Monthly Archives: August 2006

The modernist movement and the cult of ugliness

“The modernist movement is still dominant in literary culture, especially the post-World War II idea that a fiction is worthless unless everything ends badly. But a lot of science fiction and fantasy literature doesn’t end this way, because the books are based on the conflict of good v. evil [see Stephen King’s The Stand], and end with the triumph of good. —RM Vaughan, Weekend Post commenting on the release of, A Feast for Crows, the fourth of seven planned novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series by American author George RR Martin.

Women read fiction, men read non-fiction

I am still with Resa Dudovitz  book on women’s fiction and it strikes me that there is truth in the notion that “women read fiction, men read non-fiction”. This is confirmed by Nina Baym’s 1978 Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and About Women in America, 1820-1870 and Dudovitz herself. In keeping with Walter Benjamin’s and my credo: “I have nothing to say, only to show,” some quotes from the interweb:

The Google query used is “women read fiction” “men read”

Add to this elitist ideology the marketing mantra, prevalent in Canadian publishing circles, that women read fiction and men read non-fiction (a foolish and sexist notion) and you get an annual flood on the Canadian fiction lists of so-called “women’s books” — interchangeable novels set in the domestic arena that deal with realistically portrayed family crises. –Canadian National Post

According to Camille Paglia, plot, is a Western male, well, plot. “Tragedy is a male paradigm of rise and fall,” she says, “a graph in which dramatic and sexual climax are in shadowy analogy. Climax is another Western invention.” Traditional Eastern stories, she continues, are by contrast “picaresque, horizontal chains of incident. There is little suspense or sense of an ending.”

How does this sit with the fact that for decades the novel’s readership and, increasingly, its writers, publishers and theorists have been predominantly female? Two centuries back, fiction was forbidden, dangerous territory for women; this, some speculate, may be what generated its attraction. Now, it’s more like territory abandoned by men. Women read fiction, men read non-fiction. The novel has become women’s business.

The novelist Ian McEwan recently described his efforts to give away good novels (not exclusively his own) in a park near his London home. Only women were interested. “When women stop reading,” McEwan concluded, “the novel will be dead.” –Written by The Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly

It has often been suggested that men read less than women (England 1992).

The BML (2000) report “Reading the Situation” found that young women aged 17-34 are “3 times as likely as men in the same age group to borrow from a public library (54% compared to 18%)” (p.14).

The report also found that 77% of women read fiction compared to only 44% of men.

England and Sumsion (1995) also made this discovery, (p.22). This information tells us that women are more likely to read fiction and borrow from libraries than men. But what about men who do read fiction, does this mean they are more likely to buy what they read? It would appear so, England, (1994) found that heavy book buyers were more likely to be men than women a discovery also made by Mann in 1991. Mann stated that “buying (40%) was higher than amongst women (35%)” (p.12 in Kinnell 1991). –Buy, borrow or beg? An investigation into how fiction readers get their books

Using the Iwan McEwan quote in Google I found:

Every young woman we approached – in central London practically everyone seems young – was eager and grateful to take a book. Some riffled through the pile murmuring, “Read that, read that, read that …” before making a choice. Others asked for two, or even three.

The guys were a different proposition. They frowned in suspicion, or distaste. When they were assured they would not have to part with their money, they still could not be persuaded. “Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks mate, but no.” Only one sensitive male soul was tempted. –Hello, would you like a free book?

P. S. Curious, no, how the notion of reading has become synonymous with reading fiction? A person who does not read much is a person who does not read much fiction. Why is it that we reserve such admiration for the reading of fiction, of made-up stories; is it because we have lost the power to dream, fantasize and fabulate?

Remakes in literature

Laetitia Casta in the 2000 TV series La Bicyclette Bleue

I had wondered about this before, whether novels, like films, were ever “remade” (of course they are remade, there are only so many stories to tell (how many?), most of them involving love and family and strife, but I was looking for more blatant examples). Leaving aside the most famous and blatant effort by Jorge Luis Borges – whose Pierre Menard sets out to re-write Don Quixotte word for word and then praise the text to be so much better than the original- I came across the example of Régine Deforges’s La Bicyclette Bleue which is partly a remake of Gone With the Wind.

From Resa Dudovitz book (see previous post)

“When I asked Ms Deforges about the similarity between her novel and Gone With the Wind, she admitted that hers is a remake of Mitchell’s but that after the first hundred pages, she left Mitchell’s novel to write a completely different story. Neither Mitchell’s novel nor her characters, she told me, fit with the story she wanted to tell.”

However, The Blue Bicycle followed Mitchell’s novel to such an extent that Margaret Mitchell’s estate instituted a copyright infringement suit against the French author which Ms Deforges won on the ground that the novels are two separate and distinct works.

Via Reuters:

A French appeals court here today cleared the author Regine Deforges of charges that she plagiarized the novel “Gone With the Wind” in her own best seller. The court said Miss Deforges’s 1982 novel, “The Blue Bicycle,” which sold six million copies and which was translated into 18 languages, was “an original intellectual creation.” It reversed a lower court ruling ordering Miss Deforges to pay $400,000 in damages to the Trust Company Bank in Atlanta which holds rights to “Gone With the Wind,” the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. “The Blue Bicycle” is a love story set during the Nazi occupation of France. The appeals court agreed that Miss Deforges’s book began with a character similar to Miss Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara. But it said the two novels then followed different paths. The Trust Company Bank was sentenced to pay court costs. Miss Deforges’s lawyers said work on a screen adaptation of “The Blue Bicycle,” which was halted when the trial began, would resume immediately. —November 22, 1990


Money in Literature (1880) – Emile Zola

“I must also add unless a book is very popular, it never enriches the author. Also, three or four thousand copies sold is a good sale.”

Quoted in Resa Dudovitz’s excellent 1990 The Myth of Superwoman : Women’s Bestsellers in France and the United States, the best study on the economic aspects of publishing since my reading of Robert Darnton’s work. Her chapter on the bestseller is recommended.

See: “Money in Literature” (1880) – Emile Zola

Key texts of paracinema

Key texts of paracinema: Hard Core (1989) – Linda WilliamsMen, Women, and Chain Saws (1992) – Carol J. CloverThe Monstrous-Feminine – Barbara Creed (1993)Trashing the Academy (1995) – Jeffrey SconceSleaze Mania (1999) – Joan HawkinsCutting Edge (2000) – Joan HawkinsPorn Studies (2004) – Linda Williams


Paracinema is an academic term to refer to a wide variety of film genres out of the mainstream, bearing the same relationship to ‘legitimate’ film as paraliterature like comic books and pulp fiction bears to literature.

The term was coined in the early seventies by Ken Jacobs to denote countercultural and underground films of the sixties but re-coined in 1995 by Jeffrey Sconce, an American media scholar, to denote ‘an extremely elastic textual category’ which includes entries from seemingly disparate genres of the non-mainstream fuelled by oppositional taste strategies (see The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste (2003)). Major theorists of the 1990s and 2000s paracinematic variety include Linda Williams, Joan Hawkins, Carol J. Clover and Barbara Creed (1993). [Aug 2006]

Off topic: Yesterday was my brother’s birthday party; of the music he played I especially enjoyed a recent album by British psych folk singer Vashti Bunyan and French singer Benjamin Biolay’s 2003 album Négatif.

Exploration of art as a commodity

Google video, a Marxist view on the modern art world.

The video (a conference paper by John Mitchell) features Alan Woods and is based on Alan Woods’s 2003 paper Capitalist fetishism and the decay of art:

“The cheap and nasty pop culture that capitalism produces in its phase of senile decay plays approximately the same role as the cheap and nasty fast food that is undermining the health and clogging the arteries of the present generation of youth. The only difference is that this “pop art” is undermining culture and clogging the mental arteries of society. It is hard to say which activity is the more harmful. “

Another example of the censor pointing the way to interesting art.

See also: commodity fetishism

Missing Person (1978) – Patrick Modiano

Missing Person (1978) – Patrick Modiano
[FR] [DE] [UK]

My brother is a fan of Patrick Modiano a writer of semi-autobiographical novels (more on that category of novels later). Today is my brother’s fortieth birthday. I think I am going to buy him Paul Auster’s last, Brooklyn Follies. Modiano did not have an entry at Wikipedia (so I translated one from French), nor is he listed in the 1001 books book I am reading. Modiano’s themes include time, memory, place, identity, neglect and the past.

Patrick Modiano is a French language novelist born July 30, 1945 in Boulogne-Billancourt of a father of Italian origins and a Belgian mother, Louisa Colpijn (actress). He is a winner of the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française in 1972 and the Prix Goncourt in 1978.

A number of his novels have been adapted for film [1], Lacombe Lucien by Louis Malle probably being the most famous. — [Aug 2006]

Off topic: I’ve updated my notes on postmodernist cinema and modernist cinema.

If you’re the girl of my dreams…

“If you’re the girl of my dreams. then…”, he says. “Then you could be the man of mine.,” she says.

Reconstruction (2003) – Christoffer Boe []

Watch the trailer

A beautiful film about recognition/forgetting. Lots of old-fashioned clouds of cigarette smoke, lyrical dialogues, interesting soundtrack (Thomas Knak), reminiscent of Gilles Mimouni‘s 1996 L’Appartement.

See wiki entry: Reconstruction

k-punk’s contribution to the pornography symposium

k-punk’s contribution to the pornography symposium:

What Ballard, Lacan and Burroughs have in common is the perception that human sexuality is essentially pornographic.

For all three, human sexuality is irreducible to biological excitation; strip away the hallucinatory and the fantasmatic, and sexuality disappears with it. As Renata Salecl argues in (Per)Versions of Love and Hate, it is easier for an animal to enter the Symbolic Order than it is for a human to unlearn the Symbolic and attain animality, an observation confirmed by the news that, when an orang-utan was presented with pornography, it ceased to show any sexual interest in its fellow apes and spent all day masturbating. The orang-utan had been inducted into human sexuality by the ‘inhuman partner’, the fantasmatic supplement, upon which all human sexuality depends. —k-punk [Aug 2006]

Capitalized Phrases analysis:

Eyes Wide Shut J. G. Ballard Jacques Lacan William Burroughs – – Renata Salecl – Boschian Jean Baudrillard Sigmund Freud – Delvaux – Helmut Newton David Cronenberg Immanuel Kant Marquis de Sade Sacher-Masoch – Jonathan Weiss – Dior – Chanel – Iain Sinclair