[Thanks to picklefactory and drethelin.]
No Future. I feel like I missed a lot of this work because I don’t understand Lacan, and so inevitably the author would start talking about the Imaginary or the sinthome or whatever and then I would be like “what the fuck?” The thesis is that a lot of ideologies reflect what Edelman calls “reproductive futurism”, the idea of progress and an inevitably improving future, symbolized by the Child. That’s the reason that “protecting our children” and “protecting our families” is an applause light. The culture ends up shoving everything that troubles reproductive futurism into the idea of the Queer, who has non-reproductive sex and is thus inherently opposed to the Child (the parts describing the exact mechanism of this shoving was very Lacan-heavy and I could not make heads or tails of it). Edelman argues that modern LGBT politics is trying to better reflect reproductive futurism– for instance, by showing off gay parents and by talking about how bright the future of gay rights is. But that just means society is going to shove everything that troubles reproductive futurism into some other figure. Instead, Edelman argues, we should embrace being against reproductive futurism, never making the world better, but instead concentrating on finding moments of individual jouissance, finding joys in an infinite series of present moments rather than in the infinite and joyous future. The parts describing exactly what jouissance is are also very Lacan-heavy, but it seems to have something to do with irony and sex and selfishness and joy and transcendence.
I’d have liked to see how Edelman applied this theory to monks and nuns, who share many of the traits of the queer (failure to reproduce, jouissance through spirituality) without necessarily being opposed to the Child in the same way.
This book is evil, but very engagingly so. Basically, this book is what would happen if the Dark Knight’s Joker read queer theory instead of blowing up buildings.
Sympathy for the Devil. In my opinion, Holly Lisle’s best book. Nurse Dayne Kutcher is a Christian; thus she knows her husband, whom she loves very much but who was a tremendously awful person, is in Hell. She prays that until every soul goes to Heaven, God may expect her to be a conscientious objector; her prayer turns out to have been made with perfect faith, and God grants every prayer made with perfect faith. Suddenly North Carolina is full of tens of thousands of demons on parole– and all of them are gunning for Kutcher, the prophet God favors so much she can open up the gates of Hell itself.
Unfortunately, the author is not a utilitarian, which marred my appreciation of the end of the book. If someone offers you healing powers in exchange for your soul, and you know all the demons are going to get on parole, you fucking take it. You don’t go “well, maybe God has a plan!” Does the deity in this universe look like he has a plan to you? He’s torturing trillions of people for eternity!
Funny, irreverent, moving, a great read for fans of Good Omens.
Sense of Style. Steven Pinker writes a style book. The best part of any style book, of course, is the part where the author lists off the particular usages he feels are barbaric or acceptable, and then you get to say (as appropriate) “yes! Fuck those assholes who think singular ‘they’ is incorrect!”, “Finally, a firm stance against the barbarity of people using ‘disinterested’ to mean ‘uninterested’”, “you think it’s okay to say ‘Frankenstein’ instead of ‘Frankenstein’s monster’? you are EVIL that is ATROCIOUS you are going to HELL”, and “screw yooooou I am using literally in a metaphorical fashion how do you like THEM apples”. For those who appreciate this fine form of entertainment, it’s the last chapter.
Pinker is a psycholinguist, and one of the best aspects of this book is his provision of firm psychological background for the heuristics and rules of thumb every writer knows. For instance, he talks about how humans naturally tend to parse syntax as a tree; long sentences are difficult to understand because they require us to keep track of relatively complicated tree structures. In addition to being tremendously interesting, understanding why these rules exist allows us to have principled exceptions to the rules: if you want to write a long sentence, make sure that each new node is attached to the previous node, so your readers have less to remember.
One of the facts I appreciated most is that apparently Burly Detective Syndrome– in which the author replaces neutral words like characters’ names with “the burly detective– is known outside the fanfic writing community, where it is called “elegant variation”. However, Pinker did not engage with the difficulties of using invisible words like pronouns and people’s names when you are writing a sex scene and “he slurped down his cock” may provide endless confusion about who is doing the slurping.
Healing from Trauma. A self-help book on trauma recovery. I appreciated the emphasis on embodiment in trauma: for instance, it argues, many traumatic symptoms are simultaneously the product of being hyperaroused and being frozen, which causes a variety of interesting paradoxical effects. The author’s voice is calm, authoritative, and loving, much like a good therapist. One thing I appreciated is that the author is very nonjudgmental about choosing to seek help from the mental health care system or recover on your own; a lot of books tend to assume that in order to get better you must see a therapist. (Unfortunately, this nonjudgmentalism is not extended to medications.) The chapter on spiritual issues in recovery is lovely and deals with an all-too-neglected issue. A caution: this book believes in the reality of false memories. Other than that, it seems like a very useful resource.
Understanding Fandom. A truly excellent introduction to the cross-disciplinary field of fandom studies. It discusses everything from methodological issues (who truly counts as a fan? what is an object of fandom?) to stigma against fans (such as the idea that fans are two steps away from becoming a stalker) to the tensions between researchers who interpret fans as subversive anti-consumerists engaging in participatory culture and researchers who see fandom as a form of participation in capitalism and patriarchy. A lot of the issues are engaged with fairly shallowly– I would have liked a lot more discussion of gender issues within fandom– but sacrificing depth for breadth is fairly reasonable in an introductory work of this nature.
A selection of quotes I highlighted from this book:
For this reason, several researchers have understood fan exchange as a gift economy.
According to Henry Jenkins, ‘Fandom celebrates not exceptional texts but rather exceptional readings (though its interpretive practice makes it impossible to maintain a clear or precise distinction between the two)’.
For example, Heather Joseph-Witham’s Star Trek, Fans and Costume Art (1997) was released as part of the University Press of Mississippi’s Folk Art and Artists series.
Jenkins (1992, 116) argues that men have learned to read media texts using the codes created by female-dominated fan cultures, just as women have learned to read within the norms of patriarchal culture.
Henry Jenkins noted that male readers often assessed the authority of the author, while female readers tended to locate themselves as part of a conversation (108). Communal fan practices may therefore represent the institutionalization of an approach to texts usually coded as ‘feminine’ (89).
Cornel Sandvoss sees fandom as the ‘regular, emotionally involved consumption of a given popular narrative or text’ (2005a, 8). Similarly Henry Jenkins has noted that television fandom does not mean watching a series, but becoming interested enough to make a regular commitment to watching it (Jenkins 1992, 56).
a politically utopian conception of fandom – expressed here as the return of the socially repressed – in effect a kind of queering of mass culture
telefantasy fandom (at least) might be more of a learned predisposition towards media consumption than a personal epiphany.