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Susan Stinson


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April 18th, 2014

bookslut @ 07:08 am:

Imogen Cunningham The Unmade Bed 1957.jpgImage: The Unmade Bed by Imogen Cunningham

Semiotext(e) created a pamphlet collection for the Whitney Biennial. They published chapbooks by some of my favorite writers: Simone Weil, Bifo, Eileen Myles, Abdellah Taia. It's a huge collection of work, so I've only started to go through them, but Jackie Wang's "Against Innocence" is a stunner, and Franco "Bifo" Berardi's "Neuro Totalitarianism" is apparently the philosophical critique of the tech culture I've been waiting for. (Rebecca Solnit's cultural critique of Silicon Valley is just as powerful.)

While we are fetishizing, when will Seagull start getting the loyalty and love that NYRB, Melville House, Dalkey Archive, and other publishers that seem to get their own wall in clever independent bookstores get? They do fucking amazing, beautiful books. Francois Morin's A World Without Wall Street? should be read alongside Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

And while you're supporting good independent publishers, don't forget about us. Our second chapbook may have sold out, but we still have copies of Daphne Gottlieb's "Bess" and John Biguenet's "The Other Half," all lovingly handmade and illustrated and gorgeous. And of course we are already working on numbers four and five.

I don't know why I am in sales pitch mode, but just a word about Spolia* itself: we decided that the best way to pay our contributors would just to split the proceeds evenly between everyone, so that is what we are doing now. When you buy an issue for $5, or subscribe for $50, that money goes directly to our writers. I'm not even taking a cut at this point, since we're new and fledgling and not yet the powerhouse I am certain we will be, once people realize what incredible writers Rebecca Brown, Daphne Gottlieb, Mia Gallagher, Gary Armdahl, Joanna Kavenna and our other regulars are, not to mention the people who swing by for just a visit instead of moving right in, like Sjon and Mikhail Shishkin and Curtis White and Viktor Horvath and jesus christ all of the others. Hopefully that will happen before we are all dead, so someone other than heirs gets the money.

I'm trying to be very Six of Coins! Conscientious about where my money goes and how that expresses what I value. To like an insane degree I am doing this. Today I am expressing my value of the company that makes German organic rhubarb soda, those fuckers are geniuses, and Robert Graves**. As well as Powells, our new affiliate partner.

* Speaking of Spolia, I am looking for someone to write an essay about Vivian Maier for our upcoming issue. I am interested in this process of turning a "forgotten" woman into a cash making machine for the men who discovered her negatives. If you're interested, please get in touch.

** Someone please please please put this movie back into production.

April 16th, 2014

obesitytimebomb @ 06:45 pm: Hamburger Queen 2014

Holly Revell took this photograph
I am ashamed to admit that I was cynical when I first heard about Hamburger Queen. It had been a while since I'd been excited about the idea of a détourned queer beauty contest for fat people. It's not like they're ten a penny, more like I felt that I'd got whatever I was ever going to get out of the concept from other iterations.

I showed up to the second show of the first run in 2011 and it was one of the most excellent things I'd ever witnessed, for reasons I'll explain below. I was hooked immediately and have been at every episode since then. I participated in 2012, acted as the in-house therapist in 2013, and have been on the peripheries this year too. It's become one of the joys of my fat queer life.

2014 marks the end of Hamburger Queen. It's too expensive and there are other things to be getting on with. There's one more heat and then the grand final. Tickets are still available, if you can YOU MUST GO.

It's not over yet, but I'm going to offer a few reflections on the thing anyway. Yeah, this is gushy but so be it. I hope that Fat Studies people are looking at this stuff closely, I sincerely believe it is the future of fat.

Hamburger Queen is immersive popular theatre masquerading as a strange kind of contest. There is a big cast of people who perform and do duties like take tickets at the door, or sell raffle tickets (I won the meat raffle two weeks ago!) and t-shirts. You can eat special Hamburger Queen burgers. You feel as though you have entered a different universe, one where fat people are as much a part of things as anyone else. There are a lot of sequins and glitter slash. The music is themed along with the look of the place. Amidst this are performances, videos, chit-chat with the audience. It's a total environment!

I'm writing this as though it all just happens by magic. It looks that way because the person behind it knows how to put on a show. It's been amazing to see Scottee develop Hamburger Queen over the last four years, a privilege to see the work come about as a product of his astounding imagination, aesthetics, intellect, ambition and sheer graft. He has so much to offer.

That this is Scottee's show is not in doubt, but he's managed to create a platform where many people can shine, not least his co-presenters Amy Lamé and Felicity Hayward. Other performers have come through too: Ginger Johnson has been bringing the house down this year with her love letters to chubby celebrities, Jayde Adams and Miss Annabel Sings have also made their mark, along with internet sensation Jude Bean.

The contest is the thing on which it all hangs. The contestants are a funny bunch and there's a reason for that. Hamburger Queen is a high pressure experience so you'd better be up to it if you're going to apply. It involves wearing something incredible, and doing so fearlessly; performing to a mixed and capricious crowd; and serving up a tasty treat to some very picky people. You do this twice if you get through to the final.

Hamburger Queen makes space for all kinds of people, and one of the things I love is that it does not exalt assimilation. Sometimes a contestant wears a nice outfit, or presents something that is very much a part of mainstream fat cultural values. These people are supported, but they're somewhat marginal to the main event, which is about eye-popping, draggy, fleshy, unapologetic embodied weirdness. My favourite contestants: the skinny hippy drag queen on drugs who twirled and twirled and twirled around the audience; the guy who played with razor blades, cut himself and bled profusely; Scarlett's Human Pass the Parcel act; Neon's Samba moves; Kayleigh's Venus of Willendorf dance; the woman who did Flashdance with paper plates of horrible cream; Ruby sticking a shoe up her whatsit, and on it goes. Every week there is something electrifying to see.

The judges are eclectic, to say the least. They make a mockery of fairness or justice. Contestants try and psych them out, but there's no rhyme or reason as to who wins. It's all decided in the Taste round, and woe betide the contestant who treats it flippantly. I thought Bea Sweet's Kentucky Fried dinner was sublime in the first season, but they hated it. Same goes for the contestant who produced a block of lard covered in party sprinkles. Yet they loved Ashleigh Owen's chocolate shit, served in nappies. You just can't tell. Sometimes a judge goes rogue. June Brown gave everybody a lecture about health; Nancy Dell'Olio threatened some kind of drama that I've now completely forgotten about; Matthew Kelly gave everyone hugs; Fenella Fielding needed an early night; Lisa Stansfield sang for us. Precious moments indeed.

Photo by Holly Revell
Hamburger Queen has played an important part in a shift in my own fat politics. I've been socialised into fat through a mixture of US-centric cut-throat identity politics that don't always translate so well here, and which sometimes feel like a form of cultural imperialism. Added to this is an academic training that values rigour. Hamburger Queen is a hot mess that sticks up two fingers at political purity as an ideal. This has felt so freeing to me. I still think that thoughtfulness and rigour are valuable, and I also adore the places where lines are unclear; the slapdash; the great confusing mixture of things that Hamburger Queen plonks right in your lap. It is so badly behaved. Cue Timberlina's unrepentant, frantic, sex dance in an inflatable fat suit. My eyes.

Hamburger Queen has brought about another change in the way I think about fat activism. I'm less about a reasoned debate with Important People these days and more about a fat tap-dancing troupe called The Cholesterols in a pub full of people roaring with delight. To me, this is about experiencing possibilities, imagining something gorgeous and making it real, doing so collectively in a broader social context that is generally very shut down and conservative. I find it very beautiful and, to invoke a couple of words that are greatly overused, inspiring and awesome. This is where I want to be.

Hamburger Queen is ending, but Scottee Inc continues. This means that there are more exciting performance things in the pipeline. Full disclosure: I serve on the board. Non-disclosure: I'm not going to tell you about the projects that are on their way just yet, you'll have to wait and see. What I can say is that they continue to develop fat spectacle, popular entertainment, new performance forms, queer thrills and more. It's going to be great! Hold tight.

Hamburger Queen
ScotteeScottee YouTube – view clips from all the Hamburger Queens

If you’d like to find out about ways you can support Scottee Inc please email

smallbeerpress @ 03:53 pm: Reading like its 1971

Emma Tupper’s Diary cover - click to view full sizeI turned one in 1971 and while I like to think I was enjoying some pretty great books (who can tell, they’ve all been eaten by me, my siblings, and time) I know of one good book that came out that year that I didn’t read: Peter Dickinson’s Emma Tupper’s Diary.

I don’t think I even read this book growing up*, which is a shame, as from the age of 9 or 10 on up it would have been a scarily good fit: I lived in the West Coast of Scotland among beautiful hills and lochs and would have eaten up a novel about an odd family (cough) whose cousin comes to visit from Botswana (we had cousins come from South Africa . . .). The only parts that are missing are

  1. the family business — teaching vs. their McAndrew’s Infallible Liniment
  2. the family minisubmarine — my family’s lack, that is, as far as I know . . .
  3. my father (sadly) did not go off abroad leaving us nominally looked after by a beautiful kleptomaniacal governess while we gallivanted about, pulled the wool over the eyes of the BBC, etc. (Also, my mother, unlike in many books for kids, is still alive. And still a great reader!)
  4. and, lastly, despite our searching, no proof of any monsters in any of the local lochs.

I am still sometimes confused by the way that time only seems to move in one way. I certainly feel different ages a lot of the time (although happily not 1-year-old) but I don’t seem to be able to go back in time and hand me this book. Shame! But at least since we reprinted it, it has been finding new readers:

Gayle Surette at SFRevu writes: “a great adventure story with characters that seem very real and as relatable today as there were then. It’s got a great location, adventure, great by-play and witty conversations, as well as an ecological and humanitarian conundrum with real implications for the future of the area and its denizens.”

and the Midwest Book Review notes that it is “Updated with a new cover and illustrations, this remains a great, now classic, summer read.”

Kathleen Jennings provided us with that new great cover of Emma writing her diary with a certain something in the background and we also got to use her sketches throughout the book.

Emma Tupper’s Diary is full of prickly people who rub each other the wrong way. Oh how I do wish I’d read it when I was a kid! But at least Kelly had it when I met her and eventually I got to read it and at some point we realized it would be a whole lot of fun to re-release this book back into the world. It’s a book that’s paced differently from many books for kids (aka readers of all ages!) and as noted by the Midwest Book Review, it also hearkens back to summer holidays when kids (of a certain class and in certain places) got bored and sometimes ran around and did stuff. In that way it is mildly, mildly reminiscent of another classic children’s book that will whisk you away on a summer’s day: Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, which, happily, the fine folk at Godine always have in print.

More suggestions of mucking around in summer books welcome. Especially as we woke up to snow and a reminder from Mother Nature that she’s the one who decides when spring comes, ok? Ok!

Get Emma Tupper’s Diary here and the ebook here.

* I’m not one of those people who can remember every book they’re read. I know (barely**) what I’m reading now and the last two books I read. But, before that? Erm. And what was I reading in 1980? Um. All I can say is lots and lots. Anything, everything. I was often the kid who got to pick the books from the mobile library for the school library refresh. You know, one of those. Inject your own tales of biblioscarcity and scavenging here!

** I was asked this morning and could not remember the title. Um.

bookslut @ 09:14 am:

zorach.jpgImage: Two Nudes by Marguerite Zorach

Some odds and ends:

- I wrote a short piece for Mystic Medusa marking the one year anniversary of not having a place of my own, one year of living out of a suitcase. (Trigger warning for people anti-astrology -- it's an astrology website. One that I like. But I do talk about my Virgo moon conjunct Odysseus, wouldn't want you to go in there unprepared.) I've noticed, both in the comments over there a little and in the interactions I've had in the past year or so, that if you tell people that you have decided to fuck off and travel for a long period of time, they will assume that someone else is paying for it, a man of some sort, or that you "come from money." And if you say, no, actually, I make a pretty insignificant amount of money, but I know how to spend that money very wisely, and I've been supporting myself financially since I was 19, they don't necessarily believe you.

I think it's maybe being a woman. I have no proof for this, so that can be a miscalculation, but I think it is partly because we don't have a lot of stories of women on the road, it is such a man thing to do. Bruce Chatwin, the Durrells, Henry Miller, all the way down to Anthony Bourdain, right? It's not that women travelers don't exist, but they are not iconic. A lot of them are out of print. Freya Stark, Ella Maillart, Gertrude Bell, Isabel Burton. Only Burton, really, went on adventuring because of a husband, the other were very independent. The only iconic woman traveler we have is... Elizabeth Gilbert? Who was, let's say, privately funded and didn't exactly do us women on the road any favors.

So read some women travel writers. Just nothing that mentions yoga or ashrams.

- The woman artist here, Marguerite Zorach, while in Paris and needing to go back to New York, traveled through Europe, North Africa, South Asia, Indonesia and then by steamer over the Pacific and then by train. I think this was in 1910, I forgot to write the year down. WHERE IS HER BOOK. (Oh right, out of print.)

- Terjei Vesaas's The Ice Palace is exquisite, why is this so obscure? In the bookstore that I run in my mind, there is a room for The Strange Inner Worlds of Young Girls, and The Ice Palace is there, with Kathryn Davis's The Thin Place and The Secret Garden, and Heavenly Creatures and The Picnic at Hanging Rock play endlessly on a loop. Except for at night, when we play Stoker.

- We have switched affiliate programs, from Amazon to Powells. We resisted at first (and then continued because of laziness) because we needed the money, but it barely brings in anything anymore, so what does it matter? But yes, now we link to Powells.

- Everyone should be reading Capital in the 21st Century. Especially if you are broke and working hard just to stay afloat and your self-esteem gets caught up in it, you wonder, why can't I just afford to live in a city that I like, what is wrong with me, why am I failing at being a person? Explanation here.

April 15th, 2014

bookslut @ 09:42 am:

carrington.jpgImage: Leonora Carrington, Le chant des oiseaux

In the April issue of Bookslut, Nicholas Vajifdar reviews Jane Bowles’s novel Two Serious Ladies, which was reissued by HarperCollins earlier this year. Jane Bowles is almost as famous for her undeserved obscurity as she is for the strength of her body of work. A Google search for her name turns up results from blogs titled things like “Writers No One Reads;” The Daily Beast’s piece on Two Serious Ladies starts off with the claim “You’ve likely never heard of Jane Bowles...” Despite the scarcity of her output, what work Jane Bowles did produce (which, aside from Two Serious Ladies, amounted to a few short stories and a play, In the Summer House) earned her great admiration from her contemporaries Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and John Ashbery, and continues to awe readers to this day.

For those who would like to know more about this unsung modernist writer, here are some brief essays:

“All of Jane Bowles’s writing has about it an otherness that feels expressive of a child’s perceptions. Her vision lands on people and places and finds them funny—a child’s version of funniness.”
-- “Lost and Found: Alice Elliott Dark” | Tin House

Alice Elliott Dark dissects Jane Bowles’ short story “A Stick of Green Candy” in this 2002 essay republished on the web through Tin House’s Lost and Found series.

“Her novel, Two Serious Ladies, was a revelation -- a work of genius, unique, subversive. These terms are overused, and usually misused, but are true of this audacious, brilliantly written novel, this masquerade, comedy, tragedy, with its anarchic, singular views of sexuality, marriage, femininity, masculinity, American culture, exoticism.”
-- Lynne Tillman, “Nothing is Lost or Found: Desperately Seeking Paul and Jane Bowles” | Joyland

Lynne Tillman writes about reaching out to Paul Bowles in search of work for an anthology she was editing; in return, however, she received friendship, and a chance to look deeper into the lives of the Bowleses than she previously would have thought possible.

“She agonized over the simplest decisions: where to go for dinner, what to eat, etc. Her fear and pain, so unfathomable, were seemingly two-fold. There was the fear of freedom, but also the fear of never claiming it.”
-- Christiane Craig, “‘Locked in Each Other’s Arms’: Jane Bowles’s Fiction of Psychic Dependency” | The Quarterly Conversation

Christiane Craig takes a close look at the motifs and anxieties that pervaded Bowles’ life and work.

Finally, Jon Carlson has a piece in rain taxi on visiting Jane Bowles’s grave in Malaga.

April 14th, 2014

bookslut @ 12:45 am:

caravaggio.jpgImage by Caravaggio, murdering fuckhead

We made a change to the Daphne shortlist. We removed David Irving's Destruction in Dresden in favor of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death.

I have a... standard, let's call it. I believe that it's important to separate the art from the artist, but only when they are dead. When artists are raping or beating their wives and still up and around, I am of the opinion that you should not give them your money or support. Part of it is because of this here. Do I want that artist that I happen to like who murdered his wife and got away with it to have more money to do things with and enjoy his life? Do I want to express my value to him in the form of cash? No, not really. And it's not like someone like Woody Allen needs my money at this point, but it's the principle of the thing. My money is finite, I'll give it to someone who isn't an asshole.

Because of all that, letting Destruction in Dresden onto the shortlist, given that its author is a Holocaust denying fuckhead (alleged! He sues!) and is still alive, was a difficult decision to make. And I never quite felt okay with it, as much as I admire the book. After a couple conversations, and then bringing it to a vote with the nonfiction panelists, we decided to remove the book after all. And replace it with a Mitford, whose family knows all about being fuckheads, but okay. (That's a really nice top you've got on, Unity, where'd you get it? It's so cute, oh my god, really? Really, Unity Mitford?) Jessica was a tough babe, she'll be fine.

I still think there's an interesting conversation to be had around Destruction in Dresden, but maybe we'll do it without the book in play. Stan Carey, one of our panelists, recommended Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, which also discusses how we turn other people into something less than human, and don't regret wiping them out.

As a result of all this, the Daphne Awards, which would have been announced May-ish, will probably have to be pushed back a little, we had a new book to order and distribute. (And read. And debate.) We'll keep you posted.

April 12th, 2014

bookslut @ 05:03 am:

opt395356.jpgIt turns out that it wasn't just pagan holidays and so on that the Christians tried to co-opt. (Saturnalia=Christmas, Ostara=Easter, St. Valentine's Day with that day you whip yourself and turn into a wolf or whatever.) Way back when Medieval was shading into Renaissance, some people had the idea to create a Christian version of astrology.

The way to do that was to change the beasts of the zodiac into apostles or parables. Wilhelm Schickhardt's L'Astroscopium turns Aries, the Ram, into the sacrifice of Isaac. (The story of Isaac is mostly just a way to differentiate themselves from Carthage's Moloch anyway.) The twins of Gemini, which represent the trickster aspect of Mercury, become Jacob and Esau, which is only really interesting in PL Travers's telling.

Andreas Cesllarius gave each zodiac sign an apostle variation: as a Cancer, I would have been born under the sign of John the Apostle. John from the Book of John is not very interesting, but John from Revelations -- that I could be okay being born under the star of. Fiery death and the whore of Babylon and apocalyptic angels? Yes, please.

At any rate, it does make some sense: a lot of the Surrealists, who all seemed pro-Apocalypse, had a lot of Cancer in play. Including my favorite, Leonor Fini. Her Battle of the Angels is quite something. (Not to mention her Beast from the Sea.)

On another note, does anyone know where one can find some Will-Erich Peuckert in English? I'm going off the little that Culianu translated for his Eros and Magic. Would appreciate any leads.

April 11th, 2014

bookslut @ 10:07 am:

Daphne Gottlieb has been one of my favorite writers since I read Final Girl.

there is nothing i can do
except open my throat
and say the word for girls
who are the ghosts of want:


(Full poem here)

We've been publishing her very regularly in Spolia, both in our issues and in chapbook form. You can find new work by her all over our store.

I joked on Twitter that Daphne Gottlieb was our Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the poet who was the most frequent contributor to Margaret Anderson's Little Review. From Nicholas Vajifdar's column about the Baroness:

Her thirteen years in Greenwich Village were her heyday. She spent them playing the part of The Baroness, a sort of Statute of Liberty come to life who also submitted poems to The Little Review. Early on she made The New York Times after a policeman arrested her for smoking and wearing men's clothes, under the immortal headline "She Wore Men's Clothes." Other stunts included wearing car blinkers on her hips and tin cans on her breasts, and bothering William Carlos Williams by following him around. Nevertheless both Williams and Pound were sufficiently charmed by her to namecheck the Baroness in their poems. Like many of the most aesthetically satisfying aristocrats, she was made, and not born, noble, and took to her role with the zeal of a method actor. Her face in photographs is inevitably one of affected disdain, like a Borgia smelling a peasant, all to conceal her enthusiasm for the part she was playing.

At any rate, you should read Daphne Gottlieb, buy her chapbook "Bess" (a beautiful piece of work, if I do say so myself as its publisher), and read the excerpt from her latest Spolia contribution, "Compliant."

officialgaiman @ 02:18 am: gal·li·mau·fry (noun) 1. a confused jumble or medley of things.

posted by Neil Gaiman
I taught my first class at Bard on Tuesday night. It was slightly nerve wracking, but the 14 people who are listening to me burble about writing and fantasy seem very nice and relatively forgiving, and I'm looking forward to doing it again tomorrow night. Only, I hope, saying different things.

The Evening With Art Spiegelman and Me at Bard was wonderful. It was sold out, and became mostly an interview, with me asking Art things, although I read the first few pages of the version of Hansel and Gretel I've written that Lorenzo Mattotti has illustrated, which was rather wonderful. (You can see one of the marvelous Mattotti illustrations on the screen behind us in this photo by Gideon Lester.)

There aren't any more events in New York this year that there are tickets for, except for THE TRUTH IS A CAVE IN THE BLACK MOUNTAINS at Carnegie Hall. (At which I think I will also do the first reading of the whole of Hansel and Gretel as well.) Lots of people are asking if there will be a signing there... and I'm definitely considering it. The Ocean at the End of the Lane will have just come out in paperback, and The Truth is a Cave In The Black Mountains graphic novel will just have come out.... It's definitely possible.

Tickets and information at

(And Where's Neil will tell you everywhere else I'll be until July, including San Francisco, London, Edinburgh, Barcelona and Madrid:

Right now I'm in San Diego, just for the day, in order to see Amanda, who is out here where it is warm and she is working on her book. I'm not sure that spending a whole day flying out, and a day flying back, in order to spend a day together, makes the best sense, but I missed her and she missed me and I quite enjoy writing on planes...

The new house in the woods is wonderful, and I'm enjoying getting to know the whole new world of  the Hudson Valley. And the old house back in the Midwest is still there, and it still has my books on the shelves and my art on the walls and my bed, and I suspect I'm going to wind up dividing my time between both places, as much as I succeed in living in any one place. I have a wife who also seems determined to have a bi-locational existence, only with Melbourne, Australia and New York City as her two places that she spends her life. We'll figure it out. As long as I get a desk to write at, and a view of trees, I'm happy.

Today, The Ocean at the End of the Lane came out in paperback in the UK. There's a moving version of the poster, which you can see here (needs Flash):

And here are the Ocean posters that do not move, and I am extremely happy because I don't think I've ever had books that were posters before. They leave me faintly nervous: I hope that the kind of people who would like the book will find it, and that people who would simply not enjoy it do not succumb to the blandishments of advertising. (Goes and checks to see if people are still enjoying it now it's out in paperback...) (And then puts up the Waterstones link, on noticing their name on the poster. Hello Waterstones!)

Let's see. I'll probably forget a few things I meant to mention here. I interviewed Stoya  in the Oyster Magazine (she is seen here being Death at a Dr Sketchy's).

Biting Dog Press are releasing a limited print in June of 500 copies of my "8 Rules For Writing".

You can't buy them retail -- they will be going directly to bookshops -- but Dave of Biting Dog is releasing 50 of them to the public directly as incentives to fund his daughter Kayla's Elephant Sanctuary Volunteer Trip: details at

I'm speaking in Syracuse, NY on April the 29th, as part of the Rosamund Gifford Lecture series. I will talk, and I will read, and it will be interesting. Details at

I was thrilled to see that James Herbert will have a horror writing prize named after him. Jim is much missed, and this can only help to make sure that his name remains in people's minds.

Locus, the Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field, does an annual poll and survey: you have another five days to make your votes heard, and to tell them who you are. The poll closes on April 15th:

A photo Amanda took of me last night. She calls it "Schrödinger's Door."

This blog post, forwarded to me by artist-genius Lisa Snellings, about the knock-on effects that my story "Harlequin Valentine" had, broke my heart and opened it wide:

Finally, congratulations to Stephen Colbert on becoming the next David Letterman.  I loved my time on the Colbert Report, rumpled funeral suit attire and all, but liked the man Colbert much more than the persona Colbert (and loved that he broke character while interviewing me). I'm really hoping that the Late Night show will be hosted by the man. (In case you missed it, here's the video of the interview from 2009.)

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April 9th, 2014

bookslut @ 04:49 am:

Ilka Ged? untitled 2.jpgImage: Ilka Gedő, Untitled Number Two

If you read enough about materialism, you start to wonder if you accidentally picked up an intelligent design book. The language is weirdly similar: we are all machines, we have no free will. It's just that in materialism, there is a scientific explanation for why this is so, rather than a religious one.

The materialist worldview has been pushed forward by the so-called "New Atheists" (somehow so much worse than the old ones!) like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. (Dawkins himself has for some reason decided to push a racist, sexist agenda as well, as if deciding the best way to defeat the biggest dicks of Christianity is to become the biggest dick of Science.) Andrew Ferguson does a better job of outlining this worldview:

The most famous, most succinct, and most pitiless summary of the manifest image’s fraudulence was written nearly 20 years ago by the geneticist Francis Crick: “ ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” ...

If we repeatedly tell folks that their sense of free will or belief in objective morality is essentially an illusion, such knowledge has the potential to undermine civilization itself, Dennett believes. Civil order requires the general acceptance of personal responsibility, which is closely linked to the notion of free will. Better, said Dennett, if the public were told that “for general purposes” the self and free will and objective morality do indeed exist—that colors and sounds exist, too—“just not in the way they think.” They “exist in a special way,” which is to say, ultimately, not at all.

And this is a worldview. It is one way of viewing the world, but somehow, materialists have confused this with the Truth. Like Christians did! And yet this view of the world seems wholly derived from Christianity, if you know your history, of how Christianity didn't just attack paganism, but going back to the Reformation went after the human imagination as well.

That's why I wanted to do an issue of Spolia devoted to The Mind. To the idea that we are not just a pack of neurons, a "moist robot" as Dennett insists on calling human beings. That things like emotion and imagination (and free fucking will) are things to be valued, and are not just bad data. So to that end, here is an anti-materialist, pro-Mind reading list:

Science and Poetry by Mary Midgley
We have to start with Mary Midgley. She is perhaps the greatest and most humane critic of materialism we have. And she's still writing, into her 90s. This particular book argues that science should know its place, that science should not try to explain poetry. Or consciousness. They are different impulses, different worlds, and there is strength in that. But by trying to reduce everything down to a simplistic formula, we lose a large part of our humanity.

Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
I was talking to a writer, and we deviated onto the subject of the New Atheists, and how terrible their books are. And their worldview. Moist robots, etc. And how simplistic their understanding of religion is. "Who was the last non-believer who was actually able to use their outsider position to fully see and understand religion?" he asked, and I immediately answered: William James. An agnostic who understood the religious and poetic and philosophic impulse better than any dogmatic believer (Christian or science).

Eros and Magic in the Renaissance by Ioan Culianu
His book chronicles both the rise of the scientific worldview and the attack of Christianity on imagery and imagination, but also how we misunderstand the scientific breakthroughs of the era. And the thinking of the great Renaissance scientists. It is the last time science melded thoroughly with faith, imagination, soul. He's very good at why that collaboration fell apart.

The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist
As much as I yammer on about this book, it is amazing to me you haven't read it yet. Or at least bought it in an attempt to get me to shut up. His book remains one of those world-changing books, you suddenly see things differently after reading it. The evolution of the mind, the effect hemisphere dominance has on culture, how big shifts in society's views (monotheism, Enlightenment, etc) happen.

Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil
Aphorisms about the self, about faith and belief, about history, that will split your brain open.

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