Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Aniversary


So, Harry Potter - then.

I can't pretend to be an expert - I've not read all the books, but I've read three and spent this weekend locked in hell watching all the films back to back (my friend's revenge for making her watch all six Star Wars movies in one weekend).

Let's lay down some theoretical premises then. Children’s' literature is middle class - in the nineteenth century sense - essentially born of bourgeois ideology - Rousseauian noble savage and all that. You can see traces of the themes in Wordsworth's Prelude
Oh, many a time have I, a five years' child,
In a small mill-race severed from his stream,
Made one long bathing of a summer's day;
[...] as if I had been born
On Indian plains, and from my mother's hut
Had run abroad in wantonness, to sport
A naked savage, in the thunder shower.
That should suffice to illustrate the point. Medieval literature treated childhood as adulthood in miniature.

The point of all of this is simply - a key feature of Modern children's literature is the delineation of a separate child's world. Further, that Evil in this context is that which would destroy the child-world and bring adulthood into it - as an example see the current Narnia film with Tilda Swinton doing a Venus in Furs routine as the White Witch. In the book, the Witch is clearly seductive, sensuous and worldly - with Red Lips and everything. She is evil in such ways as to deny Christmas, to assault a core ritual of childhood.

Obviously, genuine evil has no place in a children's narrative - holocausts are not conducive to innocence. Evil is known simply by announcing itself as such and acting in such a way as to intrude on the innocence of childhood - just as evil is the Other of any other discourse/narrative - in any other story - the thing that shatters the ability to keep the fictional text-world together.

That is, I'd suggest, children's fiction revolves around the maintenance of the protected dependent status of children.

Now, to Potter proper. I'll make a few points. I suggest that, in psychoanalytical terms Potter is in a feminised position - the position of the object of desire, the objet petit a:
The concept of the objet petit a is central to Lacan’s theory of desire,
which arguably represents his major contribution to psychoanalysis. It is an expression of the lack inherent in human beings, whose incompleteness and early helplessness produce a quest for fulfilment beyond the satisfaction of biological needs. The objet petit a is a fantasy that functions as the cause of desire; as such, it determines whether desire will be expressed within the limits of the pleasure principle or “beyond,” in pursuit of an unlimited jouissance, an impossible and even deadly enjoyment.
(From here [PDF]). The objet petit a structures desire and thus structures narrative synchronically and diachronically - in traditional gothic fiction in it the lonely female in the tower being menaced by a count. In Harry potter it is the boy in the labyrinthine Hogwarts.

As he is desired so too is he dangerous - a maternal curse has made him anathema to Voldemort (causing 'death' once already). The Object petit a is supposed to arise from the primary castration of the subject by language (significantly Potter is marked with a signifier - the scar on his forehead). To obtain the forbidden object of desire is to undo language and the symbolic order - to understand all is to forgive all, and to understand that the object of desire is just another thing breaks down the oppositions that structure meaning around it.

In Children’s narrative, to introduce the adult world comprehensively is to destroy the distinction between the fantasy of childhood and the fantasy of adulthood. To vouchsafe the symbolic universe Harry must be protected - this is the function of the equal and opposite evil of Azkaban and the Ministry - the smacking, chastising parent.

Here we are now approaching the key of my discussion - his privileged position as the vouchsafe of the Law makes Harry Sovereign - in effect, as beyond the law as any Monarch. Hence so many stories in the novels revolve around not simply the old Boarding School stories of breaking the rules, but also the authorities' connivance and favouritism in Potter's breaking them.

Herein, I think, lies the appeal. Adults shouldn't read children's books. Magic shouldn't exist. Rules shouldn't be broken. Evil should not be so prominent in children's narratives. There is a pleasure in transgression going on, an escape into naughtiness but without danger or complexity (I mean, my jokes about Voldemort being a freedom fighter against the totalitarian Ministry of Magic - I mean what penal regime has Souleating torturous monsters as a part of its system?). Hence why people who would not read fantasy normally do so.

Politically, the books are highly PC - mixed sex and race boarding school and mixed class (though how economics works in a world of magic is never explained). No-one ever discusses Hogwarts' tuition fees. Despite Draco Malfoy being an old fashioned aristocratic snob versus our meritocratic heroes, there's plenty of 'blood lineage' flowing around in Potter following in his father's footsteps - it's all in the blood. Add this in with Potter's Sovereign status and we start to see a fairly conventional fantasy narrative of the return of the rightful king and re-establishment of a functional natural order (Of course, what makes Harry so special is the absence of parent's his lack - just as Star Wars ends with the re-establishment of the family order).

Perhaps I haven't been as clear and concise as I'd like, but that strikes me as needing too much work for a blog.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Carrion pictures of Chairman Mao


Jaun Cole discusses here an apparent case of a student being visited by yanklander Inspector Knackers because he put in an inter-library loan request for Mao's Little Red Book (you know, the one it was compulsory for Chinese peasants to wave around in attractive pictures - central to understanding that nasty viscious mind-fucked totalitarian regime). BTW, it's available on t'interweb here.

I'm really pissed - partly because instead of writing a fluffy peice for this blogs second anniversary tomorrow, I'm blogging about America, fucking America knackering the most elementary principles of free speech, librarianship and intellectual investigation. So mind numbingly stupid.

I know, our freedom is always contingent to the unrestricted will of the state and its power over life and death, but still, to see theory come to life is more than a little irritating.



Looks like The Ingrate got in there before me on this story.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Communist Gladiators

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Somewhile ago I gave a talk for the SPGB entitled I'm not Spartacus - I read while doing prep that Arthur Koestler has written a fiction on the subject (as my loyal readers know - pace anonymous Troll in comments below - I have a fondness for historical fiction). Further, I'd recently read Koetsler's Darkness at Noon and was intrigued to read what he may have written.

Koestler certainly is a more subtle and penetrating anti-communist author than say Orwell (whom I have never liked) and I think his books are the better for it - although Orwell's like of subtly may have contributed to his appropriation by cold-warriors. While Orwell chose allegory in Animal Farm, Koestler chose anachronism in The Gladiators - essentially examining modern communism in terms of a slave revolt.

Basically, he applies modern terms - the democratic party, capital, etc. in his description of the revolt, tying in Spartacus with the eternal attempt to reclaim a lost Eden.

Basically, he presentation of the communist aspiration is more sympathetic - up to and including the abolition of money and acheivement of common ownership. He even recognises the bizarre quality of leadership in the Form of Crixus, who becomes Spartacus' rival leader because the horde wants a new leader. Clearly presenting leadership as some sort of emrgent property of the horde reflecting their aspirations, not the will of the leaders.

At the same time, it presents revolutionary degeneration 'the law of detours' as a tragedy, perhaps an inevitable one. Spartacus' attempt to impose his will on the Horde -f or their own good - flounders and leads to crucifixions prefiguring the fate of the rebels at the hands of Marcus Crassus. These crucifixions in turn pre-figure christianity, which Koestler identifies as part of the ongoing attempt top establish the Sun State (ambiguously, he usggests this drive may itself be illusory, and ultimately an unobtainable impossiblity, in the Bataillean sense as a type of erotic/psychic support mechanism.

At times it moves from an almost fairytalish account of the revolt to close to poetic personal experiences of some of the actors, particularly of the Romans and little people - battles happen decidedly off-stage.

Certainly worth a quick read, it's only short. Also, consider the accusations against koestler himself and his treatment of other people, particularly women (he is an alleged rapist) when compared with the beauty of his writing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

State of nature

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Sorry for the relative silence - been vaguely busy.

Anyway, sort of apropo this wee spat (possibly) came the news earlier this week - Civic partnerships. More with a whimper than a bang - if anyone can recall the furore over gay rights in the Eighties with Tories getting all steamed up and passing Clause 28 (now thankfully dead) will mark the difference now the shoe is on the other foot.

Clearly, what in the US is now termed Culture wars is just some way for the right in power to mobilise their base. Certainly, some familly campaigners have been tiredly mouthing off. The Holy Mother Church being among them. Noticeably Radio 4's Today programme had a random Tory peer wittering on about marriage being a secure environment for raising children (does that mean a childless marriage is not a marriage?). Equally intriguing was a government Minister desperately covering their backs by insisting that Civil Partnerships are actually quite different from marriage because (and get this) you don't need to make your vows in public. There, that's it.

And this betrays the hollow core. Civil partnerships give all the same legal and economic rights as marriage to gay and lesbian partnership. Take that away from marriage, it seems, and there's nothing left ut the empty hollow shell of words. This is a fact further betrayed by the Archbishop (how we can trust the pronouncements on sex matters of anyone whose job title is a phallic metaphor I don't know) - who says:
"What the Government should do in terms of public policy is support marriage rather than undermine it," he said. "To put beside marriage an alternative or what appears to be a perfectly approved legal alternative lifestyle I think does not help the institution of marriage at all."
Oooh, look, look. Marriage is something, apparently, that cannot survive without state support and financial inducements - vide: In a speech on Monday, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said the loss of tax perks meant there was no financial incentive to marry or stay married. a Judge speaketh.

Marriage is natural, sayeth Conservatives. The truth, it is an economic relationship in an era where you are what you own. Entirely divorced from love and sex.


Sort-of Tangentally, for Graham, I've meant to link to this book for ages. Via: Deweyblog