Category Archives: opinion piece

Charity v Altruism: Now & the Medieval era

Straight-out, I’m totally taking a High Medieval module this term (which was fantastic btw and could only be improved with the addition of poor neglected Wace) and this came up during my research for my essay.

Whilst reading Aaron Hostetter’s article “Food, Sovereignty and Social Order in Havelock the Dane.” (The Journal of English and Germanic Philosophy, 2011, 53-77), I was struck by the economic model he describes. Lords live on surplus, and do not labour. The lower classes, slaves, peasants and the like, labour to produce a surplus yet only consume as much as they need to survive and work (and sometimes not even that much). This model he applies to the poem Havelok, a lovely story of the rise of a king from low class work, and specifically to Aethelwold, one of the kings, who “dines in a manner that enforces his claim to rule his nation, but with the happy result that they all have enough to eat,” (57) because out of the surplus he lives on, he sends out alms to the poor so they can eat.

Now, is it just me or does this seem ridiculous?

The power dynamics here are founded upon a circulation of food and wealth that relies upon a minority to be charitable and generous enough to send on the surplus they’ve gained back to the people who produced it in the first place. Very inefficient for mass survival but very good for constructing the minority’s power.

The same thing is still going. A majority work to eat, though our standards of necessities far exceed what we need to actually survive, and produce a surplus that oligarchs, magnates and corporations live off and distribute “charitably”. It’s really no wonder such a sense of cynicism surrounds these charitable acts, though the power now constructed is that of controlling consumer power/power over consumers.

But why? Wouldn’t it be better for those lower in the chain to distribute their wealth/food/all that they produce charitably to others and shorten the circular pass-the-parcel from low to high to low? And wouldn’t this in turn reduce any gap we currently see between the high and low, as the foundation of their power would be eradicated?

Obviously, it requires relying upon a lot more people to be charitable (as crowdfunding seems to prove is possible) and that seems unlikely, but it also seems illogical to rely on a minority of people to be as altruistic and yet.. it works, doesn’t it?

Advertisements

Review: ‘The Keep’ by Jennifer Egan

Picked this one up from the library while searching for their apparently invisible Phillip K Dick section(¡so frustrating!). Last term I studied ‘Look at Me’ by Egan and very much enjoyed it; it was a mix of sub-plots that didn’t even really culminate into something but that did seem to be the point. The exploration of new ways of thinking and connecting with people through the internet, as well as the power of the old, was not only enjoyable but intellectually-engaging.

‘The Keep’ is, somewhat unfortunately, much of the same. Different character’s stories (literally) overlap, and this time the culmination seems obvious and yet is played out in the same way- the main female character is the last voice, bringing all of the stories to a conclusion in a way that allows her to seemingly escape from the strangleholds of contemporary society.

The tone, as well, is very similar, and yes, they’re written by th esame author so you would expect some overlap, but for me it had an almost distorting effect on the castle setting as it was a very American ‘European Castle’ setting. Which yeah, the reason that is like that becomes apparent but still, I couldn’t get over how similar the despondency of the tine was to ‘Look at Me’.

And it wasn’t just that that was similar; I recognised the characters! Or at least some of them. Z was there, inhabiting Danny. Charlotte in Holly, Moose in Howie. Again, this was a shame because the plot itself was almost different, almost. Themes were the same; dis/connection, identity in recognising and being recognised (alto), insincerity, and the old wielding it’s power over the new.

With all that said, it did make me cry. At a similar point that I think ‘Look at Me’ made me cry. The motif of the mother not being able to cope, collapsing in bed and not being able to move; it does make me wonder if Egan has experience along these lines. This time, the daughters’ one comment, ‘I just want you to get better’, well, it hit home, too hard, and I struggled to get through the rest of the book before allowing that emotion to overtake me. It’s not something I often do, it’s weak, it may break me- my resolve, and I have to be strong which often leads to me just not feeling.

So, I just wanted to say thank you, to Jennifer Egan, thank you for writing something that while I see all of it’s similarities to another of your books, actually achieves the aims outlined in the plot; it made me feel again, if only for a night, and for that I am truly grateful.

Why Literature Critics should attack Video Games

Games narratives are the next step in storytelling, and the emphasis, as with so much these days, is upon the consumer-product relationship and the different ways in which the consumer/player affects the product/game/story being told. It may come to our realisation too late that studying the way these narratives are being created and the affect that they can have may actually be beneficial to our society.

Perhaps our problem is that the genius behind them isn’t a single (white middle-class western) man, it’s a group working together, communicating, developing, creating. This collaboration behind the creation is the very reason I think a study of it would be beneficial – it is possible to collaborate and create in a meaningful way in the current technological and socio-economic quicksand we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in. Even fans contribute; with fanon, through kickstarters and advertisement, etc.

This productive social activity being exhibited in the video games industry (and indeed the content creator arena that naturally follows on) is an important thing to grasp, understand and replicate. It could be exactly what ecocritics are looking for, it could be exactly where we need to head, and I think that literature critics could help a lot by actually paying attention to the new narrative forms that we are seeing, instead of dismissing them into the realms of IT,  New Media, and consumerism.

 

The Problem with Polygyny

To someone who has generally been taught to blame the Church for everything, this report is actually really interesting.

A little background on me; Semi-Neopagan family upbringing. My ma always wanted us to freely choose and explore everything so whilst she was in the Neopagan way of thinking she didn’t really try to instill it; just you know morals, which she and I don’t see as being connected to religion (i.e. they’re a focus of religion but they’re their own seperate guidelines for life if you like).

My gran on the other hand, hella Neopagan, tho she’d say Pagan and wouldn’t understand that the roots of what she follows actually come from the 1970s not like 370. Not too pushy but definitely encouraging into it, so everything church related for her was condemned basically. We had a Rev friend but he ‘followed the way of the Light’ or some shit, so he was considered alright.

All but the extinction of Paganism? Church’s fault.
Destruction of ancient holy sites? Church’s fault.
Dismissal of personal magic, female power, freedom, free thought, free speech, free worship? Church’s fault.

I mean, you can see where that point of view is coming from, and it does have some basis in reality, you can see those trends. But it’s not a reason to condemn a faith for all but it’s pre-Christian Pagan morals. It really isn’t. And whilst I was never wholly condemning like my gran; I certainly picked up a lot of that attitude from her, being afraid of feeling Christian, mocking the occasional (one) devout Christian (that I wholly regret, though I was 7ish; same year I had a mock wedding held by my friend who was the daughter of a vicar \’-‘/).

So, when it came to the point where I like started actually thinking about stuff like sex, marriage, attraction in a my-entire-world-is-feminist-and-now-I’m-consciously-thinking-about-the-power-structures-and-male-hating-thought-pattern-my-gran-instilled-in-me way, I naturally blamed the condemnation of lesbians, gays and polygamy/open relationships on the Church. It seemed sensible at the time. Now I understand it’s just humans, not a religion’s fault because that’s stupid because humans make the religion (even if it’s divine inspired, they go on to corrupt or spread it).

So, humans condemn polygamy etc., yet I hadn’t moved past the thinking that it was because their religion made sexual relations like that seem immoral (if you read the right passages in the right way). Never had I considered that there may be a more natural reason for their condemnation/closed-mindedness, even though I have already put other things down to a more natural impulse (racism for example can be understood as a natural rejection of not-your-clan; this DOES NOT excuse it- there is a reason that we are sentient, reasoning beings and I firmly believe moving past no longer/never required natural impulses qualifies as one of those reasons).

The transmission of STIs as a reason to be monogamous in a large group seems reasonable, likely and regardless of what criticism is levelled at this model, seems almost unquestionably the most likely reason for polgyny and polygamy to be condemned by a lot of people by natural survival impulse. If this is the case, and I strongly believe it is, there funnily enough doesn’t seem to be much need of it now, or at least in entirely morally corrupt places that are abusing the rest of the world enough to be able to afford sti treatments and protection that prevents transmission.

Basically, let people fuck other fully informed, consenting adults and however many of them of whatever sex they please;  and for gods’ sake provide them with protection to do so!

Why my family don’t like Amanda Palmer; Or, is all music poetry?

I have a draft piece written somewhere on a genre of writing I like to term prose-poetry. It’s not the same as ‘poetic prose’ or ‘prose poetry’ (as such); it’s, I think, new and different, a mode which specifically combines the two. Specifically.

In the writing of it, I realised that I had last managed to define poetry, in opposition to prose, and without relying on literary techniques.
Poetry acts upon the emotions; it appeals to the emotions and evokes a response, whatever that may be.
Prose, conversely, acts upon logic; it appeals to the reason of the reader/audience.
Prose using emotions occasionally but only as a means to acting upon logic: In poetry, acting upon the emotions is the end in itself.

 

So, we come to music (I will eventually post that draft on prose-poetry).
Music has lyrics, which my family don’t listen to, but I do. I adore lyrics: the meaning behind them; the way they can work against and with the music and musicality of a song.
I used to see songs as poetry put to music. This is not the case.
Music and word are formed together in songs. But this is not the reason that I was wrong.

I have come to the realisation that not all songs are poetry. Not all music is made to appeal to the emotions.

Songs are perhaps more subjective in response than even written texts purely because you can entirely ignore the lyrics (whether they appeal to emotion or reason) and thereby only ‘feel’ the music.

I was listening to Yesterday by The Beatles on my way back home today. I’ve always had issues with this song, I love it, I dislike it, I don’t understand it. The narrative is pretty clear lyrically, the music sounds like a dirge/elegy, but music and lyrics don’t entirely match up.

I’m a firm believer in the music of a song being able to tell a different story to the lyrics, I think it’s a very important part of songs. But putting it in terms of prose and poetry today, I realised something; the lyrics of Yesterday appeal to my intellect, my reason, asking for sympathy maybe but still. I’m still struggling on how to put how something appeals to reason rather than intellect into words, without going for the blindly obvious- it asks you to think, it asks you to reason out the situation and come to a conclusion.

Seven Nation Army comes on next, I listen as always, my concentration fading in and out of the lyrics. I decided this song appeals to the emotion. Partly because the lyrics are easy to fade in and out of; the music and lyrics together are appealing to your emotion; it doesn’t matter which you are listening to or if you’re listening to them separately or together. There’s still a narrative thread guiding you through but some construction of lyrics play more to emotions than logic; “And I’m bleeding and i’m bleeding and I’m bleeding/right before the lord.”

Slight tangent, we went to a ghost tour on Saturday, a friend commented that the language our guide was using was very poetical. I replied that it was because he was a appealing to our emotion, not our logic; to apply reason to a ghost tour would destroy the whole purpose, the mood, the atmosphere, our want to be scared for an hour to release some tension.

American Pie is a song about emotion and events that appeals to logic and reason in all but the chorus, a heightened moment of emotion that appeals to your emotion to trick you into sharing his disappointment, sadness and need for a kind of renewal or redemption for music-kind. So much of the verses rely, however, on logical responses, inviting you to figure out the meaning of the obscure references in order to understand why you are being appealed to. Maybe it’s just me, but that song is heavily biased to reason-appeal and not emotion.

As are Amanda Palmer‘s songs, though emotional they appeal to logic for sympathy, not emotion. To understanding, not heart-felt pity.
And the music, repetitious and cyclical as it is, joins in with this appeal to reason.

For a family that doesn’t listen to lyrics, wants to ‘feel’ songs, I think it must be very jarring when suddenly an oeuvre is presenting that appeals largely to reason than emotion, and whilst I don’t doubt their capability to understand, it may take some time to learn how to listen to a reason-appeal song.