freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's Spring! While this does tend to invoke my winter-fondling, Scroogelike, homicidal misanthropy, now with added sneezing, I still can't help rejoicing in the mad sprouting of my container garden (freesias!) and the way that the plane trees down the avenue are all leaping into that pale, misty, hopeful green. It's the first warm day in a while, and I've just walked down to the post office in front of the first spring outbreak of Jammie 101, i.e. scads of students whiling away free periods (or bunking lectures) by sunning themselves on the Jameson Hall steps.

I have fond memories of those steps. They were the site, in my second year of undergrad, of large tracts of my new, shiny, springlike social life, which I found with the roleplaying crowd after a first year composed entirely of being a mouselike girly swot. The roleplaying crowd used to colonise the bottom right-hand pillar thingy at the side of the steps, and sit there in a little gaggle of Gothy black which on a good day was clearly visible if you looked up the hill from Main Road. Since we were all pale Gothy types I'm amazed we didn't catch more horrendous sunburn than we actually did. Possibly Goth complexions actually repel light-waves.

The combination of spring-new and nostalgic was weirdly replicated in my lecture this morning, the first of the semester. This entailed the dubious privilege of 45 minutes on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without benefit of slides, as someone had left the computer set up to a dual-monitor setting which produced nothing but exciting wibbly waves on the data projector screen, and I could not for the life of me find out how to reset it. (Even subsequent Googling for tech support is coming up empty. Someone's done something very weird to the set-up). Since I was talking very much about Frankenstein as myth and visual icon, this made it somewhat challenging to rewrite the lectures on the fly to encompass the complete lack of visual aids, but on the upside I can babble enthusiastically and reasonably intelligently about Gothic lit on no provocation whatsoever so it wasn't too hard. I did lament the opportunity to show pictures of Julius Malema with suggestions that he's Zuma's Frankenstein-creature, though.

One of the slides was of Goth types in costume, as a way of linking Gothic literature to something more visual and contemporary, and like Jammie steps, it made me horribly nostalgic for the above-mentioned undergrad days. If anything at all were to tempt me back into make-up (which it isn't going to), it would be the chance to do the full-on heavy-mascara exotic-eye thing, with curly bits, à la Gaiman's Death. Because make-up isn't quite the same signifier of cowed patriarchal identity if it's performance art.

I used to be a Goth, but I got better, but sometimes I still miss it. Even if - or possibly because - it's fundamentally incongruous in the context of spring.

(My subject line, incidentally, is e e cummings, because Spring has had the damned goat-footed balloon-man on my brain all day, although this isn't "{In Just]-", it's from Spring is like a perhaps hand, which is also beautiful. I love e e cummings. I acquired him at approximately the same time that I acquired Goth and a social life. That shit is hard-wired.)
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
It's the last two days of term. Students are flocking like confused gazelles, starting and trembling and dashing around all over. I must have seen thirty of them today. I'm very under the weather, what with the sinuses and the sneezing and the happy hormonal troubles (menstrual cycle all wayward and random for no adequately defined reason), and I consider it to be a significant achievement on my part that I haven't actually bludgeoned any of them to death with the staple remover. I also have a solution. It's in two parts.

  1. Chocolate. One of my co-workers is going all mad with charity Christmas shoeboxes full of goodies for underprivileged kiddies. (I hate the word "underprivileged". It's all politically correct for "uneducated and poverty-stricken and neglected and unhappy". Weasel word.) Anyway. I went forth and bought a bunch of toys and stationery and socks and stuff to donate to boxes, including about three giant packets of mini chocolate bars, only to re-read the instructions and realise the organisers didn't want chocolate. Why, I don't know. Chocolate makes the world go round, and can only help, even if only in momentary and superficial ways, if you're uneducated and poverty-stricken and neglected and unhappy. Anyway, I now have a massive supply of mini-chocolate-bars which, if I don't stage a direct intervention, I shall completely eat myself. I'm going to stick them in a giant jar on my desk and force them on students at the start of any consultation. I figure it'll make them feel better and less quivering, which will probably make me feel better and less homicidal. Also, I can eat them at intervals (the chocolate bars, not the students), which means I'll be soothed, but if I do happen to crack, any assaults with the staple-remover will be particularly energetic.

  2. Nonsense poetry. I nearly bit someone just now, and then had occasion to open up The Jumblies in a browser tag, and I feel much better. That's a particularly lovely, gentle, poetic piece of nonsense writing: the quest ambles happily off in the direction of wherever, no goal, no practicality whatsoever, its participants green-headed and blue-handed and off to sea in their sieve with a sort of dreamy implacability you have to respect. Since early childhood I have derived enormous happiness from the lovely inevitability of their response to the sea-worthiness of sieves: when the water comes in, as of course it does, they "wrap their feet / In a pinky paper all folded neat". Because of course they do. Always keep your feet dry when adventuring. If Bilbo Baggins didn't take extra socks, he certainly should have. I also love the images of the places they visit, and their simple joy as they drift along, whistling and warbling "a moony song / To the echoing sound of a coppery gong / In the shade of the mountains brown." As a kid I was always particularly charmed by the "dumplings made of beautiful yeast" when they get back. So satisfying.
Simple pleasures. The gentle, naive, dreamy inevitability of nonsense, and escaping from reality into it, possibly makes the world go round even more than chocolate does.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Hooray, working at home today! Clearly it's time for a celebratory wol. We haven't had one in weeks, so let's have two.

  1. Courtesy of Confluency and a diverse trail of re-tweets, How to draw an owl. Amusingly cynical, and a lovely drawing.

  2. Edward Lear. I teach nonsense poetry to my second-year class, largely to their bemused bafflement, but I persevere on the grounds that everyone needs a Jumblie sooner or later, and besides, you can slide Saussure and signification in under the guise of nonsense theory. Recent interesting class discussions have revolved around "The Owl and the Pussycat", and oh my god I had to type that four times before it was anything other than "The Wol and the Pussycat", which is a drastically anachronistic mixing of kiddielit paradigms.

    I love this piece of poetry - it has a gentle, whimsical, dreamy rhythm which I remember from my parents reciting it to me, and which I rediscovered with huge joy when I could barely read. But, leaving aside all the weirdness of inter-species marriage between predators, have you ever noticed how strangely subversive the gender roles are in the story? Particularly given the stereotypes of Victorian sexual identity - dominant male, submissive female - it's quite iconoclastic that the owl and the cat are never definitively gendered, and their roles and depictions shift all over the show.

    The owl's initial role seems masculine, the troubador who sings courtly-style love-songs to the cat while accompanying itself on "a small guitar"; the cat is "beautiful". But if you look at the first drawing:



    - the cat is quite dominantly in control of the boat, and that tail is oddly phallic. In the next verse the owl is "elegant" and its singing "charmingly sweet", both of which represent feminine qualities in the average Victorian register, so the genders have flipped. The artwork echoes the flip: in the second picture the cat remains dominant, taller and sterner-looking and with big masculine chest, although oddly it's the shorter owl with its head bowed which offers the ring, reversing the usual marriage ceremony roles:



    In the third the roles are reversed again, taller/dominant "male" owl and slightly submissive-looking "female" cat:



    The final, haunting image of unity - "hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon" - is thus peculiarly subversive of Victorian gender identities, power relationships and sexual orientations. These creatures could be anything. The point is that they're happy together. Hooray for Edward Lear and queer theory wols!

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