Saturday, 6 October 2018 07:43 am
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Weird sleep and dream patterns in the last few days, I had some sort of bug on Wednesday and was a bit flattened with nausea and stomach cramps, and it seems to have messed with my sleep cycles. I ended up lying awake the other night randomly remembering a piquant detail from my past, that being the time I met Terry Pratchett - it must have been in the early 90s, he came on a book tour to Cape Town, and did a talk at the university. ("The problem with South Africa is that it's like trying to open a box with a crowbar which is inside the box.") The local guys who were on the old alt.fan.pratchett newsgroup were also keen to meet with him in a smaller group setting, and got hold of me because I was chair of the Tolkien Society at the time and they (quite correctly) thought I might also like to meet Pterry. Retrospect suggests that I didn't actually fully understand what they were asking, because I ended up hijacking their intimate get-together dinner and turning it into a Tolkien society cheese-and-wine event for about forty people. I suspect they've never actually forgiven me. Seems fair. I'm sorry I was so oblivious.

At any rate, it was a lovely evening, quickly degenerating into most of us clustered around listening to Pterry talk, which was hilarious. (He did the "who likes ginger, garlic, cats" poll - apparently his fans overwhelmingly like all three). I remember the event vividly because at one point he did a shambling orangutan impersonation and picked fleas off me. But most of all I remember it because someone asked him for more details about what Magrat was like, and he looked around the room, pointed at me, and said "Like your friend there, but without the self-assurance".

The physical equivalences were probably valid - I was a particularly skinny thing back then, if not quite the traditional ironing board, was wearing a full-length black chintz dress, and had very long hair which, as now, I never blowdried, so it tended to frizz madly in all directions. Occult jewellery may also have been implicated. What weirds me out now, looking back on it, though, is the crack about self-assurance.

See, I'm not self-confident. I am awkward and reticent and self-conscious in large gatherings or meeting new people. My disaster of an academic career is testament to my wholesale ability to take on board negative opinions about me from anyone in my general vicinity, and I've never had an active enough belief in my academic abilities to hold to them in the teeth of criticism. I build up confidence very slowly, and tend to acquire it from the structures I represent; I conducted a two-hour meeting today with senior academics, and had absolutely no problem doing so with authority and dispatch, but that's taken me a decade to learn. I'm absolutely calm and self-assured in front of a lecture hall full of students, even when they heckle, because I can immerse myself in the teacher, and that, again, I've learned over time. One of the reasons I'm finding it so hard to leave this job, I think, is because I am exhausted at the mere though of having to build up that confidence again in a different context and role. And while academia and this job may have beaten the confidence out of me since those days, I think it's more likely that Pterry only saw me as confident because I was being Tolkien Society Chair at the time, and the role gave me the authority I might otherwise lack.

I never really did identify with Magrat, possibly because her slightly limp ineffectuality is everything I am afraid I actually am, but maybe Pterry's use of me as a model was one of his classically uncanny and withering insights. Or maybe my commitment to the role is simply that good and he genuinely thought I was self-assured. I dunno. Either way, for the record, these days I'm really much more of a Granny Weatherwax.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do love the essential randomness of the internet. It functions like a physical manifestation of the unconscious of an entire civilisation: all our bizarre subconscious impulses, individual obsessions, odd jokes, inappropriate thoughts, whims, daydreams, nightmares, flung into the public view in bewildering multiplicity and connected with strange, wayward, serendipitous linkages. I have no idea whatsoever how I stumbled across Des Hommes et Des Chatons, but somehow it's ended up in my tabs alongside the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter collection (dear gods the beautiful lines) and the finalists in this year's Bad Sex Awards (dear gods the horrible language). "Des Hommes et Des Chatons" has caused me to giggle for the last ten minutes, so I wave it at you in the hopes that it brightens your Friday. Dishy men in poses echoes by cute kitties. How can you go wrong? Also, that's the internet for you right there. Not the least of its charms is the way in which, unlike older and more conventional media, it's been colonised in vast tracts by an essentially female voice.

Subject line from Terry Pratchett, Interesting Times: the answer you receive if you ask Hex (the Discworld's mad computer-analogue) "Why Anything?". More specifically, "Because Everything. ????? Eternal Domain Error. +++++ Redo From Start +++++."
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The latest Discworld novel, Snuff, is out: my copy arrived yesterday, and I spent the evening flat on the sofa devouring it. It's one in the Vimes series, and my ongoing state of more or less drooling Pratchett fangirliness means I prepared for it by re-reading the entirety of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch novels over the last two weeks, from Guards! Guards! onwards, in mostly chronological order. (Strict chronological order is actually not possible, one of them being a time-travel novel, and in fact going back to Guards! Guards! after Night Watch was unexpectedly illuminating. But I digress).

For me Ankh-Morpork is Pratchett's greatest creation, the central trope of the Discworld - a multi-centuried, unabashed urban sprawl whose existence adds point and ferocity to his ongoing cultural critique. The city is the means by which he deconstructs not only the limp utopianism of mainstream fantasy, but issues of human fallibility, good and evil and the impossibility of their simplicity in a complicated modern world. I cherish an affection for the wizards and for Moist von Lipwig (partially, I think, because Going Postal has such an elegant plot), but Vimes is the sword-point of the Ankh-Morpork stories. He's an amazing construct, even more so than Moist because he's older, more experienced, the accumulation of a particularly driven and compelling experience of hardship, disillusionment and redemption.

He has also matured beautifully over the Watch series - reading them all together like that makes you appreciate not just the development of the character, but the development of Pratchett's style and punch; moments in the first couple of novels falter, but the voice and purpose are always strong and true. The Watch series steadily grows in sophistication and believability, peaking in the essentially political explorations of power and agency and race in Fifth Elephant and Nightwatch and Thud. (I also love the Watch presence in Monstrous Regiment, but it's an outsider perspective on a cameo appearance). Thud also dealt beautifully with Vimes's new fatherhood status, and I was really looking forward to seeing where that went as Young Sam grew up.

And yet that concentrated re-read is also a worrying perspective: my expectations of Snuff were tinged with concern even before I cracked it open. I also re-read Unseen Academicals, the last adult Discworld novel before Snuff; it's an Ankh-Morpork novel, but not a Watch novel, and it represents, I think, a drop-off. The story, and the fun poked at football and the University, are entertaining and real, but the novel feels scattered and overstuffed, its themes and ideas all over the place and not always properly developed. (The whole Jools/modelling/dwarf armour bit? very funny, but I'm not sure what it's doing there). It felt like Pratchett, though; the prose and bite and people were unmistakeable, clearly the master driving the stagecoach even if the horses were tending to shy and bolt and the whole equipage threatened at some moments to career off the road at a tight corner.

Snuff didn't actually feel like Pratchett. It was clearly a Pratchett plot, pillorying the aristocracy with verve and accuracy, and continuing the novels' ongoing exploration of race and prejudice. (One of its more amusing, if sadly under-developed, intertexts is Jane Austen). But the prose isn't Pratchett, and nor, more tragically, are the characters. I barely recognised Vimes; he has a hesitation, an internal lack of certainty which feel simply wrong, and his relationship with Sibyl, hitherto always a matter more of implication than of actual representation, is over-described, verging on the mawkish. Young Sam becomes an excuse for toilet humour, which the Discworld has up until now always mercifully relegated to glancing suggestion. I don't associate Pratchett with obvious fart jokes, nor do I wish to.

And this last, like the Vimes/Sybil relationship, comes down, quite simply, to writing: it's not the story elements that are the problem, it's how they're handled. Pratchett's prose has always been restrained and muscular, his comic timing dependent on perfect control, language welded to purpose. There's none of that here. The prose frankly wanders; characters go off into long speeches, which is the antithesis of the punchy and economical storytelling of earlier novels. We are continually given exposition which describes characters' internal life rather than, as before, being able to apprehend it through their actions. I itched, while reading, to go through a lot of these sentences and reduce them to actual Pratchett with a red pen. He's in there somewhere, but only in momentary glimmers.

And, of course, the giant world-supporting elephant in the room is Pratchett's illness. I love this man and his books. His world and ideas have given me enormous amounts of unalloyed pleasure and insight, as they have to his huge fandom at large. I have lost count of the number of times I have read the Discworld novels; I will return to them for the rest of my life. And it's precisely this affection and respect which make it difficult to simply say that the Alzheimers is, of course, making a difference: that this is not the Pratchett we knew. If you read across random reviews of the last few novels there's a reticence in them which skirts around the idea of a loss of control. He is no longer able to type now, he dictates to a typist; that has to, surely, change the nature of your relationship with the words? But to come out and say that he's losing his grip on the literary magic feels like a betrayal of the novels' comic status, an admission of the tragedy of his illness which, by being spoken, becomes all too real.

And I deny that. If the Discworld stands for anything, it's for using the twin lenses of fantasy and comedy to look reality firmly in the face. I will not pretend that this novel is up to Pratchett's usual standard as a way of pretending that, as his readers, we are not confronting the horribly unjust reality of his disintegration. We are. To deny that loss is to betray the integrity of the man and his creation.

I will continue to buy anything Pratchett writes for as long as he cares to go on writing. I will do it because he's Pratchett; I will read his books for the occasional moment when the unalloyed man shines through, when the prose and punch rise out of the wandering and click into place. I will mourn when he stops writing - hell, I'm crying as I write this - but the reality is that to read this novel is already to mourn.
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Well, that was pretty awful. The older I get, the worse I handle late nights (and, it has to be said, the Demon Drink). Becoming horizontal at about 11pm after a particularly vociferous closing session to Neil's game (we won!), I thereafter spent several frustrating hours pursuing a small, blinking, bi-coloured light around the walls of my room at about head-height. Then, as hypnagogic hallucination gave way to actual dream, I sat through a dreary and interminable faculty selection committee where, despite the fact that I was actually one of the candidates, I had to watch all the rest being interviewed. No-one on the committee would explain why this was necessary, merely looking knowing and making off-hand remarks about how the candidates weren't actually the candidates, anyway. In the middle of it all the Dean's secretary, prompted by an incomprehensible crisis of some sort and acting on a direct instruction from the Dean, hustled me off to catch a plane to Bombay. I still don't know why. I am, however, once more a little frayed.

In an effort to inject some slightly more positive energy into the day, herewith a list of Things I Have Recently Enjoyed.
  • The new Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals. I spent Monday evening ensconced on the sofa with the Hobbit, chortling at intervals. Terry Pratchett is still very much Terry Pratchett, although I found the book a little scattered and over-busy in its themes and sub-plots: I suspect we're seeing actually a very good writer coming up against the slightly over-simplified limitations of his genre, and being driven to complicate them. The result is a bit cluttered, but the characters are as always warmly human, the digs at both football and academia are very happy-making, and the issues being explored (prejudice, mostly) are real and sharply pointed.
  • Supernatural. About halfway through the first season: I am somewhat charmed by this series even though its monster-of-the-weekishness is not the only thing it's ripped off from the X-Files. (I swear you could do a direct episode correlation chart). Like the X-Files, it works because of the dynamic between its central characters, who are rather nicely-drawn brothers with a fairly realistic array of tensions, affections and differences. Also, extended road-trip. The actual working-out of the Supernatural Dingus Du Jour is not about reality at all, and I get a bit miffed about lack of consequences such as arrest, but it's a reasonably endearing watch.
  • Buffy Season 9, i.e. the comics. Joss lets loose without budget constraints, leading to Giant!Dawn, Fray crossovers and whole episodes inside someone's supernatural head. I'm finding the artwork a bit variable - love some versions of the characters, hate others - but the plots are interesting and compelling, and it's a lot of fun to watch the characters develop post-Sunnydale. Buffy is considerably less annoying, too.
  • [livejournal.com profile] smoczek's fajitas. Yum.
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Today is a random, disconnected list, because I'm feeling a bit random and disconnected. I attribute this solely to the fact that I've run out of chocolate biscuits.

  1. Gawsh. Last night I dreamed I was living in a holiday house in the woods somewhere, across the dirt track from Nathan Fillion. He was a dreadful cook, but later there was snuggling, so it's all good.

  2. It's still raining, a bit, more sort of drizzly, so I'm still happy. Cape Town's delusions of continuing winter keep me sane. Today there's a wild, slightly snide wind growling around and tossing the trees petulantly; I want to pet it and smooth its ruffled fur.

  3. The wretched carved pumpkin on the LJ Halloween header is clearly leering at me. I find this disconcerting in a cucurbitous vegetable. As a result of some bizarrely disconnected series of associations it's also inspiring me to go out and buy the new Terry Pratchett this evening. On mature reflection, leering pumpkins clearly have their own odd utility.

  4. I really like this poster: it's witty, and atmospheric, and kind of tongue-in-cheek, ironic-winking Victorian. I am continually astonished by the absolute lack of conflict caused by my awareness that this Sherlock Holmes film is going to do madcap, iconoclastic, modern, playful, totally inappropriate things to the canon, and I'm going to love every minute of it. I blame too much fanfic. Also, not only is RDJ rather cute in this pose, but I'm really enjoying the way the Watson role is making Jude Law look significantly less like a total skank.

    We don't talk about the "Holmes for the holiday" tagline. It's just lame.
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It's usually quite easy to mentally map a Terry Pratchett novel, at least in terms of its issues and concerns and what have you - oh, it's The One About Religion, or The One About Vampires, or Film, or Fairy Tale, or Consumerism (And Cthulhoid Shopping Malls). This is not a flaw, but rather a natural upshot of his kind of emblematic writing and the very direct and acute response it supplies to particular modern-day issues. He's a surprisingly complex writer, but usually the particular themes and symbols of a novel will dovetail into each other with easily-graspable neatness. You can, in effect, see what he's doing. He's both a sophisticated social critic and a popular writer.

Nation is thus something of a departure. It's already unusual in that it's not a Discworld novel, taking place instead in a sort of alternate nineteenth-century Earth where things are almost, but not quite, identical to our own world (we don't, to the best of my knowledge, have tree-climbing octopodes, although one rather wishes we did). Its overt themes are postcolonial - daughter of Victorianoid civilisation meets son of island-dwelling primitive nation - and its characters work through fear, grief and sacrifice, but you can't say that that's what the novel's about because it's also about social expectation and community and war and gender and religion and tradition and science and bigotry and history and the nature of evil and what happens when a powerful, technologically advanced culture meets a smaller, less advanced one (hint: generally not good for either party. If the African colonial experience teaches us anything, it's that the destruction of a culture's soul goes both ways.) It is, in short, a complex novel.

So this would be, in my possibly slightly premature opinion (this book needs marinating) the work in which Pratchett actually overcomes the drawback of being an intelligent postmodern writer in a popular field. Popular writing is weighted with all sorts of expectations and the Discworld in particular, while a marvellous and powerful construct in its own right, could also easily become a millstone around the writer's neck. It's always a risk with genre - if you want to use the extremely useful shorthand of a generic code, you also have to conform to it to some extent. One of the reasons I am continually fascinated by the operation of genre is because of the extreme, hold-your-breath sort of pleasure of watching a good writer negotiate the tricky balancing act between using a genre and letting it limit you. I think Pratchett wins this one, but he can only win it by abandoning the Discworld, a generic juggernaut in its own right. He does things with themes (loss, grief) in Nation that he couldn't do with the Discworld; he resists expectation, he packs more in than the Discworld's familiar contours would allow.

At the same time he's still working within the expectations that we have about him as a comic and fantastic writer, and he uses that extremely cleverly to balance the seriousness of what he's doing. This is still a very funny, very acutely observed novel with more than its fair share of those classic, compacted Pratchett lines which cause equal parts amused snorting and recognition that their insights are profoundly true. He also doesn't stint on the occasional moments of broad comedy, mostly about booze and cultural misunderstandings. (I have conceived an undying love for the parrot. The bit where it debags the Grandfather Birds has me giggling like a loon every time I read it).

I think this is a very successful book, but not quite in the same way that the Discworld novels are - this one sneaks up on you, it doesn't allow the sort of popular postmodern pleasure of congratulating yourself that you've followed the writer's reference or unwrapped his themes. It takes work. It is, in an odd sort of way because I don't think Pratchett's been an immature writer since approximately Sourcery, a mature book. For this reason I find the most difficult and heartbreaking part of the novel to be the author photograph on the back flap, where he's now turned away from us. He has to give us a novel about working through grief and loss, because when this horrible disease catches up with him, the grief and loss are going to be extreme.
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Even more things that make me cry: hearing that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's. So bloody unfair that a mind and a wit like his is assaulted when someone like George W. Bush continues blithely on with what passes for an intellect untouched. Please join me in unrelenting psychic effort to effect a transferral of symptoms.

I am horribly headachy again, although I can't work out if that's Sid the Sinus Headache, post-interview trauma, or the after-effects of getting all weepy over Pterry. Am applying therapy with loud David Bowie in defiance of the exalted hush of the halls of learning. Bugger the halls of learning, anyway.

Last Night I Dreamed: I was involuntarily caught up in a Star Trek episode, in which someone cloned a Klingon into approximately five hundred copies, which ended up standing around introspectively on a beach somewhere. It transpired that a weird space/time wossname had pulled them all in from parallel universes. We got rid of them by running copper wire through the sand and frying them with electricity, whereupon they all vanished except the original.
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Extemporaneous Maxim For The Day: The only thing more depressing than contemplating having to leave academia is contemplating having to stay in it. Today was interminably infested by a staff meeting followed by full post-exam board meeting. These are professional English academics. What they can do to simple communication is quite astounding: adumbration, distraction, obfuscation, indecision. Also drawling, kvetching, and fainting in coils.

I am reminded, in fact, forcibly of a recent Language Log post by Geoff Pullum, which gave me one of those small, perfect moments of recognition and resonance. I quote at length, because I'm too enervated by academia either to think up or to type anything original:

You know, just between you and me, I sometimes worry that there is a naive view loose out there ... that language has something to do with purposes of efficiently conveying information from a speaker to a hearer. What a load of nonsense. I'm sorry, I don't want to sound cynical and jaded, but language is not for informing. Language is for accusing, adumbrating, attacking, attracting, blustering, bossing, bullying, burbling, challenging, concealing, confusing, deceiving, defending, defocusing, deluding, denying, detracting, discomfiting, discouraging, dissembling, distracting, embarassing, embellishing, encouraging, enticing, evading, flattering, hinting, humiliating, insulting, interrogating, intimidating, inveigling, muddling, musing, needling, obfuscating, obscuring, persuading, protecting, rebutting, retorting, ridiculing, scaring, seducing, stroking, wondering, ... Oh, you fools who think languages are vehicles for permitting a person who is aware of some fact to convey it clearly and accurately to some other person. You simply have no idea.
He forgets the most important thing. Language is for playing with.

The darned Discworld character quiz is vascillating between nominating me as Havelock Vetinari and Nanny Ogg. Am miffed. What about my inner Granny Weatherwax, she asks plaintively??

Last Night I Dreamed: I met Ursula Le Guin at a signing in a bookstore somewhere. She most gratifyingly knew who I was, which she explained was because of the extremely small size of the sf critical community in South Africa. Later we took her out for ice-creams, finding the car in the underground parking lot with, for some reason, the Bastard Ex-Boyfriend From Hell at the wheel.
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"A small penis has one advantage: it requires less soap."

Now that I'm over the paroxysms of coughing from choking on my left-over malva pudding, I have to report with a certain sadness that Making Money, the latest Pratchett, didn't really do it for me. Scrappy, bitty narrative, too many characters/subplots, certainly compared to the wonderful underlying elegance of Going Postal. The nice thing about Pratchett, though, is that the book still delivers laugh-out-loud moments, as well as its fair complement of snickers, chuckles and snorts. I only hurt myself by being a fool for Plot.

Oh, and incidentally, not appreciating the severely misguided attempts of you Witterers to end my sad singlehood by setting me up with random Russian commenters. Honestly.

muscular, hairy men

Saturday, 20 October 2007 08:27 am
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Rugby world cup fever has hit South Africa, which is over-reacting with a sort of incredulous delight to the Boks actually making the final. This is causing me endless amusement: yesterday's Cape Times billboard ("KLAP THEM, OUS!"1) made me giggle for ten minutes, and this morning's shopping trip was enlivened by watching a pedestrian almost lose an eye to a giant South African flag waved out of a passing car by a small boy. Buying birthday presents for my niece, I was held up at the till for five minutes while the harassed father ahead of me expounded the psychology of national sport to the shop owner2.

In fact, national sport is ridiculously emotional, even for me, since large numbers of people united in a common cause is one of the approximately three million things that makes me cry like a girly girl. (That bloody ad with the rugby supporters pushing the continents together gets me every time. And it's for beer. I'm doomed.)

Am resisting the impulse to watch the final this evening, thus revisiting my schooldays (Zim government schools, obligatory to watch the first team games, which is possibly why I have a sneaking fondness for the sport). Now if I was knitting already...

In other news, apparently the new Pratchett is in South African bookstores. Sorry, [livejournal.com profile] schedule5!

Last Night I Dreamed: I was living in a quaint little old-fashioned town, all narrow, twisty streets and cobblestones, on an island off the coast of Britain. [livejournal.com profile] librsa's band was playing (in masks) in the attic of a house on the main street, and I spent considerable time melting down the gold to pay him untraceably, before deciding "stuff it" and simply doing an internet transfer. (All the gold scraps and melting equipment were stored in our old toy cupboard, which was in the next room). Later I ended up chatting to Terry Pratchett, who was working in the house across the street.

1 For Our International Readers: "klap" means hit, slap; "ous" means guys, but with a connotation of cameraderie and macho bonding. (Actual speakers of Afrikaans should feel free to correct my spelling/interpretation here). Both words are transfers from Afrikaans into lower-class South African English. I love the headline because of its possessiveness, the way it positions the newspaper, and by extension the readers, in proprietorial support within an extremely strong and culturally specific notion of community.

2 I have to say: Dem's? wonderful shop! Have acquired the necessary Slinky Malinky tome for further indoctrination of Da Niece, plus orange plastic proto-recorder which I confidently expect will enable Da Niece to drive her parents crazy in short order. Insert auntly "heh!" here.

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Phooey. Do you think Annoia, goddess of Things Getting Stuck In Drawers, is also patroness of Appliances Which Won't Work Unless The Technician Is Present? If so, I need to make appropriate sacrifices to appease her. Darned washing machine stopped mid-cycle the other day, refused to work in any combination of button-pushing or fiddling, but worked perfectly first go when the technician performed exactly the same routine a day later. On the upside, we have a working washing machine, which is useful given the current total absence of either a working dishwasher or a nice charlady. On the downside, I feel silly, although it's perfectly possible that such a feeling is as a hymn to Annoia.

And, while we're on the subject, I may have to nail my own feet to the floor in a desperate attempt to stop myself from going forth (around 11ish) and buying the new Pratchett in hardback. It's a sequel to Going Postal, which is current hot contender for my favourite Pratchett of all time. While its title may be inspirational in my current career tangle, it's also ironic: I'm not making money, and can't really afford to buy it. Not that that'll stop me. Sigh. Maybe I'll pop into Claremont and see if they have it before I go to the gym...

(Dammit, this mouse cursor is still scuttling slowly across the screen, like a particularly nonchalant cockroach, if I leave it unattended. Rather creepy).

Further dispatches in the Department of OMG!Squee!!1!, a marriage made in heaven. Guillermo del Toro may be making Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. It's such a fey, weird, chilling piece of writing, quite my favourite Lovecraft, and if you average out Hellboy and Labyrinth of the Faun to achieve the correct balance of cheesy and fantastical, he is quite possibly the only director I can imagine doing any justice to it at all.

Also, new Wallace and Grommit planned. This time with dough, which is practically inevitable given the medium. Am happy.

Also, I found Neil Gaiman's description of mutual fanboying with John Simm rather endearing. Memo to self: must watch Life On Mars before the jo explodes.

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It's the perfect metaphor in which to describe my research endeavours at the moment, applying equally to my stupid chapter and the stupid amounts of stupid theory I'm reading. Actually, though, it's essay marking as text adventure! Anyone who's ever marked an essay needs to read this. Rogue badly-indented long quotations! Plurals flying around on apostrophe wings! My favourite bit:
>search for commas around subordinate clauses
Surely you jest.

The worm has apparently turned on this bloody chapter update, I wrote a thousand words yesterday, and today the book on folklore theory which has taken three and a half months to travel by airmail from the US, suddenly and unexpectedly arrived. Perhaps the moons of Saturn are in a more favourable conjunction for academic effort. Also on the upside, my mother gets in from the UK at lunchtime today, one aspect of Christmas which I actually do find joyous1, not to mention the fact that she's laden with the DVD and book loot I have been incautiously buying off Amazon every time I get frustrated with writing. This is a bad combination, leading to a faint, panting and exhausted credit card, and in all likelihood a faint, panting and exhausted mother with her arms two feet longer than usual. Also, not much book update progress.

The dreaded jo has been mulling over the City Watch casting problem, and is in favour of Heath Ledger as Carrot. She nominates Edward Burns as back-up, because he has an honest face; I tend to agree. I could see Edward Burns doing a good Carrot. I cannot, alas, agree with her that Billy Bob Thornton could do Vimes. He's too creepy.

I succumbed and watched episodes 3-6 of Torchwood, and am mentally revolving not altogether complimentary commentary. More tomorrow, as I now have to dash off to feed the gardener and collect my mother, in that order.

    1 A nice man laughed at me a lot in the supermarket this morning, having caught me making simulated retching motions in the pasta aisle as a ghastly R&B a capella harmonized version of "Silent Night" erupted out of the speakers in a shower of syrup.
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OMG! Sky is making a TV version of Hogfather! One that is (a) Pratchett-approved, (b) talks continually about being faithful to the book, and (c) has, judging by their pictures, an almost pitch-perfect cast. Which reminds me, has anyone actually seen the animated versions of Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters? Were they any good? *wishlists on the offchance*

I feel that my experience at the Friendly Psychologist's birthday party last night is a metaphor for something, although I'm not quite sure what. Standing in a corner and working up the courage to talk to strangers, I found myself fingering the hem of my new Indian cotton top with the traily sleeves. Strangely, there were little bumpy things all over the inside. Intrigued, I repaired to the bathroom and removed said top, only to discover that the little bumpy things were sequinned patterns and that, blissfully unaware of them, I'd been wearing the damned thing inside-out since I bought it. I realise this may come across as a more than usually egregious case of academic absent-mindedness, but there are factors in mitigation: not only is all the hemming with fancy machine-embroidery actually reversible, but the shop had the blouse inside-out on the hangar, and, as a clincher, the size tag is sewn cheerfully onto the outside. I feel that this basic confusion, or rather ineradicable conflation, of surface with substance is both intrinsically postmodern, and horribly indicative of my life at the moment. Clothes, so important.

Good party, though.
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Not for any particular reason, mind you, other than a more than usually wayward-puppy conversation with the Usual Suspects last night after the usual amounts of gin. Besides, it'll make jo happy. I seem to remember the consensus being that if an army of washable cthulhoid orang-utans accidentally ate Washington, America actually wouldn't be able to blame Iraq.

The conversation also veered randomly to Pratchett, thus alienating the sofa (stv and Tinnimentum, who don't read Pratchett, although otherwise they're very likeable), but gave the rest of us a quick workout on the perennial problem, viz. who to cast in the film version of any City Watch novel. Jo says Ralph Fiennes for the Patrician, I say Joseph Fiennes, whose beard and narrower face I prefer. We are utterly unable to work out who has the necessary craggy face and repressed anger for Vimes. I still think Carrot needs to be played by the bastard lovechild of Orlando Bloom and someone devious, but am not coming up with a sufficiently devious someone. Any suggestions? on any of the above?

Apart from being horribly filled with demanding academic research and writing, my life stretches bleak and desolate before me, on account of how the Evil Landlord had a small, restrained, Germanic wiggins on Monday night and packed up all his computer games into a large box, which he gave to Phlp with strict instructions not to return it under any circumstances. This means that I can no longer play ShadowMagic. On the downside, woe; on the upside, I'm certainly getting a lot more work done. I believe the house now contains only the Mist series, Oblivion and Morrowind, the latter of which is sitting innocently on my bookshelf waiting to be played as a Reward when I've finished the book. Sigh.

Department Of Random Dispatches From The Frontier: Tolkien says that in defining fairy tale "it is precisely the colouring, the atmosphere, the unclassifiable individual details of a story, and above all the general purport that informs with life the undissected bones of the plot, that really count." Is it just me, or is he being terminally vague?
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Things Achieved This Week:
  • Reading all the back numbers of Scary Go Round, with true dedication given the occasional dilettante fainting fits of this Iburst connection. I feel much more lateral now.
  • Marked all outstanding essays from two out of my three seminars. Having scraped the last traces of randomly meandering Disney criticism off the soles of my feet, I have the weekend in which to get to grips with third-years getting to grips with Sheri Tepper aliens. My money's on the aliens. (Mind control and nasty spines. Mere postmodernism is helpless).
  • Got another job offer. *pauses to revive fainted self from floor position*. Not a real job, naturally, but the faculty wish to pay me considerably over my current hourly pay for two hours a day giving curriculum advice to lost, drifty students throughout 2007. Not quite a half post, but sort of a third of one. Together with my current half post, this may make me about five-sixths Grown Up, and innocently proud at having retained my childish ability to do fractions. Also, the jack-booted fascist in me bizarrely enjoys wading into the hopeless chaos that is the average undergraduate curriculum and making it form ranks in short order. The little hapless bewildered students get all puppy-dog-eyed and grateful.
  • Re-read all the Ankh Morpork City Watch novels there are. Am darkly suspecting self of schoolgirl crush on Captain Carrot, despite recurring desire to beat his head against the wall (something known to science as the Orlando Bloom Effect). On the upside, five years ago it would have been the Patrician, so I feel I have definitely Grown As A Person. However, Angua would probably kill me if I tried anything.
  • In the inevitable crumbling of my credit card against the onslaughts of unreason, read the first six Princess Diaries. The less said about that the better.
  • Had the most bizarre and trippy dreams last night, even for me. Giant spaceship. Apocalypse. Invasions of horrible evil things who turned out to be hordes of gibbering chimpanzees in print dresses. Chaos, pandemonium, panicking in corridors, zappy ray-gun fire in pleasing shades of green. Exhausting.
I have to go and cuddle my cat now, she's sitting next to the keyboard looking cute.
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Honestly. Eat your heart out, Rimbaud. Spam is so the new surrealist poetry. The stock tip in my inbox this morning announced itself by suggesting, under the mystifying subject line reproduced above, "glass cubicle a purifying sleight of you." Like all really high class gibberish, it suggests, maddeningly, that somewhere on the edge of consciousness is something not entirely unrelated to meaning.

Pleasant lunch with [livejournal.com profile] tsukikoneko today, although meeting in the bookshop was, in retrospect, possibly a tactical error. Piqued, if not vexed, by the unpleasant concatenation of PMT, nausea reactions to the antibiotics, and the tail-end of this cold'flu thing, I went forth and acquired the new Terry Pratchett in profligate hardback. Wintersmith: the third Tiffany Aching one. Not his best, IMNSHO: a slightly scattered, uncohesive narrative, although lots of lovely witchy detail and proper miffic overtones, with extra miff. If for no other reason, the book is utterly worth it for Horace the Cheese.

Also scored a R50-copy of The Iron Council, which means I might, eventually, get around to finishing the damned thing.
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Not mine. Did those yesterday. Instead, as a welcome to 2006, Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett have put up Crowley and Aziraphale's resolutions here. Anything I could do would be anticlimactic.

I should add, for posterity, that the degree of shambles created by 26 people drinking cocktails, waving sparklers and popping party poppers is truly epic. The streamer debris was ankle-deep in the living room and kitchen, and extended tentacularly down the passage into the bathroom. I keep finding shiny bits of confetti in random places, like the cats' bowls and the potplants and my cleavage. The party had me buzzed enough that, when the final last-dogs had left at 2.30 am, I lay awake until 6, and only managed to sleep until 8.30. The two and a half hour's sleep was very weirdly full of strange dreams about frantically directing a large crew piloting a giant ship round a whole series of very tight underground corners, while I was simultaneously being madly chatted up by an unattractive and low-status Hollywood actor (no-one real, you know how dreams go). I consequently greet the new year as something of a shuffling zomboid thing.

I should also add that the three-hour clean-up this morning was absolutely worth it in every sense. Good party. Thanks, everyone who attended.
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Encyclopedia Entries R Us. Yesterday and today, Tanith Lee and Terry Pratchett. I appear to be cornering the market in fantasy/fairy tale crossovers. Two interesting points manifested themselves: (1) it's impossible to be both coherent and definitive about Pratchett in 500 words, and (2) very few academics actually write on him. This is another niche I could see myself filling, once I have struggled out from under the approximately six dozen other projects currently occupying my attention.

In between the above, I also, in the last few days, read the first four of Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series. Somewhat to my surprise, I am utterly charmed by these. I expected them to be twee, patronising and politically correct, but in fact they're gentle, endearing and beautifully paced. However, I am not entirely sure that I am at one with the ideological premise of a white expatriate male writing about a black Botswanan woman, however charmingly. The books are effectively (and possibly deliberately) complete antidotes to African political realism, which means, basically, they're fantasies, thus explaining why I like them.

The mad social whirl is setting in - must be the end of the year. I made dinner tonight for my Friendly Psychologist and jo&stv, providing masses of lasagne (and the Evil Landlord supplying the usual free-flowing wine) in honour of the aformentioned FP's birthday tomorrow. And, in fact, [livejournal.com profile] starmadeshadow's birthday today. Millyuns of happy returns to both ladies. Tomorrow I start cooking for Saturday's Yule event, although, in fact, I'd rather be writing 1000 words on Tolkien. No accounting for tastes.

The Army of Reconstruction have finished the garage. It has doors, windows and all mod cons. I think they'll spend tomorrow doing last-minute touch-ups, and then I can fire them out of cannons in a spririt both of cleansing and of retribution. The garden is not a happy place. It's quite a nice garage, though.
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... dash his impertinence. Friday's thumping headache endured, off and on, all weekend, culminating last night in an agony of several fits while giving jo&stv, poor wearied shopkeeping folk, supper. However, since today's two-hour insanely complicated and boring training meeting for purposes of end-of-year student result processing didn't actually reanimate the headache, I can probably safely assume it's shot its bolt for the nonce.

Naga, the Cape Town outlet for Thai homecraft and jewellery, is now open, and has, in fact, a website. Hie ye hence, all ye local witterers, and buy cool stuff. The opening party on Saturday was tres cool, with the wine freeing flowly, as is appropriate to the personal philosophy of the esteemed proprietors. Self and Evil Landlord then spent a sizeable portion of Sunday assisting jo&stv with cleanup and shop setup, which was (a) karmically balancing after all the free booze, and (b) fun, although tending to demonstrate how damned unfit I am at the moment. Honestly, an hour of floor-mopping and you'd think I'd had a serious workout, or something. My back aches. *channels inner Granny Weatherwax*

As a reward, or something, I went forth and acquired a copy of Thud!, the latest Discworld novel, and have spent the evening curled up on the sofa, chortling at intervals. The talented Mr. Pratchett is getting more political with every novel, I think. This one made me happy by being another Vimes/Watch one, calloo callay, since they're my current favourite - I think they're maturing more than any other set of characters. This one finally explains what really did happen at the Battle of Koom Valley, and has entertaining dwarf/troll conflicts of great political complexity. While being greatly enlivened by the presence of Vimes's baby son's favourite animal book, "Where's My Cow?" (with farmyard noises), seriously Cthulhoid scribbled warnings ending in "Aaargh, it's coming!", vampire/werewolf Girls' Nights Out with cocktails, and a mad artist who thinks he's a chicken, basically it's is about racism, with a side order of narrow-minded fundamentalist bigotry. Above all it demonstrates ineradicably that we're bloody lucky we live in a mundane universe in which the Religious Right can't, in fact, manifest their mental darkness in actual, physical form.

In pursuit of actual work, today I took out of the library seven weighty tomes on structuralism, including Jameson, Genette and Saussure. Any communication in the next few days may well be limited to "Aaargh, it's coming!" on scribbled bits of blog.

*vanishes with muffled squeak into thickets of literary jargon*


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