32 RTB Books in Dark Times 8: Paul Saint-Amour (JP 5/20)

Who better to talk about Dark Times than the author of an unforgettable scholarly book about the grimness of the interwar years, Tense Future? Paul Saint-Amour, Professor of English at University of Pennsylvania and author of various prizewinning books and brilliant articles, joins John to talk about realism, escapism and the glories of science fiction.

Paul wonders if immersive reading is even possible during this terrible imminence. Can we really gaze at the dental work of the pandemical lion as its jaws open upon us? He goes on to praise “recursive” plots as glimpsed in time-travel narratives, which produce not interactivity with a text, but interpassivity; the immersion into a form that has its ending always waiting for readers from their very beginning. Throughout he manages to be pessimistic but hopeful.

Mentioned in this episode:

Russel Hoban, Riddley Walker (1980)

Boccaccio, “The Decameron

Patrick White, “The Eye of the Storm” (1973)

Daniel Defoe, “Journal of the Plague Year

Laurence Wright, “End of October

Contagion (2011)

The Lady Eve (1941)

Henry James “Wings of the Dove” (1902)

Ted Chiang “Story of Your Life

Arrival (an octopus-friendly movie based on Chiang’s story)

Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse Five” (1969)

Martin Amis, “Time’s Arrow” (1991)

Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” ( 1940; on the Jetzzeit, the strait-gate through which the Messiah can enter-The Messiah just hates empty homogeneous time.)

Interstellar (2014)

Charlotte Bronte Villette (1853)

Naomi Mitchison, “Memoirs of a Space Woman” (1962)

Doris Lessing, “Canopus in Argos

Doris Lessing, “Making of the Representatives for Planet 8” (1982)

Tempest (John’s only arcade game…)

Tempest: not the one by Shakespeare….

Ludonarrative dissonance (e.g. the problem of the “canon route”in such games as “Tales from the Borderlands“)

Thomas Hardy, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” (1891)

Gillian Beer, “Darwin’s Plots” (1983; on “ghost plots”)

Thomas Hardy “Jude the Obscure” (1895)

Vera Brittain, “Testament of Youth” (although it is ostensibly about her youth in the Great War, it is very much a 1930’s book in its grimness, its pacifisim, its vision of an inevitable second Great War coming…)

It Happened One Night (auto-gyros bad, straight lines to use the shower, good…)

Philip Roth, Plot Against America (and this recent adaptation)

Philip K Dick “Man in the High Castle” (“a way of backlighting the 1930’s without actually looking very hard at them…”)

James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941, but far more successful when reissued in 1960)

Ursula Le Guin “The Earthsea Trilogy

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas

Dodie Smith, “I Capture the Castle“(1949)

Stella Gibbons, “Cold Comfort Farm” (1932)

Andrew Miller, “Lives Unled in Realist Fiction” ( 2007; on the optative and choice-function with fiction)

Listen to the episode here:

Read the transcript here:

Upcoming episodes: Our next BDT guest is Ben Fountain, author of the amazing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, now a (not-quite-so-amazing) Ang Lee film. Followed by a return to regular Recall This Book programming: Harvard historian Vince Brown joins us to discuss Caribbean modernity and his recent book, Tacky’s Revolt.