Alien Nation

There is something smelly about Science Fiction shows using clashes of different sentient species as a metaphor for race or ethnicity or culture in order to talk about how "we" (whoever this "we" is) deal with The Other™. Race is an ideology. It is not biological. Nor are ethnicity and cultural difference. The idea that racial or ethnic conflict exist because people just have trouble with "Those Who Look Differently" is a cretinous absurdity that ought to disgrace even a college activist. The implication, or assumption, behind much of this genre of putatively socially aware storytelling in Science Fiction is that these differences are much more essential than they are in fact. The culture producing this stuff seems to take as a matter of pious faith that the way to "get beyond differences" is by obsessing over them, taking for granted their fixity. So much so that different biological species seem sensical as a metaphor for different groups of humans. It lends itself particularly well to tales of people expressing their "essential nature" in categorical terms. 


Rios immi toutias rias1
(I am a free man of a free people)

This is my wife, my good Vindosebara2,
First by alliance, then by love long after
My allies were dismembered. It is she
Who helmed my life through these past months in horror
Of the sick gods, knowing that I lived only
Because my brother kissed the ears of Caesar.

I say I was a free man of free people.
So what might I have done to my own people
Had the gods allowed me, should they have served
To make my name a bold hot fact of power
Stamped on the hide of Gaul? I'm coaxed to serve
A bloated master. This I would not do
Even if Caesar were a man of honor

And all last night I heard drunk Caesar spew
Of debt he planned to pay with Gaulish gold,
Of the new Rome now building in his brain,
Of Corinth where the royal Latin sons
Of Troy enslaved the homeland of Achilles
And Agamemnon's kingdom, brought at last
Their law to bear upon a crippled Argos.

So All Hail Caesar say the Aedui,
And all hail Caesar. Snivel, shrink and hide.
The world will have to learn what life awaits
A man who waits on Caesars to provide.
It matters nothing that a sometime chief
Through mist of ministers should learn at last,
As I have learned, that Alexanders die
Feverish, weeping blood, or by the hand
Of others' will. No matter that I found
How much a sword my friend Orgetorix
Spoke with between his teeth, the bitterment
Of wine slurped from my slaves' hands in the shade
Of Rome. The world will have to learn again
In every age, in nations still unborn,
In streets that run through fingers of a king
Or bloody nasty fields, to fear and face
The double-bladed scepter's sugar-tongue.

The morning darkens. My men have turned
and over there lies my Vindosebara,
legs snapped and spread, son slit out of her stomach.
Here back against the oak stands Dubnorix
Alone, who will not kneel to Caesar's will,
And finally a free man for free people.

1Dubnorix (meaning "Worldking" in Gaulish) was a chief of the Aedui in Roman Gaul who refused to obey Caesar and follow him to Rome. Caesar sent a cavalry detachment to hunt Dubnorix down and ordered him to be brought back, alive if possible, dead if he resisted. He knew that a man who disregarded his authority would not be controllable with the Roman army overseas. When told to return, he resisted and doggedly defended himself, calling on his men to remain loyal, crying out again and again "I am a free man of a free people." The cavalry obeyed their orders, surrounded the man, and executed him. The Aeduan horsemen returned to Caesar's service.

Dubnorix had married the sister of Orgetorix of the Elueti, as part of a political alliance. Dubnorix, Orgetorix and Casticus had reportedly plotted, and failed, to seize control of all Gaul and rule it as a joint united autocracy. Vindosebara, meaning "White Spirit" is the Gaulish version of the Celtic female name which surfaces in English as Guinevere or Jennifer (Welsh Gwenhwyfar, Irish Findabair).

Language learning is not an intellectual activity.

Language learning is not an intellectual activity. Insofar as a learner treats a language as a puzzle to be solved, instead of a set of habits to be learned as automatic reactions, he is wasting his time and failing to learn the language. The "concepts" that any adult has are simply the meanings that he connects to the words of his native language. They serve only as stumbling-blocks in the way of his learning another language. The only way to clear the road for learning another language, with its inevitably different structure and meanings, is to disregard and forget as much as possible the words and meanings of one's native language.

— Robert A. Hall "Language and Superstition" 


So what if men try harder than a blade
To read the news affecting to give rigor?
Who thinks a few more fact-floods make us bigger
People? We simply are what we have made

Manifest. Now he who lay in the glade
With his love far from battle, can be bought
Or else bound by a bandage round the rot
Of wounded thought. And then the fusillade.

Some god forgot to tell the clock to stop
Before sunrise. Somebody read the news
And shot himself. Somebody called a cop
Before remembering there was no use

Play-acting. For we are what we have made
And we were good at fashioning a blade. 

Nomine Fucking Patris

I would find the Church Fathers fascinating, if I could tolerate them in any but small doses. John Chrysostom is sometimes as much a thug as he is a thinker. Augustine often comes across as an asshole, an emotionally abusive bully, and a philistine frightened by the power of other people's imaginations. Tertullian has an outright sadistic side to him as transparent as the barrier he imagines between heaven and hell. Jerome is like G.K. Chesterton: a brilliant mind gone very bad. And in Eusebius' sick attack against Jews for the alleged crime of deicide, I hear the incipient rumblings of European anti-semitism.

Neither Time Nor Season

Now, you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song
— Leonard Cohen

Why did rhyme and meter grow so displeasing, offputting or simply invisible to so many Anglophone literary intellectuals over the course of the 20th century?

Put simply: they are liked by the wrong people, and by too many people. It is not a matter of conservatism vs innovation, or freedom vs regulation. Not really. It is a matter of elite values; elite disdain for popular verse forms, and (in the 21st century) elite attachment to an increasingly irrelevant print culture. Our literati don't usually take modern rhymed verse as seriously, because the masses enjoy rhyme too much. Even the Neo-Formalists, in trying (with some partial success) to reintroduce patterned prosody and rhyme to contemporary elite verse and print culture, had to take pains to avoid many of the other traits of popular verse.

Best say something about popular verse in English, which is badly misunderstood in a way so commonplace as to pass for common sense. Literary intellectuals like to think, and like even more to bemoan, that the masses have no appetite for poetry and well-turned lays. "Poetry is a dying art" is a cliché. A conspicuously false one.

Popular verse in contemporary English tends to be sung, or performed to musical or percussive accompaniment. We usually call it song or music, even (as is often the case with rap) when there isn't much singing involved. We just do not call it poetry. We do not even call it literature. The elite Anglophone response to Bob Dylan's Nobel win is an excellent example of how distasteful, distressing and insulting our literati find the very idea. One wonders how they would square this with the literatus' readiness to admit that Hafiz, Sappho or Bernard de Ventadorn are of course literature.

To this it may be objected that most contemporary popular verse in English is bad or mediocre. This is true but also irrelevant. Most poetry in contemporary elite forms is also bad or mediocre. Most poetry throughout history has not been of enduring resonance or relevance. Sometimes there are circumstances that favor better or more versecraft, and sometimes there are not. But that is a different matter altogether.

There is no intrinsic reason why popular verse, or song lyric, should be rhymed. Ancient Greek, Roman and Israelite song (popular and not) was unrhymed. But English popular verse, sung or spoken, has mostly been rhymed for the past thousand years.

It is sometimes said that English is especially rhyme-poor, that it is therefore too hard to write rhymed verse well in English (and unreasonably hard to translate verse well into rhymed English.) This is not true. If it were, anyone who made this objection ought to treat English popular verse as a formal miracle. It's true that "perfect rhymes" like fellatio/Horatio, Niagra/Viagra, penis/Venus, fistula/Vistula, death/breath or even sea/me/tree/etc are not as readily available as in French or Persian or Chinese. The reasons for this need not detain us here. But popular verse in English is rhymed and metrical all the same, as has much elite verse before the early 20th century. Strophic verse like Don McLean's "Miss American Pie" has no trouble rhyming. English is not as effortlessly easy to rhyme in as French (though the rhyme requirements of English have never been nearly as exacting as they have been in literary French.) But it is not intrinsically rhyme-resistant. And it did not suddenly become harder to rhyme ca. 1950. Rather, elite verse mostly abandoned a practice, and its practitioners mostly lost a skill, that popular verse retained.

In fact, as it stands, the techniques used to produce rhyme in contemporary English popular verse are by almost any standard more inventive, flexible and rife with untapped potential than the rhymes familiar from a Norton Anthology. One popular poet rhymes music/wounded, ready/sent me, boredom/reward them, heavens/weapons, baby/station in a single poem composed in accentual pentameters (these rhymes alternate with a single -in rhyme throughout.) Why is this kind of rhyming not admitted into elite verse forms in English? Why do we not translate rhymed poetry from other languages with this kind of rhyming into English?

Take a more extreme example. Another popular poet, again in a single composition, rhymes aimed/sprays/stays/days, hair/wear, office/problems, government/loving it/dumping it, squirts of piss/words exist/suburban kids/turbulence, hooked right in/looked like them, America/Erica/Character. 

Assonance is not "intrinsically" more appropriate to song or popular lyric. In other literatures (e.g. Medieval Irish, Old French, Modern Spanish, and even at times Dutch) it has been the vehicle for all kinds of literary composition from epic verse to hymnody to erudite panegyric to surreal love lyric. This is no shock to anyone who reads Neruda or Lorca in Spanish.

Literary intellectuals in English sometimes call this "off-rhyme." But it is not the kind of off-rhyme most favored in literary verse. Poetry in literary verse that uses "off rhyme" is more likely to employ consonance. Often, as in the verse of Seamus Heaney or in Robert Pinsky's translation of Dante's Inferno, nothing but the final consonant of a word need be repeated to qualify as rhyme. This has the effect of making the patterning easy enough to see on the page, but hard to detect with the ear, producing a kind of sound-repetition that is as unlike the rhymes of popular verse as anything imaginable. I think this is precisely why consonance is the kind of off-rhyme most congenial to elite poetics in English today.

It is no surprise that modern English literati do not often know how to dance on their prosodic feet, and do not care to learn. How can they dance, when they can't even hear the music anymore?

Vulgar Latin

"Vulgar Latin" is not a real thing.

Many features of Romance had their origins in high-register usage rather than that of the vulgus. Pre-Romance features which originated among the educated include adverbial -mente, a future formed with inf. + habēre and the suppletion of the monosyllabic forms of īre with corresponding forms from vādere.

Anyone who has been alive in a literate society knows that it is common for the uneducated to imitate the speech of the educated. That features presaging Romance have been almost exclusively sought in, or attributed to, basilectal "uneducated" usage says much about philological prejudices regarding Latin vis-à-vis Romance.

Furthermore, while it is often possible to tell what was going on in speech beneath the surface of the literary language, it is a mistake to attribute such features exclusively to the speech of the uneducated. As speakers of Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Welsh, Tamil and Finnish know well, there is no reason why an educated speaker might not write one thing but say another. Americans of all social classes use "to be like" in the sense "to say" but few will use it in writing except in the most informal contexts such as text messaging.

There is no reason at all to think that Emperor Hadrian had much use for the inflected passive when grumbling about the weather. 

Look Alive, Soul

In Hadrian's death poem (animula vagula blandula) addressed to his departing soul there is a line whose full resonance may lie in a pun recoverable via historical philology:

Quae nunc abībis in loca
(Into what regions will you [my soul] now pass?)

The crux of the wordplay is abībis. In the Latin of Hadrian's day, b and v had merged in intervocalic position. This would make abībis "you will pass" a near-homonym for the (colloquial?) form advīvis "you survive, you go on to live." It might also make nunc abībis "you now will pass" almost identical in pronunciation to nunquam vīvis "you never reside."

Speculum Principis

هان اى دل عبرت بين از ديده نظر كن هان

Now. Wake up, heart. Reflect on what you see.
You warning-heeding, beating, beaten thing,
Get up. The red bleeds on the flag. So sing
For hard-striped and star-chambered Liberty

About what shines from sea to whining sea.
The gun beneath the balding eagle's wing
Is rising in us. Come the blast of Spring
Morale can bloom more than morality.

Reflect on mirrored things. With blood and beating
You are to live. Cute rhetors will try cheating
You from the pulpit as the gore and puss
Flood out Her light. And then put out the light
Verse of an age. I know it isn't right.
We weren't born for an age like this. Who was?

He Imagines a Her

A face from a car window, a portrait’s eye,
The voice of a wrong number, the quick grin
Snatched into hindsight from a passer-by
And how that lady held her violin
Imply Her for a wink of time and pass
Into the field of anybody's guess.
Not as a monk sees heaven stained in glass
Nor Isis making love from ripped god-flesh
Beside some bitch who was the night’s best beast
He wakes and gropes with hands around Not Her.
Dawn comes a summer ruffian from the east
And time prepares him like a prisoner.
Song of the crowd, of wintry flower and sun,
He must discern Her in the unison.

Just one Iota of the Yod in יהוד

An early Greek poet with an interesting non-Greek name is Ananios or Ananias from the 6th century BC, of whose work a few definite fragments are preserved by Athenaeus. Some of the poems attributed to Hipponax may also in fact be his. If parsed as Greek, the name Ananias would mean "pain-free" or something of the sort. But, apparently, it does not occur elsewhere as a Greek name.

Elsewhere when men are called Ananias in Greek, such as in the Septuagint, in Strabo, in the New Testament and in Josephus, it is is as a rendering of the Semitic names Ḥananyāh "Yahweh is Gracious" and ˁAnanyāh (variously interpretable as "Protected by Yahweh", "Yahweh's Cloud" or "Slave of Yahweh".)

Semitic names were commonplace throughout the ancient Mediterranean, and the names of slaves and artisans attest to much ethnic mixing in the Greek-speaking world as elsewhere. But Semitic names with "Yah(weh)" as a theophoric element would by this time have been prominent only among one group.

It seems to me that this Ananias may well have been a Jew. It would make him by far the earliest Jew recorded in Greece, and one of the earliest whose existence is recorded in non-Jewish sources.

Ex Sacro Crescat Excrementum

G.K. Chesterton is invaluable. I learned much from him, seeing what a cultivated mind produces when fertilized with nightsoil. Both as a luminous demonstrator of the sorts of sloppy thinking one ought to avoid, and as a cautionary example of what such thought-rot can do to a fruitful brain, he is without peer. No pen before his had carved such lapidary prose monuments to the degeneracy of a good mind gone bad. 

Speaking the Queen's Welsh

The fact that Prince Charles learned Welsh, and has even given speeches in the language, has not done much to mollify the common disdain of the Welsh for the English Crown. Admittedly, hatred for Prince Charles is a good thing to have, and often a sign of clear thinking.

But there is a curious fact whose implications, because counter-intuitive and somewhat at odds with many self-conceptions, are rarely considered by anybody except historians. Namely, that Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Elizabeth of Elizabethan Fame, was very much in favor of the Irish and Welsh languages.

She personally funded the production of an Irish typeface to facilitate the printing and dissemination of an Irish translation of the Bible, and was the driving force behind the act of Parliament that made the first Welsh Bible translation possible.

She in essence ordered Welsh Bishops to have a Welsh Bible, a Welsh Book of Common Prayer, and a Welsh administration of the sacraments in every Welsh-speaking parish by 1 March 1567, and commissioned the production of texts to meet this suddenly mandated need. The resulting Welsh Bible was arguably a superior translation to any English Bible then in existence, produced as it was just half a century after after the first translation of the Bible into Modern English, and half a century before the King James Bible was even a gleam in the eye of Elizabeth's successor James I. Without Elizabeth's insistence on vernacularity, the Welsh Bible and Prayer Books produced by William Salesbury and William Morgan would not have had much of a market, let alone funding. The Welsh Bible in particular was initially so big and expensive that every parish only got one. It would be another half century before personal copies of the Welsh Bible were available.

Elizabeth did, as a practical matter, think the Irish and Welsh should also learn English, but her aim was to ease them into bilingualism, not to supplant one with the other. She was keen on having English text available alongside Irish and Welsh.

Given her religious politics, one might say this was a rather cynical matter. It is usually portrayed as such. It definitely served her self-interest mightily. It was aimed squarely at stomping out popish use of Latin in the British Isles. She probably got quite a few jollies out of pissing off counterreformationists. Which is not a bad way to get your jollies, all things considered.

Now, I hate royalty on general principle, as I hate any and all hereditary systems of government. So I'm not the sort inclined to cut any monarch any slack. But it's worth considering a few things.

First, anti-Latin policies in Early Modern Europe frequently had the effect of suppressing regional languages by imposing the language of the Crown or the State at the expense of everything else, Latin and not. This is how things played out in places like Cornwall and Occitania. When backed by a centralized state's forceful strong-arming and strong force of arms, it was brutally effective. Elizabeth did not really have to make provisions for regional languages in order to give the finger to Latin worship.

While Elizabeth's main goal may have been monarchic self-interest, her political shrewdness on its own doesn't really explain other things. Elizabeth was eager to learn, and like many other Tudor women had literally the best education money could buy an Englishwoman. She also would have easily understood that Britain was plenty big enough for more than one language. I can't be sure, but she may well have been the most multilingual monarch England has ever had. She is known to have spoken at least English, Italian, Spanish, French, Greek and Latin. Some of these she spoke and read far better than she could write them. (Her spoken French was reported to be quite fluent, but her secret letters to the Duke of Anjou, which for obvious reasons couldn't be proofed or drafted by anyone else, are written in a crabbed and awkward French full of unidiomatic phrasing. This is unsurprising. When you have a corps of diplomatic functionaries and secretaries to draft correspondence for you, you only need to write things yourself on rare or personal occasions.)

More strikingly, there is good reason to believe Elizabeth also learned at least some Welsh from her lady-in-waiting Blanche Parry, who came from a family of Welsh-speaking (and highly Welsh-literate) gentry. Parry was also involved in getting the Welsh Bible project underway.

Elizabeth was interested in learning Irish, too, a language for which there were at that time no learning materials for non-natives. Whether she made much progress in the language nobody will ever know. But she did commission Christopher Nugent, the Baron of Delvin, a bilingual Anglo-Irish nobleman, to write something up for her to help get the basics of the language. He did so. The result was the Queen's Irish Primer, a little booklet roughly equivalent to today's Lonely Planet guides for tourists: a phrasebook and word list plus a basic outline of the grammar. This was the first known written attempt to explain the Irish language to an adult learner, and it was produced at the personal behest of the English crown.

The final point is the sheer importance of the Welsh Bible. This can't be overstated. Vernacular Bible translations in Early Modern Europe seem to have functioned a bit like health insurance for languages. Once the Bible was available in a language, that language's long-term prospects were much higher. A Bible Translation offered not only the prestige of a written form, but something that speakers would be motivated to read and reread. Even under conditions of oppressive language policy, anybody trying to take people's Bibles might be vulnerable to theological objections or at least arouse great religious opprobrium.

The Welsh Bible was even more important than most other Early Modern Bible translations. Many have credited the widespread use of William Morgan's Welsh Bible as the major and even determining factor in the fate of Welsh-language literacy and culture. It would not surprise me if in 200 years, Welsh is the only Celtic language still alive. Welsh would definitely not be in this enviable position were it not for the fact that churches in Welsh-speaking areas were, and doggedly remained, free to conduct their parochial and spiritual affairs in Welsh.

It's worth comparing the fate of Welsh to that of the other Brythonic language under the English crown: Cornish. Cornish was brutally suppressed by Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, who in an attempt to root out the Latin liturgy, was content to have English enforced in Cornwall at swordpoint, rather than bother subsidizing the regional vernacular language. With the crushing of the Prayer Book Rebellion, use of Cornish in worship, or any official capacity, came with great risk. It was a risk that few were interested in taking. Within a century, the last known monolingual Cornish speaker, Chesten Marchant, was dead. The century after that saw the death of the last known fluent native speaker who was able to write in the language, the famous Dolly Pentraeth. In the 19th century, though there were a few people who still spoke Cornish still, they were very hard even for well-meaning antiquarian scholars to find. Generally Englishmen no longer knew what Cornish was, and did not recognize it on the rare occasion that they heard it. Mostly evidence of continued Cornish use takes the form of puzzled descriptions, such as a reference to some kind of bizarre-sounding non-English spoken by a few illiterate miners from Falmouth. And in 1914 came the death of one John Mann, the last person known to have spoken Cornish as a child. On his deathbed, Mann could remember only a few words and phrases of the language he grew up speaking. Despite great antiquarian interest in the language throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Cornish was dead by the time revival attempts got under way.

All through this, Welsh was still holding its own. Despite a few fairly dicey decades, when prospects for its future were not at all certain, Welsh would ultimately survive the oppressive language ideologies and language policies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today in Wales, ability to speak the language is enough of a social asset that learning it is often part of upward mobility in English-speaking areas. This is thanks in large part to the continuing robustness of Welsh-medium Methodist churches which were able to provide not only an alternative source of literacy outside the English school system, but a strong spiritual identification with the language. It's a lot harder to get somebody to abandon their native language when they talk to God in it. Welsh also had a thriving literature written in a standardized register based largely on the language of Morgans' Bible. Although hymnography often tends to quash talent rather than nurture it, Welsh-language hymnography was the medium of quite a few brilliant poets, such as Ann Griffiths, whose work was preserved in oral tradition before being fixed in writing.

On the other hand, the Bible wasn't translated into Cornish in its entirety until 2011, as part of the  language-resurrection movement.

It's a supreme irony that the (relatively) good prospects for the Welsh language owe a great deal to the shrewdness, temperament and intellectual disposition of an English Monarch whose main goal was to consolidate her power.



With thanks to T.H. Parry Williams

Do I care for America? Well, I do and I don't.
That question's a trap you spring. And, well, I won't.

It's a nice enough place, from sea to rising sea,
Whose people don't know how to love it. Land of the fee,

The hypocrite, the hipster, the toil-turned hand,
The heritage we pretend to understand,

And it happens that I was born here. As for the races
(Black, white and electoral) the disgraces

Impress far more than song and spacious skies,
Or the ego of Rushmore's mountain majesties.

And I've stomached quite enough of the hullabaloo
Of kneejerk Nothings making much ado

Beneath blue sky in whose light the foul claws
Are digging up the bones of the grey Lost Cause.

Can I leave? To get some space form rhetorical muck,
I'll take a walk through my town, mind all amok,

And here I am. The library. School. Signs of DANGER:
CONSTRUCTION. Places that taught me to be a stranger

Are where I am from. In between sky and earth
There are many berths but never a second birth.

And there's that wind as I come to the old play-hill
And the sound of race-myths looting the people's will.

I'm getting pretty woozy. I sit in the park
And a dead dream starts back beating in a heart

Wrapped in that starstruck banner. So it is,
God damn it. I can't just walk away from this.


A world of vanished nations in your head
You lie tonight without a thought to spare
Aught but the wind that seems to down the leaves
Despite stilled summer air


Heineken's "World Apart" and Corporate Sociopathy

Watching the recent Heineken ad I was instantly reminded of when Donald Trump told Caitlyn Jenner she could use any bathroom she liked at Trump Tower. Then I realized it was nowhere near that dignified. The ad is apparently working quite spectacularly. It's a successful ad, in that it made more people feel positively toward the Heineken brand without undermining the company's bottom line. That is its job. To artistically convey a message. Much like propaganda. When propaganda truly has warmed your heart, you know you've been had.

If you think I'm cynical, consider how cynical this ad is.

What actual substantive discussion did we even see the climate change guys engage in? Do you think this is an accident?

How plausible is it that the cause of the sudden(ly visible) political polarization in the present moment honestly can be explained by reference to questions of gender, gender identity and opinions on climate change? How plausible is it that the good people of Heineken or Publicis London think that?

Heineken claimed in a tweet that these are not actors, and that what we see is not staged. Despite the fact that people do seem to have been rather selectively "cast" for their roles in this experiment, it hasn't been staged or scripted. It's simply been directed and edited.

Toby Dye, who directed the commercial for Publicis London, also directed a vile commercial for Persil, a laundry detergent, in which he told prison inmates that they spent more time outside than the average child and filmed their reactions, and then featured a prison guard telling the audience that if kids aren't filthy with dirt and in need of a bath, they haven't played outside hard enough. The man's editing and direction were able to make it look like incarcerated prisoners thought that kids growing up at home had it better than they did behind bars.

Consider moreover some of the things these people you see in the ad probably already agreed on, but which Heineken would never dare allow to be aired in a commercial. For example, a majority of Britons believe that big business and wealthy donors have too much influence on government and politics. I dare any beer company to show beer drinkers of different walks of life agreeing — as in reality they often do — on that point.

What else might these people actually have in common? For one, they were all part of a social experiment whose purpose they did not understand. Presumably they were paid to participate. In other words, if anything actually binds these people together is that they have to work for a living, and really could use the money.

Finally: just how many pairs of people do you suppose Toby Dye actually had to film before he got a handful that could serve as beer ad posterchildren in ways that played to all the right demographics' sensibilities without actually saying anything dangerously substantive?

Publicis London's slogan of “You have to lead the change, if you don’t want to be led by change” sounds rather unintentionally sinister in this light.

If you wonder what the full unedited substance of these people's conversations was, too bad. As like as not, they probably were made at some point to sign away the rights to publicly disclose any of it.

It's true. Heineken is indeed Socially Aware. This ad proves it. All the social awareness of a highly successful sociopath.

Ever Livid In The Tide

I have walked out of step with my time these past few years
Or so. But I must not fall out of tune
Though streets of home are walked by the old fears
Of paleolithics praying to the moon.

Yeah, right. Still, out of tune the towns do seem to go
As land razed under rising seas till oh
Say can you feel the strangeness of the tides
At dawn, the ebb of mourning on all sides

Of your now little isle, where lions court the soul
Where the wolf skins you, parades in human pelt.
A sea-changed isle amid the miles of shoal
That scarce will life defend. So having felt

The times, I cannot think I do not feel
The preying tonguewaves of unwavering tides,
And lie in ruin in realms of the real,
With scarce less life on all sides.

Call to Action

Let us devote ourselves to the cause of eliminating all witch hunters. Anyone who does not agree to my program of eradicating witch hunters is under suspicion of being a witch hunter themselves.


No greater memory we have
Than of all things that were not so
Stock footage dug out of the grave
Of mind to make the old days grow

Good. Glimmering coasts of might-have-been
Are there for having not been once.
The ugly statue rots to green
Before you sigh at thoughts of bronze.

Forget the way that lovers lie
To each other through their teeth
Pulled to be gentle You And I.
Recall his smile, her human breath.

Blindsight is 20/20, then.
You knew what you can't bear to know.
A gaping wound of 2010
No 2020 would dare show.

Fiction Spéculative

I find there is a curious flavor to French Speculative Fiction from the 80s onward written under the overwhelming influence of a peculiarly French brand of postmodernism. If you read this wall, you know how I feel about French postmodernism. But SF written under its influence, by people like Roland Wagner, is interesting. There's a lot of Weird For Weird's Sake, to be sure. And it is irritating. But there is more than that. I don't think "weird" quite describes it. An overall air of unreality seems to suffuse the writing of SF authors in France who came to their craft in the 80s and 90s. Demands placed upon the reader's suspension of disbelief are much greater and of a subtly different nature. I can see why Norman Spinrad felt some affinity for French SF.

The stories are sometimes outright silly in ways that are used to quite grave effect. Deadly serious in its silliness one might say. It's something that one used to Anglophone SF would not expect, and I doubt that much of this would even sell well in translation in the US outside very select circles, like Yale literary critics — most of whom I assume read French anyway.

Overall these stories aren't worse, or better, than those I've read from the previous generation, I think. They're just different. An increasing dose of of the outright fantastical permeates the stories as well. When they take their breaks from plausibility, what really disturbs me is that I don't think the authors even realize that that's what they're doing. One could be forgiven for thinking the writers themselves were sometimes prey to the Philip K Dick syndrome of not being able to grasp reality.

Some of the best stories from this period that I've found aren't even strictly speaking SF at all. Gonthier's stories such as "Le Dernier Mot" are of this type. The speculative possibilities are neither confirmed nor disconfirmed. They are eerie. They force (or affect to force) one to question what is and isn't real, leaving open disturbing possibilities of what might actually be true about the world. They make you think a thing is true in this world, but make you realize that that is your own assumption. The story suggests, but refuses to confirm.