All posts filed under: Fiction

On Gender, Blurring the Line Between Dogma and Farce

Everyone has heard of Charlie Chaplin. Less widely recognized is the name of his older half-brother Sydney (often called Syd), who was a gifted comic actor in his own right. Unlike his younger brother, who invented his own kind of comedy, Syd relied on the established comic tropes of the day, which often were nothing more than feature-length versions of boys-school dress-up sketches. This included the 1925 version of Charley’s Aunt, in which Syd starred as an Oxford student who pretends to be a wealthy middle-aged widow as part of a hoax aimed at helping his friends Jack and Charley propose to their paramours Amy and Kitty. Predictably, this “aunt” attracts the romantic attentions of the villain, a penniless former grandee who seeks to plunder the aunt’s fortune. As this clip shows, the brilliance of Syd’s acting is expressed not by succeeding as a lady (as Nathan Lane did during portions of The Birdcage in 1996), but rather by failing in the nearly complete way that this kind of comic role requires: His feminine pretenses …

The Conservative Manifesto Buried in ‘Avengers: Endgame’

For the last decade or so, American cinema has exhibited a paradox: Though Hollywood has become more and more liberal, especially on issues of race and gender, Hollywood blockbusters have become more conservative—not just by recycling old plot points, as Star Wars has done, but also, in the case of superhero movies, by indulging a politics of reaction. What might be called “Nolan’s enigma” began in earnest with The Dark Knight, which involved a tough-on-crime WASP using torture, intimidation, and surveillance to bring down a media-savvy terrorist. The Dark Knight Rises took things one step further with Bane, a menacing mix of Robespierre and Ruthenberg, whose pseudo-Marxist coup unleashes all manner of mayhem upon Gotham: banishments and public hangings, street brawls and show trials, and—in a scene lifted straight out of the French revolution—the storming of Blackgate (Bastille) prison. Not to be outdone, Marvel soon embraced its own brand of post-9/11 conservatism. In every Avengers film, Joshua Tait notes, “it really is 1938….The threats are real and the Avengers’ unilateral actions are necessary” to protect …

On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important and Inspiring

Nineteen Eighty-Four is divided into three parts, the second of which is structured around Winston Smith’s love affair with Julia, a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth. Their romance begins with Smith offering Julia the sort of smooth talk that would send any woman’s heart aflutter: “I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” Moments later, he seals the deal by telling Julia that she’d always been in his thoughts. “I hated the first sight of you,” he tells her. “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago, I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” Naturally, Julia is seduced. Several pages later, Winston “pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells.” It is a symptom of George Orwell’s genius that, taken in context, this sequence makes perfect sense. In his life, Orwell seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act. And one can almost see him squirming …

Headline Rhymes

With creative endeavours these days, we need to be quite militant In portraying others’ lived experience, we can’t be too vigilant If you want to write about someone who isn’t identical to you You must get the official go-ahead from representatives of that crew The film A Dog’s Journey, for example, I must demand its removal ‘Cause I know for a fact no one secured canine species approval The incredible chutzpah on display—like so much dog poop, it stinks To think we think we could possibly know what our canine brethren think Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by: Policing the Creative Imagination For more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

The Case for Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, whose 120th anniversary we mark this Spring, remains one of the 20th Century’s most acclaimed and enduring writers. He keeps turning up on various Greatest–Books lists, often more than once—for the novels Lolita and Pale Fire, as well as his autobiography, Speak, Memory. And yet in this day and age, Nabokov is clearly a “problematic” fave. Not only is he a dead white male of privileged pedigree, but the novel that made him a literary star is, in the scolding words of feminist essayist Rebecca Solnit, “a book about a white man serially raping a child.” What’s more, Nabokov, a Russian-born refugee from both Communism and Nazism who died in 1977, made no secret of his contempt for both progressive political causes and literature as a means to advance them. He was politically incorrect avant la lettre.  And so it is not surprising that anti-Nabokov rumblings have been bubbling up in recent years. They include Solnit’s widely praised 2015 essay “Men Explain Lolita to Me,” in which she wrote about being lectured by …

Policing the Creative Imagination

At a time when activist displeasure can sweep through social media and destabilize reputations and nascent careers overnight, publishers are taking unprecedented steps in an effort to mitigate the risks. Among these is the use of sensitivity readers—individuals tasked with reading a work of fiction prior to publication in an effort to determine whether or not offense is likely to be caused by an author’s portrayal of characters from demographics considered marginalised or historically oppressed. Many readers, I suspect, will have become aware of this emerging trend following a series of nasty controversies in the world of Young Adult publishing. In 2017, a fantasy novel by Kiera Drake entitled The Continent was attacked for its allegedly racist portrayal of Native Americans. The novel was hastily rewritten following guidance from sensitivity readers. In January of this year, Amelie Zhao’s debut novel Blood Heir, set in a fantastical version of medieval Russia, was denounced online because its portrayal of chattel slavery was deemed insufficiently sensitive to America’s own racist history. In response, Zhao thanked her persecutors profusely …

Headline Rhymes

Before believing it’s helpful For kids to skip school for the climate Consider the wisdom level That surely must be behind it If I’d been an activist at 16 I would have made your head spin As leader of an airtight regime Based on the songs of Led Zeppelin Why not speak truth to power With a snack over your lunch hour? How about you teach us After afternoon recess? Or a bake sale So you don’t fail Out of school? Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by: Self-Harm Versus the Greater Good: Greta Thunberg and Child Activism Teenage Climate-Change Protestors Have No Idea What They’re Protesting For more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Headline Rhymes

We rightly imagine the pain Of kids separated at our borders But tend to ignore the same Happening in other corners I’m talking, of course Of the halls of divorce Where false claims Are part of the game It’s no myth, the silver bullet But the trigger, let’s not pull it Because there may be nothing worse Than failing to put children first Views on the news, delivered so smooth. This week’s inspired by: Divorce and the ‘Silver Bullet’ For more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

Michel Houellebecq: Prophet or Troll?

A review of Serotonine (French Edition), by Michel Houellebecq. French and European Publications Inc (January 3, 2019), 352 pages. Michel Houllebecq, the bestselling French novelist and provocateur, has a knack for predicting disasters. His sex-tourism novel Plateforme (2001) featured a terrorist incident at a resort in Thailand that was eerily similar to the 2002 Bali bombings. Soumission (2015) was released on the day of the al-Qaeda-linked Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris; the novel’s subject (an Islamist takeover of France) made the coincidence distinctly uncomfortable. Now Houellebecq’s most recent book, Sérotonine (2019), appears to have foreseen the ‘gilet jaune’ (‘yellow vest’) protests that have rocked France since November. Clearly Houellebecq saw something like this coming, and understood that it was inevitable. Yet for all his perspicacity, Houellebecq is often dismissed as a mere literary troll. Certainly he has a troll’s gift for identifying weak spots in his targets, and then attacking them relentlessly. He is not above this sort of nihilistic glee; but unlike a normal troll, he focuses his rage and disgust, not on random individuals, …

Headline Rhymes

Pulling Jordan Peterson’s book off the rack In the wake of the New Zealand mosque attack Is like banning the Don’t Look Back in Anger song After the Manchester concert bomb “12 Rules” is a balm to calm the dangers That might drive one to kill innocent strangers The next time a terrorist act hits Might they ban the Ten Commandments? Views on the news, delivered so smooth. Click for last week’s edition. And for more Headline Rhymes, follow along on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.