“Because thoughts are powerful. Thoughts and ideas change people, change the world.”

-Brett Savory – In and Down (Brindle & Glass, 2007)

Quote – Thoughts are Powerful!

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Sexy Shiftings and Stirrings

A review of Greg Bechtel’s “The Smut Story (III)” in Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

By Derek Newman-Stille

We are made up of stories. We are created from sex. In “The Smut Story (III)” Greg Bechtel interweaves the sexual with notions of the construction of self through narrative. After an erotica reading series at a bookstore on Mother’s Day, the media is driven wild with interest in a situation that seems to defy explanation. It has all of the earmarks of a good media story – sex, scandal, confusion, and hype from right wing pundits…. the only problem is that none of the narratives about the events from this particular night align.

Tales of the night are slippery (and not just with lube). Each participant describes a person named T. Boop differently – man, woman, trans, androgynous… but all agree that T. Boop is the most beautiful person they have ever seen. His/Her/Their appearance shifts depending on the teller, and the story T. Boop tells changes with the re-telling.  The story told is intensely sexual, and incredibly personal to the listener. Starting in the second person, each reader hears a story that speaks directly to them, evoking their deepest sexual fantasies… even ones they don’t care to admit to themselves or others. The stories and T. Boop’s appearance shift with the sexual preferences of the listener, slide with the performance of erotica.

This narrative and identity slippage points to the power of stories to shift in the act of perception, to become more than a single narrative, a unitary utterance.

Bechtel illustrates the power of the re-telling of fantasies to draw the listener in, constitute them, but also to challenge them, particularly those who fear the revelation of their sexual fantasies, the desires that they hide from themselves and others.

Character Peter Smith launches a media campaign against the events of that Mother’s Day and the sexual excesses he believes occurred (because he likely participated in them). His retreat into hate doctrine and intolerance comes from his insecurity about the slippage that occurs when he confronts something about his own psycho-sexual identity.

Bechtel draws gender categories into his work, using the body of T. Boop to illustrate the permeability of sexual identities, the ability for narrative and individuality to challenge traditional assumptions about gender binaries, and the perception that sexualities are fixed and unchanging. T. Boop evokes the power of a shifting voice, literally because each audience member hears a different tone, and socially because each telling of a singular story is different, shifting with the diverse perceptions, the different ears, of the audience. Narratives shift because each sexual telling is both intensely personal and private, but also collective and public since sexuality is something that is socially created and shaped by social mores. This slippery story is one that invites the reader to play with notions of gendered identities, question the social messages that have been projected upon our society, and challenge any identity of fixity.

To discover more about the work of Greg Bechtel, visit his website at http://gregbechtel.ca/ .

To read more about Boundary Problems, visit Freehand Books at http://www.freehand-books.com/authors/greg-bechtel

Escaping North – Zombified Canada

A review of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Exile Editions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

In American zombie movies, Canada is a place of escape, a place to run to in the event of a zombie apocalypse to escape from the ravening hoards. I am not certain what sort of magical barrier our country’s border has, or whether perhaps zombies just really don’t like winter, or perhaps zombies are threatened by public health care, but somehow the Canadian landscape is seen as anathema to the zombie apocalypse. Dead North tackles that notion of the zombified Canadian landscape and rustles up our dead to wander in search of Canadian flesh… adding to the BODY of literature.

Like the flesh of the creatures in its pages, the stories in this collection are morally grey, defying the easy morality of most zombie movies and the Us-Them dichotomy that often shapes the zombie genre (and allows for the killing of zombified human beings without guilt). Instead, these zombie stories play with the notion of Us versus Them, breaking down barriers and complicating the possibility of distancing ourselves from the figure of the zombie. The zombie is intimately connected with humanity and these stories question whether it is the zombie who is the monster… or the human who hunts them. The zombies in this volume make the normally straight forward ascription of humans as heroes and zombies as villains complicated, slippery, challenging.

Dead North brings zombies into Canada, but does so with a sense of play with the tropes of the genre, challenging traditional patterns of zombie apocalypse literature and film. These zombies are issue-laden, exploring notions of environmentalism, history, colonialism, protest culture, technological relationships to human beings, capitalism, aging, sexuality, and diversity. These zombies present a mosaic of the dead, a landscape of multiplicity in the types of rotting flesh.

Zombies have something in common with the North: cold, blanched… and they take the notion of a “biting chill” literally!

You can explore a few reviews of the individual short stories in this volume at:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/necrosexual/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/zombie-survival-training-101/

and

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/hunger/

Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

“Solitude can be a good thing sometimes, when you require quiet time to catch up on your thoughts and sort them, like sugar being sifted through a sieve. There’s a difference between solitude and being lonely though. The first one depicts self-sufficiency as you set out along your own path without company. The other denotes a variety of emotions, all of them bordering on insecurity, pain, unease, perhaps even fear.”

-Lorena Foreman and Carol Weekes – The Lonely Place (Canadian Tales of the Fantastic)

Quote – Solitude Versus Loneliness

Humour and Subversion

By Derek Newman-Stille

How many people take humour seriously?

Can humour say things that we wouldn’t say in polite society?

Can humour ask us to think about things that we normally wouldn’t?

Humour has a subversive potential. Good authors of humour can wield it as a microscope on society, a lens of the absurd through which we can see how the things that we take for granted as “normal” can actually be quite ridiculous. Humour has historically been something to be wielded by subaltern groups (those people who society’s power structures disempower and devoice). Disempowered groups have often found the power of their voice in humourous critiques (being often forbidden or discourages from voicing their critiques directly).

Humour CAN be subversive, but it can also reinforce social norms and power structures. It has been historically applied both to oppress groups as well as used by those oppressed groups to give themselves as sense of liberation from oppression, to comment on the society that casts them out.

So, why don’t we take humour seriously? The great thing about humour is that it is precisely because it ISN’T taken seriously that allows it to make deeper social comments. Humour contains the potential to mock society, to raise speculative questions about what we consider normal without necessarily producing solutions. Humour and the speculative genres can often work well together, challenging and questioning the barriers of the “real”, the “normal”, the “expected”.

Historically humour has had a place in the speculative genres, those moments of comedy that heighten the emotional experience. It can allow science fiction and fantasy to poke fun at itself, mocking their own tropes to point out that they are being used intentionally and to attract the reader’s attention… but I have always felt that humour speaks best with the horror genre. There is something about fear that evokes those bubbles of laughter, the inability to contain the sustained feeling of terror without our own bodies betraying us, bubbling out awkward giggles or frightened chortles. Humour and horror can mutually support each other. The contrast between these two states of being can push one another into elevated positions – things seem more funny when they are a break from the atmosphere of fear, and things seem more horrifying when terror intrudes on a comic scene.

So can horror and comedy coexist? Can seriousness and mockery speak to each other? As far back as the Ancient Greek world, there was a recognition of the mutual dependency of the tragic and the comic. Ancient Greek tragedies were performed in groups – three tragedies followed by one satyr play. Satyr plays are not the same as satires (a word that derived from them). They were performed with a group of satyrs as the chorus -> complete with fuzzy goat legs and erect phalloi (penises)… and that chorus of satyrs interacted with similar scenes to those of tragedy, but brought in images of heightened sexuality, drunkenness, and general tomfoolery. They were brilliant intrusions into the set of tragedy, into the tragic space, adding a counterpoint to the seriousness of the tragic performance.

Seriousness and humour have been in conversation for a long time, each having something to say to the other, each forming an outlet and expressive space that bursts forth, inserting itself into the world… and yet humour and seriousness are not mutually exclusive. There is something funny about being serious… and something serious about being funny. Emotional experience can be part of a commentary, and emotions can say things that words may not be able to encompass.