In recent weeks, two high-profile works of journalism have demonstrated the changing physical and commercial landscape of publishing. In late April, Byliner published John Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. Krakauer’s in-depth examination of the gap between Mortenson’s reputation and the financial realities of his humanitarian operations has received significant coverage because of its content (an expose involving not one but two commercially successful authors) and because of its unique format: the work is only available online (for purchase at Byliner’s site or as a “Kindle Single” on Amazon) and has been designed to be “Readable in a single sitting” on your Kindle or iPad. More recently, Geoff Keighley published an iPad-exclusive app titled The Final Hours of Portal 2. The app is a interactive examination of the development process of the hit video game with high production values, exclusive access, and multimedia features. As an apprentice academic in the field of American literature, these developments have me thinking about the relationship between these publications and the potential for literary scholars and publishers to take advantage of newer technological platforms.
I’ve spent most of this rainy Boston day reading the Library of America’s 2008 collection of Elizabeth Bishop’s work, a volume edited by Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz. I have mixed feelings about
everything The Library of America Series. Their editions house impressive surveys of various literary figures, constructed carefully by prominent editors, scholars, and artists. On the other hand, the bibliographic code of their “authoritative” series reminds me (and many readers, no doubt) of church hymnals: the hardcover volumes even come with their own skinny cloth bookmarks embedded in the spines. And while I have no doubt that these design choices are intentional and in keeping with the LOA’s perception of their noble mission, they do seem a bit old-fashioned in these post-McGann days of literary studies. What could be an inviting and accessible overview of a prominent figure more often resembles an inaccessible shrine to American (and if the title of the series didn’t spell it out to you, the red, white, and blue stripe running across each cover situates these authors as, first and foremost, models of American literary greatness) achievement. Despite these reservations, I think that Bishop’s work has been curated, not entombed, by Giroux and Schwartz in this edition. Their decision to include selections of her uncollected and unpublished work, not to mention drafts, runs contra to the dogma of literary scholars who find such matters distracting, ephemeral, or in worst cases deleterious to the author and his or her work and reputation.
Amy getting arrested (Photo by Karel Prinsloo / AP)
My friend Amy was arrested on Friday in London for daring to dress like a zombie on the day of the royal wedding (UPDATE: Amy posted her very sharp take on the incident over here). According to The Guardian, London police ” had imposed a section 60 blanket stop-and-search order around the whole royal wedding zone, after a few individuals were seen putting scarves over their faces in Soho Square.” This allowed police “to search without discretion,” and, apparently, to harass the undead:
(Image from Comics Alliance)
I just read Comics Alliance’s description of the latest issue of Action Comics, and apparently Superman has renounced his American citizenship. While I have never been that taken with the writing of David S. Goyer (the Blade trilogy, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), he may have redeemed himself with this little bit of “ripped from the headlines” superheroics, Here’s Laura Hudson’s recap of the moment in question:
The key scene takes place in “The Incident,” a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President’s national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.
Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day — and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective.
The timing of this moment could not amuse me more (it also, consciously or not, critiques another current Superman story that began with the character walking around the country and aligning himself with
crude, absurd caricatures real American folks from the flyover states). I’m sure smarter people than I will justify President Obama’s decision to engage so directly with the birthers, but it is also a little depressing to see a comic book so handily make contemporary political discourse look so cartoonish. While the world at large (and Warner Brothers) will surely regard Superman as a cultural icon (and a brand) firmly aligned with American iconography and ideals, it’s great to see Goyer and the Superman team wrestling with questions of national identity.
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All
Check out “What We Talk About When We Talk About Odd Future,” a piece I wrote for my pal Ricky’s site, At A Glimpse. It’s a short essay, and it’s intended to get a conversation going on how the group has been reviewed and perceived by the press. A few quick notes:
-If you’re new to Odd Future, Pitchfork has an overview of their major records (and links to said records).
-The Bethelehem Shoals piece I mention in my essay can be found over at Poetry Foundation. It’s good.
-Speaking of casual homophobia, Kobe Bryant was recently fined $100,000 by the NBA for using the f-word to describe an official. Jon Amaechi’s take on the incident is worth your time.
-Speaking of the NBA, Knicks in seven. Unless Ray Allen continues to play like Ray Allen.
When a Facebook friend recently posted a photo of his hot-off-the-press copy of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, I groaned. Not because I dislike DFW: I have read and enjoyed his collections of essays, I wish his commencement speech could replace the one that Eliot Spitzer gave at my graduation ceremony, and I have been circling Infinite Jest for the last month or so. No, the groan was directed at the photographer and the possible reasons one might post such an image. If I’m in a bad mood (and clearly I was when I groaned), I might believe that this person is using the photo to delineate his standing as a Cool Kid: he’s the type of kid who uses Facebook to show off his DFW purchases, link to songs by The Weekend, and upload Hipstamatic shots of the New York City skyline. If I’m in a more gracious, introspective move, I might find more similarities than differences between these activities and my own Facebook pursuits: badmouthing American Psycho and other Cool Kid signifiers, digging up old clips of Adam McKay’s short films from Saturday Night Live, posting links to a blog where I talk about recent films that I have seen. I am sure my Facebook activity makes people groan all the time.
I spent part of yesterday listening to a recent episode of comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, which featured Maron and The State alum Michael Showalter discussing, of all things, semiotics. Showalter, who is currently teaching grad classes in film at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of The Arts, was discussing his interest in semiotics as an undergrad, and he was running through a general overview of how signs function in film: bad guys in westerns wear black hats, good guys wear white ones, etc.
The conversation ended up being a great warm-up for my afternoon screening of Hanna, a film marketed as what passes for a conventional in its unconventionality, comic-book-meets-pop-art action film in the tradition of Run Lola Run, Kill Bill, and Oldboy. While it’s certainly in conversation with the conventions and aesthetics of action films, Hanna is more interesting to me in the way that it turns a fairly routine story about coming-of-age into a hot mess about the limits of control. The Jarmusch reference is intentional there, as I think Hanna covers terrain mapped about by that director’s most recent film in a more immediately engaging and compelling manner (that being said, I do like The Limits of Control, and Hanna still loses out to Dead Man if you are prone to treating movies like American Gladiators).
(Spoilers Below: the short review is Go See Hanna)