Reading dates: 25 October 2014 – 22 January 2015
Critique of everyday life was Ian’s choice for DiaMat. Having read and discussed David Harvey, one of our heroes, it was time to read one of his big influences. As Ian read during our discussion, Harvey writes:
Marx’s account of how capitalism arose out of feudalism in fact embodies such a “co-revolutionary theory.” Social change arises, he argues, through the dialectical unfolding of relations between seven moments within the social body politic:
a) technological and organizational forms of production, exchange and consumption
b) relations to nature
c) social relations between people
d) mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs
e) labor processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects
f ) institutional, legal and governmental arrangements
g) the conduct of daily life and the activities of social reproduction.
And so Lefebvre deals with the last point. His work is a curious book, curiously written. Each of the six chapters is a world of its own in terms of focus and style. The first one, which very nearly put me off, is a rant against surrealism, literature and Baudelaire. It makes contextual sense once the other five chapters are read, but I felt there was very little critical distance in this writing. There is a lot in this book but I also found a lot of it difficult to grasp. While I understood the purpose and benefits of Dialectical Materialism as a method, I was not very clear on how one thinks dialectically; while I got very excited about the everyday and its critique, I am not sure I fully understood what it was. The centrality of alienation was clear, poetically explained, passionate: when ‘duality is exacerbated until even insanity is seen as acceptable’ (131), and we discussed how it begins with language (after John Zerzan).
The book does not remain in the theoretical, however, it is a call to action: ‘action and action alone can guide critical thinking, because it detects deception—and because it is deception which deflects from action’ (201). It is a good argument to Marxism and Marxist dialectical method where there is a ‘unity of theory and practice’ the tenet that sums up Marxism (198). But, again, the revolution is not quite clear to me. Lefebvre writes: ‘But in the last resort the revolutionary solution to economic and social contradictions will only become possible when the human masses are no longer willing to live as before’ (197). This, we argued, will be more of a process than an event, one that perhaps goes through other phases. We talked about space capitalism, green austerity, fully automated luxury communism. We considered the market and its forces, and sighed at Adam Smith’s nice conception of the market only being good for baubles and trinkets. Sadly, the market runs everything today. Including art. There is a lot in this book for the artist and the artivist, beautiful slogans, quotable passages. If this does not make you creative, nothing will:
When the eternal appears in the circumstantial — the marvellous in the familiar – the result is a beautiful work of art (122).
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Reading dates: 01–13 January 2015
After finishing Pride and Prejudice and deciding to concentrate on reading poetry together for the time being, we settled on Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate. This collection writes women into history: Quasimodo’s wife, Circe, Medusa, Frau Freud …
It starts with a high, sustained, note; with this beautiful re-writing of red riding hood:
The body, sexual desire, destiny placed into the woman’s hands, a problematic relation to the partner, usually male, defining them and voice, words, language are common themes uniting each of the pieces. This, The Devil’s Wife, was my favourite:
I must admit that when Neil read it and I listened, I did not know what it was about. The clue, Neil explained, is in the peroxide on the last section, Appeal. Read it again. The buried doll. The devil is Ian Brady; the wife, Myra Hindley. I read it forward, and back, and forward again. What a perfect narrative.
Other than these two, the other poems were good, but not better than that. Apart from one, which made me laugh out loud (what are the chances of that with poetry?):
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Reading dates: 1 – 4 January 2015
How wonderful to start the year with a superb book. My dear friend Ian Macbeth gave me this for my birthday a couple of years ago. Many people had mentioned it to me but he did not hesitate: it was a book for me, and he was right. I could have read this in a single sitting but my mind whirled around too much. It is an intense graphic novel, a raw memoir of discoveries and insights. It is very sensitively put together – and I mean put together because the drawings tell the story as much as the words. Bechdel weaves her autobiography and family memories, making parallels with books and writers. The echoes of Oscar Wilde, Colette, and more importantly, Joyce’s Ulysses made me not only enjoy this book but also want to read and re-read some of the ones she mentions. What would I do without books … Together with my own body (and I am not sure about this one for every cell in it is renewed every seven years), books feel the only constant in my life. I have always read, I always return to books. This love of reading is evident in Fun Home and it made me feel very close to the narrative. Perhaps even closer than the main theme, Alison’s relation with her father. Although that was very resonant too, for we all come from a father, known or unknown.
I read Are you my mother? first, the story of her other progenitor. Lovers of Fun Home kept telling me they found the maternal line heavy handed. I enjoyed both, but I agree that the paternal story is closer in identification, more fluid, less reasoned. Dare I say, more loving? The two together, with their green and red hues, are a good example and satisfactory resolution of the Oedipus Complex, rigorously exemplified and tenderly drawn.
I could write a lot more about her theory of his suicide and his homosexuality but I don’t want to reveal too much to those I know are reading this and the book at the same time.* For Fun Home is that kind of book: the kind you lend as soon as you finish.
*If anyone wants to, though, I am happy to go into it, preferably with a glass of wine, for it might long and precise. Write below!
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Reading dates: 5 September – 31 December 2014
I know it is somewhat harsh to give 3 stars to such a beloved classic novel but I have to admit that both Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy got on my nerves more than Mrs Bennett did. The heroine is a little wishy washy, boring, not the character of the Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Cathy. It is all about marriage, I thought, about matches rather than about love or fulfilment. And don’t get me started on the others … The only worthy ones of dialogue were the parents and wordy Mr Collins. Jane Austen writes well, though, despite using the word super-excellent (!) once. I had to do a double take. The book is worth reading for her prose.
The book is, I think, better than the TV adaptation as the narrative is better handled (the TV show has it in the wrong order) and it was a pleasure to hear Neil voice the witty words of Mr Bennett with such vivacity. We read the last eight chapters on New Year’s Eve and it made it a memorable one. Still, we were not as enthralled as we were with Mansfield Park or even Persuasion (for we knew nothing of the latter).
We read Pride and Prejudice at the same time as Phillip Larkin’s poems and the conclusion of this experiment in reading is a desire to read poetry to each other more than novels. There is something wonderfully thought provoking about voicing a poem before one dreams.
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