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November 18, 2007

Scenes from literature
Posted by Patrick at 02:16 PM * 59 comments

Tom Gauld’s illustrations for the Guardian Saturday Review letters page get funnier every time I look at them. In fact, nearly everything on the web site for Cabanon Press (Gauld and another artist, Simone Lia) is wonderful. (Thanks to Liz Gorinsky for showing it to me.)

Comments on Scenes from literature:
#1 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 02:47 PM:

ohmygawd that's funny
;)

#2 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:14 PM:

Can I get that on a t-shirt?

#3 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:35 PM:

I also commend to your eyes my friend Martin Rebas' prints. Only four thus far, ranging from the derangedly cute to the odd to the sweet.

#4 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Reminds me of someone I know, mostly online, who every now and then likes to complain that SF isnt literature. To which I reply, yes it isnt, it SF. THen he goes on about how SF doesn't provide great insights into humanity and life and stuff like that, and I point out that none of the great literature I have read did that either, and so the discussions go circling round.

So the cartoon resonates.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:07 PM:

I especially admire the Writer At Work series. I don't know enough about the writers to get all of the jokes, but I love how he uses the same basic layout and setup for each strip. It makes the strips like a series of poems, all of the same form.

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:15 PM:

I'm with Bruce Arthurs on that one.

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:19 PM:

Guthrie, your friend has succumbed to a common fallacy -- the belief that the words "art" and "literature" only refer to great art and great literature.

I think people come to believe this because they are taught about the great, classic examples of each in school, just like you're only taught about major, important events in history class. So "historic" comes to mean "worthy of being taught in history class", and "art" and "literature" come to mean "worthy of being taught in art or literature class".

#8 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:27 PM:

*sidles over to wait in hope with Bruce and Fragano*

#9 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:06 PM:

maybe someone could send the artist a link to cafepress with a hint...

#10 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:49 PM:

And, of course, if a writer gets nationally recognized, he is no longer science fiction. Because if it's literature, it can't be science fiction. Nope nope.

(Margaret Atwood is science fiction. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is fantasy. Harlan Ellison is, plausibly, the only person who can reasonably claim he is not (Ellison is his own beast) and he hasn't entirely disowned the genre.)

#11 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:41 PM:

Oooh, yes, the Writer at Work is charming.

#12 ::: Mur ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 10:17 PM:

I just got back from the NC Writer's Network Conference where I was on a panel to discuss blogging and podcasting. They invited me to do a reading. Oh, I should have said no...

Each person had 10 min. There were seven of us. Here's a sample: a story where a woman's mother's dying and she thinks the woman is an infant (taken to a ghastly conclusion), an essay about pig sex, and an excerpt from a book about women on vacation together looking back on their lives. Oh, and superheroes (guess who that one was).

Seeing this cartoon when I got home saved my sanity. Thank you.

#13 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 10:32 PM:

Okay, that picture is going on the syllabus for the SF course I'm teaching next semester. Okay, that picture is going on the syllabus for the SF course I'm teaching next semester.

#14 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 10:38 PM:

Okay, it's going on your syllabus.

By the way, can I take your SF course?

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 11:16 PM:

Lea, is it going on your syllabus? I mean for the SF course next semester.

#16 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:43 AM:

Not only did Lea get her double-post in, in ONLY ONE POST, but she got a double-posted reply, with each of the two parts from a different person!

Truly, a technical marvel.

#17 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:53 AM:

mjfgates #16: You forget that Xopher is one of my sockpuppets.

Or is it the other way around? I can never remember...

#18 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 12:56 AM:

*headdesk*

I have no idea how I did that. You go away for one hour and come back to find you look like a dope in front of all the clever Making Light posters...

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:04 AM:

Oh, Lea, you don't look like a dope. We're just teasing you over something that could happen to anyone.

And ethan, you're so right! And as for the rest of you, you people need to realize that ethan's not the only one who thinks so. The lurkers also support ethan our position in email.

#20 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:06 AM:

I didn't think you looked like a dope, Lea. I thought you were being appropriately emphatic. FWIW, I read the second sentence totally differently to the first one.

Okay, that picture is going on the syllabus for the SF course I'm teaching next semester. Okay, that picture is going on the syllabus for the SF course I'm teaching next semester.

I grant you that other interpretations are possible, and look forward to all manner of exegesis.

#21 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:09 AM:

"Okay, that picture is going on the syllabus for the SF course I'm teaching next semester"?

#22 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:41 AM:

*joins the T-shirt queue*

(before it becomes a queueueueueueueue, I hope...)

#23 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:08 AM:

I agree with Xopher, both because it's why I exist and because Lea doesn't look like a dope.

I also agree with Betsey Langan.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:24 AM:

Bwaaahahah! You're all my sockpuppets. *Honey, where did all my socks go?*

#25 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:02 AM:

Lea = The Soldier Who Sees Everything Twice.

(Other parallels between Fluorosphere denizens and members of the Fighting 256th (that's two to the Fighting eighth power) are left as an exercise for the reader.)

#26 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:06 AM:

I had to attend a number of readings of work in prgress, at an MFA course I did a number of years back (the things one will do to get a travel allowance, really, I ought to be wearing a red minidress and fishnets).

Anyway, the last of these I attended, we had: a short piece that consisted mostly of a conversation about how futile it was to attempt communication at all, in which it turned out that all the characters are the same person; a chapter from a novel attempting to represent the internal discourse of a severely autistic protagonist; and my own story, in which an alien discovers that Terrans have been covertly guiding the breeding of his species in order to reduce its extreme levels of aggression.

It was remarked after one of these, that the estrangement tends to distract, and worse, to divert attention. Guess which one.

#27 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:28 AM:

I for one would prefer, t-shirtwise, the "Science Fiction vs Proper Literature" one (third from the bottom at the first link); it could go in the front vs back arrangement.

#28 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:55 AM:

#26, Dave Luckett

Pardon my ignorance, but, "the estrangement"? I'm guessing the reader's estrangement from the story? (And I'm pretty sure I know which one the complaint was about. That's bizarre.)

#29 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:16 AM:

Something else by the same artist that may interest people here. :)

#30 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:23 AM:

Doh! Didn't notice Patrick had already linked that page (as 'the'). :(

#31 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:33 AM:

God, I wish I'd had that with me this weekend at Orycon, when I was on a panel titled "Is SF respectable today?"

My point was that ubiquity doesn't necessarily equate with respectability--but this comic would have done all my talking for me and I coulda gone to the bar early.

#32 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:43 PM:

maybe someone could send the artist a link to cafepress with a hint...

Someone did. Well, not a hint so much as a straight up request, with a link to the thread. So, cross the appropriate digits or other appendages, and I'll let you know what he says, if anything.

*tentacles crossed*

#33 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:51 PM:

Ah, "estrangement". This refers to the definition of science fiction and fantasy given by Darko Suvin, who wrote (about 1985, from memory) that SFF is text that is distinguished by "an estrangement", that is, a specific difference from current received reality, and by an attempt at cognition about it. The word therefore refers to the intent of the text, not directly to the effect on the reader.

The criticism was therefore to the effect that writing about aliens was just too weird compared with the sensible and realistic discourse of the other pieces, and would tend to squick the reader.

#34 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:23 PM:

"Received reality"? That sounds like a term that might have a special definition beyond just the two words next to each other. Hmmm?

#35 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 04:03 AM:

A wonderful cartoon.
:)

#36 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:43 AM:

IIRC, Suvin's use of estrangement for definition of SF builds on introduction of this term by Viktor hklovsky, quite a big shot in semiotics. SFE links it only to Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, but wikipedia: Alienation effect suggests the two are closely related.

As for "received reality", some 700 Google hits but first SERPs don't seem particularly academic, and the mentions in Books and Scholar search also don't use it as a fixed term.

#37 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:34 AM:

#34

"Received reality" sounds like doublespeak for the "write what you know" I kept getting hammered with in college.

Or, in lit speak, "You don't know any extra terrestrial aliens therefore you can't write sensibly about them. Neither will the reader will understand them because they have experienced nothing that relates to your work. If you persist in insisting that fiction about aliens is legitmate authorship, you will learn you are mistaken by the lack of connectivity with your readership." More succintly "If it's not angst and head space, it doesn't count. Context doesn't matter."

#38 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 11:40 AM:

By "received reality" I only meant the reality we all know exists around us, without silly stuff like, oh, rocket ships or elves or other things we all know don't exist or can't happen. I added "received" to try to weasel out of the inevitable response, viz, that nobody really knows if what we think of as real is actually real or not, and if it's real, what anybody else thinks of it.

I tried to defend myself by saying that the story was actually postcolonialist in discourse and might be considered familiar territory. Brother, was I handed my head.

#39 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 08:24 PM:

Elves don't exist?

Man, Ala Moana Shopping Center is going to be so upset when I tell them the main character in their primary ad campaign this Christmas is but a fantasy.

#40 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 08:46 PM:

"If it's not angst and head space, it doesn't count. Context doesn't matter."

I feel your pain.

The assumption seems to be that no-one can have angst and head space in a space ship - I guess it's the zero gravity making everything light. A gritty urban setting, or Tuscany, is the only place to set Real Stories. Preferably about a Geisha or a Veiled Muslim, because they are so hot right now.

Which is, of course, why the fledgling 18-25 year olds in my writing classes write angsty crap about drug overdoses (or occasionally, experimental porn).

#41 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:19 PM:

I've always thought the best writing advice you could ever get is "Write a story you want to read."

Who wants to read about angst? At least, who wants to read about angst written by someone who thinks that story is meaningless and context is all?

#42 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 01:07 AM:

Lots of people want to read about angst, and some subset of this group don't care about story. I don't get it, either, but there's no denying it.

#43 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 08:08 AM:

I always thought "Write what you know" was more what you might call a guideline</Barbossa> for fledging writers trying to find their voice. When you've found your voice, then you could use the other tools of research and imagination to start writing about geishas, muslims, martians and other fabled creatures.

#44 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Dave @ 42: And then there are those who care exclusively about story, and couldn't care less whether the characters are (as a favorable review said of a book I rather enjoyed) cut out of a very sturdy brand of cardboard.

I kinda want both, myself. Works that tend too far into one direction or another leave me unsatisfied, in different ways.

#45 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 10:37 AM:

When you've found your voice, then you could use the other tools of research and imagination to start writing about geishas, muslims, martians and other fabled creatures.

Hmm.

"Look out, Ahmed-san!" screamed Yoshiko. "He's got a Heat-Ray!"
Ahmed dived for cover as the paper screen behind him burst into flames...

#46 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 10:41 AM:

Surely, "Ahmed dived for cover as the unicorn behind him burst into flames."

#47 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 11:13 AM:

46: dammit, you're right.

#48 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 02:05 PM:

One minute it was a Tokyo evening, with doors closing, shutters drawn, the unicorns resting calmly in their stalls, naiads still playing in every fountain, muezzin calling the adhan from the minaret, the geisha girls flitting like shards of light in their coloured robes among the crowded streets. And then the Martian Heat-Ray vaporised the whole scene.

#49 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 11:43 PM:

And then the Martian Heat-Ray vaporised the whole scene.

That is not what I meant by "so hot right now". Mind you, it'll do.

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2007, 12:38 AM:

Pretty cool -- I've been poking at the "random" button there, with pretty entertaining results.

And yeah, I'd buy the T-shirt.

#51 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2007, 06:29 AM:

48: Few would have believed, thirteen hundred years after the Hegira, that the affairs of the Dar al-Islam were being watched and scrutinised by intelligences far in advance of our own...

-- from The Jihad of the Worlds

Actually, this, too, is starting to take shape. There are a few nice vignettes - Janissaries in their white robes bursting into flame as they try to storm the capsule's landing site outside Edo; the heroic last stand of the Sultan's galleys against the Martians' flying ironclads in the La Perouse Strait...

You could turn it into a very nice allegory. Just as the original was "Martians: Earthmen:: the West: the rest of the world", this could be "Martians:Earthmen::the West:Muslims".

It's an alternate history, of course, starting with a Muslim China in the Middle Ages (hence a Muslim Japan, you see...)

#52 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2007, 07:51 AM:

I am now thinking of a picture of a great sand dune, looming over a lone camel and rider.

#53 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2007, 08:20 AM:

The door at the base of a small blue minaret opened, and a wary head peered around the edge. Then a man stepped out, elderly, white-haired, dressed in old-fashioned style. His garb was indeterminate, but if anything it was the gard of a scholar, and instead of a sword there was a long flute tucked into his sash.

He smiled; a happy but not particularly cheerful smile. It was the smile of an old man who sees better than he feared. Turning his head, he called through the door, "Su-San, it is quite safe now."

A young woman emerged. "Ojiisan?" She looked around, seeing the still smoking rubble, and the charred marks that were the shadow of corpses. "Is this really Hiroshima?"

The was a sitant wail, that for a moment might have been the cry of a muezzin. But it was no declaration that God is Great, just a soulless ullulation.

#54 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2007, 08:58 AM:

Nice one, Bell. I was just thinking of a version involving the Mutla Ridge...

#55 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Love it. I did a Science Fiction module while working towards my English Lit degree at the very reputable University of Edinburgh. People who were doing Chaucer were most dismissive. :P

#56 ::: Luke ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2008, 07:12 PM:

OMG how true is that. I was reading a speech Phillip Dick gave in which he was expressing how difficult it was to get his ideas accepted in the mainstream. Snobs!

#57 ::: Dave Luckett sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2012, 11:19 AM:

What's "spam" in French, Serge?

#58 ::: Serge Broom hasn't the faintest idea what the French word is for SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2012, 11:37 AM:

I wish I knew, Dave.
Time to write to my friend back in Quebec.

#59 ::: Serge Broom has been told that the French word for SPAM is POURRIEL ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2012, 09:23 AM:

My friend Elisabeth Vonarburg said that 'spam' is 'pourriel' in French. It comes from 'pourri', which means 'rotten', and 'el' is the abbreviation for 'electronique'. In other words, it's electronic rot. And it sounds like the name of Galadriel's no-good sister.

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