Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bloody Chamber? You Wait For The Caffe Nero Edition

An essay on Angela Carter is the next thing I have to do for my degree course. Oh dear. I hate Angela Carter. Well, hate might (might) be a strong word for how I feel about her. She actually bores me senseless.Or is it her?

It could be the universal approbation of her work that bores and annoys me. Feminist critics and male academics seem to think she's wonderful. "Sophisticated" people who drink lattes instead of coffee and like their bars to have sofas in them praise her lavishly. Her complete wondrousness appears to be the received wisdom of the literate professional classes.

But look at her book The Bloody Chamber. Is it really so incredibly innovative and intellectually marvellous - can it really be so 'out there' - to take a bunch of old fairy stories and folk tales, with their androcentric emphasis, and rewrite them from an empowered feministy perspective? That's the sort of reasonably interesting (but not especially so) idea that every intelligent person comes up with at the end of the evening after a few too many wines, but most have more important things to do than try to sell it in a book.

Putting it down on paper was never going to help anybody, anyway. People might say that isn't the purpose of literature, but surely a change of consciousness,at least, is the purpose of feminist literature; and a book like this will only reach people who already agree with it, if it reaches anybody at all. It certainly won't stop the thick-headed old man on the housing estate from talking to his wife like shit in the pub all night, and then beating her senseless at home when all his friends have drunk his last beer, smoked his last spliff and slunk off into the night. (You think things have changed folks? Try stepping over the river.)

The idea that drives Bloody Chamber is a parlour game for the left-leaning side of the chattering classes, that's all. And not especially compelling as a piece of writing either. I find her prose as exciting as cold porridge.

Perhaps that is just me, though. I don't have a large enough salary to appreciate the subtleties of great literature these days.

Friday, November 12, 2010

10/11: What Really Happened

I was there. The journalists were there too, but they were looking for a story. They had to go to the place where the glass was being broken, the placards burned, the fire extinguisher recklessly slung. If they had walked with the other students and finished off in a giant, good-tempered, weary scrum at the other end of Millbank cheering speeches they couldn't hear by student leaders, the journalists would have been thrown out by their editor the next time they showed up at the office.

The journalists didn't really know the students either. They could put a microphone in someone's way and snatch the odd soundbite about Nick Clegg or tuition fees or lies and hypocrisy, but they couldn't know the students; their world is simply too far removed. I knew the students, though. I knew the people I had come up from Northampton on a coach with, and I got to know the people who were marching all around me in that unbelievably long, loud, and, yes, happy train of  humanity going past the Houses of Parliament.

And they were happy, make no mistake. It was exhilarating to be out there on that bright day in the middle of London doing something important, for once, with your friends; chanting rude songs (and rude is all they were, despite the prudish disapproval of the newspapers: have they never been to a football match?); hoping, perhaps absurdly, to get on television. Several of us even called family and friends to tell them where we were; and when the helicopter buzzed us, as it did several times during the march, we only cheered and waved ironically. We all object strenuously to the Coalition's plans for higher education and we were there to tell Nick Clegg that as he stood at the Dispatch Box inside the Commons deputising for his new best friend David Cameron at PMQs. But nobody - nobody - from the student contingent had come up for a riot.

There were others there, people from the Socialist Worker Party, Anarchists, Anti-War Protesters, many shouting fervidly into megaphones about the evils of the Coalition and the necessity of smashing the state. There were men and women with the lower half of their face covered by bandannas. There were drunks pushing past you temporarily spoiling the carnival atmosphere with their bad manners. But I don't want to blame them for what happened at Millbank. Some of those groups have a legitimate belief that it's their duty to oppose an illegitimate and out of control Government; and in that respect I personally agree with them, though I don't always agree with their methods. I don't know what happened at Millbank anyway, any more than anybody else does except the people who were caught up in it. And I suspect that's how it was for most.

An innocent sit-down protest outside the Conservative Party offices probably seemed like a good idea to students and others who had spent the whole day thinking about the Coalition's vandalism of higher education. Many there probably hadn't been to enough protests to know that the cops wouldn't like it; maybe some were too exhilarated by the belief in the possibilities of democracy that the march represented to care very much about being arrested. Things could change and they would make them change. And then it got out of hand. Half the people in the crowd who appeared to be pushing to break the police line and get into the Tory offices probably couldn't have left if they'd tried with a great swell of other people pushing at their back.

I saw it start. I saw the police going in. Then I got away quickly and went to listen to the speeches. It wasn't until I made it - just - to the coach taking us back to Northampton that I heard what had developed once I'd scuttled off to safety. Students on the coach were reading an account in the Evening Standard. A small number - I think it was three - of our people had been detained by the Police and the frazzled, hard-working men and women from the Student Union were busy trying to get them out before the coach left. Everybody agreed that the trashing of the Tory building was wrong; that it had set back the cause of opposition to the Coalition programme, and would probably make the Lib Dem MPs we needed on our side feel more inclined to vote with Clegg and Cameron.

Tomorrow, I had a feeling, the lies and misrepresentations about what had happened at the Demo would begin in earnest. When I turned the tv on first thing in the morning I knew that I'd guessed right.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Karl Marx, Ron Whitehead, Bill Blackolive, Me

I'm taking a break at the moment from an assignment I have to write on Marxist Literary Criticism for my degree course. It's a tough one, and it's going to take some time. Not because Marxism is hard to understand, but because the text we have to apply it to is a difficult one: the opening pages of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, which at first sight has almost nothing meaty in it for me to use. Yes, the High Court of Chancery is an institution supported by a particularly capitalist ideology which itself is supported by agreement rather than enforcement which itself might be an example of interpellation since it doesn't seem to be helping very many people etc. etc. etc.; but how the hell to word that on a cold, grey Monday with a 1000 word limit and only 6 days left to complete it?

F**k knows. I was ruined over the weekend by the purchase of a cd which closed with a 1961 reading by Allen Ginsberg of his poem "Auto Poesy to Nebraska". Such freedom! such humour in that! ("How big is the prick of the president?") Reminded me there are jewels out there the academic world can't begin to understand; and that I'm an artist too. A poet, albeit one who has written hardly anything for a couple of years because of poor health and catastrophic loss of confidence and direction; loss of spiritual balance which I'm only now beginning to recover (trying to anyway). When am I going to write again and recover some of the talent I once had instead of sitting in cold libraries writing formalistic essays for the approval of teachers who don't even know of the existence of Ron Whitehead or Wild Bill Blackolive?

Today's as good a day to start as any, Hodder, once you wrestle Karl Marx to the ground and get home to the Bard Gaff.