What I read

  • Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirlees. I loved it despite Neil Gaiman’s cover blurb and introduction. The writing is beautiful, the mystery is good, but most of all this is a very witty and sharp book. It occurs to me that this book does exactly what I want all the fantasy I read to do: not create a new world with new rules and laws and systems of magic, but rather to create a world that helps me think about the absurdity and arbitrariness of the rules and laws and systems of my own world. Mirlees is so good about protraying the ways in which institutions and governing bodies attempt to construct a reality by literally rendering the stuff they don’t like as illegible and unsayable.

  • Vols. 5 and 6 of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha. This is one of the best comics I’ve ever read. I’m intentionally going more slowly through the final two volumes now because I want this to last, and I want to take my time.

  • The Threadbare Coat, a collection of poetry by Thomas A. Clarke. Clarke has this magic ability to write a poem that somehow undoes itself as poem and instead stretches out and almost touches the thing itself. For Clarke a poem about a branch is very nearly and almost that branch.

  • Ursula Le Guin’s Planet of Exile. I’m slowly working my way through early Le Guin. This one is less of a mess than its predecessor, Rocannon’s World, but still not the kind of brilliant/beautiful work that Le Guin will soon start to produce. What I can see in this story is the emerging emphasis on ordinariness amidst the extraordinary that, e.g., her Earthsea books do so well. And I can also see a rapidly improving ability to focus on interpersonal relationships as a source of storytelling. What this novel does that doesn’t work so well for me is to set the aforementioned within a fairly rudimentary and ultimately non-essential secondary world with lots of BIG PLOT and BIG RULES. Later novels like The Word for World is Forest and The Left Hand of Darkness are much better of making the world and its quirks essential to the stories and matters at hand. Here, we have both story telling and stuff happening.

What I watched

  • We started to watch James Gunn’s newest installment in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and gave up less than a third of the way in. I adore the first film and generally like the second, but I really am increasinlgy out of patience with Marvel, and by extension, Disney. The jokes here are a little too screamy, sometimes a little too mean, the needledrops are garnishes rather than part of the main course (James Gunn has spoken about how the soundtrack for vol 1 was mostly in place before writing happened, and he wrote the script to the soundtrack). There are so many guns. There are so many instances of people holding guns, and yelling, and pointing the guns at other people while yelling. There is so much tactical gear (here’s a discouraging and dispiriting exercise to undertake: watch every Marvel film in order by release date and tally up how much time people spend wearing tactical gear and holding guns vs not for each film), even if that tactical gear is absurd and organic-based rather than inorganic.
    • I do appreciate that in this space adventure we get to see interesting takes on technology such as the gross and fleshy organic tech of the Evil Corporation. But it is a bit too gross for my tastes, and at the end of the day, I’m just not interested in watching more conflicts that are characterized by people holding weapons, screaming, pointing weapons at each other while screaming, and shooting weapons at each other.

    • It’s not that I don’t want to see violence at all. I just wish we could be more creative about what else could happen beyond holding and aiming and shooting weaponry. What other forms can a major conflict take? What else does danger look like? What can heroism and cowardice look like? What else can a breakdown of the social contract look like? (Remember at the end of Vol. 1 when Starlord defeats the Bad Guy by dancing and then Groot saves everybody by saying “We” instead of “I”?) If, when we imagine what would happen when the Stakes Are High or the Disagreements Are Great, all that comes to mind is yelling and holding weapons and shooting and screaming, then increasingly in real life when the Stakes Are High and the Disagreements Are Great our training and preparation will have been for shouting and holding weapons and shooting them.

    • I didn’t watch this film to the end, and I’m sure there is more in it that I would love or appreciate or find thoughtful. I like James Gunn and I like this cast (Nathan Fillion!!!!) and the production is obviously lavish. I can see, for instance, what Gunn is doing with Rocket’s origin story and I do respect that and I would like to see how that ends. But I’m so tired of shoot outs.

What I listened to

  • Sourdure - De Bon Astre. This album is hilarious and fun and so so good.
  • Thuja. What a magical band. I’m grateful to my friend Niall for telling me about them this month. Sparse and careful and very very thoughtful improvised music. Pine Cone Temples got me hooked.
  • I spent some time revisiting a post-hardcore classic from my youth: Daniel Striped Tiger’s swansong No Difference.

What I did

  • I started cycling to work instead of walking, having finally built up enough courage to do so. Having grown up in a rural place where they drive on the right side of the road, it took me a long time to get comfortable with city-biking on the left-hand side.
  • We took a day trip out to Howth, and it was beautiful.

What I made

  • I revised and re-posted an older piece of writing about the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. I’m considering a larger project around his work that I may begin to develop on this website.