Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What's the deal with the Enlightenment?

Recently--over the past six months, I'd say--I've become obsessed with the eighteenth century, as previous blog entries will attest. I don't know why. The seventeenth century is just as interesting, as is the Elizabethan era, but I'm not rushing out to write on anything from these time periods. There's something almost secretive about the eighteenth century. A friend of mine observed once that it's like a conspiracy: those who study literature between 1688 and 1830, designated as the longue durée of Restoration-Enlightenment, have stumbled upon the little-known fact that these texts are some of the most interesting, bizarre, and eminently readable pieces ever written. Obviously, there's a textual shift during this period, a privileging of the psychological narrative, a renewed interest in political instability and its relationship to the bourgeoisie, and the emergence of literary criticism, especially in the form of theatrical reviews and castigating epilogues. But none of that really explains why the writing is just so good.

Lately, my interest is turning to drama produced in Spain during this period, especially the tradition of teatro breve or short theatre-pieces. In Madrid, one can see the transition from the rowdy entremeses (between-act pieces) of Cosme Pérez, the entremesil actor who went by the name of Juan Rana, and the sainetes (also short pieces incorporating music and dance) of Ramon de la Cruz, which were supposed to capture modern life in urban Spain. Between these performative poles, there lies the dramatic tradition known as tardebarroco, 'after the Baroque,' which is punctuated by the work of de Zamora and Cañizares (not to be confused with the witch of the same name from Cervantes' Ejemplares).

What I love most about Spanish Theatre Studies, aside from the high quality and exactitude of the available scholarly criticism, is what I perceive as its 'newness,' at least where I'm concerned. I never learned about Lope de Vega, Maria de Zayas, or Calderón de la Barca in high school, or university, or grad school, because programs in English literature don't tend to dwell upon 'foreign' writers, unless they're French (in the case of Congreve) or German (in the case of Goethe). And although a tremendous amount has been written already upon Spain's siglo de oro, which was inarguably the height of dramatic production, eighteenth-century dramatists have received far less articles and monographs. Of those available, 97% are in Spanish or Catalan, which suggests a bit of open territory for scholars writing in English.

Improving my Spanish has become a personal mission, but my problem is that I get bored with the level of books that I should probably be reading. So I read academic articles in Spanish instead, which is grueling and didactically counter-productive, but so interesting that I can't resist. In the fall, I'll be taking Spanish 200, which will hopefully do wonders for my halting verbal skills. It will be a bit strange to interact with undergraduates as another student, rather than as an instructor, which I've become accustomed to, but it will also be good for my ego. Wait, forget I said that. I'm as humble as Juan Rama, the gracioso (buffoon), although I don't share his fondness for young pages. Lately, I orient only towards books and food.

Ode to Regina's Buses

Oh Regina Transit--wherefore art thou so endlessly confusing? I've lived in many different cities, but I've never been less certain as to where/when a bus will originate or terminate on a daily basis. Take the #3, for example, which is one of only two buses that go from the downtown core to the university. The #3 stops at 13th and Albert, which is a few blocks from my house. But when there's construction (which is always), it stops on 12th st in front of the public library. When the #3 leaves the university, it no longer stops at 13th and Albert, but diverts--inexplicably--to 11th/Cornwall. This means that I can take the bus directly from the stop closest to my house, but, when coming home, I end up having to walk for no reason.

Also, due to the widening of several downtown streets, various bus stops have been randomly changed. You might show up at your designated stop and watch, bemusedly, while your bus drives right past you on the opposite side of the street. On one bus shelter in front of the Cornwall Centre, I saw two signs, one proclaiming that "#s 11 and 4 no longer stop here," and another, right next to the first sign, announcing that the "#4 bus stops here." Oh, does it? Or am I trapped in a static warp-bubble like Beverly Crusher in that episode of NextGen? In that case, only Will Wheaton can save me, so I'm not getting my hopes up.

Of course, if it hadn't been for this detour, I wouldn't have ended up shaking hands with two young Mormon elders, who were patrolling 13th st looking for pledges. I considered outing myself as a leftist homosexual atheist, but as I looked into their shining, hopeful, preternaturally polite faces, I just didn't have the heart. All I could think about was the movie Orgazmo, written by Trey Stone and Matt Parker, in which a Mormon elder unwittingly becomes a porn star with the help of an orgasm-inducing raygun. I didn't mention it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Here's what we need--more scary violence.

So far, this season of True Blood is heavy on action and scant on plot. The werewolf conspiracy is marginally interesting, but the werewolves themselves aren't. They resemble flannel-clad sexual predators who get into Dukes of Hazard-style brawls at a bar subtly called Lou Pine's.

So many new characters have made an appearance (and one never knows who will stay and who will get eaten) that it's starting to resemble a reality show. Franklin the crazy brit; the werewolf-protector whose name I've already forgotten; the bitchy vampire king and his partner who seems to do nothing but plan dinners and cast innuendo; and Jesus, the hunky sanitarium-assistant, who's been making eyes at Lafayette (while his insane, casually homophobic mother looks on, as if we're in the middle of a Tennessee Williams play).

Then there's Eric. So far, he's done nothing unexpected. If possible, he's somehow become even more rakishly charming. But his 'connection' with Sookie seems to have gone from a one-off hey, your blood was tasty moment to an excuse for constantly averting his eyes from her and mumbling things about her being Bill's property. Either way, it boils down to the same boring sexist veneer that the show has already been criticized for. Women function as items of exchange, to be passed between male supernatural agents, and even when they're given guns and they have the chance to defend themselves...they don't. There's always a vampire, werewolf, shifter, or well-meaning good 'ol boy who appears just in time.

Still, the show remains fun. And I was on board with this episode until the last four minutes. Something happens in the final scene of 3.03 that made me stare at the screen and say: "No. Really?" Something so grotesque that, as I watched it happening, it seemed to very conspicuously leave the realm of occult fantasy and bleed into the realm of actual human degradation. It's violent and so, so over-the-top, it baffles me that anyone watched the dailies of this scene while it was being filmed and thought, hey, sure, this looks good.

It makes me want to stop watching the program altogether. And if I wasn't weak, I would. But what do you do when a show that's queer-positive, and which tries to address critical issues of race and ethnicity, is also mindlessly sexist and unimaginatively pornographic in its deployment of violence against human bodies?

If anyone has the answer, please let me know,

"Gay people were kept in a separate cage."

18-year-old Dan Hamilton was detained as a protester at the G20 Summit for 26 hours. "On his first day as a resident of Toronto, Dan Hamilton was a bystander during a protest when he was caught with his boyfriend in a mass arrest for "breaching the peace". In the video below, he describes how people that the police described euphemistically as "members of the gay community" were herded into stalls and segregated from the rest of the group being held. LGBT people were placed in isolation "for their own safety."

My favorite part is at the end of the video, when Hamilton says of the upcoming class-action law suit: "It should be pretty sweet." He also spells his name, D-A-N H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N for the cameraperson, as if to say, yes, I was really there, and I'm really still here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weird Schedule

Lately, I cannot figure out what time of the day I'm going to end up working. Sometimes, like tonight, it's at 2:13 AM, assisted by the coffee I had from Rocca Jack's at 8:30. Some days I'll go steadily from 11-7, and other days I'm barely conscious before 2pm. This is a symptom of the summer, which means no teaching (for those lucky enough to have it off) but lots of uninterrupted time for writing, research, and general obsessing.

Currently, I am watching Doctor Who, Season 3, which is the beginning of the David Tennant episodes. I like the chemistry that he has with Rose, although--and I can't believe these words are actually leaving my mouth--I do miss Christopher Eccleston. I'm 2/3 of the way through Cleland's Memoirs of a Coxcomb, which could be subtitled "Why women aren't allowed to age," since Sir William does nothing but level scathing critiques at women past the age of 20 while fixating creepily on Lydia, who's practically a 'tween. Still, Cleland's descriptions of awkward sex encounters, and his lamentations on the pains of love, are as resonant today as they were in 1752.

I'm also reading an article by Josep Valldaura on the 18th C dramatist Ramon de la Cruz and his refinement of the sainete, which resembles a comic afterpiece. It's interesting to see how these short comic pieces transitioned during the reign of Carlos III, from the rowdy entremeses of Juan Rana to the fashionable and city-conscious sainetes of de la Cruz, who "crea sus pequeñas historias con personajes reconocibles." Leandro Fernandez de Moratín describes the sainetes as "la imitación exacta y graciosa de las modernas costumbres del pueblo," while dismissing the 17th C entremes tradition as "desaliño y rudeza." But Moratín is a bit of a fuss-pot, and describing an obsolete form of entertainment as 'crude' pretty much guarantees a resurgence in its popularity.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I have a limited number of copies of INHUMAN RESOURCES, which I'd like to give away in a contest. I'm happy to inscribe books for the winners and pay for postage to send the books their way.

Just complete this short quiz about the Occult Special Investigator universe:

1) Where do Tess and Lucian first meet?

2) True or false: Tess has kissed two other regular characters

3) What city does Tess live in?

4) What does the acronym CORE stand for?

5 ) Which duo tries to kill Tess and Mia in Night Child?

Alternatively, contestants may submit short fanfiction or other creative pieces set in the OSI universe. I will publish the best submissions on my author website and blog.

Send your quiz answers or creative pieces to: jbattis at gmail dot com

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Last night, I threw up all over my office floor, while talking to a friend on speakerphone. It was the first time in my life that I wasn't able to reach a bathroom. The cause was food poisoning, the culprit being a sketchy noodle salad purchased from a nearby major grocery chain that shan't be named. After I was finished vomiting, I surveyed the result with a mixture of anxiety and strange curiosity. I hadn't realized that my stomach could hold so much. I didn't feel sick even five minutes beforehand--I'd been in mid-sentence, and suddenly, I was heaving. I narrowly missed both my laptop and a manuscript that I'd been editing.

After I was done, I returned shakily to the phone:

"Sorry. That was really loud."
"It was. Do you feel better?"
"I'm not sure. A little."
"You need to get yourself a glass of water."
"True. But first, I need to figure out how to get off this chair."

It sort of felt like having a migraine, a stomach flu, and vertigo all at once. I managed to relocate myself to the couch, turn off all the lights, and secure both a bucket and a bottle of water. Shortly thereafter, I divested myself of the bucket, and within no time at all, I was on my laptop again. My friend and I continued our conversation on speakerphone, and I read a bit of Swift. I was fascinated by how quickly the Lilliputians were able to assemble vast mechanical stages, and how they carted away Gulliver's excrement using wheel-barrows.

A number of things occurred to me the next morning. The first, in no way a thunderbolt, was that I'm a workaholic. My brain is set to run at Chipmunk speed all day long, and I rarely think about what's going into my body unless I suddenly see it staring back at me in another form. I've never been able to really regard my body as anything other than a vehicle for conveying around my consciousness. I feed and water it, so that it will stay awake for as long as I need it to, and at the end of the night I'll wheedle it with caffeine and sugar, as if demanding an encore. Just another hour. Come on, the birds sound pretty outside, and the quality of the light is stunning. It doesn't always listen.

The second thing that occurred to me was that my job is not great for my body. There are ways to manage the stress, but it still ends up creeping in, giving you migraines and kidney stones and other wonders to deal with. If there was some way that we could read books and then eat them later, that would be an ideal diet for me.

The final thing that occurred to me was simply a sense of gratitude, for having a friend who'd stay with me on the phone while I was emptying my guts, not simply saying, "are you okay," but actually giving me permission to go to bed without cleaning up the office first. "The consistency will make it easier to clean in the morning, and the smell's going to kill you if you try to do it tonight." I did end up cleaning before I went to bed, but even so, it was nice to have the option of simply falling asleep to the sound of the fan going in the other room, blowing the sour air out the window and away.

Devin and Glen short

A short film about same-sex marriage with Justin Long, Mike White, and Tom Arnold