The Sometime Seminar discusses Vanity Fair (1848), a sprawling comic novel of social climbing and falling by William Makepeace Thackeray.
Topics covered include: Stereotyping, racial, social, and/or comedic — Cynicism and world-weariness, the politics of — Codes of sexual taboo and prurience, the narrative effects of — Repugnant worldviews, their palatability when expressed in comic form — Narrative exclusion, the form and politics of — Historical fiction, the Oedipal politics of
(As usual, spoiler warning: our discussion naturally covers much of the novel’s plot.)
Project Gutenberg has a free electronic text of Vanity Fair, but it is very poorly edited; we recommend buying a real edition.
Supplemental links: John Sutherland on Thackeray’s racism
Can a book with a moon-base in it be science fiction, but not because of the moon-base? If an interesting narrative structure combined with thoughtful, well-rounded characterization in a setting rich with recent history don’t make a novel “literary,” what would? And is “super Sophie’s Choice” a silly, point-missing blurb even if Ursula K. Le Guin wrote it?
Connoisseurs of negation, travelers from the land of pure being, Stygian toads that know they don’t exist, and a literary gift on the order of Kafka or Borges—wonders abound as the Sometime Seminar discusses Autobiography of a Corpse, a collection of comic philosophical fables and fantastic short stories, mostly from the 1920s, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
Also, it’s our 50th episode! Hooray!
The Sometime Seminar discusses the fantastic, in both senses, horror story “The White People” (1899) by Arthur Machen, along with other stories: “The Great God Pan” (1890), “A Fragment of Life” (1904), “The Great Return” (1915).
Apart from “The Great God Pan,” all the stories discussed are contained in S.T. Joshi’s Penguin edition, The White People and Other Weird Stories.
Puns, pratfalls, mutants, peasants, mutant peasants, existential dread, verbal invention, narrative non-invention, and a perhaps excessive dose of Cold-War-liberal-dissident nostalgia. Plus the tragic tale of the Gingerbread Man!
The Sometime Seminar discusses The Slynx (Russian 2000/English 2003), a bleakly comic post-apocalyptic story by Tatyana Tolstaya.
The pursuit of post-romantic transcendence disguised as comic/horrific oversharing…or is it the other way around? Intricate structural artifice disguised as off-the-cuff rambling…or is it the other way around?
This episode of The Sometime Seminar discusses, without finishing, My Struggle (English 2012-forthcoming; Norwegian 2009-2011), an immersive six-volume memoir-fiction by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
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