Alas, poor Kodachrome


Two Gentlemen 1951

This week Kodak announced that they would no longer be manufacturing Kodachrome film. Even someone like myself who has little interest in taking photos (though always interest in looking at them), feels a degree of sadnes at this news, which is all the more acute on looking at Margaret Strickland’s pictures, taken by her grandfather during the Korean war, and in Valdosta, Georgia (which I found via the excellent new Oxford American art blog).

It is, of course, quite typical, that the one picture of hers that I was able to paste in is the least colour saturated. You’ll need to go the immense trouble of clicking to see what I mean.

That Incredible Music Again


The New York Observer reports that there are two biographies of David Foster Wallace being offered to publishers. One is by D.T. Max (who wrote the excellent New Yorker piece) and has already sold. The other, by David Lipsky, is perhaps not quite a biography, apparently more a sketch based on a series of interviews he did for Rolling Stone in the mid-90s (which never got published).

Max’s biography is due to come out no earlier than 2011. He aims to examine the sociological factors that shaped D.F.W’s writing (this for some reason depresses me).

“The reason I wanted to go longer on him is that most writers live and die in a room writing, and Wallace definitely did that, but he also lived and died out on the street. He was in the world in a way that most writers are not. Because of his peculiar openness to the world and his peculiar kind of sensitivity, everything that happened in this country affected him and entered his fiction in a way that I don’t think is true of other writers.”

He added: “We don’t know the book where the author is a child in the ’70s … where he first becomes a writer in the Reagan era, attacking when everyone else is retreating. And where he keeps trying to produce during the profound blandness of the Clinton years. … That’s not on the bookshelf yet. Because the writers who’ve gone through this experience are just too young—they’re in mid-career; much of their work is ahead of them,” Mr. Max said. “So in the tragedy of Wallace’s early death, I see an opportunity, a chance to write down a story so recent, it’s strange.”

Much as I admired Max’s piece, I would prefer to hear more from D.F.W., rather than someone else’s take on him. Let’s hope the Lipsky book finds a home.

Christian the lion


“Sometimes, he’d see people staring at him through the back window of the car, keep very still on purpose – and then, just when they were convinced he was a stuffed toy, he would very slowly turn his head and freak them out.”

This lion was bought (as a cub) from Harrods, then lived in a London flat in the Sixties. Eventually its owners had him released in Africa, and were then, even more improbably, reunited with him years later. If this all seems horribly cute, I’m sorry, it is Friday. Further details here.

Also, here is the sickeningly happy video when they are all reunited.


A screaming comes across the sky


Consider this your advance warning.

From September, I shall be doing a PhD on Thomas Pynchon at the University of Edinburgh.  Some, or even much of it, may take place in this column. Look forward to half-baked statements, scraps of literary theory, tedious unpickings of sentences, obscure allusions, deployment of dodgy terminology, some of it made-up (for example, yesterday, whilst semi-drunk, I hatched the phrases ‘bathetic inversion’ and ‘bathetic mimesis’).

My ‘proposal’ follows below. It is what I think I will be doing, until I start doing it. Then, after an indeterminate period- months, years -I will have a moment of panicked horror when I realise I have been doing something completely different, most likely very far from Pynchon. It will be like wandering in an unfamiliar city where every scrap of wall and face seems delightful till you realise that night is close and you are lost and a figure is coming towards you.


As a symbolic structure, the historical novel does not reproduce the events it describes; it tells us in what direction to think about the events (White:1978 cited in Huthceon:1988).

The novels of Thomas Pynchon are dense, encyclopedic narratives, rich in allusion and context. Most, if not all, can be considered ‘historical’, in the sense that the majority of their action takes place in the past, ranging from the mid-18th Century setting of Mason & Dixon, up to a period that resembles (whilst not quite being) the 1980s of Vineland. As many have argued, most recently Smith (2005) and Thomas (2007), Pynchon uses these different historical contexts as a way of challenging received interpretations of history, so as to shift the focus from a unitary, cohesive narrative of progress, to one that emphasises plurality, injustice, and the structures of authority (including those of ‘narrative’ and ‘historiography’) that promote inequality. My proposed course of research is to analyse the means by which this project is continued, and extended, in Pynchon’s most recent novel Against the Day (2006), with the aim of understanding its significance in the context of his previous work.

The novel’s framing narrative is the Boys-Own style adventures of ‘The Chums of Chance’, which span the chronology of the book, from the late 19th Century to the start of the First World War. These ‘Chums’ travel round the world in hot air balloons, at the behest of semi-mysterious figures, accompanied by a dog with a penchant for the novels of Henry James. This comic pastiche is another example of Pynchon’s ‘serious unseriousness’ (Tanner: 2000). As in V. and Mason & Dixon, the presence of absurd elements (songs, fantastical creatures, elements from popular culture) is used to satirise the naïvete and self-delusion of many of those involved in the business of Empire (and indeed, many of the ‘Chums’, by the end of the book, do question their service of the imperial powers).

However, it seems likely that Pynchon’s intends to do more than simply undermine the rhetoric of imperial duty. The notion of an air-borne set of global agents is strongly reminiscent of the science fiction writing of the period (Jules Verne, H.G. Wells et al). By merging this fantastical strand with well-documented historical events, Pynchon (as in his previous work) calls into question the veracity of all presented historical events. This, of course, is what we would expect from any self-respecting (and self-regarding) piece of historiographic metafiction (Hutcheon:1988). Pynchon’s specific purpose may be to interrogate these visions of technological progress, in particular the arguments that such technical advancements would be socially beneficial (see Lindqvist: 2001). In his previous novels, most notably in Gravity’s Rainbow, scientific and technological ‘progress’ has been closely equated with dehumanisation and destruction (Smith: 2005). There are also a number of scenes in the novel where the future literally encroaches on the present, in the form of ghosts from the approaching First World War, and of “Trespassers” from “the end of the capitalistic experiment” (Against the Day: 467). One potential course of inquiry is thus to examine how Pynchon, by embedding ‘science fiction’ within received history, undermines our narratives not only of the past, but of the future as well. My discussion of Pynchon’s use of genre-elements is likely to be informed not only with reference to his previous work, but also by his forthcoming novel, Inherent Vice (2009), which promises to be “part-noir, part-psychedelic romp”.

As in many of Pynchon’s previous works, Against the Day utilises recurring symbolic tropes (Smith: 2005). Whilst it will require close reading to unpick these elements in Against the Day, a first reading of the novel suggests that light— its refraction, reflection, its ordering and disruption —is a leitmotif throughout the novel, perhaps representing some of the different uses to which versions of the past, or visions of the future, may be employed by those who possess (or lack) power.

In terms of methodology, my approach will be to try and embed the kind of micro-textual analysis performed by Thomas (2007) within the type of framework Smith (2005) utilises. Whilst both approaches have much to recommend them (Thomas’s focus at the level of the sentence; Smith’s sense of the novels’ grand thematic arcs), singly they possesses methodological weaknesses: on occasion, Thomas is forced to rely on rhetoric to bridge the logical gaps in his arguments for the great significance of a single phrase; whilst Smith sometimes try to second-guess Pynchon’s intentions without anchoring such supposition in the text . By combining these two approaches, I hope to complement their respective strengths whilst balancing their shortcomings.
In order to provide a theoretical context for my analysis, my research will also include a discussion of the debates regarding the value of metafictional historiography, such as whether or not, in a form so imbued with irony, one can determine the “boundary between parody and mimetic representation” (Witzling: 2007). Or, to put it more crudely, How can one be sure of the political stance of any given text?, assuming as White (1978) perhaps does, that a (postmodern) text can have anything so coherent and knowable.


Hutcheon, L. (1988) A Poetics of Postmodernism, Routledge: London.
Lindqvist, S. (2001) A History of Bombing, Granta: London.
Pynchon, T. (2006) Against the Day, Vintage: London.
Smith, S. (2005) Pynchon and History, Routledge: London.
Tanner, T. (2000) The American Mystery: Essays on American Literature from Emerson to DeLillo, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Thomas, S. (2007) Pynchon and the Political, Routledge: London
Witzling, D. (2007) Everybody’s America: Thomas Pynchon, Race, and the Cultures of Postmodernism, Routledge: London.

Granta, Burnside, Gregerson


Somehow, without quite meaning to, I have been leaving my room. Last night I went to a poetry reading by John Burnside and Linda Gregerson, both of whom, despite my misgivings about readings, spoke (and read) very well. Many of her poems had that longed-for (though not predictable) shift in tone or subject that, when it works, is like the shift from cold to warm when stood beneath a shower. Her most recent collection is Magnetic North.


I only know Burnside’s work through his considerable reputation, as both a novelist and poet. The poems he read (including a long narrative poem about hunting a deer that made me recall, in a pleasurable fashion, Faulkner’s story ‘The Bear’) were mostly from his forthcoming collection, The Hunt in the Forest. In all of them the language seemed vital, rooted in landscape and its traditions (not least those of how we represent and imagine it).


Were this not enough, I also attended the launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival this morning, held amidst the grandiosity of the Signet Library.


Champagne was consumed. Some items were received. One of which was the new Granta (106), which continues to improve under the editorship of John Freeman (by which I mean that it features more interesting writers, as well as being willing to print work like Chris Ware’s (you will want to zoom in on this:


Issue 107 also promises to be good, with pieces by Kenzaburo Oe and (gasp) William T. Vollmann.

Now it is the afternoon; the fizz has consented to fade. It was very nice to go out. Shall try it again next year.

This Will Explain Everything (call for submissions)


This Will Explain Everything

An open call to comic artists and illustrators.

The Edinburgh-based Forest Publishing is putting together a graphic novel anthology and we are looking for work from artists who combine words and images in various ways.

This anthology is an imaginary encyclopedia: a compendium of knowledge that is true, half-true, false, absurd or very confusing. A reader will come away from this book intrigued, amazed, mystified, puzzled, perplexed, bewildered, bemused and befuddled but not necessarily informed.

Your entry should explain something. It can be a piece of disinformation, speculation or thorough nonsense. It could be about how a tractor works, what heart burn really is, an explanation of long-distance running or zen. Facts are fine but, for this project, they are not the ultimate point. We’re looking for unique points of view on a wide-range of objects and ideas.

When submitting: do consider the different forms of informative imagery you could play around with: diagrams, maps, tables, technical illustrations, instruction manuals etc.

Technical specs:

You can submit multipage strips, spreads or single-page images in colour or black and white. The format of the book will be 245mm x 168mm (portrait) with a bleed of 3mm. past the edge of the page on all sides. If your image reaches the edges of the page, don’t put anything important in the bleed zone where it will get chopped off. If you intend to do a spread, please keep important things away from the centre of the image as there will be a deep gutter. (These specs aside, if you already have finished work in a different format, we might be able to fit it in anyway.)

Submissions should be emailed as low resolution jpegs (make sure that any text is readable, though) to Write ‘Submission’ in the subject line. Alternatively, you can send us a good quality photocopy by regular mail. The address is: Magda Boreysza at Forest Publishing, 3 Bristo Place, Edinburgh EH1 1EY, United Kingdom. If your piece is selected we will ask you to send a high quality image file.

About Forest Publishing
Forest Publishing is a branch of the Forest, a non-profit art collective and vital part of Edinburgh’s cultural life. Since August 2000 we have hosted thousands of free events and nourished scores of local artists and bands including luminaries such as St. Jude’s Infirmary and Aberfeldy. We have put out records, thrown street parties, hosted more than a hundred exhibitions, built a darkroom, offered workshops on everything from Arabic to crocheting, grown a garden, given out thousands of pounds in grants, built a practice studio, started a swap library and a free shop, made friends, battled the bureaucracy, hired out free bikes and much more. In the summer of 2008 we launched the massively successful Forest Fringe as part of the Edinburgh Festival. Thousands of people have participated, volunteered, created and enjoyed the Forest as an alternative to the grim entertainment prospects and corporate art and culture scene elsewhere in the city. The Forest excites and inspires people.

In 2004 we launched a small publishing wing which we have quietly been expanding. Our publications have showcased fine writing, music, commentary and art. The most recent of these, Stolen Stories, was an anthology of rip-offs, published last year to critical acclaim, with support from the Scottish Arts Council.

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