Rethinking Kristeva, with dog poop • Unpacking Theory

Dear Friends,

So, a long time ago I wrote an “Oh Woe is Me” about what it’s like to pick up dog’s poop. Well, we’re going to really get into it, today. Okay, not really, but I am going to examine what I thought was correct about Kristeva’s theory of abjection, and apply that learning again. It will be fun; there will be dogs involved! 🐶

Okay, so my initial premise was taken from the fact that Kristeva says that “defilement” and “shit” and “pus” are the things that invoke abjection. Abjection is the affective (emotional response) feeling of deep repulsion, of gagging, and that which causes you to question existence and meaning. Importantly, that which exposes the fragility of borders is abject. For example, Kristeva says that if you see a corpse with pus and wounds, the response you have to the pus and wounds is abjection, for it exposes what keeps us alive and the fragility of life in the face of death/mortality. However, “signified” death is a whole other kettle of fish. Signified death is the flat line that shows you there is no longer brain activity. You are being shown that death has occurred, and you can process that information in different ways. It is not the immediate confrontation of death, but the confrontation with that which tells you death has occurred.

So, let’s think about dog poop. I made the argument that picking up my dog’s poop was uncomfortable because of its relationship to abjection. However, I believe that this example was incorrect. Perhaps, for my tiny little dog with her superego structure, being confronted by her own poop might domino into an existential crises of meaning and being, but, for me, her poop signifies. Let’s think about that, I am not being confronted with abjection because fragility is not being exposed; her poop signifies her health and her continued existence for me. However, the confrontation with the abject occurs when we walk and other owners have not picked up after their dogs. Just thinking about it makes me unwell. This is because this poop does not signify, but it invokes death and disease and defilement.

So friends, pick up after your dog because your relation to it is not abject, but think about all of the abject people walking about exposed to the fragility of meaning because you’re too lazy. You do not want to be held accountable for that, do you?

 

 

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There are likely going to be more of these philosophy bites coming your way. Brace yourselves.

On Sherlock and Other Feelings ⎟ Bildungsroman

Dear Reader,

Do you remember sitting in grade 9 English (or if you’re not in North America, the age of about 13/14) learning the word bildungsroman? It’s rather an ugly word, it’s like trying to spit your tongue out and juggle it. A bildungsroman is a novel or story in which the main character, or protagonist, comes of age or develops. Usually, young people read them because, they too, are coming of age. For example, the Harry Potter series is a bildungsroman in which the protagonists and other students at Hogwarts develop into adults and learn about the complicated morals of the (adult) world.

A lot of the time, books that follow the development of a main character will also employ archetypal representations of good and evil. Sometimes, there is a slight complication of those tropes, but, usually, they glare right at you. Consider the way that Voldemort is just evil. Consider the way that the Slytherins are, likewise, represented as evil, evil eleven-year-old children. Now, Rowling complicates our ideas of good and evil with Harry’s struggle between understanding his own goodness in the face of Voldemort’s semi-possession of his mind in book five. She also complicates it with the character of Snape. Yes, an abusive teacher that frightens his students, but also, a hero to some? I have a difficult time with Snape, but he is meant to be read as someone who changed their mind about something because it was someone for whom he particularly cared. The author sets up clear lines between the states of pure goodness (think Lily, who sacrificed herself for her child) and pure evil (think Voldemort, who tried to kill said child), as if such categories truly exist, in order to play around with ideas of good and evil. At times, Rowling complicates persons somewhat effectively such as Dumbledore, but other times she uses Dudley’s fatness as an indicator that he is bad. We are just meant to read some characters as good and some as bad, especially some bodies are good and others as bad.

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This type of heavy-handed coding is also clear in Western films. You know, those racist ones where white guys ride ride horses and call themselves cowboys. There is always a lot of salooning, frisky whisky, spurring spurs, and blink-speed shooting. The good guys wore white hats, and the bad guys wore black hats. This was in part because it saved a lot of story-telling time for audiences to have a coded way to read the film and the story. It also made it easier for audiences to distinguish between two cowboys (because white people look the same). Most importantly, white, whiteness, and the white hat were meant to be read in terms of white equating with goodness, purity, and morality. Blackness, read as the opposite of whiteness, was thus sinister, evil, and immoral or, perhaps, amoral. This, of course, also applies to how race has been used in film, literature, and popular culture.

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Let’s parse these things out a little bit. When Harry defeats Voldemort we get a glimpse of the heroes happy life in the epilogue. We are to read that ending as a happy ending. Our characters have developed, they have children, and their children are going to Hogwarts, where they will grow into wizards and witches and maintain the status quo. (I am not including The Cursed Child or Fantastic Beasts in this discussion.) The end message is that Harry, Hermione, and Ron have triumphed and the world is good. Likewise, in a western film, when the good guy expels the baddie, all is well in the world. The order of the cosmos have returned to a state of flourishing, principled, law-abiding, and, I suppose, happy status quo. There really isn’t any development beyond that because everything that could be done is done. We move onto another story, imagining that these characters are moral and developed characters. Think about how Disney princesses get married, and the story that young viewers are told is that that is the happy ending they should want in life. The adults in the room chortle knowingly; life is far more difficult and less certain than this Romantic ideal.

When we engage with these types of stories, we need to consider the motivation of the story. Why and how does this character or these characters come of age? What lessons do they learn? What are we supposed to learn from their actions? How can we learn to grow up like these characters? What will it take for us to reach a final state of goodness? (Hint: there is no such thing, but more on that later). Inculcating people to particular behaviours is not a new concept, but specifically targeting young people and children is new enough. In the eighteenth century, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a book called The Social Contract (1762). He wanted ‘man’ to be forced to be free in his new world order; there was to be a return to nature and a lot of outdoor dancing (a noble-savage trope, popular in this era). But people needed to know how to be ideal citizens in the world, Rousseau thought. So, he taught them with his novel/bildungsroman/educational guide Emile, or On Education (1762). A young boy, Emile, and girl, Sophie, are shown to grow up and learn to be the right kinds of people.

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Rousseau indoctrination à la life-style guide creates stable statuses for our two grown-up protagonists: the manly man and the passive woman. (Please note the use of creates in the previous sentence; such ideas of gender are man-made, not inherent.) A lot of bildungsroman follow the same trajectory. The character grows to be an (young) adult, and their future is boundless and hopeful because of the lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

This is rather dissatisfying. Isn’t it? Are any of our lives actually like that? I doubt it. We should be chortling at it, knowingly, because we don’t just learn a lesson once and know how to live correctly, as it were, for all of our lives. Also, I’m certain that bildungsroman novels have generally precluded the inclusion of other races because most of these growing-up opportunities were likely only available to white protagonists–boys and their dogs.

Moreover, this stasis of reaching the clarity of pubescence is rather a sham. We might be told that we are going to get to a point where we’ve reached moral untouchability, but that’s simply not true. People aren’t either good or evil. For instance, one might suppose themselves to be a good person, but perhaps that doesn’t fit with the fact that you told someone’s secret to someone else or you said something cruel about another person to make that other person feel the anger you feel. And yet, one might also do kind things, too. I wrestle with this idea of a dichotomy that seems to be solid state of good versus bad.

This is where Sherlock comes in. In the first few seasons, the characters tried to remain relatively themselves, but they rubbed off on each other provoking change. Watson learnt that he really wanted to be a soldier again. Sherlock learnt that he could be more vulnerable.  Without giving any plot twists away, this new season, while a little unlikeable for other reasons, has these characters seriously interrogate their morals. There is not just a state of goodness to be occupied, but it is a conscientious journey. It is an act in motion.

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Formidable story-telling reminds the reader/viewer/listener/audience to query their ideas of good and bad. We may do good or bad things, but those things have to be complicated beyond a tropism of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ (we should always be complicating how we view people as good or bad, and how we have come to understand what those terms mean). Of course, as I think about the polarized villains such as Moriarty and Magnussen, I’m sure some of you will query this stance. Recall that Sherlock and these villains have many of the same traits. It is often the uniqueness of Sherlock that is employed against him as a foil. We are meant to align Sherlock with these villains and the danger that he might easily slip into being a villain. What is it that Sergeant Donavon says to Watson? “One day we’ll be standing around a body, and Sherlock Holmes will be the one who puts it there” (“Lady in Pink”). The traits of the villains encourages the audience to view Sherlock’s character as constantly in danger of slippage into evilness, but, as we learn from Mrs Hudson, Sherlock’s responses are always emotional. Also, we cannot forget both Irene Adler and Mary and their complicated roles as both villains and heroes.

The idea of character growth within the Sherlock narrative is fitting because Watson is our meta-narrator, informing us about Sherlock and his adventures. Watson strives to paint Sherlock sympathetically to his readers. We are hyper aware of this meta-narration, particularly with the release of the Abominable Bride,” in which the audience comes face to face with Sherlock Holmes in his nineteenth- and twenty-first-century portrayals and Watson’s intentional framing of the stories explicitly shown when Mrs Hudson rebukes him for cutting her lines. It is the on-going space for growth within a narrative of puzzles of crime that force the characters to confront their own morality and values and how they match up with their own crisis of self.

I’d like to extrapolate from these literary and filmic examples to my own life. I think we grow up reading books, assuming that we’ve got it figured out by the time we’re fifteen. We declare ourselves to be Hermiones or Lunas, but in doing so, sometimes we fail to recognize the complexities of our selves. Certainly, this is not easy, or at least, not always easy. Working to understand ourselves and quieten our ego in the face of making our world equitable and the goal of empathy teaches us how to see ourselves and other people as complex beings with multiple and conflicting emotions. Sometimes, intentions are all in order, but the heart fails to grab the bit. It’s hard to convince yourself to move past the things you feel, even if it would seem easier if you could just switch on a dime. It isn’t always possible. Learning to be fair and kind in the face of what is difficult is not an easy lesson. If it were, then we would already live in a fair world. We don’t always have kindness or the capability for kindness; that’s okay, we’ll try better together. Take the time you need, dear ones. Stare sadly into the distance, wipe that tear, look for friendship and love, feel joy, feel angst, feel ecstatic. Learn to be kind, for in our endeavour to kindness we should be the physically impossible perpetual motion of learning to have empathy and compassion. You’ll slip up. I’ll slip up. You’ll lose your temper, and so will I. But we’ll always be growing.

So, dear reader, just when you thought your journey was over, it’s time you head into the woods and find the most gnarled tree. The grooves, the slopes, the dips, the crevices, the moss growing all over, that is what your bildungsroman should look like. It’s complicated, compelled to grow and pay host to other lives.

 

Heaps of love,

Kat

 

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CARS! WOMEN! HISTORY! ⎟ voicing my opinions

Dear Reader,

Yes, I’ve used clickbait, possibly. I’d actually identify it as the general gist of this post, or the tl:dr: CARS! WOMEN! HISTORY! But, you know, you could stick around for the whole post to see just what I have to say on the matter.

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I don’t watch much film. I don’t have the patience for it. Perhaps, my brain has been ruined by technology. Nope. That’s not true. I’ve never really enjoyed just watching television or film. I get annoyed really easily. I can read for hours, yessir, but put me in front of the television and it had better be The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter for me to sit put, and, even then, I get antsy. I just find it really difficult to pay attention, I usually multi-task when I watch films. I’ll bake, or I’ll do my nails, or do a face mask. Once, I popped blisters from a really bad sun burn I had whilst watching a Bollywood film. I needed the longest film Netflix would offer, so I could happily distracted from the pain that I got when I couldn’t stop reading. Also, I tend to find Bollywood films more engaging, if only for the music. I love music, but it has to be just right. Music affects my mood, quite easily. Oh, I’m going off topic.

The point is, if you were to ask me what my favourite film of all time is, unfortunately, I could not point to a well-developed vocabulary of filmic experience and repertoire. I’m sorry, it’s not my forte. But, I’ve recently altered my stance on this. I think after suffering from anxiety that probably has a lot to do with too much caffeine consumption, I started looking for media that soothed me rather than aggravated me. And, I found it, without realizing I had. The Lady in the Van, I proudly identify as, if not my favourite film, one of the best films I’ve seen. I don’t identify it as a favourite because it doesn’t have the same emotional response from me, like my five-year-old self clutching a handful of cantaloupe and screaming to the fruit gods about how this is my FAVOURITE FRUIT! But, I do, don’t get me wrong, love this film.

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When I first saw it, I didn’t need much convincing that it was worth my time. Dame Maggie Smith plays Miss Shepherd, Margaret, or was that Mary, Shepherd. The film is a lightly fictionalized account with elements of magical realism of the author’s, that is, Alan Bennett’s, relationship with Miss Shepherd. If you don’t know the story, look it up. The film was based on a play of the same name, but I do recommend the film, too. The film contains two manifestations of Alan, the author’s ego and the man-in-the-world: the author is the more snippy and curt of the two, the man-in-the-world is proudly, Britishly timid. He moves into Camden Town, in London, after the success of his writing and plays. The street upon which he lives has a lady in a van. Every so often she moves from house to house. That is, until new zoning laws require that she move the van. Miss Shepherd hints that a driveway, such as the one Alan has, would be the perfect solution. Alan offers Miss Shepherd the space, and she accepts suggesting that it won’t inconvenience her too much, possibly.

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So, for fifteen years, she lives in his drive. She loves to paint all of her vehicles bright yellow with a pot-cleaner. She may be homeless, but she has a wealthy patron who gifts her cars. She receives a new van at one point, quickly painted ‘custard’ yellow, and the three-wheeler that joins the canary colour scheme. And, although our narrator is Alan, the story is about Miss Shepherd. We learn from one of the neighbours that she was a nun and during the war she was an ambulance driver during the blackouts. She knows London very well. She cannot stand music. We learn that she was a very gifted pianist, that was told by nuns that playing was a temptation from the devil. So, through negative associations, she has put music behind her. But make no mistake, music is a big part of the film. She went to Paris as a young woman to study under a virtuoso pianist. She was an artist. She was a traveller. She spoke fluent French. She was a religious woman. She was a nun, twice over. She was forcibly made to leave because she was strong-willed. She feared, for over half of her life, that she killed a young man, who crashed into her van. The film leads us to the conclusion that her homelessness was a self-prescribed, earthly purgatory for this particular sin (a sin that did not belong to her, but she feared it did).

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Throughout the film, Alan denies that he is her carer. Rather, he identifies himself as her neighbour. He does her kindly acts, like offering her the drive, or encouraging her to walk more for energy, check in on her, ensure that she is left alone by ruffians or dubious police characters. But, in a rather political stance, he is not her carer. He does not behave as though her presence is a burden, aside from when her after-dinners are left in his path to trod on. But by not taking her on as a burden, she maintains her independence. She is not in the possession of a man, being carefully minded.

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The end of the film reveals a blue plaque being places on the side of Alan’s house to mark where she lived. His house becomes her house. It becomes, in a religious sort of way, a site of pilgrimage. His house loses meaning as the place where he lives, where his economic affluence and male privilege afforded him a right to live, and it takes on the meaning of recalling and reiterating her right to that space, too. This film is important because it writes Margaret Shepherd’s history, and it does so unapologetically.  Well, Miss Shepherd seems like the sort to be unapologetic about her right to space, and all women and marginalized peoples need that kind of role model. Of course, Maggie Smith brings her award-winning acting to the role.

Think about the importance of this film. The person about whom we are encouraged to wonder and care about, if not for, is an older woman. We are told that her life and its path is and was meaningful. She is not just an old lady in a van, she is a woman with a story and a role in history. Throughout history, women have been written out of existence. One wonders if there were women at some points? But, this film, although it starts to tell the story of Alan Bennett (and he does share some of the story time), the story is the story of a formidable woman.

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The camera does not shy away from focusing on Maggie Smith’s face, without conventional make up. She is not glamourized. She is very filthy. She is a person with personhood. She is the subject of the film, not the object of the straight-male gaze. Our star is not young, and this is important, because the camera is teaching us that women are valuable socially. Human beings, as they age, do not become useless or valueless. Their lined faces, their incontinence, their will to live are all important and deserving of space in media and our lives. I have an older dog, and she looks and acts like a puppy, at times. She does have health issues that take a lot of work and often disrupt my sleep. But, in spending time with her, I realize that if humans aged the same way dogs do, without the perception of showing how age marks their physical bodies, we would find them more valuable. We wouldn’t want to put them away in homes and deem them less worthy of life or our time. We wouldn’t be afraid of the mortality they represent. We would see them as alive. We would treat them better. In our society, women don’t have to age much to be regarded as less worthy. Whilst men are valuable silver foxes: the world is their oyster, their adventures are yet to begin at 62; women, at 25, have become dusty on the shelf.

This film contravenes a narrative of shelving women (in binders or not) because their social value has been deemed less than. Indeed, Alan, who narrates the story, only has a story because of this woman. His voice is diminished, is non-existent, without Margaret Shepherd. The film reaffirms the hope I have for the future. The happiness I will feel at being an older woman who has no filter. I hope that by that time I’m held accountable for my filterless nature, and it’s not written off as being an addled old lady. I’ll just smile and say, hey! I’ve been dropping that mike before Yeezy publicly smiled. Ahahahaha. 🙂

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A few other things that I love about the film include how happy Margaret is represented at times, in spite of her earthly purgatory. There is a scene where she travels to the seaside, and she eats chips and rides a carousel, where young children are also enjoying themselves. Her enjoyment is echoed and emphasized by the children that go round and round just as she does. I think a clear point is that adults lose some of their child-like joy when they grow up, but when you hit a certain age you wonder why you stopped shoving your face with sweets or cantaloupe, whilst jumping up and down, fists full of fruit, and the fountain of youth dribbling from your mouth.

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Alan is gay. This inclusion and representation in the film is also really important. It is coded when he tries to ask an actor to help him decorate his flat, but the actor has a girlfriend. It is clearer when he has young men that leave his flat at night. If you can’t pick up on it, you are triply mocked by Margaret who knowingly *taps nose* says the young men are clearly communists, possibly; by the unknowing housewife who, at a dinner gathering of neighbours, asks aloud when they are going to find Alan a girl–the other neighbours laugh awkwardly; and by the snobbish neighbours that explain to the audience, or each other, that his plays are about him not coming clean (about being gay). But, the social climate doesn’t allow an outright speech act from Alan, that is, until the end of the film, when he has a partner that encourages him to stop arguing with the author-ego and talk to him.

The film ends beautifully, like Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ, Margaret Shepherd ascends into God’s willing arms. All I can do is smile, because the magical realism complements the stark realities of Margaret’s hard life.

Heaps of love,

WordPlay Xx

Shhhh, don’t say that ⎟ voicing my opinion

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I used to find navigating how much is posting too much on social media very difficult. In a lot of ways, it is tied to performances of femininity and gender. Ladies hide their emotions behind their fans; they do not overshare. And, I wouldn’t say that I am an over-sharer because there is a lot about me that a lot of people don’t know. But, I do like to speak. I like to have words crawl out of my mouth, dragging their weightiness behind them. I love words. Sometimes, or a lot of the time, I may say things I might not necessarily mean, but I am trying to work my way through ideas or friendships or concepts or relationships. If you can give voice or expression or audience to what you feel or feel you mean, it can help to clarify things up.

For instance, you might be really angry with someone and call them a total wanker. But then, maybe in a day or two, because you’ve vented that anger you start to piece together what made you feel the way you did and parse it from the actions of that person. Yes, they might be a total wanker, still, or you might be the total wanker, but at least you can gave those emotions their time and their place, and you can begin to understand and grow from that situation.

In terms of social media, there are times when I don’t really have anything to say to a general audience. Sometimes, I totally forget about my phone and twitter. And there are other times when I need to share things that have happened. When I have really vivid dreams, I want to tell them to people. At times, they’re super scary and you need to connect because you don’t want to feel alone. Loneliness is real–reach out to people, and, most importantly, allow people to reach out to you and recognize them. That is vital. Other times, my dreams are absolutely, off-the-walls, bonkers, hilarious, cute, problematic, romantic, sweet, endearing, stunning, or a bit odd. I don’t know what it is about my over-active subconscious, but perhaps because it is *in* my brain, I have to give in to a speech act to evidence my internalized experiences. Externalizing my introspection like a boss bitch. (I usually really hate that word, but I quite like the alliteration.)

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I used to think that it was not dainty to share the things I thought. I didn’t have 10 people liking or engaging with what I had to say, and that seemed to mean that what I had to say was not worthwhile. It actually just made me realize that it is more likely they weren’t my audience. As a human being, I don’t get to demand that people pay attention to me. What is this, reality tv?? I do not want to dismiss the fact that I do have amazing friends and family to engage with my thoughts, and I love them and appreciate them. I feel like our brains connect for a moment, as we move through this chaotic reality. That is worth everything. However, I do think that I can’t not express myself because I am afraid that people might know too much about me, or they might judge me (I don’t care what you think, unless you’re thinking about ways to make having three shitzus affordable whilst saving up to go back to school, coz I bloody-well love dogs), or that my noted presence might come off as all of the diminishing adjectives you can use to describe women. I’m not going to give them space here because they are wrong, and it is not necessary to tell you what sexist or misogynist things are already in your mind.

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I was once asked to stop using my Facebook as a platform to spread politicized posts. I responded with: I have an extraordinary amount of privilege to have a Facebook as a platform to communicate with a number (even if its finite) of friends, colleagues, and or, acquaintances–of course I am going to put other people’s voices forward in my space of privilege. That is what being an ally is about. You have to shush your own space, to make sure that people who might not be heard have their voice(s) heard!

So, it makes me wonder why I then give into that feeling that tells me I shouldn’t say this or I shouldn’t say that. I can’t post photos of myself because that’s so vain (even though I don’t think that about other people’s photos, I love them!); I have to post photos of my glasses, or the edge of a book lest you think I’m trying to be too smart, my tenth cup of delicious coffee, or mushrooms. I actually love mushrooms. If I could be, I would be one: coz I’d be a fungi. Yes, it’s an old joke, but I’m hilairrrr.

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I guess I’ve decided to make my public self and my introspective self a little more hand-in-hand. I don’t think I’ve been lying to other people, but I’ve been lying to myself about how I’m allowed to perform my being. We are always performing, and that is okay; it’s good! Perform your hearts out. As much as one might want to, one cannot live a vocal life when you’re afraid of having your own voice heard because you’re so busy whispering as silently as possible that people just think you’re farting at them, or something like that. When you say one word, it gets a lot easier to keep saying more and more. If someone doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, then they can tune out: block, unfriend, click the x, mute, unsubscribe. I don’t want you to feel you have to leave, but I want to speak–to sing to the heavens and drink deep into the caverns of existence.

Please feel free to join me in the caverns; I also like coffee and Twinings’ earl grey tea (with coconut-almond mylk and one sugar).

 

Heaps of Love,

WordPlay: one that is going to feel more free to speak out loud.

Can You Analyze Something to Death?⎟ Critical Analysis

Dear Reader,

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how a reader and viewer engages with different media. I remember when I was in secondary school (grade 9-12), one would hear the chant, ‘But why do I have to analyze the book? It ruins it for me?’ And that mantra still holds true for a lot of people. I think that means you were taught wrong. I had some pretty crap teachers, but I was really lucky to have a mom and neighbour that taught me the importance of books, reading, and forming opinions. In addition to that, I had amazing post-secondary professors that opened a whole new world of reading.

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via tumblr

For a long time, it was hard for me to read fiction alongside academic sources. Both parts of my brain couldn’t function at once. I like to call that period of time a-bridged. It was hard to do both because I was learning different types of reading. I had to build a bridge between reading fiction and reading critical theory. It was when I learnt that I liked reading in silence at a desk. That may sound incredibly dull, but libraries were the spaces I occupied when I escaped into fictional narratives or discursive accounts of post-revolutionary France. When one is studying, libraries can seem to be this really daunting space. But, I love them. I love carrying all 20 kg of my books to the library, opening all my stationary, placing pens and pencils in a line, taking out my notes, and, depending on the library’s rules, sipping on hot coffee or tepid water. I live for that feeling. I love that I know how the library system worked: HQ for political books relating to women and women in India, NA for art history, B for British History, D-> more history. It is such a good feeling. One of my favourite things is to spend time with a book. I will, on occasion, type notes, but I much prefer to hand write them.

When you read in a library, you fidget and fight the table in front of you and escape into the author’s words. That’s when I started reading fiction in the library. When I was young, I wrote in books. But when I got older, the marginalia became a rite of passion and passage throughout the book. I buy used books (I cannot afford new ones), so I can write in them. It does make my reading time longer than if I skipped it, or perhaps that’s untrue. Indeed, when I write marginalia, I am able to ruminate on a thought or connection and let it go to focus on the next thing.

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Medieval Marginalia

So, today, I was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). I remember being obsessed with the film. I would quote it, laugh at its oddities, and revel in its colour scheme. I was a kid. I enjoyed it the way children are meant to enjoy things, without reserve. I flicked to the station that the film was on, so I could have noise as I fed my dog. I started to eat my own breakfast, and I was once again enraptured by the film. There were so many new things that I hadn’t understood when I saw it. It was like I was watching it for the first time, again. Isn’t that the feeling we’re always trying to recapture?

How had I previously not noticed that using one Oompa Loompa to represent an entire Indigenous culture fits neatly into dominant ideas about indigenous peoples and cultures–that others are all the same but different? How had I not noticed the magic of Wonka’s world? It is magic. I love the magic. How had I not noticed that Wonka’s chewing gum is made to seem as though it is made of real food: the chewing gum isn’t artificial flavours that we know–it is told to us that they are real. That is something we can never know.

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via tumblr (please expect a future post about cannibalism in this film)

And so, as I found things both mystifyingly awesome and stupefyingly problematic, I realized that being given the tools to analyze things or question how characters are portrayed, based on race and gender, is not tiring or exhausting. It opens a whole new world and aspect of the story that you’re being told. We should not resist questioning the text, music, or film because we don’t want to kill the thing we love. We should go into these things expecting to be challenged and to challenge. We should teach our children to be filled with curiosity so that the norm is always challenged. Instead, we are taught that stasis is satisfying, desirable, and worth doing anything for. That makes us rigid, and, quite sadly, too exhausted to learn empathy and critical thinking.

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via imgur

As a final note, I’d like to add that you should never be made to feel stupid because you do not have the same education as someone else. Education should not be used to oppress others. If someone purposefully derides you, they are doing it wrong. I have known many people in my life that have had little formal education because it was unavailable to them; they are extremely intelligent and intuitive. These, mostly, women have been the fertile earth that nurtured me. And that is my point, we should teach our children to be filled with curiosity so that they nurture one another. It is important to teach ourselves that we can enjoy things as we think critically about them.

So, to answer my title question: No, you cannot analyze a thing to death, but you can analyze it to life.

 

Heaps of love,

WordPlay Xx

Updates

Serial Posts: I am working my way through Great Expectations to write some posts, and I’m really torn about how to approach it. I am thinking that I am going to have some posts about character development and the gendering of characters, and that I will have a podcast episode about the book as detective fiction.

Misha: I’m sorry I haven’t posted much, recently. It has been quite busy. The warmer weather is a lot of stress on Misha. So, the last little while has been a lot of me ensuring she’s cool and running to her when she’s struggling. Thank you for your patience.

 

To woe or not to woe⎜The Shakespeare Project

I’ve always had complicated thoughts about Hamlet. If not complex thoughts, then lingering thoughts. The kind of moments that keep you up at night as you try to think through Hamlet’s soliloquies. The kind of thoughts that force you to hold back a sob, as you reach into the night to grasp the words of the bard, nay to clutch, scratch, and pry those words into or out of your mind or soul–body or being. (Please note that this post will discuss suicide in the context of Hamlet. Please do not read if you may find this triggering)

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Hamlet is regarded as the play of the non-acting hero. The hero who does not want to act. And, for the longest time, I think that I was meant to view this as something that takes away from Hamlet’s character. Perhaps, at the time, if was meant to detract. However, I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. Why else would Shakespeare spend such woefully beautiful phrases to decry Hamlet as that dullard who will not restore the chain of being and rid Denmark of a fratricidal king.

Hamlet’s genius remains its ability to delve into the mind of the shattered remnants of the crime scene of life. The exhaustion, the self-doubt, the self-hatred, the confusion, and the deep contemplative anxiety that may or may not be your experience or narrative. In Act I, Scene ii, Hamlet explains the chaos and wretchedness of life. He does not want to kill himself, I think, because he desires that he could just disappear or melt away. That his flesh would thaw and resolve into a dew. It is noteworthy that Hamlet focuses on the flesh, body, and corpus in this moment. In this soliloquy, Hamlet focuses on the flesh–that it is sullied or an ‘unweeded garden / That grows to seed Things rank and gross in / nature.’ Indeed, there is a very physical and real-life, as opposed to abstract, example of Hamlet’s wretchedness. He then moves on to discuss God’s rules that prohibit suicide. Keep this thought in your minds, and I will return to this point momentarily.

As Hamlet discusses his want for death in physical terms that implicate the body, nature, and the corruption of both, he also goes on to discuss his mother’s relationship with her brother-in-law (the one who killed the king to usurp his place). Her husband, the king, dies; she does not know that Claudius has killed him. Within a month, she has wed Claudius. Hamlet’s condemnation of his mother is a very physical condemnation–she was weak in the flesh, as women are wont to be. Hamlet says, ‘Frailty, they name is woman!…/She married. O most wicked speed, to post/With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!’ Lust and incest, the crimes of his Queen and mother, reflect the spoilt edenic purity in which Hamlet wallows. Indeed, let us also remember Hamlet’s invocation to God and his prohibition of sins. As we, and Hamlet will learn, forthwith, Claudius has willfully murdered his brother to gain the crown. If God must prohibit suicide, surely he must also prohibit fratricide, located in the First Testament example of Cain and Abel. From the fall from the garden of Eden, Gertrude must also live in the chaos of Cain and Abel, and the wilful self-destruction of her son.

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via tumblr

Indeed, Hamlet’s most famous speech, with the lines ‘To be or not to be’ moves out of the realm of the physical and into metaphysical question of death, consciousness, and the afterlife. These famous words are quickly followed by ‘Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer’. The mind is our medium of expression here; Hamlet’s self-exploration is of the mind in opposition to the fleshly, worldly sins of the flesh. To emphasize this shift, Shakespeare penned, ‘No more; and by a sleep, to say we end / The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks / That flesh is heir to?…’ Flesh is heir, or secondary, to mental anguish experienced by man. To die, to wish for eternal sleep, Hamlet is saying, is not a question of the flesh but one of the mind.

Indeed, that is not quite so simple as it seems. Hamlet continues, ‘to die, to sleep, / To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,/ For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.’ As Hamlet talks himself through what death might be or not be, he notes that death is not the easy solution it pretends to be. Just as in life, in death, one cannot control what will happen. For instance, Hamlet’s father does not float into heaven–he must suffer his mortal sins in purgatory before he is accepted into the Kingdom of God. Indeed, what of hell, too? The mis-Fortune of the life lived is also the mis-Fortune–‘The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune’–of the afterlife. Indeed,  Hamlet works this out, he realizes that just as the physical metaphor of a sullied garden offers him no solution, neither does his metaphysical exploration of death. It is not an answer with a simple solution. His inaction is a paradox that is, perhaps, as we shall see in my next post, solved by Ophelia.

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via tumblr

Quite extraordinarily, Hamlet finishes by saying, ‘Soft you now, / The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons / Be all my sins remembered.’ This is quite telling because, *spoiler*, Ophelia dies by her own hand as she falls from a tree into the water below. And, this very messy physical act undoes Hamlet’s honeyed words ‘Nymph, in they Orisons.’ Ophelia’s tragic death is seen as her losing her mind as result of the way Hamlet treats her. She is often written off as this tragic damsel, who can’t quite handle Hamlet’s rejection. I think this is wrong. Ophelia is the physical manifestation of the chaos in Denmark. Hamlet teeters between action and in-action; Claudius has upset the great chain of being; and Gertrude is complicit by so quickly bedding Claudius. But, very arguably, Ophelia is not that simple.

Soft you now, dear readers. I will continue this post this week with Ophelia at nor without her orisons!

 

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Love Yourself ⎜Lessons Learnt by Listening to Justin Bieber

The title is probably most unexpected, by myself, primarily. I think my last post reveals where my head was at, but not the whole story. I don’t think it’s necessary to get into that at the moment to share my moment of revelation or epiphany. I love that in my pseudo-religiousness, I keep religious language of revelation and epiphany, and I laugh at their presence, but I don’t call their names to make Lazarus rise. In any case, let’s discuss some things, like validation and confidence in the face of silence via Bieber’s Love Yourself.

Now, although the song is mellow, rather slow, and something that seems it could be whispered to a lover, the words are rather contradictory. Indeed, the song is about a love interest who was more interested in using the narrator for self gain than to build a relationship of mutual growth, trust, and love. Bieber’s song reconciles the pain that comes with these experiences, that usually transpires into anger, into a calm discussion that is not shameful to the subject. It makes note of what one person did to another.

The narrator says to his subject, “if you like the way you look that much, you should go a love yourself.” Now, imagine if love was swapped with “fuck” or “screw”. The tone changes drastically. Of course, one could read the song like that, but I think that stops the potential for meaning and would too strongly disrupt the melody. The softness of the song changes the message from one of hate to one of (detached) concern. Let me explain that. The narrator already gives examples of the poor behaviour of the subject. The narrator could easily tell the subject to fuck off or not even write the song about this subject at all. Rather, lyrically, the song cleverly detaches the narrator’s love or sexual interest from the subject, and he tells the subject that they need to learn to love themselves. A difficult lesson to learn. For, according to the lyrics, the subject is not behaving in a way that shows they respect themselves wholeheartedly, and I mean that: whole heart-edly. Melodically, the song is tender, full of hope, and addictive. The song asks you to listen to it over and over again and find  closure in the lyrics and peace in the melody.

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via tumblr: sinkinginboiledbrains

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via buzzfeed

This indicates an act of empathy, rather than just writing off their behaviour as them being shite. Everyone has something. And, the narrator explains that they are not guiltless, either. The narrator was ignoring the situation and focusing on work. So, there is a complicity in this song. The song seems more of an anthem–if we can call such a smooth, mellow song an anthem–of self-growth and maturity. Don’t get me wrong, it confronts the subject quite directly and potentially exposes them to public pillory, but relationships fall into a battle of egos and wills and this song shows vulnerabilities on both sides and spaces for growth. But sometimes people just don’t fit together, and that’s just how it is.

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via giphy

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via tumblr

 

So, how does this fit into my life? I find the song comforting because it is not dismissive. It makes you, the listener, identify with both narrator and subject–tripling empathy. You feel wronged or used, but you should not bring anger to the table. Furthermore, as you listen, you slip into the role of the subject at the chorus, when the narrator repeats “you should go and love yourself.” Then you return to the role of the narrator throughout the lyric until the chorus. It’s comforting to be told that you should love yourself, that we are all worthy of love and that that love starts from within. It’s like expecting to be pierced with a sword and being given a flower. Indeed, when one feels like all words, motivation, and meaning have slunk away it’s easy to fixate on either trying to find someone to solve those emotions for you or being decidedly stubborn in your isolation. None of us act without flaw, and so we all carry the fears, anxieties, and sins of our own narratives, but being reminded to love yourself is incredibly meaningful and inspiring.

Sometimes, you just need to sit down and put pen to paper and do what you need to do, instead of waiting for someone to validate you with the things you need to hear. You know those little voices that tell you “you can’t do this?” that is the little “fuck yourself” that you need to turn into a “love yourself.” Stop raining on your parade. Or, try one step at a time to use an umbrella and begin to love yourself. Do what you are able to, and learn to grow by taking note and releasing negativity but holding onto the moments or opportunities to grow. Take as much time as you need. The best wines have to take time to age.

 

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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A Matter of Wills

I’ve recently been considering how we wield our willies. I mean WILLS! Ops. I don’t mean the legal kind, either. No. Or that British Prince. I mean our wants and desires, those things that so often come into conflict with other peoples’ wants and desires–or our paths to get them. But this post is not meant to be a pessimistic blog; I believe that we put our wills ahead of others because we are afraid. So, I’d like to share a lesson in sharing–sharing space and giving way from my will to another’s. And, to do this, we’re, you and I, going to become really good friends with my dog.

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via tumblr

My dog is Misha. She is a twelve-and-one-half -year-old shihtzu puppy. I say puppy because, despite having a heart problem that makes her choke or fight to breath sometimes, most of the time she is extremely playful, silly, and bratty in the way that makes your heart brim full of happiness. Since Misha was little, she has been sort of stubborn. I think shihtzus are rather well-known for this tendency. She’s definitely done the mischievous  look-over-the-shoulder-whilst-peeing-on-the-carpet, when she was being house-trained. Or, she, a 10-14lb dog, used to pull us by the cuff of our trousers when she was being walked. In fact, I doubt she believed she was being walked at all; she knew she was walking us. She also herds us where she wants to go. Like a sheep-dog pushing sheep into their pen, she runs behind you, pushing you towards the kitchen to make her food. Additionally, unlike most dogs, when you ask her if she needs to do a peepees or go outside, she will run away from you. CHASE ME, she laughs, as she runs around the house. She has, on numerous occasions, run back up the stairs to my bedroom.

 

Occasionally, I’ll, in a deeper voice, say, “MISHA…..what are you dooooing.” That’s usually when she is licking her foot. I sneak up, tap her on the shoulder. She looks up at me, moustache askew, with a look of innocence mixed with fierce wolf. And then I say, “ooooooohhhhh that’s so baaaaaaaaaad” She acknowledges she’s been caught being naughty, and runs away. Often times, she chokes, which is why I gently reprimand her. When she licks her paw, she pushes too much air down her throat and irritates her trachea, which already gets crushed by her enlarged heart. So, really, when I’m telling her not to do it, it’s not because I’m asserting my will, but I’m doing it to protect her.

The looks she gives you are so emotive. For a long time, people have not recognized the emotional capacity that dogs have. It’s only after science has backed up these ’emotional’ claims, that people are willing to believe. We are often accused of reading human emotions into animals. But, if we empathize and greet them with compassion, how can this be wrong? We should consider animals as varied and nuanced as we should consider our neighbours, friends, and even those we strongly dislike.

Wills are different. When Misha is being bratty, it’s like a young child learning to assert their will. A child will say “No!” or stop doing what they’re being asked to do because they’re learning that they don’t have to like everything they’re being asked to do or not do. Now, just because I don’t like going to bed earlier doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t go to bed earlier. But it’s how we all are. We all chose to do something or not do something.

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I see you’re eating. Don’t mind my food-stained chin. I’ve not eaten in eons.

Misha, on every walk, will likely be carried home. Sometimes, it’s because it is raining and Misha hates the rain. When it’s really hot out, I don’t let her walk on the pavement. Sometimes, it’s because she’s just woken up, so I take her to go pee (she goes 5x a day because of her heart medication), and she’s sleepy still. Sometimes, it’s because I allow her to walk forever in one direction and she gets tired. A lot of the time, it’s because she only wants to walk in one direction, and when I say she can’t go that way anymore (because we’ll be walking an age away from home), she does, what we call, a houdini, which is the classic, backing up, trying to shimmy out of one’s harness. When she was younger, she’d do this to actually escape and go where she wanted to go. This meant, I ran after an escapee a lot. Now, she does it to great effect in front of other people, cars, squirrels to make a point that she wants to go her way. Usually, this move is followed by a quick pee and a look that says “SEE! I HAD TO DO ANOTHER PEEPEES! YOU WERE GOING TO PREVENT THAT. SHAME ON YOU! FOOOOOORRRRRR SHAMMMMEEEEE!” haha. A lot of the time, I carry her home almost a kilometre. She always wants to stare at cars, too. If she was a human, she’d definitely be a formula 1 racer or some sort of car nerd. When I carry her home, she sits on my hip with her head over my shoulder, like a small child. Many times, she tries to drop her weight so she can look this way or that way. I don’t allow her to move because that’s the best position to keep pressure off of her heart. Many other times, she nestles into my neck and closes her eyes and does the silent shihtzu grumbly chatter.

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‘I like to be carried, but don’t think this means I like cuddles or whatever…don’t go getting ideasssssss.’ — Misha

But, I’ve learnt something from all of this. Sometimes, when we’re walking I’m really impatient or angry or upset from other things. Or, I’m cold or hot. Sometimes, I’d like nothing more than for her to do a quick pee and go home. Sometimes, I want her to not stop for so long because I’m impatient or cold. But, whenever I want rush her, I stop myself because even though she asserts her will in dawdling, making me carry her home because I didn’t let her sniff that rusty pole she knows she’s not allowed to sniff–it doesn’t hurt me or harm me to pick her up and carry her home. When she asserts her will, she’s not doing it to spite me. I’m sure she’s tired or she would rather be carried. I’ve learnt that asserting my will over hers does not make me happier. It just allows me to be selfish. I’ve learnt that carrying her home, back muscles being pulled, is so much better than anything else I know. I’ve learnt that we can share the assertion of the will, and that we don’t need to just be self-serving. In fact, doing things for others often does yourself more of a service than just asserting willy-nilly.

 

And then…you get a present as beautiful as this:

 

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Why The Grinch Is Everything ⎜Bullies, Race, Fetishism, and Depression

Universal Pictures

It has begun. Network stations have, liberally or ilLiberally, began playing all of the Christmas films they can muster. Predictably, many of them are made-for-TV, and those are the ones I really cannot abide. Elf and The Grinch have been listed, too. I am not much an Elf fan, but I do love Zooey Deschanel’s Baby It’s Cold Outside. This introduction is descending into the 12 days of Christmas? 10 days? I think I’m confusing Christmas carols and Shakespeare, now. This is about the Grinch and why it is all the things!

Focus!

The Grinch, all media versions, are holiday classics. Like, Dr Seuss’s The Lorax, there is a clear moral. Christmas is about community and time spent together. But the 2000 remake starring Jim Carrey does much more than remind us of the meaning of Christmas, if there is one meaning or any meaning of Christmas (that’s your decision). The film touches on issues of bullying, race, fetishism, depression, and (perhaps a bit ironically for the film industry) the capitalism of Christmas. I argue that the overall Christmas tone of the film should be overlooked in favour of the paradigmatic shifts proposed by the film. To be blunt, the Grinch is othered–he doesn’t look like the rest of the Whos: he is a different colour, and he is bullied because of this difference. Little Cindy-Lou Who (get ready for this) forces the Whos to rethink who they are and what it means to be a Who! As she is a child on a bildungsroman quest, it is easy to overlook that she causes a paradigmatic shift in her whole society. Additionally, the holiday nature of the film falls into the trope as it consistently reminds us that at Christmas we must learn to love our neighbour–is this because we want Santa to bring us better presents? Hmm? So, let’s keep some of the hints of Christmas, since they inform chronology, but let’s really dive into The Grinch to see beneath the layers.

Because Canadians like to be Green & discuss our layers (we wear many) // PDI/DreamWorks

Cindy Lou is chagrinned by the commodity nature of Christmas. In order to hear her speak behind the wall of presents she is carrying, her father, Lou, has to remove a present where her face is. When she raises her concerns about buying so much, he shushes her because it’s Christmas; that’s just what is done. This introduction to Whoville, Cindy, and Lou establishes a normative society that is driven by consumption, spending money on Christmas, and competition to have the best Christmas (seemingly). Cindy Lou’s mother even steals a traffic light so she can have the best Christmas light display. At heart, her parents are not bad people, but the status quo is deeply engrained into their behaviour. Most individuals who do not recognize their privilege are not nefarious; they must unlearn the privilege that they may have and/or that they reinforce. Cindy Lou questions the consumptive-normative society in which she lives, and she is ridiculed for it by those in positions of authority because that is how norms eradicate outliers–shame into same.

Indeed, after a brief encounter with the Grinch, who saves her from being crushed by an ironically large and destructive “fragile” parcel stamp, Cindy Lou questions the narrative of an inherently evil Grinch. She embarks on a quest to understand the Grinch through a series of interviews of those who raised him and who knew him when he was young. Every O.G, Original Grinch, needs an origins story. But, what we learn from the interviews forces us to consider the Grinch less as a baddie and more as an individual who was excessively bullied and made to feel different. His isolation on Mount Crumpit is not an evil lair but the only place to which he could escape.

Universal Pictures

These revelations, to which I will return in a moment, inspire Cindy Lou to nominate the Grinch as Holiday Cheermeister in the Whos Whobilation. The mayor, one of the Grinch’s more persistent bullies, does not want this. Indeed, he prefers to reassert his own authority by being singularly nominated as Cheermeister and winning. For, the image that Whoville projects is one that invokes and embodies all of the cheer and happiness of Christmas. The mayor must be the cheeriest and the jolliest. The mayor has to embody this role, but he is not actually those things at all. Cindy Lou nominates the Grinch because she believes that the Grinch will be her salvation to find what Christmas, and perhaps life, mean to her. An existential crisis surrounding Santa Claus, how witty.

Typically, when Cindy Lou voices her nomination, everyone gasps in shock and fearful awe. Who would dare tarnish the Whos’ vision of happiness by even speaking his name? This is important. As Cindy Lou and the mayor begin to have a polite argument about nominating the Grinch, we learn that even the Grinch’s name defines a negative. The Grinch is not seen as an individual or subject; he is designated as a synonym for all things anti-Who, for things unchristmas, not the norm. The mayor quotes from The Book of Who, “[t]he word grinch shall apply, when holiday cheer is in short supply.” The Grinch, fundamentally, cannot be Holiday Cheermeister because his very name contradicts it. This locks the perception of the Grinch into a category of not belonging, of being other. The codebook or law book of Who negates the Grinch’s inclusivity amongst the Whos. The Whos, however, agree with Cindy Lou because she outwits the mayor. He tauntingly forecasts doom, and says that it will be shown he knew best all along.

***

Now, let’s return, first, to Cindy Lou’s interviews and then to the Grinch. Cindy Lou interviews the Grinch’s guardians, who describe him as a good child. He loved Santa, and the clip shows him eating a Santa dish. They still praise him, even though he used their family heirlooms to create a gift for the girl he liked, Martha May. Cindy Lou interviews Martha May and Augustus May (who is the mayor); they were both classmates of the Grinch. Martha May is in an eroticized trance when she discusses the Grinch. At times, it is hard to decide whether she fancies him because of him or because he is green. Indeed, as a youth she says to the Grinch that her favourite colours are red and, suggestively, green. It is racial fetishization. His green-ness is highlighted and made aware to him. His difference makes him attractive. Or, perhaps, she is addressing his difference and affirming it as valuable and meaningful. We have to consider both readings.


Universal Pictures

The young Grinch, like a young Hegel or Marx, goes home and makes Martha May an angel ornament. He is proud of his work, but just as he is noting how great he feels, he remembers that Augustus and the other boys say “He’s eight years old and has a beard.” So, the Grinch attempts to shave his face for the first time. As it goes, he cuts himself and places itty-bitty pieces of tissue over his cuts. When he goes to school he shame-facedly hides behind the coats and underneath a paper bag. He conceals the shame he feels, but he wants to give Martha May the gift he made. To do so, the teacher forces him to reveal his face. In doing so, everyone in the class laughs at the Grinch, except Martha May. She feels his pain. Augustus yells, “Look at that hack job.” So, the Grinch throws a Christmas tree in the most dramatic way possible and runs away to Mount Crumpit, significantly, the trash mountain of the Whos. This act reveals a lot about the self-worth that the Grinch feels. He feels like garbage; he is discarded, so easily, by his peers. He is made to feel unwanted, disgusting, unloveable.

Universal Pictures

So, when we meet the Grinch and we learn that he hates the Whos, in a scene such as this, we must not read it in a binary of Christmas and evil. Cindy Lou’s disavowal of the Whos’ consumptive (pun intended) Christmas spirit is further fleshed out by their treatment and willful abandonment of the Grinch. Indeed, the Grinch’s character offers us a view into how bullying, particularly bullying based on outward difference such as race, fosters depression and isolation.

Universal Pictures

Cindy Lou delivers the Cheermeister invitation to the Grinch, who eventually accepts. He attends the Cheermeister celebration, where he is literally stuffed with Christmas cheer, as he is forced to eat pudding after pudding. He  consumes Christmas and is, in turn, consumed by it. Indeed, after the mayor publicly bullies the Grinch, to reaffirm the Grinch’s place as other and unwelcome, the Grinch calls out the Whos’ materialism. “These gifts are dazzling,” the Grinch interrupts the mayor’s proposal to Martha May, “That’s what it’s always been about: Gifts! GIFTS! GIFTS! GIFTS! You know what happens to all of your gifts? The come to me, in the garbage…The AVARICE! The avarice never ends! …Look, I don’t want to make waves, but this whole Christmas season is stupid! Stupid! STUPID!” He then causes a chaotic scene, wherein the Christmas tree goes up in flames. The Grinch is about to take the trash shoot back to Mount Crumpit, when he sees that the Whos belief in their materialistic Christmas is unshakeable, as they replace the fallen tree.

The Grinch leaves, exasperated. He then formulates his plan to steal Christmas from the Whos. The end of the film may easily fall into a simple narrative that the Grinch has learnt that Christmas has value. But, importantly, Cindy Lou, in her desire to make her life have meaning beyond the consumer-driven Whoville Christmas, listens to the advice of our favourite existentialist, Sartre. Of course this is all implicit, Sartre does not replace Santa to teach Cindy Lou what bad faith is. Cindy Lou knows that listening to authority through blind faith is not living well. Instead, when all the presents are gone and the Mayor begins to condemn Cindy Lou, her father reiterates what Cindy Lou has been saying all along. Maybe Christmas (read: life) shouldn’t be about gifts and getting things; it should be about meaningful choices and meaningful relationships.

The scene when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes may also be misread. The Grinch hears that the Whos have shifted their destructive, wasteful paradigmatic construction of Christmas (read: world view). They project joy as they welcome each other’s company and cheer. When the Grinch cries that he is feeling something, it is so reminiscent of learning to feel joy as one learns to heal (at whatever pace) in depression. Of course, one’s joy and happiness should not be held in relation to others and how others view us. But let’s consider that moment. The Whos have shifted their entire paradigmatic framework. Imagine how incredibly momentous that is. The value-system that claimed he was lesser was dismantled. The Grinch proclaiming that he can feel is more a moment that reveals he can be vulnerable with others and that he need not fear that. He does not need to be guarded. His heart grows three sizes because he is not held back by a society that perceives his difference as negation.

Universal Pictures

The live-action Grinch is far more clever than we might, initially, give it credit. It tackles bullying, race, and depression whilst wrapped up in the neat package of Christmas cheer. Christmas is usually the opportunity for big-industries, such as film, to moralize about human nature. Yet, in the non-human world of Whoville, our own societal fissures are revealed to us. The Grinch forgives and Whoville is no longer exclusionary or even tolerant—the Whos of Whoville are welcoming and inclusive.

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The Discourse of Barbarism ⎜Conservatism and You

Yesterday, it was announced that the Conservative Party (of Canada) intends to set up an RCMP tip line so you, yes you, can report the barbaric practices your neighbours commit. Of course, the definition of barbaric is fast and loose, so it can never be pinned down. It allows the Conservatives to say that if you, as a CIS-gendered, able-bodied, white person (read: man) feel uncomfortable, you can report your neighbour for disobeying heteronormative culture. An already incredibly privileged group is getting another service; a service which allows them to confess their deepest, most racist secrets.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t a too-long set up to a joke. It is real. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry because the vagueness of this message means that marginalised persons are going to be more marginalised. The government is going to have their eyes in our bedrooms, and, this time, it’s not through our laptops but from the lips of our neighbours.

Let’s examine these sentiments a little more closely. A cursory search for the word barbarism yields this Google result:

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Barbarism thus defined suggests that what we should be reporting are the uncultured, the cruel, or both. But that doesn’t really give us much information. I think a lot of my neighbours are uncultured; they stay shackled to insular belief systems. Should I be reporting them? Should I be reporting anyone who doesn’t listen to classical music, trip-hop, indie, or all of the sounds in between? Should I be reporting anyone who doesn’t read books? In this case, I should be reporting the Conservative government because it encourages the absence of culture in Canada. Funding has been slashed from humanities and sciences alike at Canadian Universities. The long-held divide between arts and sciences is funnelling into the underfunded and silenced crowd of academics and students.

The Conservative use of the word barbarism is clever and cruel. It leaves the definition of what one might consider barbaric open to interpretation. This discursive trick gains antagonistic value, like a cartoon snowball hurling down a hill collecting more snow and speed along its course. In its first usage, barbarism was used by the Athenians to describe the Spartans. The Spartans were characterized as a warring race that was uncultured and uncivilized. (A bonus for Mr. Jean-Jacques Rousseau). I learnt this fact in the Ancient Civilizations course I took in grade 10. So, already, we have a discourse embedded in a language of war and a less-than status. Subsequent periods in history have reconsidered the Spartans; consider the film 300, based on the graphic novel series by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. King Leonidas, with muscles that only Raphael could have sculpted, leads 300 Spartans into war with the Persian king, Xerxes. The film is a two-hour ode to Spartan bodies, bravery, sex, and urns. Both Plato and Socrates in Plato’s dialogue Protagoras interrogated the presumption that Spartans are dull because of their ability to deliver, unexpectedly, witty comments, now known as laconic phrases. Additionally, when the Spartans invaded southern Greece, they received a rather terse message from Phillip II of Macedon: “If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans, cleverly, responded with one word: “If.” A zinger if ever there was one. A Bye Felicia of olde.

Barbarism has also been used to define primitive cultures. Remember, when European countries decided that they wanted to inhabit the world. That is the origin story of the US and Canada. The official languages of Canada are not indigenous languages, but French and English. Barbarism was a term employed when the Spanish sent missionaries to their colonies because they feared that the final judgement and salvation could not come if there were so many unconverted peoples. Barbarism was an excuse to enslave people who looked different. Barbarism was used to describe the likely fantastical accounts of the ‘savage’ and the ‘cannibal’ in the New World.

In the late-sixteenth century, Michel de Montaigne wrote an essay called ‘Of Cannibals’. The essay considers the accounts of cannibalism, reported by Europeans, of the Tupinambá peoples of Brazil. Montaigne does not seek to discredit the idea that cannibals exist, he creates context and, in so doing, reminds Europeans of their own practices that seem cannibalistic and barbaric to those who are outside of the European context. He also throws shade at European reasoning in this situation by asking them to use some. In the first paragraph of his essay, Montaigne explores the way in which the word barbarian has been used to describe the other; oftentimes, peoples returning cry at the first sound of “You’re a barbarian!” Like that scene in The Grinch where Jim Carrey ends up, to our amusement, calling himself an idiot. (Take note, dear Conservatives, you’re making us all foolish and at a dear cost). Montaigne said, “[i]t appears how cautious men ought to be of taking things upon trust from vulgar opinion, and that we are to judge by the eye of reason, and not from common report.” Montaigne’s essay says to the reader, ‘be careful what and how you believe.’ Cannibalism, Montaigne wrote, is an extreme act of warfare. It cannot be understood in isolation. European history, from the Romans, to his contemporary day, contains examples of so-called acts barbarity that are consistently excused.  Montaigne’s essay may be called ‘Of Cannibals’ but to whom is he referring? Who is it that eats up and spits out other peoples and cultures?

Again, according the European explorers through the ages, it is always the culture they encounter that was born of barbarism and an unyielding chaos. When a ship of white sailors travels the world; it’s brave and adventurous. In this mythic schema, no one else can have the role of hero. Anxiety over the myth of racial purity and whiteness gave birth to a veritable empire of literature that professed Britishness as demure, docile, worthy to rule, able-bodied, true feminine, true masculine. Boxes and boundaries were built up to define the insiders from the outsiders. The ‘not-one-of-us’ to the recognizably one of us. Scholars from Edward Said to Homi Bhabha examine, note, and reconstruct the discourse of the other, the non-white body. As Said notes, there was the artistic, literary fantasy of the East that conjured itself in the imaginary spaces of europeans. Then, there was the administrative, colonial, and imperial bureaucratization and institutionalization that created nepotistic posts for distant relatives to micro-manage colonized spaces. The creation of other spaces and other bodies also created a space where other bodies acted out the fantasies of the western reader or viewer. Whilst pointing one’s finger at an odalisque and decrying the sex-crazed ‘Eastern despots’, the western mind could climax from the fantasy of a secret, sexual pleasure dome for their own pleasure.

Bhabha, on the other hand, sees the danger in a dialectic creation of an east always overpowered by the west. Similarly, in feminist discourse, if women have always been oppressed by men, can they ever claim power and agency? There has to be space to account for, for want of a better word, other narratives. More often than not, it is not that women or non-white bodies cannot or did not have mobility and intelligence, their histories have been whitewashed through the lens and recorded experiences of white men. This is not to point the finger at all white men or white people, but we have to recognize that the things we hear and learn, primarily, do not come from the persons about whom we are talking.

So, what this shows us is that barbarism, barbarity, and barbaric are lazy words that stand in to denote an “other.” It dismisses cultures. It is an erasure of a culture outside of our own, which, in itself is a kind of ironic barbarism. Montaigne shows us that popular discourses describing another culture as barbaric often works to whitewash our own sins in favour of sensationalizing people about whom we do not know. Said explains that the West created an imaginary East to project its fantasies.

In this election, the Conservative Party, without directly saying it, taps its proverbial nose as its says “Uncle Steve wants YOU! To report your (non-white, Muslim) neighbours!” Hinting that they can protect us because we need protecting. No other party, Tory discourse cries, will tell you the truth about your non-white friends. We will, they pander to the scared, we will protect you. The cost is much more than civil liberties, dear friends. Barbarism becomes a way to de-note and other Canadians. Immediately, there is a sense of “they are not one of us.” Now, we look for cheap and easy ways to distinguish ourselves from the “them”. White bodies become Canadian. Non-white bodies become un-Canadian, dangerous, and volatile. We lose our trust in our neighbour; we lose our trust to unite with them to create a better nation; we lose ourselves. Barbarism = Harperism. I think that’s the idea that should stick.

Whilst we’re here, may I use the tip line to report the hostile ways Canada has treated and continues to treat First Nations peoples? Can everyone call in to remind our Conservatives about the many missing First Nation’s women? Can everyone call in to remind the Conservatives that women’s bodies are not your political playground? Why do you suggest that women and children are only victimized by non-white bodies? Have you looked at the statistics? Why is it, in the context of victimizing marginalized peoples, that you claim you want to help the victimized?

This ploy is just a way to distract us from the larger issues at hand in this election. It’s a way to breed fear, racism, and xenophobia. It makes Harper’s decision to limit the number of refugees appear to be the right one. It is a trick. It’s not yet Halloween, friends, and if Harper’s in office this Halloween, we’ll definitely not get a treat.

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