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Clio’s Nightmares

Tags: All Hallow’s Eve, the Hite Channel, “if this is anybody but Avram Davidson, you’re stealing my bit!”

First of all, boo! Happy Halloween, America. Second, something is way wonky with my weblog templates. Every page on this site but the one you’re looking at takes you to my out-of-date CV, shouting my anemic grad school publication rate to the world. Now that’s really scary.

I wish I had a good Halloween post for all of you today. A rollicking spooky-creepy alternate history. I actually do have an alternate history idea I’ve been hoping to write up, but it’s not at all scary, so it will have to wait. What I really wish I could do in honor of All Hallow’s Eve is just link directly to Ken Hite’s Suppressed Transmission and introduce the gentle readers of Cliopatria to Clio’s Nightmares.

Ken Hite is well-known (it would stretch the truth only a little to say worshipped) by a tiny community of tabletop role-playing gamers, yet essentially unknown outside that little world. For several years now, Ken’s been writing a brilliant column called “Suppressed Transmission” for the online gaming magazine Pyramid. Alas, Pyramid is accessible to paid subscribers only. Ken’s column is a crazy grab-bag of historical mysteries, occult synchronicities in myth and literature, and gonzo alternate histories. While ostensibly written to provide fodder for role-playing scenarios, Suppressed Transmission is really just fine reading for anyone interested in the weirder side of history.
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Metaphysical Graffiti

Tags: gilded age memetics, intellectual history as improv jazz, the secret of the sphinx revealed.

I’m a little stunned by how many nights back in September I stayed awake to the small hours reading Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club. You might not expect the intellectual biography of four Gilded Age pragmatists to be a compulsive page turner, but for me it really was.
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Not Getting Things Done

Tags: lactose intolerance, robots, “belly up!”, GTD.

As I was saying to a friend of mine this week, it is practically a law of nature: “what ye mock, shall ye become.” In her case, this had to do specifically with lactose intolerance and the whole organic food NPR yoga industrial complex that lies in wait on the far side of hipness for so many women of Generation X. In my case, well, there are about a million ways in which that law is true, but one among many is my trip down the rabbit hole of GTD.
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Curse of Bigness

As for me, my bed is made. I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water. … The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, underdogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on the top.
William James, June 7 1899

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Eventually Let Me Go

Somewhere on the hard drive of my old laptop is an unfinished blog post praising the Kazuo Ishiguro novel The Remains of the Day, which I read over Canadian Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas two or three years ago. It was brilliant and heartbreaking. I never actually posted about it, though.

Somewhere in one of my old notebooks is a page or so of scribbled thoughts about Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans, which I read over American Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas last year. When We Were Orphans hit me even harder than Remains of the Day, which is saying something. I powered through the book in two flights and a layover, then walked around in a daze for most of the next week. But I never did get around to typing those scribbles into my computer.

So this year I’m going to get this down before I forget to do it: We went up to my parents for Thanksgiving this weekend, and in between the big dinner and the hike up Foley Mountain and the all-camp Cranium championship, I was lost to the world in Ishiguro’s latest novel, Never Let Me Go. There must be something about his tragically deluded narrators and slow sickening reveals that goes with turkey dinner like cranberry and stuffing. Which is not to say that the big reveal to the reader is the point—in all three books, it’s the moment when the narrator figures everything out that kills you. And what’s worse is the subsequent realization that they’ve probably always known.

There are lots of other things I could be posting about on this Thanksgiving Monday. Lots of bigger things to be thankful for. But my little shoutout to Ishiguro’s sparse little masterpieces of delusion and grief has been postponed long enough.

Edit: How topical am I? The Booker Prize for 2005 was announced today, and Never Let Me Go was on the shortlist. OK, it didn’t win, but Ishiguro already has a Booker—and my little blog post will no doubt mean just as much to him as Britain’s most influential literary award.