Archive for December, 2012
The hepatitis song
I haven’t been able to track down video for the hepatitis PSA that played on Phoenix TV stations in the 1970s. But I did find a couple cover versions, both of which include the full verse. (I only sang the chorus this morning.)
Behold the powers of music as an educational tool:
And here’s this lovely family, including “baby” and everything:
Enjoy your winter break. It’s been a pleasure surviving the semester with all of you.
A friend of mine, Caleb Crain, wrote about Contagion for The Paris Review back when the film was released. Note the cameo appearances in his review by Defoe, Camus, and none other than Arthur Mervyn! Caleb’s more extended reading of Arthur Mervyn can be found in his book American Sympathy.
Labor without grievance
I’m reminded as I’m thinking about Zone One this week of an op-ed, written by Amy Wilentz, a UC-Irvine journalism prof, that ran in the New York Times back around Halloween. It had to do with the origins of zombies in the context of New World slavery. Some highlights:
Most people think of them as the walking dead, a being without a soul or someone with no free will. This is true. But the zombie is not an alien enemy who’s been CGI-ed by Hollywood. He is a New World phenomenon that arose from the mixture of old African religious beliefs and the pain of slavery, especially the notoriously merciless and coldblooded slavery of French-run, pre-independence Haiti. In Africa, a dying person’s soul might be stolen and stoppered up in a ritual bottle for later use. But the full-blown zombie was a very logical offspring of New World slavery.
Wilentz asks, near the end of her piece, why we see such a resurgence of zombies in popular culture in recent years (at least in Europe and the US) and offers this explanation:
Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.
It would be interesting to put her theory in conversation with the essay on Defoe and zombie films I gave you earlier this week, or perhaps with this longish review of Zone One, which places the novel indirectly in the kind of context Wilentz invokes by addressing what the novel does–and doesn’t–say about the history of race in America.
How to write a novel for Dummies
The wise words of Colson Whitehead, who actually is quite funny in my opinion.
This makes me want to write my own novel.
Zombie time again
I posted a link to this piece from Lapham’s Quarterly earlier in the semester but portions will be newly meaningful to you this week:
What A Journal of the Plague Year doesn’t have is zombies—at least not explicitly. Still, the numberless, suppurating victims are apt to behave like the undead at every turn, crowding the novel with “walking putrefied carcasses, whose breath was infectious and sweat poison.” These abject and degenerating bodies, disfigured by the “tokens” of disease that look like “small Knobs…of callous or Horn,” can turn on others, even running through the streets actively seeking to infect people impressed “with a kind of Rage, and a hatred against their own Kind,” as if the sickness itself were filled with an “evil Will” determined “to communicate it self.” Thus babies kill their mothers, and men tackle women in the street hoping to infect them with a deadly kiss. Others manage to dodge the disease, only to be disfigured by the weight of madness or grief.
Granted, there is none of the urgent panic attendant on hacking one’s way through a shambling horde only to turn around and see the second wave. This lends the novel a kind of studious detachment as H.F. traverses the city in an effort to comprehend the scope of the visitation through a process of quantification and statistical computation—tallying the bills of mortality, measuring the size of the municipal grave pits, and delineating the necrotic geography of ravaged neighborhoods. Even in this, H.F. is thwarted, as the plague outruns information, spreading faster than the news, eroding actionable knowledge into useless nubs of hearsay.
Ultimately, as with all these narratives, the real plague is modern life. Physicians trace the disease to a package of silks imported from Holland that originated in the Levant, spreading the infection through the ports, mills, marketplaces and manufactories that form the early-modern economy. Quarantines and barricades prove useless against the commodity’s voyage; but while the products themselves may be infectious, it’s the appetite to possess them that truly kills. In this, A Journal of the Plague Year presages the lurching mallrats of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, who continue the puppetry of consumption into the undead afterlife, a theme that is similarly taken up in Colson Whitehead’s new novel, Zone One, where the post-apocalyptic reconstruction of New York provides opportunities for branding and product placement, and where the “Ambassadors of nil” evoke nothing so hellish as Times Square tourists, boring girlfriends, and the hollow communications of sitcoms and social media.
Some thoughts to help us begin talking about what we might consider this novel’s zombie economy.
Recreating the Zombie Apocalypse
If you want to know what it’s like to be in Mark Spitz’s shoes, try this!:
It’s a game called Rebuild, where your goal is to expand your city block by block (or zone by zone, eh?) by eliminating zombies, collecting food, and recruiting survivors each day. It seemed to fit in perfectly with the premise of the book (and it has totally kick-ass music too, so…).
Or, if you’d rather be a zombie and try to infect the world…:
HAVE FUN, but also study for your finals, because, uh, those matter too, I guess.
As we all are coming to the end of the semester, with that feeling of tiredness, stress and possible illness, with finals looming over us… here is a trailer of a new zombie film that looks like fun… Zombies feel love too, you know!
Judging a Book by Its Cover?
I remember one of us asked Ben about the process of book cover-making. Here is a brief interview with the designer of the Flame Alphabet book jacket. You can hear about the materials used, how it was initially planned, and how the plan was modified at last. I also found an interesting article about this process in a blog named “talkingcovers.” I was surprised when I read that Mendelsund, the designer, started with an attempt to invent typographic characters, mirroring Sam who tries to invent new semantic forms. Then my question arises regarding the role of a book design and a book designer. Is it only a tool to boost the selling? Does it have to be symbolic? Should it give a kind of a summary to the readers? Can it be irrelevant? and do book designers usually finish the book before designing the cover?
«Flammenalphabet» von Ben Marcus
The German book cover. Straightforward and to the point, eh? Besides, here’s one of those supposedly embarrassing earlier pieces written by Ben, quote “when I wasn’t even a human” successfully sneaked from Bryan’s twitter feed: