GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Haraway’s ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin’

So, I think a big new name, actually more than one name, is warranted. Thus, Anthropocene, Plantationocene, and Capitalocene (Andreas Malm’s and Jason Moore’s term before it was mine). I also insist that we need a name for the dynamic ongoing sym-chthonic forces and powers of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake. Maybe, but only maybe, and only with intense commitment and collaborative work and play with other terrans, flourishing for rich multispecies assemblages that include people will be possible. I am calling all this the Chthulucene—past, present, and to come. These real and possible timespaces are not named after SF writer H.P. Lovecraft’s misogynist racial-nightmare monster Cthulhu (note spelling difference), but rather after the diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces and collected things with names like Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa (burst from water-full Papa), Terra, Haniyasu-hime, Spider Woman, Pachamama, Oya, Gorgo, Raven, A’akuluujjusi, and many many more. “My” Chthulucene, even burdened with its problematic Greek-ish tendrils, entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages—including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus. Even rendered in an American English-language text like this one, Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa, Medusa, Spider Woman, and all their kin are some of the many thousand names proper to a vein of SF that Lovecraft could not have imagined or embraced—namely, the webs of speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, science fiction, and scientific fact. It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems.

I am a compost-ist, not a posthuman-ist: we are all compost, not posthuman. The boundary that is the Anthropocene/Capitalocene means many things, including that immense irreversible destruction is really in train, not only for the 11 billion or so people who will be on earth near the end of the 21st century, but for myriads of other critters too. (The incomprehensible but sober number of around 11 billion will only hold if current worldwide birth rates of human babies remain low; if they rise again, all bets are off.) The edge of extinction is not just a metaphor; system collapse is not a thriller. Ask any refugee of any species.

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Emily Wilson’s translation of Aphrodite’s affair & Hephaestus’s snare – The Odyssey, Book 4, lines 265-367:

‘The poet strummed and sang a charming song

about the love of fair-crowned Aphrodite

for Ares, who gave lavish gifts to herHephaestus catching Aphrodite and Ares in their affair; circo del herrero imagery for the poem

and shamed the bed of Lord Hephaestus, where

they secretly had sex. The Sun God saw them,

and told Hephaestus–bitter news for him.

He marched into his forge to get revenge,

and set the might anvil on its block,

and hammered chains so strong that they could never

be broken or undone. He was so angry

at Ares. When his trap was made, he went

inside the room of his beloved bed,

and twined the mass of cables all around

the bedposts, and then hung them from the ceiling,

like slender spiderwebs, so finely made

that nobody could see them, even gods:

the craftsmanship was so ingenious.

When he had set the trap across the bed,

he traveled to the cultured town of Lemnos,

which was his favorite place in all the world.

Ares the golden rider had kept watch.

He saw Hephaestus, famous wonder-worker,

leaving his house, and went inside himself;

he wanted to make love with Aphrodite.

She had returned from visiting her father,

the mighty son of Cronus; there she sat.

Then Ares took her hand and said to her,

 

“My darling, let us go to bed. Hephaestus

is out of town; he must have gone to Lemnos

to see the Sintians whose speech is strange.”

 

She was exited to lie down with him;

they went to bed together. But the chaisn

ingenious Hephaestus had created

wrapped tight around them, so they could not move

or get up. THen they knew that they were trapped.

The limping god drew near–before he reached

the land of Lemnos, he had turned back home.

Troubled at heart, he came towards his house.

Standing there in the doorway, he was seized

by savage rage. He gave a mighty shout,

calling to all the gods,

 

“O Father Zeus,

and all you blessed gods who live forever,

look! You may laugh, but it is hard to bear.

See how my Aphrodite, child of Zeus,

is disrespecting me for being lame.

She loves destructive Ares, who is strong

and handsome. I am weak. I blame my parents.

If only I had not been born! But come,

see where those two are sleeping in my bed,

as lovers. I am horrified to see it.

But I predict they will not want to lie

longer like that, however great their love.

Soon they will want to wake up, but my rap

and chains will hold them fast, until her father

pays back the price I gave him for his daughter.

Her eyes stare at me like a dog. She is

so beautiful, but lacking self-control.”

 

The gods assembled at his house: Poseidon,

Earth-Shaker, helpful Hermes, and Apollo.

The goddesses stayed home, from modesty.

The blessed gods who give good things were standing

inside the doorway, and they burst out laughing,

at what a clever trap Hephaestus set.

And as they looked, they said to one another,

“Crime does not pay! The slow can beat the quick,

as no Hephaestus, who is lame and slow,

has used his skill to catch the fastest sprinter

of all those on Olympus. Ares owes

the price for his adultery.” They gossiped.

 

Apollo, son of Zeus, then said to Hermes,

“Hermes my brother, would you like to sleep

with golden Aphrodite, in her bed,

even weighed down by might chains?”

 

And Hermes

the sharp-eyed messenger replied, “Ah, brother,

Apollo lord of archery: if only!

I would be bound three times as tight or more

and let you gods and all your wives look on,

if only I could sleep with Aphrodite.”

 

Then laughter rose among the deathless gods.

Only Poseidon did not laugh. He begged

and pleaded with Hephaestus to release

Ares. He told the wonder-working god,

 

“No let him go! I promise he will pay

the penalty in full among the gods,

just as you ask.”

 

The famous liming god

replied, “Poseidon, do not ask me this.

It is disgusting, bailing scoundrels out.

How could I bind you, while the gods look on,

if Ares should escape his bond and debts?”

 

Poseidon, Lord of Earthquakes, answered him,

“Hephaestus, if he tried to dodge this debt,

I promise I will pay.”

 

The limping god

said, “Then, in courtesy to you, I must

do as you ask.” So using all his strength,

Hephaestus loosed the chains. The pair of lovers

were free from their constraints, and both jumped up.

Ares went off to Thrace, while Aphrodite

smiled as she went to Cyprus, tot he island

of Paphos, where she had a fragrant altar

and sanctuary. The Graces washed her there,

and rubbed her with the magic oil that glows

upon immortals, and they dressed her up

in gorgeous clothes. She looked astonishing.’

GABBLER RECOMMENDS: A Genealogy of Authors’ Property Rights by Anna Nimus

…By the 1830s Wordsworth had effectively linked the notion of genius — defined as the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe — to legal stakes in the copyright wars. Arguing that artistic genius was often not recognized by contemporaries but only after an author’s death, he became an active lobbyist for extending copyright to 60 years after an author’s death. Wordsworth’s duality in invoking the author as a solitary genius as well as an interested economic agent was symptomatic of the complicity between Romantic aesthetics and the logic of commodification. The Romantic worldview tried to elevate art to a pure space above commodity production, but its definition of the creative work as property reintegrated art into the very sphere it sought to negate.

But if physical property can be stolen, can intelligence or ideas be stolen? If your land is stolen, you cannot use it anymore, except on the conditions set by its new private “owner.” If ownership of an idea is analogous to the ownership of material property, it should be subject to the same conditions of economic exchange, forfeiture, and seizure — and if seized it would then cease to be the property of its owner. But if your idea is used by others, you have not lost your ability to use it – so what is really stolen? The traditional notion of property, as something that can be possessed to the exclusion of others, is irreconcilable with intangibles like ideas. Unlike a material object, which can exist in only one place at a given time, ideas are non-rivalrous and non-exclusive. A poem is no less an authors’ poem despite its existence in a thousand memories.

 

Intellectual property is a meaningless concept — ideas don’t behave like land and cannot be possessed or alienated. All the intellectual property debates fought in courthouses and among pamphleteers during the 18th century intuitively grasped this contradiction. What became obvious in these debates was that the rights to own ideas would have to be qualitatively different from the rights to own material property, and that the ease of reproducing ideas posed serious problems for enforcing such rights. In parallel to the philosophical debates about the nature of intellectual property, a monumental discourse criminalizing piracy and plagiarism began to emerge. The most famous rant against piracy was Samuel Richardson’s 1753 pamphlets denouncing unauthorized Irish reprints of his novel Sir Charles Grandison. Contrasting the enlightened English book industry with the savagery and wickedness of Irish piracy, Richardson criminalizes the reprints as theft. In actuality his claims had no legal basis since Ireland was not subject to England’s intellectual property regime. And what he denounced as piracy, Irish publishers saw as a just retaliation against the Stationers Company’s monopoly. A year before Richardson’s pamphlets, there were street riots in Dublin against British taxation policies, which were part of a larger political struggle of Irish independence from Britain. By arguing that this Cause is the Cause of Literature in general, Richardson framed the battle over literary property in purely aesthetic terms, isolating it from its political and economic context. But his use of the piracy metaphor recalled Britain’s colonial history and brutal repression of sea pirates. 18th century maritime piracy has itself been interpreted as a form of guerilla warfare against British imperialism, which also created alternative models of work, property and social relations based on a spirit of democracy, sharing, and mutual insurance.

Artistic creation is not born ex nihilo from the brains of individuals as a private language; it has always been a social practice. Ideas are not original, they are built upon layers of knowledge accumulated throughout history. Out of these common layers, artists create works that have their unmistakable specificities and innovations. All creative works reassemble ideas, words and images from history and their contemporary context. Before the 18th century, poets quoted their ancestors and sources of inspiration without formal acknowledgement, and playwrights freely borrowed plots and dialogue from previous sources without attribution. Homer based the Iliad and the Odyssey on oral traditions that dated back centuries. Virgil’s Aeneid is lifted heavily from Homer. Shakespeare borrowed many of his narrative plots and dialogue from Holinshed. This is not to say that the idea of plagiarism didn’t exist before the 18th century, but its definition shifted radically. The term plagiarist (literally, kidnapper) was first used by Martial in the 1st century to describe someone who kidnapped his poems by copying them whole and circulating them under the copier’s name. Plagiarism was a false assumption of someone else’s work. But the fact that a new work had similar passages or identical expressions to an earlier one was not considered plagiarism as long as the new work had its own aesthetic merits. After the invention of the creative genius, practices of collaboration, appropriation and transmission were actively forgotten. When Coleridge, Stendhall, Wilde and T.S. Eliot were accused of plagiarism for including expressions from their predecessors in their works, this reflected a redefinition of plagiarism in accordance with the modern sense of possessive authorship and exclusive property. Their so-called “theft” is precisely what all previous writers had regarded as natural.

 

Ideas are viral, they couple with other ideas, change shape, and migrate into unfamiliar territories. The intellectual property regime restricts the promiscuity of ideas and traps them in artificial enclosures, extracting exclusive benefits from their ownership and control. Intellectual property is fraud — a legal privilege to falsely represent oneself as the sole “owner” of an idea, expression or technique and to charge a tax to all who want to perceive, express or apply this “property” in their own production. It is not plagiarism that dispossesses an “owner” of the use of an idea; it is intellectual property, backed by the invasive violence of the state, that dispossesses everyone else from using their common culture. The basis for this dispossession is the legal fiction of the author as a sovereign individual who creates original works out of the wellspring of his imagination and thus has a natural and exclusive right to ownership. Foucault unmasked authorship as a functional principle that impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of knowledge. The author-function represents a form of despotism over the proliferation of ideas. The effects of this despotism, and of the system of intellectual property that it shelters and preserves, is that it robs us of our cultural memory, censors our words, and chains our imagination to the law.

And yet artists continue to be flattered by their association with this myth of the creative genius, turning a blind eye to how it is used to justify their exploitation and expand the privilege of the property owning elite. Copyright pits author against author in a war of competition for originality – its effects are not only economic, it also naturalizes a certain process of knowledge production, delegitimates the notion of a common culture, and cripples social relations. Artists are not encouraged to share their thoughts, expressions and works or to contribute to a common pool of creativity. Instead, they jealously guard their “property” from others, who they view as potential competitors, spies and thieves lying in wait to snatch and defile their original ideas. This is a vision of the art world created in capitalism’s own image, whose ultimate aim is to make it possible for corporations to appropriate the alienated products of its intellectual workers.

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: The Amazons Were Based on Real-Life Women Warriors Who Were Cool as Hell

Most of what the Greeks wrote about the Amazons can be dismissed out of hand. The idea of all-female tribes that reproduced through sex with strangers and murdered their male infants sounds more like a paranoid male fantasy than historical fact. Similarly, the idea that Amazons cut off one of their breasts to improve their bow skills is laughable to any woman who has managed to master archery with their chest intact. (Not to mention the high fatality rate that such a drastic procedure would have incurred, given the medical capabilities of the time.)

“One can no longer claim that Amazons were nothing but fantasy figures to be killed by mythic Greek heroes; that Amazon myths were invented to discourage Greek women from admiring strong women; that Amazons in Greek art were simply stand-ins for Persian men; and that there was nothing in the historical world shaped or influenced the images of Amazons in literature and art,” Mayor says.

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Comforting Myths Notes from a purveyor By Rabih Alameddine

Where I disagree with Achebe is that, because of the racism in Heart of Darkness, he refuses to consider it a masterwork. Like all books, Conrad’s novel is limited by his vision, his biases, his worldview. There is no writer with limitless vision, no writer whose worldview is shared by everyone. The problem is not that people read Heart of Darkness as a masterpiece—it is one—it’s that few read books unsanctioned by empire, and even if you wanted to, there aren’t that many available. Today’s imperial censorship is usually masked as the publisher’s bottom line. “This won’t sell” is the widest moat in the castle’s defenses.

A number of years ago I was a juror for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, an award sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and the magazine World Literature Today. Since this is an international prize, the jury is always composed of international writers. There were jurors representing Lebanon, Mexico, Egypt, Nepal, Palestine, South Africa, Ukraine, the Philippines, and Italy. Only the Italian actually lived in Italy. The rest of us were primarily Americans, living in the United States, almost all associated with American universities. The Mexican was a Texan, the Egyptian a New Yorker; the Nepali taught at Ohio State. Every interview I did as a juror included questions about peace in the Middle East and whether we can achieve it in my lifetime, what it is like in Beirut, and whether I found the trip to Oklahoma tiring. Norman is a four-hour flight from San Francisco. (And while we’re talking about universities: MFA programs are a kind of indoctrination, too. Certain stories, certain types of stories and certain ways of telling stories, are made more valid than others, and this can be dangerous. From the Congo to the Punjab, if you go to Iowa, you will be learning the Iowa Way. You risk becoming a purveyor of comforting myths.)

Every group needs to have an other. I don’t know how a society can exist without classifying another as the other. The question for the writers who are getting to talk is where we stand. Inside, outside, in the middle? For so-called world-literature writers, it’s a troubling question.

You might think this is diversity, but it seems more like homogenization. Sometimes, not always, when I read a novel presented or marketed as “foreign,” I feel that I’m reading that common thing, a generic novel hidden behind an alluring facade, a comfortable and familiar book with a sprinkling of exoticness. The names of foods are italicized. Instead of visiting Beijing, I end up at its airport with the same bright Prada and Starbucks stores, maybe one dumpling stand in the corner.

And sometimes even that little stand is troublesome. When I wrote a novel about a reclusive woman who bucks society’s rules by having a rich inner life filled with books and art, I was surprised by how many readers identified with her, and more so that many considered her a tragic figure because she lived in a country that had no respect for women. You know: we live in an exceptional country, it’s only over there where they ostracize women who refuse to conform. (Our world might not be perfect, but that other world, that world of the other is just simply horrid.)

 

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