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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
Chrononautic Log
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Ferule & Fescue
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Planned Obsolescence
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
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, July 04, 2006

Macbeth and any half-decent contracts lawyer

Posted by Adam Roberts on 07/04/06 at 11:58 AM

Steven Saville and Alethea Kontis, moved by the suffering occasioned by the Asian tsunami, rounded up a group of SF writers to produce a charity volume: Elemental: The Tsunami Relief Anthology: Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Tor 2006).  You should buy a copy, you know.

I wrote a story for it called ‘And Tomorrow And’; it’s one reason (really, one of least of many excellent reasons) to get the book.  The story is a comic-satiric take on Macbeth, starting from the premise that the prophesies that ‘do’ for Macbeth are really paper thin and shouldn’t ‘do’ for him at all.  For instance ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’ is clear enough, and watertight in terms of the play.  That Macduff was born by Caesarian section has no bearing in this charm; he’s still clearly born, and of woman too.  (It’s not as if the witches cast the spell that ‘none of woman vaginally born shall harm Macbeth’).  All the prophesies are like that, surely.  The story imagines an alternate ending for the play based on the charms doing precisely what Macbeth expects them to do.

Saville and Kontis asked all contributors to submit short pieces to head-up the stories, and I wrote the following.  I’m posting it here since it was more prolix than they needed and they only quote a small piece of it.  But it’s my perspective on the play as a comic tragedy, and follows up, in a way, what I was saying about Seneca.

Continue reading "Macbeth and any half-decent contracts lawyer"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Stuffed Owl and Hamburger

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/27/06 at 03:26 PM

Which title reads, I’m aware, like a very unpleasant-sounding meal indeed.  As if I’m blogging-to-warn that Macdonalds are planning a new McOwl special, stuffed with chopped up pieces of quarterpounder-and-cheese.

No, by Stuffed Owl I refer of course, to Lewis and Lee’s incomparable and profoundly hilarious (really, life-affirmingly hilarious) volume. And by Hamburger I mean Michael Hamburger OBE, poet and translator of justifiably elevated reputation.  I’ve long admired Hamburger’s work, especially his translations of Celan and Sebald, but also his original poetic compositions.  And accordingly I was rather thrown by the appearance of a couple of his new poems in the most recent European English Messenger [vol 15.1, Spring 2006, 38-41 if you must know]; works which will eventually be appearing, it says here, in the Anvil Press publication Circling the Square (forthcoming, Autumn 2006).  The poems are ‘British Summer Time Suspended’ and ‘Electronocuted’.

Continue reading "Stuffed Owl and Hamburger"

Monday, June 26, 2006

Seneca’s Thyestes

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/26/06 at 03:38 PM

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in AD 1, in Spain.  He was the son of a famous philosopher (Seneca the elder) and went on to become an even more famous philosopher himself.  Of the ten tomato-coloured volumes of the ‘Loeb Classical Library’ Seneca only two are drama: the rest are letters and philosophical works that express his controlled and Stoic approach to life.  But it’s his take on tragedy that interests me here, specifically in response to the aesthetic tenets laid down so famously by Aristotle, katharsis and so on.  (That’s kat’hharsis, by the way, not kaþarsis.  But this is by the bye).

All the best classical tragic drama is, if you believe the critics, Greek: thousands of monographs on the Aeschylean and Sophoclean and Euripidean stuff, and only a few specialists resurrecting the musty violence of the Latin.  It’s difficult to deny that Attic drama has a much greater importance for our current literatures than the Roman plays.  But of course there’s one sense in which Seneca has been even more influential on the development of tragedy.  This is because it was Seneca, and not particularly the Greeks, who exercised the greatest influence on English Renaissance drama, and therefore upon the world’s single most significant writer of tragedy—I mean Shakespeare, of course.  It’s a old chestnut of Shakespearean studies how much he took from Seneca, not only effectively rewriting the Thyestes (in Titus Andronicus) but also developing the very Senecan, very Thyestian (and profoundly un-Greek) theme of revenge in a play such as Hamlet.  It can, then, be something of a disappointment actually to read a play like the Thyestes.  It really does come over as rather crude, as unpleasant, nasty in a non-Christina-Aguilera sense.

Continue reading "Seneca’s Thyestes"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Fascist font of Star Wars

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/22/06 at 07:26 AM

This is something I feel I should have known for a long time, but which I’ve only just found out.  It’s one of those odd little nuggets you come across online: on this occasion at Jeff Atwood’s blog, who forwards comments by Suzy Rice, who designed the original Star Wars logo.

Continue reading "The Fascist font of Star Wars"

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The prosody of Taking the Hobbits

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/18/06 at 05:53 AM

This isn’t a post that’s going to make any sense unless you’ve seen, or until you see, this You Tube remix of a couple of lines of Lord of the Rings dialogue.  So go there and invest two minutes and nine seconds in that jolly little song before you read any further.

Continue reading "The prosody of Taking the Hobbits"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Music, Religion

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/16/06 at 06:35 AM

I’ve been toying with the notion of founding a new religion.  I don’t mean in an L Ron Hubbard sense, of course.  I mean as part of a book I’m planning to write; or more precisely, you know, in the service of the general business of plotting out imaginary worlds and the writing of fiction thereunto.  In the course of this I’ve been wondering what a religion might look like if it were predicated upon, say, a piece of music. But I don’t think it’s going to work, no sir, no madam.

Continue reading "Music, Religion"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Poème concret de la Lark

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/14/06 at 05:52 AM

You know, of course, the delightful French song ‘Alouette’ (‘A-a-louette, gentille alouette …’ and so on).  It’s pretty.  I sang it to my daughter after putting to bed the other night.  Then, wanting to check the lyrics, I went here.  Then I noticed that the same site offers an English translation of those lyrics; and moreover that, by the simple expedient of not relying on a live human translator but instead running it through a piece of rudimentary translation software, they have produced this rather striking and beautiful L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem.  I reproduce it here for the benefit of Valve poetryphiles.

Continue reading "Poème concret de la Lark"

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Contra Contra

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/10/06 at 04:29 PM

I’m wary of putting it like this, because it seems so pompous, but the fact of the matter is that I have been committed to the dialectic for a long time.  There you are.  Pompous but true.  ‘Profoundly committed to the dialectic.’ That’s me.

In part this was a concept I took in with my adolescent socialism, part of the whole Marxism thang.  But as I grew I found in other theorists and philosophers a re-establishment of the importance of the concept: Bakthin’s dialogism, the Socratic dialogue as a better way of ‘doing’ philosophy than assertion; Nietzsche’s love for aphorism as a briefly provocative statement that encouraged you to respond antithetically and thereby set in motion the process of working shit out for yourself.  As a teacher, in stuff I publish, in discussions such as happen in fora like the V-lv-, I do not look for people to agree with me; I try to sound out the antithesis so that my own position gets properly tested, so that something better gets synthesised.  I look at some of my fellow professors, who are committed to the authority model, whereby they pronounce vatically and students or colleagues take notes in respectful silence, and I pity them.

Continue reading "Contra Contra"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Menologium Isoldei Beati

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/07/06 at 07:09 AM

Something a little out of the ordinary for the Valve.  I’m curious what people make of this; or to slip into what I take to be an American idiom for a moment, ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ I havn’t been able to make the Valve software register those attractive lacunae or gaps you find in the middle of lines of Old English poetry, I’m afraid.  You’ll have to take those as read.

Cumeþ in gêaras æl-mihtig Godes Cometan
wundorlic ond fæger in heofunhrôfe
lihteð stæp-mælum ofer stræt imperium
Aryana cynedôm CRISTES BLÆD.

Cumeþ se Cometa in Liþa midsumere
êac mann æl-gylden wyrneþ trêowe seolfores
In lif þêoden meahtig ac dêad mann lýtil.
Nigonhund ond ân ond fiftig þa monþas gêares firmest.

Continue reading "Menologium Isoldei Beati"

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why are the greatest composers all German?

Posted by Adam Roberts on 06/04/06 at 12:32 PM

[Note: I wrote this a while ago, and toyed with the notion of posting it when I was first invited by John H. to become a guest author.  I didn’t because the last Moretti book post rendered it, I thought, redundant.  But looking at it again I’m thinking perhaps I was too hasty.  It talks about similar phenomena to the ones Moretti analyses in terms of the novel (although I range windily over the whole of human culture), but it also suggests a particular answer to the question posed in the title that I’m not sure is much in keeping with Moretti’s approach.  But just because it’s not as well-thought-through or as, er, good as Moretti’s work doesn’t mean that it mightn’t bear a day or two in the light of the Valve.]

I’m talking about classical music of course, and I can start with polemical oversimplification, as follows: almost all the greatest composers were from a small area in northern Europe, and all were working within a relatively short period of time.  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Wagner … all of them were German.  Some notable other figures (Smetana, Holst, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Grieg) came from territories proximate geographically and culturally to Germany.  All these figures composed during a narrow historical timeframe from the end of the eighteenth-century to the end of the nineteenth.  So this is my question, boiled down to its essentials: why is it that all the great classical composers are German, working within a tightly-defined period of a handful of decades of one another?

Thousands of years of human musical creativity has resulted in an enormous body of work, from every culture.  Why should this corpus be so dominated by a small group of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Germans?

Continue reading "Why are the greatest composers all German?"

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Contra Cantor

Posted by Adam Roberts on 05/31/06 at 10:59 AM

And next week’s ‘contra’ will be called ‘Contra Con. Art’ and the one after that ‘Contra Contra’.  And then, unless I can think of any more anagrams for ‘contra’, I may have to give the series a rest.

And all that remains now is to find some way of filling a slot by using my high-school maths to tangle with Georg Cantor, one of the very greatest mathematicians of the nineteenth century.  Yeah.  That’s going to work.

Permit me to slide up to this sideways, not so much contra Cantor, of whom you have heard; but contra a couple of more modern thinkers of whom you may not have done, but who have written a very interesting book about the cosmos, infinity, the existence of God and other things.  So let’s talk about proofs for the existence of God.  That’s always fun.

Continue reading "Contra Cantor"

Monday, May 22, 2006

Contra Lawrence

Posted by Adam Roberts on 05/22/06 at 11:49 AM

Well, and assuming I don’t mind being over-obvious, this one really does write itself.  Birkin and Ursula are in conversation. It’s Women in Love, Chapter 11:

“So you’d like everybody in the world destroyed?” said Ursula.
“I should indeed.”
“The world empty of people?”
“Yes truly. You yourself, don’t you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?”
The pleasant sincerity of his voice made Ursula pause to consider her own proposition. And really it was attractive: a clean, lovely, humanless world. It was the really desirable.

The appropriate critical response here, naturally, is a shouty ‘No! No! No!’.  Or alternatively, and to adopt the idiom of that lanky and sarcastic house-doctor from Scrubs, a ‘dear God No PLEASE JUST STOP’.

Continue reading "Contra Lawrence"

Friday, May 12, 2006

Byron’s Vagina

Posted by Adam Roberts on 05/12/06 at 09:27 AM

The title is one of a series of pieces I’d like to write, should time and leisure permit, about the Romantics; others include ‘Wordsworth’s Tattoo’ and ‘Coleridge’s Lobster’.  But ‘Byron’s Vagina’ has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?  Of all the Romantics, and indeed of all English poets, he’s surely the one whose posthumous reputation has gnarled up his work the most with transgressive erotics.  More, I’m not sure it’s possible fully to love Byron’s poetry unless you at least partially commit to the sumptuously-inane sentimental-tragic erotics of the Byron mythos.  Here’s an example:

So we’ll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart still be as loving,
And the moon still be as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

Continue reading "Byron’s Vagina"

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Contra Dante

Posted by Adam Roberts on 04/29/06 at 03:53 PM

Dante has a problem. Much of his Comedy is untrue. An example: in the second canto of the Paradiso Beatrice takes Dante to the orb of the moon. Dante is curious as to why the face of the moon is particoloured, and wonders if it’s because the material out of which the moon is made varies in density. Beatrice rebukes him for his stupidity, and explains at length, and with no little obscurity, that the moon is the celestial object furthest removed from the Pure Intelligence of the Divine Empyrion, and is therefore the celestial object least purged of mutability by the eternal light and truth of God, which thereby causes the changes in colour.

As an explanation of the spots in the moon this is untrue. In fact the moon is particoloured because the material out of which it is made varies in density.

I start with this example because it seems to me unarguable that Beatrice’s dogmatic explanation contains a material untruth. There is another level of the poem, concerning what we might call moral truths, in which I would be similarly eager to argue the toss; but here my instances are not as straightforward as the moon one. I’ll give you an example of what I mean by the latter sort of untruths. The deeper in hell you go the worse the punishment. Dante pays pedantic attention to the justice and order of his arrangement of punishment and reward; which is to say to the truth of his assessment of the various degrees of severity in sin. They are all disposed according to a logical disposition of sin and virtue. Accordingly it will be easy for you to arrange the following sinners in order of respective dismerit, and guess their relative positions in Hell.

Continue reading "Contra Dante"

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Question About Wrongness

Posted by Adam Roberts on 02/10/06 at 06:53 PM

Here’s a question that bothers me. How valuable is a philosopher if she or he is wrong?

Maybe there’s a problem with that word ‘wrong’. Perhaps it’s too sweeping, too dismissive, perhaps even rude and disrespectful. On perhaps it’s that ‘wrong’ is too coarsely-grained a term to be of use in philosophy: there may, after all, be too little precision in calling a spade a spade if the implement to which one is referring is in fact a left-sprocketed foot-trowel with Wiltshire orientation. But nevertheless I can’t shake the sense that there are times when wrong is the only word.

Continue reading "A Question About Wrongness"
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