Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: The Beast of the Epiphany

Celebrate the new year, and wallow in the decaying remains of another dead and rotting Christmas, with a new bit of my bellyaching, here.

Have a good one, everybody... especially my Eruditorum colleagues and our 'extended family'. 

And keep reading.

My Year in Blogging, etc...

So, a big year for Shabogan Graffiti.  The Shabcasts started up, Phil and I started recording our commentaries on Who, I became the 'podcast boyfriend' to Oi! Spaceman, befriended some lovely people online... and, of course, I joined Eruditorum Press.  I feel like I've made some real progress in 2015, albeit with lots of help and encouragement from others.  It's a pleasure and an honour to be part of such a terrific circle of writers, talkers, interlocutors, comrades, and friends.

Here are the pieces I've written this year that I personally like best.  (Some of them were originally posted here but I'm posting links to their new home at Eruditorum Press.)

Knock Knock - Thoughts on The Babadook.

Insider Trading - Thoughts on the Big Finish audio 'Davros', and capitalism etc.

The Award of Cruelty - Thoughts on the Hugos and the Puppies, on reactionary politics generally, and on Vox Day's fecal obsession

Solid Dick - Why Iron Man is the most evil film ever made.

Tricky Dicky, Part Three - The best bit (so far) of my ongoing series about... things tangentially connected to Richard III.

Concerning Tivolians - Having a go at Toby Whithouse.

The Zygon Invocation - Having a go at Peter Harness.

To be honest, I'm fairly pleased with everything I've written for Eruditorum Press so far, but the ones I've linked to are the stand-outs in my opinion.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Walls

I was working at a hospice in East Berlin on the Christmas Eve when the wall came down.  I think I’d made a point of coming to Germany because it was the place that would most upset my family.

I was caring for a man called Felix Morgenschein.  He was very old, though nobody seemed to know exactly how old.  And he didn’t have long, though nobody seemed to know exactly how long he had.  But everyone who went into his room could feel him dying.  It was like there was a ticking clock somewhere in the room, and it was slowing down.  It wasn’t a bad feeling.  It felt like a countdown to a well-deserved rest.  It seemed to merge with the approach of Christmas.  I don’t celebrate Christmas of course, but I was surrounded by people who did.  I was young and new to the job, and secretly scared of the very people it was my job to care for, of their pain and their demands, and of being unable to help them.  But Felix required very little help.  Felix was kind and comforting, as if it was his job to care for me.

It was in the old days, as I say, back when the state - for all its faults - provided adequate medical care for everyone, and nobody faced a cold and lonely and painful death because they didn’t have the money.  It was before the East Germans had that kind of freedom.

Felix talked a lot, when he wasn’t too tired.  He seemed to want to talk.  I did a lot of sitting next to him, holding his papery old hand, listening to him talk.  Coming from anyone but him, I would have doubted the stories he told me… but Felix gave off straightforward honesty like a radiator gives of heat.  It was the honesty of an earnest child.  In many ways, despite his great age, there was something boyish about him.

He’d been in the First World War.  He’d been one of the soldiers who played football with the British in the Christmas Truce of 1914.  He’d sung ‘Silent Night’ in German alongside Tommies singing it in English.  Disillusioned with the war, he’d deserted from the army not long after.  He’d travelled.  He’d come back to Germany after a while and rejoined the army just before the end of the war.  He never explained to me how that had worked.  He’d led a mutiny in his regiment.  He’d kept the mutiny going until the armistice and then headed back to Germany without permission, taking advantage of the official paralysis after the Kaiser had fled from his own people.  He’d gone home and found that his parents had both died of influenza.  He’d found his sweetheart, who had promised to wait for him, and met her husband and their young son.  He’d apologised to her for disappearing, and wished all three of them well.  And then he’d headed for Munich and been one of the founders of the Bavarian Council Republic.  Though disgusted with war and with killing, he’d fought the White Guards and the Freikorps up to the very last moment, and then fled - somehow escaping with his life.  He’d gone to Berlin and joined the SPD, and then become disillusioned with their commitment to the Russian line, and split to join Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht’s Spartacists.  He’d been in street battles with Stormtroopers.  He’d been one of the last people to see Rosa and Karl before they were murdered.  When the Nazis took over, he’d fled from the country, only just escaping capture.  If they’d caught him, he’d have been sent to Dachau.

I told him about my grandparents, who’d been in the Warsaw Ghetto, crammed into one of the houses by the wall.  I told him about how my uncles and aunts had fought in the rising, and died.

Felix moved to Britain after escaping Germany.  He told me it had seemed natural to go there, as his greatest friend - with whom he had travelled after deserting from the Great War - had been “British… in a way”, whatever that meant.  I often asked him about this friend but he was always vague… though it became clear to me, from little hints and slips, that she had been a woman.  He’d joined the RAF, and had fought for the Allies, but had deserted - again - after refusing to take part in bombing raids over Dresden.  Then his life seemed to become hazy to him, as if he could remember the early years clearly but the later years were out of focus.  He never explained to me how he came to be living in East Berlin at the end of his life.  But there he was.  And he knew he was at the end.  He was not scared.  Looking at him, I found it hard to believe he had ever been scared of anything.

On the Christmas Eve when the wall came down, I arrived at Felix’s room at the start of my night shift and found a woman sat next to his bed.  For some reason, I did not go straight in and announce my presence.  I lingered behind the door and listened.

“They’ll fit.  Trust me,” she was saying.  She spoke in perfect German but her voice was English.

“But why, Doctor?” Felix was asking, in the plaintive tones of a child.

Doctor?  I didn’t know of any female Doctors working in the hospice; certainly not any English ones.

“Because I want you to get up and come with me.  One last time.”

“I told you a long time ago… no more travelling, not your way.  I want to get there on my own.”

“And I’ve respected your wishes.  I’m not inviting you on a trip.  Just a little walk.”

“Doctor,” said Felix, “I’m too tired, and I’m in a lot of pain.  I don’t think I could stand for very long, let alone walk.  And I don’t want to go too far from my lovely morphine.  To tell you the truth, I think I’m addicted.”

I was touched by his sheepishness about the obvious.

“Addicted to not being in pain?” asked the woman rhetorically, “Good for you.  But don’t worry about any of that.  Just sit up and put these boots on.  Do as you’re told for once, you awkward old cuss.”

“I don’t understand,” wheezed Felix, and I heard distress and exhaustion and pain in his voice, and realised how much he hid from me.  Somehow, he didn’t even try to hide anything from this Doctor woman.

I went into the room and they both looked up at me.

“Ah, you’ve decided to come in and ask me who I am,” she said, sounding amused.

She was thin, a youthful forty, with straight strawberry blonde hair cut pixieishly around a small face, out of which looked two sceptical but humourous dark grey eyes.  She was wearing a ridiculously inappropriate scarlet velvet frock.  She looked like she’d come straight from a Hollywood musical of about thirty years before, except for the scuffed trainers on her feet and the preposterous old top hat perched on her head.

Felix was lying back in bed as usual but seemed to be trying to rise.

I approached him to soothe him but he held up his hand.

“It’s all right Adina,” he said hoarsely, sounding pained and anxious - and yet also excited, “this is a friend of mine.”

Well, I won’t go into the details of the conversation.  I said all the usual things, the professional things you’d expect.  Every sensible word of mine was batted back at me by that infuriating woman, always charmingly, always in such a way as to confuse me and blast me off my train of thought.  She pressed ahead relentlessly in her determination to get the old man to put on the pair of dirty, battered, mud-caked old army boots she was holding.  There seemed to be no getting through to this woman that the whole thing was ridiculous and unfair, though she obviously understood every word I said.  She just made it clear to me - sweetly, amusingly, bizarrely, unanswerably - that she didn’t care.  I flailed to counter her leaps of logic and her oblique non sequiturs, but I got nowhere.  And somehow I never left to call for help ejecting her as an intruder.  It was like I was mesmerised by her brazenness.
Eventually Felix took pity on me and intervened, saying, laughter coming back into his cracked voice, “Doctor, stop it… Adina’s a nice girl… she’s my friend and you’re not to tease her.”  The woman seemed slightly chastened, but soon rallied, impishly holding the boots out to Felix again and saying “I’ll go easy on her if you put these on, you old fool,” to which Felix laughed and sighed and shrugged, and started getting up again, though he winced with the effort.

“Help me Adina,” he said, and - though I don’t know why - I slid past the Doctor and started helping him to sit up in bed and swing his legs around.

Of course, once the boots were on everything changed.

“Put the TV on,” said the Doctor as Felix danced around the room, “you need to see the news.”

As it happened, it was at that point that one of the other nurses ran in and breathlessly asked us if we’d heard… stopping in her tracks when she saw Felix sweeping me into a waltz.

We got to the wall about an hour later, Felix in his pyjamas and dressing gown, scampering ahead of the Doctor and I, jumping in puddles, laughing like a kid.

“You understand that this is only temporary,” the Doctor had said as he’d hugged her, “the effect of the boots will wear off in a couple of hours.  Then they’ll just be boots again.”

“How did you find them?  I thought I’d lost them forever!”

The Doctor just smiled.

“I thought you told me once that this happened in early November,” said Felix as we started making our way through the crowd.

“It did, originally.  November 9th.  Next year.  I pushed it forward a bit.  Did a bit of editing.  Couldn’t hurt.  Didn’t want you to miss it, and you stipulated no more trips, so…”

Felix gawped at her.

“Besides,” she said, “I’ve always thought it should’ve happened at Christmas.  Remember I told you once that if there’s one thing Germans are good at, besides critiques of political economy, it’s Christmas.”

“Some might say that critiques of political economy are what got Berlin into this mess,” I remarked, deciding not to think about the implications of the rest of their conversation.

“Yes, and some people say that other people shoplift because they’ve got bad blood.  You always want to be careful of people who think life is a vast straight line of falling dominoes.  Felix and I know how much more complex it is than that.”

Felix, meanwhile was making for the wall.  The crowd parted for him, as if recognising someone with priority.  He was handed a pickaxe by a girl with frizzy hair and a flushed face.  He began swinging it at the wall.  He swung it like a man of twenty.  Chips and slivers, and then great chunks, began flying off it where he was attacking it.  The Doctor and I watched him from the back of the crowd.  She grinned indulgently, like a parent watching her child playing on the beach.  Her grin was so wide, I thought her head might split in half.  It was impossible not to smile with her.

Felix was dancing along the top of the wall by the time she turned to me, touched my arm, and said:
“Be sure to get him back into bed within an hour or two.”

“I will,” I said, understanding that she was going.

And then, somehow knowing that she was the person to ask, I nodded towards the increasingly ragged, mobbed, swamped wall and said: “All this… it’ll be all right, will it?”

“It’s a wall,” said the woman, “and like any wall there are good and bad things on both sides of it.”
I could tell that was all I was going to get.

By this time, Felix was leading the crowd in a performance of ‘Silent Night’, conducting them from his perch on top of the wall.

“You will help him, when the time comes, won’t you?” asked the woman.

“I will,” I said again.

And to my surprise, that strange woman hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, and whispered “Bless you,” in my ear.  And then she was gone, like mist, into the jigging and cheering crowd.

Felix was back in bed a couple of hours later, flushed, grinning, tired.  He died the next day, unconscious, holding my hand.  Somehow, the boots disappeared.  I thought they must’ve been tidied up and thrown away by one of the attendants.  All his things were thrown away.  He had no living family.

I saw the Doctor again a couple of years ago.  Christmastime again.  It’s strange how many Muslims celebrate it in Gaza, in solidarity with the Christians who will show solidarity with them.  It’s not unlike Christmas in East Germany, where people did it for their own reasons, partly political.  I was at a hospital near another wall, tending the survivors of the latest bombing raid.  I was writing an email to my sister, who was proud of me by then, though she didn’t dare tell my brother-in-law that we were in contact.  I looked up from my laptop and saw that woman, the Doctor, not a day older, dressed in an astrakhan coat this time, still wearing that stupid top hat, walking through the ward.  I ran out but she was already gone.  When I got back to my laptop, the boots were sat next to it.

I still have them, and the mud of Christmas 1914, and the dust of the wall, is still clinging to them.

The Eruditorum Press Christmas Party (Shabcast 14)

Yes, this exists.  And here it is.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Paradise Towers Commentaries

Phil and I are back with another set of ice hot commentaries for Doctor Who episodes, and this time it's 'Paradise Towers' which... well frankly, you deserve to be taken to the cleaners if you don't love it.

Please click this link, human garbage.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Planet of the Oi

The title says it all really. 

I recently rejoined Shana and Daniel, on their excellent Oi!Spaceman podcast, to talk about the Series 4 classic 'Planet of the Ood'. 

Listen and/or download here or Donna will not be happy with you.



Friday, 11 December 2015

New Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Dialectic of the Doctors, Part 1

I wrote some unhinged nonsense about 'The Three Doctors' through the lens of the Dialectic.  Don't really know why.  But here it is anyway.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

New Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Architects and Bees

Some disjointed thoughts on 'The Ark in Space', the Book of Genesis, human evolution, and the birth of hierarchy - here.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Shabcast 13 - Dracula, etc

Shabcast 13 is up. 

It's the much-belated Hallowe'en edition, originally planned for this time last month but delayed by clashing schedules, insufficient bandwidth, and emergency (and hugely expensive) visits to late-night vets with sick cats.  But, with the dogged determination of the utterly un-self-aware and bull-headed, I dug my heels in and stubbornly insisted on doing it, despite the flailing fury of a universe that clearly felt it shouldn't exist.  Was I justfied?  Of course not, but here it is anyway. 

It features me in conversation with my online buddy, Big Finish's new Ben Jackson, thespian Elliot Chapman.  We chat all things Dracula, and thoroughly investigate every piece of Dracula-related media ever created in just three brief hours.

Also, we recorded this Shabcast using a new process: Glorious Immersive Scenariosoundarama, so listen to it at night with only the flickering glow of candles around you.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

New Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Solid Dick 1½, or 'Did Mary Whitehouse Have a Point?'

Written something else at Eruditorum Press.  Hard thing to categorize.  Made it a semi-sequel to Solid Dick, since Iron Man pops up in it.  Please read it here.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Thursday, 5 November 2015

New Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Capitalist Pig 3

I've written a very silly, jokey, troll-y, semi-pisstakey thing as a response to Phil Sandifer's 'Capitalist Pig' posts, here.  It started out as a kind-of attempt to do a cargo cult-version of a Phil post, and mutated into one of my usual things.  It's very silly.  But weaponized silliness perhaps.

Also, I'm a guest on Holly's Amicus podcast City of the Dead, chatting about the classic Cushing/Lee chiller The Skull, here.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Vengeance on Varos Commentary

The commentary tracks Phil and I recorded for the Colin Baker, um, classic 'Vengeance on Varos' is finally out.

It was recorded in September, which might as well be the 14th Century as far as I'm concerned.  I have very little memory of anything I said during this, though I think I was rubbish.

I also have a dim memory of saying, at one point, that I didn't dislike the 11th Doctor or Matt Smith... which is obviously nutty.  I suspect it was an overly-defensive reaction to Phil goading me.

Anyway, you can find it here

Listen to it.  I guess.  If you want to.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

New Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: In the Loop

Jeremy Corbyn recently appointed Seumas Milne his director of communications.  I have some thoughts about this, and also Ayn Rand.  Please read here.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: A Surfeit of Lampreys

I've written a little something about the (really quite good) recent Doctor Who episode 'The Girl Who Died'.  Please read it here

There's also some stuff at the end about some other stuff.  Sounds enticing, huh?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

I'm a Weird Kitty

Here's what the Weird Kitties are.

Here's my short Weird Kitty review of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Buried Giant, which is eligible for Best Novel in the Hugos.

Here's my (new) short Weird Kitty review of China Miéville’s story 'The Dusty Hat', which is eligible for Best Novelette in the Hugos (scroll down to find my bit).

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Concerning Tivolians

I've written a new blog post in which I go into far too much detail about what bothers me about Toby Whithouse's Tivolians.  Please read here.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Tricky Dicky, Part 2

The second part of my free-form ramble on the subject (sort of) of Richard III, real and fictional, is up.  Please go here to read it.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Shabcast 12 is out now

Here's a relatively brief (just over an hour) Shabcast featuring me, Holly, and Josh on the whole nasty Kesha / Dr Luke thing and the #FreedomForKesha hashtag, from very much a pro-Kesha perspective.  (Also, some Doctor Who chat.)  Please go here.  Beware Triggers and Spoilers.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Tricky Dicky, Part 1

The first part of my rambling thing about... well, nominally about Richard III is up at Eruditorum Press, here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Post by Me at Eruditorum Press: Magician's Apprentice + Podcast

My thoughts on the first episode of Series 9, 'The Magician's Apprentice' are up at Eruditorum Press.  Also, I'm a guest on the first Eruditorum Press podcast about Series 9, hosted by Phil Sandifer.  We chat about the latest episode, and Phil extracts my reactions to most of Series 8 (which I literally just watched, like in the two days before 'Magician's Apprentice'.  Please go here to read and download.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Shabcast 11 is out now

Hot on the heels of Shabcast 10, here's Shabcast 11.  It's the Matt Smith of the Shabcasts.  Features Phil Sandifer and I talking Hannibal, True Detective and JN-T (amongst a lot of other things)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Shabcast 10 is out now

Shabcast 10 - featuring me in conversation with Gene Mayes on the subject of the Gothic, A Field in England, and loads of other stuff, is available to download now.  Please go here

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Announcement

This blog is staying where it is.

However, you'll have noticed that the URL has gone back to the old blogspot version.  Shabogangraffiti.com now redirects you to a new venture: eruditorumpress.com.

Eruditorumpress.com is a new group blog.  It's what philipsandiferwriter.com has become.  It's the next phase of Phil Sandifer's bid to take over the internet, and I'm joining in.  It's the latest phase in my bid to ride his coat-tails. 

(Hopefully at some point I'll get shabogangraffiti.com to take you directly to my subpage... or rather, our wonderful techy person Anna will.)

I might continue to update this blog in small ways, but basically I now blog over at eruditorumpress.com... alongside Phil (of course) and the wonderful Jane.  We hope to bring other people in as time goes by.

Also now under the Eruditorum Press umbrella we have the Pex Lives podcast, which has in many ways been the force bringing us all together.  Shabcasts (and, I understand, Holly's City of the Dead podcast) will continue to be hosted by Pex Lives.

It feels right to be pooling resources with such a brilliant gang of people.  Please support the new site.  And thanks to all of you who came here to read my stuff over the years, even though I was just plugging away on my own.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Heads Up

Comments are temporarily disabled owing to site maintenance.

On a related note, you should definitely toddle over to Phil Sandifer's site tomorrow.

The times they are 'a changing.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Award of Cruelty

Diversity and social justice issues were creeping into the Hugo Awards, or rather into the cultural artifacts they celebrate, as such issues creep into the culture generally.  It happens because people are getting more and more interested in them, more open to them, and caring more about them.  This is, by the way, the product of material struggles for recognition and equal rights by people who are marginalised by mainstream culture in the West (i.e. racist, sexist, transphobic, bourgeois-hegemonic culture).  It must be stressed that such claims are not only valid on their face but also are represented, in artistic terms, by valuable work that deserves recognition.

The Puppies saw this trend and it infuriated them.  Just as they are doubtless infuriated by any such progress, by the increasing volume of the voices they used to be able to talk over and down to with impunity, by the increasing - and increasingly recognised - validity of these voices, not only in themselves but in their abilities.  The Hugos are, the Puppies think, their turf, just as the rabble of GamerGate, and the constituency they pander to, imagine that video games are their turf.  They took the gradual changes occuring in an institution that has always reflected a seam of progressivism in SF/Fantasy (just as it has always reflected other seams) and blew the phenomenon up out of all proportion.  (Seriously, I wish their distorted view of Hugos, and culture generally, were really true, and the voices they hate and fear really were as ascendant as they fantasize them to be.)

They saw this smidge of progress and imagined that it constituted some kind of attack upon their freedom.  They imagined it, and believed it, having chosen to imagine and believe it... because it's amazing how sincerely and passionately people can believe ridiculous things that further their interests, confirm their prejudices and pamper their privileges.  They did this because that's what reactionaries always do.  It's a classic maneuvre when you're rallying around the defence of established privilege and entrenched power relations (which is what reactionary politics always is, at base): paint yourself as the victim.  It's great camouflage.  And they love it too.  They love the smell of the victim paint on their bodies, drying on them, crusting and cracking, leaving a trail of victim flakes everywhere they go.  Conservatives and reactionaries and fascists and ressentimentalists are as fond of being the victim as the whingeing, entitled, self-pitying minorities that live in their imaginations.  (There is probably something psychological to be made of the right-wing love of victimhood, and the way they always portray themselves in much the same terms that they complain about in their confabulated enemies and hate-figures.  I remember how, at school, bullies would always howl "But he started it!" and "It wasn't my fault!" when caught, and then pout self-pityingly at the injustice of being told not to bully.)

But yeah, they interpret the struggles of the marginalised and mocked, their demands for justice, as an attack.  Moderate demands.  Not wanting to overturn the table.  Just wanting a seat.  A seat, moreover, that has been hard won and earned fair 'n' square.  That was what the Puppies were scared of.  Fewer seats for them to spread out on.  And here's the thing: in their stupid, crude, self-pitying, myopic way they have a point.  The less oppressed some people are, the less powerful are the people who used to benefit from their oppression.  Yeah.  True.  What they get wrong is the construction they put on this. 

The Puppies, and the ressentimental and truculent group they represent, then paint any unified resistance as totalitarian groupthink, as the effect of drones all obeying a single politicized agenda.  Because this is another classic maneuvre.  Efface your own deeply political motives (what could be more political than the aggressive defence of one's own privilege in the face of attempts by others to become less subject to you?) and then angrily ascribe political motives and agendas to the people combating you.  Your own motives are, by definition, pure.  Pure in the sense of being disinterested.  The spurious notion of impartiality as being a middle way between two extremes (i.e. the extreme of power and the extreme of powerlessness) is a fallacy often embraced by the right for the sake of argument.

Always, the oppressors and/or their useful idiots think of oppression as, and describe it as, the norm.  The baseline.  Zero on the meter, from which atypical readings diverge into the plus or minus.  The current state of things (or the current state of things as they imagine it, sometimes mapping nostalgia onto now) is, obviously, good because it benefits them.  Obviously normal because it benefits them.  Obviously the best way to do things beause it benefits them.  Obviously democratic and fair beause it benefits them.  "I love freedom," goes the thinking, "ergo when I get to dictate the terms of the debate, that's freedom.  When things are arranged to benefit and privilege and prioritise me, that's freedom."  This way of thinking, by the way, is hardly unique to the hard right.  It is characteristic of managerialist liberalism.  For liberal elites (see Noam Chomsky, not Rand Paul, for a definition of what this actually mean), this is pretty much what 'democracy' means: social arrangements dominated and managed by liberal technocrats and intellectuals, without too much interference from the people.  (Yes, I know, I sound like some of the 'radical' right here... and there are areas where such people will spout rhetoric that sounds like a radical analysis of liberal capitalism... but BEWARE, because that's just the cynical populism of the right, just evidence of their failure to understand the real problems of democracy even as they dumbly sense them.) 

The normalising of the current state of injustice means that entities like the Puppies can, once again, paint their angry, sclerotic, dudebroish, O'Reillyesque defence of their own privilege as a defence of liberty.  Ultimately, however, the liberty being defended is their liberty to run the place without anybody questioning it.  Their liberty to help themselves to the biggest slices of pie (anybody cries shennanigans when you take more than your share and you accuse them of wanting all the pie for themselves - it's as old as the hills).  Their liberty to dominate the culture and set the agenda, and patronize people different from them.  Their liberty to insist upon outdated cultural assumptions and definitions in the face of evidence and demands which refute them.  Other liberties mean nothing to them.  The liberty of people not in the privileged group to write and read what they like, to influence the wider culture, to unify to combat their own marginalisation, to be recognised not only for their humanity and rights but also for their achievements... entities like the Puppies are openly hostile to such liberties, because for all their libertarian bluster they are, essentially, doing nothing more than fighting a rearguard action against cultural trends which terrify them because they chip away at their old hegemonic position.

These generalisations are useful because they can be applied at other levels of our culture.  What I say above is generally true of right-wing movements anywhere and anywhen, I find.  To the extent that they are significant at all, I think the Puppies are significant as an example.  A vivid, close-to-home example for people in the SF/Fantasy community.  But then, as I say, the SF/Fantasy community is already expanding to include more and more people who already know exactly how people like this operate, either because they are increasingly politicised or because they have to cope with this kind of bullshit on a day-to-day level because of their own positionality.  Which is precisely the scary fact that glavanised first the Sad then the Rabid Puppies, much as they might try to hide their true fears under layers of code and dogwhistling, and faux-victimhood, and disingenuously apolitical nostalgia for simplicity, and more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger lamentation about the kids on their lawn.

The Puppies will claim to be champions of democracy.  But the kinds of gradual shifts that we see represented in the changing face of the Hugos are democracy.  To the extent that shifts in attitudes entails shifts in demands, and shifts in demands brings on shifts in what gets published, it may even be a legitimate instance of consumer democracy!  It's also a symptom of the fact that we're in a relatively small and marginal subculture here (i.e. the kinds of people who write and/or read SF novellas published by relatively small presses.)  In any case, the manifestation of such democratic changes in things like the Hugos is usually pretty weak and watery and late compared to the real thing.  Established and entrenched structures are slow to change, and slow to register change from without... as indeed are established and entrenched subcultures and their attitudes.  But the Hugos are voted for.  So the access of people to the levers of this structure, or this expression of the views of a subculture if you prefer, makes it a reasonable barometer (if you'll permit me to mix metaphors flagrantly).  Precisely why the Puppies attacked it.  And thus a minority tries to dominate artificially in order to stop a majority dominating organically... and, as always, the canny thing is for the reactionaries to claim persecution.  The standard reactionary technique.

Just look at the media's reaction to the clamour of those alienated from a right-wing Labour party to rejoin and vote for a 'left-wing' leadership candidate, an MP who has the temerity to be a moderate social-democrat instead of hugging the extreme neoliberalism that the media likes to call the 'centre'.  In many ways, this is an instructive comparison because it's almost an mirror image of what happened with the Puppies and the Hugos.  Instead of an institution that more-or-less accurately acts as a barometer for the views and tastes of the community it concerns, Labour is a party utterly alienated from those it claims to represent.  Instead of mass-reactionary entryism in an effort to distort results rightwards, Labour is being rejoined by people who want to reclaim it for those it was historically supposed to serve.  The bass-ackwards view of events concerning the Hugos which is peddled by the Puppies is mirrored in the bass-ackwards view of Labour's leadership election by the right-wing UK media.  (How long, by the way, before the Puppies nominate the Mail's dystopian sci-fi about an apocalyptic Corbyn premiereship for next year's Hugos?  Purely on artistic merit, natch.)

There is not even a grain of truth to the Puppie's performative bloviating about democracy, anymore than there is in the UK media's bloviating about 'responsible, adult politics'.  It might be argued that if reactionaries want to join and pay their membership fee so they can vote in the Hugos, then that's fair enough.  The Hugos are a barometer because they have some responsiveness to public opinion, which itself is a function of the fact that, unlike the Oscars and Baftas and so on, they are voted on by anyone who cares enough to pay a minimal sum for the pleasure of doing so.  And are the Puppies not members of the public, and paid-up voters?  This falls flat, and is revealed as mere sophistry, because they are - in true fascist style - taking advantage of democratic structures in order to countermand democratic results.  They artificially dominated the proceedings and squidged out genuinely representative nominations.  But, ultimately, I'm just not that fussed about the legitimacy or good standing of an awards ceremony.  What it represents on the other hand... or rather what is represented by the changing face of the nominations and nominees... that's rather more important.

The issue here is that the various Puppy-endorsed nonentities had no business being on the nominations if the nominations are supposed to represent an organic and democratic reflection of the state of fan culture.  The Puppies warped the Hugos out of recognition and usefulness as a result of their ballot-stuffing antics.  They actively, deliberately and effectively excluded people who would've been on the ballots otherwise, and in so doing markedly reduced diversity.  Their argument would doubtless be that diversity is not something we have the right to expect.  It can't be enforced.  No 'positive discrimination'.  But, as usual, they are operating in bad faith to the point of dishonesty; distorting reality to the point of inverting it.  Diversity was, as can clearly see, going to occur naturally and organically and democratically.  They, the Puppies, set about artificially stifling it.  They have the right to their say, of course, but not to dominate proceedings dishonestly and artificially in the name of rebalancing something that was never out of balance in the first place.  Again, balance seems to them, naturally, to be the state of affairs where they get what they want.  It really is incredible how the people sat at the top of a pyramid (or strangely invested, for peculiar psychological reasons of their own, in the ideology of the people at the top of a pyramid) can look down and see it as a level playing field, and thus resent it when anyone tries to flatten it.  "Democracy!" hollers the self-righteous and outraged minority from above at the crowd below trying pull stones out of the base of the structure.  "If you can't climb then you don't deserve to get this high!" they say, forgetting that they were just lifted and plonked on top.

They'd love us to get sidetracked on the issue of the legitimacy of political voting (which, in any case, has now been addressed by the Hugos with their 'E Pluribus Hugo' amendment to the nomination process), because they have an easy retort to anyone who says they voted on a political agenda.  They have the time-honoured playground response, the "I know you are but what am I?" response.  Moreover, they have the claim that they only did what they did because 'we' did it first.  And when we respond with our counter attack, they can then do the obvious and say "ahhhh look, you voted based on politics not on the quality of the text!  You did exactly what we accused you of doing!  By fighting us you have proved our point!  Ahhhh!".  I know that this is how they think because twitter is currently infested with Puppy-supporters and GamerGate-types doing and saying precisely these things, making precisely these 'arguments'.

But Lee & Herring fans will know what I mean when I say "this is not an 'ahhhh' situation".  Again, their argument is two-faced sophistry.  The Hugos were changing all by themselves (as it were), without 'us' having to consciously organise any sort of SJW conspiracy.  This doesn't make them wonder if 'our' movement might actually be organic and democratic rather than a bullying minority... or at least, if they do wonder such things, they don't admit it.  Again, if it strays from what the think is 'normal' (i.e. the set of arrangements that privileges them and their preferences) then obviously someone is conspiring against normality.

In the service of this 'argument', they elide voting politically and voting for things you genuinely like because of (or partly because of) your politics.  But - and it really is embarrassing to have to point out simplicities like this to adults - there's a difference.  

Of course you are likely to like things you agree with.  Part of why I like China Mieville is because he has a very similar worldview to me (admittedly, this is partly because I've taken a lot of my worldview from his).  He writes interestingly about things that interest me.  He writes inspiringly about things that inspire me (there's no point denying that I love Iron Council partly because it engages favourably with revolutionary politics - I find that thrilling).  He writes with horror about things that horrify me.  I don't have to stop and look away in revulsion when he makes racist observations about people of colour, as I do when I'm reading (the equally fascinating) Lovecraft, or whoever.   Vox Day said, in his interview with Phil Sandifer, that China Mieville is one of his favourite writers.  I choose to believe that, because I can understand how Lovecraft is one of Mieville's favourite writers.  Let's give Day the benefit of the doubt and assume he's telling the truth, simply because we know from our own experience how such things are possible.  Day, on the other hand, champions the piffling work of John C. Wright, with its mechanical and lumpen Christian allegory and metaphor, presumably because it pushes a worldview (the inherent value and moral supremacy of Christian civilisation) that he finds salutary and inspiring, as inspiring as I find Mieville's depiction of revolution from below. For the sake of argument: Mieville is to me as Wright is to Day.  Lovecraft is to me as Mieville is to Day.  All we've done here is point out the obvious fact that Day and I are on opposite sides.  Well, we knew that.  I'm happy to concede that taste is politically-invested.  They vote for the stuff they like partly because it represents their politics.  We vote for the stuff we like partly because it represents our politics.  (They'd probably want to talk about positive discrimination or reverse racism or misandry or something... some variation on the idea that by prioritising things like diversity we're squeezing out the rights of the neutral, non-political fan/reader... because, for them, the neutral/vanilla human is a white straight guy and the non-political or apolitical is that which hugs his perspective.  This is exactly the underlying meaning of the kind of laments for the loss of good old-fashioned adventure stories about robots and space battles that you get from 'moderate' Sad Puppies like Torgersen and Correia.)

But it's their tactic to accuse us of a totalising insistence upon ideological consistency, manifested in a determination to vote politically in the Hugos.  On a superficial level, this is (or should be) easy for anyone to see through.  The sheer hypocrisy and bad faith of the argument advertises itself.  "You voted 'No Award' so you want politics to dominate the awards!" they say, in response to our response to their attempt to politically dominate the awards.  I mean, fuck.  Bad faith and hypocrisy that blatant and brazen is usually only seen in Western mainstream media reports about Israel.

And another thing: 'we' know full well when 'we' are producing or reading or praising material which has a political valence or agenda, precisely because from 'our' side such political valences and agendas are oppositional.  When a person of colour, or a trans person, or a woman writes a book, she knows she is doing something political and oppositional (whether she wants to be so categorised or not) just by doing so.  When a writer creates a trans or gay protagonist for their novel, they know that is an oppositional political act.  How could it not be, even if the writer wanted it to not be, given the climate in which such choices are made?  Remember, the privileged take their own position as neutral.  The oppressed and marginalised have no such luxury... which is precisely why it wouldn't even be illegitimate to deliberately stack the Hugos in favour of diversity!  The political actions of the right and left (for want of a better term for the broad church of opinion behind more diversity in SF) are not morally equivalent.  Positive discrimination is not as bad as the discrimination it aims to counteract.  Climbing is climbing, but climbing up and climbing down are different.  You can't shit up a pyramid, as Stavvers said.  The interminable whinges of the right about "reverse racism" and "misandry" have been adequately covered elsewhere so I won't reiterate them.  Suffice it to say that we can demonstrate, materially and empirically, that there is such a thing as oppression and such people as the marginalised.  So the Puppies' claim to moral equivalence breaks down, even more so any claim they make to moral superiority.  There is a certain point at which "yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man" breaks down and facts intrude.  It having been established that there is such a thing as oppression, and such people as the marginalised, there is a clear moral superiority to those making political/artistic moves from below, political/artistic moves which tend to combat the objectively provable injustice.

This isn't to say that I'm claiming, by fiat, to have right on our side, and that we can thus dictate what is or is not published, reviewed, awarded, etc.  That is their caricature of us, and also their disguised (even from themselves, it seems) self-portrait.  If Vox wants to caricature people like me as doing something authoritarian with my reading habits, well, let him.  C'est la guerre.  Only to be expected from a reactionary who cloaks his fascist bullshit in rhetoric about liberty from the authoritarian left, etc.  But it's also a case of c'est la guerre when I, and others like me, fight back against his politically motivated maneuvres.  I'm happy to admit political motivation when it comes to art, especially when it comes to fascism.  You can't launch a blatantly political attack upon art and then cry "Politics!" when someone responds... or rather you can, but not without making yourself look like the dishonest dickwad you are.

The truth is that there is no such thing as politically neutral fiction, or as the politically value-neutral judgement of fiction.  Same goes for visual art.  Same goes for criticism and most forms of non-fiction.  It's hypocritical bullshit to argue, as the Puppies do, that you can and should make judgements free of political evaluations, and that you're an ideological zealot if you don't.  In any case, the Puppies usually make this argument performatively and in bad faith.  Even when they sincerely think they're being apolitical, praising things that seem (to them) to be neutral, you have to remember that for them a neutral and normal world is precisely one where their own prejudices and privileges are taken for granted.  For them, their choices are apolitical by definition.  No matter how ideologically they choose, they must always perform the role of the ingenuous, blinking naif who just likes what he likes and doesn't get why some people are 'offended' by it (if in fact they are).

And, more fundamentally, even if you are consciously and scrupulously apolitical (some hope), that itself is a political choice.  In the face of manifest injustice, particularly within your own camp, neutrality is the same as siding with the powerful.  Not allowing your politics to dominate your own, let alone anyone else's, taste in art, is obviously the right way to go, as long as you don't fool yourself (or try to pretend that) your politics has no effect on what you like or don't like.  This has nothing to do with whether or not we should let fascists dominate a high-profile award.  Some people have said to me, both before and after the results: "isn't it unfair to penalise nominees because of a political tactic of voting 'No Award'?"  This is really just the liberal version of the fascist "ahhhh!".  And my response was and is: at this point, the issue of the merit or otherwise of the works under consideration has become secondary.  Of primary importance now is fighting a fascist incursion.  This isn't to say that those works should be judged by their politics.  This is to say that judging them in any way at all has now become a matter for another time, another place, another arena.  An arena uncompromised by fascism.

Fascism is a dealbreaker.  Normally I'd be happy to sit back and let awards be won by all manner of stuff I dislike and disagree with.  Moffat's Doctor Who has won loads of Hugos in recent years.  The Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) category has seen some politically atrocious films nominated in recent years.  The Dark Knight, Iron Man, District 9, Avatar, Captain America, Iron Man 3.  All ghastly to one extent or another.  Generally, as it happens, the Hugos have dodged the worst of these bullets (with only Inception being an outright ghastly winner).  The point is, I didn't care.  Of course the Hugo Award for movies is going to films that push bourgeois ideology, imperialist values, sexism, the worship of corporate billionaires, the war on terror, the dehumanization of Arabs, etc.  That's the kind of world we live in, a world where extremely repulsive ideas like these are normal and normalised (and thus taken as neutral by people who aren't on the sharp edge of their effects).  "In any epoch the ruling ideas will be the ideas of the ruling class", as Marx said.  I don't even have that much of a problem with Guardians of the Galaxy, except that it became the chosen candidate of the Puppies.

[That's reason enough for a little diversion actually.  Why did they favour Guardians of the Galaxy?  Possibly because their other main options - the other films that ended up on the nominations list, for example - were potentially queasy from a Puppy perspective.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was partly a resurrection of the 70s conspiracy thriller, was interpreted by many as containing some kind of suspicion or critique of American government institutions.  You can't expect blinkered, philistine, textually-myopic idiots like the Puppies to notice that actually it goes out of its way to provide Western power structures with even more alibis than your average film of it's type.  Like some liberal commentators, the right probably found the film to be an astonishing explosion of left-wing radicalism.  Similarly, The Lego Movie, which was claimed by some (including, dismayingly, some on the left) to be a critique of capitalism... a bizarre idea.  As for Interstellar, I expect many of the Puppies or Puppyish were infuriated by the assertion that a girl might become a scientist.  Some can quote tracts of sociobiologistic psuedo-sociology at you to prove that women don't make good scientists.  Other just assume there aren't any women scientists to speak of, take their own assumption as obvious fact, and then ask rhetorical questions about "who invented everything, eh?"]

But back to the point.  Much as I hated every last one of the movies on this year's Hugo nominations, I have no particular political issue with people voting for them.  I suddenly do have a problem, however, when one of them gets recommended by a fascist to other fascists, and/or fascist sympathisers and fellow travellers.  I'd have an issue with my own favourite film this year winning awards if they were awarded by fascists.  It wouldn't make me like it any less, but I'd oppose the award.  Because fascism isn't just another viewpoint amongst viewpoints.  Fascism is the seed of the destruction of all other viewpoints.  Moreover, it is the amorphous, pilfered, cobbled-together scavenger ideology which represents counter-revolution.  It is explicitly the politics of division of people who should be united.  It is the antithesis of human liberation.  It is a program for protecting the bourgeois order from attacks economic, political or cultural.  No matter what revolutionary verbiage it may use, fascism is always on the side of the bourgeois status quo... but the bourgeois status quo with a vengeance, with its most savage instincts let loose.  And make no mistake: 'Vox Day' is a fascist, or near enough to being one as makes no odds.  Whatever his piffling self-justifications and triangulations, whatever his double-talk and sophistry and barely comprehensible evasions, his views run the gamut of fascist obsessions both classical and current, from the civilisational rhetoric, the Breivikian Islamophobia, the crypto-Christian triumphalism, the sexism, the cultural racism and pseudo-scientific contempt for the humanity of people of colour.  He can backtrack on his description of N.K. Jeminsin as a "half savage" all he likes.  He can try to efface it by insisting on his asserted Native American heritage (would it really change anything it Hitler turned out to have been a bit Jewish?), by claiming that he based it on some psuedo-philosophical bit of bullshit instead of some pseudo-scientific bit of bullshit, by claiming he only did it to troll her into calling him a racist (nifty strategy: con someone into calling you a racist by being flagrantly racist towards them, then claim they're a hysterical SJW because they accurately characterised your comments!)... none of this exculpates him.  This is routine, bog-standard, drearily predictable flim-flam that you get from every tuppeny-ha'penny fascist these days.  Retreat from the almost-universally frowned-upon biologistic claims of classic fascists to half-baked culturalist assertions, then angrily respond "Islam ain't a race - duh!" (or equivalent, according to circumstance) to anyone who calls you out.  This is precisely what Mr Day does in a recent interview in which he makes some scarcely-intelligible distinction between 'real Africans' you get in Europe and 'African Americans', going on to imply that Europe is now plagued by culturally-backward African immigrants (it's okay for him to be a migrant, of course... see what I was saying above about their idea of 'normal' being synonymous with their own positionality) who don't know how to use toilets properly.

[His racism against Africans seems - if some of these recent statements are taken into account - to be curiously faecally-fixated.  Racism, particularly racism against black people, has always been libidinously inflected, full of obsession about black people's imagined bodily functions, cleanliness (or supposed lack thereof), dicks, sex drives, etc.  Vox Day seems no exception.  There is evidently something curiously exciting to him about the idea of Africans spreading poo around Christendom.  I detect a perverse pleasure in seeing Christendom defiled by the bodily fluids of the desirable/terrifying Other.  It's tempting to just say that he gets reverse pleasure from seeing (or rather fantasizing about) such things because the scenario of a culturally backward "half savage" making a dirty protest out of Western civilisation is gloriously confirming of his prejudices... but I'm tempted to think that he may find it gloriously exciting in other ways (which is fine with me, I'm not judgemental... not about peccadiloes anyway).  I'm also tempted to bring in Freud's concept of the anal fixation.  There is some evidence for a correlation between anal personality types and political conservatism, in particular race prejudice.  Disturbingly, Vox seems to display personality traits associated with both anal retentiveness and anal expulsiveness!  Was Mummy strict and Daddy lenient?  Daddy's a jailed tax protestor isn't he... I suspect he was probably the strict (retentive) one, now I come to think about it.  Perhaps Vox just doesn't mind, as long as it's anal.  You can certainly see the expulsive type in his apparent desire to fling his shit around and imagine he's doing us all a favour by so doing, though he lacks the material generosity Freud associated with the expulsive.  He also lacks the rebelliousness, though I'm sure he imagines himself to be a rebel.  I dare any fan of Vox to be offended by the above.]

So there we have it: however compromised and messy they may be, the Hugos reflect something organic about the changing state of fan culture precisely because they are, at least to some extent, democratically controlled.  The priority isn't to rescue the Hugos or their voting system from manipulation just for their sake, no more than the priority for someone like me is to rescue the bourgeois parliamentary democratic system from the encroachments of the BNP and UKIP because I love the bourgeois parliamentary democratic system.  The point is to oppose the Puppies because I oppose their ideology and the stuff they do with it.  Because their ideology is crass and selfish and reactionary, because it fails the empirical test, because it's a defence of privilege against a movement of the oppressed, because in its extreme form (Vox Day et al) it's crypto-fascist and racist and sexist and Islamophobic, and because its effect is to attack progress towards greater recognition for the marginalised.  That doesn't just hurt the marginalised; as someone invested in real democracy, it hurts me to.  Even in the little pocket universe of SF/Fantasy awards, this matters.   SF/Fantasy punches above its weight, culturally speaking.  Aside from any personal investment in the 'scene', this is reason enough to care.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

No Crime and No Punishment

Aww, don'tcha just love the bourgeois mainstream?  I mean, ain’t they precious and priceless?  Isn’t their disingenuous, blithe, untroubled faith in recieved opinion; and their unquestioning belief in the fundamental goodness and honesty of the world they live in; just kind-of adorable?  Like toddlers who treat Mummy and Daddy like all-knowing, ever-protective gods.  And aren't they sweet the way they get all serious about pondering the eternal verities they take for granted, like the way little kids are when they get all serious about a let’s-pretend game they’re playing.

I mean, look at this...



Dostoyevsky’s characters “justify murder in the name of ideological beliefs” which, according to the BBC, means he “foresaw the rise of the totalitarian state”.

Because it goes without saying that ‘democratic’ states never ever justify murder ideologically.  Nuh-uh.   The idea

Mindless, vacuous, unconcerned contentment of this type is sort-of cute, like the way cattle just mooch aimlessly around fields taking in the same sights over and over again, and happily munching on the cud.

I think it's Kinda funny, I think it's Kinda sad

I just realised I forgot to post a link to the commentary tracks Phil Sandifer and I recorded for 'Kinda' as part of Phil's ongoing series. 

There's a zip file you can download which includes all four episodes, here.

Apologies about the poor quality of the audio in my sections.  I was, for various complicated reasons, temporarily forced to use my laptop's integral mic.  Which is, as you will discover, shit.

In other news, Pex Lives has recently released a special episode - here - in which James Murphy chats Orson with Gene Mayes.  Lots of fun for orsonians like me.  Gene will be my guest for Shabcast 10, out next month.  Here's a link to his new blog, which I heartily recommend.

Holly and James' most recent episode of City of the Dead is here.

And Phil Sandifer has just interviewed Peter Harness, writer of 'Kill the Moon' (which I still haven't seen) and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I did see and thought was fantastic.  The interview can be downloaded or listened to here.

Phil and I will be shabcasting again soon, and we'll be back with commentary tracks for 'Vengeance on Varos' before you can say "Zyton-7".

Oh, and you'll have noticed that Shabgraff's URL has changed to www.shabogangraffiti.com.  The old blogspot address will still redirect you, but it's just possible you might need to update your bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc.  So get on it.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Turning the Tables

“A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a use-value, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it satisfies human needs, or that it first takes on these properties as the product of human labour. It is absolutely clear that, by his activity, man changes the forms of the materials of nature in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered if a table is made out of it. Nevertheless the table continues to be wood, an ordinary sensuous thing. But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing of its own free will.”

- Karl Marx, Capital vol.1


Consciously or not, a lion’s share of SF/Fantasy is concerned with just this.  Almost to the point of running with Marx’s ‘great idea for a story!’.

It’s also a great illustration that the best Marxism is Gothic Marxism.  A Marxism which recognises the uncanny, the weird, the surreal, the fantastic, as both truthful expression and invaluable heuristic.  The real world is made so strange, so bass-ackwards, so haunted and haunting, so alien by capitalism, that only historical materialism informed by the uncanny and the dreamlike can truly capture it.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Yet More Thoughts on Hannibal (Lecter)

"You can tell that Hannibal is fiction because Jonathan Jones has not been murdered and put on ostentatious display." - Dr Philip Sandifer


The first chapter of Red Dragon includes mention of the moon (of course), Sirius and Jupiter.  The second chapter mentions a meteor shower.  The first of two mentions of meteor showers in the book.  The second mention (of the Perseids, in the second case) is directly followed by a quotation from scripture.  The people of the novel Red Dragon are haunted by stars and planets, and by rituals and scripture.

Nothing in Red Dragon is more horrifying than the short digression on how tabloids work.  Yet this chapter is also evidence of the empathy of the book's narrator.  His empathy extends even to the unscrupulous reporter, Freddy Lounds.  His pride, his resistance to scorn, his refusal to be exploited.  Meanwhile, cancer, to the tabloids, is a fact of life, as are serial killers.  But the tabloid Freddy works for also deals in sightings of Elvis, and astronomers who glimpse God.

The narrator of Red Dragon is the empath.  Will Graham's empathic gift is more talked about than seen. It is Dr Bloom, not Graham, who interprets Francis Dolarhyde's eating of the Blake painting as an attempt to stop killing.  Graham noticeably fails to empathise with anybody throughout the book. He observes Crawford, Molly, Lounds, Reba, Dolarhyde, Lecter, Chilton, and all, as from the outside looking in. Crawford is more imaginative that Graham because he projects what he needs onto Graham.  Crawford is more like Dolarhyde than Graham is.

Even as it recites the standard line on 'sociopathy', Red Dragon contradicts it as much as it accepts it.  The 'sociopaths' in this book are not always lacking empathy.  Lecter certainly can, and Graham acknowledges it.  I have always thought that sadism requires empathy.  How can you enjoy the pain of others if you cannot imagine it?

In Red Dragon, Hannibal already has his maroon eyes which reflect the light in points of red, and his preternatural senses.  He gains his prodigious memory and his extra finger, like a Gallifreyan's second heart, later, in The Silence of the Lambs.

Speaking of which, Dolarhyde talking to Lounds sounds like a Robert Holmes villain.

Also, that scene is regurgitated in a bowdlerised form in The Dark Knight, in the scene in which the Joker kidnaps a Batman-copycat and tapes it.

In Hannibal Rising, the boy Hannibal emerges from privilege, from the Renaissance, from the Sforzas (a right bunch of bastards).  But he also emerges from the aftermath of Barbarossa.  His childhood tutor is a Jew who escaped the holocaust.  He is adopted by a woman from Hiroshima.  His early years are haunted by mention of the Nuremburg trials.  He is born of the 20th century's ultimate horrors.

Cannibalism is part of WWII-Gothic.  Most particularly Barbarossa-Gothic.  Thanks the Siege of Leningrad, and to Andrei Chikatilo's (possibly bogus) childhood reminiscences, it is linked to the aftermath of the German invasion of the Soviet Union (see also Child 44).  It is particularly appealing to the capitalist culture industries to depict the people of the Soviet Union preying upon each other "like monsters of the deep", for reasons which should be tediously obvious.  Famine is relevant in that it reveals the inherently predatory and competitive nature of humans, etc.  As if the best way to judge the inherent worth of people is by looking at the behaviour of minorities in extremis.  The capitalist culture industries are, as ever, very selective about which famines to mention.  The one caused by Nazis (the other bunch of totalitarian zealots) may be brought up.  The famine which followed the capitalist blockade of revolutionary Russia and the capitalist-backed Russian Civil War, is less often mentioned.

The TV show revelled in the related field of Eastern European-Gothic earlier this season.  Eastern Europe, as constructed by the Western-European imagination, is now Gothic several times over.  It carries all the old freighting of the pre-20th century Gothic (i.e. vampires, Dracula, werewolves, castles, etc) and also all the baggage of the mid-20th century (Barbarossa, the camps dotted across Poland), and finally all the baggage of the late-20th century (Communism, Ceaușescu, Bosnia, Milosevic, Srebrenica).

The TV version of the tiger scene from Red Dragon is the first to properly represent the event as an erotic projection of Dolarhyde's.  Dolarhyde is trying to communicate his own nature as a predator to Reba.  He takes her to touch the tiger after she tried to touch his face.  He wants to experience her touch vicariously.  The tiger is his stand-in.  Also, he wants to let her feel him, but also does not want to hurt her, because he enjoys her being alive.  In the book, his first response to her fingers near his face is to imagine how many of her fingers he could bite off without fully depriving her of her ability to get around. His empathy for her is slow growing and never grows very great.  Even at the end he is still using her.  This is not a romance.  The tiger is not a shared experience.  It is a symbol (a Blakean one, of course) which Dolarhyde consciously employs, like the painting, like the teeth, like the mirrors, etc.  Similarly, he integrates Reba into the fantasies he has projected (an interesting word, in context) onto the painting.  The TV version pulls off a masterstroke when it creates a dream/hallucination of Reba as the woman clothed with the sun.

Dolarhyde consumes The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (though Harris seems a little unsure which of Blake's series he is talking about). Dolarhyde goes for the original, to conquer and destroy its aura. He agrees with Benjamin about the original's historical embededness - though he, Dolarhyde, imagines this in terms of the sentience of the Dragon itself, a shard of his own demonic narcissism and inadequecy.  Dolarhyde agrees with Berger in that the value of the original has become the fact that it is the source of the copies and reproductions.  The copies and reproductions will, Dolarhyde hopes, be robbed of their power once the original is destroyed.  But he of course fails to understand that what he sees in the painting is put into it by him... or rather, he fails to percieve this fact consciously.  His decision to destroy it by eating it is perhaps an unconscious recognition of the subjective nature of the Dragon.  He tries to return it to the pit of his own guts.

Hannibal is caged in Red Dragon, and not voluntarily as on TV.  How to express his frustration?  And how, relatedly, to express the uncanny way in which his influence pervades the book precisely because he is closely confined inside one little part of the world/story?  Lecter's confinement is part of what gives him his uncanny power.  He is literally hidden, occulted.  He can seep into every part of the story precisely because seep is what he must do.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Further Thoughts on Hannibal

This really is how these stories have to be done.  Not the faux-realism of the movie of Silence of the Lambs.  That approach jars with Anthony Hopkins' (less than entirely successful) attempt to capture the uncanny and semi-demonic nature of Hannibal himself, who was always a creature of evil magic.  Look at Harris' descriptions of him in Red Dragon, with his maroon eyes and his extra finger and his preternatural senses.

What the TV version of the stories has done is capture (with the proper ambiguity) the essentially magical nature of Hannibal and his world.  He lives in a twilight interzone between our world of quotidian normality and the deep, dark pit where human nature as brutish meat intersects with human nature as beset by devils and shades.

Yes, it glamourizes him and his violence, in contrast to real murderers... but that seems a superficial way to look at these stories, even if it's a perfectly valid one which should be given its own space.  Below that, there is more to say.  Treating Hannibal as an uncanny creature who blurs our senses of place and time and knowledge is actually much better in this respect than the 'realist' approach, which ends up straightforwardly making him a glamorous monster.

I love that this show dances on the borderline between diegetic materialism and a diegetic acknowledgement of a supernatural world.  It leaves open to us the possibility that Hannibal truly is a demon, or a demon-inhabited man.  By refusing to foreclose upon the literal supernatural reading, the show leaves the incredible oneiric fertility of the supernatural story open to us.  It does what lesser works like The Babadook and The Innocents fail to do.  It respects the uncanny, and it also allows it a possible existence without making it anything less than numinous and ineffable.  It ultimately asks us to not care - but in a constructive way.  It asks us to recognise the essentially uncanny, weird, gothic, sick, twisted, irrational nature of reality itself as we live it.

Phil Sandifer (I suspect) enjoys the show in terms of Blakean visions.  I enjoy the show in terms of the Gothic Marxist insistence upon the really existing world as a twisted, phantasmagorical and irrational hellscape, but also as a site of the creative and expressive production of phantasms.

Season 3 is surely the fruition of this approach, as begun (falteringly) in Season 1 and continued (far more confidently) in Season 2.  And the great thing is that they've recognised this strain in the original stories, particularly in Red Dragon (which really stands above and apart from the other books), by placing the story of Francis Dolarhyde as the terminus of the season.

Dolarhyde is the figure who, through his Blakean-inflected hallucinations and his status as tragic and enmonstered outsider, allows the categories to crash into each other in horrific but visionary ways.  I love how Harris does all this in the book without ever losing track of Dolarhyde's viciousness, or his essential patheticness.  One uncomfortable thing about the book, of course, is the way it insists upon the victim-status of a violent white man... but this looks set to be reframed by the TV series (as the TV series always does reframe the original stories creatively) by the superb decision to cast a black actress as Reba, which follows the show's splendid line of transmuting male characters into women, and rescuing monstrous female characters from caricature.  (I expect a more nuanced take on Dolarhyde's backstory too.) 

(By the way, I'm sure the actress playing Reba was cast solely on her evident talent... I'm just glad they were open to doing so rather than thoughtlessly following the source material, as many other production teams would have done.)

One thing I'm very interested to see is how they transmute Lecter's helplessness and frustration at his incarcerartion in the book.  In the TV show, Lecter's incarceration is almost voluntary, the next step in his game, a way of staying in Will's life.  I think his frustration (which is very integral to both the plot and his character) can be rescued by reframing it as frustration at Will's refusal to engage with him.

I'll be fascinated to see how they do it.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Appeals to Authority

Following the stoically mute Karkus, Felix and the Doctor found themselves in a seemingly endless grey corridor.  It felt like miles of the same tiny patch of space, extruded into infinity. 

"Why do we spend so much of our time in corridors?" asked Felix.

"Because we spend so much of our time fighting institutionalised hierarchies," said the Doctor, "and institutionalised hierarchies depend upon armed force and bureaucracy.  Both of which require staff, and therefore also functional premises in which staff can operate."

"Oh," said Felix, "yes, I see."

He didn't pursue it.  Things had gotten quite socratic enough today already.

*

At the Doctor's command, the Karkus had demanded admittance to the castle.  The great door had swung open for him, a grudging note in the creaking of its iron hinges.  The Doctor had wanted to have a few words with whatever jobsworth owned the voice from behind the door, but there was nobody there when she looked.

"Obviously such a minor character he never even got a physical description," she said, "which explains the insecurity."

Then she had turned to the Karkus and demanded that he tell her about the prison.  He had tried to deny knowledge, but so half-heartedly and guiltily that it was almost funny.  It took little more than a sigh of irritation from his new Mistress to make him crack.

"Lead us there," the Doctor had commanded.

So the strange little band had made their way into the dark corridors of the castle.  They passed through a lazily-planned labyrinth, past cells in which razor sharp pendula depended menacingly over tables with shackles at each corner, past a courtyard in which a pair of feet stuck out from beneath a gigantic plumed helmet...

"How did you know he was involved in the prison?" Felix asked the Doctor.

"Just the sort of thing he'd be involved in... until the heroine turns up and makes him come over to the goodies."

"Do these fictional people not have free will?" asked Felix.

"Well, that's a tricky one," said the Doctor.  "It could be argued we only have free will because all possible choices come true in some world or another.  Brigadiers and Brigade-Leaders, you know."  (Felix didn't, but he let it pass.)  "The people of the Land of Fiction have their variant iterations, just as we have ours.  But they also have creators."

"So do we have a Creator," said Felix.

"That's debateable," said the Doctor, "but I think a nice Catholic boy like you would want to say that our notional Creator gives us free will, yes?"

"That's what the Church tells us," said Felix.

"Is that an appeal to authority?" asked the Doctor.

"No," said Felix, slightly stung, "I'm simply citing wisdom with which I happen to agree."

"Well, in any case, the creators of fictional people definitely don't allow them free will.  They make them do as they're told.  They leave them no choice.  But then there are those variant iterations.  Re-interpreptations.  Reboots.  And then there's fan-fic, of course.  Endless numbers of people expropriating characters from their creators and letting them run wild.  But is that freedom, or just a new master?  And are you yourself free if it's actually a separate version of you getting to enjoy all the other options?  Maybe we are the freed characters of a benevolent tyrant while they, the fictional, are the unfree characters of a huge democratic committee.  Which is worse?"

"But is this place not where the fictional come so that they might enjoy free will?" asked Felix, "after all, when they are here they are no longer trapped inside novels and motion pictures and fairytales.  They are here instead."

"You make it sound like this is the world beyond the garden," said the Doctor, "like they've fallen and been expelled."

"Could it work that way?"

The Doctor looked at him thoughtfully.

"I've seen evidence that could go either way," she said, "I've seen characters here who seem to do whatever they like.  I've also seen characters who can't do or say anything their creators didn't write."

"But that sounds exactly like our world to me," said Felix.  "I've known people who never obeyed an order in their lives, who seemed constitutionally incapable of obeying orders.  I've also known people who complied with every request made of them as a matter of course, and never questioned it."

"Good point," said the Doctor, "so have I.  There was even a time... long ago... when I was like that myself."

"You?" asked Felix, almost spluttering.

"Oh yes," said the Doctor, making a face of distate, "I was such a good boy for so long."

"But these people... the people here... Can they choose one path or the other?  Are they choosing whether to be free or not?"

"Can one choose to not be free?"

"Choosing to not be free is just choosing to do nothing," said Felix, "choosing to be acted upon rather than act.  Freedom is action."

"What about negative capability?"

"That's a different thing."

"I suppose that might be true here," said the Doctor, "for the fictional people."

"It might be true everywhere."

"But does that mean that slaves choose slavery through apathy?  Because I've always thought slavery had more to do with chains and whips."

"What about the Karkus?"

"Oh there's all sorts of implied consent going on with him," said the Doctor good-humouredly, "It's part of the character.  Truth is, he wants to play the game he plays.  It's part of why we love him despite the fact that technically he's a villain.  His heart's visibly not in it.  He's always dying to be conquered."

"Or is he just a character who obeys rules written by someone else?"

"He's written with the choice built in."

"Like us," said Felix, with a flourish in his voice to show that he felt he had won the argument.

"Maybe," said the Doctor again, "but that still implies that when real people become slaves, it's somehow their choice."

"There's a sense in which every slave has the choice to not be one," countered Felix, "They just have to choose the whips instead.  Maybe the noose.  Not easy.  But possible."

"Easy for us to say.  We're not facing that choice."

"It's still a choice though.  Just as we have the choice, the freedom, to hurl ourselves off cliffs if we want to."

"Monstrous freedom, as Sartre might put it..."

"Ahead of my time again?"

The Doctor ignored him this time.

"...like the monstrous freedom exercised by a soldier clambering over the top of a trench," she continued,  "counterposed with the choice of a soldier to not obey orders.  To desert.  And risk everything you risked."

"Yes..." said Felix slowly, feeling that it was rather unfaire of the Doctor make make this personal to him, "though I knew I was coming with you.  I knew I'd be safely away from anyone who wanted to punish me."

"Coming with me could be seen as volunteering for more danger than just staying in the war and following orders.  We don't exactly shy away from danger, do we?  You chose all sorts of possible consequences.  You signed up for my war instead of theirs."

"Yes, I suppose so,"said Felix glumly, sounding unconvinced.

"But you can't expect those sorts of choices of people."

"No, that's why we praise them as special when people do make them."

"That's also why they never solve anything, at least in the long run.  Because the circumstances are exceptional and isolated."

"Except when lots of people make them at once."

The Doctor had stopped and stared at him, a smile spreading across her face.

"Maybe we should get you back for the end of the war," she said.

Felix said nothing.

"I think what you really want to know," continued the Doctor, "is whether these people have souls."

"Do they?"

"Why ask me?  I don't know.  I think we are what we do."

"No, there's more to it than that."

"But aren't souls judged on actions?  Your actions are your soul."

"So Cybermen have souls?  They do things."

"Yes, if you like.  You believe souls can be damned or saved, yes?  Then souls are not good or bad in themselves.  They are what we make them."

"Then these people have souls too, even if they're just working to the instructions of an author, like machines."

"The Church wouldn't agree with you."

"That's not what I think.  I'm following your logic."

"Aquinas would be on my side," said the Doctor.

"Is that an appeal to authority?" Felix countered, which both irritated the Doctor and made her beam at him proudly again.

*

"This way Mistress," said the Karkus, before leading them down a right turn that had been invisible to Felix until the big man stomped into it.

"This is like having K9 back," said the Doctor to herself.

"Are you sure we can trust him?" asked Felix in a whisper.

"We can trust his formula," said the Doctor outloud and unabashed.

And it seemed that they could, because after bringing them only a short way down this new corridor, the Karkus stopped outside a large steel door and barked: "Here, Mistress."

"So this place," said Felix, looking up and around to indicate that he meant the entire realm of the Land of Fiction, "isn't really a democracy now after all?"

"Democracies have their prisons, Felix," said the Doctor, "and their bureaucracies and armed forces and institutionalised hierarchies.  Depressing, but true.  There are better ways, of course.  I thought they might be practicing something better here, in their way, but..."

She stared at the Karkus.  He looked grim, and slightly shamefaced.

"Let me in then," she said.

"I do not have the key, Mistress," he said, with truculent innocence.

The Doctor just raised an eyebrow at him again.  He deflated instantly.  He turned to the door and ripped it out of the wall with an air of harassed resignation.

"That's better," said the Doctor sternly, and walked through the gaping hole where the door had been.

Felix followed the Doctor, leaving the Karkus holding the massive steel door like someone unsure of where to set down their shopping.

"Come on," said Felix.

The Karkus did not move.

"Come on," called the Doctor.

This time he instantly obeyed.

They found themselves on a gantry which seemed to be raised above a huge black pit.  But the space below them was more than just emptiness.  It felt somehow full and alive.

"Lead the way," said the Doctor.

"Yes Mistress."

Felix rolled his eyes.

"Aren't you getting bored with that 'Mistress' stuff?" he asked the Doctor as they followed the Karkus, who was now striding purposefully along the gantry.

"I have to keep playing by the rules if I want him to keep playing by them," said the Doctor, "and I need him to keep obeying until he takes us to this prison."

Felix thought about the military prison where he would be put if he ever returned home, a deserter.

At least it wouldn't be like this.  A dark, echoing pit.

Monday, 3 August 2015

More Trouble

There's a play called Sir Thomas More.  It is never performed, despite having bits in it written by Shakespeare.  Every Shakespeare play is performed.  Even the rubbish ones.  Except Sir Thomas MoreSir Thomas More is never performed, ever.  Not any more.

Why?

Actually, in academia and the theatre world, it is well known how the play spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in its wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in Sir Thomas More, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.

Basically, anyone who has ever seen Sir Thomas More performed has gone insane.  (I'm not sure how the actors managed to stage it, but there you go.  Perhaps actors are immune for some reason.)

But it's worse than that.  Anyone who has even read the whole thing in its entirety has gone insane.

There are asylums stuffed with academics, Shakespeare scholars, students of Early Modern drama... all slavering and gibbering and banging their heads against their rubber-padded walls, chewing off their own fingers, sitting in their own faeces and happily eating it, because of this play.  There are multiple known cases of people slaughtered (usually with screwdrivers for some unfathomable reason) by people who have seen or read Sir Thomas More and immediately gone on wild-eyed killing sprees.

Most people, of course, have only read the Shakespeare bits.  Because no other dramatist of his time was any good at all.  But even reading a part of this play can drive one partially insane.  For instance, there are many who will attempt to claim that Shakespeare's scenes in the play constitute a message of humanistic tolerance for refugees.  In the scene, More attempts to reason with a xenophobic crowd who are hellbent on driving back some asylum seekers.  More asks the crowd to imagine themselves in the position of the refugees and... shit I nearly did it myself there.  This insanity in insidious.  The mere iteration of the intact Shakespearean contribution integrated into the play instantly insinuates itself into my interiority and instigates incipient irrationality which instantiates itself into the imagination and iii iiiiiiii iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.......



Sorry.  I'm back now.

Yeah, as I was saying.  Otherwise sensible people will i-i-imagine that Shakespeare is making a humanistic plea for tolerance of strangers, which can then be adopted sentimentally by modern liberals.  Actually, what he's doing is demonstrating the shit ignorance and fuck selfishness of ordinary people, the mob, who need to be lectured on basic Christian morals by Sir Thomas fucking More... who was, in the real world, a religious bigot and fanatic who persecuted and tortured people he disagreed with.  But no, to Shakespeare, mindless hate is the province of the poor.  The point More makes to the baying crowd of vicious, swinish, hateful and hate-filled Tudor Daily Mail readers is that they, by assembling and protesting and speaking their minds, are themselves doing evil by rebelling against the sacred law and rule of the king.  Imagine, he says to them, if the king banished you for your treacherous disobedience - as well he might justly do.  Then you'd be in the same position as the refugees.  Ah-ha!  Gotcha, you oiks! 

This isn't a modern liberal plea for tolerance.  This is sanctimonious propaganda for an absolute monarchy based on utter contempt for ordinary working people.

I say this as a fan: STFU Shakespeare.

Just thinking about it makes me mad.  But madder still do I get when I think about little snatches of it - which sound terribly humane when consciously and cynically ripped out of context - being embossed on tatty notebooks for sale as part of the Shakespeare industry, all part of the bullshit attempt to sell Shakespeare as sage and saint and precursor of everything that we today egotistically think of as our advanced widsom. Of course, the irony is that, when we flatter ourselves that Shakespeare was just like us because he foresaw so much of our liberal tolerance, we're actually getting something right for the wrong reasons.  We are very much like Shakespeare.  We're still producing drama that reflects the dominant ideology of our age, the ideology of the ruling class, just as he did.

I personally think that most dementias associated with Shakespeare - and there are so many specifically Shakespeare-related forms of mental illness that there really should be more serious psychiatric work done on the subject - stem, fundamentally, from the play Sir Thomas More.  It would be easy to blame Shakespeare - the fountainhead of so many psychotic delusions - for adding the insanity to Sir Thomas More via his contribution.  I think it's the other way round.  I think Shakespeare is infected with contagious insanity via his association with that play.  Even his early plays are retroactively infected with the virus.  (This, incidentally, is also the root cause of both anti-Stratfordianism and the Ricardian Society.)

This peculiar effect is key to understanding why and how Sir Thomas More came to be written in the way it was.  It is a collaboration between various dramatists.  This was extremely unusual for the time.  Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle appear to be the main authors but, in addition to Shakespeare, the play was also partially written by Thomas Heywood and Thomas Dekker.  Remember that Monty Python sketch about the world's funniest joke?  It killed anyone who heard it?  So in order to translate it into German and thus turn it into a weapon usable against the Third Reich, the British Army had to break it up into bits and get it translated in fragments?  Even seeing more than one word would land you, screaming and suffocating on your own guffaws, in the field hospital?  That's actually an encoded secret clue - given to us by Terry Jones, who is a direct descendant of Thomas Dekker, probably - about what happened with Sir Thomas More.  They tried to write a play about More and it gradually became apparent to them that doing so would drive them insane, so they split the play up into bits and asked different writers to tackle a bit each.  Even so, the overall effect was still enough to make them think they could get the play past the Tudor censors.  (I believe it came back to them with "Thou hast gotteth to beeth fucking kiddingeth, thou naughty knaves!" scrawled on it in the Master of the Revels' handwriting.)

Even today, anybody who tries to write anything about Thomas More goes mad.  Peter Ackroyd went mad after he wrote a biography of More.  (I mean, have you read Thames - Sacred River???  That could only have been written by a mad person.)  Even Hilary Mantel went mad simply as a result of including More as a character in the Wolf Hall novels.  (Then she went sane again, admittedly.)  Robert Bolt went mad too, I expect.  I can't be bothered to look it up and check.  But I know that the people who made the movie of A Man For All Seasons went mad.  They must've done because they later came to think it would be a worthwhile thing to do to remake it with Charlton Heston instead of Paul Scofield.

So, yeah.

Also, it's a shit play.