:: Nonfiction archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

Reports from Latin America published 01/03/2014

The first thing I did when I learned I was coming to Latin America was to draw up battle plans for my political novel set between there and the UK. I researched the writers I wanted to read and learn about (Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Chile’s two Nobel Prize winners foremost amongst them, but especially the master of wild late 20th and early 21st century fiction, Roberto Bolaño), listed places of interest (the Andes, Casa Rosada, Terra del Fuego, the Atamacama desert), and researched the museums and archives (Biblioteca Nacional de Chile, Neruda’s museum in Valparaiso, Gabriela Mistral’s hometown in the Elqui Valley). I had a title, Once a Great Leader, and a concept. I even had a beginning. All of which, my quote reminded me, might not last to the end of the flight across the Atlantic. Which is fine, as long as you breathe deeply, don’t expect a pregnancy to last three weeks, and learn to make plans as you go.

Rodge Glass‘ reports from Chile for 3:AM, as he researches his novel-in-progress, Once a Great Leader.

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Cover Letter published 22/02/2014

Vagueness like this serves programs in creative writing that are built around the development and exploitation of cults of personality in “popular” professors and in “star” students (the ones who have “it” when they walk in the door). In such programs students sign up for courses “with Professor (name),” not courses “in (technique).” Such programs consider it inappropriate to require Professor (name) to address any particular subject matter; they also typically abstain from requiring students to acquire any particular skill or fluency. Might such policies stem from the lack of criticality suggested by the wording above, where at a relatively early stage of their coursework (e.g. “intermediate”), students are expected to be producing “poetry”? A more realistic view of writing must allow that the very best literary artists mainly fail to write anything remotely so good as “poetry.”

By Daniel Bosch.

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ZOMBIES ‘R’ US published 12/02/2014

Increasingly the zombie has come to figure as a fateful symbol for the mass of subjectiveless techno-humans under capitalism, lumpen, nightmarish non-beings whose otherness has been completely internalised, then smoothed out and returned minus interest as soulless entertainment; not so much undead as hypermediated and alive under severe globalised constraint; couch potatoes sorely afflicted by ‘breathing corpse syndrome’ or ‘partially deceased syndrome’. Hypocrite voyeur do you recognise yourself?

Michael Hampton ponders Zombies.

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Post-National Me published 07/02/2014

I had no idea this had been said about Bolaño, and the article didn’t say who’d first used the phrase ‘post-national fiction’. But immediately my ears pricked up. I had that experience so many of us do when we find that particular book, or story, or writer, who touches a nerve so strong that it feels as if it covers us completely. Like our whole bodies have morphed into a funny bone and the world has briefly come, even just for a second, sharp into focus. I read this line about Bolaño and thought: that’s me! I’m post-national! Or at least, I desperately want to be! I’d not thought it through yet but the sentence hit me in the gut, and it did so because like every other writer, everywhere, ever, I’m obsessed with myself.

By Rodge Glass.

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William Burroughs and the Dreamscapes of the Dalai Lama published 05/02/2014

The dark satires of William S. Burroughs deal, above all, with overcoming the limits of ordinary consciousness through word-as-virus, drugs, magic, sex, telepathy, writing, and, of course, dream. Back in 1962, Burroughs was famously praised by Norman Mailer as ‘The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.’ Neither Mailer nor Burroughs is alive today. If Burroughs were alive, he would be a centenarian. He was born on February 5th, 1914. His writing intersected with my life in 1970, when I was sixteen: Naked Lunch was like a depth charge in the mind-stream.

An essay by Des Barry, to mark William Burroughs‘ 100th birthday.

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Neither Scylla nor Charybdis: Gauging Crisis published 27/01/2014

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While Alex Rosenberg suggests that literary scholars have overextended their expertise by trying to read literature into science (or science into literature) without a real understanding of what science is, William Deresiewicz’s scathing article decries the reductionist reading (and what historians would refer to as ‘upstreaming’ or a whiggish interpretation of history) performed by a political scientist and science writer seen as not possessing a sufficient understanding of literature—nor, probably, of history. The problem with Rosenberg and Deresiewicz is the way in which they rush to pass judgment, using a few straw man examples (and an effort at disciplinary gate-keeping in the case of Rosenberg) to condemn entire areas of scholarship.

By Clarissa Lee.

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What Does Literature Know? published 24/01/2014

Alex Rosenberg’s diagnosis of the ills of the humanities is in fact aimed at literature departments, which he describes as suffering from “self-inflicted wounds.” But his confident attack on literary studies reveals a basic ignorance of the field. The one book he refers to as exemplary of the failures of literary research — Proust Was a Neuroscientist — was written not by a literature professor, but by a journalist subsequently discredited for plagiarism. Rosenberg’s claim that women and minority authors have shoved out the classics in English curricula is untrue in every department with which I am familiar. (We teach Phyllis Wheatly alongside Walt Whitman; Shakespeare’s stock has never been higher.) Finally, Rosenberg’s suggestion that humanities majors are in sharp and recent decline is misleading. While there was a big drop in the mid-seventies, for the past three decades the percentage of B.A.’s who receive English degrees has been stable.

Michael W. Clune responds to Alex Rosenberg.

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Ich bin ein Dandy published 22/01/2014

So, what is a dandy? In some respects, dandyism is a form of magic, or at least it requires a certain amount of magical thinking. Many dandyish affectations (smoking a pipe, drinking absinthe, wearing a cravat) involve a ritualistic set of activities, performed largely in private, with the aim of altering the consciousness of the participant. A well-tailored suit, the right pair of shoes or accessory, can confer a profound feeling of calm, confidence or wellbeing in the wearer as much as any concoction of herbs brewed up in a cauldron. Perhaps it is easier to identify dandyism than it is to define it. Sartorial elegance is clearly a requirement; the dandy must dress with a unique twist, develop a trademark, whether it be Oscar Wilde’s green carnation or Gerard de Nerval’s pet lobster, which he would walk on a lead through the Palais Royal gardens in Paris.

By Thom Cuell.

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Dead Mentors Talk: The pop world of Ballard and Burroughs published 14/01/2014

It is perhaps easy enough to see why Ballard/Burroughs might sate the avant-garde yearnings of that minority in the pop world who seek to reach beyond the sex and sentimentality of the genre’s early lyrics. The pair seemed to share an alluring aesthetic: alien and alienating whilst revelling in earthly trappings, a solipsistic individualism and a belief that reality is not all that it seems. Savage, stark, amoral, relentlessly transgressive, dismissive of conventional love and sex alike. Both used elements of science fiction whilst managing to transcend the presumed gaucheness of the space-bound clichés of the genre. Profoundly urban, like pop, the pair dwelt in high rises and retail parks, drugstores and alleyways. Completely lawless, like rock (or rather rock’s projected image), the characters in their work reject societal niceties and conventions far more completely than the seediest hoodlum you might find in crime literature.

By Ben Granger.

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What Colour is Time? Derek Jarman’s Soho published 12/01/2014

In 1984, the year when Derek Jarman took a lease on a studio flat in Phoenix House, above the Phoenix Theatre off Charing Cross Road, a compactly minuscule, but functional base, the uncurtained window set like a grid framing the Soho skyline, I associate time then with aqueous white rain skies over Leicester Square, and as candy coloured stripes: pink and white, maroon and grey, pistachio and russet bands according to my abstract notation of big city seasons.

Jeremy Reed recalls Derek Jarman‘s Soho for 3:AM.

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