Abandon Politics to Release Your Inner Artist

“There is a serious academic contention that one of the reasons that Russia produced so many brilliant writers during the nineteenth century was that the structure of government (under a centralising Tsar, with an oppressive and tight circle of advisors) denied most young men, even the well-connected like (Count) Tolstoy, any hope of a career in politics. Thus the creativity that might have gone in to policy-making and progressive political change instead went into literature, as a (relatively safe) space where political and social ideas could be explored, without too much interference from the censors. If nothing else, a return to the text might provide better outcomes than a resort to war. Defend the study of arts and humanities – it is the ‘finding place’ for the complicated, messy and dangerous world that we all have to inhabit together.”

From: http://shiftinggrounds.org/2014/03/a-message-from-sebastapol/

Cold War and the Battle of the Pens

“Were there similarities between the literature on both sides of the Iron Curtain?”

“Definitely. And the phrase itself is an interesting place to start. It is commonly assumed that the term was first used by Winston Churchill in a speech in Fulton, Missouri on March 5th 1946, but in Patrick Wright’s book “Iron Curtain” (2009) he traces the origin to 18th-century theatre. The iron curtain was a safety curtain that came down between the stage and the audience in case of fire. It was the divide between stage and audience and the whole political rhetoric of cold-war literature and its narrative discourse was marked by this profound opposition between self and other, good and evil, democracy and tyranny.”

“The idea of theatricality was the very essence of cold-war literature and discourse—the manipulation of language and information, the difference between appearance and reality, and the way the information was projected to the audience didn’t necessarily have roots in reality.”

[...]

“There wasn’t a definitive “end of cold war” response in Soviet literature because the dissident literature, samizdat (self-published) and tamizdat (published over there), proliferated gradually. In the 1980s the Western spy novels all featured good guys from the West and bad guys from the East and they were still very popular. Margaret Thatcher read Frederick Forsyth’s “The Fourth Protocol” (1984) four times. But by this time there was also a huge influx of “real” fiction, serious literature reflecting on the reasons for the cold war and near nuclear disaster, the metaphysical opposition of East and West—post-modernism. This was a natural response to the cold-war situation, given the manipulation of language and the pervading atmosphere of counter-intelligence.”

Read More: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2014/03/quick-study-olga-sobolev-cold-war-literature

Genre Boundaries are Fluid

“why do we divide books into genres at all? At some level, we needn’t. Looking at a book purely as an example of a genre can limit your understanding of both the book and the genre.”

“We are generally conditioned to think that ‘genre’ applies to books that are detective stories, or romances, or science fiction tales, books that follow a certain set of rules and are possibly limited by them. On the other hand ‘literary fiction’, the stuff which isn’t a part of these genres, is supposed to be completely unbounded by these kinds of elements, but many people argue that actually literary fiction is a recognisable genre of its own with certain common traits: social realism, an interest in the epiphanies experienced by individuals and an emphasis on prose craft. But you can find these qualities in genre fiction; crime fiction can engage with society in a very serious and real way, a fantasy novel can be about an individual’s own concerns and insights, science fiction can be beautifully written.”

“It is also good to be aware of the limits of genre, to know that genres can be fluid and that you should always look beyond genre boundaries in your reading and even in your writing!”

From: http://www.newindianexpress.com/education/student/What-is-a-Genre/2014/03/17/article2113810.ece1

“Reading is not necessary”

From the Conservative corner:

“Last week from another quarter came what may be the final solution to the schools’ reading problems. According to Dr. Juanita Chambers, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta, reading isn’t even necessary.”

“As technology advances, Dr. Chambers says, people can get along very well without reading. If you are just digesting information, you don’t need to read. After all, that’s what television, radio, and tape recorders are for. “Perhaps literacy is not the only form of education,” she says. “It could be something that will be eventually left to scholars.””

“What is ever so much more important than reading books, in her view, is learning how to “read people.” “

“High-priced, incandescent nonsense has its effect. Today a sizeable segment of the American population has regressed to the Pre-Phoenician stage. According to a study recently released by the National Science Foundation, over 25% of Americans are Pre -Copernican, believing that the sun goes around the earth, less than half 48%, are aware that humans evolved from early species, 42% believe that astrology is either “very scientific” or “sort of scientific,” in sharp contrast to a study in China where 92 per cent of people there believe horoscopes are unscientific.”

Read More: http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2014/03/14/forty-years-plus-of-confusion-complacence-and-incompetence-in-albert-schools/

Gender Genre Divide

…”how many books that are published these days speak to the modern male experience of life? How many address the issues around what it is to be a man today, and a young man in particular, with all the attendant crises that come with manhood? 

“The modern publisher is fond of categorisation. This is understandable when there are so many books and because of the need to sell to supermarkets (who like things to be as easily indentifiable as fruit and veg). Consequently, books are placed into brackets like gift, literary, self-help, sport and so on. But the one that got me thinking about all this is women’s fiction, broadly defined as stories that speak to women about their experiences of life today. It encapsulates everything from the fun and frivolous to more considered and intelligent matters. By its nature, women’s fiction is a broad genre. But it’s also an important one that acknowledges inherently that the reading of fiction has a great impact on emotional intelligence. A male equivalent of the genre simply doesn’t exist, or at least in decent numbers.”

From: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10658294/Why-dont-young-men-read-novels-any-more.html

The CIA, Ideology, and American Literature

“In a lengthy piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, writing professor Eric Bennett makes a case that the Iowa program, arguably the most influential force in modern American literature, was profoundly shaped by a CIA-backed effort to promote a brand of literature that trumpeted American individualism and materialism over airy socialistic ideals.”

“The Iowa Writers’ Workshop emerged in the 1930s and powerfully influenced the creative-writing programs that followed,” Bennet writes. “More than half of the second-wave programs, about 50 of which appeared by 1970, were founded by Iowa graduates. Third- and fourth- and fifth-wave programs, also Iowa scions, have kept coming ever since. So the conventional wisdom that Iowa kicked off the boom in MFA programs is true enough.”

…”it’s just a reminder that we need to be wary of the sandboxes we’re building our castles in, of the institutions that define our creative thought so wholly that we often forget (or never bother to ask) how and why they were established in the first place. The MFA factory first farmed out postwar American lit according to a specific ideological rubric, it turns out.”  

From: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/how-the-cia-turned-american-literature-into-a-content-farm

When Writers Draw from Life

“Gonzalo Mosca was a radical on the run. Hunted by Uruguay’s dictators, he fled to Argentina, where he narrowly escaped a military raid on his hideout. “I thought that they would kill me at any moment,” Mosca says.

With nowhere else to turn, he called his brother, a Jesuit priest, who put him in touch with the man he credits with saving his life: Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

It was 1976, South America’s dictatorship era, and the future Pope Francis was a 30-something leader of Argentina’s Jesuit order. At the time, the country’s church hierarchy openly sided with the military junta as it kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of leftists like Mosca.

Critics have argued that Bergoglio’s public silence in the face of that repression made him complicit, too, and they warn against what they see as historical revisionism designed to burnish the reputation of a now-popular pope.

But the chilling accounts of survivors who credit Bergoglio with saving their lives are hard to deny. They say he conspired right under the soldiers’ noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime.”

From: http://m.savannahnow.com/latest-news/2014-03-13/survivors-pope-francis-saved-many-dirty-wars

More about Jesuits, Liberation Theology, Death Squads, and Dirty Wars, in AGENTS OF CHANGE:

Image

Unlikely Revolutionaries take to arms to turn the archaic Catholic Church into the leading force for change, and in the process they become the biggest threat to the U.S.’s interests…

The battle for change erupts and spreads from the Spiritual to the Temporal world. Agents of Change infiltrate the battlefields, and establishments of public and religious life, because with its murderous military-industrial complexes, rogue banksters, backward religious institutions, and corrupt political systems, the world is in need of a dramatic transformation…

Agents of Change right what is wrong…

The Art of Character Killing

“Readers may assume that killing-off a character, and a major one at that, is usually the moment of careful, systematic and exciting plotting for every fiction writer. Or that, it may be nothing further away than ‘a treat’ for the narrator who manoeuvres and ruthlessly employs every brilliant gimmick possible, bring down a character that has succeeded in either winning the hearts of readers or breeding loathing only letters can illustrate. Thus, the writers’ genius creates the monster or angel that must surely be killed. How can this be made tangible? Writers will agree that killing-off a major character in a story takes great writing skill, precision, suspense, style and timing and perhaps a lot more. Without some of these ingredients, a story where a major character (or even a minor one) is killed-off may appear vague, unjustified, irrational and unreal to readers who hold unto every word that leaps out of the paper with an almost total innocence. However, it will not be irrational to conclude that almost every committed fiction reader is far from naivety and digs into the story the writer brings alive, with a fierce critical mind that always produces a quiet plea that seems to say: “convince me that I am not reading fiction but reality reincarnated.”

More: http://m.allafrica.com/stories/201403101776.html/

Reading literature lessens stereotypes

“The benefits of reading literary fiction are many, ranging from making us morecomfortable with ambiguity to honing our ability to pick up on the emotional states of others. Newly published research adds yet another positive outcome to that list: It can make us at least a little less racist.”

“A research team from Washington and Lee University reports that, in an experiment, reading a snippet of a novel about a Muslim woman produced two welcome results. Readers were more likely to categorized people as mixed-race, rather than forcing them into specific racial categories. They were also less likely to associate angry faces with disliked outsider groups.”

“Recent research has found that when we observe perceived outsiders, our brains do less of the mental mirroring associated with empathy. As a result, we feel less connected to them than we do to members of our own tribe.”

“There is growing evidence that reading a story engages many of the same neural networks involved in empathy.”

“Perhaps narrative fiction can bridge this empathy gap,” the researchers, led by psychologist Dan Johnson, write in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.”

More: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/reading-literary-fiction-can-make-less-racist-76155/

Pleasure Reading: a Hypnotic Trance

For deeper experience multitask less while reading:

“The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love.”

From: http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/03/why-we-should-read-literature/