Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pluralism and Narrative in Contemporary American Film

Viewable on https://www.academia.edu/26567084/Pluralism_and_the_Cinematic_Narrative_in_Contemporary_American_Film.docx

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Futures for Adaptation

A book review essay looking at new books in adaptation studies.  Available via academia.edu

Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Adaptive Inspiration to All Readers

It is not often that I can consider a book game-changing in terms of impact.  This is certainly true of Annette Kuhn’s edited collection Little Madnesses: Winnicott, Transitional Phenomena, and Cultural Experience (I. B. Tauris, 2014).  Drawing on the theories of the psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott, the contributors look at different ways in which individuals make use of the experience of watching movies, attending art galleries, or viewing installations to make sense of their lives.

I have referred in previous posts to the effect that Winnicott has had on my own thinking.  This collection reinforces the idea of the ways in which we create “third spaces,” using transitional objects (such as films) that help us redefine the relationship between the psyche and the environment.  In such spaces we are both “me and not me” – in other words, we can reconsider our previous behavioral constructions while exploring the potential to create new possibilities.  This “third space” is potentially limitless; there are no boundaries other than those that we choose to impose on ourselves. 

This model is especially appropriate to fan cultures, where aficionadoes of particular movies (e.g. Star Wars, Blade Runner) not only construct their lives according to the characters and their actions, but rewrite the movies in their own way, publishing their work online or in discussion-groups.  Kuhn’s anthology not only looks at movies as transitional objects, but also shows how cinema buildings fulfill similar functions, especially in the mid-twentieth century. At that time movie-goers went on a regular basis to local cinemas, not just to see movies, but to savor the behavioral rituals associated with the event – meeting their potential spouses, dressing up, enjoying the double feature, and so on.  When the massive picture-palaces opened, with their carved interiors, plush seats and elegantly uniformed staff, this sense of occasion was increased: movie-goers could forget the humdrum realities of their quotidian lives and enter dream-worlds offering illusions of gentility.

Other transitional objects explored in the collection include sounds.  This is a suggestive concept, reminding me of my own life, in which my daily ritual of “me-time,” where I sit down in peace and read a book, is inevitably accompanied by classical music in the background.  The sound of the music is associated subconsciously with relaxation, allowing my mind to wander wherever it wishes, and to reflect on my past and the way it can determine my future.  Put more simply, the sound of classical music becomes the catalyst by which I can learn how to adapt to changing situations.

The collection also invites us to question the distinction between “fiction” and “reality” by showing how fictions – as represented in movies or other cultural products – offer alternatives to readers and/or viewers, giving them the chance to reconsider or redefine their lives.  The text becomes the means by which they learn how to adapt to changing situations, and thereby determine future actions.  Storytelling assumes a highly powerful function; by submitting to the alternative reality (perhaps a more appropriate term than “fiction”) of the tale, we learn how to redefine our own realities; we reflect on past experiences and use such reflections to determine our futures.  Storytelling stimulates creativity in everyone’s consciousness, so long as they appreciate the value of transitional objects.  Kuhn’s collection is a highly democratic work in this respect.

The collection also emphasizes the importance of “de-differentiation.”  This is a suggestive notion: if we all understand the power of transitional objects, we can appreciate the value of the transformative processes associated with them.  Such moments encourage us to set aside our notions of social, gender, ethnic and racial difference and understand how every human being is capable of enjoying them.  All of us can learn how to contemplate and reflect on our lives if we are given the time and space to do so.

This conclusion should be understood by everyone involved in the pedagogic profession – educators, learners, administrators.  It suggests that “learning” has little or nothing to do with factual acquisition, but only occurs when individuals are stimulated to do so.  They need to be creatively stimulated, so that they learn how to create their own spaces and identify their own transitional objects.  This process involves a considerable amount of laissez-faire; rather than telling people what to think and how to think, educators and administrators should be prepared to listen to their learners and learn from them.  Winnicott talked a lot about the ways in which infants learn from their mothers; Kuhn’s collection suggests that this is a two-way process in which mothers (and other figures of responsibility) should learn from their infants.

The collection contains so much to reflect on and learn from, it needs to be reread more than once.  I congratulate Kuhn on her efforts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How I Discovered the Meaning of 'Traveling East'

Abstract This essay exposes the constructed nature of the east/west binary as a means by which westerners (especially) can reinforce their sense of superiority, while easterners can use it as an intellectual stick to criticize their western counterparts. In its place I advocate a more measured approach based on listening to and understanding alternative perspectives, not only in terms of interpersonal relationships but in terms of personal psychology. The importance of mesearch as a concept, uniting scholarly and personal approaches, is proposed as a means to achieve this aim.

Keywords: colonialism, binarisms, mesearch, travel, psychology

Download the article on http://www.degruyter.com/dg/viewjournalissue.articlelist.resultlinks.fullcontentlink:pdfeventlink/$002fj$002flincu.2015.2015.issue-2$002flincu-2015-0033$002flincu-2015-0033.pdf/lincu-2015-0033.pdf?t:ac=j$002flincu.2015.2015.issue-2$002fissue-files$002flincu.2015.2015.issue-2.xml or

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Wharton in Washington

I recently stayed for six days in Washington DC, partly on holiday and partly to attend (on a part time basis at least, the ‘Wharton in Washington’ conference held near DuPont Circle. This was something of a change, as I had not attended a single-author event since May 2015, when my home institution had devoted two days to Scott Fitzgerald.

The event was held in the library of Anderson House, a mahogany-and-brass room lined with leather-bound books and the heads of Ivory-statued males staring forbiddingly at anyone daring to penetrate their space. It seemed an ideal venue to discuss the oeuvre of someone who grew up in this kind of patriarchal environment and spent a lot of time criticising it both implicitly and explicitly.

As the proceedings unfolded, so I became increasingly uncomfortable, physically as well as literally. The majority of the papers were delivered by speakers with no sense of environment; rather than concentrating of the sociology of Wharton, past or present, or reflecting on how the situation might reshape our understanding of her, they mostly stuck to the kind of character analysis that I though had been abandoned long ago in literary criticism.

I was wrong. Years ago D. H. Lawrence advised his readers not to look in twentieth century novels “for the old stable ego of character.” This dictum could apply equally to Henry James or Edith Wharton. I have found the latter two authors especially in the way they eschew characterisation in favour of psychology: few of us are coherent in our behaviour, and this trait is embodied in many of their characters.

At this conference, however, one or the chief pastimes consisted of reading as many symbols into the text as possible. This sentence had purposely been written this way to emphasise the ancient art of symbol-hunting, a sport beloved of critics since the New Critical era. Even if you believe in the Barthesian notion of the death of the author, you too can show off your wisdom and learning by squeezing every gram of symbolism out of your selected text.

I am not suggesting that authors refrain from resorting to the technique; but I do believe that symbol-hunting actually deflects attention away from texts and authors and onto critics. The ‘best’ at their job are those who uncover the most elaborate symbols that no one has previously thought.

When I began my career, I always used to be in awe of such people whose sensibilities seemed so much further developed than my own. Now I realise that symbol-hunting is at best pleasurable, at worst futile as it detracts from rather than enhances our imaginative engagement with a work.

It does not really matter about the symbols; what should concern us is the need to be drawn into the author’s world and the characters that people it. Their behaviour does not have to be ‘rational’ or ‘stable,’ or even ‘coherent’; it should engage us subliminally.

And it is this quality I found so lacking at the conference, whose participants preferred to challenge one another on their knowledge of the inner highways and by-ways of Wharton’s oeuvre rather than communicating any real sense of joy, passion, or even cultural awareness at being in the Anderson Library. I am not positing any either/or scenario here, but rather suggesting more emphasis on pleasure, on the instinctive and spontaneous thoughts – akin to stream of consciousness- arising every time we open a book.

Three days after the conference ended, I went to the Chicago Institute of Art and browsed among their extensive American art collection. Among the exhibits in the pre-20th collection were several paintings depicting the rarefied world of urban Washington: stylish, mannered, constricting. Looking at the women in their starched crinolines exchanging polite small talk while perched uncomfortably on heavy mahogany chairs offered immediate insight into Wharton's milieu and why she was so preoccupied with it, whether positively or negatively.

I am not in any saying that paintings are doing the work that literary critics should; but I do believe that scholarship has to emerge from its often incestuous ivory tower of ‘specialists’ and become more all-encompassing. In that way Wharton's reputation can be consolidated as well as enhanced.