Opinion: To Hell and Back… the Direction of U.S. Literary Fiction

Courtesy of Worthy of EleganceOriginally I planned to start the article talking about ebooks.  Talking about the Internet.  I was going to quote Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium.  I was going to say that more people are reading on screens than ever before, and that bloated, antiquated conceptions about “the novel” would have to change to meet the new ways in which we read.  This isn’t that article.  That one is still rattling around in my head somewhere, and I think it would’ve turned out pretty alright in the end.  But that’s not the article I’m writing right now.

This is going to be something else entirely, because, as of this writing, Donald Trump has been President Elect of the United States of America for five days.  In the first 72 hours alone there have been an alarming spike in incidents of hate across the U.S.  Protesters pour into the streets.  The tension is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’m watching at a distance, seeing it all unfold from an ocean away.  It’s got me scared.  It’s got me angry.  And it’s got me—once I finally managed to shut the news and close Facebook and sat down to write this article—thinking about how truly irrelevant literary fiction has become in American culture at large. Read More

Opinion: Black Friday in Brazil… What a Bad Idea

Courtesy of blackfridayworld.comInflated black balloons drift inside shopping venues!  Black signs hang in department store windows! Marketing firms and modeling agencies post Gisele Bündchen hopefuls at traffic lights.  They’ll smile while handing out black fliers announcing grandiose discounts and sales.  The catchphrase is repeated on national TV, in public squares, shopping malls.  Expectations have been nurtured to go through the roof.  Welcome to Black Friday in Brazil!

The scourge of American-branded commercialism reverberates well into the tropics.  Over the past decade it has turned Brazil into Black Friday spectacle.  It started with images from the heartland of unabated consumerism—shoppers of all stripes pitching tents in front of chain stores, staying awake throughout the night, not as a vigil to bring awareness to any social malfeasance, but to stampede into those stores at dawn, pushing, shoving, and brawling their way to discounted merchandise.  It’s as if securing a half-priced cellphone, laced with tungsten, tantalum, and other minerals extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo will halt a seventeen-year-long conflict that has taken the lives of over five million people.  Maybe purchasing a clothing item on sale will magically force U.S. owned companies to improve working conditions in their outsourced sweatshops in India, Indoenisa, Bangladesh, and elsewhere.  That such zeal and vigor is expended on a day of frivolous, erratic shopping is yet another indicator of the bankrupt moral coffers of a society reared to value material possessions more than anything else.

No matter the ironies of a day like Black Friday, the frantic images of a chance to scoop a hot deal proved irresistible in Brazil.  A meaningless hodgepodge of consumerist fervor now drapes over a nation that, in 2013, had to implement Mais Médicos (More Medics), a health care program that imported 4,000 Cuban doctors to work in impoverished and remote areas.

It’s been disappointing, to say the least, to witness the ease with which Black Friday has taken hold in Brazil.  America’s mass consumerist ideals and its media influence abroad are no joke.

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photo_jun-colaJun Cola is a translator based in Brazil, who has translated everything from Marvel Comics to academic papers, travel & tourism magazines to fiction, real estate contracts to poetry, and then some.  Jun is working on bringing Brazilian voices to the world stage.

Opinion: On Slovak Literature

flag_of_slovakia-svgWhen I first moved to the Netherlands I would be cross-examined by my new acquaintances regarding this mysterious, unheard-of and potentially lethal country called Slovakia.  On one of the occasions, after having established the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia and explaining that yes, we do have internet over there, and no, we don’t usually torture and/or slaughter tourists as seen in the movie Hostel, I got pinned by another inquiry from my friend Edmond: “Are there any famous Slovak writers?  Is it possible I have read some of them?”  Oh, my.  I don’t even know why I took a second to think about it, since the answers were obviously: “No;” and “hell no;” respectively.

I always feel uneasy when discussing my national literature with foreigners.  We don’t have a Tolstoy, Faulkner or Austen.  We don’t even have an E. L. James.  There are no writers, no artists among the big names of Slovak literature.  Mostly, they were just people of various professions who merely happened to write something from time to time about a cause they cared about; like national liberation, women rights, or how socialism might not be the greatest idea ever.  But aside from that, they were… peasants, I guess.  And I mean it in the best possible salt-of-the-earth, more-than-meets-the-eye way.  Didn’t care for art, fame or money.  Just said what they had to say, when they had something to say.  However, in the past twenty-five years or so, there’s been a shift on the Slovak literary scene. Read More

Opinion: The Age of Simulated Reality

Photo_Virtual realityVideo games appeared as an entertainment medium that caught our attention back in the 80’s.  In our childhood, many of us were fixated on our television screens while Mario jumped through walls and pipes, or while we were trying to shoot a duck with a Nintendo zapper.  Since then, games have evolved to a virtual realm—a simulation of reality.  The child’s play of the past has been transformed into a visual cinematic medium, which offers something more than cinema—interaction.  Video games can be considered as an interactive storyteller.  The question then is: why is this important?

 

There are different answers, but the concept of reality is a keyword here.  The notion of reality has been one of the subjects that preoccupied mankind.  From Aristotle to Hegel, great thinkers of humanity have asked the question “what is real?” and they have struggled to find an answer.  So, the simulation—the replica of reality—has become a subject of interest, sometimes even more appealing than reality itself.  We can think of fiction novels or stories as the first version of reality simulations.  Even just by reading, without any visual stimulus, an alternate form of reality can be experienced.  Our mind creates the images through words.

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Opinion: The Donald Dump

Republicans are running around with their hair on fire trying to figure out how to salvage their very existence as a party with what will surely be an up- and down-ticket disaster in November.  Pundits on both sides of the aisle are breathlessly trying to out-analyze each other, each diving deeper into the polling data and umpteen different ways Trump is destroying the conservative brand.

Donald_TrumpBut what about the damage Donald has done to the TRUMP brand?  After all, that’s all the TRUMP name is at this point ­– a brand. Wherever you see TRUMP plastered 10-feet high on the side of a hotel, casino, resort or airplane (or in smaller print on the logo of a wine bottle, shrink-wrapped steak or worthless “university” diploma), what it usually means is that he has licensed his name to that particular business and has little or no participation in the actual management of said enterprise.

Yes, he won nearly 14 million votes during the primaries on his way to becoming the nominee of the Republican party, but I wonder: How many of those 14 million could afford even one night in a TRUMP HOTEL or one round of golf at a TRUMP RESORT?  How many of them look longingly at a bottle of TRUMP WINE, thinking to themselves “one day I’ll drink that wine from a shiny gold goblet,” only to sigh dejectedly and buy the carton of Annie Green Springs instead? Read More