Recent Neat Things: Witches, Whishaw, Woolf

Time for a round up of Recent Neat Things. For the first edition of what will hopefully be a continuing series, I have mostly ‘W’ things. For some reason.

Music: Grimes and the ‘Witch House’ Genre

I never know what to say about the music I’m into, beyond “I like this — another” followed by my smashing something on the ground in glee. Grimes is good. Her music belongs to a number of genres, one of which is ‘witch house’, which I will admit I had never heard of before. My favourite Grimes songs are a bit too fey and airy for proper witch house (I think), so these songs are probably better examples of the genre: “Transgender” by Crystal Castles and this weird song by this weird Russian band.

Literature: Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts

15c_btaI have an ongoing fascination with Englishness and noise, so Woolf’s final novel appeals to me greatly. The narrative itself is very focused on sound — the noise of a gramophone (playing many different tunes but always returning to the chant “dispersed are we… dispersed are we…“) is a motif throughout the novel. More than that, though, the language that Woolf employs begs to be read aloud, to be heard. There are moments when her turns of phrase remind me of Old English poetry, with its primordial alliteration:

The old girl with a wisp of white hair flying, knobbed shoes as if she had claws corned like a canary’s…

Woolf’s prose here is very somatic — it is not just aural, but oral. Say it out loud, and you will enjoy the sound, but more importantly, you will enjoy the mouthfeel. “Claws corned like a canary’s” tastes like some sort of mantra or witchy spell; I’ve been muttering it under my breath at random points throughout my day.

Film: Lilting (2014)

Whishy

Sad Gay Sweater Paws

I came for the sad, gay Ben Whishaw, and, let’s be real, that is part of why I stayed — but mostly I found myself captivated by the character of Vann. Vann serves as a translator between Junn and Richard, and it was fascinating to watch her fluctuations of identity. At points she utterly loses herself in the translation, slipping from third person to first person, subsuming her identity under the identity of the person for whom she is translating. She makes this pronoun slip during an argument between Richard and Junn, becoming Junn’s “I”, and Richard feels threatened, as if Vann is taking Junn’s “side.” In other scenes, Vann tries to assert her own agency by purposefully mistranslating, trying to push events in the direct she wants them to go. This also ends up making the other characters feel uneasy, threatened, out of control. Vann wields a great deal of power, but the other characters have the expectation that she will be an objective, impersonal conduit.

Desperate Attempt at Being in Control of My Life: Google Keep

I’m a sucker for ‘productivity apps’. I am under the constant delusion that if I have enough colour-coded lists, I will somehow be in control of my life. Google Keep is very minimalist — you can colour-code notes, and make checklists, and set reminders, but that’s about it. And this is good for me, as someone who tends to overload myself with tasks, get overwhelmed, and then crash and burn. That was very easy to do with HabitRPG (part of why I’ve quit using it for now), but difficult to do with Google Keep. Also, it lets you upload images for your notes, which means I can intersperse my tasks with pictures of Steve Rogers.

I'm a functional adult.

I’m a functional adult.

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Social Justice Steve Rogers and the Radical Queerness of Fandom

“the best kind of captain america is the kind i know would disappoint my grandparents” –whatwouldcaptainamericado

People who are outside the Captain America fandom, particularly the fandom as manifest on Tumblr, are often confused by my incredibly vocal love for Captain America. I wear a Captain America cardigan, like, all the time. If you invite me to your party, you will probably hear me, at one point, with near weepy intensity, blathering on about how great pre-serum Steve Rogers is. You probably shouldn’t invite me to your parties.

Love the way he is always trying to punch people with his weak, noodle arms. [art by bactii]

Love the way he is always trying to punch people with his weak, noodle arms. [art by bactii]

But America connotes rabid conservatism and capitalism at its most destructive. America is not really a fab place, to put things mildly. So why would I, a super queer socialist, be such a huge fan of a character who is, ostensibly, the “captain” of all this? Because Steve Rogers is emphatically not for America as we know it.  Continue reading

Researching the Trenches: Notes on “We’re Here Because We’re Here”

We're Here cover

Rumor, ‘painted full of tongues,’ is in attendance, as Shakespeare knew, at every war. Yet the Great War seems especially fertile in rumor and legend. It was as if the general human impulse to make fictions had been dramatically unleashed by the novelty, immensity, and grotesqueness of the proceedings. The war itself was clearly a terrible invention, and any number, it seemed, could play. What Marc Bloch recalls about inverse skepticism is from his experience of the French trenches, but it is true of the British scene as well. ‘The prevailing opinion in the trenches,’ he notes, ‘was that anything might be true, except what was printed.’ From this skepticism about anything official there arose, he says, ‘a prodigious renewal of oral tradition, the ancient mother of myths and legends.’ Thus, ironically, ‘governments reduced the front-line soldier to the means of information and the mental state of olden times before journals, before news sheets, before books.’ The result was an approximation of the popular psychological atmosphere of the Middle Ages, where rumor was borne not as now by ration-parties but by itinerant ‘peddlars, jugglers, pilgrims, beggars.’

-Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory

There is a great deal of fascinating history undergirding my latest short story, “We’re Here Because We’re Here.” Well, the fantastical, slipstream elements of it are decidedly not historical, but they are inspired by and in the mode of WWI trench legends. Under the cut I have included annotations, of sorts, to the story. Obviously they make more sense if you have read the story, but hopefully the annotations provide some interesting history, even if you have not read and have no intention of reading “We’re Here Because We’re Here.”

Most prominent among my sources is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, so you could also just go read that.

Continue reading

For Queen, Country, and Colin Firth: Kingsman and the Figure of the Gentleman

In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Colin Firth’s perfectly poised character, Galahad, tells the chavvy Eggsy that one is not born a gentleman, one becomes a gentleman. In addition to revealing the heavily constructed nature of this social role, the film highlights a continuing cultural fascination with the figure of the gentleman. It’s 2015; didn’t we leave this figure behind long ago, perhaps in the trenches of the Great War? A cursory reading of texts such as Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End might suggest that the gentleman has no place in modernity: Ford’s Christopher Tietjens is forced to galumph off into obscurity, as critic Austin Riede aptly puts it. But though Ford sings an elegy to the gentleman, he and successive generations of writers have refused to let the figure go entirely. Christine Berberich, author of The Image of the English Gentleman in Twentieth-Century Literature, argues that the gentleman is still a significant and lively element of the English consciousness. And it would seem that he is no longer content to be like Tietjens and while away his time in some Arcadian idyll; rather, he is intent on swinging into full view, brandishing his umbrella-gun.

KSS_JB_D27_02661.CR2

Yet, despite his cultural prominence, the gentleman is still idealized as a man who fades into the background. Despite his striking bespoke suits (“never off the peg,” Galahad tells us), and his charisma, the true gentleman is supposed to be self-effacing. Galahad papers the walls of his study with tabloid headlines (“Brad Pitt Ate My Sandwich” is my favourite) from the days on which he accomplished something particularly profound in his work. None of these headlines mention his work; he does this to remind himself that accolades do not matter, that he does not matter, only his duty matters.

Kingsman

But the film’s flashiness belies this self-effacement. We are invited to become obsessed with the material presentation of the gentleman, from his confident walk to his suit-cum-armour. How can the gentleman possibly fade into the background? We can’t take our eyes off him. We continue to be obsessed with him, long after writers like Ford thought that the gentleman was obsolescent. This tension between the gentleman’s prominent “I” (his self, his ego) and his sacrificing of self for duty is by no means unique to Kingsman. The film is fascinating because it treads old ground that has been by now stamped into nearly featureless mud by Oxfords-sans-broguing (I personally like a little broguing). In order to train Eggsy, Galahad must take him from a Savile Row tailor to a super secret spy academy that is located in, of course, a country house. Could this film be any more English? And by “English,” I mean mythically English, stereotypically, unrealistically, aristocratically English.

Kingsman superficially suggests a new take on the gentleman: Galahad chooses as his protégé a petty criminal who is far from being Oxbridge stock. Gentleman aren’t born, they are bred! This, too, is an old idea, a conception of the gentleman dating from the nineteenth-century, a bourgeois ideal rising out of the growing middle-class that sought to clamber up the class hierarchy. Here education and deportment matter over inherited wealth. Anyone can be a gentleman, we are allowed to believe, so long as he is loyal, dutiful, and self-effacing to the point of self-annihilation. Eggsy’s willingness to die on the train tracks makes him an heir to the men on the Titanic whom Berberich opens her book by describing:

[T]he steel-heir Washington Augustus Roebling was last seen ‘leaning against the rail, light[ing] a cigarette and wav[ing] goodbye’ after helping several ladies into the boats; and the writer and editor William T. Stead ‘retired to the first class smoking room with a book’. Particularly powerful are the following examples: Benjamin Guggenheim and his secretary gave away their lifebelts and ‘now stood resplendent in evening clothes. “We’ve dressed in our best . . . and are prepared to go down like gentleman”‘, eyewitnesses report them explaining. And Mr. Walter D. Douglas answered his wife’s pleas to join her in a life-boat with only ‘”No . . . I must be a gentleman”‘, a sentence which summarized all his values.

“We’ve dressed in our best.” It’s significant that, in order to be a true gentleman, Eggsy must become a Colin Clone.

kingsman-the-secret-service-skip-crop

He must adopt the accoutrements of the upper-class. He must disguise his lower-class upbringing under pinstripe, because, although anyone may become a gentleman, a gentleman is still defined by aristocratic men with “silver suppositories”. Anyone can be a gentleman, Kingsman tells us, so long as he wears a bespoke suit that would cost thousands of pounds even without being bullet-proof. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” my friend cackled under their breath in the theatre when Galahad was telling Eggsy how to become a gentleman. Indeed. Or, rather, pull yourself up by your sock garters.

A place for my non-fiction

I like accountability. By posting things publicly, my Catholic guilt is triggered: I feel obligated to keep posting and follow through on my commitments. This is how I started my fiction blog, and that is the same principle that will govern this blog. Here are some of the things I might post:

  • Mini essays on films and books. Since I am considering transitioning away from academia (which is a fancy way of saying that I am currently screaming existentially and wanting to drop out of my MA program), it would be nice to continue writing critically on the various things I read/watch. I may hate academia, but I like being scholarly.
  • Creative non-fiction, which is a genre I have virtually no experience in.
  • Reflections on my fiction, particularly the research that goes into my historical fiction.
  • Collections of Neat Things I have found lately, including music, books, shows, articles, etc.

I will post things on a regular schedule, though what that schedule is I have yet to determine. I’m inspired by Warren Ellis’s MORNING, COMPUTER, but Christ knows I won’t have the energy to blog every bloody morning.