Sunday, April 29, 2012

Moebius Soars On

A Lobster & Canary reader reminded me the other day that we failed to note the passage of Moebius, one of the most influential artists of the past fifty years. Moebius (the pen-name for Frenchman Jean Giraud) died last month. Lobster & Canary fell instantly in love with Moebius's work at the appearance of the first American editions of the pioneering magazine he co-founded, Metal Hurlant, known on our shores as Heavy Metal. Above all, we love the idiosyncratic wanderer, Arzach, soaring over eccentric landscapes on his faithful pterodactyl. Moebius worked on many fantasy/science fiction touchstones of the late 20th century, ranging from Alien to The Silver Surfer. His influence is pervasive throughout the speculative genres (I suspect he also has a following among urban planners, architects, and clothing designers). Learn more here, here, and here. Soar on, Moebius.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Parasitic Experimentation in Fantasy Literature

Brian Stableford, in his indispensable The A to Z of Fantasy Literature (Scarecrow Press, 2009), asserts:

"Literary experimentation in fantasy is to some extent parasitic--and not only in commercial terms---at the expense of the wide and consistent appeal of fantasy's commodifiable formulas" (page 84, in the entry on "Commodified Fantasy").

What a great springboard his statement would make for a panel discussion at, say, Readercon or Arisia, or at the Brooklyn Book Festival! Stableford is an astute, measured commentator on the fantastical genres, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the field-- his views merit serious consideration.

What precisely does he mean by "parasitic"? What qualifies as "literary experimentation," what answers best to "fantasy's commodifiable formulas"? A long-running debate, both within the genre and much further afield (echoes of Aristotle, Horace, and Cicero carry down through the clashes); Stableford's comment above is a part-response to Ursula K. Le Guin, whom Stableford cites in the entry as the source of the term "Commodified Fantasy."

Alas for the lack of time to explore the worthy debate further right now-- but I think the lobster and the canary shall return (here or elsewhere) to the evergreen contest between "commodity" and "experiment." Besides Le Guin's observations over the years, Gary K. Wolfe's Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature (Wesleyan University Press, 2011; Amelia Beamer co-authored some of the essays) figures here, likewise Farah Mendlesohn's Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan University Press, 2008), and the extensive work by respectively David Hartwell and John Clute. It will be interesting to map our genre-focused explorations against more general recent discussions about fiction and its uses. Zadie Smith's "Two Directions for the Novel" (in her collection of essays, Changing My Mind, published by Penguin, 2009) comes quickly to hand, as does Orhan Pamuk's The Naive and Sentimental Novelist (Harvard University Press, 2010) and the insights of respectively A.S. Byatt, James Wood and Marjorie Garber. And not to forget classics such as E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel, Wallace Stevens's The Necessary Angel, and the critical work of Virginia Woolf, V.S. Pritchett, William Empson, and Owen Barfield.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Scop's Voice Still With Us: "Wassailing Worms, Bright Marauders and Be-charmed Bees"

In honor of poetry month (and to swim with the swift stream of poetry in every month), I recommend The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems In Translation, edited by Greg Delanty & Michael Matto (W.W. Norton, 2011).

With the original Old English on the left-hand side, and its translation (or, as Seamus Heaney reminds us, a "rendering") on the right hand, the collection treats us to "poems of exile and longing," "poems about living and dying," poems of battles and of saints, remedies, prayers, charms, and-- of course-- a rich trove of riddles.

Besides Heaney, the translators include many of Lobster & Canary's other favorite poets as well: Molly Peacock, Mary Jo Salter, David Wojahn, Yusef Komunyakaa, Saskia Hamilton, A.E. Stallings and Jane Hirshfield.

I find it impossible to resist lines like these:

"Wassailing worms
Feast afresh where limbs lie slain
Devouring flesh: only bones remain."

(from Stallings's version of "The Riming Poem")

"My jacket is polished gray
Emblazoned with roses and fire."

(From Billy Collins's rendition of "My Jacket is Polished Gray")

"An etched ship of air, a silver sky-sliver,
it lugged a month's loot from its raid on time..."

(from Peacock's translation of "I Watched a Wonder, a Bright Marauder")

Ah, metrical words to charm the bees, to hold malice and spite at bay, to honor the waves and the clouds and the trembling leaves of the aspen!