Sunday, 24 March 2019

Jordan Peele's Us, discussion and analysis (spoilers, lots of them)

Please don't read this unless or until you've seen the film. If you're in two minds about whether to see it or not, go watch it. Its great.

Coming out of the film, which I'll say off the bat that I really enjoyed for the most part, I had a lot of questions. I don't have answers to many of them and I reckon a second pass at some point in the future may help but for now this is just a collection of thoughts rather than my concrete conclusions.

So, the biggest question I had was, what the fuck did I just watch?

Well, the plot is pretty mental, but its not nonsensical either.

From imdb: "A family's serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them." Thats basically it, a creepy twist on the home invasion scenario, then we get into the second act wherein it turns out that this isn't just happening to the family we're following, there's some weird apocalyptic shit going down. Everybody has a double, who in the film are called The Tethered, tonight is the night of the untethering and everyone's other self is out to get them. The family survives after a certain amount of high-jinx and having to kill their other selves, presumably to escape, but everyone else is fucked.

So that's it, that's the story.

But what it this film about though? Jordan Peele has gone on record as saying that there isn't a single detail in the film that doesn't have some significance. This is no more a film merely about creepy dopplegangers that It Follows was merely about a demon or The Babadook was about a haunted childrens book. There's a lot here that demands to be unpacked.

He's also said that the film is about duality, and yes that is the core motif that holds the film together visually and thematically but that on its own doesn't say a whole lot.

Well I don't know about the rest of you but coming out of the cinema I was mostly confused. I was expecting it to be about racism in a more direct fashion. From the premise I thought the obvious place to go, would be internalised racism, an actualisation of the conflict inherent to W.E.B. Du Bois's concept of "double consciousness" which he discusses at length in "The Souls of Black Folk" - i.e. the idea that for a person of colour one must adopt an almost schizophrenic concept of the self, both being oneself in the world while always being conscious of how you're perceived by the dominant white society. That is kind of in there but its not the main focus (unless I'm missing something, I'm not African American myself so there's a fair bit in probably not getting) as I had been expecting it to be.

Since watching the film I've seen a few interviews with Peele and he's said categorically that that isn't what is about anyway. It seems to be partly inspired by his own personal fear of Doppelgängers. Which fair play, is a creepy concept and works well. But obviously it has been loaded with a lot of symbolism. There are a few lines in there that are clearly meant to be ominous. When asked "what are you" the Mother doppelganger says "We are Americans". Earlier in the little girl of the family says "oh yeah, that's right nobody cares about the end of the world". So there you have the notion of America literally tearing itself apart while the younger generations fears for the future go unheeded.

When you get past the home invasion stuff and realise that this is going on everywhere that seems to play into the notion of social upheaval, revolution that classic gothic trope of The Return of the Repressed. When you find what The Tethered actually are, this horrible dehumanising thing that's also necessary to maintain the world that we know, one can't help but think of the exploitative relationship between the 1st and 3rd world, the fact that the most basic decent standard of living that the least of us enjoys is predicated on unspeakable horror that's always just beyond our field of vision.

The whole thing as well of The Tethered in their own environment: human beings just mindlessly going through the motions without real choice or active thought, speaks to fears about the atomisation and alienation inherent to modern living too.

I think there's another level where this is about trauma and mental illness. Adelaide seems to be suffering PTSD, The final reveal the final reveal seems to speak to the idea that real trauma takes away a part of who you once were. Through the set up she displays depressive, paranoiac and magical thinking. Reading profound significance into coincidence is again something that is not uncommon in people with mental health problems. That the whole home invasion kicks off just after her having that conversation with her partner is not insignificant.

Is there a connection here between the personal and political? I feel like the answer is yes but I'm not quite sure how.

Now all of the elements above are in the mix but none of them are the focus of the film. So maybe that's fair enough. Get Out was very on the nose as to what it was about. This isn't but actually, its cool, it doesn't have to be. There's still a lot in there I don't get like what the significance of the Rabbits or the Scissors are. I look forward to hearing what anyone else has to say and unpicking the various threads that have been so deftly woven in there. And what's with all the Micheal Jackson stuff? Well, at least we have that from the horses mouth.

If anyone has any alternative takes or wants to expand on anything I've brought up I'd be really interested in hearing it.


A couple of good analysis vids on the film up now on YouTube. I liked the RedLetterMedia one because the lads were pretty much spot on and my feelings about the film over all are quite similar both in terms of what I thought was good and was critical of. The ever reliable Wisecrack did some excellent work teasing out some of the complexities inherent to the imagery. The overall take which was that as a film it is purposefully oblique and multifaceted enough to be meaningful in different ways to anyone watching it is spot on imo.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Blindboy Boatclub, the Left and New Media Celebrity Culture in Ireland

A long time ago I had intended to write an article about Russell Brand for this blog. This would have been about 2013/14 between the Jeremy Paxman interview and the 2015 General Election. We were at that stage more than half a decade into the crisis and while things hadn’t quite descended into the infernal quagmire we find ourselves in now they were certainly gearing up. During that time Russell emerged as a voice of a type of politics that is as old as power structures themselves, that has been around in something approximating its current form since modernity began and has always been there, though rarely articulated in the mainstream of political or social discourse. Also, the specifics of they way in which it blew up and other people reacted to it said something very interesting about the culture around politics and the media in general at this juncture in our history. As ever and to my own personal annoyance, in spite of the fact that I felt I had some unique insights to contribute to the conversation I never got around to laying those thoughts down in a coherent manner, which is inconveniencing me right now as there seems to be something similar happening right now in Ireland with two other public figures and I don’t have that previous work to refer back to.

So, failing that and without getting into the whole Russell Brand thing at length I’ll now sum up the salient points of this essay that never was, or as I see them the three features of what I’d call The Russell Brand Moment:

1) Revolutionary or even quite a lot of the time left-reformist politics are ruthlessly no-platformed by the gatekeepers of the mainstream media out of the general political discourse. On this occasion an individual circumvents the gatekeepers by already having access to a platform due to their celebrity status built in a long career elsewhere in the media as an entertainer.

2) This was assisted by a use of social media platforms as a way of bypassing said gatekeepers and reaching a wide audience in a way impossible just a decade ago and unthinkable in any other generation.

3) That said, there are limitations that we must understand, no point getting over enthusiastic. The individual at the centre of this is usually part of the movement and reasonably well informed, but about to the level of the average cadre, which is understandable, they already have a full-time occupation, i.e. whatever propelled them to their celebrity status in the first place and may hold contradictory positions; they may slip up on particular issues when called to voice opinions outside of their immediate span of knowledge. Added to that their no more free of any unreconstructed societal attitudes than the rest of us. It would be churlish of us to expect otherwise.

The 3rd point I had actually observed at the time and was bourn out by the trajectory the whole Brand thing took over the course of 2015. Essentially Brand fell at the first hurdle making the rookie error of seeing a modest shift leftwards on the part of the Labour Party as a new dawn in UK politics and backing David Milliband in the 2015 general election. In doing so he shot what credibility he had and retired temporarily from public life and the one man war against the media and political establishment he’d been on since the Paxman interview.  He’s been back since but that moment has tangibly passed. I’m sure he’s kicking himself now that the actual labour left has made a breakthrough, but maybe we’ll look back and see the Brand moment as a precursor to the ascension of Corbynism.

So with that in mind I’d like to talk about what’s going on with a public figure in Ireland; Blindboy Boatclub of The Rubberbandits.

The Rubberbandits
The Rubberbandits are two friends who grew up together in Limerick that go by the aliases of Blindboy Boatclub and Mr Chrome. They were early stars of Irish social media, making their name initially on Bebo and Myspace with a series of humorous prank phone calls. In 2007 they started making comedic hip hop and gigging a live show. In their music videos and while performing they both always wear a plastic shopping bag with eye and mouth holes cut out while their DJs dressed up as disgraced former government minister Willie O’Dea. Their first video Horse Outside went viral and took them from 'internet famous' to genuine notoriety. The humour of these songs has a certain off-the-wall sillyness and broadness to it, but like some of our best (O’Brien, Milligan etc.) it is belied by a fierce wit and satirical eye, the targets of which have ranged from the hyper-sexual machismo in hip-hop to ill informed armchair republicanism to hipsters.

By the beginning of this decade the Bandits were hot shit and have only gone from strength to strength, scoring TV work for RTÉ, The BBC, ITV, Channel 4. They had one of their songs featured in the new Trainspotting film and have played gigs and festival appearances up and down the island and internationally. Through all this they have managed a degree of relative anonymity for two people in the entertainment industry who are household names in a modern country. Their names are out there and can be accessed with a cursory Google but there’s only a single picture of Chrome’s face sans-plastic bag and none of Blindboy. Seriously, you can find a picture of what Burial looks like IRL easier.

More recently, Blindboy has authored and published a book of short stories, The Gospel According to Blindboy in October 2017 and started doing a podcast which was initially to promote the book but has taken on a life of its own, topping the iTunes podcast chart since its first episode continuing to do so through to the time of writing.

Through that time Blindboy has used his media presence to articulate the common sense perspective of his generation, using his platform to talk about pertinent issues if the day, mostly looking at them through the lense of mental health, sharing his own experiences to destigmatize something that’s still heavily taboo in Ireland. An early intervention was in 2006 when he spoke out against Bebo’s use of profile views, which he considered psychologically unhealthy to the point where it might lead to someone taking their own lives and called for the practice to be discontinued. This lead to his page being shut down without discussion by Bebo in spite of their popularity (the interview has now been reproduced in the feb 20th podcast God's Posture where he speaks about it at length). The evils of social media and potential deleterious effects on the psyche of the users and unconscionable business practices of the various platforms is something that we’re now all familiar with and has been discussed and analyzed to the point of cliché but in 2006 looking at that type of media through psychological theory was quite novel. He understood social media as only someone who grew up using it could.

He’s also used this as a way into the wider issues effecting Irish society, critiquing capitalism by looking at the socio-economic conditions which drive metal illness and talking about the psychological benefits for men of embracing feminism on the Late Late Show where he’s a frequent guest and expanding on these themes at length in the podcast. More recently he’s weighed in on the movement to repeal the 8th amendment. In a recent podcast he interviewed the film and TV star Cillian Murphy, who rarely gives interviews but had reached out to him to collaborate on some repeal propaganda, specifically orientated towards young men who the usual political discourse wouldn’t reach and might otherwise be apathetic on the issue. When the referendum was won by a substantial margin what most activists in the field have known for years was accepted, finally, by the establishment, i.e. that the pro-choice position had (in Gramscian terms) transcended good sense to become the common sense position. One can’t underestimate the role of pop-cultural figures in expressing and solidifying cultural turns like this.

Getting back to what I’ve proffered as the three features of the “Russell Brand moment”, the first two points seem to be fairly self evident based on what’s been outlined so far. There are differences though, he’s not been as confrontational or taken on the beast as directly as Brand had been doing, even now much later it still astounds me that Brand with his YouTube channel was in a running dialogue with the Murdock media empire and that he could goad them into responding to him on the nightly Fox news shows.

Also, Blindboy’s personal politics are quite different to Brand who consciously and overtly identified with the revolutionary tradition and specifically Anarchism (though a somewhat muddled and idiosyncratic one). Instead Blindboy talks about his family history in the West Cork IRA in the 1920s though he doesn’t identify with any contemporary Irish republican organisation. When he gets down to it he’s decidedly left-reformist, stopping a good way short of anti-capitalism though decidedly to the left of the Irish Labour Party. Which seems fair enough to me as it would put him about where most Irish people, and in particular those around the great social movements of recent history are at the moment, i.e. conscious and even proud of the republican revolutionary tradition, to the left of consensus politics on most issues and if not up for a full overthrow of the state, are certainly disillusioned with it as-is and yearning for change. 

Which brings me to the question of how should organisations of the left ought to relate to him? Is there a right way to respond to these figures that as they occur in the culture, especially since with the continuing prevalence of social media and the disintegration of the institutions that were traditionally the gatekeepers of the cultural discourse this sort of thing is liable to happen in the future.

Again, I’m sorry that I never managed the Russell Brand post because a lot that happened on the left in the wake of the Newsnight interview and subsequently is instructive. You had stuff like the “I Support Russell Brand’s Call for Revolution” facebook page. I will be generous and assume this was the work of one Brand fanboy who was an SP member rather than a party social-media initiative, but it struck me as a bit band-wagon jumpy and opportunist. Basically it was an SP member using the Brand moment to proselytise for his specific fraction by creating the page to share Brand content and SP content, often content specific to his local branch in Coventry. Now I wouldn’t want to pick on the guy unduly but I am singling him out as an example of people on the left getting overly enthusiastic and just being narrowly focused on how to further their sectional or even personal agenda without looking at the bigger picture, which ought to be inclusive.

Still, I prefer this approach to the churlishness and negativity that a lot of leftists and activists responded to Brand with. For those unfamiliar I’ll refer you to Mark Fisher, one of the few people on the left who at the time had what I’d call the correct take on Brand:

The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance (on newsnight) had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason…. Brand had outwitted Paxman...

The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism.

Rather than be happy that our politics were suddenly being articulated in the mainstream he was lit on for past personal indiscretions and problematic material from his old stand up routines. Now I’m not going to defend any of that, just saying that when something like that happens that this was a lot of people’s first response does not speak well of them as individuals or the movement they inhabit. It felt to me at the time that after decades of defeat and retreat and so many years in the bunker that a lot of these activists just didn’t know how to take it when something good happens. There was also a tangible element of jealousy relating to the whole thing. These h8rs were people who had spent years or decades in the trenches being patently ignored by the media. Seeing someone from so far outside their club, who is a bit of a clown, doing what they could and would have done if only they’d been given the opportunity. I can only imagine how that smarted.

And I’ll reiterate, its not like he’d done nothing, a lot of the criticism was legit to some extent. Nobody should be afforded a pass for bad behaviour just because they’ve done some good work. But, again getting back to Mark Fisher’s peice:

It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”

So far though there seems little sign of anyone of any significance on the left doing that to Blindboy. Partly this is because of how he’s been handling himself. Also, I’d put that down to the political culture on the Irish left as not being so hostile, unlike Britain four years ago we’ve not had a series of defeats, disappointments, organisational schisms and wasted opportunities to build a culture of begrudgery out of. Far from it. The backlash might happen, some of the stuff from the Rubber Bandits is pretty off the wall and if one were so inclined one could go back through his work looking for stuff you could decontextualise and paint as problematic I dare say you could nitpick enough out of it to make whatever point you wanted if you were so inclined.

But then why would you?

Which brings me in a roundabout way to what I propose as the right and sensible thing to do in this instance and in general: constructive engagement. When the political discourse gets opened up beyond the usual quarters of the activist left we should be in there, not just to capitalise on it for our own benefit but to engage with the people coming to it from that direction with our ideas and the good sense we’ve acquired through decades of struggle and also to be open to what we can learn from them.

One thing that I’d also propose is to acknowledge the immense potential someone like Blindboy has in overcoming something that’s been a bit of an issue on the left. Again because we’ve been on the defensive for so long we’ve got to a point where we seem to spend a lot of time concentrating on telling people what to not do. I think that having a vision of how things could or should be is also important if we are to get anywhere. It’s particularly good to have this discourse directed towards men. With the cultural revolutions and progress towards gender equality a lot of the traditional role of men in society has come to be seen, quite rightly, as oppressive. The traditional narrative of patriarchy has been torn down but we should do more to provide something for men in its absence, if for no other reason than if we don’t somebody else will. Jordan Peterson has made a bit of a splash doing exactly this. That said, depending on your position in the movement that might not be prudent or appropriate, so when Blindboy talks on the podcast about physical exercise, mental exercise and how one relates to the other, that is what he’s providing. In fact since the early drafts of this piece when I wrote the last sentence he has basically said this on the podcast in response to a listeners query about the Jeepster.

It also means to an extent acknowledging that while he does have a part to play in the struggle he’s not an expert by any means in organising or experienced in the practical side of the movement. So, when he does drop the ball, as in his recent comments on the Trump protest or letting his podcast guest Vincent Browne rabbit on in an ill-informed and inaccurate manner about the organised left parties in Ireland (including mine), that we at least have that in mind when we engage him back on these issues.

For now though, I’m just looking forwards to enjoying the show. It is a part of a national conversation that people my age are having in public that isn’t going on anywhere else and I’ll be happy to see it continue. I am interested to see where he takes what he’s doing in the future.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

My Top Films of 2018 (Kinda)

My pick of the top films I saw for the first time in 2018 (which may or may not have been released in that year) in no particular order:

(Also please note that I have purposefully not linked any trailers as there's a few of these that are best experienced going in cold.)


 It is not often that one sees episodes of ones own childhood rendered on the big screen in a full hollywood production and yet here we are. This was one of the first films I saw at the cinema last year and I don't think anything else really topped it, but then like the kid in the film I suffer from Treacher Collins Syndrome, I've never seen the condition in a film before so this film was basically made for me. I loved everything about this, not least that it had my home boy Daveed Diggs of the industrial hip hop crew clipping in it, of whom I've been a fan for quite some time and am enjoying watching him blow up at the minute. As someone with TCS I liked the messaging in this, particularly the scene late on where the kid who is sort of the antagonist is confronted and then you see why he is the way he is. I honestly think everybody should watch this film, the earlier the better, like they really should be showing it in schools.


 I'm not usually one for romantic films about young Americans abroad finding love amidst the beauty of a picturesque town in rural Europe, but this was one of the best written films of any genre I've seen in ages. It is legit a great romance film, a timeless meditation on life and love, men and women, sex and romance, the wisdom and charm of old world vs the optimism and cute naivety of the new, and also a boss monster film with charm, humour, subtle observation, real heart and some pretty solid SFX on what looks like quite a low budget. The lads that did this also did The Endless which is on Netflix at the moment, they are 3 for 3 in terms of making solid good films and I love their style and can't wait to see what they do from here on.


I went on a bit of a horror binge after feeling somewhat let down by Hereditary, looking all the time for something genuinely unsettling. I watched a lot of stuff and some of it was good but never quite got what I was after. Then this came on TV one night and delivered in spades. Not a perfect film by any means  (doesn't quite stick the mark at the end) but it was a wild ride and got right under my skin as I was watching it and even thinking about the scene: "No, really look and tell me who else is here.... You've seen it. You've always seen it, running in the woods with grandma...." gives me the shivers.

Last Shift

Brought to my attention in a conversation between RedLetterMedia and Max Landis, I was very impressed with this. Proper fucking straight up horror that goes hard in all the ways a horror film should. Lots of nice gotcha moments, slow dread, some really creepy shit and unrelenting escalating intensity. Good stuff.

World of Tomorrow Parts 1 & 2

Two short films from Doug Hertzfeldt, in his  typical doodle-esque /  line drawing style of animation, now with some beautiful moving colourful backgrounds. With dialogue provided by his 4 then 5 year old neice this weaves some truly dank existential sci-fi with the whimsy and innocent optimism of childhood. Both parts are truly masterful, deep, hilariously funny and profund. This was the highlight of the (generally well curated) Belfast Film Festival this year for me.

The Shape of Water

Okay, it won an oscar and shit but seeing this and Get Out win big at the academy awards and beat off obvious oscar-bait and pseudo-intellectual garbage was for me like seeing my local team bring home the European Championship cup or something. Get the fuck in there Guilermo my son! Personally I'm a sucker for a good monster romance and anything vaguely lefty so this hit a few of my buttons, great central performances all round and a good happy ending. Actually an interesting one to watch in contrast with Spring for various reasons, for both how they are and aren't alike yet are completely brilliant.


The New European Extremity is still alive and well, one of the most singularly satisfying films I've seen at the cinema this year. It did its bit and did not outstay its welcome, delivering something truly unique along the way. There are no other films like this in the world, and its nice to be able to say that.

A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot

There have been some really excellent local documentaries that I would think are sufficiently good as films in their own right that I'd recommend them to anyone: No Stone Unturned, I, Dolores, Unquiet Graves and Massacre At Ballymurphy. No doubt we'll see many more in the near future. One could surmise  that since the 30 year rule now extends to the early troubles and we are far enough away from the hot part of the ongoing conflict here (which hasn't gone away you know...) that the immediate physical danger to its protagonists means that certain things are now accessible and can be said in public that we're ripe for a golden age of documentaries and books that actually tell the truth about what happened here. That said the best (or for me at least the most entertaining) of the current crop is this one, which is about what is still going on in the shitty wee estates on the edges of our metropolitan sprawl, the people that live there and how they live with  the local 'boys', the paramilitaries that are supposedly staunch defenders of their communities against Them 'Uns but are essentially just the same gangs and hoods that run 'tings on estates all over the western world, but in our unusual context. This was about a notorious incident in the Creggan on the edge of Derry and was tragic, shocking and very very funny in a way that is uniquely Northern Irish. Also a dire warning for the future that nobody else seems to be willing or able to deliver.

Best Worst Movie

Documentary about the legendary Troll 2 and the weird fandom that's grown up around it and the general social phenomenon of getting together with your mates and watching bad movies for the crack. A thoroughly entertaining and well made documentary in its own right worth watching as part of a double bill with the film itself if you've got company and that sort of time to kill.


Dumped unceremoniously on Netflix at the start of the year it kills me that this wasn't watchable on the big screen this side of the Atlantic. Boss special effects, lots of really dark creepy stuff and moments of beauty, in that grey area between art house and schlock that I love. This is everything Sci-fi should be on the big screen. Obvious visual and thematic nods to Tarkovsky, Kubrick and Alan Moore (like if you're going to borrow borrow from the best), yet very much its own thing.

Blindspotting / Sorry To Bother You

Two films. Two passion projects from directors with a background in hip-hop. Both star young upcoming African-American actors whose careers on the small screen in the states are blowing up into super stardom partly through their supporting roles on extremely well received situation comedies. Two films dealing in their own way with race and class, white privilege, gentrification. Both employ elements of satire to get their points across and are both incredibly funny, while being quite serious with some heavy moments. Both are masterpieces of modern cinema. Yet, one landed this side of the Atlantic with the hype and aplomb behind it it rightly deserved and got a wide cinematic release and the other didn't, and I can't for the life of me tell you why. If anyone knows do please fill me in.

A Dark Song

Absolute belter. As someone with a bit of an interest in though not a practitioner of magick this hit a lot of my happy places, like I've never tried doing anything like the stuff in this film myself but I know enough about it and the people who do do this IRL to appreciate that the writer and director knows his shit. Also nice to see some more great cinema coming out of my own country (albeit with and all English cast and pretending to be rural Wales). Does tone and atmosphere masterfully, big surprise for a first time director.

Mom and Dad

Yeah, we all loved Mandy but the Nicholas Cage performance of the year for me was this absolute gem. Picked it up from John Waters end of year list. Definitely one of the funniest films I've seen all year (is it just me or is it hard to find a good comedy these days?) again good sci-fi, nice central pleasingly Ballardian) conceit that's used to the fullest to explore something IRL and milk it for thrills, scares and dark dark humour. I look forwards to watching this with my own parents. (Not to be confused with Mum and Dad which I haven't seen yet but intend to).

The Untamed

Mexican cult cinema is really going off at the minute, in the wake of Guillermo Del Toro there is some really brilliant stuff being done, usually using a genre conceit to explore some IRL horror. Tigers Are Not Afraid was another one which was excellent and worth seeking out. The Untamed gets mad props from me for being an example of using a particularly trashy subgenre of sci-fi / horror with genuine thoughtfulness and seriousness. Would seriously recommend, best watched sight-unseen as its one where the less you know about it going in the better.

Spiderman: Into The Spider Verse

The very last films I saw in a cinema last year. I went in reckoning that it was going to be good. It wasn't long in before I started to feel like it was going to be the comic book adaption of the year, in what was quite a good year for that sort of thing came out thinking that it was the best comic book feature film  adaption of the current crop, possibly of all time and one of the best animated films ever full stop. I always say that the mark of a good comic book adaption is if it captures on screen the essence of what makes the comic good, down to the formal conceits employed. This did that like few others I've seen. The whole alternate universes being represented by different art / drawing styles is an old trick on paper (the earliest I remember seeing it was in 2000ADs Hewligans Haircut which is from the 80s but I don't doubt it had been done well before that) but this is the first time I've seen it on screen (aside from a throwaway gag in the otherwise shitty Hitchikers Guide film) and it made it a central plot point. That was cool, as was the brilliantly realised character work, the cutting edge animation, the meta inter-textual referential stuff that was just the right level of nerdy to please the die-hards endlessly while never disturbing the enjoyment of anyone else who wasn't in on it, the humour. Every element popped individually, and yet this managed to be more than the sum of its parts, even as good as those parts were.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Iconic Horror Cinema + my introduction to the genre

I came across an old 2000AD "Chilling Winter Tales" special of mine from 1994. It contains a short article by an anonymous features writer under the by-line Roxilla. It was a run down of their favourite horror films. Now these weren't deep cuts by todays standards at all, Starts with King Kong and runs through, Bride of Frankenstein, Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street etc through to the 80s, providing some interesting detail about the production and special effects along the way. Entry level stuff for sure but to a 13-year-old-me it was quite important and my first introduction to The Haunting, Suspiria, Near Dark and others which remain firm favorites of mine. 

Actual cover of that 2000AD Winter Special
Now the reason why I'm posting this is that one thing that always stuck with me from the article was the last paragraph: "Its sad that since Near Dark there's not been a horror film released that has come up to the standard of the 13 classics covered here. On the law of averages, you'd expect at least two cracking horror films in a decade. Maybe the classics for the 90s have yet to be made. Here's hoping that's true." 

Now, that's a bit of an exaggeration, by then Braindead had been made and some of the choices seem a bit arbitrary in retrospect (The Shining is a glaring omission for example) no doubt due to the limitations of the format, intended audience (I'm assuming there's no body horror or weird sexy stuff because its for kids / teens so no Hellraiser, Cronenberg etc.), a set word count, etc, but it does raise a question, what were the iconic, ground-breaking, trend setting horrors of the last couple of decades? 

Personally, I'd say for the 1990s Ring and The Blair Witch Project. Ring opened the doors of Asian horror onto an unsuspecting world, Blair Witch wasn't the first Found Footage film but it was the one that broke the genre into the mainstream, doesn't quite hold up today on its own as a piece of cinema so maybe not but as a method and a sign of where horror films were at at the turn of the century its pretty important. 

For the 2000s - 28 Days Later for bringing the zompocalypse survival horror genre up to date with aplomb and doing something new with the zombies and Martyrs for being both viscerally disturbing and thoughtful. This decade, I could be wrong but I can't think of anything that has been able to land with the sort of impact of any of the above. There's been some good ones and some interesting ones but I'm struggling to think of anything that's going to spawn its own subgenre or anything like that. The only thing I can think of is Under The Skin for being the first to bring an abstract art-house sensibility to horror. Maybe Get Out? Horror has always had an element of social commentary (sometimes unconscious) but that is very much what the film is from the surface down, while still being an effective horror film in its own right. 

Or I dunno, maybe the 2-per-decade premise was just a conceit to give a loose structure to the article and doesn't hold up at all under examination. Still, it was a decent introduction to Horror films, and while it wouldn't be defining of my taste in horror gave me a decent grounding in the history of horror cinema on which I would build later. 

For reference the 13 films covered by the article are as follows: 
King Kong 
The Bride of Frankenstein 
I Walked with a Zombie
Invasion of the Body Snatchers 
The Haunting Night of the Living Dead 
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 
The Evil Dead 
Nightmare on Elm Street 
Near Dark

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Appendix 2: Literature as a consumer product in 1890s Britain and Gissing’s New Grub Street.

This is one of two term papers written as practice and a way of getting my thoughts together in preperation for my masters thesis which I have published on this blog here. It has been e put up here for the sake of completion. The other one has been posted here.

In Britain in the 1880s and 90s there was a perceptible shift in the production and distribution of literature.  The reading public, who had been increasing incrementally over the previous two centuries, suddenly expanded as the business of writing and selling books, magazines and other forms of literary culture was revolutionised.  It is in this context that George Gissing wrote New Grub Street, the novel that would make his name and come to be regarded as his finest.  The Novel takes as its subject the world of writers around 8-10 years before it was written.  The Gissing specialist John Goode, referring to Gissing’s diaries, puts the novel as having fermented over the course of 1890 before finally being written in the late autumn and early winter of that year[1].  The novel begins in autumn 1882[2] with the main plot covering the next 2-3 years up to July 1885, ending with a short denouement set 12 months after[3].  In essence Gissing is chronicling the formation of the productive relations that he was working under in 1890 by excavating their origins in the novel format[4].  The main theme of the book is Writing in the context of the changing mode of production in literature, especially the effect of this on the work that writers do and the daily realities that writers are faced with.  When one takes into consideration that Gissing himself lived through this period on the bottom wrung of the publishing industry as an impoverished writer, New Grub Street appears not so much as fiction but also as auto-biography, cum reportage as well as advancing a particular aesthetic thesis.  As such, it provides a unique insight for historians of the period into the experience of those relations of production and consumption by writers and journalists and it provides insights into the operation of culture within Late-Victorian capitalism.

In Britain in the 1880s and 90s, this printed culture of novels, periodicals and magazines was the mass media, occupying the same place that television does today.  Significantly, this was the time in British history when the novel as a means of cultural transmission was at its zenith, however its influence was being challenged by a factors emerging from a new range of conditions of production and consumption.

Although Gissing did not express the process in economic terms in his fiction, what he is really describing is the commodification of writing and the intrusion into the writers’ literary production of the market, reducing the writer to a mere artisan.  This change is encapsulated in the first pages of New Grub Street by the bold statement that “Literature nowadays is a trade[6]”.

The plot of the novel reflects this in its structure, which,

 “is based on a common convention in Victorian fiction, which is to have two independent stories which in narrative terms are largely independent of each other but which echo and contrast”[7].

The precise nature of what is echoed and contrasted in the novel is the lives of two writers, their work, their relations with women, their attitude to each other and, by extension, their place in the edifice of literary production. This also leads concomitantly to their consideration of literary consumption.  Specifically, this is the contrast summed up at the start of the novel by Jasper Milvain, then protagonist of one of the story threads, in reference to his friend Edward Reardon, the protagonist of the other;

“The thing you must understand about a man like Reardon and a man like me is that he is the old type of unpractical artist, I am the literary man of 1882.”[8]

Milvain then goes on to conceptualise the difference in their relations to the market;

“He won’t make concessions, or rather, he can’t make them; he can’t supply the market…your successful man of letters is your skillful tradesman.  He thinks first and foremost of the markets; when one kind of good begins to go off slackly, he is ready with something new and appetising”[9]. 

In the course of the novel this is just what Milvain goes on to do by becoming a Journalist, a vulgar populist writer of ephemera, in contrast to the scrupulousness of Reardon’s devotion to his muse.

The novel also goes into the wider literary scene through the secondary characters, each of which are involved in the business of writing in some way.  These include Milvain’s sisters, who he introduces to the trade, Biffen, a writer, Whelpdale, a failed writer who becomes a literary agent, Alfred Yule, a man of letters and failed periodical editor and his daughter Marian, assistant to her father and up-coming woman of letters in her own right.  Each of these characters adds another facet to the picture of the literary world that Gissing is trying to paint in the novel.  By concentrating on this circle of friends and acquaintances and their relationships the author brings into sharp focus the personal cost of the holistic intrusion of market forces onto the creative intellect, i.e. the way it effects not only the work of writers but their relationships, personalities, health and behavior.

Implicit in Gissing’s argument is a formulation we may term as a “Moral-economy of literary production” that was common in the Fin de Siecle[10].  This is the notion that artistic production should exist free of any concerns except whatever artistic concerns inspire the creator.  Mainly this refers to the idea that great art requires freedom from commercial concerns and stems from the perennial dynamic tension between the personal and social nature of artistic production, favoring of course the personal to the detriment of the social location within the capitalist mode of production.  Although this, “Moral Economy”, was not successful or effective in the way the social phenomenon described by E.P. Thompson was[11], we can nonetheless see a constant negotiation of the commercial nature of their work by artists and writers.

Recent scholarship has convincingly suggested that the reason why Gissing, and others of his generation, favoured the personal factor in this creative dialectic as a reaction against an intrusive and disconcerting nature of the social factor.  For writers in late Victorian England this expressed itself in the form of the rapidly changing productive relations in literature in the late 19th century[12].  This was largely distributor led and favored certain forms and subjects over others[13] married to an increasing sophistication of publishing practice with its perennial need to maximise profits.  Hence we can see that the balance of power in this relation between production and consumption favored the tastes of the distributors, not the producer.

Exemplifying the writers’ Moral economy in the Novel are the characters of the two novelists, Edwin Reardon and Harold Biffen.  Both are true artists who can’t adopt themselves to the market.  The difference between them is that Reardon has a family to support which forces him to try fruitlessly, to adapt to the market. Which in turn leads to the ruination of his physical and mental health and family, whereas Biffen is unencumbered, with only himself to look after, and lives at the edge of poverty but without compromising his art. 

Biffen is the purest example of the literary producer in the novel.  He writes his fiction without reference to the market either in terms of subject, form, content or potential audience.  This is because the production of literature is everything to him, the end in itself.  Whether or not his efforts are ever re-numerated are incidental. In a conversation with Reardon he claims not to expect his novel to even be published.[14] None the less he pushes himself to the point of starvation and eventually charges into a burning building to rescue the only copy of his manuscript from the flames[15].

Reardon’s position is more complex. The struggle between Reardon and the hated market constitutes the drama in this thread of the novel.  Before achieving a degree of literary fame he had lived much as Biffen, but sustained by a job as a clerk.  His day job and lack of familial commitments mean he is unencumbered by commercial pressures and so is able to work as he likes.  By the beginning of the action in the novel his writing has brought him with success the responsibilities of a husband and father.  If Biffen represents the ideal of the writer, Reardon represents something like the reality as in order to maintain his family he is compelled not just to write but to write something sellable.  Because the money it brings in is a necessity he has to continually produce in order to survive, even if it means compromising on the quality of the work itself.  In Gissing’s depictions of Reardon’s struggles it is clear that being able to create depends on a number of psychological factors an important one being that forcing yourself to write is destructive of what makes one capable of it in the first place.

Jasper Milvain is the antithesis of Reardon and Biffen.  He engages with the market as a professional.  He writes only what he can sell.  Although, as is implied in the novel, he is no less talented or capable of creating great works of art than Biffen or Reardon, he instead engages with the market by cynically pandering to vulgar tastes and fashions.  Instead of pushing the medium and creating something unique or original, which is at least the intention of Biffen, he only seeks to reproduce that which is commercially reliable.  In advising his sisters as to how to go about writing as a profession, he makes this abundantly clear, telling them:

“There is a tremendous sale for religious stories, why not pitch one together?…I tell you writing is a business.  Get together half-a-dozen fair specimens of the Sunday school prize; study them; discover the essential points of such composition; hit upon new attractions; then go to work methodically, so many pages a day.”[16]

One interesting thing to note in this context is the ways in which the writer is conceptualised as a tradesman or a businessman.  Some commentators seem to suggest that because of the emergence of writers unions and the mechanisation of the industry that writers were becoming proletarianised[17].  Actually the position of the writer appears closer to a petty bourgeoisie, i.e. those who labour but own their own means of production.  In a sense, if we take Bourdieu’s description of creativity as a natural resource[18], they are comparable to small farmers.  Although Gissing doesn’t employ such metaphors himself, the use of agricultural metaphors is not uncommon in describing the creative process.

The work cycle of Reardon as laid out in the novel does have a similarity to that of a small farmer.  That is to say, labouring over a novel for an expected sale at the end of the period of cultivation.  For example, borrowing towards the end of that period when the money from the last harvesting is becoming scarce on the expectation of selling the product is something that characterised the micro economics of small holding peasants in pre-famine rural Ireland[19], and according to Gissing, the Reardon household towards the end of one of Readon’s novels.  Similarly, a bad (i.e. unpublishable) novel was disastrous in the same way that as a bad harvest was disastrous for the small producer.

The mechanical way in which Milvain works and manages his labour time is among the aforementioned factors which has led Bowlby amongst others to wrongly assert that writing was proletarianised. Actually since its inception the term, “Petty Bourgeoisie”, has been taken to infer proletarian forms of labour, the distinction between the two mainly being the relation to the means of production and distribution[20].  Hence, the particular mode of literary production, as depicted in the novel, was both alienating and mechanistic and self regulated.  The breakdown of Jasper’s working day[21] is very precise, like a manager’s log, with the total monetary value of the time worked out to within a couple of guineas.

So too for Marian Yule, who at one point fantasises about a literary machine; “some automaton to supply the place of creatures such as herself, to turn out books and articles”[22].  The mechanised process of literary production is described in the same terms as “only to throw in a given number of old books, and have them reduced, blended, modernised into a single new book”[23].  Jasper describes his method of working up new articles thus;

“From five to half past I read four news papers and two magazines, and from half past to quarter to six I jotted down several ideas that had come to me while reading”.[24]

Between these two sections from the text we can observe something at the heart of Gissing’s conceptualisation of this mode of consumption, i.e. that where this writing comes from isn’t the heart of the writer or their observation of real life, which would give it some sort of higher relevance, but from other writing alone.  This isn’t creation, the act of a creative mind, but more akin to recycling, the shuffling around of pre-existing writing that has relevance only to and of itself.  While the product may be entertaining or well written, it doesn’t further human culture.  This is what Milvain means when he refers to his day’s work as having literary value, “equal to the contents of a mouldy nut”[25].

This explosion in the consumption and production of literature that constituted the crisis, as Gissing saw it, was facilitated by a number of factors.  Firstly there were technological advances in the mechanisation of printing as well as more efficient paper making processes[26].  Also, the repeal of Stamp Tax in 1855 and Paper Duty in 1860 had removed one non-material barrier to the mass production of paper[27] and encouraged a great expansion of the News Paper industry that had also been gathering pace incrementally over the preceding centuries.

The main factor however, as perceived at the time, was the education acts of the 1870-90s, which gradually introduced universal primary education.  Literacy had been increasing incrementally over the preceding centuries[28], but the acts expanded the reading public to an extent unheard of, creating for the first time a literate reading public[29]. 

The effect that this Cultural Revolution and the sort of reading it engendered had on those already literate classes was the unleashing of a storm of reactionary ire and condescension.  In the organs of the literary establishment the “disease” of “unproductive reading” by this upstart literate mass reading public was lamented and tied into contemporary discourses on degeneration[30], and critics of the time were horrified at the national out pouring of grief at the death of the revered and popular poet Tennyson[31].  This indeed could be said to be the period that saw, to paraphrase Thompson, The Making of the English Literary Intelligentsia[32].

At the time when Gissing was writing New Grub Street the production and distribution of novels in Britain was mired in an archaic system of private lending libraries, the most important of which being Mudies, which has been described as having a “grip on the fiction industry”[33].  Unlike America and France, where the advances in printing had meant the sale of literature directly to consumers, in Britain the novels were mainly produced as three volumes, so called, “Three Deckers”.  These were mainly sold to circulating libraries which the would-be consumer of literature had to subscribe to to use[34].  For the author this meant that the crucial notion of what was saleable, or permissible to print, rested in the hands of the small group of owners of these lending libraries and not the reading public at large.  Mudies in particular was notorious for its conservatism[35].  This is also one of the main reasons why British literature appears stuffy and repressed with regards to its content and themes, especially in comparison with French literature of the same period.

It also created the precarious position of the author’s finances, i.e. the way the novelist could only really expect re-numeration for their labour at the point of sale to his publisher because then, as now, sales generate royalties, not the rental of an already sold item.  It would also seem that when the reading public purchased books in the 1880s-early 1890s, they were generally bought second hand, as is most of Reardon’s personal library[36].

This particular system of distribution would eventually be swept away, but not until after New Grub Street was published, although we can see the beginnings of this process in Gissings depiction of the literary world of the 1880s.  The way they are depicted in the novel is interestingly catastrophic.  Just as In TheYear Of The Jubilee prefigures the Baudrillardian critique of consumerism[37], the depiction of the mass culture prefigures the 20th century debates around the degradation of society and the inner life of the individual[38].  He also harks back to Matthew Arnold’s notion of culture as an expression of all that’s pure and good in society, extending the arguments of Culture and Anarchy into the decades after Arnold’s death.  Arnolds contribution to what I have referred earlier as a “Moral Economy” of literary production was a mid 19th century positivism with regards to perfection and the perfectibility of society through Culture.  Arnold is a pervasive but unacknowledged presence in the novel.  Reardon in particular can be described as having distinctly Arnoldian tendencies is his view of art and his taste in Hellenic culture and civilization, something undoubtedly shared by his creator[39].

Inherent in this idea is a particularly elitist notion of what constituted good literature. Culture and Anarchy is actually where the English usage of the word ‘Philistine’ is used in the pejorative sense of someone who is not just un-enlightened, but actually oppositional towards the Arts.  In New Grub Street Philistineism is most directly associated with the manufacturing end of book publishing, specifically in the character of John Yule who we meet in the second chapter[40]. The arguments he articulates in his exchange with Milvain and his brother Alfred are the direct opposite of Arnold’s in Culture and Anarchy.  Yule, has little appreciation of the literature he publishes (reading little besides papers[41]), little sympathy with the authors (including his nieces, husband, Edwin Reardon, who he says he’d pay not to write[42]) and would rather people spent their leisure time on the outdoors.  He even goes so far as to wish to see “the business of literature abolished”[43].  That his trade is the manufacture of paper is indicative of Gissing’s more general association of mass production with philistinism.  This is evident in the exchange between Milvain and John Yule when Milvain remarks about paper that;

“‘if that article (i.e. paper) were not so cheap and so abundant, people wouldn’t have so much temptation to scribble’”[44]

It is because of this dilution of the Arnoldian ideal of the improving mission of writing by the mass education and mass culture - which was driven, as Gissing clearly saw it by the philistine owners of the means of book production - that his reaction to the very forces which would remove the system of book production that he struggled under would be so completely pessimistic[45].

To begin with a new generation of publishers was arising to challenge the established publishing houses and orthodox publishing methods.  This was to provide a new space for innovations in the production and distribution of literature, as Jonathan Rose points out, in late Victorian Britian, “often the most innovative authors are taken on by the most aggressive entrepreneurs, those who are ready to adapt to and exploit a changing literary marketplace[46].  In New Grub Street this particular form of Victorian capitalism is embodied in Jedwood, a publisher who has only recently come into the business after a marriage to a rich woman[47] has begun to take risks and overturn some of the publishing practices that emerged under the established houses.  Jedwood is very much the new type;

“He talked much of ‘The New Era’, foresaw revolutions in publishing and book selling, tried every week a score of untried ventures that should appeal to the democratic generation just maturing”[48].

Those revolutions weren’t complete at the time of publication, New Grub Street itself was a Three Decker that was first sold to the lending libraries, they would be completed by the middle years of the decade[49], and would have been noticeably well under way to a professional novelist like Gissing.  And yet in the novel this development, and all the others that would change the literature industry, objectively for the better, is treated with horror or disdain.  The description of Jedwood is hardly flattering, the idea that he’s married into money, rather than having had the decency to be born to it, carries the implication of gold-digging.

Another factor that had revolutionised the consumption of literature was the mass transit system.  Again Gissing seems to regard this as a negative development.  One of the main themes of New Grub Street is the rise of the relative importance of the magazine in relation to the novel and the related process of degeneration of the novel itself[50] because of these conditions.  The rail networks provided short intervals of time when the urban commuter could snatch a little reading time.  It was soon recognised that the commuter was an important market for publishers, as near to a captive audience as one could wish for, hence bookshops and stalls were opened in railway stations (this is how the high street chain WH Smiths began[51]).  Magazines full of short articles that would only take the length of a train journey to read were produced, with great success - Newne’s Tit-Bits in particular, which;

“From its inception…was denounced as the bastard offspring of the commodification of literature:… exploiting readers with limited literacy and short attention spans.”[52]

The arguments around this development[53] are dramatised by Gissing in a three-way exchange between Jasper Milvain, his sister Dora and Whelpdale.  Whelpdale proposes a plan for a new magazine that a Victorian audience would have understood as a none-too subtle proxy of Tit-Bits[54]. The magazine and it’s audience are described in terms which explicitly links its format to educational standards and a debased type of reading related to the use of public transport;

“I would have the paper address itself to the quarter educated…the great new generation that is being turned out by the Board Schools, the young men and women who can just read but are incapable of sustained attention.  People of this kind want something to sustain them on trains and on Buses and ‘trams...Everything must be short, two inches at the utmost; their attention can’t sustain itself beyond two inches.”[55]

Jasper approves of the project, calling it half-ironically, “one of the most notable projects of modern times”[56].  Dora on the other hand objects to the project on the grounds that, “Surely these poor silly people oughtn’t to be encouraged in their weakness”[57], and is only placated by the notion that even reading such fare as Chit-Chat on the train is better than reading nothing, “So long as they only read the paper at such times”[58].

The diversification in literature is another part of the process that would end the Three Decker novel system, and like magazines and the new publishing houses, would be subtly railed against by Gissing in New Grub Street.  One of the most notable and historically significant parts of this process, was the emergence of a degree of gendering in the market.  This was essentially the beginning of an identity consumerism where instead of trying to address the whole reading public the publishers found it more profitable to create books for sale to a specific niche.

This practice was directly contradictory to Arnold’s vision of a Culture that “seeks to do away with classes”[59] to create a singular culture for everyone to partake in, which in practice meant a monolithic cannon.  Gissing seems to have taken a particular exception to this in the form it took when targeting an emerging generation of newly literate women as a particular niche market.  This is certainly the most common form of niche marketing that we encounter in the novel.  When Milvain first suggests his sisters take up writing to supplement their income, it is this sort of gender-specific writing that he has in mind[60].  There is of course an undertone of misogyny to this as well.  As Carey has observed, Gissing found the new generation of women that had benefited from the education acts contemptible and pretentious[61].  Although this strain of Gissing’s isn’t so evident in New Grub Street, the refrain that semi-educated women, who are incapable of being more than that are imperiling the health and well being of the nation is evident in his other novels[62].  That said however, in the novel professional writing is presented as differently for women, who are not allocated the same status as the male writers.  Milvain’s sisters do the sort of hack writing described above, but for a specifically female audience.  Marian’s literary endeavors are all in the service of her father and are almost a form of parental abuse that exploits the subject and is detrimental to her femininity.

One conclusion that we can draw from the novel is that the products of print culture, novels, magazines and newspapers[63] have a dual existence as commodities and as cultural artifacts.  These two lives that books have are almost, but not entirely independent of one another.  Pierre Bourdieu has given us the useful notion of a Field of Cultural Production, a sort of idea-space for the functioning of the creative mind that is framed within the productive relations of its time but not dictated by them.  We might say that the Writer’s Moral Economy, as exemplified in the novel by Reardon and Biffen, is the mentality of the field of cultural production.  Milvain’s perspective is also within the field of cultural production but it is more of the productive relations that frame it than the field itself.  These two positions representing a continuum of thought and behavior, in the field channeling different currents to different ends.

The way in which the field of cultural production expresses itself in material reality is in the production of a symbolic configuration on a material form.  By which I mean that at its most basic level, the act of filling the pages of a book with words and pictures is commodity fetishism on a grand scale, quite literally imbuing an object with a symbolic meaning beyond its materiality.  However this isn’t quite the same thing, as it is from the symbolic content of a printed commodity that its use-value is derived.

However the commodity fetishism of printed culture expresses itself in other ways.  Advertising and the reputation of the author are also important factors, ones that Gissing spends some time over.  For example, near the beginning of the novel, Milvain spells out the importance of having money and a presence in society, to getting published[64].  Also, the importance of favorable reviews in imbuing a book with a saleable value is another recurring concern that comes up at several points in the novel.  At one of these points Milvain observes that in the, “struggle for existence among books[65]”, good reviews were necessary for a novel’s success as a saleable commodity.

The physical form of the novel, the binding, typography and illustration etc. is no less important to the novel as a consumer item.  Although the success of a cultural commodity might not be predicated on this “Packaging”, Maura Ives work on the production of the novels of George Meredith have shown how the physical presentation of novel acts to bolster its appeal[66].  For example in the typeface, the size of the print etc. recreates the identity of the author and itself acts as a form of advertising[67] and that the watermark and indenting the first page with the author’s initials acts as a physical connection between the author and consumer[68].

Finally, what New Grub Street demonstrates human experience of the changing dialectic relation between the consumption and production of literature in the 1880s and 90s.  Although Gissing has a particularly singular vision of this world, one of his skills as an author is to present an argument or debate from both sides and to make the two as real as to have an equal emotional truth.  Although there are some exceptions to this, when Gissing sets up an opposition he can present both sides so as to make them credible and articulate.  For as much as Milvain is the authors wry mouthpeice for everything he saw wrong with modern literature, Jasper Milvain still has a real emotional life and our sympathies.  Although we know from biographical information which side of the fence he was on, a purely textual reading could put Reardon and Milvain on a par, or even put Milvain as the most favoured out of the two, since he both survives the novel and gets the girl in the end.  It is for this reason that the book was, and continues to be, a useful indication of the interior life of writers living in the new Grub Street of Britains Fin-de Seicle.


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                - John Goode, ‘Introduction’ ppvii-xxi

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-          Maura Ives, ‘A Bibliographical Approach to Victorian Publishing’ pp269-288
-          Kelly J. Mays, ‘The Disease of Reading and Victorian Periodicals’ pp165-194

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                -Lindsey German, ‘Foreword’ pp9-42

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[1] J. Goode, Introduction p.ix
[2] G. Gissing New Grub Street p6, 8
[3]  Ibid., p511
[4] R. Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Gissing, Dreiser and Zola p.102
[5] Cit.
[6] G. Gissing, p.8
[7] J. Goode, George Gissing: Ideology and Fiction p.131
[8] G. Gissing, ibid. p.8
[9] Ibid, pp8-9
[10] See for example Howell and Colderidge’s comments, quoted in R, Bowlby, p 92, and also the comment in the article from the Scots Observer that, “Literature exists of itself and for itself”, quoted in P. D. Macdonald p.9
[11] E.P. Thompson, The Moral Economy and the English Crowd
[12] eg. A. Poole, Gissing In Context p.119
[13] See for instance Gosse’s comments on the Novel.
[14] Gissing, p.370
[15] ibid., pp.428-433
[16] ibid. p13
[17] E.g. R. Bowlby p.90
[18] P. Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production p.76
[19] C. O’Grada, The Great Irish Famine, pp.32-3
[20] See for instance in K. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value Part 1 p395-6
[21] G. Gissing, p.181
[22] ibid., p107
[23] ibid., p107
[24] ibid., p181
[25] ibid., p181
[26] R. Williams, p.190
[27] Ibid. p.217
[28] ibid, pp.177-189
[29] J. Carey, The Intellectuals and The Masses p5
[30] See. K. Mays, ‘The Disease of Reading and Victorian Periodicals’ in Jordan, J.O. and Patten, R.L. (eds.) Literature in the Market Place: Nineteenth-century British Publishing and Reading Practices
[31] McDonald, P.D. British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice 1880-1914 pp.3-5
[32] Kelly Mays points out that in this period and in relation to these discourses the idea of “Study” as opposed to “Reading” is seriously formulated (p. 181), and amateur learning clubs give way to the professionalisation of intellectual labour through an institutional structure that is effectively the beginnings of the British University system and the epistemological authority of academic citation (pp.183-4).
[33] J. Rose, ‘Was Capitalism Good For Victorian Literature?’ p.496
[34] R. Bowlby, pp85-6
[35] J. Goode, Introduction p.xiv
[36] G. Gissing, p.208
[37] i.e. the thwarted desire of the middle class urban consumer, J. Goode, George Gissing: Ideology and Fiction.
[38] See for example T.W. Adorno’s theories on mass culture, or his fellow Frankfurt School associate Herbert Marcuse.
[39] We know that the sections of Reardon’s travels to Europe and recollections of Greece were semi-autobiographical.
[40] G. Gissing, pp.15-27
[41] ibid., p.20
[42] ibid. p.25
[43] ibid. p.23
[44] ibid. p.23
[45] Interestingly, this was actually at odds with what Arnold actually said in Culture and Anarchy, whose ethos was more in line with an egaliterian one-nation Toryism, not dissimmilar to his literary contemporary Mrs Gaskell.
[46] J. Rose, ‘Was Capitalism Good For Victorian Literature?’ p497
[47] G. Gissing, p164
[48] ibid. p.167
[49] J. Rose, ‘Was Capitalism Good For Victorian Literature?’ p490
[50] J. Carey, pp107-8
[51] R. Williams, p190
[52] J. Rose, ‘Was Capitalism Good For Victorian Literature?’
[53] See for example the aforementioned Scots Observer article quoted in P.D. Macdonald (p.) for an example contemporaneous with New Grub Street.
[54] When describing the contents, the word “Bits” is used by Whelpdale six times in the same sentence to hammer the point home. Gissing, p.460
[55] ibid. p.460
[56] ibid. p.460
[57] ibid. p.460
[58] ibid. p.461
[59] M. Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (preface)
[60] G. Gissing, p.35
[61] J. Carey, p.100
[62] Ibid. pp.97-103
[63] And we might perhaps extrapolate this out to include and mass-produced cultural artifact.
[64] G. Gissing, pp.28-30
[65] Ibid. p.456
[66] L. Ives ‘A Bibliographical Approach to Victorian Publishing’ p.275-288
[67] Ibid., p.278
[68] ibid., p.274