I know why the caged bird sings – A Doll’s House

In the period before writing A Doll’s House Henrik Ibsen expressed his concern over “these women of the modern age, mistreated as daughters, as sisters, as wives, not educated in accordance with their talents, debarred from following their real mission, deprived of their inheritance, embittered in mind – these are the ones who supply the mothers for the next generation. What will result from this?” The introduction to my version of the play (Oxford World’s Classics) also says that he believed that men and women were different creatures, with completely different consciences, and “he pointed to the inevitable confusion over matters of right and wrong that inescapably follows when a woman is judged by man’s law, and when in consequence her natural instincts are brought into conflict with the notions of authority she has grown up with”. The play which emerged from his musings on the subject provoked heated sociological debates and ascribed didactic qualities to Ibsen as a playwright. A Doll’s House follows Nora and Torvald Helmer as they prepare for Christmas, with the reappearance of an old acquaintance (Mrs Linde) and Nora’s secret debt to Mr. Krogstad due to an illicit loan starting a quick chain of events that see Nora walking out on her family in the final scene. Thoughts about Nora’s departure from her doll’s house became the pivot around which 1890’s conversation revolved – so much so that dinner invitations often requested that the play was not mentioned. Leaving aside that the ‘shocking’ ending of the play is simply not so shocking to the modern audience, reading the play I was struck by how many clues to this ‘shock’ ending were lying around the stage even in Act 1. Granted, Ibsen did use melodramatic form and present what appears to be a perfect couple in Act 1, both of which work to subvert the naturalistic element of his drama; however the road to what is to come is signposted clearly in the marked dichotomy evolved between the couples words and their actions. I first read A Doll’s House as a teenager, and to be honest it made little impression on me, although I remember being shocked at how shocking the play was deemed to be on first performance. What a difference a decade makes – after rereading as part of A Year of Feminist Classics I can see the performative nature of gender roles and a dichotomy between words in actions shining through from the very beginning of the action.

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Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge

Despite the mounting blog backlog, I couldn’t resist signing up to a challenge I came across recently at Bookaroundthecorner. A big selling point is the lack of a timeframe, but even more so, this was the first unique challenge I have come across in ages. Rather than a ‘who’s who’ of the big ‘important’ reads, these lists are bound to be personal and interesting – head over to creator and host Sarah’s page for more details! The clue is in the name really – this is about pushing you out of your comfort zone. Ten unique books, one in each category – these are my initial thoughts but they may change as the challenge unfolds…

1. A book that has been previously abandoned.

As a general rule, I am not an abandoner – I have struggled to the end of books I have loathed in a bizarre battle of wills with inanimate objects, in the hope that somehow the ending will make good on the majority being insufferable (so rarely the case!). I am only recently starting to give in to the temptation to abandon, and have never done so with the level of relish that I physically flung Eat, Pray, Love across my bedroom after having reached self-absorption breaking point (me, me, me, lovely me, poor me, poor lovely me, pizza, me, Italian lessons, me, poor me, yoga, me…). Truly there has never been such a First World ode to odious self as that pile of tosh. I couldn’t begin to gather the strength to return to Elizabeth’s navel to find out what happens next, so I’m left to decide between selecting On Beauty by Zadie Smith (just didn’t warm to it) and Confessions of an Eco-Sinner by Fred Pearce (which I started, loaned to someone who really wanted it and then shelved when it was returned). Leaning strongly towards the latter.

2. A re-read. Didn’t quite get it/thought there was more/made promise to self to re-read? Time to make good.

The first thing I thought of was a book I didn’t know if I could even find! Treasured as only the forbidden can be, I was obsessed with my elder siblings Beaver Book of Horror, the cover of which alone struck terror into my four year old self. I remember it as ceaselessly thrilling, with condensed versions of classic horror stories and a grisly ‘true horrors’ section describing Vlad the Impaler and Sawney Bean etc in lurid detail. I hope grown-up me is still impressed and ghoulishly fascinated!

3. A book that has sat on the shelf, like, forever. (Decades.)

I don’t really have many books that I haven’t read, and certainly none that have been languishing on a shelf for decades (but oh for a library space so big that could happen!). The closest I can get to fulfilling this is to go to the relatively recent (but sadly growing) ‘to read’ shelf and pick the one there longest, which is An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin. I have had this for over a year, but the reason I haven’t read it yet is the same reason I am hesitant to commit to reading it now – there’s boobies on the cover, and I read a lot on the train. Given the shocking lack of frequent trains on my line, I meet the same people in the same carriages day-in, day-out, and I have only just completely gotten rid of the guy who used to sit beside me, fall asleep and try to spoon me…Not sure this sends out the right message! So I will either try to read this at home, or skip to the next veteran of the to-read shelf The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory (but she is always such a rollicking easy read it feels a bit of a cheat to include her in a challenge).

Continue reading “Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge”

Little Miss Giles and the 1000 Novel Challenge…

Back in the day, I didn’t earn the Little Miss Giles nickname by watching tv (although I did do that too). Having a ‘real’ job instead of academia, getting a cat (that somehow became three cats), commuting sagas and living with a partner and hence losing my iron grip over sound and lighting levels in the bedroom are all factors in reading less than I used to, but I have noticed an enormous dip in volume of digested reads. I have become that creature I could never fathom – I have a build up of books I own and haven’t read! To be fair, the majority of these are Christmas gifts that I haven’t been able to read thanks to a near apocalyptic combination of swine flu/pneumonia/ear infection/trigeminal neuralgia/copious and freakishly strong amounts of medication to deal with same – but it still rankles. Literally watching television as I couldn’t hear what was going on, and too sick and drugged to read, I realised just how much I missed books. Having not really registered New Year at all thanks to the dreaded swine, I made a belated resolution to get back on the reading horse (if you will excuse me turns of phrase that don’t work on still being a pharmaceutical guinea-pig grounds).

In early 2009, The Guardian published ‘1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list’ causing the stir that only labeling something ‘definitive’ can. The Guardian website was flooded with comments demanding to know why their preferred tomes were not included, querying the selection process, and questioning the gender imbalances in terms of author selection, and the ensuing debates, justifications, articles and trivia are well worth your time. Nonetheless, I was interested to find that as formerly voracious reader I was not able to cross as many as I would like off the list, and found precious few of my own most enjoyed on there. I did find the dreaded Pamela, which makes me worried about how much I am going to enjoy this challenge… Granted, it is not the list of the most loved novels, but still… Ian Fleming novels? More McEwan than Murakami? Six PG Wodehouses? Only one volume of the Gormenghast trilogy? Continue reading “Little Miss Giles and the 1000 Novel Challenge…”

Prestigious internship for Lucan’s Sharon

Sharon Hickey from Lucan has been selected onto the Washington Ireland Program (WIP), and flies stateside this month to begin a two-month internship in the Law Library of Congress in Washington DC, and an intensive training course in leadership and service.

The WIP is now in its 16th year, and is designed to give students a rich insight into America’s professional and social culture. With a joint focus on leadership skills and service to the community, this year’s successful applicants will be placed not only in the political arena, but also with cultural institutions, research centres, large companies and entrepreneurial businesses.

A previous winner of an All-Ireland Scholarship, Sharon recently completed her second year of Law with Arts at NUIM. Elected to Dail na nOg and Comhairle, she actively pursues her passion for improving youth facilities in Ireland, and was instrumental in the establishment and success of Megabites, Lucan’s first youth cafe, of which she is President.

Sharon is very excited at the prospect that lies ahead this summer, explaining that “It is a once in a life time opportunity to be interning in Capitol Hill. I will be staying with a host family allowing me real insight into American life and will be working on big charity and political projects in America’s capital city which law students from Dublin can usually only dream about”.

Sharon elaborated on the experience she will gain to The Informer, explaining how she will not only work on government research, but also on her own projects, including research into the gender divide in Ireland’s representative politics, and how this is shaped by the evolution of Irish law. She explained that the WIP is structured in such a way that alumni of the programme support and encourage newer alumni, so that the benefit to the class and their home communities is continuously amplified. “The experience I will get from meeting and talking to some of the world’s most accomplished leaders will undoubtedly help me to transfer this back to my home community in Lucan.”

Sharon is one of thirty students selected from over 270 applicants throughout Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the UK. Megan Farrell, WIP Executive Director, said “this year’s class exemplifies the quality of university students in Northern Ireland and Ireland.” A variety of disciplines including law, media, finance and journalism are represented this year, and so the WIP is a great opportunity for a wide range of young leaders of tomorrow. To follow Sharon’s progress, and to find further details of the WIP and how to apply, please visit www.wiprogram.org.

Cover story of Lucan Informer June 2010

Concluding ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’: Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day…

“Today cinema can place all its talent, all its technology, in the service of reanimating what it itself contributed to liquidating. It only resurrects ghosts, and it itself is lost therein…” – Jean Baudrillard

The quandary facing any potential navigator through the desert of the real as it is presented in postmodern cinema deals with the hyper-realistic nature of any mediated communication. The questioning of reality, and the potential apocalypse, in the films dealt with here is duly problematic. Is it possible that Fight Club, The Matrix, and Twelve Monkeys may all fall victim to the Cassandra Complex by presenting the annihilation of the human race as entertainment? Are these films foreseeing the future yet not being believed when they foretell it, or can we take a more positive outlook towards their significance?

The prevalence of mediated communication such as the cinema has surely, as Baudrillard asserts, assisted the cunning of the simulacrum. It is a contributing factor in the replacement of reality in our society with a mediascape that is governed by the dynamic logic of hyper-reality (Kroker Possessed 65). The postmodern apocalypse will occur because the airless atmosphere inside the simulacrum has asphyxiated meaning, as “…[w]e breathe an ether of floating images that bear no relation to any reality whatsoever” (Massumi 1). As we have discussed, apocalypse is mere banality to a society that feels so close to it, and as a result we have ceased to fear dystopic future visions. What purpose, then, the probing of the simulacrums’ boundaries which we have been undertaking here? Quite simply, these films are crucial to shaking us out of our tendency to live ‘history in suspense’. They recognise that “[o]ur Apocalypse is not real, it is virtual. Neither does it belong to the future, its incident is in the here and now” (Baudrillard Hystericizing 10).

Postmodern society may indeed have reached the End of History; a claim which Fukuyama believes has sealed us into a permanent position of capitalist contentment. By locating the apocalypse within the sphere of our daily actions, the films dealt with here present a different story. We are a society disenfranchised by the realisation that “[w]e’re the middle children of history…we have no purpose, no place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives” (Fight Club). That even minor choices made by us could affect the outcome of the human race is as empowering as it is terrifying to a generation that feels it is changing nothing. By laying before us the nature of the simulacrum and the consequences of escape from it (The Matrix, The Truman Show); or the potential outcome of acting in certain ways (Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys), postmodern cinema is unveiling our choices. Where “…the dystopic projection of a hyperalienated future coincides with a utopic hope for spiritual survival, salvation and redemption” there is a crucial decision to be made (Best Robocop 28). We have not merely wandered through the desert of the real. We have been asked to provide (and make possible) an answer to postmodern cinema’s crucial question: what version of reality do you prefer? Continue reading “Concluding ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’: Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day…”

Never lose your education

Of course I did not know it at the time, but when I was born, the youngest of eight children, to a farming family in Meath, I hit the jackpot in a birth lottery taking place each and every day in an increasingly unequal world. So privileged was I, that I regularly experienced the state only the under-worked and over-privileged feel – boredom. From my earliest memories, long before my pathological obsession with tea drew equal with it, I have loved the power of the printed word. I am a self-confessed word junkie – I’m Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Aunt Josephine from Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Name your cliché of a character who is so engrossed in the universes spun by words, and I am it. Books are not only a portal to knowledge, but a chance to go places in your head – anywhere you want to be, and a good book can take you there. For most of my life I never even questioned that literacy was something special that my circumstances of birth could have denied me. Once I finished my M.A. I realised that, to paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a fact universally acknowledged that a single girl in possession of an arts degree must be in want of a life. Since it has been said that “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page” rather than going someplace in my head I went to China instead.

Working from official statistics, the People’s Republic of China had a literacy rate of 90.8% in the year 2002, with primary school education provided for six years in the state-run public education system. Official statistics often do not show the full reality of a situation however, and the current completion rate of primary education is a little over 78%. Almost 5million students a year fail to complete compulsory education on time. About 1 million children drop out of school each year because of poverty, particularly ethnic minorities and girls – and those girls who remain in education are often the victims of systemic gender discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The poverty of an area as well as the poverty of individual families is an obstacle, with many schools in China lacking the resources to provide more than two to three years of schooling. They are poorly equipped, often providing little more than desks and chairs, and their curricula are severely limited. Notebooks and writing materials, not to mention quality stimulating textbooks, are often prized possessions for the lucky few with access to them.

Continue reading “Never lose your education”

Welcome to the Desert of Real: No Future for You

Since records began, 215,673 people have sworn that the world is going to end. It only takes one of them to be right…” promotion for the 1995 film Twelve Monkeys cautioned. In this installment I shall explore Gilliam’s post-apocalyptic time-travel story in relation to the issues raised in previous sections (space constraints decreeing that the film in its complex entirety cannot be dealt with here). As a result, I shall focus on the inherent dangers of postmodern attitudes to consumerism and technology, and their impact on perceptions of reality as Gilliam lays them before us. It will become apparent that both the societal breakdown of Fight Club and the technological dependence of The Matrix are prevalent in contemporary American society- and lead directly to its future underground.

[3:1]Any discussion of Twelve Monkeys must be aware of the possibility that rather than a time-loop paradox the entire narrative may simply be a prolonged psychotic episode. This is a possibility that the director deliberately kept to the fore by keeping the details of the future vague enough to have them simply be the product of James Cole’s (Bruce Willis) deranged mind (McCabe 167). That Cole’s psychiatrist in 1990, Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who is our anchor in the world of the film as she shares the ‘present’ with us (McMahon 148) comes to believe in Cole may prove only that madness is contagious. However, it may suggest he is telling the truth, since the first reminder of this contagion comes from mental patient Jeffery Goines (Brad Pitt), who imagines insanity “…oozing into the ears of all these poor sane people, infecting them- wackos everywhere, plague of madness! We are once again in the realm of uncertainty fostered by the breakdown of the cinematic reality already dealt with in Videodrome (and which has been Gilliam’s stock in trade since his Monty Python days).

The ceaseless linking of the post-apocalyptic world with contemporary society is problematic as a result of this breakdown of cinematic reality. The visual themes used to link the various temporal plains of the film- most notably the chicken wire that seems to cover every surface- serve to complicate matters further. For instance, is Cole imagining imprisonment in a wire cage in 2035 because he is already in an asylum with wire-coated windows? We are asked to question the likelihood of a time-traveller experiencing virtually the same sequence of events across the divide of forty-five years (Cole is roughly scrubbed down prior to facing a panel of scientists in both 2035 and 1990). As we are never at ease in any of Twelve Monkeys‘s realities, perhaps we are the monkeys that are being experimented upon. This is heightened by the allusions to Vertigo, which foreground the possibility the whole story is merely an elaborate deception (Strick Monkeys 46)i. Continue reading “Welcome to the Desert of Real: No Future for You”