GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction by Zadie Smith

“But reading seems to be easier to defend than writing. Writing is a far larger act of presumption. Sensing this, we seek to shore up the act of writing with false defenses, like the dubious idea that one could ever be absolutely “correct” when it comes to representing fictional human behavior. I understand the desire—I have it myself—but what I don’t get is how anyone can possibly hope to achieve it. What does it mean, after all, to say “A Bengali woman would never say that!” or “A gay man would never feel that!” or “A black woman would never do that!”? How can such things possibly be claimed absolutely, unless we already have some form of fixed caricature in our minds? (It is to be noted that the argument “A white man would never say that!” is rarely heard and is almost structurally unimaginable. Why? Because to be such a self is to be afforded all possible human potentialities, not only a circumscribed few.)

But perhaps I am asking the question the wrong way round. The counterargument would be that when it comes to presumption, we are in far less danger of error when writer and subject are as alike as possible. The risk of containment is the risk of false knowledge being presented as truth—it is the risk of caricature. Those who are unlike us have a long and dismal history of trying to contain us in false images. And so—the argument runs—if we are to be contained by language, let that language at least be our own.

But the question is: In what does this “like me” consist? He doesn’t look like me. We don’t share the same gods. We don’t share the same race or gender. But he is a part of my soul. And fiction is one of the few places left on this earth where a crazy sentence like that makes any sense at all. Alex-Li is not “correct.” He cannot and doesn’t aim to represent the community of half-Jewish, half-Chinese people. In the spirit of Kafka, he barely represents himself. And so it may be that by his existence he is in fact oppressive, simply because he is “taking up space” where a “real” half-Jewish, half-Chinese fictional character might be. He cannot defend himself from that accusation—and it would be out of character for him to try. All he can say is that he doesn’t mind if he is unread, unbought, unloved. But if even one person happens to come across him and find that his feelings and their own have a similar weight, then he will have completed his absurd fictional role in this world.

Has fiction, over the centuries, been the creator of compassion or a vehicle for containment? I think we can make both cases. Fiction was often interested in the other but more often than not spoke for the other instead of actually publishing them. Fiction gave us Madame Bovary but also Uncle Tom. (It’s also given us a marvelous, separate literature that has no interest in human selves of any kind—which is concerned instead with animals, trees, extraterrestrials, inanimate objects, ideas, language itself.) But whether fiction’s curiosity about the other was compassionate or containing, one thing you could always say for it was that it was interested.

By contrast, a prominent component of the new philosophy is a performative display of non-interest, a great pride in not being interested in the other, which is sometimes characterized as revenge and sometimes as an act of self-preservation. (When you feel hatred coming from the other, it’s reasonable to turn from the other completely.) The expression of this pride usually comes in some version of I’ve had enough ofI just can’t with—fill in the blank. And the strange thing is that the people we now cast into this place of non-interest were once the very people fiction was most curious about. The conflicted, the liars, the self-deceiving, the willfully blind, the abject, the unresolved, the imperfect, the evil, the unwell, the lost and divided. Those were once fiction’s people.

We behave as if don’t want to be known by one another, but we sometimes seem oblivious to the idea that we spend our days feeding ourselves into a great engine of knowing, one that believes it knows every single thing about us: our tastes, our opinions, our beliefs, what we’ll buy, who we’ll love, where we’ll go. The unseen actors who harvest this knowledge not only hope to know us perfectly but also to modify us, to their own ends. And this essay, too, will no doubt enter that same digital maw, and be transformed from ideas to data points, and responded to, perhaps, with a series of pat phrases, first spotted by the machine, then turned viral, and now returned to us as if it were our own language. “I just can’t with Zadie Smith right now,” or else “This Zadie Smith is everything,” or—well, you know the drill. We’ve gotten into the habit of not experiencing the private, risky act of reading so much as performing our response to what we read, which is then translated into data points.

Is this novel before me an attempt at compassion or an act of containment? Each reader will decide. This is the work of an individual consciousness and cannot be delegated to generalized arguments, not even the prepackaged mental container of “cultural appropriation.”

To put it another way, a book can try to modify your behavior, but it has no way of knowing for sure that it has. In front of a book you are still free.”

[Via]

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ”Joker’ Is Wild … ly Dull’ by Glen Weldon

But the film so desperately strives to reject comic book trappings — so aches to be seen as edgy, provocative, serious, adult — that it simply apes the tone, style and content of other, better, edgier and more provocative films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy and Fight Club.

But the film doesn’t care — it’s too busy exuding a sense of self-satisfaction, a preening, self-consciously provocative challenge to an audience — a humanity — it holds in pitched contempt.

Joker thinks of itself as urgent, relevant, of the moment and — mostly, unrelentingly — not just another silly superhero movie. Ultimately, however, it devotes so much of its energy into not being about a comic book villain that it neglects being about … much of anything, really.

[Via]

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Legion series finale

“Still, even though David wrestles with mental illness that feels cloudy in description and specificity, there are moments when Legion touched a nerve of emotional truth with his experience — such as whenever David struggled with the idea of whether he is worthy of love and can change as a person despite his troubled nature. The series finale ends on an image of baby David cooing in his crib against yellow satin, his whole life laid out before him. We don’t get any answers to what that future will look like. Will the love of a solid family make him into a better man? When the time comes, will he accept help for his mental-health struggles? Will he use his power to aid instead of harm?

The image of young David in his crib is not what will stay with me from this final season. Legion’s most beguiling visuals are elsewhere in the psychedelic enchantment of David’s cult, the jittering visage of the Time Eaters, the ecstatic villainy of Lenny as she crawled on top of a table in a forest that hearkens to Alice in Wonderland. But the message Legion lands on in its closing moments — a hopeful one that suggests that we can remake ourselves and even the world into something better — is perhaps its boldest gambit. Ultimately, Legion is a series of bristling enchantment and wonder, even when it failed to live up to the fascinating threads of family and mental illness that it wove into its story of superhero power.” [Via]

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Years and Years TV show

 

“The juxtaposition of the epic and mundane is the point. This is a broad-strokes diagnosis of a species in existential crisis. It’s meant as a warning about what’s happening in the present moment. And it is seemingly unconcerned about timelessness, because at the rate we’re going, we won’t be able to look back on anything, since we’ll be too busy scrounging for survival in the wasteland. That every anguished or panicked moment seems to vanish mere instants after registering on your brainpan is part of the design. It’s the miniseries as Snapchat message. The tl;dr version is that the world is stuffed, as the Brits would put it, if we don’t face facts and start cleaning up the mess we’ve made.”  [Via]

This is not like Black Mirror. Though you may think the show will villainize technology and futurisms as they appear, they are redeemed throughout and at the end. For example, in the first episode, you get a young girl hiding behind snapchat-like filter holograms, declaring that she is “trans” yet meaning she is transhuman. Her experience turns out to be somewhat of a warning and encouragement in the series. No spoilers, but her transition has just as many horrific stepping stones as well as joyful ones. In the last episode, the matriarch of the family goes on a rant involving the self-checkouts at the grocery stores and you start to roll your eyes, but then the monologue actually recognizes itself and makes a point. And like the futuristic techy bits, the characters themselves all have their moral flaws at times, only to be given redemption — or what one might call “multidimensionalness.”

It’s an interesting show that is sticking with me, especially with it’s delivery of such an expansive timeline. The use of loudness when the family experiences societal pressures or sped-up time was quite effective at producing anxiety in me. The parallels on issues migrants are experiencing now with ICE in the U.S. brought me to tears.

Perhaps a little melodramatic or glossed-over storyline-wise, it was still a wonderful “warning and encouragement” for how badly we can keep fucking up as well as step the fuck up.

See also:

What we talk about when we talk about post-apocalyptic stories. 

The Anti-Natalist and Anti-Colonial Messages in The Girl With All The Gifts (The Fanzine)

 

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Los Espookys on HBO

“It feels reductive to call Los Espookys magical realism, both because it’s so much funnier than that term would normally imply, and because essentially every project that somehow involves Latin America gets dubbed “magical realism” at one point or another, whether the moniker fits or not.

But what’s so rewarding about this deeply weird little show — which HBO airs at 11 pm on Fridays, somehow the ideal timeslot for it — is how it all but forces you to pay closer attention to what could seem tossed-off or silly. You never know what might happen, a key tenet of magical realism.” [Via]