Ruminations on Paul de Kruif’s _Microbe Hunters_

Dear Reader,

A Note: this review began on an immensely positive note and in immensely positive feelings, but some of the darker elements of the book really “stuck in my craw” as a professor of mine would say. You are forewarned…

I can see why Paul de Kruif’s international best seller has been reprinted several times.

Kruif’s storytelling ability is impressive, his candor infectious, and his speculation comic.

Z World Detroit!

Holy crap.

Just read this article: http://www.indiegogo.com/zworlddetroit

I recommend you read it, too. It is covering the proposal of a zombie themed experience park in Detroit — so like an amusement park, but you live the experience of a zombie apocalypse.

This idea is so messed up, brilliant, exhilarating, and terrifying that I can barely give you my initial impressions of it.

So, here are just some quick thoughts, at a glance.

Holy Cat! _The Thing from Another World (1951)_ Reviewed

Howdy There Dear Reader,

Through the UCSB Arts & Lectures Series … and a lot of other organizations, I and many other Santa Barbaranites (Santa Barbarians?) saw the 1951 Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks Sci Fi gem, The Thing From Another Planet. Yes, the first adaptation of “Who Goes There?”, which would also inspire The Thing (John Carpenter’s still awesome looking 1982 flick).

Let’s dive right into the review.

This movie was awesome.

Let me first explain, “Holy Cat!” which just might be the best catchphrase ever. This gets tossed about as a general exclamation throughout the film. I’m going to make a conscious effort to start saying it. You should, too. It’s child friendly. Comical. And genuinely exclamatory. What more can you want?

Okay, tangent completed.

That out of the way, let’s get down to some more serious analysis. Let’s talk about science, first. This is the true villain of the film… not the evil alien vegetable humanoid abomination. The character of Dr. Carrington is the champion of science, which seems to be an objective search of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. He explicitly advocates the destruction of humanity in exchange for a wealth of knowledge.

Predictably, he is the bungling interloper who gums up the heroics of the fearless military members that do, eventually, save the day.

What interests me about this film as a consumer is its self-conscious humor.

What interests me about this film as a cultural critic is its own interest in different conceptions of life.

The antagonist of the film is described as a vegetable-like life from another planet, or if you take one character’s turn of phrase, an “intelligent carrot!” This life form pushes the protagonists own understanding of what it means to be alive… briefly, before they desperately try to kill it in the name of self-defense (while Carrington, the White House, and the military all say not to kill it at any cost!).

The perception is that the creature is trying to procreate — for which they have rather conclusively discovered it uses blood. The role of blood in the film is a bit haunting, particularly in its temporal proximity to Nazi Germany. Blood appears to be a valuable commodity, to be stolen and consumed by the invasive alien. The fact that the monster here is vegetable-based — and only relies on blood for sustenance — means that the fear of blood contamination is eliminated (unlike the short story and later filmic iterations). The role of blood in this film seems to be more complex, but I haven’t had a chance to think too much about it yet. I’ll write you an update after I rewatch the Carpenter film and see the 2011 prequel.

Well, blood ruminations aside, let me talk about fear and life a bit, before I close these rather rambling remarks.

The heroes extend the fear for their own lives to a fear for all humanity, annnnnd bring us back to the old discussion of Global Terror/Local Security. This film from 1951 already lays out the issue — as does the 1938 short story it is based on — that I am obsessed with in 20th century cultural texts.

The fact the the life of this is vegetal is really cool, because it at least attempts to think through a radically different way of living and being. At the same time, it is a little disconcerting — and none of the characters bring this up — to consider a life form that is explicitly stronger, more intelligent, and more resilient than human life…  even if it is a tad too anthropomorphic and events don’t confirm the claim that it is more intelligent than humanity.

The conflict between science/knowledge and survival creates an interesting and complex interplay that is absent from most texts considering similar themes. In the end, the immense knowledge supposedly surrounding this (silent, threatening, violent) alien life is sacrificed in favor of … well, survival.

The story plays out similarly to your typical monster flick: monster emerges, it’s misunderstood, no wait it’s a threat, oh no! to all humanity!, we better kill it. Phew, thank goodness. All is safe… for now…

The sense of loss that the caricaturesque Carrington would have driven home is removed — as Carrington is knocked unconscious — and the end of the film is triumphant and foreboding.

But, Holy Cat! was it a good time watching this one outside at the beautiful sunken gardens of the Santa Barbara courthouse at 8:30 in the evening. This was my first trip to the film series… so expect some more posts on these.

Also, I’ll try to post on some things that were made after 1980, soon.

Ciao for now, reader,

S

 

_Night of the Living Dead_/_The Dead Next Door_ Double Take

Hello Dear Reader,

I’ve been busy these past few days, no, not busy doing the writing I’ve been trying to do all summer… I’ll get to that today… er… after I write this epistle to you.

Yesterday I spent most of the day trying to put together my reader materials for ENGL193: Detective Fiction, which I will begin teaching for Summer Session B in a few weeks here at UCSB.

After realizing a) that I was trying to do too much and b) completely revamping the course to be about gothic detection or outbreak narratives were out of the question at this point, I packed it up and came home to watch some good ol’ zombie movie-age and ease my troubled mind.

Having rewatched Night of the Living Dead two nights ago, last night I — and my girlfriend and frolleague co-spectators — settled on J.R. Bookwalter’s blood-fest, The Dead Next Door. I thought I’d take to the blog and give you some thoughts on them.

Reading Update/Mini-Review: _The History of Caliph Vathek_ by William Beckford

Dear Reader,

I’ve made my way through Vathek, which I had mixed feelings about. As a piece/parody of gothic literature, it was fairly interesting, but the characterization and plot were somewhat inconsistent — not that I was expecting gothic fiction to be the place for an unaporetic and well-sutured plot.

I found the oscillation between terror and intrigue throughout the text to be really interesting and fruitful, and the payoff at the end regarding hope was right up my (theoretical interest and research) alley.

It doesn’t hold a candle to Otranto in terms of tone or plot, but it was notably more adventurous and inspired.

I’ll probably alternate between mini-reviews like this, and the more developed format I used for Zone One. 

Expect reviews of Wyndham Lewis’s The Art of Being Ruled and Paul DeKruif’s legendary Microbe Hunters in the coming weeks.

PS don’t forget to do your own summer reading!

A Note

I’ve recently begun reading/rereading major works of gothic fiction to supplement my dissertation research — I’m looking at some gothic elements in modernism and at zombie films and novels (often seen as modern gothic).

I’ll keep you posted.

I have a handful of books ready to read (and I just finished The Castle of Otranto), but aside from the obvious choices… any recommendations?

I’m most looking forward to Wieland

Book Review Number 1: Colson Whitehead’s _Zone One_

At a glance:

Hardcover, from Doubleday Press, 259 pages, Print

Positive: strong finish, broad vocabulary, interesting take on post-apocalyptic economy

Negative: tries too hard, narrative structure (intentionally but maybe not successfully) convoluted, flashbacks and episodes longer (and less interesting in most cases) than linear plot

Rating: Better than okay.

Fans of zombie fiction: this book is worth a chance, but you have to meet it halfway… actually you have to meet it slightly more than that, that’s when it starts to get good.

If I could speak to the author: Colson Whitehead, though you will likely never read this: thank you. Despite being skeptical (read: picky and harsh) at first, I was won over by the thought that went into this novel. Though it takes you a while to hit your stride, when you get there you produce a gem in an otherwise dull landscape.

Full Review…

A Note On Current Work

Hello Dear Reader,

Just letting you know what I’m working on right now.

The end of Night of the Living Dead (1968) seems to haunt me more and more as I research and write on zombies, outbreak narratives, and biopolitics. Natalia Cecire (@ncecire on twitter) was dead on (no pun intended) when she told me that she considers that final scene a lynching. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting her a few months ago, and never really got to say so in person, so if you read this, thank you.

Currently, I’m plugging away at an article I am hoping to submit to a zombie collection. It’s examining how adding Critical Race Theory and Animal/Posthuman Theory to Biopolitical Analyses of Zombie and Outbreak fiction can deepen our understanding of the political and ethical stakes of these types of narratives, especially in their relation to terror, sovereignty, and oppression.

We’ll see how that all goes, I’ve really just gotten started.

I’m also reading Paul De Kruif’s 1926 smash hit, Microbe Hunters. I’m trying to take my time with this read, as it is completely enjoyable, full of speculative biographical flourishes that I thought would infuriate me, but really just won me over. I’ll do a short book review after I finish it.

I’m also gearing up for my Wyndham Lewis-athon. My first dissertation chapter will be on Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Crowd Theory, and contagion. I’m not ready to share anything right now, but I’ll try to get you some book reviews when I make my way through The Art of Being Ruled (1926), Hitler (1931), and The Hitler Cult (1939). I’m particularly excited to read these after having read  Blasting and Bombardiering (1937), which definitely does not sympathize very strongly with Hitler or the Nazis — as many of you probably know, Lewis is often accused of some very reasonably deduced Fascist leanings, and his 1931 study of Hitler is often characterized as ‘infatuated’. I’m intrigued to see how deep his sympathy runs, and how thoroughly recanted it is in 1939 — because Blasting and Bombardiering already does some work in separating himself from English Fascists, and from Hitler and the Nazis.

Whatever the case, I’ll let you know what I find, and maybe we can have a chat about it? If there are any Lewis scholars out there I would absolutely love to hear your take on his politics — that’s not really my area of interest, though it is directly related.

Happy Sunday, Happy Summer, Happy Reading!

S.

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