Why I Love Linking

The love this week is for academic conferences, but it’s not from me; it’s from Devoney Looser over at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Go read!

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Why I Profoundly Esteem My HDR Students

A very quick post this week, to let you know about a longer one: this post, full of reflection, humour and practical tips for surviving a PhD without a scholarship, by my very excellent HDR student lunalovebooks. I am particularly impressed by her commitment to a bedtime. A diarized bedtime. That’s some full-on time management.

(Her supervisor sounds pretty great too, eh.)

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Why I Love Loving Things

There is a lot of love around here lately, I know! This is partly because Roland Barthes (who, guess what, I love) wrote an essay called Why I Love Emile Benveniste (and another called One Always Fails In Speaking Of What One Loves), so I have always had a soft spot for the ‘Why I Love’ title.

It’s also partly because I just got funding from the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong for a pilot research project called Amateur Knowledges, together with my amazing colleagues Leigh Dale and Louise D’Arcens. The idea is to  investigate the relationship between scholarly/professionalized and non-scholarly/affective responses to texts, and to pasts. It revisits some of the work that I last did in relation to the Desiring the Text conference; as part of the project I’m going to be relaunching the Society of the Friends of the Text website to foster dialogue between scholars, fans, and other amateur readers (bookbloggers, Goodreaders, etc).

So this book, you can imagine (Lynch’s Loving Literature: A Cultural History), just went to the top of my to-read pile. Also, if you are interested in this kind of thing, two very cool books to read are:

Charles Altieri’s The Particulars of Rapture, which is about ‘an aesthetic of the affects’. His argument is that part of what we find valuable in reading is the opportunity to try out a different set of affective responses from our own, and he writes about how books, poems, and pictures make it possible for us to inhabit another position. We are, almost literally, ‘moved’ by works of art, and ‘that being-moved positions [our] consciousness to make certain kinds of observations and investments’ (26). Then, he asks,

What states, roles, identifications, and social bonds become possible by virtue of our efforts to dwell fully within these dispositions of energies and the modes of self-reflection they sustain? … How are we changed by what we feel, and by our adapting different ways of engaging what we feel? (5)

and also Lynne Pearce’s criminally underread Feminism and the Politics of Reading (Amazon link, sorry) which uses Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse to talk about the ways we read, in all kinds of ways, including this one, which really reminds me of the relationship fans have with ongoing canon (walking the painful line between anticipation/unticipation as we wait to see whether our show has jumped the shark this season/this episode…):

[Reading] is, indeed (as it is for Barthes’s lover), a frankly desperate scenario, in which the reader must wait to discover not only if his or her love/desire is reciprocated, but also if her huge emotional investment in the other [the text] (based on such sudden, first impressions!) is to be proved worthy. As many texts fail in this expectation as do lovers… (133)

So over the next while, expect to see a few more accounts of loving texts, and also loving readings (it’s occurred to me that one of the reasons I’m a reception theorist is that I really like hearing about other people’s readings of texts, even – or especially – when they don’t mesh with my own).

Next up: Why I Love Jenny Colgan.

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Why I Love Bella Swan, Part 3: Why I Love Bella Swan

The Twilight saga tells the story of Bella Swan, a highly competent and intelligent teenage girl, who moves to a small town in Illinois when her mother remarries. Like all the best young heroes, and like many competent and intelligent teenage girls, she has a fierce and irreducible feeling that she is somehow out of place or out of time in the world around her. This is registered in two ways in the saga: firstly, her clumsiness and physical awkwardness, a sort of negative superpower which puts her literally out of sync with her material environment, and secondly, her lack of fit with the girl culture of her peers.

She is not interested in clothes or shopping, hates the idea of going to prom, hates the idea of weddings and marriages. She feels the wrong things for the wrong people. She is fierce, passionate, driven: she feels too much, too intensely; the intensity of her feelings scares the people around her, and it drives her to express those feelings in physically risky ways, as when she learns to ride a motorbike or jumps off a cliff into the sea.

She is, in other words, fucking awesome.

Continue reading

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Why I Love Bella Swan, Part 2: Anti-girl antifandom

Part one is here.

In this post, I’m going to talk about Twilight antifandom, and the ways in which a particular discourse about the books is complicit with deep-rooted misogynist aspects of our culture. In the third and last post in this series, I’m going to finish up by telling you how I read the books, what I think is valuable about them, and why I would like to see that reading more widely shared.

Twilight is a series of novels by women, about women, for women.* The first film adaptation had (prior to the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey), the highest-grossing opening weekend by a female director. Stephenie Meyer, the author of the books, went on to produce a film called Austenland, based on a novel by another female author, directed by a woman, and with women-only advance screenings and premieres. In 2014, Meyer launched a competition, in partnership with Women in Film, to help five aspiring female filmmakers to make short films based on the Twilight Saga together with an all-female panel of mentors including Meyer, Catherine Hardwicke (the director of Twilight), the actors Kristen Stewart, Kate Winslet and Octavia Spencer, Jennifer Lee (the writer and co-director of Frozen) and Cathy Schulman, the president of Women in Film.

So why isn’t Twilight already being generally celebrated as a massive win for women?

Continue reading

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Why I Love Bella Swan, part 1: Feminist Reading

This is a tidied-up version of a talk I gave to UOW’s Feminist Society’s Free School in October, with bonus content like:

  • full sentences
  • proper references
  • Chicks on Speed videos

It was an hour-long talk, which comes in at around 5000 words, so I’m going to split it into a few parts. This first part sets up some of the political-theoretical background to my reading of Twilight – and specifically Bella Swan – with some ideas about how feminism works and how reading works. It’s also the part with the embedded Chicks on Speed video.

Continue reading

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words are my sails

A serendipitous juxtaposition on my Twitter feed yesterday: an essay in the New Statesman called ‘No-one was “gay” in the eighteenth century’*: why we must not rewrite history with today’s terms’ and an announcement from punctum about the publication of this book:


The New Statesman essay is not arguing that no-one was same-sex-attracted in the eighteenth century, but that we should not use contemporary terms to describe same-sex-attracted people from the past. It argues that sexual identities are historically contingent and change over time, and that we should be sensitive to this. This is, of course, true – to be a prostitute in the eighteenth century means something different from being a sex worker today – but it’s every bit as true of mainstream, non-marginalized identities. To be married means something very different in Jane Eyre (Reader, I married him) than it does in Twilight. To be a woman means something very different in fifth-century Athens or first-century Rome than it does today.

The philologist George Steiner wrote in After Babel that

when we read or hear any language-statement from the past… we translate. Reader, actor, editor are translators out of time… [and] the time-barrier may be more intractable than that of linguistic difference. Any bilingual translator is acquainted with the phenomenon of ‘false friends’ – homonyms such as French habit and English habit which on occasion might, but almost never do, have the same meaning, or mutually untranslatable cognates like English homeand German Heim. The ‘translator within’ has to cope with subtler treasons. Words rarely show any outward mark of altered meaning. (p.28)

Words like ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘married’, are just this kind of false friend, subtly betraying us into anachronism. As we read these words in past texts, we translate them into their contemporary English homonyms ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘married': we ‘rewrite history in today’s terms’. We read anachronistically, and this anachronism, this translation across time, creates affective, emotional, and intellectual bridges into the past for us: it opens up ways for us to find ourselves in history, to imagine (ourselves into) other worlds.

Calling same-sex-attracted people from the past ‘gay’ is also an act of translation – it translates a gendered/sexual/socially constructed identity term from one “language” or cultural/historical system into another language. It’s a more visible act of translation, though, because the terms being translated are not homonyms. Like all translations, it is inexact, but indispensible for the making of connections, and for opening up access to texts.

In Convolute N of The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin develops an image of the historian as the counterpart of the Angel of History from ‘On The Concept of History’. The Angel of History has the wind of progress caught in his wings, and although he wants to go back into the past and rescue it, he is blown back, ceaselessly, helplessly, into the future. The materialist historian is sailing a boat; where the angel cannot move his wings, the historian can set his sails and thus navigate the winds of world history.

What matters for the dialectician is to have the wind of world history in his sails. Thinking for him means: setting the sails. What is important is how they are set. Words are his sails. The way they are set makes them into concepts. (p.473)

Words are his sails. Words – like gay – are the way we navigate historical difference, the way we access the past through acts of translation, which are also (for Benjamin, and for me) acts of rescue.

When we argue that ‘no-one was gay in the eighteenth century’, we are making hypervisible the acts of temporal translation which underlie all readings of past text – but only for identities which are marginalized in the present day. Meanwhile, identical acts of translation of/for privileged/mainstream identities – men, women, married – remain invisible, unremarked, unrebuked.

That’s bad history.

*Isn’t that title gross? It sums up the article – completely misleadingly – in such a way as to make it appear complicit with the most conservative and homophobic strands of contemporary thought: a world without gayness is possible and we lived in such a world until very recently.

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