Death of the Author

The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author… or so says Roland Bathes in his essay Death of the Author. Are we talking about literally killing authors? No, this is figurative (like most uses of literally). Can Death of the Author include killing the author? Sure, but get a good lawyer first.

Let’s let Lindsay Ellis (and John Green) explain:

My take on Death of the Author is somewhat complicated. I think there is relevant information that the author has that doesn’t make it into the story (think Elvish languages from Tolkien*), but I also think that quite often if it isn’t in the story it doesn’t really exist. I think that stories are really up to the readers to interpret, as viewpoints and interpretations will change over time**, but that doesn’t mean readers always interpret correctly.

This is a hedged way of saying that Death of the Author is probably too simple a way of thinking about how stories should be interpreted. At least, that’s my interpretation of it.

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Source: Mimi and Eunice

*Let’s not get into how “relevant” I think those languages are, or a lot of that world-building from authors in general is.

**You may remember book reviews here where I’ve discussed how older books haven’t aged well due to changing societal standards. Sexism and racism are obvious changes that have happened in the last 50 years which make formerly acceptable, even progressive, moments in a story seem backward and unacceptable now.

Another thing that can occur is changes to society changes interpretations. E.g. The Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy can be summed up as an old song made references to things that we are no longer familiar with, so our interpretation changes. This makes Death of the Author a truly bad thing for any artwork that is “consumed” outside of the social and temporal setting it was made within.

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Who Can You Trust? Unreliable Narrators

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The first rule of this month’s It’s Lit! is that you don’t talk about the narrator.

Unreliable narrators are an interesting topic. To some extent, I regard all narrators as flawed in some way. Unless you have omniscient narration you always have a limited viewpoint, and it could be argued that even with omniscient you still aren’t pulling away from the main narrative so it is limited as well. So I would argue that unreliable narrators are more a case of how unreliable are all narrators.

Who is the most powerful character in fiction? Villains may doom the world, heroes may save it, but no one has more control over the plot than the narrator – expositing the who, what, where, when and how directly into the reader’s mind. But how can you tell that the person telling you the story is telling you the whole story?

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading.

Hosted by Lindsay Ellis

Book vs Movie: Starship Troopers – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix looks at one of the more blatantly different book adaptations: Verhoeven vs Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

The first time I watched Starship Troopers all I saw was a cheesy B-grade action movie. This was also what many movie reviewers thought at the time. Many years later I finally read the book and it clicked.

Verhoeven’s film only made sense to me after I’d read the book as it is as much a critique of the material as it is an adaptation.

“I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring,” says Verhoeven of his attempts to read Heinlein’s opus. “It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn’t read the thing. It’s a very right-wing book. And with the movie we tried, and I think at least partially succeeded, in commenting on that at the same time. It would be eat your cake and have it. All the way through we were fighting with the fascism, the ultra-militarism. All the way through I wanted the audience to be asking, ‘Are these people crazy?’ Source

The cheesy propaganda segments riff on the heavy-handed philosophical lecturing Heinlein does. The proud militarism is given consequence by utilising Heinlein’s own references to disabled veterans and by showing horrible training injuries and battlefield scenes. The fascist elements are played up for farce in the uniforms and sequences mirroring actual Nazi propaganda films.

Michael Ironside asked, “Why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie?”
Verhoeven replied, “If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it’s only good for killing fucking Bugs!” Source

Now, I did actually enjoy the book. It is very interesting and many of the ideas were challengingly different. The portrayal of future warfare was, at the time, as imaginative as I’d come across. So Verhoeven’s reaction to satirise the book – one that Heinlein dashed out as an angry response to the US stopping nuclear tests – was probably overwrought by his childhood in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. But if the movie adaptation had been faithful we’d probably have seen the worst elements of Heinlein’s ideas paraded around like something produced by the Ministry of Enlightenment.

Well, either that or a schlocky B-grade action movie about the military killing alien bugs.

Is cyberpunk dead or being revived?

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It was only recently that I read Neuromancer. In my defence, I’ve seen all the different cuts of Blade Runner, which has to count for something. Right?

Anyway, there was an interesting video essay from Just Write that I thought I’d share. It discusses the cyberpunk genre and how the aesthetic has lost its relevance.

I actually quite enjoyed the Netflix series Altered Carbon, based on Richard Morgan’s novel of the same name. There were some interesting comments about inequality and inherited wealth that is often overlooked in discussions about living longer. But I have to agree with the video’s comments about the cyberpunk aesthetic of the show being off.

Not that it didn’t fit, but that it didn’t feel that different from what we have now, as the video stated. How can we watch a troublesome/dystopian future that is essentially our now?  These aesthetic elements then undermine much of the narrative comment by reminding us that many of the plot points have already happened. It is a little bit hard to have a cautionary tale of where we are headed in the future when we have already arrived at that point (e.g. wealth isn’t made but instead it tends to be inherited unless there is some sort of inheritance tax in play or dissipation – 1, 2, 3).

So does that mean that Mr Robot and other contemporary cyberpunk stories are the way forward for the genre? Are there other ways to update the genre? Do we need another Blade Runner movie?

Some things to ponder.

Update: Future Tense/Slate published an article suggesting cyberpunk has cast a long shadow over science fiction. It alludes to some of the same points whilst trying to discuss reinvigorating sci-fi. I think the point it fails to make is that the prefix-punk genres were never going to have the same impact as cyberpunk because they were prefix genres following in the wake. If you want to reinvigorate sci-fi* you have to start with something different, not just another prefix.

Works Cited:

Lessons from the Screenplay. “Blade Runner — Constructing a Future Noir.”
Extra Credits. “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Best Detective Game Ever Made.” Taxi
Extra Credits. “William Gibson: The 80s Revolution.”
Abrams, Avi. Dark Roasted Blend. “Epic 1970s French Space Comic Art.”
Sterling, Bruce. “Mirrorshades: the cyberpunk anthology.” New York: Arbor House, 1986.
Walker-Emig, Paul. The Guardian. “Neon and corporate dystopias: why does cyberpunk refuse to move on?” October 16, 2018.
NAZARE, JOE. “MARLOWE IN MIRRORSHADES: THE CYBERPUNK (RE-) VISION OF CHANDLER.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 35, no. 3, 2003, pp. 383–404. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Karen Cadora. “Feminist Cyberpunk.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995, pp. 357–372. JSTOR
Sponsler, Claire. “Beyond the Ruins: The Geopolitics of Urban Decay and Cybernetic Play.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 1993, pp. 251–265. JSTOR
Nixon, Nicola. “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1992, pp. 219–235. JSTOR
Whalen, Terence. “The Future of a Commodity: Notes toward a Critique of Cyberpunk and the Information Age (L’Avenir D’une Marchandise: Notes Sur Cyberpunk Et L’Ere De L’Information).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1992, pp. 75–88. JSTOR
Senior, W. A. “Blade Runner and Cyberpunk Visions of Humanity.” Film Criticism, vol. 21, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1–12. JSTOR
Usher, Tom. Vice. “How ‘Akira’ Has Influenced All Your Favourite TV, Film and Music.
Giles, Matthew. Vulture. “Taxi Driver, Girls, and 7 Other Big Influences on Mr. Robot.
The United Federation of Charles. “What is Cyberpunk?
The ‘Self-Made’ Myth: Our Hallucinating Rich by Sam Pizzigati

*I’m not sure I accept the argument that sci-fi needs reinvigorating. Has some of it disappeared up its own butthole? Quite possibly. But that’s a whole argument and discussion on its own… Come to think of it, I’m betting there are endless articles on that topic somewhere.

Why did I have to read that book in high school?

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This month Lindsay Ellis discusses the Literary Cannon, or how books become “worthy“, in It’s Lit.

I swear that when I started posting these videos that I didn’t know the series would cover one of my pet topics. Worthiness, important books, snobbery, guilty pleasures, are all things I love to bang on about. This video feels like a worthy addition to my posts on the topic.*

Let’s explore what makes a book “important.”

Literary critics, writers, philosophers, bloggers–all have tried to tackle where and why and how an author may strike such lightning in a bottle that their works enter the pantheon of “Classical Literature”. Why this book is required reading in high school, why other books are lost to history.

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. This all leads to a nationwide vote of America’s favourite novel. Learn More Here: https://to.pbs.org/2IXQuZE

*Pardon the pun, it was father’s day recently.

Elves with swords

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Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see… Some really awesome stories.

This month’s It’s Lit with Lindsay Ellis covers the much-maligned genre of fantasy.

Fantasy is a lens to explore what we as a society find important to our pasts, our presents, and future. Fantasy and science fiction often fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction” – as a result they are often grouped together, especially in bookstores. But science fiction is a forward-looking genre propelled by the possibilities of technology (and the things that worry us about it), fantasy is … more backward looking.

Vote on your favorite book here: https://to.pbs.org/2Jes2X5

The Evolution of YA Fiction

Young Adult fiction is a term whose meaning has varied wildly over the years. It can apply to coming of age tragedies or serialized adventures of babysitters, or insert really dated twilight joke here. But where did this young adult genre come from? And why did it get so big?

The voting referred to in the video is here, but it is for North American people only. I mean, it is about the Great American Read after all. Which obviously means that the rest of the world’s opinion on that doesn’t count. Neither does South America’s.