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Posts Tagged ‘Ted English’

Love in Infant Monkeys, Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press) $13.95

With Love in Infant Monkeys, Lydia Millet offers a fresh collection of 10 short stories that each focus on relationships between animals and celebrities. While each story has some basic root in truth, Millet takes plenty of  liberties that keep the stories engaging, often blurring the line between fact and fiction. Although animals certainly play crucial roles in each story, Millet appears more concerned with what their interactions with people reveal about human behavior and psychology.

Love in Infant Monkeys collects a broad range of bizarre characters, odd circumstances, and varying human emotions: from a disheartened, wealthy dog walker upset at the care of David Hasselhoff’s dachshund Sir Henry to a psychologist reminiscing with Jimmy Carter about the president’s run in with a killer swamp rabbit to Nikoli Tesla’s deep friendships with pigeons to an unsettled Noam Chomsky trying to find a suitable owner for his grandaughter’s gerbil cage.

Some stories in Millet’s collection lampoon celebrity culture and criticizing society’s frequent worship of the famous. In “Sexing the Pheasant” for instance, Madonna’s self-absorbed thoughts are revealed to the reader through an inner monologue as she stares at a dying pheasant she shot in the English countryside. As she continually reminds herself to use British terms—“When it came to pheasants, they called them hens and roosters. (Good work, self.)”—we glimpse the highest level of pretentiousness: “Not your fault if your reflection reminded you of all that was sacred, all that was divine and holy.” Madonna’s musings ring true, though uncomfortable: “The fans worshiped you because they needed something—well, what were you supposed to do? Well, prostrate yourself before the Infinite. Clearly.”

Other stories offer beautiful glimpses into love, nurture, guilt, and obsession. “Thomas Edison and Vasil Golakov” recounts Edison’s compulsive habit of watching film footage of an execution he helped perform on an elephant named Topsey. While watching and rewatching the killing, Edison “appears to have conducted philosophical debates with the moving image, defending a rational humanism for which the roasting elephant berated him.” Edison loudly tells the elephant “I am Man. Man has his own destiny!… Impractical, I’m afraid. Exhumation and shipping alone… I have no time for messing about your bones, my stubborn pachyderm… Commonality?” In the title story Millet questions the differences that separate humans from animals. Because of Millet’s talent at writing poignant prose, I couldn’t help but feel sad and frightened for the baby monkeys she describes who, in Harry Harlow’s now famous experiments, are deprived of all nurture and attention. Describing one of the baby monkeys, Millet writes, “Not a spark animated the creature. Finally given up. Now broken. Her spindly arms hung loose from the sockets, doing nothing. Hunched little figure, staring. Nothing there. It had gone.”

Throughout the collection Millet displays a clear talent for crafting readable stories that manage both to entertain and provoke thought about an array of philosophical questions. By deploying a variety of literary styles and tones, each story also manages its own pace, and that keeps the collection from becoming monotonous. Lydia Millet takes an unusual premise for a short story collection, the intersections between celebrities and animals, and pulls off a deeply engaging and entertaining read.

Ted English studies English, from the plains of Oklahoma to the hills of Italy.

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Because of The Haunted House, The Gifts of the Body, and The End of Youth, Rebecca Brown’s writings have been regarded by many as some of the greatest contributions to contemporary gay and lesbian literature.
An activist, teacher and community organizer, Brown has used a variety of mediums to project her voice, including composing the libretto for the dance opera The Onion Twins, working with painter Nancy Kiefer on a book Woman in Ill Fitting Wig, and developing the original two-act play The Toaster. In her most recent work, American ROMANCES, Brown presents a collection of unusual essays that explore the idea of what it means to be American.
At moments reading the American ROMANCES can seem disorienting. Brown intertwines pop culture, autobiography, literary and cinematic history, drawing upon everything from John Wayne’s personal life to Gertrude Stein’s infatuation with the Oreo to the author’s own adolescent struggle with Christian faith to illustrate her ideas. Yet, while using a hybrid of genres, she always manages to connect her histories/memories/stories to a larger idea of what makes America the way it is. The result of Brown’s work is an entertaining journey into seeing in unlikely places how:
American mainstream culture derives from these sources: England (our official language and laws); race warfare (killing the Natives to take the land; building an entire economy on slave labor); and religious fanaticism (the Puritans and everything created in opposition to them, such rock ‘n’ roll, feminism, sex for anything other than babies):  and the public confession by which we try to both explain everything and explain everything else away.
An intense read, Brown’s activist voice does leaks out in certain places. As when, after describing Ellison’s Invisible Man, Brown states “How many times do we have to go through this invisiblilizng of others?  When are we vermin going to get that we’re all here, we’re all queer (or colored or weird or different) and just get used to it”. However, throughout the essays, Brown maintains a mostly playful tone while she makes interesting historical connections and often dips into her deeply personal past.
For example, she draws comparisons between author Nathanial Hawthorne and beach boy musician Brian Wilson (who grew up in the California suburb of Hawthorne) as a springboard for exploring some thoughts on what constitutes the American spirit.
Viewing Nathaniel Hawthorne as a symbol of East Coast Puritanism, she retells how the Puritans came to new soil as an act of defiance, to set up a new way of life, “Oh, the sins of the fathers! Oh, the visitations upon the sons! The dream of America! The nightmare, the horror, the hope.” The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson then stands as an icon of West Coast Hedonism. While the culture of the West Coast has in many ways formed as a reaction against Puritanism, ultimately both share a common spirit of rebellion and exploration. “The Puritans dreamt of the City on the Hill and came to the New World to build it. Then when it went to hell their sons and sons of sons went west, and daughters, too… And so, to California they went”.
Later, when recounting her early years as a fundamentalist Christian and her break from faith, Brown recognizes that her own life has, at times embodied both Puritanism and the West Coast spirit.  She describes how by the time college came she had rejected her religious past, but that at the same time she also felt that “Part of me also missed it. I missed having faith in something and believing things could turn out right over time”. Here, Brown draws up another important thread that runs throughout American ROMANCES: how nostalgia, an idealized romance of the past, and a rejection of history has all shaped American into what it is.
Whether she’s being tragic or funny—and she sometimes is both simultaneously—Brown always points her essays back to poignant conclusions. Describing her fundamentalist past she writes, “Now I think that words can be a way to point toward God, and a story, like the Christian one, can tell, in a way I understand, about encountering a God who always was and is and does not need our telling.”
Throughout the rest of the collection, Brown writes in a variety of registers, from informal conversation to the detailed scholarly history to something near poetry. This helps keep the piece engaging and fresh.

Ultimately, American ROMANCES offers bold reflection on the complicated question of trying to figure out just what is and isn’t American. Rebecca Brown has written a fun and powerful book that balances its insight with entertainment.

Ameri

American ROMANCES, Rebecca Brown. (City Lights) $16.95

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Because of The Haunted House, The Gifts of the Body, and The End of Youth, Rebecca Brown’s writings have been regarded by many as some of the greatest contributions to contemporary gay and lesbian literature.

An activist, teacher and community organizer, Brown has used a variety of mediums to project her voice, including composing the libretto for the dance opera The Onion Twins, working with painter Nancy Kiefer on a book Woman in Ill-Fitting Wig, and developing the original two-act play The Toaster. In her most recent work, American ROMANCES, Brown presents a collection of unusual essays that explore the idea of what it means to be American.

At moments reading the American ROMANCES can seem disorienting. Brown intertwines pop culture, autobiography, literary and cinematic history, drawing upon everything from John Wayne’s personal life to Gertrude Stein’s infatuation with the Oreo to the author’s own adolescent struggle with Christian faith to illustrate her ideas. Yet, while using a hybrid of genres, she always manages to connect her histories/memories/stories to a larger idea of what makes America the way it is. The result of Brown’s work is an entertaining journey into seeing in unlikely places how:

American mainstream culture derives from these sources: England (our official language and laws); race warfare (killing the Natives to take the land; building an entire economy on slave labor); and religious fanaticism (the Puritans and everything created in opposition to them, such rock ‘n’ roll, feminism, sex for anything other than babies):  and the public confession by which we try to both explain everything and explain everything else away.

An intense read, Brown’s activist voice does leaks out in certain places. As when, after describing Ellison’s Invisible Man, Brown states “How many times do we have to go through this invisiblilizng of others?  When are we vermin going to get that we’re all here, we’re all queer (or colored or weird or different) and just get used to it”. However, throughout the essays, Brown maintains a mostly playful tone while she makes interesting historical connections and often dips into her deeply personal past.

For example, she draws comparisons between author Nathanial Hawthorne and beach boy musician Brian Wilson (who grew up in the California suburb of Hawthorne) as a springboard for exploring some thoughts on what constitutes the American spirit.

Viewing Nathaniel Hawthorne as a symbol of East Coast Puritanism, she retells how the Puritans came to new soil as an act of defiance, to set up a new way of life, “Oh, the sins of the fathers! Oh, the visitations upon the sons! The dream of America! The nightmare, the horror, the hope.” The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson then stands as an icon of West Coast Hedonism. While the culture of the West Coast has in many ways formed as a reaction against Puritanism, ultimately both share a common spirit of rebellion and exploration. “The Puritans dreamt of the City on the Hill and came to the New World to build it. Then when it went to hell their sons and sons of sons went west, and daughters, too… And so, to California they went”.

Later, when recounting her early years as a fundamentalist Christian and her break from faith, Brown recognizes that her own life has, at times embodied both Puritanism and the West Coast spirit.  She describes how by the time college came she had rejected her religious past, but that at the same time she also felt that “Part of me also missed it. I missed having faith in something and believing things could turn out right over time”. Here, Brown draws up another important thread that runs throughout American ROMANCES: how nostalgia, an idealized romance of the past, and a rejection of history has all shaped America into what it is.

Whether she’s being tragic or funny—and she sometimes is both simultaneously—Brown always points her essays back to poignant conclusions. Describing her fundamentalist past she writes, “Now I think that words can be a way to point toward God, and a story, like the Christian one, can tell, in a way I understand, about encountering a God who always was and is and does not need our telling.”

Throughout the rest of the collection, Brown writes in a variety of registers, from informal conversation to the detailed scholarly history to something near poetry. This helps keep the piece engaging and fresh.

Ultimately, American ROMANCES offers bold reflection on the complicated question of trying to figure out just what is and isn’t American. Rebecca Brown has written a fun and powerful book that balances its insight with entertainment.

Ted English is a teacher of first-year composition and a graduate student of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma

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An Atlas of Radical Cartography, ed. Alexis Bhagat & Lize Mogel. (Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press) $35.00

If healthy social change on any level requires both informed understandings of problems and realistic strategies to form solutions, what tools can be used to illuminate social ills and offer feasible resolutions? How about maps? 

As An Atlas of Radical Cartography suggests, all maps contain political agendas, often behind a facade of objectivity.  Maps have both the power to reshape conventional thinking and facilitate plans for change.

Exploiting the incredible power of maps, An Atlas of Radical Cartography offers a collection of ten politically engaging maps with accompanying essays. All the authors are activists in specialized fields, and together their work of maps and essays cover a range of issues from identity, migration, land use, energy and imprisonment. The difference between these radical cartographers and most mapmakers:  these “wear their politics on their sleeves.”

applied_autonomy_1While dealing with serious issues, the authors carefully craft their works in engaging ways, often shedding light on alarming and underreported issues. The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA), for example, provides a map of the many CCTV surveillance cameras that sprang up around Manhattan since 9/11. They bring attention to the question of the overabundance of watchdogs, and show routes of least surveillance around the New York island.  In a separate work, Trevor Palen, conversing with the organization Visible Collective, describes John Emerson’s CIA Rendition Flights between 2001 to 2006.  Palen details his field research on “torture taxis,” the planes the CIA used to move illegal detainees.

 

pedro_lasch_1Other works use a biting sense of humor to illustrate their points.  Pedro Lasch in his map and article “Latino/a America” envisions the Americas without any boundaries. He discusses how a map can show traces of immigrants travels. His work explores how globalization enforces boundaries to loosen the flow of capital while preventing  movement of people.

As the authors of An Atlas of Radical Cartography focus more on exploring social relations than geography per se, some writers map topics instead of physical space.  Ashley Hunts; “A World Map: In which we see” maps a thought diagram of contemporary capitalism and shows how bodies are caught up in it. She describes her work as a “Diagram of a Very Large Complicated Machine”.

ashley_hunt_1

The articles in this collections are better than self-congratulatory, they are not free from self-criticism. Jai Sen, who worked on dwelling rights for the working poor in 1980s Kolkata, describes how a community of people were likely preserved because of their existence on maps made by the company he worked for. Still, Sen asks what might the maps made have looked like if the citizens themselves participating in the mapmaking. Perhaps their interests would have been better served.

As pop culture commercializes social change, capitalizing on its trendiness—you can empower Darfur with your new Urban Outfitters graphic-T or save half of Africa with the purchase of U2’s new album—An Atlas of Radical Cartography breaks the norm. It offers refreshingly clever illustrations and informed discussions on pertinent social issues with a convincing belief that “This slow, cumulative and constant work across many scales of action is what creates social change”. Its contents are both accessible and necessary for any sincerely interested in social issues.

 

Ted English is a teacher of first-year composition and a graduate student of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma.

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