Mysterious assassins, grisly excrescences, metacinematic reflexivity, and metaphysical doubt as paranoid comedy–all this and a heaping bowl of mutated amphibians as the Sometime Seminar discusses eXistenZ (1999), a science-fiction film written and directed by David Cronenberg.
(DON LAFONTAINE VO) IN A WORLD where dark humor is banned and only cheerful art prevails, one man’s humor, and one woman’s life, are dark enough to put them on the authorities’ watch list…
The Sometime Seminar discusses
J (2014), a bleak satire or a funny dystopian novel by Howard Jacobson.
Our spoiler warning this time is more serious than usual: because of the way this novel works, even reading reviews of it beforehand will deprive you of the slow-dawning discovery of its strange world, and listening to the podcast before reading the book is probably a lot less fun than the other way around.
Supplementary links: reviews of J by James Walton in the Spectator (“Once you’re not being swept along by Jacobson’s prose, the awkward realisation dawns that he’s not joking, in more ways than one.”), Ian Sansom in the New Statesman, Tim Martin in the Telegraph, James Kidd in the Independent, John Burnside in the Guardian, and Anthony Cummins in the Observer
When the art-historical case studies are this impressively fine-grained, wide-ranging and surprising, does it matter that much if the overarching aesthetic-theoretical argument is pretty unconvincing? Is it possible to recover and update the utopian aspirations of aesthetic modernism without sounding silly?
The Sometime Seminar discusses Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art (French 2011/English 2013) by Jacques Rancière.
Can Victorian propriety be sustained in a discussion of the best way to dismember a corpse? What can we learn about a genre by going back to its lesser-known early instances, even if those instances are, honestly, kinda terrible?
The Sometime Seminar discusses The Female Detective (1864) by Andrew Forrester (a pseudonym of James Redding Ware), the first book of detective fiction with a female protagonist, which was recently republished by the British Library.
Supplemental links: Review essay on women in early detective fiction by Alice Spawls in the LRB
How many forms of uncanny weirdness can you cram into one trilogy? Can the Netflix model of binge consumption work for novels as well as TV shows? And should you settle for a mystery when you could have a mythos?
What does it mean for a poem to be difficult, anyway? And how can fart jokes and anagrammatic puns combine with elegiac poignancy and philosophical seriousness? The Sometime Seminar discusses Speech! Speech! (2000), a late-modernist poem about politics and the public sphere by Geoffrey Hill.
Discussed in the podcast: Ann Hassan’s Annotations to Geoffrey Hill’s Speech! Speech!
Supplementary link: Hill’s own favorite review of the poem, by Andy Fogle for PopMatters
How much can you tell about the psychic life of post-September-11 America from the movies? Just how important were The Matrix and The Passion of the Christ and Avatar as landmarks in cinema history? And why does CGI even matter?
The Sometime Seminar discusses Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (2010), a work of critical social theory about online culture by Jodi Dean.
Is science fiction becoming a conservative genre? The Sometime Seminar discusses the 31st (2014) edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, an annual anthology of short stories edited by Gardner Dozois which in decades past has served to define, and to introduce many readers (including us!) to, the genre.
Supplemental link: Paul Kincaid laments the “exhaustion” of 2012’s science-fiction anthologies
The Sometime Seminar discusses Identity and Difference: John Locke and the Invention of Consciousness (English 2013, French 1998) by Etienne Balibar. Balibar’s book, prompted by an interest in philosophical translation and untranslatability, centers on Chapter 27 of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and the genesis of the idea of “consciousness” in modern philosophy.