Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Favourite self-delusional writing comments.

I was pondering the section of my thesis that I have been battering my head against for what feels like the past century when a colleague enquired as to its progress. I heard myself say the immortal words: 'It's all there. I just need it to click together and it'll be fine.' Alongside, 'it'll practically write itself,' and 'I work organically; I don't like to confine myself to a plan,' these are perhaps the most pernicious words that can be uttered by a writer. They all share a common desire to abdicate our own responsibility to actually produce some writing. All of them possess a deus ex machina-like appeal to an unspoken, ineffable god of writing to come down and provide us with inspiration. The problem, of course, is that the longer we spend relying on such divine intervention, the less we are actually doing ourselves, and the more stressed, rushed etc we become.

So, what can we do? Should we attempt to inoculate ourselves against such impotence by just submitting to the drudgery of composition? Well, yes, but there is a deeper issue here. As writers, do we really want to take full and complete responsibility for our output? Is it not somehow safer to abrogate our role in composition. Although it means that we can never truly take all the credit for what we produce, it equally insulates us against blaming ourselves for any lack of motivation or inadequacy. In this sense, the religious analogy employed above is particularly pertinent. By attempting to externalise the actual process of composition, we turn ourselves into mere mediums, channeling rather than creating. As the committed atheist that I am, perhaps it is this perceived shackling of my own creativity that irks me the most.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Is that a water bottle in your pocket, or is it a symbol of our infantalised, reified, consumerist enslavement?

This post could equally have been titled, Musings Over a Sports-cap Water Bottle and contains an overthought, rambling, and unsupported stream of consciousness.

Look at the image to the left of this text. What do you see? On one level it is just a water bottle, as much as anything can be 'just' something in an ontological sense. But have you ever stopped to think about what such an item means? Water bottles are not a recent phenomenon of course, although the aggressive marketing of such an item is relatively new. Why do we, and I include myself in this question, get suckered in to buying something that is so artfully designed to work against many basic notions of individual human life? This may seem a strange question, and it probably is, but bear with me a while whilst I attempt to deconstruct the social conditioning embodied within the cultural artefact pictured above.

Consumerist conditioning: The water bottle is a symbol of pure capitalist excess. When you live in a country which has clean and drinkable water freely available (water rates excepted), why do you choose to pay for it? Is it a style issue, a convenience issue, a health issue? It can of course be all of these things but all of those are superficial and market constructed concerns. Drinking from a water bottle sends out the message that one can afford to purchase a drink but that we choose to make it a low-calorie healthy option. The companies that produce bottled water have tapped in (sorry) to contemporary mores regarding status and bodily awareness and, as such companies are wont to do, have found a way to produce maximum profit from these anxieties.

Infantilised consumer: The advent of the sports-cap is a particularly pernicious development in the water-bottle market. Such a device appears to be a matter of ultimate convenience. Now you don't need to use two hands to drink the water that you have paid over the odds for...Hooray. But what is actually occurring is an atavistic return to the drinking motion of the baby, clamping on to a sublimated nipple, suckling from the corporate teat. The sports cap, ironically named considering how many people sat on trains, in cars or in offices are using them, is also ideally designed for the third of my complaints.

Reified through water: The rise of water bottles is surely connected to the busier, more work orientated lives that we are made to live in contemporary society. Rather than drinking being a social activity, harking back to a primeval memory of the waterhole, water bottles enable/disable the individual by allowing them to drink at the place of work. The one-handed sports cap exacerbates this condition by ensuring that the other hand can be continually employed by the worker. The next step must surely be the enforced wearing of those tasteful baseball hats with straws and beverages attached, leaving both hands free to continue the drudgery of working existence.

So what is the answer? Should we boycott the bottled water industry, and instead use the taps that are ubiquitous in the western world? Well, yes and no. Turning our backs on 'progress' simply because we reveal the capitalist conditioning that underpins it is tempting, but ultimately such a choice is a Pyrrhic victory. By all means buy a bottle of water if you are thirsty, but make sure that you take that bottle home and refill it (despite the wonderfully capitalist warning on the bottle instructing you not to do so) and perhaps consider donating a small amount to a charity such as Water Aid, striving to enable millions to have the clean water that we have taken for granted so much as to ignore. Next time you pull out your sports cap bottle on the bus, holding your paper/book/Iphone/Ipod etc in the free hand, or sit in the office, typing away whilst attached to the sublimated teat of all that is wrong with this capitalist world, stop and think about what it is you are doing.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

John Ajvide Lindqvist: Handling the Undead review

Now famous for being the author of Let The Right One In (now a major film as the new edition of the book proudly proclaims) Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead contains some similar thematic concerns, chiefly those surrounding families and loss. It is this idea of loss that lies at the heart of Handling the Undead, in which (to quote the blurb) ‘Something very peculiar is happening in Stockholm. There’s a heatwave on and people cannot turn their lights out or their appliances off. Then the terrible news breaks. In the city morgue, the dead are waking up... What do they want? What everybody wants: to come home. Handling the Undead is a story about our greatest fear and about a love that defies death.’

What makes this book so interesting is that the horror seems to come from the living. The ‘reliving’ are tragic figures, stuck in a limbo that takes physical form. The focus on family tragedy and personal loss reconfigures popular culture’s vision of the zombie and inverts it. The lust for flesh does not come from the reanimated dead. They serve as ciphers, and their actions are manifestations of our own fears. In a kind of metaphysical martial art, they take the power of emotions and redirect them back. Therefore, hatred and anger leads to violence, whereas ‘happy thoughts’ result in passive undead. The exception to this passivity is an intriguing desire to understand movement through dissection (the translation uses deconstruction which, as a literary critic, is a dangerously overdetermined word), expressed in escalatory fashion from a metronome to a pet rabbit. The fact that the latter is a rare example of the usual register of horror writing only serves to amplify its effect.

Reading Handling the Undead is a strange experience. It never quite descends into the realms of zombie horror but instead is continually haunted by the genre expectations, resulting in an uncanny feeling of (un)familiarity. References to Resident Evil and Dawn of the Dead encourage this haunting intertextuality, as do echoes of Evil Dead in one family’s escape to an isolated cottage, but such cultural comparisons never fully emerge into the book’s narrative.

‘The dead have no existence other than that which the living imagine for them.’ So begins Jean-Claude Schmitt’s masterful ‘Ghosts in the Middle Ages’, and Lindqvist’s book resonates brilliantly with this notion. Handling the Undead dramatises what happens when the living are confronted with dead that return. What at first appears to be a joyous reunion of loved ones ‘from the undiscovered country’ (gotta get some Hamlet in there!) rapidly becomes a nightmare as the decaying shells that hint at but cannot fully signify the deceased people reveal the impossibility of life after death, at least in a physical sense.

The redemptive, even somewhat Rapture-like, ending would probably have turned off your humble scribe were it not for the tender portrayal of family life and the tragedies of parental loss that precedes it. Even a hard-hearted atheist like Mosca was close to shedding a tear at the beauty of Lindqvist’s evocations of release. It is here that the obligatory comparisons to Stephen King that predominate on the cover of English translations of his work are rendered somewhat inaccurate. Lindqvist is not, at least in this example, a horror writer in the American style. He uses the tools and tropes of horror writing to interrogate the psychology of loss and to examine how dislocated bereavement can become destructive. In doing so, Lindqvist takes the clich├ęd platitude of ‘If you love me, let me go,’ and injects it with new and tragic meaning.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Drag Me To Hell – Go on then, if you insist.

Now I don’t venture to the cinema all that often nowadays, principally because of the myriad pressures on my time; childcare and Phd make Mosca a dull parasite and all that. However, last week, due to a fortunate correlation between my work and Mrs. Mosca’s shift pattern, I was all set to go and watch the bound-to-be-awful Terminator movie. Except it isn’t out yet, which in itself is a clear sign of my out-of-touchness. Therefore, as I can’t just decide to go next week instead, due to the almost astrological combination of factors needed to enable such an expedition, I randomly ended up going to see Drag Me To Hell with a friend who had already seen it earlier in the week. Let me just state here for the record that this turned out to be a good thing (TM) as Raimi’s return to form was certainly far more interesting than the most recent trailer for Salvation. Raimi has (justifiably) received a lot of criticism for the emo-snoozefest that was Spiderman 3 and with 4 and probably 5 lined up, most horror fans thought that we had lost one of the genre’s most interesting directors to the mainstream for good (or bad). But, with Drag Me To Hell, Raimi is back with a bang.

The movie itself seems to me to be a very close re-imagining (if you’ll excuse such a vile term polluting your eyes) of the utterly amazing and essential Night of the Demon. The recurring silhouette of the lamia in Raimi’s film clearly references the 1957 original, as do recurring motifs such as the use of wind to denote demonic powers, and the location of the film’s ending – although there is a clear difference between the moralities and cultural values in evidence here. But what really interested me was Raimi’s obsession with borders and thresholds – bodily and cultural – in the film. Determined as I am to avoid spoilers, particularly with a film that so gloriously delights in good old-fashioned jump and shock tactics, the review to come in my next post will try to avoid revealing what happens, but instead focus on the imagery and subconscious, if you will, of the film.

Suffice it to say, for now, that if you enjoy horror movies (particularly those that do not resort to the gratuitous pornography of recent torture franchises such as Saw and Hostel) then get yourself along to your nearest purveyor of cinematic entertainment (or online download agent if you sail the seas of dirty piracy – although the sound alone demands that this is seen in the cinema) and enjoy horror as it used to be…

Friday, 29 May 2009

Oh baby baby it's a wide world...

Why is it that with the whole of the internet - which is to say, the whole world - at my fingertips on a given afternoon, I have so little enthusiasm for anything that I can't even manage to venture past the same 4 or 5 bookmarks. It seems to me that the more there is out there, the less I actually want to look at...

Is there anything more depressing than hovering over the same old usual subjects, whether it be Google Reader, Facebook, or a videogames forum, regularly hitting F5 and hoping that something will spring forth and provide me with some modicum of interest?

Anyway, in other news, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has now been read and is being digested in readiness for an outpouring of review style shenanigans.

P.S. I hate sunny days............

Friday, 8 May 2009

I'm back...Or am I?

Greetings dear reader (and I use the singular with both affectation and accuracy),

Maybe it's the fact that I need to register today for the big Gothic conference that I am really excited about but terrified by due to the amount of work needed to produce a paper out of my random musings scrawled thus far on post-it-notes and scraps of paper; maybe it's the viral chest infection I am currently playing a less than convivial host to (don't worry, no pigs were harmed during the contraction of this virus); perhaps it's the fact that it's Friday, I've got a veritable tsunami of work to type up, a thesis outline for my current chapter to construct. Most probably, it is all of the above, but I am not feeling entirely myself this morning. I shall support this statement with evidence to you, my jury of peers:

1) I am actually writing something on my blog.
2) I feel quite positive about the ideas being gathered for the present chapter.
3) I have just bought the Daily Telegraph...I'll repeat that one for those who do not know me quite so well as others, I have just bought the lousy Torygraph rag. Admittedly only to read up on the MP expenses story, but still I had to buy the Guardian for the dual reasons of assuaging my guilty conscience and to wrap the filthy broadsheet in. I was tempted to succumb to a copy of Bizarre as brandishing that would have been less embarrassing for my hard earned bearded sandal wearing image.
4) I am drinking tea. This makes me shiver even as I type it. The words seem familiar, the sentiment expressed has an uncanny resemblance to an activity that I would generally indulge in, and yet that one final word exposes the doppelganger that is purporting to be me, the projection of my innermost demons manifested in a tangible enough physical form to control the movement of the keys on my, yes my, laptop. There is coffee in the office, this is not an act of desperation brought about by an absence. No, this was a seemingly conscious decision made by ?me?

I can say no more, I feel drained from the consumption of bovine lactation within a caffeinated environment. I may need to have a little lie down. I may even try to work off this pyschophysiological homonculus. Or perhaps, and this last option is the most likely, I'll go and have a cup of coffee and subsume this dark alter-ego to the furthest recesses of my subconscious and continue with my day.

I will return soon with thoughts on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, some thesis ideas that came to me in the shower, and the inevitable rant once I have had a chance to read and digest the contents of the Torygraph expose. Until then, dear reader, I leave you at once myself and yet still in some uncanny way seemingly some other Mosca, but as always, dutifully yours.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Bizarre Advertising Boasts

I like crisps. Crisps are a good thing. You can't go far wrong with crisps. They have an inherent tangibility, with their very name signifying their specific textural quality. So why have Walkers decided that the best way to 'big up' their newly relaunched Sensations range is to proudly declare that they are made with "real ingredients"? What else would they have used? Surreal ingredients (although considering some of the new flavour contenders, that might have been more appropriate); unreal ingredients? I know that they are aiming to signify that the flavours have some authentic link to their titles, but did nobody at advertising stop to think that this particular phrasing was more than a little silly?

Oh, and Happy New Year. Sorry it's a little late.