Three Pound Brain

No bells, just whistling in the dark…

Month: December, 2010

Thame ‘ol Thong

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: ‘Radical’ is not a name anyone can give themselves.

I’m starting to learn that the worst time to make a blog entry is the instant you feel like blogging. Writing a book is like having a padded cell in terms of the space of time you have to work through your rants and turn them into something muffled and respectable. Ideas have always gotten the best of me: it usually takes me several revisions to wrestle them to the mat.

Welcome to my notebook folks! Hopefully it doesn’t read half as neurotic as it feels.

The Globe and Mail has picked up another article of mine, this one for their web only version: Speaking of the same ‘ol same ‘ol – this time packaged for mass consumption…

But then that’s the point: there’s no ‘new’ or ‘challenging’ outside the apprehending brain.

Death and Originality

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day – Literature: the genre that dare not speak its name.

Sometimes I crack me up.

Sometimes I feel so damn provincial, sitting here in a snow-buried London junior, taking the hypothetical piss out of these London senior literary types. I mean, just who do I think I am. I don’t even have ‘author photos’ for Christ’s sake.

I almost always feel hypocritical. I should, I think. As should anyone pompous enough to think their interpretative cartoons have captured some real socio-cultural dynamic. Lord knows mine are certainly flattering enough. 

But then I think I have the virtue of running a real risk.

It was the second year of my philosophy PhD., I think, when I finally realized that despite all the rhetoric, most everyone was really only interested in dead originalities. If you came up with a new spin, well then your grade point average did just fine. But if you brought a new top to the table, well then, you were in a heap-load of trouble.

The problem, aside from our myopic psychology, is that the world is filled with cranks and crackpots, with people who want to say something new without having gone through the trouble of understanding the old. The problem, in other words, is that originality is just too fucking easy. What we want is a special kind of originality, the kind that we can hail as visionary, transformative – in hindsight, of course.

Quite literally, what we want is dead originality.

Originality is literally the name we give to a very special kind of popularity contest. So much of what we value is a function of social proof bias. Steal a chapter from DeLillo and pitch it as your own, and I guarantee you the rejection letters will come flooding in. Thus the paradox. Thus the risk. You will only be acknowledged as original in this special sense, when you are acknowledged as original. Everyone literally sits around waiting to see what everyone else will do. Is this cool? Is this… could it be… original?

And we all know, at some level, that this is what makes those in the know so jealous of what they know, so intent on repeating dead originalities, and claiming the triumphs of dead risk-takers as their own. The well of rednecks has no bottom, so it’s easy to pretend that you are messing with someone, somewhere – confronting hypothetical audiences with something ‘new.’ So you pitch the same ‘ol same ‘ol to the same, closed-circuit culture, you rig your ideology to make the confusion of art with fashion and commodity as seamless as possible, and everyone comes away feeling as though they earned their authorial scarves.

So, I may be a hypocrite, but at least you can’t call me a coward. No crackpot is.

Coming up: Ten Question to Fuck up your English Professor.

The Big Stinkeye

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day: Literature: a form of fiction primarily concerned with the further inflation of already highly-pressurized egos. Once a social scourge responsible for innumerable cases of eczema and dandruff (and a fair amount of untoward head-scratching), it has now become a popular means of concealing public acts of masturbation. Sales of literary mass-market paperbacks have declined accordingly.

For those of you worried, Light, Time, and Gravity is already completed, and I am presently exploring a small press option. I’ve been back at The Unholy Consult for some time now, and will be for some time to come.

Disciple of the Dog continues to limp along. The latest review can be found here:

I gave Pat of Fantasy Hotlist fame a draft of The White-Luck Warrior several days back. My guess is that his review should be going up soon. He’s as much a stickler on spoilers as I am, so checking out what he has to say should be safe.

I would like to thank Ilya for posting that link (in the comments to the last post) to Edward Docx’s Guardian piece on the inferiority of genre fiction. I actually pulled together and sent a short article by way of rebuttal–which I will promptly post here if The Guardian’s review editor decides to pass on it.

Entitled, “The Myth of the Vulgar Cage” it details both the institutional conceit and the theoretical misconception that underwrites the literary notion of conventions and conventionality.

Since implicit rules are generally invisible, the tendency is to always think that the guy who follows explicit rules is the one constrained. Thus the conceit: literature is the home of unconstrained writing, whereas genre writers find themselves caged with the “simpler psychologies” (his term!) of genre readers.

The misconception turns on the characterization of conventionality as constraint, a conceptualization that entirely blots out the communicative dimension of conventions. There is no communication without constraint–end of story. Because of this, I suggest the specialty channel as an alternate metaphor, because it has the virtue of preserving the way in which conventions connect authors with specific audiences. Then I show just how ugly and fatuous Docx and his ilk look when considered through this alternate lense.

Among all the self-congratulatory myths that cripple literary culture, the vulgar cage has always been a stand out for me. For such an obviously inadequate conceptualization to be so universally embraced demonstrates just how prone humans are to camouflage their self-interest with stupidity. “Let’s just ignore all that pesky communication stuff, and look at conventions this way, because it makes me look so daring and smart!”

I mean, they just love their conventions so much, they just gotta be exceptional somehow. And besides, who wants to go through all the hard work of reaching out to popular culture? Sneering is just so much easier.

Speaking of sneering, I did my best to be polite in the article proper, even after checking out Docx’s website: if his photo gallery is any indication, the man really takes seriousness seriously.

Light, Time, and Wankery

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Only when you pause to listen–really listen–to someone else speaking, can you discover how irritating you yourself are.

The snow will simply not… stop… falling…

My back feels like a hooker’s ass, I’ve been shovelling so much.

Progress on The Unholy Consult has petered out the past few days. Every morning, when I crack open my laptop in the coffeeshop, there’s this wobbly moment which determines the next several hours of my day. For whatever reason this moment has been tipping me toward my bizarre CanLit piece, Light, Time, and Gravity.

Time wasted, I’m sure. I should start shopping it around, just to get it out of my hair.

Another alternative would be to publish it here, section by section, day by day. It would be a great way to get feedback, but I fear it would scare more sensible readers away.

The idea was to take the aesthetic norms of contemporary commercial literature at their word: to both write ‘something I know,’ and to write something ‘genuinely challenging.’

This first imperative: ‘Write what you know!’ is little more than the aesthetic fig-leaf that literary culture uses to rationalize their disdain of spectacle. I find it more than a little coincidental that it became religious dogma around the same time mass public education made literacy universal. Appreciation for spectacle is simply part of the human floor plan, so if you want to exclude the masses, render yourself ‘exceptional,’ all you need do is banish it from the realm of ‘serious art.’ You make the banal your idol, then look down on the vulgar masses for not having acquired your tastes.

This second imperative: ‘Challenge your reader!’ is the second figleaf. Rather than look at conventions as kinds of channels that put you in contact with various audiences sharing common expectations, you characterize them as restraints, as cages that close down the aesthetic future. Once again you have the same happy coincidence: since humans possess a hardwired appetite for conventionality, defecting from popular conventions effectively isolates your ‘art’ from the masses, once again confirming your status as exceptional.

Both of these slogans are little more than self-congratulatory versions of painting NO GIRLS ALLOWED on your clubhouse door. They allow far too many exceedingly talented people to turn their back on their culture, all the while convinced that their culture has turned its back on them.

But you’ve heard all this before.

What I try to do in Light, Time, and Gravity is turn these slogans inside out, use them to wage a kind of spiritual war against the literary reader. I use my (crazy) teenage experiences working in tobacco to satisfy the first, then I use quasi-Nietzschean theoretical rants to satisfy the second, playing the two threads off one another. In neither case, do I let the reader off the hook. One of the things that has always dismayed me about literary writers is the hypocrisy of the ‘egalitarian impulse’ they are so quick to brandish on their textual sleeves. They certainly love writing ABOUT what they consider the low and the mean, but not one of them would be caught dead writing FOR them.  They’re the kind of tourists who congratulate themselves for bringing candies to hand out to all the brown-eyed kids.

What I do is tell the story a la the Underground Man, from the standpoint of an embittered English professor (no relation!) looking back at his low caste youth and mourning the university institutionalization that has so mangled his soul. In the course of narrating the tobacco harvest of 1984, he systematically accounts for all the theoretical vanities and tribal conceits that have accumulated over the subsequent years–all the things that have turned him into, as he puts it, ‘a fucking clown.’ Parallel to this, he theoretically dismantles the self-aggrandizing folly of post-structuralism, and post-modernism more generally, in an act of ideological auto-cannibalism, realizing that status and self-regard had been the true engine of his practice all along. I intentionally don’t pull any punches with the theory in the hope of showing certain readers what real ‘challenge’ looks like, and how they really aren’t interested in it at all.

How what they really want is conventionality–their conventionality.

It’s kind of an anti-Bildungsroman on the one hand, a story of an artist spiritually destroyed in the process of escaping his benighted origins, and a poor man’s Philosophical Investigations on the other. The most obnoxious thing I have ever written.

And probably unpublishable.


by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: The only difference between the ass-kicking talk of youth and the ass-kissing talk of middle-age is a man’s tax bracket.

For those of you interested, my conversation with Jim Sallis has gone up over at Mulholland Books: 

Looks like all that positivity I’ve been beaming out to the universe has finally paid off…

Post hoc hypocrisy

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day:

Moral outrage. 1) A pain in the shoulder generally brought upon by reaching for one’s wallet. 2) A commercially popular way to treat the symptoms of ignorance and confusion.

For those of you who are interested, The Globe and Mail has published an article of mine regarding the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. You can find it here:

The Mourning After

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day:

Labour: 1) the renting of one’s metabolic activity for the pleasure of another; 2) the single most important constituent of society, and therefore the most despised; 3) something the poor are lucky to give, and the wealthy are entitled to receive. 

Just thought I would drop a quick note to thank all the well-wishers and to clarify things. First, don’t worry about me–or any other writer for the matter, especially if you work for a living. Trust me, as career paths go, this is slack. I’m only whining because I’m a slacker extraordinaire–I was made to do this for a living. I’m a monomaniac, for one, and organizationally challenged for another. But what I’m complaining about is the prospect–and at this point it’s only the prospect–of going back to post-secondary teaching… The second most slack career path I can imagine!

Second, do not worry, the APOCALYPSE HAS NOT ENDED. The books continue to sell, continue to be backlisted. If it weren’t for the pain the industry is suffering as a whole, I’m sure I would have the rights for all the remaining installments safely tucked into bed. It’s the schedule I’m concerned about. And that’s it.

Last night, as I paddled about the edges of sleep, it struck me like a bolt: by expressing anxiety about the series I was in fact undermining confidence in it. This has got to be one of the most bizarre, and horrifically important, dimensions of human social behaviour–as well as the reason the markets continually slip the noose of mathematical regimentation: the way doubt and belief gust through mobs of people. This is the real, ‘power of positive thinking,’ the one economists are so anxious to track. When the New Age cheeseheads prattle away about the need to beam positivity out into the universe they aren’t entirely off their rocker: they’re simply taking a fact of human intercourse (our attraction to confidence and positivity) and turning it into a metaphysical principle, one that–happily enough–makes everyone responsible for whatever fortune or misery the roulette wheel of indifferent existence spins out.

That, my friends, is what all blogs with any commercial dimension whatsoever boil down to: a kind of confidence game. Not only is it inescapable, it’s absolutely essential, on a whole different variety of levels…

Now if only someone would tell Julian Assange as much.