Following up on my last post, I’m not so sure that “web 2.0 itself implies creativity.” I mean, I get the Clay Shirky idea that making something is better than watching Gilligan’s island so making LOLcats is fine, but I think remix culture allows for a lot of laziness.
Some of the most interesting Web 2.0 projects I’ve seen are about rewarding creators who can work outside the traditional model. Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell (she’s locking herself in a room to create for a week) raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter (over five times her original goal so now they’re going to make more stuff with the extra money). She’s helped raise the question of whether Kickstarter is more important/useful than Arts Council grants for artists.
So yes, social media is helping fuel that kind of creativity, but it’s important to note that people are giving her this money because of her talent. The connections are about funding and supporting creativity, not inspiring it.
I love Neil Gaiman as much as the next person, and his presence on Twitter is huge. But, I don’t love him because of that social media scene. I love the work he does. Making meaning from the banal is a nice idea about social media’s relationship to creativity, but the fact is that most of the banal is still pretty banal, even when it’s aggregated.
I guess I’m saying that “fostering connections, building networks, creating new knowledge” isn’t creative in and of itself. It has to be supportive of some actual talent.
I wrote a post about social media being only a means of supporting creativity on Librarianautica.
Un Lun Dun is China Mieville’s book for younger readers. There’s less horriffic imagery than in the New Crobuzon books and the language is much cleaned up. I brought it in for Teen Book Club but no one took it home that day. Le sigh.
The story is about two girls in London who get summoned to the magickal abcity UnLondon (and yes the idea is similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere) because the one girl is the Chosen One, destined to help UnLondon fight off this terrible menace threatening blah blah blah. So things go on and along and there are untrustworthy ghost-boys and conductors of air-buses and binjas and everyone avoids the horrible flesh-eating giraffes. Great. Then, the girls find the professor who’ll make everything right again and they get to go home to London. Hooray! Everything’s wrapped up in a nice neat little package.
But we’re only a third of the way into the book.
Deeba, who was not the Chosen One, remembers UnLondon but Zanna (the Chosen One) has had her memories of the place removed because she was injured by the beast down there. The UnChosen One starts realizing that they’d actually fucked up majorly and has to find a way back to UnLondon to put things right. This is where it got awesome, because Deeba heads down without the prophecy backing her up. There are 7 steps the Chosen One was supposed to follow to find the weapon that would deal with blah blah blah but she says “We don’t have time to get each of these 7 things let’s just hit the last one; it’ll be the most important right?” Which is the kind of thing you’d expect someone real to do, someone not bound by “how things work in these kinds of stories.” I loved it.
So yes, Un Lun Dun. Good stuff.
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of my favourite stories ever. It’s about a man who gets pulled into a conflict between America’s old gods (Odin, Anubis, Anansi, leprechauns, et al) and its new (Television, Automobiles, the Internet). There are digressionary tales of people who brought their gods to America, but the main story is about this con artist who’s enlisted this guy to help defend the old ways.
One of the things it doesn’t deal with is the modern political dimension of religion. There’s a bit where they talk about the churches on every corner having nothing to do with holy sites where you have to make something, some sort of sacrifice. There’s an offhand comment about what a lucky son-of-a-virgin Jesus was, all stealing Mithras’ birthday and everything, but the political realities of America are left out. There is no discussion of Islamofascism or any of that political religious shit you can fill up with in the real world news. But there are paragraphs like this that make me love this book so much:
None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor. Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition.
Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.
So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true. Even so, the next thing that happened, happened like this:
There are more bits in there that I love, but the other day I watched a TED talk on metaphor and this bit leapt out at me. At work last night I was telling someone about the Pynchon bit about metaphor in V that goes:
Fausto’s kind are alone with the task of living in a universe of things which simply are, and cloaking that innate mindlessness with comfortable and pious metaphor so that the ‘practical’ half of humanity may continue in the Great Lie.”
That’s in the middle of a big chunk on the importance of poetry, which was worth the price of admission for me. So yes. Metaphor. Belief. Interesting stuff.
And this new copy of American Gods I received (in trade, not as an Xmas present) is signed by Neil Gaiman himself, from when he was in Winnipeg last month. I don’t have to get my 1st edition all banged up rereading it. So that’s cool.
But yes, American Gods is a great story. I’ve heard that there are people who don’t like it, and I honestly can’t understand why. I mean, I can understand the fact that some people don’t like beautiful wonderful things and would prefer to live in gray boxes without feeling or thinking about anything, but I don’t understand why someone would be like that. No accounting for taste I suppose.
Last week I spent a goodly chunk of my paycheque on the second volume of The Absolute Sandman by Neil Gaiman (and artists). I did this for a few reasons. First, I don’t want Xmas presents this year (and am not buying them for anyone). These Absolute Sandman books are mainstays on the Xmas list, but now I could get it for myself. Second, for some reason it’s not available on Amazon.ca at a reasonable cost right now so I noticed it at McNally Robinson. Third, I wanted to read something in a big-ass tome, to feel like I was plumbing the depths of arcanity and such. That this volume of Sandman tales involves the lord of dreams coming into possession of hell makes it a good fit for that “reading a tome” experience.
Sandman comics are things I’ve known about through my entire comic-reading life (which isn’t actually that long). I may have only started reading comics when the original run was ending. I remember the spines of the trade paperbacks in the comic shop. I remember flipping through issues and not really being dragged in. One time at Campaign we were given a trade paperback by one of our book suppliers. I read it (it had the Midsummer Night’s Dream story in it) and I didn’t mind it, but I had other things to spend my money on like Transmetropolitan. So yes, I wasn’t a long-time fan or anything.
And then I started learning how influential it was, beyond the coolness of Neil Gaiman himself. How this was sort of a gothy bible, an artifact of the 1990s that I missed out on. But now I’m reading it. In Absolute form. While I would love to own books like Absolute Watchmen or the giant volumes of Sin CIty or Hellboy, I’ve read those stories, in many cases I on those stories already. But Sandman is this pristine land I’m walking through on these massive pages with their beautiful colouring et al.
Reading this doesn’t bring back memories of the first time reading these stories because this is my first time. I don’t know if this is forming the same kinds of memories for when I reread them in the future. Of being wrapped up in a blanket on my couch in my underheated condo, sipping tea and shooing away a cat. It’s not the same as if I’d been 17. Damned fine stories though.
Odd & The Frost Giants is a Neil Gaiman kids book about Norse mythology. It’s about a boy named Odd with an infuriating smile who helps out some gods. It’s very short, but told in that Neil Gaiman way that makes it seem like the story’s always existed and he’s just putting it down in new words. The thing I found the most interesting about it is how Thor Loki and Odin are portrayed compared with how he wrote them back in Sandman. These are (as befitting the kids story nature of the book) muppet versions of the gods. In any case, it was a cute little read.
Man is there anything better than an Elseworlds book? Something taking familiar characters and putting them in a different setting from usual? Well, Neil Gaiman’s 1602 isn’t an Elseworlds book as its from Marvel not DC, but it is exactly the right kind of cool. It takes a pile of the Marvel superheroes and has them be (mostly) Europeans in 1602. Magneto is the Grand Inquisitor in Spain, Daredevil is a blind balladeer, Carlos Javier runs a school for witchbreeds, the Fantastick Four were adventurer explorers captured by the handsome Otto Von Doom. Yeah. It’s all pretty cool. I’m not a huge Marvel person so I didn’t get some of the references the first time I read it years ago but this time I picked up more.
I like these alternate comics because they don’t require knowledge of tonnes of continuity. Sort of like the new Star Trek movie really. We just want to see these archetypes do their thing, be recognizable but different. To act like they should. I suppose that’s a notion that character is deep inside, an argument against becoming who you are based on the specific things that happen to you, but on your soul or whatever. I don’t know if I believe in that in life but in fiction it’s all good.
This is why I own books, so on a Saturday evening I can pick one up and get lost.
I did my part and went to see Henry Selick-directed Coraline (2009) last night. If it had just been Selick’s stop-motion movie I probably wouldn’t have seen it opening night, but it’s also a Neil Gaiman book, so adding my dollars to the opening weekend pool felt worthwhile. Apparently it does make a difference when you see a movie. Not when it’s Dark Knight or something big, but when it’s just a little one. I guess it matters for the big guys too, just not as much individually.
Anyway, the movie was good. I saw it in 3D. John Hodgman and whoever did the cat were my favourite voices, and the stop-motion was beautiful. The whole actual quest part of the story felt like it went too quickly. I mean, it looked good and all, but sitting in the theatre it felt like there was tonnes and tonnes of buildup and then boom! it was all over. In a nice neat package. I should know better than to expect the same kind of introspection you get from a book. And maybe I brought all that slow pacing to the book myself. Who knows?
I have had an excellent 24 hours.
At the library last night I rocked the fuck out of my first family storytime. If there was any fuck in those kids when it started BAM! it is gone now. No, nothing traumatic occurred. I was just keyed up and silly and plowed through when I forgot words to the songs (or more importantly the rhythms the words went to). The kids, as predicted, loved helping me out when I made mistakes on Old MacDonald – “E-I-E-I-X!” – and I probably went a little overboard on that, but what the hell. I didn’t have to do anything to get them to settle down which was nice. There wasn’t a tonne of kid feedback, but that is one thing I’m used to from China teaching, so I just did my thing and let them follow along, still sort of shocked by the madman bouncing around up front.
After that, I finished reading the Graveyard Book and just loved the hell out of it. Very quick (of course – it is a kid’s book) but beautiful. The kind of book I wish I could read to the kids at the library as part of my Halloween program, but I’m told the attention span for stories without pictures is something like 3/4 of a page. When I was in elementary school teachers read chapter books to the kids, didn’t they? I was really hoping I’d be able to do like a ten page extract about the Danse Macabre, but I doubt it will happen.