Friday, 30 January 2009

new book title, new abstract

Currently I think the title of the book will be Now and Rome: Five Technologies of Space, Time and Sovereignty, which I am slightly in love with. ('Empire After Earth' will now be the title of the introduction, so I don't have to lose it entirely.)

In other news, I just submitted my abstract to the Diana Wynne Jones conference which will be held in Bristol early this July:

‘Mum’s a silly fusspot’: the queering of family in Diana Wynne Jones

In Four British Fantasists, Butler cites Diana Wynne Jones saying that her novels ‘provide a space where children can... walk round their problems and think “Mum’s a silly fusspot and I don’t need to be quite so enslaved by her notions”’ (267). That is, as I will argue in this paper, Jones’ work aims to provide readers with the emotional, narrative and intellectual resources to achieve a critical distance from their families of origin.

I will provide a brief survey of the treatment of family in Jones’ children’s books, with particular reference to Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Ogre Downstairs, Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammett, Homeward Bounders and Hexwood, and then narrow my focus to two of Jones’ classic treatments of family: Eight Days of Luke and Archer’s Goon. I will read these books in terms of the ways in which their child protagonists reposition themselves in relation to family in the course of their narratives. Drawing on Esther Saxey’s recent narratological analysis of the coming-out story in Homoplot, I will argue that the way in which Jones shows her protagonists both coming to terms with their families of origin and creating new kin networks or ‘chosen families’ makes her books particularly hospitable to queer readers – or at least to this queer reader.

The best thing about that, of course, is that it means I have to read Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Ogre Downstairs, Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammett, Homeward Bounders, Hexwood, Eight Days of Luke and Archer’s Goon. And Homoplot. FOR WORK.

Monday, 19 January 2009

things that are wrong with the world today

(number one million and nine in a continuing series)

(1) I just overheard a young woman on her mobile phone saying It was a brilliant film, really really good, it ticked all the boxes, whatever emotion you wanted, it had it. This is depressing because a lecturer in TV studies told me recently that the reason TV drama is rubbish these days is because of reality TV changing the way that we make and understand narratives - because you can't plot reality TV round events, you have to structure the episodes solely around the emotional ups and downs. And now fictional drama has begun to privilege emotion as the primary narrative drive, too. Which hypothesis is, by the way, borne out by every episode of New Who that Russell T Davies has ever written.

So this explains a lot about why so many of my students find it so difficult to talk about the words on the page in front of them, rather than going straight into generalities about the meaning of the text or how it made them feel. Because pop-culture these days is often not rewarding the kinds of reading that follow structure and plot and respond to well-crafted, intricate, sense-making narratives. Films? They might as well be mood organs!

(2) Andrew O'Hagan wrote an essay on the decline of the English working-classes in the Guardian review recently, which I did not read, and then Tim Lott wrote a very long letter to the Guardian in response basically saying that the Scottish working-classes were much worse so there. But what was incredibly revealing about this letter - gah, I don't seem to be able to link to it, if anyone can find it please let me know, or otherwise I'll just have to copy bits out when I get home and find it - was twofold; Lott says

(a) that the English are 'naturally dominant' in Britain because they comprise 84% of the population in the British Isles, and that this isolates them; and

(b) that it is harder to be a member of the dominant culture because you are not cushioned by oppression.

Cushioned by oppression! It's brilliant! By which I mean it's one of the neatest expressions of one of the stupidest ways of thinking I've seen in a long time. The idea that dominant groups are not 'cushioned' by constant reflections and reminders of their own rightness, their own normality, their own obviousness, their own naturalness. Instead members of oppressed groups, living in cultures which constantly remind them (us) that they (we) are wrong, abnormal, surprising or unusual or unnatural or in need of explanation and justification, are 'cushioned', by... I'm not sure. The sense of specialness that this gives us? The way we are protected from isolation by sheer lack of numbers? Hmm.

Anyway, thank you, Tim Lott. I have been trying to put my finger on a particular strand of dominant-culture apologia for a long time now, and this crystallizes it for me.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Doctor Who CfP

Tony Keen, of Memorabilia Antonina, together with Simon Bradshaw and Graham Sleight (whom I don't know), are co-editing a book for the Science Fiction Foundation entitled The Unsilent Library: Adventures in the New Doctor Who (that link goes to the cfp). Proposals due 1 March, final chapters due 1 August, which probably knocks me out of the running, which makes it all the more important that you guys write something brilliant. Something brilliant, I say!

Friday, 9 January 2009


Ursula K Le Guin has written a novel called Lavinia, which is coming out here in the UK in May. Here is a review of it, and it sounds unbelievably brilliant.

I will do a proper post about this later - I'm supposed to be thinking about Chapter Four now, but my head is very scattered--

Thursday, 8 January 2009

I'm in love with Jacques Derrida

That's the title of a song by Scritti Politti, which was the first song that iShuffle chose to play me today (which, pleasingly, was the day I started work on Chapter 4 of Teh Book - the Derrida chapter).

Anyway. You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again?*

It's just this, really: Derrida is so great. I'm working on his essay 'Faith and Knowledge' today, and it's all brilliant, but this in particular, on the 'demographic-religious problematic' (I'm thinking about the attacks on British Jews in 'retaliation' for the Israeli attacks on Gaza, and about the recent research into white working-class fears about immigration):

... the manner in which the faithful are counted must be changed in an age of globalization... In truth, this question of numbers obsesses, as is well known, the Holy Scriptures and the monotheisms. When they feel themselves threatened by an expropriative and delocalizing tele-technoscience, 'peoples' also fear new forms of invasion. They are terrified by alien 'populations', whose growth as well as presence, indirect or virtual - but as such, all the more oppressive - becomes incalculable. New ways of counting, therefore.**


The trouble with this is that it looks like 'Faith and Knowledge' is going to be a major text for Chapter 4, and Chapter 5 (which is mainly going to be about the angel of history in Benjamin's profoundly theological 'Theses on the Philosophy of History') is entitled 'Angel', and the book as a whole is largely about concepts of globality, communication and sovereignty in Latin epic (which of course means augury, divine messengers, prophecy and necromancy), which in turn looks very much - doesn't it? - as though I am writing about religion. But I don't have any thoughts about religion! Really! None!

*That's from T S Eliot's 'East Coker', perhaps the most awesome of the Four Quartets. You can read the whole thing here, if you like.

*Jacques Derrida, 'Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of "Religion" at the Limits of Reason Alone', trans. Samuel Weber, in Acts of Religion, ed. and intr. Gil Anidjar (London and New York: Routledge, 2002) [first published in French, 1996; in English, 1998), pp. 40-101, p.90.