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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Last Night
Academic Splat
Amardeep Singh
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogging the Renaissance
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
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Cogito, ergo Zoom
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Completely Futile
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Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
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Ghost in the Wire
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Ideas of Imperfection
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jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
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Making Light
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Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
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the Diaries of Franz Kafka
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This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
What Now?
William Gibson

About Adam Roberts

Email Address: DrACRoberts@aol.com
Website: http://adamroberts.com


Posts by Adam Roberts

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tintin et L’Alph Art

Posted by Adam Roberts on 10/24/06 at 09:00 AM

This is, as the title page puts it, ‘La Dernière Aventure de Tintin,’ for Hergé died before it advanced beyond a number of pages of pen and pencil sketches.  So how much have we got?  As all the world knows, Tintin’s book-length adventures take up 60-pages, more or less.  The Casterman edition of Tintin et L’Alph Art, handsomely bound in gold boards, gives us: pages 1, 2 and 3 in fairly finished pencil sketches (which would require only tracing in ink and colouring-in to become the actual product); and then pages 4-to-42 in much rougher, more-doodly sketches.  These latter, though very un-Hergé (master of the clear line as he was, that gloriously complex-simple graphic balance), are very interesting.  Tintin himself, familiar to us all as a simplified circle-head dot-eyed young man is here simplified further to the most rudimentary and hurried of swirls and scratches.  After page 42 we are given nine ‘pages retrouvées’: bits and pieces, notes and random drawings that do not fit into the sequential story.

The story, then, is in an unfinished state, without an end, and even lacking the firming-up of certain core details.  The ‘pages retrouvées’ suggest a major premise: Haddock, as we remember, was ‘cured’ of his whisky-addiction by Tournesol’s (Professor Calculus to you or me) ‘Stopalcool’ pills in Tintin et Les Picaros.  But life without whisky leaves him in ‘trés mèchante humeur, en plein dépression’.  The prospect of a selection of his least favourite people visiting all at once (Bianca Castafiore, Emir Ben Kalish Ezab and his monstrous joke-playing son amongst others) provoke a sort of nervous breakdown.  He becomes besotted with avant garde artists, replaces all the Old Masters in his stately home with minimalist paintings made up of dots and open space.  He wears beatnik clothes, takes to playing the guitar and even loses every strand of head-hair and gets his bald bonce completely covered in dots (it’s not clear from the sketch whether this is some sort of disease or a form of body-art).  Satirizing the kooky world of modern art was clearly Hergé’s starting point for this story: sketches lampoon works of art made by throwing custard pies at the canvas; or made out of two dots, a dash and a comma.

Continue reading "Tintin et L’Alph Art"

Friday, October 13, 2006

Terry Eagleton’s traditional theology; and a new version of Pascal’s Wager

Posted by Adam Roberts on 10/13/06 at 11:51 AM

Clearly a believer in the idea that a book’s title should not veil in obscurity the message of the book, Richard Dawkins has called his latest The God Delusion.  There’s been a deal of fuss about the vehemence and single-mindedness of Dawkins’ anti-God position, in this book and his earlier writing, and some of it has come from perhaps-unexpected quarters.

For instance: Terry Eagleton (a ‘philosopher’ according to Wikipedia) joins the slinging of the mud, giving the book one of the least temperate and, I must say, least effective thrashings I can recall the London Review of Books ever publishing.  Eagleton’s main point is a reasonable one, although it is expressed with a rather hysterically insistent and unreasoned manner (without, for instance, particular reference to the specifics of Dawkins case, and without making allowance for the fact that Dawkins is writing polemic rather than metaphysics). Dawkins, Eagleton says, takes religion to be a sort of malign unity, finding examples of the worst in religious thought and practice and then unfairly extrapolating them into religion as a whole.  In fact, of course, the varieties of religious discourse are very great.  Not all religious thinkers are Ian Paisley or Oral Roberts; a lot of very clever people have been theologians.

Continue reading "Terry Eagleton’s traditional theology; and a new version of Pascal’s Wager"

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Royal United States of America

Posted by Adam Roberts on 10/11/06 at 07:19 AM

So, what’s below the fold?  At first glance I’d say it was the flag of the Royal United States of America, in an alternate history-type scenario whereby that lamentable business in 1776 never happened, Queen Elizabeth is sovereign from sea to shining sea and Americans everywhere are much happier for it.

Continue reading "The Royal United States of America"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Perhaps a Problem for Piers Plowman

Posted by Adam Roberts on 09/24/06 at 10:19 AM

At the beginning of Piers Plowman the poet dreams of a field with a great shining Tower of Truth on one side, and a sunken valley, or in an alternate version a scary Dungeon Citadel of Falsehood on the other.  The field is our world in allegorical form, and is crowded with various folk going up and down about their business.  The tower is the Christian God-as-Truth.  The Dungeon Citadel is where the Devil lives.

Now Langland’s vision is of course a devotional and Christian one, and like Dante he exhalts truth above all things.  As Lady Holi Chirche herself puts it:

“Whan alle tresors arn tried,” quod she, “–Treuthe is the beste.
I do it on Deus caritas to deme the sothe;
It is as dereworthe a drury as deere God hymselven.” [1:85-7]

[“When all treasures are tested,” she said, “Truth is the best.  And to prove it and test what it true, I appeal to the text ‘God is love’.  For Truth is as precious a jewel as our dear Lord himself.” Here, and below, I quote J F Goodridge’s translation, p.34]

Fair enough.  But I have two questions about ‘truth’ in the poem. 

Continue reading "Perhaps a Problem for Piers Plowman"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

On Adultery and Strippers

Posted by Adam Roberts on 09/14/06 at 10:10 AM

I hate to post twice in quick succession, but even more interesting than a prolix post on a 1250-page nineteenth-century French novel you’ve never read is this excellent Weblog essay by Dominic on adultery, Fay Weldon and other things.  Go there.  I recommend.

And now I’ve just realised that Belle W. beat me to this recommendation over at Crooked Timber.  Oh well.  At least she hasn’t yet beaten me to the recommendation of this characteristically brilliant Forgotten Boy piece on Strippers.  So I recommend that as well.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Posted by Adam Roberts on 09/14/06 at 10:00 AM

Daddy Dumas’s enormous novel is not at all what you think it is.  You have not read it.  You have, perhaps, seen the movie adaptations, the TV serials, maybe the comic book version.  You have a sense of the story from hearsay or reputation.  These, believe me, do nothing to capture the range, scale, detail, specificity and above all the sheer, brute, glorious interminability of the actual novel.

It is, you see, very long.  Serialised first between August 1844 and January 1846 in the Journal des Débats it was then issued in an eighteen-volume edition.  It’s available in two very-fat, close-printed Livre de Poche volumes, or in one large format, tiny print 1276-page Penguin translation.  The story fills these pages by a combination of monstrous deferral of the expected revenges, and a variety of digressions; but fill it, it does.

Continue reading "The Count of Monte Cristo"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Posthumus’s Fruit

Posted by Adam Roberts on 09/09/06 at 06:09 AM

Do you want to know what Tennyson’s favourite line of Shakespeare was?  No?  Well I’m going to tell you anyway.

It’s this, from Cymbeline: ‘hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die!’

Continue reading "Posthumus’s Fruit"

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Joy of Craig

Posted by Adam Roberts on 09/04/06 at 05:23 AM

I think it would be fair to say that Craig Thomas writes macho novels.  It’s a genre of which I probably know too little: all those thrillers about can-do heroes, from British or American intelligence agencies, adventuring in exotic parts of the world, fighting communists or, latterly, terrorists.  It was Craig T. who wrote Firefox, which was made into a film with Clint Eastwood.  Even if you haven’t read any of his books, you know the sort of novel Craig Thomas writes.

And here is Playing With Cobras (HarperCollins 1993).  Not a novel that could with justice be called ‘well-written’.

But there’s the joy of it.  Whilst there are places where this book is badly written in a way that merely confuses or wearies the reader (‘Grinning to himself, he thrust his hands into his pockets, slouching beneath the smear of the rucksack across his back beginning to sweat as he walked towards the nearest bus stop’ 47) – there are also places where the novel achieves the kind of inadvertent comic genius of that makes you want to hug it to your chest.  It is an Ed Wood sort of book, and as with an Ed Wood film this work’s genius depends upon the perfect seriousness with which it addresses its subject; its (as the blurb says) ‘high tension, stunningly-captured backgrounds and credible characters placed in extremes of danger.’

Continue reading "The Joy of Craig"

Friday, August 25, 2006

Primum Mobile

Posted by Adam Roberts on 08/25/06 at 10:49 AM

[Note: In the first version of this post I got my sums stupidly and shamingly wrong; I’ve made the necessary corrections for a second edition.  Of course I’ve left my original errors in, so you can see them, and—quite properly—mock and deride me. Apologies.]

I was curious how fast the Primum Mobile moves, so I thought I’d do some sums.  First off, we need to know the dimensions of this particular sphere.  No problem: in The Discarded Image C S Lewis quotes a late medieval work called The South English Legendary:

We are there told that if a man could travel upwards at the rate of “forty mile and yet some del mo” a day, he still would not have reached the Stellatum (“the highest heven that ye alday seeth”) in 8000 years. [p.98]

The ‘stellatum’ is the sphere immediately inside the Primum Mobile rather than the Primum Mobile itself, but it gives us an idea of the distances involved.  A little more than 40 miles a day (say, 41) for 2,922,000 days (including leap years): that means the diameter radius of the Stellatum is 119,802,000 miles, or 192,802,630 km.

Continue reading "Primum Mobile"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Grendel’s Glove

Posted by Adam Roberts on 08/21/06 at 06:35 AM

About two thirds of the way through Beowulf the titular hero recalls his fight against the monstrous Grendel.  Here, for the first and only time in the poem, we hear about Grendel’s enormous glove.

He had this roomy ‘glof’,
a strange accoutrement, intricately strung
and hung at the ready, a rare patchwork
of devilishly fitted dragon-skins [‘dracan fellum’].
I had done him no wrong, yet the raging demon
wanted to cram me and many another
into this bag – but it was not to be.  [lines 2085b-90; this is Heaney’s translation: Beowulf (Faber 1999), p.67.]

A glove?  It’s a strange detail, so much so that translators often try and gloss it over, rendering the word as ‘bag’, ‘satchel’ or ‘pouch’ (for instance: having just quoted Seamus Heaney’s justly celebrated version of the poem I should note that he translates ‘glof’ as ‘pouch’).  But ‘glove’ is most assuredly what the word means.

Critics on the glove don’t know quite what to make of it.  And there’s more: Andy Orchard [in his Critical Companion to Beowulf (Brewer 2003), 121-22] notes that it’s not until Beowulf’s retelling, here, that we readers learn ‘the name of the Geat devoured by Grendel’ in the original attack.  His name is Hondscio, which means, basically, ‘glove’ (‘compare,’ Orchard suggests, ‘modern German Handschuh’).  So the glove is in a sense doubly pointed-up here.  But this doesn’t explain why it is.

Continue reading "Grendel’s Glove"

Monday, August 14, 2006


Posted by Adam Roberts on 08/14/06 at 06:50 AM

AC/DC’s Back in Black (1980) is the second best-selling rock album of all time.  Jacques Derrida was a French thinker.  What is enacted in the stepping down (or stepping-along) from ‘is’ to ‘was’?  Is not death itself a matter of slipping from one verbal-tense ‘gear’ to another?

One of Derrida’s chief modes of discursive enquiry was the question.  (‘Is my death possible? Can we understand this question? Can I, myself, pose it?  Am I allowed to talk about my death?  What does the syntagm “my death” mean? And why this expression “the syntagm ‘my death’”?’, Aporias, pp.21-22.) (Should you ‘follow the link’?  Should you ‘look inside’?  How might this syntagmatic ‘looking inside’ help, exactly?) I may be wrong, but I cannot think of a single rhetorical question in the entire body of work of AC/DC: not so much as a ‘hot enough for ya?’ or a ‘aint I the meanest lovin machine you ever saw?’.  Their exclusive mode of discursive enquiry is the assertion.  It’s the logic of contrast that gives the pairing of these two so eloquent a purchase upon those questions raised by the work of mourning: a subject with which Derrida became increasingly involved, and the subject to which Back in Black gives musical form.

Continue reading "AC/DC/Derrida"

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gay Essentialism

Posted by Adam Roberts on 07/21/06 at 11:30 AM

I recently had lunch and a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine.  This friend is a gay man, an individual perfectly and even joyfully comfortable with his own sexuality.  He’s English, but dresses in a marvellous flamboyant style.  I’m English too, but I’m straight and I dress like I want to blend into the crowd, as if the worst thing that could happen to me would be to be noticed.

We chatted about many things, but during the course of our conversation I was struck by how essentialised his views on human sexuality were.  Here’s an example of what I mean.  He talked about lesbian friends of his who had gotten into relationships with, and fallen in love with, straight women at the time when those straight women had been ‘going through that phase’ of exploring their notional bisexuality (a concept in which my friend didn’t quite disbelieve, but which he considered a very rare variety of human sexuality).  When these women then left their lesbian girlfriends for another man this constituted a kind of betrayal, worse than the standard break-up trauma.  There was, he argued, a dishonesty about getting into a relationship on these terms.  He didn’t say exactly this, but I took him to be arguing that being honest about one’s sexuality (facing up to it, acknowledging it, not trying to hide from it) is a very basic duty that we owe both to ourselves and to other people.  It’s easy to see the force of this position, particularly given the weight of history, and not-so-distant history neither: the great number of gay men and women who have down the ages either been forced to live a lie by their homophobic socities, or worse have internalised homophobic pressures and have tried to convince themselves that they’re actually straight, to their enormous psychological cost.

I disagreed.  It seemed to me that if you fall in love with a person and they then leave you for somebody else it’s going to be painful whether that person is of the same or a different gender.  More, it seemed to me that what my friend was saying was based on the belief that a person’s sexuality is a brute fact of their being; that, indeed, a straight woman was going against her nature (for whatever reason; ideological belief; bohemian social pressure maybe; curiosity) by experimenting with a gay relationship.  I said that I didn’t like talking in those terms because these are precisely the terms in which the homophobic Right attacks gay people.  (Namely: ‘for a man to have sex with a man goes against human nature …’)

Continue reading "Gay Essentialism"

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Internalisation of Genius

Posted by Adam Roberts on 07/17/06 at 11:27 AM

Once upon a time a ‘genius’ was a supernatural creature that was not quite a god, and not quite a mortal.  Nowadays ‘genius’ means a particular individual gift or talent, a facility for some activity that surpasses what might be achieved by mere diligence and practice.  There are still shades of the original meaning in odd corners of popular culture (as in the fairy tale ‘genie’), but generally speaking the former meaning has been wholly supplanted by the latter.

The passage from the original to the present-day meaning is not so counterintuitive as it might seem.  The Greeks thought daimones lived in the aerial space between our terrestrial locale and the aetherial existence of the gods; Socrates, for instance, explained what we nowadays would call his schizophrenic auditory hallucinations with reference to ‘something divine and daimoniacal’ that happened to him.  This is in the Phaedrus [242 b-c]: ‘I hear a voice which, whenever it speaks to me, always forbids me from something I am about to do, and never instructs me to do something.’ Sometime in the late first-century AD Apuleius pondered this strange passage (in his ‘De Deo Socratis’), and he concluded that Socrates’ personal daimon was not something specific to the great philosopher.  Rather, every one of us has been allotted a personal daimon; a being that attends to us as both witness to our lives and as some sort of guardian spirit.  This, of course, is the idea Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy draws on, and why his daemons are called that.  Under the rubric of its standard Latin translation, ‘genius’, the concept has had a very long life in the West.

Continue reading "The Internalisation of Genius"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gradisil, SF, and Sacred Hunger II:  A Reply

Posted by Adam Roberts on 07/13/06 at 04:11 PM

[This follows Bill’s thoughtful reaction to reading my novel Gradisil.  Since I don’t suppose many people here, Bill excepted, have read the book, I thought I’d respond to the larger questions he raises rather than spend time on the novel itself.  But I wouldn’t want you to think, on that account, that I’m blithe about thereby missing the chance to flog my book.  On the contrary.  It seems to me imperative that everybody in the world buys my book.  Buy it, buy the book.  Buy seven copies, in case you lose six.  All except Scott, who should buy eight copies, seven for personal use and one to review.  Buy, buy, buy.  In sum: buy my book.]

Dear Bill

Thank you for your response to the Gradisil book; I’m chuffed you liked it (I take “enjoyed Gradisil quite a bit. It was a good read” as a genuine, and therefore worthwhile and pleasing, response; enormously preferable to courteous hyperbole or ).  You’re right, I think, to identify a certain feeling, a space-high, as being what the book is ‘really about’, or at least what it is built around.  I wholly agree with you about that particular feeling.  Some people who’ve read the book have come back to me with ‘but the life you describe in these claustrophobic tincans is so horrid-sounding! Why would anybody want that?’ I suppose this must be a differend, because I’d give my eye teeth and all my money for a chance to get up there, and if sitting in a tin can is what it takes, then there I’ll be, sitting in a tin can.

Continue reading "Gradisil, SF, and Sacred Hunger II:  A Reply"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Walcott’s Late Style

Posted by Adam Roberts on 07/06/06 at 10:04 AM

The Prodigal (2004) is Walcott’s latest publication, a long poem (105 pages in the British Faber ed) detailing the peregrinations of a Walcott-style narrator, sometimes an ‘I’, sometimes a ‘he’, around the American West Coast, across Europe (mostly Italy, but also Spain, the Alps and Germany), via a fairly long stay in Columbia, and eventually back to Walcott’s native St Lucia.  The title alludes to the Biblical Prodigal Son.  You know his story: he leaves home, blows his inheritance, and comes back begging his Dad’s pardon and asking to be taken on as the meanest of his father’s servants.  His Dad is terribly excited to see him again; kills the fatted calf, and rebukes his other son – the virtuous one, who, having stayed home and pointedly not blown his inheritance, gets understandably narked by his brother’s special treatment.  Says Dad: ‘it was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’

The implication of his title, then, is not only that Walcott has been wandering far from home (which, clearly, he has: Nobel Prize winners get invited to bashes all over the globe, after all); and not only that he feels he has now finally returned home, though the poem does have the air of a summing up of old travels from a St Lucian perspective.  Walcott talks rather sternly to himself in fact: ‘be happy; you’re writing from the privilege / of all your wits about you in your old age.’ [p.99] He also tells himself that The Prodigal ‘will be your last book’, which is news, if true.  But, no: because a couple of pages later we discover that ‘the prodigal’s home was the horizon’ [p.104], which implies that Walcott’s traveller archetype is not Biblical so much as Ulyssesian (think his dramatic version of The Odyssey; think, of course, his extraordinary and consistently amazing epic Omeros).  I mean Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’, who is ‘become a name for always roaming with a hungry heart.’

No; the implication of the title must be that this process of wandering was in itself a kind of wasteful expenditure of one’s inheritance.  Prodigal, after all, means ‘extravagantly wasteful’, although the Biblical tale means that many people now tend to assume that the word means lost.  So what is extravagantly spent in this poem?  What else but Walcott’s vivid, powerful and sugar-rich style itself?

Continue reading "Walcott’s Late Style"
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