Monday, June 30, 2008

A Brief Conversation with Andrea Hairston

Aqueduct author Andrea Hairston recently finished a new novel manuscript, which she recently read from at WisCon. Intrigued by her shift in focus from the future to the past, I asked her to talk a little about the new work.

Timmi: In Mindscape, you wandered about in a vivid mid-future, exploring postcolonial and gender issues (among others). Last May at WisCon, you read a powerful, moving excerpt from a novel that is set in the past. Could you tell me, please, what called you to write fiction that looks back into the past, and perhaps tell me a little about the characters and their stories?

Andrea: I wrote this book to celebrate folks like my great aunt and grandfather, to counter Willful Amnesia, and to offer myself hope.

I teach Theatre and African American Studies at Smith College. On sabbatical in 2003, I researched minstrel shows, vaudeville, and early film. Minstrelsy solidified American caricatures of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. These stage stereotypes have gone through spiraling permutations, peopling novels and films, TV shows, Music Videos, and the News. We continue to do battle with the core creations of the minstrel stage. Brutal Black Bucks, Drunken Savage Indians, Helpless White Women, Inscrutable Orientals, and Angry Black Women still inhabit the American imagination.

From my research, I developed a course and planned a contemporary novel, “Exploding in Slow Motion.” I actually didn’t want to write about the early twentieth century I’d discovered. So when the ideas and characters for “Redwood and Wildfire” came to me, I resisted for three years. I tried to have the historical story sneak into the contemporary one. I tried to have ancestor tales ghost around the lives of the major characters. It didn’t work.

By researching hoodoo and blues and teaching my minstrelsy course three times, I fell in love with the people coming up from Georgia and making a life on stage and screen in early 20th century Chicago. Here was a treasure trove of exciting stories that haven’t been told, that were too good to keep secret! In addition to sustaining the storehouse of minstrel stereotypes, these performers were tricksters, magicians, shapeshifters. The richness, complexity, and brilliance of their lives dazzled me. Many early performers were connected to hoodoo, often confused with “voodoo,” a pejorative term. Hoodoo is an African American “magical” practice, not a religion like Vodou. Hoodoos use herbal medicine to cure physical and psychic ailments. They create fetish bags to attract lovers or punish enemies. Working through a performative healing practice, hoodoos devise rituals to conjure the future and celebrate the here and now.

On sabbatical again in 2007, I broke the spell the contemporary novel had on me. Using what I had tried to sneak into “Exploding in Slow Motion,” I wrote a film script of Redwood and Wildfire’s story and used that as an outline for the novel:

Growing up in rural Georgia at the turn of the 20th century, Redwood Phipps longs to be a hoodoo conjurer and performer like her free-spirited mother. Most people condemn hoodoo as backward superstition, as a belief system black folk need to let go of in order to join a modern society, but Redwood wants to learn how to conjure the wondrous world she believes in. Her brother (and everybody else) wants her to avoid this dangerous route, do something sensible, like teaching.

Aidan Wildfire is a Seminole/Irish musician just trying to keep his head clear, lead a good life, and do the right things. He’s a magic man too, but no one knows who he is and he drowns his power in drink. The troubled spirits of the land haunt him.
Power and talent can be a torment in a system stacked against you, but Aidan witnesses Redwood catching a storm on a hilltop and this changes their lives. They believe in each other and become secret friends.

After Redwood commits a deadly act in self-defense, Aidan helps her leave rural Georgia. He follows her to Chicago which holds as much danger and wonder as the Okefenokee Swamp. Aidan and Redwood work their magic in vaudeville and silent films. They struggle to share secrets, friendship, power, and eventually, after much hardship, love. But the past won’t let them escape so easily. Haints and demons have come north with them and challenge the dreams they would conjure in Chicago.

Timmi: As someone who has studied history, I've often thought that the past is as alien and strange as the future, especially when it comes to imagining living in it. Do you find that the case in your writing?

Andrea: The past is very alien and nothing we really know. I can’t believe what people ate, said, and fought over in 1959 or 1963 and I was there doing it. I’ve changed so much since then, I can’t easily find my way to the feeling state of being a 1963 American, where normal people watched dogs attack their neighbors and I played cowboys and Indians with my big brother, attacking white settlers before being sent off to a reservation. My brother never wanted to play the Indians, but would have liked to attack the settlers.

I had to conjure the past as much as I had to conjure the future.

Timmi: Joanna Russ has characterized science fiction as written in the subjunctive tense—as creating a possible version of reality that could (but is not likely to) come to pass. Many people probably assume that writing historical fiction is the exact opposite—re-creating what has already been, or writing, so to speak, in the past tense. I myself tend to think that although who we are collectively a product of the past, since we cannot really know it, representations of it are as provisional (and subjunctive) as representations of the future. Would you agree or disagree with that? And has your view of this affected how you go about writing fiction set in the past?

Andrea: “Redwood and Wildfire” is a work of fiction. I am wallowing in metaphor, engaging in artistic play, experimentation—which has gotten a bad rep in the age of high reason and gold certified authenticity. My novel is unapologetic speculation in the subjunctive case. In Science Fiction and Fantasy writers do not just imagine what might be, but also what might have been.

I have also found that many people view the future as if it were as known as the past.
I have had provocative critiques of my first novel, Mindscape. During a writer’s workshop at a convention in Boston, the moderator told me that a filmmaker character in Mindscape wouldn’t be making a film about the history of his/her world. He’d be making a movie about the now. The moderator declared my filmmaker character unrealistic, authoritatively saying, “history is just not that important.”
To whom?

Willful Amnesia. The colonialist underbelly/core of the American and European democratic and economic “success story” is a history some of us would like to forget as we focus on a sanitized now where we are all surely equal.

Many readers and critics have asserted that languages wouldn’t/won’t disappear as they do in Mindscape, leaving only a few behind. They say this even as languages are vanishing at a rate often compared to species extinction. They say this living in America, which has hosted the demise of Native American language, European and Asian language diversity, and African languages and African inflected dialects of European languages. They say this as people deride Ebonics as a “stupid” or debased English used by people who are not intelligent enough to engage in proper discourse. These critics generally do not comment on the political power of language or why certain languages are not respected, but exploited—the African-Americanization of mainstream world culture is fueled by the vigor of the cultural expressions and the poaching power of predatory capitalism. The use of transgressive blackness continues, of course, from the minstrel blackface past to the hip hop present.

What you think you know that is not so
Make you a slave

The above lines are from a praise poem that I recently wrote to Eshu, West African deity of the crossroads. How we see the future is to a great degree determined by what we believe of the past. Collectively, what we consciously or unconsciously create as our history is the ground for the now and tomorrow. Who we think we are, who we think is possible is in the stories we tell on ourselves, on our ancestors. As the Hopi say:

The one who tells the story rules the world.

I have decided to speculate on a past we vociferously deny in the narratives of the American nation that we take to be true. Our reality delusion is sustained by the wizard magic of those who control the story. Because of this magic we often cannot see other stories, other happenings that are right before our eyes.

The recent political campaigns display a nation rife with Willful Amnesia. In the national minstrel myths, the Angry Black Woman (Bitch) is a monster coming to get you. We have eliminated the Angry White Woman (Bitch) from the presidential race, and although Michelle Obama isn’t running for office, we can’t have another Angry Black Woman (Bitch) greeting folks at the Big White House.

We are not supposed to worry about Crazed White Male Genocidal Maniac.

Who are these Angry Black Women monsters?

Did I miss their serial killer rampages?

What bombs have they dropped?

What markets have they collapsed with predatory capitalist zeal?

Whose sons and daughters did they lie into war?

What species have they hunted to extinction with their rage?

What tribes have they marched to death?

What genocide have they sanctioned?

Whose babies have they nuked or lynched? or just abandoned in the wasteland?

Ms. Rice aside, have I missed the hordes of power mamas wrecking havoc on this world?

Did the parade of sassy black ruler wenches march by my house while I was asleep?

“Redwood and Wildfire” is a story, a fiction, not an attempt at historical authenticity, but rather an entertainment that perhaps allows us to see what could be hiding in plain view. As I wrote the novel, the present wasn’t making me happy and the future looked even worse. A catalogue of disasters danced continuously in my head: assaults on land, sea, and air; human misery on the rise; flora and fauna reeling. Psychopathic corporations were doing business as usual—thoroughly normal self-destruction, sanctified even. Predatory capitalism was a fundamentalist faith, with high-tech warriors heading out for the Crusades. I didn’t see heroes running, riding, driving, or flying in to the rescue. A juggernaut rolled over us and I could barely see what good any of us were doing.

For most of my life I have been much more hopeful—seeing devastating difficulty as a challenge to the human spirit and imagination. A child of 1950’s American Dreams, I expected we would change the world for the better, not exceed the planet’s capacity to sustain our existence. Yet without all my hard-earned middle class, professional privileges—

How the hell would I have survived in 1910?

Aghast at the mess we were making of the present, and fearing for the future, for the worse mess it could become, I imagined African American and Native American theatre and film artists in the past surviving more difficult restraints, more oppressive social constraints than what I face now, yet still being able to express themselves eloquently. I imagined those who made me possible, going against worse odds to conjure a world they believed in. These ancestors had good times, love, and triumphs. They had vision. They did what had to be done. “Redwood and Wildfire” is a celebration of the sort of vision and love we need to make it to the very next moment!

In the subjunctive text of what might have been, I offer myself and my readers a bridge to tomorrow.

Timmi: Thanks, Andrea. I know I'm not the only one eagerly awaiting the publication of "Redwood and Wildfire" (which, incidentally, is a fabulously evocative title).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

When you burn manuscripts, take the advice of an old experienced man. Read everything that you burn. We used to do that in the House of Art. The manuscripts of the Serapion Brothers were initially read by the fire, and this isn't a bad reader for a start.
The number of so-called drafts is unusually high, especially when the drafts are drafts of thought.

Thoughts are wordless, observed Einstein, and for that reason the thinker is taken by surprise when he finds the answer to some mystery out of thin air.

The mysteries of drafts are unfathomable. It's as if mankind thinks in hypothetical ways. The answers are hidden in the already finished works, but have not yet exposed themselves.
--Viktor Shklovsky, Energy of Delusion

I'd forgotten how intense novel-writing is. Not really forgotten, in the sense that I could have told anyone who asked me what it's like, working on a novel. Forgotten, rather, in the sense of being taken by surprise by the intensity, in the same way in which I'm always taken by surprise when the reality of pain suddenly asserts itself at the moment the autohypnotic suggestion that keeps the pain of adhesions I've had since abdominal surgery 28 years ago suddenly wears off and reminds me of what I'd forgotten. I usually go several years without needing to renew the suggestion, and years of the pain's absence eventually makes me "forget" its visceral reality. The last time I worked on this novel was in December 2006, during a two-week retreat at the wonderful Whiteley Center on San Juan Island. And the reason I haven't worked on it since then? Simple: when I'm working on a novel, there's little room in my head for anything other than the novel, which means flaking off on Aqueduct.

As an intensity addict, I can only love being in a state of Total Engagement. But there's a downside: I often can't turn off my mind long enough to drop into sleep. Last night I kept getting out of bed to run into my office to scribble text in the dark while the words were fresh. (Foolishly, I thought that if I didn't turn on a light (or the computer, to write with the keyboard) I'd have a better chance at being finally able to sleep.) It was after my third such foray that I noticed a brightness coming through a northern window. I couldn't remember whether the moon is ever in that part of the sky around the summer solstice, but I rather doubted it. Peering out, I realized it was dawn. A big disappointment, since I knew I wouldn't be falling asleep anytime soon...

Operating on a pittance of sleep today, when I read the passage above, I told myself to take it as a warning to go easy on the deletions until I'm a little less sleep-lagged. I've been slashing and adding all week to the first half of the book.

Of course Shklovsky's citation of Einstein is spot-on. One thinks one knows nothing, but somehow, in the process of putting words on the page, an idea pops into existence, as though from nowhere.

Writing is a lot of things. But the best thing it is is magic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Albanian Renunciates

According to a story in the International Herald Tribune, women in Albania could until recently decide to live as men. To do so, they had to dress and act like men, and take an oath of celibacy, but once they did, they were freed from the extreme limitations placed on women and entitled to both the greater freedom and greater responsibility assigned to men. They could even pray with men in the mosques.

They call them "sworn virgins," which immediately made me think of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Renunciates (also called Free Amazons). Of course, Bradley's characters got to have sex and lived in an all-female guild, but they did give up their right to be protected as women.

Apparently a lot of Albanian women made the choice because their fathers had been killed and the family needed male leadership, which is not dissimilar to Bradley's idea that women took oath as Renunciates due to terrible experiences.

It seems to me that I have heard of a similar practice in another Central European country, though I have the idea that those women were allowed to marry as men as well. I believe there were similar practices in some of the Native American nations as well, and I suspect something similar may have taken hold in other cultures when there was a shortage of men.

I find myself wondering what I would have done if my only choices had been to live as a man or conform to a very limited role as a woman. I'm not sure how I would have felt about giving up sex -- especially when I was young and my hormones were raging -- and I hate to make permanent choices about anything, including gender. Still, I know how hard I would have found it to spend my life stuck in a traditional female life. Nothing frightens me more than the 1950s concept of the homemaker, and the Albanian role for women was even more limited than that. Living as a man might have been an easier compromise for me than living as a woman in that world.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Photos

Alice Kim has posted more photos of Sycamore Hill 2008. Her photostream includes pictures of the setting as well as a photo capturing a Special Moment in the dining hall near the end of our week there. (Hint: it's titled "Messianistic Mikey.") In retrospect, I find myself wondering just what other unsuspected talents my colleagues might have...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Support Clarion West and my goal of finishing a new novel this summer

Clarion West's fifth annual Write-a-thon began today and will run for six weeks--the length of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. They are looking for sponsors to support participating writers in meeting their goals. Sponsors can pledge what suits their budgets -- $1/week, $5/week, $20/week – or just a flat amount for the six weeks.

Although I'm not a Clarion alumna, Kate Schaefer at Clarion West invited me to participate in their fundraising Write-a-thon (perhaps because I was an instructor in 2005), so I am looking for sponsors, too. I decided to set an ambitious goal: to finish a novel in progress with the working title of "Deep Story" (a title that will almost certainly change). The novel is premised on an application of proteomics (an area of the biological sciences currently in its infancy) that in its totality and immediacy far surpasses the ability of virtual reality to convey information and recreate emotional experiences. I'm picking it up at roughly 57,000 words. Although I don't usually show unfinished work to anybody, I've posted the first five chapters of the working ms on my website here for the duration of the Write-a-thon. I'd be happy to make weekly reports on my progress to anyone who chooses to sponsor me, and on (presumed) publication, I'll happily thank said sponsors again, on the acknowledgments page.

Clarion West is a great institution to support, even for those who haven't attended it and don't plan to do so. It has benefitted many of today's best or most promising writers. Every donation is tax-deductable and will be appreciated, even if your budget limits you to a a very modest amount. You can sponsor me by going to my Write-a-thon page on Clarion West's site.

More Than Just a List

Jeff VanderMeer has posted My Favorite Fantasists in the Short Story Form over at Ecstatic Days. He begins his post thus:

In thinking about reading for Best American Fantasy, two things really stood out for me: (1) the Tin House: Fantastic Women volume was the most spectacular single issue I read, holding up and in fact becoming more luminous and deep with each re-read and (2) most of the short fiction I’ve read recently that I’ve been most passionate about has come from female writers.

Not only does his list include several Aqueductians, but it also offers pithy characterizations of their work (which impresses the hell out of me). I concur, by the way: I found that issue of Tin House is occasionally provocative and often delightful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008 Pilgrim Award

I've found another item of interest to all intense Aqueductistas, in that same issue of the SFRA Review I mentioned earlier today. Adam Frisch writes:

British SF critic and writer Gwyneth Jones has been selected as the recipient of this year's SFRA Pilgrim Award. She joins an illustrious set of former Pilgrim winners whose criticism has continually demonstrated science fiction's relevance to our contemporary world, its problems, and its potential.

Congratulations, Gwyneth!

Quote of the Day

Reception and dissemination are never neutral phenomenon, and the familiar bumbling can always occur ("Gee, honey, I lost women's writing").
--Rachel Blau Duplessis, "The Gendered Marvelous: Barbara Guest, Surrealism, and Feminist Reception"

New Reviews

While I was away at Sycamore Hill, the Spring 2008 issue of the SFRA Review arrived, and I'm pleased to report that among the issues reviews, I found one by Ritch Calvin of Vandana Singh's Of Love and Other Monsters. The review occupies almost a full 8 1/2'' by 11'' page, so I can't quote the whole thing, but I'm happy to give you a taste each of the beginning and end:

I'll start a few sentences into the review:

Singh, born and raised in India, was there raised on a diet of both Indian and English myths and stories. She has a PhD in theoretical particle physics and lives in Boston, where she teaches physics and writes fiction. So it is no surprise that Of Love and Other Monsters begins with a metaphor drawn from physics, the soliton, a type of wave or pulse that does not change shape on collision with another soliton.

And here is most of the last three paragraphs:

[W]hen pondering Rahul's liberation or decolonization, Arun imagines the mitochondrion that has become an integrated part of the cell. "If you could offer a mitochondrion its freedom, would it take it?" (73)

Because of Singh's scientific background, the novella is filled with this kind of comparison. Yet despite this, the central premises of the book--telepathy and mind-melding--remain unfounded in scientific or rational principles. But as with so many elements of the novella (sexuality, gender, alienation), that may well be the point. Nevertheless, Of Love and Other Monsters offers a beautiful and compelling tale of alienation and difference, of groundedness and transcendence. Arun possesses this atavistic alien ability (or it possesses him), which may just be another way of perceiving and tapping into the world around him.Because of this ability, he is an alien in his own country Once he moves to the United States, he is an alien there as well. Arun struggles with the question of allegiances, of assimilation, of rootlessness (and rootedness). But as Binodini tells him, "You're not alone [...] At least, not any more than anyone else" (75)

Certianly Singh's novella is not the first to imagine the alien as among us-- see much of the New Wave for that. And Singh is not the first to imagine other conceptualizations of gender or sexuality. New Wave and feminist writers have done that as well. But Singh brings all of these together seamlessly and draws on another storytelling and mythological tradition not often seen in U.S./British science fiction. I have a strong hunch, though, that that will not be the case for long.

Of Love and Other Monsters can be purchased here, among other places.

Another review that has recently appeared is Paul di Filippo's review of Dangerous Space in the July issue of Asimov's SF :

In her much-anticipated debut collection, Dangerous Space (Aqueduct Press, trade paper, $18.00, 256 pages, ISBN 978-0933500-13-3), Kelley Eskridge can sound like Samuel Delany, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, or Joanna Russ, while still maintaining her own unique throaty, modulated voice. A non-trivial accomplishment indeed. These seven stories cover a wide territory stylistically and venue-wise, while all adhering to the same authorial POV that regards the world as a dangerous, delightful place, where extending oneself to others and opening oneself up to experience necessarily entails the possibility of suffering. "Strings" presents a future where music has been robbed of improvisation. "And Salome Danced" gives us an actor with some uncanny supernatural abilities. A "dust-devil" bag lady holds some startling secrets in "City Life." Postmodern swordandsorcery is the motif in "Eye of the Storm," while a cyberpunkish vision appertains to "Somewhere Down the Diamondback Road." Original to this collection, the long title story is a mimetic rendition of the pop musician's life. And finally, "Alien Jane" brings us inside a cruel mental asylum where the title character undergoes a lab-animal existence narrated by a fellow patient who might be her only friend. Eskridge's output accretes only slowly—the oldest story here dates from 1990—but like well-aged wine, these tales decant superbly.

Dangerous Space can be purchased here, among other places.

Sycamore Hill 2008: The Photo

I know I promised photos in the plural, but it turns out that I've got only one photo to offer. Sorry. None of us were as camera-happy as, say, Jim Kelly was in past years. But here's one of the posed group photos, courtesy of Andy Duncan. We were, as you can see, facing into the sun.

ETA: I take it back-- Meghan McCarron took some pictures that you can check out here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

This year at Sycamore Hill

I'm now at the end of the 2008 Sycamore Hill Writers Conference, which was held this year in the mountains of North Carolina. It was an intense week. For obvious reasons I'm sworn to secrecy about what was said during the critique sessions themselves, but I can talk generally about the experience. This is my third time at Sycamore Hill. Each year has been different, for the combination of writers chaanges every year. This year saw an absence of some of the people I most associate with Syc Hill (John Kessel, Karen Joy Fowler, Jim Kelly, Maureen McHugh, and Kelly Link), which made me wonder beforehand whether it would be really, really different. (It wasn't.) This year's combination included, besides me, Judith Berman, Richard Butner, Ted Chiang, Haddayr Copley-Woods, Andy Duncan, Gavin Grant, Eileen Gunn, Alice Kim, Meghan McCarron, Karen Meisner, Chris Nakashima-Brown, and Michaela Roessner.

The week is always grueling. Participants arrive on Saturday afternoon, do orientation that evening as well as collect copies of everyone's story. Critique sessions start at 9:30 on Sunday morning. Cafeteria meals are served three times a day, at 8 a.m., 12:30 noon, and 6 p.m. Staff at the facility ring a bell at 7:30 in the morning to warn everyone they've got thirty minutes to prepare for breakfast. At 7:50 and 8 the bell is rung again, and breakfast begins. The ten-minute warning bell is rung at the two other meals. Most of the people sharing the facilities with us are goldsmiths; Sycamore Hill gets assigned two of the many large round tables filling the dining hall. At meals we seat ourselves at random, so that most meals featured a shifting combination of people sharing the same table. Critique sessions were scheduled at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., with the third critique of the day following ten or fifteen minutes after the end of the second one. Most of the rest of our time was spent reading the stories and writing critiques for them and in conversation. We all went short of sleep this week. I regularly rose at 6:15 except for this morning, when I needed to get up at 5:30 in order to finish preparing for the final two critique
sessions held this morning. Some people stayed up really late.

We did enjoy a few breaks in the routine. Last night, for instance, we took seventy minutes out of our reading time to watch a 1940s horror flick in which pacifist Satanists [sic] harrow the life of a rich young woman (whom they fleeced and then pushed into suicide, in supposed accordance with their Gandhian principles), enticingly titled The Seventh Victim. (Said film makes an appearance in the story Andy Duncan brought to be critiqued this week). On Tuesday night we went out to dinner at a restaurant off the Blue Ridge Parkway. On Monday night we had a Scotch and Bourbon party. Other breaks included walks, hikes, and runs, entirely delightful in this mountain location.

Does this sound like an easy schedule? After all, you may be thinking, we had each come with already drafted (or almost drafted) stories in hand, so how could it possibly be grueling? If all we had to do for our critiques was read the story and then give a list of positives and negatives (which is what many workshop critiques amount to), there would indeed have been a lot of time to party and just goof off. But Sycamore Hill critiques involve a great deal more than merely discussing what's "good" and "bad" in a story, or even what "works" or "doesn't work." As in the previous years I attended, many writers brought stories they were stretching themselves to write, stories with challenging technical problems. In every case, critiquing the story meant excavating its narrative structure and addressing aspects of craft using highly conscious, sophisticated approaches. This is something that naive writers simply can't do. To perform this task two or three times a day and then bring one's critique to the table and engage with the other eleven critiques presented is hard work requiring a level of concentration that eventually becomes exhausting.

I've attended relatively few workshops in my life because unless they're of this caliber they end up taking more from me than I give to them. But Sycamore Hill is different. I think it's fair to say that this week I learned something from each critique session I participated in. If you already know quite a lot about how narrative works and want to understand more, Sycamore Hill can help you do that.

Sycamore Hill is also rewarding in briefly creating a sense of community among colleagues that writers aren't often afforded. This is not only achieved by Sycamore Hill's "no assholes rule." There's something about bringing such a disciplined level of concentration to one another's work, with the earnest intention of helping the writer to find a way to make it a stronger and better piece of fiction, that inspires mutual respect. And, of course, one does tend to bond with people who've survived the mutual risk-taking that is involved in a workshop like Sycamore Hill. During this week we each surrendered a piece of our writing to the scarily sharp scalpels of our colleagues and wielded our own scalpels in turn with an honesty many people can't bring themselves to essay in critiques of friends' work (much less in reviews). I think for me it's the courage to be honest and the humility to accept no-holds-barred critiques from colleagues that makes Sycamore Hill what it is.

It's time to join the others on the porch, where we'll hang out and talk and drink for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow's a travel day, but I'll be back posting on the weekend, probably-- at the very least, a photo or two of the group.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

His One True Bride

I wanted to point Aqueduct readers at a recent story at Fantasy Magazine, Darja Malcolm-Clarke's "His One True Bride", along with Darja's commentary on the story, because I think it's an excellent, interesting, thought-provoking story.

One of the things I love about f&sf is its ability to literalize a metaphor: a story of fading love where one lover actually turns invisible, someone's career conflicts showing up on their doorstop in the form of a cartoon tiger, feelings of alienation caused by actually being an alien. In "His One True Bride", Darja dissects a gendered metaphor that has historically been important in Christianity, the idea of the nun as "the bride of Christ".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Indefinite Detention without Trial Ruled Unconstitutional

Now that the weather has finally broken 60 degrees Fahrenheit here in Seattle, I'm leaving very early tomorrow morning for North Carolina. (The sun's even out!) In haste, I'd like to call attention to a US Supreme Court decision that most people have probably already heard about: the High Court has ruled in a 5-4 decision that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detentions in federal court and that congressional legislation has failed to provide a reasonable substitute for such a hearing. Although Congress has helped the Bush Administration get around the previous rulings attempting to curtail its abuses of prisoners, this decision goes straight to the premise on which the whole sorry structure of the administration's detention policies rests. As ABC News writes:

The ruling invalidates portions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which created military tribunals to hear the cases of those held at Guantanamo.

The decision was 5-4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberal justices on the court.

Writing for the majority opinion striking down the Military Commissions Act, Kennedy wrote, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

Interesting to note that John McCain's first reaction is to seem puzzled that foreigners might be afforded the same civil rights as citizens:

"These are unlawful combatants. They are not American citizens, and I think we should pay attention to Justice Roberts' opinion in this decision," McCain said. "But it is a decision that the Supreme Court has made; now we need to move forward. As you know, I always favored closing Guantanamo Bay and I still think we ought to do that."

Read the whole article here, though I'll warn you that I find some of its wording dubious. (It more than once claims that "Military lawyers say..." as though all military lawyers support the statements so attributed, regardless of the fact that many military lawyers are profoundly disturbed by Guantanamo and the Administration's detention policies and some have even sacrificed their careers to oppose them.)

I'll be away from home for the next week, by the way, and suspect that I'll be without an Internet connection the entire time. If you email me and I don't respond, that's likely the reason why.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reflections on "Narrative and Politics"

After the panel ended, I went straight up to PALWICK and tried to reassure her that her parable had been perfectly comprehensible –she’s recounted that here. I said of the Confronter, “How could she have completely ignored the fact that your Delany story was about class resentment?” PALWICK replied that for someone so focused on race, it was possible to be blind to arguments about class; indeed, looking at the Confronter’s blog, I find that she has some generous comments about race and astute thoughts on gender but tends to elide class issues and to be very immersed in the broadcast media –for example, she completely buys the press’s denunciation of Obama’s “bitter rural white Americans” remark. PALWICK pointed out that it was particularly odd to immediately associate a black man/white woman conflict with the current election, as such issues have been in the news since at least 1870.

As I said at the panel, there’s a lot of provocative stuff that I wunna comment on.

The Delany quote is vintage Delany and indeed makes its point beautifully; it’s a point that both Delany and DUCHAMP have made in different forms over time. And three of the panelists offered astute responses to DUCHAMP’s question. PALWICK, however, balked, for reasons I completely sympathize with, perhaps because she was the only academic as such on the panel and I too am an educator.

See, Delany is writing to an individual student about the problems with her manuscript; but DUCHAMP is presenting Delany’s insight as foundational; and to anyone who has any reservations about Delany’s generalizations, DUCHAMP’s gonna come off as though she’s saying, “Here is The Truth: how has it affected your life?” And someone who’s known Delany for a while and is very sensitive to his pedagogical shortcomings, his sometimes overbearing tone, and his aesthetic limitations may disagree with aspects of The Truth; and she’s gonna be as uncomfortable as I am with a job application that asks, “Write a four-paragraph essay on your journey to Christ.”

So PALWICK didn’t say, “Well, I have, as Bourdieu would say, twisted the stick in the other direction by disrupting certain clichés of narrative in ‘Gestella’, ‘Ever After’, ‘Stormdusk’, and ‘G.I. Jesus’, showing how the class and gender pressures of the real world mean that what our stories tell us will increase our agency and improve our status often doesn’t, and vice versa.” Instead, she tried, invoking her own longstanding knowledge of Delany's hortatory style, to deconstruct the premise that the Delany passage was The Truth for all of us. I was delighted by her response not just because I weary of Chipolatry but because it resonates with my pedagogical experience. She made three or four great points.
  1. “A lot of us have grown up being taught to be very critical . . . “ This is, to my mind, of a piece with Gwyneth Jones’s criticism of Delany’s contribution to the Symposium on Women in Science Fiction. Delany’s tone is occasionally that of someone who’s just discovered oppression and has to detail it to you; and not all of us need the pedagogical style he presents to his students. I was at a Burmese restaurant four years ago with Delany and a younger African-American writer, and Delany, whose knowledge of black history has a lot of lacunae, got very intense about slavery and said to the other man, “WE WERE KEPT IN PENS!!” And the younger guy looked at him with an “I kinda already know that, Chip” expression.

    This is very much a generational thing: Chip and Timmi were not taught in their every humanities course to eschew racism/sexism/homophobia, whereas it’s quite possible that PALWICK was taught that way and is more interested in the problems of that approach than its virtues.

  2. “telling readers or students what to think” Again, if you praise a movie or novel to Delany that he’s found homophobia or misogyny in, he will not say “What in Heaven’s name did you see in that?” He will, often, go on at length and with some intensity about his frustrations with it and cast it into the Outer Darkness. One really has to develop the assertiveness to argue against his points without his having expressed an interest in a conflicting opinion; he’ll listen if you volunteer your alternative take on the work. In the classroom, I’m told, he reins himself in; but that may not have been the case two dozen years ago when PALWICK was his student (at Clarion, alongside her friend VAN GELDER).

    I too am partial to other pedagogical approaches than telling students what to think: I’ll sometimes ask students to “show how a text contains or achieves x”; but often I’ll offer propositions or themes and ask the class what it thinks instead. Conflicting opinions are generally valuable and educational. I had a great class last term when, in response to a student who mistakenly thought one of our texts was advocating dismissal of narratives that used stereotypes, I asked the class what role stereotypes could play in the narrative arts; and they came up with six great answers, including "Tell us something historically useful about the beliefs of the era in which they were written" and “Promote discussion of the issues at stake.”

  3. Don’t discard something like Nancy Drew. Again, a generational thing. The circumstances of Delany’s and DUCHAMP’s lives mean that they’re not gonna look for liberation in The Adventures of Augie March but need something more explicitly liberatory. But you don’t have to be a Cultural Studies everything-is-counterhegemonic putz to enjoy the flashes of transgression in . . . here, let me quote my dissertation:
    two factors delayed the discovery of Highsmith, Dick and Thompson: the habit of viewing the Fifties as a conservative wasteland and the fact that the most energetic rediscovery and recuperation of authors was taking place as part of the battle against racism, sexism, and homophobia. A vast amount of energy had to be devoted to refuting Mortimer Adler’s claim that there were no great black authors before 1955 and William Henry’s insistence that the canon could be purged of women with little ill effect. Novels that contained villains who could be seen as stereotypically gay, novels that in some way partook of their era’s misogyny, and novels that presented black characters as adjuncts to a white protagonist’s struggle may not have been priorities2. Only recently, with feminist, homophilic, and antiracist ideas having gained a toehold in some academic and journalistic circles, has it become possible to relinquish our excessive vigilance and implement Raymond Williams’s insight that “it would be wrong to overlook the importance of works and ideas which, while clearly affected by hegemonic limits and pressures, are at least in part significant breaks beyond them” (Marxism 114).
    In other words – and DUCHAMP made this point (in different words) later in the panel as well as at her GoH speech – not everyone will have the energy to dig deep into the nostril of hegemony for the booger of subversion.
Instead of following up on PALWICK’s challenge, DUCHAMP –suffering, I would guess, from Tired Moderator Syndrome as most panel chairs were by Sunday- seems to have gotten (and stayed) mad at her for not playing the game. So she tried to defend Chip Delany, of all people, against the charge of dismissing potentially useful or healing stories. My read of PALWICK’s response was that it was the parable that first came to her mind to challenge Chipolatry and show that Delany was not always The Great Repository of Progressive Thought.

The parable didn’t work as an argument because of the way, as GUNN later observed, PALWICK was “emotionally involved in” it: whereas my notes say "Chip once said 'I'm more marginalized than you are' to a poor female grad student," those members of the audience who were not attuned to how an impoverished grad student striking for benefits would have lived heard a white professional saying, "A black man pissed me off by complaining about his oppression" rather than "A rich and famous aristocrat ignored my suffering to focus on his own."

It might have worked, for example, if PALWICK had said, "The kind of thinking that Chip's convictions lead to is what leads him to dismiss Toni Morrison's work, work which I, and many others, find very valuable." But the emotion in the parable she used was not hostility toward Chip so much as toward the reverence for his words that mention of his name was expected to generate. I’d had an analogous experience the previous day: I’d said to a woman, “I remember Timmi having told me blah blah blah,” and she’d replied, “Timmi can’t have told you that because it’s not true”; my impulse was immediately to recount Three Occasions on Which Timmi’d Been Mistaken; but my interlocutor didn’t want to hear about them.

MURPHY’s remarks from Heilbrun about “what has been forbidden to women” meshed wonderfully with DUCHAMP’s Alice Sheldon quote from the previous day and the “Thinking Ahead” panel’s discussion of Clinton from Friday.

GILMAN and GUNN’s conflicting characterization of whether our society pressures us to progress or to stay in our place and be like our parents is, of course, a class conflict.

DUCHAMP and PALWICK’s disagreement on therapeutic narrative echoed a conversation between Eric R. Marcus, Chuck Anderson, and Dominick LaCapra at the Columbia Narrative Medicine conference of 2003. Anderson, like PALWICK, was talking about how narrative could empower patients and indeed get their doctors to perceive them as human beings with agency and lives; others worried, based on the academic norms they’d learned regarding hegemonic stories, whether one risked turning a patient’s or a med student’s story into a “sutured narrative” that could close down the story and absorb all problems.

Now, I worry about artists who are dazzled by the aura of someone who teaches at a university –I wish Tony Kushner, for example, saw that he doesn’t have to quote Harold Bloom with such reverence; he’s probably smarter than Harold about many important things. So I was very pleased when, in response to that huge generalization DUCHAMP cited Peter Brooks as having made, PALWICK invoked Richard Wright (in a very Nussbaumian way, interestingly) to point out that there is such a thing in the canon as Protest Fiction, you know.

As to PALWICK's invocation of Thomas Covenant and Frodo as protagonists with power whose sovereignty is not exalted --I wouldn’t wish Stephen R. Donaldson’s prose on my worst enemies, but stories of the renunciation of power, from Cervantes (Sancho Panza’s abdication) to Neil Gaiman (Destruction’s abdication) are very important. Still, they don’t offer most of us identificatory characters, as we generally don’t have that level of power to relinquish.

Now, I began to wish that DUCHAMP had opened with a quote from Charles Baxter instead of Delany, because he’s written so well of the perils of therapeutic narrative; and therapeutic narrative kept coming up. I got the impression that MURPHY’s composition of “Before and After” was therapeutic for her; and of course, GUNN told an extremely therapeutic story that defies a whole bunch of counterhegemonic dogmas. Low-status female author in a dither calls up a high-status male and he gives her exactly the right advice? Shows how a great healing story can violate those dogmas, which was a point PALWICK was trying to make from the start. Anna Mollow, in a paper I described toward the end of my “Black Disability Studies” article, demonstrated the same point on a bigger scale: Willow Weep for Me is ableist crap by Disability Movement standards, but a brave act of rebellion in African-American culture (Looking at my notebook, I find I wrote in the margins that very day, “PALWICK’s point is really Anna Mollow’s: don’t get hidebound by dogmas and reject or ignore other people’s experience”). Again, class differences play a big role too.

GILMAN’s remark on what “tends to stress the personal and private and project it onto the public and collective” really deserved elucidation. She was talking about yente journalism, I think; but the change from “the personal is political” to the culture of therapy needs to be fleshed out, lest people keep blaming the latter on the former.

Last Night's Reading

I'm happy to report that Nisi Shawl's reading at University Bookstore brought out more than fifty people, and Tom had to provide the bookstore with an additional ten copies of Filter House (that we brought along just in case) when the bookstore's display stack sold out. (I'm always thrilled when this happens, of course.)

Nisi read "Bird Day" and a portion of "Wallamelon." Later, a few attendees told me that they wouldn't be able to go to sleep that night until after they'd finished reading "Wallamelon." During the Q&A in a response to a question about the ease and apparent naturalness of her writing voice, Nisi informed us that she had learned only two things in college: how to roll a joint (which she admitted she hadn't done in a long time) and the importance of reading your work aloud while you're still composing it.

Art and Class

I wrote the previous post and then wondered what art produced for the seriously rich would be like.

The answer took but a minute. It would be "For the Love of God" by British artist Damien Hirst. This is a lifesize cast of a human skull done in platinum and covered with 8,601 pave-set perfect diamonds weighing a total of 1106.18 carets. According to Hirst, it cost between 10 and 15 million dollars to make. The asking price for it was 99 million dollars; and Hirst claims that it has sold to anonymous buyers for the asking price.

Narrative and Politics

The panel on Narrative and Politics sounds really interesting. I missed so much at Wiscon. Where was I? What was I doing? Clearly I should have followed Josh around.

I would like to talk more about the topic. How does class influence narrative structure? Does it? Can one talk about a working class narrative vs. and middle class or ruling class narrative? What is it like?

I used to make a distinction between mass culture and popular culture. Mass culture is created for the masses by people who do not belong to the masses: Hollywood movies is probably an example. Popular culture is created by the people: garage bands and indy rock are probably examples of this.

The two are not entirely distinct. Rock music is an industry, involving many people who are not members of the masses or the populace. But there is constant flow of new music, up from garages and basements, and a constant flow of new musicians, like peasants coming into third world cities to find work.

Where does science fiction sit? Is SF a popular art or a mass art form or both?

And how is this expressed in narrative structure?

I used to argue that there three kinds of story: the wish fulfillment fantasies about solving problems and changing the world that are so far from reality that nothing useful can be taken from them. You can't kill the boss with an enchanted sword. You can't flee the authorities on your winged horse.

The second type, often more intelligently written, is the story (ultimately) of despair. Our social problems cannot be solved. We cannot build a new world in the shill of the old. Either life is okay in a limited way, or it is dark. Either way, we are stuck with the status quo.

Focus on yourself, your problems, your own personal angst. Life is about the personal and the individual.

The first kind of story is aimed at working people. It's mind candy, though -- at least -- it admits that there is injustice and struggle in life. The second kind of story is aimed at the middle class people who maybe feel some discomfort about their jobs and lives. It says, don't try for anything better. There is nothing better.

It is (often) a story about living in a box lined with mirrors.

Finally, there are stories that question that status quo and say: community is real; society is real; injustice and struggle are real; the world can be changed. Not easily, but it can be done.

But this is message, not narrative structure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

WisCon 32 Panel 124: "Narrative and Politics"

Since originally posting them, I've added substantially to my account of "Thinking Ahead" and put a couple of "updates" on my account of "It's Not About Identity".

The next exciting panel that I attended was at 10:00 Sunday morning and featured five brilliant and experienced white women: L. Timmel Duchamp, Susan Palwick, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Pat Murphy, and Eileen Gunn. I will do my best to recount what my notes indicate: be aware that, as ever, there's lots of paraphrase and tentative recollection of details.

DUCHAMP began by reading from a set of notes that Chip Delany had sent a Creative Writing grad student a few days earlier and passed on to DUCHAMP: criticizing the student’s novel, he’d written,
I enjoyed reading your thesis very much . . . the writing is witty and beautiful. Nevertheless, there are structural realities that underlie narrative and give it its ideological weight, import, and—yes—message. You have to work with these as well. There is a path of least resistance, which, if you follow it, will make your narrative put forward the dominant hegemonic ideology:
  • Men are full human beings.
  • “Western” men are more completely human than “eastern” men, and more recognizably human than “eastern” men.
  • Women are half-human beings.
  • Women of the “East” are more completely partial (and far more satisfied with being partial) than their “Western” sisters, etc., etc.
I don’t for a moment think that is the message you want to put forward in any way, shape, or form in your writing. But this is the message we all—radical or conservative—pick up from the range of narratives around us. Now and again, one story or another will have an element that contravenes this ideology: Kingston’s Woman Warrior, Russ’s The Female Man, even Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Villette, or George Eliot’s Middlemarch. But though one or another of them succeeds on one front, often they fail on two or three others, and the result is the communal story that we end up taking in—the model that we all end up internalizing—is the conservative, traditional, dominant one.

That’s the one that, if we don’t fight it, intelligently and conscientiously, will take over our narratives. That is because it has always already taken over our desires and wants and aspirations. Even if we know it isn’t particularly “good for us” (whatever that means), on some level—no matter how infantile—we want Prince Charming [read: the Good Daddy] to sweep down on his flying horse and save us from the hell of unfocused confusion that is, finally, all our lives, and with a sweep of his sword put order and justice into the world that we can now live in comfortably, having put out no energy of our own. Or, we want to sweep down and, with a single grab, rescue some creature supremely helpless and unbearably beautiful who will find us dazzling and who will say, “Now, because of you, the world makes sense, and I know you are the sign of only that which is valuable in all things, for your existence itself is the sign of God’s Love and Strict Order.” Even if we have decided we definitely don’t want either role for ourselves—because, yes, we see that they cannot hold coherent before any sophisticated view of reality—the fact that we can know the story at all means we understand it and, because we understand it enough to rebel against it, means we have internalized it enough so that it is there to control our fictions at any point we are not conscientiously doing something else with them.
DUCHAMP went on to discuss three problems for the writer and to repeat the great Joanna Russ passage, “Without models, it's hard to work; without a context, difficult to evaluate; without peers, nearly impossible to speak." DUCHAMP asked the panelists, then, in that context, to discuss pitfalls that each of them had had difficulty in avoiding.

PALWICK: I love Chip Delany, and we’re old friends; but I don’t agree with any of his generalizations there. A lot of us have grown up being taught to be very critical of the type of narrative he’s talking about, both in our writing and in our reading. A lot of people who don’t like my work think it doesn’t adequately reflect that “hell of unfocused confusion” and/or aren’t comfortable with my belief in the web of small-scale benevolences that holds reality together. Now, as a teacher, I think it’s important to avoid Delany’s habit of telling readers or students what to think about a work and instead to open up the discussion and let them come up with their own reads. Look at Nancy Drew: a lot of us would think that Nancy Drew has nothing empowering or feminist to say to us; but Susan Griffin recounts the story of a little girl who saved herself from suffocation in the trunk of a car by thinking “What would Nancy Drew do in this situation?” And where would she be if we’d thrown Nancy Drew out?

DUCHAMP: But you can’t really imagine Chip Delany criticizing Nancy Drew, can you? He loves nurse novels!

PALWICK: When I was an impoverished grad student making a tenth of what he earned, Chip said to me “I’m more marginalized than you are,” thanks to my being white and his being black and gay. Now, you have to stay in touch with the place where you’ve been oppressed, but why not use it for compassion rather than for a competition of oppressions?

MURPHY: Carolyn Heilbrun in Writing a Woman’s Life said, “You can only live the stories you’ve heard, and the stories that became a part of you.” What has been forbidden to women is anger, together with the open admission of the desire for power and control; women are also forbidden to admit that their success came neither from luck nor from the kindness of others.

But in addition to the pitfalls in our writing, we see pitfalls in the world: for my latest novel, Wild Girls, one of the pitfalls in the world has been expectations –it’s a quiet story, and many reviewers respond with, “This isn’t what I expected!”

GILMAN: I write both fiction and history, and find that narrative is almost more dangerous when you’re writing the latter. Taking the path of narrative utility –that has not always been the case. We encounter cultures in which narrative is not the organizing principle: other cultures have different ways of organizing time. In a cyclical time, events never get any farther away; and people are judged not by how they change things but by how they reinforce the cycle. People who break the pattern are seen as people who’ve wasted their lives. But we are motivated and empowered by thinking of ourselves as participants in a story, which leads people into accepting fallacies, manipulation, and indoctrination.

GUNN: But there is in American life a very conservative and cyclical daily pressure to stay in your place, be like your parents—in writing fiction, that becomes the pressure to write stories like other stories. The more you break out, the more commerce and criticism will get back at you. My tactic for avoiding the repetitive narrative is to not know what I’m doing. And I don’t know if narrative is indeed more dangerous in history than in fiction –in fiction, it’s below the surface, so it may be harder to pick out the lies. Looking at drafts of my own work, I always find those normative clichés of the sort Chip warns against.

DUCHAMP: The seductions of narrative itself are dangerous.

GUNN: What entertains us is the combination of repetition and something new.

DUCHAMP: Standard narrative arcs, according to Peter Brooks, serve to exalt the sovereign subject. Do you agree, Susan?

PALWICK: I volunteer as an ER chaplain and am working on a Med School faculty to put Narrative Medicine into the curriculum, and it’s been shown that narrative helps people to heal; it helps people to get control over their lives.

DUCHAMP: But Brooks’s point is about narrative in fiction from the 18th century on?

PALWICK: We do have to be conscious of these patterns. [asks DUCHAMP to explain “exaltation of the sovereign subject”; DUCHAMP does] And this is a bad thing, why? [DUCHAMP explains the perils of voluntarism, individualism, and the denial of interconnection and structure] But it can exalt the power of community –and it can promote compassion or reflection by showing someone, not attaining sovereign power, but ground down like Bigger Thomas. [exchange about definitions]

PALWICK: Look at the example of Stephen R. Donaldson. Thomas Covenant’s job as sovereign subject, once he gains power he’s never had before, is learning to be responsible to the job in which he’s found himself. The trick politically is to see it as power with, as opposed to power over. Look at stories of heroism as the renunciation of power –the struggles of Frodo, for example: Tolkien has a more subversive side than people give him credit for. And one can learn to be a subversive reader whether the writer is subversive or not: as a reader, one can find what’s oppositional in the text.

GUNN: Well, there’s an autobiographical side to Donaldson’s novel –he’s dealing with being a rape survivor himself.

PALWICK: It helps to use narrative to reclaim your agency, to write at the top of the paper I Am The One In Control Of This Story.

GUNN: Donaldson only explained that about his own experience in response to feminist detractors.

MURPHY: Writing stories is a way of figuring out the meaning . . .

DUCHAMP: Can you think of a particular strategy that you’ve used to subvert the standard narrative arc?

MURPHY: I’m thinking about Wild Girls . . . does “Before and After” [explaining the story in question] have a narrative arc?

GUNN: Yes.

MURPHY: The narrative arc is there apart from the structure.

GUNN: But the structure is complex, with the presentation very deliberately different from the chronological sequence of events.

MURPHY: Does that structure subvert the narrative arc?

GUNN: It reinforces it.

GILMAN: You guys have just demonstrated the reader-generated side of a narrative!

GUNN: You put two events, as Forster said, or better yet, three, together, and the reader will make a story out of it.

Audience: For those of you interested in Medical Humanities, I have a few copies here of Marion McCurdy’s The Mind’s Eye: Image and Memory in Writing About Trauma. [They are quickly snatched up]

DUCHAMP: Readers must read subversively, but it helps when authors help.

GUNN: Pat is a kneejerk subversive. I try to do things with structure and expectations –I originally wrote “Fellow Americans” as all linear, a series of three different narratives, and it wasn’t working, and I called Bill Gibson, who said, “Well, I think it’s time for you to interrogate the text.” And Bill knew enough about what I’m like and how I operate that he gave me the perfect advice. He said, “Print out the story, and lock it in your file cabinet. It’s safe now, it’s unmolested, nobody will do any harm to your story. Now go to your keyboard and try something different with the bits you have.”

DUCHAMP: How does that induce the reader to read subversively?

GILMAN: It induces the reader to read interactively.

PALWICK: When my students are resistant to revision, I give them the same advice that Gibson gave Eileen.

MURPHY: I unconsciously subverted convention twice, first –as readers have pointed out to me—unwittingly reading Bilbo as female in There and Back Again . . .

DUCHAMP: Is it generating a new story out of the old one?

Audience: Is fanfic a subversion or an appropriation and misuse, or is the distinction just about the quality of the writing?

Audience: Susan, you introduced an 800-pound gorilla into the room early on that no one’s commented on, and it needs to be noted, and I’m going to be confrontational about it. In response to Timmi, you criticized Chip Delany –and that’s okay, I think more people should criticize Chip Delany –but instead of an argument, you offered a narrative that presented Delany in a negative light. It was very emotional in its response to Timmi’s analysis, and it was about his character. And you were appropriating his account of himself, and I think we’ve seen enough of this conflict of black man/white woman who’s-more-oppressed in this election!

PALWICK [Clearly shaken by the intensity of her accuser’s rage]: Well, first of all, I haven’t been following the election at all: it would make me crazy. This exchange with Chip occurred in 1994. And secondly, although I responded with narrative, it did have an analytical point, which I obviously didn’t make clear enough: it’s that in the 1990s, we were playing the more-oppressed-than-thou game, and we shouldn’t have been. Now, in terms of my telling a story about him constituting an appropriation, there is some level on which our narratives don’t belong to us.

GUNN: Susan told a story that she’s emotionally involved in rather than directly answering Timmi’s question.

PALWICK: It’s what I do. And I’m sorry if I did it clumsily, or if I was unclear, or if I raised sensitive issues; but as to having told the story, or using narrative that way –I’m not going to apologize for it.

DUCHAMP: How do we make new models for which the narratives don’t exist?

MURPHY: Carol’s got to answer that question –she does it all the time.

EMSHWILLER, in Audience: Do I? If I do, thank you.

GILMAN: This brings up the use of narrative in politics –journalists insist on imposing narratives on us, but narrative is not explanation: it stimulates explanation –once the narrative has been established, then explanations follow. But narrative promotes other fallacies –it stresses competition and conflict, as we see in the election; and it encourages the post hoc fallacy; and it tends to stress the personal and private and project it onto the public and collective . . .

PALWICK [Still smarting from having been accused of being “emotional” by an intelocutor who was herself virtually steaming with anger]: Academic jargon can suppress and marginalize emotion, which is a classic misogynist strategy . . .

DUCHAMP: I’ve been enjoying myself so much up here that I neglected to allow time for questions. Are there any? Yes, Josh?

ME: Okay, I was going to start out by saying something mean about Chip myself, but now I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Still, there’s been so much going on in this panel that I have about eight questions or ideas or connections or theses that I wish I could raise . . .

Audience: Choose one.

ME: Right. Susan, am I right that you think Chip’s advice to his student excludes too much?


ME: And the prescriptions and exclusions in a piece of advice like that can leave us with too rigid a view of what's . . .

DUCHAMP: I’m sorry: we’re out of time.

ME: Okay, I’ll write up my reflections in an essay and send ‘em to Liz Henry.

DUCHAMP: Great! I keep forgetting to tell people to do that.

Idolatry at WisCon

As a preface to my forthcoming account of the "Narrative and Politics" panel, I wunna say something about Spontaneous Reverence Syndrome.

As Friday's "It's Not About Identity" panel ended and I made my way up to the front of the room to ask questions of Haran and Lacey, I blurted out, as one sometimes does, “SUZY MCKEE CHARNAS!” “Yes?” that worthy said. “I’m sorry: it’s my first time at a science fiction convention, and one does occasionally get awestruck.” “Oh,” she said, not ungently, and proceeded on her way. I did a little better with Carol Emshwiller the following day, first praising a 1961 feminist story of hers that had moved me but that I didn't remember the name of ("I hope you don't expect me to," she cautioned; turned out when I came home and looked it up that it's called "Adapted." Liz Henry too had forgotten the writing that I sought to praise her for) and then engaging her questions about what I do: we had more time together, and Emshwiller's the most patient and approachable of people one could meet. Also humble: "I feel like a little kid among the grownups," she said at one panel.

With Karen Joy Fowler (pictured behind Carol and to her right, above, and to Maureen's left, below), I was a little less successful; I had to bore her with encomia to her prose style before settling down to more substantive conversation with her about reviewers and authors. Jeanne Gomoll I didn't even try to talk with; in the case of Eleanor Arnason, my general ignorance of her achievements made her presence less imposing than it shoulda been. But it was still a big challenge to be surrounded by so many of my literary icons: as late as Monday morning, I was still saying things like "KELLY LINK!" "Um," she replied, gesturing ahead of her, "I'm going in there."

Awe, as the poet once wrote, is stultifying; and the symbolic capital with which our society endows its "celebrities" is not terribly helpful to the discourse. It's great and uplifting to compliment authors on the specifics of their work (I've done as much in the four or five fan letters I've written), but there's a great risk in being dazzled by the aura of their names. More on that anon.

A Look at the Gender-Gap in Math and Reading

The May 30 issue of Science has an article by Luigi Guiso, Ferdinando Monte, Paola Sapiezna, and Luigi Zingales titled "Culture, Gender, and Math" that analyzes the gender gaps in math and reading reported in 2003 by the Programme for International Student Assessment in relation to the state of gender equality in particular cultures. They examine the data for numerous countries and with respect to a variety of variables. Their conclusions?

These results suggest that the gender gap in math, although it historically favors boys, disappears in more gender-equal societies. The same cannot be said for how boys score in mathematics compared with how boys score in readings. Boys' scores are always higher in mathematics than in reading, and although the difference between boys' math and boys' reading scores varies across countries, it is not correlated with the GGI (The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index) index or with any of the other three measures of gender equality. Hence, in countries with a higher GGI index, girls close the gender gap by becoming better in both math and reading, not by closing the math gap alone. The gender gap in reading, which favors girls and is apparent in all countries, thus expands in more gender-equal societies. Similarly, although the gender gaps in all math subfields decrease in societies with more gender equality, the difference between the gender gap in geometry (where the boys' advantage relative to the girls' is the biggest) and arithmetic (where the boys' advantage relative to the girls' is the smallest) does not.

This evidence suggests that intra-gender performance differences in reading versus mathematics and in arithmetic versus geometry are not eliminated in a more gender-equal culture. By contrast, girls' underperformance in math relative to boys' is eliminated in more gender-equal cultures. In more gender-equal societies, girls perform as well as boys in mathematics and much better than them in reading. These findings shed some light on recent trends in girls' educaitonal achievements in the United States, where the math gender gap has been closing over time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Fuzzy Gay Aliens

I just noticed that a Google search for "Fuzzy Gay Aliens" turned up no hits. That's just wrong: what if someone wants to know the name of the author who writes so movingly about fuzzy gay aliens. It seems to me that there could be scores of people wracking their brains to think of where those fuzzy gay aliens first appeared.

Once the temperature here in Philadelphia goes back down to ninety degrees, I will post more substantially. Right now, public service for people who forget names and titles is all I'm up to.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Nisi Shawl Reads Tuesday Evening in Seattle

For those living in or near Seattle:

Nisi Shawl will be reading from and signing Filter House at University Bookstore in Seattle on Tuesday, June 10, at 7 p.m. Details can be found here.

[photo by Luke McGuff]

Nisi Shawl's Filter House-- the first reviews

The first two reviews of Nisi Shawl's collection are hot off the press. Tomorrow's edition of Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review:

(Starred) Filter House Nisi Shawl. Aqueduct, $18 paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-933500-19-5 This exquisitely rendered debut collection of 11 reprints and three originals ranges into the past and future to explore identity and belief in a dazzling variety of settings. “At the Huts of Ajala,” a folktale concerning a girl wrestling with a trickster god before her birth, is full of urgent and delightful imagery, while “Wallamelon” is an elegaic, sophisticated exploration of the Blue Lady myth. Of the several science fiction stories included, the strongest are “Good Boy,” an engrossing experiment in computer psychology, African gods and postcolonial anxiety, and “Shiomah’s Land,” a cross-genre bildungsroman involving a girl who becomes the wife of a goddess. The concluding tale, “The Beads of Ku,” is an utterly arresting, authoritatively delivered tale concerning the diplomacy of marriage and the economy of the land of the dead. The threads of folklore, religious magic, family and the search for a cohesive self are woven with power and lucidity throughout this panorama of race, magic and the body.

The Seattle Times has also reviewed it in today's paper. Here's an excerpt:

Shawl, who reviews science fiction for The Seattle Times, explores a world that is both sinister and whimsical. Monsters aren't always lurking in the closet, but they're there often enough that you hold your breath before opening the door each time. Her characters are mostly women — little girls, grandmothers and nannies — who see the world differently than those around them. They know secrets, and they have visions. They are sexual, self-possessed and curious, and that makes them powerful. In one story, "The Water Museum," the main character is a woman who picks up a hitchhiker. She can tell immediately that he is an assassin, sent to murder her. But because she knows who he is, she toys with him, as a cat might gleefully torture its prey. "I have a sneaky suspicion this one might turn out to be interesting," says the woman, after locking the hitchhiker into a room. "When he's good and ready."

Read the whole review here. And of course you can always buy Filter House directly from Aqueduct.

Wiscon 32: Shoujo Bodies

This was a spontaneous panel attended by Mely, Akycha, Heaven's Calyx (HC), Mystic Keeper (MK), Takumashii (T), Nienna, and Alaya Dawn Johnson (ADJ). Names I'll be referring to them by in parentheses.

I don't remember the description that I wrote up for the panel suggestions, but here's the one I posted to the Wiscon community:

Most bodies in shoujo manga are thin and wispy, with an emphasis on androgyny. Many of the men tend to lack muscle definition (think Yuu Watase), while the women are much less curvy than their shounen manga counterparts. What does this mean to us? What other body types are there in shoujo manga? We will hopefully talk about gender-bending, cross-dressing, body image, and the fashion industry. Suggested series to discuss: After School Nightmare, Paradise Kiss, Walkin' Butterfly, Angel Sanctuary, Fruits Basket, W Juliet, Rose of Versailles, and Princess Knight.

I also took no notes, so all this is based purely off of my very faulty memory. Also, I am writing it up grouped by topic, as opposed to following the flow of the conversation, as a) I don't remember the flow and b) I think it will make for an easier-to-read post. [ETA: HC also let me know that many of the things I attributed to her were in fact said by Akycha, so many apologies for the mix up!]

I freaked out a little at having to lead the discussion, but after an awkward beginning for me, people seemed to jump in on their own fairly quickly. Yay participation! I will blame my completely not remembering how the discussion started on nerves. I mentioned that we were mostly going to focus on shoujo manga and manhwa, with some possible delving into shounen manga representations of female bodies, but more as a comparison than an exploration of shounen manga. [ETA: "shoujo" refers to teenage girls, "shounen" to teenage boys, "manga" to Japanese comics, and "manhwa" to Korean comics. Manga is generally categorized by whom the target demographic is; shoujo and shounen are the largest groups, but there's also seinen (adult men) and josei/ladies' (adult women). Yaoi, shounen ai, BL and june refer to a subgenre of shoujo manga that focuses on gay romances.]

Gender-bending and cross-dressing

We may have started with shoujo manga history and how gender-bending and cross-dressing has been there from the very start, with Tezuka Osamu's Princess Knight/Ribon no Kishi [1954-1968, Tezuka is the father of modern manga, both shounen and shoujo], which stars a princess, Sapphire, who's raised as a boy by her parents because they wanted a son and an heir. Someone (T?) pointed out that the interesting thing re: Sapphire is that she actually has two souls (I think?), a male one and a female one. Obligatory mentions of Rose of Versailles [1972-1973, by Rikyoko Ikeda] and [Revolutionary Girl] Utena [1997 anime] as the descendents of Princess Knight, particularly in the 1700s European setting for Rose of Versailles and [the 1700s European] imagery and clothing for Utena. Someone may have drawn a parallel between Sapphire and her two souls and Ichijo from After School Nightmare [2005-now, by Mizushiro Setona] and his male upper body, female lower body (stated in the manga!). I think Mely commented on a reviewer or two who categorized Ichijo not as trans, but as something else all together.

I mentioned how girls-dressed-as-guys tend to be what plots are based on (ex. Rose of Versailles, Princess Knight, Utena, Hana Kimi [1996-2004, by Nakajo Hisaya]), while guys-dressed-as-girls tend to be more one off kink-fulfillment (ex. the obligatory school festival in which the pretty guys dress in women's clothing, mangaka notes saying "And I was so excited when I got to dress [character] as a girl!"). Someone pointed out that the exception was W Juliet [1997-2002, by Emura]. I mentioned how the mangaka notes occasionally squee about dressing up the bishounen as girls, but how the mangaka occasionally also mentions that it's hard because she keeps wanting to draw breasts on the character. There was also a note on how Haruka from Sailor Moon [1992-1997, by Takeuchi Naoko] was the exception to the girls-dressed-as-guys not being a kink thing, ditto with the otoko-yaku of Takarazuka.

Constructs of femininity and masculinity

When going into why guys-in-girls'-clothing was a kink, I think I wondered if some mangaka were vindictively liked having guys know how much effort goes into donning frilly clothing. Mely talked a little about Jennifer Robertson's Takarazuka (about the all-female revue troupe Takarazuka) and how Robertson talked a lot about masculinity as a construct, as demonstrated by the otoko-yaku (the women who specialize in men's roles) taking "masculine" traits and exaggerating them, but also on how Robertson ignores how the female roles and musume-yaku (the women who specialize in women's roles) and how their enactment of femininity is just as constructed. I mentioned the onnagata of kabuki (men specializing in women's roles, as kabuki was all-male, though it started as a female religious performance ritual) and how Edo writers [Edo Japan was 1600-1911], particularly Saikaku, would note that men could play women better than women themselves, because they didn't have the messy female biology to trip them up (!!).

Akycha and HC had lots of cool info about Takarazuka, as HC is an avid fan who has gone to many performances (so cool!) [ETA: seen on tape, not live]. She mentioned how otoko-yaku are far more popular than musume-yaku and that the male roles are considered better, and how when there was a production about Queen Elizabeth, they assigned the role of Elizabeth to an otoko-yaku, even though Elizabeth is female [ETA: Actually it was Elisabeth, about Empress Elisabeth of Austria/Hungary]. HC speculated that this was because the producers or casting directors thought the musume-yaku didn't have the acting chops for the part, but also that they gave the role to the otoko-yaku who's considered more feminine. This coupled with the onnagata led to the thought about how femininity is routinely devalued. I mentioned that it's interesting that "otoko-yaku" means "male/man role" in Japanese, but "musume-yaku" is "daughter role" instead of "female/woman role." I forgot if anyone said this, but there's also a devaluing of female bodies, particularly in kabuki, in which the men play women better than women themselves. There was also a lot of rhetoric in Edo Japan on the yay-ness of nanshoku (male-male love) and how it was purer than women+men because messy biology wasn't in the way, or complications of marriage and money and familial politics.

There was also discussion about the constructs of gender in After School Nightmare and how it's interesting watching Mizushiro move from a more traditional gender binary to the possibility of something that won't make us all tear our hair out. Ichijo begins thinking that if he is attracted to Sou, he must be passive and "feminine" and thereby be female, whereas if he's attracted to Kureha, he must then be active and "masculine" and thereby be male. There's the interesting bit on the assignation of gender based on sexuality. ADJ noted that the construct of sexuality as set (heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual) wasn't there in historical Japan; it was more if you're sleeping with a guy at that moment, it's nanshoku, if you're sleeping with a woman at that moment, it's the Japanese word for that which I have forgotten. I footnoted this by saying it was a view of sexuality focused strictly on men; I don't think there was much female-female love. If there wasn't someone being penetrated, it didn't count as sex. I now remember a few shunga featuring two women pleasuring themselves with dildoes, but I remember reading commentary on how the penetration was still there, and of course the male sex organ, albeit not with a male body attached.

Biology and constructions of gender

Someone also brought up how there's very little looking at the pain and trouble involved with trappings of femininity. We're introduced to Ichijo when he gets his period, and HC or Akycha mentioned how rarely we get to see menstruation in shoujo manga. They brought up an anime that had a guy turning into a girl (Kyou Kara Maou? [ETA: Kashimashi Girl Meets Girl]), in which he has a really hard time shaving his legs and etc., and how we rarely get to see girls in shoujo learning how to be feminine: learning how to shave their legs or wax or deal with menstruation. HC brought up the Nanami's egg episode in Utena as a great example of the anxiety surrounding menstruation (am I too early? Too late? Is mine larger or smaller than normal? Why won't anyone tell me anything about it?), and also Haibane Renmei's portrayal of the growth of wings. It's messy and bloody and painful, but also necessary and a sign of maturity. I mentioned the fears and anxieties surrounding dirty wings in the series, particularly as a mark of sin. Re: leg shaving, I said that maybe it was cultural and less people in Japan shave their legs, since I definitely see fewer ads for shaving implements in Taiwan, but HC and ADJ both said they didn't think so.

The talk went to secondary sex characteristics and how there seemed to be a marked lack of commentary on puberty and the development of secondary sex characteristics in shoujo manga. I brought up Walkin' Butterfly [2004, by Tamaki Chihiro] as an interesting example, because we actually see the heroine's pubic hair, but Mely said it was josei, which explains a lot. I think I also mentioned how it's male puberty as well; most boys in shoujo don't have much muscle definition or facial scruff on the hero, and their body silhouettes are closer to that of the girls. The more similar silhouettes (slimmer hips on the girls, slimmer shoulders on the boys) is also more noticeable when compared to shounen manga art, which tends to exaggerate women's breasts and men's muscles.

Most people said that despite this, they could tell apart the guys and the girls. Mely mentioned how she read Demon Diary when she was first getting into manga (and manhwa) and couldn't tell what sex people were, so she pretended they were all androgynous, but on going back a few years later, she can tell. People shared stories of anime/manga newbies who are confounded by the long flowing bishounen hair and pretty faces, but also how the gender-distinguishing features become more obvious as your eye gets more accustomed to it. I said I always looked at the characters' chests to figure out, which is how I figured out Envy in Fullmetal Alchemist was male and how I got confused by purple-haired pilot in Gundam 00, as his pilot outfit has lumpy bits right around the chest area. I just remembered now that I forgot to comment on the lack of nipples, particularly on women?

I think someone mentioned lolicon (Lolita complex) and Japanese censorship laws, which make it harder to depict pubic hair. Someone also talked about yaoi as an exception to lack of secondary sex characteristics, as yaoi guys tend to have more muscle definition. There was also talk about how uke and seme were distinguished physically with height and hair and eye size and facial shape: more "masculine" guys always have longer faces while more "feminine" guys have shorter, wider faces. [Most yaoi has an active role (seme) and a passive role (uke). "Seme" literally means "aggressor" while "uke" literally means "receiver.] I mentioned that Rose of Versailles is interesting because Oscar gets a typically "masculine" face shape. I think we also all laughed at CLAMP art and how they had two male body templates. I can't remember if anyone said something about the more "feminine" faces as being more childlike (larger eyes, wider face, etc).

ADJ, T, and Emily all talked about how shoujo art is changing, as I think they started out with Sailor Moon and Yuu Watase, in which the women have more hips and breasts. I want to fit in the Sailor Moon Stars characters, who turn from male to female in the anime -- their female forms are the powerful forms, because they're the senshi forms. But of course, they're also dressed in skimpy leather outfits.

Devaluing the female POV

All of us ranted about how so much shoujo starts out focused on the heroine and then ends up focused on the hero's childhood angst and emotional growth (ex. Mars, Kare Kano). Poor ADJ had only seen the Kare Kano anime ("The paper cut outs on sticks episode! Miyazawa kicking Arima!"), and the rest of us grumped about the horrible ending of the manga and how we were all so angry that the most awesome Miyazawa gets shafted for more story about Arima's background, and how we all loved Miyazawa from the beginning because she wasn't the typically sweet shoujo heroine. I can't remember if I said this, but now I note that Miyazawa's interesting as a heroine because she makes us look at femininity as a social construct (I was thinking particularly of how she makes shoujo sparklies and flowers appear on demand). I can't remember if anyone mentioned Rukia in terms of constructs of femininity as well, even though Bleach is shounen. This went along with the devaluing of female bodies in Edo Japan and the devaluing of female roles in Takarazuka.

I think someone mentioned how literature in Japan in Japanese (as opposed to classical Chinese) started as a female tradition (Sei Shonagon, Genji, etc.), but ADJ mentioned the current devaluing of fiction centered on women, particularly with regard to Banana Yoshimoto, who's thought of as a "shoujo" author, despite her not writing manga. She talked about two piececs of scholarship, one from the US and one from Japan, both of which completely write off Yoshimoto as writing about topics that don't matter or being too girly and etc. She particularly mentioned Kitchen, which is focused on home and cooking and food, and is thereby not "serious literature." I mentioned that was particularly interesting because the climax of Kitchen is all about katsudon, which my lit. prof. said was a take-out food, not a cook-at-home food. So even there, Yoshimoto is playing with ideas of gender and food and etc.

Historical gender constructs

We talked a little about historical Japanese constructs of gender; I talked about the Meiji propaganda of "good wife, wise mother" and there being nothing between "child" and "mother/wife" for women to fit into in historical Japan. Mely I think noted that this paralleled the rise of the concept of adolescence in the West and probably Victorian gender roles as well. I mentioned the start of shoujo magazines around the Meiji Era [1868-1912]; I don't know much about them myself, but my Japanese prof. advisor had mentioned them as an avenue of research for me and a way to look at the beginning of the concept of the "shoujo" in Japan. We also talked about adolescent anxiety and shoujo manga scholarship that boxes the gender "messiness" of shoujo manga as rising solely from Japanese shoujo's fears and anxieties about growing up in a sexist society and having to become a wife and mother. Mely and I particularly hate this theory, as the scholars who propose it think it rises solely from Japanese culture and the same arguments come up in slash academic writing, and that it is a limited look as to how wide the representations of gender and sexuality are in shoujo manga alone.

More that I am too lazy to categorize

Mely talked about Kyoko Okazaki's works (unlicensed) and at Okazaki's look at the fashion industry, which capitalizes on the deliberate construct of femininity. I think she quoted one bit in which the heroine, a model, has basically been surgically "enhanced" everywhere except her cunt (I think that word's in the quote?). Someone else mentioned the rise of cosmetical female genital surgery in the US, so technically, the heroine could be all surgically enhanced. There was some mention of the tall, lanky, thin shoujo silhouette as being that of a model and how there's that story that keeps being retold of the girl who hates her body but finds out it's... perfect for modelling! (Walkin' Butterfly, I swear I've read this in US YA lit as well.) I noted that while I am pro body acceptance, I feel the fashion industry is not the best way to it.

There was also a discussion of bodily mutilation and how men and boys are allowed to have sexy scars. Mely mentioned how it's a sign that the guys have survived something and lived past it, how they had tragic angst written on their bodies, but how shoujo bodies had to be perfect and flawless and history-less to be valuable. I noted that I generally do not argue for further violence to be written on female bodies, but in the case of manga, violence and scarring is a sign of caring, both in terms of mangaka regard and in terms of audience reaction to the characters. I think we agreed that it was important that it wasn't sexualized violence written on shoujo bodies, but violence in terms of angsty backstory and something that makes the heroine stronger and more awesome. I threw in a reference to Bride with White Hair, as there's a really interesting scene in which the heroine has to literally crawl over hot coals and razors and get whipped by her clan to exit her clan; it's a striking scene of non-sexualized violence done to a woman. Someone also noted that the difference between that and violence to women in SPN, say, was that reader/viewer sympathy lay with the person enduring the violence.

... and now I remember that the discussion started with talk of subjectivity and objectivity in manga, and how the heroines and heroes can often be both subject and object because of the medium. I think T noted how shoujo manga is frequently narrated from a first person POV (usually the heroine's POV), and how Nana is exceptional because it's focused on the two Nanas talking to each other via the narration (as opposed to the dialogue bubbles). But T noted that because manga is drawn, even though we're thrust into the heroine's POV via voiceovers and narration, we're also in the position to view her body (and the hero's body) as objects, because we are also looking at their outsides and not just at their inner POVs.

We briefly went into manhwa art style and how it's different (particularly the lips and eyes, particularly in that people have prominent lips). Mely mentioned how she might be overgeneralizing, but liked that manhwa tended to have angrier, less sweet heroines, as opposed to manga, and I think all of us agreed about that. I think I might have noted that the downside to that is that the anger is often directed at other women and girls in terms of romantic rivalry? But that may just be from my kdrama watching. I then went on a handwavy overgeneralization as to how I think US media tends to reward the "masculine" in that we have more women warriors and assertion and other stereotypically masculine traits but the men are not allowed to be "girly," whereas Japanese media may reward the "feminine" more in that the men are allowed to be more emotional and vulnerable and other stereotypically feminine traits but the women are not allowed to be aggressive.

There was also talk on how filmed media tends to be more conservative than printed media overall (Asian dramas, US TV shows vs. manga, written SF/F) and how a lot of that might be because of business models... there's a limited amount of TV channels, a limited amount of shows studios can put out, and less of a limitation on print (albeit still a limit).

And then we ran out of time, and I realized we hadn't talked about the lack of different types of bodies at all, including in terms of age, weight, race, and etc.


Overall, this was one of my favorite panels from Wiscon, probably because a) I suggested it, b) the spontaneous programming meant mostly people who knew about shoujo manga came, and c) I felt I finally got to go as in depth as I wanted to in a panel. The last bit is largely influenced by the second bit; thought not everyone was familiar with every series discussed, it seemed like most people had read a fair amount of shoujo manga and manga overall, and that most people were fairly familiar with Japan, so there was very little 101 to do. I loved being able to talk about so many works and to connect them all, and am only sad that we couldn't keep going for the entire night.

Crossposted here, with some edits made to the Aqueduct post for clarity and fact correcting.