Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Writing!

I took a week off over Christmas to write fanfiction, but the week is now over, so this week I'm changing gears to write Now and Rome.

The differences between the two kinds of writing are interesting. I have to draft and redraft a lot more with theory than I do with fanfic: in fanfic, as J pointed out to me (she was reading what I wrote on a day-by-day basis), I tend to get the words right first time - though I have terrible trouble with structure and plot and narrative order and, you know, everything that's not on the level of the sentences - but in theory, I have to go through usually five to ten drafts for everything. I worked out this morning that it's because, strangely enough, there's something much more private about the way I write theory: what I write down first of all tends to be a note-to-myself. So it never quite captures the thought that I have - it's more of a footprint of the thought (and a footprint doesn't look like a boot), and it also never quite makes sense to other people, because it's in such a private language. So I end up having to go through it all over and over again, trying to find a way of expressing the thought which is both closer to the thought itself and clearer to other people. Who was it who said, when someone asked them who they wrote for, 'Myself, and strangers?' That's actually what deconstruction is all about, the way that language has to be for strangers - thought has to go through that detour into the public realm of language in order to make sense even to oneself. But anyway. That's the double movement that the writing has to go through.

And of course the same holds for fanfiction: if I was just in it for myself I wouldn't write down stories, I'd just daydream (I do lots of that too, obviously). A great deal of the pleasure I get from writing fanfiction is trying to put physical sensations and emotional states into words, when there aren't words for them, really. But that 'for-strangers' thing is more built into the writing process of fanfic for me, I think. I mean that when I write theory I have an idea and I scribble down something which reminds me of that idea, and then through progressive drafts I get the idea clearer and clearer, both in-itself and for-others. But when I write fanfic, I visualize and experience the scene quite clearly, and then the process (and the pleasure) is all about translating that immediate experience* into language, for strangers. There isn't really an intermediate stage where I write for myself. I wonder why? And I don't think that would change if I was writing 'original' fiction - I wrote a realfic novel in my mid-20s, and started two or three others in my teens, and I think the feeling of writing fiction has stayed remarkably consistent all that time. (I also tend to mix original characters with canon characters in fanfic, and I never feel particularly different about the way I write them - they do stuff, I watch them and write it down, and whether they're played by Alan Rickman or an imaginary person in my head doesn't really make any odds.)

But this isn't getting my book written!

*Of course - I add hastily in case any of my MA students are, by some chance, reading this (hello, if you are, I hope you are all having excellent vacations) - there is no such thing as immediate experience, there are only chains of differential marks. But still.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Contract

I have a book contract for Now and Rome with Continuum.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Conference alert

This may be of interest to some - Anna? A conference in Wales on 'the erotics of narrative', 15-19 July, which is a completely fascinating topic (suspense! Climax!) but I am planning to be in Brisbane at the end of next July...

If I went to all the conferences I want to in July, it would look like this:

3-5 July, Diana Wynne Jones, Bristol;

6-10 July, Classical Receptions in Children's Literature, Lampeter;

15-19 July, The Erotics of Narrative, Gregynog (near Newtown);

20-23 July, Cultures of Violence and Conflict, Brisbane.

So that's not going to happen. I am going to the DWJ one, where (if my abstract is accepted) I will talk about the unmaking of family (and the making of queer family) in DWJ, and to the violence one, where I will talk about violence and the writing of history in Lucan. And that's already two too many, as I am supposed to be finishing my book...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

note to self

EXORBITANT. Derrida characterizes his method as such - ex-orbitant, out of the orbit, having-reached-escape-velocity - and the whole time in 'Signature - Event - Context' he talks about the 'horizon' of experience, of presence, etc. From Horizon to Orbit was a heading I used in my head all the time when I was writing the PhD - and of course Horizon and Orbit are both episode titles of Blake's 7, so the secret Blake's 7 thread would still be there - but also, could you read 'horizon' in relation to 'horizon of expectation' (Jauss and possibly also Gadamer)? Deconstruction as exorbitant as opposed to the earth-bound (and therefore - gasp - HEIDEGGERIAN) aesthetic of reception?

(Sorry. All of this is because I think the new title for Teh Book is going to be Empire After Earth, and also because I'm writing a lecture on Derrida for tomorrow morning and having ideas I want to record but no time to think them through properly...)

Friday, 7 November 2008

j's birthday

J turned sixty last weekend, and the indescribably lovely Kerry stood us dinner at the Bath Priory hotel together with J's good friends Annie and Viv. Here's us (left to right: J, me, Viv, Annie):



(I am, as so often, slightly in awe of the company I keep...)

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Swedish toilets

I'm in Sweden, at this conference. Which I'm not going to talk about; instead I'm going to say that new Swedish buildings all have gender-neutral toilets (yayy), but what's strange is that they're announced as toilets by having both the little toilet man and the little toilet lady on them. Which got me to thinking about how strange it is that our sign for toilets is not, in fact, anything to do with going to the toilet, but a picture of gender - so that even when the toilets are not separated by gender, they are announced by a sign which means 'for everyone', but says it by showing a little man in trousers or a little woman in a skirt. As if 'men' + 'women' = 'everyone'. Which is kind of exactly the assumption that is opposed by many of the people who support gender-neutral toilets in the first place.

I mean, not that it's not great that the toilets are unisex. Just, isn't that interesting?

In other news, I've just found out from checking how to do a yarn over on Knitting Help that I have been a Continental knitter all along. Apparently the difference is which hand you hold the yarn in, and English knitters hold the yarn in their right hand (the hand holding the working needle, ie the needle onto which you are transferring stitches). Is this true? That looks so counterintuitive and strange to me.

I am still not quite sure whether I am doing the yarn over right. I guess we'll see when I'm a bit further along with this sock.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Beckford's Tower

This post is co-written with J and tells the story of our adventure.

The story begins on our very first trip to Bath, when we spotted a strange structure on the skyline: we've never managed to find out what it was (we've been on the Bath Skyline Tour, which doesn't mention it, and asked a couple of people Do you know what that strange structure is on the skyline on the Bath Road?, to which they have invariably said No). We've called it 'the wicker man' ever since, because it seemed to have a head and shoulders (and also because of that one time when we were in Wales, in an otter sanctuary, and suddenly saw a giant otter on the horizon, which turned out to be a ten-foot-high wicker otter). And from time to time we idly wondered about borrowing a friend with a car and getting them to drive us to the wicker man, so we could see whether or not there really was a giant wicker man on the Bath horizon.

A month or so ago, we got the train to Bath and realized that we had no need of a friend with a car, for the strange wicker-man-shaped structure was very clearly visible on the horizon from the little station Oldfield Park on the Bath-Bristol branch line.

A fortnight ago, accordingly, we went to Oldfield Park and struck out confidently up a minor road which appeared to lead directly to the wicker man.

Two hours later, after much wandering round the overly manicured and eerily silent Sunday-afternoon outer suburbs of Bath (which have lots and lots of cul-de-sacs), we found ourselves on a road leading into the centre of Bath, not having caught a glimpse of the wicker man for an hour and a half, and thoroughly disorientated. So we gave up, rolled down the hill to Bath, and had vegetarian pub food.

Over the last fortnight, we bought an Ordnance Survey map and some binoculars.

Today we set forth on the bus, and got off at the Newton Looe roundabout where we've always had our most reliable sighting of the wicker man. Here is a picture of the view from the footpath where we started, with the 'man' barely visible on the horizon: probably you will not be able to see where it is, but we know, because we were there.

And furthermore, J is saying, we know because we looked at it through the binoculars, and discovered that it was not, in fact, a wicker man, but a stone tower with fancy carving and another, smaller, tower on the top. With pillars.

Gold pillars.

(Though at this point we thought they were white/marble and only begoldened by the sun.)

So, although obviously it would have been good if it had really been a wicker man, it was still pretty cool (I had started to have a terrible fear that it was a water storage tower).

I checked my Ordnance Survey map carefully (though I couldn't quite tell whether we were heading for 'Kelston Round Hill', 'Triangulation Pillar', or 'Prospect Stile') and we headed off in the direction it said, across a field and under the railway line, finding ourselves in a ploughed field full of people watching a regatta. (Mostly watching a regatta: there were some children aged about four-to-seven who were picking up clods and running about joyfully for unclear reasons.) So we walked along the river, then up some steps to the Bristol & Bath Cycle Path.

We had almost immediately lost sight of the tower (as we shall now call it) and were navigating by a combination of faith (on J's part) and the Ordnance Survey map (on mine). And also the fact that there weren't any other footpaths to take for a while.

The cycle path was lovely and we saw some kind of excellent bird of prey, flying around above us for a while.

Then I found a footpath (or really 'some stairs') taking us up into the hills, so we climbed it and found ourselves near a pub we'd also noted from the bus at one point as 'being in the direction of the wicker man'. Over J's protestations (No down there is only the pub! We must go along the road!) I brilliantly steered us onto a beautiful narrow footpath, overhung with trees and all dappled in the bright autumn sunshine, this time over J's indignant cries about how I had tried to make us go along the road.

Then we climbed up another steep path, past some children camping in the corner of a field, and then past some people making a camp-fire, and just when we really felt we were getting somewhere we found ourselves on a main road opposite a modern school with no view of the tower. I carefully consulted the map and found a brilliant route up the road to the left and then onto a series of way-marked paths which would lead us almost directly to Prospect Stile; J found a road on the right that appealed to her somehow (it had cars on it), so we went that way (pausing only to get the binoculars out to look at some people flying in the sky on, apparently, swings attached to giant kites - and, in my case, to become extremely giddy and have to sit on the pavement holding onto J's leg and refusing to look up for five minutes).

The road with cars on began leading us into what looked disturbingly like the very same suburbs we had spent two hours in last time, but I found a stile which led us into some fields again. It was getting a bit muddy and I had forgotten to put my good hiking boots on (sorry, K) and we hadn't seen the tower in ages and we were in the bloody Bath suburbs, so I trudged along dispiritedly until I heard J shrieking in joy beside me and looked up to see the tower, back on the horizon.

We struck out happily across the field, me confident with my Ordnance Survey knowledge that at any minute we would strike the Cotswolds Way which would lead us to Prospect Stile and/or Kelston Hill; we found a way-mark saying COTSWOLD WAY, with an arrow; we went over the stile in the direction of the arrow; and we found ourselves in a park with no footpath to be seen. (Though we could still see the tower.)

Returning to the road, we walked through what was starting to be more of a village than a suburb, anxiously looking up every few steps to make sure that the tower hadn't vanished. (It hadn't.)

The Cotswold Way went along the village streets for a while in a pleasing manner, but then began disconcertingly to lead away from the tower: we nervously went up a road which looked as though it led in the right direction (but this was how we'd been caught out the previous time, as roads in the suburbs tend to end suddenly and, annoyingly, not to give onto footpaths), then all of a sudden we were heading up an outrageously beautiful, steep, tunnel-through-trees, trickling-with-water, lane (helpfully and rather quaintly labelled BLIND LANE. Ominously, it was also labelled with a 'dead-end' sign, which might have only been for cars [which, yeah, wouldn't have made it very far up the lane], but on the other hand, see above re 'how we'd been caught out the previous time').

So we climbed, and we climbed, and we climbed, and we stopped for a rest and drank some water, and then we climbed, and we climbed, and then more water, and then we climbed and we climbed and we climbed and we came out here.

So that was all worth it.

But there was still a climb ahead of us, and so I lay down on the grass in protest, and J sat down beside me and started a long conversation with herself about whether it was possible that there were calves in that field over there, a controversy which was resolved when she got out the binoculars (we love our binoculars) and saw that there were, indeed, four calves in that field over there. That settled, we pushed on up the hill and up the hill and up the hill, past a slightly confusing sign saying PRIVATE PROPERTY STAY ON FOOTPATH which seemed to want us to walk across a field and not on the made gravel path, but when we did so there were COWS.

Lots of cows.

Just sort of wandering-about cows.

Which looked at us.

And then started to move towards us.

En masse.

Stalwartly, we started to scurry quite fast round a circuitous path a little way down the hill from the cows (still massing, looking, and moving towards us), until, to our relief, we saw a farm-hand coming towards us. (He turned out to be a Chinese tourist, but nonetheless at his approach the cows scattered and ran away like cowards, pleasingly.)

(Oh, and I haven't even said! But by this point it was very clear that we were not, in fact, heading towards Kelston Hill or Prospect Stile, but towards a thing on the map called Beckford's Tower. Beckford, J said, There is a guy called William Beckford who wrote a Gothic novel called Vathek, I bet that is his tower.)

By now we were almost always within sight of the tower, which was coming ever closer, and the only excitement left was whether we would make it before night fell (seeing as how we had not left the house until about 2pm, for reasons, and now it was around 5:30, and it was hard to tell whether it was quite a large tower quite close up, or a really large tower quite far away. This is the sort of thing which makes us bad at orienteering.)

But after the cows we came out onto the road, and there was a sign saying Beckford's Tower, and we found a gate into what turned out to be a most beautiful, overgrown and atmospheric cemetery, culminating in

the tower.

(Look! We were really there - here is J at the foot of the tower.

It really was designed and occupied by William Beckford, author of Vathek and England's wealthiest son (who turns out to have been awesome), and he is buried there, in a pink granite sarcophagus on a ditch-encircled mound.

And so, in conclusion, J would like to say:

It was as great as we thought it would be, except in a different way.

PS: After exploring the cemetery a bit - look at this excellent tomb, which is that of Henry Adkins et son epouse Marie-Louise - and deciding to come back when the Beckford Museum is open, we went back to the road to get a bus into Bath, because our legs were tired from all the climbing of all the hills, and discovered that we had been one bus stop away on the same road at the point where we gave up last time. Oh, the irony. We recovered in The Porter again, with veggieburger, veggie shepherd's pie, Bath Barnstormer ale, and quite a lot of chips.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Term has started

... and I'm trying to reorient myself in time, to figure out how to surf the strange new shapes of my days, to mark dissertations and read PhD proposals and secondary literature on John Donne and departmental strategic plans in the odd hour or two in between the adrenaline-high moments of classes and lectures and seminars.

So far it is not going brilliantly, I have to confess. I taught for three hours this morning (a seminar on Mrs Dalloway and the relationship between content/worldview and literary form 9-11am, then 11-12 a class on Dorothy Parker's 'Penelope' as a critique of the epic tradition, of twentieth-century bourgeois marriage, and/or as a response to the Odyssey). This year my students (so far) appear to be uniformly brilliant and motivated and thrilling, but frankly after three solid hours of teaching I would rather not be trying to do lots of little semi-creative tasks where I have to both pay attention to detail and engage my brain. But that's all I have on my to-do list for this week, except 'write conference paper', which is even less likely to happen just now--

Monday, 29 September 2008

Dates

I'm on a classics mailing list, and it's the start of a new academic year here in the UK, so I'm getting emailed about lots of upcoming seminar series and lectures and whatnot. Obviously it would take a fairly spectacular event to get me to Edinburgh or Leeds (or, frankly, even Exeter or London) at 5pm on a weeknight to listen to a research paper, so what are the odds that both* the events I most want to go to - Miriam Leonard's paper on 'Noah and Noesis: Derrida between Greek and Jew' and Ahuvia Kahane's, on 'Poetic proportions, ethics and politics', in a series on epyllion** - are on the same day?

And both on a day when I have to be in Bristol for an equally interesting event?

::gnashes teeth::

*Actually, I also really want to go to one in Leeds, on homoeroticism in Lucan's battle scenes ('ardens amor: Brothers in (each other's) Arms in Lucan's Ilerda Episode') and I can't make that one either, despite the fact that it combines all my research interests into what is clearly the best topic ever.

**Epyllions are 'little epics' and really interesting - I wish I could go to this whole series, actually.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Small writing update

1. Derrida and Antiquity chapter redrafts finished (I hope) and mailed to the editor and my above-and-beyond beta-readers, Una and Aren. I am secretly rather proud of it.

2. Yesterday I tried to work on Chapter Three of Now and Rome but the map/territory relationship just fell apart around me and I ended up having to go for a long walk, cook smoked tofu with peanut and coconut rice plus hot walnut-pomegranate-rocket salad, and watch An Affair to Remember with knitting and ice cream instead.

Today I took Chapter Three to the coffee shop and had a medium-sized structural insight and wrote 500 words, fairly angstlessly. Which is fine, and reminds me that bad days often precede good ones. (The only trouble is that as of next week I will only have one day a week to work on the book: my plan is to take it to the coffee shop and keep telling myself firmly that I am only working on one paragraph at a time, in order to avoid the abyss of map/territory disintegration).

3. Surprisingly, working on fanfiction this summer has been potentially really helpful for my theory practice, in a couple of ways: one of them is precisely the map/territory relationship. I am getting into a working/workable flow in relation to plot/writing in the fanfic: I can usually tell when I need to stop writing and let the next section of plot clarify a bit further, and I seem to have found my comfort level in terms of how far ahead I need to plot, so that I'm not writing into a void and constantly anxious that I'll end up finding out that the last umpty- thousand words were a tangent, as has happened a couple of times with this story already, but I'm also not constrained away from random insight and creative flow by too-tight plotting. And I can start to see how I can import that into my theory writing, getting a feel for the overall argument and shape but letting my embodied, sentence-by-sentence, walk through the territory inform the map as well as the other way round.

The other thing is delight. When I think about how many rules my fan story is breaking - how many things it contains that I know full well that lots of fans mock and denigrate (mary-sue! mpreg! weddings!) - I just feel delighted. And I want to learn how to import that into my theory, that sense that my certainty in, my ownership of, my delight in my writing actually increases when I think about its oddness, its me-ness, its newness. Not feeling that I am potentially under attack and I have to write from a position that's either unassailable (ie already-known) or belligerently 'new'; just feeling, as with the fanfic, that this is something which delights me and which I want to show to other people, in case it delights them too.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Idiosyncrasies of memory technology, by which I mean GODDAMNIT

So if - hypothetically speaking* - I download a document that I've emailed to myself on my work computer, and spend a happy hour or two editing it (hitting 'save' every five minutes), then you think I mean 'save to a temporary folder which is then emptied, purged and lost forever when I turn the computer off to go to a meeting'?

Interesting choice, IT people/Windows, interesting choice. It didn't at any stage occur to you to save the document by default to, say, the desktop? Or My Documents?

*by which I mean 'just now'.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Knitting

I haven't really blogged about knitting since I took it up, back in Melbourne, but you can take it for granted that these days, pretty much every moment that my fingers are not typing, they are knitting.

Which means that friends with babies - even if I have not yet been able to meet said babies - will sooner or later become the target of Sekrit Knitting Projects. Most recently, the baybeast babies, Loey:



and Huey:



for whom I knitted, respectively, a giant hat (it came out bigger than I was expecting...) and a cable-knit jumper, which came out pretty well (though slightly smaller than I was expecting, so that in the end the hat and the jumper were, rather alarmingly, more or less the same size.)

Both of them were patterns I got from knitty.com. The hat was from this pattern, for a hat which looks like a berry tart (the linked page has a photo of a cute and non-giant version of the hat, which actually more-or-less resembles a berry tart, unlike my version). This was exciting to knit, as I hadn't knitted a hat in the round before (and also because I was using stash yarn and I had literally about 30cm left of the purple colour when I finished, so it was a race against time [or, more accurately, length] by the end), but also frustrating as the bobbles involved many, many iterations of k3tog, a stitch which I fundamentally cannot do.) The jumper, very excitingly, has a randomly generated cable pattern: you roll a die every two-to-four stitches on the cable rows (every fourth row) to see whether you're going to do a right-twisted cable or a left-twisted cable or no cable at all. It was really fun to do, and it came out surprisingly pretty! Here's the pattern.

But really, this is a story about human connection and the Internet, and how much fun it is to knit for other people and have them in mind when you knit, and how strange and moving it is to see photos of people who didn't even exist (not quite, not yet) when I left Melbourne, and now they are wearing clothes that I made for them. It is kind of like the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef - new connections coming into being via very old webs of knowledge and craft, plus very new technologies of transmission - but this time with added pictures of baaaaaby humans. Truly the Internet is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

More Harry Potter copyright stuff

So I read in the Guardian that a movie made by a Mumbai-based studio, Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Terrors, about a ten-year-old Indian boy in England comically foiling a couple of inept criminals somewhat in the manner of Home Alone, has been blocked by Warner Brothers on the basis that it 'infringes its intellectual property rights', by having a character with a name that sounds a bit like Harry Potter's.

It's kind of interesting, the way that HP keeps showing up at the cutting edge of legal disputes about intellectual property, fair use, creative transformation, and the ownership of funny words; the books were always products of a brand-based aesthetic. Brands basically stand in for magic in the books: where Ursula K Le Guin, say, would create a coherent set of rules and laws for magic in her universes, Rowling always used one-word spells and created a universe based around commodities: the Nimbus 2000, the Firebolt, Bertie Bott's Every Flavoured Beans, Chocolate Frogs, etc. The most meaningful magical connection in the whole of the seven books is the fact that Harry and Voldemort have the same wand. Magic in the HP-verse is basically commodity fetishism. J and I once gave a conference paper on this - on Guy DeBord's Society of the Spectacle and the disappearance of labour into fetishized commodities in the HP-verse - and a fabulous woman gave us the perfect example of it in the question-and-answer period. It's a moment in Prisoner of Azkaban where Harry gets his Firebolt-brand broom and Hermione, who is worried that it's booby-trapped, says 'You're not going to ride it, are you, Harry?' and Ron says:

What do you think he's going to do with it? Sweep the floor?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Things

Dorian Gray was wonderful. I want to write about it in more detail, partly because I don't know anything about dance and the writing thereof and that reminded me that that was one of the things I wanted to use this blog for: nondisciplinary, amateurish writing about stuff that interests me but doesn't feed into the life-cycle of academic capitalism. (But having said that, I keep making plans to publish things about slash and Doctor Who and Melissa Lukashenko and whether Catullus was a lesbian*, so everything ends up being appropriated for career profit anyway. I mean, except that the only thing I've published which has ever been cited or led directly to any RAE-declarable 'signs of esteem' was the Harry Potter slash essay, and that wasn't even part of my RAE submission** because it doesn't fit with my research profile as part of the Classics department, so the economics of the whole thing is sort of eccentric, anyway.)

Anyway, though, it's 5pm and I've run out of steam, so instead of writing about Dorian Gray (oh God it was wonderful though) I am just going to put up a few links to remind myself of things:

1. The online Journal of Transformative Works has its first issue out, and I must go and read it.

2. Postgrad conference on Doctor Who! And Una's going! And Tony Keen is going to be giving a paper on Doctor Who and the Cambridge Latin Course! And there's a paper on the Radiophonic Workshop, which is going to be unmissable for me. And it's twenty quid for the weekend and within commuting distance, so the only question is whether J wants to come with me.

*Yes, is the answer. I wrote an essay for my MA on Roman lesbians which had a section headed 'Catullus, The Sapphic Man', and now I really want to use that as the title of a journal article... Actually, now I come to think of this, this essay was probably the start of what one might describe - if one were that way inclined - as a whole strand of my research, about queer desire for the past, or a relationship to the past premised on queer desire (this is what my essay for the Derrida and Antiquity volume is about, and the paper I'm giving at the Eros conference at Easter, and perhaps the one I'm thinking of giving at the Sexual Knowledges conference in July...)

**The RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) is this thing where academic departments submit a big document about their research, plus also selected publications of research-active members of staff in the department, to a panel of experts for assessment, and the panel decides how good individual university departments are at research. This determines the distribution of prestige, of course, but also of funding. I have a job which spans departments, but I was declared in the Classics department for the last RAE, which meant only my publications which mentioned, you know, classical stuff counted.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Harry Potter Lexicon

Steve Vander Ark's Harry Potter Lexicon not only cannot be published in print form, but has been taken down. Yesterday I was angry about this. Today I am very sad.

What transformed the Harry Potter books from the poorly-written, under-edited, over-derivative things they are into a global phenomenon of communal joy and squee was the appropriative, taxonomic, and imaginative labour of readers and fans, who filled in the plot holes and filled out the characterization. The Harry Potter universe is a collaborative one, from the moment one child sits alone in her bedroom and opens Philosopher's Stone to the moment that the folks over on InsaneJournal create an archive of classic HP fanfic, nominated and voted for by fans. If 'Snape' is anything, he's the creation of Jill Murphy (Miss Hardbroom), Antonia Forest (Miss Cromwell), J K Rowling, Alan Rickman, Christopher Colombus, Alfonso, Cuaron, Mike Leigh, David Yates, Snaples, Telanu, and everyone else who's hated him or crushed on him or drawn him or wondered whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. And the Lexicon was a concrete manifestation of that collaborative, fannish, readerly, analytical work. I'm absolutely miserable that imaginative, as well as financial, control of that universe has been granted to Rowling/Bloomsbury/Warner Brothers.

And also, you know, I miss the Lexicon. It was a nice site, and it meant that when I needed to check the name of some character or find out how many people had been given the Order of Merlin and what for, I could find out without having to comb through three or four thousand pages of print. I should have figured out how to archive it, I suppose, but I never thought it would really be gone.

Thanks for all your work, Steve Vander Ark and all the other Lexicon contributors. It was a fantastic resource, and I'm really going to miss it.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Publications

Actually, what I want to post about is two things: (1) Mysterious Skin which I finally summoned the energy to watch yesterday and which (you were quite right, Az) is unbelievably brilliant, and now I even more can't believe that anyone bothered to make The Woodsman or was ever fooled into thinking it was anything but a facile, spurious piece of Holden Caulfieldery, and (2) the Aeneid, because it's occurred to me that I never actually write about the Classics, and that most people I know don't like the Aeneid even though it is the greatest work of literature in the Western canon,* and they must be shown the error of their ways.

But those are long and thinky posts, and who knows whether I will get time for them today, so in the meantime, I just thought I would let you know that my abstract for the Doctor Who essay was accepted (yayy), and that, in a bizarre blast from the past, my co-editor on an edited collection called Origins of Deconstruction, which we put together in 2003 and which I thought was long dead and buried but which contains an essay I'm still quite proud of, on Dido and Derrida's 'The Double Sesssion' and Irigaray... anyway, he got in touch with me to say that it looks as though we'll get a contract for it with Palgrave Macmillan in the very near future (the reader's report was glowing). So that's strange but good: the collection contains first English translations of a couple of interviews with Derrida and Cixous. The Derrida interview is all about his writing practices - handwriting, typewriting, computers, etc - and is one of those lovely theory-meets-geeky-fetishism pieces. (He wrote Of Grammatology standing up, with a quill. I'm serious.)

*except possibly the Georgics, which is like Gerard Manley Hopkins translating Lucretius with a sudden, From-Dusk-Till-Dawnesque twist into high fantasy at the end.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Writing update, life update

I'm absolutely loving this summer. No conferences! No deadlines! (Well, except that I have to rewrite my chapter for Derrida and Antiquity in the next three weeks. But I've had some really useful feedback from Aren and Una, so I'm starting to have some ideas about how to do it.)

It was my birthday in July, and J bought me (among other things) a bottle of Hendricks Gin, to which I have been very partial ever since I bought a bottle for my dad and then one for our good friend K and drank some: gin and tonic has been integral to my self-image this summer, a self-image which I stole from Bridget Jones stealing a self-image from Kathleen Tynan:

I read in an article that Kathleen Tynan, late wife of the late Kenneth, had 'inner poise' and, when writing, was to be found immaculately dressed, sitting at a small table in the centre of the room sipping at a glass of chilled white wine. Kathleen Tynan would not, when late with a press release for Perpetua, lie fully dressed and terrified under the duver, chain-smoking, glugging cold sake out of a beaker and putting on make-up as a hysterical displacement activity. Kathleen Tynan would not allow Daniel Cleaver to sleep with her whenever he felt like it but not be her boyfriend. Nor would she become insensible with drink and be sick. Wish to be like Kathleen Tynan (though not, obviously, dead).

Lately, therefore, whenever things have risked ranging out of control, I have repeated the phrase 'inner poise' and imagined myself wearing white linen and sittng at a table with flowers on it.


No flowers in my study, and obviously I am not wearing white linen (though I have been wearing a grey sleeveless cashmere jumper a lot this summer - I got it for a tenner off Brick Lane market, before you say anything), and the white wine has been replaced by Hendrick's Gin and tonic, with ice, in the beautiful heavy-bottomed tumblers that K got me as a present. But the inner poise is coming along rather nicely.

After comments by Beppie and M on my last writing update, I have been thinking about what 'just writing' consists of. I think the real tipping-point for me, the thing that makes 'just writing' pleasurable rather than painful and scary and vile, is the point where the map and the territory begin to coincide with one another. That's one of the main metaphors I have for thinking about writing, the difference between a map and a journey - the different sense you have of a terrain when you're studying a map and when you're walking through it. So sometimes, when you're planning a piece of writing, you don't know what certain parts of your argument are going to be until you've actually sat down and written them out, word by word and sentence by sentence: you can't understand/draw the map until you know what's in the terrain. But sometimes, when you're in the terrain, you get lost in the unfamiliarity of that way of experiencing space, and you can't see how it relates to the map you have at all, and you wander off and get discouraged, or start worrying about whether you need to redraw the map, or whether you're in the wrong bit of the terrain, or what's going on.

Um. Less metaphorically, that goes a bit like this: I think the two most important things in the process of writing are the relationship between what's written and what's unwritten, and the relationship between the part (the sentence, the paragraph) and the whole (the chapter, the overall argument). When those relationships are off, writing is not 'just writing' but much more a process of rethinking, staring at the screen, going off to read another book, writing-and-crossing-out, playing Minesweeper, doing the washing-up, staring at the screen, going for walks, etc... and all that stuff is necessary to get those relationships right. But when they are right - this is what J calls 'getting the ting' - then, then you can just write, and the more you think about the part, the more you understand the whole; the more you think about the whole, the more you understand the part; the more you think about what to leave unwritten or implicit, the clearer what you write will be.

When I say 'you', obviously, I mean 'me'.

Anyway, this very joyous map/territory synchronicity has been happening for me lately both with The Book and with a long piece of fanfiction I've been writing for mumble years: it's easier to spot with the fiction, where the main sign that everything is coming together is that the harder I think about how to solve narrative problems, the more sense the story makes (when things are going badly, if I think about problems too hard the whole story comes apart and becomes meaningless). Or I try and figure out how to solve one problem and discover that the solution actually also solves another problem that I've been worrying about. It's a period of everything simplifying rather than complexifying, so that each step doesn't lead to ten more possible branches, but rather braids together ten different strands. (Michel Serres writes somewhere about how the dominant mode of knowing in the West is analysis, which means 'untying', and why shouldn't we have a way of knowing that's more like knotting? By which I take him to mean knitting, but that's a whole nother post...)

The same feeling is coming to me with The Book, now, but it's harder to explain exactly how or why. I think it's a feeling that the different currents and strands are braiding themselves together, simplifying into two main lines of argument, which I could (not yet! but soon!) actually explain in an introduction or a book proposal without worrying that they'll come apart if I put them into different words or look at them from a slightly different standpoint. It's... a feeling of the thereness of the material, that I'm working with what the texts want to say rather than against or regardless of it.

And so, in short, hooray. The Book is going to work! And the Giant Fan Story Of Doom might one day be finished!

In other news, my promotion to Lecturer C officially took place on August 1 so today was the first day of my new salary: I have £100 more a month and am celebrating by buying tickets to Dorian Grey at Sadler's Wells. This is my last chance to convince J that ballet can actually be very cool: the first ballet I ever saw, and loved, was the Northern Ballet Theatre's Dracula, which had a fantastic boy-on-boy duet (is it called a pas de deux when it's dancing?) between Jonathan Harker and Dracula, and when the girls came on all skinny and twinkly and dancing unnaturally on their points, this was because they were vampires and thus meant to be skinny and twinkly and unnatural. But then I went to see Romeo and Juliet and discovered that ballet can also be about highly trained men and women working very hard to maintain the illusion that there are vast natural differences between men's and women's bodies, movements, etc, and that is not so much my cup of tea. So I have high hopes for Dorian Grey.

Oh, and I thought of a new and better subtitle for The Book today, so as of now its working title is: Now and Rome: Empire After Earth. Thinking about it, I think this must have arisen from conversations with Una over our extremely joyous weekend at her place a couple of weeks ago, about Carl Schmitt and whether colonizing other planets is the way forward. So: Now and Rome: Empire After Earth. Brought to you by our sponsors, Hendricks Gin.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Looking for Alaska (Spoilers)

(Does anyone know how to put entries behind a spoiler cut/fold in Blogger?)

So we had a bit of spare cash this summer, and a plan to spend the whole summer in the house writing (which I must say the British weather has been co-operating with fully), and we got a stack of books, including a fair bit of American Young Adult fiction that we'd heard of but missed over the last few years. And we were really excited about Looking for Alaska, and I don't even know why, now, because it's not like it doesn't signal THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT AN INTERESTING BOY AND A SYMBOLIC MYSTERIOUS GIRL right there in the title. And so then it arrived, and the blurb was like:

His whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the 'Great Perhaps' (Francois Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to... boarding school, and... down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up and utterly fascinating Alaska Young...

and then the final blow to my hopes was delivered by the quote on the back from KLIATT (whatiz?): The spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on.

Well, I say the final blow to my hopes, but then I did read the book, because we'd spent money on it and everything and... oh, I can't believe they're still writing this book. It's the old, old story of boy-reads-too-much-existential-poetry, boy-meets-fucked-up-girl, boy-decides-fucked-up-girl-is-too-much-effort-to-treat-like-a-human-being, fucked-up-girl-dies, boy-is-sadder-and-wiser, for-some-reason-we're-still-supposed-to-care-about-this-boy-whose-story-is-apparently-more-important-than-the-girl's-I-wonder-why-oh-wait-I-forgot-he's-a-boy.*

It's just extraordinary. The girl pretty much tells the boy that her mother died on page 57 (or 'ninety-eight days before' she dies, in the novel's before-and-after structure) - I mean, I understood that that was what she meant, I have no idea why the narrator didn't - and she's obviously really, really fucking unhappy. I mean, for values of 'obviously' and 'really fucking unhappy' that include 'coming into the boy's room completely distraught, in uncontrollable tears, asking for help'. But when she does that, she doesn't explain the full context of everything she's saying (that's right! the distraught sixteen-year-old girl doesn't provide a full glossary and back-story!) and the narrator says: As much as I wanted to understand her ambiguities, the slyness was growing annoying. That's for a value of 'as much as I wanted to understand' that means 'I once asked her what was wrong straight out and she didn't tell me!', and a value of 'slyness' that means that the distraught sixteen-year-old says That's the excuse everyone has always used while not explaining who 'everyone' is. Sly!

And then she gets obscenely drunk and unbelievably distraught and the narrator enables her to go for a drive at three in the morning (advising her not to turn her headlights on) and - omigod - she totally dies! And the narrator is really sad for a while, but in the end he knows that Alaska would forgive him for being such an unbelievable shit, and we have all learned and grown and stuff. I mean, apart from the girl, the girl who is genuinely unhappy and has real problems. She hasn't learned or grown. She's dead. But the boys! The boys who are emotionally safe and from happy homes! They have learned and grown!

Probably my two favourite symptomatic quotes:
She didn't leave me enough to discover her, but she left me enough to rediscover the Great Perhaps.


Which is the main thing, of course. And:

Hank hugged me and said, 'At least it was instant. At least there wasn't any pain.'

I knew he was only trying to help, but he didn't get it. There was pain. A dull endless pain in my gut that wouldn't go away even when I knelt on the stingingly frozen tile of the bathroom, dry-heaving.


I just love that. He didn't get it! I didn't care about Alaska's pain! I cared about MY PAIN!

I was trying to remember why we'd been attracted to this book in the first place, and J. reminded me that we'd been told that Alaska was a feminist, which is kind of cool because very few young women I know seem to be happy with that word (or indeed those politics) at the moment. And indeed Alaska might be a feminist; she uses the words 'objectify' and 'patriarchal'; she uses them more than once. But don't worry! She's not one of those man-hating feminists! She ends her mini-lecture on how mainstream porn is not good for women by reassuring the protagonist that it is nonetheless normal and healthy for him to get turned on by watching men fuck women who appear to be being hurt! She insists that it is sexist to expect women to cook for men, but she does it anyway, whipping up a delicious Thanksgiving dinner in a trailer together with the protagonist's best friend's mother, because boys can't cook! She hangs out only with boys, and only speaks to other women twice in the book: once to accuse another girl at the school of being a bad feminist, and once to get another girl (whom she later tutors in how to give a blow job, again for the protagonist's benefit) to go out with the protagonist! She's a quirky, kooky, cool kind of a feminist, who isn't afraid to smile indulgently when her male friends stare down her tank top, and who knows that these days being opposed to the patriarchy doesn't mean that women can't choose to put their energy into providing emotional, sexual and domestic labour for boys!

This blog post was brought to you by the letter R for Rage.

*This is unfair, actually, as girl-on-girl versions of this story abound, cf The Tulip Touch and Me Without You, but Holden Caulfield comparisons make me unreasonable. Oh! Except for Frank Portman's King Dork, which is excellent, and even has a hilarious critique of the interesting-boy/kooky-girl-out-of-his-league plot into the bargain.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Behold The Sound of the Universe

So I finally and belatedly finished my proposal for a chapter in this book (doesn't it sound great?) and sent it off, and I thought I'd post it here, because I'm all excited about it. I actually want to do readings of the telephone call in 'Father's Day' and the silent clocks in 'The Girl in the Fireplace' too, but they didn't fit into the 500-word proposal thingy--

Behold the Sound of the Universe: Time, Space and Affect in Doctor Who

This paper explores the ways in which Doctor Who uses sound and sound effects to construct space and time on both a cosmic and a subjective-affective level.

Sound in the Western imaginary has long had a privileged relationship to presence: the invention of the phonograph, the gramophone and the telephone (as documented by Friedrich Kittler in Discourse Networks and Film, Gramophone, Typewriter and by Avital Ronell in The Telephone Book) troubled that relationship. Sounds could now be reproduced in the absence of the body which originally produced them, and this – as has been argued by Barbara Engh – profoundly disturbed the ways in which we imagine space and time. Engh writes, for example:

If the phonographic record… bears the mark of the ‘that-has-been’, nevertheless it does so at the expense of the radical dissociation of the utterance from its context. Even if all the [sounds of the past] could be located, these sounds could only be sampled, arranged in a constellation, supplied with a context. (1)


In this paper, I will argue that Doctor Who fully exploits this temporal and spatial uncanniness of synthesized and recorded sound, to two main ends: firstly, sound is used along the lines that Engh sketches, to disrupt linear time and to create a complex interplay between presence and absence; and secondly, sound as a memory trigger is used to explore the affective dimension of television viewing and to comment on the history and timeline of the show itself and of its fandom.

Although sound – in particular, the theme tune and the sound effects produced by the Radiophonic Workshop – has always been crucial to the affective and temporal dimensions of Doctor Who, I will concentrate on New Who in this paper, because its conscious relationship to Old Who - its consciousness of its own temporal position in television and fandom history – allows it to do more complex work with sound.

Through readings of several moments in the first two seasons of New Who, investigating the disjunction between soundtrack and visual imagery, I will show that the brilliantly uncanny sound of the TARDIS functions very much along the lines that Kittler and Engh sketch out. It is both an index of presence in time and space (the TARDIS is materializing here, now), and an aural symbol of the possibility that linear time and space can be overcome (the TARDIS travels in both, instantaneously remapping both space and chronology). I will then go on to a close reading of the second season episode ‘Love and Monsters’, in which the sound of the TARDIS is described as ‘the sound of the universe’ and functions explicitly as the mysterious object of fannish desire. Through this close reading, I will argue that sound is a powerful affective technology in Doctor Who, creating a fragmented, disrupted temporality not only for its fictional universe but, through its function as a memory-trigger, also for its viewers/listeners.

(1) Barbara Engh, ‘After “His Master’s Voice”’, New Formations 38 (Summer 1999), pp.54-63, p.56.

**

The idea that New Who is talking about its own fandom history when it talks about time and the historical record I owe to some really insightful comments by the brilliant Penny Goodman on the paper I gave at Leeds last May, as well as to discussions of 'Love and Monsters' with the equally brilliant Una and Matthew. I really hope this proposal gets accepted - I've been saying for three or four years now that I'd love to write an entire paper on the sound of the TARDIS, and look! I really might be able to!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Stuff White People Can Do (And Why Sometimes We Can't)

For International Blog Against Racism Week, I'm linking to a couple sites and articles which might help well-meaning anti-racist white people sharpen their (our) ideas and learn - keep on learning - to decenter the ways we see and think about ourselves, our 'race', and 'race' in general.

A fantastic essay by Sarah Ahmed on the 'non-performativity' (thank you) 'of anti-racism';

Rent-a-Negro, which takes a bit of translation for non-Americans but is unsettling and interesting;

and the website of its creator, Damali Ayo (check out her pdf I Can Fix It: 2000 people were asked for 5 things individual people can do to end
racism. Here are the solutions in our own words.
).

And finally, of course, a Peggy Macintosh lolcat.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Writing update

The editors of the special issue of Cultural Critique I just wrote the paper for emailed today to let me know that they don't think it needs any revisions before it goes to peer review, hooray and phew, because it was no fun to write and I don't know if I could revise it.

This week I started work on Teh Book again: I'm trying to bash out a completed draft of Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 at the rate of one a week over the next, well, five weeks. Chapter 2 was in fairly good shape when I started, and work went well yesterday and today, so I think that'll be fine. I don't know how coherently I can write about writing it, but here are a few scattered speculations (not on value):

At this stage I just need to write it. But what is this thing called 'just writing'? For me and in this context, I think it means: not obsessing about 'style'; accepting that about 90% of everything that I have thought and read on all the topics and concepts that spiral out from the heart of this book is not going to make it into the book, and letting it go; not going off on new and interesting connections that the close readings throw up; doing more of the work of scene-setting and clarification (this is my hardest thing, I hate doing the work of scene-setting and clarification, it makes me feel vulnerable and banal, vulnerable to being called banal. One of my friends got called banal at a conference recently and, excellently, there was much fall-out and discussion of this in the interstitial spaces of another conference where she and I were together; it's such a catch-all word; anything can be banal; it makes you do the work of doubting yourself without doing any of the work of critique; but it's impossible to defend against).

The nice thing about all of that - particularly the bit about letting 90% of the thinking not appear - is that it makes me realize fully for the first time how much work I really have done on this book. I can walk past all the chapters in my head, brushing my fingers against them, like stones in a stone circle, and I know what is going to be in them: I know what my key words are, and what passages from the literary text are going to be close-read, and although I might not be able to put it in clear and straightforward words every time, I can feel roughly what the shape, the argument, of each chapter is going to be. And that really is a big deal. So I really didn't waste my six months' research leave.

Which is a relief, as you can imagine.

The other thing which is making this bit of the writing go well is that I seem to have achieved the right distance from the material (at last! eight years later!). For the last couple of days, at least, I haven't been too close to it, seeing the unmanageable, unruly, glorious complexity and particularity of every word in every passage I quote; but I also haven't been too far away from it, feeling like every sentence I write bears the unbearable weight of the demand to justify its existence not only in the book but in my life, not only in my life but in the world: to justify itself to everyone everywhere at the same time, from my boss in the Classics department and my ex-supervisor in Cultural Studies to my scary, clever, wonderful, activist theorybitch friends on teh interwebs. It feels like working the material from a distance, like with giant mechanical hands: this is partly, of course, because mostly what I've been doing is shoving already-written sections into place and writing new explanatory, introductory, clarifying or linking sections almost in private, note form, so we'll see how it goes when I have to do more close-up work.

Yesterday, the day I started, J told me I was white all day, white and not-there, like a ghost; printing three old versions of the chapter out and making a tiny skeleton outline of the final version put colour back into my face.

The most exciting thing is that - mostly and so far - I like it. I like my book. I was really scared I wouldn't.

I spent the weekend tidying my study in preparation for starting, and I have a nice, clean, workable work space now, with drawers in a little cabinet for all the different chapters, and a desk-top organizer for pens and articles, and a flat surface for towers of books, and all my little magical objects collected around my computer (the pottery toad I bought at the North Bristol Art Fair last year, the glass coaster with a heart on it that J bought me at a market in Queensland just after we got together in 2003 and she had to go back to Australia, the little pipe-cleaner Deva a good friend of mine from Blake's 7 fandom made me a few years ago, the tiny wombat in a mortarboard that J gave me, the photo of the statue of Wellington in the park in Leeds near the university campus whose boots are always painted red by some helpful street artist, the Judy Horacek card 'kissing with crockery' which J sent me years ago when we weren't living together and when what we most wanted is what we have now; living in the same house, working hard in different rooms, and kissing when we bump into each other from time to time in the kitchen, distracted and not-there, and then going back to work).

Oh! Incidentally, this is International Blog Against Racism Week. So I will be blogging against racism soon, and you should too.

Monday, 28 July 2008

just like that story my dad used to tell about the guy who did his exams on benzadrines

... but then on Friday night I was sitting next to J. on the sofa, watching Roseanne, when I suddenly thought:

maybe that whole three paragraphs about Frodo wasn't such a good idea after all.

Never mind. My parents are visiting for three days from tomorrow (hello!) and the deadline is Thursday, so I have to finish it today, Frodo or no Frodo.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Writing

So it's the summer, and I'm writing, and I'm going to try and turn this blog back into a journal of the writing process, mainly for my own benefit but also because it's difficult and interesting to be public about how writing happens.

So far writing this journal article has been horrible, slow and painful. But today I was suddenly possessed and wrote over 2000 words in a non-stop three-hour blast (I didn't even pause to knit a few rows while rereading/getting distracted, which I usually do while writing, ever since I gave up both smoking and Minesweeper), and it's basically done. When I say 'basically done' I mean I have to write the introduction and the final paragraph, the bits that actually say what the paper is meant to say, look up a bunch of references (Henderson and Bartsch on Lucan, check the OLD and the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae for cursus), put in the references, do a final cut-and-polish and get it into house style. But, you know. Done!

Things that may have contributed to this:

Luck
Putting on my 'Vergil' perfume before starting to write
Nice weather for writing (not too hot!)
... or, just possibly, turning my internet off and not going online before or during writing. (Didn't I learn that lesson last year?)

Speaking of Vergil, I occasionally fantasize about writing a novel about the tangled erotic-political-literary relationships between Octavian-Augustus, Marc Antony, Vergil and Ovid, but then I realize that I can't write a historical novel because I could never do all that research to make a coherent and accurate world for the characters to inhabit. But this morning, I realized that the reason I can't do that is not just because I'm too lazy, but because I fundamentally don't believe in creating a coherent and accurate historical world. I mean, I don't think of Vergil like a character in Rome, going about being all three-dimensional and authentic in an accurately-reconstructed setting. So now I've started to fantasize about writing an experimental novel about the tangled erotic-political-literary relationships between Augustus, Antony, Vergil and Ovid.

Narrated by Dante.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Frank O'Hara

I'm teaching a seminar on T S Eliot on the English Literature MA next semester, so I went upstairs to nab J's Collected Poems to decide which poems to set and my hand went for Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems as well, so I've been reading them and getting damp around the eyes. I completely love Frank O'Hara. Here's his official home page; go read some poems (the second one on that page, Ave Maria is one of my favourites. So wicked and joyful. But actually all the poems there are great). And! You can hear him read one of my other favourites, Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed), which is much funnier out loud (when I read it to myself it is quite sad). Poetry is odd like that.

So Frank O'Hara makes me feel better about everything. Good. (He's dead, though - someone ran him over in a car on Fire Island when he was forty, which sucks. OH FRANK O'HARA WE LOVE YOU GET UP.)

Sometimes I Just Feel So Tired

So today I was thinking about posting a brief compare-and-contrast of Debbie Harry Sings In French with Barbara Wersba's Tunes for a Small Harmonica, to make the point that good YA fiction about sexuality and gender identity was being written back in the 70s and 80s, so all this hoo-hah about how ground-breaking and innovative the queer books of today are is a wilful forgetting of YA history. But instead I am posting about three things I came across within five minutes of going on the Internet, and the exhaustion that comes over me at the thought of living in a world where this kind of thing happens, and where critiquing them so often gets you read as a Humourless Feminist (tm).

So, in order...

1) Today's 'Daily Poll' on imdb was about who you would get to narrate your life: it listed seven actors, all men. I guess there are no women with voices good enough to narrate the life of any random internet-surfer who reads imdb.

2) Then someone linked me to this blog, Cake Wrecks, and the third cake down was a (pretty funny, I thought) baby-shower cake with a marzipan figure of a woman giving birth on top (here): the blogger comments that the, er, "mom" here... is completely nekkid (is that a new trend in delivery rooms?), and is anatomically correct where you wouldn't expect her to be (ergo the censor bars - sorry, fellas!) Well, yes, quite a lot of people are naked when they give birth. And why on earth would I not expect a figure of a woman in childbirth to be 'anatomically correct' in the places where babies come from and are fed?

3) And then someone else linked me to this blog post with a brief critique of a Snickers ad in which, in order to sell a chocolate bar, Mr T pursues a man who is speed-walking (and thus coded as effeminate) down the street, firing Snickers bars at him from a giant machine-gun mounted on a big truck, and exhorting him to 'run like a man' and 'get some nuts'.

I am too tired to critique these. Do them yourselves.

(The post title is the caption of a Judy Horacek cartoon, showing one of her women slumped over a desk: up on the wall behind her are the statistics from the 1980 UN report on the status of women.)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Back to Writing

I've finished off most of my outstanding stuff from last year, had a week off, been ill for a week, and had a rather epic birthday; the rest of the summer involves holing up in my flat and writing like crazy. I have a journal article to write by July 30, a book chapter to revise by September 15, and a conference paper to write by October 23; and I need to have a finished draft of Now and Rome by the end of September. I'm planning to write in the mornings and read in the afternoons for four days a week; spend one day a week on teaching- and admin-related tasks and 'misc'; and have two days off a week for hanging out with J, knitting, fannishness and walking.

I'm trying to write this journal article at the moment - it's for a special edition of Cultural Critique, which is exciting yet daunting - and it should be very easy because it's all stuff I've been working on for years. But I keep being surprised by how wobbly my confidence is, and how if I take my eye off the task at hand for a moment, doubts start creeping in, all the way up from 'is this the right quote to use?' to 'should I actually be an academic at all?'

I also seem to have left two crucial books at work, so I think now might be the time to knock off and walk over to my office; it's a sunny day and my office is about fifteen minutes' walk away through leafy parks and Georgian back-streets.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Dirty Books and the Great Wen

Just back from a week in London, part-financed by my and J's very good friend K, who is lavishly generous and splendid and brings a better world with her wherever she goes (one part Wodehouse, one part Dion Fortune, one part The Saint, one part Emma Goldman, shake, pour over ice, and serve with a sprig of fresh mint). She said she was giving us the cash so we could tell her what we thought of Kipling's house at Bateman's (any excuse, honestly, that K), so we went there, and it was splendid. (I really like Kipling. I don't mean to downplay the sexism - he was deeply opposed to women's suffrage - and the imperialism and the racism, but so much of his stuff is just great: his use of language is beautiful and he gets at some of those tiny, hidden feelings and relationships and ideas, mining them out of experience into language. Thorts into Stuff, as Una says. And those bits are relatively detachable from the power and the privilege and the White-Man's-Burden stuff, which isn't true of all writers, or at least I think so.) I was going to put up some pictures from our trip, but naturally I can't find the cable for my camera, so that'll have to wait.

Other things I did included speaking at the Dirty Books event at the London Literary Festival last week, where I enjoyed myself thoroughly and may possibly have referred to slash as 'a feminist utopia of porn'. It was a slightly odd event overall, containing rather more straight women than I'd expected from a queer event, including one who felt the need to inform us on about five occasions that although she did have sex with women, she didn't really enjoy it. But from the extract from her work she read, she didn't seem to enjoy sex at all, so perhaps I shouldn't have felt so ruffled at her presentation of f/f sex as oh-so-thrillingly outrée but ultimately not real sex. The highlight was probably the very impassioned and lovely defense of erotic writing by the organizer, Rupert Smith aka James Lear. (Actually, this was a bit of a theme of the week: I also went to see Alan Moore and Melinde Gebbie talking about Lost Girls, their 'pornographic novel about pornography', which was fun. It was the first time I'd ever been in the same room as Alan Moore and his splendid beard.)

Oh! And we went to see the Magnetic Fields in concert, which was great. And! We saw (some of) the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project, which may be the best thing that has ever been in the world. Slightly-simplified-for-feminist-squee account of the project:

Geometers used to think there were only two types of space in which you could do geometry (Euclidean flat space and spherical space). There was a possibility of another kind of space, hyperbolic space, but for many reasons - including the difficulty of physically modelling/visualizing it - its feasibility was disputed for, like, hundreds of years.

AND THEN A FEMALE MATHEMATICIAN CROCHETED IT. And she came and presented hyperbolic space in the form of crochet to the Royal Society of Geometers* and they were like, whoa.

And then - because hyperbolic space also exists in coral reefs - the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project came into being, whereby people (mostly women) from across the world crochet coral reefs and exhibit them. It is craft + female-flavoured community + maths + conservation/ecology. I don't see how it could possibly be a better thing. And, it's free! At the Hayward! Go and see it if you are in London, or if it is on tour near you ever.

*or something

Saturday, 21 June 2008

reeling rather

God, I love Meg Rosoff. What a thoroughly queer and splendid book.

Also, I wish I was Meg Rosoff. Her first book was about war and anorexia, probably my two favourite subjects for fiction (and so rarely combined!), with a stalwart anorexic female war heroine in the lead - and won the Guardian award;* her second book was about fate and responsibility and won the Carnegie medal; and this one is a subtle and strange revisiting of some of the major early children's lit topoi and genres (school story, castaways). And queer as anything, like I said.

(A couple of reservations about the fate of the Gollum character.)

*I am always slightly surprised that I haven't won the Guardian award for children's fiction, but J points out to me that I have not in fact written a children's novel. Which seems a bit of a technicality to me, but I suppose they have to stick to the letter of the law.

Weekend O Books

Exam boards are finished, tutee meetings are over, I have finished the undergraduate teaching year, and celebrated with a small and pleasing party last night (bruschetta, prosecco, faculty gossip), and this weekend is the Weekend O Books. In term time I can usually only read very bad fiction, because I don't seem to be able to afford the headspace to risk being taken over by a book, and because I only get very limited fiction-reading time (early morning and late at night), so I tend to read mindlessly, the way lots of people watch TV (in fact I think in termtime books and telly occupy exactly the reverse of their normative places - I watch very little TV, I'm very selective about what I watch, and I watch it attentively.* Perhaps it's a fan thing.)

Anyway. Here I lie on the sofa, with a pile of books beside me as follows:
Les Mots Pour Le Dire, Marie Cardinal
When Dad Killed Mom, Julius Lester (enthusiastic rec from J)
Bindi Babes, Narinder Dhami (another enthusiastic rec from J)
Suburban Freakshow, Julia Lawrinson (rec from Judith Ridge's blog; I usually either love or hate Julia Lawrinson's books so who knows what I'll think of this)
After Summer, Nick Earls (saw it in the Amnesty bookshop for 20p and J told me to get it)
Where Have All The Boys Gone?, Jenny Colgan (chicklit, 20p, actually bought as termtime reading, may skip)
Bulldozer Rising, Anna Livia (lesbian-feminist sci-fi novel about a structurally ageist society, 20p)
Peter Pan in Scarlet, Geraldine McCaughrean (J put this on my to-read pile months ago, but amid so many dire warnings of its extreme boringness that I haven't read it yet)
Written For Children, John Rowe Townsend (technically work)
No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July (because I loved You And Me And Everyone We Know so much)
In the Name of God, Paula Jolin (Muslim-fundamentalist YA novel, wonder what it will be like, bought it in Stanford last November alongside a Christian-fundamentalist YA novel which wasn't much cop)
The Summer of Love, Debbie Dreschler (YA graphic novel, I keep starting it but not getting very far because I'm finding the art difficult to read).


But! The very top book on the pile, which I have already started and of which I am currently on page 24, is Meg Rosoff's What I Was. It's her third novel, and I absolutely loved the first two but sort of thought there were problems in each, so I am delighted to record that as of this moment, this may be the perfect book.

::sighs happily and returns to Weekend O Books::

*except for the constant knitting, obviously.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Meme: I Can't Believe It's Not A Passion Quilt!

I don't know what the title of this post means. I tried googling 'passion quilt' and mostly I got iterations of this meme, so I am none the wiser. Anyway, Aren tagged me for this, and I'm finally getting round to it:

The rules are as follows: Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what you are most passionate for students to learn about. Give your picture a short title. Title your post “Meme: I can’t believe it’s not a passion quilt!”. Link back to this blog entry. Include links to 5 (or more) educators.



The thing about this image is that it points towards the intersection of traditional academic conventions with political and ethical responsibility, and gives me hope that I can actually teach the kinds of thinking I want to teach through, not only alongside (or even despite), traditional academic activity (literary reading, critical analysis, essay-writing).

The main thing about it, I think, is that it shows a way in which the kinds of skills that I teach give students the ability to question and critique authority. 'Britain is being swamped by immigrants'. CITATION NEEDED: what are the figures? But not only 'what are the figures' - if I thought that objective truth was the only location of resistance to power, I would be a scientist (or at least a social scientist!), so for me other questions need to be put, too: how are you defining 'immigrants'? Why are you using this term 'swamped'? CITATION NEEDED. The idea that all statements are discursive, are made in the context of a network of definitions and rules and statistics which legitimate them (or don't legitimate them), and that following up the 'citations' allows you to read and to resist this network of knowledge-and-power.

In terms of academic techniques, too: I teach a lot of first-year students, who are in the process of figuring out how to write an undergraduate-level essay, and one of the things that's hardest for them on a technical level is distinguishing their own voice, their own argument, from those of their sources. If you read someone else's work and agree with it, does it become your work? (No. Well, okay, sort of. But it's only manners to acknowledge, rather than appropriate, work that cost someone else many more hours/years to write than it took you to read.) If you read someone else's work and disagree with it, how can you articulate that disagreement convincingly (when they are, say, Judith Butler, and you are an eighteen-year-old who hasn't read any Freud yet)? And this is somewhere where the conventions of academic writing are actually immensely helpful: proper citation and 'evaluation' of sources (as the marking criteria put it) allow you to make your argument more convincingly, but more importantly, they require you to be aware of the ongoing, dialogic, provisional, situated nature of academic work: understanding that the same term has very different meanings and implications in different fields or traditions, and being able to explain how you want to use that term, means understanding that thinking is both collaborative and antagonistic, and learning both how to honour the people who have enabled you to (let's say) see something new in Jane Eyre and how to argue against the people whose readings are (let's say) are effacing important dimensions of Jane Eyre.

I'm aware this is somewhat utopian.

And I notice that the meme asks me to 'link to' five or more educators, not to 'tag' them, so I'm going to do just that, because some of these people don't know me!

Anxious Black Woman, a blog I recently discovered through the Amanda Marcotte/Seal Press controversy (no, I'm not going to link to it!) and am going to read more assiduously;

John Lyons, a theologian who works down the road from me and is one of the people I know with an enviable ability to combine theoretical thinkiness with lightness of touch;

Lauren Berlant, an awesome queer theorist whose blog often, embarrassingly, falls into my tl;dr bin, but one of my ongoing ambitions is to combine blogging with thinking more effectively, so...;

Lori Askeland; this blog is about her activities as a local councillor in Akron, Ohio, rather than her educative/academic stuff, but it (and she) is wonderful nonetheless;

WOCPhD; another blog I should read in more detail, which includes excellent reading lists!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Changing gear

I mentioned I'd finished marking, didn't I? Why, yes, I think I did.

So now it's time to start trying to change the gear of my brane, from the slightly mechanical, judgey, slightly impatient mode that marking demands if I'm to get through it with any remnant of robustness, to the more flexible, humble and patient mode that research requires. (From Sir Humphrey Appleby to Bernard, if you will.)

Luckily, I have two excellent research events coming up back-to-back here at Bristol: this afternoon, this workshop on the aesthetics of film, including two papers on sound and one on Fred and Ginger, and tomorrow-and-Saturday, the Performativity and Emptiness conference, which is the culmination of a two-year research programme that I've been (less deeply than I would have liked) involved in throughout. Everyone I've met through this project has been fiercely interesting and strange-minded, so I'm looking forward to the next couple of days a lot. And hopefully the kinds of attention that will be required will reorient my head into a state where I can get on with the writing I need to do this summer.

In the meantime, though, I'm supposed to be spending this morning tidying up bits and bobs, and it's amazing how hard it is to attend to anything work-related. It's like the Spinning Rainbow Wheel of Death is hovering above my head.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A Great Day In A Woman's Life

I've finished* my marking!

I have been tagged for a meme by the always-crunchy Aren, and I know exactly what my image is going to be, but I want to sit with my ideas about that post for a while longer, so in the meantime, I'm going to post the three passages that have been keeping me going throughout marking season (here assembled under the heading 'Three Ways To Get A 2:2'):

1. Diana Wynne Jones, from A Tale of Time City:
"Haven't you done any translating either?"
"I've done some," Vivian admitted.
"Let's hear it then." Dr Wilander leaned back and lit his pipe with a tap of one huge finger on its bowl, as if he expected to be listening for the next hour or so.
Vivian looked miserably at her few lines of crossed out and rewritten green writing. "One large black smith threw four coffins about," she read.
"Oh, did he?" Dr Wilander said placidly. "To show off his strength, I suppose. Carry on."
"So that they turned into four very old women," Vivian read. "One went rusty for smoothing clothes. Two went white in moderately cheap jewellery. Three of them turned yellow and got expensive and another four were dense and low in the tables--"
"So now there were ten coffins," Dr Wilander said. "Or maybe ten strange elderly ladies. Some of these were doing the laundry while the rest pranced about in cheap necklaces. I suppose the yellow ones caught jaundice at the sight, while the stupid ones crawled under the furniture in order not to look. Is there any more of this lively narrative?"
"A bit," said Vivian. "Four more were full of electricity, but they were insulated with policemen, so that the town could learn philosophy for at least a year."
"Four more old women and an unspecified number of police," Dr Wilander remarked. "The blacksmith makes at least fifteen. I hope he paid the police for wrapping themselves round the electrical old ladies. It sounds painful. Or are you implying that the police were electrocuted, thus supplying the townsfolk with a valuable moral lesson?"
"I don't know," Vivian said hopelessly.
"But just what," asked Dr Wilander, "do you think your multitudes of old women were really doing?"
"I've no idea," Vivian confessed.
"People don't usually write nonsense," Dr Wilander remarked, still placidly puffing at his pipe.**

2. Douglas Adams, from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Fit the Second):
VOGON CAPTAIN: So Earthlings I present you with a simple choice. Think carefully for you hold your very lives in your hands. Now choose: either die in the vacuum of space, or… tell me how good you thought my poem was.

FORD: I liked it

VOGON CAPTAIN: Good...

ARTHUR: Oh yes, I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was particularly effective.

VOGON CAPTAIN: Yes?

ARTHUR: Oh…. and um, interesting rhythmic devices, too, which seemed to counterpoint the, er…

FORD: Counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the, um…

ARTHUR: Humanity of the er -

FORD: Vogonity.

ARTHUR: What?

FORD: Vogonity.

ARTHUR: Oh. Oh! Vogonity. Sorry. Of the poet’s compassionate soul which contrived through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other. And one is left with a profound and vivid insight into… err…

FORD: Into whatever it was that the poem was about.

3. Diana Wynne Jones again, from Witch Week:
Simon was very cunning. He was clever. He was thoroughly suspicious of the whole thing. They were trying to catch him out somehow. The safest and cleverest thing was not to commit anything to writing. He was sure of that. On the other hand, it would not do to let everyone know how clever he had gone. It would look peculiar. He ought to write just one thing. So, after more than half an hour of deep thought, he wrote:

Doggies.

It took him five minutes. Then he sat back, confident that he had fooled everyone.


*Well, I have two more dissertations to second-mark, and two moderation meetings to go to, and a resubmitted essay to chase up, but last night I finished the last actual pile of stuff and drank two glasses of champagne to celebrate, so that counts.

**Dr Wilander later gives the correct translation for the passage:

The great Faber John made four containers or caskets and hid each of them in one of the Four Ages of the World. The casket made of iron, he concealed in the Age of Iron. The second, which was of silver, he hid in the Silver Age, and the third, which was pure gold, in the Age of Gold. The fourth container was of lead and hidden in the same manner. He filled these four caskets with the greater part of his power and appointed to each one a special guardian. In this way he ensured that Time City would endure throughout a whole Platonic Year.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Rights of Paternity

I just wrote a review for Classical Review and am consequently having to sign Cambridge University Press's copyright form, to assign them my copyright, and look what I found in the small print:

Two 'moral rights' were conferred on authors by the UK Copyright Act in 1988. In the UK an author's 'right of paternity', the right to be properly credited whenever the work is published (or performed or broadcast), requires that this right is asserted in writing.

The right to be credited is a right of paternity? Is that, like, a patronymic? Like, whenever I go about the place, my surname constitutes 'proper credit' to my dad? Wow.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Lesbians; Rome and science fiction

I'd love to write an elegant demolition of this absurdity (Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian" - apparently it 'violates their human rights'). But I have no time. Instead I'm going to use this space to jot down some thoughts about the SF paper that started forming in my brane on the walk to work.

-- Rome as transtemporal site (passim in Western culture eg Philip K Dick Valis, Martindale 'The Ruins of Rome', Freud on Rome as city where all times present/accessible.)

-- time travel and the passage in 'Aetiology of Hysteria' about speaking stones, labour of technological mediation which enables direct communication with past

-- obviously we already have these technologies (reading and writing, but esp. audio recording, already disorder time) - 'The Fires of Pompeii' as elaborate argument about history and access to the past (Pompeii as 'fixed point' - b/c always-already 'fixed' in stone?) - but then the people turning to stone before the volcano, and the Doctor being commemorated in marble in the last shot, getting into the historical record - also elaborate argument about the learning of Latin as transtemporal connector (family from Cambridge Latin course, running joke about translation-as-technology [TARDIS translation device] and situatedness [Latin = Welsh, ref to Cardiff as site of Doctor Who, though of course in this ep dislocated into Rome-I-mean-Pompeii [Tony Keen talks about this play on the siting/setting of the ep]).

-- Stone circuit/stone prophecy in 'The Fires of Pompeii'. Stone as recording device. The Stone Tape. Stones speaking in the De Bello Civili, also site of set of meditations on the relationship to the past. Stonesyayy.

-- Necromancy - The Resurrection Glove and Erichtho. Technologies of communication with the dead. Circuit of history. (I always decide to write on the necromancy in DBC and I never do, it's something I've been circling around for like five years now...)

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Help me! I will acknowledge you in a footnote!

The paper-machine drives ever onwards... I'm giving a paper to the Leeds branch of the Classical Association in a couple of weeks on 'The Romans and Science Fiction', and I need anecdotes and exciting examples and trivia and stuff. Please to provide:

* Science fiction with Romans in (either literally eg 'The Last Days of Pompeii' or allegorically eg the Romulans in Star Trek?)

* Science fiction about getting information from dead people - I think there was an episode of Torchwood with this theme? Which one was it, and Is there anything else?

* Science fiction about stones speaking or otherwise transmitting information (is there like a humming stone in Dune? What's going on there?) I'm finally going to watch The Stone Tape this week and am very excited about that.

Sources that come with snazzy visuals are particularly appreciated.

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR HELP.

The queer erotic literature event is now to be called, rather less syllabically, Dirty Books. It'll be in the evening (exact time TBC) of Saturday 5 July, in the St Paul's Pavilion in the South Bank Centre. It's being organized by this profoundly awesome dude, Rupert Smith aka James Lear.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

world tour, media whore, pleased the press in belgium

Just been booked to speak about slash at an event about queer erotic literature at the London Literature Festival this summer, probably between 5-10 July. Very excited. More news as it breaks. Keep fingers crossed that this will not clash with the Magnetic Fields concert on the 10th for which we have tickets.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Whee

Just finished the Derrida essay and emailed it to the editor. Going away for a week to see my family now.

As a preview of the essay, here's the bibliography, which fills me with glee:

Beattie, Thomas (2008), The Advocate, ‘Labor of Love’, April 2008. Accessed online at advocate.com (http://advocate.com/issue_story_ektid52664.asp, accessed 5 April 2008).

Bloom, Harold (1973), The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Califia, Pat (1995a), ‘Introduction’, in Califia, ed, Doing it for Daddy: Short and Sexy Fiction about a Very Forbidden Fantasy (Boston: Alyson Publications), pp.9-16.

Califia, Pat (1995b), ‘It Takes A Good Boy To Make A Good Daddy’, in Doing it for Daddy, pp.215-37.

Deleuze, Gilles (1995), Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press)

Derrida, Jacques (1976), Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press)

Derrida, Jacques (1987), ‘Envois’, in The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press), pp.3-256.

Derrida, Jacques (2004), ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London: Continuum), pp. 67-186.

Edelman, Lee (2004), No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham and London: Duke University Press)

Fritscher, Jack (2000), ‘I am Curious (Leather): Leather Dolce Vita, Pop Culture and the Prime of Mr Larry Townsend’, in Larry Townsend, The Leatherman’s Handbook 25th Anniversary Edition (Beverley Hills: L. T. Publications)

Golding, Sue (johnny de philo) and Zylinska, Joanna (1999), ‘There is Always One More Technology of Otherness’, Culture Machine 1 (1999), section headed ‘sex’, http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk/Cmach/Backissues/j001/articles/art_glds.htm. Accessed on 4 April 2008.

Hale, C. Jacob (1997), ‘Leatherdyke Boys and Their Daddies: How to Have Sex Without Women Or Men’, Social Text 52/53, pp.223-236.

Hellekson, Karen, and Busse, Kristina (2006), Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays (Jefferson: Macfarland Press)

Salusinszky, Imre (1987), ‘Harold Bloom’, in Criticism in Society: Interviews with Jacques Derrida, Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Frank Kermode, Edward Said, Barbara Johnson, Frank Lentricchia and J. Hillis Miller (New York and London: Methuen), pp. 45-73.

Veyne, Paul (1985), ‘Homosexuality in Ancient Rome’, in Philippe Ari├Ęs and Andr Bjin (eds), Western Sexuality: Practice and Precept in Past and Present Times (Oxford: Blackwell), pp.26-35.

Wills, David (2008), Dorsality: Thinking Back through Technology and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)


(... and, I've already spotted two typos....)

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Wordy

'If I aim at six thousand, I should come in at eight', I've been saying to myself all through this paper.

Currently at 8,100 and still with the conclusion to write and a bunch of footnotes to do.

Gah.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Hogwarts

You know what? Hogwarts has no administrators. I just realized.

It is really hard writing fiction in a universe which has no coherent infrastructure.

Vacation is not the same thing as holiday

It's the vacation, which is great, because I'm very tired from term and also I have a ton of writing to do - I have to finish the Derrida chapter by 31 March which is really quite soon now. (I get really defensive about the status of 'holidays' for academics, as you can see - on the one hand, it makes such a difference to be off the treadmill of term, teaching-preparing-marking-chasing-students-doing-admin, but on the other hand, it's not like I get to lie around playing Tombraider and knitting for the next five weeks, alas, and actually writing an 8,000-word book chapter on Derrida and Plato is a LITTLE BIT like work, y/y?)

Term finished for me on Wednesday, after a really intense but great couple of days. On Monday I was invited by the brilliant and lovely Angela Piccini and Jo Carruthers - who are lecturers/research fellows at Bristol attached to the Performativity | Place | Space theme - to be the discussant at this symposium, where I saw some amazing photos (Clare Thornton), heard some amazing sound installations (Jem Noble), and scored some academic references to polytheism and enchantment as modes of being in space (from Iain Biggs). Then John Mowitt (John Mowitt!) came to give a lecture, followed by a two-hour session for responses and discussion on the Tuesday morning, all of which was not only awesome but also sparked a bunch of thoughts and conversations among a series of people, including a new friend from the Classics department who's thinking of writing on Heidegger, Dasein, radio and the Eucharist (which, I think we can all agree, is an awesome set of connections to be making) . Also, my ex-supervisor, Barbara Engh, came along, and it's always a treat to see her. This was all part of this research project - 'Word Unbecoming Flesh: Beyond Text, Across Media' - which I'm heading up at Bristol: there are going to be six workshops over the next eighteen months or so, all dealing with questions about textuality and archivization (how do different recording/information technologies affect the ways we think about memory, information, technology and embodiment)? The discussions about radio were an excellent way to start, because they link us straight into the big questions (it's impossible to theorize radio without thinking about National Socialism, for example, as well as the infamous 'War of the Worlds' broadcast in the States - John delivered an excellent riff on the way that [the fantasy of] radio hooks up the body to an outside, to a foreign body, both inducing and managing mass hysteria/panic).

On Wednesday I helped out at an Open Day in the Classics department, and then my best friend Helen, who's studying to be a barrister, arrived for a visit - we talked and talked and ate delicious food from our local delis and set the world to rights (feminism! kids today! racism! babies! literature! sentencing guidelines for judges! pedagogy! the true meaning of academic grades! the personal tutoring system! queer theory and the death drive! omg we're all in our thirties now!)

And now it's Easter weekend, and as usual J and I are taking full advantage of the Christian holiday to hole up and write. Well, J is sick, so she's in bed with a big pile of dreadful books, but I'm going to spend today and the next couple of days working on 'In Loco Parentis', a big fanfic story I've been writing for a quite preposterous number of years now. It's harder than I expected getting back into it - I've made so many false starts on this section, and I get so little time to work on it that I get all wound up about having to get it right this time because there isn't time for any more mistakes (my computer tells me that I worked on it for one day at Christmas, and before that hadn't touched it since August).