story: “The Venus Effect”
author: Violet Allen
where: Temporary office. I just finished teaching Namwali Serpell’s “The Banality of Empathy” and I am currently cringing at my younger self who believed that art encourages empathy and that empathy will SAVE US ALL!
note: “The Banality of Empathy” led me to this amazing short story. I suggest reading it alongside (or before, or after) Allen. This story’s structure uses what Bertolt Brecht calls the “estrangement effect”, which means that the structure continually makes the reader aware of the artifice of play. Thus, according to Serpell, the reader is not able to completely “dissolve” (i.e. the empathy model of art) into the character/story. By resisting this “dissolve” and keeping a measure of distance, we “visit” an experience “to learn and think when the specter of unexpected, unjustified, unjust state-sanctioned death hovers at every corner.” This story “takes our contemporary faith in the power of fictional empathy and twists it like a knife.”
note#2: This story is full of literary nods, including to Dino Buzzati and Yeats.
a line: “He was a pretty unlikeable protagonist, anyway, a petty, horny, pretentious idiot with an almost palpable stink of author surrogacy on him. I think there was a Kipling quote in there. Who’s that for? You don’t want to read some lame indie romance bullshit, right?”
theme(s): Senseless murder, police brutality, literature’s purpose, race, storytelling