Red Plenty Coda

by Henry Farrell on June 14, 2012

Two things as the seminar wraps up (Cosma Shalizi is writing a response to comments which I will link to, but which will be hosted on his own site, since CT plays badly with the math script that he uses). First, a pointer to blogger and sometime CT commenter Adam Kotsko’s review of _Red Plenty_ at “The New Inquiry”: People should go read. Second, a thank you. Without disparaging individual contributions to other seminars, I think that this was the best seminar we’ve done here (obviously, this is my personal opinion; not at all necessarily endorsed by other bloggers here etc). Part of this is due to Francis – for writing the book (which couldn’t have been better aimed at CT’s sweet spot if it had been written for this purpose and this purpose alone), and for his lovely three-part response. Part of this is due to the many splendid contributors who wrote posts for the seminar. And part of it is thanks to the commenters – we’ve hosted many good conversations over the years, but this has been something rather special. I find it difficult to make it clear just how grateful I am to all of you who have participated in this. Seeing how it has worked out has made me very happy.

Update: Cosma’s post, responding to various points is “here”: Since Cosma’s blog doesn’t have a comments section, feel free to use the comments section of this post to discuss …

Response: Part 3

by Francis Spufford on June 14, 2012

5. History and comedy

I agree strongly with Rich Yeselson that praise for the novelty or innovativeness of the book’s form has been overplayed.  The overall patterning of it is fiddly, but the pieces of which the pattern is made are as straightforward as I could make them, and not just because as I get older, I increasingly think that simple is more interesting (and difficult to achieve) than complicated.  It’s also, as he says, that I had lots of very well-established precedents to draw on.  On the historical novel side, the whole Tolstoy-does-Napoleon recipe for dramatising the viewpoints of the grand historical figures, and the equally available rule of thumb that tells you how to mix the documented and the imagined to create the illusion of comprehensiveness.  And, drawing on SF, I had the scientist-fictions of Ursula Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson to follow.  My Kantorovich very clearly has the DNA of Le Guin’s Shevek and Robinson’s Sax Russell in him.  Not to mention – as I’ve carefully confessed in the notes – that the whole alternation of character-driven scenes with italicised authorial narration is lifted straight out of Red Mars. And collections of linked short stories that fill in different vertebrae of a narrative spine are not exactly unheard-of, either, from Kipling to Alice Munro.  I am proud of the two ‘machine’ sections, set in Lebedev’s logic and Lebedev’s lungs, one in which determinacy produces indeterminacy, the other  in which the arrow goes the other way; and the messages of approval from George Scialabba’s amygdala cause fluttering in my own; but it’s not like Don DeLillo doesn’t already exist, and Pynchon, and for that matter Nicolson Baker.  It’s not as though there isn’t a blazed trail for paying imaginative attention to system.

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The Comic Sans Song

by John Holbo on June 14, 2012

Zoe picked Comic Sans for her school report on tigers. I explained to her that many people would take issue with the selection of this font for body text in a long document, particularly one of an academic nature. Even as display type it is suspect. I explained about Microsoft Bob and that whole sad history. That said, it’s the best font in the world for someone like her, so she shouldn’t worry about it. Used in moderation.