The Great American Novel – Part 1

 

Flagedit

 

Fuelled by a desire to speak even more pretentiously about literature, I decided to spend the lockdown reading some classic works of American literature. More specifically, I set myself the challenge to decide my own nomination for the Great American Novel, based on a fairly commonly accepted canon of potentials.

Actually, one particular candidate for the Great American Novel is one of the reasons I studied literature in the first place. Moby Dick bored me beyond what I thought possible. As I am sure is the case with most people who are a little insecure about their intellectual capacity, I felt that there must be something lacking in me that meant I couldn’t realise Herman Melville’s so-called masterpiece as the masterpiece it was so called. I figured that completing an MA in literature with furnish me with some innate ability to realise the genius in Moby Dick – I was expecting a revelation. It didn’t happen. After a mediocre foray into academia, I think now what I thought back then: Moby Dick is shit.

But I digress….

The Great American Novel is obviously a very subjective term. One day I’d like to compile my own list and perhaps that will form part of this blog series, but for now I focused on a few commonly acknowledged American classics. I realise the following selection is not very inspired, but given that no-one will ever read this post, I don’t really care. In no particular order:

  • The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper 1826)
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852)
  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck 1939)
  • The Catcher in the Rye (J. D Salinger 1951)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee 1960)
  • Moby Dick (Eurgh!) (Herman Melville 1851)
  • Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison 1952)
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain 1884)
  • Absalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner 1936)

My intention here is to offer my own review of each novel, considering it’s place in the canon of American classics. It gives me an excuse to write this blog and it is something productive for me to due during these uncertain times.

Libraries: The Fall of the Last Bastion

Libraries, at face value, are wonderful things. A catalogue of books and learning resources that is accessible by all at no cost—no one could oppose such an institution.

Unfortunately, it seems the public at large no longer hold book learning in the high esteem that it deserves. What should be an almost sacred place for learning and expanding one’s intellect has become just another corner for the great unwashed to while away their lives.

At the time of writing, my local library is over run with screaming children. As with most places, ‘coffee mums’ have taken over. Of course, everywhere must be accessible and effectively serve as a playground for their litter of snot oozing little squawk bags.

Bringing children to read is one thing. Bringing them to run around screeching and having organised sing-alongs is quite another. Is nowhere safe?

Further to this unpleasantness, it seems libraries now offer a place for vagabonds to sleep. On my last two study sessions, I have seen drunk looking men literally wrapping themselves in newspapers and collapsing in the reading booths.

In the UK, libraries face austere times. I understand that they need to entice new visitors, but surely not at the expense of those who wish to use them for their intended purpose?

So, just like they have saturated the blogosphere with their inane ‘mummy’ blogs, these women now they further erode culture by making libraries unusable. Coupled with the free-for-all sleepover that libraries now seem to be, it’s a sorry state of affairs.

Libraries should be reserved for study. Period. Just like cinemas and quiet carriages on trains, they should be seen as an opportunity to show just how considerate a person can be of another’s privacy and right to learn.

Shhh.

 

 

 

The Treacherous Code of The Virtue Signaller

I read an interesting comment this morning. It had been posted on social media in response to several other posters having criticised the perceived prevalence of rape culture among refugees and, in particular, migrants from Islamic countries.

Refuting claims that followers of Islam are more prone to disrespect women’s rights, the poster criticised what he saw as the marginalising of rape and sex attacks, by reducing victims to ‘a cudgel with which to bash society’s most vulnerable’.

An interesting point of view and certainly one that requires a deal of reflection—but it is also a view loaded with hypocrisy. Firstly, in using ‘society’s most vulnerable’ to reduce an argument is facetious in itself; secondly,  it effectively dismisses the numerous claims and reports by those who have been victims of attacks by migrants.

It is also a conjecturable response. Whilst of course there are racists sentiments lurking behind even the most informed comments on social media, that does not equate to all arguments being such.

There has been a pattern of similar arguments emerging with regard to halal/kosher slaughter: the complete assumption that opponents of such ludicrous rituals care not for animal rights, but are simply being racist. No. There are may people who care deeply about animal rights, as they do the rights and safety of women—whether this leads to criticism of Islam or not.

It has been a long time since I had any inclination to engage with the public sphere, I find it is very depressing, but it cannot be ignored that western countries have had to issue migrants with pictorial instructions in an effort to promote correct behaviour and healthier attitudes towards women—I should point out, should any social justice warriors ever read this, that yes, I am taking western attitudes to be ‘correct behaviour’ in this instance.

Considering the subject of whether or not rape culture was more prevalent in the countries of origin of refugees, I was reminded of a story of the American solider, Dan Quinn, who was dismissed from his post after fisticuffs with an Afghan militia member. The American forces were issued instructions that they were to ‘turn a blind eye’ to the rife child sex abuse that the Afghan officers partook in. Apparently, Quinn was unable to do so and was subsequently disciplined.

This surely raises the question that, if rape culture is no more prevalent in these cultures, then what possible advantage would the US forces have by issuing a decree to ignore noncery?

Collective bed-wetters such as Antifa and the so-called Alt-Left have faced a number of contradictions lately, but none pose such a consistent conundrum as Islam. Cognitive dissonance has been the order of the day, with squawks of racism being the last line of defence, in lieu of reasoned argument.

The poster of the comment I mentioned had also shared ‘Happy Eid Muburak’ constantly on his profile, but had made no mention of the holidays of any other religions. Strange. This is what led me to the conclusion that his beautifully written comment was little more than an attempt to defend Islam at all costs, effectively using the rape victims as his own cudgel, with which to bash people who held different views to his own.

Another wasted intellect.

 

 

 

 

A Word on Culture…

 

Perhaps I am alone, but when I look at a beautiful work by Renoir, Rousseau or Friedrich, I find great difficulty in acknowledging ‘Banksy’ as an artist of equal stature.

Recently, issues of cultural identity have pervaded the news, with emphasis being placed on protecting a European way of life. Predictably, the left immediately mobilised to claim no such identity exists, or worse yet, that European cultural heritage is something to be ashamed of.

Clearly such people have not attended a decent production of Shakespeare in a while, or spent an evening at the Royal Opera House.

Watering down entertainment, education and development to meet with misguided attempts at diversity will not benefit anyone in the long term.

A contingent of lefty literati have such a perceived stranglehold on what does and does not constitute ‘good’ art, that people are afraid to offer different perspectives and, most importantly, call certain artistic contributions exactly what they are – shit.

It reminds me of an old TV show called ‘Faking It’. One particular episode saw a girl who played classical cello professionally, attempt to convince a panel of experts (in this case, uneducated former drug addicts in the guise of musicians)  that she was a pro DJ, after just a month of practice. She successfully duped the experts. Now, let’s see that done the other way around…

I therefore venture that love of the high arts is not snobbery, but simply good taste. There is nothing exclusive about culture, just as listening to the Beatles is not the reserve of working class Liverpudlians, the problem is simply that instant gratification seems to be the order of the day for the great unwashed.

A Nice Cup of Tea (2016)

The Evening Standard published George Orwell’s essay on ‘a nice cup of tea’ over 70 years ago. Since then, we have seen the proliferation of individual tea bags, electric kettles and an ever increasing variety of teas. Therefore, as an avid tea drinker, I felt it appropriate to update his original treatise.

Tea drinking is synonymous with Englishness…

…Other countries may have perversions of preparation and drinking rituals, but the following points outline supplementary guidelines for the Englishman’s convenience.

They are as follows:

  • Breakfast or everyday tea should drunk from a mug . This offers a larger serving, appropriate for dipping biscuits. This also avoids delusions of grandeur— drinking cheap tea from a fine china tea cup is akin to drinking ale from a champagne flute.
  • The tea drinker must strive to drink the tea at optimum temperature. After it has cooled enough so as not to impair the flavour, but hot enough that the flavour of milk is not more apparent than that of the tea. If this happens, it should be poured away.
  • Contrary to Orwell’s advice, African tea is acceptable before lunchtime and largely unavoidable in tea blends. Afternoon tea should be a more delicate variety, such as Earl Grey or Darjeeling. Lighter teas can also be drunk at bedtime.
  • If pouring from an electric kettle, the water must be poured slowly and carefully after boiling has finished, to avoid any limescale finding its way into the cup.
  • It is more than acceptable to add milk to all black tea. However, the appropriate shade differs with different kinds. A rich copper is appropriate for stronger blends of assam or ceylon tea, whereas darjeeling or a good Earl Grey should have  a slightly more pallid almost cloudy appearance.
  • To reiterate Orwell, adding sugar to tea is no better than adding coca cola to fine scotch, or tomato ketchup to a prime steak. it is unnecessary and contrary to one’s health.
  • Loose leaf tea is vastly superior to tea bags and should aways be chosen in preference to the latter.
  • If entertaining guests, tea should be brewed in a pot and not the cup. It is also appropriate to offer more than one variety of tea.
  • Lapsang shouchong is an abomination and should not be drunk by any civilised human being.

I must also add the caveat that, tea is essential to one’s vitality and must be drunk in whatever style that circumstances permit. That is, any of the rules can be discarded if adhering to them will prevent one from drinking tea at all. However, when possible, the highest standards of tea making should be observed.

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These are simply my own guidelines. I would refer anyone to Orwell’s original essay on tea for further suggestions of good practice. I have avoided the subject of which biscuits, sweets or tea cakes should be served, as opinions and options are so diverse that it would be pointless to suggest any common taste.

 

The Witch – Reviewed

witchedit

 

Intro – Real Witches Of the New World

Released in March of this year, Robert Eggar’s The Witch is a refreshing break from the over-produced and tiresomely predictable horrors that have churned out of Hollywood in recent years…

It follows the misfortunes of a family of puritan settlers in 1630 New England, after they are forced out of their community and attempt to start a new settlement at the edge of a foreboding forest…

Eggar has rooted this work in realism and historical accuracy and uses low-key British actors as opposed to porcelain looking starlets, ensuring the dialogue is delivered as closely to the original articulation as could be reasonably expected. Furthermore, the complete absence of special effects further punctuates this picture’s break from the mainstream.

Witches were perceived as a genuine threat in the 17th century, both spiritually and physically. As Eggar frequently stated in interviews, his intention to emphasise this real world threat, the movie presents the traditional images and folklore of witchcraft, akin to those originally featured in the more macabre Grimm fairy tales, before they were sanitised by Disney.

The English Actors

Ralph Ineson gives a commendable performance as the family patriarch. His undeniable Englishness and rough demeanour lend themselves well to the role – a far cry from his days as ‘Finchy’ in The Office. The family children are all played adeptly, given what must have been a challenging environment for them to film in. Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter, Thomasin—who is arguably the focus of the suspicions throughout the movie—seems a little lacklustre in comparison to her fellow artistes, but believable nonetheless. The really standout performance is given my Katie Dickie, as the grief ridden Katherine who maintains a constant air of foreboding throughout the movie.

Script, Plot and Themes of The Witch

The script itself is based upon surviving diaries and notes of contemporary accounts. It has echoes of Shakespearean dialect. To give an idea, much of the conversation is in the nature of ‘what say thee’, ‘she be the witch’ – essential to maintain the illusion, but at times a little challenging.

There isn’t a great deal by way of a plot, it’s fairly basic: the family leave their original plantation, start their own and struggle to provide for themselves. All the while a malevolent presence seems to be stalking them. The merits of The Witch lie in it’s atmosphere, accuracy and the gradual building of suspense, rather than any narrative set-pieces.

The themes  of The Witch are introduced in the opening scenes: religious devotion, familial conflict and fear of the unknown. The ritualistic elements of both puritanism and paganism – particularly the those of prayer and sacrifice –  are built upon throughout the picture as we, the audience, experience the family members’ personal conflicts and temptations as they struggle to meet the impossible standards of the puritan dogma.

The family’s constant struggle for survival against both natural and supernatural elements add an urgency to everything and exaggerate the consequences of even the most minor malady.

Low level camera angles or shots partially obscured by tree branches help to create a sense of claustrophobia, despite the events taking place against the backdrop of expansive wilderness, and Mark Korven’s soundtrack is of the atmospheric, that is, non-musical kind and at some times abrasive to the ears. It builds discord and an uncomfortable  response, keeping the viewer on edge.

The Verdict

An unsettling experience overall— the idea that children are being targeted by a evil daemon is never going to be lighthearted and the eerie soundtrack and claustrophobic cinematography do a good job of keeping the audience in suspense.

Mention has to be made of the satisfying ending. At times The Witch looks as the it is leading toward the now cliched plot-twist or ambiguous ending, but fortunately resolution to the story is offered as blatantly as slap in the face and it was refreshing to see Eggar commit to it in such a way.

That being said, It did feel a little unfulfilling. Perhaps this viewer has now been corrupted  by years of exposure to the aforementioned cliches, but the film as a whole didn’t feel quite engaging enough to rely so heavily on the atmospheric subtlety that it did. If viewed as a creepy historical thriller, then the film is a tour de force, but as a film to scare the living daylights out of the viewer, it falls short.

Overall, The Witch is a welcome break from the copious supernatural fantasies that have proliferated in cinema over the last decade. It gives viewers a genuinely suspenseful cinematic experience as well as an insight into historical superstitions and existential hardships of the 17th century.

✭7/10✭