dreamer_easy: (Default)
Reading the March 2016 issue of Australian Book Review on the treadmill and hit the same theme in two unrelated reviews: the intrinsic worth of things.

"[Stanley] Fish feels little need to justify scholarly work by utilitarian standards... Criticism of obscure scholarship and arcane language, he observes, aims at the humanities; similar approaches in economics or engineering get a free pass, because these subjects are presumed to possess instrumental value." (Glyn Davis reviewing Think Again)

"[Nicholas Birns] suggests that it [neo-liberalism] is a synonym for what Australians call economic rationalism - simply put, the valuing of all human effort in terms of money and profit, success and failure... Birns argues that writing - particularly contemporary Australian writing - is one of the last bulwarks against neo-liberal dominance. Imaginative writing... offers ways to 'conceive life differently than merely valuing one another by our financial conditions'." (Susan Lever reviewing Contemporary Australian Literature)

To a list consisting of scholarship in the humanities and imaginative writing, I'd add environmentalism, religion, and human rights as loci for valuing human beings and human work for something other than their dollar value. In the imaginative writing department, science fiction has important work to do, particularly in portraying alternatives to a present and a future we're being sold as inescapable.
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
"The science of automation has surely reached the point where your company could design a machine... that would correct galleys."

"... such a machine would require that the galleys be translated into special symbols or, at the least, transcribed on tapes. Any corrections would emerge in symbols. You would need to keep men employed translating words to symbols, symbols to words. Furthermore, such a computer could do no other job. It couldn't prepare the graph you hold in your hand, for instance."

— Issac Asimov, "Galley Slave", 1941. irl ASCII was two decades away. In the future of US Robots and Mechnical Men it was apparently still a distant dream. :)
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
I'm reading Buchi Emecheta's novel "The Joys of Motherhood", set in Nigeria around WWII, and there's a bit where the white master addresses his 'house-boy' as 'baboon'. She writes:
"his laughter was inspired by that type of wickedness that reduces any man, white or black, intelligent or not, to a new low; lower than the basest of animals, for animals at least respected each other's feelings, each other's dignity."
I've sometimes drawn a comparison between my experience of bullying and what I imagine it must be like to be the target of racism. There are crucial differences: the people who continually, unpredictably chipped away at my soul in high school were not trying to keep a whole class of people* miserable, afraid, and aware of how unwelcome they were; and once I escaped high school, I escaped them**. There's no such merciful exit for the young hijabi, the Indigenous athlete, the Sudanese refugee - all the Australians who have to cope with harassment from the media and in the street on top of systemic racism.

That constant drip-drip-drip is what makes people sometimes suddenly explode over seemingly small insults. I don't know what it's like to live with bigotry day in and day out, but I do know what the drip-drip-drip can do to you. When I read Buchi Emecheta's words, the familiar and infinite rage rose up in me. It's there now, in my chest and arms, almost nauseating. I think she may have been feeling something like the same feeling when she condemned the people who stoop to "that type of wickedness".



* Although there was gender policing involved; I would not have been the only young woman being called a "lemon" for being insufficiently feminine.

** With the exception of the Unpleasantness here in lj, many years ago now, which forced me to deal with the damage from high school - as well as requiring me to broaden my horizons, which led directly to the discovery of Emecheta, now one of my favourite authors.
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
"The white cat symbolizes the silvery moon prying into corners and cleansing the sky for the day to follow... All dark, hidden places and beings are revealed in that inexorably gentle light. You can't shake your white cat because your white cat is you. You can't hide from your white cat because your white cat hides with you."

— William S. Burroughs, "The Cat Inside"
dreamer_easy: (*feminism)
Fay Weldon, writing in 2002, on the suicides of Sylvia Plath (1963) and Assia Wevill (1969): "How could it happen, today's young women ask, in bewilderment? How could women see their lives only in terms of being loved or not loved by a man? The times were against them, so the times had to change. And so they did."

Russell T. Davies, in a 2016 interview about his adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream: "For example, in the original script, all the women at some point refer to killing themselves. 'But I refuse to transmit those lines now. In 2016 I'm not having lovelorn women say they'll kill themselves. I'm not putting that on BBC1; I absolutely refuse. Because I hope young girls will be watching this, and I don’t think it's an appropriate thing to say – 'I love you so much, if you don't love me I'll kill myself.' I think that's untransmittable, I'm not having it.'"
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
Steven Moffat, in The Guardian, of Doctor Who:
"Young people watching have to know that they have a place in the future. That really matters. You have to care profoundly what children's shows in particular say about where you're going to be. And we've kind of got to tell a lie: we'll go back into history and there will be black people where, historically, there wouldn't have been, and we won't dwell on that. We'll say, 'To hell with it, this is the imaginary, better version of the world. By believing in it, we'll summon it forth.'"
This explains the crowds in The Magician's Apprentice and The Woman Who Lived, which we've recently rewatched; both were as diverse as any scene in modern urban Britain. However, the presence of non-white people in Mediaeval Essex or the Commonwealth of England, and throughout Britain's history, is not a lie; it's just not a well-known fact. Those recent scenes may exaggerate the numbers, but the new show has long made a point of including some non-white characters in historical European settings.

Here's a few thoughts:

White and Black aren't the only colours; how about mixing it up a bit with more South Asian / Desi actors, more Chinese British actors, more actors with a Middle Eastern background, etc.

How about historical settings outside British / European history?

And historical settings in Britain and Europe in which non-white people were prominent; for example, the 1920s, amongst Chinese immigrants in Liverpool or Black Americans in Paris?

I was impressed by the acknowledgement of Black Britons in Shakespeare's time in The Shakespeare Code, but in her essay for "Doctor Who and Race", Fire Fly pointed out that the issue of race is quickly swept under the carpet. It would be really interesting to see a story which tackles racial issues more directly - not just to tut-tut at the past and by implication congratulate ourselves on being more enlightened, but as plot points in an adventure story: there are places you can't go, people you can't talk to, things you can't do, because of who you are and where and when. This could be done by dropping the Doctor into a setting where white people are unusual and/or unwelcome - such as Japan in the time of the Sakoku Edict. Bonus points for comparing historical racism to modern racism.

(peotry)

Mar. 26th, 2016 02:54 pm
dreamer_easy: (*writing 7)
"Poetry... is a matter of space on the page interrupted by a few well-chosen words, to give them importance. Prose is a less grand affair which has to stretch to the edges of the page to be convincing." — Fay Weldon, Auto da Fay
dreamer_easy: (*gender)
I'm reading Judith Butler's essay "Imitation and Gender Insubordination". You know the thing where it's actually difficult to pin down the definition of "sex", ie "male or female" - do we count anatomy, chromosomes, genes, hormones, psychology, or what, when all of these have variations which aren't simply "male or female"? She's just pointed out that the same is true for sexuality:

"If a sexuality is to be disclosed, what will be taken as the true determinant of its meaning: the phantasy structure, the act, the orifice, the gender, the anatomy?"
Mind: blown. (This is going to be true for every identity, isn't it!)

ETA: "To argue that there might be a specificity to lesbian sexuality has seemed a necessary counterpoint to the claim that lesbian sexuality is just heterosexuality once removed, or that it is derived, or that it does not exist... the negative constructions of lesbianism as a fake or a bad copy can be occupied and reworked to call into question the claims of heterosexual priority." Holy frickle frack!!!

ETA: "Which version of lesbian or gay ought to be rendered visible, and which internal exclusions will that rendering visible institute? ... Is it not a sign of despair over public politics when identity becomes its own policy, bringing with it those who would 'police' it from various sides?"

That kind of sums up Butler's whole argument, I think - that resistance to bigotry which is based on categorising people can end up reinforcing the original categories and, ultimately, the resulting bigotry. Her remark about "which version of lesbian or gay" makes me think of some stuff I've been reading recently about how male homosexuality is integrated, at least partially, into cultures around the world - lots of similarities, lots of differences. She means "which version from Western or US culture", but the examples from different cultures highlight the fact that there's no single "gay".
__
Butler, Judith. Imitation and Gender Insubordination. in Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, David M. Halperin (eds). The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York, Routledge, 1993.

Insight

May. 7th, 2015 02:28 pm
dreamer_easy: (*gender)
"I think part of the problem is that people are frustrated that they want to see more women, doing more things, in superhero movies, and because we don't have as many women as we should yet, they're very, very sensitive to every single storyline that comes up right now."
Mark Ruffalo on criticisms of writer Joss Whedon for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which have ranged from thought-provoking to an outright torrent of abuse on Twitter (where else?). (Mark's too generous IMHO; sisterhood kills sisters. Happily, Whedon says he has always copped it on Twitter and that his decision to depart was because he's trying to focus on work.)

Defacement

Apr. 20th, 2015 04:43 pm
dreamer_easy: (*writing 7)
Pohl also refers to his daily "regime of defacing four pages of clean paper with writing". :)
dreamer_easy: (*ZOMG!!)
Cheeky SMH columnist John Birmingham, suggesting that Tony Abbott's parade of gaffes are a deliberate distraction tactic:

"While many of the permanently appalled whom the ABC's Chris Uhlmann refers to as 'Twitter bedwetters' were busy soaking the doona over lifestyle choices, Abbott was able to scrape off the barnacle of his disastrous Medicare co-payment, and quietly reintroduce assistance for the car industry."
I'm not so sure about "Twitter bedwetters" (Uhlmann was excusing himself for saying Scott Morrison was "quite a nice guy" in person - of course he is, he's a successful politician), but the phrase "the permanently appalled" so painfully skewers that portion of the online social justice movement prone to shallow, noisy kneejerks instead of the harder work needed to actually change things. To be fair, we're all guilty of it from time to time. Maybe we should be less easily angered and more horribly suspicious.
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
As the Wall fell, East Berlin's meticulous secret police went into a tailspin: "Stasi officers were instructed to destroy files, starting with the most incriminating - those naming westerners who spied for them, and those that concerned deaths. They shredded the files until the shredders collapsed. Among other shortages in the east, there was a shredder shortage, so they had to send agents out under cover to West Berlin to buy more. In Building 8 alone, members of the citizens' movement found over one hundred burnt-out shredders. When the Stasi couldn't get any more machines, they started destroying the files by hand, ripping up documents and putting them into sacks. But this was done in such an orderly fashion - whole drawers of documents put into the same bag - that now, in Nuremberg, it is possible for the puzzle women to piece them back together." — Anna Funder, Stasiland
dreamer_easy: (*cosmic code authority)
The introduction to Melissa Raphael's 2000 book Introducting Thealogy naturally talks a lot about the body and the embodiment of experience, by contrast with the disembodied abstractions of traditional religions for which the body and especially the female body are profane: "the female body is sacred; it incarnates the Goddess to such a degree that sacred space is simply that which the body's being-there sacralizes"; it can be "celebrated and revered" "as a part of that divine female body which is the earth or nature itself".

These are familiar ideas, but the sentence that struck me hard was this: "The well-being of bodies becomes a sign of the health of their spiritual, political and ecological environment."

Imagine a world based on that value system - one where the well-being of bodies (and minds, as Raphael makes clear) is the goal and the measure of a culture or society. The more you think about it, the more staggering it becomes, the more institutions it consumes - pollution, bombs, detention centres, hospital queues, addiction, clean water, guns, homelessness, even junk food - the list just goes on and on. This could not be a world in which society decries sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, and simultaneously tolerates them.

I am powerfully reminded that, despite criticism that Goddess feminism is a distraction from "real" politics, it is in fact profoundly political.
dreamer_easy: (*cosmic code authority)
"To say that the world is entirely comprised of combinations of one hundred or so elements does not in any way deny the infinite multiplicity of all the things in the world, nor does it produce a set of bloodless generalizations. This is because the manifest, diverse phenomena of the world have been reduced to a lowest common denominator, which then becomes the basis for a set of lawful and regular rules of transformation that indeed are capable of generating everything in the world, and of actually producing new things."
— Paul Roberts, The Tibetan Symbolic World: Psychoanalytic Exploration (quoted in John C. Wood, When Men Are Women: Manhood among Gabra Nomads of East Africa)
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
I finished reading The Great Mirror of Male Love, a 1687 book by Ihara Saikaku. It's about the fashionable "way of boy love", in which an adult man took an adolescent as his lover. Many of the stories are about samurai, so as you might imagine there are plenty of duels to the death. One young man, unable to get rid of a proud suitor who won't take no for an answer, agrees to fight him. But first, he writes a hilariously peeved letter to his older lover listing all of his grudges against him, which includes stuff like this:

"Next: Last spring, I casually wrote the poem 'My sleeves rot, soaked with tears of jealous rage' on the back of a fan painted by Kano no Uneme in the pattern of a 'riot of flowers'. You took it and said, 'The cool breeze from this fan will help me bear the flames of our love this summer.' How happy you made me! But shortly it came to my attention that you gave the fan to your attendant Kichisuke with a note across the poem that said, 'This calligraphy is terrible.'"
(Unlike many of the stories in the collection, this one has a happy ending! :)
dreamer_easy: (*feminism)
This is a series of comments I made recently on Facebook which I wanted to share (lucky old you!). The context is the Daily Telegraph's recent "Slouchhats and Slackers" front page regarding the Disability Support Pension.

__

"Look, and I have to make this comparison - during World War II Australians actually fought against a regime that killed people with disabilities claiming they were useless people and a drain on the public purse and it is a great insult to Australia's veterans to be making those kinds of comparisons at this particular time." - Craig Wallace, President, People With Disabilities Australia

__

An op-ed in today's SMH goes into more detail about what advocates say is the main reason disabled people go on the pension - the difficulty they have in finding employment.

__

On a personal note, that opinion piece links to the original Daily Telegraph article and the attached editorials. The Tele claims, with no evidence, that people are faking mental illness so they can receive the disability pension, which is higher than the dole.

Half of disabled Australians live in poverty. If I didn't have the extraordinary good fortune of a supportive husband and family, I would probably be one of them, as my physical and mental illnesses make it difficult for me to work. We spend hundreds on my many medications, and next year meds, doctor visits, and medical tests will all cost more.

The Tele is basically saying that people like me deserve to starve. I felt a bit badly about posting that quote yesterday, reminding us of just who Australia's "slouchhats" fought during WWII, since it's pretty provocative, but tbh I am so furious at the attitude of the newspaper and the party they serve that I can barely express my rage. The quote will have to do it for me.

__

Some other useful links which were posted during the discussion:

Just How Wrong Is Conventional Wisdom About Government Fraud?: "Entitlement programs, from food stamps to Medicare, don't see unusually high cheating rates -- and the culprits are usually managers and executives, not 'welfare queens.'"

"It is sometimes suggested that many people on the DSP [Disability Support Pension] do not have genuine disabilities... However, Centrelink [the government agency which handles welfare] has put in place increasingly sophisticated measures for detecting fraud and undisclosed changes of circumstances for all welfare benefits. There have been relatively few cases of convictions for fraud involving the DSP (though it is a difficult task if impairments have no easily observable physical manifestations)... It therefore appears that most people on DSP have significant impairments that genuinely affect their employment prospects." That comes from a 2011 inquiry by the Australian government's Productivity Commission (Appendix K).

I found a very interesting opinion piece which gives some of the reasons the number of disability pensioners (ie people on welfare for disability) has risen: our ageing population, plus "the inaccessibility of services for people with a disability; improved identification of disabilities such as mental illness; lower mortality rates after accidents; a decline in number of low-skilled jobs and a lack of employer support for people with disabilities."
dreamer_easy: (snow kate)
"Wardaghan has made my loneliness complete,
Wardaghan the white, the precious cat.
She's dead, the one who filled the room with life,
Who fussed around it, housemaid-like.
She guaranteed the peace of all who took a nap,
Was diligent in every task she undertook.
Her bravery made cowards of all the other cats,
And when she pounced, she terrified.
She'd spring into the air to catch a moth —
She could have caught a falcon, too!"
— the 18th-century Yemeni poet, al-Khafanji
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
The other day I remarked (and take anything I saw with a grain of salt, as I'm hardly an expert) that strict hierarchy is a major difference between Korean and Western society. On the other hand, of course, the West has plenty of social hierarchy of its own. English doesn't have formal and informal speech levels or an elaborate system of honorifics, but relative status can be indicated in lots of subtle ways. Working at the library, I noticed that when I speak to someone I (consciously or not) considered higher status, such as one of the academics, not only would I speak in a more formal manner but my Australian accent would actually shift to become more "cultured".

Reviewing a study of post-war Britain, Jenny Diski writes:
"Social class told you everything. You learned, well before you got the alphabet by heart, to recognize microdistinctions of class and precisely where everybody belonged on the ladder of being. A single spoken word, a vowel, a look in the eye, the way a scarf or tie was worn and knotted, practically the quality of the air around an individual were, and are even today, instant giveaways of social, economics, and educational status. I do it without thinking about it, without wanting to."
Diski notes that as a third-generation Jew, she could never be quite sure how she fitted into the structure (she, too, adjusted her accent as needed). Perhaps this parallels in some ways the outsider status of Americans in Korea after the war.

Kitsch

Dec. 28th, 2013 12:22 pm
dreamer_easy: (*books 3)
While sitting around in the ER a few weeks ago, waiting for my swollen tootsies to be triaged (a harmless if alarming medication side effect, as it turned out), I did a little triage of my own – reading some of Kitsch (edited by Gillo Dorfles - translated from the Italian by person or persons unknown). Skip it? Keep it? Extract its knowledgy goodness and pass it on?

In the process I came across several interesting points. The editor argues that, up until very recently, there could be no such thing as "bad taste" when it came to art:

"In ages other than our own, particularly in antiquity, art had a completely different function compared to modern times; it was connected with religious, ethical or political subject matter, which made it in a way 'absolute', unchanging, eternal (always of course within a given cultural milieu)."
Defining kitsch, Dorfles remarks, "it is a problem of individuals who believe that art should only produce pleasant, sugary feelings... in no case should it be a serious matter, a tiring exercise, an involved and critical activity..." Kitsch-lovers he adds, "will judge Raphael as if he were a painter of picture postcards". Kitsch is inferior imitation of art which substitutes sentiment for emotion.

Well, the idea of kitsch as comfortable cutesiness wasn't new to me, and it's easy to sniff at others' taste (the whole book is, inevitably, full of snobbery). What struck me was Dorfles' assertion about "the kitsch aspect in works of today or yesterday which not only clash with our own alleged good taste, but which represent a basically false interpretation of the aesthetic trends of their age". If you will, kitsch is that which aims for art, and misses.

The book covers multiple areas in which kitschy art is liable to be found, including sex, death, and religion. (I turned a page while reading on the bus and was aghast to find myself facing several awful examples of pornokitsch.) "The image of death needs vigor and severity," writes Dorfles, "innocence and putrefaction, blacks and whites; it certainly needs no half tints, sky blues, pinks, angels' wings, frilly chapels or sterilized technology devoid of any real ethical meaning."

In his chapter on Christian kitsch, Karl Pawek remarks, "There has been an enormous loss of substance in Christianity... It is the result of a centuries-old watering-down of the current theological spirit and consciousness. It would not have been possible at the time of the consciousness of mystery which prevailed during the first centuries of the Christian era..." This watering-down resulted in "the substitution of something sweet and nice for something extremely powerful, of secondary for primary, of the psychic and moral Christian event for the objective, ontological event." Now if I'm understanding what this guy is saying, for the earliest Christians, the reality of the divine and its intervention on Earth was profound and immediate, and that's been lost – inevitably? – over so many centuries. (I remember a Catholic friend telling me the Omen movies spooked him because they made it all seem real.) Perhaps the New Age movement is the kitsch version of Neo-Paganism – though gods know we produce plenty of kitsch ourselves.
dreamer_easy: (*cosmic code authority)
"This study's findings suggest that the [Invisible Pink Unicorn] critique of religion is mostly misdirected. The belief commitments of religious people usually have less to do with beliefs than commitments, as evidenced by the overwhelming lack of theological understanding that characterizes a typical congregation. Stephen Prothero [in Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – And Doesn't] has demonstrated how shallow are the religious understandings among even committed 'believers,' who often lack basic understandings of their faiths... Orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy for the simple reason that few congregants have the time or resources to master a theological system fully. There is in almost any congregation an obvious subordination of religious ideology to the means, usually ritualized, underlying what appears to matter most to religious people: a felt sense of social solidarity... or just the practical means to well-behaved teens, socially connected elders, and a lively annual rummage sale."
Seeing Through the Invisible Pink Unicorn

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