Andrew Michael Hurley’s Starve Acre

Starve Acre, Andrew Michael Hurley’s third novel, presents a sort of postmodern fairy tale; a dark and sterile fable that speaks not to wisdom and truth but to the unknowable power of inhuman forces. Whilst the story is structured exquisitely this only serves to foreground the genuinely unnerving horror that it is witness to, a horror that could be seen as supernatural but which resists any comfortable classification.

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Phil Smith: Enchanted Things – Signposts to a New Nomadism

Phil Smith’s Enchanted Things is a fascinating illustrated pamphlet that signposts a number of different ways in which we might engage with, or orient ourselves within, the landscape. And the landscape here is interpreted in the widest possible sense. This is neither a pastoral paeon nor an urban dérive, although it dips toes in both ends of the spectrum.

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Joker: A Trickster for our Times

It is apt that Joaquin Phoenix’s titular performance in Joker has sparked such an incredible amount of discord amongst reviewers and audiences, as the character is simply an avatar of the trickster figures who appear throughout various mythologies all over the world. Like Loki who always turns up at a party simply to get people arguing with each other, Phoenix’s Joker has popped up precisely on a particular faultline in society and his role is to keep that faultline open like a running sore. On the one hand, Joker is an incitement to incel gun rage, irresponsibly sympathising with entitled man-babies; on the other, it is a grim portrayal of the downtrodden outsider, the worm that turns. Dirty Harry or Raskolnikov?

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Pessimism for the Present: Robert Harris’ The Second Sleep

On the occasion of the publication of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, Slavoj Zizek recently wrote an article discussing the anticipated popularity of the book and the popularity of its predecessor, The Handmaid’s Tale. For Zizek, the explanation for our fascination with the world of Gilead lies in a mixture of psychoanalysis and theology. In short, we take pleasure in witnessing the oppression of the women in Gilead much as the blessed souls in heaven take pleasure in witnessing the torments of the poor souls in hell. Zizek identifies this pleasure-in-pain as Lacan’s jouissance, a type of pleasure that can only exist through its explicit disavowal. The sight of the pain of others is necessary to reassure ourselves that our own situation is not so bad after all, but we can never admit that our pleasure derives from such selfish motivations. Instead, we map the source of our pleasure onto our present situation alone and tell ourselves that our interest in others’ suffering is motivated by pure empathy, never by enjoyment of the spectacle.

Zizek sees Atwood’s creation as a form of pure ideology because it encourages us to focus on the antagonisms in Gilead (easily and clearly delineated) in contrast to the obscure and ideologically occluded antagonisms of our present. The problem with Gilead is so obviously its descent into a Christian fundamentalist patriarchy, that the sharp contrast with our present day liberal, consumerist individualism allows the latter to appear unproblematically and definitively as the superior system. Zizek is charging Atwood with failing to challenge the contradictions within the present order that might lead to a Gilead, or that have in fact led to Trump. He cites Frederic Jameson in calling this a “nostalgia for the present.” Continue reading “Pessimism for the Present: Robert Harris’ The Second Sleep”

The Queen is Undead: Hauntology and the 1980s

The following short essay is taken from the now defunct Virtual Spectres website, a short-lived and obscure online resource dealing with the subject of hauntology and other items of kindred interest. The author of this essay is unknown but it was posted in the summer of 2016, hence the apparent anachronisms. It is a good example of the style of writing favoured by Virtual Spectres as it is somewhat lyrical and perhaps overly personal.

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In the summer of 1986 when The Smiths released their immortal album The Queen is Dead there was a definite sense that the political narrative had got stuck. The immediate object of the title track’s wrath, Queen Elizabeth II, had already been the target for the Sex Pistols’ anti-Jubilee provocations in 1977 so The Smiths’ assault had an almost retro feel, although the concept of retro had very little currency then. The symbol of the female monarch had, by 1986, been somewhat usurped by Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for seven years and there was frequent talk of a one-party state. Somehow or other, it felt as though Thatcher was the one who was going to be around forever; she, rather than Elizabeth, was the one who seemed to occupy the undying role; she was the one who had the character of an undead vampire sucking the lifeblood from the state.

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David Lynch: My Head Is Disconnected

My Head Is Disconnected, currently running at HOME Manchester, is the first major exhibition of David Lynch’s art to be held in the UK. So, for anyone enchanted by his unique films who is able to get to Manchester, it will make for an intriguing and essential experience.

The curators have chosen to display the 60 or so works in four themed rooms: City on Fire, Nothing Here, Industrial Empire and Bedtime Stories. In truth, the obsessive repetition of troubling imagery means that all of the works here are surprisingly interconnected so that the idea of separating them into themed sections can seem a little redundant. Having said that, the works are displayed sympathetically and the gallery space itself seems ideally suited to these pictures.

There are two concerns I had with this exhibition, one of which only became apparent to me as I started to view the pictures. The first was that this is an exhibition of art by David Lynch the filmmaker. I imagine that I’m like most people who were excited by this show because I’m a big fan of Lynch’s films but know very little about his fine art. To what extent would the works on show here be interesting but underwhelming addenda to the films? My second concern emerged soon after I had started looking at the pictures. Most of the works here are mixtures of image and word and I tend to dislike art works that are too embellished with text, feeling that the image should be compelled to speak in its own language. Happily, both of these concerns disappeared as soon as I became immersed in this strange universe.

 

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Midsommar and Temporality

One strand running through Midsommar concerns the use and understanding of temporality. Midsommar is already, even for those who have yet to see it, a film situated in a historical context thanks to its acknowledgement of The Wicker Man as a cinematic and spiritual forebear. It is consciously locating itself in a folk horror lineage and so it must look back to films like The Wicker Man even as it situates itself firmly within the context of 2019. But the engagement with temporality runs deeper than simply updating a film from 1973.

The title of the film, Midsommar, is itself an explicit reference to a particular point in time, the point in the cycle of the year at which the majority of the film takes place. Midsummer is not just one other day out of 365 others (at least not for the Swedish cultists), it is a significant and special point in the ritual calendar. But before the action concerning the Swedish cult gets going there is an opening sequence set in America in deep winter. In fact, the opening shot of the film is of a painting that depicts the upcoming plot running through from midwinter to midsummer. The polarity between the two points is emphasized by the dark, death-like, nocturnal images of winter on the left contrasting with the bright, diurnal images on the right. So, the time in which the film’s main narrative plays out, midsummer, is set up as a counterpoint to the dark backstory from which Dani is attempting to flee. And it should be remembered that the brightest light casts the darkest shadow.midsommar Continue reading “Midsommar and Temporality”