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December 21, 2005

things i'm reading and writing

Posted by dogpossum on December 21, 2005 12:02 PM in the category books

When I was at school I had an English teacher who kept me from year 10 to year 12. I say kept deliberately, because he wouldn't let other teachers have me. I had mixed feelings about this at the time. Sure, it was nice to be wanted, but at the same time it would have been nice to have a teacher who actually taught me things, rather than just introducing me to book after book, poet after poet, author after author, play after play. I mean, don't get me wrong, I dug the whole thing after thing thing, but still. It would have bee nice to learn about, say grammar.

At any rate, that teacher introduced me to Bolt's Man for all Seasons, where I had to read Moore every class, just so's he could read Henry VIII (he actually made a very good Henry). It was difficult, because the other kids had long since cottoned on to the fact that there was favouritism at work. It was also difficult because they'd stopped streaming our classes after year 9, which, while an admirable demonstration of integration or equity or something, was actually quite crap if you were book-girl at a really rough school where most people in my class were actually the first in their family to do more than year 10 at high school (this was 1991, btw).
So I liked the advantages of being favoured sometimes, but not really all the time or even mostly.

However, I did come out of that with a passion for some types of books and some types of plays and some types of authors. I loved Man for all Seasons, in part because it introduced me to the concept of hair shirts and martyrdom (and, conversely, gross indulgence. Do I need to mention which I favour(ed)?).
I also developed a fierce passion for Shakespeare. This time I was Lady M, of the hand washing. I loved the idea of the wood coming to Dunsinane. Of the unconscious mind's struggle with guilt. Of a playwrite slightly misjudging his audience and distressing a king with so much blood and witchcraft.

I can only remember two parts of two poems from school -

I wondered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I spied a crowd
A host of golden daffodils.
Beside the lake,
Beneath the tree,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine...

(Wordsworth's Daffodils or possibly I wondered Lonely as a cloud with hand gestures, from primary school).

and (much more excitingly),

Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes; Nothing of him that does fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong, Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

(Shakespeare, a poem from The Tempest).

I fell in love with this bit of poetry instantly. I was flipping through a reader in class (which, I should note, we weren't allowed to take home because they never came back, and our school was too poor to buy more. Even more crappy, 60s versions readers), and came across this bit.
It prompted an instant fascination for Shakespeare, and then (quite by accident), a fascination for Peter Greenaway, after seeing Prospero's Books, just to see/hear this poem.
I can't remember if the poem was actually in the film.

I was thinking of this poem this morning when I got up.

Shakespeare, I remember, is easy to memorise. Which helped, as I had to do a fair few performances of sections of his plays in English at school, and later Speech and Drama.

I'm not a literature studies person now, despite a major in 'English' in my BA which saw me suffer through a 'modernism' subject, to which I owe everlasting images of young men wrestling by the fireside and a disappointment in Virginia Woolf, who turned out to be more interesting than her books*. Or so you'd think from an experience in that subject.
In that major I also found myself enjoying 'American Literature c', the third in a series of subjects on the topic, and which i relished, particularly the bits on Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo and Truman Capote.
It was also where I discovered a great intolerance for Beat writers, particularly as I had just done a subject on women's fiction of the era, a course which included Ann Petry's The Street and contributed to my distrust of Jack Kerouac.

If it hadn't been for an inspiring tutor and a sudden introduction to 'screen studies' (that's what we called anything to do with telly and cinema, and - most recently - computers way back there in the early 90s), I might have muddled on through my Honours year with some book-related thesis, or perhaps something to do with Studies in Religion. Studies in Religion was my undergraduate passion - fuelled by an excellent Old Testament studies lecturer, a fascination with Old Testament stories, a series of enthralling subject on women in world religions and new religious movements, and a sudden realisation that the stuff I'd been learning about in English on active readership, canons and institutional uses of literature and story were the perfect complement to Studies in Religion.

As it was, I ended up writing about women, their violence and the State in action films, and American remakes of French films (La Femme Nikita and The Assassin, and The Long Kiss Goodnight). And did very well with it, thankyou.

So now, I read almost only science fiction and fantasy, children's and adults. I was into crime novels for a while, but I found the violence distressing and disturbingly voyeuristic - I found no pleasure in reading, in careful detail, about other people's suffering and humiliation.
But, I've been reading Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell for the past week (it got me through that week of illness admirably... though it's a bit big for a weak invalid to hold up). I saw it on a friend's bookshelf, and - prompted by a series of articles on Crooked Timber - borrowed it.
I love it.
It reminds me of Jane Austen (of course) - another person I was introduced to, at an impressionable age, by that English teacher**. I know that's kind of the point, but I like it. I also like all the footnotes, and I'm suspecting (half way through) that that's where the real story is. I also like the long, rambling narrative, and the way it wanders off to Spain and rural England, rather than staying on the topic.

On the other side of the ... page? I'm also reading de Certeau's Practice of Everyday Life in its entirety. It's dreadfully dull. Well, chapter one is. Chapter two is looking better. Why is it that these doods are so much more interesting when read in the interpretations of other, more accessible writers? But I'm battling on, because I think it'll be useful to start off the thesis using de Certeau to talk about Afro-American vernacular dance and poaching and then to discuss contemporary swing dancers in terms of Henry Jenkins, poaching, and his reading of fans as textual poachers via de Certeau and his stuff on tactics of resistance.

All this and I'm still trying to get done with that redrafting of the thesis. I've been ill all last week, and this week I'm only just out of bed, but my ears are really bad, so I'm getting tired very easily.
Christmas looks good, right?
No, I'm sure it will be nice. I just need to go SLOW so I don't wreck myself!

*drowning yourself by filling your pockets with pebbles. Is there a theme here...?
**along with the Brontes, who I then followed up at uni, reading everything I could find.

Posted by dogpossum on December 21, 2005 12:02 PM in the category books