Discover more from I Know You Think This Newsletter Is About Books
Or, The Other LLM
I started writing this in a hospital waiting area and being here has me thinking about illness, disability, and how it's portrayed in popular discourse as well as in literature. Imani Barbarin and others have pointed out how the Covid-19 pandemic was a mass disabling event; with folks experiencing Long Covid 3 years in. Yet the urgency with which so many wanted to go back to 'normal' (including myself, without much interrogation of this 'normal') is something to behold.
When I speak of illness, I mean the physical and mental type. So often in literature, there's the myth (desire?) of the ill being nothing but the best, as if to justify their presence on this mortal coil. It's more marked in non-fiction, which I've been eating whole lately, for the way that person is deemed most worthy of the public (publisher's?) gaze
I put in some steps this week (most notably yesterday during the Soma Nami African Book Fair) but nothing concerted to report. Closest thing is how much Bolt has me rushing just to keep his zoomies from destroying the flat.
And so to Micere Mugo, whose passing has led to numerous conversations. Some couched in the war-like language in which we discuss terminal illnesses (battling/fight/battle), some that centred on paying homage to her decades of work, and some like those spurred by an article by Henry Indagasi, who chose to speak in particular ways about the Professor.
Indagasi speaks about her mental illness in a way that was less than kind, framing her as nothing more than a rule breaker who had concessions made and didn't earn her way to what he regards as the top. I wondered if the same treatment would have been given to a man in the same position; and why he didn't write about her (in this way or otherwise) while she lived, in the way of the previously discussed Carey Baraka profile of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. A consequence - maybe expected - of the article was an airing on Twitter especially of Indagasi’s dirty laundry in a way that signalled that he would have done well to keep his thoughts to himself. I think it’s important to interrogate everyone’s legacy, for what it’s worth, but I wonder if we’re anywhere close to figuring out the terms of those engagements.
Disability and illness can often lead to a need for technological supports; sometimes turning people into cyborgs, as Alice Wong writes about in her memoir Year of the Tiger: An Activist's Life. These supports change the way we do things, as does technology on the whole. Like LLMs (Large Language Models) in writing, for example. I especially thought about this in the context of Lillian-Yvonne Bertram's competition win and the controversy over her poetry chapbook having been written using AI. How do we consider the place of tech in everyday life and in creative fields (thinking of this Adam Conover interview discussing the SAG-AFTRA & WGA Strikes, Writing Residuals & Why He's not Scared of AI, for instance) while accounting for the need for people to make a living, to live?
Quick news/ things that may be of interest:
This podcast that ended this week and which is a great reminder to stay sceptical
I went to the Soma Nami African Book Fair (good, not great; especially on the cost front) and got 2 books (coming to a book haul near you soon)
Over on Twitter, a weekly library TBR thread; if you’d like to know what titles to expect in the read books section
Dracula Daily, which I mentioned in a past entry, continues apace. Jump on if you’re keen
You can send me books, postcards, letters, and assorted gifts via PO Box 102439, Jamia Posta 00101, Nairobi, Kenya
I have finished two books since I last wrote to you - the e-book edition of Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet (Illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, Translated by Helge Dascher) and a hybrid read of Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists: The Truth about Extreme Misogyny and How it Affects Us All by Laura Bates and my latest video is from 2020 (you can watch it here). To catch the videos I’m working on when they’re done, subscribe to the channel if you haven’t yet!
As ever, please write back to me and tell me what books you’re reading or looking forward to reading — it’s always a great time talking about books.
Enjoy the rest of the week and have a lovely time reading. Talk to you soon!