Friday, April 29, 2005

What happened at the BAAS conference: or, why love academic conferences (part I)

A long time ago I promised/threatened to write about my time at the recent BAAS conference, held in Cambridge. Well, to give it some context, it may be worth describing in further detail what previous events have been like.

This was my fifth such event - consecutive no less! - but the first time I was completely off-duty for presenting my own research. Spring 2001 was at Keele (scroll for my paper summary "A biographical pursuit of Peggy Guggenheim"), a location and timing that had many absent Americans due to 'hoof and mouth'. Barring the pleasures of company, it was wet, windy, and I lost one of my beloved 3-D doggie earrings... I must have been a bit stressed by that as the following year someone who was in the same accommodation block as me even recalled my hunting for it!

[NB Yes, Chrissie, I know who that was!]

Spring 2002 was in Oxford (this links to a selection of paper summaries) and the weather and atmosphere was as deliriously hot there as Keele had been bitter, isolated and cold. Having had my proposed paper refused entry, I instead had a poster presentation on filmic and literary references to Peggy Guggenheim. This basically meant I had to hang about for a session and be willing to talk to people about my ideas; which was okay because I can talk till trails of donkeys fall over behind me. Partly because it was Oxford, and as the farm crisis had abated somewhat, we had a few more Americans come over: but as it was only 7 months on from 9/11 the atmosphere was somewhat muted. Still, this was a fine conference with much entertainment value in both the papers and the socialising.

Spring 2003 and we travelled to the glories of Wales: Aberystwyth (again, scroll to read a summary of my paper on gift-exchange theories and tzedakah). Apart from the hill to the beach, and the journey - hours from anywhere so lots of confused Americans! - this continued many of the traits of Oxford. Sunny, with a reasonable range of entertainment: though allowing time between panels to move locations would have been useful. Also the food was ... well, Mushroom Stroganoff should not be dished up to vegetarians using the same spoon as for the beef stroganoff (which was mostly gristle). Bleugh.

Spring 2004 and it was the turn of Manchester (sadly ASIB didn't continue with the conference paper reports). Now I like Manchester. I have fond - and a few not-so-fond - memories of the place from when it was a regular stop-off for me when en route to Leeds and my MA studies . But Manchester, April, the Oxford Road... not the best scenario for an outdoor barbecue, n'est pas? Yeah, we thought so too. There were some grand papers - not least was the return of Richard King as a speaker. Richard King is the type of intellectual and all round good guy you just wish there were more of in academia. Besides which, he has the best southern accent you can hope to listen to this side of the Mississippi Delta.

Which brings me, belatedly, to Cambridge 2005. Largely, but entirely, the sun shone on us again. This always helps. There were a couple of downpours but the opening and closing days were both gloriously full of sun. As ever, there was a mix of usual suspects and new faces. To give a better flavour of what the conference is like, scan your eyes over the conference schedule.
Of course, what always makes BAAS fun are the people. New folk in for this year included Jonathan Ellis (Reading - about to be Sheffield); Alison Kelly (Reading - PhD candidate); Matthew Shaw (British Library); and Paul Woolf (Birmingham). Amongst familiar faces I socialised with were Ann Hurford - my colleague at Academic Support, Nottingham, with whom I travelled to Cambridge (sorry there was no wine on the train; tradition broken before we started). Since we finished our PhDs last spring - both of us were viva-ed by the time we got to BAAS in Manchester - we hilariously hardly see each other now, except to occasionally pass on the corridor. So it was really nice to have some fun with her. But we also saw Peter Rawlings (Bristol UWE); Peter Kuryla (Vanderbilt); David Brauner (Reading); Dave Greenham (former Nottingham PhD colleague and now criminally under-used academic eking a living as so many graduates do); Catherine Morley (soon to be at Oxford Brookes on a fellowship) and copious numbers of Nottingham folk, past and present. In fact, it is something of a standing joke that especially with regards to our large postgraduate community, Nottingham is rather like the New Holy Roman Empire of American Studies: all-powerful and just a little bit disliked for its domineering presence (should that be Holy American Empire perhaps?)

Of course, that is not to underestimate the importance of the accommodation and other matters: they were nice rooms this time and I even had a view of the bluebells in the college gardens at Robinson. Eeh by gum, we didn't get such views staying at the Manchester Oxford Road Travel Inn (cos it was cheaper than booking us in halls).

Anyway, our opening speaker to the 50th year of BAAS conferences, Anthony Appiah, made a marvellous job of delivering a keynote plenary that was both erudite and accessibly delivered on the topic of de Bois. But despite that intellectual stimulation, after this it was wine all the way. And very, very good food. Still, I was very good. Even though I was one of the last five to exit the bar on the Thursday night/Friday morning - all usual suspects, in fact I could have probably named us all in advance as the likely group to be last out - I nevertheless did make the first paper session. Though in truth I had little choice as I had been collared to chair one of the 9am panels. Amazingly, it was worthwhile.

Gender and Meaning in American Culture

Mike Chopra-Gant (London Metropolitan University) The law of the father, the law of the land: power, gender and race in The Shield
Bill Osgerby (London Metropolitan University) Giving 'Em Hell: Masculinity and meaning in the American 'True Adventure' pulp of the 1950s and 1960s
Sinead Moynihan (Nottingham) Textual Transgressions: representations of Brandon Teena
Craig McClain (University of New Mexico) Gay Rodeo: carnival, gender and resistance

Now if those titles don't get you going after a dry mouth night of red wine-induced exhaustion, nothing can! Seriously though, this was a real pleasure and just what I needed to kick-start the conference. We opened with a good solid bit of pop culture analysis: American TV at its most interesting. This was followed by a presentation on a topic I scarcely knew existed: a hitherto hilariously unimagined world of magazines from the 1950s and the 1960s with titles such as Men, For Men, Male, Being Men, Men in Combat and many hundreds more. Beyond parody: and so utterly hyperactive in proclaiming their masculinity you couldn't ignore the homosexual undertones (overtones?!). Fascinating stuff. We then had another suitably gender-challenging paper next up from one of the new intake of Nottingham PhD students. Whilst Boys Don't Cry remains the best known of the 'fictionalised' retellings of the Brandon Teena story, this paper looked at the 'true-crime' retellings and a novel (clearly) based on the same narrative. She could also use Powerpoint better than I could ever hope to do. Finally, we had our first encounter with gay Rodeo: made even more spectacular by being presented by someone who physically brought it to life. The height; the boots, the belt... even the hat. With the video "Steers, Beers and Queers" at its heart, this paper told its (largely) unenlightened audience all about Gay Rodeo. Now that wasn't something I ever expected to know anything about!

Following this session, it was off to get coffee and makes fresh acquaintance with people before doing our bit to lend moral support to nice people we know (as well as hearing some great papers).

Alternate Histories: speculation and variation in Philip Roth, Carol Shields and Lorrie Moore

Alison Kelly (University of Reading) 'Writing anew': reshuffled identities in Lorrie Moore's Anagrams
Catherine Morley (Rothermere Institute) Altered visions of the American past: Philip Roth's The Plot against America
David Brauner
(University of Reading) The Other side of silence: Alternate Histories in the fiction of Carol Shields

This was a worthy follow-up to my great start, and confirmed to me that some of the best papers you hear come from good people. Swapping the order slightly from the original programme, savvy to issues of confidence, David went last. It was a really good set of presentations. First up, Alison's paper on Lorrie Moore brought to the a foreground a novelist few of us had heard of previously but whom most of those attending left wanting to read work by. Catherine Morley continued her previous and consistently inquisitive work on Roth by taking apart the mythologising surrounding his most recent work and deftly dealing with questions from other Roth afficianados. David Bauner has one of the most generous styles of presenting research one could possibly hope to encounter. He's the sort of scholar I'd like to think I could be, with a good amount of sensitivity to discussing gender that is rare amongst all too many male academics.

After lunch, I did a bunk. I went into Cambridge to meet up with a young researcher based at Peterhouse with whom who I had been corresponding regarding women surrealist artists. I did get slightly lost, but in the end she spotted my visible style of dress (wacky tights) and took me to Fitzbillies for a cuppa and a natter. I then trundled back in time for my third panel of the day.
Politics and Detective Fiction
Cindy Hamilton (Manchester Metropolitan) The hard-boiled formula, historical consciousness and the politics of marginality: Sara Paretsky and Paula L Woods
Jennifer Terry (University of Durham) 'Always outnumbered, always outgunned': Circumatlantic Connections in the Detective Fiction of Walter Mosley and Patrick Chamoiseau
Paul Woolf (University of Birmingham) Prostitutes, Paris and Poe: the sexual economy of Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue
Again, this was another fine set of papers. Ann H and I had ran into Jenny Terry on the train and had encountered her at previous BAAS events. Cindy Hamilton had been external examiner on the lovely Celeste-Marie Bernier's thesis back in 2002. And Paul, well as noted earlier, Paul is now fully ensconsed in the "see-you-at-the-next-BAAS?" hall of infamy for those who offer great company and smart intellect and that you just look forward to re-encountering. [NB I do know that some papers in BAAS changed their titles slightly - but the topics remained largely the same]. Anyway, what was fascinating about this panel was how it highlighted the diversity of intellectual investigation even on shared topics like this. These were three very challenging papers that dissected the narratives and historical links of these writers, providing a real sense of the locations and styles that detective fiction could encompass.

Anyway, having uploaded this and added the links in, I now best get off home and properly recuperate over the Bank Holiday Weekend. Here's to May 1st all you remaining socialists. Solidarity Compa├▒eros!

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Read this yesterday in about an hour or so. Very frothy. Characters names depend on who they work for (hence "Jennifer Government" and two "John Nikes"). Quite astute about commercial allegiances. Sharp. Recommended, but please note I was feeling a bit poorly yesterday afternoon so my judgement may have been clouded (no pun intended but the book had been picked up by Cloud from that wonderful institution, a public library).

Dealing with a Duff: or, explaining my own poor writing skills

Recently, I wrote a few remarks on education. Phew, that was much more dangerous than I anticipated. Chiefly, it seemed to stir D Duff to write not only a response to those remarks but to fulminate on them for some days - finally blogging a lengthy riposte. I have added my comment to that, but just wanted to add a note here in response to his final remarks:
My ever-astute reader will have noticed already that nowhere in Rullsenberg's vapourings is there even the hint that education might be concerned with placing facts inside hitherto fact-free heads, and ensuring that these facts are understood and remembered. That used to be called 'teaching' back in the days when teachers were not concerend [sic] with the next revolution.
Duff, I don't have any problem with pupils being taught facts, and I am happy to put it on record that, yes, of course education has to teach stuff. But even Dickens recognised that facts can only go so far in educating people (Are you supporting a Gradgrindian education?) I don't have any problem with criticising systems of education that teach people how to think about the social relations of Bronze Age Britons but which leave such people unable to identify when the Bronze Age was. But a system that only teaches when the Bronze Age was fails to teach valuable thinking skills: that such labels are applied later, are disputable, and do not on their own help us to explain what occurred during a period of history. Reduced to definition as The Bronze Age, the complexities of the people, skills and societies it refers to can often be lost: how does that help us understand the meanings of history?

Additionally, without wishing to elide education and training/employment, it probably is worth stating that beyond a certain level of basic skills, employers don't care how many facts are in a person's head; but they do care about their ability to think and assess evidence, to evaluate courses of action and take decisions based on such investigative skills. And a facts-only education scarcely provides such skills.

I'm probably now going to get slated by other blogging colleagues for taking the time to tackle the thoughts of Duff and Nonsense, but as I'm feeling in a generous mood I am cutting slack all ways round. Normal ramblings on culture and social issues will resume soon, and the Duffs of the world are no less welcome to rant or ignore about these as they see fit. I'm just not promising they'll all get a response like this.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Inveresk's MP3 analysis slot

Darren over at Inveresk Street Ingrate has recently posted a cracking list of tracks he is currently listening to whilst delivering leaflets in Dunfermline. Not only that, but we also get to hear the insight of eminent music psychologist darrenisi on these selections.

Hilarious and inspiring.

The Dying of Delight: comments on Clare Sudbury's novel

I finished reading this last night and have to say I was gripped to the end. It's a very surreal thriller, but worth persevering with as the narrative swoops and swerves with a lot of vigour and pleasure.

Importantly, I felt a real sense of compassion and interest in the characters - all their foibles and quirks - but especially for the intelligent way in which the novel dealt with conceptions of normality and madness. For this alone it is worth reading.

I would also add that although the phrase "the dying of delight" presents itself from the start - it's the title! - it was only when it occured in the narrative that I was struck by a particular thought. I couldn't get out of my head the character of delirium from Neil Gaiman's Sandman novels: Delirium, who used to be Delight. The connection stuck with me through the rest of my reading and somehow really helped me understand the experiences of Edna and Silver.

When I got to the end Cloud asked what it was about and I replied sex, drugs, madness, the ecilpse and gender identity. I think he was intrigued enough to pick it up (and I will certainly encourage him to do so!) This is a very fine debut novel.

Legal advice

Lawyers frequently talk about interpreting the law: about arguments and proposition papers exploring the arguments against the stance wished to be followed. There are many things I do not like about Blair and his approach to government, but to have Howard criticise the issue of exploring legal opinion seems ridiculous.

The BBC Fact Check site at least acknowledges that earlier documents were deliberately exploring the equivocation of the issue as events depended on the actions of the UN.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A dress for Rufus?

Given the theme of Rufus Wainwright's show-stopping performances on tour, wonder if he had his eye on this?

Sleater Kinney in the UK

Couldn't resist a brief nod towards one of my favourite bands: Sleater Kinney. They garnered this excellent review from the Guardian today. They are very cool, can really rock out, and can offer perfect harmonies. All Hands on the Bad One remains a regularly spun CD in the Cloud-Rullsenberg household, and I have lost count of the number of people to whom I have played "Leave You Behind".

Catch them in the USA this summer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

There's something wrong with human nature

Spent the morning discussing an essay on political philosophy (Hobbes et al) and Golding's The Lord of The Flies. So with the issue of human nature and evil was rather on my mind already when I came across John's eloquent discussion over at Counago&Spaves. Having worked with and alongside those defined as having "Asperger's Syndrome", John's careful distinction separating 'lack of empathy' from evil is well worth reading. Evil has nothing to do with any lack of empathy. Nevertheless, what John Connolly's misuse of empathy does highlight is how difficult the notion of evil still is for many people: how to define it or ascribe it. Hannah Arendt and others has searched to explain it: that John offers such a thoughtful exploration of this debate puts my ramblings about culture and contemporary events to shame.

This window stays open

Apropos the return of Darren, I would like to second his seconding of Harry's proposal on music: the long-player is forever; the single dies almost as it is born; and the rest is shared to break the silence.

However, I would also challenge the thought the InvereskStreetIngrate quotes in the same post that music can only change your life during a brief window of opportunity. I might not like the cold, but that window is staying resolutely open for as long as my bones will bare. When music stops having the power to move us, we may as well not bother with it anymore.

Election Unspun

Along with the programme on Gengis Khan, Cloud and I got a lot out of watching Peter Oborne raging against the collapse of democratic debate (both reviewed by my favourite reviewer Nancy Banks-Smith).

Certainly, this stage-managed production trip that is the current "campaign" is something of a shambles. Is this the natural route, or did something happen to create this kind of campaign as the only one possible?

Answers in a political treatise to...:

Shame about the Red Hats

Was fascinated to read about the Red Hat Society in yesterday's Guardian (sorry it always takes me so long to comment on some things). I do love the Joseph poem but am already taking it to heart. I think when I join I will insist that we have to be a bit more radical.

I like tea, and cakes, but life is about more than just being politely eccentric in a corner.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Social mobility and education

The Sutton Trust head, Sir Peter Lampl, spoke this morning on Radio FiveLive about the hidden ways in which middle-class and wealthy parents subvert the comprehensive education system. Social inequality is more rife than ever and education is not addressing this. "We have never had a truly comprehensive system." How true. Am I too radical for thinking that abolition of fee-paying schools would be a good step in the right direction? That encouraging non-selection would be positive? That fundamental changes have to be wrought to address how and why access to education: the means of understanding and then challenging the social system?

Am I alone?


Fantastic. Now what can we do?

NB this post would make more sense if I could give some good links to appropriate sources of like-minded leftiness and commentary. However, my server seems recently disinclined to a number of these blogs and contacts... something suspicious or just the usual IT 'difficulties'?

Brain-numbed bozo

That would be me - for being utterly unable to get on with blogging (not the Tory party: for a start thats plural bozos and additionally it omits the important element of nasty racism that is rife in their mentality).

Anyway, apologies again for being such a bad blogger. I now need to eat a stale sandwich before going to another meeting. Having had a Friday that loomed on being a Reidski quality event in screwing up work, I am trying to keep my head low anyway. Still, on a lighter note, glad to me me ol' mucker Casyn over at the Slayer Library lift her skinny fists to heaven and add some neat blog comments on Narnia, good TV and other cultural musings! Welcome back!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Feminism against itself: The Guerilla Girls courtcase

When the ever lovely John at Counago&Spaves is not making me green with envy at the lineup for the Primavera festival or his glorious home view, he's finding excellent pieces of news on the cultural front such as this piece.

Obviously, as a former student of Griselda Pollock's on the MA in Feminism and the Visual Arts at Leeds University, I was fully versed in the work of the Guerilla Girls. Unfortunately, as with so many things, proclaimed collective identities can become tools by which that identity is undermined. In establishing itself as a group anonymously dedicated to highlighting and challenging the patriarchal suppositions of the art world and its histories, it was almsot inevitable that others would use that anonymity to explore similar issues themselves. However, it does beg the question what were particular individuals intending to do under the name of the Guerrilla Girls that would force legal action between various people to claim right to the collective name and its ideals? How does one take ownership of a colletive ideal?

New blogger

In an effort to encourage (terrify?) a new blogger to continue her blogwork, I have added Anna's "Theatre is life, film is art, TV is furniture" blog to the blogroll. She was at the Nottingham Rufus Wainwright gig; forwarded me a set list; and likes Dr. Who's new incarnation. What's not to like? She also shames my ability to write for one so young but I won't hold that against her!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Additional comments on Rufus

As I have had a particularly trying day with dissertations and international students, I'm taking a five to view the Rufus message boards I have just signed up to. Found a link to a review of the gig at the Nottingham BBC site, which informed me I am the complete lack of smarts for also confusing the New and Sherwood Forests. But also found another blogger who has some nice pics and a review for your delectation!

It's all relative

Interesting to see the BBC news pages devoting some thought to the idea of relativism. Not often Plato gets into the news section...

Future desires

Subject to my ever stopping playing Rufus Wainwright any time in the near future, I am hotly awaiting the DVD release of the recent production of Casanova. And the Stereolab collection Oscillations from the Anti-Sun (watch out for the bedazzling web spirals). And wondering when to buy Season 5 of the West Wing.

Ratz in da house: the implications of the new Pope

For Cloud and I it was hardly a surprise: I had long been saying that el Benedictus had been in charge in all but name for the last five years. Moreover, all the talk that he was too controversial and had made too many enemies to be elected was hogwash. As Cloud commented, "that just means he knows where all the bodies are buried (and that could be literal)". He might be the oldest Pope for 275 years, but that doesn't mean he is only a stop-gap. It's a reaffirmation of the confrontational conservative stance taken by the church in the last two decades.

Ratzinger wasn't the Grand Inquisitor for nothing!

Rufus W

Cloud has already noted how good it was last week to see RW, so I will add my comments now.

What a show! If you want a flavour of his live performances I can recommend the CD/DVD special edition of his recent work Want Two. This includes a concert performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco and although it cuts most in-between song banter, you do still get the sense of his stage presence.

Following a rambling extract from a telephone answering machine recording of Judy Garland drunkenly asking her daughter Liza Minelli to come and sing for her, RW opened his performance with the operatic Angus Dei from Want Two. He remained at the piano before fully emerging with guitar at the front to acknowledge his arrival in the "Robin Hood 'hood" (he laughed at himself as he said it but we all loved him for it!) and suggesting a local connection. Smart: someone was doing the research - as he later reminded us Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, was killed in Sherwood Forest in 1100.

The set was heavy on the material from his most recent album, but as he captures that knack of making songs that call so much to mind nothing felt strange. Instead, his mastery of all manner of styles and genres enabled us all to feel joyful at our recognition (or maybe it is just that he has seeped into our consciousness). There were enough works from his earlier albums, especially the magesterially acclaimed Want One, to satisfy less recent fans, but being a Beatles aficionado from days past, I was especially pleased with an interpretation of Across the Universe that was camply ethereal.

Indeed, one thing that was utterly appealing was that element of camp: the occasional flick of the wrist or hand gesture that was so natural to him, so utterly unselfconscious. He clearly loves live performance: he remarks on the DVD that all the songs always sound fresh to him and he tires of nothing.

He also performed in a way that suggested effortless showmanship, even though the whole was obviously seriously choreographed. His shift of gear from show-stoppers to simple, intimate, confessional solo piano works was masterful. And even though he was a little taken aback by the sclae of the venue and its rather cavenous sound qualities (personally it does few acts many favours), he remained charmingly tart and gigglesome in his manner. Bemoaning the location of a light that reflected off his piano onto his ostentatious brooch and into his eyes he pleaded with the lighting crew to tone down the spotlight with enough grace to not piss them off but with a firm stance to say, "I know what I want".

Of course, there was the inevitable Hallelujah (from the Shrek album), which brought the house to rapturous delight. I am almost of the conclusion that that song is nigh impossible to ruin, so beuatiful is its construction, but if I say that I am certain to be proved that someone somewhere will tell me otherwise. But this was not the climax by a long way: any performance that can involve glitter pants, strobe lighting with a guy whipping the stage, an undressing band, sparklers and multiple references to The Wizard of Oz and STILL manage to smoothly move into yet more softly melancholic piano/guitar tracks is the mark of true showmanship.

At nearly 2.5 hours on stage, we certainly got a VFM performance and I would especially urge anyone in the midlands who gets chance to see him again in the provinces to go: I was mortified (if unsurprised) to read in the Nottingham Evening Post review that whilst 1500 people enjoyed the show, the second tier at the Royal Concert Hall was not opened for ticket sales. Yet the previous weekend a Queen tribute had sold out the place: do we really need stories like this to confirm London-centric attitudes that the provinces have no taste? There were three standing ovations for this most gloriously flamboyant performer who had us eating out of his hands. What a shame there were not more there to appreciate it. Go buy the back catalogue and relish the excess.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Casanova and conclusion

Am still wiping the tears from my eyes at last night's poignant conclusion to RTD's Casanova: certainly getting an award from me for one of the most delightful pieces of TV this year. It has been a magical spectacle. Smart, savvy, sexy (in different ways for both incarnations of the central character, though the dashing young blue eyes have it for me), and utterly compelling.

I know it's "more stuff" but I'd like to take pleasure in watching it again.

Poster amendments

Noticed any good poster amendments lately? Reminds me of local efforts in Beeston.

Thanks to John at Counago&Spaves for alerting me to this "create your own poster" site: sadly I am too incompetant to be able to include images on this blog.

I need to get some skills.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Rullsenberg's random ramblings on class, culture and education

Have recently been in correspondence with the lovely John over at Counago&Spaves (coo-ee!) discussing class origins and culture. There we were, intellectuals with degrees, postgraduate qualifications and academic/literary based jobs comparing notes on working class origins. Yet the truth is always so much more complicated than a straightforward ellision of working with labouring. Do we control the means of production, our labour properly rewarded for the hours invested, for our benefit? So despite much joshing over how to be prolier-than-thou, the correspondence nevertheless stirred some interesting thoughts on how we identify ourselves and our class. What makes for a working class identity, mentality, history, state of being?

Since one always speak best from personal experience, and it seems pretty arrogant to try and speak on behalf of others who may or may not share my sentiments or experiences, I'll present a case study in shifting cultural, social and economic class identity (or not so shifting as the case may be).
Back at the turn of the 20th century, my maternal line was in Lowdham, Notts and subsequently the Leicestershire regions of Wymeswold before coming back to the city of Nottingham. Farm/general labourers, seamstresses and cleaners/housekeepers mostly. Great gran did sewing work for Griffin and Spalding (who used to own the store that is now Debenhams in Nottingham). My nan was unmarried at the time her only child (my mum, 1931) was born - a fact not known till after nan's death - and made a living through house cleaning: a job she didn't give up work till around the time mum gave birth to me (she'd have been around 70).
It wasn't well paid work, but she worked hard. Indeed, this observation is at the heart one of the biggest fallacies of current political thinking: hard work is rewarded. Is it boswellocks. You can work all your life shovelling shit 20 hours a day and it doesn't make it well-rewarded. What if you train / get lucky with the hierarchy and become the manager? You know, you're still shovelling shit (you're just getting other people to do it). And whose shit are we talking about? Who granted the options that got you into shit-shovelling?
I mean, come on, there's all this talk of opportunities, but most of the time it isn't about actively chosing against certain opportunities : it's about them being conceivable, practical on both an ideological basis and within real social relationships.
Anyway, to return to the history, my maternal family was pretty much rooted in being working-class and wouldn't have comprehended concepts such as owning their own house. It was council rented accommodation all the way. 2up/2down terraced house with yard and no bath till age 8 (just visits to gran with tin bath in front of a coal fire: you should see the eyes widen in incomprehension on the part of some of the utterly middle-class students I have taught over the years!) and it was a big step up to move to gardens front and back and a porch located toilet with a bathroom off the kitchen.
Interestingly my parents didn't have much truck with those who purchased the council houses: not just financially how, but why? Why was 'owning' property such a good thing? - my parents didn't have the working income or working lifetime (married late) to finance purchasing a house. My dad's, by then ongoing and ultimately life-long, ill health would have scuppered meeting mortgage costs. All the talk of rent being wasted money was a mystery to them: we had a roof over our heads, the council covered repairs. Leaving it to me? Me benefit from something I hadn't worked for and that took a roof away from another potential council tenant? - even the idea of it was baffling and abhorrant.
But despite the difficulties, there was always a sense of engaging with culture in the house. Music (classical and pop, operettas and musicals, country, folk, some jazz). Reading was key: enrolled at the local library aged 3 as soon as I qualified for my own ticket but already well-read to at home. (Remember public libraries, with books, open at least 5 days a week till late evening?) Dad had been a languages student in his youth - nine languages! - but had been drafted into the German army, located to Italy and captured as a POW by the Allies before he could reach university. Being the stubbon ass that I am, as a teenager learning languages at school I shunned his help, believing that I had to learn on my own abilities or it misrepresented what the school was trying/able to do. I felt it would be taking an unfair advantage to get dad to tutor me at home (I was a self-righteous and ultimately failed languages student at school).
And history: mum had loved history at school and she undoubtedly instilled in me the importance of understanding not only what happened but also why; the little details within events. Personal histories, political histories: people whose stories went untold or ignored and observational details of the world around us (date marks on buildings, architectural features above street level, the life histories within grave stone marks, dates of death).
It was from these beginnings that I developed my sense of culture, but also my sense of self and how others would always seek to define me. That the practicalities of life, my place in the social hierarchy could never be entirely undone by acquisition of money per se, or knowledge, but that I could certainly use the latter to gain greater understanding of the structures - to teach others how to understand and fight to undo the inequalities built in to the systems of power.
As Dark Willow says: "I get it now, it's about the power".
To draw on an art historical analogy, it is insufficent to add on women artists to the history of art or to ghettoise these into separate disciplines (women's studies): this just lets the existing hierarchy continue to define itself with reference to all that it is not. But it leaves it fundamentally intact. To truly challenge the system, you cannot just have an feminist approach to art history: you have to reinvent the structures, the very foundations of power that allow the structure to marginalise and keep down the role and contribution of women. Whatever you are looking at, you have to explore the power structures and the cultural knowledge that keeps people in their places.

Without wishing to get into Ripping Yarns/Python territory for 'so-bad' upbringing, I do still like to upset the apple cart of expectations at places like Nottingham Uni, which has a high quota of "nice" (urgh) middle class boys and gals utterly disconnected from the real world. I like to mention that my secondary school alma mater was second joint worse school on country at one point and is now closed. It wasn't that we were actively discouraged from going further but that our ambitions and options were horribly low unless you already came from the appropriate background. And judging the school by artificial criteria such as league tables helps no one - least of all the pupils.
Nevertheless, having this history, however much one can critique how it occurs (what is education and what is the role of schools?), can be helpful when Nottingham Uni dabbles its toes into the muddy waters of widening participation work: having a local girl come through the ranks as it were. But you still long to explain to them that class - the power to control your own destiny economically, socially etc - is more than just whether you have a certain number of pasta types in your home. Economically at the moment our house could be said to be deeply middle class (though we're far below several averages), but it is unstable income which hardly lends itself to any ideas of controlling or contributing to the control of the economic and social structure. Culturally we have followed early interests in broad bits of culture - both high and popular (come on Cloud you do like SOME examples of popular/mass culture!) - and arrived at a point where culturally we are deeply middle class. But there are plenty of houses who are economically far more working class in this current moment who maintain an interest in all aspects of culture and plenty of those nearer the top who have no books and little engagement with cultural events, social ideas or political understandings of culture.

To follow through on the issue of unstable income, many a wry smile has been generated by me when people would hear I worked in academia (until this recent post I was always in temporary employment). Especially when they heard the hourly rate of pay: anything between £15 and £25 per hour! Good lord. And then I would tell them that that was just for the hours of contact. No travel time or expenses; no preparation time (usually at least 2-4 times as long as were the hours in front of the class); no marking time; no pay for meetings, time spent photocopying materials, or providing tutorial support. Final pay: much less than any minimum, flipping burgers more profitable. And of course no sick pay (up to you to reschedule your classes - nigh impossible in practice), no pay for holidays (so halfterms, Xmas, easter and summer were just months with reduced or no income). I have written elsewhere on this blog on the income /pensions impact that has had on my lifetime of earnings. And whilst I'm currently grateful to be in a proper post, its temporary and at most will turn into a series of rolling ficed term contracts. There's security.

Incidentally, it has always amused me that just as work became less secure, we were suddenly expected to pay for more stuff ourselves directly (school, health, pensions) and take up ownership costs (mortgages) that operate on systems dependent on secure regular incomes. Odd, or a conspiracy against the working classes newly ordered to particular forms of aspiration?

This is a rather incoherent ramble across these issues but then again I am still hungover...

Julia Darling: 1956-2005

I only knew Julia Darling through her reputation and some reads of her blog, but coming back from BAAS you get a sense of how the world has spun on without you.

Clare Sudbery write a moving tribute, including one of my favourite examples of Julia's writing ("Don't Worry").

It's gonna take me a while to catch up if I keep coming across such moments as this...

Catching up on all you bloggers: a bit of Norm

Am beginning to realise how many contacts I have acquired through blogging over the last few months. Just 4-5 days away now means I am overwhelmed with fascinating material and discussions to read.

Have been slowly reading through Norm's US posts and delighting in his pleasure of New York. I felt the same way: we had an awful arrival at JFK (screwed over by Guliani so our friends could not meet us) and by the time we left the airport I was really tired and cranky - quell surprise. But the sight of that skyline at 1am was just dreamlike and by the time we arrived on Broadway (our friends lived just off it near Columbia Uni) we were both just grinning from ear to ear. And across my three New York visits we too have done a number of the 'touristy' things with much lack of concern for how touristy they are: The Empire State building at night, albeit bitterly cold, was a particular pleasure. And of course in terms of overheard conversations, we redirect Norm and others back to the amusing asides of Overheard in New York!

Reading his comments on Crossing Delancey it reminded me of our uncanny a first experience of New York can be: in the Freudian sense I guess. That it is both familiar and unfamilar; homely and unhomely; real but unreal - because having 'been there' so many times through movies, TV, photographs, histories, it is difficult to hold on to how we haven't 'been there'... It's a curious effect.

Sorry: have edited this several times as I read his blog mails!

The girl is back in town

Hi folks!

Yes, I'm back. Would like to say fully refreshed but four days and three nights of the annual BAAS conference rarely leave one refreshed. Last out of the bar or social venue each night and needless to say my vocal range has dropped by at least a half octave! Various reports on the event will be produced: a highly edited version discussing the intellectual content with some minimal entertainment value anecdotes here at Rullsenberg; a slightly fully version (but nevertheless edited for protection of 'my good name' - ahem) for consumption by a select number of conference delegate contacts (that means you Paul!); and the full unexpurgated version for my good friend Chrissie. Frankly, the thought of her responses often make certain events even more funny and a lot gets lost in translation (a little like reading a Christmas Round Robin). Besides, at THAT level of detail I would be striking at the moral authority of BAAS and its members/attendees asunder and that would never do!

Blogging will get underway over the course of the next couple of days so bear with me folks whilst I settle back, especially as term has restarted and I am inundated with hysterical dissertation students!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Brief absence for BAAS: class and culture posting to come next week!

Will be back next week folks: am in the middle of a long rambling post about class and culture spurred by John at Counago and Spaves. In the meantime its off to see Rufus Wainwright and then the annual farce that is the BAAS conference. Ahoy to plenty of pomposity and much bitchy undermining of the hierarchical systems. At least I'm not presenting this year, so I can relax a little.

Books in schools: the politics of reading

As so often happens, didn't get around to reading most of the Guardian until my return home last night. Given that there is no snazzily presented TV show to boost the issues, I doubt very much whether Michael Morpurgo can have much impact on the issue of school books and libraries, but doesn't stop it being a very real issue.

Clare in the Community

Had to laugh: Cloud just phoned me to read me the latest Clare in the Community cartoon from the Grauniad (which I pulled up on screen as he read it to me). Given my recent delight in a certain Saturday early evening programme it did make me laugh, even though this was all discussed long ago.

Still amused by Phil Jupitus using him as the recasting in Star Wars... How I wish the vagaries of Lucas legal power did not prevent the release the whole hysterical tour...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Bloggers for Labour

I should have done this donkeys ago.

Better late than never...?

Whether reluctant, hopeful, delusional, desperate, or dang-tootingly inspired, if you feel able to make the cross next to your Labour candidate come election day, then do consider signing up to Bloggers4Labour.

In our area (Broxtowe), despite Lib Dem councillors, the two party system is too ingrained to be torn up without a significant Lib Dem candidate. Consequently, I have no qualms about supporting Nick Palmer as a good local MP (see Rullsenberg and Cloud passim). Have always been open about supporting a Labour Party that never has and probably never could exist: too idealistically socialist to get much enthusiasm for Labour policies in practice. Nevertheless, an abiding loathing for conservatism in Big P politics sense (C) and mostly in small p politics sense (c) as well.

But for a friend of mine, stuck over in sunny West Bridgford, it's a more tricky proposition being of a socialist incline: he's under Rushcliffe: a Tory stronghold, 445th safest seat in the Commons with Kenneth Clarke at the helm. With the best will in the world, the Rushcliffe residents are not going to be voting in Labour any time soon. In 1992 Labour was almost evenly split with the Lib Dems (23.2% vs. 20% share of the votes); 1997 Labour got 22,503 votes and a 36.2 share, and this in a year when Clarke's vote went down 10%. In 2001 the number of votes may have dropped, but Clarke's share rose back and Labour could not capitalise on the 1997 position. Not very likely in the current climate then that Labour would make much headway there.

A semi-rural seat, the 'good' burghers of Rushcliffe are anti-tram and pro-hunting (neither a standpoint my friend feels any sympathy with). He's too hacked off with Labour to feel able to vote for them, so what to do? Protest by voting Lib Dem? There seems little other option for him even though they are even LESS likely to gather the Rushcliffe seat. Any wonder the vote is going down, even amongst the most politically aware?

Rullsenberg Rants: Barfing over the "sunshine of hope"

Cloud nearly split his sides laughing at my expression as I caught Howard's plea to the 'peepel' to vote Conservative: "let the sunshine of hope break through the clouds of disappointment." Dear Lord,where to start with this nonsense?

Not sure whether it was the purple prose that got to me or just my non-too-fond memories of the Tories years I grew up with. Reminded me of Thatcher's citing of St. Francis as she entered No.10. We were a resolutely Daily Mirror reading household and had no truck with the Conservatives whatever the dilemmas of the previous winter had thrown at us. Open-jawed at the misuse of St. Francis' sentiments and furious at the claims of dancing in the streets, we shook our heads and spotted it was more likely dancing with rage, frustration and anticipation of the horrors to come. We weren't wrong. Purple prose = purple bruises on the broken bodies and minds of those injured by Conservative policies.

So, returning to my barf-like gut reaction to that "sunshine" (ooh...urlgh...spit...s'cuz me... that's better) can I take just one point: "hard-working families".

Presumably those who are going to lose their jobs as part of the 'efficiency savings' are not actually hard-working (and heaven forefend those who haven't committed themselves to breeding). Concomitantly, when these people lose their jobs, the additional costs in redundancy, benefits and subsequent loss of tax revenue, family spending power towards the economy etc. will have zero impact on the economy (or else how would these job losses result in savings?).

Don't get me wrong: I'm quite aware that this shambles of a 'not-really-for-labouring folk' government has similar plans for shedding people's livelihoods. But as part of the Tories' campaign to appeal to the lowest common denominator amongst the electorate's prejudices - hardly seemed possible given what New Labour has always said and done, did it? - these shambolic and delusional plans for savings are just bogwash. In fact, I can't even think of words to describe their plans (well I could, but then this would be even more of a rant).

Dworkin remembered

Blogged yesterday on the reports of Andrea Dworkin's death, which finally makes the Guardian today. Katharine Viner remarks:
She refused to compromise throughout her life, and was fearless in the face of great provocation. In a world where teenage girls believe that breast implants will make them happy and where rape convictions are down to a record low of 5.6% of reported rapes; in a public culture which has been relentlessly pornographised, in an academic environment which has allowed postmodernism to remove all politics from feminism, we will miss Andrea Dworkin.
As I said, much to be infuriated about as well as inspired by: in a world where feminism is a swearword to many, she was a model of all that was perceived to be mockable about the term and its intentions/beliefs. Doesn't make what she highlighted wrong or not worth considering. Sadly, the world copes best with 'pretty' feminists (who it then succeeds to mock again for being 'pretty'). Damned both ways folks...

Rosie Millard appeal: update

Ta to my anonymous blog commentator who alerted me to the Radio Leeds appeal for the poor gal of the London streets. Donate as appropriate (top left - that's a direction not a political description of RM) or read the comments.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Andrea Dworkin RIP?

Very curious. Have had news forwarded through that campaigner Andrea Dworkin passed away this weekend but I can find no formal confirmation of this. Wikipedia reports her death as 9 April 2005.

Whilst I do not agree with everything that Dworkin did or wrote, her views are important. For those who have never read her work and consequently rely on frequently misogynistic commentary, check out "The Lie Detector" on the Andrea Dworkin website. It debunks many of the worst accusations against her and the site has some good links to her speeches and campaigns.

Forthcoming music buys

Just a note to say I am looking out for the collection of Yo La Tengo, 'cos it looks rather fab (and btw: weird record stuff wanted: go to Norman Records). Anyone who has delighted in the episode "Family" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5 will know Yo La Tengo's gorgeous track "Tears are in your eyes" but the band can also make some deliciously avant-noise as well.

Law and Order: Criminal Intent (musical confusion)

Okay, last week I grumbled about the music and opening credit sequence for L&O:CI changing... this week it was back to the previous / original version! What da ? is going on?

Friday, April 08, 2005


ARGH! If it wasn't for my memories of snow in May in my youth (God, I sound old) I would be more upset, but jeez, these are flakes the size of cornflakes...

Nick Matthews

Senior Fellow at Warwick Manufacturing Group. Current political/industrial commentator on the Rover collapse.

And previously a Student Union Executive candidate at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in the 1980s under the slogan "All the teddy bears pick Nick" (and if you have seen him you will know he does indeed resemble a teddy bear). Cloud once wore a teddy bear suit as part of the campaign team (trust me, if I find the photograph I will be throwing myself in the deep end of getting pics on this blog!)

Smart man - watching him tear up the hypocritical standpoint of the Conservatives on Channel 4 news last night was a real buzz.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A girl after my own heart

Thanks to John at C&S I have discovered the word according to Clare Sudbery, who apart from being devastatingly younger than me (increasingly everyone is), who writes at Boob Pencil. To say she is hilariously entertaining would be an understatement. I laughed so much reading her musings on "The Body" - up today - I nearly choked on my dinner.

Belated Book meme

Bah, humbug. The difficulty with me being away from the office, poorly or not, is that it prevents me blogging sufficiently. Which also means I get behind with all the lovely work done by my fellow bloggers.

So here, belatedly, are some thoughts on the not-so-recent-meme circulated to me from the luscious Hak Mao.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
Something meaningful I guess, with a sentiment I can identify with... not thinking too hard about this I would propose The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso for its enigmatic style and exploration of mythology (also a great discussion of Nemesis - a past identity of mine)

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? I guess TV wouldn't count or else I would chose Dr. Daniel Nash (smile!), or in terms of fictional characterisation, Joshua Lyman. Am I seduced by the performer, performance, or the written character? Most recently as a legitimate fictional character my thoughts go to Jeremy Danvers, Alpha werewolf of the pack from Bitten and Stolen.

The last book you bought is: All those Kelley Armstrong books!

The last book you read: Fictionwise, again its already been recorded here, the Lucifer book Mansions of Silence. I tried to get book 7 but Page 45 had sold out. Sniff.

What are you currently reading? Fictionwise, not a lot at this moment but I'm due for another re-read of the Sandman novels. Neil Gaiman's ability to weave stories from such a range of sources always thrills my soul and the visual constructions always please the eye as well.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
King James Bible - because it is great poetry and will sufficiently annoy me in equal measure to keep me angry enough to survive
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman - because I can always do with a good cry and it will go well with the above
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski - because I still haven't read all the footnotes
The Collected Dorothy Parker - because I like a bit of bitterness
TV scripts - oh come on, they're fictional right? Am undecided whether I want the Blackadder scripts (for humour), a Buffy volume (because it will help me visualise my favourite show), or Aaron Sorkin's volumes of West Wing scripts (because he constructs such great characters).

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Cloud - because he is so much better read than I am and will impress readers more
Casyn - because she needs to blog her way out of her hard work on Jekyll and Hyde
John at Counago and Spaves (even though he probably already has received it) - because he writes such great little book reviews: see his holiday reading reviews if you don't believe me!

Donations invited to the Rosie Millard Hardship Fund

Donations are hereby invited to the Rosie Millard Hardship Fund; surely a well-deserving cause for all us good middle-class folk.

Okay, irony over.

Hard to know whether to laugh or scream at reading about Rosie Millard's reported poverty. Whilst I have some sympathy with those caught with one asset (their home) and little/no cash, those with assets (plural) and a lifestyle like that of RM and partner must surely realise the idiocy of their claims. Probably not.

Could she consider instead looking here for some clarity about her personal situation?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

New theme music for Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Can I just add, why did NBC change the music for this show mid-way through Season 2? It sucks. I really liked the musing tone of the original theme music.

Life in 2005

Am sure that this has been doing the rounds longer than this year but it amused me...


1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave
2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3
4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you
5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses
6. You go home after a long day at work, you still answer the phone in a business manner
7. You make phone calls from home, you accidentally dial 9 to get an outside line
8. You've sat at the same desk for four years and worked for three different companies
10. You learn about your redundancy on the 10 o'clock news
11. Your boss doesn't have the ability to do your job
12. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries
13. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen
14. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it
15. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee
16. You start tilting your head sideways to smile
17. You're reading this and nodding and laughing
18. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message
19. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list
20. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list

Have a good day

Thanks to Rita

Doctor Who-will-be-next?

Shame that just as he has done the rounds with the interviews for Doctor Who, the truth comes out Eccleston had already quit (how utterly frustrating that must have been on his professionalism). A pity as well since I have to admit so far the series has been great fun. The humour is well-paced and Piper isn't too irksome. And frankly Mr Shankly if they do get DT in for series 2 I'll admit I will still be watching... good friend Chrissie suggested DH for the role! Now that would be hilarious! In the unlikely event of that coming to be, will happily settle for DT!

Signs of respect

Norm raised the question of how delaying the announcement of the UK general election till today was a sign of respect.

I offer that one the day of Princess Diana's funeral, Cloud and myself walked through Coventry to return a hungover friend to the train station and passed a store with a sign up saying "Closed as a mark of respect for Princess Diana's funeral".

It was a porn shop.

Now THAT's respect. [Typeface for irony definitely needed].

Forthcoming gig: Rufus Wainwright

Following excellent nattering with my former PhD buddy Ian B. (one of the few who can out-yak me), Cloud and I have booked to see Rufus Wainwright in Nottingham next week. Since my illness and the CF deadline busted our plans to see Patrick Wolf, this will compensate for that. though am amazed that despite recent GLUT of coverage for said Wainwright offspring the tickets were still available. On topic of PW though, I still recommend blog-readers track down at least the first track off his new album, The Libertine which really gets me going.

Equal Opportunities applications for Pope

Amidst the hijacking of the media by Vatican Radio (sorry I can't find the Guardian letters link), my pal George raised the question of Equal Opportunities in the nominations/applications for the vacant post. Why not nominate an atheist?

Birmingham voting

Can I just say that I have real issues with the criticism of the recent report on rigged voting in the Birmingham elections last year. Not because they did not rig the votes - I have no dispute with the notion that rigging occurred. Not because at a local level this wasn't systematically tolerated and at a national level was blind-eyed - it was. But to elide from what happened on a local level to make the statement that "The LABOUR PARTY" was behind this, as if it was somehow intentionally set up as a means to defraud the intentions of the electorate... that takes it too far. Sorry.

EVERYONE benefitted from the poor system introduced, not just those who won and were challenged. There were and are internecine battles between racial and religious groups being fought in the area that were exploited by both those who won and those who challenged the results. The results were terrible and a shame to all with belief in democracy, but to phrase the blame against the Labour Party in the way it has been doesn't do the argument any favours.

Election day announced: worst kept secret ever

Nick Palmer is a good local MP. Whatever other issues I have with Labour, he's still getting my vote. Can foresee dire turn out except for anti-war protests and "are you thinking..." [oh I doubt it] xenophobic racists.


If you missed this on BBC3, then please say you have invested the time to watch it now that it has quickly come to BBC1. In much the same way as I grinned through Misty's Big Adventure, this production just made me gleeful. It was smart, funny and emotionally connected with me. Also, David Tennant as the young Casanova is superb and gives dashing Peter O'Toole a real run for his acting money. Glorious. Why no due date for DVD release? Am still hanging for Blackpool to get a release as well. As I am for Holding On (1997 and counting). AND Green Wing... turning into a DVD grumbler...

Comedy sketches... bleugh

John, as ever at Counago and Spaves, has much sensible comment to make on the above monstrosity that was foisted on the viewing public this weekend by Channel 4. Personally speaking, context is often everything for a sketch: the momentum of the programme, the characters, you as the viewer and where you are at. Mostly the stuff doesn't work when repeated ad nauseum by 'fans', many of whom frequently miss the point of the joke(s) or characterisations presented.

Mind, glad John commented on it as it reminded me just how glorious the Absolutely team were: Morwenna Banks, what a gal!

"Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical" in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

Oh go on, you know if you're there you will want to give Casyn some support for her labours! Book now! We'll even forgive her lack of blogging (says she of the Rullsenberg who was absent for two weeks plus)...


Yes folks, I'm back at work. I took two weeks of vacation and spent most of it ill. There's a good investment of my energy. Still, I got the CF essay done - at least done enough to earn me some extra time to polish it. Now I have a backlog of mail and blog stuff to deal with... look out folks it's gonna be a bumper day of blogsworth!