Monday, July 29, 2013

As the Professionals Do

A YT video from a few weeks back explaining how you, too, can meet the highest standards of commodity production as defined by the movie-making industry at its pre-production phase.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The Ferocity of the Disputes"

Jacob Heilbrunn on THOSE ANGRY DAYS and 1940, two non-fiction books that describe the political mood in the United States before its entry into World War Two:

In July 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt met with senators from both political parties at the White House in a final effort to persuade them to amend the Neutrality Act preventing America from aiding other countries. After drinks were poured, Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, argued that the world was approaching a catastrophic war. The 74-year-old Republican senator William Borah, who had led the fight against Woodrow Wilson and American entry into the League of Nations in 1919, shook his head in disgust. “There is not going to be any war in Europe this year,” he said. “All this hysteria is manufactured and artificial.”

The period is a fascinating one because it underlies the extent to which Roosevelt was extreme pressure to keep the U.S. neutral; Roosevelt in fact won election to no small degree by explicitly promising that American soldiers would not fight the Nazis in Europe.

As it turned out, the speed and scale of the Nazi victories in continental Europe and the western Soviet Union created a new reality for all the nations of the world, including those in the Americas: this reality was a geopolitical reality.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


John Harris continues his Poets and Son series with a long, extended article on Samuel Taylor and Hartley Coleridge. [Note: I'm doing an interview with Harris, and will be posting part one shortly.]

Brenda Schmidt begins work on a birding project. Schmidt posts regularly on Manitoba wildlife, and her site is well worth checking out.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bernard Anton - English translation

An English translation of my interview with Bernard Anton - poet, teacher, writer

[French interview here]

CBT: We often hear that literature is in a state of crisis. First, do you agree? If sos, what are the factors that have created this crisis? Is the ongoing recession? September 11th? Or is there other factors farther earlier than the new millennium has also made the crisis?

BA: Yes and no. Culture (the field) is in crisis because the artistic side seems less interested in people who are likely to make things which are easier to use and understand. However, culture takes other forms, such as photography, video clip ... pop art on the web is extremely lively and popular. Maybe we should popularize and democratize culture as a whole ...

CBT: And the literature is what, exactly? And is the traditional novel the best representative of this?

BA: Literature is vast. The traditional novel is only a part of it. New genres have emerged and prevail today, like slam, spoken words ...

CBT: Do you think the Internet will become the primary means of distributing books?

BA: Yes, to make the book visible and accessible. The Internet today is the # 1 means of global communication. It is a must, and so easy to access. It transcends borders. In 2-3 seconds, we have the answers to almost anything we want to research ... This is much more effective than going to the library and searching for hours.

CBT: Do you think that e-books will replace paper books?

BA: Yes and no. The paper book is a format that will always remain, at least for me. We need contact with the material. It cannot be limited to virtual means.

CBT: Do you think there is a wall between the anglophone and francophone literature? If so, what should be done?

AB: This is not a wall, it's a difference. These are two different cultures that operate in two cultural contexts that are not at all alike. They resemble two different countries. There's is nothing one can do. It is normal.

CBT: Do you think prizes for literature are dangerous because they suggest that "this book should be read and all the others we should not?"

BA: The awards recognize one work or author. However, they tend to minimize the beautiful work of other authors and other works ... In a contest, there is one prize. and it is chosen from work among the five finalists. But the four other works that have not won the award are just as good. A prize is subjective, relative. It is sometimes the result of politicized choices, and it depends on the jury. Another jury may give the same prize to another book and not even recognize the title that won the prize ....

CBT: Do you have a writer's website writer? If yes, do you think it is an effective way to promote your books?

BA: Yes, I have an author's site. it is very important to be visible and accessible to my readers. This is out of respect for them. This is one of my communication tools. I also have to do my part to promote my books, and not only leave that to my press agent and my publisher ...

CBT: "Slams" (eg, "polygamous slams") -- what is this exactly?

BA It is a collection of poems that are rhythmic and rhyming, and dealing with everyday life. The choice of "polygamous" is deliberate. It is meant in the broad sense, and intended to have a versatile meaning. I'm not talking about polygamy in the narrow, sexual sense, but figuratively. For me, slams flirt with all languages, all cultures, all continents, all ages, all genders, all countries.

CBT: According to your biography in Wikipedia, "In 2005 [Anton] had a serious car accident, which slowed his activities." Please give us more details about how the accident has changed your life.

BA: Since my accident, I am no longer the same. I run slow, I take my time. I take care of my body more. I am more careful. My limits force me to choose my activities and be more patient. This is physics.

CBT: One theme in "Advocacy for the Earth and live" [Living Earth] is the environment. You express a passion for ecology. Is it possible for literature to help the environment?

BA: All can contribute to helping the environment: art, politics, economics, industry and literature ... There are many movies that are trying to raise awareness ... many artists, several writers. The duty of literature is to reflect and interact with the time and problems of his time. That is, it seems to me, inseparable. We are all products of our time. Literature is no exception.

CBT: These days, what projects are you working on?

BA: I am preparing a third collection of slams and trying to rework my thesis dealing with forgiveness. I would like to make a more accessible version which can connect to the general public and not just a few specialists.

Bio: Bernard Anton Ph.D. (Born 1961) lives in the Laurentians (Quebec). He began early studying drama, literature, education and the science of religion and helping relationships. He has published more than 46 books (poetry slam, storytelling, drama, essay, spirituality, environment) with different Quebec and European publishers. He has been a professor for over twenty-four years. He has participated in several exhibitions, conferences, journals, conferences and events. Jean Royer described his poems as having an "unusual mastery of language." Gaston Miron observed that his work has "a truthfulness of emotion and the miracle of the presence that do not lie." Jean Ethier-Blais recognizes him as the "poet of the major themes at the top and delicate verb." Reginald Hamel says: "His poetry can marry the heavenly and the earthly and give the mysteries of life universal tone." They call him the poet of luminous beauty, the magician of words, the awakener of consciences. He reveals in his lectures, performances and writings, a remarkable universal humanist thinker. Preserving the environment and the well-being of people is one of his favorite themes. His work is often a finalist for literary prizes. His work of environmental advocacy For the Earth and the Living won an award for a Commendation of Excellence  EFA (Montreal Book Fair, 2009) and all of his poetry the has been awarded a Diploma of Honour for the Francophonie (Europoésie, Paris 2009). He has twice won the third prize in various competitions.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Self-Published Singularity

William Rycroft of The Blurb on A Naked Singularity:

A 700-page self-published novel. I can't think of anything I'm less likely to read apart from maybe anything by Dan Brown. Or Jeffrey Archer. Or Mills and Boon. Actually scratch those, why on earth would I bother to buy a novel that couldn't get a single publisher to take it on, and a long one at that? Because some reviews are tempting, and I'm up for a challenge, and something about it lit a fuse within me. A review that alludes to Pynchon, Gaddis, Melville, Dostoevsky and Rabelais might just as easily send you running for cover as rushing to see what's within the covers but it does at least give an indication of the ambition and scope of this leviathan. This book certainly won't be to all tastes but if you like any of the writers above and might be goaded into action by a book that says, 'Go on, I dare you' then I dare you too.

A Naked Singularity is one of those books so large, so ambitious and so bonkers that it makes the task of writing a review almost impossible. You either write something as bloated as the book itself in an attempt to include all of its maddening variety or you end up paralysed and providing little more than a pithy summary and some hyperbole.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Mike Brodie's A PERIOD OF JUVENILE PROSPERITY, via Dan Wagstaff. The photo Wagstaff has at his site, apart from details of clothing and the fact it's in colour, looks eerily like it could have been taken 80 years ago, when the Great Depression was already sinking its teeth into people's lives for the long term. And, since the similarity is eerie, one has to ask about what constitutes economic depressions at the individual level, and whether they disappear.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What American Writers Do and Canadian Ones Aren't Allowed To

Alex Good on A Naked Singularity:

A Naked Singularity is, in other words, a great American novel: large, ambitious, and full of talk. It's far from perfect, and typical of a number of trends - not all of them good - in contemporary fiction, but we can be thankful that this time the buzz did its work.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Plastic Millennium - on the module novel

A description of my mega-novel and its theoretical underpinnings ... ah, outpourings ... er, toner-scented multi-printings....

[Note: I misspeak when I refer to WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF INSANE IDEAS? as being finished in 1999 (this is when the action starts in the mega-work PLASTIC MILLENNIUM). SOURCE, on the other hand, goes way back ... I started it in the late 80s and finished in 1991. That's quite a while ago, and as I mention in this video, SOURCE, with its plot of a domineering, egocentric newspaper magnate fascinated with both manipulating the human genome in order to artificially evolve the human race and discovering a secret supercomputer that has such advanced capabilities it can -- via surveillance -- "manage" all of humanity, is a particular part of the project that is hopelessly out of date. But since I'm a sentimental sort, I put it in anyway.]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Lily Dodge on the Pottermore-ification of online publishing:

My muggledom aside, I'm pretty excited about the launch and continued success of Pottermore, the interactive website that appears to combine social networking with ebooks. Access to the website allows users to talk to other Harry Potter fans, play games, and read the ebooks along with extra content added by Rowling herself to the multimedia presentation of the books. I was unsure about Pottermore when it launched, as I've seen a number of online communities like this burst big and then falter - but even after the final movie, the buzz hasn't faded, and it looks like Pottermore will become a major model for extensive multi-media content that can keep a fan base active and alive long after a series of books or movies is "over." There's a lot of talk about the way technology is going to change the world of publishing, but most of it focuses on how the digital landscape will transform things like payment models and publication, or the way a book enters the world for the first time. Pottermore offers a glimpse into what the internet and related media can do after the publication, after the profit.

Thad McIlroy on the recent filing for bankruptcy by eductational publisher Cengage:

Of greatest interest to players in the publishing industry is Exhibit A on Cengage’s Investor Relations/Announcements page, the oddly-named “Blowout Materials.pdf.” It’s a 76-slide presentation titled “Operating Plan.” The Executive Summary is unusually frank. It leads off with an admission that “the traditionally stable Higher Education publishing market…recently gone into decline.” Cengage, furthermore, “is underperforming the market primarily driven by its digital execution.” The “poor market conditions” will only slowly improve “as digital penetration increases” but this will result in only “modest industry growth going forward.” 

At Geist, two by Eve Corbel. First, Muses for Moderns. Also, on Dave Collier:

For anyone who has yet to encounter David Collier, the Canadian comics artist, Collier’s Popular Press: 30 Years on the Newsstand (Conundrum Press) is a great place to start. For anyone who is already a Collier fan, it’s a bonanza. The retrospective opens with comics from The Nerve, a monthly tabloid published in the 1980s, then ranges through the rest of Collier’s wonderfully miscellaneous oeuvre, from the major dailies to the obscure weeklies to the literary quarterlies.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


BTW, at my new(er) blog -- SMN blog (which, IMHO, and apart from the occasional SNAFU, is a mo-fo'in good use of acronym -- I have started posting the videos I've made so far of TRUTH MARATHON. You can see the whole bunch of them ... and not only in English!

Scott Chantler - reprise

This is a re-post of my interview with Scott Chantler two years ago. Chantler, along with Michael Cho, have given me feedback recently for a paper I'm working on on graphic fiction.

Scott Chantler of, Two Generals,Tower of Treasure, Northwest Passage, etc:

1. Graphic fiction, we are told, is in; it has arrived. Academics talk about it, literary publishers include it -- sometimes -- on their lists. But how accepted is it really? Is it genuinely accepted by the high-brow, and viewed with true objectivity? Or is some of the praise that it is given merely bumpf? After all, MFA programs specialize in writing, not graphic fiction; English departments rarely if ever pay attention to graphic fiction; major publishers do not publish much of it, and major prizes never include it in short lists, even though it can be a form of novel. What needs to change for graphic fiction to gain more acceptance?

SC: Honestly, I think the answer is just time. Change takes time, and there will eventually come a point when no one will be able to remember a time when comics weren't taught in schools and discussed at cocktail parties. We've already made ENORMOUS strides in the last 20 years, so I'm always a little uncomfortable complaining about whatever little distance there is left to cover. The time that Will Eisner dreamed about, when comics are thought of as literature, sold in bookstores, studied academically, etc. is here. It's now. And those few people who still don't "get it," that wouldn't read comics under ANY circumstances, are probably not going to change their minds anyway. They're the people who are so closed-minded and old-fashioned that they likely still don't think of movies as art, either, or rock 'n' roll as music.

2. According to critic Alex Good, literary fiction is selling poorly these days and graphic novels are doing better. Is this as far as you know true?

SC: I don't generally keep track of sales numbers, other than for my own books (and even that can be a challenge, given how much they try to keep those numbers from being conveniently available to authors). But I'm often told that graphic books and eBooks is where the growth is happening in publishing. So it seems that somebody thinks so.

3. How did you start out?

SC: I was a reasonably successful commercial illustrator in the nineties, but of course that wasn't what I really wanted to do. Comics, though, as you may recall, were in a pretty bad place then, and I was having no luck trying to break in, even with small publishers. So, just for the sake of putting something out there, and maybe attracting a few more eyeballs to my illustration website, I started a daily web strip. This was in 2000, before everybody and their uncle was doing a webcomic, so it was fairly easy to get noticed by doing one. I didn't even do it for very long, maybe three months...but it was enough to have built a small following, which included comic book writer J. Torres. He and I began to correspond by email, and talked about doing something together. That something turned out to be Days Like This from Oni Press, which was my first graphic novel

4 There are a lot of comics artists who self-publish. As in the music industry -- with bands with their own labels -- this is considered perfectly acceptable as long as the creative result is good. Yet self-publishing is deeply frowned upon in literary circles. Why do you think that is?

SC: I'm not well-versed enough in the history of literary publishing to be able to know for sure. But I assume it has something to do with the fact that the world of publishing has traditionally been so broad -- many different publishers, many different genres, etc. -- that if you didn't fit in somewhere, it must have been because you weren't very good. In comics, as in your music example, the medium had (perhaps "has") by contrast been controlled by a comparatively small number of publishers putting out an alarmingly narrow selection of material. So if you wanted to do anything besides draw superhero comics (or make pop records) you pretty much had to self-publish, or do it with an indie publisher (or indie label, in music) for little or no money. So rather than being someone who'd tried to fit into a wide market and failed, you were heroically thumbing your nose at a mainstream that defined itself too narrowly.

5. Canada has produced a bounty of strong graphic fiction artists, including Julie Doucette, Chester Brown, Seth, etc. Any newer names you'd like to add to the list?

SC: Man, there are so many that I'd be afraid of leaving somebody out. Darwyn Cooke, Jeff Lemire, Faith Erin Hicks, Stuart Immonen, Ray Fawkes, Cameron Stewart, Michael Cho, Svetlana Chmakova, Francis Manapul, Andy Belanger, Kean Soo, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Tin Can Forest, James Stokoe, Pascal Girard, Michel Ribagliati, Kate Beaton, John Martz...I could go on all day. There's something in the water here, I swear.

Monday, July 08, 2013


- Guylaine Massoutre of Le Devoir:

Âmes sensibles s’abstenir. Éric Fottorino, ancien directeur du journal Le Monde, signe un petit essai de vie quotidienne sur les accidents mortels dans le métro. Tout le monde sait que les Parisiens qui travaillent passent une partie de leur vie dans les transports. Et qu’ils y étouffent, suent, peinent, vivent la promiscuité, les divers fracas et le vacarme du trafic. Et qu’ils subissent les avaries de matériel, les grèves, les encombrements inopinés, les rames bondées, les malaises, les incidents inénarrables et perturbateurs. Tout cela contribue à leur morosité.

Sensitive souls absent themselves. Eric Fottorino, previous editor of Le Monde, has written a short essay about daily life on suicides on the Metro. Everyone knows that working Parisians spend part of their lives on public transport. And there they will suffocate, sweat, toil, while experiencing the promiscuity, din and noise of the human traffic. And there they will endure equipment breakdowns, strikes, congestion, discomfort, crowded trains, and shocking and disturbing incidents. All this contributes to their gloom.

- Alex Good on World War Z:

How you finally respond to it, though, will depend on how you take its political messages. As noted, underlying everything is an anxiety (quite understandable and widely held) that this planet just has too damn many people on it already. Especially Chinese people. Progress is also shown to be a chimera. We have to learn to "break from our comfortable, disposable consumer lifestyle[s]" and learn other lessons from the greatest generation, chief among them the value of real work and austerity. 

- More adventures with WordPress.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The 70s

On top of the World Trade Center.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Six months

육개월 전에 내 동생이 죽었다. 매일 그를 생각하고 우리가 어렸을때를 떠올리고. 잘 가 우리 리처드...

Il y a six mois que mon petit frere a mouri. Chaque jour je pense de lui et medite sur notre enfance et jeunesse. Bon voyage, Richard.

Six months ago my little brother died. Every day I think about him and meditate on our childhood and youth together. Go in peace, Richard.


Bronwyn Kienapple on how to save, quit and go.

Deanna McFadden on the new physical normal. Best of luck to her in her bravery.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Flat Millennium

finn harvor see circle 2013

At a recent post on Julian Assange on secret courts (following secret laws that no one is supposed to report on), my friend Doug comments , "Nixon was small time compared to this stuff. But the goal posts have moved and no one seems to care..." 

 I am not sure of the ultimate source(s) of this species of passivity, but I must say it seems to have become pervasive. It not only exists in politics but the arts. At his blog, Steven Beattie writes on the Penguin/Random House merger -- an example of corporate consolidation that would have aroused howls of protest, months of discussion, and vocalized unease among writers. Instead, what one finds now is an eerie quiet, as if this sort of event is simply business as usual. Of course, from the point of view of Penguin and Random House, the merger is not only strategically smart but strategically necessary: the industry is getting scared as it loses revenue from steep discounting at the retail end and the rise of an unruly (and non-exclusive) digital culture at the other. In the case of political reporting on the Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning, one finds a press corps that is doing its job on a day-to-day level.

Nevertheless, civil liberties are disappearing, and in the case of print publishing, a very cautious conservatism is taking over, making contemporary literary production more bland, more soul-less, more about the "brand" of literature than a really vital, vibrant, risk-taking literature itself. The publishers do not mean to do this: I talk to them, including people at the high level, and they are intelligent. They are also often personable -- not always, but often enough; sometimes they are easier to communicate with than people at the smaller houses (which also are becoming risk-averse -- the point here being that problems in the publishing industry run the entire spectrum). Similarly, the press corps is doing its best on the level of individual reporters trying to give stories legs. Nevertheless, when one views the press as a totality, it has difficulty conveying the alarming nature of the qualitative changes that are taking place on the level of civil liberties and defence of constitutional rights.

So what's happening? Is a numbed-out contentment the new normal for a civilization that is now so awash in escapist entertainment that as long as we've got a screen in front of our eyes we're not very alarmed as the culture is shrunk and our freedom is removed? Have we become -- collectively -- too wide-eyed and dim-witted to perceive what our interests are and how to defend them? Or are we cowards? Are writers not discussing the cultural ramifications of the Penguin Random merger and its effect on their careers precisely because of their ... careers? Is a craven sort of self-interest beginning to trump the ability to even speak publicly about events that affect one's chosen life's work? And with surveillance, are we so convinced that we're being spied on that we don't want to mention we're being spied on? 

Is the age not only plastic, but flat?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Maple Leaves

From the Seoul Book Fair, which Suki and I attended a couple of weekends ago.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Steven Beattie on the Penguin/Random House merger.

Jean-François Nadeau on Susan Sontag.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

PLASTIC MILLENNIUM: Notes toward a materialist theory thereof (preamble)

I've been posting for quite some time on the concept of the screenplay novel, and, more recently, the screenplay module novel. I've also been making various references to a mega-novel.

Here are some photos of the work-in-progress, the work-completed-but-still-in-flux, the-work-altogether-finished-and-now-inexplicably-gathering-dust ... however you want to categorize it. It's big. It's meant to be big. And it reads like a screenplay. It's meant to read like a screenplay -- including one with the supporting material of storyboard roughs and stills. But it also reads like a conventional, text-only narrative -- that is, it comes in two versions. It's meant to -- well, you get the idea.

Reaction to its sheer scale tends to, I find, cause a reaction, a pulling back, rather than an expression of curiousity. I wish it weren't so, but this is, for  better or worse, the state of real-world publishing at this historical moment: big novels seem outre. They are not in fashion. They are not even considered.

And yet, if there is any culture that could benefit from a few mega-novels about contemporary life, it is Canada's; literary culture in this nation is defined by a dual -- almost bipolar -- desire to be taken seriously on the international stage, and a shying away from any work that would have a chance of competing in a direct sense with the mega-novels on the 21st Century that more confident literary cultures are currently producing. (Canada, just to clarify, is quite good at producing historical mega-novels. And I'm fine with that. But I speak now of .. the now. This is where Canadian letters tends to pull its punches ... tends not to take risks.)

Because of this need for a mega-novel about contemporary life along with the real-world material fact of a publishing industry that reacts (sometimes with its knees) to any manuscript above a "reasonable" word-count, I have also broken this novel into modules. They work independently, and they also click together, like Lego pieces. And, as I said above, there is a graphic novel aspect to the project. And, oh right, there are the YouTube experiments. And the audio book versions. And so forth.

More to follow.

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Pierre Graveline, editor of the anthology Les cent plus beaux poèmes québécois [The Hundred Most Beautiful Quebecois Poems] quoted by Louis Cornellier in Le Devoir:

Je ne contredirai pas Pierre Graveline, non plus, quand il constate que, malheureusement, « cette belle et grande poésie québécoise, l’une de nos plus originales contributions à l’imaginaire de l’humanité et à son patrimoine culturel, est largement méconnue ici même : peu enseignée, peu médiatisée, peu présente dans nos bibliothèques et nos librairies, peu lue, en somme plus souvent qu’autrement [sic] ignorée ».

Furthermore, I'm not in disagreement with Pierre Graveline when he contests that, sadly, "this great and beautiful tradition of Quebecois poetry, one of our most original contributions to human imagination and its collective culture, is largely unknown even here: little taught, little covered in media, little carried in our libraries and bookstores, little read, and, more often than not, ignored."

Philippe, of Les livres que je lis [The Books That I Read] on Pour qui son le glas, the French translation of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Democracy Evolutions: Julian Assange on Secret Courts

illustration: finn harvor see circle 2013
Assange via a report by Dylan Stableford: "We have secret interpretations of the law," Assange said from the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he has been living for over a year. "What does the law mean if there are secret interpretations in secret courts?"
[Snowden] has told the people of the world and the United States that there is mass unlawful interception of their communications, far beyond anything that happened under Nixon,"
The reference to Nixon is an interesting one, because it highlights the degree to which Nixon's paranoia led him to try and create an "election fixing machine", and who also countenanced massive domestic surveillance under J. Edgar Hoover. (One small example of this is an interview conducted by Jeffrey Williams with the academic J. Hillis Miller; in the interview, Miller, then a young professor, was told by his students he was being spied upon -- he dismissed this warning as unfounded gossip and later discovered he was wrong. There are countless other similar stories). 
Nixon was certainly not the first politician to attempt to warp the democratic process, but he was one of the first to have access to modern recording technologies, and also one of the first who psychological pathology was so intense that he felt driven to fix elections that he was already likely to win. 
Is there a parallel between then and now? Are our leaders and their surveillance organizations spying with no clear sense of what they are spying for, apart from an omnivorous need to Know?