Re: Coraline

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We just got back from seeing Coraline just right now. We didn't take the kids--and thank god, they would have never been able to sleep again.

I think the movie was just gorgeous. The music. The animation. The thing with the buttons for eyes. I'm really happy I saw it.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 7:42 PM
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Mine are pretty stolid - I don't think it'll give them any trouble sleeping, although there was a certain amount of snuggling during the movie when it got bad. But I enjoyed it a great deal, and so did they.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 7:45 PM
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The thing with the buttons for eyes.

So downright scary and delightfully shivery.

I thought it was wonderful. But: I'm pretty sure this film would have terrified me as a child. Indeed, I have to wonder if my son has become completely desensitized to the thrills and chills of scary movies: I think I was more disturbed than he was, and at one point he even felt obliged to remind me that "It's just a movie, Mommy."

We saw it in 3D. After about an hour or so, those glasses really start to bother me.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 8:04 PM
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parents come off very well by virtue of at least not being soul-sucking monsters.

That's the standard for parenting these days? I should have waited forty years.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 8:19 PM
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I like a low bar when evaluating my parenting.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 8:33 PM
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5: Just be careful not to walk into it.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 8:35 PM
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4: I think the sentiment was the equivalent of a motel where you don't get stabbed to death in the shower by the owner being a "pretty good motel".

Semi-pwned on preview.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 8:35 PM
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That's the standard for parenting these days? I should have waited forty years.

See, my (no doubt historically inaccurate and pop-culturally exaggerated) sense is that, forty years ago, parents could drive around town in station wagons, smoking cigarettes while half-drunk on after-work double martinis, with their kids not even buckled into seat belts, fer fuck's sake, and nobody would even blink an eye. Whereas nowadays, your every food choice for your little darlings is under some sort of cultural scrutiny, and the standards have been very much raised indeed (but probably not, after all, and that's probably pop-culturally exaggerated too, unless you pay too much serious attention to the parenting blogs, in which case, therein lies neurosis, if not madness...).


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 9:11 PM
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8: You're right about the "mind your own business" aspect of forty years ago. Kids were, except in egregiously neglectiful or abusive cases, the parent's responsibility, and the establishment of the kid's environment was the parent's perogative.

Had anyone, in a restaurant, said anything about my wife having a glass of wine while she was pregnant I would have started with "Go fuck yourself!" and escalated from there.

The whole culture of total risk aversion was just barely getting starting back then and was mostly ignored. Perhaps it took hold earlier in the Northeast but I don't remember my friends back in NY and DC treating their kids as glass flowers either.

Take a look in Google for "Free Range Kids". Those people are heading back to the way things used to be in many respects. On the other hand, I had installed my own seatbelts in my car in '63 (I was 22 and Chevron had a deal going) and we've used them all the time ever since.

As for the second- and third-hand smoking hysteria, and for many other "risk factors", I will only say that giving any clown the ability to run correlation coefficients on a PC has not done science and medicine much good no matter how much it has enriched big pharma.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 9:47 PM
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8: Some parts not so exaggerated, I'd be surprised if I wore a seat belt before I was 8 or so. Our first car with seat belts was a 1965 Plymouth. And in the US they became standard for front seats 4 years before they were for back seats!

I have an off and on conversation with my mother on this theme, where she assumes a faux sheepish tone and says things like, "I just put you in a playpen and went about my business." I ended up with (and never used) the family crib which we christened the "death crib"; the slats *are* just about perfectly spaced to have a baby put their head through and get stuck.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 9:56 PM
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Society is less careful about peanut processing than it once was, though. But more conscious of peanut allergies.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 10:23 PM
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Coraline is probably the type of movie that I would have hated as a child but loved as an adult. Any of the standard magical children's fare, like The Never-Ending Story or even The Wizard of Oz* tended to terrify me. True, flat out terror that makes many of the movies that I hated then still uncomfortable to watch today. Fortunately, new ones don't bother me at all, so I should set about seeing Coraline as soon as possible!

*This isn't really the original Oz's fault. I saw Return to Oz first, at about 4, and it is a decidedly scarier film than the first. Electro-shock therapy? The Hall of Heads? Scarred for life, that's what I am.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 11:38 PM
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||

Just saw "Amadeus" for the first time, and this movie rang false more consistently and in more different ways than any movie I've ever seen ever any time in my entire life since the beginning of time on God's green earth.

|>


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 11:44 PM
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My parents took me to see Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948. They neglected to tell me it was a comedy. I was not amused.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 11:51 PM
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Whoever 13 is, I think the falseness of Amadeus is well known, whether or not it's an enjoyable movie. Let that not dissuade you, though, from reading the playwright Peter Shaffer's original. But mostly, read his Equus.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-14-09 11:59 PM
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Any of the standard magical children's fare, like The Never-Ending Story or even The Wizard of Oz* tended to terrify me

I wouldn't say I was terrified by the Never-Ending Story, but something about it really bothered me.

*I loved the Wizard of Oz, though.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:19 AM
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Terrified might have taken it too far .... unsettled/deeply bothered is another good way to describe my reactions to both The Never-Ending Story and Fantasia. Actually, Alice in Wonderland, too. Return to Oz, on the other hand, was genuine terror.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:24 AM
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16: are you freaking out?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:24 AM
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Heh, reading the first linked thread in eb's comment shows me that I am not the only person who refers to Labryinth as the film starring David Bowie's crotch. (I knew I couldn't possibly be, but still, it's nice to see that you're not alone).

I am really, really glad that I first saw both Labryinth and The Princess Bride in my teens, otherwise I fear that they would have gone the fate of The Never-Ending Story and I'd find myself unable to watch them. I may have missed the childhood informed by their sensibilities but at least now I can continue to take pleasure in their awesomeness.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:27 AM
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18: If eb isn't, I am.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:29 AM
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19: given another decade or so, people will no doubt confusedly refer to Labyrinth as that movie where Michael Moschen gave Bowie a handjob for two hours. Ball juggling/leathercrotch, back and forth for two hours. Nobody remembers the muppets. Or the babe with the power.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:30 AM
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16: Laughing, actually. The movie is available instantly from Netflix. If I wanted to stay up until 4, I'd watch it right now.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:36 AM
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21: But she doesn't have any power! That's the whole problem. It's a false choice. You can either hitch your star to some creepy guy's wagon or dutifulliy take care of your irritating step-brother, while villifying your mother for having a *gasp* career. The whole thing is an attack on women's sexuality and agency. Fuck a bunch of Labyrinth.

Anyway, back on-topic, I may have to see Coraline at some point, even though the half-hour I saw of Mirrormask was enough to make me swear off Neil Gaiman-derived movies forever. Seems like it might be just the tiniest bit derivative of Pan's Labyrinth though. In general, I think Gaiman has sunk into a funk of self-plagiarism (I liked Anansi Boys a bit better when it was called Neverwhere, although they're both pretty misogynist) and commercialism. It's the Norman Mailer Syndrome, claiming another willing victim.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 2:47 AM
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23. Any fantastical tale involving the confrontation of a child & a monster can likely be described as "derivative" of any other, no? Otherwise it's probably horrid. I mean, would you call a Haunted House at a county fair "derivative"?

And I seriously have a bone to pick: can anyone exert any influence, please, against the casual use of "misogynist" as an epithet? I've skipped a couple of Gaiman novels in the past decade (the self-plagiarism is a fair cop), but the term "misogyny" denotes a lot more than I would guess was intended.

"I hate X because I don't understand X" is a strong enough & a common enough inclination to be considered human nature, but I would argue it's not an immutable law. And who would dispute that it's an inclination opposed by Gaiman's work in toto?

Sorry M, you pushed the button installed in me by my German ancestors (19th century at the latest! I checked). Words mean stuff!*

So let's complain honestly, is all I'm sayin': are you just mad that Gaiman has been a bit off lately as a novelist, or do you believe that he actually in fact hates women?**

13 f. If the movie Amadeus "rings false" thoroughly to an audience, the play can't help much. I love Shaffer (staged Equus at school), but he is kind of a monomaniac himself: the film is nothing if not faithful.

*sorry, it's like getting a song stuck in your head! Except I got it from facebook by way of xkcd.

**pls pardon the wikilink, I haven't had my coffee.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 7:02 AM
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What I remember of Labryrinth: (1) Jennifer Connely falls into a hole filled with hands, (2) David Bowie had an armadillo in his pants.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 8:13 AM
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David Bowie had an armadillo in his pants.

Did it sing with the other puppets?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:59 AM
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Sorry, 13 was me.


Posted by: Antonio Salieri | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:14 AM
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His very tight pants had a special pouch sewn into them for his genitals. I remember watching it as a kid and thinking, "I don't think I'm supposed to be looking at this." I also didn't understand if the barely-teenaged girl was supposed to be having a sexual relationship with the evil dude with the testicle-pouch or not, but it felt very confusing at the time.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:15 AM
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For the record, The Dark Crystal is the very best scary children's movie. It has no rival.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:18 AM
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I'll jump boldly in and say that I dislike Neil Gaiman's...um...gender ideas. This is mostly based on Sandman, all of which I've read several times. Art? Frequenlly fantastic. Minor characters? Awesome! Transgender-character-who-is-flamboyent-and-dies? Fail! Dream as dreamy troubled boy? Fail! And the awesome range of female main characters--all the way from sexy-but-troubled to physically-grotesque-and-evil and back again, with a brief detour for sexy-but-selfish and a quick spin through sexy-and-yet-maternal-and-self-sacrificing. Is this actually misogynist? One can debate, but it's certainly a set of depictions of women for whom gender stereotypes define everything.

And Labyrinth really truly is misogynist--the various physical humiliations of the heroine, the grotesquerie with which male bodies are depicted (which I argue is pretty common to misogyny--women are rebuked for desiring anything at all in the world by being reminded that men cannot possibly act as women would like, since men are after all just gross smelly rude and creepy and women had better get used to it and stop asking for kindness or any stupid crap like that.) Also the creepy-creepy depiction of the divorced mother and the eeeeeeeeeevil old woman at the end of the movie. Also the way that the heroine is shown as selfish and evil for wanting to work on her art form rather than babysit--that is, a fairly normal reaction (especially when anyone is passionate about anything and is working hard on it) is shown as this Significant Moral Failing. There's no way, too, that a male character would ever be depicted as Selfish and Evil for refusing to caretake so Dad and New Mom could go out on the town.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:40 AM
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Oh, and I remember that "babe with the power" bit...it's one of those unbearably horrid songs (Oh David, did it have to come to this?) It's about the baby boy the heroine is supposed to be minding. And it's true--the baby does have the power, the amazing power to compel his sister to realize what true femaleness is all about. Poor kid.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:43 AM
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This blog post (scroll down) includes a representative picture of Bowie's pants in that movie.

In general, googling "david bowie crotch movie labyrinth" yields interesting results.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:44 AM
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13-15: 13 was me. The thing about Amadeus was how many different kinds of wrongness were packed into one movie. The most annoying was showing Mozart as a conceited American college sophomore with Tourette's, and putting him, his wife, and his father in a 50s America family psychodrama, full of cliches about the young rebel against the Puitanical establishment.

Mozart and his wife actually were interesting and quirky, and Austria was interesting and quirky, but none of that came off.

I was willing to accept a few distortions of fact in service of the plot, but Shaffer seems to have set himself to get everything wrong.

Reminds me of Good Will Hunting, another dorky projection fantasy by a contemporary cheeseball.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:44 AM
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Will no one be the right kind of nerd to leap to the Michael Moschen reference?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:03 AM
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I always thought Labyrinth was incredibly misogynist, and yet I have only ever heard the movie mentioned fondly by self-proclaimed feminist women. This has always caused me a little bit of cognitive dissonance.

I saw Amadeus at 15, at which point it seemed like a work of genius. I recommend traveling back in time to when you were younger before watching it. (Labyrinth may also be improved by this process, but even at 15 it struck me as misogynist.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:21 AM
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So anyway, all you people telling me how great movies are did me an ill service.

I suppose I'll try this movie thing again next year just to be fair.

I've still got Rimsky-Korsakoff's Salieri, and Pushkin's to look forward to.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:32 AM
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So anyway, all you people telling me how great movies are did me an ill service.

I suppose I'll try this movie thing again next year just to be fair.

I've still got Rimsky-Korsakoff's Salieri, and Pushkin's to look forward to.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:32 AM
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I haven't seen Labyrinth recently enough to have a good sense of the misogyny question, and now I think I definitely won't watch it again. I hate always being disappointed with things that I loved as a young adult being reread/rewatched as an adult and realizing that they are horribly misogynistic or otherwise fucked up. I read so much sci-fi/fantasy as a young adult that this continually happens (for some reason, that genre often seems to be one of the worst offenders, with some notable exceptions).

Anyway, Walt, that was a long explanation towards the self-proclaimed feminist + Labyrinth loving - it could be that they simply haven't watched it again and realized its pernicious evils. Not all of us were fully formed feminists in utero.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:33 AM
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Can a front-pager move the LA meetup post back up?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:36 AM
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s\b "pause", "play", and "please" in there.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:37 AM
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Amadeus is fine. It does what it attempts to do. You people! I suppose you complain that Spartacus should never have cast Tony Curtis because he's just to peppy to be a slave.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:44 AM
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I saw Amadeus when I was 13, maybe? Fucking Mozart and that fucking laugh.

I don't remember much of Labyrinth except that it didn't strike me as misogynist, but that at the age I saw it, I probably agreed with the heroine that younger siblings were mostly a pain in the ass but that it's not good to let them be kidnapped by goblins all the same.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:50 AM
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"too peppy"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:53 AM
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I probably agreed with the heroine that younger siblings were mostly a pain in the ass but that it's not good to let them be kidnapped by goblins all the same.

Indeed.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 11:59 AM
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Hitler did what he attempted to do, Sifu.

I didn't see any upside to Amadeus except for 1.) the burial scene, which may have been accurate, 2.) giving the piano lesson with dogs in the room, and 3.) the costuming and pageantry, though I suspect that that was off too.

Even Salieri was interesting. It's just that almost everything that had anything to do with Mozart was utter crap.

How freaky was Mozart? To him "I want to shit in your mouth" was a way of flirting, and his mom talked the same way. And as far as I know, in hist day there was nothing especially odd about that. It wasn't cutting-edge transgressivity.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:03 PM
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Okay I'm not going to have this ridiculous conversation unless you first admit that they ruined Lord of the Rings by not casting actual hobbits.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:10 PM
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I will never accept Mozart as dork. He was genuinely weird, but not dorky.

Also, since you didn't deny it I now assume that you are a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer.

If Mozart had really been the way he was portrayed in the movie, I'd nominate Salieri for sainthood. Someone should have snuffed that guy years before the movie even started.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:28 PM
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24, 30: Hi, Rah, hi Frowner! I haven't followed Gaiman's work since Sandman, and while I recognized that there were clear traditional gender, uh, performances, being relied on there, I tended to shrug and forgive. Since I'm old enough. An artist presumably can't take on everything, esp. in a limited medium like comics. One day I'd like to know more of his work.

24: If the movie Amadeus "rings false" thoroughly to an audience, the play can't help much. I love Shaffer (staged Equus at school), but he is kind of a monomaniac himself: the film is nothing if not faithful.

Point taken.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:37 PM
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"An artist presumably can't take on everything, esp. in a limited medium like comics."

Dear lord...


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:41 PM
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Since I'm old enough.

?? What do you mean by this? I am sincerely curious.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:44 PM
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More unwanted Wobegon trivia: Gary Russell, who scored a Steelers touchdown in the Super Bowl, lived in Wobegon for a year. I would have told you in a more timely fashioned if I'd known, and if I'd watched the stupid game.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:47 PM
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Sandman is pretty crappy. It's weird how derivative it felt even when it wasn't (and often it was). Deeply uninspired guy.

I saw Amadeus as a teen and was really taken with the actress who plays his wife. I saw it again a couple of years ago, and was still pretty taken with her performance, and was weired out she didn't have much of a career.


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:47 PM
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It's a perverse, but sort of almost admirable choice to make the movie all about Salieri and make Mozart sort of a human mcguffin. But it's a trifle of a movie.


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:51 PM
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Since it's the only depiction of Mozart in pop culture, I can understand you being annoyed by it.


Posted by: David Weman | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:54 PM
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You people are impossible. Amadeus is awesome. Dramatic death plot! Fancy costumes! Cynthia Nixon! Nipples of Venus! Who cares whether or not it's historically accurate?


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:54 PM
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55 gets it right. Plus a great soundtrack!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:56 PM
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I was really looking forward to the "I want to shit in your mouth" part, and was sorely disappointed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 12:59 PM
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Oh. Well, 57 is totally fair. I take it back.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:00 PM
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I can't believe I just googled "I want to shit in your mouth".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:01 PM
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Mmmm, nipples of Venus.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:01 PM
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the only depiction of Mozart in pop culture

You obviously missed the "Mozart am Trapez" extravaganza at the Wintergarten in Berlin a few years ago.

Also: did you know that museum at the Mozarthaus in Salzburg was redesigned by Robert Wilson a few years ago? So weird and wrong.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:07 PM
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59: It brought you back to Unfogged, I bet.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:09 PM
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Mom Mozart:

Addio, ben mio. Keep well, my love. Into your mouth your arse you'll shove. I wish you good-night, my dear, but first shit in your bed and make it burst. It is long after one o'clock already. Now you can go on rhyming yourself."


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:21 PM
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My brother's computer sucks.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:24 PM
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62: terrified, walking quickly backwards. Presumably after today more of the links will point here.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:25 PM
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50: What do you mean by this?

Sorry -- I meant that I'm old enough to (I think) be able to tell the difference between obviously gendered constructions, when people are relying on them for sake of [the intended audience's] need, and the real world. Does that make sense?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:37 PM
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Lech Mich Im Arsch canon.

It's wise to include the search-term "Mozart" in searches of this kind.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:39 PM
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That makes sense, yes.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:39 PM
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I love the use of "semi-bowdlerized" to describe the version in which "Lick my arse, quickly, quickly" is replaced by "Kiss my arse, Goethe, Goethe!" Yes, that is semi-bowdlerized, isn't it.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:41 PM
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Oh wow. Had no idea. And I was just writing a gratuitous footnote about Götz von Berlichingen the other day. If I manage to work in the "Leck mich im Arsch" reference, do I achieve the dissertationwriting equivalent of winning the thread?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 1:47 PM
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You know, we've been forgetting perhaps the greatest mention of Mozart in popular culture ever.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 2:02 PM
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Emerson's right; Amadeus sucks even more than most composer biopics suck. It's so many different kinds of wrong.

The best mention of Mozart in popular culture is The Mozart Brothers (determining to what extent obscure Swedish farce counts as popular culture is left as an exercise for the reader). It's a sort of mashup of Don Giovanni and A Night at the Opera. Olof Palme was assassinated right after he saw it, but that was probably just a coincidence.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 3:11 PM
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71: Relevant to the other thread, that was the first cassette I owned.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 4:10 PM
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eh, I disagree that Labyrinth is misogynist, or at least not to the degree you all think. Sure, having to care for your little brother is a traditional female thing, but she doesn't just not want to take care of him -- she wishes that the Goblin King would take him away for ever. I still read that one as an adolescent learning that other people are important too, not just your own desires, & a reminder of why you love family in addition to being totally irritated by them.

In the Labyrinth, she spends all this time learning to think for herself, to be strong and persistent instead of whiny, to be brave, not to give up, to cooperate with others yet to be independent. In a crazy fantasy world. What's so terrible and misogynist about that?

I like the depiction of the girl in Labyrinth a lot better than I like a lot of the cheesy crap for girls ("girl-power," anybody?) being produced today. definitely the lesser evil.


Posted by: murphy | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 4:18 PM
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A truly girl-friendly book would show her achieving world domination by ruthlessly killing her enemies one after another, and frizzling them with zingers immediately before taking them down.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 4:37 PM
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Great, give away the ending of my future best-seller, Emerson.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 8:09 PM
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I don't recall much of Labyrinth, actually, which speaks to its memorability, but murphy's account is interesting.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 8:18 PM
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Hi again! Been having belated date with my Valentine. Bravo live theatre! I know it's Art when I can't understand a damn' thing.

Re: Gaiman. I think his failings regarding gender don't over-balance some gifts I've greatly appreciated. So no-one prevents me from re-reading & recommending (at least sampling from) The Sandman. That 7 year project played an outsize role in my own aesthetic development, by virtue of the fact that I actually read about 70% at reasonably exact monthly intervals--and the whole work had clearly been designed & shaped extensively by Gaiman's awareness of that characteristic of the audience's experience.

This long-term encounter with a consciously changing readership is like (and likely inspired, at least from the side of the readers) the Harry Potter phenomenon, it must be said: and there are other ways in which Harry is vaguely reminiscent of Gaiman's work.

Oh and I suppose Rowling has her own failings, but how far must we go? I've always accepted that Sturgeon's Law applies individually as well as collectively. That's why we discuss literature, isn't it? It's like being a hunter-gatherer! The stories all go in the "carrier bag of fiction", and some of them get shared around. The rest are mulch in the long run--and Shaffer's Salieri knew that, by the way, which is why the play is about him, people, for once it is not about the fucking genius, okay?

My next reading of Gaiman will be re-gendered, though. Thanks U-tariat, sincerely!

And now do I have to feel guilty about giving a DVD of Labyrinth to my kid sister? I knew I shouldn't give a film I haven't seen, but it was in a box set with The Dark Crystal...


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:00 PM
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which is why the play is about him

Sometimes I love you, Rah.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:05 PM
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I liked the Simpsons episode that has Bart as Mozart and Lisa as Salieri - complete with Lisa complaining about accuracy at the end. I doubt I'll ever watch Amadeus, but I'd consider it if there's a dvd with a laugh-silencing special feature.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:09 PM
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71: We used to show that video in elementary German class during the couple of days we talk about Mozart. (Just as a little fun thing, not really for language learning-- what terrible Denglish!) At some point we realized that the students had never heard of this Falco guy before and just thought the whole thing was freakish. We don't show it any more.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:41 PM
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Er war ein Superstar
Er war so populär
Er war ein Pop-Idol
Because er hatte Flair


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:48 PM
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78: It's not like the Books of Magic's story, in which a boy discovers that he's actually the most important boy, is itself a terribly original conceit. (I think both Gaiman and Rowling would agree on the importance of T.H. White as an antecedent to their own work.) I do like the Constantine chapter, though.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 9:58 PM
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I think in my first German textbook we learned that once of the responses to "what music do you like?" was "Falco."


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:14 PM
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I loved Susan Cooper.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:18 PM
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What changed?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:22 PM
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I think I still do, but ever since I taught a class in children's literature, I know I can't say that I still love the stuff I loved as a kid. (Teaching CS Lewis was, in particular, a goddamn sobering experience.)


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 02-15-09 10:25 PM
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Sometimes I love you, Rah.

On our first date, nearly seven years ago, our conversation wound towards comic books somehow or another. When Rah told me he had read Sandman in monthly form I basically melted. Honest to gods I think that's the moment I fell in love.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 7:48 AM
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As a young skeptic I was introduced to CS Lewis's non-fun books by my pastor. I've had an antipathy to that whole school ever since, including Tolkein and as far as that goes, Harry Potter.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 7:54 AM
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Re: Gaiman. Oh, I'm sure he believes himself to be quite the feminist, what with being palsy-walsy with Tori Amos and all. But look at the girlfriend characters in Neverwhere and Anansi Boys. Screechy, brittle harridans who are emasculating the main character by degrees. In Neverwhere the boring, quotidian, careerist girlfriend is replaced by a Gaiman-standard Tragic Goth Princess, who comes conveniently sans mother-in-law or any other attachment, for that matter. In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie's revenge on Spider is that Spider has to spend the rest of his life with the boring, quotidian girlfriend and her horrid mother-in-law. Yeah, reeeeeal feminist Neil.

And Labyrinth, oh Jim Henson and George Lucas, you have done us wrong! If it's not about the dangers of an unconstrained female sexuality, why the hell do the protagonists get attacked by fanged fetuses at one point? No, the whole thing is an attack on women's sexuality and that's that. It is insidious precisely because this attack remains camouflaged by a veneer of spurious "girl power", where that "power" is merely the option to choose to conform to patriarchal gender expectations as the madonna rather than the whore. Choose life indeed.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 8:16 AM
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90: I hope no one assumes that I'm awarding the accolade "feminist" to Gaiman simply because I object to his being labeled a misogynist. I don't tend to think of the distinction as strictly either/or, though I realize that's a matter of opinion.

We're kind of getting into the weeds here, in that I wouldn't call myself any kind of authority on sexual politics, so I'm inclined to agree to disagree.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 9:57 AM
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I'm mostly with Rah on this one. I wouldn't call Gaiman's books (I don't know from the comics -- I've read some of Sandman, but not much) actively feminist, but globally they've never set off my misogyny radar. (The dull careerist girlfriend does show up in Neverwhere and Anansi Boys, but would you really call Spider's ending up with her revenge? An assumption of Fat Charlie's prior dullness, but Spider seems comfortably pleased with the outcome.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:10 AM
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When I saw Labyrinth I loved it, and suddenly understood why David Bowie was a star. Have not risked re-watching it.

More interesting, considering the early comments: I saw Labyrinth in school, as an official class movie sometime between third and sixth grade (probably not third). I believe class movies were chosen by student vote.


Posted by: dance | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 2:58 PM
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89: My response to the Narnia books as an adult was stunned disbelief: I'd been charmed as a third-grader (in a church-run school) having the books read out loud to the class by our teacher, but I now find them horrific. The opening chapter of The Silver Chair I recall as singularly awful--e.g., the blithe assumption that we will all understand that Eustace Scrubb's school is hopelessly stupid because "the Head is a woman" and they don't even allow upper-form students to beat the younger children. I wish I were making this up.

Despite some Issues with gender and some very questionable racializing, I remain fond of Tolkien--the way one loves an old mutt who has been faithful for years but who occasionally craps on the carpet.

Looking back on the fantastical literature I loved as a precocious child (and still enjoy as a post-cocious adult), I wonder where the line is between what we can & can't excuse in generations before our own. Surely we can't expect everyone we read to be as "enlightened" as we now presume ourselves to be: but does this mean we must "protect" future generations from being exposed to outmoded concepts at an impressionable age? I'm out of the gene pool myself, but I remain curious...


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 3:51 PM
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As a parent (god, that sounds pompous), I find myself wanting to censor mostly stuff that's in a recognizable setting. Narnia's not a problem, because the Britain the stories begin in is just as alien as Narnia to them; schools with beatings are right up there with dragons. "The Cricket In Times Square", much as I loved it as a kid, bothers me more for the racist treatment of the Chinese characters, because it takes place in a setting that's part of my kids' lives (they've been to Times Square and to Chinatown).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 4:14 PM
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I thought Rosie's leaving Fat Charlie was more an indictment of Fat Charlie rather than one of Rosie. And describing it as revenge on Spider strikes me as a stretch.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 4:21 PM
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84 -- Not David Hasselhoff?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 4:46 PM
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97: Or James Last?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 5:16 PM
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94: The item that really burned me on the Narnia books even the first time I read them was the treatment of Susan*. I don't recall the details that well, but my interpretation was that basically she was going to go to Hell for growing up, being a teen, maybe having sex or something. (I read them as teenager though, not a kid.) Reading the Wikipedia article now, I see that it was more nuanced than that. And to circle back into another part of the thread, it seems that Gaiman wrote a short story called "The Problem of Susan", which apprently critiques Lewis' treatment of her.

*I was pretty fed up with the whole thing by The Last Battle anyway. I mean keep on telling me about the good life, Aslan, 'cuz it makes me want to puke.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 5:27 PM
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The opening chapter of The Silver Chair I recall as singularly awful--e.g., the blithe assumption that we will all understand that Eustace Scrubb's school is hopelessly stupid because "the Head is a woman" and they don't even allow upper-form students to beat the younger children. I wish I were making this up.

I'm not sure that's the right reading. C S Lewis hopes we'll blithely assume that, but in point of fact he must have known he's a reactionary old fart, and most people will disagree with him. He's making an argument he knows he's losing.

(Which is I think vital to keeping sane when reading C S Lewis; at the same time he was writing his novels, we were building modern Britain, and he wasn't.)

The Narnia books aren't morally that bad --- basically don't be a little shit. Anybody bright enough to pick up on more than that will be bright enough to work out what's wrong with it themselves. (Leaving aside the problematic aspects of judging books morally primarily.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 5:53 PM
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re: Gaiman and kids: I had the pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman speak at a children's librarian conference a few years ago. It was shortly after he published Anansi Boys, but it wasn't the talk reading he would give to a normal audience (I went to that too). Anyway, he specifically spoke to the issue of adults worrying about children being afraid. As far as I could tell, comment 3 got Gaiman's drift perfectly.

The following is paraphrasing him, as far as my memory goes: We, as adults, tend to be way over worried about what it is like to be a kid, and the images that kids deal with on a day-to-day basis. I think he was referring to Coraline when he said that these are the types of things kids worry about all the time: (spoiler alert) "What if I get home and mom and dad look like mom and dad, but are actually different people, and I can't tell?" He said it isn't that strange a thought for kids, though it terrifies adults.

One story that sticks out in my mind regards his kids book "Wolves in the Walls." Adults swamped his inbox with comments that the story kept them up all night, but kids asked questions like: (spoiler alert) "I understand how wolves got into the walls, and how people got into the walls, but how did elephants get into the walls!?" They weren't scared, just fascinated (or confused?)

I wonder too how much our misremembering things plays into this (a la Sideshow Bob, I mean, Malcolm Gladwell). Maybe we simply don't remember the kinds of crazy things we fantasized about as children.

Terror as a child: "Neverending Story", the library scene. This may also be related to the deep sadness that Puff the Magic Dragon inspires in me.

Also, though I don't remember it all that well, my Mom and Aunt attribute to Little Shop of Horrors my lifelong terror of (I really don't even want to mention it... it may keep me up at night) carnivorous plants. Now that I live in NC, I refuse to go to the swamp or botanical gardens out of knowledge that there are such things there. Evidently, I also got it crossed over to mushrooms, which I will not eat.

ps. Good Omens might be the funniest book I've ever read.

pps. I changed my moniker; I know it breaks the rules, but "NC Planning Student" was too damn boring.


Posted by: Nippon Ham Fighter (formally NC Planning Student) | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 8:05 PM
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91, 92: Anyhow, probably beating a dead horse, but in terms of artworks in our age of mechanical reproduction, I guess I do see it as a bit of an either/or. You can't tear down the master's house using the master's tools, amongst which are fear, patriarchy, objectification, otherization, aestheticizing politics and a fanatical devotion to Alan Moore.

||
Just returned from a screening of This Gun For Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942), which I had never seen all the way through, and also never at all on the big screen. It was pretty awesome. Fast talking, big hat, high pants -- in short, everything we love about studio-system films noir. Some interesting film connections too, especially the bits that were lifted (or perhaps they'd just become cliches by that time) for the first two Terminator films.

That is all. Return to your accursed Narnia.
||>


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 9:38 PM
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Wow minnie, Benjamin, Kierkegaard, and Audre Lorde within thirty words.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 9:41 PM
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And Monty Python, Blume.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 9:46 PM
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Nobody expects the Monty Python.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:08 PM
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ps. Good Omens might be the funniest book I've ever read.

When I was 12 or 13, I would just wander up and down the library stacks and pick out books almost at random until I had 10, every week. This was the way I first found Good Omens. I thought it was the most hilarious book ever, but promptly forgot the name and author within a week of reading it. I would wander around in the region I thought it had come from based on what else I'd been reading, to no avail. I didn't rediscover it until in my 20s, and when I did I was so, so happy. (I couldn't remember enough of the essential names to pinpoint it again - a common failing of mine from books read during this period).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:15 PM
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105: Yes they do.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:15 PM
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107: So are you saying eb should have written "nobody expect the Monty Python"?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:19 PM
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That's not an argument.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:22 PM
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Uh, fight! (?)


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:30 PM
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That is abuse.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:31 PM
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Oh, this is futile!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:33 PM
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Scariest dream I can remember, from when I was 3-4 years old, which is also the scariest dream ever that I can recall:

Backdrop: My mother was carrying my third sister, and I totally got, in some obvious and visceral way, without anyone's telling me or anything, the power of the mother and the female body and etc. But my mother had told me that babies were made by God, with the help of the father (the centrality of the mother was just a given, of course, and not something that had to be explained or elaborated upon), and I (weirdly) imagined the priest at Our Lady of Fatima fashioning a young sibling for me, with my father at the end of some sort of assembly line, putting the finishing touches on the baby (now, how that baby got into my mother's body in the first place I knew not, though I did know that my sibling did inhabit her body in a very real and immediate way, and her carrying of same did have some real value that probably over-rode the role of the priest: so, a mystery!)

There was, in my dream, when I was 3-4 years old, a group of women, making babies at an assembly line, who all wore kerchiefs on their heads that were tied up in bunny ears (like the wife of Andy Capp? or like the wife of Dagwood Bumstead? no question this image came from the Sunday funnies). And these women were supposed to be safe and okay, but there was something about them that I didn't quite like. Their eyes were blank and cartoonish, but also perhaps slyly knowing and vaguely sinister. And then I knocked on the door to my house, and my father answered and said, "Come in on, darling," but something didn't quite add up, and then just as I was entering the house I noticed that he wasn't my father at all, but a blank-eyed woman with a bunny-eared kerchief who had disguised herself as my father but who was probably a witch!, and then I woke up in sheer fright, and I have remembered this dream ever since.

"What if I get home and mom and dad look like mom and dad, but are actually different people, and I can't tell?"

No question at all, Nippon Ham Fighter, that this is not at all a strange thought for a child, but that's not to say that it's not a thought filled with terror, all the same.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:34 PM
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I would say that your master's tools are in fact the very best way to tear down your master's house. What else are you going to use? Tools you can afford to buy at the Dollar Store?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:38 PM
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And I was crushed that Good Omens wasn't much funnier, because it was a very funny idea but not a very funny book, and now the idea is used up forever.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:40 PM
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And I was crushed that Good Omens wasn't much funnier, because it was a very funny idea but not a very funny book, and now the idea is used up forever.

Pfft. There's an entire genre of funny end-of-the-world-playing-with-Christianity novels out there. Most of them British. If Good Omens doesn't do it for you, I'm sure one would.

Oh, wait, you weren't being serious, were you?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:42 PM
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I was being serious. Are there really other books with that same basic premise? An angel and a devil team up to prevent the Apocalypse, because they're not ready for the end? I had no idea.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:45 PM
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I'm completely serious about the master's house thing, too. When are we going to tear that mother down? If we don't do it soon, I'm starting in on the beer.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:46 PM
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117: Well, not that same exact premise that I know of, but very similar ones, yes. Don't ask me the titles - as previously indicated I'm rubbish remembering things I read just for fun. As opposed to my near encyclopedic memory for books read for school. I don't really understand the cataloging distinction, but there it is.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-16-09 10:50 PM
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118: You're not, really, are you? The truth of that aphorism has seemed self-evident to me for such a long time, it's hard to imagine it otherwise.

If you want radical social change, you can't just blithely assume that everything is going to work out okay if you start from the position that you don't need to overturn the ideology of the thing you're fighting. E.g. if you're a C.19 feminist, it doesn't do you much good in the long run to play along with white supremacy for expediency's sake. Similarly if you're a gay liberation advocate or a campaigner for Black people's civil rights, you have to sit down and look at how the patriarchy functions and how you can undo it. And of course everyone needs to figure out ways to change things that don't ultimately leave capital and the state in a stronger position than they were before. This is precisely what Bakunin argued at the time of the First International: if you use authoritarian methods to achieve your goals of liberation, you will wind up supporting authority and undermining liberty.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 6:33 AM
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It would be so dull to read any speculative or fantasy literature with an expectation that every ideal situation or message or aspiration or belief or cause that I hold dear appear intact somewhere in the pages. Even as a kid, I remember thinking that C.S. Lewis could be kind of an asshole about some things--I specifically remember the way the portrayal of Eustace's parents in Dawn Treader and Eustace's school in Silver Chair came off as C.S. Lewis the person alighting in his fantasy and getting up on a soap box to pontificate for a bit. But this is where you kick in as a reader. Ok, I so I just ignore all that shit--the idea of a school where you're lonely and there are cruel children who are in cahoots with the alien and unfriendly authorities who run the school, can't you work with that? A kid who was a pompous prig until he got his fantasy comeuppance and who is learning to be a better person? That works. Etc. If you already know in advance all the Good Messages you expect to check off in a work of fiction, it's easier to just skip the fiction and write a checklist.

Equally, the shortest distance to disliking Labyrinth, or even some of Gaiman's written fiction, is that's weak or boring or badly made, derivative, etc. I quite like Sandman in some of its arcs, and he's done a few very good things (Coraline among them).


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 7:05 AM
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For me the problem with CS Lewis, even more than his ridiculous ideas about women, is the anti-Arab racism.(which is actually tied up closely with his misogyny, and I would argue that CS Lewis is basically a genuine hater-of-women in a way that Gaiman or even Gene Wolfe is not)

The Arab culture in the Narnia books is depicted as both tempting (Sweets! Fancy dresses! Sparkly minarets! Gold!) and selfish. (Enjoying sweets! Wanting dresses! Etc) Also, cowardly ("The bolt of Tash falls from above!"). Also, stupid--even as a kid, I wondered why exactly anyone would worship that evil bird-god thing, because the return on investment seemed pretty poor.

And it's all tied up with the feminine and with failure to perform masculinity correctly--the Arabish people are all feminized in a sexist way (either fat or too thin, dressed too sparkly, use fancy effete rhetoric, can't fight, are treacherous).

I hated all that as a kid--it's one of the few instances where I really remember being abstractly bothered by something racist. It was perpetually upsetting to me that all the Arabish people were just depicted as damned unless they converted; I really identified with eeeeeevil Prince Rabadash because the whole text laughed at him....

I can sort of forgive CS Lewis for being horribly, creepily sexist because after all he did as far as I know have a lot of nerdish, sexually messed-up difficulty in dealing with women; I can't forgive the gratuitous Little England racism.

I would hesitate to read the Narnia books to a kid, and I wish they hadn't influenced me as strongly as they did. In retrospect, I think those books did me harm (although I admit that I took books way more seriously than many children seem to).

There's a passage in George Orwell's terrific essay Such, Such Were The Joys where he talks about "a deeper grief which is peculiar to childhood and not easy to convey: a sense of desolate loneliness and helplessness, of being locked up not only in a hostile world but in a world of good and evil where the rules were such that it was actually not possible for me to keep them". That's how I felt about CS Lewis's books, which fit very nicely with the moral structures of my childhood--a set of rules about gender, race, playing with a straight bat and so on that I automatically hated but that explained the world so persuasively that they simply had to be true. It was not possible for me to like CS Lewis's world, but I felt that I could not escape it.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 7:49 AM
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I know the Amadeus ship has sailed, but Jesus, people, Amadeus is not even attempting to accurately tell the story of the life and death of Mozart, any more than From Hell is trying to explain the Jack the Ripper murders. In general I've found that most of the people who get hung up on Amadeus's historical inaccuracies tend to be classical music nerds for whom the subject is simply too sacred to mess with, while non-classical music nerds tend to instinctively understand that you can take license with a story in the service of art. Hell, even Amadeus-bashers tend to understand that in the context of fictional representations of people-not-named-Mozart: Richard III isn't historically accurate, but it's still a good play.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 10:29 AM
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120: Minnie, Walt is talking about a house. With doors an shit.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 11:10 AM
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122: Huh. All that's pretty much right, but it blew past me as a kid. I loved the Narnia books, and loved A Horse and His Boy probably best, because I found the 'Arab' setting so appealing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 11:21 AM
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125: Racist.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 11:27 AM
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CS Lewis is basically a genuine hater-of-women

This, yep. Liked little girls fine. Really didn't appear to like women.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 11:30 AM
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I think in my first German textbook we learned that once of the responses to "what music do you like?" was "Falco."

No joke.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 12:33 PM
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102: Neil Gaiman is beyond the pale because he doesn't appropriately respect the richness & variety of female identity, but it's fine to see much "[to] love about studio-system films noir"? All right then. (The movie does sound great...)

114 ff.: I'm reminded of my favorite T-shirt ever, spotted at a Pride march back in the '80's (and worn by a reporter, no less!): "See Jane subvert the structures of patriarchal domination. Subvert, Jane, subvert!"

121 captures why I've been such stick about this: I suspect Minneapolitan is attempting to render an essentially aesthetic judgment cast as a moral one--and I insist there's some daylight between the two (or ought to be).

122 is beautiful.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 12:47 PM
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120: The aphorism is obviously true when you interpret it that way, Minnie, but it gets used a lot of other ways which are everywhere between suspect and wrong. Sometimes people say that critical thinking and enlightenment rationality are the master's tools.

Labs in a previous debate said that he did believe you can use the master's tools to tear down the masters house. I agreed, to some extent. The master has some pretty nice tools.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 12:51 PM
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Labs' tool is pretty masterful.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 12:54 PM
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129: Personally, Gaiman annoys me where noir does not simply because Gaiman seems so damn smug about identity and gender to me. He's like Cory Doctorow--he writes like it's so wonderful that he, a man, writes women heroes but never, ever stops to consider that he might not actually be doing women any favors in the way he writes them.

The thing is, I've never been in a situation where noir was supposed to be didactic. CS Lewis is being all moral education; Neil Gaiman is, I think, being all "ooh, look girls can have swords and little adventures and they can represent desire, craziness, despair and death, even if they can't be dreams, destiny or destruction because those are just so unfeminine!"


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 1:09 PM
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129: I like the studio system films noir for their camp value, which I thought was made clear by my Family Guy reference. Now, it's certainly possible that in 50 or 60 years people will be reading Gaiman as the high camp of the 90s and oughts, but have you read some of the introductions to his work? There is a mass audience for his dubious ideology who think he's the freakin' second coming. Now, it may well be that he jerks off onto a page and connects the dots -- I have frequently suspected this to be the case -- but I remain dubious.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 1:19 PM
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I'll confess the Family Guy reference eluded me, as I've never had any use for the show.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 1:28 PM
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123: I could have accepted "'Amadeus"'s inaccuracy, in fact I was looking forward to seeing a portrayal of the poisoning conspiracy, but I couldn't stand to see Mozart played as a dorky American with Tourette's in a cliched 50s"free-spirited genius against mediocrity" film with an added Oedipus-complex theme, and with his wife nagging him to earn more money like a situation comedy wife. Also, I wanted the shitting-in-people's-mouths theme developed -- the real Mozart was weirder than the movie Mozart.

It might have worked if some gimmickry had made it clear that everything was portrayed as an insane man had hallucinated/ remembered it.

Also I don't think that the Viennese got upset about people drinking a lot, the way his wife got upset.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 1:49 PM
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132, 133: This may be why I'm easier on Gaiman; I have him firmly in the 'light entertainment' box (and I consume an awful lot of light entertainment), and in that box, he makes it well over the 'doesn't leave me seething with rage' bar. If I was thinking of him as didactic, that might make me react to his flaws more strongly.

Kind of the same with Lewis. I loved Narnia as a kid, but on an "Oooo, stories" level; it never seemed like anything you'd react to personally. (I read his science fiction trilogy as a teenager, and that, particularly the last one, was disturbing and unpleasant to the point of being fascinating -- "You want me to be like what?" But Narnia never hit me that way.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 1:55 PM
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Neil Gaiman is, I think, being all "ooh, look girls can have swords and little adventures and they can represent desire, craziness, despair and death, even if they can't be dreams, destiny or destruction because those are just so unfeminine!"

Let's take this as true; it sounds plausible and I don't know enough to disagree. Doesn't it just mean that he hasn't spent enough time thinking about how to develop feminist ideas (which he's sympathetic to) in writing? While that's definitely a reason to critique someone, it seems less than a reason to despise them, which I thought is what it was meant to support. Though looking back, I see that it's minny who's in the actively depise camp, and Frowner who's saying she dislikes Gaiman's gender ideas, despite other virtues she sees in his work. So maybe I'm noting an inconsistency that isn't there.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 2:01 PM
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Also (and there are things in this thread which lead me to bring it up), I'm really enjoying Greenmantle right now, which, now that it's finally introduced a major female character, has some very strange ideas about her.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 2:06 PM
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Greenmantle as in John Buchan? Those are very, very, very odd -- I picked up an omnibus edition of all of the Richard Hannay novels a couple of years ago, and found them so peculiar that I can't remember the details very well.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 2:16 PM
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137: I freely admit that I run out of patience with certain types of fantasy/SF writers. We have available literally generations of feminist commentary on fantasy and science fiction; we have a huge list of very, very fine novels (some of which are even funny) by feminists of many genders; and yet we have big, important, substantial-advance-getting writers like Gaiman and Doctorow who have somehow arrived at literate adulthood still thinking that they're just awesome for writing the "hot chick who kicks ass" story. Look, you don't get a cookie for writing fantasy novels about your dream girlfriend.

Terry Pratchett--if you're looking for not especially feminist fantasy-SF that none the less gets it, now he's your fellow. Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan! The pudgy goth chick who is friends with the annoying, perfect goth chick! Granny Weatherwax! Female characters who are depicted with pretty much the same depth and complexity as male characters! Female characters who mess things up but not because they're female! Female characters who worry about being unattractive while also being actually unattractive, such that we don't have the "she was actually slender with raven-dark hair and perky breasts, but she thought she was a troll--isn't sexist oppression so sad!" thing. An awful lot of Pratchett passes the Bechdel test.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 3:42 PM
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It was perpetually upsetting to me that all the Arabish people were just depicted as damned unless they converted; I really identified with eeeeeevil Prince Rabadash because the whole text laughed at him...

I agree about Rabadash, BUT you are strictly wrong about damned unless converted. See the Last Battle, and the good Tash-worshipper who gets in anyway, because he played with a straight bat, even if it was on a bit of a sticky wicket.

ALSO: Colarmene society can equally be read as an attack on totalitarian states, and not letting women do what they want, etc.* (I mean, the girl's story in a Horse and His Boy is pretty -- maybe not feminist, but certainly humanist.) Which is quite a valuable story for kids to learn about -- the rights and customs of Britons etc.

* At which, point, yeah, OK, why are the nasty totalitarians all brown? Well, because he's a bit of a racist, but not in a massively unusual way for an Englishman in the 1950's.

I dunno; I strongly doubt that kids who read widely in fantasy or SF would find that Narnia -- or Perelandra -- on it's own a massive problem. The general awfulness of modern SFF politics, yeah, but if you given them Wells and Verne and Clarke and Asimov and Ransome, if they've any wits they'll be able to work out that Lewis is a bit of a reactionary old fart.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 4:08 PM
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I couldn't stand to see Mozart played as a dorky American with Tourette's

But that's the whole point. If Mozart were simply some eccentric, Amadeus would just be a biopic about a composer with a weird personal life, but Shaffer makes him a pampered, whining man-child. The point is that Salieri sees this overgrown brat as manifestly unworthy of the divine gift he displays in his music, transforming the murder plot from a mere jealous rivalry into a transcendent, sacrilegious act of vandalism against the divine muse.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 4:45 PM
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140: I have never understood people's fondness for Terry Pratchett. Fuck the Bechdel test, his writing is just abysmal: he never misses a chance to settle for clever when he could be funny, cute when he could be clever, cloying when he could be cute. And his characters have all the depth and complexity of a bumper sticker.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 4:57 PM
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HONK IF YOU HATE TERRY PRATCHETT


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 5:07 PM
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143. Could be his Alzheimers (yes, the Brain Eater really does have him). Anyway I like clever and cute. Not so much on the cloying. Maybe it is my Alzheimers?


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 5:20 PM
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Didn't know he had Alzheimer's, that's sad. I probably wouldn't have been so harsh about how much his writing sucks if I'd known he had Alzheimer's. Or at least I would've written about how much his writing sucked, and then added, "but it's sad, you know, he does have Alzheimer's."


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 5:30 PM
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142: It was the Americanness that bugged me, the various junk from American misunderstood alcoholic rebel genius movies -- the longsuffering wife, and the Oedipus complex, and the resistance from stuffy Puritans and mediocrities (which Salieri really wasn't -- he was just out of fashion).

The Tourette's diagnosis is in the literature but I'm pretty sure it's bogus. It was based primarily on Mozart's occasional offers to shit in someone else's mouth, but his mom talked that way to his dad, too, and it just seems to have been a uniquely Austrian way of flirting. And they left it out of the fucking movie!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 7:53 PM
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And they left it out of the fucking movie!

Yeah, you have to watch the shitting movie for that.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 7:56 PM
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Akerlof and Romer, from 1994: Bankruptcy for Profit.

If so the normal economics of maximizing economic value is replaced by the topsy-turvy economics of maximizing current extractable value, which tends to drive the firm's economic net worth deeply negative. Once owners have decided that they can extract more from a firm by maximizing their present take, any action that allows them to extract more currently will be attractive - even if it causes a large reduction in the true economic net worth of the firm. A dollar in increased dividends today is worth a dollar to owners, but a dollar in increased future earnings of the firm is worth nothing because future payments accrue to the creditors who will be left holding the bag. As a result, bankruptcy for profit can cause social losses that dwarf the transfers from creditors that the shareholders can induce. Because of this disparity between what the owners can capture and the losses that they create, we refer to bankruptcy for profit as looting.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 8:01 PM
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148:

I really believe that Shaffer's intention was to show Mozart through Salieri's eyes, without any but the most tenuous connection to Mozart's actual biography. Here the play may actually be more enlightening than the film, now that I think of it; Salieri is a much more active mediating force, with Shaffer's characteristic long & excruciatingly self-involved monologues throughout.

It reminds me of a favorite Stoppard play (which I suppose is also sexist), Travesties--in which Henry Carr, the useless bureaucratic functionary who tells the tale, brings us an appearance by his sometime nemesis James Joyce as (quoting the stage directions) "an Irish nonsense", speaking in a ridiculous brogue & kicking off an entire scene composed of limericks.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 8:18 PM
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I strongly doubt that kids who read widely in fantasy or SF would find that Narnia -- or Perelandra -- on it's own a massive problem.

I was fine with the first two Perelandra books, but then you get to That Hideous Strength and he basically decides that he's going to stop telling a story, or even doing a thought experiment, and instead just hits the reader over the head for a while.


Posted by: widget | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 8:52 PM
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Terry Pratchett--if you're looking for not especially feminist fantasy-SF that none the less gets it, now he's your fellow. Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan! The pudgy goth chick who is friends with the annoying, perfect goth chick! Granny Weatherwax! Female characters who are depicted with pretty much the same depth and complexity as male characters! Female characters who mess things up but not because they're female! Female characters who worry about being unattractive while also being actually unattractive, such that we don't have the "she was actually slender with raven-dark hair and perky breasts, but she thought she was a troll--isn't sexist oppression so sad!" thing. An awful lot of Pratchett passes the Bechdel test.

I note that all of Pratchett's books (all that I've read) say "copyright Terry and Lyn Pratchett" on the inside cover by the printing and publishing info.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 9:19 PM
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I was fine with the first two Perelandra books, but then you get to That Hideous Strength and he basically decides that he's going to stop telling a story, or even doing a thought experiment, and instead just hits the reader over the head for a while.

Oh yes. Oh yes.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 9:36 PM
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Also, if you go to grad school, you are a bad woman. Whose baby would have averted the apocalypse. Or something.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 9:39 PM
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Also, if you go to grad school, you are a bad woman.

This is only true in virtue of its being true that if you go to grad school you are a bad person, where this is not a moral assessment but one regarding your skill at being a person.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 9:42 PM
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Although I did kind of love the Moon society.

What the fuck?


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 9:50 PM
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155: Sort of an epic fail at human flourishing, certainly.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-17-09 9:51 PM
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I'll just carry right on as this post gets further and further down the page!

141: Yeah, okay, one Calormene was a good fellow and wasn't damned, out of all of them. Perhaps there were others, but there's no textual indication and we certainly don't see any other "good" Calormenes. Or wait, the girl in The Horse and His Boy....Aravis. It's pretty hilarious--the two "good" Calormenes talk cutesy British from birth, apparently, while the bad Calormenes use faked-up Middle Easternisms.

Plus, seriously, what sophisticated adult (even in the bad old British fifties) can seriously believe that a major religious system would be all about worshipping evil? White people knew about Islam in the fifties--they may not have been the world's biggest fans, but there was some understanding that it was, you know, a legitimate religion. (I admit that the Pauline Murray illustrations totally undercut Lewis for me; the drawing of Tash was way more compelling than the soppy lion ones.)

On the Space Trilogy: I do not care for Perelandra either, thankyouverymuch. Remember that the way the Unman tempts the Eve figure is to allure her with beautiful dresses--that and a sense of agency. He tells her all these stories, see, where she has to make decisions without getting approval from the King, her husband. She might have to save the King, says the Unman! The King might even make a wrong decision and she would have to make the right one for him! It's just like in That Hideous Strength, where women do wrong by being too interested in appearing "feminine" by wearing pretty trappings and not interested enough in being feminine by being submissive. Also, it's just like That Hideous Strength in that god has decided that it's a good idea to let the fate of vast numbers of people hang on one fairly trivial decision made by one woman.

I certainly like floating islands and the flying lizards and the dolphin creatures and the scary scary scary trek through the caves; I also actually like the sheer physical horror of Ransom's confrontation with the Unman. As an activist, too, I sometimes think about the passage which talks about how serious moral questions are sometimes decided by individuals acting immediately and simply--I don't think that's exactly correct, but I appreciate the anti-civility point that your ideas and beliefs sometimes have to mean conflict and scary things.

Vis-a-vis Terry Pratchett, yes he's all cutesy, but surely we're not holding up Neil Gaiman as some kind of complex thinker? No coincidence that they wrote a book together, after all.

Pratchett has sort of a beach-postcards feel to his work--the humor is broad and sentimental and relies on "we're all fundamentally like this". Gaiman relies on the Tragic Goth Princess view of life; the humor, where it exists, relies on "aren't I perceptive about life's little ironies? Luckily we Tragic Goth Princesses can perceive the important truths denied to the mundanes." Gaiman is just as sentimental as Pratchett, but not as democratic.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 7:45 AM
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I do not care for Perelandra either, thankyouverymuch.

I think the distinction I would draw is that the objectionable parts of Perelandra -- which I won't deny or labor to excuse -- didn't, for me, ruin it as a story, while THS came off basically just as Lewis telling modern society to get off his lawn.


Posted by: widget | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:21 AM
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Vis-a-vis Terry Pratchett, yes he's all cutesy, but surely we're not holding up Neil Gaiman as some kind of complex thinker? No coincidence that they wrote a book together, after all.

Not a fan of Neil Gaiman either, except for his children's books, in which his tendency to talk down to the reader actually works for him.

But there really is no defense for Pratchett. I mean, really, the man has like three jokes he uses over and over again. Yes, I get it, the wizards are like fussy old academics, and Rincewind is a coward, and the witches are nice even though they're witches, and Death is nice even though he's Death, and on and on and on. He also does that Flinstones gag where mechanical devices are invariably operated by tiny creatures endlessly turning little parts around. It is all terribly tiresome.

I've avoided Good Omens like the plague; telling me that it's Pratchett and Gaiman together is like saying it's like herpes plus chlamydia.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:32 AM
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Yeah, okay, one Calormene was a good fellow and wasn't damned, out of all of them.

Huh. This really seems unfair to Lewis. We've got at least two non-damned Calormenes out of all the Calormene characters, and there aren't a whole lot of Calormene characters -- it's not an infinitesimal percentage.

And this:

Plus, seriously, what sophisticated adult (even in the bad old British fifties) can seriously believe that a major religious system would be all about worshipping evil?

Cutting Lewis the slack necessary for being that type of Christian who believes that (a) the Christian god exists in an active, personal kind of way, (b) that failing to worship that god is an important moral error, and that (c) if there were something kind of like a god and in competition with the Christian god for worshippers, it would necessarily be evil -- nothing exists other than the Christian god such that it is both good and wants to be worshipped(and if he doesn't get that much slack, there's not much point in picking nits in the books in detail), I'm not getting this. There's no indication that the Calormenes think Tash is evil, and are worshipping him for his evilness, is there? The whole point of the good Calormene story is that there were people worshipping Tash under the belief that he was a good thing.

It's pretty hilarious--the two "good" Calormenes talk cutesy British from birth, apparently, while the bad Calormenes use faked-up Middle Easternisms.

Also, not really. Aravis goes into fakey Middle-Eastern when she's telling a story, and her awful friend is as British as she is -- the separation isn't good/bad character, it's more like formal/informal register.

I mean, I fundamentally agree with you about the problems with Lewis, but the particular nits you're picking here seem off. His basic philosophy/religious outlook is one I find really distasteful and pernicious, but once you accept that as a starting point from which to read, he's not much worse than he needs to be to stay consistent.

I certainly like floating islands and the flying lizards and the dolphin creatures and the scary scary scary trek through the caves; I also actually like the sheer physical horror of Ransom's confrontation with the Unman.

Me too.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:35 AM
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I thought the Space Trilogy was pretty terrible on the whole. Out Of The Silent Planet's glacial pace and sodden writing style possibly makes it the dullest book about Martians ever written; Perelandra is obviously the high point, but is necessarily reactionary as any orthodox retelling of the Eden myth is going to be; That Hideous Strength identifies non-representational art as a Satanic plot, and firmly places Lewis in loonie territory.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:37 AM
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160: But there really is no defense for Pratchett.

Oh, come on. All you're saying is that he's not to your taste. Which, fine, no reason why he should be. That doesn't make being amused by his writing some kind of error. I'm perfectly happy to laugh at minor variations of the same joke endlessly, if it's done in a way I enjoy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:39 AM
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163 gets it right.

Is there anything you like, Inaccessible Island Rail? Besides Amadeus?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:41 AM
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163: All I'm saying is, one book apiece about each of these one-dimensional joke characters might be defensible on some level; two apiece would demonstrate some serious recycling; when you get to the point where they're getting five or six books each, you've gone to the same unimpressive well far too often.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:43 AM
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I'm perfectly happy to laugh at minor variations of the same joke endlessly, if it's done in a way I enjoy.

I'm actually bothered by how much I love repetition; for example, I'm a (minor, not scary) fan of the X-Files, but I really only like the formulaic episodes, the monsters of the week. Anything developing the larger plot gets a yawn from me. I think it must have been growing up with tv shows like Law & Order that did this to me; I crave the same old stuff, screw plot advancement when it comes to mindless entertainment.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:44 AM
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That doesn't make being amused by his writing some kind of error.

YES IT DOES. Indeed, I believe it is morally wrong.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:45 AM
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The books do have plots. The characters actually do things, not just stand around being obnoxious. Ergo, some might say that the books are distinguishable from each other.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:45 AM
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The characters actually do things, not just stand around being obnoxious.

The characters do things in the same way that late-stage Simpsons characters do things. In this book, the wizards go to Australia! In this book, the wizards go to China!


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 8:52 AM
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I spent a while searching the "Librarything" site where people registered their libraries, and Gaiman, Pratchett, and CS Lewis all ranked high on the list of authors whose readers apparently don't read much else. Lewis's readers read Christian stuff and not much more.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:02 AM
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FWIW, I haven't read much Pratchett for years as the recycling _did_ start to annoy me. But you don't read him for innovation -- if you him at all -- but for the little bits of verbal humour, nerdy gags, references to other bits of literature, science gags, and so on. I can get that some people might not find that funny, but his stuff isn't totally without merit.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:05 AM
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if you READ him at all, I mean


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:05 AM
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170: It's conceivable that what you're seeing is that people who would spend the time necessary to enter their entire Pratchett collection into LibraryThing don't read much else.

(With Lewis, I assume a fair number of people get into him for the Christian apologetics and then read the fiction as a result. Or they just know the Narnia books.)


Posted by: widget | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:10 AM
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Christians avoid Gaiman like the plague. Literally. Statistical proof. For example, not a single person who has Warren's "Purpose-driven life" also has Gaiman's "Anansi Boys." The search finds 73 books which are never found in the same library with "Anansi Boys", and eversingle one is Christian.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:13 AM
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IIR, I am totally not making fun of you, but you've read an awful lot of Pratchett's books for someone who professes not to like them. I'm not going to defend them as great literature, but there's a place for mindless entertainment. L&O and late Simpsons seem to be apt analogies.

IIRC, when Lewis first published the Narnia stories, some Christians were annoyed with the books because of the religious pluralism. You can believe in Tash and go to heaven?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:16 AM
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Sorry, "American Gods".

Actually, the numbers have changed since I looked a year ago. Gaiman readers have been branching off into books of old myths.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:16 AM
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IIR, I am totally not making fun of you, but you've read an awful lot of Pratchett's books for someone who professes not to like them.

Heh. Right. Something with literally no redeeming virtues, you stop picking up after the first dozen or so. Doesn't make them great literature, but there's got to be something there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:18 AM
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On the other hand "Good Omens" overlaps quite a bit with the "Left Behind" series. LB really was sort of a Christian missionary invasion of the pulp world, and many Christians are uneasy with it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:20 AM
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The "three joke" thing doesn't really ring true, either. Most fiction is like that. There's a single hook, or a couple of hooks that the author hangs their books on. What makes each book worth reading is the stuff below that level; the use of language, plotting, etc.

I can easily see how someone might not find Pratchett funny. But if you do, at least some of the time, the fact that he hangs his novels off of a couple of basic running gags is neither here nor there.



Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:24 AM
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you've read an awful lot of Pratchett's books for someone who professes not to like them

His books were suggested and loaned to me by Pratchett-reading friends of mine; I didn't like the first one, but was urged to give others a chance, and it's not like they're dense reads.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:26 AM
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177: I'm assuming that iir is engaging in a bit of hyperbole, leaving room for the possibility that there are indeed reasons one might read Pratchett's books even if one doesn't like them much. Most of us have read an awful lot of book we didn't like much.

In other words, "no redeeming value" doesn't mean "no reason to read."

--
On preview, partially pwned by iir him- or herself.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:30 AM
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I don't believe I ever used the phrase "no redeeming value"; I said Pratchett was a lousy writer who wrote bad books.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:32 AM
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The Simpsons analogy is pretty appropriate. But IIR hasn't yet answered my question about whether he/she actually likes anything.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:48 AM
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I'm actually bothered by how much I love repetition; for example, I'm a (minor, not scary) fan of the X-Files, but I really only like the formulaic episodes, the monsters of the week.

You would love Columbo.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:55 AM
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183: Worms, seeds, lack of introduced predators, presumably.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 9:55 AM
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Something with literally no redeeming virtues, you stop picking up after the first dozen or so.

Liz, you and I have such similar horrible reading taste. I always laugh when you write something like this because you really are one of the few people who also reads, almost absentmindedly, the most inutterable shit.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:08 AM
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I'm not sure that CS Lewis is anti-Muslim so much as he's a common or garden Orientalist. Narnians drive like this, Calormenes drive like this.

In The Last Battle, doesn't Aslan basically say "anybody who worshipped Tash in an honorable, nice way is going to Heaven, but if you bought into the idea that Tash was actually this cruel, Oriental potentate of a god that his priests described him as, then it's off to the hot place with you"?

The Calormenes as a people are cruel, cowardly, greedy and submissive to an illegitimate authority. And they live in a nasty, brutish and hot city, while the Narnians live in a green and pleasant land. Narnians don't even soil their rural idyll with an economy, it's left to the Calormenes to lower themselves to trade.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:09 AM
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184: Uh, just one more thing ben, if you don't mind. I think you said you were in your twenties. right? No, no reason, just a thought; I won't take any more of your time. Thanks for your patience.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:13 AM
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Unutterable shit, JM. That'll have to be altered when it becomes the new alt text.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:14 AM
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I watched a lot of Columbo my last year of college for some reason. Well, maybe fewer than twelve episodes in toto, but enough.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:16 AM
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190: As someone a few months older than ben, I'd like to step in and defend his claims of Columbo viewing as entirely plausible. Beyond that, I will say no more.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:19 AM
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you really are one of the few people who also reads, almost absentmindedly, the most inutterable shit.

And admits it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:20 AM
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187: Not with the "that his priests described him as" bit; Here's the Amazon 'search within the book'; I can't figure out how to do specific links, but if you search for Tash, the passage you're thinking of (I think) is on page 189. Aslan says that he is good and Tash is evil, so anyone who does good in Tash's name is serving Aslan and vice versa, but doesn't address how Tash's priests described him.

On the Orientalism bit, it's a fair cop.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:23 AM
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186, 192: I am proudly out of the closet as a consumer of literary trash. There is some stuff I read but am too embarrassed to admit -- if it's got a fast-moving plot, I'm mostly there.

It's funny, though, I am very discriminating about what trash I'll read. Not discriminating in an "I'll only read books with real literary value" or anything like that sense, but there's a very sharp distinction between trash that will feed my jones for narrative, and trash that isn't any use at all. I need a certain amount of skill on the sentence by sentence level -- if I get jarred awake by infelicities too often, the book is no good to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:28 AM
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190: but enough

Yep, n ≥ 3 pretty much seals it. It really captivated people when it first came out (aided I think by being in a rotation where a new episode only played about once a month, once a week would probably have been too much). I was surprised that according to Wikipedia, the character first premiered on a Live TV show in 1960 and subsequently as a stage play before the TV series.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:30 AM
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You would love Columbo.

Where do you think I learned my love for repetition? Actually, I watched a fair bit when I was a kid and now I have no recollection of it whatsoever.

It's funny, though, I am very discriminating about what trash I'll read. Not discriminating in an "I'll only read books with real literary value" or anything like that sense, but there's a very sharp distinction between trash that will feed my jones for narrative, and trash that isn't any use at all.

This would be me as well. Though I'm finding that I'm starting to lose my ability to read trash and this saddens me.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:45 AM
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I am very discriminating about what trash I'll read.

Oh sure, me too. If within five pages, there are two or three bone-jarringly wrong details, I won't be able to continue. Or if there are vikings or vampires.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:52 AM
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187: Yes, Lewis does say that, but he doesn't show any nice Calormenes except, like, two. Even Aravis's (which I just mistyped as "Arabis", which I think is revealing both about me and Lewis) friend whatsername, the one with the dresses and the pet monkey has the wrong values. I don't think there's too much difference between saying "you people are all evil and worship the devil and therefore you're going to hell" and "99.5% of you people worship the devil and are going to hell" except that it gives Lewis a bit of a cover for his racism.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 10:53 AM
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But he doesn't show all that many Calormenes at all; two good ones out of six or seven total characters (Aravis, Nice Calormene Guy from the Last Battle, Radagast, Radagast's father the Tisroc, the evil Vizer, the shallow friend, there must be some more) isn't 99.5%. And the friend with the bad values isn't even trying to be a Middle-Easterny type of character; she's a sexist caricature, but a sexist caricature of a shallow English girl.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 11:01 AM
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One theory is that without pulp fiction and films, people would be able to free themselves from relationships. Someone might finally be free and clean, but relationships lurk invisibly within these vectors, waiting their moment to jump to a human host.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 11:04 AM
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I seem to alternate binges of unutterable trash (checking out the whole series of something and reading it in a few evenings) and binges of non-fiction. I especially seem to like the One Thing versions of history. I sometimes wonder what the librarians think of me.

(Except I know they like me, because I bring them roses and cookies sometimes.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 11:10 AM
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Re: iir's opinion of Pratchett, it sounds like you've read enough to make up your own mind and I'm not suggesting more, but I notice that of all the overused clichés, you don't mention any from the Night Watch books. Which is unfortunate, because I think they're the best of the Discworld series. They have their fair share of intrigue and detective work and character development. (It all takes place against a backdrop of repetitive jokes, of course, but at least they are mostly different repetitive jokes from the ones in the other books.)

And as for his early-onset Alzheimer's, the diagnosis was made relatively recently, so whatever flaws you find in any books written before, say, Going Postal are Pratchett's own. Feel free to criticize all but the most recent books. Complain about his last two or three, though, and you're a horrible, horrible person.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:05 PM
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Feel free to criticize all but the most recent books. Complain about his last two or three, though, and you're a horrible, horrible person.

Yes, I've started to feel guilty about all the bad things I said about Jackson's Dilemma,/i>, Iris Murdoch's last novel.

I don't know if Philip Roth is actually suffering from dementia, but I think he was trying for the same thing in his latest novel.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:17 PM
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More on 198, 199: I apologize for being nitpicky about this, given that I really do generally agree with you about Lewis's worldview (and with Minneapolitan about the fact that Lewis is orientalizing, using a phony-Arab culture for cheap exoticism.) I'm reacting to a sense that given that we know Lewis is a bad guy, stuff that would look innocuous from someone we approved of is going to count as independently offensive. To the extent that's what you're doing, it's a mode of interpretation that worries me; it seems as if it can lead to being self-confirming.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:17 PM
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202, 203: His last one (Making Money) really was weak. Going Postal wasn't a standout, but wasn't his worst.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:19 PM
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re: 194

Yeah, me too. I don't read a lot of fantasy or SF -- although I can dip into either genre occasionally -- but I do read a lot of thrillers/crime fiction. It doesn't have to be literary genius, but it has to be well-constructed, well-put together stuff. Anything more than that is mostly just a bonus.

Graduate study basically killed my taste for high-brow fiction [although again, I still dip into it very occasionally]. After hours each day poring through obscurantist academic prose what I want/wanted is something fast and smart but, above all, entertaining.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:35 PM
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re: 202

Pratchett has a form of Alzheimer's that largely attacks the visual centres. Right at this point, I doubt it's altering his writing much. He's just been in a two-part documentary on the BBC talking about his condition.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:43 PM
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Graduate study basically killed my taste for high-brow fiction

Christ, you can say that again. I used to read fiction for enlightenment and edification; now I'll pick up history or technical manuals for edification, but for fiction I want to RUN FREE IN ESCAPISM!1


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 12:50 PM
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206, 208: I actually like highbrow fiction, because I didn't go to graduate school. My reasons for reading made graduate school out of the question. Really.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 1:10 PM
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Legal work has pretty much the same effect -- for pleasure, I read light fiction or light non-fiction, but that's about it. (If you count nineteenth century novels as light fiction -- they don't set off the same "This is too much work" whining in my head that most respectable fiction written since WWII does.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 1:11 PM
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I can't really get it up to engage in a substantive way (because, really, it's no great surprise to find that someone on the internet doesn't like something) but suffice to say I am on the side of feeling that if Pratchett/Gaiman/whatever isn't one's cup of tea, that's great but not evidence of its inherent badness.

Of course, I'm a Gaiman- and Pratchett-loving mouth-breather who thinks Good Omens is wicked cool.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 2:00 PM
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re: 206

I used to like it, too. I tore through huge chunks of classic literary fiction through my teens and twenties. I still occasionally make forays in that direction. But 90% of the fiction I read tends towards the plot-driven and the entertaining.

For what it's worth, I think a lot of what passes for literary fiction at the moment is just really poor. It lacks a lot of the virtues of great literary fiction of the past, without compensating for it with anything else. But that's a topic for another thread, mebbe.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 2:03 PM
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The Calormenes as a people are cruel, cowardly, greedy and submissive to an illegitimate authority. And they live in a nasty, brutish and hot city, while the Narnians live in a green and pleasant land. Narnians don't even soil their rural idyll with an economy, it's left to the Calormenes to lower themselves to trade.

Yes. If you were a conservative Briton of the 1930's-50's, this would all seem basically right to you. (Although, btw, have you noticed that Tashbaan and Minas Tirith are not totally dissimilar?)

And maybe not even strictly in a racist way; just that, you know Oriental despotisms relying on mass irrigation and organisation vs. happy free yeomanry working the soil. (Yeah, full of holes, and with racist underpinnings and so-on, but not totally evil.)
White people knew about Islam in the fifties--they may not have been the world's biggest fans, but there was some understanding that it was, you know, a legitimate religion. (I admit that the Pauline Murray illustrations totally undercut Lewis for me; the drawing of Tash was way more compelling than the soppy lion ones.)
Er, Thuggee? I don't think Tash is an Allah figure --- he's a multi-armed animal-headed god in a polytheism. He's a combination of Egyptian and indian gods, some of whom (kali) were thought to be basically evil, at which point, we're just into opium of the people territory.


Posted by: keir | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 2:17 PM
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I read a couple of Brookmyre's the other day, btw, and dear god the sellickmanthruanthru bits had me in stitches.


Posted by: keir | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 2:18 PM
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i tried to read Tolkien and CS Lewis before, couldn't b/c i'm not good with any like fantastical books, not patient enough i guess to get acquainted with all the fictional characters in the beginning of the book


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 2:48 PM
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And maybe not even strictly in a racist way; just that, you know Oriental despotisms relying on mass irrigation and organisation vs. happy free yeomanry working the soil.

I think we must run with rather different crowds--down amongst the anarchists we would refer to that particular set of oppositions as racist, not least because it's a misreading of history that is designed to support Western European imperialism.

Tash is, yes, a multi-armed figure, but he's worshipped by people who are pretty much set up as comic-book Muslims. I don't believe the Calormenes are polytheist--don't have the books handy, but I'm virtually certain that it's Tash and only Tash for them. Lewis was perhaps not a really precise anti-Arab bigot, but all that desert-sands/flowing robes stuff in Horse and His Boy is pure kitsch Middle East.

I guess I'm confused about this separation between Orientalism and racism that seems to be appearing here. Surely they're intertwined and prop each other up?

I mean, I've read a lot of fifties-sixties British stuff, thanks to Anglophile parents. There were plenty of writers who were less racist than Lewis (hell, Orwell was less racist than Lewis, and it's not exactly like he was Mr. Racial Sensitivity.) And even if we somehow decide that Lewis was a man of his times et patati et patata and therefore isn't culpable or even racist precisely, why defend the work? If the morality of the author isn't important, surely we're left with the morality of the work? And I'm just not wild about portrayals of effete, sneaky, treacherous Arabs who speak funny, despite the fact that I will never forget the Island Where Dreams Come True.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 3:58 PM
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Comic-book Arabs, not comic-book Muslims.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 4:01 PM
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re: 214

Yeah, Brookmyre is a fabulous writer of dialogue. He can be surprisingly touching at times, too. "A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Pencil" is incredibly accurate as a portrayal of youth in the 70s and 80s. I was filled with a wave of nostalgia reading it.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 4:27 PM
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I guess I'm confused about this separation between Orientalism and racism that seems to be appearing here. Surely they're intertwined and prop each other up?

I want to make the distinction because, while they are intertwined, Orientalism (as I, incompletely, understand it) is something that's really hard to avoid if you mention other cultures from any but an insider's perspective. You can trivially avoid Orientalism by never mentioning anyone non-white, but that's not a solution I want to encourage; where Trollope looks less racist than Kipling because he simply talks about race so much less. I don't think completely eliminating Calormene from the Narnia books, leaving the population entirely blonde, would have made them preferable on racial issues.

And I think I'm willing to give conscious intent more credit than you are. It seems clear to me that the point of Aravis, and the Nice Calormene, and even the silly friend (who's a bad person in a very English schoolgirl kind of way), was to be actively non-racist: to state that Calormenes are people too, good ones are good, bad ones are bad, in much the same way as anyone else. Now, this is a bare minimum of decent anti-racism, and not anything anyone should get a cookie for, and I'm sure that Lewis had plenty of racist beliefs about Arabs/Muslims, on top of even more ignorance about them. But I think someone who's actively trying to avoid being racist, fucked up as they may be about it, gets at least some recognition that they are, however ignorantly and ineffectively, making an effort.

I'm not trying to say that there's anything wrong with your finding the portrayal of Calormen distasteful on racial grounds: this, "I'm just not wild about portrayals of effete, sneaky, treacherous Arabs who speak funny," is a perfectly legitimate reaction. But the specifics you were citing to support it as straightforwardly aggressively racist largely don't stand up.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 4:41 PM
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Greenmantle as in John Buchan? Those are very, very, very odd

From way up above, yes and yes they are. I read 39 Steps three or four years ago, and then recently heard Greenmantle discussed and decided to give it a try.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 5:47 PM
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216: thanks to Anglophile parents

Heh. Back when we had an open bookshop, we had a section called Anglophilia. They knew who they were. And we had some cool stuff in there.

Re: anarchism, Frowner, are you familiar with the D/aily B/leed? I've meant to ask both you and Minneapolitan about this; you might enjoy it. I'll email.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 6:13 PM
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While others may stress the problematic side of Islam, as a multi-culturalist I believe that you should look for the good side, and you have to admit that for a conservative, the Muslim view of gender roles is really admirable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-18-09 6:48 PM
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Name me an "other culture" or "alien society" in fantasy and SF that doesn't somewhere or somehow reference the history of how difference has been imagined from Western perspectives since 1750 or so.

Yes, there are many cases of SF and fantasy writers trying to be thoughtful about that history, to problematize it, to ironically reverse it. But the number of fantasy or SF works that honest-to-god come up with an alien or imaginatively unfamiliar culture that isn't at some point or juncture making use of tropes or stereotypes about a specific non-Western Other or possibly just generic non-Western Others? Puny. Almost none. Because that's incredibly difficult, for the same reason that representing past cultures in their own terms rather than through the lens of modernity is difficult (arguably impossible, if you follow some branches of postcolonial theory that would observe that the very desire to represent them in 'their own terms' is just Enlightenment encyclopedism at work once again).

Lewis' orientalism is often pretty generic little Englanderish shit, but it's not intolerably or impossibly malicious. As long as there's a more or less humanist way out of the thickets of stereotype (Aravis, whatshisname from The Last Battle), what's to worry? It's not like Archenland is a deep, complex rendering of Northern European societies, nor as if all Archenlanders are intrinsically virtuous by genetics--Shasta was kidnapped by an Archenlander councillor in the pay of Calormene, after all. Or similarly, though hobbits might be virtuous English yeomen living the simple life while nasty Eastern humans of dark hue enthusiastically sign on with Sauron, there's always Ted Sandyman or the Sackville-Baggins to keep in mind. All I ask in an imaginative work is that the author not be such a soap-box asshole that he or she leaves me a way out, gives me the tools to make his less imaginative caricatures into human beings. There are a few fiction writers (whatever genre) who fail so miserably at that modest goal that they're wholly repulsive. Terry Goodkind, for example.

If the mere existence of such tropes is noxious, then speculative fictions that reverse them aren't any more attractive. Marion Zimmer Bradley's take on Arthurian legend is really smart and fun, I think, as well as well-written, but if one found faux-medieval gendering fantasy novels to be annoying, Bradley's reversal of those just reminds of the stereotypes rather than abolishes them altogether. If fantasy was charged with a naturalistic responsibility for representing its template material, then fantasy protagonists would need to be serfs who were born, lived fairly unpleasant lives of agrarian toil, faced the challenge of a difficult winter or two and barely survived, and then died in their early 40s of a plague. The pleasures of fiction are fragile enough; load too much on that mule and its back will break.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 11:57 AM
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Name me an "other culture" or "alien society" in fantasy and SF that doesn't somewhere or somehow reference the history of how difference has been imagined from Western perspectives since 1750 or so.

I like Hinterlands by William Gibson as an attempt to present a truly alien alien, but it does so by not presenting any sort of alien culture.

The Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang?


In any case, the point is well taken.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 12:13 PM
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Yes, there are many cases of SF and fantasy writers trying to be thoughtful about that history, to problematize it, to ironically reverse it. But the number of fantasy or SF works that honest-to-god come up with an alien or imaginatively unfamiliar culture that isn't at some point or juncture making use of tropes or stereotypes about a specific non-Western Other or possibly just generic non-Western Others?

This just seems odd. Well, yes, because we are humans we can only write from a human perspective; yes, we can only write about societies based on our experience with societies. Liquids are the only things we can drink, food the only thing that nourishes us.

There are some writers who've tried to express the impossibility of writing a truly alien culture--Iain Banks in The Algebraist, I think, also Samuel Delany in passing in Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. It's a theme that's used as a moral prop in a way I find irritating in Mother Tongue.

If the mere existence of such tropes is noxious, then speculative fictions that reverse them aren't any more attractive. Marion Zimmer Bradley's take on Arthurian legend is really smart and fun, I think, as well as well-written, but if one found faux-medieval gendering fantasy novels to be annoying, Bradley's reversal of those just reminds of the stereotypes rather than abolishes them altogether. If fantasy was charged with a naturalistic responsibility for representing its template material, then fantasy protagonists would need to be serfs who were born, lived fairly unpleasant lives of agrarian toil, faced the challenge of a difficult winter or two and barely survived, and then died in their early 40s of a plague. The pleasures of fiction are fragile enough; load too much on that mule and its back will break.

Again, I find this odd, as if the literary choices were between endorsement and reversal, or as if the problem with Lewis is merely that he doesn't accurately portray Arab cultures.

I'm afraid I have to catch a bus right now, but I'll return to this.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 3:27 PM
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Call me an Occidentalizer or an Albionophobe if you wish, but the real point here is that, like all Englishmen but more so, CS Lewis sucks. Everything else is just verbiage.

Harry Potter too.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 3:37 PM
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I always suspected that Harry Potter was just verbiage.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 3:38 PM
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It's nothing but words … just words! Words on a page!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 3:40 PM
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THE HELL IT IS


Posted by: OPINIONATED COSPLAYER | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 3:51 PM
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I'm afraid I have to catch a bus right now, but I'll return to this.

Please do. I've been mulling over, in an uninformed kind of way, some thoughts on Orientalizing that this set off, and I'd like to have the conversation go on longer. (To be clear, I'm disagreeing with you somewhat above, but I'm doing so with the utmost of trepidation -- I have the sense that you're better informed/more thoughtful about this stuff than I am. Which means I'm really hoping you keep talking about it.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 3:56 PM
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102 et seq.

I'm late as usual, but apparently the question is not moot: check the URL!

Can the master's house be destroyed using the master's tools?


Posted by: Rah-thur | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 4:19 PM
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I have a question for book sellers. If I found something through Alibris, should I call the bookstore selling it and order it directly from them? (Instead of signing up for an Alibris account and buying online through Alibris) Will that benefit the bookstore by not having to pay the middleman?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 4:22 PM
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226: but all this "-izing" is just what we most easily deride in Imperialist culture!

225: "Write what you know" isn't advice. It's prophecy.

Must stop reading threads backward & go eat sushi! Also, must ask Robust if egging my him on to thank the sushi chef in beginner's Japanese encourages Orientalizing or patronizing or what.


Posted by: Rah | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 4:24 PM
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Depends. Are you urging him to say "Thank you, my little lotus blossom"? Because that's right out.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 4:30 PM
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No, I'm just trying to orientalize by ordering a pretentious book of haiku(s).


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 4:31 PM
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Orientalism, as an academic concept, was developed by Fu Manchu and Quong Lung through their cat's paw Said, as a tool for distracting the world from their nefarious plans. The greatest trick the inscrutable oriental criminal mastermind ever played was to convince the world that inscrutable oriental criminal masterminds did not exist.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 4:46 PM
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I guess I'm confused about this separation between Orientalism and racism that seems to be appearing here. Surely they're intertwined and prop each other up?

They are, but I think they are separable threads. Orientalism puts the foreign culture on a pedestal, as something to be admired or studied from the outside as one would an artwork. (e.g., some students in Eastern philosophy classes mooning on about the Eastern mind, popular portrayal of wise Native sages.) It's pernicious, because it's false, but what's curious about it is that it's compatible with a largely positive view of the other culture (more in tune with Nature, more virtuous, in possession of sacred and mystical rites,etc.)

Which makes it trickier, though perhaps just as problematic, than a narrative that says straightforwardly "ethnic group X is bad." That we'd know to reject. A Horse and His Boy seems to have some problems, but Aravis' bad characteristics seem to be very English ones. (Woman-hating, but English woman hating.) And good people who do good things get to go to heaven. There are novels that seem to me to be less problematic with worse attitudes (Mary's unchallenged attitude towards Indian servants in A Secret Garden,e.g), because the attitudes are less central to the story. But what about all the horse stories about racing in Arabia? NOT ONE GRAPE DURING DAYLIGHT DURING RAMADAN.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:35 PM
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232: Don't know about Alibris, but without ABEbooks I couldn't have run my little business at all, and their fees were reasonable I thought. So when that kind of situation happened to come up once, I still went through ABE.

But ABE has been bought out by AMazon since, and Amazon is not really good people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:36 PM
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Lobsang Rampa should not be underestimated either. Nor Sit Edmund Backhouse, Kurban Said, and Trebitch Lincoln.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:38 PM
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(Mary's unchallenged attitude towards Indian servants in A Secret Garden,e.g), because the attitudes are less central to the story.

And indeed, it's not at all clear (from the evidence within the novel itself) that those attitudes are endorsed by the text. Mary's imperious judgments on such matters are far from trustworthy, because back then, she was a narrow-minded, shallow little bitch who could barely see past the end of her own nose.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:49 PM
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That's absolutely true; but Martha doesn't know enough to correct her, and Mary never comes to the realization that maybe her Ayah shouldn't have been treated in such a way, etc., as part of her moral growth. It's a little weird reading it in 2009.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:52 PM
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232: If I found something through Alibris, should I call the bookstore selling it and order it directly from them?

Yes, probably. The only stumbling block would be a case in which the bookseller is unable to process credit cards him/herself. Though as John says, some booksellers just prefer to go through the online listing services anyway, if only because it's all automated. All you can do is call or email to ask which they prefer.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:52 PM
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There's a whole literature of Orientalism written in English or French by Chinese or Japanese, and another school of Occidentalism written by Chinese or Japanese in their own languages, and a fair bunch of stuff written in languages of either category which points in both directs. A lot of this literature is very superior.

Said's book wasn't especially useful to me because my interest is in China, but Said's book was mostly about Europe v. Islam / the Middle East, and Europe's relationship to the Middle East has been embattled and conflicted for as long as 2500 years, whereas the relationship with China has been much more conducive to understanding.

One of Bernard Lewis's books on Islam was so awful that I couldn't finish it, and this was before I knew he was a political hack. Said was right about the stuff he was talking about.

But I think that there was a downside, which was a lot of imposed PC and tiptoeing around. It's pretty hard to do history or cultural studies with no generalizations at all. I talk all the time about differences between Chinese and American notions of family and friendship, and what I know about Chinese life gives me a perspective on American life that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Incidentally, Mongols look like Chinese to our eyes, but they don't really live like Chinese at all, unless they live in Chinese Mongolia and are very assimilated.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:54 PM
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whereas the relationship with China has been much more conducive to understanding

Ahahahahahaha.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 5:58 PM
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Mary never comes to the realization that maybe her Ayah shouldn't have been treated in such a way, etc., as part of her moral growth

True, and this is weird reading it now. A gun that never goes off.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 6:04 PM
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Elaborate, Josh.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 6:07 PM
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246: Where do you want me to start? The most basic Western stereotype of the Chinese is of the inscrutable Asian. Then you've got the notion that Chinese culture has been static and unchanging throughout its entire history, plus the "lotus flower" idealization of Chinese women... I mean, what about European involvement with China makes you think that there it's been in any way conducive to understanding?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 6:29 PM
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Well, did you read my comment? Before 1820 there were no grievances between China and Europe, and a degree of mutual admiration. Most European and American views of China were positive.

1820 -- 1920 was a mixed story, with the Chinese government being weakened but a lot of Chinese benefitting. Increasingly after 1920 the Chinese enemy was Japan, and especially during WWII America helped them. 1948-1970 relations were hostile, but that government has been partially repudiated.

Starting already in the nineteenth century and increasing in the twentieth, Chinese were coming to America for education and going back to China as doctor and engineers. 1860-1920 or so was very up-and-down in the US itself, with lynch mobs during certain periods, but for a lot of Chinese America was where their cousins got rich.

Against this you have a few silly pop culture stereotypes, a few academic cliches, and a stupid way of sexualizing Chinese women (as though there were smart ways of sexualizing people). There's just not a lot of heft there. Compare the millenia-long militarized European relationship to the Persians, the Ottomans, and Islam generally, or compare the Algerian war, or the nonassimilation of Muslims in Europe.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 6:44 PM
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Before 1820 there were no grievances between China and Europe, and a degree of mutual admiration. Most European and American views of China were positive.

Just being silly here, but if you consider the Khans an extension of Chinese power and Russia part of Europe, this is so not true.

Starting already in the nineteenth century and increasing in the twentieth, Chinese were coming to America for education and going back to China as doctor and engineers. 1860-1920 or so was very up-and-down in the US itself, with lynch mobs during certain periods, but for a lot of Chinese America was where their cousins got rich.

Now, no longer being silly, I see this as quite wrong. What do you call the Chinese Exclusion Act? The fact that immigrant Asians couldn't become citizens in the United States for most of our history? I can keep going, but I think that you're on shaky ground making this particular argument.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 6:52 PM
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if you consider the Khans an extension of Chinese power
i object ! how we are their extension!?!


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:00 PM
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Marco Polo gave glowing reports about China under the later Khans, and his books were tremendously popular.

This is being Orientalist again, but being treated badly by governments has not been a rare experience historically for Chinese or Japanese (or for anyone else, really). There's been anti-Semitism in the US too, but the US is one of the places where Jews have flourished.

Your point of comparison really has to be actual relationships between actual peoples somewhere in history, not an imaginary international group hug.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:00 PM
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Yeah, the Mongol Emperors had their own power. They were still fightin the Chinese after they'd defeated everyone else.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:02 PM
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I mean, what about European involvement with China makes you think that there it's been in any way conducive to understanding?

This is very weird, taken literally, and I'm not sure how to take it non-literally (I assume there is some non-literal meaning you intend that I'm just not getting.) To be capable of asserting that some European images of China don't qualify as 'understanding', you have to be in a superior (still imperfect, but superior) position of understanding yourself. Under the assumption that you're of European heritage yourself, how could you have arrived at that understanding without European involvement with China?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:08 PM
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f you consider the Khans an extension of Chinese power
i object ! how we are their extension!?!

Sorry read, I was being silly - I know that the Khansare not actually an extension of Chinese power.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:10 PM
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253: That was poorly stated. I should have said "particularly conducive" rather than "conducive in any way", and I should have made it more clear that I was talking about European involvement prior to, say, 1945. What I'm trying to get at is the notion that an exoticized account of another culture in a lot of ways obscures as much as it illuminates, and if the only information you have about that culture consists of a small number of such accounts, you don't really know anything at all.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:12 PM
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251: I'm pretty sure my examples are real comparisons between groups of peoples. European immigrants (Jewish or Christian) are allowed to obtain citizenship in the US under the 1790 Naturalization Act. After the 14th Amendment (or is it the 15th? I can't remember), African-Americans are allowed citizenship. Immigrants from the Middle East are. Chinese, Japanese, Indian are not. So yes, I'm conflating groups of Asians together here, but I would still insist that this represents a very real distrust and fear of Chinese within America during the period of concern.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:15 PM
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Marco Polo gave glowing reports about China under the later Khans
then they were our extension, under the Yuan, not we
the Manchus were kin, nomadic people, not Chinese
and we got rid of the Manchu Chin in 1911 immediately when the dynasty fell because of the Chinese revolution, because we swore alliance to the Chin, not Chinese
I know that the Khansare not actually an extension of Chinese power
well, okay


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:15 PM
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as though there were smart ways of sexualizing people

As though there weren't!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:16 PM
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Didn't Marco Polo not quite make it to as much of China as he claimed to have been to? (Various odd omissions, similar vague descriptions of different cities.) I can't remember if the debunkers were debunked.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:18 PM
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I could restate my position too: the Western relationship to the Middle East is colored by a 2500-year-history of enmity and stereotyping, whereas the Western / American relationship to China isn't.

America was trading with China and growing ginseng for the China trade long before the American Revolution. Thoreau had a considerable library of books about Asia, and aspects of his thought can be traced to China. And sure, these were ancient traditional books, but that was during a time when the Chinese themselves primarily honored ancient traditional books.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:21 PM
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De Rachewilts debunked Frances Wood quite definitively.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:21 PM
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De Rachewiltz.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:22 PM
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Some idiocentrism website is the third google result for a search for De Rachewiltz Polo.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:24 PM
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I fail to see your evidence that Chinese have not been stereotyped by Western culture as long as they've been in contact.

Trade does not equal friendly views of the people you're trading with. Europeans traded with the Native Americans, too, and I know what you think about the outcome of that relationship.

Plenty of integral Western ideas and intellectual traditions can be traced to the mid-East. The example of Thoreau having some books about Asia doesn't seem to really stand up as a solid example proving that there was no stereotyping/enmity in the Western view of China.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:25 PM
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And I see that the de Rachewiltz article came out right when I took a history of China course, but I have no idea if the instructor had seen it. (I remember the discussion referring to an ongoing dispute.) I suppose I should try to find the article the next time I'm really interested.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:32 PM
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Anyway, sorry John, I'm mostly just arguing to avoid grading. I see your point that there is a difference between the relationship of the West to the Middle East and the West to China, I'm just trying ... (are you ready for it?) ... complicate the picture a bit.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:36 PM
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Idiocentrism is dead but should revive soon. I forgot to pay my hosting fee.

First of all, most China scholars never did the stereotyping that pop culture does, and I think that Said's point is that many Islamicists did, and didn't quit doing it. My experience with Bernard Lewis confirmed that. There was a lot of exotic chinoiserie before and after 1900 AD, but it didn't dominate scholarship and there was a lot of other stuff. Waley's stuff almost a century ago, for example, was a corrective to chinoiserie -- he pointed out the rational and even cynical side of the Tao Te Ching, for example.

There also have been Chinese writing about China in English for a century or more, and that has had a beneficial effect. Despite the length of contact between Europe and the Middle East, I don't think that you had many Muslims writing in French, English, or German.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:39 PM
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At your service.

When I hear the words "It's complex...." I reach for my gun. Too many effing splitters in the world.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:44 PM
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237: To nit-pick, if I recall correctly from Orientalism, "orientalizing" may put another culture on a pedestal in some respects but does definitely denigrate--Said talks about the West depicting Arab cultures as ancient (and therefore to a degree venerable) but also exhausted, stagnant, superseded. Implicitly effeminate, too.

LB, I get where we differ, I think. What do you want to discuss? I'm happy to complain about CS Lewis and race and Orientalism until the cows come home. (After the cows get here, of course, all bets are off.)

Lewis gets under my skin partly because I find the Narnia books a lot more memorable than The Secret Garden, partly because he's held up by many people (including faculty at my undergraduate institoooshun) as being somehow some kind of legitimate Christian moral thinker. No one really seriously believes that The Secret Garden has great philosophical truths to teach children. (Although of course what kids take from books varies so much by kid...)

Okay, now I have to leave my computer once again!


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:51 PM
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It's good that you have a no relationship policy, John. We'd never work out.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:52 PM
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What with you getting shot, you mean? Remember, that wouldn't be any fun for me, either. I'd have to do it entirely out of a sense of duty,


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:57 PM
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First of all, most China scholars never did the stereotyping that pop culture does

I'm reminded of an article I read some years ago on the history of Asian studies and orientalism. The only part of the article that I remember was the quote of an anonymous (but allegedly famous) China scholar who met his girlfriend while doing his research in the field if you will, and said of her, quite enraptured, that it felt like he was "fucking China."

I think I was too horrified to read further, and anyway, I can't remember the article really so I can't use it to argue for or against any point (I tried to google it just now, but was unsuccessful and I'm at work, so I'm afraid to try any further. As it is, IT is probably alerting HR at this very moment). Anyway, I saw Jonathan Spence on campus shortly afterwards and my friends and I were all squicked out.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 7:59 PM
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When I was doing my Librarything investigations, CS Lewis came up a lot with people who read only Christian books, and especially people who read no higbrow literature.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:00 PM
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US - China relations are an interesting case because China was never quite powerful enough pre-mid-20th century to force separate diplomatic agreements on immigration (like Japan in 1908), but also never became such an enemy as to lead to full-scale widespread villification (also like Japan). And even after the Communists took power, there were still a lot of Chinese in places like Taiwan and elsewhere, so anti-China policy was not quite anti-Chinese policy (and until Nixon did something or other, "China" officially meant Taiwan).

Obviously, at the social level this left a lot of room for discrimination and persecution, but at a high culture level, I think China did benefit from the fact that when Europeans were all sitting around deciding who had a civilization and who didn't China got into the civilization category. On the other hand, I know embarrassingly little about Chinese-American history, particularly between exclusion and 1965.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:01 PM
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271: Yes, exactly. I could see how that would be difficult for both you and I, so like I said, it's a good thing that policy is in place.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:01 PM
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Dude, the Ottomans nearly colonized most of Europe. Too right the Muslims were a menace.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:03 PM
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There are no good relationships. Seriously. Weirdness and fantasy are usually there.

Except for anyone reading these words, I mean, because you are all exceptional individuals.

And if you do have weird fantasies about your SO, we don't want you to tell us.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:04 PM
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Yeah, but then the Ottoman empire became the "sick man of Europe."


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:05 PM
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The 14th Amendment made people born in the US citizens. It didn't have anything to say about favored ethnicities among immigrants.

I can think of 17 'Chinese' men who ought to be made citizens of the US right now -- today dammit -- lest I become disappointed in someone new, but somehow the PTB can't seem to get what any blind man can see.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:06 PM
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274: China the country did benefit. I'd argue that Chinese people, on the other hand, did not, particularly not once they'd made their way to the United States. The assignation of a civilization to China didn't help them get into the United States legally (after all, INS largely comes about to deal with the "Chinese problem") or save them from being seen as part of the general yellow menace.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:07 PM
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There are no good relationships. Seriously. Weirdness and fantasy are usually there.

No, that's fair enough.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:08 PM
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The 14th Amendment made people born in the US citizens. It didn't have anything to say about favored ethnicities among immigrants.

Yeah, sorry I was unclear there. I meant that was the law that trumped the 1790 Naturalization act specifically in the case of African-Americans (which had been previously used to deny some citizenship, unless my memory is totally foggy). It also, of course, allowed the children of Chinese immigrants to become citizens, but their parents were still stuck without any possibility of gaining citizenship.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:10 PM
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For another angle: look at the dense tangle of centuries-old British, French, and German stereotypes of one another, stereotypes that were reinforced by multiple bloody wars. (Or the way all of them stereotyped the Italians and Spanish -- lazy men, passionate women).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:11 PM
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It didn't have anything to say about favored ethnicities among immigrants.

Harlan and Fuller wanted it to have, though. That wikipedia entry is much better than it was the last time I looked. Funny how that works.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:12 PM
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Well, yeah, all peoples have been subject to stereotypes at one point or another. Isn't the point, though, about how the stereotypes are deployed with real world consequences?


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:13 PM
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By the time the Ottomans advanced on Vienna, they were a European power. Vienna was not really threatened. It was just the same old territorial kabuki.

Protestants in the Austro-Ottoman zone, of whom there were many, often preferred Ottoman rule, at least during periods when Austria was aggressively Catholic.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:14 PM
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Sure. And as I said, French-English stereotyping was backed by bloody wars, though the Catholic-Protestant stereotyping was the bloodiest.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:16 PM
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French-English stereotyping

And then there's the case of French-Canadian stereotyping.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:19 PM
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There are some ugly periods in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Just last night, I got into a lively argument with two Mormons, and Egyptian and a Lebanese about the cases on polygamy. I was probably the most doctrinaire (in favor, as a matter of constitutional law) but the tide ran pretty strongly against the Supreme Court's late 19th century decisions . . .


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:20 PM
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I hadn't known about the Wong Kim Ark case.

I don't think that exclusionary immigration laws really are monstruous. No nation recognizes a right to immigration, and most nations today have nationality biases on immigration and visas.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:37 PM
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There are some ugly periods in Supreme Court jurisprudence. Just last night, I got into a lively argument with two Mormons, and Egyptian and a Lebanese about the cases on polygamy. I was probably the most doctrinaire (in favor, as a matter of constitutional law) but the tide ran pretty strongly against the Supreme Court's late 19th century decisions . . .


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:42 PM
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To be fair, the dissenters in Wong Kim Ark quoted a couple of US secretaries of state to the effect that a child of Germans, coincidentally born in the US, wouldn't be a US citizen either.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:51 PM
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Generally speaking, exclusionary immigration policies don't seem as bad as giving people who have already immigrated no path to and no choice of citizenship. There's always going to be a question of where to set the numbers for immigration, but everyone should have the chance at equality under the law.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 8:53 PM
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292: I think there was also some discussion of whether or not American-born children of foreign diplomats would be citizens (maybe that's what you're referring to).

I think I vaguely knew about Wong Kim Ark from learning about important laws/rulings on citizenship, but I only looked it up after I read Harlan's anti-Chinese comments in his dissent in Plessy and figured that probably wasn't an isolated outburst.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 9:00 PM
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Apropos of nothing special, but during WWII there was a Japanese-American HS principal in a rural town in Iowa near where my father grew up. He was well liked and well-accepted in the community.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 9:05 PM
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I don't think they were diplomats. It's certainly not said that they were in any of the diplomatic correspondence.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 9:08 PM
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I might be thinking of discussion in Congress around the time the 14th amendment was proposed. Or I could be completely wrong.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 9:11 PM
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It's certainly clear that children of a diplomat wouldn't have qualified. I thought interesting, in the Wong Kim Ark majority opinion, the following from the Senate debates on the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment:

During the debates in the Senate in January and February, 1866, upon the Civil Rights Bill, Mr. Trumbull, the chairman of the committee which reported the bill, moved to amend the first sentence thereof so as to read,

All persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States, without distinction of color.

Mr. Cowan, of Pennsylvania, asked, "Whether it will not have the effect of naturalizing the children of Chinese and Gypsies born in this country?" Mr. Trumbull answered, "Undoubtedly," and asked, "is not the child born in this country of German parents a citizen?" Mr. Cowan replied, "The children of German parents are citizens; but Germans are not Chinese." Mr. Trumbull rejoined: "The law makes no such distinction, and the child of an Asiatic is just as much a citizen as the child of a European." Mr. Reverdy Johnson suggested that the words, "without distinction of color," should be omitted as unnecessary, and said:

The amendment, as it stands, is that all persons born in the United States, and not subject to a foreign power, shall, by virtue of birth, be citizens. To that I am willing to consent, and that comprehends all persons, without any reference to race or color, who may be so born.

And Mr. Trumbull agreed that striking out those words would make no difference in the meaning, but thought it better that they should be retained to remove all possible doubt.

Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 1st sess. pt. 1, pp. 498, 573, 574.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, as originally framed by the House of Representatives, lacked the opening sentence. When it came before the Senate in May, 1866, Mr. Howard, of Michigan, moved to amend by prefixing the sentence in its present form (less the words "or naturalized"), and reading,

All persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State herein they reside.

Mr. Cowan objected upon the ground that the Mongolian race ought to be excluded, and said:

Is the child of the Chinese immigrant in California a citizen? . . . I do not know how my honorable friend from California looks upon Chinese, but I do know how some of his fellow citizens regard them. I have no doubt that now they are useful, and I have no doubt that, within proper restraints, allowing that State and the other Pacific States to manage them as they may see fit, they may be useful; but I would not tie their hands by the Constitution of the United States so as to prevent them hereafter from dealing with them as in their wisdom they see fit.

Mr. Conness, of California, replied:

The proposition before us relates simply, in that respect, to the children begotten of Chinese parents in California, and it is proposed to declare that they shall be citizens. We have declared that by law; now it is proposed to incorporate the same provision in the fundamental instrument of the Nation. I am in favor of doing so. I voted for the proposition to declare that the children of all parentage whatever, born in California, should be regarded and treated as citizens of the United States, entitled to equal civil rights with other citizens of the United States. . . . We are entirely ready to accept the provision proposed in this Constitutional Amendment that the children born here of Mongolian parents shall be declared by the Constitution of [p699] the United States to be entitled to civil rights and to equal protection before the law with others.

Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 1st sess. pt. 4, pp. 2890-2892.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 02-19-09 9:19 PM
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