train in vain

Tuesday, 27 November 2012 03:56 pm
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Today was distinguished by complete handout-construction panic in pursuit of the three training meetings I am running in the next two days, and was interrupted by (a) a meeting that was pointless because I know all about everything that was covered, and (b) a meeting that was pointless because everyone else should have damned well known all about everything that was covered. The degree of confusion among our faculty godly bods about basic faculty procedures brings me out in a rash. I have had no time to drink tea, read my email or catch up on my webcomics, and am entering an elevated state of twitch. Also, now my handouts are not the things of elevated beauty and utility I prefer to bestow on my trainees. Phooey.

As a result of all of the above I am lashing my tail in a leopardine fashion and preparing to bite all comers. This has caused me a Revelation, viz. that there actually exists a legitimate and possible use for Tom Cruise, in that tonight I plan to feed my grump by watching Mission Impossible: whatever the latest one was called and growling at idiots. All this annoyance has to go somewhere, and he's a worthy target. Also, bonus Hawkeye!
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I blush to admit my slight obsession with the TomKat meltdown, which is really no more than the continuation of my obsession with TomKat, and before that with Tom Cruise himself. This is not, I hasten to clarify, any sort of fangirl he's-so-attractive sort of thing: I can't stand the man, and my interest is more of a sort of horrified fascination with the spectacle he presents. Twiddling my thumbs in traffic this morning, I came to an interesting realisation: like really quite ridiculous amounts of things in my life, this particular urge is also a manifestation of purely academic interests. (Case in point, David Bowie, who's about self-conscious genre play. At least partially. Shut up.)

I do a lot of work with metafiction. Metafiction is characterised, in the words of highly useful critic Patricia Waugh, as fiction "which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality." It's one of the favoured techniques of postmodernists, that sort of "ha ha this is a book not the real world" with which they step outside their own text to comment on it. Tom Cruise doesn't quite do that, but the fervour and intensity with which he constructs himself as an icon at any given moment borders on parody, creating an artefact - a "star" - whose self-evident falsity is intrinsic to its function. That is - he doesn't present "star" and try to naturalise the identity, he tries to naturalise the performance. Tom Cruise is never not performing Tom Cruise, and the non-existence of a genuine Tom Cruise is so taken for granted that its absence permeates the performance. And the performativity of Tom Cruise takes for granted that we acquiesce in the performance - we relate to it as performance, a text, not as a reality. He's also a simulacrum: he is a performance of a self which goes beyond simply obscuring or replacing a reality to the point where it is not related to a reality at all. Dear Baudrillard, how we miss him.

At any rate, the gossip-column coverage of the TomKat breakdown has been affording me much innocent joy: Katie Holmes seems to have blindsided him utterly with the divorce, leaving him groping for an appropriate response to perform. Even better, it's been such a kick in the teeth to the whole Scientology schtick - she has escaped! because she fears your weird cult! because of what it'll do to her daughter! and she's being superbly tactical about the whole thing. Scientology evokes in me a sort of combination of fear and derision, so it's nice to see the creepy-control-freak-omniscience undercut.

The whole thing has also given me absolutely my favourite quote about Scientology of all time ever:
This is what I find hilarious about Scientology even though it’s obviously scary as sh-t: the entire operation sounds like a game you would have invented in your parents’ basement playing with friends back in grade school where the object - to get to Level Supremeness of The Power Destiny - was to hop up the stairs on one foot, blindfolded, with one hand doing the Spock sign and the other holding an egg, while reciting Twas The Night Before Christmas because Miss Green made us memorise it for the holiday revue.
Courtesy of Lainey Gossip.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010 01:05 pm
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The combination of this iteration of Sid (second day of headache, laughs at Advil) and the urgent need to interview 60 potential orientation leaders before Friday, has robbed me of the little brain I possess at the best of times. I feel as though someone's been feeding me lubberwort, which was today's Worthless Word, and which basically means junk food that induces idleness and stupidity. Thus, another wayward puppy post! Narrative thread, who needs it. Also, bullet points are my friend.

  • This Periodic Table of Superhero Powers is wildly entertaining. I am conscious of a wish that I was enough of a comic book geek to know the background story to Gt and Af.

  • I promised this to various people the other day: Tom Cruise is kicked in sternum by small cute blonde, goes backwards over craft table. I am far more amused by this than I really should be.

  • Doctor Hoo: the Doctor as owls. No, really. Wolsplosion! Ridiculously cute, and some of them are bizarrely accurate. Also, bonus points for neatly encapsulating two of my fixations.

  • This image brought to you courtesy of my headache, which needs consolation. I finished Season 1 of Vampire Diaries, which delivered some relatively satisfying television for its cheesy teen format. I thank my lucky stars that I am now old and cynical enough to read "I am tortured and betrayed" as "I am a total dick", otherwise there'd be a serious level of Damon obsession. Plus, psychopath, so done. But he's still ridiculously pretty.

    The only thing preventing me from a desperate plea for Season 2 is the fact that I have to watch a metric buttload of Helsing this weekend in order to mark a student essay. My life is frequently surreal.

Now there shall be several gallons of tea, because I just interviewed 11 undergrads in a row, and my head hurts.
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I woke up this morning with a very vivid memory of the department store in the town in which we lived when I was in lower junior school - I think I must have dreamed about it. It was one of those old-fashioned, faintly larney stores with umpteen floors with clothes and fabric and household goods and what have you, and a lift attendant, and also one of those weird old cash systems where receipts and money were put into little brass capsules and shot away through a complicated series of tubes by air pressure. (The same system I was, in fact, discussing with James only last weekend, in the context of the bizarre note-sending system in a velvet-lined Berlin nightclub frequented by Brian Eno and David Bowie. James was told about it by Brian Eno. Strange but true).

I remember the department store with pleasure, but in fact what I mostly remember were the tills, about which I obsessed as a child. They were those huge, chunky, old-fashioned ones with the numbers which popped up on cards, and the buttons were little metal cylinders with a concave end, ranked with different banks of colour, and they depressed with a satisfying click. I used to lust after those buttons to a quite unreasonable extent - I'd actually have vivid dreams in which I was almost, but not quite, allowed to press them. I have no idea why. Something about the tactile pleasure of that "click", I think. I suspect I was an odd child.

Dept. of Random YouTube: courtesy of sf writer Elizabeth Bear, a new bit of viral wossname, this time directed against Scientology. Spread the word! this is one viral campaign behind which I can, so to speak, get.

Off now to consume vast and unnecessary quantities of food at the Hussar, by way of celebrating My First Paycheck. Possibly it's all worth it.


Sunday, 14 May 2006 09:56 pm
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Last night I dreamed I proposed to Tom Cruise. Why don't I get the good celeb dreams, like scroob does? So not fair. It was one of those annoying, edgy dreams where I was perfectly aware that this was a Really Bad Idea, but did it anyway in a sort of half-assed haze of hopefulness. And he accepted, too, with all the clearly fake plastic enthusiasm you'd expect. No wonder I woke up to one of those subtly irritating days dogged with small annoyances.

In far better news, this weekend I have also re-dyed my hair red (Yay, Herenna the Henna-Haired Harridan!), celebrated Khoi-Boi's birthday by buying him kitchen gadgets and eating evil cake, managed to get an arm-lock on a tricky Holborne recorder piece, made a date for lunch with [ profile] wytchfynder tomorrow, fed ostrich pot pie and cauliflower cheese to jo&stv, and achieved a transcript of the dodgy chat-room sex scene from Closer by the simple expedient of typing "Closer film chat sex transcript" into Google (a proceeding fraught with potential pron site disaster, but in fact it turned up first link, go figure. I love the Internet. I want to show the clip for my lecture tomorrow, and it just occurred to me that the teeny little TV is going to make the actual words absolutely illegible to anyone not sitting in the front row, thus rendering the whole procedure curiously pointless. I shall console myself by inflicting random Spike clips on a hapless lecture theatre full of non-Buffy-sussed students, poor fools. *cue maniacal laughter*)

On the downside, today I have failed to achieve either the necessary VHS copy of Closer or the video machine configuration that will allow me to tape the clip from DVD. I have also wrenched my ankle, causing really weird knock-on knee muscle bruising, brooded excessively over an annoying phone call yesterday, had a small but perfectly formed tantrum at a failed manoeuvre* in the ongoing war against the bird crap on my car, and played a metric stonkload of Oblivion.

Chaos 1, Order O, I fear. Although it's also my mother's birthday, so there has to be some cosmic positive somewhere. Happy birthday, mother!

* God, that's a horrible word to spell. One more reason not to use pseudo-military metaphor, I suppose.
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I went to see Bewitched today, being more or less in the mood for something fluffy, and cherishing as I do a great deal of affection for the original series, which we used to see occasionally on TV in Zim.
  • I like Tuesday morning movies: it's cheap, and usually there's only one other person in the cinema, which must be something to do with quantum. I am, however, still faintly stunned at the perspicacity of today's young lady, who arrived in the middle of that Vodacom ad with the barn full of hairy dishevelled rugby and soccer supporters squabbling over a TV, and breathelessly asked me, "Has it started yet?!" I'm not sure quite what she was expecting of Bewitched. Something very different to me. Or the rest of the planet.
  • Postmodernism has a great deal to answer for. (This mantra is trademarked). This wasn't Bewitched, it was the ironic, layered, self-referential, witty, slightly jaded self-absorbed movie industry version, which would have gone down a lot better if the plot had had either intelligence or wit. Which it didn't. Also, the effect of a plot entailing a witch/mortal TV show relationship enthusiastically hammed by actual actors with appropriate ironic world-weariness, is to give their supposedly "real" emotional interactions outside the show-frame all the depth and sincerity of a cardboard collage.
  • Today's exciting discovery: in the Great Divide which characterises my response to movie actors, Will Ferrell turns up firmly in the Tom Cruise camp. He played a self-absorbed asshole devoid of acting talent with suspicious virtuosity.
  • Nicole Kidman was good, and she's cute when she does that nose-wriggle thing, but the script didn't give her much to do.
  • The cat was also cute, and the lead's irritating manager parasite looks like a sawn-off Tom Cruise, which is a mental image rife with sadistic enjoyment.
  • I darkly suspect that this movie would be best viewed when drunk.
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... but War of the Worlds was a very good film. While I realise that anyone who is anyone, and who doesn't possess my peculiar distaste for crowded cinemas, saw this weeks ago, I don't propose to let that stop me from wittering on about it in my usual style. Skip the bullets if you don't care what I thought.
  • I've done a lot of disaster movies lately. How deeply refreshing it is to finally see one in which the central characters have no scientific knowledge and no access to high-level government decision-making, but have to respond with the disorientation, confusion and helplessness which the average person would, in fact, feel. People actually went into shock. Unheard of.
  • In a daring and hitherto unknown move, the scriptwriter has not only read the HG Wells original, but has allowed it to inspire, illuminate and infuse the movie even while making the changes necessary to the new form. This was an extremely good adaptation, very faithful in spirit, feel and effect; I kept recognising moments which were directly taken from the book, transmuted to a new and more cinematic shape. Crowds rushing a ferry; a tentacle nosing through a ruined kitchen; silhouetted trees in flames. Too cool. I'm not sure what would happen to Hollywood if this weird notion of fidelity in adaptation were to catch on; possibly certain high-profile industry brains would explode, like Martians in an altogether different film, and we'd be able to build a new culture out of the rubble.
  • I didn't like the fact that the alien machines had been buried for thousands of years. So you watch us for centuries, and time your attack neatly for the moment when technology is actually approaching a point where it might give you a run for your money? I detect alien committee bureaucracy. Conversely, it is the single most intelligent move by alien invaders in recent cinema to hit a 21st century Earth first and foremost with a massive EMP attack, neutralising all communications and damning humanity to confusion, chaos and debilitating media withdrawal. It also contributes nicely to the above cinematic agenda of isolation and ignorance. Plus, cool lightning. Bonus.
  • Steven Spielberg. How predictable the man is. Counting down the list: flawed hero redeems self through suffering, check. Family values, check. Cute kids as centrepiece, check. Large-scale destruction without much actual blood or gore, check. Happy ending with survival of central characters, even the adolescently imbecile ones, against all odds, check. (Although admittedly Wells does allow his hero to be reunited with his wife at the end of the book, after apparently completely forgetting about her existence for about two thirds of it, causing me some wry amusement...)
  • I was, despite myself, impressed by Tom Cruise's ability to portray a smarmy, emotionally disfunctional man of little intelligence and giant self-absorption, whose success was largely the result of luck, and the efforts of others. No, wait. No actual acting required, then. Never mind.
  • Favourite image from the film, other than the striding tripods themselves: the level crossing barriers automatically coming down for a train that rushes past entirely in flames. Compressed metaphors for humanity under technology R Us.
As an additional bonus, the film is teamed with the trailers for both Narnia (looks very cool, if self-consciously LotR in effect) and King Kong (looks very cool, and not LotR at all - in fact, very faithful to the original). It remains only for them to start showing the Serenity and Howl's Moving Castle trailers, and my happiness would be materially augmented.

Yesterday's Tolkien paper was only moderately disastrous, i.e. there were considerably more than 3 people there (about 20), and I spoke really badly. I attribute this mostly to the bad insomnia attack of the night before; my brain tends to circle vaguely when short on sleep, and my language simplifies radically, lacking all the pithy jargon which is necessary to persuade academics you're actually serious. I am amazed to find that, actually, my level of disenchantment with the department is currently such that I don't actually care what they thought.

Today's cute story, category Small Fluffy Beasties. My sister apparently has a mouse in her kitchen which has invented a new Mouse Extreme Sport: toaster-diving. It shins down the wall and into the bread slot of the toaster to grab crumbs from the bottom. Currently it appears to choose its moment when the toaster is not actually switched on, although, extreme sports enthusiasts being what they are, it's a matter of time before burn-marks and electric shocks become the new macho.


Sunday, 3 July 2005 12:24 pm
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Brought to you by the I Hate Tom Cruise department: according to IMDB (on which I was noodling around seeing if I'd watched enough Tim Burton movies to write an encyclopedia entry about him), today is Tom Cruise's birthday. Please join me in a ritual retching.

Ah, yes, encyclopedias. My nice editor has just mailed to me to say he's editing an Encyclopedia of Fairy Tale and Folklore for one of the American academic presses, and would I like to contribute in a number of exceedingly cool categories. There is much joy in the Department of My Academic Life. Will attempt to corner not only the metafiction, film, Byatt, Tanith Lee and Terry Pratchett entries, but also Diana Wynne Jones, Shrek, Gaiman, McKillip and McKinley ones. And possibly Tim Burton, although that's going to entail some fairly fearsome research.

Am v. amused by the notion of Popastrology, discovered while randomly following blogrings. Rather than constructing the chart of your stars at the moment of your birth, it attempts to define your character by the position of the pop charts at the moment of your birth, a self-consciously ironic project which rather appeals to me. I appear to be influenced by the Fifth Dimension ("The Age of Acquarius") and the love theme to Romeo and Juliet. There's irony for you on a whole new level.

bother the bed

Friday, 17 June 2005 12:33 pm
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Aaargh! that was a truly, truly horrible night. Having returned footsore and exhausted from a rather fun SCA dance event (badly underattended, she says, looking sternly at the errant Shire), I collapsed at 11pm and.... didn't get to sleep until around 3.30. Sleepage attempts included a brief doze productive of very, very vivid nightmares (including one in which I was lying awake in my bedroom watching the darkened room pulse in a pattern of red-green-green, and another in which the wall and bed collapsed, leaving me looking for vital bits of paper amid the rubble). Self-dosage with Sinutab didn't even touch sides. Also, I ached all over, all night. I'm not sure if this was faint but pursuing 'flu symptoms, too much dancing, the after-effects of the lingering Finland bruised butt, or the natural entropy of my mattress, which is very old and tired. Probably a combination of all of the above. Not fun, anyway. *moves new mattress up the To Acquire priority list, once more knocking new TV to the bottom, sigh*.

However, either the shattered visage I presented to the world this morning was obvious enough to get me cosmic brownie points, or people are simply a lot nicer than I rather pessimistically expect. Freeze frame at 10.21 this morning had me poised in front of the metre on a miraculously-free parking space in Claremont, discovering that my pay card contained precisely R0.03, while a short and bulldog-framed traffic policewoman breathed menacingly up my neck. I was about to surrender and move the car, when a sprightly thirty-something lady bounced up next to me and cheerfully swiped her own pay card past the metre for an hour's worth of parking. Refusing all repayment, she toddled cheerfully off to spread sweetness and light to some other fortunate corner of town. The policewoman retired, balked and cursing. I drifted onward, achieving woolly tights, photocopying and the successful swopping of Book 5 of Lemony Snicket, which I bought on Wednesday only to discover I already own, for Book 8, which I don't, in an aura of zenlike completion and calm. It is a pleasing and humbling thing, to contemplate the temporary union and community of all creatures in the face of potential parking tickets.

The New York Times is reviewing both Batman Returns and Howl's Moving Castle in highly approving terms, which is a Good Sign, TM. They amuse me, though - the newspaper has this slightly old-world, pedantic habit of referring to all actors, writers or directors as "Mr. X" or "Ms. Y", so Batman Begins stars Mr. Bale and Ms. Holmes, the latter of whom is entertainingly described as an "infernally perky actress, whose recent off-screen antics have threatened to eclipse this unexpectedly good movie". Heh. The best thing about the current Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise imbecilities is that my one-woman I Hate Tom Cruise club is attracting numerous new members.

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