Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe – Mick Wall – Orion – 2013

Unlike most bands, the story of Black Sabbath is one that has been told too many times, by too many people – and each new attempt to do so usually complicates rather than elucidates the legend. Mick Wall (who has written a number of books on the band’s constituent parts) has written a new book that claims to be “The final word on the only name synonymous with heavy metal,” according to its publishers. A big challenge for what might be the bitchiest band in British music history.

Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe

Wall does a brave job in corralling those various stories and personalities into something approaching cohesion. When there are falling outs – and there are lots – he opts to keep both stories and remain on the fence about which is true. But that doesn’t always work – when, exactly, did Ozzy Osbourne leave Black Sabbath for the first time? There’s little agreement, so there’s little discussion. In a story where there are so many interested parties trying to bend the story for their own interests – Sharon Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Bill Ward all being busy PR operators – readers need someone to help guide them through the charming but fragmented stories.

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Penguin Classics doesn’t need anyone’s sanctimony about the Morrissey book

It is a joke. And a good one. Probably Penguin are laughing too. Certainly everyone else should. It’s so odd to see supposedly well-meaning people get hot and bothered on behalf of a publishing imprint. It’s not even a record label. (That would be weird enough.)

Penguin Classics has, by definition, never done anything to support its authors. (At least not until now.) Its value is pure inheritance. Sure it has chosen its mad old aunts well. But they are only aunts. And they are only old.

I’m sure the glitzy shareholders of Penguin Random House are glad of everyone’s vocal support. But it’s an oddly self-important person that thinks that they need it, and a weird line of reasoning that makes that person think that Penguin deserve it.

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(Illustrated) memoir and ethics

Memoir has become big, and problematic, business in the past 15 years. In 1995, Dave Pelzer published A Child Called ‘It’, and began the rise of misery lit. The genre has undergone a number of permutations since its creation, and it has brought about the consideration of a number of questions about the aesthetic and ethical problems of the memoir. James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces is another important book for thinking about the contemporary memoir, as it ignited a controversy when it emerged that the events related in the book – parts of Frey’s addiction to drugs and the events surrounding it – had been falsified or embellished, provoking a large amount of discussion in popular discourses about the ethics of authority and authenticity in memoir. To write a memoir in contemporary culture, is to confront all of these issues, which have made it both a morally charged and potentially overworked and clichéd genre.This post looks at the ways that illustrated memoirs – autobiography told through graphic novels or comics – have offered an interesting and different way of dealing with the problems of autobiography and memoir, and how they have confronted those problems directly. Many of these works are involved with childhood, and with trauma, and the ways that those two events can be understood in retrospect. In this way, they are similar to misery literature, but I wish to show that in a number of important ways many examples of work in this genre do not fall victim to the same criticisms – that such works are overly sentimental, simplistic in their concern for redemption and consolation, and born of an impulse to commodify suffering; or they are falsified and inauthentic, the characteristics that sometimes earn this genre the name ‘misery porn’ – but nonetheless do write with a keen sense of their bearing upon all work that is concerned with individual suffering and its authenticity.

Owing to the degree of artifice and construction involved in their creation, an illustrated memoir cannot claim to be a document in the same way as non-illustrated ones can; even if a work of the latter kind is openly retrospective, they can maintain an illusion of writing to the moment, even if it is not the case. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is perhaps pre-eminently concerned with its own status as a memoir, and as a piece of literature (and the possibility of its not being). The book – which calls itself ‘A Family Tragicomic’ in its subtitle – is a kind of autobiographical Bildungsroman in that it follows Bechdel’s childhood, through her discovery of her sexuality and artistic talent, but it is also a memoir of external development, through her description and working through of her closeted gay father’s death.

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Horror, documents and the new epistolary

The greatest mark of the advance of technology is the increase in the number and kind of documents that it creates. Life – modern life particularly – is lived through and in these documents: others’ lives, and our own, are mediated through a web of new media, each offering its own freedoms and limitations. These developments are worked at throughout recent horror fiction, as any way that the way that life is lived and seen will be. In what ways has this impacted upon the genre, and the ways that it has allowed horror films to create new forms of horror? How are our lives are lived through these documents, and what importance those documents can take?

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