Novelist and teacher M. Thomas Gammarino experienced an epiphany when he taught two courses in the same semester, one on science fiction, and another in modernism. Gammarino expected the two genres to clash, but happily discovered they supplemented each other. The reason, he explains in this Omni article, is that all art aims to enable us to see the world more intently by presenting it in unfamiliar and challenging ways:
In his 1917 essay “Art as Device,” Russian formalist poet Viktor Shlovky gave us the term ostranenie to describe the primary function of art. The term is usually translated as “defamiliarization,” though it literally means “strange-making.” The job of art, in other words, is to renew our eyes by making the familiar appear strange. Other modernists had— or would— put forth variations on this idea, from Mallarmé’s “Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu” (purify the words of the tribe) to Ezra Pound’s “Make it new,” and modernist critics regularly invoke this idea to illuminate the sorts of linguistic experiments writers like Gertrude Stein and James Joyce were up to.
I heartily agree. Both fantasy and sci-fi renew one’s sense of wonder in ways literary fiction cannot. That’s not to say literary fiction is incapable of reawakening the awe we felt as a child discovering our shiny, new world. Energetic, evocative writing in any genre helps us re-imagine the world around us, forcing us to see it anew. But literary fiction tends to focus on the inner world, while fantasy and sci-fi direct us toward the outer world — or even toward new, imagined worlds. Speculative fiction always goes big, reminding us of our role in society, the world, and the universe itself.
That’s what makes fantasy and sci-fi such powerful springboards for the imagination.
Alice Osborn writes: “Star Wars is more than shoot ‘em bad guys with laser guns and escaping in fast spacecraft—it’s about 4 fundamental life lessons.” Alice discusses those lessons in her latest blog post, which I highly recommend.
Almost 40 years after it blasted its way into movie theaters and popular culture, Star Wars still commands our attention. There’s good reason for that. In crafting Luke Skywalker’s grand adventure, George Lucas took Joseph Campbell’s heroic myth, added memorable characters and innovative special effects, and produced a cinematic classic that tells a timeless tale. Lucas managed to “Make it New!”
Ezra Pound’s battle cry not only inspired the Modernists who explored radical techniques to convey their ideas, but also describes the maddening challenge all artists wrestle with, to take what already exists, whether paint, bronze, or words, and shape those elements into something both meaningful and worthwhile of our attention.
Part of that challenge is to work within a living tradition and keeping “it” alive by adapting it to present-day needs and concerns. The artist’s goal is to select and rearrange timeless insights and conventions and make them into something a new generation wants to enjoy and claim as its own. Timeless messages, such as Campbell’s heroic myth, have endured over generations because they speak to the human condition, something that does not change even as the conditions in which it exists does change, sometimes dramatically. It takes artistic vision to perceive those enduring patterns and make them interesting. It also takes hard work. But when it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. No wonder we keep going back to classics such as Star Wars.
From Bloomberg Business:
Ernest Hemingway’s memoir about the time he spent lounging in cafes and bars in 1920s Paris has become an unlikely totem of defiance against the terrorist attacks that claimed 129 lives in the City of Light last Friday.
Hemingway’s ‘‘A Moveable Feast,’’ or “Paris est une Fete” in French, is flying off the shelves at bookstores across the French capital and is the fastest-selling biography and foreign-language book at online retailer Amazon.fr. Daily orders of the memoir, first published in 1964, three years after the American author’s death, have risen 50-fold to 500 since Monday, according to publisher Folio.
Copies have been laid among the flowers and tributes at the sites of the massacres, and people are reading the book in bars and cafes, Folio spokesman David Ducreux said Thursday. Orders surged after a BFM television interview on Monday with a 77-year-old woman called Danielle, who urged people to read the memoir as she laid flowers for the dead. The video was shared hundreds of times on social media.
I think this is a marvelous way to express solidarity with the people of Paris in the wake of last week’s horrific massacre. That said, the article’s description of A Moveable Feast as an account of the time Hemingway “spent lounging in cafes and bars in 1920s Paris” misses the mark. Yes, there are sensuous descriptions of how he and his friends “ate well and cheaply and drank well,” but the little masterpiece also reveals how Hemingway mastered the craft of fiction, including how he dealt with rejection letters. Hemingway’s vignettes of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald are not to be missed.
If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy at the library or book store. And let folks know you’re doing it for Paris.
You may recognize Tom Cochrane for his hits “Lunatic Fringe” and “Life is a Highway.” But “White Hot” is my favorite Cochrane song, and this version, featuring Cochrane’s band Red Rider and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, is electrifying. The song is a tribute to French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who abandoned a promising literary career for a life of reckless adventure. Cochrane’s lyrics evoke the thrills and terrors Rimbaud experienced:
Cast out from the jungle
With no rations or canteen
For selling faulty rifles
To the thieves in Tanzania
Adventures and misfortune
Nothing wagered, nothing gained
I have wandered through the desert
Found the ocean not the rain
Rimbaud influenced a number of important writers, including Ezra Pound and Henry Miller. Miller acknowledged his debt to Rimbaud in The Time of the Assassins, which Cochrane read and admired.
Here’s the passage that inspired Cochrane to write the song:
Rimbaud turned from literature to life; I did the reverse. Rimbaud fled from the chimeras he had created; I embraced them. Sobered by the folly and waste of mere experience of life, I halted and converted my energies to creation. …
Rimbaud restored literature to life; I have endeavored to restore life to literature. … With him I have felt an underlying primitive nature which manifests itself in strange ways. Claudel styled Rimbaud “a mystic in the wild state.” Nothing could describe him better. He did not “belong” – not anywhere. I have always had the same feeling about myself. [emphasis mine]
I think Cochrane’s lyrics and melody perfectly capture Miller’s mood and message. The song’s distant, mystical opening lures the listener close, then sweeps him up with a driving melody that arouses stark awareness of the dangers and adventures Rimbaud chased all over the globe. Ezra Pound believed we can recognize worthy poetry by “the play of image, music, and meaning” within it, and “White Hot” definitely qualifies.
That’s great songwriting. No wonder Tom Cochrane’s career has endured over the decades.