Folktales have the taste of eternity


“Folktales have the taste of eternity; they go beyond time. Fables unfold in the interior time of soul and a legend may encompass the lifetime of a saint.” 

Ref: (p.132) Horst Kornberger (2008) The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children’s Imagination and Consciousness. Floris Books: Edinburgh


Violence and time in North America – some thoughts from Isabel Allende


Actually, as well as liking some of Isabel Allende’s ideas about Memoir and memory, I also found her comments on violence and time interesting. She wrote (and I hope I haven’t eliminated the context in which she writes this):

“I’ve been so thoroughly incorporated into the California culture that I practice mediation and go to a therapist…. I have adapted to the rhythm of this extraordinary place….”

“The North Americans’ sense of time is very special. They are short on patience. Everything must be quick, including food and sex, which the rest of the world treats ceremoniously. Gringos invented two terms that are untranslatable into most languages: ‘snack’ and ‘quickie,’ to refer to eating standing up and loving on the run … that, too, sometimes standing up. The most popular books are manuals: how to become a millionaire in ten easy lessons, how to lose fifteen pounds a week, how to recover from your divorce, and so on. People always go around looking for shortcuts and ways to [-p.189] escape anything they consider unpleasant: ugliness, old age, weight, illness, poverty, and failure in any of its aspects.
This country’s fascination with violence never ceases to shock me. It can be said that I have lived in interesting circumstances, I’ve seen revolutions, war, and urban crime, not to mention the brutalities of the military coup in Chile. Our home in Caracas was broken into seventeen times; almost everything we had was stolen, from a can opener to three cars, two from the street, and the third after the thieves completely ripped off our garage door. At least none of them had bad intentions; one even left a note of thanks stuck to the refrigerator door. Compared to other places on earth, where a child can step on a mine on his way to school and lose two legs, the United States is safe as a convent, but the culture is addicted to violence. Proof of that is to be found in its sports, its games, its art, and, certainly not least, its films, which are bloodcurdling. North Americans don’t want violence in their lives, but they need to experience it indirectly. They are enchanted by war, as long as it’s not on their turf.” (pp.188-189)

Ref: Isabel Allende (2003) My Invented Country: A Memoir. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. Flamingo: London

The Victorian Gothic – Briefel


I give up – I’m making a separate category for the Gothic, even if it will take me some time to sort out any that I already posted (probably in ‘Other genres’)… anyway, ‘Defining the Victorian Gothic’, Aviva Briefel writes:

“Like its characters, the Victorian gothic is haunted by the past: in this case, by the period between 1764 and 1820, in which the gothic genre first established itself in the British literary scene. This period begins with the publication of Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), whose popularity inspired a pervasive literary trend, featuring Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and The Italian (1797), Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, published posthumously in 1818, frequently appears on this canonical list for its parodic appropriation of gothic conventions. The scholarly story goes that following [-p.509] the publication of Maturin’s novel, the gothic ceased to be a cohesive genre and its conventions were dispersed among a range of literary contexts [Briefel goes on to cite examples].” (pp.508-509)

“Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was one of the first Victorian authors who revived the gothic as a discrete genre in his novel Uncle Silas (1864) and his collection of supernatural tales In a Glass Darkly (1872), which includes his female vampire story “Carmilla.” The Victorian fin de siècle witnessed a fascination with the gothic that rivaled its popularity in the eighteenth century. This period was marked by the publication of such works of terror as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897), and H. G. Wells’s novels of scientific horror, including The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and The War of the Worlds (1898).

“Such evolutionary histories may end up creating their own monsters by portraying the gothic as a literary creature that slinks from one text to another. David Punter argues that there is something “parasitic” about the genre in its tendency to invade literary spaces (“Introduction” 3), while Julian Wolfreys describes it as a “spectral” form that engages in textual and cultural “hauntings” (Victorian Hauntings 7). But what exactly is this gothic creature that, like the vampire, is so good at insinuating itself in multiple periods and fictions? Defining the gothic is not an obvious enterprise; most discussions of the genre begin by acknowledging how difficult it is to classify. Eugenia DeLamotte explains that attempts at definition often result in a “shopping-list approach” (5) that dissects the genre into individual tropes: ghosts, labyrinths, hidden passages, forbidden trysts, family secrets, terrified young women, terrifying fathers, and so on. To avoid this fragmentary tendency, DeLamotte turns to Eve Sedgwick’s influential study The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1976), which sets out to identify essential formal aspects of this literary mode. Writing against the critical tendency to discuss the gothic through images of depth associated with secrecy and psychology, Sedgwick argues that the genre operates through a spatial model based on surfaces, in which the self is “massively blocked off from something to which it ought normally to have access” (12). DeLamotte extends this definition to a feminist context, arguing that the gothic is concerned with the “boundaries of the self ” (14), especially the female self. Later critics introduce temporally based models to these spatial ones: for Robert Mighall, the gothic “testifies to a concern with the historical past, and adopts a number of [-p.510] rhetorical and textual strategies to locate the past and represent its perceived iniquities, terrors, and survivals” (xiv), while for Patrick O’Malley, it entails the “thematic or discursive eruption of a traumatic past into the present, distorted into a suggestion of the supernatural” (12). Another major critical strain is to conceive of the gothic as an ideological enterprise.” (pp.509-510)

While inheriting the eighteenth-century gothic legacy, the Victorians manufactured their own horrors. One major departure is that the types of fears described in Victorian narratives are less containable than earlier ones. Whereas gothic events and characters in eighteenth-century novels were by and large confined to desolate places (an Italian castle, a Spanish monastery),Victorian horrors appear in “the world inhabited by the reader” (Mighall 78). Horror might emerge on London’s urban streets, as in Reynolds’s The Mysteries of London (1846) and in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hydeor at the heart of the domestic sphere, as in Wuthering Heights and DraculaWhat is more, these Victorian fears cannot easily be laid to rest. Anticipating the modern horror film, the monster is never truly conquered (even when it seems to be), and order cannot be restored fully.” (p.510)

“Finally, the Victorian gothic demonstrates a form of parasitism that is crucial to its resilience. In his preface to the anthology Victorian Gothic (2000),Wolfreys writes that “having been dismembered” after the first gothic wave, the genre is no longer a “single, identifiable corpus . . . it returns through various apparitions and manifestations, seemingly everywhere” (xiii, xv). The Victorian gothic emerges in – and, in turn, draws from – a range of literary and visual media, including poetry, decadent narratives, children’s fiction, and photography.” (p.510)

The creation of a menagerie of monsters is another major innovation of the Victorian literature of fear. Whereas the eighteenth-century gothic was populated by human or spectral terrors, its nineteenth-century counterpart – heralded by Frankenstein’s creature – isolates monsters as the locus of horror. These take on multiple forms: vampires, sinister doubles, men whose [-p.511] souls are rotting but who are beautiful in appearance, repulsive animal/human hybrids, to name only a few. According to Judith Halberstam, this nineteenth-century fascination with monsters “marks a peculiarly modern emphasis upon the horror of particular kinds of bodies” (3). Monsters are most prolific at the end of the nineteenth century, when they come to embody fears (and, in some cases, desires) specific to this tumultuous period: Darwinism, imperialism, degeneration, non-normative sexualities, and the rise of the New Woman. These creatures may reflect fin-de-siècle conflicts associated with racial, biological, or gendered identities in their blurring of the line between the human and the nonhuman.” (pp.510-511)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) Aviva Briefel (2007) The Victorian Literature of Fear. Literature Compass 4(2), pp.508-523

Abstract: “This article examines the prolific field of literary criticism on the Victorian gothic. It begins by offering a brief history of the genre and by delineating differences between its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century manifestations. The article then isolates major critical discussions on the important triad of anxiety, monstrosity, and identity, focusing primarily on the last fifteen years. Among the most promising developments are recent interventions from queer theory, postcolonial studies, and economic theory. The final part of the article offers suggestions for future research, calling for a balance between a particularizing and expansive approach to the gothic.” (p.508)

why fall in love NOW?


I really quite enjoyed this discussion… Quoting Joseph Natoli (from his editorial to The Journal of Popular Culture, 43(4)):

Edward has been seventeen for a hundred years: why fall in love now at this moment with Bella? How many years in high school is that? But Bella is the one he’s now willing to break all the family vampire rules for. Has no one so remarkable—and I think she is remarkable only because of the camera’s steady marking of her—crossed his path before? But Bella is Now and not Then. She is the present moment and not any moment in the past. And I know, just as I know it is axiomatic for capitalism to suck all the blood it can, that Twilight’s audience is an audience of Now, of the moment. All of history is dead in this movie, and unlike the vampire it isn’t revived. No one in the audience cares about or even thinks about what Edward might have been doing during his hundred years in high school. For them—and I see the colorful dial faces of cell phones lighting up all around me in the theater as the Twitter Moment trumps the moment of the film—there is only the moment Now. Everyone in the audience is Bella, and Bella is Now because they are Now, in the present only, in an isolated, frozen pulse beat of Now, which is so cleverly realized by the newest digital software, Twitter. In the Twitter Moment there is no historical curiosity; you living now are privileged.” (p. 675)

“We are of the Twitter Moment Now. But I yet recall our poststructural chain of signification upon which a notion of difference was built, namely, that what anything meant in the present moment depended on a trace, a difference that was retained in the present from what went before and was deferred until a trace of what came after was disclosed. Interminably. All such traces could never be fulfilled in the present moment now, and so meaning was endlessly postponed, deferred. The Twitter Moment depends neither on differences revealed with the past nor on deferments to the future because the Twitter Moment makes no allowances for the past nor has it any room for the past. The past, history does not matter. Neither does the immediacy, the fullness, and independence of the Twitter Moment defer to what may come, to any future possibility.

Bella’s desire to endure unchanging as Edward is unchanging, to live in an eternal present where past events and meanings have no effect and the future is not to be feared because it will not change you, is, I suggest, a rather perfect imaging of the Twitter Moment in which not only the Millennials but an increasing number of us in this first decade of the twenty-first century now live. The endless chain of signification where the present moment is not allowed to reveal itself fully without traces of past and future, without memory and expectation, has been replaced by the Twitter Moment where the Now can stand forth totally disconnected from past and future. The Twitter Moment can disclose the fullness of the present. All that is needed is the proper technology and the freedom to choose. What is chosen? You choose to make time yours; you choose to stop time at your will and live eternally in the moment of your choice. I begin to see that this is as an enchantment not merely of a teen but of a culture.

Bella wants to place herself where Edward is, a frozen moment where time does not matter and the moment can be seized in a selfcontained totality. The vampire has brought time to a standstill; there is no progressing or elapsing of time to the moment of death. Nor does tomorrow or the day after or the years after that alter the eternal present in which the vampire lives. You can, if you live in the Twitter Moment, ignore without consequence what has come before your latest tweet.” (p. 676)

“The vampire does not live in history but only in the present. This is where Bella wants to be, and I suggest it’s where the entranced audience wants to be. They want to stop time; they want to stop the interpretation of history and the consideration of where our values and meanings will lead us in the future.” (p. 677)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Joseph Natoli ‘Guest Editorial: The Twittering of Twilight‘ The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 43, Issue 4, pages 671–680, August 2010

love and vampires in a time of war


Reading some of the criticism of vampire fiction and came across this editorial by Joseph Natoli, which connects Twilight, the allure of vampirism, Twitter, the presence of history, etc. etc. … really quite interesting… anyway a couple of points Natoli makes include:

Some believe love conquers all but at the same time live in a world where love has been commodified, branded, and turned to profit. The compassionate heart has had its blood drained; witness the compassion of the George W. Bush years.

What time is it? It’s a time of war, dying, torture, maiming, ethnic, cultural, and religious hate. We Americans have been vampires to the world though it is refreshing to think that we are the good vampires enjoying a game of superhero baseball with the Fam, that we are not the marauding bad gypsies all jacked up on human blood and anxious for their next market. I mean fix. Opening a new market is not at all like opening a new vein. What did Hugo Chavez (Hugo who?) say when he nationalized his oil industry? Americans would no longer suck the blood of his people?

Losers get their blood sucked. Winners do the sucking. Bella wants to be a vampire; love will take her there. We sit in the dark theater and envy her. The guys want to be like Edward; the ladies want to be like Bella. Suffer death and move through to resurrection where Heaven is a life apart with your Fam and your kind, your own private vampire world. What ownership! What lovely apartness! Did I confuse Edward’s Fam with plutocrats? With the Have Mores who feast without ostentation or privileged entitlement? Edward’s family lives apart in the forest in what appears to be a very luxurious compound. They are isolated from the public throng, alone and unmolested in their private space. It’s rather like the private, gated space we all aspire to, but right now, at this moment on the American scene, it’s where the corporate looters retreat to, a sort of robber’s roost, waiting for either an indictment or a bailout.

A good portrait of American family life in 2009?” (p. 674)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Joseph Natoli ‘Guest Editorial: The Twittering of Twilight‘ The Journal of Popular Culture Volume 43, Issue 4, pages 671–680, August 2010 []

creating a commercial and cultural market for fantasy: the Inklings


Deszcz-Tryhubczak‘s review of Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper by Charles Butler makes a few points that interest me. (It sounds like a good read, even though this review echoes a certain grumpy dissatisfaction):

“…of special importance is, as Butler rightly stresses, the Inklings’ “indirect influence . . . in creating a commercial and cultural market for fantasy” (16) and in shaping the reception of this genre. Butler’s detailed analysis of the intricacies of this legacy will fascinate readers who are interested in the historical development of fantasy. The undeniable merit of Butler’s readings is that although most of the anecdotal facts from the Inklings’ activity that he presents are well known, they acquire a fresh dimension when filtered through the perspective of the younger writers [Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper].” (p.173)

“In the second chapter of his study, “Applied Archaeology,” Butler attempts discussing the oeuvres of the four authors in terms of historical, mythical, and personal aspects of time as testifying to their awareness of living “in a land where consciousness of the deep past is in constant interplay with change and contemporaneity” (32). As Butler cogently argues, this double nature of Britain may be seen by British fantasy authors in general as either a benefit—they can draw from the rich historical and mythological heritage—or as a burden for [-p.174] creative imagination forced to rely too much on tradition. With reference to geology, archaeology, paleontology, and landscape history as sciences offering his writers paradigms for the understanding of time and historical change, Butler discusses recurring issues in their texts such as the workings of memory, the conflicting drives to leave the past behind and to preserve it, the analogy between the notion of palimpsest and archaeology, or the disparities between the ever-present mythical time and the linear transitory nature of things.” (pp.173-174)

“…the focus of chapter 3, “Longing and Belonging,” shifts to the four authors’ representations of Britishness in its geographical and social senses: cultural, racial, religious, and gender relations; representations of the self; racial intolerance; distortions of natural and cultural landscapes caused by tourism; and the legitimacy of attempts to represent foreign other cultures. Of particular interest are Butler’s ecocritical readings exposing the authors’ preoccupation both with general environmental issues and with specific changes in British landscapes, a practice still uncommon in criticism of children’s literature. The reader could only wish that Butler had dedicated more space to Diana Wynne Jones’s use of urban fantasy, an important convention in contemporary fantasy.” (p.174)

Ref: Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak (2007) Review: Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. By Charles Butler. Lanham, Maryland: Children’s Literature Association, 2006. 311 pp. Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies 21(1), pp.172-175