A Brief History of Seven Killings is the first Marlon James novel I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. It features multiple points of view as it wends its way through the attempt to kill Bob Marley (because he was thought to favor the socialist-leaning PNP in the upcoming election) in 1976 and then revisits the story of the subsequent rise of Jamaican drug lords in the crack days of New York in the 1980s.
- In the “Acknowledgements” section James identifies both Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Marguerite Duras’s The North China Lover as models for what he essentially thought was a huge mess of “anecdotes” and other “source materials.” I haven’t read Duras, but the multiple viewpoints of As I Lay Dying (as well as the invocation of different dialects) felt like the perfect starting point for ABHOSK.
- The viewpoint that seems closest to James is Nina Burgess, a Jamaican women who works her way to the States in as honest a fashion as she can. She has multiple names throughout the novel as she assumes identities, and she gets to finish the novel by getting a call from someone who I think is her mom (although I’m not sure of that by any means).
- She’s closest, I’m guessing, because she works multiple jobs after becoming the lover of a white American mechanical engineer who worked in Jamaica for a company mining bauxite. She ends up as a nurse, and I’m guessing that James is honoring that work in a fashion.
- She also has a tremendously complicated relationship with her home country, one which at the end has her being chastised by a young Jamaican woman sitting with her husband (who is in a coma after a gang war), imbibing the food and culture of Jamaica in a restaurant close to her home in Queens, throwing up that food after hearing of Josey Wales’s horrible death, ending with that mysterious phone call.
- I’m guessing James feels similarly.
- The folks who run Jamaica politically are rarely seen – instead, James presents the viewpoint of those who run sections of the various ghettos. One man, Papa-Lo, gets killed as he tries to bring peace; another man, Josie Wales, gets killed after his attempts to bring order fall apart when he murders everyone in a crack house. Both, I think, had gotten tired of the constant ways that their efforts failed.
- There is a lot more to talk about here, of course – a couple of white folks show up, a couple of characters are gay, the weirdness of Lester Bangs and all those Rolling Stone writers also appears as they become entranced by reggae and then find out that the scene that produces it is a brutal one.
- And the Singer (Marley, in the only way he’s referenced in the novel), gets lionized and idealized in a way that, as the Rolling Stone writer says as he’s being “corrected” about the story he’s publishing in The New Yorker, makes me “think even more highly of the fucker.”
- As we piece together our sense of American identity through the vast, often nearly indecipherable melange of immigrant voices – and their reasons for coming here – novels like this one will help us better understand the promise and perils of moving to the United States and trying to make connections here.
- Although the dialect may be off-putting, this was an amazing read, one that I am guessing will live in my mind for a while.
I was directed to Schweitzer’s collection of reviews, essays, and presentations while researching an article on the Malazan world and just war theory, and I thought I’d talk about it below:
- At times this collection was frustrating. He writes off any sort of literary theory that comes after the New Critics, and he dismisses it in what I always find the laziest way – it’s too hard, it’s not well-written, it eliminates the author, and so on. There are many reasons to find fault with the deconstructionists, Foucauldians, and the rest who revolutionized the way that literary criticism works, but these are not the ways to do so.
- He also diminishes a lot of the underlying issues of race and gender that mark these texts, in ways that seem very Gernsbackian.
- Even then, however, the reasons why I think I enjoyed this become clear, as one of the essays in this collection directly critiques Gernsback’s contributions to the field because of Gernsback’s well-known multiple faults…and he does this compellingly and disruptively (critiquing Gernsback can still draw fire from true scifi fanatics).
- Those critiques aside, I plowed through this and enjoyed a lot of it. I understand, I think, that he’s a writer who is too busy writing stories, etc, a publisher who is keeping generic short fiction alive, an editor who works with and encourages a lot of other writers, an agent who makes sure that we still have access to older texts, and a collector who wears out estate sales in order to find hidden gems that need to be preserved to spend a lot of time digesting contemporary theory.
- Taking the time to work through the potential benefits these theories offer by providing different types of lenses probably isn’t in the cards…
- His memory is amazing, nearly wikipedian in its breadth *and* depth. The number of texts that he refers to is mind-boggling, and I’m saying that as someone who spends way too much time reading myself.
- I’m also fascinated by the patterns he draws – he not only reads pulp and/or genre fiction, but he digests it, sees patterns between both stories by the same author and between that author and others.
- Finally, he’s definitely not only interested in texts from the genre. He casually mentions Marquez, Kafka, and McCarthy, drawing interesting parallels, and he has clearly read a lot of the high canon and thought seriously about it…
I started to subscribe to Benedict Evan’s newsletter a couple of months ago, and it never fails to identify an interesting article or two. The most recent issue highlighted this article from Bloomsburg Business News, and reading it prompted two quick thoughts:
- The Chinese are so concerned about global warming and the damage it’s doing that they are taking some pretty drastic steps, including banning all fossil fuel-powered cars by what looks like 2040 (they haven’t said exactly when yet).
BYD Electric Vehicle at a car show in China
- While the American tech market is driven by big personalities and the alpha male culture that we seem to believe drives business success, this company – BYD – dwarfs the production of other electronic vehicle producers.
- They have done this by concentrating less on the whims of a charismatic owner (*cough*, some guy whose first name rhymes with “belon” and whose last name is most often associated with deer, *cough*) and more on what needs to be done.
- They have also made huge government investments in these countries. I’m not going to pretend to understand the way that investment works in a mixed economy like China, but after the uproar about “bailing out” American car companies and I can’t imagine that Americans will suddenly think that having governments invest in private companies is a good idea.
- Doing R and D through universities is something else, but even that is a tough sell for a lot of folks…
Maybe we will figure it out anyway?
This review of former Rust Belt cities (from the US and Europe) is way too long to do a thorough post on, so I’ll offer some thoughts below.
- The premise is that Rust Belt cities are far from doomed – instead, according to the authors, they are the next source of innovation and are a burgeoning market in and of themselves.
- They look at cities like Akron and Dresden, and highlight leadership, universities, big companies that are trying to remain innovative, and government initiatives as the reasons for these changes.
- Their optimism is tempered a bit by some of the challenges they see – more smart technology (and some emotional intelligence) is still needed for leadership, more focus on developing products rather than experiences or systems, more support for universities. They identify these problems, and thankfully don’t rename them opportunities.
- The authors have done a lot of traveling and have talked to a lot of the people who are driving innovation, and they use mostly these interviews (with a few well-chosen stats) to make their argument. That approach makes sense, and helps me appreciate Piketty’s intensively thorough approach even more. As a reviewer on goodreads commented that this book is a mile wide and an inch deep, and that methodology leaves a lot out…
- I’m troubled by the fact that there seems to be little focus on the folks left behind. Again, this argument fits neatly into the narrative that claims that smart technology will save us all, and the fact that robotics seems to mean that the work left for humans (yay capitalism!) will be either gathering all the money at the top or doing the dirtiest, meanest jobs that require some human decision-making (i.e., strawberry-picking), since building a machine to do that work would be more expensive than paying people minimum-wage and not offering them benefits doesn’t seem to occur to the authors.
- This part of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 argument always seems the shakiest to me – it feels like such a dystopian, cyberpunk future, with elements of The Circle thrown in for good measure. The alternative seems so utopian as to be ridiculous…
- Despite my pessimism, though, I sincerely hope their vision of the future comes true.
I’ve waxed sorta rhapsodically about Randyland before, but this time we got to meet the man, along with what felt like a hundred other Pittsburghians or visitors. We were also treated to Randy expounding upon his own world view, and it featured a powerful personal story along with several heartfelt pleas to love both ourselves and others.
His unabashed joy about communicating his own emotional intelligence and love for humanity makes me think a bit about my own privileging of cynicism and detachment. If we could all only be more like Randy…
The man, the myth, the legend, with some pretty geeked-out fans
No wood blocks or lady bugs were harmed in the making of this photo
I spent a recent beautiful Saturday in April visiting the AlphaLab Gear facilities in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Cole Wolfson was our host, and we both learned a lot and had a great time. Thoughts and a picture below:
- I am guessing that Pittsburgh in particular is appreciative of Gov. Thornburgh’s vision of the future, because unlike a lot of the rest of the Rust Belt Pittsburgh has been a bright spot (with a few hiccups) as far as economic restructuring.
- Prioritizing small, technically innovative businesses is still a sound development strategy, one my own town of Akron has followed with some success (as exemplified by the Bounce Innovation Hub, among other spaces). The fact that AlphaLab Gear, Pittsburgh edition, still makes a solid return on the investment the tax money the state grants them speaks to the long-term prospects of this approach.
- I’m always the idealist, and the success of these types of spaces (and their commitment to intentional, deliberate, and community-based innovation) makes me feel that we can solve our problems if we trust in local people.
I met with college friends in State College for a weekend dedicated to basketball and, uh, sophisticated adult beverages, and found a new favorite bar: Zeno’s Pub. It’s not just me who thinks so, either…
The clock reads “Ready for a Reading, the friendly beer for modern people.” If you know what this means please tell me, because I have no idea.
I got a bit giddy when I heard the music, as the song being played was by the Black Angels. The bartender engaged when I made some weird little noise of recognition, and when I mentioned that I found out about them through Spotify (which isn’t cool I’m guessing), she affirmed my nerdiness by noting that she saw them with the Black Keys. She had no idea who the Black Keys were.
Are they fascist-lite too?
In case you were wondering, PA has a Pantera tribute band. I had no idea this was a thing.
Vintage posters speak to a different age, one with fewer mortal sins…
When I first read The Circle, it was 2014 and although Gamergate and worse had happened I refused to believe that social media and the alpha tech primadonnas could extend influence much beyond the confines of the diggerati. Re-reading it after the 2016 election reminds me that I’m a moron…
- Frustration with the cult of the tech alpha male in our culture seems to wax and wane, but Eggers clearly is more than frustrated. The three-headed monster that created the Circle neatly identifies what I think passes for the three sides of the tech alpha male – a sort of blind optimism about the perfectibility of humans (through technology, often developed by the alpha male’s company), financial smarts and a sort of willful ignorance about the dangers of monopoly capitalism, and sheer technical virtuosity.
- The fact that they’re all white guys is of course perfect.
- Eggers skips right over the usual binary – techno-optimism vs. techno-pessimism – and portrays those who want to uphold values like privacy as doomed. Mae’s ex-boyfriend Mercer gets particularly rough treatment…
- It’s hard not to read this as a sort of political thriller, one that ends badly.
- This novel ain’t subtle, all the way down to Stenton (financial guy) and his love of the voracious shark that eats the world and covers it in fecal material that is simply grey ash. The fact that the shark is transparent is another nice touch.
- I’m guessing that Eggers thinks this conversation is too important to be subtle about.
- The way that most of us so quickly immerse ourselves in the intensely anxious world of social media approval-seeking frightens me for the future, and makes Eggers’s vision particularly relevant.
- At the same time, Mae is so relentlessly caught up in the social prestige of being a bigwig at the Circle that I hope when she wakes up in twenty years that there is still a world.
- Every time I think Goodreads will offer me interesting conversation about a novel, I’m wrong. One of these days I will stop being surprised.