Love Note – Non-Christmas Christmas Films

I am not a Christian, but I have always loved Christmas. I acknowledge that in many ways it has become a consumerist shadow of its former religious and spiritual self; but nevertheless, I have been lucky enough to have lived 26 Christmases so far full of fun and festivity. Additionally, the idea of ‘peace on earth and good will to all men’ has never felt timelier or more desperately needed. The story of a displaced family and the birth of their baby in the most humble and desperate of circumstances is still very much a story for our times.

The festive period is as much about the build up to Christmas as it is about Christmas Day itself. There is no shortage of Christmas activities to get involved with, for example listening to music, writing cards, ice skating, baking, wearing jumpers, drinking mulled wine and eating all the food available with family and friends. Watching films has always been an excellent way of tapping into the Christmas spirit and I don’t need to tell you that there are a plethora of films about Christmas that are worth digging out every year. In addition, I have a few favourites that always make their way out in December that aren’t necessarily specifically festive, but embody a little bit of what Christmas should be all about.

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To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962 – A gorgeous old film based on a gorgeous book about justice, growing up and both protecting and fighting for the vulnerable. In place of a bearded man in a red coat handing out gifts, we have Gregory Peck’s masterful turn as Atticus Finch: wise, caring and as much of a sensitive, commanding presence on his porch as he is in the courtroom. This film is the gift that gives on giving.

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Edward Scissorhands, 1990 – The tenuous Christmas link comes with the large presence of snow that Edward creates with his scissorhands (and the fact that the magical Danny Elfman score has been used in a plethora of Christmas adverts over the years). This film is a fairytale set in sugary suburbia, rooting for the societal underdog against the backdrop of fickle public opinion. It is important to note that I have fallen out massively with Johnny Depp over recent years, but I am still so here for Winona Ryder.

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The Life of Brian, 1979 – This could technically be classed as a Christmas film because it begins with the nativity of Jesus and Brian, and then follows their lives up until the latter’s crucifixion. But I am including it here because as well as being absolutely hilarious, the film propagates heavily for critical thinking as opposed to mob-like sheep mentality. Plus there’s a useful Latin lesson in there for anyone interested.

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101 Dalmatians, 1996 – This film’s stars are adorable spotted puppies and Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil, leaving little else to be said. I have written previously about how, killing animals and psychopathy aside, Cruella might just be one of the greatest style icons of all time and that view still stands. Fashion aside, however, this film primarily revolves around family unity, adventure and features delightful snowy countryside. Perfect Christmas fodder.

Love Note – Expecto Patronum

It is a futile endeavour to try and name the single best thing about Harry Potter. The seven books in the series captured the imagination of millennial children like little else, and continue to be a source of escapism, fun, and belonging for many. Whilst the Lord of the Rings trilogy will always be my franchise of choice, Harry Potter was an integral part of my childhood. I cannot count the number of times I’ve saved people from the purgatory of not knowing which Hogwarts house they’re in by encouraging/forcing them to take the Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz, nor the number of extremely serious conversations I’ve had with people about the key issues of Snape’s morality, the discrepancies between feisty-cool Ginny in the books and lacklustre-wooden Ginny in the films, and about which magical career would have been my calling (Hogwarts professor? Wandmaker? Knight Bus Conductor? Who knows?!).[1] We have been offered a vivid, imaginative literary world to immerse ourselves in and I am here for that any day of the week.

The world has always been a dark and scary place, but in times like these, with right wing sentiments re-emerging across the world, bigotry and fear running rampant and uncertainty hanging around all us in a dense fog, it seems particularly, and uncannily, dangerous. We need hope and optimism more than ever. As such, the Patronus charm created by Rowling, and first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is the beautiful, protective and empowering force we all need in our lives right now. It is apparently a notoriously difficult spell to cast that affords protection from dark and devastating forces, acting as a guardian and defender. Indeed, the Latin translation of the incantation ‘Expecto Patronum’ is ‘I await a guardian’. I love everything about how this charm is presented in the book. Harry is in such a vulnerable position when he meets Professor Lupin (one of my all-time favourite HP characters) because he is a mere thirteen years old and, with a litany of traumatic experiences filling his past, is overpowered by the profound darkness and desolation brought upon by the Dementors. I would argue that out of all the adults across all of the books, Lupin gives Harry the greatest educational gift: he equips Harry with the ability to draw from his own internal resources to find protection, safety and joy. Lupin teaches and enables Harry to access hope and wonder when everything appears bleak beyond repair. He doesn’t necessarily save him, but instead offers him something much more valuable: the means to save himself.[2]

On Pottermore, the Patronus charm is described as ‘the awakened secret self that lies dormant until needed, but which must now be brought to light…’ and appears in the form of an animal. There is so much room here for a Jungian depth-psychology analysis, but let’s just leave it at this: whatever stories our chattering minds weave for us, strength, wisdom and courage resides in all of us, all the time. The Patronus charm may be just another abstraction from a wonderful creative mind. However, as with a lot of good writing, the Patronus is a literary representation of a psychological, cultural idea. It can take being broken open, a juncture, a confrontation with extreme fear or the very act of growing up to learn how to access them; but strength, courage and love are always there within us. And in times like these, we need those deep, wise, hidden reserves more than ever.

[1] I’m hopelessly inquisitive and shamelessly talk about books as if they’re real. I’m in Ravenclaw, could you tell?

[2] All whilst dealing with his own monthly lycanthropic nightmares, might I add. Such a babe.

#HandwrittenShakespeare – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

As a belated birthday present, I was taken to see an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Newstead Abbey, Byron’s melodramatic yet fabulous Gothic ancestral pile in north Nottinghamshire. This play is one I am particularly familiar with, having first studied it at age 11, performed in it at 14 (Snout the Tinker for life), studied it again at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at university, and then having given a paper on it at a student conference.[1] An evening spent on a picnic mat with a bottle of plonk, watching the Chapterhouse Theatre Company performing such a lively interpretation of the play was gorgeous.

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Sitting in the audience of this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reminded me of a number of things. Primarily, that The Mechanicals pretty much steal the show every single time with their farcical production of ‘The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe’, a nod to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which was written and performed in the same year as A Midsummer Night’s Dream.[2] The Shakespeare geek in me just loves that these two plays sit alongside one another in the Shakespeare chronology: Romeo and Juliet is so elevated in our culture as the epitome of tragic romantic love, yet the next play that Shakespeare wrote effectively takes the piss out of it. It suggests that the tragic escalation of Romeo and Juliet should not be beyond comedy (there are many moments in the play that nod to the comic tradition of the carnival-esque) and that the meta-theatrical clap back in A Midsummer Night’s Dream should not be underestimated or under-acknowledged.

The performance also reminded me that for all the cultural grandeur of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the big names treading the boards in West End productions, some of the best Shakespeare performances I have seen have been the rabbly raucous ones; those productions that have been comprised of well-trained but little known actors, who truly capture the playfulness and humour of Shakespeare’s writing. It is often forgotten that Shakespeare plays were the 16th century’s chief forms of ‘low brow’ popular entertainment, and I love productions in the 21st century that are aware of this and attempt in some way to recapture that.[3]

Finally, I was reminded that alongside being funny and magical, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of moments that are steeped in poignancy, taking the play well beyond its cultural box of ‘fairy story cum romantic comedy’. One such moment came in the following lines delivered by Theseus, which I felt inclined to write out in full:

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It is important to acknowledge first the racism implied in ‘Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt’. This line suggests that people who are in love are so frantic in their minds, that they see beauty akin to that of famed, Classical beauteous woman Helen of Sparta/Troy in a face that is not to be thought of as beautiful. In a move that speaks volumes of the 16th century’s perception of non-white non-Europeans, Shakespeare opts to conflate ugliness with the facial characteristics of Egyptians; because as people of African heritage, they were not thought to conform to standards of Western beauty and physical perfection.[4] This is extremely problematic and as a result, and as much as I love Shakespeare and the rest of this quotation, we cannot let him off for explicit racism.

The specific line from Theseus’s little speech here that had me reaching for the Shakespeare Concordance after the play had finished was: ‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet / Are of imagination all compact’. [5] I was interested in the intertextual presentation of these three groups of people. This is because they are described as almost amorphous in Theseus’s discussion of the power of their collective imagination.[6] Imagination, he suggests, throws up images and distorts perceptions of reality with ‘frantic’ visions of ‘devils’, amongst other things. This culminates in the longer description of the poet, whose pen turns ‘the forms of things unknown’ into ‘shapes and gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name’. This suggests that what the poet accomplishes is the giving of life to what could have remained intangible and unreal, effectively a nothing. The irony of this is that the poet, like the lunatic and the lover, seemingly has no choice or control over their imagination. It is imagination that ‘bodies’ forth the forms of things unknown, which suggests that whilst thoughts and images are ‘nothings’, they are brought into language and expression through a corporeal being or experience.[7] This suggests that the imagination is something different and, perhaps, more complex and ambiguous than reason and rationality (‘Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend / More than cool reason ever comprehends’). It has the fluctuating, changeable nature of all bodies but also possesses the physical corporeality that grounds us all in life. As such, it is a powerful almost tangible thing that is fluid, changeable and very difficult to pin down.

Indeed, Shakespeare takes this further by emphasising in the last four lines how this powerful, bodily imagination can bring about both the greatest joy and greatest fear, what Theseus describes as the ‘tricks’ of strong imagination. A modern translation of ‘tricks’ would be that imagination is a manifestation of some kind of cognitive dissonance: it is so powerful that it effectively establishes a disjunction between what it perceives as real and what is actually real. When something joyous happens, imagination establishes something or someone in the mind that brings that unparalleled joy; out of fear, imagination would convince us that a mundane bush is a ferocious bear. As a result, we can see that imagination, in the way that it acts uncontrollably and almost independently of a rational self, can disorient and confuse.

Theseus’s example of the poet, lover and lunatic suggests that these three groups of people, as a collective, demonstrate this intense, two-pronged relationship with imagination. To have such an active imagination requires the mind to be performing at a certain level of creativity, which welcomes those who, inadvertently or otherwise, express themselves with words and love. Furthermore, an intense relationship with imagination might also feasibly be called an intense relationship with anxiety. T.S Eliot famously wrote that ‘anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity’, and I think this could serve as a reading of Theseus’s speech here. Eliot suggests that creativity is accompanied and perhaps even enabled by the presence of anxiety; that expressions of writing and love walk hand-in-hand with what the 16th century would use rudimentarily describe as ‘lunacy’ or ‘madness’. I would add, in Theseus’s vein, that having an active imagination can be read here to be the greatest blessing when it comprehends and brings forth in a tangible bodily way great joy and positivity. In an equal and opposite way, however, imagination can also be the greatest burden and responsibility, when fear distorts our conception of the world around us and ourselves. It is entirely possible to argue that anxiety is the manifestation of creativity (and active bodily imagination) gone awry.

[1] Just in case you’re interested, I used Jean Baudrillard to explore Lysander’s seduction of Hermia through the use of figurative language, brought the concept of Bottom’s ‘translation’ into an ass into discussion with Jacques Derrida’s ‘On ‘Relevant’ translation’ and used my conference paper ‘Wastelands’ to compare Titania’s description of the changed and damaged seasons through her conflict with Oberon with T.S. Eliot’s war torn landscapes in part one of his poem The Waste Land, ‘The Burial of the Dead’.

[2] The Beatles seemed to think so too. I love this very grainy footage of them performing ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxXkdYr5JYg

[3] As well as the Chapterhouse Theatre Company, I refer to Filter’s absolutely hilarious production of Twelfth Night that I saw at HOME in Manchester, where members of the audience were encouraged to sing, clap, dance about and some brought onto the stage to drink tequila and play catch. We were all then jointly chastised by Malvolio for gabbling ‘like tinkers’ and for having ‘no respect of place, persons, nor time’. This line seemed all the more pertinent because the fourth wall separating the actors and the action from the audience had been completely comically demolished.

[4] I would like to show some awareness here that still today, people from non-white BAME backgrounds struggle to have their beauty, alongside their stories, perspectives, talents and intelligence, respected as much as those of white people. Whilst many BAME men and women have blazed trails for black beauty in fashion, music and film, popular culture is still slowly catching onto the fact that beauty encompasses more than skinny able-bodied white men and women.

[5] The Shakespeare Concordance is an excellent reference point for finding recurring words throughout Shakespeare’s plays. I searched for ‘poet’ in the Concordance when trying to find this specific line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/concordance/

[6]Before I continue, I think it’s important to say that I haven’t written about Shakespeare in a long time and never, I think, outside of an academic setting. Historically, I have been quite reluctant to talk about Shakespeare beyond an analytical or theoretical perspective, because I am highly sceptical of the value of reader response criticism. I have realised quite recently, however, how much I have missed throwing myself into the poetry, tensions and conversations all taking place within and between Shakespeare’s texts. I am hoping that in this new ‘Handwritten Shakespeare’ series that I want to bring to the ‘Creative’ section of Harping On that I can explore a new casual and therapeutic way of approaching Shakespeare: handwriting a quote I find interesting and then unpacking very briefly what is going on.

[7]  Thus also pointing to the idea that ‘nothing’ is always potentially ‘something’.

First response: ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ and religion

I read The Brothers Karamzov over a seven month period, from November 2016 to June 2017. Sigmund Freud described the novel as ‘the most magnificent novel ever written’, which is hardly an overstatement.  Unfortunately, it also renders it extremely difficult to condense into such a small space what makes this novel so brilliant. I am not going to attempt to give a full academic reading of it or compose a coherent overarching argument here; even in the months that have passed since finishing it, I am still overwhelmed and disorientated by the scope and volume of potentially interesting areas to pin down and explore: from the characters and their psychological shifts and traumas; the various plots; and its tragicomic abyssal relationship with time as the novel sceptically celebrates old Russia whilst also sceptically acknowledging its own inherent and deeply restless modernity. Mikhail Bakhtin referenced Dostoevsky as the writer of the ‘polyphonic novel’; whilst I have not yet read all of Dostoevsky’s oeuvre, this is the noisiest book I have ever read and I am still piecing together the various fragments that stood out to me during this reading.

I want to share some thoughts about moments in The Brothers Karamazov that were particularly arresting and interesting. I will begin with some thoughts on religion in the novel, and in particular the movement downwards that I observed in the Elder Zosima and subsequently Alyosha. John Donne also made his way into this piece for comparative purposes after an insightful conversation with my wonderful friend and early modernist, Annie Dickinson. Whilst the speaker of Donne’s Sonnet 14 from the Divine Meditations does not throw himself physically downwards, there is a metaphysical topographical movement downwards as he calls for the disintegration of his multiple and fragmented self. In both texts, this passionate movement downwards, whilst motivated in part by religion, is an act that I argue can provide inspiration and insight beyond religion’s dogmatic trappings.

One of the most important spaces in The Brothers Karamazov is the monastery where Alyosha lives and works as a novice before being sent off into the world by the Elder Zosima. It is one of the first settings the novel introduces us to as Alyosha sits with his father Fyodor, his brother Ivan, the Elder Zosima and a collection of other monks and family acquaintances who want to observe the settlement of the inheritance dispute between Fyodor and his eldest son Dmitri, who is running late. Over the course of the novel’s earliest stages, Alyosha spends a lot of time running backwards and forwards around the town, which in part constructs the unsettling restlessness of the novel, but always returns to the monastery; it is like a fixed point of safety for him from the sensual, emotionally hyperactive and jealous aggression that consumes the Karamazov family.

Whilst the Russian Orthodox Church is discussed and played with at length at various points throughout the novel (Fyodor Karamazov mocking the monks in the monastery;  the  soap operas of various pilgrims who believe in and visit Elders; Ivan Karamazov mocking Alyosha by telling him to eat fish soup; the Elder Zosima’s corpse beginning to rot thereby inciting denouncement from the fickle mystical monks at the monastery etc.), the moment that chimed most powerfully with me throughout all of these episodes was during the digression into the Elder Zosima’s history and personal doctrine. The novel’s third person speaker warns us that the homilies are jotted down by Alyosha during Zosima’s final hours and so are full of potentially unreliable information; indeed Alyosha is said to have expanded upon and added his own memories and philosophies to the homilies. In spite of this, however, what is described is an incredibly moving section that uses the doctrine of Russian Orthodox Christianity as its bedrock, but is a call for affiliation that goes beyond the confines of religion alone. This means that even for someone who is not a strict religious, God-believing Christian, Zosima’s language and ideas can bring connection and revelation.

There are a number of moments that I would like to draw on in particular. Primarily, the act Zosima talks about and performs a number of times:

                ‘Love to throw yourself down on the earth and kiss it. Kiss the earth and love it, tirelessly, insatiably, love all men, love all things, seek this rapture and ecstasy. Water the earth with the tears of your joy, and love those tears’.[1]

  The first observation I made with this is Zosima’s insistence on moving down towards the Earth and kissing it. It is an action that appears at other times in the novel; notably when Zosima bows down to supplicate his servant Afansy whom he wronged when he was young (p.298) and when Alyosha, in Zosima’s stead, beholds the Milky Way and bows down to kiss the Earth in his rapture (p.362). Whilst institutional Christianity has always favoured an upward motion, with arches, high ceilings and spires all dominating Christian architecture, it may seem odd that Zosima chooses to move in the opposite direction. The movement downwards is perhaps a nod to Russian folk culture, which privileges a relationship to the Earth and, in so doing, the communal relationship that exists between human beings. This is something discussed by Russian critic Bakhtin with regard to carnival-esque folk life in Rabelais and His World:

                ‘To degrade an object does not imply merely hurling it into a void of non-existence, into absolute destruction, but to hurl it down to the reproductive lower stratum, the zone in which conception and a new birth take place. Grotesque realism knows no other level; it is the fruitful earth and womb. It is always conceiving’.[2]

Bakhtin argues that a movement downwards metaphysically privileges the areas of the body that are considered ‘grotesque’ compared to the superior, divine rational capabilities of the thinking head. Yet, he argues, these lowly, oftentimes bawdy organs, depicted as engorged in carnival-esque texts, for example in Gargantua and Pantagruel  and The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Bruegel  the Elder, or emphasised in the squatting choreography of traditional Slavic folk dances, are the most important part of the body’s sexual, reproductive capability. This is because a movement downwards, a movement towards the Earth, also indicates a movement towards rejuvenation and the bringing forth of all life.

Zosima’s aforementioned feverish appeal to his followers appears similarly engaged in this joyful embracing of all of Earth’s grotesquely born life. ‘Love’, ‘all’ and ‘kiss’ are repeated, followed by a quick succession of adverbs, verbs and adjectives that are familiarly sibilant, like ‘tirelessly’, ‘insatiably’, ‘seek’ and ‘ecstasy’. The overall effect is a panted, sexual, frantic and joyful admonition for human beings to take care of one another and revel in the wonder of life. As Bakhtin refers to ‘the fruitful earth and warm’, Zosima encourages his followers to ‘water the earth’, so as to bring forth the fruit. It is a collective, positive, hopeful vision for human beings that brims with excitement. Zosima encourages followers like Alyosha to show selflessness in their love for one another and the Earth, making use of the body’s movement downwards and the emission of emotional bodily fluids in their worship and in the display of that love. The traditional Biblical command to ‘love thy neighbour’ seems so stale and uninspiring in comparison.

This passage reminded me of some of the religious poetry of John Donne that, whilst entreating unambiguously to a Christian God, conveys an energy and passion that is intriguing whether we believe in the God being addressed or not. More specifically, I would like to draw comparison with Sonnet 14 from Donne’s Divine Meditations, originally published in 1633. Donne wrote these devotional sonnets a couple of hundred years before Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamzov; however, there are similarities that can be observed in the almost pulsating sexual energy of the language used. The same frantic pace is present in Donne’s poem through the fast staccato rhythm that bursts forth from the very beginning:

                ‘Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you

                As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

                That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

                Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new’.[3]

 The use of commas here to break up the quick successive actions of knocking, breathing, shining, rising, overthrowing, bending, breaking, blowing and burning, work in a similar way to the ones in Zosima’s passage; the commas create a quick rhythm that sounds equally panted and rapturous. Whilst Zosima uses sibilance to convey the sexual watering of the Earth with tears and love, the speaker in Donne builds the ideas to a noisy almost violent climax; a heavy ‘b’ opens the poem, paving the way for a crescendo  of ‘b’ sounds at the end of the fourth line to describe personal annihilation at the hands of God. The sound reflects the power and force behind this destruction, but also the speaker’s yearning and desirous anticipation of them. This employment of commas throughout all of the lines continues throughout the rest of the sonnet and culminates in the following lines:

                ‘Take me to you, imprison me, for I

                Except you enthral me, never shall be free,

                Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me’.[4]

A quick succession of ideas, separated by commas, brings the poem to an end, with the speaker’s desire to be ‘ravished’ by God. ‘Ravish’ has a twofold meaning here: it suggests an almost violent sexual experience: ‘ravished’ in the Oxford English Dictionary reads both, ‘to drag off or carry away (a woman) by force or with violence (occasionally also implying subsequent rape)’, and, ‘to transport (a person, the mind, etc.) with the strength of some emotion; to fill with ecstasy, intense delight, or sensuous pleasure; to entrance, captivate, or enrapture’.[5] The speaker is in a traditionally feminised position, to be sexually overwhelmed and overpowered here; the significant difference being that he consents and desires force to be exerted on him. Additionally, the adjectives used to describe ‘ravished’ in the OED could all be employed to describe the emotional outpouring of Donne’s speaker, whose fast-paced, broken language echoes the rapture and sexual ecstasy at the prospect of being overcome by God.  The emotion of the speaker rises to an almost fury through the pace and final idea of ravishment. It suggests that engaging with God and the Christian faith on such an intimate and personal level can be euphoric and exciting.

Furthermore, what is significant in both Zosima’s speech and in Donne’s Sonnet 14 is that the rapturous construction of the language points more specifically to each speakers’ desire to have their subjectivity removed or disintegrated. It is, in effect, a movement downwards. Whilst Zosima physically throws himself to the ground in his selfless love and devotion to the world and the people in it, and entreats others to do the same, Donne’s speaker wants to be broken down, reduced and disintegrated by God’s influence. This is because he recognises that without God’s divine influence, his constructed sense of self is impossibly fractured. This is evident in the aforementioned quotation when he declares ‘for I except you enthral me’. There is a separation between the speaker’s ‘I’ and ‘me’ and he suggests that although God enthrals and empowers him, he is also enthralled and empowered by himself. This is not something he wants to continue, instead he wants his split self to broken down into one God-ful singularity. This is hinted at earlier on in the poem:

                ‘I, like an usurped town, to another due,

                Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,

Reason your viceroy within me, me should defend,

                But is captive, and prove weak and untrue’[6]

Here, again, we see that the speaker sees his self as split and confused; the comparison made is with a town being overtaken and supplanted by those who are external or rivals in some capacity. In a similar vein, Donne’s speaker sees his subjecthood as split and confused, which makes it difficult for him to fully admit God into his life.

Additionally, Donne’s speaker feels that his ability to reason and be reasonable is something given to him by God; however, he suggests that he is not currently governed by reason. There are two potential arguments for why this is the case, and both potential readings hinge on the ambiguous statement ‘me, me should defend’. Here, Donne creates a distinction between ‘me’ and ‘me’ through the comma that physically and rhythmically breaks them apart. He suggests both that God-given reason should defend ‘me’ from ‘me’, but also that ‘me’ should defend God-given reason from ‘me’. As a result, the line ‘but is captive, and prove weak and untrue’, refers to both reason and the speaker himself. This is because the tugging between the contrasting ‘me’ and ‘me’ leaves the speaker impotent and lacking reason, but also that reason within him is dimmed and unfulfilled. This seems to contrast with the way in which the speaker describes God as ‘three-personed’, perhaps giving reference to the holy trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I, however, would argue that the speaker acknowledges that although God is split into three separate but entwined entities, this is impossible for himself. Multiplicity within his own self cannot be successful because the constant tugging between ‘me’, ‘me’, ‘I’ and ‘reason’ prevents him from living up to the standards that he believes God requires. For the speaker, I argue, the only way forward for his fractured self is to be broken down, disintegrated and then melded together in a singular new whole, something he anticipates with a sexual fervour.

The physical and metaphysical movement downwards discussed by Zosima and Donne’s speaker can be read as a supplicatory act, bowing down to the limitless power of a Christian God. I, however, would argue that moving downwards in this way is a passionate act of self-disintegration. They are not simply humbled by God: they are invigorated by their love for others and with their hope for self-improvement.  Whilst God has, inevitably, inspired these responses in Zosima and Donne’s speaker, the presentation of these emotional, excitable characters is such that the texts are not bogged down and laden heavy with Christian dogma. The sexual, desirous reverie conveyed in the brisk, energetic language suggests a bacchanal devotion to the idea of helping people, loving all and freely and looking beyond the trappings of ourselves to be of service to a greater idea or project. I think this extends beyond religion: there are many moments in The Brothers Karamazov where Zosima appears to subscribe to a form of both socialism and vegetarianism, which I want to discuss at length in future with the help of Gerard Manley Hopkins (another poet whose work provides inspiration and joy beyond the potentially  arbitrary boundaries of religion).  Because Dostoevsky and Donne present characters that are loud, emotional and conflicted that conceive beyond themselves, as opposed to characters that are strict, composed and self-righteous, they have written about religion in a way that does away with religious dogma, with heavy, performative language that reveals their ‘modern’ potential. These characters are enabled by their passion and their love, joyful in their disintegration and rich in the goodness of throwing themselves to the ground, whether physically or metaphysically. It is in this presentation of religion that I think both Dostoevsky and Donne can inspire those for whom Christianity may have no relevance.

 

[1] The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky transl. Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear (London: Vintage, 2004), p. 322.

[2] Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World trans. Helene Iswolsky (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 21.

[3] ‘Sonnet 14’ lines 12-14, John Donne: The Complete English Poems ed. A. J. Smith (London: Penguin Books, 1996) p.314.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Oxford English Dictionary

[6] Ibid lines 7-8.

‘Tender is the Gelignite’ eBook launch

Merry fucking Christmas bods. My novel Tender is the Gelignite is now available to buy as an eBook.instagram post_ebookw

Get your copy here >

First and foremost, thank you to all those who have supported me so far by purchasing the physical edition of the book. I received lots of photos of Tender is the Gelignite on people’s bookshelves and breaking free from Amazon packaging. The whole situation literally made my heart sing. Thanks as well to those who have written reviews on Amazon, I really appreciate all your readings and perspectives. If you’d like to add one and haven’t already, please feel free to do so.

As a special treat, all those who have a physical copy of the book should now be able to download the electronic Kindle version completely free. This is true for anyone who plans to buy the physical book in future; you’ll also get the eBook for free.

Nothing screams Christmas like a foul-mouthed down-trodden young woman setting her workplace on fire. For the rest of December, the eBook of Tender is the Gelignite will be available for just £1.99, after which time it will go up to £3.50.

Publishing the novel as an eBook was pretty much a no-brainer because I want Tender is the Gelignite to be as widely available and accessible as possible. There were also a few other things that we needed to consider and which I want to share with you:

1) Making physical books is expensive, and Amazon likes to take a lot of credit for it (by way of $$$). Buying the eBook is an equally valid way to support me, your new favourite author, for the price of a coffee.

2) The eBook can be lent to a pal through Amazon for up to 14 days – share the joy/pain of reading my novel with others.

3) Whilst the book is a pretty thing, having the eBook available means you don’t have to lug your copy around everywhere. If you do not have a Kindle, you can still download the digital version of Tender is the Gelignite from Amazon’s Kindle Store and read it on a device that you do have. Amazon has Kindle reading applications available for Windows, Mac, iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry.

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Download your copy of Tender is the Gelignite here >

 

‘Tender is the Gelignite’ – 0.5 preview

Introducing the first chapter of Tender is the Gelignite

0.5

Definitely not the best idea to stare at the rain when you’re crossing the road.

First, no matter how calm and relaxed and dreamy you feel, your mug will form a snivelling sneer. Second, it’s likely that a pretty-car will knock your block off. Unintentionally for once.

A black shiny pretty-car screeches to a halt right up by my hip and I blink and jump back onto the pavement. It careers off again straight away, with a tuneful ‘fucking stupid, miserable, crazy, fat, dick-flapped cu-…’ stringing out of the driver’s window. I wrinkle my conk. The watchtower looms over the dim and dingy rows of red warehouses, prickly coils of barbed wire lacing over obtuse bleacher roofs.

In the UK there’s what I call UMAY, laws where you literally may pick whatever Uniform you like. Any clothes any style any arrangement. Which is great. Freedom and choice and all that. I like knowing who and what I am. Just so long as you stick to it afterwards mind, that’s very important.

Me

Feet: Laced-up bovver boots.

Bod: Black jumpsuit. Jersey.

Coat: Woollen, blood-coloured.

Choker: Scarf, like a blanket. Black, white, yellow.

I crunch my way through the downpour, the chopped fragments of glass, grit and sodden cardboard, squishing, mingling and munching in the thick soles of my bovvers, a firm barrier between my digits and the grindy, grimy slop. Careful: scantily scattered used condoms are a slippery risk, always best to avoid splurting skins.

Completely out of control Conscript.

This creeping crisis always begins when I first start walking to my Employment. At the beginning, I step into the hustling muscling city Centre-For-Work. Buildings are tall, sleek and clean. Dull sky is reflected beautifully, pavements are fresh and clear, streets are pedestrianised for bods, odds, sods, Conscripts, capitalisers, Employers and bods. Not many Poor Ones but they constantly hang about unseen. Clacking from the soles of hard-heeled shoes clash with snaps and spits coming from the Autogrammers, their portable ze-cams and ze-phones capturing the commute. Autogrammers aren’t just some nuisance bods that you need to dodge with their flashes and their cracks; they fill the city Centre-For-Work, providing photographic evidentials of everything and every bod all the ploughing time. That’s why you’d better stick to your all-important Uniform, especially during the day. Otherwise you’ll be Unrecognised and, well, that’s always a mess waiting to mong.

Walking through the city Centre-For-Work is void and impersonal; bods autogramming, staring at hologrammed ads or news stories on the roof tops or plodding along in a misshapen and miserable manner on their way to some office box or other. But there’s some comfort in seeing other like-feeling shittos living out the communal curse, no matter how vapid and sophisticatedly superficial the surroundings.

But crossing the ornate nineteenth century old old cold bridge into Strangeways, like I do and did every sodding day, you want to see as few bods as possible. You can never trust anybod driving them BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes Benz around a god-forsaken No Bod’s Land shit-hole dump like where I work. But you see them there a lot. What has a nice pretty-car got to do with a place so crap? A place so measly, oozing with muck, sweating like a foul ponging cheese or cold sore on the way out? Them BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes Benz form a clean, cool contrast to such a mildewed patch: the rotting decaying roads and alleys; prozzes clopping about in puffer coats, flashing over-worn underwear and grotesque kitten heels as they perch on corners or fumble after these luxury-wagons, these fill-your-bovvers cock-on-wheels succulently-leather-arsed motor machines. Drug dealers dally at an angle to the prison, the tell-tale trainers lobbed over the disused ze-phone wire, hanging in a still brooding manner over the grids of warehouses.

I hate to see those cars. I hate being mistaken for a prozz. They crawl up alongside you. Even though you can’t see the toads inside you can feel the goggly woggly globes scanning your bod like you’re a slab of meat hanging in a blood house. Except they want to fuck you instead of eat you. Same thing really though, no? Tell me I’m wrong. I fantasise everyday about smashing them up. In my head, I take one of the slippery slimy waste bricks that has been lying chucked about round here since who knows when and pummel it into the pretty-car. The windscreen doesn’t stand a chance against my bricky blows, with Odious Toadious inside bricking his denim dick-casket as glass shards are cast in all the directions. He screams and shouts ‘you crazy betch’ and I shriek with delight at his panic, taking my big booted bovver foot to the hood and kick kick kick.

TAKE THAT YOU FILTHY FAT FUCK

No pretty-cars lurking today. I crunch on unwatched.

I pass the same bod every day. I think he must actually live in Strangeways or something because he’s always hurrying down the hill, every fucking day. He’s Asian, with a kind pleasant mug. We glance at each other every morning. I get the feeling he’s a nice bloke. You can tell who the nice ones are around here. The ones who keep their heads down and plough on; not the serial strutters, the swaggering shits who are proud to be a big-shot in a piss-pot like this.

Welcome to the hub of the UK’s fashion industry, the old Hell by wholesale.

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Tender is the Gelignite is now available to buy from Amazon. Get your copy here >

Copyright © Elizabeth Harper 2017

‘Tender is the Gelignite’ – personal thanks

Tender is the Gelignite is now available to buy from Amazon. Get your copy here >

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I wanted to write something separate to a few very special people who helped me to bring Tender is the Gelignite about:

Thanks to Annie, Char and Fiona who read early terrible drafts and still thought there was something to work with. The encouragement you gave me when I mentioned I had a mere idea for a novel was mind-blowing.

Thanks to Emily and Izzy . You are so inspiring and wonderful and I have always felt so lucky to have you as friends.

Thanks to Jess and Hayley for being wonderful blads. I don’t get to see you guys enough but when we do reunite, it’s utter magic. Laura, you still haven’t got rid of me yet, for which I am thankful. Also to Katie, Cate and Helena who I can’t do without.

Thank you Jack Sullivan for all the times, one recent favourite being when we got pissed in that Sam Smith’s in the West End, chatted for about 9 hours and then terrorised the greeting card department at Liberty’s London. That was so much fun.

Thanks Zoe for allowing me to air my thoughts about one particular passage that I really wanted to get right. Our discussion really helped.

Thanks to my former colleagues at ACN Europe UK and Rotterdam: Suzanne, Steve, Liz, Teun and Kim for giving a chatty randomer the opportunity to write a book whilst being able to afford rent and bills and things like that. Looking back, I must have sounded totally insane and you really didn’t have to give me a job, but you did and I am very, very grateful for that. I learnt so much with you guys and also developed a stroopwaffel addiction. Thank you.

Also thanks to Daisy, Krista, Jane, Joe/Josephine, Graciela, Agnes, Amy, Nat, Hannah, Benedicte and Oksana for the encouragement, the laughs, the food and for helping me to realise that I could find life-long friends in a totally unexpected place. Thanks also to the Crazy Cows for your encouragement and kindness… they know who they are and I love them all.

Thanks to Mollie, Joe, Claire, Sue, Jeb, Chris, Jo and all the grandparents for being so kind and supportive.

Thanks to my parents. To my Dad for being super chill and encouraging and my Mum for being terrified at what I was doing. You guys sure know how to keep a child balanced.

To Grandma: I dedicated this book to you but I don’t think you should take it to your church group.

Thank you Nicole. There really are no words. You are the best person on the planet. And also Mark 2, you really are a very cool cat.

Mark. You helped with the cover design, the formatting, the PLAN, the research into distribution, pretty much everything that requires some enhanced brain cells. I literally couldn’t have done this without you. But also, I couldn’t have done this without you.

Get your copy of Tender is the Gelignite here >

‘Tender is the Gelignite’ – publication and notes

I am delighted and terrified to share that my novel, Tender is the Gelignite, is now available to buy from Amazon. It is available worldwide, so no matter where you are (hey former Dutch colleagues!) it will be shipped to you.

You can get your copy here >

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‘A spark goes off in my tum and my limbs ring and zing with nervous energy, like they do when you’ve just had a fucking fantastic idea’.

A young woman in a shiny city // post-industrial wasteland called Manchester decides to set her workplace on fire.

 Pursued by the militarised and mechanised LAW FORCE, she encounters a cast of weird, wonderful and wasted people and realises that survival may not be as desirable as she first thought.

Tender is the Gelignite plunges us into a brutal potential UK that is both darkly humorous and eerily recognisable.

This is my first novel and I decided to publish it myself using Amazon’s CreateSpace service, with the unparalleled help of Mark Williams. Over the past couple of years, I have been juggling writing, editing and proofing with a full time job, which has been both exciting and exhausting.  Self-publishing gave us many different freedoms with the book, in particular regarding the font, formatting, cover art and cover design. Going through the publishing process independently has also been challenging to say the least; so many issues were thrown up that might have (and did) go extremely wrong. Very late on the night before publishing, I had a phone call with a nice man at CreateSpace in the USA to resolve a huge accidental mess I made in the final processing.  I was on the phone to CreateSpace again first thing the next morning to follow-up on the said mess. In spite of this, I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to make my own decisions, deal with my own fuck-ups and, most importantly, I haven’t had to sell out on what I am interested in writing about or the way in which I chose to write, for fear of not being considered ‘commercially viable’.

I have come to learn that the primary motivation driving publishing today is a guarantee that money will be made; for the publisher, for the manufacturer, for the distributor, for agents, for everyone involved, with a little bit left over for the writer. I think it is symptomatic of our current cultural moment where risks, challenging ideas and small but ambitious projects are increasingly curtailed to protect profits. I wrote two years ago about Disney consuming itself in a bid to recuperate billions of dollars lost on box office flops (see here) and I think this safe money-making agenda within the arts has become even more paranoid in the meantime. Experimental work is unreported and glossed over with an endless series of cash cow re-makes, sequels, prequels, covers and spin-offs by power players in the worlds of film, music, literature and fashion.  At a time when world politics is in such a dire state, it baffles me that as a society, we cosy into complacency: what we know, what reinforces our ideologies and what makes us feel safe. It is this attitude coupled with the desire to preserve wealth that has helped to fan the hatred, violence and destruction that is destroying people and planet. Effectively, the cultural machine sees things wrong with the world and chooses not to use art to reflect, express and critique the horror that we continue to unleash on each other and on the environment.

I have attempted to write about the world we live in, in a way that some may find uncomfortable or challenging. It’ll be up to you to decide how successful I have been and whether Tender is the Gelignite is any good or not.[1] I am aware that this book may not be to the high standard of so many great writers I have spent years of my life reading; but in this crucial time, when I see cultural industries doing little to challenge so many devastating orthodoxies, I’ve tried to do something with my bit of a book. It has been both a joy and a slog to bring it to this point and I now happily send it off out of my sight and out of my mind. I’ve got a new novel-thing-project-situation that I’m going to start working on and I’m thanking my melons that I am now free to explore and inscribe something else.

Me with book

Get your copy of Tender is the Gelignite here >

[1] Please find here a link to Roland Barthes’s essay ‘The Death of the Author’ because it sums up everything I feel about the process of writing and reading. You will, however, have to forgive Roland’s excessive reference to authors and readers as ‘he’; a lot of old and current creative minds are tragically part and parcel of patriarchy.

http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/Gustafson/FILM%20162.W10/readings/barthes.death.pdf