Monday, 3 December 2007


Eek! I appear to have been promoted!

Except not, because we don't have promotion at Bristol, we have progression. Anyway, I have been moved from Level B ('In relation to research, the emphasis will be on developing, and starting to implement, a programme of research. Role holders will be developing their competence in teaching and will undertake a limited range of teaching responsibilities') to Level C ('They will be involved in a range of teaching activities, using a variety of approaches, on courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels (including doctoral supervision), typically within established courses. Their research and/or scholarship, individually and/or collectively, will be published and will be advancing the state of knowledge in their particular discipline. Role holders at this level will be expected to be establishing a growing national reputation within their academic discipline.')

I really had better finish this book, hadn't I?

Monday, 19 November 2007

That Stage of Term

Hey -

I'm evolving a long and thoughtful post about queerness in children's literature, and about the queer child (as) reader, but I don't know when I'm going to get to write it up. On the back burner, also: to follow the links in, and think about the mechanics/techniques of blogging put forward in, this post on Going Somewhere?

I'm busy and tired, and sick of being in That Stage of Term where I can barely get done what I need to do and then go into serious down-time in order to reproduce my labour: in the last week I have watched two-and-a-half seasons of Scrubs, and on Friday night I had to stop knitting because I'd gone beyond my hands' capacity to continue. I mean, I like knitting - and I love Scrubs - but I would like to be starting to plan next semester's teaching, and reading around for this essay on queer intergenerational sexuality in Derrida's The Post Card, and writing fiction, and blogging, and keeping in touch with friends, and Not just marking, and reading for classes, and photocopying handouts and formulating basic questions for seminars, and then resting. Maybe I'll catch up with myself soon, and get some spare energy which doesn't just get cycled back into work.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

In the last week, I have...

Flown to San Francisco, given a paper at a workshop on ancient and modern imperialisms at Stanford, asked questions about many interesting and exciting papers at said workshop*, eaten many delicious meals including J's birthday dinner (tasting menu at Junnoon) and a lunch with my brother who happened to be in San Francisco (delicious veggie splendour at Green's), flown back from San Francisco, crawled onto campus to photocopy bundles of stuff for today's teaching, taught a two-hour seminar on ideology and Frankenstein and a one-hour seminar comparing Chapman's translation of the Odyssey to the opening of Walcott's stage version of the Odyssey, eaten some sushi, read my personal email, opened my work email (and despaired and closed it again without reading anything), and caught up on some blogs. A fine sense of priorities, I think.

And so hence I give you this link,

via gaylourdes: when the Onion is good, it's really good. I don't even have any commentary on it, it's so good.

Okay, now I have twenty-five minutes before my next class (another two-hour seminar on ideology and Frankenstein, followed at 4:10 by a research paper on Catullus and the gift which sounds awesome, so I hope I can stay awake for it - of course it will only be 8am in California, but then by that logic I did start teaching at 1am), so I had better go and... do something. Answer all that email, I suppose.

*But I think the clear winner was Alastair Blanshard, with a paper on Arcadian imagery in Australian art, which was probably the most thought-provoking paper at the workshop and also the most entertaining and energizing. Which is cheating.

Friday, 26 October 2007

My life is so glamorous

You know that Pet Shop Boys song, Being Boring, that ends:

I never dreamed that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be

Well, tonight I am going to dinner with (in alphabetical order) Charles Butler, Diana Wynne Jones, and Jenny Pausacker.*

I am simultaneously dumbstruck with joy at the glamorosity of my own life and dumbstruck with awe at being in such august company.**

Hmm. I don't know how successful I will be as a conversationalist.

*And I even get to go home with one of them at the end of the night! (I don't get to pick which one, though.)

**okay, particularly about Diana Wynne Jones, who (a) I don't know as well as the other two and (b) is the only one I actually read as a child.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Agamben emergency

I'm giving a paper at a workshop on 'Ancient and Modern Imperialisms' in a couple of weeks, called 'Terminal Man: Agamben's Homo Sacer and the end of the Aeneid'. It's an investigation of the links between Agamben's argument in Homo Sacer about sovereignty and biopolitics (Agamben argues that the sphere of politics 'captures' biopolitical bodies - bodies exposed to sovereign violence)and an incredibly strange, ambiguous, and dense scene at the end of the Aeneid which seems to assemble all the elements of Agamben's argument: Aeneas, a refugee from Troy who is fated to found Rome in Italy,* has now arrived in Italy and is at war with the indigenous inhabitants (the Latins). At the very end of the poem, Aeneas is in single combat with a Latin prince, Turnus. Turnus throws a boundary stone at him - moving a boundary stone is one of the things that makes you a homo sacer in Roman law -and Aeneas stabs him to death. The verb Vergil uses for 'stab' at this point is the same verb used for the foundation of a city.** So the end of the Aeneid foregrounds a relationship between city-foundation and a body exposed to sovereign violence through sacratio. Which is all very nice and Agambanien, and what I wanted to do next was take this forward via Agamben's consideration of life and death as a political boundary, together with Virilio's fantasy of 'terminal man' (a fully technicized human body in a new political space inaugurated by real-time communications technology: 'the witness's own body becomes the last urban frontier', says Virilio).

But - apart from the fact that Vergil very annoyingly put a big sign on Turnus's head at the end of the Aeneid saying NOT A HOMO SACER, KTHXBAI and thus buggers up my whole argument - it's occurring to me that I'm not entirely sure I know what Agamben's argument about life and death is at the very end of Homo Sacer. And it's important, because what's emerging for me from this rereading of the end of the Aeneid is a whole argument from Vergil about dead people as political agents. So... can any of you guys help me with this? Or pass this post on to someone who'd be interested in talking about it over the next couple of weeks?

Towards the end of Homo Sacer, Agamben talks about the 'overcomatose person', and points out that the current state of life-support technology and transplant techniques means that the decision on life and death can no longer be taken by the 'ancient criteria' (the stopping of the heartbeat and the cessation of breathing), so that now there is a 'no-man's-land' between life and death. He writes (p.164) that 'life and death are not properly scientific concepts but rather political concepts, which as such acquire a political meaning precisely only through a decision. The "frightful and incessantly deferred borders" [between life and death]... are moving borders because they are biopolitical borders'. And later, on p.187, he writes:

'In its extreme form, the biopolitical body of the West (this last incarnation of homo sacer) appears as a threshold of absolute indistinction between law and fact, juridical rule and biological life. In the person of the Fuhrer, bare life passes immediately into law, just as in the person of the camp inhabitant (or the neomort) law becomes indistinguishable from biological life.'

This is the bit that I get, or nearly get: that the problem of power, of sovereignty, is that it produces subjects/citizens/people as bare life (zoe), as purely biopolitical: there isn't a 'ground' into which bios or political life is inscribed, and which could therefore resist inscription, inscribe differently, etc. Life itself is what is captured in the sphere of the political. Yes? Is that right? But then... I guess my question is so what? How does the life/death border, as the border of the political, relate to, say, material borders, material spaces on the ground? How does this insight - that the life/death border is the site of the foundation of the political, if I'm right - transform the way we do (or think about) politics?

I thought this paper was going to be so easy, that I'd done all the thinking for it already. And I guess it's nice to find out that it's not, to be challenged to come to a new understanding of the material, but on the other hand I really have quite a lot of other stuff to do this week...

*remember? Eric Bana gives him the Sword of Troy? (JUST KIDDING)

**and, actually, the composition of a poem.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Masculinity conference

Damn. Looks like I've missed the deadline on this one, but doesn't this look interesting? Especially the second question in the title, which isn't asked as often as the first one (and the first one isn't asked as often as it should be, either).

What is Masculinity? How Useful is it as a Historical Category? conference at Birkbeck next May. I've just asked the organizer if he's accepting late proposals - I might use this as a trigger to write something about Iphis, the transman (but is he a transman?) in Ovid's Metamorphoses, who I've been vaguely meaning to think about for a while.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Week 0

Still not a substantial post from me, I'm afraid. It's Week 0 (Fresher's week) and the last few days have been solidly busy, but things are starting to come together: I actually have students on the MA in Reception and Critical Theory, and I'm very much looking forward to starting the real work of teaching after two years of planning and form-filling and determining 'learning outcomes' and 'unit aims'. (Please do spread that link around to potential students, by the way - we're looking to increase our number of MA students.)

Things I've been thinking about lately include a theory of reading/reception based on the idea of 'pellets' or 'rewards'. What intrigues me about, eg, deconstruction and reader-response theory is that you can read any text as meaning anything, in theory: so how, in practice, do readers make meanings out of texts? And at the moment I think one of the ways is that readers get rewarded by the text for certain interpretations: it's like video games unlocking levels or giving you 'easter eggs' if you figure out how to do a secret task. Like if you think the main romance in Singin' In The Rain is the Don Lockwood/Cathy Selden one, you get a treat at the end of the movie, you get to see your pairing kissing on a hill; if you think the main romance is Don Lockwood/Cosmo Brown, you don't get a treat. Which is, of course, where fanfiction comes in: we give ourselves treats for our own readings! We don't rely on The Man Author to do it for us! We own the means of production of treats!

I've also just started reading 1000 Plateaux, or at least reading bits of it that I hadn't read before: I always forget that Deleuze & Guattari are actually really good, because they got taken up mainly within a particular, very macho, style of academic discourse which annoys me. But I'm reading about nomadology and the war-machine and smooth and striated space, and thinking that really this needs to get integrated into Now and Rome immediately.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

It's Wednesday!

And the system is already broken, today, because of... stuff I don't even have time to blog about.

But the only thing that I really have to tell you is that I have a new haircut and it is excellent. Photos will perhaps come, once I've dyed it (off to do a skin test with the bleach before a fannish friend arrives for our semi-regular vegan-food-and-slash date...)

Thursday, 20 September 2007

New year's resolutions

I haven't been here very regularly over the summer, you'll have noticed. But I now have my teaching schedule for next semester - I'm teaching on Mondays, Thursdays, and a slightly daunting four-hour block on Friday morning (9am-1pm, teaching two groups of first-year English undergraduates in two back-to-back two-hour seminars: I wonder how attendance will be at the 9-11am class?) - and am full of plans about what to do with that lovely classless two-day stretch in the middle of the week.

One thing I'm going to do with it is blog, I think, every Wednesday. Wednesday, because Wednesday afternoons are free from teaching for everyone, so that we can attend meetings. I go to lots of meetings, because I'm in two departments, plus I'm on two committees and a board. So Wednesdays have a slightly anomalous, free-but-not-free status, which means I should find it possible to spend an hour or two blogging.

My plan is to keep blogging about the progress of Now and Rome, plus talk about whatever I've been thinking about that week. This week, that's easy, because what I've mostly been thinking about is writing books, and this is what I have thought:

Writing books is hard.

I'm thinking about this from three points of view simultaneously at the moment. Firstly, there's Now and Rome, which proceeds achingly slowly and refuses all attempts to hurry it up; secondly, there's the fan novel I'm writing, which has taken me five years and will have a readership of roughly ten people when I do finish it; and thirdly, there's J's Great Australian Novel, which has taken her two years full-time and is currently languishing with the agent and may need to be rewritten with a new framing device in order to teach The Public At Large how to 'get' it.

And the thing they all have in common is that it is hard to write them. Hard, exciting, strange work which makes you suddenly confront things from your past that you thought you'd forgotten, or do emergency psychotherapy on yourself to get yourself through a particularly emotional plot twist/ theoretical turn, or sit staring into the void and doubting your own capacity, or suddenly realize that without realizing it you've secretly coded the solution to the problem that's confounding you into the first chapter of the book, or realize that because you've been trying to avoid thinking about a painful or challenging or risky part of the project too deeply, you've fudged large quantities of the last chapter you wrote and will have to rip it up and start again.

And none of that - none of it, worse luck - bears any relation to the successfulness, the marketability, the readability, or even the quality of what you produce. One of J's touchstone books as a writer - and hence one of mine, too - is A Long Way From Verona, by Jane Gardam, where the young female protagonist is told that she is 'a writer beyond all possible doubt' by a Professional Writer, and the glamour of his certainty carries her through the doubt and drang of her teenage years.

And then she reads a book by him, and it's terrible.

But that doesn't make it any less true that she - and he - are writers, beyond all possible doubt.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Eight Random Facts meme

Aren tagged me for this meme, where you write down eight random facts about yourself. (But what is a random fact?)

1. I was once woken up by a Scud missile.

I lived in Bahrain from December 1989 to June 1991, during... it's hard to know what to call it. The First Gulf War? The one which started when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Anyway, that was the nearest I ever got to living in a war zone, and one night a missile fell on the island, and my whole house shook in the blast, and I woke up. That was the only night in two weeks I hadn't been woken up by air-raid sirens: full-on, second-world-war-style, oo-wee-oo-wee-oo-wee air raid sirens, as featured in Britain's constant memorializing of the Blitz. When the sirens went, we were supposed to go sit in our "safe room" (room containing lots of bottled water, with the air-conditioning vents taped up in case of gas) and listen to the radio, which alternated the soothing sounds of James Galway's flute music with dissonant fanfares and a DJ shouting 'BAHRAIN IS ON ALERT!!' at you. Strange times.

2. One of the best times I had in Melbourne this year was going to the gloriously fake-decadent Madam Brussels - a bar on the third floor on Bourke Street, in the heart of the city, decked out in Astroturf with a herringbone-paved brick path and white wrought-iron lawn furniture - with J and our friends K & D. We drank jugs of Singapore Sling (K & D) and pink fizzy wine with a little dish of Turkish Delight (J & I), and watched a very pretty barman with a multiply pierced face and a white suit preparing absinthe for Kerry in a highly ritualized and formal way (pouring the absinthe over a lump of sugar in a holey silver spoon, then setting fire to the sugar). All in the afternoon!

3. I really like Tori Hayden (whose website seems to have disappeared) - I have a slight wincing feeling as I wait to be disillusioned about her, but I find her books immensely comforting: I used to read a lot of misery memoirs and true-life magazines, because I liked reading about bad things happening, but these days I prefer reading about how it's possible to make a livable life after bad things have happened. Hence, Tori Hayden. I also really like Katherine Applegate's Making Out series, a 28-book teen romance/soap series. With cocaine! And long-lost half-siblings! And wrongful imprisonment! But everyone loved each other very much, and things usually worked out in the end. It was a world I really liked living in. I discovered it because number 4, Ben's in Love (front cover blurb: Ben's in love... with two girls... who just happen to be sisters!) was a free giveaway with some teen magazine or other, so it showed up all the time in charity shops, which is where I got all my reading material when I was an undergraduate. Then I got hooked and started buying the books as they came out, which was at the rate of one a month by the time I was in my final year at university: I used to reserve them in Blackwell's children's shop and hang around pestering the staff if they were late arriving. I remember when number 26 (Zoey's Broken Heart) came out explaining to the woman on the reserve desk that there had been a terrible fire in the previous number and I didn't know if anyone had died, and she said Don't look at the cover of the book then, it'll ruin it for you!. So I read the whole thing without looking at the front cover. I credit Katherine Applegate with a high proportion of the sanity I retained during/after that year.

Also under this heading: I think Jennifer Aniston is an extremely good actor (have you seen Friends with Money?)

4. Speaking of true-life magazines, I once got £25 from being "Letter of the Week" in a British true-life magazine called that's life!. There was a little cartoon to go with the letter, and everything. It was about how I was called Ika, and my partner was called Aneurin, and went: Although we are both very proud of our heritage, blank looks and requests for spelling make introductions a chore. Our daughter is due in two weeks' time. We're calling her Jane! Which, as several people have pointed out to me, wasn't as clever a name for my fake daughter as me and my fake boyfriend seemed to think, as there are about five hundred ways of spelling 'Jane'. Never mind.

5. I own five lipsticks, all from B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful (this sort, in the little tubs): Bellatrix, B Cause, B Daring, Borscht and, um, Beijing, maybe? It was a pink one, anyway. I haven't worn it yet. I don't wear lipstick very often - mostly just to give lectures and conference papers, like a costume.

6. I have A-Levels in Maths and Further Maths at A and B grade, and I was accepted to Oxford University to do a Maths and Philosophy degree. (I didn't do it, though.)

7. I actively hate chess - boyfriends used to keep trying to make me play (You're clever! You're good at maths! You'll like chess!) but I don't think spatially, I think in words, so I'm no good at it, and I just react like a sullen teenager and throw myself about in my chair and sulk until my opponent finally wins and puts a stop to the whole miserable, futile process. Or I used to; since I became queer no-one has tried to make me play chess. An unforeseen benefit.

8. I'm currently watching my way through Buffy, starting from Season 2, and Seasons 3 and 4 have made me realize that actually Alyson Hannigan/Willow was probably my first conscious lesbian crush (I know. Isn't that embarrassing? I was like twenty-three or something when those were on telly). She was also a bit of a role model for me. (Also noticing on this go-round of Buffy: Willow is better than Hermione, Xander is better than Ron, Buffy is better than Harry, Giles is better than Dumbledore, the Initiative is better than the Ministry of Magic.)

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Social Contracts

I'm putting together the documentation for some of my courses next year, and I'm trying to be very clear about what will be expected from students on a week-by-week basis (and what they can expect from me). I started writing down some things like You are expected to do the reading, you are expected to show up, you are expected to speak up in class, you are expected to respect your peers and not be homophobic/racist/transphobic/etc, and it occurred to me that some of you people reading this might have done this before and have some suggestions - do you have contracts or ground rules for seminars? What are they? Are they helpful?

Friday, 27 July 2007

Contemporary writing again

Here's a draft reading list for that contemporary writing course. The theme I decided to go with was, roughly, 'history' - works that deal with a sense of belatedness, or that rewrite earlier works, or that talk about the ways in which our "free" choices, as subjects, are constrained or determined by history, or all of the above. I've tried to get a mix of nationalities, ethnicities, genders, genres, forms, and decades (though I notice I've completely overlooked the 70s and the 80s only get one book on the list.)

(The odd book out is 253, which I just really want to teach. And I do think its experiments with narrative form and the differences between the Web and the print versions are interesting and "contemporary", I'm just not sure how it links into the "history" theme. But it sits nicely with Slaughterhouse 5.)

1. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

2. Tom Cho, [selection of short stories - 'Dirty Dancing' and 'The Sound of Music'?] (2004-7)

3. Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)

4. Geoff Ryman, 253 (1998)

5. Femi Osofisan, Tegonni: An African Antigone (1994)

6. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

7. Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1966)

8. Derek Walcott, Omeros (1990)

9. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5 (1969)

10. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)

All comments gratefully received. I know Ros & Guil and Wide Sargasso Sea aren't the most interesting texts in the world maybe, but on the other hand I don't know where I'd be today without them, and at least there'll be reams of secondary literature.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Geek Pride

Following this news, J and I are going to go to London Pride for the first time ever.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Contemporary Writing

Next year I'll be teaching a Contemporary Writing course to first-year English undergraduates. What should I teach? 'Contemporary' appears to mean 'anything from about 1950 onwards', and all texts have to be written in English (ie no translations.) It looks like I have to include poetry and perhaps drama, too (I'm not sure whether I'm able to set films).

Here's an example of a nicely-thought-through version of the course, taught by the exceptionally talented and lovely Ellen McWilliams. I like her approach to the selection of texts - things which contribute something in themselves and are interesting to read and to teach, but which will also allow the class to talk about some of the broader issues which have characterized the last 50 years of Anglophone literary writing.

Some of the things that have happened in the past 50 years which I find interesting are:*

• the invention and development of the Young Adult novel (from the 'first' teenage novel, Beverly Cleary's Fifteen [1956], to Pullman and Haddon's early-21st-century crossover books);
• the invention and development of the graphic novel (Bechdel's Fun Home is definitely going to be on the list);
• the women's movement (Woman on the Edge of Time?);
• the development of gay and queer literature;
• punk/avant-garde post-modern stuff (not as in, like, 'pomo', but as in William Burroughs' cut-up techniques which develop from modernist techniques. Dennis Cooper? But I don't know if I can face teaching his books - I mean, especially on a core unit... if students have specifically signed up for a sex-n-violence unit, that's one thing, but making, say, Frisk compulsory might be a bit much. I had to throw Frisk across the room and then leave the room when I first read it at the age of seventeen);
• the development of black and postcolonial literature.

But I don't want the course to be as tokenistic as that list risks being; nor do I want it to be a rerun of the 'Critical Issues' course I'm also teaching next year (one of those breakneck one-theory-a-week, sexual difference/queer theory/postcolonialism/ideology/deconstruction kind of courses). Maybe I need some sort of unifying theme -I wonder about something like boundary-pushing or intertextuality? The way contemporary literary/canonical writing engages with its 'outside' (the not-yet-adult reader; the visual; the popular; the colonized)?

Answers in a comment, please... (Anyone reading this via LJ feed, I'll make sure to check comments there too for once, so you don't have to sign up to Blogger to have your say.)

*I originally wrote 'some of the most important things', but then I read it back and realized that was a ridiculous thing to say. What I mean is, 'some of the things I would enjoy teaching about'.

Friday, 8 June 2007

and speaking of lesbians...

Go and vote in the Herald Sun's poll on whether lesbians and single women should have access to IVF treatment. You don't need to register, just scroll down a little way (the poll is on the left-hand side of the page, under a series of thumbnail photos in the OPINION column) and click.

Thank you for your time.

Leaving soon

We're leaving Melbourne on Thursday, so the next few days are full of packing and chores and loose-ends-tying-off. In my head, I am formulating blog posts about:

• the word 'lesbian', the word 'queer', and lesbian/feminist/trans solidarity and hostility;
• Melbourne and how much I love it;
• J's new book;
• writing, again.

Some of them may come to pass, but probably not until after I'm back in the UK from 15 June.

Monday, 4 June 2007

You Heard It Here First

J has just been taken on by an agent at Curtis Brown.

This new book is going to be big.

I'm very excited. J is asleep.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Who Weekly, mostly

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. I haven't been in a very bloggy place. BUT Who Weekly assures me that Mercury is moving into my sign on 29 May (and about time too); I expect great things of it.

Also, do any of you know what's going on with the Olsen twins? Who Weekly quite often publishes photos of them out and about, but only to comment on their clothing - and of course I disdain to buy any other celebrity magazines as they are filled with nothing but scurrilous gossip. What are they doing with themselves, those Olsen twins? Are they happy? I worry about them. Often they look very tired, and they are both very thin.

Friday, 18 May 2007

That's about #248,000 in real money

Dude, they're totally auctioning the house opposite my window! I'm sitting here trying to write about satellite navigation systems in Vergil's Georgics and there's like fifty people standing in the street outside my house - a little girl is clinging to her daddy and grabbing at the trailing branches of our very own silver-birch - and a guy in a suit and tie stalking up and down in the middle doing auctioneer patter.

Four hundred and thirty! Oh, we're all going to hang back, are we? We're going to drag it out and up the drama?... I'm not going inside, guys, we are SELLING! It is definitely on the market, I mentioned it a moment ago but I'll make it clear, we are SELLING!

Bidding is now at $562,000.( Which bodes quite well for J's house, actually.)

Going once... going twice...



Going once...

$571,000... $575... $579...

I was just going to mention this to you guys and get straight back to work but I am TRANSFIXED. I originally thought I was intrigued because (it's my understanding that) in the UK, houses only go up for public auction when they're repossessed by the building society and thus auctions are ineradicably associated with public shame and humiliation in my mind, but now I'm just, well, TRANSFIXED. What a total spectacle! (Blimey! $590,000!) I think half the people in the crowd are just here to watch, too, so I don't feel too stupid about getting sucked in....

$594,000 we're all done... selling... selling... sold, congratulations! ::round of applause::

Friday, 11 May 2007


So today it felt like I got even more nowhere than usual. But I notice that 2000 new words have appeared, which is about double my previous daily best on this book.

(Admittedly a significant proportion of those words are by Lucan, rather than me. BUT THEY STILL COUNT.)

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Writing and material labour

Hah! You know I keep saying that I'm groping towards some sort of idea about writing as material, not just as the flow of ideas from the brain via the hands onto the page with no obstruction, no resistance, no economy of loss-and-gain in translation/transcription as the ideas slip across media (brain/hand/page)? Well, it turned out I wasn't trying to formulate a thought, I was trying to remember something Hannah Arendt said. I found this today when I was looking through my notes on The Human Condition for stuff about ploughing. (Arendt draws a distinction between 'work' and 'labour', whereby work produces objects of human artifice, and labour simply reproduces life and/or the capacity for more work or labour - so you go off into your studio and whittle a statue, which is work, but in order to do so you have to cook yourself dinner, sweep up the sawdust, sharpen your tools, which is labour).

Here, the underlying tie between the laborer of the hand and the laborer of the head is again the laboring process, in one case performed by the head, in the other by some other part of the body. Thinking, however, which is presumably the activity of the head, though it is in some way like laboring - also a process which probably comes to an end only with life itself - is even less 'productive' than labor; if labor leaves no permanent trace, thinking leaves nothing tangible at all. By itself, thinking never materializes into any objects. Whenever the intellectual worker wishes to manifest his thoughts, he must use his hands and acquire manual skills just like any other worker. In other words, thinking and working are two different activities which never quite coincide; the thinker who wants the world to know the 'content' of his thought must first of all stop thinking and remember his thoughts. Remembrance in this, as in all other cases, prepares the intangible and the futile for their eventual materialization; it is the beginning of the work process, and like the craftsman's consideration of the model which will guide his work, its most immaterial stage. The work itself then always requires some material upon which it will be performed and which through fabrication, the activity of homo faber, will be transformed into a worldly object. The specific work quality of intellectual work is no less due to the 'work of our hands' than any other kind of work".

Arendt, The Human Condition, second edition, (Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1998 [1958]),pp.90-91.


I am not well. I went to stay with J's brother and his gf in their stately home near Horsham last weekend, which was interesting - it's a Victorian Gothic homestead dating from 1862; I'm just starting to get a feel for how much longer-ago that is here - but clearly leaving the house was not good for me and I have been in bed for most of the last three days, alternately reading Prosthesis and school stories from the 20s and 30s.

I'm sure I remember J telling me that boys' school stories were just as soppy as girls', but so far this is Not True (and in fact she denies saying it now, so maybe I made it up): Tony Hits Out!, despite a promising title, turned out to be mostly about football, pirates and spies, while Pat's Third Term, despite sounding about as generic as it's possible to get, was entirely about Pat and Rhoda's love for each other. The best one, though, was Evelyn Finds Herself, which is pretty much a diagram of why I love school stories: I like books about people being sensible about their feelings. It's the same reason as why I love Diana Wynne Jones (and Dennis Cooper, come to think of it). By 'sensible' I mean... um, something like: turning the same attention to their feelings as they do to their work (and Evelyn Finds Herself is one of my favourite kinds of school stories in that regard, too, in that it's about work, not just sport. Also it has lesbians, so it is pretty much perfect).

Hmm, and Ruby Ferguson's Jill books have a lot of sensible feelings in them, too. Sensible feelings plus a passion for something outward-turned: magic in DWJ, violence in Dennis Cooper, botany in Evelyn Finds Herself, ponies for Jill...

But no, luckily the fact that it's too late to get anything out in time for the RAE publication deadline in December 2007 means that my lightest thought is no longer making me go Hmm, could I write an article about that? Who'd publish it? Which is lucky because I've just realized I have quite a daunting schedule for the next umyear: I'm scheduled to write three new conference papers (one on Daniel Deronda and Melissa Lukashenko's Hard Yards; one on archive fever in Lucan's De Bello Civili; and one on Agamben's Homo Sacer and the end of Vergil's Aeneid); and a book chapter (on intergenerational desire and the relationship to antiquity in Derrida's The Post Card); to write up my Queer Space paper into a book chapter (on slash, queer reading and utopia); to teach two (completely) new MA units, one new (to me) undergraduate course and a few old ones; and to organize a workshop on Teh Novel, Ancient and Modern.

Oh, and finish this book, of course.

Monday, 30 April 2007


Eep. Now I've been invited to go to Stanford for a workshop on ancient and modern imperialisms, in November. I'd love to go, for millions of reasons, but it's right in the middle of term so it will probably involve me flying to California on a Thursday and flying back on the following Monday. And having to rearrange teaching, which is always a pig. And next term is going to be particularly hard because of teaching the core course on the new MA.

Actually it's on J's birthday, so she should probably be allowed to decide.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

You Seem To Be Writing A Letter

I quite like AutoCorrect, so I leave it turned on in Word, but it has a tendency to do strange things both to academicese and to Latin, and some of its predictions are bizarre. I can see why it might think, on seeing me type Satur, that I want it to fill in 'Saturday', so the little yellow box it hovers invitingly over my cursor is quite benign (though of course it's wrong, I'm typing Saturnian medium). But the suggestion Office 2004 Test Drive User at the sight of me typing offi is much stranger.

In fact, I was typing officiant laetis ne frugibus herbae, 'lest weeds should harm the well-being of the crops', and I suppose there's no way it could have known that, until they start teaching Word for Mac the classics.* (Roll on that day: a little paper-clip could pop up saying You seem to be writing a monograph on the materiality of political space in Vergil's Georgics. Would you like some help? OH YES, PLEASE.)

*There's no 'Latin' option in the spell-checker dictionary languages either. FOR SHAME, WORD.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Day off!

I need to rest Chapter One for a day then go back and see what to do about Hannah Arendt (a perennial question).

Also, it's Saturday. (See previous post on not donating surplus value to institutions.)

So I'm in bed, wearing my 'I love sleeping' tshirt - this is my new 'day off' tshirt. (I also have a new writing tshirt - J bought it for me as part of the process of getting over the writing crash(es). I keep meaning to take a photo of it. Anyway, it is brilliant, and it says 'Last Year's Youth' on it, which is (a) a reference to the project of bookifying the PhD - writing as a grown-up academic, not as a youthful apprentice - and (b) a rewrite of Leonard Cohen's song 'Last Year's Man', signalling that I am not depressed any more.) I am surrounded by:

my knitting (I am currently doing raglan shaping on the armholes of my jumper (this is what the jumper is going to look like, apparently, except I don't have a beard and I'm knitting it with this yarn, which knits up like this) which necessitates the use of a cable needle);
a can of Diet Coke;
my laptop (possibly I shall write some fanfic);
my journal;
the following books:

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered;
Cicero, Letters to Atticus bks III-IV;
Abraham & Torok, The Wolf Man's Magic Word;
Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children's Literature;
Bruhm & Hurley (eds), Curiouser: On The Queerness of Children;
David Wills, Prosthesis;

and am still in that nice phase of wondering what I'm going to do next. (This thing which has freed up the book also seems to have freed up my reading, so I can do what I always intended to do on research leave: read lots and lots of theory books just because I fancy them.)

Thursday, 26 April 2007


Following a discussion elsewhere on the internet about International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day and the relation of writing to other forms of labour under capitalism, I was thinking vaguely about the way that the concept of 'privilege' sometimes gets co-opted, as part of a capitalist strategy to divide workers and hide the real relations of production (and oppression): so if you're a creative worker at one of those funky new companies where they give you a playstation lounge and lots of free coffee, you see this as a privilege, a set of perks, rather than as the company appropriating your leisure time for its profit. Or in general, many people in well-paid jobs will routinely work twelve- or fourteen-hour days but they tend not think of this in terms of the production of surplus value for a corporation out of their labour - out of a working regime which costs them their health - because they have Italian suits and penthouse apartments, so they couldn't have anything in common with a Wal*Mart employee regularly working unpaid overtime. So the often-made - and often justified - critique of the behaviour of some (relatively) privileged people claiming identity with (relatively) less privileged people (they want to live like common people! they want to do whatever common people do!) is used to cover up the fact that capitalism works by extracting surplus value from the bodies of its workers, regardless of colour, creed, gender or class.

And then I saw this post (via John's blog), by a lecturer, on his typical working day. Which begins at 8:15am and ends at 11:30pm (with three hours 'off' in the evening for family time, in which domestic work and leisure are close to indistinguishable). And the first comment says: This is helpful and a good kick in the pants. One question: I've always written by blocking out large blocks of time for individual topics. Have you always worked in divided increments or do you discipline yourself this way for more effectiveness?

When I was a postgraduate tutor, I was asked to mark undergraduate essays for fifty p. a script (that would work out at two pounds an hour, maximum, for work that you were required to have at least an MA - that's four or five years of professional training - to do). I see friends of mine with PhDs - that's up to nine years of professional training - still teaching at hourly rates years after getting their doctoral qualification, with no benefits, no pension, no holiday pay, no pay over the summer. Why would I think - even when I'd had the luck to get a tenured position and have far more of a stake in my department's success - there was something inherently admirable about working unpaid overtime for an institution? About 'disciplining myself' to produce the maximum possible surplus value?

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Things I Didn't Know Till This Week

1. Audrey Hepburn was a ballerina for the Resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland. DUDE. J and I watched Roman Holiday the other night, after Una mentioned it on her blog (it's awesome: I'm going to have to add Princess Anne to my ever-evolving list of Great Boys of Literature, which means I'm going to have to rethink what I mean by a boy, but there you go), and then we decided to google Audrey Hepburn, and dude, her reputation as a style icon sells her pretty short. (AH's Wikipedia entry)

2. There's an extended metaphor about archaeology in Freud's essay 'The Aetiology of Hysteria' , which ends with him suddenly going into Latin to say Saxa loquuntur! ('Stones speak!') There's also a few volumes of collections of epigraphic inscriptions entitled Saxa loquuntur, and I've been wondering where the quotation comes from, because of how I'm linking boundary stones to telephone networks in the ill-fated Chapter Three. It took a bit of tracking down - I kept finding references where people said things like 'the old saying, saxa loquuntur', which to my sharpened eye looked like someone else who hadn't succeeded in tracing the quotation - but yesterday in the library I discovered that... it doesn't really come from anywhere, as far as I can see. Freud's use of it has been traced to a German book of quotations, Gehflugelte Werte, which connects the idea of speaking stones to Habakkuk, Luke, and a thirteenth-century Lives of the Saints, Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine - but saxa loquuntur doesn't appear in the index to Geflugelte Werte (online here), so I'm going to have to do a bit more digging. Anyway, there doesn't seem to be a single authoritative source for it. HOWEVER, I RANDOMLY came across the phrase saxa loquentur (stones will speak) in one of the key passages of Lucan's Civil War that I'm using in the book. Isn't that exciting? It looks like the Universe is finally on my side now that I've managed to get my head into the right groove for the book.

3. In sharp contrast, file this one under 'rage and headsick': in 1932, the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male began. It continued to study untreated syphilis in 300 black men until 1972. In order to do this, their subjects were prevented from getting medical treatment. For forty years. (Penicillin was adopted as an effective treatment for syphilis in 1945, incidentally.)

Oh Yeah, And I'm Writing A Book Too

I had a big crash on 4th April, while I was drafting Chapter Three, and took the following day off to lie in bed reading novels, eating sourdough chips, and knitting. It felt so necessary that I took another day off, and then another one, until I decided I might as well take the week off - I'd been planning to have a week off after I drafted Three and Four, but I obviously needed it earlier. It was a good week: I saw some people, slept a lot, read a bunch of novels, knitted, wrote some fanfic.

I spent the next week writing a paper for the School of Culture and Communication seminar series, and had another big crash on Tuesday, the night before I was due to give it; J heroically rescued me from the depths of what an online friend of mine recently termed 'writer's hysteria', in distinction from 'writer's block', partly by telling me that this is MY book, and I woke up the next day feeling like I was back from somewhere, like I just... hadn't had access to myself for the previous couple of weeks (They STOLE me! I kept saying, indignantly; I'm not sure who 'they' are).

The paper wasn't great, because I'd been writing it from a position of anxiety and self-doubt, so it was sort of paranoidly trying to justify itself with quotes from theorists,* which got in the way of its figuring out what it was supposed to be about - it ended up falling half-way between being a reading of Hannah Arendt and being a reflection on different modes of space. But what was great was the reactions of the audience, who were amazingly generous and informed in their questioning, and we all kept talking for about forty minutes, I think, after the paper ended. In particular, Scott McQuire - who if I'd looked up his webpage before I'd given this paper, I would never have had the nerve to give it; he's done a huge amount of work on space, technology, and the city - asked a question about mobility, and how space is produced by the way people move through it, which clarified something I'd been groping towards for a long time.

With the result that, in talking about the book to J on Sunday night, it all suddenly fell into place. Suddenly and simply. I know what it's about, I know what the structure should be, I know how each part relates to each other part. It's like, if any of you have read The Merlin Conspiracy, it's like the way the hurt lady's knowledge instals itself in Roddy's head: I can zoom in on one part at a time, and still be sure that the whole will be there the next time I need it. Finally, I can get into the actual process of the writing of the book, sentence by sentence, without constantly being off-balance, unbalanced, by anxiety over whether every new sentence, every possible tangent, is going to wreck something in the not-quite-thought-through structure and make me rethink the whole thing. From scratch. Again. It's no longer the case that in the gap between one day's work and the next, one thought and the next, one sentence and the next, is the constant threat of an abyss which will swallow me whole, and the book along with me, if I don't make the leap exactly right.

So it's funny. All I have to do now is write the book, and maybe that should make me a bit intimidated (two months to write a book!) but pah, the writing is the easy bit. I've written 1500 words of the first chapter now, and I don't think I'm going to be proceeding by cutting-and-pasting from the dissertation, because now as I sit and write I get into a lovely trance state which tells me where to go next, and editing cut-and-pasted text needs a different sort of headspace and a different process. But it's taken me two months (or, you know, SIX AND A HALF YEARS, depending on how you look at it**) to put in place the infrastructure which makes the production of sentences possible - and now I've finally got to the payoff. Now I can sit down happily writing Tom-Cho-like sentences (the nearest I'm capable of, anyway).Because at last I'm so sure of the book that I can say it all as simply and directly - and poetically - as possible, because I know how each sentence is linked in to the mainframe.

So now the joyful work begins. I'm absolutely loving it.

And what's particularly interesting about this is that now, writing theory feels pretty much the same as writing fanfic. I'm sure it never did before. But fanfic was always something that (paradoxically, maybe) I owned, where it was okay to say what I wanted to say - not to figure out what was 'right' - because those were the rules of the game. It's taken me twenty-five years of education and training (and maybe ten years of re-educating my emotions, my fears, my sense of my own capability) to get to that point with my academic writing. To be able to own it. So yeah, this feels like a pretty big deal at the moment.

* Memo to self: whenever you start thinking that you can't possibly write whatever you're writing until you've understood Heidegger, this is invariably a sign that YOU ARE ON THE WRONG TRACK. I know where this one comes from: one of my PhD supervisors, at the end of every conference paper or public lecture he attended, regardless of its content, used to ask a question implying that the speaker didn't understand Heidegger, so I have this superstition that when I understand Heidegger I will finally be UNASSAILABLE. Unfortunately I didn't figure this out until I'd already bought a copy of Heidegger's Parmenides. Oh well. I'm sure it'll come in handy.

**I started my PhD in October 2000.

Monday, 23 April 2007

International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

Yesterday was International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, and I missed it!

But if you like, you can read some of my "professional quality" work online for free here (pdf file - it's the paper I gave at the Queer Space conference in Sydney in February, 'Slash As Queer Utopia'). It's sort of a cheat calling it professional quality when I fully intend to rework and improve it for actual book publication, but then I'm a day late anyway. And the original rant was about the impact of online distribution on people who sell their writing, rather than people who write as a component of a salaried job. NEVER MIND.

My reference

Black Hair History.

Just came across this and want to save the link so I can read it more thoroughly later; it puts into words a lot of things that I can only ever express as kidstodaynohistorynoanalysisnopolitics ::weeps::.

Edited to add: lovely Livejournal post on race, privilege, and fandom, containing the awesome line:

What white fans need to understand about race in fandom is that fen of color do not have the option to table their examination of race for another day and just hang out for fun the way that white fen do.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Boundaries and bodies

A series of short posts today, I think: I'm spending the day re-planning the book's structure and argument, and figuring out how best to structure the next few working weeks in the light of that, so it's sort of bitty work requiring frequent pauses to let things sink in.

On Wednesday I gave a paper at Melbourne Uni (on which more later), and in the discussion period afterwards interesting things were mentioned about Orthodox Jewish boundary practices, which made me think vague thoughts about keeping kosher, the boundary of the body, the boundary of the people, and so on. Then on Sunday, I went to Treats From Home, a little shop in the centre of Melbourne which sells things that British people might miss, and discovered that it sells food, drink, and... cleaning products. Specifically, cleaning products for clothes and dishes (Persil, Ariel, Bold and Fairy Liquid). Isn't that interesting? It's the conflation of national and corporate identity, via branding, and the way that reaches right into the way we experience our bodies; what we hunger for; what we're happy to put into our bodies, or onto them. Somehow my sudden fierce desire for Monster Munch - which I never eat in the UK - seems less innocent when you put the Monster Munch next to the Fairy Liquid: the nationalization of cleanliness and edibility (is that a word?), of drawing a distinction between the clean and the dirty, the edible and the non-edible, 'proper' crisps and 'this nasty foreign muck'. Washing the dirt, the that-which-is-not-me, down the sink with those airy Fairy suds, or that Aerial foam. It goes all the way back to soap advertising and the British Empire (this is all in Anne McClintock's Imperial Leather, which is one of those books everyone should read, twice) we maintain our bodies as British bodies abroad through reiterated rituals of cleaning and eating, performed by and through branded technologies.

None of which stopped me buying sixteen packets of Walker's crisps, some jelly babies and a jar of Haywards pickled onions, of course. Ooh, actually I fancy a jelly baby...

Monday, 16 April 2007

Quick photo update

What I really want to write about is:

(1) Shaun Tan's new book, The Arrival, which is wonderful;

(2) 'Spruik' - what does it mean? Why has it suddenly appeared?

(3) Serres' The Book of Foundations and Wills' Prosthesis, both/either of which I wish I'd written (which would have the added bonus that I would then have written a book, and I wouldn't have to write this one! Hoorah!);

(4) Excellent conversation with Tom on Saturday night at a butch/femme/trans social night, about fanfiction and sentences and theory vs fiction writing;

(5) Why Who Weekly has converted me to celebrity gossip (with a side-note of shock that Katie Holmes'/Tom Cruise's baby has just turned one, apparently; where does the time go?);

(6) Getting a paper accepted at the MLA Convention! Christmas in Chicago, baby!

(7) Bees! Mobile phones! Agriculture! It is my PhD in the form of a news item rather than a patiently anachronistic reading of Vergil's Georgics!

But I don't have time for any of that, so I'm just going to link to some new photos.

I have had a haircut, and feel much better as a result: there are two view of it here and here.

I took a week off over Easter and mostly knitted. I made a practice thingy, a scarf which J has actually worn out into the world, and am now knitting a jumper. Sewing has been temporarily suspended.

We went to St Kilda and paddled in the sea! (J also paddled, but she kept her hat and scarf on).

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Spell Check

MS Word's spellcheck appears to be a very partisan Harry Potter reader: it knows Dumbledore and Hogwarts and Gryffindor but not Slytherin or Voldemort.

Oddly, though, it knows Azkaban but not Quidditch.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Many-Headed Update

J has now got her visa for England! It came through incredibly quickly and smoothly - I suspect they read the covering letter (literate, educated) looked at the passport photos (white) and the financial information (solvent) and let us through. Which is obviously great for us - we are still in a state of high excitement over it - but just means I'm not going to hail this as a victory for gay rights or anything.

Now working on Chapter Three, which is the fun one, but I can't quite remember why I thought that boundary stones and telephones were the same thing: I may have to reread The Telephone Book. Jonathan Sterne's The Audible Past arrived in the post today - which was good timing, as this is the point in the book where I switch from inscriptive space to auditory space - and I'm excited about starting reading it.

Other Research
Someone emailed me to ask about Eurydice references in Buffy 6, where they bring her back from the dead: as far as I can see, there aren't any (they think she's in a hell dimension when she's actually in heaven, so there's no suggestion that anyone went into the Underworld to find her; they successfully bring her back; there's no deal with the Powers of the Underworld; there's no Orpheus/singer figure). Anyone have any advance on 'none'?

Went to Spotlight with J's friends K&D (D is the one with the glorious white hair). Have learned to knit for the third time in my life, and to cast on for the second. Am knitting 'a scarf'. Am mildly worried about this because I've been working on the same craft project - a series of small sewn pictures which is actually going to be a present for K - for two years now and I'm usually a very focussed crafty-person, so I'm worried that introducing knitting into the equation is going to turn me from an obsessive one-project person into a chaotic never-finishing person with fifty projects on the go at once.

Cultural Productions: Audiovisual.
We got overexcited after watching Singin' In The Rain and decided to have a Gene Kelly festival, but the only other one we could find in the video shop was Brigadoon, which was terrible! Really terrible! Why would you hire Gene Kelly to sing and act and not let him dance? Why would you hire Cyd Charisse and then keep her in an ankle-length skirt throughout? And who decided that the whole 'one day passes in Brigadoon for every hundred years in the outside world' thing would work? That's a terrible way of protecting a village! 30 years in Brigadoon equals a million years in the outside world! What are the odds that Earth is even going to be habitable in a million years? Why didn't God just keep the witches away and then kill everyone in Brigadoon after one generation, which would come to the same thing? Worst. Premise. Ever. (For everything else that is wrong with Brigadoon, see this review of the DVD release.)

I did a quick search for Brigadoon fic set on the following day in Brigadoon - ie 2031 - but couldn't find any. Alas for the Internet's lack of imagination.

On the other hand, last night we started watching I, Claudius - the DVD was a bit wrecked so we had to skip a couple of chapters in the middle (bah), but we got up to Julia's exile. Julia is brilliant - I'm amazed that in 1976 they managed to create such a likeable, plausible woman out of what's little more than a stereotype of promiscuity in the historical record. Though I think there was a little window of Excellent Women in the BBC in the late 60s through to the mid-70s: I was watching some Doctor Who story a while back (one of a number that Una and Mr Una lent us, as part of J's education in Old Who) - a Fourth Doctor one, I think - about whom all I remember was that it had a fantastic female soldier in it, who managed to get through the whole story without being girled.

And then Livia... oh, look, the thing is that there are so many of those scheming, poisoning women in the (story of the) Julio-Claudian family that I just sort of fail to see the point. It's like when I open a fantasy novel and see three people with odd names going on a long journey through scenery, and my inner five-year-old just starts kicking his legs against the dining table and howling to be let down and allowed out to play. I can see the point of Sian Philips, however.

And, very surprisingly, I am really loving Brian Blessed as Augustus. I wasn't expecting to: the Augustus in my head is a mad, neurotic, highly damaged, queeny sort of person, in love with Good Roman Manliness because he perceives a lack of it in himself,* and Robert Graves's Augustus is just simply a splendid fellow. But so much cleverer than he looks - in fact, him and Livia are an interesting role reversal in some ways, in that Livia has all the political machination and wheeling-and-dealing, and Augustus, by contrast, proceeds in a way which is often gendered as feminine: getting his own way by pretending to miss the point. Actually ::gets very excited:: he's a sort of Lina Lamont figure: you're just about to write him off as rather too simple-minded to be real, when all of a sudden he shows up in your office saying If you tell the papers about Cathy Selden, it would be detrimental and deleterious to my career and beaming adorably at you. (Lina Lamont is one of my butch role models.)

And obviously Derek Jacobi is a genius.

Cultural Productions: Textual
I just read Martine Murray's The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley (Allen & Unwin, 2002) and it annoyed me so much I thought I'd post about it. It's in a very particular sort of whimsical, quirky-insightful, oh-so-charming, literary-Disney, voice: now I liked Amelie, and I love Bjork, and I'm fond of Francesca Lia Block, and I have Boys for Pele lined up on iTunes right now, so I have a high tolerance for whimsy and quirk; and I'm a dutiful, conventional reader in a lot of ways, so I have a tendency to get sucked in when a book is telling me very loudly that it's of High Literary Quality. But when you use charm to substitute for politics and high literary quality to cover over emotional wreckage (isn't bereavement charming!), I get annoyed.

So this book is about a twelve-year-old girl, Cedar B Hartley, who spends most of her time wandering around Brunswick (two suburbs away from us) having beautiful thoughts: sometimes she thinks about how shallow celebrities are and how the woman who runs the op shop is a much better person than some silly tennis player; sometimes she just decides, enchantingly, to name all the bugs she sees on the street. She has a brother who has run away from home, but he sends beautiful thoughts home on postcards from time to time, which you'd think would teach her that beautiful thoughts don't actually help with traumatic emotional situations like loss and missing and need, but it doesn't.

(We are supposed not to notice how saccharine this all is, by the way, because of the details of contemporary inner-suburban short-of-money life in the novel's setting, which signal its ambitions towards realism, however magical; if the main character is thinking beautiful thoughts in a house with a leaky sofa and a rat, while wearing trackie daks and runners, this must be a Literary Novel, and not Snow White).

Cedar B Hartley, she tells us on two or three occasions, is 'a feminist'. It is hard to know exactly what this means to her, as her take on life is too pure and uncorrupted for her to be able to understand 'economics and politics': we know this because she tells us so, after a conversation with her mum, who explains politics thusly:

Look, I'm not very political myself so I can't explain this very well, but basically, the Mr Bartons of this world believe that things work best if people are encouraged to make as much money as they can in whatever way they want. They think this money will create jobs and trickle down to the people who don't have enough. The problem is that the money may be made in ways that are harmful to both the environment and the spirit of society. And often it doesn't trickle down at all...

When Cedar asks her what 'the spirit of society' means, she replies:

I'm talking about happiness, real happiness, not the kind that comes from money and new cars or swimming pools. Real happiness comes from loving your family and friends, from caring for other people, or from communicating something to another person, or just from singing a song you like.

'Doesn't Mr Barton care for other people?' asks Cedar.

Of course he does. It's just that many big businesses are doing very uncaring things because it makes them a lot of money. Not all business is bad though. There are people who earn a good living through good businesses. Like that bakery in Brunswick where they make that organic sourdough bread we like.

Straightforward enough? It's all just too complicated for Cedar:

I wasn't sure I really understood it all. It seemed very complicated. I don't like economics or politics. It just seems to cause a lot of arguments.

As it happens, by the end of the book, it seems that Martine Murray's take on life might also be too pure and uncorrupted for her to understand economics, as Cedar's widowed mother's working long hours to provide for her children ends up being critiqued as a mistake in her mothering priorities:

Barn, honey, I feel like I've made some mistakes with you and Cedy. I want to explain. See, when your father died, I panicked about security. So I've been working long hours because I want us to get our own house one day... But lately I've been seeing how maybe it wasn't what you needed as much as just time, my time.

Now, the Hartley family seem pretty poor even with her working long hours - Cedar's mum can't afford to lend a friend $500 (200 quid) to save the life of her beloved dog, and their house is constantly being described as broken-down, dingy, and poor - and at one point in the book the family next door gets evicted, because they don't own their own home. so it's unclear to me quite why this was such a bad 'choice' - and, indeed, what non-economic, non-political solution would have allowed Cedar's mum to work fewer hours.

(Or what's left of feminism when you take away economics and politics: the right to call other girls 'stupid' because they wear high heels, perhaps? [p.178])

The other thing which made me furious is that the plot and shape of the book is structured around Cedar finding out the truth about her dad's death: he died on the way home from a demonstration, trying to get to her side (she was in hospital as a very small child). She processes this information very quickly, to the extent that she is capable of performing in a physically demanding circus performance about half an hour after hearing the story.

But it's taught her something! It's taught her that you can't rely on anything; that unexpected things happen in life. That, as she puts it in the book's closing lines:

Kite [her love-interest] is standing right in front of me... and we smile, and we are standing very close to each other and I feel this enormous funny feeling, the funny feeling, and my skin is getting zapped by it and I am thinking, I know what is about to happen. I rock up onto my toes and a thought flies through me, just a red ribbon of thought going - Cedar, as soon as you think you know how life will go, life is liable to scribble a little detour right over the path you thought you were on, and lo and behold, there could be one hundred low flying albatrosses about to swoop in and take Kite flying away to Siberia with them, just when you think he is about to kiss you.

So I am quickly pretending I don't know what is about to happen.

And I am letting my eyes close and Kite is leaning down towards me and I am balancing on my toes and I don't see one single albatross for miles.

But the thing is, you see, that there could not be one hundred low-flying albatrosses about to swoop in and take Kite away to Siberia with them. That doesn't happen. We know this because the albatrosses have already appeared in the book, as the symbol of the mismatch between imagination and reality:

There's a long way between an idea and a real thing. Inside your mind there is a boundless view. You can imagine whatever you want. For example, you can... close your eyes and picture... a herd of wild wandering albatrosses, wearing new hats and recently returned all the way from Russia to tell you tales, waiting in your bathtub... And then... your mum yells out and you have to open your eyes...

So you open them, and lo and behold, there you are just lying on your back facing the cracked ceiling above you, which is blotchy with dirty yellow puddles as if someone peed on it. That's how it really is... And you can't get even one single albatross to wear a hat and tell you tales in the bath, no matter what you do. Some ideas just have to remain as ideas.

So the albatrosses have switched sides. Because what Cedar has in fact learned in the course of the book is that life can take a detour because people have accidents and acquire brain injuries, or die, or injure their spines and lose their jobs as acrobats and get dumped by their wives. But suddenly these brutal possibilities have disappeared, and the only thing that might happen is the pleasingly metaphorical 'one hundred low-flying albatrosses', dissolving the sheer physical reality of chance and accident and loss and shock - the exhausting labour of grief - and the economic and political dimension of them - the fact that Cedar's mum's 'choice' to work two jobs was not a free choice.

So, in conclusion, arrgh.

*This comes from reading the Augustus issue of The Sandman in sixth-form, while studying the Aeneid in Latin A-Level and Antony and Cleopatra in English A-Level: if anyone saw the RSC's recent A&C, with Patrick Stewart as Antony and Harriet Walter as Cleopatra, the Augustus in that was pretty much exactly spot-on for the way I see him.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Cicero, Mostly

Blimey. That was unexpected. Cicero has triumphantly returned to Rome! How exciting!

Letter 23 (29 November 58)*

if, as I see to be the case on your forecast and my own too, there is NO hope, I beg and adjure you to care for my poor brother Quintus, whom I have ruined, unlucky wretch that I am. Protect my Marcus as far as you can. Poor little boy, I am leaving him nothing but my hated and dishonoured name.

Letter 24 (10 December 58)

I [am] deeply disturbed, because it looks as if even the faint ray of hope that existed has been extinguished.

Letter 25 (mid-December 58):

A letter from Rome, dispatched after you left, has reached me from which I see that I must pine away in this miserable state. And indeed (you won't take this amiss), if there were any lingering hope of my restoration, caring for me as you do you would not have left Rome at this time..

Letter 26 (mid-January 57**)

... if there is opposition I shall avail myself of the Senate's authority and prefer loss of life to that of country.

Letter 27 (early February 57, in its entirety)

From your letters and from the facts themselves I see that I am utterly finished. In matters where my family needs your help I beg you not to fail us in our misery. According to your letter I shall see you soon.

Letter 28 (10 September 57)


Cicero should totally have a blog (like Geoffrey Chaucer, and indeed Pepys.) It's particularly weird reading this kind of epistolatory narrative because mostly I only know about Pompey from Lucan's epic On the Civil War, which is very much about how history can only be written in hindsight, and in which Pompey wears a label on his forehead saying DOOOMED at all times. Hmm. That reminds me, I promised to help draft a proposal for an event on 'the temporalities of reception'. I should probably get on with that.

(A weird thing is that, now that Cicero is back at Rome, his sentences have become notably shorter and more intelligible. KEEP IT UP TULLY.)

*All translations by Shackleton Bailey. (Except one.)

** it's BC, remember, so the numbering goes backwards

Wednesday, 28 March 2007


Had the day off today (mostly - I went to Sean Gaston's seminar paper on Nancy, Aristotle and Derrida, which was beautiful), and while in the Post-Deng Cafe, eating sezchuan eggplant and gazing at photographs of Deng Xiaoping with small children and/or heads of state, I suddenly had two flashes of inspiration about how to manage the bits in Chapter Two that are still eluding me, which I scribbled down there and then. So that's a reminder that Thinking Requires Days Off, which is the most useful thing anyone ever told me when I started my PhD but which is of course one of the first things to go when you're feeling deadlined.

And now I'm back, through the rainy city, via a detour into the spooky, silent, glass-and-steel Law building for a copy of Heidegger's Introduction To Metaphysics (why was it there and not in the Philosophy library? I KNOW NOT), thinking to myself: You really know you're a geek when you hear yourself thinking Oh great! J won't be back for an hour! Time to sit and do some sewing and read more of Cicero's letters!

(Random Cicero thought: When I was being taught Latin, it was always stressed very heavily that the verb in a subordinate clause in indirect speech [a sub-oblique clause] goes into the subjunctive - in fact, that's one of the only Latin grammar rules I remember to this day.* Which has always been odd, because it never comes up in epic, and that's all I really read - but now that I'm reading Cicero I can totally tell why everyone went on about it so much; he does it about every five minutes.)

*the other is the world's least helpful mnemonic, via my dad: From nemo let me never say/ Neminis or nemine.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Day update

Okay, today I mostly sat sadly looking at Chapter Two and thinking about how I am not very good at writing or thinking, and I will never be able to write the book I want to write. But, I just looked at what I did today, and I've actually done quite a lot to transform the draft of Chapter Two - it doesn't look at all like it did when I started, and I have a better idea of the shape of it - so I'm sternly reminding myself that I am getting somewhere.

Also, I'm getting into quite a good routine, where I write in the mornings, taking tai chi breaks every now and again, and then read after lunch. Having a specified time to stop writing works to block some of the head-voices which are trying to make me sit at the computer berating myself for laziness and stupidity until I suddenly write the whole thing in one sudden flash of genius (that's not a strategy that works, I've found).

Also also, I should be congratulated for doing any work at all when the new Diana Wynne Jones novel arrived in the post this morning. I haven't even opened it yet (well, only to read the blurb on the dust-jacket).

And finally also, I figured out who it is I want to write like - it's Tom Cho, of course!

Damnit, though, because I never will. Tom writes sentences like:

But there is something in the way that discussions of popular culture can bring people together and thus our discussion soon leads to Johnny and I having sex.

(from his story 'Dirty Dancing', extract online here)

and, left to myself, I write sentences like:

There was something still about him, as if the rage that had driven him fast and hard through all of last year had gone into the darkness with Sirius and been lost; he looked bony and smudged and watchful.

which, as you'll notice, is basically nothing but adjectives. Oh well. nec vero terrae ferre omnes omnia possunt, I guess. (That's from the Georgics; it means something like 'Not every piece of earth can bear every crop'.)


I went away for the weekend, to stay with J's friend Butch J in her house in Kennet River on the Great Ocean Road. Dude, the sea is big. We saw many animals and I had many thoughts about space and technology - coincidentally the subject of my book. Because it's such an intensely mediated landscape. Two examples:

(1) I'd already (always already?) bought a postcard of the Twelve Apostles to send to my parents (hello, by the way, I'm going to send you a postcard soon), and so all the time that I was standing there on the boardwalk with the other tourists I was thinking Ooh, I'm in that postcard!

(2) Conversation with J and Butch J, about the lack of traces of human occupation in the landscape making it possible to imagine what it was like for the white 'settlers':

I: Except, you know, for being in a hermetically sealed, climate-controlled car going at 100km/hr.
J [I forget which one]: But if we weren't in the car, we wouldn't be able to imagine it!

Which was so spot-on, that relationship between imagination and... something like authenticity? Because of course if it had been 1800 and the road - the vantage point from which we look at the landscape in comfort and at a particular speed - hadn't been built yet, we wouldn't be able to look at the landscape and imagine what it would be like to be discovering it, because we'd be too busy hacking our way through gum trees and avoiding deadly spiders and sweating and being rained on and falling down and breaking our legs. You need a certain amount of speed and a certain quality of road to be able to survey the landscape in such a way as to imagine it - have a non-bodily relationship to it. Imaging technology (cameras, imagination, speculative fiction) always opens up the territory first - I read some good essays on that in relation to medicine and the way we understand our bodies, once, but I can't remember where.

And it was a great weekend in lots of other ways; mediated and modern (and uneasily complicit with colonialism) as it was, I loved driving through those landscapes, and getting to see glow-worms at midnight in the middle of nowhere - glow-worms are awesome - and watching birds fight over seed on Butch J's veranda, and looking at koalas and wondering how they balance. And the coast is so huge and so beautiful. And on the way home, after it got dark, we got into a hilarious discussion of butch/femme and their varying styles of EVIL, which ended up with us listening to songs by Mary Gaultier and Connie Francis in alternation, imagining it as one of those hip-hop style contests in song,* with MG in the butch team (I know I hurt you/ But I never meant to.../ You know that I loved you/ You know that I tried/ You know that it hurt me/Each time that you cried)and CF in the femme (Darling, please don't hurt me;/ Please, don't make me cry/ I don't know what I'd do if you'd ever say goodbye/ Remember -- I love you so much,/ And love is life's greatest joy/ Please don't break my heart like a child breaks a little toy). (CF won by miles.)

But what I really want to write about is writing, and I'm worried it's going to turn into one of those blog posts that never actually gets written because it's never the right time to do it perfectly, so I'm just going to get it down here and now. Apologies for some roughness/sketchiness in the thinking and the expression.

I just started David Wills' Prosthesis today - it's absolutely brilliant, by the way, you theory types should all read it - and I was scribbling down notes on the back endpaper** because my mind was firing so fast, it was lovely. This will be but a pale shadow of my excitement, I bet.

Okay, so the reading of this book is hedged about by a bit of anxiety, because it's published in the series I want to approach and because it's by one of the external examiners on the thesis, so reading it, on the level of fantasy, is really reading a judgement on my thesis (Hmm, so David Wills thinks you should write like this... that must mean he thinks my thesis should be more like that!) So it's making me think about the stylistic choices that I'm making in writing the book-of-the-thesis, and how they relate to the choices Wills has made. Because as well as being an incredibly clever book, this is an intensely, intensely poetic book. And it's in the poetry that the thinking happens and is performed. And one of the criticisms that my internal examiner made of the thesis was - sort of - that it wasn't poetic enough: that it defended itself against the more interesting, wilder, consequences of its thinking by miming or feigning obedience to academic protocols (quoting 'authorities' to justify particular moves, in particular).

So I've been having to think about the value and importance of that poetic mode of writing (theory). When I say 'poetic', what I mean is something which strives not to repress any of the effects of the language - the opposite of the way that 'scientific' discourse tries to be 'transparent', ie not to let any of the non-referential effects of language affect the way that the writing signifies. But in poetry, everything (potentially) is significant: the sound of the words, their metaphorical dimension, their relationship to other poems. And also, poetry is from the Greek word for 'making' - so poetic discourse makes and/or is made, it's an artifact, a thing, not just a 'representation' of a real thing that remains 'outside' the writing. And some theoretical writing tries to work like that, and it's important to me that mine should, too. But my writing looks and feels very different from David Mills, even when it works: my ur-sentence, the one which will not appear in the book and didn't appear in the thesis but has exactly the effect - the tone, the style, the feel, the something - I want to get is:

Aeneas loves Dido because she is a bee.

See? Nearly monosyllabic, nice and Anglo-Saxon, not overly Latinized, short, easy to read, and with a sort of deadpan indecision over whether that 'is' is metaphorical or not. I love that sentence.

But David Wills writes sentences like this:

From earthbound gallop to quadrupedantic flight, from leg of flesh to leg of steel, it is necessarily a transfer into otherness, articulated through the radical alterity of ablation as loss of integrity.

So, given the aforementioned anxiety coupled with my huge admiration and respect for what Wills is doing, I've been having to think about what I mean by poetic, and why he's written the book the way he's written it, and whether if I want to be considered in anything like the same breath as him as a deconstructive scholar, I need to start writing more like him. Because I absolutely agree with his (and others') critique of 'plain speaking', of a kind of writing that poses as 'easy' and 'clear' and so on.

Because that kind of writing - that construction of a medium of communication between author and reader - often rests on a kind of 'common sense', which means that in order to experience the writing as simple and clear and legible, the reader has to sign up to a certain set of assumptions about language, about culture, and about the world. And those assumptions inevitably repress a good deal of the signifying dimensions of the writing, which is methodologically problematic when what you're writing is a reading of texts which aims to restore those very dimensions.

But there's more to it than that slightly arcane methodological concern, I think. Because some of the assumptions that make texts 'clear' are politically or culturally dodgy. I've noticed this mostly from a queer perspective, when I point out that certain texts or images only make sense if you assume that, say, 'female' and 'attracted only to men' are synonymous, and sometimes people get very impatient with me about that, as if I should be expected to do the work of translation which actually excludes my whole existence and the only reason I'm not doing it is to be difficult. I can't think of a good example here, but here's a not-very-clear one instead, which might be more appropriate anyway.

Like it's 'clear' that the mixed-sex love story in Singin' In The Rain (Don/Cathy) is 'really' in the text, and the same-sex love story (Don/Cosmo) is only in the subtext/the eye of the reader/ etc - because Don & Cathy end up together, and no accommodation is made in the plot (as series of events linked by cause-and-effect) for the end or renegotiation of Don's and Cosmo's relationship. But that doesn't necessarily make it 'clear' that all the intimations in the text of a loving relationship between Don and Cosmo just don't exist: the purely-heterosexual reading of the film is a product of interpretation just like any other reading of the three-way relations between the protagonists. It's just that the film, and the institutions of reception according to which we read it, work to efface the work we have to put in to see how 'obvious' it is that there's no sexual or romantic element in the relationship between Don and Cosmo, as there is between Don and Cathy. (Just like it makes people impatient sometimes when I point out that seeing 'female' and 'attracted only to men' as synonymous actually requires me to do a fair bit of work - it's not 'just true', or 'obvious', or 'natural', or 'right').

John Mowitt, in Text - another book which is made of awesome - talks about how, when we write, we should struggle to make what we write 'piratable' by people yet to come, whose struggles may be unrecognizable to us. And that struck such a chord, because... Okay, this is a principle that's been guiding me, in my writing. I write things down, and I ask if they're 'true'. That works well enough to produce statements which I'm happy to publish and stand by, but I've never really managed to work out what I meant by 'true'. But now that I've read Text I think Mowitt's idea of 'piratability' is pretty close to it. In fact, I think 'piratability' is the answer to a question that was posed at a debate I took part in at Bristol about a year ago: if you work in the humanities - particularly if you engage with history - but don't subscribe to 'realism', to the idea that things 'really' happened and are later represented in history - then how do you make sure your work is ethical, is not simply serving your own interests, reflecting your own position, your own self, back to you? 'Piratability' seems to answer that question to me - it's also made me a lot more kindly-inclined towards scientific discourse, which is absolutely trying to be piratable, to produce statements which will be true - which will work - regardless of a reader's cultural and historical position.

All of which means that being in Australia - the disorienting, dislocating experience of being in this landscape, which is so strange to me in terms of all the natural and cultural forces which shape it (the climate, the way the land, the sea and the sky fit together, the plants and animals, the recentness of white/European forms of settlement, the practices and technologies which mediate and have mediated, in the last couple of thousand years, between human societies and their terrestrial environment) - is actually incredibly good for this book. Because the book's about the relationship between sense-making practices and the political/territorial landscape of the Roman Empire (ie, roughly, Europe). And Australia is so visibly*** and constantly different from Europe that writing the book here reminds me that I need to work, all the time, to make it piratable by non-Europeans, not to opt for a mode of writing which is 'clear' at the cost of requiring the reader to fill in gaps with specifically European knowledges or traditions. That is, if I say something about 'the land' or 'the earth', or about 'human society' being constituted by agriculture, then I need to make damn sure I specify where and to whom 'human society' is defined as being constituted by agriculture. Because otherwise I'm saying that I don't care if I exclude certain societies from humanity. Which is about as unethical as you can get.

And - to get back to David Wills - it's that kind of truth-as-piratability that it seems to me Wills is getting at everywhere in his book: it's that specificity that, in the end, makes his writing 'piratable', because he's not using universalizing synechdoches which name the part after the whole ('men' and 'women', 'humans', 'society', 'the earth'), but always specifying what he means. And part of that process of specifying is in the poetic quality of the words: because poetry says that there are no synonyms, that it matters whether you say 'meadow' or 'field' or 'paddock' or 'greensward'.

So - that was my long meditation on why poetry is an indispensible part of the task of theory, but also that was how I figured out for myself why I can do poetry in a different way from Wills, as long as I keep the ethical aim in view.

And this question of poetry and piratability is related to the other thing I was thinking about, which is that writing is a place to find your own limits - to think, experience, and 'do' things that aren't open to you in your socially-constrained, embodied life. That's not a new thought, I know - I'm thinking of Toni Morrison's amazing Playing in the Dark, where she writes about the ways in which writing fiction relates you to other ways of being through the creation and inhabiting of characters, or Calvin Thomas's hilariously deadpan exposition of Cixous' 'writing is the passage of the other in me' via anal sex in 'Must Desire Be Taken Literally?' - but it's usually talked about in terms of identification (as in Morrison) or transgression (think of Dennis Cooper or George Bataille or anyone). And that's not quite what I'm talking about, though it's not completely unrelated: but I think that identifying with characters, either in reading or writing them - although it is very powerful and uncanny and interesting - is only part of the way that writing always exceeds the limits of the writing self. What makes me calm and happy about writing - when it works - is that sense of writing things that are true; that sense of having got past a particular configuration of cultural forces which tries to repress half the potential meanings in texts, and accounted for something which goes beyond or outside the everyday, commonsensical appearance of things, while not contradicting or dismissing the everyday either. And that's something to do with the way language works, I think: something to do with the materiality of writing, as a way of working with language as material: the way that language, and the social, cultural and historical forces that shape it, put up a specific resistance to certain ways of using language, and writing comes out of negotiating that resistance. Just like sculpting, which relies on the material putting up a specific kind of resistance to the precise degree of muscular force applied to the specific tool that the sculptor's using, and so you chip off exactly this little bit of this particular stone until you have the shape you wanted, insofar as the stone will hold that shape. It's a collaboration between the sculptor and the material. And writing is like that too.

Finally, my title and abstract for the paper I'm giving on the 18th are now up.

*I'm not hip enough to even know what those are called. I'm not even hip enough to know what to Google to find out. Isn't there one in Eight [Eighth?] Mile?

**in pencil, Gemma! In pencil!

***And audible: every night at dusk, the cicadas start shrieking, and at first I kept having to go outside to see if someone's alarm was going off. It's a horrific noise: loud and electronic and grating, a cross between an alarm and that screeching noise that water pipes sometimes make. (I googled cicadas and some of them can make a noise up to 120 dB which, I'm told, is close to the pain threshold of the human ear.)