Fri-Yay (On Sunday): Monthly Roundup

Writing:
Notes for a book review on three NZ poets, tweets about Star Trek, overly detailed notes to my co-workers, more draft rosters than you can poke a managerial stick at.

Reading:

[screencap of text] Each time the water closed over at once like a wound’s uncanny healing. On land there would have been ropes at least, a gradual lowering, the throwing of earth. A stone to mark the spot.

–from ‘Ann’, by Maria McMillan.

As above: Girls of the Drift by Nina Powles, Miss Dust by Johanna Aitchison, and The Rope Walk by Maria McMillan. All available from the spectacular and swoonworthy Seraph Press.

Watching:

Late to the game but I watched both seasons of The Fall. I am in bisexual Gillian Anderson heaven, obviously, but I’m also in Archie Panjabi heaven. Did you know she is amazing? Has a bunch of Emmy awards? Was also in The Constant Gardener which I also watched this month and totally nailed it opposite Ralph Fiennes a.k.a. the most famous evil wizard in film history? My dear sweet darling Archie!

 

British actress Archie Panjabi kisses her Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series award for her role in 'The Good Wife' as she poses for photographers in the press room during the 62nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, California, USA, 29 August 2010. The Primetime Emmy Awards honor excellence in US primetime television programming.  EPA/PAUL BUCK

[screepcap of text] "Everybody was saying it was a surprise, so I knew I wasn't the favourite to win," she says with a laugh, describing her first time at the Emmy awards, back in 2010. "But I was like, I don't care. I've just been nominated for an Emmy – I don't care about winning. I've already won!" She went with her husband, Raj (who has also accompanied her here for this interview) today, and "it was like going to Disneyworld for the first time". She pauses. "And then it all went downhill. I was on the red carpet and you have to queue up, and get on one of the dots so they can take a photo. They're screaming for the woman in front of me, and then it's my turn." She's settled into the story now, using her hands. "So I come up to this dot, and every single photographer in the line puts their camera down." Panjabi hoots. "So I was all dressed up on my biggest night ever and that moment happened. I wanted the floor to open up. Literally, they just …" she mimes a photographer lowering a camera, looking bored. "That woke me up." Panjabi went on to win the Emmy for best supporting actress that night, beating Mad Men's Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss, as well as her co-star in The Good Wife, Christine Baranski. She was also one of only two Brits to win an award that night. "And then I went to take the pictures at the end, and I'm kissing the award, quietly thinking: 'Yeah, fuck you.'"

(from The Guardian, January 20th 2014. Click through for article.)

Also there’s Jamie Dornan, who is probably a lovely lad in real life but whom I now will never ever trust in the slightest but definitely does an excellent job.

Doing:
Made a Twitter account for my zine-making adventures; took up a four-day-a-week contract managing my store for five months; bought a new computer with a new credit card that I’m now not allowed to use any more; maintained my apparent pathological inability to follow a rudimentary blogging routine (see: writing my ‘usual’ weekly Friday post on a Sunday after four weeks of silence).

Fri-Yay: weekly wrap up (tri-weekly edition)

Watching:
Voyager and nothing else, SORRY I’M NOT SORRY

Reading:
Articles about Autism Spectrum Disorders and women: Maia Szalavitz’s ‘Autism: It’s Different In Girls‘ from Scientific American and Apoorva Mandavilli’s ‘The Lost Girls‘ from Spectrum; articles about Australian land art and Janet Laurence; the third book in Anne Bishop’s The Others series (in which the Bad Guys have just been found out to be drowning babies, in case their moral position wasn’t already clear).

Installation is one of the most significant extensions of dematerialisation [in the arts]: rather than offering an optical object to contemplate, it provides an immersive experience that necessarily entails [what Walter Benjamin referred to as] ‘tactile appropriation’.

–Susan Best, ‘Immersion and Distraction: The Environmental Art of Janet Laurence’ in Art & Australia, vol. 38, no. 1, 2000, p. 86


Writing:
Space Witches, elaborate work emails and bitter tweets.

It was too dark to see the captain’s face, but there was no doubt that it was Artema who rushed from witch to witch, moving like a shadow. As Cassa watched, a glow began to form above the agorai kiros–the dimmest hint of witchlight. At the same time, she felt a flicker of power reaching out to her. Anno’s mind inviting her to join the thread. She found the edges of the light spell, but it seemed sluggish, smudged, and there didn’t seem to be any way for her to latch onto it.

“Adepta?”

She’d been so intent on finding the spell threads that she hadn’t noticed Captain Mol approaching. Cassa tried to blink away the darkness, focus on the captain’s face. Artema’s eyes were fierce, ready for a fight. She was the only person Cassa had seen who hadn’t looked ready to drop.

“I’m holding the threads with Anno but I’m no transmuter, Cassa. My spells are smothering the witchlight, but Anno can’t hold it on his own. I need your power in the cast.”

“By yours hands, Captain. But I can’t focus on the threads, can’t hold them.”

The captain grimaced.

“That’s because of me. I’ll need to withdraw slowly, but if I just drop out the entire spell will break.”

Cassa had done spell handovers countless times. But she’d never had to hold threads that had been cast by anyone outside of the Order of Persa. Hell, she wasn’t even sure she could find half of them. Still, she bobbed her head.

“I’ll be ready to pick up the cast as soon as I can link into it.”


Doing:
Printed deluxe colour copies of my next zine (and then didn’t have money for the plain old b&w printing); got sucked in to online craft tutorials about watercolour pencils, hand-drawn lettering and drawing roses; bought a new flavour of T2 tea; attended the Feminist Writers Festival networking day with a bunch of other amazing babes; fought off my first Twitter Misogynist.

Fri-Yay: Weekly Roundup

Writing: plans of my Space Witches story (character summaries, chapter outlines) rather than my actual Space Witches story.

Reading: finished Anne Bishop’s Written In Red, started the next book in the series (Murder Of Crows) and realised that there are another two after that and counting…

Watching: finished season 3 of Star Trek: Voyager, started season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager.

Doing: thinking a lot about how much of what I love about Voyager is the dynamic of found families, how what I love about Anne Bishop’s books is the dynamic of found families, and how what I want to make central in Space Witches is… the dynamic of found families. This idea of finding similarities with others, of treating strangers with respect rather than mistrust, of relying on one another: Simon learning to trust Meg in Written In Red, judging her by her actions and not her past, seeing past his mistrust to realise how much she’s helped his traumatised nephew. The reciprocation of care and compassion: flash forward to Voyager’s future, a scarred Janeway saying a final goodbye to a blinded Tuvok, taking his face in her hands and then crushing him into a hug, Tuvok being led away by Seven of Nine, who has become his assistant. That sense of being alone, being in an unfamiliar world, and finding these people to become your closest and most trusted companions, when the necessity of their company becomes a choice, a choice to build these bonds and protect them and work towards a shared future.

Fri-Yay: Weekly Roundup

WRITING: this terrible pun on the subject of how to pronounce the colloquial abbreviation of ‘casual’:


READING: this keynote speech by Mia Mingus for the Femmes Of Colour symposium in 2011:

If we are ever unsure about what femme should be or how to be femme, we must move toward the ugly.  Not just the ugly in ourselves, but the people and communities that are ugly, undesirable, unwanted, disposable, hidden, displaced.  This is the only way that we will ever create a femme-ness that can hold physically disabled folks, dark skinned people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, poor and working class folks, HIV positive folks, people living in the global south and so many more of us who are the freaks, monsters, criminals, villains of our fairytales, movies, news stories, neighborhoods and world.  This is our work as femmes of color: to take the notion of beauty (and most importantly the value placed upon it) and dismantle it (challenge it), not just in gender, but wherever it is being used to harm people, to exclude people, to shame people; as a justification for violence, colonization and genocide.

(Read full transcript here: https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/moving-toward-the-ugly-a-politic-beyond-desirability/)

WATCHING: lots of Star Trek: Voyager, plus the film clip to Gin Wigmore’s latest single ‘Willing To Die’:


DOING: ate cake and rolled up a new D&D character (gnome wizard alchemist) with my friend Ben.

Fri-Yay (on Sunday): Weekly Roundup

WRITING:

<<Cassa?>>

It’s the softest of touches breaking in on my thoughts, so gentle I barely register it. I open my eyes involuntarily, though there’s not much point. I reach out with my mind instead, latch onto that little voice.

Thea’s mind feels different. Younger, somehow. Tired. I’d never noticed any sense of incompleteness, but now, in the darkness, I’m aware just how much of her was linked in to her support suit. What I can feel seems fragile and my shoulders square up protectively, even though she’s nowhere nearby.

<<Thea. By the gods it’s good to hear from you. What happened?>>

She’s amused by the question. <<You tell me. I’m the one who just woke up in a heap on the floor in the dark.>>

I cast around for a reasonable explanation. But it’s been two hours since the shutdown and no matter where I look in the ship’s systems, I still have no clue what might have knocked out the omniarch. And I haven’t had contact from the other teams, so I’m guessing we’re all in the same position.

I haven’t done as much work on Space Witches as I’d hoped for on my week off, but I’ve done some, so that’s one small victory. By all the gods, it is a fucking slog, though. I’m currently writing psychic communication, cybersuits, and complete ship systems failure and I kinda have no idea how to make any of them work. A+++ being a writer is the best and certainly not difficult and disheartening ever at all.
READING: Anne Bishop’s Written In Red; bits of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus because I’m using it in a zine because I’m an impossible nerd; new poetry collections from Tamryn Bennett and Carmine Frascarelli, launched as part of the Rabbit Poets Series this week (and it’s amazing to be here for Tamryn’s first book, even though we haven’t seen much of each other since being undergrads together at UOW.

Tamryn Bennett at the Melbourne launch of Phosphene, July 28th 2016. Photo by Richard Mudford.

WATCHING: Took myself to see Ghostbusters and Hunt For The Wilderpeople on Monday. GB is pretty much as good as you could hope for from a Feig-led remake; it’s probably as good as the original but is more or less a bunch of gags and CG set pieces strung together by some uninteresting dialogue and inconseqential emotional resonance, but you’re watching a bunch of ghosts being busted so come on what do you expect? It’s good but not great, but for an action comedy based on a 20-something-year-old concept, it totally does what it says on the tin. In contrast, Wilderpeople is hilarious and clever, wacky and original and yet oh-so relatable, the performances are magnificent, New Zealand looks as ruggedly beautiful as ever, and I still have a massive wide-on for Sam Neill even when he plays an aging weirdo but that’s a personal thing that I just have to deal with for myself. Also, although the GB cameos are cute and fun fanservice, Taiki Waititi’s cameo scene in Wilderpeople is maybe the funniest thing I’ve seen on film in the past year.

First of all, how dare you with your face?

DOING: I’ve had a week of annual leave from work, so: Cheap Tickets Monday at the Kino, where I discovered they make you tea with actual real tea leaves rather than just a bag; blood donation, where I discovered that the Melbourne CBD donor centre has an automatic beverage dispenser that makes hot chocolate so I stayed there for longer than is strictly necessary or welcome; putting all of my pay straight into my savings account and water bill; mowing and gardening on the warmest, sunniest day we’ve had so far this month; eating more pasta than is strictly necessary or healthy.

Dupes: Makeup, Mimicry and Magic

In case you haven’t heard, some men, frequently ones on the internet, think that makeup is somehow a form of deception.

I mean, it’s right there in the word: makeup, make it up, she made it up, she invented it, it isn’t true. What a horrible can of worms this misogynistic cultural tendency to distrust women really is. Women are told, overtly and implicitly, that our value comes from our appearance and that there is a cosmetic solution to every flaw. But then we’re treated as tricky witches and modern Eves when we take those solutions into our own hands and use makeup in some way that seems inauthentic.

And who draws that line between just enough and too much, between MLBB (the beauty blogger abbreviation for My Lips But Better, that perfect shade that makes it seem like you’re just naturally rosy, glowy and fulsome) and OTT? Why are we so caught up on hiding the artistry, the skill, the time, and, oh god, the money, that we commit to beauty and makeup routines? I’ve spent hours of my life looking at beauty reviews, swatches, casting around for dupes for expensive and identifiable colours from designer brands. For people who can’t afford Mac’s Diva lipstick or Chanel’s Vamp nail polish, dupes are a way of attaining the necessary cultural cachet and giving the appearance of financial success as well as fashion savvy. The first lipstick was toooooo dark, the second lipstick was toooooo light, but the third lipstick, ooh, the third lipstick Goldilocks tried was juuuuust right!

But we distrust fakeness, whether we realise it or not. To duplicate, to put a copy in place of an original, is to deceive. But does makeup necessarily count as defacing or altering one’s original, ‘natural’ appearance? Can it function otherwise? Part of the devaluation of cosmetics is likely tied to the association between makeup, femininity and trickery–witches are notorious for changing their appearance in order to deceive, and within Christianity, the first woman is known almost exclusively for her role as a deceiver. But, considered as a form of skilled labour, one which requires a great deal of technical proficiency as well as creativity and experimentation, there is value in makeup that goes beyond one’s ability to look authentic.

1113438_1411431743662_500_281.png

Ursula chooses a less-is-more look for her time on dry land.

As it happens, this resentment of the inauthentic can be found throughout art history–it’s not just a makeup thing, but the province of almost any activity that deals with the appearance or representation of physical things. Art forgery, like banknote forgery, is considered a form of theft, regardless of the artistry that might be required, and, in fact, the more convincing the forger’s efforts the greater the crime. There is always the lingering aura of the original artistic genius, and even if a work looks like a real Rembrandt, has the same aesthetic affect, there is more than just aesthetics at stake. The exchange value of art is intrinsically tied to its originality.

(We can gloss Walter Benjamin on mechanical reproduction here: the more copies of something there are available, the less rare it is, the less value each copy has.)

Literature isn’t immune to this authenticity fetishism, either. KK Ruthven’s analysis of the subject in Faking Literature is a valuable resource for understanding the links between genius and authenticity in writing. She argues for redirecting our attention from a text’s provenance to its affect, and thus treating a ‘fake’ not as an inferior literary form but as a work of artistry in its own right.

“This redemptive manoeuvre puts a positive spin on the much despised simulacrum by redefining it as the site of creativity rather than the absence of reality.” (Ruthven, 2001: p. 86)

A ‘site of creativity’. Creativity of all sorts carries this dark shadow of the inauthentic, whether due to the belief that true creation is the province of God or due to a fear of immoral and dangerous deceptions. But makeup, like other art forms, can be redeemed if we recognise creation as a skill, a valuable imaginative and technical achievement. And for many people across the gender spectrum, being able to create and control their appearance is a crucial part of self-actualisation, self-care and survival. To make yourself up, whether by positioning yourself outside of what society wants to make you or functioning acceptably and legibly within social expectations, is a powerful act.

Fri-Yay: Weekly Roundup

Writing: mostly detailed-to-the-point-of-passive-aggression instructions for my workmates.

Reading: smashing through Written In Red, the first book in Anne Bishop’s latest urban fantasy series. I have such a weak spot for Anne Bishop so I’m rereading WIR so I can move onto the sequels.

Watching: that one in Star Trek: Voyager where Harry Kim returns to his non-Starfleet life and is unbearably insipid; that one in Star Trek: TNG where Wesley receives a death sentence on the creepy Eden planet where everyone’s blonde and tanned and loves sex and jogging.

Doing: went on one long multi-lap walk around the dog park with a local friend, saw innumerable Good Dogs; got my tax return and immediately put it into my savings account for this month’s rent; bought a new jumper and some eyeliner because I have self-control issues regarding a) not buying things that I decide I want and b) not eating all of the biscuits in any given packet of biscuits; I also ate an entire packet of biscuits in one go (Coles brand ginger creams, RRP. $1 a packet).

Fri-Yay: Weekly Roundup

Writing:
“Textual fragmentation and ambiguity–at both syntactical and linguistic levels–is not just an intellectual device for undermining the power of representational (i.e. ‘meaningful’) language, as the LANGUAGE poets might suggest, but also a tool for establishing readerly affect through ‘breathlessness’ and other anti-rational bodily responses.”

–from a draft version of a proposal for this year’s AULLA conference, themed Love And The Word. (Note: I’m not sure how much of this I believe, how many of these generalisations are valid, or what kind of scope such a suggestion might have. In short, I have no idea what I am doing.)

Reading:
Finally finished reading Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing after putting it down for months. I didn’t dislike it, exactly, and the abuse and trauma that run through it are viscerally portrayed, but something about it just didn’t work for me. Or rather, lots of little things that grate against me gently; it’s the tone of all contemporary Damaged Misfit Lit; it’s the unpleasantness of the narrator; it’s the style, waxing slightly too poetical for the pragmatic main character; it’s the way the supernatural lurks around the edges without being fully realised. It seemed to get markedly better in the second half, but still felt like a slog. (Note: the second novel I’ve read this year with a female character who kills a kangaroo as a child. It happens in The Natural Way Of Things, too. Is this the OzLit zeitgeist?)

Watching:
All seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager have been added to Aussie Netflix, along with the rest of the ST serials, so I’ve been reliving my adolescent nerdhood with Voyager season 1. It’s obviously far from perfect, but there’s something so beautiful about a show that always, always pivots on the importance of working together, collaborating, and sharing experiences rather than being distrustful of the strangers you encounter.

Doing:
Picking up shifts while my manager attends mandatory training; making orange and rosemary cake with polenta, which ends up having the structural integrity of a damp sandpit; spending too much money on work lunches; painting my toenails even though it’s 8 degrees and rainy.

​poetics: some thoughts on ‘beyonsense’ and affect

While trying to marshall all of the thoughts from eighteen months’ academic sabbatical into one coherent conference proposal, one of the threads I’m following is how poetry can create affect. There is a huge challenge inherent in meaningfully discussing a poem’s affect,  given that affect is subjective, unquantifiable and cannot be proven–one person’s affect is another person’s complete lack of feeling, the aesthetic turned anaesthetic. But if we accept that poetry is somehow different from plain communication, then I would suggest that its affect, the way the reader experiences the poem beyond what it ‘means’ to them in a rational sense, is bound up in this difference. There is an affective dimension that defies explanation. And the challenge, as I see it, is how to move away from my instinctive desire to parse the meaning of a text and to somehow remain intimate with its immediate affect.

There have been any number of obvious experiments in the separation of what poetry makes us think from what it makes us feel; works that reject referentiality, such as the collage works of Derek Beaulieu or the ‘beyonsense’ zaum poems of the Russian Futurists, may nevertheless provoke an affective response in the reader. I encounter them, I experience them and the crisis of meaning that they embody, and I have a reaction, pre-rational, perhaps, a sense of fear or disgust or joy or curiosity.

Christian Bok and Derek Beaulieu (2010), from 'Umlaut Machine: Selected Visual Works by Christian Bök'. Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia, PA.
Christian Bok and Derek Beaulieu (2010), from ‘Umlaut Machine: Selected Visual Works by Christian Bök’. Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia, PA.

(There’s another argument to be had that this isn’t poetry at all, that text without referential meaning is a visual form and not a literary one, but even this categorical frustration is a form of affect and a statement about how complacent we as readers are with regard to easy meaning-making.)
In reality, for better or worse, I keep on hunting for those parts of the poem that are sense-adjacent, panhandling the words and letters and marks for some kind of meaning and discarding the rest. This does a disservice to so much conceptual and visual poetry. If anything, poetry might be the medium in which the subsequent rational interpretation is most frequently delayed or deferred by various forms of un-meaning. This is of course part of what the ‘sound over sense’ ethos entails; poets may favour sound rather than meaning as a constructive principle, but this foregrounded un-meaning obscures or warps the meaning underneath for the reader as well. It underpins concrete poetry as well. And maybe it’s there in all poetry, to some degree. Maybe that is the poetic.

The best parts of poetry are the parts where ordinary language goes out the window–where using language clearly, making a reasoned statement, the generally efficient communication of a concept or image that underpins other linguistic forms is overtaken by some other impulse. Jakobson identified the poetic function as the key departure from ‘useful’ or ‘meaningful’ language use towards language for its own sake, but although this might account for the why, it doesn’t quite get at the how.

How can we write in ways that are unmeaningful but strongly affective? I can’t quite bring myself to subscribe to the Wordsworthian method of ’emotion recollected in tranquillity’–or, rather, I worry that this leads to ‘tranquil’ poetry, poetry in which the original sublimity of the experience is lost and that doesn’t create an awesome and incommunicably sublime experience in and of itself. And this idea of the incommunicable is key here. Poetry that is somehow ecstatic, somehow stimulated and stimulating beyond rational recollection, may be more capable of evoking an emotional and affective response in the reader. I remember the poems that hit me in the gut, none of which could be called tranquil and all of which involve language that is in crisis. I remember first hearing John Felstiner’s translation of Celan’s ‘Todesfuge’, which slips between English and German, coupling Celan’s traumatic repetitions with this bilingual grappling. I remember the confusion of reading the fragmented words and syntax in e.e. cummings’ poems, for example in ’23’ from the posthumous collection anOther e.e. cummings, a poem that make me want to find meaning, to parse the words, but that catches me in its hurdygurdy rhythms.

e.e. cummings, from 'AnOther e.e. Cummings', ed. by Richard Kostelanetz and John M. Rocco (1998). Liveright Publishing, New York, NY: p. 25.

e.e. cummings, from ‘AnOther e.e. Cummings’, ed. by Richard Kostelanetz and John M. Rocco (1998). Liveright Publishing, New York, NY: p. 25.

Then there’s the breathless intensity of Ania Walwicz, the unapologetic energy that comes streaming through and along her jam-packed stanzas, the fighting spirit of it. The dissolute fragments that compose Bonny Cassidy’s Final Theory, blowing apart as the world we know comes to an end. The slanting and slash-shattered lines of Emily Dickinson as she struggles to express her own fragment of the incommunicable world. What all of this language in crisis does is make me feel the struggle of communicating the incommunicable–the trauma, the rush, the fear, the bliss. The rhythms jar, the meanings break or spill, and my mind follows instinctively, before and beyond rational understanding.