a suffusion of yellow

Wednesday, 11 January 2017 08:43 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
For some bizarre reason my morning Earl Grey tastes faintly of coffee. This seems both unlikely and a little unfair. I don't think there is actually any coffee in the house.

Today is my last day of leave, which I propose to spend doing entirely self-indulgent things which probably include comfort-replaying something hack-and-slashy. It's been a lovely three weeks of leave, which have been characterised by a nice balance of achievement and goofing off.
  • I examined a PhD thesis, for the first time ever, which was pretty terrifying going in but actually doable, and I think I've done a reasonably fair and conscientious job despite large tracts of it being in an unfamiliar critical field.
  • I should have written a paper, but three days in I examined my conscience and state of energy, thought "Hell no" and withdrew from the collection, which made me feel guilty for about three seconds, and then enormously relieved; the editor was nice about it and the world did not end. (I also have to say that if there's a silver lining to the student protest cloud, it makes a magnificent excuse for not being able to do stuff).
  • I finished Portal, Portal 2 and Firewatch, all three of which were highly enjoyable.
  • I've managed over the holiday period to get back into exercising, which means I've been walking for about 40 mins daily, and am feeling much better for it.
  • And, notwithstanding water restrictions, I have madly grown a batch of gem squash plants and a mango seedling from seed, by virtue of randomly planting the remnants of various meals, watering them at erratic intervals, standing back and let the currently rather fierce African sun and my predilection for compost do their stuff.

By way of some faint point to this slightly vague and wandering post, have some random linkery.

  • This is an obituary for Leia Organa, rather nicely done.
  • This is an Ursula Vernon YA portal fantasy, evincing her characteristic combination of whimsy and down-to-earthness, and featuring a particularly virulent toxic mother figure. I loved it.
  • This, on the other hand, is an entirely adult, very dark, very freaky, very good Ursula Vernon horror story, finishing which made me go "Holy fuck!" out loud. There's feminist fairy-tale rewrites, and then there's ... this.


My subject line is a random Dirk Gently quote for no reason other than a vague association with multiplicity, and the fact that Tumblr has a current sideline in gifs from the new Dirk Gently tv series. It sounds completely off the wall, has anyone seen it?
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, this is 2017. *looks around vaguely* ... you'd think they'd update the decor. We had the usual lovely New Year's dinner chez jo&stv, with distributed cooking and a metric buttload of champagne, of which I drank very little as apparently I can't drink more than two glasses of anything these days without feeling sick the next day. I made duck. Because duck. I should record for posterity that I made something almost, but not quite, completely unlike the Asian marinade found here - I left out the coffee, added lime juice, and used honey instead of sugar, and the proportions were all different because my invariable principle is not to measure anything and to keep on flinging in bits until it tastes right. But the flavour combination is amazing.

I am still on leave, calloo callay, although it's a slightly hands-on sort of leave. With one hand I am examining a thesis which is forcing me to read more creolisation theory than my non-postcolonial-fondling soul is strictly happy with, sigh, although on the upside it's on Nalo Hopkinson, who is a groovy sf writer. With the other hand I am wrangling orientation leaders, curriculum advisors and random queries from my boss, as I'm apparently constitutionally incapable of going on leave without reading email, and am forced to ritually curse the terminal conscientiousness of my Lawful Good. With my proverbial third hand I am attempting to mend, alter and generally refurbish my wardrobe, and with a fourth hand I am playing Portal, which I had unaccountably neglected to play before despite being absurdly familiar with it via pop cultural osmosis. Dashed through the first one in short order, am nearly finished Portal 2 with enough puzzle-solving panache to have minimal resort to walk-throughs. Both games are elegant, intelligent, darkly funny creations, deservedly classics. I love the goo bits, so creative.

In between all of the above I am lovingly prodding my container garden, which is performing GREEN! with some verve despite water restrictions and the need to amble around with a watering can rather than sloshing about with a hose.

garden1.jpg

My subject line is a quote from Portal, early GLaDOS, before she gets passive aggressive. She gets quite spectacularly passive aggressive. So far 2017 is off to a reasonable start, but I darkly suspect it's also going to get passive aggressive, and possibly actively homicidal.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I was right about the "too quiet" thing, an attempt to be on campus on Wednesday inevitably ended up with protesters setting off fire alarms, and we all scurried home quickly before they could attempt to pointedly escort us out of the buildings, which has been the technique thus far. The Dean finally decreed that everyone should remain off campus for the rest of the week. We are at a deeply unpleasant pivot point where the university leadership is insisting that lectures must start on Monday come what may, which means increased security, which means confrontation and escalation and violence, and more damage and trauma all round.

The whole thing still hinges on the demand for amnesty by protesters who were interdicted or expelled or prosecuted for criminal damage. The students remain immovable about this as a condition of allowing the university to continue; the VC insists that there can be no compromise. (Apparently he's under pressure from a particularly punitive faction in Council). I have changed my mind about this, in contemplation of the inevitabilities playing out, and in wincing, braced anticipation of things going horribly downhill on Monday. At this stage, amnesty is going to be the least damaging of a range of dreadful options. The best suggestion I've heard thus far, after a surprisingly civilised and productive faculty meeting this morning, is that the university issues amnesties while requiring an address to criminal activities, and some resolution in terms of justice/reparation, as part of an independently-run TRC.

And if nothing else, it might work to repair trust to some small extent: we cannot function with a student body with a large number of perfectly legitimate grievances feeling utterly unheard by an implacable admin. It's horrible to realise how much damage has already been done - not just to our credibility and donor funding and academic project, but to the institutional psyche. Students are angry and afraid and anxious about all the confrontation on top of the already high levels of inherent angst in being a black student on a campus whose culture is opaque and elitist and alienating. Staff are devastated and betrayed by the assaults on their competence which student dissatisfactions inevitably represent, and are increasingly angry about all these demands that we "consult" with our students while management goes ahead and makes unilateral decisions regardless of the outcome of consultations.

I am not designed for this. I have a pathological need to see all sides of an argument, and far too much empathy with all of them. I am tending to keep fairly quiet in the faculty context in a desperate attempt at self-defense, while I silently build walls to stop myself from disintegrating. Because that's what it feels like. A lot of my Useful Stuff Learned In Therapy suggests that giving people what they want is one of the ways I validate my own existence. No-one can get what they want in all this. I can't help, despite the fact that my job requires I integrally help both students and the faculty. I therefore may not actually exist.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is currently my favourite random image in the stream which flows incessantly and sometimes repetitively over Tumblr:



Damn, it has anxiety. In particular, it has anxiety if it's a student whose exams have just been summarily relocated by two weeks. You would not believe the degree of chaos incurred for the workings of plane tickets, travel arrangements generally, accommodation, planned holidays, planned vac work, parental travel plans for graduation, and interesting new religious conflicts. (Diwali). The conceptual high-water-anxiety-mark on the walls of my office is higher than it's ever been. I have spent the bulk of the last two weeks soothing students, often through the medium of cut-and-paste, because there's a limit to my ability to be originally soothing twenty times in a row.

However, the protests seem to be (touch wood) over: the students, bless them, have pretty much swept the board with achieving their goals (0% fee increase for next year; university commitment to insourcing; lifting of interdicts and dropping of charges against protesters; a ban on police on campus). How the hell we're going to finance all of the above is another story entirely, the government is going to be a broken reed in this department, I can tell you right now. But I'm back in my office, at least, and none of my plants died, and the level of office-renovatory chaos is at least no greater than it was before the involuntary two-week freeze, and we have dates for rescheduled exams so I can start allaying anxieties in a slightly more concrete fashion.

These student protests were, I think, necessary, and certainly powerful, and in the long run have a chance to materially improve the lot of our most disadvantaged and financially precarious students. There's a cost, though. And while a middle-class student is likely to be able to absorb a R4000 airline ticket reschedule, or pay for accommodation for an extra two weeks or to write a supp, our poorest students won't be able to. If we have to fling sacrifices into the maw of the political volcano god, it seems particularly cruel to have selected for these ones.

(My subject line is still "Teach your children well", incidentally. Because it's still relevant).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today has been characterised by a trickle of emails from students panicking (fairly understandably, I must say) about whether or not exams will run, and what happens if they're delayed. (The VC has just postponed all next week's ones, which will cause interesting degrees of chaos). Campus is still closed and will be tomorrow while protesters lobby Parliament and dodge police brutality, and I predict I'll spend a lot of time for the rest of the week sending soothing responses along the lines of "we know, we're sorry, we're trying to formulate a strategy which won't torpedo your academics." The theme is still anxiety about their studies, just in the microcosm rather than the political macrocosm.

A week at home has, if considered entirely separately from the very real and desperate circumstances of the protests, been lovely. My cats are graciously pleased that I have arranged for once to give them the sustained companionship that is their due, and are signifying their approval by trying to lie all over my papers and wrists and the keyboard while I'm trying to work. While looking deceptively innocent and adorable, viz:

Photo0213

That curled-paw pose is absolutely my favourite one ever. The black speck on his nose is a tiny bald spot which is a legacy of one of his recent fights.

Work itself has also been pleasantly mitigated by the fact that I can wander around the back courtyard during tea-breaks and water, prod, prune and otherwise appreciate all that burgeoning spring life. Because my back courtyard has a statement to make right now, which is "Green!" Or possibly "GREEN!!" Namely:

Photo0220 Photo0215

The small maddened forest to the left of the first picture is three tomato plants, which have confounded my expectations by reaching skyward with jungloid fervour despite the fact that plants put in exactly the same place at exactly the same time last year on exactly the same regimen of soil and water went small and stunted and sickly, and died after producing about one and a half actual tomatoes each. One of the reasons I love gardening is because it has its own wayward vegetable mind and, charm you never so wisely, will thumb its nose and go its own way.

I also, in a spirit of enquiry, planted another batch of Jo's mad rocket seeds, which I swear she has irradiated or subjected to naked full moon dances at midnight. Or else they're actually triffids. Because I planted these on Monday evening, and this was what they looked like this morning:

Photo0217

I went out there a few minutes ago, and I swear they're visibly bigger. The offical, nursery-packaged chive seeds I planted at the same time have yet to materialise.

My subject line is Crosby, Stills and Nash, more specifically "Teach your children well", which I learned to play at guitar club at school, and the attempt to reproduce which this morning led me to realise that I haven't tried to play my guitar in over a year, and its bottom E string has snapped. Phooey. But I'm officially nominating the song as the week's anthem, because dear lord, so much of what these poor kids are facing is simple inheritance.

trigger warning

Wednesday, 21 October 2015 11:57 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's possibly a little too apposite that my car music should have just cycled into Diamond Dogs, as I've been at home for three days owning to a closed campus - the students are protesting. They barricaded the campus on Monday, and did again with added flame on Tuesday, after by all accounts an uncomfortable night at the admin building in which attempted discussions with university management eventually broke down just before midnight with a bunch of arrests. I managed to leave the house before yesterday morning's emails warning us that campus was closed for a second day, so trundled up to a bizarre, deserted, post-apocalyptic landscape in which the few students wandering around looked confused and slightly hunted, and there was a very slight haze of burning tyre smoke over everything. Today we're also off campus, which is closed for students nationally to yell at the government, to which I say yay. The government needs yelling at.

I have found my own reactions to be strangely complicated. On the one hand this seems fairly standard - students will demonstrate, bless them, and we've had a good couple of decades of relative ideological apathy, so it's rather reassuring to see that the current generation is capable of this sort of generalised moral passion. I do wish the protesters wouldn't break things, but I know how mobs work, particularly when passions are high and when there's a whole entrenched history of disadvantage vs privilege embodied in the buildings of our campus. And their thesis - that fees are too high - is absolutely valid. Our fees are too damned high - in my job I see a continual succession of these poor kids in the direst financial straits, struggling to make it work under the double whammy of high fees and under-preparation by Matric. Our fees should bloody well be protested. And while it's a lot more complicated than the students would like to believe (if we cut fees as demanded we'd go under, as far as I can tell, and the institution, far from screwing the working poor with a jaunty laugh, does put a buttload of money into financial aid), with any luck the nationwide nature of the protests will be enough to force the government to at least divert some of their corruption earmarks into our severely under-subsidised tertiary education.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the trigger effect of all this. I started university in South Africa in 1988, still under the apartheid government. While I was possibly the world's most unpoliticised and oblivious undergrad, and experienced only the trailing tail-end of the student protests, there were still marches on campus in my first couple of years, and protesters tangling with the police water-cannon on Adderley Street (the purple shall govern! Ye gods, I was only hazily aware of the whole Purple Rain protest at the time, and a quick google reveals that I had remembered the details perfectly accurately. It clearly made an impression.) The police cars all over campus yesterday and Monday, and the burning barricades, and the footage with flash-bangs and loud-hailers outside the admin block on Tuesday night, even the raised fists and shouting, catapulted me nastily and viscerally back into that far more tense and horrible time. Let's just say that students vs. government has some unpleasant historical precedents in this country, shall we?

So protesters are hard-coded as "legitimate" to me in a way which actually transcends the validity of their current point of protest. It engenders a cold, sinking feeling to have our current government by implication put into the same frame of reference as the bad old apartheid one. (I had an identically emotional response to the police casspirs in District 9). And if nothing else, my Cherished Institution has handled the whole thing with conspicuous tone-deafness, to haul in the police so early on in the process, to descend immediately into "this is illegal" in a way which instantly overwrote "let us discuss the valid point you have here", and to re-create with such fidelity the traditional battle lines of police and stun guns and armoured vehicles as the threatening backdrop to student protest. It's perfectly obvious to the most untrained eye that that was never going to go down well.

In all sorts of weird ways South African apartheid was never my battle, but in all sorts of weird ways it is, not just because I was there for its fall and live here now - because these are my students, and the effects of apartheid are still playing out in their lives, and one upshot of my job is that I feel protective and worried about them, and very invested in their happiness and success. Some of them have crossed lines they shouldn't have in these protests, and are going to face potentially life-ruining consequences. We have had lectures disrupted, and exams might still be affected, and I know that I'm going to be dealing with emotional and physical fallout from these protests as students wander through my office attempting to unravel the ramifications for their studies. And I can only hope that it's all worth it, that it works, that our thrice-damned government will remember its roots enough to respond appropriately.

And because that's all too damned serious, I shall end with entirely another sense of emotional trigger that is equally about history and investment and struggle and moral polarities: the new Star Wars trailer made me cry.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I cling to my research pursuits by the skin of my teeth these days, cramming it into odd corners and for the large part watching with helpless regret as mental and physical fatigue torpedo what little footholds I can carve out. One of the upshots is that these days I go into the university library about twice a year, if that - not because I'm not researching at all, I am, but by and large research these days is done virtually rather than with hard-copy books, and such hard-copy books as are essential to my research interests are somewhat fringe and I tend to simply buy copies for myself. (Memo to self: Kindle. Because exploding bookshelves.) However, I am overdue by two months for 2000 words on the importance of Vladimir Propp to fairy tale criticism (because why pick a reasonably-sized topic, a sense of proportion is for the weak) and my copy of Morphology of the Folktale has vanished completely enough that I'm beginning to wonder if I hallucinated actually owning it, so on Friday I Braved The Library.

I should not, as a literature academic, be alienated by an academic library. Being alienated by a library is an alienating experience on a whole level above the library itself being alienating. They radically redesigned the space a couple of years ago, and moved things around, and ever since then I walk in and am immediately lost. It's a very beautifully appointed and glitzy space, and has added several zeroes onto the number of student study seats, but I realised today what the root of the change is: it's now a student-focused space, not an academic-focused space. I get lost because all the signposting is about where and how students can study, and which areas are for undergrads, and how you may use your cellphone. There are no guides at all to where you might find the actual books. The previous library layout gave clear, unequivocal maps by Dewey number, and the lack of those leaves me free-floating and slightly panicky, because on walking in, you can't actually see any books at all other than the few shelves of reference volumes in the front. I was rescued by a kindly library colleague (it's useful knowing all these people from university committees), and she commented that the head librarian is contemplating getting rid of large numbers of the books, based on what people are actually reading.

I don't want to sound like a Jurassic reactionary about this - this is the way things are going, information is increasingly virtual, and the shift to a focus on the student experience is an important and necessary address to the exclusionary elitism of academia's more traditional forms. And if I was a more consistent Academic, in the sense of using these facilities for more than about 5% of my job description, I would have got the alienation over in a few weeks and simply adapted to the new status quo, rather than spreading it out torturously over several years. But I mourn the old library, and the physicality of the experience when your wanderings among the shelves were done in the consciousness of the accreted weight of all those books. I used to read for fun in undergrad, mostly as a substitute for an actual social life: I remember randomly picking up fiction just because the name seemed significant, William Morris and Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf and John Fowles and the weirder corners of Tolkien. I'm not sure I could still do that in the new space, or if the books would be there for me to stumble upon. It's all too goal-oriented now.

And I really, really mourn my lost sense of mastery of the space. I struggle with academic identity at the best of times; to be at sea in the quintessential academic space, to be unable to locate the texts which are central to my research identity, was actively eroding to a particular facet of my sense of self. It wasn't pleasant.

I have my dark suspicions as to whether or not the new library even generates L-space. I don't think .303 bookworms exist virtually, or if they do, we're all completely screwed. It's worrying, is all. My worry is indexed by the fact that my subject line is Doctor Who, more specifically "The Silence in the Library." Because of course it is.

subtly hairy

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 01:51 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My lovely hairdresser would tear his own hair out regularly at the things I do to mine (have it cut approximately annually, refuse to blow-dry it, hack my own fringe short), except he's usefully and artfully bald (and highly polished) already. Occasionally I wander into the salon having neglected it for longer than usual and he runs his fingers through it despairingly and announces "That's not a haircut. That's just hair." There is, actually, a huge advantage to the "just hair" stage of coiffure. There are those odd days, usually produced by insomnia, during which I trundle somnambulistically into work and, somewhere around mid-morning, glance at myself in the mirror and have a moment's blank inability to remember if I actually brushed my hair before leaving the house. Fortunately, with "just hair", it's quite difficult to tell if that's the case or not, and I figure that if I can't tell the difference, probably no-one else can either. I clearly did want to be an eccentric and absent-minded professor when I grew up.

Presumably being an absent-minded professor would to some extent insulate me from the kind of phone call I've just had to endure, from a parent equally distressed and infuriated by her attempts to re-insert her son into the institution following academic exclusion. I understand her distress, this sort of thing is equally hard on kids and parents. But during the course of the conversation she did the following:
  • Chewed me out because no-one else is answering their phone;
  • Claimed that the online guidelines to readmission, carefully written by myself, didn't cover the information she needs (they really do);
  • Accused me of gross insensitivity two sentences after commending the sensitivity of my language;
  • Accused the institution of elitism because we require some evidence of improved circumstances before we re-admit excluded students;
  • Accused the institution of elitism because we enforce the government-set restrictions on maximum number of years of study permitted without graduation;
  • Did all of the above in tones of sweet, icy, implacable restraint which did their damnedest to present what was actually a self-indulgent vent at a hapless and largely uninvolved target as an exercise in dulcet and righteous reason.


I am extremely proud of the fact that I didn't lose my temper for an instant, remaining determinedly courteous and rational while she escalated the ice-salvos. Years of therapy are definitely worth something. But calls such as these leave me shaking and with my stomach in knots for hours, and are undoubtedly highly implicated in the increasing acreage of grey which characterises my not-a-hairstyle. I bring it on myself, of course, by being conscientious about answering my phone, in sharp contradistinction to many other corners of this institution. Fortunately the spanky new VOIP phone system has caller ID, and her name is emblazoned on my brain in letters of acidic ice. I see her name again, I'm going to let it ring. This resolution will be materially assisted by the fact that I'm going to be out of the office for a couple of days having the cobwebs surgically removed from various neglected reproductive portions of my anatomy. She may phone in vain with my blessing.

My subject line is the Very Secret Diary of Aragorn Son of Arathorn, who is the patron saint of bloggers. I seem to be blogging again. Go me!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Completely bizarre faculty board meeting yesterday, in which a senior professor attempted to railroad an item through the agenda proposing that the faculty remove all meat products from all its official functions, on the grounds of cruelty to animals. I cannot get my head around how he could possibly think that an article of personal/moral belief was at all appropriate to the faculty's official academic forum. As far as I'm concerned, it's the approximate equivalent of standing up in a faculty meeting and insisting that everyone embrace Jesus because it's the right thing to do. I am more than somewhat miffed that (a) he should force me to become a captive audience to his personal crusade, and (b) that he should demand consideration of something that affects the personal freedom of everyone in the faculty via a forum in which I have no vote. Dirty pool. And egregious grandstanding, to boot: he can have had no hope whatsoever that his horrible little proposal would have been accepted by faculty. He was making a point, possibly against the current dean with whom he butts heads regularly, but he was so out of line as to be in the next army entirely. (Kudos to our dean, though, for standing his ground with remarkable good humour in the face of rampant idiocy).

I admit, I spent most of the half-hour argument (the entirely faculty, who tend to the vociferously opinionated, leaped on board with vigour) alternately cringing in my seat and suppressing a desperate desire to stand up and suggest that the proposer was occupying exactly the same conceptual position as that horrible little court official in America who's just been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences on the grounds of gay marriage being Wrong. But unfortunately I have to work with the man, and he's already obstructive enough.

At any rate, there was enough tension in the room that it put the whammy seriously on my tension-sensitive frondy antennae, and I spent a horrible insomniac night with my stomach in knots, unable to get to sleep until something around the order of 2.30am. Then Hobbit, bless his little white socks, chose 5.30am to start a half-hour of thumping and mad dashes through the house, which I'd somnambulistically attributed to sheer joie de vivre until the sudden, terminal, agonised squeaking made me realise he was actually dispatching, somewhat lingeringly, a large rat. (He left the corpse on the floor next to my bed, neatly laid out at an exact right angle in precisely the spot where my bare feet touch the floor as I stagger into the upright position. I am equally touched and horrified by the tribute). I was just drifting back to sleep after that when Pandora, as is her occasional wont, decided that 6.30am was the perfect time for the exercise in purring, kneading and climbing on top of me repeatedly which she is occasionally prone to. Sleep, apparently, is for the weak.

As I was leaving for work the feline tribe had cornered a second rat under the passage curtain, and were sitting around said curtain in attitudes of homicidal alertness. I was running too damned late (see 3.5 hours of sleep, above) to institute a search-and-rescue mission, and besides, I don't get too protective of rats. Two in one night suggests a plague ship may have docked nearby. If the cats wish to leap protectively into the breach, who am I to judge? Particularly given my slightly up-in-arms state of bristle at the mere concept of denying them the right to their carnivore natures. Because the Cosmic Wossnames have their own weird sense of humour, and arrange events in amusing thematic juxtapositions just because they can.

I am going to opera tonight - Merry Widow, Africanised production, should be fun and interesting and good for my sleep-deprived soul. My subject line is not Lehar. My subject line is, of course, Flanders and Swann.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I think I'm getting better at this, possibly because therapy. The student can tell me about her depression and anxiety as a result of her mother committing suicide at the end of last year, and I can be sympathetic and practical and hold off dissolving into tears about it until the poor child has actually left my office. The other student earlier this morning was about her brain-damaged mother and death of two brothers, and I also managed to not actually cry even though she was. Empathy makes me, in general, pretty good at this job, but it's a bugger.

There was a Teaching & Learning conference on campus yesterday, around which I wandered for most of the day, attending sessions which looked randomly interesting. It was all a bit surreal as I had approximately 3 hours of sleep on Sunday night, owing to (a) the inexplicable and unprovoked insomnia which prevented me from actually being able to get to sleep until 2am, and (b) the cat incursions at 5am which woke me rudely up from an already slightly fitful slumber. (Wake up to characteristic "thump thump thump ... THUMP" which means the drug hedgehog is being tossed around and killed inventively, with acrobatics. Listen for several minutes, thinking, damn, Hobbit, must you truly discover your inner kitten in the middle of the bloody night? Gradually realise that, in fact, Hobbit is sprawled along my shin, and has been since I woke up, which means the bloody neighbourhood tom has broken into the house in order to play with Hobbit's toys, which is frankly just rude. Particularly since he clearly ran off with it when I erupted out of bed to chase him away, I found the wretched thing in the back courtyard this morning and was impressed, despite myself, by the fact that he somehow managed to elevate himself through the bathroom window with the toy in his mouth without dropping it. I shall have to lock up the toys as well as the food when I go to bed).

At any rate, being sozzled on sleep deprivation is not a bad way to enjoy a conference of this nature, the subject doesn't call for dense theory so I could follow the good presentations and it was pleasingly easy to switch off for the bad ones. (I took my Ipad along, and whiled away the bad presentations reading porn. Fanfic is dashed useful as it looks like bland text on the page if anyone sneaks up behind you and looks over your shoulder.) I think the lack of mental energy was also good for subduing the angst levels, which tend to elevate somewhat in the presence of all these amazing, engaged, reflective teachers who are paid to do it properly and have time to theorise it instead of having to tack small remnants onto the back end of the admin job. Sigh.

My car music system has finished up the Belle & Sebastian and is merrily engaged with Crowded House, who have the inevitable side effect of making me sing along to about two-thirds of the tracks. Also, to regress mentally to my Masters years, when I shared the digs with Michelle and Dylan and the former addicted me to Crowdies. Still a slut for catchy. Also, music is absolutely and inescapably about memory and association. As stv would say, context!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
parades end landscape

So, Parade's End! In utter defiance of my usual desperate fidelity to nothing but the fluffiest of genre tv, I am suddenly and inexplicably hooked on quality BBC renditions of period Modernist novels, with extra side helpings of war, tragedy and emotional distress. I dunno. Apparently I actually have the mental energy, which is probably not unrelated to my recent post on being (weird, go figure) un-depressed and even happy. Which, I am happy to say, is still the case.

My sudden interest in Parade's End is not just fangirling, although the link is Benedict Cumberbatch and I ended up watching it via the fan process - my Tumblr feed is still all about Sherlock, and if fan activity does anything, it introduces you not just to the investment of articulate fans in the central text, but in all the other texts they love, too. There's apparently only so much exposure to beautiful English countryside and Edwardian costume in lovingly-captured Tumblr gifs I can take before I have to damned well see the series.

And wow, is it beautiful. The production has a sort of glow about it, it's exquisitely conceived and shot, with an almost heightened reality to the period detail. That gives, I think, a slight sense of detachment from all of the mental cruelty and horrors of war with which the story is concerned - they are tragic and horrifying without actually being visceral, which is possibly also why I'm managing to enjoy it. But the visual spectacle is really only a context for the characters, from whom one doesn't detach at all. Wow, I invest in these people. All so interestingly flawed, groping unavailingly towards abstract ideals, so utterly shaped and entrapped by their social contexts, structures, expectations, morals. Their own desires so suppressed. Vivid, real, sad people, caught in a terrible sort of inevitability - not just war, although that flings it all into relief, but the shape of their everyday lives. The series is amazing, but now I really want to read the book.

And, let me tell you, it's deeply weird to find myself suddenly impelled to read the book, because my loathing for the Modernists is a pure and burning thing, and Ford Madox Ford is a maddened Modernist with all the bells and whistles. They've always struck me as arrogant sods with this whole thing of My Consciousness, Let Me Show You It. Generally, as a self-respecting genre theorist I have no damned interest at all in someone's naked consciousness, unfiltered by respectable genre functions or narrative conventions. A lot of this distaste is irrational and probably exists because I was badly savaged, in my impressionable undergrad, by a rampaging James Joyce - I never even tried Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist did for me all on its own in first-year English. At the time my high levels of nascent feminism and innate girly swot caused me independently to make valiant but unavailing attempts to read Virginia Woolf on the grounds that the Girl version of Modernism may be more palatable than the Boy, but oh lord. (Except Orlando. I love Orlando, it's a romp, albeit an angry romp, and it appeals to those bits of me that are into androgyny and shifted gender boundaries, which I am coming to the conclusion are rather a lot more of me than I'd realised).

But a sneaking sympathy has clearly crept up on me, because the Modernist framing of Ford's writing obviously influences the way the series is made, and I utterly adore the way the series is made. Apart from its deeply internal positioning and fascination with psychology, it's all allusion and implication, fragmented narrative, half-told stories, time-jumps, unexplained free associations - it makes you work, it doesn't explain, you have to construct it as you watch. I'm currently re-watching because I feel that I missed so much the first time round, and it's an immeasurably rich pleasure on a second viewing, when you can feel the operation of each instant in the arc of the whole. This is intelligent television based on an intelligent book, and thus, by gum, I'll prove myself intelligent by surviving Ford Madox Ford, or perish in the attempt.

I should also possibly record for posterity that, apart from an uncharacteristic inclination to give Modernism a second chance, watching Parade's End’s upper class Edwardianism, in which people perfectly unironically say things like “Ripping!” and “old boy”, has had the weird and possibly inevitable side-effect of mutating my already slightly indefinably pseudo-British accent inexorably towards ever more cut-glass Full English enunciation. (Like a Full English breakfast, only less hardening to the arteries). Especially, for some reason, when giving curriculum advice. I can't work out if the bell-like clarity is desirable or pretentious as hell, but given that my next Cunning Plan is to break out the BBC Bleak House I haven't got around to watching yet, the linguistic shenanigans are almost certainly going to amplify rather than receding. But it's my favourite Dickens, and Gillian Anderson doing Lady Deadlock is an act of inspired and genius casting such as the world has never seen, and apparently I now have the mental fortitude, so my immediate environment can just deal with the Britishness. So there.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Ah, the start of term. When lovesome students return in their droves from their dubious personal lives, bringing with them the collected germs of the earth's twelve quarters. Germs! exotic and teeming and ready to leap onto the unsuspecting and hapless forms of those of us luckless staff who are breathed on routinely by students and do not, in fact, possess any immunities to these exciting foreign strains. Half the faculty office is down with 'flu or whatever, including me, who was forced by a particular sod of a virus to lay extremely low all weekend, cancelling at short notice a theatre booking and two dinner dates. My hapless form is, alas, particularly hapless and is beset by various chronic complaints who lay low, like a rake in the grass, waiting to whump me upside the head with fatigue and/or glandular wossnames the second my guard is down. I have spent the last three and a half days pale, spaced, dizzy, nauseous and vaguely resenting the complete bastard who crept in sometime on Friday night and stuffed my throat and the bits under my chin with red-hot prickly burrs. Because, ow. I am back at work today, still pale and ick and very grumpy, but functional for most practical purposes, if they're slow practical purposes and not too demanding. The first student who gives me shit, I'm going to burst into tears and go home.

My state of mind has also been materially improved by the lovely email from the editor of the book to which I contributed 6000 reluctant and angst-filled words on African fairy-tale film. Despite the damned thing arriving in her inbox two months late and permeated with simulation, imposter syndrome and self-doubt, she has responded enthusiastically and with words like "excellent" and "wonderful" and "fascinating", which is particularly good for my lurgified self-esteem. She has also supplied a meticulous edit of the whole thing, with particular attention to eradicating the bits of my deathless prose most given to circumlocution and hesitation, and has materially improved the whole by about three thousand percent. Seriously, this part-time academia thing is very eroding to the linguistic wossnames: reading her edits, I cringe at my own tendency to over-elaboration and waffle. It's worst in the first couple of pages; after that, I settle into something that's mostly more sure and streamlined. I need to write more, clearly. And I need to write more clearly. Memo to self, kick the three and a half papers currently orbiting my brain in conceptual form OUT, and get them onto paper, and then beat them until they're acceptable and send them out into the world. I need the validation, and the practice.

It was a lovely feeling, though, lugging nine tomes on African film and oral literature back up to the library this morning and joyously dumping them. I felt, for once, like a Legit African Critic with the correct street cred, but it was lovely to get the hell rid of the pile.

My subject line is today's XKCD, which I loved, and which I have joyously bastardised. XKCD's apparently on a roll at the moment.

this means war

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 09:23 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the more entertaining side effects of my liminal academic existence and strange research interests is that I'm becoming the go-to person for The Media when they approach my Cherished Institution for commentary on the more outré corners of culture: Lewis Carroll, or fairy tale, or Terry Pratchett, or vampires, or, apparently, fan fiction. Yesterday I found myself giving, at extremely short notice, a ten-minute interview with Cape Talk Radio, because two of the show's staff suggested to the host that he talk about fanfic, and he said "What's fanfic?" and proceeded to find out. I rather enjoy being given an opportunity to babble enthusiastically about my interests, and he asked good questions, and this morning there are three emails in my inbox from previous students going "gosh, fanfic, loved your lectures, nice to hear you babbling". (Not in so many words. Students are generally more polite, possibly because they're afraid I'll bite if they're not.) Also, apparently there's a podcast.. (I'm a bit sorry I didn't get into the gender stuff. Fanfic as a female response to the male domination of media narratives is my current personal hobby-horse).

But it's also amusing to note the attempts by said media forces to box and label my weird place in this faculty, leading to me being variously and erroneously identified over the last few years, despite my best efforts, as "the Head of the English Department", "the Dean of Literature", and, yesterday, "Lecturer of Fan Fiction", which sounds like far more of an official position than it actually is. While I lecture volubly and enthusiastically on fan fiction, this faculty would scream, shudder and faint in coils at the mere thought of a precious official position devoted to fanfic. But it's a nice illusion, for ten minutes.

Of course, this also means I was nicely primed for today's XKCD, which is enough on the nail that my colleague in the office next door has just wandered in, slightly worried, to find out the source of the mad cackles of laughter proceeding from my location.



This is such a beautifully layered joke, not just because it relies partially on our knowledge of the personal proclivities of black-hat guy in the strip. "Headcanon", for the uninitiated, is a fanfic term used to describe the personal, internal micro-narratives you have which round out a media character in some way not actually defined by the text, or not necessarily defined in a particular fanfic you might write - it's almost an unspoken assumption, and as a result of being unexamined, is often deeply personally felt. (In my Avengers headcanon they're totally all living in Stark Tower, and having sitcom interactions around movie nights and who's cooking and why Hawkeye is perched on things again. I tend to have a momentary snarl at each new Marvel movie because it doesn't actually embody that. Maybe Age of Ultron will, the preliminary stills are promising.)

The thing about fanfic communities, of course, is that they're intense and passionate, because they're built around intense and passionate feelings about texts. This means that they are prone to outbreaks of conflict which too often degenerate into mud-slinging and hissy-fit and demagoguery, known colloquially and collectively as "fandom wank". I am currently a little stunned by the divisions in Sherlock fandom around what is known as The Johnlock Conspiracy, which is the fervent belief that Moffat and Gattis always intended Sherlock as gay, John as bi, and a romantic relationship between them as the endgame of the series. The personal headcanon of "it's romantic/sexual" versus the personal headcanon of "it's not and the bastard showrunners are all about the queer-baiting" is, indeed, about heavy artillery and the need to obliterate the opposition, because the opposition's mere difference is intensely threatening to the inside of your own head. I shall be extremely surprised if this strip is not all over my Tumblr feed this morning, because, yup. That's exactly it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My Cherished Institution has just sent me a 10-year long service certificate, and I'm trying to work out why opening the envelope made me (a) laugh slightly hysterically, and (b) feel sick. It's a weird thing to receive on many levels, not the least because I can't work out how they're dating it. I've been in this job for six and a half years. Before that I had a temporary half-post in the English department for two years, and before that two years of post-doc during which I also taught. If they're going to count the part-time teaching, then in fact a 10-year service certificate is a bloody insult, I've been teaching for this university since 1992.

The bitter laughter/nausea reaction is entirely appropriate: the "service certificate" thing really both marks and completes the kind of erasure that academia habitually performs on the grad student teachers who actually perform the heavy lifting in the university's educational enterprise. This is another dose of Academic Ghost, isn't it? I apparently only started to exist officially on 1 July 2004, a completely arbitrary date which marks nothing significant in my actual life. Anything I achieved before then, the years of teaching and supervision and general academic dogsbodying, are a sort of hallucination. They aren't Real. The institution magnificently ignored them as I pootled about under the institutional table, incidentally propping it up while hoovering up crumbs.

This particularly abstract little face-slap does, in fact, come with an actual, physical bonus of a thousand rand, which is not unwelcome given that I'm busy furnishing a house and my credit card is starting to wilt slightly. (My bank has just upgraded it, in fact, suggesting that it's becoming somewhat athletically fit from regular exercise). But I can't say I'm consoled.

My subject line quotes Belle & Sebastian, whose sad and cynical little ditty "Take your carriage clock and shove it" is beautifully apposite.

postcolonic

Friday, 13 June 2014 08:46 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Right, well, thank fuck that's done. I emerge from two weeks with my head down on this bloody paper, having just sent 6000-odd words off to my nice ex-supervisor so that she can confirm my argument isn't actually on crack. I am buggered. I've been putting words onto the damned screen for up to six hours a day for two weeks from the midst of a 15-volume pile of critical tomes, while simultaneously writhing with distaste and hating the universe in general and everything in it in particular, with special reference to African film and all its works. It's been very slow and torturous, and I'm still not convinced I'm safe from being ceremonially lynched by a mob of petulant postcolonialists, but the worst is over. Even if there are giant flaws in my argument I'm now editing rather than writing, and it's the writing which is like drawing blood at the moment. In the unsexy non-vampire way.

I suffer from existential crises when doing this sort of thing. I start disbelieving in my own academic existence, and it makes the writing process really rather hard. At least if there are words on the screen for me to work with I have some evidence in favour of my status as tangible and instrumental. Really, a lot of my life is spent as a sort of a wistful academic ghost.

The particular bugger about this bloody paper has been that I've felt impelled to write it to the exclusion of almost everything else. This means that I have not done interesting things to my nice house (newsflash: I still love living on my own even when I hate the universe because academia), or adequately paid attention to my cat, or done any socialising, really, that hasn't entailed jo&stv battering down my door and either plying me with food or dragging me out. Which means there was really rather enjoyable tango at the Crypt on Tuesday, but otherwise not a lot. It's not that I hate everyone, I promise.

I am also on leave for the next ten days, three of which will include an entirely self-indulgent jaunt to Barholomeus Klip, that luxury farmhouse guest lodge thing with the amazing and practically continuous food. I can't really afford this, I'm pre-emptively spending a chunk of my November bonus, but I decline to feel remorse or guilt. Stuff it. I've earned it. Not to mention the fact that it's the end of the first semester and I'm more than somewhat dead on my feet.

So, how is everyone? Are any other Capetonians cordially freezing to death at the moment, or is it just me? It's been icy, down in the 6-degree range, with snow on them thar hills. The air has teeth.  I have unearthed my Giant Coat of Sweepingness and have been sashaying up to campus every morning imagining I'm Sherlock. It adds a certain useful layer of impatient disdain to the interactions with students. I hope you are all well, and warmer than I.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am in the sweary stage of paper writing. It's fighting me; I'm wrestling it, it's largely winning. I hate it, and myself, and my writing, and African fairy-tale film, about equally. I am horribly bored by the need to finish the damned thing (it's now nearly a week after deadline) and the fact that I can't permit myself much in the way of socialising or happy domestic fuffling until it's bloody well done. Alarmingly enough, this is all familiar and status quo: never underestimate the extent to which the relationship academics have with academia is basically abusive. I'll finish it. This too will pass. Until then, swearing, and loathing, and hedgehoggy hermitting. But especially the swearing.

I did, however, track down the volume on African folklore which I'd randomly packed at the bottom of a whole box of Pratchett and Moorcock. This has led me, as a knock-on effect, to throw out more books, as I had to unpack and repack a bunch of them. I'm still obscurely enjoying the catharsis of the clear-out.

Photo0056 Photo0046

There should be an almost complete Elric in the Moorcock, and a couple of other series as well - Corum, and Dorian Hawkmoon? I have kept the Jerry Cornelius ones, because postmodernism, and the Dancers at the End of Time ones, because I don't do hallucinogenic drugs and a girl has to have some substitutes. I am forced to admit that I've pretty much outgrown Elric, I haven't read them since undergrad. The John C. Wright are buying it because the frothing homophobia of the writer's online presence is having the Orson Effect, namely an inability to read his fiction without a sort of Pavlovian response of annoyance and distaste. Also, he's a sexist sod, frankly; I really like some of what the Orphans series does, but its ideological irritations are now outweighing its enjoyments. Never trust a writer who feels impelled to spank almost all of his women.  I have retained only the remnants of my Heinlein collection which are (a) genre classics and (b) I am able to read without actually throwing the book across the room, which in the event turns out not to be many of them. I've turfed out the young adult stuff, because frankly there's better y.a. sf out there, but they're actually fun and comparatively inoffensive - Pam, you might like them for the young'uns? The Michael Scott Rohan are swashbucklery fun, but I've kept Scott Lynch for that.

If anyone wants to appropriate any of these, please let me know! So far only the Kay and the Aldiss have been bagsed from the previous group.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I let Hobbit out of the house over the weekend, after a full week of being incarcerated in what, according to his reaction, was a medieval torture chamber with frills on. Of course, I had started trying to encourage him to go outside a couple of days earlier, to which he returned, in the immortal words of Bertie Wooster, a polite nolle prosequi: apparently a week indoors had inculcated in him the fixed belief that the rest of the universe had ceased to exist, and he was somewhat alarmed at the revelation to the contrary. He certainly retired under the dining room table, alarmed, every time I opened the courtyard door. However, he has apparently come to terms with the continued existence of the world at large, and once I opened the bathroom window stopped badgering me all night, which means I've had a blissful few days of actually sleeping through the night. Honestly, it's like having babies.

It also took, though, approximately an hour and a half before the neighbourhood's Feline Reception Committee arrived to look over the latest immigrant, and there has been a fairly civilised refrain of growling issuing from the back garden at intervals over the last few days. There's an excessively beautiful Siamese in the posse, and a black-and-white thing who comes over all suave but whom I darkly suspect is a thug. Today I arrived home to the following joyous scene:

Photo0050

That's clearly a game of Cat Chess. They sat like that, unmoving and possibly unblinking, for about ten minutes while I took multiple pictures and then pottered around the kitchen making tea. I suspect that they were engaged in a territorial and diplomatic discussion not unlike the Treaty of Versailles. Let's hope diplomacy is sufficient and it doesn't come to all-out war, I've just got used to sleeping through the night. But I have to say, Hobbit looks somewhat cornered. I don't think negotiations are going his way at all.

I am pretty much moved in now, except for the L-space explosion which represents my book collection: it's down to 11 unshelved boxes, but has temporarily halted there while I wrestle with this paper from behind the rampart of books on African folklore, books on African film, cups of tea and emergency chocolate supplies on my desk. Further unpacking of books may occur because I can't find my nice new Encyclopedia of African Folklore, which I really need to refer to. I could swear it was with the other tomes, but I must have stuck it into a box somewhere. One of the 11 boxes. Which I will now have to unpack and then repack. Aargh.

I am, book, paper and cat crises notwithstanding, finding myself extremely happy in this house.

The subject line is, of course, T. S. Eliot - more specifically, the slightly nasty racism of Growltiger.

antici ..... pation

Friday, 18 April 2014 09:46 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My fanfic habit is at the hyperaddicted stage where I'm subscribed to a whole bunch of uncompleted fics on AO3. This means, I discover, that I have evolved a particularly happy little "ooh!" of delighted discovery when another email notification pops up in my inbox to say another chapter has been uploaded. Almost a mini-yodel, really. Like a response to unsolicited chocolate, or kittens. With the particular flavour of unexpected joy which comes from the fact that, unlike most of our other common experiences of serial fiction (TV shows, mainly), fanfic comes with no guarantee of regular posting, so every new chapter is a slightly unexpected gift.

And I was thinking that my willingness to wait without guarantee of reward is about love, in the sense of how much I love these texts and am willing to commit to ongoing and erratically delayed gratification, but it's also about the love the writers have for their text, and their willingness to commit time to it on a strictly amateur basis. Unlike a TV series, they have no support structure or financial incentive which allows them to guarantee regularity. My "ooh!" of a fine morning's notification is gratitude for their time, as much as anything else.

I face with a tolerable equanimity the prospect of a four-day Easter weekend, even though within its generous grasp I absolutely have to do some serious work on this damned African fairy tale paper. I'm going to have to man up and confront postcolonialism, and postcolonialism gives me hives. On the other hand, I am deriving some slightly perverse satisfaction from the awareness that the meat and tenor of the paper are in no way going to be a dutiful survey of African fairy tale film, because (a) there ain't much, (b) I lack the time, resources or desire to dig through the arcane minutae of the home film production of a dozen countries which would be required to offer any genuine sort of survey of the not much there is, and (c) I think my approach is more interesting, anyway. Pertinent case studies, that's the ticket.

I am also deriving some small comfort from my Tumblr feed's latest offering of random surreality. I have no idea why this tickles me as much as it does, but it really does.

yo yo ma

The source is a delirious little Tumblog calling itself TL;DR Wikipedia, whose adjacent definition of the Sphinx I also recommend. In bizarrely related news, yesterday's internet eroticism lecture featured a spirited discussion of the concept of tl;dr and its relationship to internet eroticism. Of such things is my life made.

Happy Easter, y'all. In the secular sense of "long weekend". This week's outbreak of unctuous His People billboards featuring "MAN GIVES LIFE FOR OTHERS" as a news headline is making me grind my teeth.

Subject Line Gloss: I am quoting, of course, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, because I can.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Much-Ado-About-Nothing Branagh Much-Ado-About-Nothing Whedon

We have this rather erratically-implemented movie club thing, where we select two movies with a related theme and watch them back-to-back, with a break for food, traditionally something on rolls. (In this case, chicken prego, and a dashed good thing too). Finding thematic links between films is actually ridiculously easy, on account of (a) humans are pattern-recognising animals, but mostly (b) there is nothing new under the sun, particularly in Hollywood. This time my choice cannot be said to have stretched our comparative ingenuity to the utmost: we watched the Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing, mostly for nostalgia, kicks and to establish a baseline, followed by the recent Joss Whedon version of same. It was a deeply Shakespearian afternoon, and a fascinating juxtaposition which achieved in spades the kind of enriched viewing through comparison and emphasis which is the whole point of the exercise. (Although, note to self: I possibly need to invest in a hearty supply of toffees for our next movie club, I can't seem to stop myself from commenting out loud while we watch and it has to be maddening to my co-watchers. Gluing my jaws together probably beats an actual gag.)

I adore Shakespeare because of his language, which practically defines the category of "the good shit" for my dodgy getting-high-on-words proclivities. Much Ado is simultaneously one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, because of the hyper-linguistic relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, and one of my least favourite, because that flow of (slightly undergraduate, insult-based) wit isn't ever quite enough to mask the brutality and basic misogyny of the Hero plot. To a greater or lesser extent both the Branagh and the Whedon versions modernise the play, but there's no updating that beastly subtext of women as objects of exchange whose value is in the male perception of their virginity. For a comedy the play is surprisingly cynical about romantic love: Beatrice and Benedick's re-negotiation and rediscovery of each other is drastically undercut by the absolutely superficial nature of the Hero/Claudio relationship, which slides continually in the language of its representation into purely venal images of value and wealth. And that aborted wedding scene is simply brutal.

It feels more brutal in the Branagh version, I think perhaps because it's such an exuberant film and the contrast in tones is thus particularly cruel; Whedon's film is moodier, not just because of the black-and-white, but because of slightly darker undercurrents of unease and unhealth in the relationships, and less emphasis on the spark and snap of the language. If nothing else watching the two films together made me realise how utterly, beautifully trained British actors are - they inhabit and embody the words in a way that even brilliant American actors don't. American mumbling is probably more naturalistic, but I'll take enunciation any day. The tonal contrast is very strong in the different settings as well - the Branagh has that idyllic pastoral thing going and a strong sense of relaxed, exuberant peasantry as backdrop, whereas the Whedon is a tighter, smaller, rather restrained setting, more mannered and less earthy. Whedon's black-and-white format is effective, as is the weirdly unspecific periodicity - it often feels 50s in costume and manners, but there are cellphones and very modern cars. We decided in the end that the hints were towards a sort of Mafia setting, which is a nifty interpretation of the names (Don Pedro etc), but also one of the few modern Western milieus in which that nasty feudal-structure / violence / women-as-objects vibe is realistically present. Also, it has to be said - I covet Joss Whedon's house, which is where the whole thing was filmed. Beautiful spaces. Jealous.

It's very telling, to watch not just two different directors' interpretations back-to-back, but two different sets of actors in the roles. High points: both Beatrices are amazing, with enormous emotional strength which made both Benedicks feel weaker by comparison. On mature reflection I don't think that's entirely to do with the actors, though, Shakespeare's play simply constructs Benedick as a bit of a twit, a resonance which both versions pick up on with rather entertaining slapstick elements. (Although I have to say Amy Acker is also very good at these). I loved Clark Gregg's Leonato, but Whedon's film gives him comparatively less to do (although he was particularly great in the Hero denunciation scene). Nathan Fillion's very funny Dogberry was a far more restrained and nuanced interpretation than that egregiously horrible Michael Keaton one; the security guard schtick was fun, as was the presence of those two lads from Britanick (they do Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses and Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever), who appear to have a mutual fanboy thing going with Joss. Hero doesn't have much of a presence in the play, but Kate Beckinsale's version (wtf? Kate Beckinsale? Good grief, I'd completely forgotten this was her first big role) is far better acted than Jillian Morgese's, which was a complete non-event. Sean Maher's Don John is beautifully, slitheringly evil and makes you realise how utterly dismal poor Keanu was in that role, my peculiar fondness for the match between the character and the actor's tongue-tied physicality notwithstanding. (I also really enjoyed the gender-swapped Conrade).

I love both these movies, enough that my feminist spluttering at its nastier bits doesn't overcome my simple joy both at Shakespeare's language and wit, and at the directors' and actors' enjoyment of same. It was lovely to see all the old Whedonverse favourites trotting out their Shakespeare stuff, it gave the play an intimacy and immediacy which was very effective. But I came away from the watching experience mostly with a sort of nebulous wish for a time machine and a cohort of RADA trainers, to spirit Whedon's cast away for some forcible re-education in diction and emphasis for about a year before they actually filmed. Shakespeare's language is brilliant, but archaic and at times convoluted; you have to spit it, not swallow it, if you want to convey its nuance to a modern audience. Half the time I had to seriously concentrate on making sense of it, to an extent where I wondered sometimes if the actors themselves were making sense of it, and that's not a feeling the Branagh version ever gives you. I fear I'm still a pervy Brit-fondler at heart.

Subject line is obviously Much Ado, Leonato describing the Beatrice/Benedick relationship. Shame on you if you didn't recognise it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Hobbit has some dashed odd tastes, really. I mean, apart from his low predilection for plotting my death by occupying precisely the spot near my feet where I am least likely to see him and most likely to fall over him, he has recently evinced a tendency to consume, with every evidence of enthusiasm, (1) toothpaste (via drinking water out of my basin when I've just finished cleaning my teeth), and (b) lemongrass. There's a perfectly good catgrass bush planted in the herb garden, sporting that kind of spiky Einstein hairstyle which says the cats frequently graze it down, but Hobbit spurns it in favour of the lemongrass next door. I do not think he has Thai ancestry, and am concerned that the lemongrass leaves may slice his tongue, they're sharp.

I am, thank FSM, in the happy position of having just finished my marking obligations for the year, which means I face the prospect of a weekend absolutely uncolonised by other obligations except the usual research ones, which I have really rather a lot of experience in completely ignoring, but may toy with in a desultory fashion just because. It has also been something of a revelation to have a modicum of teaching and research attached to my actual job, which means I can sit in my office of an afternoon and merrily plot encyclopedia entries on Snow White films as an absolutely legit and integral part of my day. (This entry is only two months overdue, it's making me bizarrely reluctant, for some reason. I blame Kristen Stewart).

Hmmm, I should probably do my taxes. Is it odd that I really enjoy doing my taxes? Apart from the rather nicely designed and intuitive SA system, it tickles my Lawful Good.

Subject line, for no other reason than my MP3 player shuffled to it this morning in the car and made me happy, from "My Big Nurse" on the Brian Eno/David Byrne collaboration album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, which is a marvellous thing and you should have a listen. Also, apologies for the essentially random and inconsequential nature of this post. The moons of Saturn got in my eyes.

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