The Sociology of Jack Vance

by Henry on May 28, 2013

[A few years ago](https://crookedtimber.org/2009/07/17/vance-in-the-nyt/) I suggested that I wanted some day to write a longform piece on the sociology of [Jack Vance](http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/magazine/19Vance-t.html?_r=0). Unless I get funding from some unexpected source (e.g. some [Vanceophile billionaire](http://www.paulallen.com/)) to take time out from my more traditional academic responsibilities, that probably isn’t going to happen. However, I have drafted a few short blog posts (a couple of which are yet to be completed), primarily for my own entertainment over the last few years. I’ll be publishing them over the summer lull, for the edification of those four or five of you who share my paired interests in f/sf fantasy writers with baroque prose styles and social science theory. A final post, “The Feminist Jack Vance” (consisting of 20 lines of carriage returns, followed by a note in eight-point type explaining “This page intentionally left blank”) is probably better described than written. Vance has few female characters indeed who cannot immediately be categorized as waifish love-pixies, self-centered sexual manipulators or plain-faced man-hating harridans (there are women such as Paula Volsky who clearly like Vance’s work and are influenced by it, but far fewer, I imagine, than there might be were he even slightly more enlightened).

Forthcoming at Irregular Intervals:

I – The Spirit of Market Capitalism in Master Twango’s Establishment at Flutic.

II – Positional Goods and the Column-Sitters at Tustvold.

III – Robust Action among the Breakness Wizards.

IV – Informal Institutions and the Old Tradition of the Perdusz Region.

V (to be completed) – The Stationary Bandits of the Tschai Steppes

VI (to be completed) – Class, Status, Party, Distinction, Clam Muffins.

Whenever I describe the following experience to colleagues they tell me I should write it up. So. Here it is:

In Fall 2007 I taught a freshman seminar for the first time. The topic was Children, Marriage, and the Family, and students also took two, thematically-linked, classes in other departments together. The design is there are 20 students (in fact I’ve had 21 each time); it might be worth knowing in what follows that nearly all of those students have been women which, I am told, is a result of the subject matter. I had, up till then, very little contact with first or second year undergraduates. My regular large service class, although perfectly suitable for freshmen and sophomores, is under-supplied, so upper-class students nearly fill it up before the others get to register. And I usually teach upper level courses for majors otherwise, which, again, mostly contain juniors and seniors.

So teaching first years was a big challenge. Lecturing them is absurd. But I had no discussion-prompting skills, and no knowledge of what the students would know. I was uneasy all semester long for lots of reasons, and never felt entirely on top of things. And I felt particularly inadequate because I had just read Our Underachieving Colleges. It certainly got better, and I had a (then) graduate student who is a much more skilled teacher than I am visit a few times, partly for recommendation-writing purposes, but mainly to get her help.

I taught the same seminar again in Fall 2010. That summer I had one of my semi-regular meetings over tea/coffee with Emma, a 2007 student, who by then was a Nursing major, and with whom I had talked a lot about the classes she was taking during the intervening time. She, knowing I was going to teach the class again in the Fall, asked whether there was anything she could do to help.

I knew immediately what I wanted her to do.

[click to continue…]

That light went out.

by Harry on May 28, 2013

Bill Pertwee is dead. Guardian obit here, BBC account here. In recent years Radio 4 Extra has taken to playing his reminiscences from time to time, in which he sounds like the antithesis of the character he is best known for and also reveals an amazing talent for mimicry (he could do Mainwaring so well you wouldn’t know it wasn’t Arthur Lowe). When I heard, my first thought was that it is going to be hard to tell my 12-year old, who loves Dad’s Army, but also Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne. I think Pertwee was the last living cast member of Round the Horne — but I notice that one of the original castmembers of Beyond Our Ken is still living (the prize for guessing who without resort to the internet is that you can feel smug all day — I guessed instantly).