APRIL FOOLS 2017

So you know how this site, “Literatastrophe Dot WordPress Dot Com,” has a really crappy name that I came up with when I was sixteen for a Distance Ed literature course?

Well, APRIL FOOLS, there is now a nearly-identical site with a much better name!

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That’s right! http://www.skeletonpower.wordpress.com is the new, pronounce-able URL. All the old exoskeleton posts are already up there, and all future ones will be appearing there first.

And yes, APRIL FOOLS!! you just read an ad for the WordPress equivalent of a cover-up-tattoo.

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Week 14 – An Informed Rant

I’m not sure how closely I’m supposed to adhere to these dot point questions. I am liking my current method of ‘rant and pray.’ Hope you’re not expecting any variety in form – I’m pretty much just gonna go with what works.

Right. Lena. The identity thereof.
Lena sees the aboriginal half of her heritage as the one she was brought up in. She lives in Australia with her aboriginal mother. Her world is based on her mother’s side. And she hates her world. So she hates her mother. She rejects this side of herself because in her mind it is linked to her rural wasteland home and her rural pre-written life. So she hits the road looking for her father, who has become in his absence a symbol of escape, freedom. A better life. Sen comments on the disadvantage in quality of life experienced by many Aborigines in Australia today. Lena’s depressed view of her life as an Aborigine depicts this commentary. She sees this life as inherently worse than the one she could have as an Irish girl – a direct allegory of the issues Sen is trying to discuss. She even abandons her indigenous roots – (Having been brought up by her Aboriginal mother in Australia and with Aboriginal blood, Lena qualifies pretty damn well as Aboriginal, despite her light skin.) – and claims she’s Irish. Just to hammer home her rejection of said Aboriginal ancestry and embracing of her Irish one. Ireland is her other option. Australia hasn’t worked out so good. But she’s still got a bit of Irish in her! Maybe things will be better there. I guess from her perspective, it can’t be much worse.
Vaughn struck me at first as an angry jerk. He’s supposed to. He pulled that off pretty well. His yelling was convincingly aggressive, and his facial expression maintained a seemingly constant hatred of everything throughout the opening. Vaughn is clearly a troubled kid. Damian Pitt did some damn good work for a first-time actor pulled off the streets. From the sounds of it Sen made his selection based more on looks than acting prowess, but I guess he got lucky. Pitt portrays the character convincingly, and as the film progresses we begin to see the source of Vaughn’s anger – making his character more sympathetic.

Setting-wise… There were a lot of roads. The roads went through sunflower fields for comparatively light-hearted scenes. Storm-clouds appeared for the moodier stuff. The scenes in the church were used to allow the characters to discuss their beliefs. There was a small rural town used to introduce Lena and her life – a minimum security prison did likewise for Vaughn. Lena goes into a grungy diner and ends up vomiting the diseased food she bought there. There’s a pub at one point. And Vaughn’s home. But these are all plot devices. It’s the trip that is the focus of the piece. And the trip goes through cotton fields, sunflower fields, corn fields and grass fields. There’s a big field vibe going down over here. But yes. Sunny days and happy memories. Storm clouds and sheltering in burnt out churches wondering why our fathers abandoned us. The film seems to be intrinsically linked to the weather. Even the title. Still not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Cloudy scenes tend to be sad scenes in this film. When Lena’s brother gets taken away by the police, it’s raining. Thunder clouds are rumbling through the heavier dialogue that takes place throughout the trip. When the sun is shining, everything is fine. ‘Beneath Clouds’ could just refer to the protagonists’ depressing backgrounds, living beneath the clouds of depression? I wouldn’t put it past this guy. It could also just be a name that he thought sounded cool.
Incidentally, those cloud shots at the start. Specifically, the fish-eye red-tinged ones. Ewww. Just ewww. Those plus the ‘out there’ font made me feel like I was watching a bad 90’s childrens’ educational program. Distracting and ugly.

But on a positive note, those dead animals were rad. Something about the sense of macabre imagery, the messages of mortality and escape. This is a dead place. Lena certainly has strong views that the place is a ‘shithole,’ and wants to escape it. Otherwise it’ll be a life of minimum wage and teen pregnancy and curling up inside a bottle to wonder where her life went. Either she gets out of this place, or she’s already dead. This is a dead place. These animals – moth, bird, fox. Two of them could fly, and the other was capable of traveling long distances. They all could have left. But they didn’t, and now they’re dead. The corpses are a warning to Lena, and a symbol of the home she runs from.
Of course, cordoning the symbolism off to just Lena is wrong. I haven’t even mentioned the horses. I felt this example was especially Vaughn’s moment, as he was the only one present and it acted as so clear a metaphor for his own life. These strong, wild creatures – living in a cage, waiting to die. It’s an ominous reminder of the future that awaits Vaughn if he is caught. But the horse cage is not a representation of his prison sentence. There’s a bigger cage, outside of the first one. The same one Lena’s running from… Hwoah.
Interconnection.
Interconnection through use of animal corpses.
 Yeah I just thought that was a highlight.

Week 12 – Stock Footage

Time to roll out the clichés. Let’s talk about 1984.

I’m not sure there’s anything new to be said on this book. We’ve all been down this road. I justify talking about it with the arguments that a) nothing all that new can be said about any book and b) some people still manage to hate this one.

This is sacrilege and I will not stand for it. Let’s rant.

Okay. 1984. A story set in a totalitarian dystopia that challenges everything you thought you knew about reality, morality, society, and pretty much any subject ending in -y. That’s a terrible summary. All summaries of this book are. There’s too much stuff in it. Orwell himself couldn’t fit everything he wanted to say into his narrative – so he threw in one of his patented essay-splosions and dubbed it ‘The Book.’ Everyone always hates this bit. It was one of the best parts.

Orwell is an essayist. He is good at what he does. 1984 is incredibly well written in its story – but when The Book comes in, Orwell allowed himself to stop hiding all his points in Winston’s musings, and just get down to business. The man made points. He had rules about what made good writing and he stuck to them. Don’t waffle on. Make your point concise and understandable. The Book is so amazingly coherent a piece of writing about so complicated a topic that it staggers the mind. Orwell sat down and wrote out a piece of text that made War into Peace.

That was always my favourite of the Party’s points. ‘War is Peace.’ It ended up working so perfectly. The eternal arms-race between the three nations operating to create in constant changing warfare – peace. This is art. ‘Freedom is Slavery’ was also brilliant. ‘Ignorance is Strength’ I think I just think less of because it sounded the most obvious in my head when I read it. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you think about it it’s just as brilliant a satirical statement about society as any of the others. Orwell’s a genius essay-writing savant and I hate him for being so damn intimidatingly talented. Grrr.

There’s always all the speculation about how 1984 is so close to reality. And I can appreciate that. I also figure that – if 1984 ever really did come true – we’d all already be too brainwashed to care. Oceania is a happy place. Winston is a madman. This is what I think when people tell me the book was depressing. I feel like they’re missing out on the best part of the story. The Party had their contradictions written on the walls of the Ministry of Truth. But they were always missing the biggest one. ‘Oceania is Utopia.’ Forgive me my failure at slogan-writing. The point is – yes, it could be depressing. If you have faith in humanity or God or your government or pretty much anything else, this book’s just going to undermine your beliefs and you’ll feel all unstable. But Winston’s view of Airstrip One is only told to us because he’s the one person in this society we can relate to. He would fit in in our current world. He would be sane.

But in the context of the world within the book, we are reading the accounts of a madman. A psychopath hellbent on destroying the perfect society. We look at The Party and we condemn them for watching everyone and editing history and all that. We hate them for essentially being Stalinist Russia. Which is fine. From our perspective. If you look at the society within 1984 as a whole, most people are happy. The proles don’t care, the Inner Party are living it up, the Outer Party get by. They’re all fueled by their love of Big Brother. And yes, it’s based around killing people for questioning the government. You might ask ‘Utopia, at what cost?’ But look at us. Australia went and helped America shoot people in Iraq because of imaginary nuclear bombs. We’ve tried to build our own communist utopias, and they haven’t worked. The society’s we live in today kill people all the time. At least the Party does it with the vast majority of the world living happily.

The reason we hate Stalin is because he couldn’t brainwash people. He didn’t have duckspeak. So we question him and so we hate what he did. And that’s cool. I’m not saying I want 1984 to happen. I think the fact that everyone is happy in Airstrip One would be appalling if it actually happened. Orwell was mocking us. Showing us we’re only a couple of steps away from total hive-mind oblivion. It’s a satire of contemporary society and Stalin’s government – not necessarily a warning. In order for the world he describes to become a reality, the majority of us must by definition be happy about it.

And that’s my rant. Did I say anything new? I listed the Party’s contradictions in order of preference, so I guess ‘Shallowest evaluation of the text’ could go to me. ‘Does this political satire make my butt look big?’ Anyway. Hope it was a fun ride.

Week 11 – Cinnamon and the Cat

Simenon. Seriously. It’s all I can think when I read that name. Does anyone else have this problem?

Seriously though. I haven’t read any of his detective books. I remember something about a horse… Maybe… Then I gave up. This guy wrote a ton of books. It’s horrifying. I’m reasonably sure the time spent typing these things up collectively surpasses the total lifespan of Simenon himself. My theory is he wrote them with the help of magic ghosts.

So we come to The Cat, a story about a husband and wife who hate each other to the point of never speaking to each other, communicating purely in notes centred on blaming one another and casual death threats. Their most common communiqués are simple. ‘The cat’ from the husband, and ‘the parrot’ from his wife. These are references to each others’ beloved pets – the cat murdered by the wife and in consequence the parrot murdered by the husband. They live quietly, having conservations in their heads in which they viciously insult one another, ruminating on everything from who is the weakest to who will die first.

Simenon lived by the principle of ‘If you can cut out a word, do so.’ There is absolutely no waffling in this book. It is succinct. And the language doesn’t become robotic because Simenon values the creation of atmosphere. And what an atmosphere. The entire book is filled with fog. It’s a cold French street, a cold French house, and it’s always winter. I remember about one sunny scene. It was a flashback. Apart from that, I’m not sure if it’s every actually stated to be cold or foggy. But it’s always winter in my mind. Maybe I’m giving Simenon too much credit for my perceptual weather-prejudice? Or should I be giving him more credit for so effectively manipulating me towards this said assumption?

This is just the kind of pointless-crap-trap that’s constantly waiting to devour anyone studying a subject like literature. Let’s get out of here before someone gets hurt.

But I maintain it’s a cold-feeling story. It’s told through the eyes of an elderly couple. You feel old. It’s not pleasant. There’s none of that clear, endorphin-flowing happiness that we’re used to. The husband realises he needs his wife – but the motivation is mostly that he needs that psychological warring they’ve had all these years. And then she dies. This is the ‘happy ending’. And it’s not depressing… as such. You end up sitting there thinking ‘Am I happy? Am I sad? I’m not sure…’ In the end I think it’s a complicated mixture of both, and I think it’s cool that the book managed to leave you with this sense of confused zen happy-sadness. Confusion’s fun.

The Cat is a psychological novel with original characters – to say the least. Simenon tells the story of two people going through their twilight years with hate-fuelled abandon. It challenges a few of our definitions about marriage and love, and it’s always good to challenge things. It’s depressing at times, but simultaneously addictive and morbidly fascinating. And French. Now you’ve gotta read it.

Week Etc. – MACBETH!!!

Missed a few weeks. Sorry ’bout that. I had an assessment. Thought I ought to pay attention. Anyway –

DUCK, HERE COMES SHAKESPEARE!

Alright. Gotta have some thoughts. Think I’m going to go for yet another amorphous blob, take all this Macbeth out in one go. A lot of these ‘questions’ from the course assume I haven’t already finished the play. I assumed we had to finish it before we started studying it and now I’ve read the whole thing. I’m a little brown-noser like that. So since I’m viewing the text less linearly than the course would have me, I’m just going to go with my usual formula of free-wheeling but fun rants. We’ll try to make some meaning out of it. It’ll be an adventure.

I think what I’ll have to accept when studying something like Macbeth is that I’m probably never going to understand it in full without becoming some crazed Victorian madman, loping down Swanson street, chainsaw in hand, screaming “I HAVE A DEGREE IN SHAAAAAAKESPEARE!!!” (Apologies to anyone who has a degree in Shakespeare. He seems to have been a crafty character. But do you ever feel sad that your job is talking about his job to other people who have that job?)

I think Macbeth stands out in its portrayal of power as not worth the hassle. It’s the dawn of last millenium – you most likely live on, in and are nourished purely by mud. You can want money, I can understand that. ‘Power’ I guess is an okay motive, but only because we’ve still got the Feudal system and if you’re not already a bishop or slaying some dragons you’re not really allowed to be happy. So yeah, be a social climber or start a revolution I guess. But this is all from a working class perspective. Macbeth has his own castle. He just got a big promotion. Why should he kill the king?

I wonder about to what degree Macbeth is a character driven by power anyway. Maybe not at all. At first, he’s just doing what some witches and his wife tell him to. His choice was to chicken out and not commit any homicides that night. After that, it seems like it was more about clinging to this royalty he’d won for himself, even though it doesn’t seem to give him any real happiness. Power for the sake of power. He worked hard getting this. Went through some bad times psychologically. He’ll be damned if he’s going to let that snotty punk Fleance get all the glory. Let’s kill everybody!

Macbeth seems like a character running on self destruct. He doesn’t want this. There’s just no going back. He knows he has it coming. At the end of the play he finds out that Macduff has the power to kill him. He accepts this, and decides to go out guns blazing. I’d almost sympathise with the guy if it weren’t for the ‘burning down Macbuff’s village’ deal. And the attempted child murder. That was kind of harsh.

Week 6 – Fly Away Peter

I’m basing this all on the big friendly message written on page 8 of week 6 of my coursework – “Don’t forget to write in your reading journal.” And since that’s right in the middle of a week about this novel I’ve had to read I figure this post should be some kind of summary piece about said novel.

So. Fly Away Peter – the summated observations. Let’s rock.

Fly Away Peter is one of those books we can look at and pull so many meanings out of it that in the end we unravel all the interwoven strands of subtext and find hidden within a rather small and confused canary. And he hasn’t eaten in about three weeks so he’s probably dead. And suddenly someone’s knocking at the door and you’ve no idea what to do with the body and that gateway to Narnia hidden at the back of the pianoforte in your loft is looking more and more inviting…

What I mean with all this is obviously that Fly Away Peter is just a person trying to tell us some truth in print. Avoiding that whole metaphysical jargon so easily fallen into in which you end up discovering that the whole of creation is pointless and thus so is your thinking about it – the book sticks to the truth as far as we can see purely from the evidence we have.

People are insignificant. Objectively life is pointless, but from our own subjective point of view it’s pretty much all we’ve got. You can call it an anti-war novel, you can point out the symbols of ‘duality’ and ‘the dark side of humanity’, the biblical references, the whole shabam – and they’re all present in the text… but it’s all just setting. Tools to make the artwork.

Everything we have is based around this. The fact that a book based around the only significance in life being its individuality, should cause us to spend hours weaving meanings around canaries when we could be out living our individual lives is… mildly ironic. Even reading that much into it is over-indulgence. It’s the story of the end of someone’s life. This is all we have. This is all we should need.

That’s all there is. There isn’t any more.

Week 5 – Disappointingly Few Ghosts

Alright. ‘Ghostwritten.’ Not really going to talk much about the content of the book – lotta characters, lotta interweaving, lotta deep sounding stuff – but more about the style.

The whole concept behind the book is that it’s told from the perspective of nine different characters. This seems to be David Mitchell’s thing. But the idea is interesting. We have novels and we have short stories. Ghostwritten is a book of short stories that follow a central plot. They all interweave in little subtle details – some of them seemingly purely for nostalgia or to make the author feel smarter than everybody. But despite occasional superiority-complexes, it’s written well and the narrative style feels… new.

I’m sure it’s been done before. Everything has. But it’s not what you’d call mainstream (In the sense that I hadn’t heard of this method until I read this book. This is the definition of alternative.)

But… I don’t even know. The whole short-story-novel idea to me seems like an opportunity to keep up the variety of a short story collection, yet continue to carry the one centralised message. The fact that the story is told from all these different perspectives – and not in the hackneyed, seven different views of the same crime scene sorta junk, the story has its own flow – allows the book to span genre and evade bias. Maybe not even in this book. I’m just running on a concept now. It just seems like the middle point. An interesting mediator.

The is the age of post-modernism people! The boundaries of genre are coming crashing down. Vive le revolution!