Comparisons

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

I’m preparing course material I’ll be teaching right now, alongside trying to get some research done. So my mind is filled with comparisons as I think about similarities and differences between certain books and films, myths and images. I guess you could call these image comparisons above a related break from my work. But also, they hint at some ideas I’ve explored before, and which I want to extend. I’m interested in gestures, colours, themes ... I don’t expect all of these comparisons to make immediate sense, maybe some of them only do so to me. But they were fun to make. Here’s to useful procrastination.

Image credits (top to bottom, left to right): Screen capture from Great Expectations; Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Lady in a Garden by Edmund Leighton; Screen capture from Cracks; Beauty by John Everett Millais; Screen capture from The English Patient; Screen capture from Bright Star; Morning Sun by Edward Hopper; Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by John William Waterhouse; Screen capture from Bright Star; Screen capture from Russian Ark; The Ionian Dance by Edward John Poynter; Screen capture from I Capture the Castle; Ophelia by John William Waterhouse; Lost by Frederick McCubbin; Screen capture from Picnic at Hanging Rock; Courtship by Edmund Blair Leighton; Screen capture from The Piano.

This writing thing

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sasha Abramsky

Well hello, I haven’t been here for a while, huh? Life has been strange and hectic, and I’m still waiting for things to settle down to a normal routine – or at least to a new normal routine, in a new country. And after staying away from the blog for a while, it does tend to feel like the posts I publish here get thrown out into thin air, sort of like I’m talking to myself. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose.

Anyway, I did want to share a few things, one of which is a talk I went to this week at my new university: De Montfort University. This talk was arranged by my colleagues and it was absolutely fascinating.

The talk was by Sasha Abramsky on his latest book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books. In his own words, the book is “a family memoir about my grandparents, Chimen and Miriam Abramsky, and of their unique home at 5 Hillway. In their semi-detached house, so deceptively ordinary from the outside, they created a remarkable House of Books. It became the repository for Chimen’s collection of thousands upon thousands of books, manuscripts and other printed, handwritten and painted documents, representing his journey through the great political, philosophical, religious and ethical debates that have shaped the western world.”

I was struck by many things as he talked – mostly by the similarities between his family history and my own, even within the differences. It’s a type of commonality of Jewish experience; the kind of commonality that explains why I still call myself Jewish while being ambivalent about the existence of god, or basically, while being an atheist. When you are Jewish, you are Jewish for life, it doesn’t leave you, even if you may question the concept of religion itself. This makes sense – we human beings, we create our own little worlds and communities, and no matter how many times people tell me that we are born alone and die alone, I still believe there are things that tie us together just as much as there are things that set us apart.

The other thing that struck me was the best advice Ambrasky said he received from his mentor about writing: “you have to learn to kill your beauties”. I’m still too infautuated with those beauties, with insecurely hanging on to them. This is why my writing is still, in a sense, immature. But that’s okay, I’ll grow into it perhaps, there’s time. And I think I’m allowed to suck for the time being.

I also read this interview with Meanjin’s editor, Zora Sanders, this week. I urge all writers to read it, but also, all editors.

I had an email conversation with an editor of mine where she said that the pitches and submissions she receives fall into a gender line: women tend to be more self-deprecating and apologetic, men tend to be more confident, direct and self-assured in their pitching style.

Now, I don’t think this is because men are naturally more confident than women; rather, I think this is because women have been conditioned to be apologetic about occupying space on this earth, and that includes the space taken up by their voice as writers. I’m guilty of this, too many times when I pitch a story or submit something to an editor, I am apologetic and self-deprecating. I’ve had to consciously stop myself from doing this.

But the onus does also fall onto editors to encourage women, to recognise the disparities that still exist, and to actively work against them. This is why there should be more editors like Zora Sanders, who from personal experience, is great – this should tell you why:

“If you’re consistently getting good pitches and submissions, it’s easy as an editor to just run those, even if they’re all from men. It can require more work to get gender parity in your publication, and editors are often stressed and overworked as it is. But that isn’t an excuse. Actively commissioning work that isn’t all written by middle aged white men is simply part of the job as an editor. If you aren’t doing it, you’re failing your authors, your readers and your publication.”

It is such a good interview, do read it in full.

This writing thing, I feel like the more I do it, the more I talk about it with people, and the more I read about it, the less I know. It’s still worth doing, though.

Lastly, I want to share this call for papers for a conference I’m co-organising. Please spread the word and send the CFP to anyone who would be interested:

CFP: Biopic Adaptations
Centre for Adaptations
De Montfort University
Leicester LE1 9BH
24 February 2015

Although ‘biopics’, or film biographies, have been around since the beginning of cinema, scholarly interest in the subject is only beginning to develop. This one day conference hosted by the Centre for Adaptations will bring together scholars and practitioners in a range of topics, such as the evolution of the biopic from the silent to the contemporary period, biopics of writers, sporting heroes, politicians, royalty and gangsters, and debates concerning gender, sexuality, race and historical integrity. Proposals (between 50-100 words) and a brief biographical note should be sent to Deborah Cartmell (djc@dmu.ac.uk) and Hila Shachar (hila.shachar@dmu.ac.uk) by 27 November 2014. Papers will be selected for publication.

Image credit: Photo of Sasha Abramsky by Ambrose Musiyiwa, used here with permission.

Women looking at women

Friday, June 6, 2014

Strange things happen when you unpack stuff. My things were delivered this week from Australia, and while unpacking, I cried over an old blanket that originally belonged to my parents, I dumped all my clothes on the bed in my spare room in disinterest, I had a lump in my throat gazing a vase I ‘stole’ from my mum, I gave myself the finger while sorting through the paperwork I decided was ‘essential’ to bring to the UK, when it really isn’t.

But then, I started thinking about something else. I looked around my living room – currently the only room with any substantial number of wall art – and noticed the specific subject-matter of many of my pictures. I had a limited budget when moving my stuff, and so, I had to pick a select number of pictures to take with me. This means I had to give my choices some considered thought. I find it telling that many of the pictures I’ve chosen to bring over have women as their subject.

I find this fascinating. Here’s why. There are so many levels to this in terms of identification vs. objectification, desire vs. a general appreciation of beauty, what is acceptable for women vs. what is acceptable for men. And this post is me thinking out loud about these things without offering any conclusive answers, or pretending that my personal view is the world view, the default view, on this subject.

The first thing that occurred to me as I looked around my living room was: are we so used to looking at women in our culture, that this is normal? It’s far more acceptable for women to talk about other women – their appearance, their bodies – to admire them, but also, to judge them. I rarely hear my male friends, for example, talk about male celebrities the way many women talk about female celebrities. And let’s face it, we do scrutinise female celebrities to an uncomfortable degree – what are they wearing, have they lost/gained weight, have they had plastic surgery, are they wearing makeup, etc. It’s so obvious it almost doesn’t require stating, but this is sexism and misogyny at play, and sometimes we and I unwittingly participate in this vicious little game that keeps women in their place by indirect means.

I question myself, for example, when I immediately gravitate to ‘perfect’ images of women in art. I both admire the skill of the work, the beauty of the body presented, and at the same time, acknowledge that I can’t separate the appreciation of beauty from a history of objectification. We are not yet at the point where we can innocently admire images of women – whether in art or in tabloid magazines. And by ‘innocently’, I don’t mean without desire, but I mean without sexism.

But let’s talk about desire too, because heterosexuality is not the default status, and also, because even if you are heterosexual, like me, desire does play a large part in the appeal of these images. As a woman who is attracted to men, I like gazing at images of other women because it gives me this sense of identification which plays into my attraction to men. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll do my best.

I’m generally pretty happy with my body. This does not mean I have a daily love fest with myself, or don’t have off days. But it does mean I don’t spend an enormous amount of time wishing I looked different, or even thinking about the way I look, because I’m busy and generally have more interesting things to think about. Now I know a lot of women don’t feel that way, and I know a lot of women wish they were different, and I know much of this pressure is societal rather than part of their personality. I know I am the way I am because I grew up loved. Not everyone is lucky enough to have grown up that way.

But the fact that I have no major issues with my body does not mean I don’t think about the female body, or enjoy looking at it. The fact that I’m not attracted to women doesn’t affect that either. I enjoy looking at beautiful images of women because I like myself, if that makes sense. It’s an indirect way of identification. I like those images because they are a reflection of me and my taste, and that reflection ties into my attraction to men – because I need confidence for attraction to occur, I need to like myself first before I can like a man.

But, I don’t exist on my own, I exist in a culture that has a history of valorising the female form over the female mind, one in which images of women are far more prevalent than images of men because men’s bodies are historically more ‘invisible’ as objets d’art. And ‘invisibility’ here is a state of privilege, not disadvantage; it is the default status of objective humanity, the opposite of which is women’s ‘special’ status as ‘unique’ beings that are endlessly documented like a separate species. So then I wonder, how much of my taste is shaped by the culture I’ve inherited and of which I’m a part?

The thing is though, even this question seems inaccurate in part, because these images, and my appreciation of them, depend on different contexts. That’s to say, what I’ve written here could be both right and wrong. And maybe, just maybe, I need to also put the brain to rest and simply allow myself that time to gaze at things that give me pleasure without asking questions. Maybe not, though.

Hello from England!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this post for a while. I don’t know who still reads this blog. I’ve read so many blog posts lately from my favourite bloggers who say they are losing the energy or the desire to blog. While this is sad, I understand where they’re coming from. Although I haven’t lost the desire to blog, I understand that the shifting nature of blogging and the sense of disillusion with the uber-polished lifestyle blogs can create a feeling that blogging has fizzled out into something mainstream, mundane, non-individual.

I didn’t mean to make this a post about blogging. It’s actually going to be a long post about numerous subjects that are and are not related. If you feel like reading on, here goes. For me, it’s cathartic to write this down.

I’m in England. This is obvious. The last few weeks have been insanely busy and so overwhelming. You don’t move to the other side of the world and start a new job without feeling overwhelmed and stressed, I suppose. But I’m still recovering from all the emotions, and slowly finding my feet here in Leicester.

It’s natural to start thinking about home in these situations; what constitutes it, what countries and places have to do with it, how you can adapt yet still crave at the same time. But let’s start with the fun stuff first. I.e., pictures of my new apartment, which can be found on my instagram (a few include this, this, this, this and this).

I was so grateful to find this place, because it came after a round of house viewings that depressed the hell out of me. I have to say that I mainly found it because of the Jewish community here in Leicester, who have welcomed me with open arms and have been incredibly kind and helpful. The sense of community they provide to someone like me who has moved to a new city in a foreign country by myself is quite important.

I’ve had friends tell me they feel more Australian when they’re overseas, and I guess I feel more Jewish here. And by that I mean I’ve been compelled to examine exactly what it is I’m a part of (which is a good thing). And I also feel more Australian, and more Israeli. And what I mean by all three can be picked apart by what I mean by home.

It’s easier now to love the things I also hate about Australia. I care more, not less, now that I’ve left and ready to place my roots elsewhere for the next few years, perhaps forever. It’s the same way I feel about Israel, but for different reasons. However, just like nobody outside of Israel lets you forget you are Israeli, no one lets you forget you are Australian here. My accent, a strange combination of Australian and ‘something else’ which could be explained by my first nationality and my first English teacher who taught me English with her own South African/American accent, has been the subject of much comment here. As is the utopian vision many people seem to have of Australia. How I wish that vision was true – land of the ‘fair go’, equality, and eternal sunshine. Well, the sunshine part is correct.

How to begin explaining my sadness about our government, Australia? I can’t even formulate the words. We are an incredibly lucky country in many ways, yet continue to be governed by politicians and successive governments who persist in the delusion that we have it bad. It’s this delusion and an imaginary ‘debt crisis’ (load of bullshit) that has brought about one of the most horrendous budgets to ever be unleashed on our country. This is the cruellest and dumbest government we’ve ever had. I say that without exaggeration.

As I said on facebook when I read about the budget: “I think the Abbott government is beyond ‘conservative’. They are not simply interested in hindering progress, they are ideologically invested in moving Australia backwards. What they represent is an extreme and dangerous right wing mentality that belongs in history, not the present. Part of this is currently reflected in other countries, and we are not unique. But another part of me thinks this is the natural outcome of a backlash to Labor coupled with Australia’s tendency to breed and celebrate an aggressive culture of anti-intellectualism and living in a perspective-less bubble. I am sad. I may be living on the other side of the world now, but this is still my country, and I’m worried about how my parents will retire, how my friends will find jobs, how students I’ve taught will survive the attack on their futures. It’s hard not to care.”

Marginson explained it well in his own words: “It demonstrates the anti-modern anti-intellectual strain in the Australian conservative parties — UK Conservatives and US Republicans would not have done this and it would be simply unthinkable in Europe.”

It’s hard for me to understand what kind of country this government wants. It’s hard for me to contemplate what kind of futures people will have under them. And it breaks my heart to think of the things they are demolishing with their stupidity. But I don’t agree with mocking the people who voted for them, simply because this budget was a betrayal of us all. Even those who voted for them did not ask for this.

Abbott and his misogynistic buddies made mincemeat out of Julia Gillard when she went back on one election promise. I’ve stopped counting how many election promises they have broken themselves, and how many lies Abbott has told. I’m still to see, however, a sustained attack on the scale that was delivered against Gillard in our press and media. Not surprising, since Murdoch hacks led this attack with the intent of aiding Abbott and Co. Yet, the opposition is strangely silent. It falls to us, the public, to make mincemeat out of their lies. So instead of ‘Juliar’, may I suggest a public-led campaign of #phonytony?* Go on, let’s do it. We have no need to be silent about this breathtaking hypocrisy.

Moving on. These complicated, love/hate feelings I have for Australia right now also brought into focus something else I’ve been thinking about for many years. I’m left-leaning in many of my views, and as such, follow a lot of left-leaning commentators online. Sometimes I interact with them on twitter. And sometimes I see something on their feeds which disturbs me. I’m so reluctant to mention this, because I know I’m going to get hate mail for it.** But I’ll be as honest as possible.

I remember interacting with one left commentator on twitter who said she didn’t read any reviews or writing by “an Israeli”, as if that showed her moral superiority. I’ve got news for you, it shows her simplicity. Yet, it’s a position I’m encountering again and again on the left, which leaves me wondering just how ‘progressive’ these extreme positions actually are.

Here’s the deal: people aren’t countries. People also don’t make a moral decision when they are born somewhere. It is a random game of luck and chance, just like many things in life. When you collapse my identity as an individual with a country, you are being racist. You are not being enlightened, or progressive. You are also being rather condescending to the people you claim to support by treating them too as a general mass. I remember when I took Political Science in my first year of university, there was me and a Palestinian girl in the class. Every single time Israel was mentioned, people would stare at us, as if they expected us to explain things for them as ‘representatives’ of our respective ‘sides’. It was pretty insulting. She became my friend, and is still my friend. But I dropped out of Political Science after that first year. Because as I said: we are not countries, we are people, and I was tired of it.

We became friends and remain friends for many reasons. Because we understood, implicitly, what it was like to be reduced as a ‘representative’, rather than treated as an individual. Because we know how to pronounce ‘hummus’ properly. Because we share a love of Kate Bush and cats (the greatest creatures ever created). Because we gossiped about that really cute guy in class who was the only good reason to keep doing Political Science for the whole year (we still talk about him, damn he was pretty). Because I like her as a person and she likes me as a person. Because we are not countries and if you corner us, we cannot explain ‘the conflict’ for you any more than I can explain maths to you. I am not a government, I am not a country.

When I think about Australia and Israel, they are both home. I am allowed to feel messy, complex feelings about my homes. I am allowed to hate and love them at the same time. I am allowed to miss them. I am allowed to see both the good and the bad. I am allowed to love the people there. I am allowed to express homesickness, belonging and love without censure or displeasure from others who have never been there themselves. The landscape of your childhood remains with you. The idea of casting it off seems absurd to me.

In England, these feelings are becoming more obvious to me. I’m no longer willing to engage with people who view my homes simplistically – who decide who I am based on where I was born, where I grew up, or my accent. I expect the same basic decency I try to enact in my interactions with other people.

Take care my friends, the next post will not be quite so long!

*#phonytony is the product of Alison Croggon’s brilliant mind.

**If you’re planning on leaving a comment on how all Israelis are evil, stop right there. I will not publish it. This post is not a political debate about Israel, go elsewhere, I’m not in the mood.

A fond temporary farewell

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kobi & I

I move to England next week, flying out on Thursday. To say I’m frantic, stressed, excited, terrified, sad, happy, emotional and tired right now is an understatement. The last few days and weeks have been a whirlwind of last minute work, packing, paperwork, angst, tears, more packing, more paperwork. I’m convinced this is the right move for me, and the best job I could hope for. But even when you get what you want, it’s still tinged with sadness, with a catch.

The catch here is moving so far away from friends and family, being separated from my best pal, Kobi, for a few months, worrying like crazy about his long flight over to the UK, generally worrying about making this huge move to the other side of the world on my own. But despite my pedantic and inclined-to-obsess-and-worry personality, despite my anxiety and stress, I know I’m strong. I’ve been through much harder stuff before.

I wonder what the next few years will be like, how I’ll settle into life in the UK, whether I’ll ever live in Australia again, or somewhere else, who I will meet, what my job will be like, what my new students will be like, how I’ll carve out my own little corner and nest in England. And whether Kobi will love or hate being a cold English cat. I wonder what I will miss, how different homesickness for Australia will feel from homesickness for Israel. I wonder how I will change, and how I will stay the same.

The next few weeks will be so busy, so this blog will be quiet. I’m not sure how quickly I will find a place to live or have regular internet once again. I’m pretty active on instagram if you’re inclined to follow, but blogging will have to wait till I’m more settled. So in the meantime, I say a fond temporary farewell, and I’ll see you on the other side of the world.

A request

Thursday, April 3, 2014

There has been much discussion in the Australian media about the government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) and their intention to repeal section 18C of the Act. I sat down to write a long email to the government expressing my strong opposition to these proposed changes on behalf of both myself, members of the Jewish community here in Perth who requested that I frame some of their concerns for them in words, and Holocaust survivors whom I personally know. Here is a small quote from the email, some of these words will be familiar to those who read my blog:

“We do not get to say racist, bigoted, or anti-Semitic words today as if we don’t have the burden of history behind us to show us what can happen when certain words are allowed to flourish without censure from the law. These words, they are a poison, they are an act of violence. It is incredibly naive and historically blind to suggest that people ‘have a right to be bigoted’ without consequences after all we have seen, and all we know today.”

This post is a friendly request to anyone who is likewise concerned about the proposed changes to send an email, or write a letter. The government has specifically instructed that if the wider community would like to voice their opinion about this, to send emails/letters to:

Email: s18consultation@ag.gov.au

Address: Human Rights Policy Branch, Attorney-General’s Department, 3-5 National Circuit, BARTON ACT 2600.

It takes two minutes to send an email, and it would be nice if everyone made the effort. Not everyone has to write long emails like I did, but if you’re in the mood, go for it! Even just two lines saying you strongly disagree would be enough. Unfortunately, the loudest and most dominant voices in these debates tend to be the most ignorant, and I fear the majority of decent voices tend not to be heard because we often don’t make the effort to publicly object when we see or encounter things that are morally wrong. Let’s make the effort now.

Living in a democracy is a privilege, and it is a privilege that requires vigilance. Living in a democracy is not a free-for-all “freedom of speech” bonanza that tramples on the rights of others, but a more complex and adult process of negotiating certain freedoms with certain protections under the law.

Speaking to Jeremy Jones, he told me that there are many groups opposing the proposed changes, and that the most effective thing we as individuals can do is to let coalition Senators and MPs know our concerns. The government needs to know what the wider community thinks rather than being directed in their policy decision-making by the loudest ignorant voices. So make your voice heard and send those emails and letters.

Some good articles discussing this include:

: : Changes to racial discrimination laws would ‘open door for Holocaust deniers’.

: : “George has really drunk the right-wing Kool-Aid”: Racism ‘always wrong’: Barry O’Farrell takes aim at George Brandis over ‘right to be bigoted’.

: : This is free speech on steroids.

: : Tony Abbott’s Bolt Obsession.

: : George Brandis’ Racial Discrimination Act changes create the whitest piece of proposed legislation I’ve encountered.

Happy birthday, Abba

Monday, March 31, 2014

my dad, in new zealand, 1970s

It’s my dad’s birthday tomorrow, and I’ll be spending the day with my parents in what may be our last birthday together for a while, as I move to the other side of the world. The world is a lot smaller than what it was in the days when they too hopped on a plane to the other side of the world. There’s skype, and emails, and easy phone calls, and messages, and facebook. And sometimes my fears feel self-indulgent. But mostly, I’m just grateful to have parents I will miss so much. I said to my friends yesterday that I lucked out with parents, and I really did.

Happy birthday, Abba. xxx