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6 posts from July 2011

26 July 2011

Another guest post on Out of this World

In case you missed it, Phil has also been blogging about Sci Fi in Quebec and Canada at large. Read his post here.

21 July 2011

In Memory of the Patriots who Fell: Manassas and the Bull Run


On 21 July 1861, around 62,000 men faced each other near the key railway junction at Manassas, a vital point on the route to the Confederate capital of Richmond.  30,000 of them were Union troops under General Irwin McDowell, most of whom were 90-day volunteers; the 32,000 other were Confederates under the generalship of Pierre G.T. Beauregard.  Both sides thought the day would be decisive and swift.  It was neither.  The Union forces, under the gaze of sightseers from Washington, watching on a nearby hill, were mostly routed by the Confederate troops who then failed to capitalise on their success and press on to Washington.  A year later, between 28 August and 1 September, 48,000 Confederates faced 75,000 Union troops at the Second Battle of Manassas, forcing a Union retreat.  The war, of course, continued for another three and a half years. 

The National Park Service has published an online account, and today hosts an re-enactment of the battle (there are worries about the heat, much as in the disastrous 1961 re-enactment).  Visitors will not be able to visit the nearby Disney history theme park, as it was not built in 1994.  An earlier form of commemoration can be seen above (consecrated 11 June 1865).

For more about the preservation of the battlefield site, see Joan M. Zenzen, Battling for Manassas: the fifty-year preservation struggle at Manassas National Battle Field Park (Penn State University Press, 1998; online book).  On the memory of the Civil War more generally, see William A. Blair, Cities of the Dead: contesting the memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and David W. Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: race, memory and the American Civil War (University of Massachusetts Press, 2004).  For an account of the battle, including the antics of the Times correspondent, William H. Russell, see Amanda Foreman, A World on Fire.

And for online materials, UEA's Containing Multitudes blog contains a well-curated list.

 [Matthew Shaw]

20 July 2011

Guest posts on Out of this World

My colleagues have been moonlighting on the Science Fiction exhibition blog. First, up, it's Aquiles on SF in Latin America:

The narrative of alternative, fantastic worlds is a hallmark of Latin American literature. Many novels written in Latin America, especially in the second half of the 20th century such as The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier or A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez became worldwide famous under the label 'magic realism', a narrative of alternative lives, beings and landscapes that challenge our concept of reality. What many readers do not realise is that the fantastic world as ascribed to contemporary Latin American literature can in fact be identified much earlier in the SF narratives that were published in the continent – a literary genre which has been and continues to be widely published in Latin America.

Dos Partidos en lucha: Fantasía científica by Eduardo Holmberg (Buenos Aires: El Arjentino, 1875) [Two Fighting Parties – Science Fantasy – BL holds it at shelfmark 7006.b.1] is considered to be one of the first Latin American novels written in the genre. This novel does not, in fact, make projections on how a future world would look but, instead, is based on a historic event that happened in Argentina: Charles Darwin’s visit to the country in 1872 during a scientific expedition. The novel narrates how Darwin captured some specimens from Argentina, including what he believed to be some monkeys who turned out to be human beings. The interesting aspect of this work (Holmberg wrote other SF novels dealing with space travel, aliens, etc) is that it brings forward the discussion about how science, working on a system of classification, is but a fantasy (or fiction) since it does not grasp reality as it is but rather projects the scientist’s own values and beliefs onto worlds which are completely alien to him. [read more]

06 July 2011

'There is no there, there': William Gibson

Our intern, Maro, writes:

In light of the Out of this World exhibition, I would like to spend some time thinking through William Gibson’s literary achievement as regards his radical reconfiguration of the notion of space. His Sprawl trilogy – Neuromancer (1984), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) and Count Zero (1986) – now considered a classic that does not go out-of-date, has come to typify the cyberpunk literary production of the 1980s, the decade when cutting-edge technologies and products started appearing in the American market.  During this decade a huge array of gadgets became widely available to the US market, with the personal computer constituting the icon of an era dubbed by theoreticians as ‘postmodernity.’

With the computer screen functioning as the window to a new world, Science Fiction became more radical in its vision and more experimental in its aesthetics, and it is particularly the notion of cyberspace, a word that Gibson himself coined, that best captures this computer-generated alternative and parallel world. The initiation of the readers into the world of cybernetics, virtual reality and Internet culture, signaled a monumental change in the human mindset and in particular, in the way the contemporary person perceived the concept of space within the context of the emerging Computer Age. As a matter of fact, Gibson’s concept of cyberspace has come to connote a computerized world of virtual reality in which somebody can enter simply by 'jacking in.' With the movement from physical environments to digital ones with or without the intervention of a cyberspace deck, Gibson introduces his readers to the simulated reality of computerized world, where human essence and software meet and interact; Gibson’s cyberspace is the vast and complex web of data into which we are inserted through the screen of our computers, a virtual place where we can project our visions, desires and wishful thinkings. In other words, the digital landscape is just something that we ‘see’ through our heads, a mind-generated space that constitutes another realm of existence in which the bulk of the novel’s action takes place. In another instance, Gibson uses the slightly paranoic phrase, 'There is no there, there,' in an attempt to define and explain cyberspace’s status and quality that defies the traditional notion of lived space as we experience it every day.

Upon their publication, the novels triggered discussion and debate, since the futuristic dystopian visions introduced were not only highly innovative and groundbreaking, but also disturbing, unsettling and difficult to grasp. In fact, I had a hard time reading the Sprawl trilogy, an experience that I would describe as frustrating. Often, I had to struggle with the text to make sense, as I found it hard to follow the complex narrative line, get used to the cybernetic ‘jargon’ and the radical shifts from one realm of reality to another; the process of reading was so frustrating for me that sometimes I would even wonder whether the pages have been scrambled or not. It was only after I had finished the first novel that I realized that this frustrating effect was intentional on the part of Gibson, who wanted to engage the reader in the riddle-like quality of his novel. Indeed, a challenging piece of writing, the Sprawl trilogy is a puzzle, a jigsaw that the reader is not invited to put together but rather to ‘experience.’

Gibson’s literary genius and the prophetic quality of his work can be best evaluated if we consider the fact that for the past two decades we have been experiencing the transition from science fiction to science fact. The science-fictionalized and Gibsonian character of our everyday life can be traced to the wide array of activities that take place on-line; my generation ‘likes’ and ‘pokes’ on Facebook all the time, we can ‘travel’ all over the world with Google Earth and we conduct all our financial transactions without bothering going to the bank. In a sense the contemporary individual is moving between the virtual reality of cyberspace that Gibson could have only imagined and the tangible world of lived experience, blending the boundaries between the ‘real’ reality and the fabricated. We are already part of Baudrillard’s famous argument about ‘the desert of the real.’

For a further elaboration on Gibson’s literary experiments and more specifically his unprecedented perception of space, I can recommend for further reading: 
Rapatzikou, Tatiani. Gothic motifs in the Fiction of William Gibson (2004)
Cavallaro, Dani. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson (2000).


MJS adds: and he's out there, on @greatdismal




04 July 2011


A new and correct map of the United States of North America: layd down from the latest observations and best authorities agreeable to the Peace of 1783... (Newhaven: publish'd according to act of Assembly, [1784])[Maps * 71490.(150)] 
Counterfeiting attracted some of the cruelest punishments in the past, in order to reflect the severity of undermining the coin of the realm.  But, in 1764, the prosecutor of one Abel Buell, a 22-year-old engraver and silversmith, who had been knocking out dodgy thirty-shilling notes in Connecticut, excercised a little mercy.  As punishment for his crime, 'the tip only of Buell's ear was cropped off: it was held on his tongue to keep it warm till it was put on his ear again, where it grew on. He was branded on the forehead as high as possible. This was usually done by a hot iron, in the form of a letter designating the crime' (John Warner Barber, Connecticut Historical Collections, 2nd ed., New Haven, 1836, pp.531-32, quoted in the catalogue for Christie's sale 2361).  Buell moved to New Haven in 1770, where he became the colony's leading copper-plate engraver, and in 1784 producted the first map of the new United States to be published in the United States and which was also the first map published in the new nation to depict the Stars and Stripes.  Eagle-eyed readers may not the absence of New York City and spot the placing of the prime meridian at Philadelphia, the seat of the new government. 


A copy was recently on sale, and is now on display in the Library of Congress (above).  The British Library's copy at shelfmark Maps * 71490.(150) is similarlyhand-coloured, and also shows the small scroll celebrating 'INDEPENDENCE/ JULYIV/ MDCCLXXVI'.  Happy Independence Day.


01 July 2011

Mounties, Music, Hockey: Canada Day in Trafalgar Square

Canada Day 2010 
Canada Day 2010, Trafalgar Square

1 July is here again, which means it’s time to wish Canada happy birthday. I wrote last year about the significance of the day and what the Library’s collections can tell us about it, so I won’t go over that again today.  What I will do is let you know how you can go and experience a little bit of Canada in London during the course of the day.

As ever the heart of things will be Trafalgar Square which will be covered in a celebration of Canadian culture. For interest, the relationship between Canada and the Square is a long one, with the High Commission being based at Canada House since 1923 and various other Canadian institutions calling it home at one point or another.  If you make it down there you will find an entertaining mix of live music, hockey and Mounties, as well as a number of opportunities to learn about living, studying and working in Canada. For those interested, there is more information here.  

This year the opportunity to learn about Canadian culture in the round extends beyond Canada day, as the London-Québec Culture Festival is running until 21 July. The Quebec festival will be part of the Trafalgar Square celebrations too, so if you are interested it's a convenient place to start. To be honest, it’s a good time to find out more about Canadian culture in general, what with the great online presence of many Canadian cultural institutions (such as the NFB), events like Canadian Bookshelf and even the Royal Tour happening.

Given that there’s so much going on I’ve resolved to get more involved in all things ‘CanLit’ myself this year (quite an undertaking as I’m usually buried in a history book rather than the latest fiction), but more on that another time. For now, see if you can find your way to Trafalgar Square today or even just curl up at home, put Scott Pilgrim on and wish Canada ‘many happy returns’.


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