heart and mind struggled with Homer for the primacy, entering the lists like a young champion matched against the man whom all admire, and showing perhaps too much love of contention and breaking a lance with him as it were, but deriving some profit from the contest none the less.

Emulation of the great rhapsodes becomes competition with the great rhapsodes. That this competition is couched in terms of valiant combat is, it seems to me, a marker of the heroic ideal that the sublime is bound to in Longinus and in Romanticism. This is why, I suspect, Longinus prefers the Iliad to the Odyssey, why he dismisses the slaying of the suitors. Odysseus in his wily disguise is the wanderer rather than the warrior, Odin rather than Thor.

[E]verywhere in the matter of sublimity it is true of him (to adopt Homer's words) that, "The tail of him scourgeth his ribs and his flanks to left and to right, / And he lasheth himself into frenzy, and spurreth him on to the fight." (Iliad 20.170, at Perseus)

So Longinus constructs his metaphor of Euripedes the man-of-words as Euripedes the man-of-war. It is an apt image given the nature of the aesthetic itself, but I have to admit I prefer Odysseus to Achilles. Partly it is this notion of the sublime returning to the domestic to shatter it, as in that moment when Odysseus reveals himself, less a man-of-war as he fires his arrows out into the crowd of suitors, more a terrorist or an exile returned, as Dionysus in Thebes. Partly it is the notion of the domestic as sublime -- the hooded man, a stranger in his own home, holding his own bow once again, at last. I do have some sympathy with the romance of Longinus's heroic ideal though, his notion of the rhapsode as raptor. Disruption is the essence of strange fiction, sublime or logical, absurd or domestic.

[I]t is the nature of the passions, in their vehement rush, to sweep and thrust everything before them, or rather to demand hazardous turns as altogether indispensable. They do not allow the hearer leisure to criticise the number of the metaphors because he is carried away by the fervour of the speaker.

So Caecilius says a passage should limit itself to two or three metaphors at most. I think I'm with Longinus here. Sometimes metaphors should be mixed. Molotov cocktails pack a tasty kick.


Monday, March 08, 2010

A List, Apropos of Arsing About

Slickspit Hamshankery (scrag)
Quippersnapper Wreathquiff (scallywag)
Straggler Bratsprat (scofflaw)
Wipeguddler Fitzgigglin-Chimpudence (scrag)
Rebelladonna Scrapegrace (scofflaw)
Tadpolka Cadgeskin (scamp)
Scally Ali Axinfreak (scallywag)
Squigglish Jesterfield (scamp)

Other than the first two, not sure where I'll use these, but it's always handy having em.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010


C'est moi! En Francais!...

Ye Gotta Love the Love Police

More here.