Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view. Wild and “different” as they may consider their quasi-weird products, it remains a fact that the bizarrerie is on the surface alone; and that basically they reiterate the same old conventional values and motives and perspectives. Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology — the usual superficial stock in trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace … Who ever wrote a story from the point of view that man is a blemish on the cosmos, who ought to be eradicated? As an example — a young man I know lately told me that he means to write a story about a scientist who wishes to dominate the earth, and who to accomplish his ends trains and overdevelops germs … and leads armies of them in the manner of the Egyptian plagues. I told him that although this theme has promise, it is made utterly commonplace by assigning the scientist a normal motive. There is nothing outré about wanting to conquer the earth; Alexander, Napoleon, and Wilhelm II wanted to do that. Instead, I told my friend, he should conceive a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself, who wishes to extirpate from the planet every trace of biological organism, animal and vegetable alike, including himself. That would be tolerably original. But after all, originality lies with the author. One can’t write a weird story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene, and a magic prism of imagination which suffuses theme and style alike with that grotesquerie and disquieting distortion characteristic of morbid vision. Only a cynic can create horror — for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.

H. P. Lovecraft
Letter to Edwin Baird (the first editor of Weird Tales), quoted from Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

MW auto-generates “readings” of my book EX MACHINA

I love this … visit the link and refresh the page to auto-generate a “reading” of my book Ex Machina! See the colophon, etc., below … “This literary stress-test assists in performing a qualitative analysis under the following hypothesis: nonlinear constructions of Ex Machina are semantically and poetically inferior to the first linear construction.”

Science fiction has always been attracted by speeds greater than that of light. Far stranger, however, would be the register of lower speeds to which light itself could descend. . . . What if light slowed, dropping to “human” speeds? What if it bathed us in a slow-motion flux of images, until it was slower than our own movement? We would then need to generalize from the case of light reaching us from stars that have long ceased to exist — their image is still crossing light-years to get to us. If light was infinitely slower, a lot of things, even the closest ones, would have already suffered the fate of those stars: we would see them, and they’d be here, but they would no longer be there. Wouldn’t this be the case for the real itself: something whose image is still coming at us, but which no longer exists? We can make the analogy with mental objects and the mental ether. Or supposing light were very slow, could bodies approach us faster than their image — then what would happen? They would rub into us without our seeing them coming. We could further imagine, unlike our universe, where slow bodies move at prodigious speeds, except light itself, which would be very slow. Total chaos, no longer regulated by the instantaneity of luminous messages. Light like the wind, with variable speeds, even dead calms, where no image could get to us from the zones affected. Light like perfume: differing according to the body, scarcely diffusing outside of an immediate environment. A sphere of luminous messages attenuating as they go. The images of the body scarcely propagate beyond a certain luminous territory: beyond that, it no longer exists. Or, also, light moving with the slowness of continents, continental plates, one slipping over the other, and thus provoking shocks that would distort all our images and visions of space. . . . So slow that it could curl up on itself and even stop totally in its progression, light could lead to a total suspension of the universe.

Jean Baudrillard
Fatal Strategies

If Borges’[s] name were Joe Borg and he proposed to the [Canada Council] that he was going to write a story that involved a character copying Don Quixote word for word, then ouch, you know, he wouldn’t get funded there or anywhere. I find that people who read in so-called more experimental aesthetics tend to accept a wider variety of things, and people who have stuck to more conventional aesthetics can have a great deal of difficulty with more eclectic work. They have never taught themselves how to read that different work.

Erín Moure
Producing Canadian Literature: Authors Speak on the Literary Marketplace (Eds. Kit Dobson & Smaro Kamboureli)

Is Žižek a copycat? Yes, please!

It’s the most boring scandal to ever rock the literary world: cultural philosopher Slavoj Žižek has been accused of plagiarism. Not only is the charge pointless and trumped-up, it’s completely uninteresting.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by andymiah at http://flickr.com/photos/25272992@N00/2340882925. It was reviewed on 10 August 2008 by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.

What is interesting, however, is that fact that copying and various forms of plagiarism (including, most notably, self-plagiarism) are essential to Žižek’s writing style. Since it stands peripheral to the concerns of this so-called “scandal,” I thought I’d get self-indulgent for a moment and quote for you from my recent book John Paizs’s Crime Wave. This part doesn’t have much to do with John Paizs’s film Crime Wave, but it has everything to do with Žižek and copying:

As Hillel Schwartz displays, in The Culture of the Copy [(New York: Zone 1996)], copying as an aesthetic practice persists throughout and across cultures and periods, and is fundamental to the notion of culture itself (for cultures to exist, ideologies must repeat; as [Marcus] Boon notes, “even the ideology of individuality and/or uniqueness is mass-produced.” [Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010), 182.]) Appropriately, copying is not just the subject of cultural theories like Schwartz’s, but often part and parcel of theoretical practice itself, which repeats and modifies already existing ideas while literally reproducing the words of previous authors through citation. The writings of Slavoj Žižek, despite his antipathy for postmodernism, stand as exemplary of this postmodern literary practice of pastiche: Žižek will often copy the words of other writers, with variations he then notes and makes the subject of his discussion, and will even copy his own insights, structures of argument, and written passages from book to book. Moreover, Žižek presents himself not just as a student of both Lacan and Hegel, but also to some degree as a repetition of both. Žižek’s “return to Lacan” extends Lacan’s theory through a Hegelian lens (or vice versa), in the same way that Lacan’s “return to Freud” presented itself as a project that discovered, already latent within Freud’s work, various ideas of which Freud himself was unaware (in a sense, repeating Freud’s psychoanalytic procedure to interpret not dreams but The Interpretation of Dreams). Lacan presents himself as reproducing Freud’s work in a form supposedly more faithful to Freud than Freud himself could manage, before developments in other disciplines, and Žižek repeats this gesture by reproducing Lacan’s theories in a Hegelian light that Žižek proposes was already latent in Lacan’s work. Psychoanalytic theory, then, often presents itself as “continuing the master’s work” while extending and overwriting the original: copying or “doubling” is an integral concept both within the theory and in its historical development. Thus Žižek appears as a “tribute artist” who “covers” Lacan – himself a “tribute artist” who repeats Freud – who used to comment that all of his “original” insights were to be found, already, in Nietzsche – who, in a similar fashion, cited the influence of Dostoevsky. There are many political and rhetorical reasons for these kinds of gestures – including a diplomatic borrowing of authority under the cover of a concomitant ceding of authority, and as a modelling of the psychoanalytic method of “discovering” repression encoded in/created by the symptom – but such gestures are also, as Paizs’s work makes clear, artistic and aesthetic choices. As well, [Linda] Hutcheon would surely note, they are ironic gestures (in the psychoanalytic example, an ironic insistence on servitude designed to secure and display mastery).

It is also worth repeating one of my own citations of Žižek, from inside the book:

Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies [(London: Verso, 1997)], 121. As an example of how Žižek copies himself, the quoted passage and the paragraph within which it is embedded also appear in his Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences (New York: Routledge, 2004), 96. In the latter book, as is often the case in his writings, Žižek repeats the paragraph verbatim but begins to alter and expand his points near its end.