I had not watched many Adam Curtis documentaries until the last week or so. I’m a bit impressionable, and I may have read a metafilter comment ten years ago that described him as more of a conspiracy theorist than he actually is. To make up for that deficit in understanding, I’ve watched many of the documentaries over the last week. His subjects align with my research interests in a number of ways.
Engaging Preliminaries When I wrote my last post about modeling Darko Suvin’s genres of Victorian science fiction, I did not have access to Suvin’s comprehensive bibliography. What can I say? The Louisiana State Library loaned me theirs, but it took a few days. I was forced to model the texts that Suvin claimed were not science fiction. While I could guess what many of the books that Suvin would admit to the Victorian SF canon were, I preferred to wait until I could see them in cold print before gathering them.
We are currently living in the era of John le Carré, if the attention given to the recent biography, memoir, and the television adaptation of his 1993 novel, The Night Manager, is any indication. I’m a long-time le Carré watcher. No adaptation will beat Thomas Alfredson’s film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as far as I’m concerned, especially not for capturing the weirdness of his plots and characterizations. Ian Buruma’s article covers the familiar (to le Carré scholars) territory of the image of the father in his various fiction.
You can’t go far in reading about science fiction’s genres without encountering the work of Darko Suvin. His Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is among the most widely cited and influential works in the field. Suvin published a reference work devoted to Victorian SF after that: Victorian Science Fiction in the UK. Two related articles appeared in Science Fiction Studies in 1979 and 1980: “On What Is and Is Not an SF Narration; With a List of 101 Victorian Books That Should Be Excluded from SF Bibliographies” and “Seventy-Four More Victorian Books That Should Be Excluded from Science Fiction Bibliographies”.
The Object Lessons series, edited by Christopher Schaberg and Ian Bogost, comprises small, attractive books on everyday things like dust and silence. I suppose that such movements as “object-oriented philosophy,” “thing theory,” and “no ideas but in things” lurk somewhere in the motivating background. But it’s a pragmatic, exploratory series as far as I can tell from reading one volume: Evan Kindley’s Questionnaire. I should go ahead and disclose that my pitches on the following objects were summarily rejected: corncobs crakes xerotherms affect Pausanias gently used copy of Lorraine Daston’s Objectivity deadlift (I bear no grudge.) I decided to read Kindley’s book because I knew that it contained some material on Francis Galton, as I’ve been writing about him myself.
I admit to certain vices. I’ve been on the internet for a very long time. I read science fiction, and not just for my academic work. I was reading usenet in the early 90s, often using a VAX cluster. So many of the stupendous concepts of 2016, ranging from “meme magic” to transhumanism, I’ve seen develop in slow-motion: one shitpost at a time. Probably the purest manifestation of cyberlibertarianism, however, is cryptocurrency.
Like many habitual internet users, I strongly believe that I have never bought anything advertised to me on the web, nor have any of these ads affected my behavior beyond momentary irritation. I sometimes take ad-blocking steps and am well aware of cookies, browser-entropy measures, and the wily IP address. My disdain for the so-called “Flash” plugin is complete. What, then, could a book primarily focused on the marketing models used by data scientists to target consumer behavior on the web tell me?
Michael Clune and I have several things in common: we’re about the same age (I’m a bit older), we’re both English professors, and we played many computer games during our youth, adolescence, graduate education, and perhaps even now. Gamelife: A Memoir is not so much about the games themselves but rather their formative effect on the author. Though I also spent many hours playing The Bard’s Tale II, Suspended, and few other games cognate to the ones Clune writes about (Ultima IV instead of III, Doom instead of Castle Wolfenstein, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri instead of Pirates!), they did not affect my lifeworld to the same extent.
Kieran Healy posted last year about “sleeping beauties” in philosophy—papers that went several years before receiving any citations but that ended up accumulating many. This pattern is unusual, as most papers receive a good amount of citations immediately and continue to do so (or the opposite). I think literary studies and history is less paper-driven than philosophy, and I would encourage everyone to read this for more context on citations in the humanities.
What Happens Let me first attempt to explain the plot of Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s second film. An entrepreneur has discovered that the worms who live in a certain orchid’s root matter have psychogenic properties. In particular, if ingested they induce a hypnotic state in which the subject is amenable to all suggestion. Teens are used for pharmacological testing, in apparent violation of many FDA regulations. The drug is manufactured first in pill form and distributed by the entrepreneur (referred to in the credits merely as “Thief”) in a night club, though the film does not reveal any flunitrazepam-like use.