words can ease the grip life has around your throat, a vocabulary is all that keeps me afloat sometimes
Really and truly in another life I would be a philologist and literary critic...
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Tumblr be like "Death of The Author" and yet never use death of the author correctly.
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✨~Just English Major Things~✨
Some of the books I'll need for the next academic year came in from ThriftBooks today. As dry as they likely will be, I'm really excited to grow my collection of literary books and get some new knowledge and perspectives. I'm also excited to read in advance because I'm excited for the next school year and actually feeling optimistic about my future.
[Image description: Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler and Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory by Peter Barry are held in front of a muted green upholstery. End image ID]
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I have been wondering how to answer this for a few days now. For reference, the post and the subsequent question (feel free to ask for more):
Tell us the meta about your writing that you really want to ramble to people about (symbolism you’ve included, character or relationship development that you love, hidden references, callbacks or clues for future scenes?)
The obvious one story to go to is the Crownless. But I've been scratching my head on how to answer this without giving any spoilers because most of the stuff that I'm like 'aljnglajbgklrbgl' about, has been planted, but has not yet come to fruition.
So, I'm going to say that there will be spoilers in this post up to Chapter 20 if you have not caught up yet, and the rest is going to be a massive tease for what's to come.
(Which I think is rather fitting as we enter the last few chapters of part 1.)
Continue past this point at your own peril.
There are loads. I was brought up as a gamer, finding Easter Eggs is my crack. I'd love to go on about how, with the theme of wanting to fully embed the world in magical realism, I have incorporated a number of Easter Eggs from real life to enrich the text in a meta way - but that just simply isn't true.
I'm just a fiend who has a lot of fun with the freedom of fanfiction.
The most obvious one that near enough everyone who has commented has picked up on, is the Pirates of the Caribbean reference in Lucius' chapter.
My favourite Easter Egg of them all is that I have actually given away Raine's true identity and further hinted and the lore that goes with that identity. It's buried within the text, hidden in plain sight, which is in keeping with the theme of the story.
There's a fair few references to the Grimm Brother's, especially where the Black Forrest is concerned.
The narration style of 'describing the wallpaper' is a homage to Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, who have greatly influenced the humour and style of this entire fic. In particular here, the items that Hermione carries on her person is a direct callback to 'Hitch Hiker's Guide to Galaxy'.
There's a reference to Deborah Harkness' 'All Saints Trilogy' (highly recommend these books). I read these and fell down the alchemical rabbit hole that led me to the Voynich.
There are all sorts of popular culture references, from Marvel to Jane Austin hidden within the text, simply because they were on my mind as I wrote them and it brought me great joy to have the freedom to write them.
Not everything is serious. However, I am seriously considering going through and making an Easter Egg masterlist, and anyone who can name them all will get a cookie.
Characters, relationships and hidden foreshadowing (because I love spinning webs)
There are loads, every character has an arc, whether it be big or small. Someone once commented that they weren't sure whether some details was a red-herring and what was real, while another commented that every detail given is a clue.
Both are right, unfortunately - all details mean something but whether they're there for worldbuilding or character development is only something that can be seen when the point comes to light.
The two characters who show this the best are Theo and Raine.
With Theo, we start with this roguish, glib, charming character, who's a touch flamboyant but generally a smooth white-collar criminal.
With Raine, we start with a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde character - Dr Jekyll being quirky, weird and unassuming. In the beginning, we only see brief touches of Mr Hyde - the serious, cold and calculating General. The overall effect is a character that I am pleased to see no one trusts.
But the clues are in the names. They always have been, they always will be.
Just the same way that Fear was a foreshadowing from chapter 1...
For Theo, the reader has had some indication of his character arc since Chapter 2. This was re-affirmed in Chapter 13 and again recently in Chapter 20. Theo is closely tied to my favourite Easter Egg, whose name ties into this whole thing, and further builds upon Harry's canon identity, as we see in Deathly Hallows. I shan't say more, because spoilers. But you will find out soon.
For Raine, it's trickier. Again, it's all in the names, and as I've stated, I dropped that Easter Egg a while ago. But then the reader is told that 'Raine Willows' is infact a careless name, thought up in the spur of a moment. A name is an identity, ergo, what sort of Being cares little about that? Further to this, his journey is closely tied with Hermione's - always has been. The more Hermione has fallen down the rabbit hole, the more Raine has moved away from Dr Jekyll and become Mr Hyde.
The crux of their arcs is closely tied to the heart of the story. For Raine, he is Hermione's mentor. The other characters - Draco included - move around Hermione. She is the constant.
Much the same as the central plot. No matter how many side plots or whatever there are, it's all a helix towards the same focus point.
It is my hope, that by the time we begin part 2, all the pieces will be lined up, ready to go. The Fuckening is one really really long introduction, setting the scene and laying the foundation. In order for the plot to exist and for our characters to go on the journeys that they will in part 2, everything has to break.
Don't mind me whilst I put on my pretentious hat and dust off my critical thinking robes.
There is a fuck tonne of symbolism, sometimes in the staging of a scene, sometimes in the character's behaviour - Narcissa and Draco chapter 20, the character development of a Messiah.
But by now, if you've been following me or have spoken to me for more than 5 minutes, inevitably 'worldviews' would have cropped up. I sincerely apologise, I am aware that I am a broken record.
I started this fic in a really uncertain time in the world. As a STEM social science researcher, it's my job to look at the big picture and at the time (and still relevant to me now) the question was, wtf is going on?
So for me, along with it being a conversation about the psychology of love and friendship in a deterministic world, I wanted to highlight the importance of belief systems. I wanted to show from a psychological perspective how civilisation is built upon a very fragile network of beliefs both individual and collective, and the agreed-upon social norms only continue to exist, because we as a collective continue to perpetuate them.
I wanted to show how easily those belief systems can break which is why we begin with the disappearance of a horse and a somewhat intelligent cat. And the only way I could do that was to base canon in magical realism. A norm so adjacent to the ones we accept today, is one that will fracture everything so thoroughly and so quickly, that I won't have to write a tome to get my point across.
The Crownless is a story told from multiple perspectives, seeing and living the same long and winding conspiracy. And in worldbuilding, I have tried to show perspectives of different stakeholders, how politics is again, a delicate promise spun from beliefs. The Crownless is not meant to be a serious piece of literature, but it's my way of showing the hypocrisy of claiming Absolute Good and Evil in any situation.
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12.06.2021. I finished my college work and decided to rest for the weekend when we were assigned another reading. I submitted my short story for the anthology publications. Yaaaaay!
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hi Galina! do you have any advice for looking up the definitions of words on the Internet? is there a process to it, or do you have a favourite dictionary, like Miriam-Webster? i'm an english major in uni and i feel like we should've been taught this, but we weren't! i'm thinking of modern day words(modern as in today), but i would love to know your method of looking up older definitions and etymology! (thinking of crisis from your essay) thank you! i hope it isn't too much trouble! x
Hi! Yeah, use an etymological dictionary! Most dictionaries contain some etymological information, but there are specific books out there on this which are very useful.
However, I am quite lazy, and often just start like this:
And start looking at the results, specifically, the online etymology dictionary.
So, from this, we infer speech and verbalising are important elements of the root meaning of 'word'. Makes sense. I'm just doing this as an example but I would probably get excited about the idea of the etymological links to the term 'promise' – subsequently I would look that up and find 'promise' to mean 'a declaration in reference to the future made by one person to another', which has its root in Latin promissum 'a promise', noun use of neuter past participle of promittere 'send forth; let go; foretell'.
Now we've hit on something good, because that speaks to me that the etymological trail of 'promise' (which is connected to 'word') is connected to time. Specifically, the future.
The future is intangible – we cannot ever experience it, it is always unknown and ahead of us. The present is where we live, but we never experience that either – it's constantly being replaced, like standing in a river which moves around your feet, replacing the water instantaneously with every moment passing. So we could say the present is made up partially of the past, which is passing, and partially of the future which we anticipate.
So to circle back to 'word'. When we go from having an idea, a thought, to putting it into words (primarily uttered, spoken, as we found out) we could say that's an attempt to make something intangible, tangible. The idea is becoming part of the material world, briefly, through the process of being spoken and being heard. The word, then, is a transaction between that weird space between the future and the present.
Promises, too, are transactional by their nature of being connected to words, and even more so in that they carry some of the future's unknown-ness. I think promises are responsible for dragging the future into the present through a sense determined anticipation. They predict, wilfully. Promises use words to jump ahead of what is happening now to talk about what is going to happen in the future. If anything, promises wish for the future to be the way it has been presented in the present.
I'm off track. But that's kind of the point of etymology in my work – I just use it as a jumping-off point for connecting otherwise nebulous ideas together. It gets my writing going and then I can work on something that actually makes sense (unlike the above). I hope that helped inspire you to try it out.
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I recently played through Sea of Solitude and was struck by the way the game invites us not to just empathize with its characters and protagonist but also to experience recognition throughout this short three-hour narrative.
The essays I drew from, you can find in Character: Three Inquiries into Literary Studies - the essays by Toril Moi, Rita Felski, and Amanda Anderson make for engaging reading!
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This is the public-facing rhetorical move par excellence of the radical academic theorist: revel in your radicalism in the seminar room and peer-reviewed journals, but describe your program in the most bland, banal, who-could-possibly-object way for general audiences. Did you know that Marxism is “a refusal to take things for granted”? Why not “follow your dreams” while we’re at it? Never mind the part where “[w]e shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you,” to quote a poem of Brecht’s. You see this today, too, with the left-identitarians, thinkers who have a nihilistically extensive critique of liberal society—who posit in fact the urgent need to destroy this society—and then, when queried by the public or its representatives, will reply that it’s just about treating people fairly, dude.
But to give the formulation its due, if you truly take nothing for granted, if you never silence the critical intellect, you will in your own mind delegitimize your state and every state, the lives of your neighbors and then your very own life, and you will shoot yourself in the head, as in the aforementioned fictional case of Leo Naphta and the nonfictional one of Mitchell Heisman, possibly after you’ve shot some others à la Brecht or Naptha’s model Lukács, because the critical intellect left to its own devices will annul first the world and then itself. Which is why the profoundest thinkers, i.e., novelists and poets and playwrights, have always suggested a plunge into contact with reality to arrest deconstructive thought processes, from Hamlet to Herzog. Make art, make crafts, have sex, have a child, take a walk, take a drink, dig a garden, plant a tree, get revenge, get a cat—anything at all to remind you that the critical intellect allows itself to be annihilatingly disappointed at the world’s corruption only because it has lost touch with it, literally, and that criticism’s proper service to humanity is as guide and guardrail to action, not as universal solvent.
(Note the details of Hamlet’s example: he only had to kill one person, but deconstructive thought processes made him responsible in whole or part for at least four other deaths and made him suicidal as well; only when he resolved to “let be” could he strike his sole legitimate target, but by then the collateral damage was so great that he forfeited his own life and his country was conquered. A parable for the would-be revolutionary.)
Deconstruction at its best reminded us of these truths, as implied by the quotation from Montaigne that introduces Derrida’s epochal essay on “Structure, Sign, and Play,” but because it was premised on the very purity it set out to debunk—the centered structure organized by neat binary oppositions—it became a very purist argument for impurity. There’s always another binary to undermine over the horizon, always something else and more you could be doing to decenter; so deconstruction finally lent itself to the deranged purity spirals that have marred intellectual life recently. What deconstruction says about strong texts’ essential non-essentialism is basically right, but strong texts achieve this irreducible complexity on tides of emotion that criticism of all sorts has always been bad at capturing, making them elements of reality as well as interpretations of it.
I append all of the above to Leo Robson’s excellent essay-obituary for J. Hillis Miller, from which I draw the opening quotation. This witty catalogue is my favorite paragraph in the piece:
You might say that the effect of deconstruction, in its literary-critical mode, was to augment a presiding canon of largely B-writers (Baudelaire, Benjamin, Borges, Blanchot, etc) with a group of H-figures (Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger, Hopkins, to some degree Hawthorne and Hardy), and to replace a set of keywords beginning ‘s’ – structure, sign, signifier, signified, semiotics, the Symbolic, syntagm, Saussure – with a vocabulary based around the letter ‘d’: decentring, displacement, dislocation, discontinuity, dedoublement, dissemination, difference and deferral (Derrida’s coinage ‘différance’ being intended to encompass both). And there was also a growing role for ‘r’: Rousseau, rhetoric, Romanticism (one of de Man’s books was The Rhetoric of Romanticism), Rilke, and above all reading, a word that appeared, as noun and participle, in titles of books by de Man, Hartman, and most prominently Miller: The Ethics of Reading, Reading Narrative, Reading for Our Time, Reading Conrad.
Also this fun fact: “as late as 2012, [Miller] had never read anything by Samuel Richardson.” I am always fascinated by the gaps in brilliant scholars’ reading, and the more time I spent in academe the more I noticed how large the gaps really were. A generalist-dilettante, I try to read a little bit of everything and am consequently bad at being a completist of any one subject or author that a scholar necessarily is. I’ve read Pamela but not Clarissa; for that matter, I’ve read around in Derrida and De Man but, except for his rather psychedelic 2002 primer On Literature, not so much in the late and lamented J. Hillis Miller.
Further reading: my short story, “White Girl,” a dramatization of deconstructive thought processes in action, partially inspired by what I was seeing right here on Tumblr a little less than a decade ago.
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Comet Theory Topics (Voting Ends May 10th, 2020)
Your topics to vote on for this week areeeee:
A) Compare & Contrast: Natasha Rostova & Anatole Kuragin
B) Deconstructing Marya's Musical Themes
C) The Overarching Theme of Great Comet
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Now that the “dunk” cycle has passed, I do have something to say about this viral Tweet. First, like all sublimely stupid remarks, it passes into brilliance. “Allegory of what” is a reasonable and even eloquent characterization—it would be a good title for an essay—putting in the vernacular Walter Benjamin’s famous description of Kafka’s works as Haggadah without Halachah—i.e., Talmudic illustrations of the law sans the law itself. What kind of sensibility does this offend? Well, let’s not defang the modernists—it honestly might irritate anyone. I myself have a somewhat checkered relationship with Kafka; I like him short, in aphorisms and prose-poems, and I think his masterpiece might be “A Hunger Artist,” an absolutely perfect story, which I don’t quite understand, except that it’s about me and my experiences, which I don’t understand either. The longer pieces, especially the novels, don’t have the same power, because the oneiric style feels forced and willful when extended. (I should say I’ve read a lot of Kafka but not all and never systematically, just in fits and starts between my teen years and today; my major omission is The Castle.)
Still, Dawkins’s remark also illuminates a larger phenomenon. I saw the other day a social-media inquiry, with what agenda I don’t know, about whether there was some continuity between Dawkins’s New Atheist movement and today’s wokeness. The answer is the opposite: official anti-wokeness, the Intellectual Dark Web, descends from New Atheism. But they share a sensibility, since both New Atheism and wokeness can be described, maybe unfairly but not simply in jest, as puritan sects. And what does the puritan want from a text? Governor Winthrop explains:
At Watertown there was (in the view of divers witnesses) a great combat between a mouse and a snake; and after a long fight, the mouse prevailed and killed the snake. The pastor of Boston, Mr. Wilson, a very sincere, holy man, hearing of it, gave this interpretation: That the snake was the devil; the mouse was a poor contemptible people, which God had brought hither, which should overcome Satan here, and dispossess him of his Kingdom.
The interpretation is so insistent and indisputable that the allegorical surface, here nature itself, is wholly dispensable. The New Atheist and the woke want a text the opposite of Kafka’s, one whose narrative, drama, style, and imagery are so morally legible that no “wrong” interpretation is even imaginable. Hence to the New Atheist, anything that calls for interpretation is irrational, while to the woke it’s elitist or crypto-fascist. American literature is the struggle of the puritan interpretive impulse toward complex artistic expression. This often results in amputated allegories, which is why Hawthorne and Melville often sound like Kafka.
Yet I’m sure I go too far. “Franz Kafka or Thomas Mann?” Georg Lukács rhetorically wondered—for the communist critic, the right answer was Mann, since he was (supposedly) a realist. David Mikics, reviewing a re-release of Mann’s Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man (which I’ve never read), reminds us of how Mann caught the character of the totalizing puritan by semi-caricaturing Lukács himself as Naphta in The Magic Mountain. Mann showed Naphta as a Jewish-turned-Jesuit Hegelian nihilist, which is to say that all traditions harbor their own oversimplifications. They always beckon us into the purity spiral. For nonpolitical Mann, that stolid German burgher and paterfamilias always about to melt into the Mediterranean, purity’s opposite is art:
Mann knew in Reflections that individual freedom, which he identified with the writer’s talent for playing with ideas, must stand against all political demands. It is on behalf of that life-giving freedom that Mann celebrates “art’s lively ambiguity, its deep lack of commitment, its intellectual freedom ... someone who is used to creating art, never takes spiritual and intellectual things completely seriously, for his job has always been rather to treat them as material and as playthings, to represent points of view, to deal in dialectics, always letting the one who is speaking at the time be right.”
The higher playfulness that Mann espouses in these sentences from Reflections perfectly suits his dazzling, many-faceted Magic Mountain, so different from today’s prizewinning novels, which present uplifting lessons endorsed by the socially conscious author and his or her tenure committee. In Mann, each character is right when he or she speaks, and the whole revolves in crystal.
A serious way of not taking things seriously—all those italics!—but still heartening. Mikics argues for a continuity between the early Mann and the later, though the author’s career is more customarily seen as a consistent drift from right to left. Considering Mann’s middle-period novella, Mario and the Magician, which exposes fascism in a wholly fascist way, and his almost unbearably excellent late masterpiece Doctor Faustus, a novel that criticizes the daemonic work of a genius while also being the daemonic work of a genius, he may be right.
I am more interested in the irony that everything I’ve written above would have been considered looney-left academic gibberish at the peak of neoconservative hegemony and New Atheist ascendancy about 15 years ago, whereas now it is considered reactionary obscurantism. It’s no sign of virtue alone to be attacked by both the left and the right—three people can be wrong at once—but to be scorned by the puritans of all creeds for not writing stories with obvious morals probably means an author is onto something. To quote Lukács from before he joined the Party, “Art always says ‘And yet!’ to life.”
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I want to make a follow-up point about the religion of a creator and how it influences their work. I’m not sitting here thinking “Actually, Christian people should make less work because I’m sick of their shit.”
My sole perspective on the influence a creator’s religion has on their work is that if their work does not invite me to sit at the table, I won’t sit at the table! I’ll go elsewhere. I’m not the target audience. It’s all good. Of course, my expression of my viewing/reading experience will of course reflect this unexpected surprise twist (especially if it comes towards the end), but I don’t hate works for being made with someone else in mind.
What do I mean that a work does not invite me to sit at the table? I mean that the work’s very progression, conclusions, and developments rely on the audience’s agreement and sympathy with a philosophy external to the work itself, rather than one developed within the narrative. A philosophy which I don’t know or understand, or perhaps fundamentally disagree with, will leave a big hole in the narrative and often sour or undermine the ultimate emotional payoff.
The author has not built rapport between me and their religious beliefs over the many pages they had available, and so I’m unable (and unwilling) to entertain the plausibility of these beliefs as a plot device.
Let’s first take the Mistborn trilogy as a counterexample to this issue. Mormon author, glimmers of Mormon ideas, narratives, and values within the story (possibly more than mere glimmers to people who are more familiar than I am). However, at no point in the story do Vin’s, Kelsier’s, Elend’s, etc. actions and motivations veer off unbelievably and unexpectedly from what the narrative has delivered or given hints of thus far. Their worldviews are explained to me and built upon, and the conclusion is a satisfying resolution that I find compelling because the logic and emotional thread of the path there was solid. A book/series like this makes you feel that you predicted some of their motivations and desires and almost might have predicted all the rest if you’d brainstormed enough. Everything you need, every piece of the puzzle, was made available at some point within the story itself, no matter how fragmented or cryptic. If you’d never heard of the Mormon religion, you wouldn’t be excluded from the emotional resolution. This is a Mormon authoer who has invited non-Mormon readers to also please come join him at his table while he tells a story.
(Now that I think about it, maybe I read C&P wrong. Maybe the real message is that if you commit heinous crimes, you will be punished by becoming a Christian. Let’s however assume that Dostoevsky wasn’t secretly an anti-Christian mastermind and his message is one of redemption and resurrection through faith, as one would more commonly conclude.)
On the other hand we have works like Crime and Punishment, which is an example of the author relying on philosophy and sentiment external to the narrative to deliver emotional cohesion. Orthodox author, glimmers of Orthodox ideas, narratives, and values within the story (possibly more than mere glimmers to people who are more familiar than I am). Raskolnikov’s actions and motivations are cohesive, despite being those of a man descending into madness. Here, we do have actual presence of the Orthodox faith, but it is held most strongly by Sonya, and religious morality does not seem to factor in to Raskolnikov’s private reasoning at all. It is her growing presence in the story that first starts to pull the welcome rug from the porch. First is the strange mystery of Raskolnikov’s love for her. Why does he love her? It’s not made clear. You are expected to understand that he simply would, that this is a natural development. (In this case, the author’s relying on the external sentiment that women in wretched circumstances are attractive to strong-willed men, which is our first glimpse that some people, the ones who don’t automatically understand this, aren’t invited to this story.) Fine. Then comes the long pressure of Sonya’s influence, which is easy enough to relate to and understand. Almost everyone I know has been pressured to believe at one point in their life, so her otherwise meek character being so insistent isn’t at all surprising. Raskolnikov slowly buckling to follow her prescribed actions is understandable too - we have been shown in the narrative that Raskolnikov is desperately looking for a way forward, and he’s progressively less picky about which way that is. We see him engaging with Orthodox faith in his own way, in fits and starts. The last chapter, still full of murkiness and anxiety, stands solid. Then suddenly, the cohesion shatters in the epilogue. Raskolnikov is seen crying with joyous piety. We are expected to understand, drawing upon our experiences with submitting to piety. There is no compelling development of this line of thinking within the narrative or any step-by-step triumphant subversion of Raskolnikov’s former thinking by new burgeoning feelings. His transformation has happened off-screen, supplemented by the reader’s willingness to believe that such transformations are not only possible, but also common and desirable. There is no additional information provided to help readers who have no such willingness to make that leap with the author.
(Another way of describing the epilogue is that Dostoevsky’s sentiment swings onto the stage to cease all madness and confusion and bring joy and forgiveness. It functions, therefore, as a deus ex machina. Except in this case, the “deus” is not a god but a religion.)
rtaserliorguaeirghoieg At some point while typing the above paragraph, I switched to calling Raskolnikov “Bazarov,” which I guess just goes to show which book I’d rather be thinking about. Fathers and Sons is good, y’all. Still, at the risk of ruminating on things I don’t love, I think it’s important to delineate religious influence on a story which is internally cohesive from start to finish, and religious influence on a story whose conclusion falls apart if the reader does not ascribe to that particular religion’s sentiment.
Anyway, every author is going to make some assumptions about the reader’s basic understanding of this or that idea. This set of assumptions is what defines the intended audience. The more work I am exposed to, the more I realize just how many “classic” works really ARE written to connect with someone who isn’t me, just like I suspected when I was in high school, though none of the adults responsible for my education believed me.
The wonderful thing is how many works I’m discovering, classic and contemporary, that ARE inviting me to the table. They’re just not necessarily the ones that other people hold in the highest positions of prestige and authority.
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The implications of this book-burning and the outcry it has occasioned could be untangled for hours. To make it short, though: Winterson has always laid claim to the modernist tradition. Modernists defined themselves as autonomous artists by setting themselves apart from the 19th-century realist novel and its identification with middle-class female writers, middle-class female readers, middle-class female literary modes, and middle-class female social priorities, namely, the heterosexual reproduction of the middle-class family. Modernist women, most of them not heterosexual, did this fully as much as—if not more than—the modernist men. It was Woolf, not Pound or Joyce or Lawrence, who boasted of strangling the angel in the house, which is to say, the 19th-century matriarch; and Woolf at least tried to stay on the political left, while Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, and Gertrude Stein were all but fascist sympathizers, and even Willa Cather, Marianne Moore, and Zora Neale Hurston were shockingly right-wing by today’s standards. I don’t expect Twitter libs, with their “moral clarity,” to be able to make anything of a history so complex, but suffice to say that reading #diversebooks is going to lead us into waters as dangerous as reading the dead man’s canon—if the books are good—which is why the most forward-thinking among us have decided the whole enterprise must be replaced with children’s fables AKA YA-Disney-Marvel. Winterson’s fiery protest is certainly more in the spirit of Woolf, Stein, and Barnes—not to mention Wilde!—than are gray Skittles, anyway. And whatever one thinks of this history or of Winterson’s controversial geste, at least she has a personality. Does any contemporary writer under 40?
Further reading: essays from me on Barnes’s Nightwood, Stein’s Three Lives, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Winterson’s Art and Lies and Art Objects. The capsule literary history above is gratefully borrowed from this book, which I’ve quoted here before, written by the supervisor of my doctoral dissertation.
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Literary Theory with a Capital L and Capital T,
I wonder if it can be written like poetry?
No harm in trying I presume,
To shake the staunch doors of Academia.
As some say it is dead, and others say dying,
And what wit lies in being scared of ghosts,
Unless it be Hamlet's father.
So I solemnly gather,
My critical commentary in verses,
And unconceal the prosaic solidity theory professes,
And declare that
all Literary Theory ever was and will be,
Attempts to grasp yet never fully
the philosophical truths like poetry.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
But Nietzsche murdered God,
Since "the letter killeth",
Word killed word.
And now Descartes is our perpetrator,
For uttering mind matters,
Cogito ergo sum,
No cogito no sum.
What of me who cannot think?
And What of me who cannot utter?
Me the earth, the animal that therefore I am,
Me the woman, the slave, the chicken on your plate.
Me the bi-ji labouring in your farms,
Infantilised and asked to go home.
My presence matters naught,
And words I have none.
Am I Not?
Or Am I Naught?
Verba Volant, Scripta Manent
Derrida says Speech leaves no trace,
And the written word survives,
But speak of roast parsnips,
And a Swiggy ad arrives.
Walls are paper thin here,
And the paper is scarce,
The virtual word destroys,
The physical windows of the soul,
That flood out in heated streams.
Yet, no respite, no aid.
Everything is virtually alright.
No difference and no differánce,
The infinite freeplay of circumstances destroyed,
between me and you behind the screen.
Guardians lulling us to sleep with lullaby-lies,
Making us dance to banging cutlery,
Or truths? Who can tell.
All mere words.
Words weaponising hate,
Nations vaccinating themselves,
Against mutating viruses
Of diseases of the body,
What of the diseases of the mind?
the liquidating dough of bankruptcy?
The extremes settling at the edges.
Could this be auto-immunity?
All resources and knowledge pooled,
Into this fooling of the body's biology,
But can you trick the machinery of life?
It's just a flu. It's nothing else.
And we who speak treasonous theory are the enemy.
And we the blokes on the street,
Going against theory.
For we need to be heard not eavesdropped.
Theory is your house,
And our scaffolding supervised by Foucault.
Where we fashion the architecture on discourse.
We build with words a new window,
And barricade with words an old door.
And prepare well for Derrida's seismic tremors.
And when the grim reaper comes knocking,
We hope to scare him away with scary jargons.
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Hey. Re: the Jon having agency argument, I think I might be the person who kickstarted that one, and I want to say my argument was nothing like that other anon framed it. I never brought up him being neurodivergent coded, or disabled, or anything of the sort, because my argument wasn't about whether he was more marginalised than the rest of the cast - it was about whether it makes sense to frame his decisions as the primary driving force of the narrative. And my point about the ending wasn't that he was talked over, it was that what happened still aligned with what everyone else chose, not what he did, so it still doesn't make sense to frame his actions as a driving force of narrative rather than a failed struggle against the conclusion.
there are absolutely moments throughout the series when jon has his agency taken from him, by the narrative at large, the fears, and other people in positions of power (cough cough elias). that isn't negated by the fact that he's not written as a poc, and in fact given that s5 could be read as an exploration and criticism of white privilege, there's room for a reading wrt 'white people who believe the universe itself is giving them control are wrong and no not even you, white person, will be safe', which imo is one of the stronger messages a white person can give to other white ppl, and which some of jonny's writing does touch on
wrt the finale in particular, i think you and the other anon may be having two different conversations? bcos like, listen, i definitely did see some ppl saying that in 199 it was unfair to jon that he was outvoted (altho i did not see anything in the context of his identity, which was absolutely buck wild to me when the other anon brought that up) and that the martin, georgie, melanie, and basira, jon's allies, people who had less power than him and with whom he voluntarily discussed & debated the plan, were somehow stripping him of his agency by not agreeing with him. i avoided most of that, but i do vaguely recall someone actually doing an analysis of 199 and finding that jon spoke more than any other character and thus had his fair say, altho i would not be able to find the post bcos i did avoid... all of that. so if it is about other characters talking over him/taking his agency in the finale, i think that is kinda... not a thing, even putting aside questions of race and other identity stuff.
now, if it is about the narrative and whether or not jon's wishes and decisions controlled the narrative/were a driving force, that is a whole different kettle of meta! how much agency do characters have in narrative, when a writer is controlling them? how much agency do any of our characters in tma have, when the fears and the web in particular were controlling their fates?
realistically, i don't think any character at any point really had their desires as a driving force of the narrative, at least not as like... conscious control/creating the ending they desired? one of the BIG themes of tma in generals is that while we can make the best decision with the information we have, our intentions and wishes for the outcome of our decisions has absolutely no bearing on the actual outcome. in this way, every decision anyone makes is a 'driving force' in that it does in fact push the narrative towards one conclusion or another; but it is not a 'driving force' in that it pushes the narrative towards the conclusion they wanted.
everything jon and the other characters do is a struggle against the narrative, not against an inevitable end that will come for them no matter what, but against an end they cannot foresee and thus cannot reliably influence. jon's choice in mag 200 is a 'driving force' in that it drives the others to speed up their timeline, it drives martin to come find him, it eventually leads to jon getting stabbed and both of them dying in the panopticon. this wouldn't have happened without his choices! but what the others chose in mag 199 was also a driving force, that made jon feel like he could not change their minds and like they did not understand the true horror of what they were unleashing, and so he chose to go up to the panopticon alone.
neither of them really got what they wanted (bcos the others! didn't really want a world where jon and martin died/disappeared!) because neither of them really had full control over the results. but they did, in spite of not having control, influence those results.
...........and that got weirdly philosophical and really does have v little to do with race in tma, but i think i can be forgiven for going on a very long tangent abt narrative and choices and what precisely a 'driving force' is when we talk abt a story, bcos! narrative theory is very much an interest of mine!!
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Comet Theory Thursday: The Private & Fucked-Up Life of The House
[CONTENT WARNING! Today's analysis gets a little darker than normal, and there will be discussion of abuse/child abuse, manipulation, and similar topics. Please proceed with caution, and feel free to dip if things start getting too dark or something triggers you. ^^]
It's no secret to anybody that the Bolkonsky household is incredibly fucked. I mean, they literally introduce themselves that way. "Andrey's family, totally messed up." But since today's vote was literally UNANIMOUS, and to make up for my inactivity because of finals this week, I thought that I'd do an extra-good and thorough job on this one. I've pulled out the off-broadway recordings, which I don't normally listen to, as extra evidence. Additionally, I've done some research on domestic abuse for some additional proof. Also, if you haven't already, please read the warning at the top of this post before continuing. Content under the cut!
[Usual Disclaimer: This is an analysis of Great Comet and Great Comet!Bolkonskys, and does not include any canon from War & Peace. I consider them separate universes. :D Plus I haven't actually read War & Peace-]
Alrighty, welcome to the analysis! Let's just dive right in.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that everybody is kind of on the same page in the "OPB is an asshole, Mary is baby and deserves NONE of this shit," book. And, surprise surprise, that's exactly what I found more of. Not only is he an asshole, but it's to the point of emotional abuse. So, let's look at the symptoms of abuse and child abuse.
According to Mayo Clinic (which is a very credible source, I did my research, guys) here are some symptoms of abuse/child abuse. I've written down here the ones that seem to be visible in Mary. These include:
• Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
• Social withdrawl or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
• Desperately seeks affection
• Difficulty establishing or maintaining relationships
• Challenges with intimacy and trust
• Inability to cope with stress and frustrations
• Seeming fearful
• Seeming anxious to please the abuser
And some characteristics of abusers/abusive relationships that I see in OPB & Mary (from Healthline, which is for the most part pretty reliable, minus the occasional pseudoscience article lmao):
• Sarcasm & Belittling
• Walking out in social situations, and therefore leaving you with all the pressure
• Trivializing & making excuses for their behavior
• Cutting you off from others or society in general, directly or indirectly
All of this sounds pretty damn familiar, right? "And I have no friends, no, never go anywhere," "Insolent girl!" "Bring me my slippers! Bring me my wine!" And from the Off-Broadway: "Silence!," etc.
Okay, let's analyze more thoroughly, now that we have some basics down.
Mary's anxiety and tension is through the roof from the minute we meet her. (Fun fact, costume designer Paloma Young said that the numerous buttons on Mary's dress represent her anxiety and the urge to fiddle)
Mary's general personality and emotions are pretty easy to understand right away. Anxious, caring, socially awkward, and most of all, lonely. Which she talks about a lot. Which she wouldn't do, if it didn't bother her. She desperately wants a friend or a spouse, somebody to care about her. Though that latter is probably moreso the only way to escape her current predicament. "And I have no friends, no, never go anywhere," for example. We also have the line "Will I ever be happy? Will I ever be anyone's wife?" Which almost ties the two statements together, equating happiness with being somebody's wife, and therefore escaping her situation.
So, if she's so desperate for somebody to be friends with, why does she judge Natasha so hastily? Well, there's a few reasons. First off, she knows her father doesn't like Natasha, and she's been conditioned her whole life to always agree with what he says. There's also Mary's intense jealousy of her. Natasha has always been adored by everyone, including Mary's own brother, who seems not to care about his sister very much. There's also the possibility that Mary just wants Natasha out as fast as possible, to avoid her father becoming angrier, which would most likely be taken out on her.
It's also important to take into account that Mary probably doesn't know how to even MAKE friends, considering she's been cut off from society for so long. Her strained and anxious "oh. Oh hello. Won't you come in?" Conveys that pretty well.
Then, we have the commanding. It's relatively normal for parents to tell their children to do things, but OPB is so fucking order-y about it, with the "Bring me my slippers!" and "Bring me my wine!" And shit. And even worse, the off-broadway recording includes "Silence! Silence!" And "You shut your damn mouth girl, Shut your damn mouth, I can hurt you!"
Also found in the off-broadway recording, Mary says "He could beat me, or treat me like a dog. Make me fetch wood or water, and it's just how it is. Oh father, I love you father"
OPB also has a tendency to make his daughter feel like she's the one at fault, or she's the one who's being bad to him, which is one
of the biggest characteristics of abuse. We have "This is just how it is, It's just how he is, I'm always to blame," and of course the "I disgust myself" from the end of the song.
"This is just how he is," plays a significant role here, too. Mary's in a constant internal struggle between being angry at her father, and being angry at herself while she makes excuses for him like "He is a tired old man and must be forgiven." She tells herself that she's the one at fault here, no doubt because that's what she's always been told. "He is old and feeble, and I dare to judge him."
On the other side of that, there's the anger that comes out occasionally. One of the most telling moments between Mary & OPB is the whole "I can hurt you" bit. OPB says it first, threatening her. (possibly something he's carried out before?) Then they both say it together, and then Mary's "but I never, ever, ever, ever would! No, father, I love you, father." What I'm seeing is Mary trying to retaliate against the first "I can hurt you," but simultaneously getting scared back into submission by her father. Her reaction is to immediately take it back, and then offer her love to show that she isn't an enemy. Also, if you watch her on stage, during the "Never, ever, ever, ever"s she's looking around at the audience, a little panicked, and almost rushing to tell them that she didn't mean it.
Shifting gears slightly, we're now gonna look at how Mary feels trapped. Her constant mentions of both time and loneliness show that she feels powerless and unable to escape her situation. Even from the very first time she says anything in the story: "But besides the couple of hours during which we have guests, there are also twenty-two hours in the day." That's oddly specific, isn't it? I mean I know how math works, a couple + 22 = 24, but still. Mary seems to be acutely aware of time and it's passing. The feeling like she's running out of time heightens her anxiety, because the older she gets, the less appealing she'll be to suitors, and therefore less likely to get married, and therefore much less likely to get out of her situation. OPB also seems to be purposefully scaring off suitors so that she has no chance of getting away in a socially acceptable manner.
Mary also doesn't seem to be getting any support from her brother either. When Andrey comes home near the end of the show, Mary is onstage, waiting for him. She stands up to greet him, but instead he just pushes past her to sit on their father's chair. The fuck, dude?
Anyway, that about wraps everything up. Overall, I've come to the conclusion that Old Prince Bolkonsky can suck a dick, and Mary deserves none of this shit. Hope you enjoyed! I worked really hard on this one. This week's topics will be posted in a bit!
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"Romance" originally signified a work written in the French language.
Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan und Isolde
Chivalric romance or medieval romance was developed in 12th century France - spread to the literature of other countries and displaced the earlier epics and heroic forms. The romance is distinguished from the epic in that it does not represents a heroic age of tribal wars but a courtly and chivalric age.
Its standard plot is that of a quest undertaken by a single knight to gain a lady's favour; frequently its central interest is courtly love. It stresses the chivalric ideals of courage, loyalty, honour, mercifulness to an opponent and elaborate manners.
Supernatural events in the epic usually were attributed to the will and action of the gods; romance shifts the supernatural to this world.
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"the aesthetic end is the perfection of sensuous cognition, as such: this is beauty." - Alexander Baumgarten, Aesthetica 
Having its chief headquarters in France aestheticism, or alternatively known as the aesthetic movement was a European movement during the latter part of 19th century. In opposition to Science, and in defiance of the widespread indifference or hostility of the middle class society of their time to any art that was not useful and that did not teach any morals.
French writers developed the view that a work of art is the supreme value among human products precisely because it is self sufficient and has no use or moral aim outside it's own being.
The end of the work of art is simply to exist in its formal perfection; that is, to be beautiful and be contemplated as an end in itself - "l'art pour l'art" art for art's sake.
Aestheticism was developed by Baudelaire, who was greatly influenced by Edgar Alan Poe's claim that the supreme work is a "poem per se" a poem written solely for the poem's sake. Immanuel Kant in his Critique of judgement  said that "pure" aesthetic experience consists of a "disinterested" contemplation of an object that "pleases for it's own sake" without reference to reality or to the "external" ends of utility.
The views of French Aestheticism were introduced into Victorian England by Walter Pater.
The artistic and moral views of Aestheticism were also expressed by Algernon Charles Swinburne, and by English writers of 1890 such as Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons and Lionel Johnson [OAL]. The influencers of this idea stressed the view of autonomy [self-sufficiency] for a work of art.
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i mean honestly symbols in literature should only be discussed in the larger context of the words/scenes/entire books around them, bcos that does change what a particular image means, like, it always has
but also some of my teachers! did not ascribe to that method of teaching! i distinctly recall one teaching us gatsby and just writing on the board 'green light' and then dictating to us what it means and that we were only to write abt the scenes with the green light with those specific meanings in mind
so like. independent thought & deeper, more thoughtful interpretation wasn't really on the table in a lot of my english classes
...i do think that the idea that words are supposed to be translated into an image which supposedly means a certain thing was part of it tho. i mean, how often do we hear academics going 'oh a tower is phallic' like idk man maybe an image of a tower is phallic but the word itself isn't, unless it's got a whole bunch of other words attached.
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Absurdism in literature
The term is applied to several works in drama and prose fiction and the commonality between each is that the "human condition" is essentially absurd.
Both the mood and the dramaturgy [the theory and practice of dramatic composition] of absurdity were seen as early as 1896 in Alfred Jarry's French play Ubu Roi. As well as written in fiction, in Franz Kafka The trial, Metamorphosis.
[Who is Alfred Jarry?]
The current absurdist movement however emerged in France after the horrors of WW2 as a rebellion against the basic beliefs and traditions of literature. These Traditions included: Assumptions that human beings are fairly rational creatures who live in at least a partially intelligible universe and are a part of an ordered social structure and that they may be capable of heroism and dignity even in defeat.
1940 saw the prominence of the existential philosophy of men of letters such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus to view a human being as an isolated existent who is cast into an alien universe.
As Camus said in The Myth of Ssiyphus (1942) "In a universe that is suddenly deprived of illusions and of light, man feels a stranger. He is an irremediable exile... This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, truly constitutes the feeling of absurdity. "
This paradox, according to writers such as Lonesco and Beckett, renders human actions, aspirations, and emotions merely ironic. Eugene Ionesco, French author of The Bald Soprano (1949) and other plays in the theatre of absurd has said: "Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless."
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