On Utopia and the loss of our privacy

I really can’t apologise enough on my appalling dedication to my blog recently. The usual justifications of job, exams, essays and just too much core reading has really eaten away at my time and I know they are not acceptable but I am truly sorry. Despite not posting anything I have been making notes on pieces of literature that I have studied that I have found particularly engaging and interesting so hopefully I will have quite a few posts to upload over the next couple of weeks – although, yes, I am sorry, I still have two essays and two presentations looming on the horizon, before March is out I should be liberated from work for a while.

In a Utopian world I would have all the time I could possibly desire to keep my blog updated and interesting, but sadly contemporary England is far from the case. Similarly the England Thomas More lived through with Henry VIII and his multitude of women is far from the Utopian one he has imagined in his pioneering book Utopia. 

What really took me back when I read this novel (if it can be classified as a novel I am not entirely sure; it seems to be a hybrid of the essay format that was popular in Fifteenth Century Europe and extended prose) was how distinctly modern More’s ideas are. Living in a post-Marxist and post-Communist world it is difficult to separate from our current mindset. Plans to educate women as well as men, the introduction of limited work time and leisure time to encourage the creation of moral citizens. The rotation of labour to ensure that nobody is left having to tend the fields their whole life while others sit and glory at their unjustly inherited wealth.

I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on inequality and poverty because although Utopia does raise substantial questions and problems on this topic I feel that it is not that interesting. Moreover it is also a subject that is so current and seems to underpin human nature that dwelling on it is only likely to inspire us to want to change the world, and then upon realising that this is unlikely to happen, to become depressed, demoralised and hate all of humanity.

Social media constitutes our private and public selves

Our private and public selves are constructed by social media

However, I would like to offer a comment on the treatment of gender in this fictional society. More has created a world in which gender is fairly imaginary and only recognised for practicality. For example, men and women are ordered to appear naked to each other before they consent to marriage to ensure that they are both satisfactorily pleased with their partner. Although this seems highly obtrusive to our modern ideas of physical privacy, in contemporary England this would have been practical. I guess it is comparable to the use of social media in our lives today, the role that instagram and tumblr play in keeping the world aware of their everyday activities act in a similar way to the penetrative communal society More has imagined. Not through the mediums that More would have predicted, but modern day society is effectively and rapidly reducing the scope of our inner lives by making it easier for us to display everything about ourselves. What is more, it is making it an inherent and compulsive element of our lives – if we don’t upload the latest photos from last nights dinner then the world will somehow cataclysmically implode from the lack of photos on instagram with the hashtag #food.

More’s penetrative society is entirely public, the separate spheres theory is rendered useless in Utopia because there is no sense of the domestic. Men and women are on display for their entire lives and they have no choice but to conform. The performative nature of our society is removed in More’s which is essentially what makes it equal and deserving of the name Utopian. Benjamin Richardson in 1876 claimed that “Utopia is nothing but another word for time,” perhaps at some point in the development of the world we will reach the stage in the fictional Utopia where everything is public that it no longer ceases to be public and the notion of public itself disappears. With the removal of the public is also the removal of the private, and perhaps this is the path we are already headed down…

On Racing Minds and their ingenuity

“Put an effigy of the Queen in a cup of tea and make him queue for it” was just one of the brilliantly created and deployed lines of the evening, this one referring to what it means to be British.

Racing Minds was a show split into two, the first act was titled ‘And now for something completely improvised’ building off of the incredibly influential Monty Python group. Here the group create a play as the hour goes on based around the key themes that were picked by the audience on the night. No two shows are ever the same.

Daniel Roberts dressed as a Butler proceeded to ask the audience for a name, place and title for today’s play – after being singled out I managed to come up with the top of the Eiffel Tower as the setting ; pleased, the Butler rewarded me with a worthers.

Watch this space.

Watch this space.

The quartet then began the show: each of them trying to out-wit the other, whilst ensuring that there was a rough continuum and enough scope to continue through to the end, but jam-packed with laughs both on set and from the audience.  The play progressed with many ingenious one-liners, stitch ups and altogether exceptional acting. “He was a murderous Rector. The Die-rector.”

After a brief interval, the quartet appeared refreshed, accompanied by two guest actors from the Maydays, Rebecca and Heather. The seven, including the very talented pianist who never missed a queue, performed a more casual set of improvisation; firstly based around the word ‘armadillo’ and then secondly ’bespoke’.

Racing Minds are brimming with talent ensuring each show is a guaranteed success and thrilling to watch. I cannot recommend them enough, they were truly one of the most exciting, enthusiastic group of actors to watch live – you really could see their brains ticking over how they would get out of difficult situations. Truly spectacular.

All I can say is that I am sure we have not heard the last of these guys.

 

On sensibility in The Man of Feeling

I read Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling a few weeks ago now and I really have been unable to stop thinking about it, moreover I am struggling to work out why that is the case. There were differences in the form with it being a manuscript and with their being large sections of the text missing; being written in the 18th Century there were large differences in the language. But I have read similar books before and this one really stood out.

The novel has a slightly confusing synopsis, so I apologise if I get confused here. The manuscript is found in a cottage that used to belong to Harley, The Man of Feeling, and has been used as gun wadding, hence why there are large sections of the text missing and it seems completely fragmented the entire way through. It is then compiled by an unnamed character and published. The text itself has been narrated by a third person, someone who seemed to have appreciated Harley and his moral perspective on life and documented it. The chapters are individually episodes in Harley’s life as he travels from Scotland to London in search of a better financial situation, but ultimately returns home bankrupt.

Sir Brooke Boothby, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby

Sir Brooke Boothby, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby

What I really liked was the way that the text commented on sensibility, which was an important cultural attribute on the 1700’s. To be considered a man of sensibility or feeling was to possess refined emotions and intellect in order to use them. Crying in public was not seen as feminine or embarrassing like it is today, but a cultural aspiration of many men. Harley the protagonist cries at many moments throughout the novel as he witnesses injustices. Interestingly the Victorians, who had the binary opposite attribute of the stiff upper-lip considered this to be a comedy, and an index of tears was compiled at the back of the book for people to reference.

This was what has really troubled me when deciding what to write about this book. I am undecided whether this is idea of sensibility is good or bad, and whether it is applicable to our 21st society. I cannot imagine a man in the City of London walking past a homeless man and offering to hear his life story. Yes, granted Mackenie’s novel is a satirical critique of sensibility but it remains entirely ambiguous throughout. Yet I don’t think it would be a bad thing if people showed more emotion.

In a world that is becoming increasingly isolationist and lonely I think that perhaps what it really needs most is a reintroduction of sentimentality on a small scale.

On Strictly week one

I apologise that this is being published a bit late, but because I am without a television I am unable to watch Strictly live on Saturday and so I had to wait until the show appeared on BBC iPlayer. But, as promised, here is my account of the first week.

I have to say that I quite like the set up for this season. Having half the contestants perform on Friday evening and then the rest the night after, trying to squeeze them all into one show would be a disaster darling in mine and Craig’s opinion. Firstly there would be less time for the BBC to pad out with the introductory clips and not mention the amount of time that is needed or Brucie to make his jokes – believe me, some of them are pretty long-winded. Bruce mentioning twerking was something I had never expected in a million years and felt very uncomfortable and uncanny opposed to the laughter it was aiming at. Does Bruce even know what twerking is? Or he is simply just reading what they have written on his cue cards.

Is there anything the BBC won't let him do?

Is there anything the BBC won’t let him do?

As to the contestants and their first dances there was the expected usual array of magnificent and mediocrity. From Abbey and Aljaz being awarded 4 eights in their first dance at the top of the leader board, and unsurprisingly Tony and Aliona and Dave and Karen in joint last place with a total of 16 points – have the top score. Now the main problem I have with the show (don’t misunderstand me, I love it right down to my very pointed toes) but there seems to be no continuous scoring scheme that is used by all the judges throughout the entire course of the show. Yes Abbey danced an amazing Waltz but there is no possible way that she can only progress by a mere 2 points from each judge between now and Christmas. Moreover some of the judges seemed overly harsh with some of the contestants; Vanessa and James’ Cha-Cha was not the best dance in the world, but it perhaps should have been awarded more than 19 points considering there were many faults in Deborah’s dance. The judges need to make it clear to both the public and themselves how the scoring system works. Do they score fairly throughout the whole show, awarding rarely higher than a 5 in the first few weeks and really make those 8’s and 9’s count. Or are they going to continue to throw them out willy nilly.

It also seems completely unfair that they have celebrities on the show that do have a background in dance. Yes it is not fair to discriminate, but in this instance Natalie Gumede trained to be a professional dancer until she became injured. Yes it was made public on the show but that still goes a long way to justify why she was given 31 points in her first dance – it was a bloody brilliant one at that. Similarly I also find it hard to make a decision when the celebrity is a performer. Fiona Fullerton was an actress and was able to disguise her nerves and cover up her mistakes like a professional, her dance quality was not much better than Vanessa Feltz – but her acting gave her the grace that she needed to make it into the middle of the table. I do think that this might be the year that Anton will make it into November and won’t be voted off in the first few weeks because his partner is disliked and unable to put one foot in front of the other on live television. Perhaps all his years of struggling in silence will have paid off; he won’t be lifting the glitter ball this year, but he will have a better chance than any of the previous shows.

Are you watching Bruno? Silly question...

Are you watching Bruno? Silly question…

Of course, an episode of Strictly would not be complete without the necessary sexual innuendo, flirting, tanned chests on show, sparkles and a few testosterone egos bumping into one another. The comment of the weekend for me was Bruno as he spoke to Ben Cohen, the Rugby player, offering his services if Kristina is not able to keep up and make use of all of Ben. Yes a little cringe worthy, in fact very cringe worthy and awkward to watch, but that comes with Bruno. All of the judges have their quirks and gimmicks.

Next week also looks like it will be a promising episode. The ballroom dancers will be swapping to latin and vice versa, then we will really know who is the cream of the crop.

On Alison Bechdel’s search for her mother

After reading her first graphic tragicomic for my exam last term Fun Home I quickly made the decision that her second graphic novel would be making its appearance onto my shelf very soon. I made a good choice.

Although not as comical as her first novel, this is equally as gripping and interesting. It follows Alison’s life as she tries to explain and understand the relationship that she has with her mother. Are you my mother? is a memoir that reveals how her relationship with her mother influenced the person she is, her interests in literature, in writing and also her sexuality. It follows her journey through therapy as she investigates and tries to get to the cause of her anxiety, whilst being followed by her mother’s career. Classified as a memoir I would say that it doesn’t really seem to fit. Yes it accounts Alison and her mother’s history non-chronologically, but it also is a metabook. It narrates its own creation. The plot follows the progress and also regress of Bechdel’s struggle to complete her second novel; especially after receiving such success from the one based on her father, Fun Home.

What I particularly liked about this book was that there did not seem to be a coherent narrative. We jumped around from past to present, from mother to Alison, good times to bad: and it worked really well. It was compatible with the storyline. The search to discover who we are and why we are the way we are is a long process, it would not occur in a coherent and linear way. Progress is a not a continuous process, it speeds up, slows, plateau’s, picks up and then storms ahead; and not necessarily in that order. What I am trying to say is that within the novel there are multiple story lines interwoven and developing at different rates; with the relationship between mother and daughter at the heart of it.

Honest descriptions.

Honest descriptions.

The relationship between mother and daughter is the most interesting, complicated and inspiring of all relationships for many reasons. The daughter is interested in the mother as she is the first female that she comes into contact with, they have a bond that cannot be replicated. The mother grows and protects the daughter who will potentially do the same to her daughter. The mother has a duty to protect her daughter until she is independent. What makes this novel particularly heart-felt is that the relationship Alison had with her mother is not the usual sunshine and rainbows that you expect. Alison explores the reasons why she has always been independent, not been close to her mother and ultimately whether that influenced her sexuality. Similar to what made her first full length novel so successful is the way Bechdel takes the normal and regular and manages to make it slightly uncanny, familiar and yet simultaneously new and odd.

Bechdel is truly talented and this is a brilliant read. Graphic narratives really are the way forward, the convey both heavy messages and are also light hearted, and so appeal to many people all at once. I truly recommend this book, not as easy going and comical as the first, but just as inspiring and page turning!

On Britain’s discovery of its backbone

Britain has a history of sticking its nose into other peoples’ business. We really just can’t help ourselves. We see trouble; we decide that it is our moral obligation to help out those poor innocents, regardless of whether they would actually like our help in the first place. Jolly good show old chaps, you really have pulled one out of the bag this time, really gone the extra mile, and lady justice is pleased.

Yet it seems that perhaps we have come to our senses. We have left Syria alone. What madness is this?! We, a nation constituted of moral righteousness and vanity have decided that perhaps we are not wanted. We are not needed. Have the Commons finally accepted that we are no longer the mother of the world? We are no longer the keeper of peace?

In recent years the British public have sat back and watched as the US puppeteer us. We are no longer that Great nation that once ruled half the World. We live in shadow of the US; we bend to their every whim and fancy. Dave can often be seen making tea for Obama at the UN conferences, just to make it 100% clear which side he is on. But Britain has had enough it would seem. Despite Dave putting up a good fight in the Commons, bless him he really wanted his own Prime Minister’s war to mark him in the history books, but the people said no. He graciously admitted that “it is clear that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action” which must have really grated his non-existent backbone.

Perhaps Dave’s gallant retreat had ulterior motives. Perhaps he has realised that our best hope now lies to the East, amongst the new rising tyrants China and Russia. Has his allegiance switched or has he finally come to his senses and realised that Britain has little interest in the outside world. The majority of us have bigger fish to fry than what is happening across the deep blue. We have £9000 a year tuition fees to eventually pay for, we have an economy that is just about holding on as it gradually climbs the steep slope of recovery. We have a government that is as close to shambolic as you can possibly get and what’s more the X-factor has returned to plague our screens.

Of course I am not saying that we should ignore Syria. The destruction and devastation that is occurring within that country is truly horrific and it is a disgrace to the name of humanity (which really is saying something, because most of the time I would rather not classify myself as a human if possible). I am merely suggesting that perhaps Dave and his chums in power should perhaps grow a pair and decide that we are better off alone.

On makeover time

So my little blog has finally had its makeover. I have been meaning to get around to doing this for quite some time now, the colours and the layout of the previous theme didn’t seem to work as well as I had hoped for. It is not until your blog has been up and running for a period of time and you have had a chance to scope out other layouts that work well for other people that you really know what you want it to look like.

This one however I like very much. I think the colour scheme is much more pleasing to the eye and having the side bar down the right hand side is very handy, as opposed to scrolling down to the bottom of the blog to look for those items. Quite pretty, even if I do say so myself.

I hope you like it too! Feedback is always welcome fellow bloggers.