Cataloging the catalogers

It may seem disingenuous, or at worst mocking, to say that I have to work at decolonizing my mind. As the beneficiary of generations of imperialism, I have to continually unravel my automated thoughts about other peoples and cultures to not only better understand them but to better understand myself. I believe that if you are not always deconstructing your beliefs, reevaluating them in the face of new information, you become stagnant and dull. It’s exhausting, but it’s important.

When I first read Edward Said’s Orientalism last year, I came with the understanding that I was an enlightened thinker ready to absorb new wisdom. Yet what happened was a cold slap in the face. At the same time I was beginning research on my thesis and had to question my motives. “Do I really have a right to study the writing of another culture? How can I do due diligence if I cannot completely dissolve my mind of Western thinking? Is that thinking, at times invisibly interwoven with thoughts, denying me the opportunity to think about other cultures in the first place? Where does my privilege end? And, most importantly, is it enough just to acknowledge that privilege?

Said’s introduction reads like an old letter from my smartest friend. He is engaging and thoughtful and unflinching in his analysis. In a brilliant way he is cataloging the catalogers – highlighting and questioning the systematic creation of the “Orient” as a point of reference to Europe, or the “Occident.” Writers, scholars, travelers create and reinforce this romantic and subordinate view of a geographical area filled with disparate cultures. To create in a way of “dealing with it, by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (73). Said pares down what he intends to address as the “Orient” and makes me reflect on my own assumptions of what the “Orient” means – in my case, mainly as an American, the Far East. And while I was a little disappointed that he would be dealing directly with Japan – because of my thesis – Said’s introduction insisted that I still had much to gain by reading about the systematic ‘Othering’ being done by Europe. He was, of course, correct, that while, no colony of Great Britain, Japan learned important lessons about imperialism from its close Western friend; a friend who had particularly interest in defining Japan by its own army of diplomats, scholars, writers and ‘Japanologists.’ The colonization is more in thought than body, but the importation of Western ideas of dominance still has a lasting effect.


Said is also the first theorist, outside of Derrida, that gave me confidence in my own style of reading. His contrapuntal reading of texts feels similar to how I approach well-known texts. Of course, I do not have the  need to establish a new critical discipline in order to deconstruct misleading notions about non-Western cultures, but his approach allows me to find comfort in my unwillingness to accept historical theories about text. Always questioning why we think the way we do, is imperative. One must always reexamine the body of knowledge upon which one stands.

It’s that natural antagonism that made me refuse the red-white-and-blue ribbon my mother handed me after the World Trade Center attacks. It was a few days after the event and I was still sleep-deprived and reeling from my work at the newspaper that week. I couldn’t take it. It felt false. I couldn’t make myself become part of some wave of patriotic sentimentality. As Dr. Clemens states in her video, the events of that day were “too big”  and to distill my reaction to a patriotic display seemed insufficient in this new world.

Circling the wagons may provide a sense of safety, but it severely blocks your view.

[For the record, my mother understood my hesitation, and was not insulted. She is my mother, after all, and has had plenty of practice of dealing with my contrarian nature.]

Even so, I held similar beliefs about the veil. The veil was not a choice, it was a symbol of oppression. It was all too easy to slip this essentialist idea into my thinking because, as a Western white woman, a right to define feminism is part of our culture (though we continually define it narrowly). The veil as symbol also found an easy home in my brain due to my atheism and my questions about raising children to believe in their parents’ religion. I had already flirted with the idea of calling that indoctrination when it came to my Christian neighbors; here, after 9/11 was a perfect illustration for that point. At the time I knew no women who wore the veil, or the hijab, or the burka. Today is different, and I was wrong. The veil is also a symbol of a woman’s choice, and empowering act in defiance of the Western world’s need to make her a victim, at best, or an enemy, at worst. I realized that I was guilty of falling for the ‘other’ argument.

I do not define the veil I do not wear.

And who defines the three women in the these texts. Is it the Western journalist who finds the story? The publisher who packages and markets the book? Is it the audience, who may feel justified in their previous beliefs about Islam, or a self-satisfying sense of compassion just for reading them? The “phoenix stories” as Dr. Clemens calls them, have a powerful way of reinforcing the ‘Other’ narrative in a way that may not speak to hard-line conservatives, but soft-hearted liberals (those are essentialist statements made merely to make a point, problematic yes, as I would call myself a hard-line liberal, but I digress, again). Do these books, in a sense, use these women’s stories to inflate the Western narrative that Islam is dangerous for women? And, more importantly, does it remove the sense of Western responsibility for destabilizing the region, by relying on the fundamental misunderstanding of a religion that is actually quite diverse?



We inherit our ideas, whether through language, culture, religion, education – all of these are flooded with the Western concept of the East. Even my naming this ideology as ‘Western’ is worthy of deconstruction because it implicitly implies an ‘Eastern’ ideology and that they are diametrically opposed, like cardinal points on a compass. We are so much closer than we think.


In the pathways…

When I saw “hybridity” as one of our concepts this week, I was troubled, thinking that its association with biology may cloud its association with people living in contact zones, but Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin had that covered. As well when I approached “binarism” I felt an assumption of meaning but the book helped sharply define my thoughts.  “Palimpsest” and “Syncretism” were relatively new, as if I’d seen them in the hallways enough to recognize them, but not formally introduced. “Liminality” I had experienced before in doing my research on fairy tales and in a sense it is no different here, a place of existence–that Third Place as Bhabha calls it–where the colonizer and the colonized cultures battle for dominance. But when a person realizes that they are living in that third space, standing in the doorway between two cultures, how does that push-pull existence manifest?

Where They Grow by Chibionpu on DeviantArt

Perhaps it begins with that first moment in the mirror; when the binary is created for each us. The collapsing of ourselves into an “I” reflected back but not exactly. The reflection pushes back and says ‘I am you, but not you’. And in that space between the view and viewer is where we define ourselves. It is the first contact zone of our consciousness. The whole of our being is invented and investigated in the space between our gaze and the glass. When Walcott conjures up the image of the ape looking at its reflection on the stream as a possible spark of sentience, perhaps he was describing what happens to each of us. We see our mirrored reflection, we see ourselves reflected in our mother and fathers, brothers and sister, our communities and our friends and we continually redefine ourselves based on that push back, that luminal space where all the signifiers and signifieds converge and attempt to form signs. We formulate our self-knowledge in those few inches between ourselves and these reflections. These are the micro-binaries that first tell us who we are and who we are not. It is only later, when the reflection is unrecognizable that we succumb to the more powerful other, the other that insists and defines and refracts (bends the waves of our consciousness) instead of reflects. Nyasha is Tambu’s refraction. Jeremiah is, to a certain extent, Babamukura’s; images that present an awareness of ourselves, but continually trouble our assumed self-knowledge. 

Upon reflection, I found myself mixing up scenes between Nervous Conditions and Hamid’s story in The New Yorker. I couldn’t remember which character was sick on the floor under the cot, who rode either inside or on top if the bus…the colonizer had colonized my brain as well, showing me that distinctions between non-whites was not necessary. They are all so alien, it said, what is the difference. They do not exist in reality, it says, they exist in the liminal world.

When the colonizer approaches and the reflection is not imminent, the colonizer slips into that space and invents a new consciousness. Tambu sees a path before her (the convent) but Nyasha is the one to show her the path is actually a tunnel, with walls built by others. And even in knowing this, Tambu understand that while the far end of the tunnel is unknown, at the beginning is the image of her mother, her homestead and one possible future. She has no choice but to quickly sidle along the walls, heading for somewhere else,

The open ending of Nervous Conditions reminds us that there are no neat solutions for those who are colonized. Tambu has to persist, grasping at any shred of agency she can. Nyasha has become too aware of the doorway in which she exists, and her moments of true existence bring only anger, violence and despair from her father. He cannot provide for his family without living in the tunnel. He has accepted this and quite possibly, after so many years believes he belongs there. Nyasha suffocates, Tambu perseveres, and Babamukura oversees. The colonizer delegated his colonization.

Lean In

My thesis work and my postcolonial readings collided again this week. As I read an article about, of all things, the attitudes of Victorians toward the Japanese wearing Western clothes, Hami Bhaba and his assertions on mimicry and ambivalence came into play. The Victorian’s deprecating comments and attitudes toward people attempting to assimilate part of their culture was a perfect example of the disruption of mimicry. The reaction, on the surface, seems like the paternal condescension of a large empire to its new pupil, but deep down it is the uneasy realization of one’s own preposterous-ness when presented from the outside. It is also the disruption of that paternal state, equivalent to your child marching around in your shoes; one day they will fit and they will no longer need you.


“Tourist photographs rarely depicted the Japanese in European dress, and, when this did occur, the intention seems to have been to critique rather than to flatter. In the photograph […] c. 1870s, entitled ‘The civilized Japs’ [sic], there is something uncomfortable rather than graceful in the appearance of the unidentified man and woman depicted; the man, for example, gnaws on an almost comically large cigar and his suit billows around him ” (Kramer 18).

Source: Kramer, Elizabeth. “‘Not So Japan-Easy’: The British Reception Of Japanese Dress In The Late Nineteenth Century.” Textile History 44.1 (2013): 3-24. Historical Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 24 Sept. 2016.

Ambivalence is one of those words I remember learning. Sometime in my early teens, around the same time I thought I knew what patronizing meant, ambivalence became part of my lexicon. But I only had a partial meaning, thinking that I had no clear opinion, or none at all, about a particular topic. “I’m ambivalent about the whole matter” meant that I didn’t care. Only upon reading Homi Bhaba’s use of the word, did I realize my initial relationship with “ambivalence” had been entirely wrong. My “ambivalence” did not exist between two conflicting feelings, those feelings didn’t exist at all. Only when confronted with an extended definition, one that seeks to highlight the muddy existence of people caught between two worlds, neither one metaphorically black and white, did I realize what I thought was ambivalence was actually indifference.

In Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Tambu exists in an ambivalent world, kneeling in the doorways between education and ignorance, urban and rural, girlhood and womanhood, Shona and English. She elevates one over the other at different times. When she begins menstruating her initial reaction is a practical one, duly educated by her mother, aunts and other female relatives, though still a matter too dangerous for male ears. She only experiences shame when confronted with the pristine bathroom of Babamukura’s house, anticeptic and porcelain white. The wholly natural process stands out in stark contrast to the construction of civilization – which would not exist without it. At this point in our reading, her cousin Nyasha appears as a possible guide to help Tambu navigate between all possible realities, though she has much navigating to do for herself. She, too, exists between two worlds, when recalling her visit to Tambu’s homestead upon their return from England:

“For [her parents] at least, because now they’re stuck with hybrids for children. And they don’t like it. They don’t like it at all. It offends them. They think we do it on purpose, so it offends them. And I don’t know what to do about it, Tambu, really I don’t. I can’t help having been there and grown into the me that has been there. But it offends them – I offend them. Really, it’s very difficult.” (78).

Nyasha finds some solace in books and cigarettes and, at least at dance-hall distance, boys. She also surprising enjoys church. Bhaba’s description of the portioned dispersing of Christian morality to colonized people is expressed in Nyasha’s attitude toward church, recognizing the “Christian cause, which was conformist but could clandestinely be translated into a progressive ideology” (98).

As we continue reading, I will be curious to see from which side of the doorway Tambu leans. Perhaps she will continue to remain there, standing rather than kneeling, leaning to and fro, gathering everything she can from both sides. Her position as an African woman insists that she never fully control her own life in either place, as exemplified in Maiguru’s lack of agency even while holding her own Master’s Degree. Will the ambivalence of Tambu’s situation force her to choose, and will she have the power to make that choice?


Note: My apologies for the last minute entry. You can see why here.

Somewhere between Wilde and Derrida I realized that language was something I was thrust into. It filled the world around me and gave form to everything. As I grew and became a reader, language created a temporal gateway between myself, the writer and the world they created. Its nuances and inconsistencies—as exemplified by the apex of all word-play, the pun—gave me hours of delight. Language can bend, turn back on itself and surprise. Yet, like the air, it is invisible and, like the air, its contamination or elimination would be deadly.

Rushdie’s master manipulation in the short story “The Courter” is frustrating. Whenever I come upon a writer who can transform simple words into a colorful experience, my jealousy gland flares up and I fume. And what’s brilliant about “The Courter” is how the whole story turns upon the mispronunciation of one word. By changing “porter” to “courter”, Certainly-Mary introduced a new idea into Mixed-Up’s mind and sets the rest of the tale in motion. Language, so easily manipulated by those with nefarious intent, is also the means of communicating kindness and love, and its mishaps often express something we hide even from ourselves.

Outside of my own reading and writing, language takes shape as I work with students in the Writing Center. I am always impressed with how students learning English—and many times it is their third or fourth language—have such mastery of its form. English is a particularly difficult language to learn, from what I am told, though the world is infused with it from politics to pop culture, it must be difficult to steer away from it. The jealously gland throbs again when talking to a student who worries about their paper in English, all while juggling multiple vehicles of expression in their head. How does English explain our culture to someone learning the language? At what moment does the ELL student think, ‘oh, they arrange the words this way, well that explains a lot.’

Ngũgĩ’s essay gave me a small, safely-privileged sense, of what it feels like to have your own language rejected. His school experience was the pained twin of the experience of America’s indigenous people in our boarding schools; their language rejected, demonized and banned. And it is a brilliant scheme. Eliminate the language of a culture and you slowly eliminate the culture. Remove the barrier between communication entirely and sedition is slow to stir. Assimilation, with the necessary deference to the “proper” speakers of the master language, is key to maintaining an exploitable class structure. I admit, it was difficult to hear of how my language was used this way, but I am not so naive to think that English is not a terrible and effective weapon. We routinely use this weapon on ourselves.

This cat is serious.
All the other memes I looked at were either racist, pejorative or otaku-related. I am only one of those

When I started seriously pursuing learning another language, I didn’t realize all the small connections that would be created in my brain. Japanese in its syntax is not terribly different, though differently arranged, but the switch from alphabet to syllabaries and kanji appeared to be mountainous in scale. Yet, little by little, I see how certain ideas join together to form larger ideas—my favorite so far is that the kanjis for “certain” and “death” join together to make the word “frantic.”

“Hisshi” This will never not be wonderful to me.

In learning another language you get a sense of those who speak it, and Ngũgĩ spelled this out beautifully when he said that language is the carrier of culture (Desai and Nair 153). They are impossible to separate, and while I may study for years, my upbringing in America will always prevent me from being entirely fluent in the cultural aspect of the language. My goal is to be able to read in Japanese, to get closer to the authorial intent of a text.

Walcott’s poems are another example of getting closer to the intent through language. Ironically, the pdf’s had some of the footnotes cut off, thereby rendering some of the references “untranslatable.” I will fully credit Dr. Clemens for doing this intentionally as a way to showcase how beauty may still be gleaned from a text even without a full context of the allusions or the culture to which it refers.

This is where translation gets muddy. Translation may open the door to many texts, but the view is more through a foggy window.

An example: a stanza from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Sólo la Muerte”

Hay cadáveres,
hay pies de pegajosa losa fría,
hay la meurte en los huesos,
como un sonido puro,
como un ladrido sin perro,
saliendo de ciertas campanas, de ciertas tumbas,
creciendo en la humedad como el llanto o la lluvia.

My preferred translation by Robert Haas, who I feel attempts to capture the lyrical nature of the original:

There are corpses,
there are feet of clammy stone,
there is death in the bones,
like pure sound,
like a bark without a dog,
growing out of certain bells, certain tombs,
swelling in the humidity like a lament or like rain.

A poorer translation, in my opinion, by Robert Bly, which can be found here:

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.

The “clunkiness” of English is clearer here. There appears to be less attention to the music of the poem as opposed to the more literal translation. Even an entire line is missing. Translation is an art, but a “lossy” one. Shapes and movement may be clear, but some meaning is lost. A desire to only read in your own language seems lazy to me—those time I want to learn French to read Derrida are fleeting, but I generally drown those thoughts in beer—yet there will still be a cultural barrier. Ngũgĩ highlights this in showing how the comprador class uses native languages—often forgotten and rejected by the intellectual elites—to heighten fear and superstition in the working class. His refusal of English in his own work, and his desire to speak to the working class in their own language feels like a repossession of discourse that some of the writers that came before him abandoned. We English-speaking, intellectual-elite should take note and remember that for the American working class, academic English reads as another language.

It’s time to translate.

It’s privilege to not care that I’m Irish.

How timely this week’s reading is. I’m not referring to the unprec/sidented executive order banning the entrance of people from seven countries into the United States, but that bastion of nationalism, the prime example of “us” versus “them”, the microcosm of competition and hate that signifies America’s willingness to come together and hate someone else, in harmony: the Superbowl.

We foster our nationalism early. Between pee-wee league matches, high school rivalries and post-Christmas bowl games, we indoctrinate our children into futile feuding at a young age. Eagles fans are Eagles fans because their fathers were Eagles fans–certainly not out of nostalgia for some past greatness. We create small societies around “our team” and remind ourselves that at least we’re not Patriots fans. This athletic support is well placed to prime our sensibilities for the jingoistic, rally-around-the-flag that a hegemonic power structure needs in place when their populist ideals are neither popular, nor ideal.

We wear sports jerseys to practice wearing fatigues; pennants become flags, fight songs become anthems. We invest in the small rivalries to be prepared to invest in the large ones.

Yet, even in the midst of all this “healthy competition” when America needs us, we come together. We put aside our differences and stand as one united nation; a symbol of freedom and tolerance. That’s what we put on ribbon stickers. That’s what we tell ourselves. White people are delusional.

White people are particularly good at cultivating these little feuds: that rival high school; the Baptists next door; the Steelers fans down the street; the Pepsi drinker. And we tell ourselves that we’re so brave for overcoming these differences, all the while caving under the insecurity of American whiteness. That insecurity is the fuel that drives into million dollar profits. The need that white Americans have to know from which European nation their ancestors sprang. We enjoy a privilege of knowing that our records are there, preserved, waiting for that little leaf to show up on grandad’s name to say “hey, white person, your heritage matters.”

We have internalized and commoditized the old colonial rivalries of nineteenth century Europe in its mad dash to gobble up the rest of the world. We are Spartans, and Rough-Riders, and Fighting Irish, and Knights. Our ancestry and our history is tightly packaged into professional competition sponsored by Duracell.

“Did you see that Cowboys, Redskins game last night? What a bloodbath.”

Frantz Fanon’s argument that “the expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns…and that a national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals” (217). He argues that the colonial intellectual trying to reach back into a pre-colonial past to justify a sense of the expunged culture, to reclaim an identity to justify independence is doomed to fail. Culture is the germination of struggle and liberation from the oppressor in the colonized nation, he suggests. And while the new culture that develops out of that struggle may call back to its pre-colonial roots, it will still be a new national culture of its own, grown out of the people and their struggle.

Perhaps this is what Fredric Jameson was getting to as well, albeit indelicately. As I approached the Jameson piece, after having read the concept definitions, I expected the essay to be an outright dismissal of “third world” literature as part of an ever expanding canon. Yet, I believe it’s the canon he wishes to blow up. When he states that “the third-world novel will not offer the satisfactions of Proust or Joyce” he is not dismissing the novel’s literary quality, but it’s their status as a cultural group new at writing in the novel genre (65). The Eurocentrist view of literature would undeniably force all “third world” stories into national allegory simply because there is not a long-standing, widely-dispersed body of literature from these lands. Jameson, I believe, is pointing out not that these books don’t belong, but that shaking the colonist out of the postcolonialist is difficult. We are so invested in the beliefs of our own superiority (and inferiority in the face of European culture) that we don’t even know that we too need to be decolonized. We’re in a penthouse prison that we don’t even recognize.

This video is relevant, in a way, at the very least for the following line: “The best way to keep people in prison, is to keep them in a prison that they don’t know they’re in.”

The descendants of European culture need to decolonize their own minds to consume postcolonial texts with the rhetorical attention that they deserve. We must acknowledge our privilege and let in voices that are troubling, humorous, erotic, political, human. We must begin from a shared biological and emotional framework and attempt to discover and move through a new culture that sprang forth from the struggle of independence or the abandonment of the colonizer. We must remember that our every-day rivalries are constructions, tiny models of warfare ready to be waged at any moment.




Go Falcons!

Hi, my name is Heather and I’m a…

Defining my subject position seems…infinite. I can easily say female and white – the two broadest categories; add in cisgender and heterosexual – for the less interesting bits. Class? Well…when? I’ve gone from lower-middle to upper-middle to middle-as-you-can-get-middle and back again. All of those levels have their own nooks and crannies, if you will, and each has constructed my subject position at each time. I am more interested in where this positional classification actually ends (probably at the quantum level, but there position is only in potential).

I am also an atheist, overweight, a smoker, peanut-hater (non-allergic), lover of 1970s R&B, Moon-landing defender, possible Highlander, cat owner, book reader, and confessor that at this point in the list it becomes increasingly less humorous and more like a terrible eHarmony profile. Does having access to a public park as a child affect my subject position? The age I lost my virginity? Does being a non-traditional (middle-aged) student make my academic positions more or less conservative? Is turning the dehumanizing act of categorization back upon ourselves instead of toward others an essential part of postcolonial studies?


By assessing “what am I” instead of declaring “what are you” we include ourselves in the broader scope of humanity, instead of sitting above it, looking upon a people as specimens swimming in microscope slides. We remove the unspoken superiority when placing people into checkbox-shaped compartments. We stop being an “us” and realize we are all “them.” Yet, this realization is not an end game. I do not wake up the next day all of a sudden…woke. It is the start of a process; the absorption of the stories that paint a fuller picture of the world and the deconstruction of the stories that have shaped it thus far. The Western stories written in and about the colonized world shape(d) the lives of people newly independent and those struggling under a colonial legacy. Yet, it is important not to stop at that new lens on the old cannon, satisfying as it may seem. Keeping focus on Western stories, even within the postcolonial view still only tells part of the whole story. Opening up the colonized narratives expands the story from the “flat” experience that Adichie speaks about in her video.

Others than Kipling wrote of India.

And here is where, even in week one, postcolonial studies intersects with my own research. Columbus’ letter is a brilliant example of the earnestness of the colonizer in his (and I use his most emphatically here) infantilization of the colonized. They are “of simple manners and trustworthy” like children, eager for the paternal affection of a far away crown (Desai and Nair 20). And it’s through stories–travelogues, treaties, psalms–that this infantilization is reflected back on the colonized and internalized. Adichie’s words, when confronting the Western stories she read as a child, cannot be understated: “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.” The stories we tell about ourselves are in constant discourse with the stories told about us, and therefore, I think, postcolonial studies is about giving voice and validity to the fuller volume of stories that shape people’s lives.

Preface to The Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells

I was transcribing this for my notes, and I was trying to pick out a quote to share, and I couldn’t settle on just one. So, here it is, in its entirety.


“Mr. Gollancz has asked me to write a preface to this collection of my fantastic stories. They are put in chronological order, but let me say here right at the beginning of the book, that for anyone who does not as yet know anything of my work it will probably be more agreeable to begin with The Invisible Man or The War of the Worlds. The Time Machine is a little bit stiff about the fourth dimension and The Island of Dr. Moreau rather painful.

“These tales have been compared with the works of Jules Verne, and there was a disposition on the part of literary journalists at one time to call me the English Jules Verne. As a matter of fact there is no literary resemblance whatever between the anticipatory invention of the great Frenchman and these fantasies. His work dealt almost always with actual possibilities of invention and discovery, and he made some remarkable forecasts. The interest he invoked was a practical one; he wrote and believed and told that this or that thing could be done, which was not at that time done. He helped his reader to imagine it done and to realise what fun, excitement or mischief would ensue. Many of his inventions have “come true.” But these stories of mine collected here do not pretend to deal with possible things; they are exercises of the imagination in a quite different field. They belong to a class of writing which includes the Golden Ass of Apileius, the True Histories of Lucian, Peter Schlemil and the story of Frankenstein. It includes too some admirable inventions by Mr. David Garnett, Lady into Fox for instance. They are all fantasies; they do not aim to project a serious possibility; they aim indeed only at the same amount of conviction as one gets in a good gripping dream. They have to hold the reader to the end by art and illusion and not by proof and argument, and the moment he closes the cover and reflects he wakes up to their possibility.

“In all this type of story the living interest lies in their non-fantastic elements and not in the invention itself. They are appeals for human sympathy quite as much as any “sympathetic” novel, and the fantastic element, the strange property or the strange world, is used only to throw up and intensify our natural reactions of wonder, fear or perplexity. The invention is nothing in itself and when this kind of thing is attempted by clumsy writers who do not understand this elementary principle nothing could be conceived more silly and extravagant. Anyone can invent human [vii] beings inside out or worlds like dumb-bells or a gravitation that repels. The thing that makes such imaginations interesting is their translation into commonplace terms and a rigid exclusion of other marvels from the story. Then it becomes human. “How would you feel and what might not happen to you,” is the typical question, if for instance pigs could fly and one came rocketing over a hedge at you? How would you feel and what might not happen to you if suddenly you were changed into an ass and couldn’t tell anyone about it? Or if you became invisible” But no one would think twice about the answer if hedges and houses also began to fly, or if people changed into lions, tigers, cats and dogs left and right, or if everyone could vanish anyhow. Nothing remains interesting where anything may happen.

“For the writer of fantastic stories to help the reader to play the game properly, he must help him in every possible unobtrusive way to domesticate the impossible hypothesis. He must trick him into an unwary concession to some plausible assumption and get on with his story while the illusion holds. And that is where there was a certain slight novelty in my stories when first they appeared. Hitherto, except in exploration fantasies, the fantastic element was brought in by magic. Frankenstein even, used some jiggery-pokery magic to animate his artificial monster. There was trouble about the thing’s soul. But by the end of last century it had become difficult to squeeze even a monetary belief out of magic any longer. It occurred to me that instead of the usual interview with the devil or a magician, and ingenious use of scientific patter might with advantage be substituted. That was no great discovery. I simply brought the fetish stuff up to date, and made i as near actual theory as possible.

“As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention. So soon as the hypothesis is launched the whole interest becomes the interest of looking at human feelings and human ways, from the new angle that has been acquired. One can keep the story within the bounds of a few individual experiences as Chamisso does in Peter Schlemil, or one can expand it to a broad criticism of human institutions and limitations as in Gulliver’s Travels. My early, profound and lifelong admiration for Swift, appears again [viii] and again in this collection, and it is particularly evident in a predisposition to make the stories reflect upon contemporary political and social discussions. It is an incurable habit with literary critics to lament some lost artistry and innocence in my early work and to accuse me of having become polemical in my later years. That habit is of such old standing that the late Mr. Zangwill in a review in 1895 complained that my first book, The Time Machine, concerned itself with “our present discontent.” The Time Machine is indeed quite as philosophical and polemical and critical of life and so forth, as Men like Gods written twenty-eight years later. No more and no less. I have never been able to get away from life in the mass and life in general as distinguished from life in the individual experience, in any book I have ever written. I differ from contemporary criticism in finding them inseparable.

“For some years I produced one or more of these “scientific fantasies,” as they were called, every year. In my student days we were much exercised by talk about a possible fourth dimension of space; the fairly obvious idea that events could be presented in a rigid four dimensional space time framework had occurred to me, and this is used as the magic trick for a glimpse of the future that ran counter to the placid assumption of that time that Evolution was a pro-human force making things better and better for mankind. The Island of Dr. Moreau is an exercise in youthful blasphemy. Now and then, though I rarely admit it, the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time, and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture in creation. The War of the Worlds like The Time Machine was another assault on human self-satisfaction.

“All these three books are consciously grim, under the influence of Swift’s tradition. But I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist at bottom. This is an entirely indifferent world in which wilful [sic] wisdom seems to have a perfectly fair chance. It is after all rather cheap to get force of presentation by loading the scales on the sinister side. Horror stories are easier to write than gay and exalting stories. In The First Men in the Moon I tried an improvement on Jules Verne’s shot, in order to look at mankind from a distance and burlesque the effects of specialisation. Verne never landed on the moon because he never knew of radio and of the possibility of sending back a message. So it was shot that came back. But equipped with radio, which had just come out then, I was able to land and even see something of the planet. [ix]

“The three later books are distinctly on the optimistic side. The Food of the Gods is a fantasia on the chance of scale in human affairs. Everybody nowadays realises [sic] that change of scale; we see the whole world in disorder through it; but in 1904 it was not a very prevalent idea. I had hit upon it while working out the possibilities of the near future in a book of speculation called Anticipations (1901).

“The last two stories are Utopian. The world is gassed and cleaned up morally by the benevolent tail of a comet in one, and the reader is taken through a dimensional trap door with a weekend part of politicians, into a world of naked truth and deliberate beauty in the other. Men like Gods is almost the last of my scientific fantasies. It did not horrify or frighten, was not much of a success, and by that time I had tired of talking in playful parables to a world engaged in destroying itself. I was becoming too convinced of the strong probability of very strenuous and painful human experiences in the near future to play about with them much more. But I did two other sarcastic fantasies, not included here, Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island and The Autocracy of Mr. Parham, in which there is I think a certain gay bitterness, before I desisted altogether.

“The Autocracy of Mr. Parham is all about dictator, and dictators are all about us, but it has never struggled through to a really cheap edition. Work of this sort gets so stupidly reviewed nowadays that it has little chance of being properly read. People are simply warned that there are ideas in my books and advised not to read them, and so a fatal suspicion has wrapped about the later ones. “Ware stimulants!” It is no good my saying that they are quite as easy to read as the earlier ones and much more timely.

“It becomes a bore doing imaginative books that do not touch imaginations, and at length one stops even planning them. I think I am better employed now nearer reality, trying to make a working analysis of our deepening social perplexities in such labours as The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind and After Democracy. The world in the presence of cataclysmal realities has no need for fresh cataclysmal fantasies. That game is over. Who wants the invented humours of Mr. Parham in Whitehall, when day by day we can watch Mr. Hitler in Germany? What human invention can pit itself against the fantastic fun of the Fates? I am wrong in grumbling at reviewers. Reality has taken a leaf from my book and set itself to supersede me.”


Wells, H.G. The Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells. London: Victor Gollancz, 1933. Print.

BOOKS on BREAK: One Week in the Library, by W. Maxwell Prince

I really, really want to start working/reading on my thesis, but I promised myself that I would not do any school-related reading until after Christmas. While the fifteen or so library books are glaring at me from above my laptop screen, I decided to at least keep one damn promise to myself.

One Week in the Library is what I would describe as a meta-metaphysical narrative. Pulling in references from various stories (and fairy tales, tangential to my thesis, but totally accidental) it delves into the nature of stories almost as living things, things with wants, desires, imperatives…even agendas. Prince fills the volume with lots of references to well known stories, some inspiring an entire day, others just small images or cameos. When I finished reading One Week in the Library, I felt as if I hadn’t, or that I was to start over (which I shall), or that something didn’t quite…end? That is most likely intentional and I think this deserves a second, third, even tenth reading – especially “Wednesday.”

Death Taxes and Hillary

I put the blame of this election squarely on the shoulders of Stephen Colbert. Metaphorically, not literally. However, the inevitability expressed in “Death, Taxes and Hillary” transmuted from a commentary on the outcome of the Democratic primary to an assurance of the outcome of the general election.

Only Death is inevitable. President-elect Trump proved the other two wrong.

And we didn’t actually discover that half of the population felt comfortable electing a man who used racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric to attain the most powerful office in the free world. It was only a quarter of the population—a minority—but they were active enough to get their man in.

Half of the population didn’t vote. Was it because the outcome was inevitable?

Think of it this way:

Four people are in a room deciding on what type of pizza to order. One person suggests pepperoni and onion—not terribly popular, but a reasonable pizza recipe. Another person shouts for a shit pizza—literally a pizza covered in human feces.

The other two people just shrug. I mean, come on, of course we’re going to get the pepperoni and onion right? No one would actually order the other one. The pizzeria wouldn’t even consider making an actual shit pizza, would they?

Guess what we’re having for dinner.

So what do we do?

First, stop “draining the swamp” in your social media. I’m not suggesting that you allow harassment to continue, but there are people in your followers and friends list that are listening and those are the people you need to reach. The 46% who didn’t participate are going to have to eat the shit pizza just as much as we are, so it’s our responsibility to activate them in any way possible.

Keep in mind, the people who will have to eat the biggest slices of the shit pizza, the people who have always been disenfranchised and exploited, the people who have always had a target on their backs and woke up Wednesday to find it was the opening day of hunting season—those people ALREADY KNOW HOW TO VOTE. If you’re trying to preach to them, you need to turn around from the choir, my friend, or maybe, just step down from the pulpit altogether.

One suggestion: reminding your senior citizen friends that the hulking form of Paul Ryan is lurking in the background ready to privatize their Medicare.

Second, as much as the symbols and outrage and marches give you a positive outlet for your energy, we need to point some of that energy toward the people actually in possession of our government. It’s time to remember the power of the written word, not just in posts on Facebook groups or Snapchats to friends, but the power to inundate a government official with the will of the people.

WRITE. Write to your congressman, your senator. For the love of the cosmos, write to your state house and senate—where most of the damage to you is wrought. WRITE, not in emails, but in actual tree-killing paper letters. (Please buy recycled paper.)

READ. Find out what your representatives are voting on. READ the legislation. Make the time. If you can’t make the time, pick a few key issues and read up on them, not what is spinned out to you through pundits, but the actual bill. That’s what will become law.

March, scream, hug, support, shelter, fight, do all of these things and do all of them with righteous fire and kindness.

But don’t forget to WRITE until your hands bleed and READ until your eyes ache.

Only Death is inevitable…or, Death and Change.

Links in this post (If you have other links that would be helpful, please post them in the comments):