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New Books and New Paperbacks, November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 7, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK

Winner, Michael J. Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture, American Conference for Irish Studies
PACKY JIM: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
Ray Cashman

“Accessible to a broad audience. . . . A delight to read on many different levels and constitutes a valuable addition to the scholarship on the individual and tradition.”—Journal of Folklore Research

Growing up on a secluded smuggling route along the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic, Packy Jim McGrath regularly heard the news, songs, and stories of men and women who stopped to pass the time until cover of darkness. In his early years, he says, he was all ears—but now it is his turn to talk.

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

November 14, 2017
SIX TURKISH FILMMAKERS
Laurence Raw

“Surprising and innovative. Raw integrates historical research with literary references and personal reflections, using the work of contemporary Turkish filmmakers to discuss pressing issues of identity and transcultural understanding.”—Iain Robert Smith, King’s College London

In analysis of and personal interviews with Derviş Zaim, Zeki Demirkubuz, Semih Kaplanoğlu, Çağan Irmak, Tolga Örnek, and Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Raw draws connections with Turkish theater, art, sculpture, literature, poetry, philosophy, and international cinema. A native of England and a twenty-five-year resident of Turkey, Raw interleaves his film discussion with thoughtful commentary on nationalism, gender, personal identity, and cultural pluralism.

Wisconsin Film Studies Series
Patrick McGilligan, Series Editor

 

November 21, 2017
SEASON OF THE SECOND THOUGHT
Lynn Powell

“Not just written, but wrought. Powell’s new poems deftly combine keen observation with perfect pitch, and their rich chiaroscuro renders them vibrant and painterly as the Dutch masters they often reference. The current running through her lines leaves me shivering with excitement and gratitude.”
—R. T. Smith, author of In the Night Orchard

Season of the Second Thought begins in a deep blue mood, longing to find words for what feels beyond saying. Lynn Powell’s poems journey through the seasons, quarreling with the muse, reckoning with loss, questioning the heart and its “pedigree of Pentecost,” and seeking out paintings in order to see inside the self. With their crisp observations and iridescent language, these poems accumulate the bounty of an examined life. These lines emerge from darkness into a shimmering equilibrium—witty, lush, and hard-won.

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

 

November 28, 2017
THE WARS INSIDE CHILE’S BARRACKS: Remembering Military Service under Pinochet
Leith Passmore

“With crisp prose and superb scholarship, Leith Passmore provides a groundbreaking exploration of the lives and memories of military conscripts under, and after, the seventeen-year rule of General Pinochet, South America’s most famous violator of human rights in living memory.”
—Paul W. Drake, author of Between Tyranny and Anarchy

“Few books are able to capture, as this one does, the full complexity of the Pinochet dictatorship’s horror. Passmore leads us, in magisterial fashion, into one of its darkest corners: the tortured memories of thousands of former conscripts transformed simultaneously into perpetrators and victims of the dictatorial nightmare.”
—Verónica Valdivia, author of El golpe después del golpe: Leigh vs Pinochet (1960–1980)

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

The Art & Craft of Print

We are ce80th-logolebrating University Press Week with the theme of “community,” and from April 2016 to April 2017, we are blogging monthly about University of Wisconsin Press history to mark our eightieth year. On top of that, for this Wednesday blog tour of university presses, the theme is “university press staff spotlight.”

Terry Emmrich at the Overture Center galleries

Terry Emmrich at the Overture Center galleries in summer 2016

It is was an obvious choice, then, to shine that spotlight on Terry Emmrich, production manager in the books division of UWP. In addition to his expert knowledge of typesetting, composition, papers, offset printing, and binding (as well as digital files and production), Terry is a fine art printmaker. In that, he joins a large and historic community of Wisconsin artists.

He also has an impeccable production pedigree, hailing from Neenah in the heart of Wisconsin’s “Paper Valley.” He grew up among folks working in the paper industry, and after studying art and printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he was a sales rep for a printing company before joining UWP in 1989.

A linoleum block relief print by Terry Emmrich

A linoleum block relief print by Terry Emmrich

 

Nine of Terry’s linoleum block relief prints were chosen for a dual exhibition in summer 2016 in the galleries of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison’s premier visual and performing arts venue.

As UWP production manager, Terry has also taken an important role in the documentation of Wisconsin and American printmaking. He has been either the manager or assistant production manager when UWP published significant books on printmaking that required the highest production quality.

Managing the production of our titles related to printmaking has been a special treat for me as it has allowed me to apply my professional knowledge to the publication of a subject in which I have had a lifelong interest. In the case of the books on Warrington Colescott’s prints, it also gave me an opportunity to work with an international giant in the field of printmaking and an artist whom I have long admired.

The most notable of the UWP publications on printmaking are these.

1943A Century of American Printmaking, 1880–1980 by James Watrous
In this sumptuously illustrated history, James Watrous captures the vast panorama of American printmaking in the past century. As he traces the roots and evolution of the art, the story becomes one of prints, people, and events—from the printmakers, their artistic conceptions, and works, to the curators, dealers. collectors, critics, printers, workshops, and exhibitions that played crucial supporting roles. The result is both a compelling cultural history and a seminal survey of a major American art form.
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The Print in the Western World: An Introductory History by Linda C. Hults
A history of  500 years of the fine-art print, including detailed treatment of the work of five master printmakers—Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns. More than 700 illustrations, forty-nine of them in color, show the evolution of the relief, intaglio, planographic, and stencil processes through the centuries.

0485Progressive Printmakers: Wisconsin Artists and the Print Renaissance by Warrington Colescott and Arthur O. Hove
Printmaking exploded on the American art scene after World War II, rapidly expanding from New York to the Midwest and beyond. Central to this movement and its development was the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where a group of talented young artists was making prints and developing a print curriculum. Progressive Printmakers documents, in words and stunning pictures, the breakthrough aesthetics and technical innovations that made the Madison printmakers a force in the art world.

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The Prints of Warrington Colescott: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1948–2008 by Mary Weaver Chapin
A satirist in the tradition of William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, and George Grosz, Warrington Colescott interprets contemporary and historical events, from the personal to the public, the local to the international. He is noted for his exceptional command of complex printmaking techniques and for his innovative approach to intaglio printing. This book is the first fully illustrated catalogue of Colescott’s extensive and varied graphic career and accompanied a major retrospective exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Colescott, also a UWP author as the co-writer of Progressive Printmakers, is still making art today at age 95.

To read more 80th Anniversary posts about publishing history at the University of Wisconsin Press, click here.

To read more “staff spotlights” from other university presses, visit here. 

A vision for a modern, democratic Muslim nation

An interview with James Rush about Hamka’s Great Story: A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia 

Just published, Hamka’s Great Story by James R. Rush explores the life and work of of an influential Indonesian thought leader, his vision for his emerging nation, and his lasting influence on Muslim religious culture. It is published in the University of Wisconsin Press series, New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies.

By immersing myself in his prolific body of public writing, I sought to see Indonesia through his eyes instead of through my own. This was my first goal.

Hamka’s Great Story focuses on a single individual. What drew you to Hamka? And what’s the big picture? I am first and foremost a historian of Indonesia. I went to Hamka to understand Indonesia better. By immersing myself in his prolific body of public writing, I sought to see Indonesia through his eyes instead of through my own. This was my first goal. But because Hamka was such a widely read and influential thought leader, I felt that seeing Indonesia through his eyes could also help us understand the large and important Muslim Indonesian subculture from which he spoke and to which he spoke. This became my second goal. I believe that this is immensely valuable for those of us who are interested not only in modern Indonesia, but also in national identities everywhere, and how religious ideas and identities are enmeshed within them.

If Benedict Anderson was right that nations like Indonesia are imagined communities, we should be asking: What sort of community, exactly, is being imagined for Indonesia? And by whom? To Hamka and other members of his generation (including seminal figures such as Sukarno) fell the remarkable opportunity of “imagining” the nation of Indonesia in the very moments of its historic formation as the Dutch East Indies gave way tumultuously to the Republic of Indonesia. Hamka’s Great Story is exactly this: Indonesia imagined as a modern Muslim nation.Indonesia

Who was Hamka? Hamka (Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, 1908–1981) was a prodigious writer with a popular touch. He wrote beautifully in the Dutch colony’s lingua franca, Malay, which was also adopted in the 1920s as the aspirational national language for Indonesia and called Indonesian. Hamka’s early magazines, books, and novels found readers throughout the far-flung nation-to-be. What gave them their traction, aside from Hamka’s easy style and good stories, was their message. We are living in an age of profound and destabilizing change, he said. We can embrace this change hopefully if we embrace Islam as our guide. Islam can shape our new society and provide its values. Indonesia, our dreamed-of nation, can cohere around it. This positive message touched the zeitgeist. Hamka embellished it prolifically throughout his lifetime, which eventually stretched from the colonial era well into the life of the Republic.

What sort of Islam did Hamka propagate? Like the vast majority of Indonesians, Hamka was a Sunni Muslim. But as a self-described modernist, he declined to identify with the traditional schools of law, or madhhab (Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’i), and claimed “the Madhhab Salaf, being the school of the Prophet and his companions and of the ulamas who follow his footsteps.” In this, he followed Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida and other reformers based in Egypt, whose ideas he streamed into Indonesia. Like them, he rejected many traditional Muslim practices as superstitions and sought to reconcile Islam with the modern sciences and political advances of the West. Our country, he told his readers, can be both thoroughly modern and thoroughly Muslim. He envisioned a literate, prosperous, democratic Indonesia in which the values of Islam permeated the society at large and provided the basis for ethnic and religious tolerance. In his imagined Indonesia, monogamous marriages would replace polygamous ones, strong nuclear families would supersede shambling extended ones, and rationality and knowledge would overcome myth and ignorance.

Was Hamka an original thinker? Hamka was a brilliant synthesizer of facts, ideas, and arguments that he gleaned from the works of others, most significantly (as he often remarked) from modern Egyptian writers and intellectuals whose work he read in Arabic. Even the plot of his most famous novel was borrowed. Yet, in transposing all of this to Indonesia, he created something new. We can say that the master narrative that underlay his entire body of writing—what I call his Great Story—is both original and unique in its depth and complexity. Its ubiquity in the public sphere in the form of his multitudes of books, pamphlets, newspaper columns, novels, interviews, and, eventually, radio and television programs and audio cassettes made his Great Story a foundational frame of reference for generations of Indonesian Muslims.

Was Hamka’s vision for Indonesia contested? Very much so. Indeed, it was part of a huge public argument about what sort of society and nation Indonesia should become. His ideas comported with the views of the modernist mass organization Muhammadiyah, of which he was a leading figure and popular theologian. But they stood in contention with the more conservative views of Indonesia’s other mass Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama. Moreover, Indonesia’s much smaller community of Christians found Hamka’s assertive propagation of Islam overbearing and, at times, threatening. And its communists, who surged intermittently during his lifetime, belittled Islam and religion altogether. Hamka played a key and sometimes controversial role in this contest over the fate of the nation, which came to a bloody head in the 1960s in a bitter culture war that ended in the massacre of the country’s communists and rule by the army. As all of this played out, he spent more than two years as a political prisoner and, subsequently under the new military government, served ambivalently as head of Indonesia’s first national council of Muslim religious scholars.

Hamka died in 1981. Do his ideas matter today? Some of Hamka’s books remain popular today and his thirty-volumes of commentary on the Qur’an are still widely read. More significantly, however, Hamka’s modernist formulation of Islam for Indonesia underlies much of the discourse about Islam in Indonesia today, even though his role in shaping this discourse has been obscured by the passage of time. As Indonesia struggles with the surge of angry and exclusionist Islamic movements that have found so much traction elsewhere—and, to a degree, in Indonesia, too—his complex, inclusive, and hopeful vision, still so prevalent, makes it harder for the ideas of extremists to take root and grow.

James Rush

James Rush

James R. Rush is an associate professor of history at Arizona State University. He is the author of Hamka’s Great Story, as well as Opium to Java: Revenue Farming and Chinese Enterprise in Colonial Indonesia, 1860–1910, The Last Tree: Reclaiming the Environment in Tropical Asia, and numerous biographical essays about contemporary Asian activists, humanitarians, and public intellectuals in the Ramon Magsaysay Awards book series and website.

 

University of Wisconsin Press launches three African Studies journals

At last week’s annual convention of the African Studies Association in San Diego, the University of Wisconsin Press announced that it is the new publisher of three journals in the field: African Economic History, Ghana Studies, and Mande Studies. The journals had previously been published by the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in affiliation with the Ghana Studies Association and Mande Studies Association.

“The University of Wisconsin Press has been an active and award-winning book publisher in African studies for more than fifty years, often partnering with the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s prestigious African Studies Program on book series and conference exhibits,” noted press director Dennis Lloyd. “Publishing these journals is a natural extension of that collaboration and of our commitment to the field of African Studies.”

The African Studies Program at UW–Madison will continue to be involved as a collaborator and liaison. Neil Kodesh, ASP director, said the transition to UWP “will result in much higher quality production and customer service, while maintaining affordability at a nonprofit university press. And the new designs look great!”

“It was exciting to reintroduce these journals at the ASA conference,” said Toni Gunnison, Journals Manager at UWP. “It is our priority to make the journal content more dynamic and available online. We will be able to improve each journal’s international visibility through online services, marketing, customer service and fulfillment, and advertising. UWP publishes fifteen journals covering in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields, so we have the staff and expertise to enhance these journals in a cost-efficient way.”

FergusonUWP’s production manager for journals, John Ferguson, has given each journal a fresh new cover and interior text design.

“In approaching the redesign of these journals, I asked the faculty and staff at the UW–Madison African Studies program for ideas. We really wanted covers that represent the research content of the journals. Catherine Reiland, interim associate director at ASP, connected me with Mary Hark in UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. The patterns that appear on the journals are photographic representations of indigo-dyed handmade papers that Mary created with botanical fiber collected in Kumasi, Ghana.”

African Economic History was founded in 1974 by the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin and subsequently has also been affiliated York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas. The annual journal publishes multidisciplinary work in English and French on the economic history of African societies from precolonial times to the present. The journal is edited by Mariana Candido (University of Kansas), Jennifer Lofkrantz (State University of New York–Geneseo), and Paul E. Lovejoy (York University).

Ghana Studies is the journal of the Ghana Studies Association, an international affiliate of the African Studies Association. Published annually, Ghana Studies provides a forum for peer-reviewed, cutting-edge research about Ghana’s society, culture, environment and history. In addition, it features occasional material, source reports, book reviews, and notices of fellowships and prizes awarded by the Ghana Studies Association. Since its first issue in 1998, Ghana Studies has published significant work by leading scholars based in Ghana, the US, Canada, and Europe. The journal is edited by Akousua Adomako Ampofo (University of Ghana) and Sean Hanretta (Northwestern University).

Mande Studies was founded in 1999 by MANSA, the Mande Studies Association. It is an international, interdisciplinary annual journal publishing scholarly essays in English and French on the history, arts, anthropology, sociology, development, and contemporary issues relating to the diverse peoples and cultures of the Mande diaspora of West Africa. The Mande world includes parts of the Cape Verde Islands, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. The journal is edited by Peter Mark (Wesleyan University) and Ismaela Samba Traoré (Institut des sciences humaines, Mali).

For more information, contact:
Sheila Leary, Communications Director, The University of Wisconsin Press
publicity@uwpress.wisc.edu   608-263-0734   uwpress.wisc.edu

 

 

Not a review of David Mitchell’s new novel *SLADE HOUSE*

Previewing the book without preempting the pleasure of reading it

A conversation with Mitchell scholars Paul A. Harris and Patrick O’Donnell

9780812998689

The University of Wisconsin Press journal SubStance published a special issue earlier in 2015, edited by Paul A. Harris, devoted to the extraordinary fiction of David Mitchell. A new novel from Mitchell, Slade House, debuts October 25, 2015.

Traditional book reviews of novelist David Mitchell’s writing inevitably spoil the pleasures of discovering what turn this genre-bending author’s latest work has taken; even a cursory account of plot, characters, and structure tells many Mitchell fans things they’d rather not have known. Here, Mitchell scholars Paul A. Harris and Patrick O’Donnell engage in a critical conversation about Slade House, in the hopes of piquing readers’ curiosity without making them feel piqued or PO’d.

This conversation will resume in early November, when Harris and O’Donnell will assess and respond to reviews of Slade House after it appears October 25.

PAH Patrick, I am delighted that you agreed to discuss Slade House prior to its imminent arrival (October 25) in bookstores and the mailboxes of Mitchell fans. I cannot help but point out that the opening lines of your own book on Mitchell (A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell) fit his next novel perfectly: you cite W.G. Sebald character Austerlitz’s belief that “all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive at a certain house at a given 9781441171221time.”  Since those lines seem almost literally accurate in describing Slade House, I have to wonder what your immediate reaction was when you finished the text.  Did it seem like what you would have expected of his next novel, or does it break new ground?

For my part, I have to confess that at first the book left me a bit flat; it felt like The Bone Clocks ‘lite’ (in terms of both literary density and weight). As I read the novel, I kept anticipating/imagining the negative reviews it seems likely to receive from canonical- and avant-garde-minded critics alike. But as I flipped around in it and thought more about it, I concluded that Slade House is even more successful than Mitchell’s prior books at managing to be both accessible and complex, popular and academic. It’s a really fast read that keeps you engaged, but on reflection it seems meta-literary in complicated, interesting ways.

POD Thanks, Paul, I am delighted to join in this conversation with you about David Mitchell’s newest novel. As  you suggest, it is no surprise that Mitchell would write a novel about a house—in this case, a haunted house. The interior spaces of Mitchell’s novels are typically freighted with the past, the history of the events that have taken place therein, the memories or remnants of the characters that have inhabited them. I think Slade House is in many ways an intensification of Mitchell’s interest in the ways that time and space intersect, or perhaps a better way to think about it is that his “global” interest in those intersections has been given a specific location in a London back alley. Indeed, many of the stories that circulate through Slade House will seem familiar (if inevitably uncanny) to Mitchell’s readers as we encounter motifs and figures writ large in The Bone Clocks and percolating through all of the other novels. But I completely agree with you that what is happening here goes well beyond a continuation of the same esoteric narrative about the wars of the atemporals. I’d be interested to hear more about what your views about the metaliterary tropes and ideas of the novel.9780812976823

PAH Let me return to your unexpectedly apt introductory words in A Temporary Future. You wrote that “The ‘certain’ house at which one arrives in reading Mitchell—the novel one holds in one’s hands—is typically composed of many parts and genres, the architecture being neither carpenter’s gothic nor that of the sedimented multinovel, but a capacious assemblage of narratives connected to each other in differential patterns. Those patterns, detected by readers through variable acts of attention, can shift and fluctuate depending on the circumstances of one’s reading, the narrative thread that draws one’s notice at a given moment, the emergence of a sequence that compels one to recall something in a given novel’s ‘past,’ or something that seems to be lurking in its ‘future.’” These words not only apply literally to Slade House, but could also describe Mitchell’s ‘house of fiction’ as a whole. Simply put, one could say that Mitchell’s ‘house’ (Slade House and oeuvre alike) has only an ambiguous physical location and elusive materiality; one could say that it doesn’t exist in space but rather persists in time. I suppose that on one level this is true of all fiction; what would you say makes Mitchell’s work different in this regard?

POD  I really like the notion of the house of Slade House as analogous to Mitchell’s “house of fiction” as a whole, and the idea that this house persists across multiple genres and temporalities but, in effect, floats in space. We could compare Mitchell’s house of fiction to the famous figure Henry James put forward in his preface to The Portrait of a Lady, where he says that the house of fiction “has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at the best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life.”  James’s figure is primarily epistemological and perspectival: reality is complex, and we perceive it, and know it, via multiple apertures, each framed by the position of the viewer and her/his “will” or capacity to see what is out there. Mitchell’s house is, by comparison, ontological, an incarceration of time and space that frames the condition of our being-in-the-world. I think one of the great attractions of a novel like Slade House is that Mitchell is enable to dramatize the immensely complex relationship between time, space, and being through an array of popular narrative genres and highly readable stories. The stories do not simplify the philosophical issues involved, they illuminate them, as light through a stained glass window illuminates religious mysteries.

But that brings me to a question for you that I think the novel raises as a continuation of the “Shaded Way” narratives that 9780375724503have been circulating in Mitchell’s novels since they were first hinted at in the Mongolia chapter of Ghostwritten: what do we make of Mitchell’s ongoing interest in the connection between science and religion, or science and the “other-natural” (as compared to the “supernatural)?  Any thoughts?

PAH Pat, thank you for bring in the very apposite James passage; I completely concur with the contrast you draw between his perspectival-nuance view and Mitchell’s constructive-ontological narrative poetics. I would add that it feels like James is always looking over the shoulders of his characters; that he gives us the world from their viewpoint but he is constantly “piercing” their windows onto the world, and actually he has difficulty allowing a character’s “individual vision” or “will” to take over the narrative. Mitchell, by contrast, seems to have full-blown voices in his head that he transcribes onto the page. He is invested in getting speech, language, allusive details, and tone exactly right for the multiplicity of characters he creates, the figures who become the reader’s guides through the global tours of his books. At the Los Angeles stop of his Bone Clocks book tour, when two young aspiring novelists asked him what one should do to become a better writer, his immediate response was to listen to people, to hear acutely and precisely how people speak—the locutions and accents and diction. I remember thinking, yes, one sees that in his books; it’s just easy to forget how quickly he immerses us in his characters’ voices, because when we think about his texts, it’s the innovations in form, settings, and intertextuality that stand out, plus the philosophical/cultural questions he raises (mortality, power, genocide, predation). There are inevitable echoes across his different voices—I recall one reviewer somewhat snarkily stringing together similar-sounding quotes from characters across Bone Clocks—but the passages were all the kind of pithy riffs/aphoristic formulations that Mitchell excels at and understandably (in my view) cannot resist writing. It’s not the case that all his characters speak in similar voices in general.

To me, Mitchell’s ability to transcribe voices onto the page operates in an interesting way—sometimes I think he is a ventriloquist; at other times it seems as if he’s the dummy.  This connects to the question you posed, because I remember that my first response to the noncorporeal intelligence of the Mongolia chapter in Ghostwritten was that it was a simple, literal embodiment or allegory of narration—particularly Mitchell’s narrative mode, ‘transmigrating’ from one mind to another as he changes chapters.  In Temporary Future you neatly characterize that character’s consciousness as “an assemblage of overlapping and differentiated cognitive maps, languages, fragmentary memories, and partial histories,” and read it as a metaphor for connections among strangers across time and space, as well as a figure for the fractured nature of identity in Mitchell.  I agree with this and by comparison what I saw is quite basic—the transmigration is a map of the narration’s itinerary, an image of Mitchell’s own constructive, creative journey from one person-place to another.

In terms of the question of the ‘other-natural,’ it does seem puzzling that Mitchell repeatedly disavows belief in anything beyond the material or natural, yet repeatedly returns to fantastic elements in his fiction that suggest otherwise.cover_sub  I think it might be possible to sort of invert the question: it is precisely the ability of narration to move magically, fantastically, across time and space, to inhabit other minds, to bring them to life and let them expire, or to have them hop into another head instead—‘other-natural’ elements or dimensions would just be an extension of these powers of narration. When I asked him about this issue in the interview for SubStance, he said:

“Maybe it’s worthwhile to note that a novel is a zone of near-infinite possibilities, where contradictory elements can co-exist, including temporal ones. The Bone Clocks is about mortals like us . . . as well as pseudo-immortals like the Anchorites . . . as well as the Horologists, who have a ‘Serial Repeater’ time-scale; and that’s okay, assuming you think the novel works. If The Bone Clocks was an astrophysics dissertation, I’d have my academic ID revoked and be escorted to the campus gate by security, and quite right too. Because it’s a novel, I get away with it. The other handy thing about novels is that while they explore, they don’t have to arrive at tidy conclusions.”

So, to me, Mitchell’s work invokes the ‘other natural’ as a possible world as a function of fiction’s power to produce infinite possible worlds. Maybe I am just using Mitchell’s ducking of the question to duck the question. . . . Bringing this back to Slade House, I felt that the way that the antagonists construct characters and the house clearly maps to Mitchell’s sense of the unlimited powers of the author to make up anything at any time, and to change the game as he or she sees fit.

After all that, then, I can only echo your unanswered question back to you: what do you make of Mitchell’s ongoing interest in the connection between science and religion, or science and the “other-natural” (as compared to the “supernatural)?

POD  I’m really intrigued by your statements about Mitchell’s ventriloquism, and I quite agree that he has an amazing capacity to capture and throw an assemblage of voices in his novels. This reminds me of Dickens, who knew a good deal about ventriloquism in the nineteenth century, and who was observed by his daughter, Mamie, to be “practicing” the voices of his characters before a mirror. Like Dickens, the convincingness of Mitchell’s voices have to do not just with matters of pitch and locution, but also with location—the planetary spaces that Mitchell is able to evoke both in the past and in the future. One of the things that would distinguish him from a Charles Dickens—picking up on your point about Mitchell’s character—and worlds-hopping—is his invocation of multiple worlds in adjacency, the multiple realities or, as Ursula Heise would put it, “chronoschisms” that Mitchell’s readers are encouraged to inhabit as stories and as formal structures. In a sense, both James and Dickens are after a kind of mastery—James (especially late James) to represent the totality of a consciousness or perspective, Dickens to trace the master plot behind all of the subplots and seemingly disconnected narratives of urban cacophony. I think the difference in Mitchell is that, as an author, he is not interested in mastery: as you elegantly put it, he brings plots, worlds and characters to life and allows them to expire, often in medias res. This may be going a bit out on a limb, but one of the great attractions of Mitchell’s narratives is their stories, made up in a very traditional sense of compelling characters and interesting, suspenseful plots; however, as an author (and of course this is something of a trompe d’oeil) he is far less anxious than Dickens or James about forsaking his authority over them; he seems not particularly worried about the form of singularity that we term “author,” though of course he has attained great visibility and, even, celebrity status despite his self-effacing authority. In other terms, he generates multiple, partial worlds and stories that make room for readers to connect, recall, and retell; in effect, he forsakes his authority, or alternatively, he allows readers the sense that they are co-authoring the work.

Bringing this back to Slade House, you’ve already suggested a number of ways that we could view this novel as a series of stories that entail metanarrative consequences for Mitchell’s own “house of fiction.” Not too fancifully, I think, we could consider all of Mitchell’s novels as “slade houses” (with the obvious pun on “slade/slayed”) through which his living-dying characters circulate in time. While, as devotees of “the Shaded Way” (adding a third resonance to “slade/slayed/shade”), the antagonists of Slade House seek immortality via the obscene consumption of souls, they fail over time—time itself is their enemy—as do the vampiric “immortals” of The Bone Clocks, Cloud Atlas, and Ghostwritten; in the end, they die, every single one of them. And the protagonists in this metaphysical battle, the Atemporals, also can and do die; in fact, death is essential to their being, as is the case with Marinus, who makes his/her reappearance as a psychiatrist from Toronto in Slade House. I think through all of this that Mitchell sees mortality, the fact of death that comes to us all, as the primary condition of being human, and all of our attempts to circumvent death (and time, for that matter), as the engine behind the construction of empires, the accumulation of wealth, the quest for power, and the recurrence of war—as if, in the latter, we can defeat death by incurring it everywhere.

And this then takes me to responding to your call out on the question of the relation between science and religion in Mitchell. I couldn’t help laughing at Mitchell’s saying that if The Bone Clocks was an astrophysics dissertation, his academic ID would be revoked and he’d be escorted to the exit by campus security. Yet if you read some of the material with which Mitchell is clearly acquainted on quantum physics, the concept of black holes or the many-worlds interpretation would sound no more outlandish to skeptical ears than the idea of an ongoing war between two semi-immortal factions taking place in a parallel universe that, every so often, encroaches upon human individuals in the “real” world. I think Mitchell is interested in the deep connections to be perceived across history between religion and science, both disciplines premised upon systems of belief that offer the potential of extended life or life after death. I can hear the empiricists scoffing at this, but what else is behind the multilayered and extending scientific quests that inform cybernetics (replacing mortal elements with mechanical parts that last longer following an infinite logic of substitution), astrophysics (in the attempt to understand the origins of the universe and the limitations on its near-infinite expanse), mathematics (in the abstractions infinite numbers), or genetics (in the attempt to create a complete DNA map and thus genetically produce individuals who can live longer, and perhaps even be reborn after death through cryogenics). I think Mitchell in his fiction is particularly attuned to how driven we are to find a way to cheat death. Authors do this in their writing (which they hope will live well beyond them in future generations of readers); Mitchell generates a form of writing which takes as a principle theme the good and bad consequences of this “life-drive.”

Paul Harris

Paul Harris

Paul A. Harris is a co-editor of SubStance and a professor of English at Loyola Marymount University. He served as president of the International Society for the Study of Time from 2004-2013 and edited the recent SubStance issue David Mitchell in the Labyrinth of Time.  His current project is The Petriverse of Pierre Jardin.

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell is a professor of twentieth- and twenty-first-century British and American literature at Michigan State University; he is the author and editor of over a dozen books on modern and contemporary fiction, most recently, The American Novel Now:  Reading American Fiction Since 1980 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell (Bloomsbury, 2015).  He is currently working on a book about Henry James and contemporary cinema.