∞ “Miss Marple vs. the Mansplainers: Agatha Christie’s Feminist Detective Hero” by Alice Bolin, via Jane Flanagan.
“Chandler’s essay blames the enfeebling gentility of the detective story on the genre’s readers: he repeatedly characterizes them as “old ladies” who “like their murders scented with magnolia blossoms and do not care to be reminded that murder is an act of infinite cruelty.” In Chandler’s scheme, what Hammett and his “tough-minded” ilk brought to the detective story was a bracing, and specifically masculine, morality. “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons,” Chandler writes, “not just to provide a corpse.” Then the only valid crime writing is tough guys writing about tough guys killing other tough guys. But one forgets, as Miss Marple says, “One does see so much evil in a village.” Or more to the point, as Miss Marple also says, “Clever young men know so little of life.”
The noir stories of Chandler and Hammett are about the malignant effects of a decaying, corrupt institution: the American city. Village mysteries are about the same, but their focus is tighter: the traditional family and its domineering patriarch. “This apparent example of English nostalgia,” Mezei writes of the Golden Age mystery, “has exposed one odd and dysfunctional household after another.” The secret subversion in this genre comes, as Mezei points out, as these mysteries explore not a threat to the status quo from the outside—chaos invading the otherwise orderly home—but from the inside. Their focus is on what is hidden, on secret identities, on the disorder and resentment that already exists within every family. Mezei quotes from Alison Light that Christie was “an iconoclast whose monitoring of the plots of family life aims to upset the Victorian image of home, sweet home.”
This “Victorian” connection is an interesting one: Miss Marple is often characterized as a Victorian because of her conservatism and her views of good and evil, but also the darkness and suspicion of her mind. “A mind like a sink, I should think,” one character says of her. “A real Victorian type.” Christie was also a real Victorian type. She was engaged by Victorian crazes like the one for travel and exotica—she was one of the first British people to surf standing up on Waikiki. Her mother believed she could talk to the dead, and when Christie famously went missing for eleven days in 1926, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a medium to search for her, continuing the Victorian mania for spiritualism.”
∞ “Twee, American and Otherwise: A Night at the Museum and The Revolutions” by Bianca Steele.
“When I think of twee, I think of Dr. Who. To me, twee is an English thing, a certain English kind of humor. It’s “cute and clever” and a little flamboyant. There’s an American twee, now, the kind of thing you get in Wes Anderson movies, and it’s kind of different. American twee takes itself seriously, and thinks there’s a deep meaning behind the exuberant playfulness on the surface. (I suppose it’s possible there’s a deep meaning behind classic English twee that I can’t see, not being English, but I find it tough to believe it’s the same one.) American twee is very proud of itself for being cute and clever, and sees the wish to be flamboyant and playful as a virtue in itself, and to be indulged for its own sake. American twee says, “Isn’t it amazing that I can feel all these things?”
It sounds from this like I don’t like twee at all, which isn’t entirely true. There’s a Wes Anderson film there, or two, I think, that I like—though not when it seems like the point is to admire Anderson himself, and approve the women who sit around and admire him. A.S. Byatt, who’s mostly a pretty serious novelist, can go into twee when she likes. I’m looking forward to the second season of The Librarians. And there are a lot of books coming out these days that have elements of what I’d consider twee. Most of them can’t be dismissed only because of that.”
∞ “The New Age of Superheroes” by Tim Carmody.
“That these two stories appear in the same week seems more than mere coincidence. It doesn’t seem like an accident that Spider-Man now joins Iron Man and Batman in the ranks of the rich, making three of the world’s most popular superheroes wealthy inventor-entrepreneurs by day, crime fighters by night. It seems like a symptom.
Every age gets the heroes it deserves—or rather, the heroes it needs to do a certain kind of cultural work. Superhero stories have become our Greek dramas — popular entertainment built around larger-than-life figures with rich histories playing out complex fables of power, morality, and democracy. We tell the stories over and over again, either taking their characters back to their roots or placing them in fresh scenarios. We use these stories to explore new fantasies and solve new problems.
There are many issues playing themselves out in contemporary superhero stories—race and gender representation, surveillance and militarization, LGBT rights and identities, to name just a few. It’s strange, however, that one of the most important is one of the least talked-about: the disproportionate power wielded by the rich, whether wealthy individuals or wealthy societies. Wealth may be the buried theme of both contemporary comics and contemporary politics. Talking about superheroes and superpowers without talking about money misses an enormous part of the story—not least because the business of superheroes is bigger than ever, and the companies behind our most popular superheroes are some of the largest conglomerates in the world.
Now, it’s true that many superheroes have been rich: Batman’s Bruce Wayne and Iron Man’s Tony Stark were created as millionaire playboys decades ago. And this makes sense. As Spider-Man’s adventures showed for years, super-heroics don’t pay the bills: it’s difficult being a gadget-driven superhero (or any kind of superhero) without first having money to burn. But over time, Bruce Wayne stopped being just an idle heir and Tony Stark stopped being just an eccentric arms dealer, and both became hero figures much more recognizable to the 21st century: the genius entrepreneur. These characters are less Howard Hughes (the original model for Tony Stark) and more Elon Musk, less J. Robert Oppenheimer and more Mark Zuckerberg. They are brilliant futurists, larger than life—the people we ask to show us the future, and hope that they will help make the world one worth saving.”
∞ “Masculinity Is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box” by David J. Schwartz, via Andrew Hickey.
“We have to talk about that word: patriarchy. I have avoided using it to this point because I know that just seeing or hearing the word causes some people to tune out. Apparently for some “patriarchy” is either a code word that signals that the person speaking need not be taken seriously, or a cryptozoological concept, a sort of sociological chupacabra. The problem may be that people understand patriarchy to refer to a conspiracy, but the truth is—as always—more complicated, and more insidious. Patriarchy describes the predominance of adult men in authority, and the predominance of the concerns of adult men in the culture. For the most part, patriarchy is not something that has been consciously constructed (at least, within living memory), but it is something that is consciously and tenaciously defended by those it benefits, and also by some whose benefit from it is questionable. Patriarchy, like capitalism or American democracy, is a fixed game that is perceived to benefit all (all men, that is) but tends to favor those already in power—in other words, the men in power are likely to hold on to that power, and to pass it on to other men who meet their criteria as men—cis, white, Christian, wealthy, etc.
I point this out not to give credence to the tiresome “Not All Men” rebuttal (one that would seem to be effectively euthanized by the Schrodinger’s Rapist concept) but to point out that patriarchy and masculinity are constructs of limited usefulness not just to non–males, but to males themselves, who still fight so fiercely in defense of their Boxes. The Box is not just a badge, of course; it is also a constructed identity, and to be forced to reconstruct one’s identity can be difficult, even traumatic. But it is also liberating, and without feminism I do not see a way for men to experience that liberation.”
∞ “Eileen Myles in Conversation with Ben Lerner” at LitHub.
It’s like we’re not doing business, we’re golfing. And there might be a little gender in there, too. When I was in Ireland I met a man who was Beckett’s favorite director. He talked about Beckett and how he wasn’t ambitious at all and how he had no idea how to get his manuscripts to publishers. But he had these ladies who he would have sex with who worshipped him, and they would type up his manuscripts and bring them around for him.
We could go back to Milton’s daughters, right? Taking dictation.
There’s a whole female industry engaged in materially supporting the illusion that the artist doesn’t work directly on his legacy, his immediate success. He’s just a beautiful stoner boy or an intellectual. All thought. No wife? I like turning that illusion inside out. And making the work be literally about the field and the failures and even the practice. I wrote about these things in Inferno because Dante did. We should let the writing world and its ways of distributing awards be part of fiction. We should expose the very cultural apparatus that is affecting the reception of the book you’re reading. What’s dirty is that we’re not supposed to talk about how it has sex and reproduces.”
∞ “Those Like Us” by Dayna Tortorici.
“Different names, every time, but the reaction is the same: a momentary light in the listener’s eyes that fades to bored disappointment. An Italian woman from Naples, whose name you wouldn’t know. Who did you expect?
One answer ends in o: the first name of a man. Whether to goad Ferrante out of privacy or because they think it’s true, the Italian newspaper L’Unità has accused the novelist Domenico Starnone of penning her books. If Starnone is behind Ferrante’s work, I would like to meet him. No man I know would write so well and not take credit for it.
Since the English-language publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the addictive Neapolitan novels that have inspired what publicists call “Ferrante fever” in American readers, Ferrante has caused a minor crisis in literary criticism. Her novels demand treatment commensurate to the work, but her anonymity has made it hard. The challenge reveals our habits. We’ve grown accustomed to finding the true meaning of books in the histories of their authors, in where they were born and how they grew up, in their credentials or refreshing lack thereof. Forget the intentional fallacy; ours is the age of the biographical fallacy. All six of Ferrante’s novels published in English to date (translated by the dexterous Ann Goldstein) are narrated in the first person, which invites this kind of reading. Surely work of such intimacy and length must be — as if all novels weren’t — true.”
∞ “Crimes of the Clock: The Crooked Corridor of Timecrimes” by Roy Christopher.
“The time-travel trope, if employed well, never seems to wear thin. Several of my favorite narratives — Donnie Darko (2001), Primer (2004), Source Code (2011), and The Shining Girls (2013), to name a few — all involve time travel to some extent. “Part of the fascination of time travel concerns the stark paradoxes that threaten as soon as travel into the past is considered,” writes theoretical physicist Paul Davies (2001). “Perhaps causal loops can be made self-consistent. Perhaps reality consists of multiple universes” (pp. 123-124). These thought experiments are rife with unanswered and unanswerable questions, which are the very stuff of great stories.
Time is a game
— Heraclitus, Fragment 79
Most recently, Project Almanac (2015) illustrates those paradoxes and their intrigue while still being a fairly mediocre movie, but it fails in spite of the time travel rather than because of it. 2009’s Triangle also loops time in a muddy and often confusing story. Time travel is such a huge cognitive load that it’s difficult to get right in a movie with much else going on and even harder to make feel real.
In contrast, Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes; 2007) capitalizes on its causal loops and suspenseful twists rather than wasting them. The film contains exactly four actors, and its action takes place over the course of about an hour and a half. In its handling of causality, Timecrimes is somewhere between Shane Carruth‘s Primer (2004) and the popular Back to the Future franchise of the 1980s, both of which feature extensive backwards time travel. Like Primer, which uses time travel as the pretext for the study of larger issues (Taubin, 2008), Timecrimes evokes themes of voyeurism and ethics in addition to its time-looping structure and the subsequent questions of causality. This is Spanish director/actor Nacho Vigalondo’s first non-comedic film and his sure-handed direction makes this condensed, pressure-cooker of a temporal thriller an imminently watchable and intriguing film.”
∞ “Know Your Place” by John Steppling.
“Marc Auge’s notion of non-spaces is close to a number of other ideas out there, even I have written of the ‘dead now’, which is much the same thing. Steven Flusty, Neil Smith, Steve Graham, and others have all intuited this specific quality of hyper alienation that emerges out of both a deep numbing homogeneity in landscape, and the surveillance apparatus and fortress mentality of the state.
Mike Davis was probably the first to really see the coming trends when he wrote City of Quartz. The creation of spaces that are impossible for certain classes to access, or if accessed, that cannot be occupied comfortably for any length of time. Flusty of course gave names to some of these, but the overriding point is that the authority over space in most large cities of the U.S. today is in the hands of the police, and they monitor everyone. The actual physical barriers matter, too, and increasingly there is now an additional aspect to barriers and check points and that is the stealth space. The hidden, or non existent location. I find one of the curious aspects of GPS, actually, is that they so rarely work. Once you are *there*, you often, if not usually, find you are not. But I am more interested in that comment I quoted from Franco Berardi (Bifo). I have many issues with Bifo, but I still find some fascinating perspectives in his work, and one is what I have tried to write about in most of my recent posts; the growing loss of identity, but not just identity, for that loss might really be a positive in some contexts, but the insertion of the non-self. And the non-self is quite comfortable in non-places.
Victor Turner somewhere said something to the effect that *communitas* is not just banding together, but is bonding together. And that one of the features of bonding is that of collective ritual, and that ritual is located in a ritual space. A ritual place. And Robert Bly once said ‘all learning takes place in ritual space’, which I’ve always found to be true. Now, the evolution of non-places in what Auge labels *hypermodernity* has occurred through a conditioning of the populace to the loss of history. A conditioning to amnesia. I continue to find both Jain and Hindu cosmogony oddly appropriate to such discussions. Perhaps because in both the idea of ‘creation’ is dismissed. And perhaps it is the psychic correspondence between non-place and the erosion of thinking about it that seems hard to avoid. For amnesia gives birth to this absent mental space, this conceptual hole. Edward Casey’s book The Fate of Place is very good on the primeval origins of cosmogony and void as ‘ideas’. As he says, once the panic of the idea of void is admitted, the second problem is how to master the void (which implies, always, a sense of filling it).”
∞ “Post Whatever: on Ethics, Historicity, & the #usermilitia” by “Jimmie Tiptree Jr”.
“I’ll start by making two claims, which I won’t return to since they speak for themselves, and because they are—as far as I’m concerned—incontrovertible. With the first, I’m paraphrasing Nicholas Mirzoeff in saying that post- should not be understood as “the successor to,” but as “the crisis of.” Having established this, the second claim aims to get one thing straight: every artist working today is a postinternet artist. Let’s move on.
The modern-millennial hubris around newness (and, by extension, youth; and, by extension, technological progress, accelerationism, and neoliberal futurity) is epitomized by breathless discourses around the seismic, revolutionary, never-before-seen newness of the internet and surrounding technologies—and echoed in initiatives like 89plus. This feels especially damaging when many of us have been living in an essentially striated (e.g. sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic) world for as long as anyone can remember. One of the few strategies for imagining a better, fairer world is the idea that things have not always been this way. Another strategy is the practice of intergenerational discourse, or learning from—and railing against—one’s elders and forebears. Until recently, this was a required part of any art education—or indeed, any coming of age rite, even if the balance between “learning from” and “railing against” might vary across cultures.
Now, however, the notion of the “digital native” seems to draw a division—and implicit hierarchy—between those who have enjoyed access to networked technology since childhood and those who have not. This division may or may not be correlated with age, race, class, gender, and geographical location.”
∞ “The pessimism of time” by Nina Power.
“The mood of contemporary politics is understandably complex: the viciousness of the attacks on the poor, unemployed, disabled and the related divide-and-rule tactics mobilised to undermine solidarity along the lines of race, employment and visa status, religion and so on are far advanced. The Right, ideologically and politically, seems to be winning (it has, as always, the police, law and prisons), while the Left seems to be in a permanent defensive formation, with the unions’ old slogan ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ a desperate motto as increasing numbers are injured by the destruction of the welfare state (and/or by the police) and the ‘all’ becomes everyone able to fight back, even in a fragmentary way. Do I fight to save my local swimming pool? Protest against the raising of tuition fees? Campaign against the privatising of the health service? Oppose police brutality? Demand reform of the prison system? Stop the war? The truth is, there are lots of people doing all these things at once, but it’s exhausting to be on the back foot all the time.
There is a fundamental paradox when those who would describe themselves as revolutionaries are nevertheless forced into a position where they are defending the vestiges of reformist policies: when even mild forms of social democracy are all but destroyed, what else can you do but fight to protect the system that cares for those who would suffer and die without it? If you believe in an alternative that would involve genuine provision for need, it is impossible to turn off the desire to make that a reality in the present, against those who would callously and knowingly permit harm to occur in the name of future profit.
Alongside this exhausting, defensive work, there is a feeling of disappointment in some quarters at the perceived lack of new Left theoretical ideas and positions. We could put this in a slightly different way, equally pessimistic – if we cannot even save the welfare state and the last fragments of social democracy, or win a battle for free education, stop (one of the many) wars or even save a local library, can we still be confident in what we could achieve if we had a chance to do things differently? What positive set of ideas would move us beyond the defensive (and frequently unsuccessful) tactics that currently consume us and our time?”
∞ “The Left’s Failure to Enact Gun Control Exposes Its Tactical Weakness” by David Atkins.
“There is a broadening schism in the activist community between those who focus on nuts-and-bolts electoral and legislative politics, and those who spend their energy on issue-area visibility and engagement. Much like the storied separation between hacks and wonks, the rift between the two camps has been growing wider over the years. Within the Netroots activist community the visbility and engagement crowd championed by most progressive NGOs has been gaining dominance, even as the “take over the Democratic Party” faction inspired by Howard Dean has been shunted to the side as an afterthought. It’s not uncommon these days to see “disruption” touted as the highest activist calling, even as success is measured not in terms of votes won or laws passed but by petitions signed and social media posts shared. Election work and party involvement is increasingly seen as the unhip, uncool, morally compromised province of social climbers and “brogressives” not truly committed to the supposedly “real work” of social justice engagement by non-electoral means.
I’ve been in both camps over the years myself, as both a progressive blogger and Democratic campaign activist. There is certainly great value in persuasion, engagement and visibility model. But the issue of gun control provides an excellent example of why I find the recent and growing hostility to the Howard Dean model deeply misguided and more than a little troubling.”
∞ “Scholarship, Security and ‘Spillage’ on Campus” by Barton Gellman.
“Sure enough, someone filed a report with the above-mentioned Information Assurance Officer, who reported in turn to Purdue’s representative at the Defense Security Service. By the terms of its Pentagon agreement, Purdue was officially obliged to be shocked to find that spillage is going on at a talk about Snowden and the NSA. Three secret slides, covering perhaps five of my ninety minutes on stage, required that video be wiped in its entirety.
This was, I think, a rather devout reading of the rules. (Taken literally, the rules say Purdue should also have notified the FBI. I do not know whether that happened.) A more experienced legal and security team might have taken a deep breath and applied the official guidance to “realistically consider the potential harm that may result from compromise of spilled information.”
Or perhaps not. Yes, the images I displayed had been viewed already by millions of people online. Even so, federal funding might be at stake for Purdue, and the notoriously vague terms of the Espionage Act hung over the decision. For most lawyers, “abundance of caution” would be the default choice.
This kind of zeal is commonplace in the military and intelligence services. They have periodically forbidden personnel — and even their families — to visit mainstream sites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times for fear of exposure to documents from Snowden or Wikileaks.
But universities are not secret agencies. They cannot lightly wear the shackles of a National Industrial Security Program, as Purdue agreed to do. The values at their core, in principle and often in practice, are open inquiry and expression.
I do not claim I suffered any great harm when Purdue purged my remarks from its conference proceedings. I do not lack for publishers or public forums. But the next person whose talk is disappeared may have fewer resources.”
∞ “Corbyn in the Media” by Paul Myerscough.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The Guardian, like the Telegraph, can hardly be said to have much influence beyond its own politically well-defined readership. Perhaps, as Fraser Nelson, the editor of the Spectator, pointed out recently, it is otiose for people to complain about the influence of newspapers when none of the broadsheets is read by more than 1 per cent of the adult population and even the Mail reaches only 3 per cent. But that isn’t how influence works. The media do not merely generate the political weather. They play a large part in creating the climate in which information is received and understood. A notion such as ‘electability’, to take the example at hand, is unthinkable without the media, which, in their every representation of a political leader, ask (and supply the authorities to help us decide) not only who is and is not electable, but what should be the criteria by which electability is judged.
The hegemon in this respect, as Nelson acknowledges, is not the Guardian, or even the Daily Mail, but the BBC. And because of its place in the national life, because of its dominant role in people’s reception of news and commentary, because of its freedom from commercial influence and its editorial doctrine of independence and impartiality, accusations of political bias in its coverage of news and current affairs are always with us. Studies of bias typically go in for a lot of counting; for what it’s worth, a Cardiff University study last year showed that the BBC was more likely than ITV or Channel 4 to use sources from the right than from the left. Recently, Aditya Chakrabortty, one of the Guardian’s true live wires, highlighted another Cardiff study, of the Today programme’s coverage of the banking crisis in 2008, showing that one in three of its interviewees in a six-week period was from the banking sector, with the ‘rest of British society – politicians, regulators, campaigners – far down the pecking order’.
But the numbers will only get you so far. Bias isn’t just a matter of ‘source access’. The causes of the BBC’s institutional bias aren’t just a matter, either, of the backgrounds and educations of the people who work there, or the politics of the journalists involved: the fact that Andrew Neil, the presenter of Daily Politics and This Week, was the editor of the Sunday Times in the Thatcher period; or that Evan Davis, the presenter of Newsnight, was part of the team at the Institute of Fiscal Studies that devised the poll tax; or that the policy editor of Newsnight, Chris Cook, used to be an adviser to David Willetts; or that Nick Robinson, shortly to replace James Naughtie on Today, was once president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Doubtless most of the time these men do a bang-up job, suspending their personal beliefs in the service of professional integrity. Nor, in its manifestations, can bias best be measured by the corporation’s excesses, such as John Ware’s Panorama hit-job on Corbyn broadcast three days before voting closed in the leadership election (Ware sneering about Corbyn’s ‘friends’ over unidentified footage of Hizbullah soldiers marching in black balaclavas). It’s more a matter of the everyday, the gradual accretion of decisions taken and declined, the issues thought worthy of discussion, in what order, in what way and by whom, a line of questioning, an inflection in the voice: unquantifiable things which form the ideological weave of broadcasting as much as headlines and the arrangement of text and images on a page do of print.”
∞ “Apostolate of Death” by Aaron Kheriaty via Alan Jacobs.
“The claim to a right to physician-assisted suicide raises many questions, not the least of which is this: If there is such a right, why would it be restricted to those in the throes of terminal illness? What about the elderly person suffering a slow but nonterminal decline? What about the adolescent or young adult in the throes of depression, demoralization, or despair? Once we adopt the principle that suicide is acceptable, then the fences that legislators might try to erect around it—having six months to live, or having mental capacity, for example—are inevitably arbitrary. These restrictions will eventually be abandoned, as the situation with assisted suicide in Belgium and the Netherlands demonstrates.
In Belgium, assisted suicide has been granted to a woman with “untreatable depression”; in the Netherlands, assisted suicide has been granted to a woman because she did not want to live in a nursing home. We see evidence here of not only a practical slippery slope but a relentlessly logical slide from a cancer patient with six months to live to people who are merely unhappy, demoralized, dejected, depressed, or desperate. If assisted suicide is a good, why limit it only to a select few?
Recent debates on physician-assisted suicide have largely ignored research in psychiatry and the social sciences. It is important to appreciate what motivates suicidal behavior, which individuals are at risk for suicide, and how suicide risk can be lowered. We know, for example, that suicide is typically an impulsive and ambivalent act.
One suicide “hot spot” is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where fourteen hundred people have died, while only a handful have survived the jump. A journalist tracked down a few of these survivors and asked them what was going through their minds in the four seconds between jumping off the bridge and hitting the water. All of them responded that they regretted the decision to jump, with one saying, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.” This small sample is consistent with larger studies of suicide survivors: Ten years after attempted suicide, nearly all survivors no longer wish to die but are pleased to be alive. To abandon suicidal individuals in the midst of a crisis—under the guise of respecting their autonomy—is socially irresponsible: It undermines sound medical ethics and erodes social solidarity.”
∞ “The importance of having an opinion. And voicing it.” by Caroline Hirons.
“Here’s the thing. Every time I do an event and get to meet some of you lovely readers, I come away inspired and always with new ideas for posts. This one came to me early on during my PA yesterday when I heard some version of ‘I read your blog because you’re not afraid to have an opinion’ or ‘I love that you have an opinion’ from maybe every other person. I’m not exaggerating. It was both moving and unsettling. I’m very grateful that so many of you read my opinions. I really am. It wasn’t always thus..
Ever since I can remember, although especially in my working life, people have said ‘you’re very opinionated’ – and they nearly always mean it as an insult. Always. ‘Oh she’s very opinionated.’ *side-eye*
It astounds me that this is still used – especially against women in the workplace and on social media – as a way of shutting someone down. We are all, each and every one of us, fully entitled to have an opinion. We may disagree – frequently – but isn’t that the joy of being alive and present?
Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely spoken out of turn on occasion, and opened my mouth before engaging my brain, but again, we all do. Own it, fix it, move on.
Of course I have an opinion. So do you. For the love of your sanity, please voice it.”