Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Offline for a few days

Which is just as it should be. See you all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mieville's Christmas

Entirely in keeping with the chimerical quality of the assurances one makes to oneself and others as the year ends, I am putting off Police Story for one more time.

Instead, I shall leave y'all for a couple of days with a story, as befits the season, about gifts, children, and doing everything one can as a parent to make the day a memorable one for those one loves.

From China Mieville's book of short stories, Looking For Jake and Other Stories, the story, 'Tis The Season:

Call me childish, but I love all the nonsense - the snow, the trees, the tinsel, the turkey. I love presents. I love carols and cheesy songs. I just love Christmas™.

That's why I was so excited. And not just for me, but for Annie. Aylsa, her mum, said she didn't see the big deal and why was I a sentimentalist, but I knew Annie couldn't wait. She might have been 14, but when it came to this I was sure she was still a little girl, dreaming of stockings by the chimney. Whenever it's my turn to take Annie - me and Aylsa have alternated since the divorce - I do my best on the 25th.

I admit Aylsa made me feel bad. I was dreading Annie's disappointment. So I can hardly tell you how delighted I was when I found out that for the first time ever I was going to be able to make a proper celebration of it.

Don't get me wrong. I haven't got shares in YuleCo, and I can't afford a one-day end-user licence, so I couldn't have a legal party. I'd briefly considered buying from one of the budget competitors like XmasTym, or a spinoff from a non-specialist like Coca-Crissmas, but the idea of doing it on the cheap was just depressing. I wouldn't have been able to use much of the traditional stuff, and if you can't have all of it, why have any? (XmasTym had the rights to Egg Nog. But Egg Nog's disgusting.) Those other firms keep trying to create their own alternatives to proprietary classics like reindeer and snowmen, but they never take off. I'll never forget Annie's underwhelmed response to the JingleMas Holiday Gecko.

No, like most people, I was going to have a little MidWinter Event, just Annie and me. So long as I was careful to steer clear of licenced products we'd be fine.

First published in the Socialist Review in 2004. Read the rest of it here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Deathly Hallows

Prepare for a community of ageing teens going into orgasms, conniptions and a lather, depending on their relative position on the age scale: the title of the last Harry Potter book has been revealed.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows it is.

Other places where you can expect much good cheer befitting the season (what a clever girl JKR is!):


JKR's own site

Police story coming up, promise. Since I'm at large, we can safely assume the story has a happy ending (which, given the people concerned, might have been in doubt).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Catalogue of Disasters: Prologue

Does anyone else get the feeling that as the year draws to a close, every day is compressed with more activity, more stress, and weighs much more than usual?

I do.

So to celebrate, I am going to let everyone in on my disasters as they occur, so that if all of you lead normal lives, you can take vicarious pleasure in my series of unfortunate events.

To start with, I switched my blog to what I’ve been assured was no longer Blogger Beta. That means I can now sign in with my Google Account. Everyone has to switch eventually, I’m told. So I thought, what the heck, let’s get it over with.

Turns out that the normal sign in page has moved. After many futile attempts at trying to post yesterday, I figured that one out I think). Now it appears that people who want to leave comments might not able to, because of several reasons.

Those of you who’d switched to blogger beta some time ago – please to share your woes.

In the meanwhile, just as soon as I’ve had something to steady my nerves, I shall report on my Encounter with the Police.

About translating The Second Sex

In my previous post I quoted Simone de Beauvoir. I remember the quote incorrectly; I thought it was "One is not born, one becomes a woman". Being unsure, I googled it, and found that what she said was "one is not born a woman, but becomes one."

Alas, a blog has two posts from last year (this day that year!) on the subject of translations:

You see, the real Simone de Beauvoir isn’t available in English - only in
the original French. The English version I and many other English-reading
feminists have read, is translated so badly that at times it says the exact
opposite of what de Beauvoir intended. From a New
York Times op-ed by Sarah Glazer

Alfred Knopf, who thought the book ‘’capable of making a very wide
appeal indeed'’ among ‘’young ladies in places like Smith,'’ sought out Howard
Madison Parshley, a retired professor of zoology who had written a book on human
reproduction and regularly reviewed books on sex for The New York Herald
Tribune, to translate Beauvoir’s book. Parshley knew French only from his years
as a student at Boston Latin School and Harvard, and had no training in
philosophy — certainly not in the new movement known as existentialism, of which
Beauvoir was an adherent. ‘Parshley didn’t read anything about existentialism
until he’d finished translating the whole book and thought he should find out
something about it to write his introduction,’ says Margaret A. Simons,
professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and
author of ‘Beauvoir and ‘The Second Sex’ ’ (1999).

Apparently the publisher of the English translation, Knopf, has "the exclusive English-language rights locked up until The Second Sex goes into the public domain - in 2056. Knopf refuses to do an updated transation themselves, and they refuse to allow anyone else to publish one, either."


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

‘One is not born a woman, but becomes one’

With a giant feeling of unease sitting on my shoulder for the last week or so, I’ve finally managed to drum up whatever I needed to post. In the way that these things usually happen, this feeling has been constructed brick by brick. It started with the ridiculous Christopher Hitchens article in Vanity Fair, accusing women of not having a sense of humour. Poor sap, I thought, as I veered wilding between tolerant amusement and mild indignation. Men like him have to sustain themselves on some poorly constructed stereotypes.

Then, on Batul’s blog, I read about a curious math problem. The illustrious writers of our textbooks see no problem in perpetuating such stereotypes as the Hitchens of the world are proud to create. What, after all, are they doing wrong? Women do earn less than men for at least an equal amount of work done. So what could be wrong in letting children who are learning algebra, also learn these facts of life that surely cannot be harder than the sums they are set?

My son at three, used to love having his nails painted. Then someone – male or female – in his kindergarten must have sniggered. The painting of nails stopped. One day, recently, he said, ‘girls can’t do that.’ I’ve forgotten what it was he thought girls couldn’t do, but I speedily disillusioned him.

More than fifty years after Simone de Beauvoir said, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one,” parents, teachers, writers of both textbooks and the more enjoyable ones that we hope children will read, are full of precisely the kind of constructions of gender identities that the women’s movement has worked so hard to avoid or eliminate.

Take Ian McEwan’s The Daydreamer for instance. Peter Fortune is a daydreamer who inhabits the minds of such diverse creatures as cats, little babies and ‘grown-ups’. All well and good. But is it too much to ask that McEwan write about a family where the wife does not necessarily take on her husband’s name after marriage? (Unless she was already a Fortune before she married her husband, and that throws up some nicely gruesome possibilities). Or that everyone, even the minor characters, not all be white, middle class families with not a whisper of other skin colours or communities?

I wonder what people who write for children think they are doing. Do they assume that if they do not talk about some things, they will go away? Or do they unconsciously hope to create a picture of a world they hope their children will inhabit: one of easily resolved conflicts, uniform in its assumptions and peopled by characters just like themselves?

This is not a digression. It has everything to do with the way children grow up to become the kind of men and women they do become.

Years ago, when I was in school, I met a young teacher with some books in her hand. I turned my head to read the titles, and saw some book that said Feminism and… something or the other. I was twelve then, so I try hard to forgive myself the sneer with which I said, “So you’re a feminist.”

I said it with a little pause before the F word, to emphasise the horror of all that the word implied.

And I can never be grateful enough for the way she said, quite mildly, “Of course. I think any woman in her right mind would be a feminist.”


On Monday, 16-year-old Tapasi Malik was raped and burnt alive in Singur.(link via Blogbharti) It’s hard to draw a clear line from our childhoods to the day when, as adults, we can commit such crimes against women. I don’t know if anyone else has this hanging up on their walls, but this might be the time to reproduce it here:

Because woman's work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we're the first to get fired and what we look like is more important than what we do and if we get raped it's our fault and if we get beaten we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we're nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we're nymphos and if we don't we're frigid and if we love women it's because we can't get a "real" man and if we ask our doctor too many questions we're neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect childcare we're selfish and if we stand up for our rights we're aggressive and "unfeminine" and if we don't we're typical weak females and if we want to get married we're out to trap a man and if we don't we're unnatural and because we still can't get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can't cope or don't want a pregnancy we're made to feel guilty about abortion and...for lots and lots of other reasons we are part of the women's liberation movement.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Auntie Laura Reads A Book

Yesterday was 14 years on from the Babri Masjid demolition. In another couple of months we will mark the fifth year of the Gujarat riots. We remind ourselves again and again of what we're capable of as human beings. Not that we're in any danger of forgetting -- who can, when there's a Khairlanji taking place every once in a while?

I have always felt that these events are hard to fictionalise, or turn into anything other than what they are. At least, if it is at all possible, it cannot happen for some years yet. Adorno famously said, "after the Holocaust lyric poetry is impossible."

Of course, even such definite pronouncements have a best-before date; Adorno later retracted his statement, many films have been made on the Holocaust (though we have to decide for ourselves which is more truthful: Resnais' Night and Fog or Spielberg's Schindler's List. Yes, yes, the comparison is entirely unfair, I admit. But it indicates, if nothing else, a range of artistic responses within which we could try to understand a horrible event.); we learn, with time, to calibrate our responses and make out of events something that can be remembered without being expoitative or egregious.

The war in Iraq is, depending on how you look at it, either a few years old, or at least a decade-and-a-half old. Such sustained warfare might even inure us and those suffering it, to many things. Another airstrike, another pile of bodies. More dead. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're in danger of saying. So what are you doing for New Year's, we might even ask, though we will be careful to space that question out carefully so as not to appear callous.

Tony Kushner's play, Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy is one possible response to such events as we are in danger of getting used to. It is angry and absurd. And most importantly, it does not uselessly wring its hands while torturing itself about What Is Happening In Iraq.

In it, Laura Bush is meeting Iraqi children for the first itme in her life, and she is very excited. She is going to read to them; so what if they are dead? She can read Dostoievsky to them instead of The Hungry Catepillar, because "I figured, being dead, you all command a broader view, and I hope you’re going to like it. I think you will!"

There's an ANGEL, moderating the interaction between LAURA BUSH and THE DEAD CHILDREN who only make noises like bird music. LAURA BUSH asks the ANGEL how many children have died.

ANGEL: Hundreds of children. Thousands of children. 150,000 children.
400,000 children. Who's counting? No one is counting. A lot. From diseases
related to the sanctions and the power outages and the depleted uranium dust
shed from the casings of American missiles? Perhaps related? Probably related?
Nearly 600,000 children have died. Many, many children have died.

LAURA BUSH: Oh gosh. And on the bright side, all those dead children
and yet look, you have maintained such a low student-teacher ratio.

ANGEL: We believe a low student-to-teacher ratio is necessary for

LAURA BUSH: I agree!

ANGEL: And yet in the United States it's so high, on the average.

LAURA BUSH: On the average, thirty-to-one, forty-to-one! Way, way too
high! I was a teacher once. Before I married Bushie. Or, as I sometimes call
him, The Chimp. You know, those ears. It would be nice if there was government
money to make schools smaller. For living children. But you see, honey, sweetie,
precious--do they have names?

ANGEL: They do, but I'm not allowed to tell you.

LAURA BUSH: Why not?

ANGEL: I'm not allowed to tell you that, either. Sorry.

(Little pause.)

LAURA BUSH: Oh. All right. Well anyway, children, free educations with
three-to-one student-teacher ratios or even twenty-to-one student-teacher ratios
or even enough classrooms with enough desks to sit in would be swell, wouldn't
it, but...one of the lessons from the wonderful book I'm going to read to you
today is that if you accept free bread, or free whatever, education, daycare,
whatnot, if you accept that free stuff you will have to give up freedom in
exchange, and that isn't right. Freedom is what matters, not things of the
earth. Like food. And I know you died starving, honey, but look at your nice
pajamas! Do you see what I mean?

ANGEL: Children, do you see what Mrs. Bush means? (They stand and
answer, talking happily, but again the only sound is Messiaen's

Link via Amitava Kumar.

Here's Adrienne Rich in the Guardian, arguing for more poetry in our dark times.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

'What The Eye Sees': A Cinematographer's Account of Frozen

I admit my bias, but Shanker Raman is one of the best cinematographers to come out of the FTII. Many years ago, while we were shooting our diploma film, a young friend asked him how to shoot some particularly difficult thing. Shanker said, very simply, "Just remember, if your eyes can see it, it can be shot."

Shanker's been shooting in Ladakh for the last year. Here is his account of shooting for the feature film, Frozen. (no links available yet.)

The first character to be cast was the location. Ladakh is a high-altitude desert, known for its stark, barren landscape that is at its extreme during winter. For the most part of their routine, our characters are cut off, almost quarantined from the pervasive influence of modernization. We were convinced after the first recce that Ladakh had the ideal landscape to depict this physical isolation.

While examining the first set of images shot in October and November 2005, we felt, in order to do justice to the title Frozen it was necessary to find the appropriate visual palette. We debated over many colour tones and colour reduction theories, recorded many images on a Nikon D100
digital SLR 6 megapixel camera, to explore the options for manipulation. Eventually, on looking at some lovely black and white pictures from the book ‘Ladakh’ shot by the photographer Prabir C Purkayastha, we began to seriously consider black and white as an option.

The landscape of Ladakh at that time of the year is predominantly barren, stark, in tones of red and brown that appear saturated against a deep blue sky. Even though it was at times minus 15 Celsius outside in the middle of the day, when photographed in colour it appeared like it was summer. The film is set in extreme winter, and the drama played out by our characters is totally devoid of any warmth, reassurance or cheer. Black and white images seemed to illustrate this iciness authentically.
The texture and tonality of black and white, we felt, would make the images associative without the burden of having to create unnecessary elaborate detail. Black and white helped us in visualizing with economy.
The rest of his article here.