bibliogramma: (Default)

Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Robert Silverberg, is one of the nominees for the 2017 Hugo awards in the Related Works category. It is a collection of interviews on a variety of subjects conducted by Zinos-Amaro with legendary sf writer Robert Silverberg.

In the Preface, Zinos-Amaro tells us that he became a devoted fan of Silverberg's work when he was still a teenager, an admiration that led to correspondence, then friendship, then a collaboration of sorts, in which Zinos-Amaro completed an unfinished novella by Silverberg, When the Blue Shift Comes. This long association, Zinos-Amaro suggests, was invaluable in helping him frame the interviews, based on his knowledge of Silverberg the writer snd Silverberg the man.

"Thus, while it is true in a literal sense that the conversations comprising Traveler of Worlds unfolded over four weekends in 2015, they were informed and shaped by years of deep, abiding curiosity about Silverberg’s art and life, his experiences, his attitudes and beliefs."

Each of the seven interviews is directed around a theme, but conducted with sufficient flexibility to embrace a variety of related thoughts. The first interview, titled "The Vividness of Landscape," explores Silverbergc's experiences as a world traveller, and how these influenced his work.

The next interview, "Aesthetics," which is one of the largest sections of the book, looks at Silverberg's ideas about writing as an artform - influences, theories, approaches to the structure and realisation of story, craft and technique - and art in general, from painting to opera, landscaping to film. The interview also devotes considerable time to Silverberg's assessment of many of the great writers of literature, including a longish discourse on various translations of Verne's works.

"In the Continuum" is a discussion of day-to day life for Silverberg, retired writer. In talking about his daily activities - professional, personal, and those shared with his wife Karen - Silverberg seems very conscious of the differences in his activities and schedules as a younger man, as someone still actively writing fiction as his job, and what he does now. At one point, he says: "Getting yourself to old age involves excusing yourself from a lot of things you once did. Saying, “I don’t need to do this,” or “I can’t do this, so don’t fool yourself into trying.” One by one, you let go of a lot of things that you formerly did. Or if you’re wise you do, instead of frantically running after them." This section also explores Silverberg's political views. He identifies himself as fiscally conservative - in the traditional sense, he accepts the idea that there should be some taxes, some regulation and some social network for the poor and disadvantaged - and socially libertarian, in that he rejects government intervention in non-economic matters. He has tended to support Republican politicians and expressed criticism of both Obama and Hilary Clinton. I wish I knew what he thinks of Trump.

The next section, "Enwonderment" takes its title from a word coined by Silverberg, who explains: "There are words like “empowerment” that are bandied about very freely, especially here in California. Enlightenment is also frequently heard. As well as I can remember this, I thought I would create “enwonderment” as a kind of analogous noun that explains what science fiction is supposed to do." In this section, Zinos-Amaro inquires about what things in his life have given Silverberg a sense of wonder, from his horticultural hobby to new developments in science, to, of course, science fiction and fantasy.

In "Libraries," Zinos-Amaro talks to Silverberg about libraries - the public and school libraries he frequented as a child and adolescent, the Columbia University library, the various international libraries he has visited as an adult, and his own personal library, which he began to seriously cultivate when as a working writer he had less time to spend doing reading and research outside his home. "So all through, from the Schenectady Avenue branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to my various school libraries—and I always took advantage of those—to the wonderfully sheltering high school library with the red leather banquettes, where I’d sit near a stained-glass window high above the quadrangle, to Columbia, libraries were always important to me. But when I became a professional writer I needed the time to work. I couldn’t spend my time commuting to libraries, especially as I got more and more remote from the nearest good library. I lived in Upper Manhattan, near Columbia, but I no longer had the stack pass, because I was no longer a student. Then I moved to a suburb where there was no library."

In the section titled "Potpourri," Zinos-Amaro poses Silverberg some questions submitted by fans as beginning points of conversation. A question about whether there is, or ever will be, a complete bibliography of all Silverberg's works in all genres, under all pseudonyms, leads to an anecdote about being investigated by the FBI for writing pornography. Silverberg also talks about what he considers to be good and bad writing, with examples from Thomas Hardy, Hemingway and Graham Green.

The final interview, "After the Myths Went Home," is devoted to Silverberg's responses to a question about "your perspective on age, and on what it’s like to look back on a professional writing career that’s lasted over six decades." The book concludes with a brief essay from Silverberg's wife, Karen Haber, about her life with Silverberg.

I enjoyed reading the interviews, seeing Silverberg's responses to some of Zinos-Amaro's questions, and came out with a sense of the man behind the books, although with a somewhat disjointed idea of the shape of his life. Worth reading for anyone who has enjoyed the works, and is curious about the man.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Gypsy is one of the latest additions to PM Press's remarkable Outspoken Authors series. As with previous volumes in the series, Gypsy contains several collected works a single author. This collection features selections from the works of eclectic writer Carter Sholtz, including the novella Gypsy, two bitingly funny satirical short stories, an essay on the ease with which the US and its corporations violate national and international law, and an interview conducted with Sholtz by Terry Bisson.

The novella Gypsy takes place in an unsettlingly familiar dystopic future - climate change, corporate greed, resource depletion, war and the collapse of civil society. It's gotten bad enough that an underground network of dissidents have managed, in secret, to cobble together a space ship that will be able - if everything goes right - to transport a small number of people to the Alpha Centauri system in the hopes of finding a livable planet. It's a desperate shot in the dark.... but letting the situation on earth continue without some attempt to create another place for humans to survive seems unthinkable.

This is not a happy story. It is unrealistic to expect that that everything would go right in such an endeavour, and this is, given the opening situation, a very realistic, hard sf story. But it is also a powerful story, and a thought-provoking one.

In addition to the novella, the other pieces in the collection are well worth reading. I particularly enjoyed "Bad Pennies," a wicked satire on the American penchant for meddling in other countries' business and for doing business at whatever cost.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Ursula Le Guin is one of the great writers of our time. I've been avidly reading her work for most of my life, I've grown up to become the woman, the feminist, the lover of books that I am today with my mind and passions fueled by the wide-ranging Hainish stories, the wonders of Earthsea, the unforgettable vision of the child in the cellar of Omelas, the challenge to established notions of gender posed by the people of Gethen (Winter), the ambiguous utopia of Anarres, the fascinating future of the Kesh, the recovered life of Lavinia, the annals of the Western Shore, and so many more worlds that Le Guin held open for us.

I love reading her work, and I love reading about her work and the life and mind behind that work. Recently, I've read two books that encouraged me to look at Le Guin's writing, and my relationship to it, in terms of its progression and change over time. First, a collection of interviews with Le Guin, gleaned from the past and covering most of her life as a published author, and second, an analysis of Le Guin's work from a feminist perspective, which examines how her work changes as she engages with feminist theory, and expressed her own developing feminist awareness.

Carl Freedman (ed.), Conversations with Ursula K. Leguin

This collection of ten interviews conducted with Ursula Le Guin by various people between 1980 and 2006, including one by the editor himself, gives the reader insight into Le Guin's thinking about writing - both her own and the craft itself - and many other subjects relevant to her life and work. I found these interviews quite fascinating to read, not just because they illuminate key aspects of a remarkable author's career, but also because Le Guin gives very good interviews. As editor Carl Freedman notes:
Le Guin takes every interview not as an opportunity to recapitulate long-held views but as an occasion for authentic intellectual discourse, with all the unpredictability that this implies and all the attendant dialectical give-and-take. She never hesitates to challenge an interviewer's assumptions when they seem to her to be inadequate to the issues at hand, and at least some interviewers return the compliment - that of conceptual seriousness - by issuing challenges of their own. The fundamental project of a Le Guin interview is learning, on the part of both parties to the interview and, of course, of the reader as well; and the topics about which one can learn are varied indeed, from U.S. foreign policy to the history of architecture, and much else besides.
this volume is, I think, an important piece for anyone interested not only in Le Guin's writings, but in what lies behind - and beyond - them.

Amy Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin's Journey to Post-Feminism

Amy Clarke has produced in this volume the first full-length examination of Le Guin's changing understanding and expression of feminism as seen through her work. As reviewer Sandra J. Lidnow comments in Science Fiction Studies,
This succinctly written book represents a thorough reading of Le Guin’s work and traces the evolution of her feminist thought from early in her career, when she professed to her mother, Theodora Kroeber, that she did not know how to write about women, to the present when Le Guin, along with authors such as Joanna Russ and Pamela Sargent, are acclaimed as the most influential speculative writers to have explored gender. (
That aspect of the book is exciting and wonderful and makes it well worth reading. However, i feel a need to talk about the whole "post-feminist" element of Clarke's thesis for a bit.

Post-feminism is a tricky topic. It suggests a way of thinking that, while influenced by feminism, is no longer in need of feminist theory, analysis or praxis. It says "it's time to move beyond feminism" and leaves open to the listener the reasons why this might be so. Post-feminists, it is sometimes argued, don't want to exclude men, the way feminists did. They are pro-sex, unlike the oddly prudish second wave feminists. They are conscious of diversity and intersectionality in ways feminists never dreamed of. As Clarke says, quoting Ann Brooks's Postfeminisms: is both porous and comprehensive, a "non-hegemonic feminism capable of giving voice to local, indigenous and post-colonial feminisms." The post-feminist embrace extends as well to theories like post-structuralism, especially in rejecting singular, master narratives and instead seeking out the individual story, accepting multiple points of view. Unlike the story-telling of the early women's movement used in consciousness-raising sessions, the goal is not collectivity by seeking sameness, but instead by accepting difference. Along those lines, post-feminism rejects the essentialism inherent in much feminist theory. Taking lessons from gender studies, post-feminism is more male-inclusive, building as it does on a belief that gender lies upon a continuum. This inclusiveness extends to matters of personal choice as well, including those of work, dress and sexual practices.
This is where my problem comes in, because unlike most post-feminists, I was there when the second wave got rolling, and it was never as homogenous as these critiques suggest. We knew we were at the beginning of a long period of analysis and theory-making, and that much of our early ad hoc thinking would evolve. Among us were women of colour, women of varied sexual inclinations, trans and passing women, proud sex workers and even (gasp) men. Many of us were sex-positive from the word go, we simply wanted to be sure that it was our sexuality we were being positive about, not a patriarchal society's self-serving master narrative about what our sexuality ought to be. Many of us questioned essentialist thinking from the beginning, and found it wanting. It sometimes seems to me that what those who make these critiques are reacting to is not second wave feminism itself, but second wave feminism as seen distorted in the lens held up by its enemies.

So.... I must ask, are we speaking of our (Le Guin's and other feminists') journey to post-feminism, or our journey to a mature and evolved feminism? My view is more the latter, and it is with that observation - and reservation - that I read, and now comment upon, Clarke's work.

Clarke's thesis, as stated in her Introduction, is that Le Guin's writing has been profoundly shaped by feminist theory, and has in turn contributed to the growing body of feminist literature.
Le ​Guin ​has ​also ​been ​a ​central ​figure ​in ​feminist ​theory. ​She ​has ​frequently ​said ​that ​her ​writing ​was ​utterly ​reshaped ​by ​a ​feminist ​awakening ​she ​experienced ​in ​the ​late ​seventies ​when ​she responded ​to ​criticisms ​that ​her ​work ​was ​anti-feminist ​by ​immersing ​herself ​in ​the ​feminist ​debate. ​ ​Once ​having ​accepted ​feminist ​principles, ​Le ​Guin ​evolved ​a ​poetics ​of ​non-linear ​narrative, ​emphasizing ​"female" ​values ​and ​experimentation ​with ​language ​and ​syntax.
This thesis is presented through an extensive analysis of Le Guin's work, including not only her speculative fiction, but also her non-genre fiction, her poetry, and her essays (although I must add that relatively less attention is paid to Le Guin's more recent work, including Lavinia and the three-volume Annals of the Western Shore). Clarke also draws on interviews, including her own conversations with Le Guin about her work and process.

Clarke sees LeGuin's career as a writer engaged and engaging with feminist theory as divided into stages (with some overlap); in her book, she devotes one chapter to each stage. The first stage encompasses all of her early work, including The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and is characterised by Clarke as a highly productive period in which Le Guin seeks to maintain “good manners” while still producing work which challenges the social order, a period in which she is clearly writing within a literary tradition based on male writing, but is exploring the social position of women and subverting the traditional image of the male hero. Clarke argues, in reference to early feminist criticism of Le Guin's works in this period, that "she ​was ​never ​as ​tradition-bound ​and ​
hero-oriented ​as ​has ​been ​described. ​In ​fact, ​with ​The ​Left ​Hand ​of ​Darkness ​and ​The ​Dispossessed, ​she ​was ​an ​early ​feminist ​voice ​even ​before ​she ​aligned ​herself ​with ​the ​movement."​

Clarke's analysis locates the second stage of Le Guin's journey as a period of reaction and re-evaluation, in which she produces (relatively) little original work and begins to "question her relation to gender issues and the literary tradition, to consider her art through a feminist prism."

By the middle of the 1980s, Clarke argues, Le Guin has entered a third stage in which her work becomes both more experimental and more explicitly feminist. She explores ways of storytelling that focus on non-hierarchical relationships and the patterns of women's lives, or that challenge the idea of linear narrative altogether. In this period, Le Guin incorporates into her writing the feminist literary theory of women such as Helen Cixous and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "writing the body" and "beyond the ending." Her approach to fiction altered by her deep engagement with feminist thought, Le Guin writes women and women's magic into Earthsea, explores women's varied experiences in the linked stories of Searoad, and produces the profoundly experimental and women-centred Always Coming Home. In assessing Le Guin's work of this period, Clarke notes that
In "Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire?" she suggests that we tell stories as a way of constructing reality, of making ourselves understand both that we do exist and offering explanations for why we exist. If we tell stories about men only, feminist theory has taught her, women will not exist. Her writing in this period has been in the service of women, telling their stories. What she has learned from feminism, are ways in which to narrate the lives that do not fit in men's stories.
It is following this period, which Clarke characterises as "high feminist," that she sees Le Guin moving into what she variously calls post-feminism and next-stage feminism (a conceptual tag that I prefer).

Examining the differences in both subject and style that separate Le Guin's work in the 1990s from that of her experimental period, Clarke asks
Having ​
followed ​the ​feminist ​tide, ​does ​she ​now ​emerge ​as ​post-feminist? ​Can ​she ​help ​us ​define ​this ​still ​ambiguous ​term? ​I ​argue ​that ​Le ​Guin ​has ​in ​fact ​moved ​into ​next-stage ​feminism. ​​Her ​return ​to ​the ​imaginary ​lands ​of ​her ​earlier ​writing ​is ​marked ​not ​by ​feminist ​essentialism ​and ​narrative ​experimentation, ​but ​by ​her ​seeming ​rapprochement ​with ​traditional ​forms. ​Her ​recent ​writings ​represent ​Le ​Guin ​at ​another ​artistic ​height, ​but ​they ​also ​indicate ​a ​narrative ​journey ​back ​to ​her ​own ​beginnings, ​her ​own ​"native" ​
content ​and ​style. ​Yet, ​she ​returns ​with ​the ​express ​aim ​of ​shifting ​paradigms ​and ​breaking ​with ​the ​literary ​rules ​of ​engagement, ​a ​legacy ​of ​her ​feminist ​empowerment.
According to Clarke, the hallmarks of this next-stage feminism in Le Guin's writing are greater inclusivity, an engagement with post-colonialism (though I would suggest that through her anthropological perspective, Le Guin was exploring post-colonial narratives well before they were identified as such) and post-modernism (particularly in its valuing of multiple narratives over master narratives), and a return to less experimental styles. In this period, Le Guin continues the project begun with Tehanu, writing women and other non-privileged voices into her prior creations, including the Hainish and Earthsea universes.

While Clarke attempts to equate this shift to a post-feminist stance on the part of Le Guin, she acknowledges that Le Guin herself has not embraced that label for herself and her work.
in Le Guin's world, true journey is return and her evolution into postfeminism marks a spiral trajectory, nearly coming back to origins. She does not reject her feminism but builds it into her mental architecture in a way that makes it seem second nature, so that the writing that springs from it seems more organic. But she moves on from some of the fervor of high feminism, including its experimentalism, essentialism and exclusion. Le Guin has not engaged in discussions of post-feminism. Nonetheless her work of this period shows a clear backing away from the experimental non-linear narratives of her high feminist period. She is certainly assessing the lot of men differently as well. ... There is less universalising of the male experience; more dimensionality and more recognition that men can be as constrained by social roles as women.
As much as I enjoyed Clarke's detailed analysis of Le Guin's works, and the ways in which they embody the feminist process, here is where I (and other feminist reviewers) part company with her thesis. As Sharon de Graw notes in her review, "Given Le Guin's extensive critical and fictional interactions with feminism, some weight should be given to the fact the she has not explicitly disengaged herself from the term feminist nor specifically identified herself with post-feminism in these contexts. (

Given that Le Guin's place in literature is well-secured, the fact of her very public espousal of feminist theory and concerns in her work is an important area of criticism, and this book is a good beginning to that project; I hope to see more feminist analysis of her work in the future.

bibliogramma: (Default)
Power, Politics and Culture: Interviews with Edward W. Said, edited by Gauri Viswanathan

This is a fascinating collection of 19 interviews with Edward W Said, conducted between 1976 and 2000 and published in a variety of scholarly and other venues. Through these interviews, it is possible to follow the development of Said’s scholarship and his political activism, as they illuminate the range, penetration and passions in Said’s intellectual and public life.

Editor Gavri Viswanathan puts it best in her introduction:
The interviews Said gave over the past three decades boldly announce that neither his own books and essays nor those written about him have the last word. The first thing to note is not only th number of interviews Said has given, both to print and broadcast media, but also the number of locations in which they took place, spanning Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe and the United States. They confirm his presence on the world stage as one of the most forceful public intellectuals of our time, a man who evokes interest in the general public for his passionate humanism, his cultivation and erudition, his provocative views and his unswerving commitment to the cause of Palestinian self-determination... Together, [these interviews] reveal a ceaselessly roving mind returning to earlier ideas in his books and novels and engaging with them anew. One measure of the fluidity and range of Said’s thought is his ability to revisit arguments made in his books and essays, not merely to defend and elaborate on them but, more important, both to mark their limits and probe their extended possibilities, especially in contexts other than those which first gave rise to them.
Said’s topics range from discourses on the development of his own work, particularly on Orientalism and post-colonial theory, to ruminations on his childhood and how it affects his sense of self in the world, to his political activism and evolving relationship with the PLO, to reflections on other authors and areas from Austen, Conrad, Naipaul and Rushdie to Derrida and Foucault.

There’s a wealth of thought in these interviews, well worth savouring.


bibliogramma: (Default)

October 2017

1 234567
8 91011121314
151617181920 21


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 24th, 2017 09:33 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios