This Week

Monday

We stood at Pendennis Point on the jagged rocks, the rain like sea-spray, watching the water swell and roll, debating whether or not to go in. I think our minds were made up as soon as we saw the sea, but we played with the possibility for five minutes or so – not because of any dare-devilish tendencies or macho pride, but merely out of disappointment.

Instead of throwing ourselves into the waves, we went to the old keep and talked about fatherhood.

Tuesday

Went to the Meat Counter and had the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Wolfed it and washed it down with a pint of Harbour pilsner. Resolved myself to eat one a week when I’m working and can afford it.

I hardly ever eat meat; I’m allowed one weekly treat.

Wednesday

I switch on the CD player. Jamiroquai comes on, and for a moment I’m confused, and then I feel a little pang as I realise it must’ve been Laurence, yesterday, as we drove him to the station.

Our goodbye was rushed, the train due to leave any minute. He leant through the front passenger side and we hugged, and then he ran off up the platform as I pulled away.

Thursday

I turn left onto Western Promenade Road, drive past the Jubilee Pool, and there, as I round the bend, I see St. Michael’s Mount.

‘Have you been to Penzance, yet?’ My nan would always ask. ‘Have you seen St. Michael’s Mount?’

My answer was always the same.

And now, finally, here I am, looking out over the sparkling sea at St. Michael’s Mount, cut off by high tide, the chapel cresting the peak.

I feel my throat close and my vision goes soft-focus, like a lens misted with sea-spray.

I blink and focus on the road ahead.

Friday

I drove back from Hayle with a difficult decision to make, but a weekend to mull it over.

Paddy and I stand at Pendennis Point, on the jagged rocks, the sun a burning orange globe sinking in the distance.

The sea is movement and colour. Deep steel-blue purple pink orange flashing white. The lapping waves with their sharp peaks look like an impossible mountain range, falling and reforming over aeons. I feel that familiar sense of insignificance that I often have when faced with the sea. I consider having a cigarette. I change my mind. I remain smoke-free.

Saturday

Reclined on the sofa with Audrey asleep in my arms, trying to dislodge raspberry seeds from between my teeth (roughing up the tip of my tongue) and reading Any Human Heart by William Boyd. This book belonged to my nan.

It is the epistolary form of the novel that has moved me to write this post (as always, reading inspires writing).

I have been neglecting my blog. I have forgotten what it is for – but this week has reminded me.

Sunday

Today.

I have made my decision. In fact, I made it on Friday evening, but these two nights have allowed time for it to sink and settle in as a certainty, rather than it just floating around with the other options.

At my desk, I finish writing this post. Beside me the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám lies open – my nan’s copy from 1945; Has anyone even read this? – our yearbook anthology; a pocked lump of temerite serpentine from Kynance Cove, black and white and red; beer mats, books, other artefacts.

My partner comes in and rests her head on my shoulder. It’s time to leave this world of words, I have things to do.

 

 

 

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Greenbank Books

An Interview with Bookseller Julius Hyde

The Old High Street is aptly named. It’s one of the oldest streets in Falmouth, branched with alleys and courtyards; an arch spans the street at the top of the hill, crested by a clock-tower. Here, away from the big businesses of Market Street, you can find independent cafés, boutiques and antique shops. And Greenbank Books.

albatross

Illustration by Mervyn Peake from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Displayed in the window is a varied selection of publications: Peter Ackroyd’s London; The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Mervyn Peake; specialist books on subjects such as maritime, motoring, military and art; and countless titles on Cornish history. Inside, the light is warm and books line all three walls; two tables occupy the carpeted floor space, one spines-up for browsing and one covers-up for display. A lifetime’s worth of reading.

 

Today there’s jazz playing: Charlie Parker. The other times I’ve come here it’s been classical music. Either way it’s always instrumental: there’s no room for lyrics, this small shop is already full of words.

Julius Hyde greets me, shakes my hand, pulls up two chairs on the shop floor. He comes across as a gentle man, unassuming and knowledgeable. He wears spectacles and a knitted cardigan and his hair and beard are grey.

I came here with a long list of books early in the summer and he knew the titles he had in stock and exactly where each one was, even if it was buried under a pile of books in the back.

He’s been running the shop for almost two years now, tending customers of all sorts, from young to very old. Many of them are looking for specialist books, of which the shop has an excellent stock, whereas some just come in to browse the paperbacks. Before becoming a bookseller he was a collector.

‘I’d been collecting books for thirty years,’ he tells me. He speaks slowly, deliberately – not hesitant, just unhurried. ‘I could put the first stock of books in the shop from my own collection of stuff.’

He admits that parting with his collection was difficult, but as a bookseller he has so many texts coming through that there’s no space for him to miss anything.

‘Do you ever find anything interesting in your books, such as inscriptions, photographs or notes?’

‘Not as many as I’d like.’ He smiles. He says he’s found some interesting items such as photographs, postcards and pressed flowers. ‘Never any money,’ he laughs. ‘And I’ve never found any photographs that shouldn’t be in there either.’

Once he sold a travel book and a train ticket to Pitlochry fell out from between the pages as the customer opened the book. She asked to keep the ticket: she said the man she was buying it for would love that the ticket was in there. It gives the book a history, a story of its own, set in the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the protagonist an unknowable traveller reading this very book.

Inscriptions, though, from a bookseller’s perspective, aren’t so romantic.

‘Generally, inscriptions are a bit of a nuisance. The fact that people write, in biro, very banal things, or they think it’s fine to write all over the book, is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s almost a kind of defacing.’

I agree with him, I tell him I can’t bring myself to annotate, at least not in pen. It’s as if the book doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to anyone, and that to add my own words would be a futile attempt to possess something that isn’t mine. It’s the books that possess us, if only momentarily. That said, for me a banal inscription wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, and an interesting inscription might just be a deal-clincher.

I look down at the notebook in my lap, to the questions scribbled there. I’m getting caught up in the conversation. ‘So let’s talk about literature,’ I say, looking up. ‘What’s the first book that you remember, not necessarily reading, but loving, really affecting you?’

stigofthedump4

Edward Ardizzone, Stig of the Dump

‘Probably Stig of the Dump,’ he answers. ‘And interestingly, the cover art from that is by Edward Ardizzone who’s now – forty, fifty years later – one of my favourite illustrators.’ (Later I look up some illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. They are simple and scratchy: crosshatchings and lines built up to form a full image. Visually they remind me of the lines of type on a page, or the metal etchings that sometimes accompany old books.) ‘Well after that I should think probably the Narnia stories, The Silver Chair was one I really liked as a kid.’

‘I think when I was a kid my favourites were Diana Wynne Jones,’ I say, trying to remember the names of the books but I can only recall the colourful cover art, parallel worlds and the enchanters that had nine lives (“The reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen) ‘and then the His Dark Materials trilogy – I loved that when I was a kid.[i] And at the moment,’ I ask, ‘your favourite book, or writer?’

‘Probably Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, which is again sort of fantasy. And other than that I suppose Zola. It’s quite a contrast.’

I make a mental note of Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan – add it to the to read list I carry around in my head.

‘So why do you think books are important, if they are important?’

I’ve noticed that Julius watches me as I ask the questions and looks away across the shop to answer. He looks away now, scratching his beard, his eyes flickering beneath his specs as he rummages around in his brain.

He starts slowly, searchingly: ‘I think they’re more important now because they’re one of the few pleasures you’ve got in the modern world where you’re actually creating. A book gives you the narrative and the rest of it you create yourself in your mind.

‘And in a world that’s increasingly bombarding everyone with images, to focus down on just the words and create your own images from that is… is a real kind of release.’

This calls to mind something Margaret Atwood wrote, comparing the printed text of the book to a musical score, ‘which is not music itself, but becomes music when played by musicians’.[ii]

‘That’s right,’ says Julius. ‘And I think, in a way, that’s becoming a rarer thing. Everybody’s just being bombarded with so much information and the idea that it’s got to hit you immediately’ – he claps his hands together – ‘and a book is the opposite of that. And I think we need that, too, I think people actually need that sort of difference.’

This is the difference between visiting a bookshop and buying a book online. It’s a slow experience as opposed to the immediacy of the internet, and it’s an activity that you participate in, running your fingers over the spines, searching, surrounded by stories. They may not have what you were looking for, but there are so many possibilities. You may stumble across your new favourite book.

‘Some say that people tend to read less these days and that written fiction is going to vanish, do you think that’s going to happen?’

‘No. No, I don’t. People use lots of different media but that’s always been the case. I think there’s always going to be innovation but I don’t think that’s going to kill it.

‘I hope there’ll be more of an appreciation of the book as a beautiful object. Maybe people will become more and more interested in specialist bindings and illustrations and that kind of thing.’

When I run out of questions and thank Julius for the interview, he hesitates, stays seated.

‘I just thought of another book that I really enjoyed, called Carter Beats the Devil…’ He gives me a brief synopsis and I add it to the list in my head.

‘Right, OK, I’ll show you some books,’ Julius says, rising from his chair. He walks over to the display table that dominates the the middle of the small shop. ‘Although having said about special bindings, there is something to be said for just ordinary…’ he hauls a polystyrene box of books out from under the table, ‘just an ordinary, modern binding.’

The first one he shows me is The Sweet Shop Owner by Graham Swift. On the cover, a boy looks through a sweet shop window at the jars of brightly coloured confectionary. It reminds me of Bill’s Candy Shop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, decades before Candy Crush Saga could even be conceived. The second is Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories of a City, an old photograph of the Süleymaniye Mosque in a sepia heat-haze.

Julius puts these ones away and has a rummage around in the back room for some older publications. He hands me Lays of Ancient Rome with its burnt-orange cloth cover and ridged spine decorated with gold tooling; it’s hefty for its size. Next is The Old Sailor’s Jolly Boat, published in 1844, and then a copy of Robinson Crusoe that looks equally ancient to my young eyes; inside are intricate etchings of scenes in the story. The first two of these have marbled endpapers: pretty funky for the nineteenth century.

After he finishes showing me these beautiful old books, we shake hands and I thank him for his time. What I intended to be a fifteen-minute interview turned into an enthusiastic, forty-minute conversation between a literature student and a bookseller. In fact, we continue chatting for another half an hour. That’s one thing the internet lacks – human interaction – and, as is often the case with second-hand shops, I came away with something that I didn’t expect to find.


  

[i] George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, (New York: Bantam Books, 2012) p. 495

[ii] Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) p. 44.

Featured image from: https://assets.entrepreneur.com

Paradise Project

We walk down the path, past rows of medicinal herbs and clusters of flowers of colours almost too vibrant to be natural. The sun’s muted behind a bank of cloud, a pleasant break from the bright, dry heat that beat down from morning to midday.

My dad and I are discussing the word ‘biome’, whether it’s word of its own or a portmanteau of ‘bio’ and ‘dome’. We both lean towards the latter. Then something strikes me: ‘But, in Minecraft the separate climates are called biomes,’ I say, ‘so I guess its some kind of specific ecosystem.’ I look it up on my phone’s dictionary: a complex biotic community characterized [sic] by distinctive plant and animal species and maintained under the climatic conditions of the region, especially such a community that has developed to climax. ‘Well, there we are then.’

The Eden Project has two bio-dome biomes. The Mediterranean biome and the rainforest biome, where I, my dad and my partner – with our daughter Audrey settled against her chest in a sling – are headed.

Nestled in an old clay quarry and surrounded by woodland, with its geodesic domes rising like giant Halo bubble-shields, the Project feels like some science-fiction secret garden. Or perhaps a futuristic utopian community in a post-apocalyptic world, living off the land, oblivious to the horrors without, like the Treeminders of Oasis in Fallout 3, an impossibly verdant settlement in the irradiated wasteland of post(nuclear)war Washington, D.C.

My sister says this would be the prefect place to settle in a zombie apocalypse. Sure, it’s big, but there must be some kind of barrier to stop people sneaking in, plus there’s the natural defence of it being sunken in a clay pit, so you should be able to secure the perimeters; there are fortifiable structures and bridges, high vantage points, and an abundance of plant-life for medicine and food and all the horticultural equipment you could need.

It may seem a bit doom-and-gloom, thinking about the end of the world, whether it be by biological weapons (Oryx & Crake), nuclear war (Fallout 3) or Zombies (my sister), but that’s what the Eden Project brings to mind. Things are defined be what they’re not – they’re haunted by their opposites. The name itself is obviously taken from the biblical garden of Eden – paradise before the Fall – highlighting that such a place does not and cannot exist.

As a conservation charity and an institution of environmental education, the Project reminds us that our world is in jeopardy – it is in need of conservation. After wandering round the rainforest biome captivated by the flora (banana trees, papayas, peanuts, rice and chilies), the architecture (various little hunting huts and a replica Malaysian home of bamboo and corrugated iron) and the fauna (roul-roul partridges and their chicks, the male with a red mohawk like Rufio from Hook) we reach the end of the exhibition – and a stark reminder of the state of the world: An area of primary forest the size of this Biome is destroyed every 10 seconds, reads a plaque besides a scene of devastation, charred tree trunks jutting out of arid soil like an extreme close-up of a stubbly chin.

It’s sobering. Disheartening. An area of primary forest the size of this staggering construction is destroyed every 10 seconds. The Eden Project is here as much for our education as our entertainment.

What can we do about it? In the shop between the biomes there is a sign beside a cut-out of a bloody chainsaw, it reads: Your wallet is your weapon. Consumer power has facilitated huge changes in recent times. Fairtrade products have become commonplace over the last dozen years, and new companies and products focusing on being eco-friendly, ethical, organic and green are gaining popularity, challenging big businesses to follow the trend or fall behind.

Corporations are legally bound to make as much money as possible, even if that means breaking the law. Remember in Fight Club the protagonist’s job is to calculate the potential cost of lawsuits in cases of injury or fatality and compare it to the cost of recalling faulty cars, always choosing the cheaper option? That’s actually a thing. Any corporation that professes to be concerned about environmental issues can only act on those concerns if they benefit the shareholders. Hence consumers have the power to force corporations to act responsibly by only purchasing goods or services from those companies which already do so.

One problem, however, is that companies are often covert about the negative effects of their products. Whereas the issues in the limelight eventually become the norm and woe be the brand who fails to comply, new unethical and damaging practices can often slip below the radar. Take, for instance, the recent revelations about plastic microbeads in some exfoliating scrubs and toothpastes – plastic particles small enough to pass through our filtration systems and pollute our oceans. Consumer power may be making headway, but the effort is ongoing and we must remain vigilant to new threats and dangers.

I may seem to have suddenly jumped from deforestation to some anti-corporation rant, but vast swathes of rainforest are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. While in Malaysia and Indonesia steps are being taken to limit deforestation, palm oil producers are now looking to the forests of Central Africa to set up new plantations. As a consumer, you have the power to limit this destruction by boycotting items that contain palm oil and therefore reducing the demand for the substance. You can find a palm oil product guide here to help you make informed choices as a consumer.

The world is cottoning on to the need to protect our planet. Even the climate change skeptics who choose to ignore overwhelming evidence can’t argue with the simple logic that pollutants pollute, finite resources will one day run out and that the decimation of habitats, homes and oxygen-producing plants due to deforestation is a bad thing. We’re moving in the right direction, but each of us needs to do more, and I for one will start trying harder to do my bit.

This is the resolve with which I leave the Eden Project, walking back up the path past medicinal flowers, with my daughter now asleep against my chest in the sling. The sun has burnt through the overcast clouds, and I shield Audrey’s eyes from the bright light. Jason deCaires Taylor’s ‘The Rising Tide‘ is being exhibited outside the Core. It is a series of stark concrete sculptures depicting the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the horses’ heads replaced by oil extraction machinery. I look at the defiant, suited figures, and the two children who inherit the mess their elders have made, and I hold my daughter close.


http://www.edenproject.com/

A Storm of Pork Swords

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ (aka Bastardbowl) was aired a few days ago, and last night I got around to watching it. Episode nine was this season’s equivalent to ‘Hardhome’ from season four and ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ from season three (a pattern emerges) – the big budget battle sequence designed to make viewers gasp and squeal with excited delight.

But, I wasn’t so keen. Again, the script was rife with plotholes, and the battle itself was a shambles. It would’ve been far more interesting to watch a tactically thought-out battle unfold on the outskirts of Winterfell, with Jon using cunning to make up for his inferior forces. Nope, that was too much to ask.

What I wonder is: when will Sansa realise that she is responsible for the death of her brother Rickon and thousands of men from both forces? Why did she keep the Vale army a secret? It makes no sense. Instead of trying to negotiate Rickon’s return and/or advising Jon to hold back and wait for reinforcements, she says nothing, leaving both bastards to believe that Ramsay has the superior force. So Rickon dies, Jon leads thousands of men to slaughter, and the Vale army arrives half an hour after the fight has begun but just in time to save the surrounded remnants of Jon’s shattered army… was this planned? Those still searching for depth in Game of Thrones might speculate that Littlefinger held back, allowing both forces to suffer heavy casualties, swooping in at the last minute to save the day and therefore winning Jon’s gratitude with minimum risk. But, if I’ve learnt anything from the last two seasons it is this – nothing happens for a reason.

Seasons five and six have been an absolute mess. Of course, there were issues with the first four seasons – some wooden acting, bad casting decisions and poor screenwriting & directing – but the source material is so good and the show followed the books so closely that these things seemed petty to pick up on. In other words, Game of Thrones had to be good – it was based on A Song of Ice and Fire.

Since Game of Thrones veered away from the source material, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have shown a complete disregard for storytelling, right down to the barebones. Plot, narrative and character are overlooked as secondary to dick jokes, violence, tits and feeble attempts at humour. All the scheming and tension and complexity that courses through the books –and the early seasons – has ceased, and the series stumbles on, dead, like a decaying wight, the reanimated corpse of A Song of Ice and Fire, a skeleton with some vague similarities to its former living self, corrupted and stinking, sans soul.

Season five was all plot no story – each scene purely a plot point, there to push planned events forward in a forced and unentertaining way. The characters were puppets and we could all see the strings. Season six is even worse. The plot has ground to a halt, presumably waiting for The Winds of Winter, and now for every scene that actually has some bearing on the ‘story’ there a four or five irrelevant, throwaway filler scenes, like discussing who would fuck Brienne, putting fingers in bumholes, and telling terrible jokes (a dwarf, a eunuch and a translator walk into a bar). Game of Thrones has become trash TV.

Take Jon Snow’s death and resurrection, for instance. Without the books to guide them, D & D turn Jon Snow’s stabbing into a cheap trick. After a cliffhanger season finale, which is rather lacklustre compared to the scene in the book, Jon returns from the dead after two episodes and nothing changes. Jon stays the same, no one seems to care, and after a few episodes it’s as if he never died. Compare this to Lord Beric Dondarrion’s resurrection, which results in the Brotherhood Without Banners converting to the religion of R’hllor and following Beric as a kind of Jesus figure. Or Catelyn turning into Lady Stoneheart, a violent and vengeful monster. Or the wights coming back as mindless zombies. Death changes people.

‘It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking’, said George RR Martin, and I would add they would have to not only grow out of situations but create situations as well. In stories, as in life, events happen which produce effects which cause other events to happen, and so on. This is storytelling 101, yet D & D seem to either have forgotten this or are willingly ignoring it. Furthermore, almost everything that happens this season is mechanical, nothing occurs organically. D & D are neither gardeners nor architects – they don’t let things grow naturally and they certainly don’t plan meticulously – one has to wonder if they are even ‘writers’.

Jon Snow is just one example. I could go on and on about everything that’s wrong with the current series – the glaring inconsistencies, the sloppy writing, the ruined plot lines, the lack of depth – but I’d pretty much have to recount the entirety of the last two series word for word, and if you’ve watched them, you’ve probably identified all the problems yourself. Also, a youtuber by the name of Preston Jacobs does a far more detailed and entertaining analysis of why season six is so bad, as well as plenty of videos illustrating and arguing his own intricate fan theories about the books, so check out his channel.

What I want to move onto is: Why? Why do I, and millions of others, still watch Game of Thrones? Perhaps because we’re so invested that we can’t just cut our losses: all those hours of viewing would be for nothing, we might as well stick it out until the end. Or perhaps we see more in the series than there actually is – the world of Ice and Fire is so rich, and so is the original story, that perhaps we gobble up the shit they shovel us with eyes shut tight imagining, and therefore tricking ourselves into tasting, some of the flavours of the first few seasons. Or maybe (exclusively us book readers) we’re simply trying to get our Game of Thrones fix while we’re waiting for The Winds of Winter, but over time the series has been diluted, and watered-down rotgut is no substitute for a fine glass of Arbor gold.

Whatever the reason, I still tune in week after week, to watch what has quickly become the TV version of Star Wars episodes I, II & III or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

To end on an up, seasons six is nearly over, and the sixth instalment in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Winds of Winter, is on its way. One thing to look forward to is that the books are almost back. Hopefully TWoW will be published in time to shape the script of season seven, and maybe George RR Martin will be more involved in the making of Game of Thrones once the sixth book is finished, returning it to its former (relative) glory. Perhaps our patience will pay off, and after sticking with it for two bum seasons we’ll be rewarded with a smashing seventh. Who knows? We can only hope.

Episodes from the City

The city sprawls along and out from the coast, up and over hills, swallowing the surrounding villages: Ovingdean, Hove, Portslade and Patcham, all absorbed. Soon Shoreham, Worthing, Newhaven, Lewes and Mid Sussex will become part of ‘Greater Brighton’. One day most of the world will be cityscape, like William Gibson’s Sprawl, or Margaret Atwood’s pleeblands.

***

Down on the beach, the pebbles, greasy and flecked with powdery salt, shift beneath one’s feet and sound like rain as they’re dragged into the sea by the waves. From the Palace Pier come carousel songs and fairground sounds and the rich, sweet smell of freshly fried doughnuts – but below the Pier, beneath the tourist attractions and flashing lights, the stench of piss is so strong it stings the eyes and burns the nose.

***

In the dark, crisp, clear early-evening, the air fresh after rainfall, the lights reflecting blurred and bright on the slick brick street; empty but for us and a lone busker (a strange time to busk, he must’ve done it for the joy) singing in spanish and smiling and strumming his guitar under an awning, Kensington Gardens felt like a film set. Unlike in the day when it’s too thick full of people with stuttering gaits whom I have to stop and swerve to avoid, walking in the wake of cigarette smoke.

***

I remember walking past the Scientific Support Branch van parked outside a house on Elm Grove, around the corner from my parents’ house, seeing police officers in white boiler suits and knowing something serious had happened. A man had been stabbed to death.

On the bus going up St. James’s Street, past Rock Place and a police blockade. An armed robber shot dead by police.

***

The anti-fascists are ferocious in the defence of our city. When the March for England used to come to Brighton, they were outnumbered, out-shouted and outmanoeuvred. A small group of the MfE bunch managed to break away from the main body and slip behind the police line. They poured round the corner, eager for a fight, and found one. Surrounded by anti-fascists, they were peppered with projectiles (one taking a beer can to his bald dome), until saved by the police they had evaded. This was in 2013. Their last march here was 2014, and they haven’t come back since.

***

When I come home now I barely recognise the city, until muscle memory carries me down the same old streets and I forget I ever left. But the new builds and changes jar all the more for it. It’s uncanny. Navigating the city consciously and unconsciously both at once. Like driving a new car – just as I forget about the process and let my body do the driving, I reach for the gearstick and it’s an inch out of place.

***


It’s late and I’m tired and my daughter’s sleeping so I should be too. I’m cutting this post short, and will add more episodes tomorrow.

Apologies for any spelling/grammatical mistakes – I’m not proof-reading this now no way José.

In response to today’s (technically yesterday’s) Daily Prompt: City

I Find Myself Slipping

So, it’s been a long, long time.

What have I been up to? Late 2015/early 2016 has been the most difficult period I’ve ever faced. During my third and final year at university, and impending parenthood, tragedies have befallen a close friend of mine and two family members.

I won’t go into detail: though these things affect me, I feel it’s not really my business to blog about the lives of my friends and family, but suffice it to say that any one of the three tragedies alone would be devastating.

In a way, my dissertation (due 16th of May) and my baby (due 18th of May) have both demanded so much attention that I have been able to focus on these two things and plough on through. Though I do find myself slipping sometimes: I talk too harshly to my partner as stress and strain manifest themselves as irritability, or I need a moment to sit, head in hands, breathing slowly and clearing my mind until there’s nothing but a dark calm.

And sometimes I get this feeling that I haven’t been there enough for the three people I love who are going through far tougher times than I am. This guilt grows just after I’ve snapped at my spouse, for she, too, is having a tougher time than me as she’s the one growing the human inside her.

Well, all I can do is all I can do. Wallow in self-pity or step up to the plate. I choose the latter.

Review: Sun Kil Moon, St. George’s Church

The Soliloquies He Sings

sun kil moonMark Kozelek muttered and mumbled about how bright it was in St. George’s Church, looking out at five hundred fully visible faces. The sun had not yet set and soft evening light poured in through the round-headed windows suffusing the church with feathery shadows and illuminating the audience.

When Kozelek asked us how we were doing, our response was silence, closely followed by a breath of shy laughter. Without the cover of darkness, we were unsettlingly self-conscious.

‘Fuck, now you know how I feel,’ said Kozelek.

The laughter grew confident. After that, we all felt a little more at ease.

He sat himself down at the church organ and began playing a droning three-note bass line, and just like that the gig kicked off with ‘Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here’.

The intimate and informal atmosphere continued throughout the concert. Between songs, he spoke to the audience, offering unscripted observations full of understated wit and self-depreciating comments about his own weight and age. Underneath it all was a melancholy tiredness that mirrored his music and lyrics, particularly those on his most recent albums, Benji and Universal Themes.

Kozelek’s musical career has been one of constant growth and movement ever since his slowcore band Red House Painters were signed to 4AD in 1992, through his solo experimentation with genres, sounds and styles – both under his Sun Kil Moon moniker and as Mark Kozelek – and collaborative efforts, most notably the electro-melancholic Perils from the Sea with Jimmy LaValle of the band The Album Leaf.

His lyrical style has changed over the years as well, from the poetic and metaphorical lyrics of his early work towards the gracefully frank soliloquies he sings on Benji. It is as though the youthful romanticism of his earlier song-writing has grown into something else: something older and wiser but no less beautiful. With a keen eye for detail, he finds beauty and meaning in the mundane and everyday. His lyrics unrestrainedly recount his thoughts and feelings, and this is precisely how he performs, both during and between songs. Always moving forward, Kozelek is developing his confessionalism further and beginning to experiment with spoken-word poetry, and he brought this new style to old songs that night in St. George’s Church.

Despite the development and variation in Sun Kil Moon material, Kozelek and the band managed to pull together a set from across previous LPs, along with a handful of covers, and play them as if they were all from the same album, forming one contingent whole, punctuated by the off-beat, strangely-paced spoken-word techniques and occasional punk shouts that characterise Sun Kil Moon’s most recent album, Universal Themes. At times, it was as though Kozelek was covering himself – the songs were so different from the studio versions. Instrumentally minimalist, softer and slower and sombre. Six string bass, guitar and gently-brushed drums set the background while tinkling piano lines complimented Kozelek’s Midwest American drawl.

It was a performance full of variation and improvisation, something separate from the recorded albums, just as live music should be. The downside was that he rarely picked up his guitar and chose rather to wander the stage or sit down behind the organ. When he did play guitar, as he did for ‘I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same’, which for me was the best song in the set, his playing was impeccable. I closed my eyes and rocked back and forth, drowning in that dreamy guitar.

After the fourth song of the set, he requested a moment of silence for Arthur Cave, the son of singer Nick Cave, who fell to his death from a cliff here in Brighton, aged fifteen, less than three weeks before. The sun had set by this point and the church was dark and the band and crowd all bowed their heads in the dusty silence as if each of us was deep in prayer.

‘This next song is dedicated to Nick Cave, in memory of his son,’ said Kozelek. They played a cover of ‘The Weeping Song’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Kozelek displayed the mastery of his voice, which cracked and faltered and moaned, haunting and elegiac, in what has to be one of my favourite covers of all time.

Since then, a new Sun Kil Moon album has been announced: a collaboration with the experimental post-metal band Jesu, simply titled Jesu / Sun Kil Moon. The album is set for release on Caldo Verde Records, Kozelek’s own label, and Rough Trade on the 21st of January this year.

It seems that the Nick Cave cover was a prelude to ‘Exodus’, the first single from the new album, which is available to listen to online. In the track he speaks of Cave and his son and sends his love to all parents who have gone through the unimaginable pain of losing a child. The instrumentation sounds like that of Perils from the Sea. For most of the ten-minute track there is only a gentle electro drum loop and a simple piano line that floats in dark reverb. Kozelek’s loosely melodious monologue is another step towards spoken-word poetry: a simple, straight-forward stream of consciousness, listing events, thoughts and feelings with little rhyme. Towards the end, a vocal chorus comes in, against which Kozelek sings slightly out of sync, reminiscent of the songs of Nick Cave to whom he is paying tribute.

Mark Kozelek is moving ever further from the old poetic lyricism of albums such as April, my personal favourite Sun Kil Moon LP, towards long spoken-word performance pieces. From the sound of ‘Exodus’, Jesu / Sun Kil Moon certainly won’t be as listenable as his earlier work, and won’t get near as many plays on my mp3 player, but I will be getting tickets to see him when he comes to London this summer. He is a performance artist, and the pleasure of his new music comes from the sense of in-the-moment open honesty, a feeling as though you’re getting a glimpse into his mind, that can only be fully experienced when he is there in front of you, muttering and mumbling and wandering the stage, pouring his thoughts out into the microphone.

Review: ‘Nicholas Hawksmoor, His Churches’ by Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair’s psychogeographic poem-essay on the churches of eighteenth century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor is a well-researched rambling, like a map drawn by a madman, a dot-to-dot that spans time, space, religion and reason. Sinclair offers an alternate reading of Hawksmoor’s six churches, superimposing the symbol of Set, tracing the invisible lines of influence, ineffable rods of force, imperceptible poles of vigour? something like that; it’s all a bit phallic.

‘The web is printed on the city and disguised with multiple superimpositions’ writes self-aware Sinclair. It is a difficult piece to read, layer upon layer of histories – ancient, local, criminal – mythologies, literature, fanciful fictions and personal impressions. Imagine twenty articles, on the aforementioned subjects – quotes from De Quincey and Blake, historical and cultural accounts, all written on pieces of tracing paper, laid one atop the other. And imagine now trying to read that chaos. That is the way in which ‘His Churches’ is difficult to read.

Pyschogeography is concerned with overlap: a place (and the reception of that place) is an amalgamation, a sum of all parts and perceptions. This is true to how we experience the world in which we live. But Sinclair’s poem is so densely overlapped that it becomes a chore to pick apart; there seems to be no purpose or point. It’s like mixing all of the paints on the pallet until there is nothing but a brown mess. Density would not be an issue were in not paired with length – it becomes indigestible.

That said, the poem does have its merits. Occasionally, amid the grey overlay of information, colourful imagery emerges: ‘the setting sun and the molten light’, and ‘the dust of wooden voices.’ These moments are welcome respites from the writer’s tortuous weaving, which makes for torturous reading.

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece is its exploration of intertextuality. As I mentioned previously, Sinclair overlays histories, literatures and myths, quoting writers and historians and drawing an intertextual map of London around the six churches of Hawksmoor. This obvious or surface intertextuality is layered (again) over the idea of the city as text(s), as ‘[t]he buildings… yield a further word’, and the mendicants ‘study and inscribe the graffiti with prophetic seriousness.’ The city is there to be read. A parallel is drawn between the intertextuality of reading and the intertextuality of place, specifically place in psychogeography. A place is a text: we read it as a signifier (e.g. church = God, the gothic, death), we refer to its written histories and its oral myths, our memories and associations, and we piece together a fragmented image of the whole, a superimposition of reference after reference, tied together with invisible lines.

Sinclair situates his poem in the genre of psychogeography from the start, beginning with quotes from Thomas De Quincey and W. B. Yeats, two writers who’s works are considered to be early precursors of psychogeography. Sinclair also writes often of William Blake, fever-poet, and towards the end directly alludes to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake’s book of original mythology was clearly a huge influence on Sinclair. The unusual thing is that as Blake influenced Sinclair, so has Sinclair influenced others: the novel Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd, the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, and, probably, the Da Vinci Code, all influenced by this poem. William Gibson called Iain Sinclair his favourite author. I must be missing something here.

Saying that, over the course of writing this review, I have come to almost appreciate ‘His Churches’. It is a fun rewriting of history, an imaginative mythologising of London, with beautiful imagery and quirky grains of information scattered throughout. As a poem, a dense and lengthy poem at that, it requires patience and a little picking apart to find the hidden meaning. A more tolerant or attentive reader might find this this piece rich and rewarding. Unfortunately, despite its merits, I found it very dull. Perhaps a prior knowledge of Hawksmoor or the area of London in question would help one to navigate the piece. But ultimately the whole thing caves in on itself, burying meaning deep beneath the layers. As Sinclair writes, ‘it is there, but you have to dig for it.’ The question is: Is the excavation worth the effort?

Audience & Context – Presentation Transcript

Stephen King writes in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’

I wrote an autobiographical piece for my blog entitled ‘Why I Write’, and I found the autobiographical form, used by King in On Writing and Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with the Dead, useful in examining my development as a reader and a writer and how reading has shaped my writing.

The first poem I wrote, as a child, was inspired by and in the style of Dr Seuss; later, I was influenced by reading George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, adopting some of his stylistic traits such as conjunctive lists of three. An example from my own work is: “She felt sick and scared and alone.”

Adopting styles, King argues, is a natural process of becoming a writer, ‘constantly refining (and redefining) your own work’. Here, reading and writing are closely connected – it’s putting the theory one learns from reading into practice. I’m still caught in the current of this process, as I find my style of writing pulled in different directions depending on what I’ve read. It’s an important part of the learning and development processes: we learn these different styles which we can then use and we develop our own individual voices through experiencing and experimenting.

The experience of being a reader also teaches us how to write for a reader. I’ve never given much conscious thought to my audience until I began this module. I wrote a letter to my Ideal Reader, now on this blog, at the start of the semester which made me think about what I try to achieve in my writing in terms of ‘audience’.

In summary, my Ideal Reader is an attentive, active reader who is interested in socio-political issues but wants the story to take the foreground and does not want to be spoon-fed either narrative or my own political beliefs; they value ambiguity and read to raise questions rather than to be given answers. This process of trying to identify my Ideal Reader was interesting as I realised that the qualities I want my writing to have are the qualities I enjoy when reading – I am my Ideal Reader. I think most writers are their own Ideal Readers, they want to write the kind of literature they themselves value as readers.

I think there’s a difference between ‘audience’ and ‘reader’. Russel Banks, in his essay ‘Notes on Literature and Engagement’, argues that the writing novelist gives no thought to his or her audience during composition – only when they are published do they begin to think about audience. Here, audience is meant as market – target audience, perhaps – not necessarily reader. King writes that the only reader we need be aware of during the writing process is our Ideal Reader, not our entire audience. Similarly, Atwood writes that

the writer-while-writing and the Dear Reader assumed as the eventual recipient of this writing have a relationship that is quite different from that between the mass-produced edition and ‘the reading public.’ Dear Reader is singular… Dear Reader is a You.

When I’m writing fiction or poetry there is only the Ideal Reader, the Dear Reader, to whom I want to communicate my story as clearly as possible. I give no thought to a target audience, no thought to a demographic that I want to appeal to.

However, when we were studying journalism this was not the case.  As Peter Cole writes in ‘How Journalists Write’, a journalist must ‘cater to their [audience’s] interests and preoccupations, sometimes their prejudices.’ Magazines and newspapers have very specific readerships, and when writing my feature article I had to keep my audience in mind. Also, readers are less likely to commit to or invest effort in reading a journalist’s story than they are a novel. This awareness of audience and context was unusual for me, and I don’t think I quite grasped it in the first drafts. But I enjoyed the task and plan on rewriting the pieces with more attention to audience and context.

In Burn This Book, a collection of essays on writing by writers, edited by Toni Morrison, the idea of the writer as a truth-teller who explores humanity in all its ambiguity and complexity frequently recurs. David Grossman writes in ‘Writing in the Dark’, ‘I write, and I try not to shield myself from the legitimacy and suffering of my enemy, or from the tragedy and the complexity of his life’. For Grossman, and many of the other contributors to Burn This Book, it is the writer’s job to describe humanity from an impartial position – to understand and fairly depict ‘the enemy’.

As a writer, I aim to explore the same human ambiguity and complexity: I try to write characters who are flawed and morally ambiguous. This is noted in my letter to my Ideal Reader, and is hopefully apparent in my work (e.g. Little Red).

But despite trying to achieve impartiality, I think this is impossible. In his essay ‘The Death of the Author’, Roland Barthes argues that the author is not present in the work. Similarly, John Updike writes in ‘Why Write?’ that the writer tries to make themselves transparent, ‘as selfless as a lens.’ But lenses select, frame and distort. It is impossible for a writer to become an entirely transparent truth-teller, because they will always be selecting, framing and distorting the truth.

A writer is not an instrument, a writer is a person with their own beliefs, ideas and intended meanings and these will always be present in the text. I cannot escape my context: I am a white, heterosexual, middle-class, Western male; the best I can do is try to represent fairly all the complexities of humanity.

The author’s presence does not ‘close the writing’, as Barthes argues – the writing is still open to the reader’s interpretation. In his essay ‘Encoding, Decoding’, Stuart Hall identifies three audience ‘positions’ of decoding, or interpreting, a televisual discourse. These are: dominant-hegemonic, a position where the audience decodes the information as it was meant to be decoded; negotiated – audiences may accept some messages but oppose or adapt others; and oppositional – audiences completely reject the given message and decode it ‘within some alternative framework of reference.’

Though Hall’s theory is referring particularly to television, it can be applied to novels and other writing. The theory argues that the audience’s interpretation of a text can vary to the intended interpretation. However, the audience must recognise the intended meaning in order to oppose or negotiate it, so what about audiences who misinterpret the text or have alternate readings that neither oppose nor accept the intended message?

For me, Barthes focuses too much on the reader’s interpretation and Hall focuses too much on the author’s intention. Paul Auster writes in ‘Talking to Strangers’ that ‘[e]very novel is an equal collaboration between the writer and the reader.’ This implies that the meaning of a text is created by both the writer and the reader. In my writing, I find this to be true – when I write a story there are always intended meanings or interpretations, though they may be vague or ambiguous, and there is always space for the reader to interpret the text how they will.

King writes of description that it ‘begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s’, and I think that this applies not only to description but to the entire meaning of the text.Writing should evoke thoughts, feelings and imagination, not instruct the reader how to think or feel. This is the brilliance of fiction – good fiction allows the reader to use their own creativity to participate in the construction of the story as a whole.

Speaking of the construction of a story, I’ve recently been rethinking my approach to starting a piece. King argues that plotting detracts from the natural ‘feel’ of a story and the creative spontaneity of writing, and takes agency from the characters; plot holes and discrepancies can be fixed in the editing process.

Unlike King, I plan meticulously before I begin writing. As PD James said,

[b]y the time I begin writing, the plot is there and there’s a chart which shows in which order the things come so that the structure is right. But that will change, as new ideas occur during the writing, which makes the writing very exciting.

I find the planning gives me a sense of direction; there is still creative spontaneity in the writing process as new ideas form, and I ensure that the story progresses naturally, and the characters behave naturally, in the planning process. However, King’s idea of putting a character in a situation and simply narrating what happens does appeal to me.

Though I won’t abandon my way, I do plan on experimenting with this situational approach. Just as I adopted other styles when I began writing, I will continue to observe and adopt other techniques and approaches in order to develop and broaden my craft. To become a better writer I will read a lot and write a lot – I will experience and experiment.

One interesting question I received after my presentation, asked by Lewis Allsop, was along the lines of: ‘You said you began by writing poetry, did this affect how you wrote prose?’

I thought for a moment. ‘Yesss… definitely. I’m just trying to think how… Imagery, I guess, and meaning, because with a poem everything is condensed, kinda boiled down, so it’s this rich reduction of meaning. Every word has to fit perfectly, so I find myself in my prose hurting my head trying to find the perfect word, you know? And rhythm, too. I tried writing free verse but I prefer poems with metre, rhythm and rhyme, and that’s definitely influence my prose. I think it’s important for sentences to have the right rhythm, for so many reasons. Rhythm can change the meaning of the words or how the text feels. I often read what I write aloud to make sure it sounds right rhythmically. And that’s another reason I like conjunctive lists of threes, the rhythm.’ The beat and the rhythm and the pulse.


Bibliography

Atwood, Margaret, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, (London: Virago Press, 2009)

Barthes, Roland, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image Music Text, trans. by Stephen Heath, (London: FontanaPress, 1993), pp. 142-148

Cole, Peter, ‘How Journalists Write’, in How to Write, ed. by Philip Oltermann, (London: Guardian Books, 2009), pp. 108-111, 120-5

Gibson, William, ‘The Art of Fiction No. 211’, in The Paris Review, http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6089/the-art-of-fiction-no-211-william-gibson [accessed 14 February 2015]

Hall, Stuart, ‘Encoding, Decoding’, in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. by Simon During, (London: Routledge, 1993) pp.507-517

James, PD, ‘On Writing: Authors Reveal the Secrets of Their Craft’, The Guardian [on-line] available from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/mar/26/authors-secrets-writing [accessed 12 May 2015]

King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012)

Morrison, Toni and others, Burn This Book, ed. by Toni Morrison, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012)

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

gotgWriter-director James Gunn of the cult horror-comedy Slither (2006) and the Kick-Ass-esque dark-comedy Super (2010) maintains his edgy, irreverent tone in his transition to the Hollywood blockbuster.[i]

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) follows a rag-tag gang of interplanetary outlaws as they scrape by, skirmish to skirmish.[ii] Gunn says that he took more inspiration from the stylised 2008 reboot of the comic than the original series, and diehard comic fans will notice the changes made.[iii] Though it can’t be described as witty or laugh-out-loud funny, its flippant humour playfully subverts the more grandiose aspects of its genres in a way that almost satirises itself.

The opening scene and ’70s soundtrack harken back to what Christine Cornea calls, in Science Fiction Cinema (2007) the second Golden Age of sci-fi, from the late 1970s into the ’80s.[iv] It begins on Earth, 1988, with a young Peter Quill at his mother’s hospital bedside, bathed in ghostly green light. She reaches out for him, he recoils momentarily, and she passes away before he can summon the courage to take her hand. It’s a powerful opening scene, the kind of alchemising pain and loss that every superhero backstory needs. As he runs away across a moonlit, misty field, his silhouette brings to mind the classic scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) as Elliott and E.T. cycle past the moon.[v] A light hits him, and out of the fog a spaceship appears, beaming him up from Earth. The whole scene is a nod back to the ’80s, science-fiction’s second Golden Age, when a renewed interest in the 1947 Roswell incident inspired imaginings of UFOs and alien abductions.[vi] The soundtrack works incredibly well with the film: in the opening scene it creates an eerie, uncanny juxtaposition, like the child abduction scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) when Johnny Mathis’s Chances Are plays off an old jukebox, or in the Fallout video game series which marries ’50s music and aesthetics to a future post-apocalyptic America.[vii] However, for the rest of the film the soundtrack serves to normalise and familiarise the audience to the fantastic galaxy of the Guardians. Plus, it’s a very good soundtrack.

Though classed as a superhero film, it sets itself apart from the other superhero films set in the Marvel universe, namely The Avengers (2012).[viii] In the after-credit scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), there is a hint at an Avengers-Guardians crossover, but I can’t see this working too well – the Guardians belong in their galaxy, the Avengers belong on Earth.[ix] Guardians of the Galaxy has more in common with the space opera genre; Gunn says himself, ‘[i]t’s one thousand [sic] per cent space opera.’[x] With dead planets, plenty of sword-and-sorcery style combat and a mining colony on the severed head of an ancient Celestial being, it’s dripping with the fantasy elements that help define the space opera genre.[xi] The Star Wars (1977) influence is impossible to miss, with the rakish Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka Star-Lord as Han Solo, leather-bound sassy assassin Gamora (Zoë Saldana) as Princess Leia, Tolkienesque tree-man Groot (Vin Diesel) as Chewy and the dark, dramatic Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) as Darth Vader.[xii] The Guardians are rather morally ambiguous characters, thieves, murderers, assassins. As Gunn says, ‘I also find characters with shades of grey more interesting than characters who are just black and white, good and bad.’[xiii]

But while the Guardians, and the outlaw band the Ravagers, may inhabit the ambiguous grey space, the black-and-white still exist – and I mean that in the most binary-oppositional, deconstructionist sense of the term – and this is where the film fails, spectacularly. On the one hand we have the Nova Empire, characterised by the bright, modern metropolis of Xandar, a utopian New York City, introduced for familiarity alongside Rocket Raccoon’s (Bradley Cooper) New Jersey accent and Stan Lee’s cliché cameo as he harasses some poor young woman. On the other we have the blue-skinned Kree, a dark and mysterious empire who have just signed a peace treaty with the Nova Empire, ending a thousand years of war. But the fanatic Ronan the Acuser does not recognise the treaty and plots to destroy Xandar. ‘They call me terrorist. Radical. Zealot. Because I obey the ancient laws of my people, the Kree… and punish those who do not,’ announces Ronan, in a dark and ancient temple, before brutally and ritually killing a white, Xandarian (American) Nova corpsman.[xiv] In an American post 9/11 film, the word ‘terrorist’ has clear connotations. Racial and ethnic tensions are commonly covered in science fiction, established through a binary opposition of the Self and the Other, often through alien species.[xv] Here, the Self and the Other are clearly defined as the civilised, white West against an exotic and savage East. Edward Said has written extensively on this, most notably in his book Orientalism (1978).[xvi] In an article titled ‘Islam Through Western Eyes’ (1980), Said writes of the Western fear of Islam and the crude, dehumanising caricatures of Muslims and Arabs in Western culture.[xvii] Guardians of the Galaxy presents an Orientalist view of Muslims, crude and dehumanising, depicting them as exotic, savage terrorists in the case of Ronan and his fanatic followers. The official Kree Empire refuse to act against Ronan, responding to Nova’s plea for help with cold indifference, completing Gunn’s racist portrayal of the Middle East. It’s impossible that Gunn could be ignorant to this reading of his film. Other recent films, including Hollywood blockbusters, have handled concepts of the Self and Other and of colonialism without this anti-Other ideology, such as James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), or Niell Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) which is in fact a brilliant critique of Otherness.[xviii]

It’s unusual that a xenophobic message should come in the form of a space opera, as Nicholas Barber in ‘Out of This World’ (2014) speculates that since the decline of the space opera in the late ’90s and early noughties, after its post-Star Wars heyday, the 9/11 attack and subsequent ‘war on terror’ have made the space opera seem inappropriate as ‘no Hollywood producer wanted to suggest that it was exhilarating to zoom away to an alien domain, nor that the natives there could become your friends.’[xix] However, there is a precedent for racist undertones in space operas: Star Wars draws heavily on the Christian crusades, creating a binary opposition between the dark side of the Sith and the light, white side of the Jedi knights. The Star Wars (1999) prequel trilogy took this further with overtly racist caricatures.[xx] It’s a crying shame, as Guardians of the Galaxy was an enjoyable film, ruined by its Islamaphobic undertones. I recommend that if you watch it, do so from what Stuart Hall has termed a ‘negotiated position’: that is, be aware of the potentially insidious ideologies and reject them, but enjoy the action, awe and comedy that Guardians of the Galaxy has to offer.[xxi]

To end on a high note, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy could signify a return of the fantastic space opera genre. With the upcoming release of the new Star Wars trilogy, directed by JJ Abrams, including Star Wars spin-offs now in preproduction, and rumours of a new Netflix Star Trek series, the genre could be making a comeback.[xxii] The huge popularity of the television series Game of Thrones (2011) is also a factor, as the space opera and fantasy genres have much in common, as Gunn says himself, ‘we have more in common with Game of Thrones as we do with 2001.’[xxiii] As Damien Walter writes in ‘Space Opera Strikes Up Again for a New Era’ (2014), ‘[a]fter years condemned to the outer darkness of secondhand bookshops, Space Opera is once again exciting the imagination of sci-fi fans.’[xxiv] Guardians of the Galaxy may be at the forefront for a new era of space opera – let’s hope they get it right next time.


[i] Slither. Dir. James Gunn. Universal Pictures. 2006; Super. Dir. James Gunn. IFC Films. 2012.

[ii] Guardians of the Galaxy. Dir. James Gunn. Marvel Studios. 2014.

[iii] Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Comics, 2008; James Gunn, The Badass Interview: James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy, Devin Faraci, http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2014/07/29/the-badass-interview-james-gunn-on-guardians-of-the-galaxy, [accessed 19 May 2015]

[iv] Christine Cornea, Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality, (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), [on-line] available at https://www.dawsonera.com/readonline/9780748628704 [accessed 19 May 2015], p. 82.

[v] E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Universal Pictures. 1982.

[vi] Kal A. Korf, ‘What Really Happened at Roswell’, in Skeptical Inquirer, (1997), http://www.csicop.org/si/show/what_really_happened_at_roswell [accessed 19 May 2015]

[vii] Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Columbia Picture. 1977; Robert Allen and Al Stillman. Chances Are. Johnny Mathis. 1957; Fallout 3. Bethesda Softworks. 2008.

[viii] The Avengers. Dir. Joss Whedon. Marvel Studios. 2012.

[ix] Avengers: Age of Ultron. Dir. Joss Whedon. Marvel Studios. 2015.

[x] Gunn, The Badass Interview

[xi] Nicholas Barber, ‘Out of this world: are space operas making a comeback?’, The Guardian, June 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/jun/12/are-space-operas-making-comeback-guardians-of-the-galaxy [accessed 19 May 2015]

[xii] Star Wars. Dir. George Lucas. 20th Century Fox. 1977.

[xiii] Gunn, The Badass Interview

[xiv] Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn.

[xv] Cornea, p. 176, p. 179.

[xvi] Edward Said, Orientalism, (New York: Pantheon, 1978)

[xvii] Edward Said, ‘Islam Through Western Eyes’, in The Nation, April 1980, [on-line] available at http://www.thenation.com/article/islam-through-western-eyes [accessed 19 May 2015]

[xviii] Avatar. Dir. James Cameron. 20th Century Fox. 2009; District 9. Dir. Niell Blomkamp. TriStar Pictures. 2009.

[xix] Barber.

[xx] Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Dir. George Lucas. 20th Century Fox. 1999.

[xxi] Stuart Hall, ‘Encoding, Decoding’, in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. by Simon During, (London: Routledge, 1993) pp.507-517, (p. 515).

[xxii] Barber; Jessica Toomer, ‘A New ‘Star Trek’ Series Might Be In the Works at Netflix’, The Huffington Post, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/20/star-trek-reboot-netflix_n_5516042.html [accessed 19 May 2015]

[xxiii] Game of Thrones. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. HBO. 2011; Gunn, The Badass Interview

[xxiv] Damien Walter, ‘Space Opera strikes up again for a new era’, The Guardian, August 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/aug/29/space-opera-new-guardians-of-the-galaxy-ancillary-justice [accessed 19 May 2015]