From LV’s Notebooks (August 2016)

August 1

“Smart blood” is the silliest phrase I’ve heard in a while. The idea, on the other hand, of a bloodstream crawling with nanobots . . . what’s not to like?

How much headspace does the average person devote to pop culture, internet memes and celebrity gossip? How much pleasure do these baubles give? How might these resources be better spent?


August 3

As Thomas Browne reminds us, “there is a rabble even amongst the gentry.”

Mark Rowlands: “The novelist’s invitation to see is so much more compelling than the philosopher’s invitation to think.”

Ketubot 5:6 – The law of providing sexual pleasure to one’s wife that is stated in the Torah is as follows: one at leisure, daily; laborers, twice a week; donkey drivers, once a week; camel drivers, once every thirty days; navigators every six months; these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer.


August 4

Watching sitcoms. I am not as young as I used to be. I am not as old as I shall become.

TV comedies I approve of but find unfunny: Inside Amy Schumer, Black-ish, Broad City. All have solid progressive credentials. All underwhelm.

Objective analysis of comedies. Joke density vs joke quality. Metrics.


August 7

Linguistic diversity. Teenage cultures depend on spaces in which young people can interact almost exclusively with each other. Harder to sustain when they enter the workforce alongside (or when their primary interactions are with) adults. Effect of mass education. Social media ideal for linguistic innovation: vibrant subcultures, cross-pollination, narrowcasting, feeds tailored to one’s interests, the metaphor of virality, directed evolution.


August 8

Easter egg. A conversation about mobile phones becomes, much to everyone’s surprise, an argument about revolutionary socialism. How religion (especially secular religion) serves as a rallying flag. Social signalling via creeds and slogans. The ethics of indoctrination. The inexplicable persistence of Marxism.

Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx by Chris Harman
Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason


August 9

From Auden(?): Pornography is boring because one is never surprised by anything man does as a mammal.

The depraved and vulgar are deeply invested in finding depravity everywhere. Beneath the priest’s cassock, a predator. Beneath the teacher’s smile, a leer.


August 11

Sontag: “What interests me in narrative are . . . The elements of narration (hence, I like to break up the narrative in short sections-continuous text seems problematic to me, even fraudulent.)”

Kael: “It is preposterously egocentric to call everything we enjoy art.”

Volt: “It is unduly optimistic to expect all art to be enjoyable.”


August 12

Story ideas: Worker “animus” score monitored in real-time by HR. Suspicion as governing principle. Guards lurking. A city of struts and girders. Generic clones. Elevation by depression. Strange meeting (Owen).DNA testing, ethical complications, assaults on identity. After the, after the. Opening sequence. Neighbours.

From Crome Yellow: “When I meet someone for the first time, I ask myself this question: Given the Caesarian environment, which of the Caesars would this person resemble?” The idea being that Caesars represent unbridled id, desires unconstrained by external morality. What would be the equivalent today? Rock stars, sport stars, Third World dictators, lesser Arab princes (liberated by wealth, unencumbered by fame).


August 14

Beautiful: “the title is Basho and the epigraphs are from Issa and Celan, and the Tennyson never stops.”

Anchor traits. Stereotypes. Anchor values. Structural racism occurs when social institutions are created or run by people whose prejudices align.

To the racist, a Nigerian sci-fi fanatic is one whose Nigerianness may or may not be subtly modified by geekiness, rather than a geek who happens to be Nigerian. “Nigerian” and “black” trump other traits.

A taxonomy of bad writing. Rank by degree of moral culpability. Graffiti scrawled on bathroom walls. Notes passed to bank tellers during robberies. Texts sent to others in the same room.


August 15

Common on Twitter:

Male to female: I do not find you sexually attractive, therefore your argument is invalid, your existence is pointless and I am under no obligation to treat you with respect.

Female to male: Your argument is invalid. And, by the way, I do not find you sexually attractive, your existence is pointless and I am under no obligation to treat you with respect.


August 16

Poetry idea: What to do on noticing a fire.

Pinter on Shakespeare – cause of the wound (epigraph)

Kings die all the time. They are struck through the joints of their armour and eaten by dogs. They have red hot pokers shoved up their fundaments. They are beheaded before jubilant crowds.

Allen: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

Marcus Aurelius: “He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very soon; then again also they who have succeeded them, until the whole remembrance shall have been extinguished as it is transmitted through men who foolishly admire and perish.”


August 18

I’m not a quitter, I’m a winner who quits. To this the plaques on my wall attest. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Brief Notes on the Education of Clones. Day 2: How to hold a severed head aloft


August 19

Is there a need for explicitly “African” science fiction, as distinct from fiction, regardless of origin, that accurately reflects the lives and preoccupations of people of African descent? I doubt it. The writer’s primary task is to make the truth manifest, to allow readers a glimpse into his or her reality. The minority writer, or anyone who creates art about marginalised groups, has a secondary duty: to irreversibly complicate and deepen his audience’s understanding of that group. Far too many contributors to anthologies of “Afro sci-fi” merely perform Africanness.


August 21

Roth: “It was still my wont in those days to try to be reasonable about the unreasonable and to look for complexity in simple things. I would make demands upon my intelligence where none were really necessary.”


August 23

Engagement with longform prose is a distinct category of mental activity. Audiobooks, TV documentaries, YouTube lectures, conversations with patient scholars … none of these serve as substitutes. You either wrestle with the written word or atrophy.

A culture that fails to develop writing has a ceiling placed on its intellectual development. All its knowledge is contained in the memories of the group’s living members. Each specialist’s skull carries precious cargo.


August 24

Nine-tenths of wisdom is knowing what and whom to ignore.

Most adults who are happy in spite of being fat, ugly, poor or stupid have come to terms with their imperfections. You are unlikely to depress them by bringing their obesity, ugliness, poverty or stupidity to their attention. You won’t change how they feel about themselves, but you will change how they feel about you.


August 25

You are what you eat. But you are also what you read, listen to and watch. Avoid bad writing and bad art. Don’t argue with idiots or wrestle with pigs. Always take the high road.

Trollope: “There are things done which are holy as the heavens, — which are clear before God as the light of the sun, which leave no stain on the conscience, and which yet the malignity of man can invest with the very blackness of hell!”


August 27

How large, in bytes, would a minimally exhaustive description of Igbo or Yoruba or Iroquois culture be? Minimally exhaustive = just enough information to recreate all elements (written texts, oral histories, solid artifacts, social conventions etc)  from scratch –  in this case, a pre-cultural hominid base. How much smaller would these descriptions be than those for American, Russian or German culture?

“Your culture.” What do they mean? Lagos culture? Yoruba culture? The culture common to those who read Trollope on seven-inch tablets? British culture? Geek culture? Nigerian immigrant culture? The culture usually claimed by those who look like you? The culture of those who still live in your ancestral homeland? Homogenised African culture? The culture of those to whom you are closely related genetically? An idealized and ahistorical version of your parents’ culture? Black culture? Black British culture? Black British queer culture? Igbo culture? Rationalist culture? The culture of the Global South?

I decide which group defines me.


August 30

From Reality Hunger: “When memory is called to answer, it often answers back with deception. How is it that almost every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?”


August 31

Sontag: “When I say that I hate stupidity what I really mean is that I can’t stand spiritual vulgarity. But it would be vulgar to say that.”