Posts by: Roxie Pell

Carving the Uncanny Valley

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Any Luddite with half a brain has already begun stockpiling nonperishables for the inevitable moment the robots rise up against us. Over at the Ploughshares blog, Joelle Renstrom recounts how writers were awakened to the threat of artificial intelligence:

A certain likeness to humans inspires kinship, but when the line blurs, that kinship turns to fear.

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Daddy Wasn’t There

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Anyone who made it through high school English can probably recall reading a story or two about young protagonists finding themselves in the absence of parental guidance. From whence does this orphan trope come? And why?

Is this what all of us innately fear—the state of being in charge of our destinies, the only ones responsible for our own actions and decisions?

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21st Century Magical Realist

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Beyond the obvious fact of when it was written or published, what does it mean for literature to be contemporary? Is a work’s relevance determined by market trends and cultural currents? In her monthly advice column for Electric Literature, Elisa Gabbert allays a writer’s temporally induced anxieties:

Magical realism “has been done,” yes, but so has everything else.

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Unstuck in Time

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Despite its uncanny salience in the context of this most recent wave of social injustice and protest, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was written well before the #BlackLivesMatter movement began. Far from a coincidence, the book’s resonance is a product of the same paradox of time it describes, in which dated social conditions cannot possibly continue to exist, yet do:

All of the characters, regardless of how completely absurd they seem, are reacting to living in a time in which Beatty also resides; one in which he is daring to call something “‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.”

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The Hope Whose Death It Announces

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Poetry is defined by a failure to live up to the hype it generates, promising divine transcendence through a medium that is essentially human. This is the paradox Ben Lerner articulates in his dissertation on The Hatred of Poetry. At The New Republic, Ken Chen doesn’t buy it:

You get the sense Lerner’s intellectualized peevishness about poetry is simply an elaborate defense, one that distances an author from the shame, discomfort, and vulnerability that comes from experiencing one’s own emotions.

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But for Man’s Absence

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Released this May, director Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 sci-fi novel High-Rise converts the dystopian work into a tableau of striking visuals made all the more seductive by the presence of elegant Internet boyfriend du jour Tom Hiddleston. At Electric Literature, Michael Betancourt analyzes the contrasting versions of masculinity presented in the book and the film:

If the appeal of the high-rise in Ballard’s novel lay in the fact that it “was an environment built not for man, but for man’s absence,” Wheatley’s adaptation dismantles the sexist humanist language at work in the author’s rhetoric.

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Thinking about the Past as If It Were the Future

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Chuck Klosterman’s new book, But What If We’re Wrong, theorizes how today will appear in the history books. But how will his own work hold up?

The further in the future you peer the more impossible it is to anticipate what that future will look like or even what its denizens believe about the basic principles of existence, let alone what books they’re reading.

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The Great American Sermon

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After all, the essay, in its American incarnation, is a direct outgrowth of the sermon: argumentative, insistent, not infrequently irritating.

Minimalist prose. Maximalist ideas. A long tradition of anti-intellectualism. Adverbs. At the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham asks what makes an essay American?

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