We here on staff would like to remind everyone that the reading seasons for the Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction and the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry are under way. Information about the competitions can be found through the links below, or though the “Contests” tab at the top of our page.
Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction
Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry
We look forward to an exciting reading season.
Friends and contributors of The Madison Review, the staff is ecstatic to announce our first, full-fledged digital issue. The Fall 2013 issue contains not only the best possible fiction and poetry, but you can access it from the comfort of your own computer. What’s best, it’s free!
Congratulations to our first ever Juan Rollace Undergraduate Poetry Prize Winner, Thiahera Nurse, whose work is featured.
Special thanks to Assistant Editor Tom Fullmer for putting this fantastic issue together, and thanks to our readers and submitters for helping us produce great journals season after season.
The staff here at The Review is proud to announce our first Juan Wallace Undergraduate Poetry Competition here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All undergrads at the university are eligible for entry.
Those looking to submit should e-mail their poem (1 please) to firstname.lastname@example.org by Fri. Nov 22 with “Undergrad Competition” in the subject line.
The first place winner of the contest will receive $100 and the chance to be published in our Fall issue. All competitors will have the opportunity to win $50 from the Facebook voting portion of the competition found here:
Good luck to all who enter, and may the best poet win!
We at The Madison Review are excited to be back for another season with our submitters and subscribers. We would like to begin by addressing a few changes you’ll find around the website:
- The Submit page has been revised to include information about our reading season.
- Please also find an announcement concerning our first online issue, forthcoming this Fall.
- The 2013 winners of the Phyllis Smart-Young and Chris O’Malley writing awards have been added to their respective pages.
Stay alert for more news from all of us on staff and keep reading!
It’s an old question that can be phrased and re-imagined in lots of different ways. Do we truly know a text through considering or abandoning the author? Does art exist in a vacuum? What can we excuse in the name of art or its appreciation? This multi-faceted contention has far-reaching implications beyond the realm of literature and literary criticism and into other disciplines as well. If we broaden the question a bit (and lose a bit of preciseness), we can trace it back quite a ways into the recent history of critical thought.
If you were to survey the literary landscape over the last century or so, you would see two dominating schools of thought on hermeneutics and literary theory rising up to meet one another head on sometime between the 1960s and 1970s. One of these schools of thought, known as Formalism, had been developed by people like Victor Shklovsky and other early Russian formalists around the time just before the Revolution in 1917. It was a response to Romanticist theories of literature left over from the previous century and de-emphasized the historical and cultural contexts of the text, asserting that “literature has its own history, a history of innovation in formal structures, and is not determined…by external material history” (from Boris Eichenbaum’s 1926 essay “The Theory of the ‘Formal Method’”). This critical approach prevailed over many other methods of literary criticism for quite some time (and eventually developed in America into the New Criticism), until other ideas on the subject began to gain momentum in the classrooms and offices of academics.
This competing collection of ideas asserted that we cannot know a text separate from its various contexts. The most effective textual analysis comes from also analyzing the life of the author, other texts from the same period, and social trends, political trends, and economic conditions of the time. This school of thought, known as Historicism, was applied to many different disciplines and became fully rigorous in the writings of Hegel in the 19th century. While such looming figures as Marx and Foucault were influenced by these Hegelian notions, their application in literary criticism did not really come into vogue until around the 1980s, when the New Historicism fleshed itself out in the work of popular critic Stephen Greenblatt. New Historicism is, in simple terms, an updated version of Historicism, taking into account developments in Marxist and Poststructuralist thought. A new historicist (as opposed to a historicist) would be more likely to emphasize the self-constructing feedback loop between literary text and history, and less likely to offer up one unique or identifiable social or historical context.
While these axiomatic systems of interpreting art seem to fully instruct us on how to discern meaning, they fail to tell us how to answer the following question: at what point do the actions of the artist obligate us to dismiss their art? Put simply, can a bad person make good art?
This question becomes precise in the criticism of the work of the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. The mid-twentieth century director and auteur has been widely regarded as one of the most talented filmmakers of her time, often being spoken of in the same sentences as Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. But while her films are known for being early examples of innovative editing and cinematography, they are also known for being something else: Nazi propaganda.
Riefenstahl, who started her career in entertainment as an actress and dancer, eventually began directing in the 1920s, quietly gaining popularity among German elites in general, and one Adolf Hitler in particular. The admiration was reciprocal, it seems, as she is quoted as having said this of Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “The book made a tremendous impression on me. I became a confirmed National Socialist after reading the first page.” After sending a hand-written letter directly to Hitler, she was granted a meeting, and was offered to shoot a film documenting an upcoming party rally in Nuremburg. Hitler was impressed with her work and asked her to film another upcoming rally, which ended up becoming the acclaimed Triumph of the Will (named personally by Hitler), and the 1936 Olympic Games, which became the aesthetically beautiful sports documentary Olympia. While later in her life Riefenstahl denied purposefully making pro-Nazi propaganda, it is known through historical documents that the films were funded by Nazi party funds and that Riefenstahl was in close communication with the now infamous Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The films themselves show speeches by great leaders of the Third Reich, large masses of Germans marching and cheering in the streets, and in the case of Olympia, robust and healthy German bodies standing tall, glistening in the sun as their musculature writhes beneath the weight of shot put balls and javelins. Both films have been praised immensely for the multitude of groundbreaking filmmaking techniques used in their production. Riefenstahl utilized long tracking shots, multiple crane-mounted cameras, strange camera angles, and other techniques which would influence many filmmakers to come. With all of this information in mind, the appreciation of Riefenstahl’s art becomes problematic. Can we separate the aesthetics from the intent? Can we even call a propaganda film beautiful?
Riefenstahl herself has stated that she viewed the film as a documentary, simply as a taking down of history. Some critics refute this claim, stating that documentary, by its nature, must be the undistorted recording of reality. The Germany which Riefenstahl filmed, they claim, is one which has been constructed like a movie set, where the marches and ceremonies were designed by Riefenstahl to better serve the image of a Germany united under the Führer. But the fact that both Triumph and Olympia are often included in lists of the best films of the 20th century, along with its constant place on syllabi in various film schools, shows that she has not been dismissed despite her complicity in the objectively unethical atrocity that was the Third Reich.
Another artist whose work embodies this complex question is Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian musician who creates music within the extreme fringe sub-genre of metal music known as black metal. Black metal, for those unacquainted with it, is a style of heavy music which originated in Norway and Sweden in the 1980s with bands like Mayhem, Bathory, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, and Burzum, which is the name of Vikernes’ one man black metal project, started around 1991. Burzum means “darkness” in Black Speech (the fictional language created by Tolkien) and generally represents the overarching motif or aesthetic of black metal.
The genre as a whole is very ideologically replete, as the music mostly does not exist without a strong sense of culture and place. As a general rule, the black metal scene is associated with Satanism, paganism, or antitheism and is generally opposed to most major religions (Gorgoroth, Marduk). Nihilism and misanthropy are quite common, and a respect for natural elements – the stars, the moon, and mountains – is often present (Drudkh). Many black metal bands in the early 1990s wore black and white “corpse paint” on stage, which represented the coldness and despair that could be heard in the music; “the north” and the season of winter are often used as prevalent motifs (Immortal’s Sons of Northern Darkness). Transcendence and anonymity are important features, and some black metal artists refuse to show their faces or be interviewed (Xasthur). The further one is removed from society and its systems, the more “pure” his art can be. Some black metal musicians do not play live at all, and those that do consider their performances to be paramount to rituals, complete with props and theatrics. As practitioners of such an extreme art form, both sonically and ideologically, it was only a matter of time before black metal artists began to manifest their philosophies and attitudes outside of their music, in the real world.
Between 1992 and 1996 it is estimated that around fifty Christian churches were burned down by fans and musicians of the Norwegian black metal scene. Some of these churches had been around for hundreds of years, and it began to upset and frighten many people living in Norway. One of the most notorious church burnings to take place is believed to have been carried out by the aforementioned Varg Vikernes of Burzum. He even went so far as to use a photo of the charred remains of the church as the cover to Burzum’s EP Aske, which is Norwegian for “ashes”.
Furthermore, Vikernes was convicted and sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder of another figure of the early Norwegian black metal scene named Øystein ”Euronymous” Aarseth , of the band Mayhem. After arriving at Euronymous’ apartment in Oslo on August 10, 1993, a confrontation between Vikernes and Euronymous occurred, and Euronymous’ body was found later that night with twenty-three stab wounds on his head, neck, and back. While Vikernes claims that he killed Euronymous in self-defense, most other members of the black metal community who knew the two musicians believe that to be false. Vikernes was released in 2009 after serving 15 years of his sentence, but during his time in prison he wrote and published tracts on his own political and social philosophies and ideologies, a mix of Germanic Neopaganism, Odinist Norse mythology, racist White nationalism, and occult National Socialism.
Vikernes is a polarizing figure in the metal community. He represents the line which is so often toed in extreme music, art, etc. When it comes to metal specifically, there always has to be some amount of distancing oneself from the lyrical content and its actual referent in the real world. If we didn’t do this, listening to a band like Cannibal Corpse would be near impossible. But what do I do if I like the music, but I don’t believe at all in the sentiments behind it? If I continue to listen, am I doing something…unethical? This question has up to this point remained unanswered, and will remain so, I’m guessing, for quite some time.
- Tom Fullmer
In workshop one day, we were asked by the professor to go around and share our favorite
poets. “Bukowski,” muttered moody beanie boy. This was followed other common responses
(Frost, Whitman, Shakespeare) and a few obscure or at least not as popular ones, students’ eyes
glancing furtively at the professor to see if they’d impressed. Rockabilly girl, with the long
strand of fake pearls, staked her claim on Ginsberg: “I’ve memorized ‘America,’” which she
proceeded to recite, glancing smugly around at the rest of us. This seemed a bit much, but it gave
me time to think. I always have trouble picking favorites. One of my most loved poets popped
into mind. He wasn’t so obscure, but he also hadn’t been mentioned.
Though the professor had sat quietly through everyone else’s answers, mine provoked his
response. He frowned slightly. “E.E. Cummings? Hmm . . . . He’s sentimental. Lots of young
writers mention him. But once they mature, they usually let him go.”
It was early in the semester. I didn’t know the professor or the class well and didn’t feel
comfortable making a scene, but I felt simultaneously embarrassed and affronted. Not only was
my beloved Cummings being attacked, I was too.
But I couldn’t help feeling a bit unsure of myself. Was I doing something wrong in liking
Cummings’ work? Was I holding on to Cummings out of some misguided or immature
sentimentality? Could I only be a real writer if I forgot about him? Maybe it was time to put
childish things away?
I went home and took down my treasured, golden yellow, hardback copy of Cummings’
Viva (his fourth collection, published in 1931) and re-read with a critical eye, on the lookout for
any of the tell-tale signs of immaturity.
How do I know this? Because none of them made me feel like my own early poetry did:
that cringeworthy, sickening stomach drop at the realization that something I once considered so
meaningful and beautifully crafted was really just bad.
Instead, page by page, I crawled further into the skin of an old friend, and the skin wasn’t
too small or too tight. It fit just right. I felt all the old feelings that were particular to reading
Cummings. There was the happiness at remembering how to read the playful phonetics in poems
like “II” (“dooyuh unnurs tanmih eesez pullih nizmus tash”) and the sudden heart tugs from
others like “XIIII”:
what time is it i wonder never mind
consider rather heavenly things and but
the stars for instance everything is planned
next to that patch of darkness there’s a what
is it oh yes chair but not Cassiopeia’s
might those be stockings dribbling from the table
all which seemed sweet deep and inexplicable
not being dollars toenails or ideas
thoroughly ’s stolen( somewhere between
our unlighted hearts lust lurks
slovenly and homeless and when
a kiss departs our lips are made of thing
in beginning corners dawn smirks
and there’s the moon, thinner than a watchspring
Cummings is, of course, known for his innovative style. He played with grammar and
spelling. He toyed with typography. He made his own rules–and people ate it up. In The Third
Book of Criticism, Randall Jarell states, “No one else has ever made avant-garde, experimental
poems so attractive to the general and the special reader.”
So, why are these strange poems so popular? In part, because of the common and
relatable themes that transcend the strangeness: love, sex, war, death. But though we’ve often
seen these themes before, they don’t feel commonplace in these poems. His idiosyncrasies allow
new angles of observation that make the feelings and truths fresh and new. Cummings “had
discovered,” write Malcolm Cowley in the Introduction to Viva, “that [the] old truths could be
expressed in other terms [. . . .] He was inventing a new language [. . .] in which he would soon
be able to personalize the most familiar emotions.” With his odd interruptions, run-ons, and
shapes, and peculiar combinations of words and ideas, he makes the ordinary seem unusual.
Because he presents the familiar in unexpected ways, it affects us unexpectedly too. At
least, that’s what happens to me. Reading his work is to go “somewhere I have never travelled”
(Viva, “LVII”). And reading his work is also just a lot of fun. They’re little puzzles to figure out.
Cummings’ sense of adventure made me look at writing differently, and think about it
differently. He made me realize there’s more than one way to get at and connect with truth, and
there are other ways to represent feeling. My appreciation of poetry has broadened to include
many other poets, old and new, but I hope I never lose what I learned from Cummings: the
wonder that makes it seem I’m feeling words for the first time. If being a real, mature writer
means putting that aside, I guess I’ll stay immature.
“Since feeling is first,” indeed.
Come for a night of good literature and fun! Author Andrea Lochen will be sharing her new book THE REPEAT YEAR with us at Helen C White in room 6191 at 8:00PM followed by drinks and revelry at Brocach on the capitol square at 10:00PM.
And of course, we will be revealing our new spring issue of The Madison Review!
The age-old argument we have with our roommates, friends, or whatnot is whether or not the movie was better than the book. There is this invisible battlefield of literature aficionados and film junkies who are vying to demonstrate that their medium is better than the other. However, when the moon is in line with Jupiter and the tilt of the earth is at 35.5-degree angle, we have that rare occasion when the book and movie both seem to be highly regarded. In popular culture, this would be the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, but films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest also seem to offer something new to the consumer of art.
I’m not here to call a truce to this affair, but I do think that each medium has its insights to offer on how it portrays an idea or emotion.
One director that was particularly adept at unleashing the full potential of books was Stanley Kubrick. His 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was premised on Peter George’s 1958 sci-fi thriller about nuclear war called Red Alert. George created it with the intention to reflect on the scary ease with which nuclear war could be triggered.
Kubrick had originally intended to stay true to this dramatic and grave tone George had established; however soon realized there was something at the root of the idea of “mutual assured destruction” worth exploring. When asked about how the film became a dark comedy, Kubrick replied:
“My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.”
Dr. Strangelove is now regarded as a hallmark piece of cinema in the great cannon of film. However, it did not succeed because it merely surpassed the level of engagement the book provided to its audience. Instead, Kubrick approached the story from a new angle, offering a complementary interpretation of the anxiety surrounding nuclear warfare in the Cold-War era. Kubrick discovered the humor and joy that is paradoxically, yet inextricably connected to tragedy.
Film can engage with our senses in a way literature simply cannot. While books may have the most profound influence on the mind, film can play upon the visceral reactions of the audience.
So next time your friend tells you Life of Pi the book was better, just kindly reply that it was different.
- Eric Lucari
If you are in the Madison area, you don’t want to miss this! Your favorite Madison literary journal, The Madison Review, and not so well liked Devil’s Lake Review square off again in the second-annual kickball game. None other than Ron Kuka, advisor of our journal, will return as our fearless pitcher. We’ll head to Brocach on Monroe Street for drinks and celebration afterward. Visit the official Facebook event for more information! Most likely The Madison Reivew will return as the outstanding victors for a second year in a row!
The truth is, there are genres out there that are given a cold shoulder in literary journals. Some genres, I would argue, are even unofficially declared “un-publishable.” For example, I have never seen an adult romance lure its way into a literary magazine and science fiction stories seem left out of the game more often than not (which is fitting, because the people who read science fiction are typically left out of games, too). These genres seem to get a bad rep because they are not seen as “serious literature.” In other words, they are what some would identify as “low art.” They are not important enough to be published, so we say.
However, I believe it is time to call out literary journals for this genre prejudice. Even though I undeniably roll my eyes when I hear that the Fifty Shades Trilogy has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, I think too often we are hesitant to publish good stories based entirely on the genre they fall into. Just because a story has the word “werewolf” in it does not mean it isn’t worthy of publishing—though, admittedly, I have yet to read one that was.
Which brings me to my next point: I believe our genre prejudice, in a backwards way, is what is causing bad writing in the genres we hate. Good writers, if anything, are savvy. They know the trends. Why would any hopeful writer submit a fantasy tale to a literary journal when they know that fantasy tales are going to have a harder time getting published in a literary journal than Frodo had getting into Mordor? However, if literary journals started opening their doors to the forbidden genres of fantasy, romance, and science fiction, perhaps more writers would take the leap and surprise us all with sexy, spacey, fantastic stories. Maybe it is time we give them a chance.
So, to encourage those writers out there who are secretly hoping to explore one of the forbidden genres of the literary journal, here is a list of four amazing works of literature that transcended the stereotypes of their respective genres and showed that good writing can come from anywhere in any form.
LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY – J.R.R. Tolkien
It is one thing to create a good story; it is quite another to build an entire world. With The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien not only made up his own language, but also showed his mastery over his own native language (and made Peter Jackson’s job easy when it came to recreating this world on screen).
A line of genius:
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun
THE GIVING TREE – Shel Silverstein
There may not be a more perfect book. The illustrations are simple, the story is simple, but—my goodness—this story packs a lot of punch when read with a sharp eye. There is a Marxist critique just begging to be written.
A line of genius:
“Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree. “Then you can sail away… and be happy.” And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy…. but not really. And after a long time the boy came back again.”
SLAUGHTER-HOUSE FIVE – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Who could have expected that the most moving account of the Dresden Firebombing in WWII would turn out to be a science fiction masterpiece featuring time travel and a group of aliens called Tralfamadorians?
A line of genius:
All this happened, more or less.
MAUS – Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman wrote this book as a testament to his father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor. With “The first Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel” on its resume, Maus is perhaps the easiest way to convince a skeptic that graphic novels are real works of literature.
A line of genius:
“No Darling! To die, it’s easy… but you have to struggle for life!”