Lit Review

Once again WordPress tried to best me (after the disaster last night I started with a Word doc and then tried to copy and paste it into WordPress with no success) but I’m done playing its reindeer games. Please see the attached and good night nurse!

*Late add that is so obvious I’m embarrassed. From the queen:

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. Penguin Books, 2004.

Final Blog Review/Portfolio

Ok so I made this post that I sorta dig, made it all fancy with a new layout 🤩, only to find out I can’t post it without losing all of my content because it’s a bit too advanced (something about AMP?) for a free account (I did all of this online research on how to fix it only to find it would involve downloading a plugin that requires a business account). I see you WordPress, I see you 👀

Anyway, I thought of a way around capitalism! Just click the link below to the post! (Admittedly not as fancy now, but I tried!)

https://ananonymousuccblog.wordpress.com/final-blog-portfolio-✍🏾/

Poetic Distancing

So… this post is a result of me being a (slight) procrastinator. I may *sometimes* wait til the last minute to do things which, in this case, resulted in me not being able to attend a second research seminar because everything is now cancelled and there will be NO MORE seminars… 😭

Image from Globalnews.ca

I’m actually writing this post on St. Patrick’s day (it won’t be posted then, that I can guarantee) but this is what the streets looked like ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY, IN IRELAND (!!!) from some photos I took:

Day
Night on my block, Barrack Street. All pubs are closed.

Somber. IRELAND on St. Patrick’s Day for the people in the back!!!

Living the dream, huh?

Also the first seminar I attended was amazing and I’m upset about this missed opportunity and so many other events we are all missing because of what’s happening in the world right now. But perspective says, relax, make the best of it and just be grateful.

So in place of writing about a seminar at school I will write about a cultural event in Cork that I attended where UCC represented big time, the Winter Warmer Festival.

I was invited to read to be a part of this magical world (teaching a poetry worksop and giving a featured reading the same day) before I arrived in Cork but even then I knew it was going to be something special. Ok so Ó bhéal is a Cork literary institution curated by the lovely Paul Casey that offers monthly readings in addition to this yearly love-fest for the written and spoken word from world-renowned poets and filmmakers.

The festival location for readings on Washington Street
This photo and all below photos by Linda Ibbotson.
That’s me left, my dear friend Rachel Andrews center and Danielle McLaughlin of Fiction at the Friary right.

Here’s me reading:

This weekend was magical and EXACTLY why I’m here in Cork, which is something that’s nice to be reminded of as we endure what is happening now. For those of us that came from afar we came for a reason, our love of Ireland and Irish culture and we are supposed to be here.

We are supposed to be here.

And on the last night of the festival I got to hear Liz Berry read. This was a transformative experience. Liz is a very celebrated poet from the Black Country of England (Peaky Blinder’s fans, it’s a real place!!!) and she is lovely and enigmatic and talented and magical! Seeing her read with such care, precision and dedication to the words she’s written, and just seeing how she cares for those words (she carries new poems in a folder in plastic) made me think about exactly what I’m doing: Do I take myself and my craft seriously? Do I cherish the words in the way that I should? Do I take the care that she does to honor the words and the mysterious places that they come from? Do I read as slowly and sensually as she does to allow the audience to digest every pained and executed word? If not, what am I in this for? Do I believe?

Liz Berry on the left 🥰

I was also overwhelmed with the Irish language that weekend which was lovely 💚 Many poets read in Irish and after the reading was over we all went to the Long Valley pub and an attendee, who I happened to recognize as someone who taught Irish language classes at UCC, translated a poem that I wrote into Irish for me then and there! I felt like all the the time I’d spent on my Fulbright application and everything else I had given up back in the States was worth this exact moment!!! This is why I am here. The community feeling and just love and respect for literature was so loud and beautifully overwhelming that night and the entire weekend. Oh and here’s the poem:

The poem will appear in English in the upcoming issue of the Quarry Man, go UCC!

And here’s a third-party write-up of the wonderful weekend:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/languages-and-cultures/blogs/staff-blogs/cornelia-grabner/a-gathering-of-poetic-voices-in-cork-ireland-the-o-bheal-winter-warmer-festiva/?fbclid=IwAR1z9Qg9DcCuWs8zQbPrdLlYoqA-zM_oPYnJGXVsd7NwWCVotCUA-ZJ45F8

CoronaConference

Heya. How’s everyone doing out there? Reading, writing, pulling your hair out sheltering-in-place? Same.

With school being closed and our big conference presenting our thesis ideas being cancelled, we’ve decided to post our sample presentations online instead. Here’s mine, but it comes with a serious, serious trigger warning. Like I’m not kidding, stop scrolling now if you’re not in a place to look at an emaciated man or a mutilated young boy.

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Mini Conference Research Presentation in Abstention

Steve McQueen and His Presentation of Pain and Ecstasy on Film

My thesis will be focusing on the exquisite pain and ecstasy portrayed in the Steve McQueen films Hunger, 12 Years a Slave, and Shame.

I watched Hunger for the first time last semester and was blown away. I knew of Bobby Sands and had visited Belfast and done all of the peripheral research about him, but I didn’t fully connect with his “statement,” and Ireland’s history of using hunger strikes as a political weapon[1], before this movie. I didn’t feel or understand the very intentional pain he (Sands) was using to effect change until watching Hunger

I did some research on Steve McQueen and realized he had a pattern. I had previously avoided watching 12 Year a Slave, as a Black American, because I had heard and read[2] that it was “torture porn only set up to make “white liberals”[3] feel good about themselves, while making the actual descendants of slavery in America irate about the over-the-top sensationalism of our ancestors’ pain.

One of many horrific scenes in the film 12 Years A Slave

But because I watched Hunger first I thought, wait, this isn’t torture porn at all, and, if it is, there’s something way deeper happening here than just shameless exploitation. McQueen may be on to something that many revolutionaries and scholars have known for a while, something that was perhaps best illustrated in the 2016 Brendan Byrne documentary Bobby Sands: 66 Days. Here are some very powerful quotes and background from the film:

“Fasting in Ireland was rediscovered in the late 19th century by anthropologists who were investigating kind of Gaelic history. And for those scholars who were trying to revive Irish nationalism there’s an emphasis on the ancient Gaelic laws and it became discovered that there was almost an institutionalized fasting to rectify an injustice and this became popularized by a play by W.B. Yeats called ‘The King’s Threshold.’” (14:20)

“Hunger striking has very ancient roots in Irish history. There’s tradition that the poet wasn’t paid by the rich man, he would starve himself outside his gate.” (14:39)

“[Terence James] MacSwiney said it is not those who can inflict the most but those who can suffer the most who will win… By suffering and by suffering publicly and over a long period of time you are making a statement and you’re making a statement that you will outlast the others. No matter what they do to you’ll still be there, or your spirit will still be there or the people who follow you will still be there and in the end you will win.” (27:28)

From Hunger

Whoa, brain explosion! Much has been written about America’s fascination with Black pain and public suffering[4] and it was the visual images of Emmett Till’s ravaged body[5] and German Shepherds and water hoses being used on nonviolent Black protestors that effectively changed the momentum of the Civil Rights movement in America. 

Sands himself was greatly influenced by TV and the visual image as was explained in Bobby Sands: 66 Days. He is quoted as saying that images were “imprinted on my mind like a scar.”

In preparing the literary review for my thesis I watched many, many films that I thought somehow applied to the narrative of pain and oppression on film… and then I watched many, many films just to distract me from 1) What I had just previously watched and the brutality of the narrative and 2) Coursework in general, it’s nice to have a mental reprieve… or so I thought.

One of the films I chose as a distraction was Bronson starring Tom Hardy in all of his (naked) glory. I had actually never seen anything like this film before, where male full-frontal nudity is used to show a man’s virility and power instead of his smallness and weakness (like in Hunger and most other films with full-frontal male nudity). We are rarely allowed, as an audience, to feel the pleasure of viewing the male body. 

Uploaded by: Body Transformation, May 17, 2017 on YouTube

After giving a presentation about McQueen (and pain) and my pleasure in watching Hardy’s nakedness in a class, Dr. Anne Etienne made me reconsider what I was actually writing about and the direction in which my thesis should go. 

Should I be focusing on the pains and pleasures of male nudity on film? What does pain look like on screen and what is its effect? How does that make “us,” the audience feel? How and when are we meant to participate in the agony and or the joy? Who are the usual “victims” in McQueen films and why does he choose them and their stories, and to portray pain in the distinctly drawn-out way that he does? 

The movie I haven’t yet discussed, because I haven’t yet seen it, is Shame. From what I’ve read the movie is an exploration of many of my questions, and it’s another McQueen/Michael Fassbender film in which Fassbender’s naked body is used as a filmmaking tool. 

As Edwin Coomasaru wrote in discussing both Hunger and the male body as a form of societal projection:

“In times of conflict the stakes of masculinity are … high, and historically what has been conceived of as the ideal “man” has also often been considered the ultimate soldier … 

Although the hunger strikes and their reception in visual culture have been rarely talked about in terms of masculinity, it’s worth considering the connection in order to gain a greater understanding of the Troubles and their legacy. 

Macho, stoic, muscular male bodies have historically been used to cultivate militarism and patriarchy throughout twentieth-century Europe. They represent strength and self-control: the idea of the disciplined manly solider, able to sacrifice his body for the cause. This notion of the ideal warrior is used to try and justify the oppression of those seen to be ‘unmanly’: women, queer identities, colonial subjects, opposing factions in a war.”

Because so much of this work is about aesthetics it’s important to point out that McQueen started as a visual artist. (And I booked a trip to go to the Tate in London to McQueen’s current exhibit, but that trip had to unfortunately be cancelled.) I will discuss this in my thesis because I think this background is an important influence in his work and the way he dramatizes pain. 

I will conclude this presentation with a poignant quote used at the end of Bobby Sands: 66 Days:

“Ultimately Bobby Sands effectively marks the end of the tradition of armed struggle in Ireland. Because what he said is there is really no justification or need to kill people. What you really need to do is dramatise your own suffering.”

I have a feeling McQueen would agree with this sentiment.

Thank you.


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-long-history-of-the-irish-hunger-strike-1.3228103

[2] https://www.vulture.com/2013/11/12-years-a-slave-black-oscar-bait-essay.html

[3] The dangers of “white liberalism” are very well described here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/01/17/martin-luther-king-polite-racism-white-liberals/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/magazine/the-condition-of-black-life-is-one-of-mourning.html

[5] https://www.facingsouth.org/2016/08/living-legacy-emmett-tills-casket

Works Cited

Byrne, Brendan, director. Bobby Sands: 66 Days. Canvas, 2016.

Coomasaru, Edwin. “Emaciating Machismo: Masculinity, Murals and Memorialising Hunger Strikes.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times, 5 May 2016, www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/emaciating-machismo-masculinity-murals-and-memorialising-hunger-strikes-1.2636109.

An Unexpectedly Hardy Film

Tom Hardy as “Charlie Bronson” in the 2008 film Bronson

I like to procrastinate and unwind by watching movies. This can be tricky as a lot of my work deals with film, but the goal is to leave my brain at the door and just veg.

Looking through my free Amazon Prime ( I know, it’s just free and I’m not ordering from them 😬) queue last night I thought, what Tom Hardy film haven’t I seen yet? Bronson? Yeah, sure, why not as I recalled reading how he did one of his famed body transformations for this film (he reportedly packed on 100 pounds of muscle) and befriended the man he was portraying in real life. Sounds good.

What I wasn’t expecting and hadn’t been prepared for was exactly how much of Tom Hardy I was going to get. This movie has more full-frontal nudity involving a main, male character than pretty much anything else I’ve seen. (And to be clear when I’m saying male nudity in this post I very specifically mean full-frontal male nudity but I don’t want to belabor the point and get TOO specific as I’m trying to avoid an SEO nightmare of random, new, disappointed followers.)

Many people have compared the film to A Clockwork Orange but there wasn’t anything gratuitous about the violence in this film, which is odd if you think about it. The movie is about England’s “most violent” prisoner, yet the fight scenes are pretty tame. The gratuity and naughtiness is all centered around Hardy’s body.

Apparently opting to be nude is why Hardy got the role to begin with.

Tom Hardy only got the role in this 2008 biopic about the life of a notorious Welsh prisoner after Jason Statham and Guy Pearce, director Nicolas Winding Refn‘s first and second choices, respectively, balked at the nude scenes. 

E Online
https://www.eonline.com/photos/25999/a-brief-history-of-male-full-frontal-at-the-movies/885817

Here’s a great article on male frontals:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/oct/23/chris-pine-penis-nudity-outlaw-king

Image from the Guardian

“People were giggling about my penis as if they were schoolschildren… I think it’s maybe the dying embers of this Calvinistic idea that self-flagellating and shame and anger and violence is all good and yet sex and intimacy, making love is bad. And that manifests in us all giggling about a penis – it’s so stupid.”

Chris Pine

In the article another well-known, bare-all-A-Lister, Ewan McGregor, adds:

“Women are always expected to be naked in films, but I like to try and do it so they don’t have to… It’s a feminist thing.”

Ewan McGregor

And even the Patron Saint of this blog, himself, Cillian Murphy, is a proud member of the ‘if you got it flaunt it club.’

From Twitter… And it made sense in 28 Days Later, in fact, back in 2002 he was a bit of a pioneer.

Let’s unpack why this is important to my thesis (cause otherwise I’ll get in trouble).

Director Nicolas Winding Refn, like Steve McQueen, has his own aesthetic and plays with pain on screen in very particular ways. (With McQueen the pain is a bit more visceral and with Refn it seems to mostly manifest as awkwardness.)

McQueen’s Hunger deals with a lot of male nudity but the nudity in that film isn’t as noticeable because it’s somewhat inevitable; of course prisoners who are starving themselves and being relentlessly beaten in their robes are going to find their bodies exposed and naked. It’s not over the top to show this on film.

The same can be said for 12 Years a Slave — seeing Patsy’s full upper torso as she’s being whipped didn’t feel gratuitous to me (it has to many other critics however). There is no other way to be publicly whipped and the brutality of that scene was crucial in getting the brutality of Patsy’s existence across. She wasn’t allowed a bit of mercy, modesty, or humanity, and her pain was meant to become the audience’s pain in that scene. It wasn’t meant to be sexually stimulating or pleasurable the way most male nude scenes are not meant to be pleasurable. Again others have argued otherwise:

The reality depicted in this movie is so harsh I cannot help but wonder if people find the movie excellent because of the sheer relentlessness.

Roxane Gay

In fact Gay argues that the scene is visceral, as it should be, but it also feels gratuitous because the scene is not designed to amplify Patsey’s plight. The scene is designed to amplify Solomon’s plight, as if he is the more tragic figure in this situation.” I don’t entirely disagree with this. I do believe my being a Black female made me inherently relate to Patsy’s plight more than other viewers might, but this opens the door to discuss who we make art for and how. And what is McQueen’s responsibility there?

https://www.vulture.com/2013/11/12-years-a-slave-black-oscar-bait-essay.html

Patsy’s back after the aforementioned scene in 12 Years a Slave.

In any case I think Bronson did something different. It’s the only movie I can think of that perhaps meant to stimulate its audience (all of its audience as there is plenty of homoeroticism in the film) with a male body. The nudity was most certainly gratuitous and campy. It was a celebration of the male form. In the film Bronson takes on prison guards, almost exclusively naked. He paces around his cage nude, like an animal, panting, waiting to fight. While not intrinsically sexual (in fact sex is barely portrayed in the film) it is by definition arousing through the highly stylized scenes of Bronson’s, sometimes painted and posed, incredibly-fit and vigorous physique. Lighting, angles and music also heighten the pleasurable viewing experience.

Tom Hardy has been nude on-screen a bit, for example there’s an incredibly gripping scene in Stuart a Life Backwards in which the character is inflicting harm on his body and fighting police officers who come in to stop him. He’s naked during this scene and while the set up is actually similar to Hardy’s character in Bronson (fighting the law naked) there is no pleasure for the character or the audience in this scene. Instead of Hardy’s body exuding power and virility, this scene serves to make the audience pity the character. His nakedness is used to show his powerlessness and lack of armor in the world, again making Bronson most unusual.

Stuart a Life Backwards

If I’m going to talk about pain on film I must also talk about how we are set up to view pleasure. The above was a starting point. What is a pleasurable viewing experience? What is pain and what creates a painful viewing experience? What are the implications of how we use bodies on screen to elicit these responses? That’s what my thesis will attempt to figure out.

Next up: Shame. Now this film I for sure know has a lot of Micheal Fassbender. A lot. Will his body be as painful to watch as it was in Hunger or somewhat pleasurable? We shall see! 👀 So much for vegging out!

12 Years A Slave

Just the quickest of posts to say, whew, I did it! I’m celebrating! I finally finished watching this movie! It took me over a week. I needed to take breaks, breathers, and baths. But you know what? I thought it actually deserved all of its accolades. I thought it was NOT the white savior movie I was expecting. I thought it was brutal and horrific in all the ways it needed to be to get the message of what chattel slavery REALLY was. I wish Oprah’s adaptation of Beloved did better…

… but this is now the only successful film (and there are many reason why others weren’t successful that may have been worthy and/or OVERWHELMINGLY never got made that I can’t get into in this post) that viscerally documents and centers the horror of history and I’m on board with that. I’m on board with making people cringe (even if it’s me). I’m on board with shame and horror.

My thesis advisor also had me watch Mississippi Burning and that was also no fun. I’m pretty sure I watched it when I was way younger but my reaction now is obviously totally different. Again, better than I was expecting. A white savior film, yes, but not at all in the traditional sense. In fact the movie is better made than many of its successors. Even in the age of “woke,” the movie hit on a lot of the points that have gotten lost in today’s empathy wars. I’ll get more into this later.

Anyway, I now know I have to watch Django Unchained, even if to say how horrific it is in comparison to other movies of its ilk. I’ll probably need to watch way more, maybe even Daughters of the Dust which has been on my list for a while. I signed up for a lot of anger but, ok. Let’s do it and do it right!

#EditWikiLitLeaksForGeeks

2020-EN6009: Contemporary Research: Skills, Methods and Strategies assignment: Take on Wikipedia!

at first I was as perplexed as this tiger

So we were given as assignment to edit, live tweet and then blog about some Wiki pages that may be of interest to our research. In the beginning I was a bit worried about coding and HTML and the unknown … but it was easy peasy.

I, of course, first searched Wiki for misinformation on the man, the myth, the legend: Cillian Murphy. Luckily I didn’t really have any issues.

We were to take screenshots of the before and afters and I (predictably) accidentally made my first edit before being informed that we were to take screenshots (I was a little eager) but you can see what I did in my contributor’s history: 

I updated the entry for the movie Breakfast on Pluto. It’d previously said Kitten avoided [something that happens in the film] by “acting crazy.” I changed it to say that the main character, Kitten, was standing up for herself as opposed to being ‘crazy’ in a key scene because the previous description undermined a lot of the plot and nuance of the film. I also added a line from the film: “serious, serious, serious” because it was a key moment in the character’s evolution. Oh yeah, guess who plays Kitten

My full addition was “Billy abandons Kitten to flee the IRA, forcing Kitten to stand up to the ‘serious, serious, serious,’ men alone. Her lack of connection to their politics saves her from being murdered.” I added a lil extra explanation (opinion) in the edit box just in case anyone had any questions.

The page as it stands now: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakfast_on_Pluto_(film)

This all may be a little confusing if you haven’t seen the film but you REALLY should and I don’t want to give away anything.

My second edit was to the Irish Famine of 1981 page. In the middle of all of the Iowa caucus mess back home in the States, I saw that someone discovered a letter that Bernie Sanders wrote to Margaret Thatcher demanding fair treatment of the Bobby Sands-led strikers. He wrote this letter in the heat of the controversy and, as a Sander’s supporter and someone who will be writing about the Steve McQueen film Hunger for my thesis, I thought, yes! Perfect.

Also, linking back to my last blog post … https://ananonymousuccblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/anxiety-and-the-demonic-avant-garde/

And I got a personal kick out of his point that no one understood Les Demoiselles d’Avignon when it first came on the scene in 1907, he said, and if they said so after the fact they were lying. I love this. As a former entertainment reporter I know first-hand how painfully true this is. It reminds me of the first, awful Led Zeppelin reviews (and many other artists that were initially panned who are now universally heralded). No one gets it right the first time. That’s life. And pretending otherwise is just more embarrassing frankly.

Moi

… I have a special affection for anyone who can see what progress looks like IN THE MOMENT as opposed to after the fact, making excuses. (Again, we all make mistakes but very few people publicly own up to them.)

Anyway the page originally said:

I added a link to the Sander’s letter article page and I also linked back to the Wikipedia Bernie Sanders page (isn’t he the cutest, bestest politician?). I also wanted to add that this was an international crisis with international attention which the page didn’t seem to previously offer.

It now reads:

Here ya go: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Irish_hunger_strike

I tried to circle back to edit the actual Sander’s page but I’m not cool enough:

I saved my settings to follow any changes or updates made after me just to see if I’ve disturbed anyone with any attachments to the pages I edited. So far no drama but we shall see what happens!

Anxiety and the Demonic Avant-Garde

For this blog I’ll be writing about a UCC seminar for the first time*!

I attended ‘From Baudelaire through Picasso to Sartre: Scenes from the Lives of the Demonic Avant-Garde’ in Askive 1 on January 28th. The flyer (below) is so goth and lovely how could I not go?

I have some thoughts on the seminar that I will get to, and I for sure learned to think about things I thought I sort of knew in different ways (hooray education!), but I’d be amiss if I didn’t discuss the initial impediment that prevented me from absorbing a lot of that information.

Part I

Askive 1 is a tiny room. A tiny, humid room. And if more than 12 people show up for a lecture it’s a very uncomfortable place to be. This particular event was advertised as “with refreshments” and had a great mind speaking so it was packed and packed early. I arrived at exactly 6pm to organizers bringing chairs into what was (lawyers look away) possibly a fire hazard of a situation. There was no room and little air. I eventually sat ON the door knowing that if anyone showed up late it’d be a super awkward situation of me having to make a scene in the middle of the lecture to literally just open the door and ask people to move so that space could be made for both this new late person (ugh!) and me. To my horror, that’s exactly what happened.

I know this may seem trivial to people without social anxiety but anxiety can be just as debilitating and devastating to the body as any other physical ailment or disease.

I was actually reading an article on academia and mental health the night before the seminar:

Click the above for the full Guardian article

And thought, wow, my life could have been so different with not only practices like this in place, but even just the language for what was happening to me, beginning in high school. That would have been invaluable.

And then I thought of all the times I DIDN’T do show up for something because I’m hiding under the covers (literally) of anxiety, playing scenes like the one that played out that night in Askive in my head. If I know I’m going to be a few minutes late to something I would rather not go than show up and have a room full of strangers staring at me. There’s too much staring I CAN’T avoid in my melanated female body, so I LIVE to avoid the unnecessary stuff (wait it’s all unnecessary, but you know what I mean). This takes away from the quality of my education and the quality of my life. There was a semester in undergrad when I failed half of my classes (I know, doesn’t sound like me but giiirrrl we all have a backstory) because I’d had a bad experience and just walking on campus was so terrifying and traumatic to me that I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t leave the dorm. I think if there was more of a space for trauma and anxiety talk back then, on campus, I (well my parents) wouldn’t have wasted money on tuition that semester just thinking I was lazy. Academia and campuses hold a lot of STUFF for a lot of us and any accommodation to acknowledge that goes a long way.

Anyway, that’s that rant. I guess I just hope academia, and the world, one day understands that many of us who have crippling social anxiety take learning very seriously and we aren’t indolent as much as we are just… really scared of awkward and uncomfortable spaces.

Part II (The actual lecture I sweated through)

So now for the seminar…

Professor Szakolczai was pretty magnificent once I could concentrate. He talked quickly and with purpose and with little to no room for idle chatter or disagreement with him on points he felt very personally. For example, he was having NONE of a debate about how great communism (something he lived through in reality and not theory) can be to the eyes of Western liberals who idealize it (a student tried to make that case and failed). In fact the professor, somewhat amusingly, said he only voted once when he was forced to, under communism, because it was otherwise pointless, as most other political charades were in, his country of origin, Hungary. (Side tear for us Americans as we head into November.)

Doing some research I found a NY Times article with some of the most compelling images of this time. And you can get his book on this at the UCC library.

all images from the New York Times

Ok so what’s going on with the demonic avante garde and politics right? What’s this about?

What’s the existential truth? Love and death? It’s ridiculous to compare the two!

Professor Szakolczai, January 28th Lecture, UCC

I remember that being the declarative statement that kicked of the mainly philosophical talk. He then began to throw out other quotes and declarations like “Every act of creation begins with an act of destruction” (although it looks like the proper quote is “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.” ― Pablo Picasso”) and then challenge us, the audience, to think about it by saying “greatest truth or worst lie?!” without allowing for a response as he quickly barked, “that’s the [capitalist] business school model and it’s rubbish! Both Marx and the business school model are rubbish!” Ok, fair point actually.

He then went on to speak about how the demonic and divine are not the same thing. This was interesting considering the context and our current cultural climate in that it is important to distinguish between behavior that is unavoidable, Demonic, and behavior that is very methodically evil, Diabolical. He mentioned “exorcising beauty” then went on to quickly discuss Picasso’s cultural appropriation of African and Oceanic culture and talked about Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as being the most important painting of the 20th century.

Behold! Image from MOMA website https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79766

Of course I was familair with the fact that cubism didn’t appear out of the blue (see what I did, nice Picasso joke there, right?) in the early 20th century and that it “borrowed” HEAVILY from the art of African masks, but I wasn’t as familiar with it’s borrowing from photography and the history there. Here’s a link to some great research on that.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275157446_Staring_Back_Anthropometric-style_African_Colonial_Photography_and_Picasso’s_DemoisellesI

Individuals, pairs, and groups of “colonial nudes” appeared in other pseudo-ethnographic publications such as the weekly illustrated journal l’Humanité feminine. Published by Amédée Vignola in Paris in 1906–7 (precisely the period Picasso was working on Demoiselles), it noted on the inside cover, “Devoted to the study of the female form, costumes and ornaments used in all countries, and to the study of manners, customs and practices of all races.” The majority of issues in the brief life of the publication were dedicated to the “Femme d’Afrique.”

Cohen, Janie. (2015). Staring Back: Anthropometric-style African Colonial Photography and Picasso’s Demoiselles</I. Photography and Culture. 8. 10.2752/175145215X14244337011162.

Great and infuriating research. Oh exploitation and racism have no bounds! Oh hey look it’s there under the sofa cushion, or there in your croissant as you digest lunch at the Louvre! Stay alert, it comes at you fast! … But I digress.

The photographic aspect was intriguing to me because it’s a uniquely modern tool being used with groups inherently labeled as “primitive.” There’s a difference between finding ancient masks to be inspired by and being “stimulated,” so to speak, by present-day women posing for a camera. Completely different ballgame with very different appropriation and moral implications.

Plus what is modern art and what is avant-garde anyway?

Professor Szakolczai went deeper into our common vocabulary and belief systems of what “primitive art” is and looks like. He talked about paintings from 30,000 bc being very ornate and complex, almost warning about the naiveté of the “primitive” label.

He also made a super interesting point about the art that predated cubism and it’s inspirations that sounded almost… almost light and touching in this sea of human evil we’d been digesting up until this point in the talk. He pointed out that it wasn’t just African art that inspired the modernist artists but also Oceanic art. He asked how that was possible considering that these populations lived literally worlds apart. He mentioned them both sharing a shamanistic world view so the art manifested similarly, organically and independently. Aw shucks. Hope? Are we all connected after all???

Oh and this “primitive” art ain’t cheap:

Good lord! Click the above for further crazy from Sothebys

And I got a personal kick out of his point that no one understood Les Demoiselles d’Avignon when it first came on the scene in 1907, he said, and if they said so after the fact they were lying. I love this. As a former entertainment reporter I know first-hand how painfully true this is. It reminds me of the first, awful Led Zeppelin reviews (and many other artists that were initially panned who are now universally heralded). No one gets it right the first time. That’s life. And pretending otherwise is just more embarrassing frankly.

Professor Szakolczai said rubbish a lot. 

“Don’t resist evil!,” he at one point exclaimed. And, “who is they [I’m assuming he meant evil here], the communist party? Capitalism?!,” he said.

He warned that resisting evil circulates evil. I know what he means but as an American that’s a touchy subject at the moment. I would just amend it to say resisting to acknowledge the ROOT of “evil” is how evil not only circulates, but flourishes.

Lastly Professor Szakolczai made the argument that we are now in the natural ebb and flow (his example was a circle) of empires and dynasties and “democracies” post-revolutions (by which I think he means we are now living through the beginning of an inevitable fall). Right now we are very much heading towards the low point on the circle and it may be a minute before we get to the up-swing again, but before that chaos will ensue. At least that was my interpretation of what I heard. I just wonder, without revolution, what then? That option wasn’t offered because perhaps it can’t be?

A pretty representative slide shown during Professor Szakolczai’s seminar

I know I went over A LOT of REALLY complex ideas pretty quickly but believe me the talk was even faster sweeping over so many interesting subjects with slides going a million miles an hour so I’m glad I was at least able to take some notes and do some of the above research once I got home.

You’re Welcome. (RIP) 😭

*See, finally, a blog not at all about my dating life. Although that too is mainly a critique of the commodification of art and people … so… maybe let’s not resist that evil either.

Second Semester

Oh so hi. Hi. Back. Back from break. Second semester. It’s here.

Here’s when we get super serious and studious. And now that you know me, my sensibilities and my weaknesses, you can better decide when I actually know what I’m talking about and when I’m just partial to something and, rarely, when those two things meet.

And I now have a pretty good idea what I will be writing my thesis on.

I watched Hunger over the break and immediately looked up info about the film because I was so viscerally disturbed and moved by it and, embarrassingly, didn’t really know much going in. I couldn’t tell you my surprise to find out it was a Steve McQueen film mainly because, well, he’s Black, and in the States this would have been a big deal, like Spielberg-directing-the Color-Purple-Big-deal, like STAY IN YOUR LANE big deal. And perhaps it was a big deal here but I wouldn’t have seen that press.

But here’s the best part: when I mentioned this fact to my Irish classmates they responded with similar astonishment but not because he’s Black, but because he’s ‘British!’ My mind was blown! That’s what they saw as the potentially controversial part of him directing a movie about Bobby Sands! This, of course, TOTALLY makes sense given the historical context, but what a refresher on context! Everything in the States is ‘Black and White’ and the strange ‘nationalism’ thing (which btw I don’t quite buy in terms of people REALLY seeing Black citizens as fellow countryman in Europe but that’s another blog) isn’t really a thing in the States except to exclude (non white) people from being labeled ‘properly’ American. And perhaps because I’m a Black American I would never see McQueen as a historical oppressor of the Irish precisely because he’s Black. He too was likely historically oppressed by the English (I’m assuming his background is tied to one of their many historical colonies which is the history of the majority of Black Britons) so my brain just wouldn’t go to aligning him with their misgivings… oh and Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game does more than just touch on this:

The Crying Game

To further complicate things, I thought about that other little film he made.

Oh hey look there’s Fassbender being Fassbender.

Now I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave (I obviously will now) because I was told by my braver friends that it was (senseless, problematic) torture porn and to skip it entirely for my health. After watching Hunger I think it may be more complicated than that because torture porn is clearly McQueen’s thing. (It also may NOT be more complicated than my initial fear but I’ll now find out.) But did McQueen have the right to tell THAT story? He’s not a Black American either. Does this raise similar issues to the initial reason I thought maybe there’d be controversy surrounding a Black man directing a film about a famous Irish martyr? Intersectional, international colonization issues!!! Step right up!!!

So, although I’m just at the beginning of figuring it all out, I think I’m coming to want to write about the sublime and exquisite tortures of the oppressed on film. My first paper definitely started to head there and the ways that Neil Jordan exalts and fetishes “the other.” But I want to go all in for my thesis including a compare and contrast of some other post colonial cultures and traditions because I’m not sure anyone but McQueen could have pulled Hunger off in the very successful way that he did. The way that (and this is a controversial opinion that I 100 percent stand behind) ONLY Spielberg could have made The Color Purple as near perfect as it is. I think sometimes looking in from the outside, but like not really the outside (as the Jewish, Black and Irish *may* have some not dissimilar issues to unpack) is often the best perspective. 

Hot enough for my first semester two blog post right?