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The Mantle of the Vicious Bitch

8 Mar

I’ve been in television hibernation this past month, and it took the centenary of women’s day to draw me out. I’ve always been iffy on the subject of women’s day — why, precisely, are we celebrating half of humanity? I guess any publicity- look, we exist- is better than none.

Here I am. Watch me exult.

The excuse for my telly fest (which concluded last week) was my contribution to Popmatters’ Whedon retrospective, which will go up later this month on bogey. The inspiration for my little rant below was Darla, that first modern working girl.  For a feminist writer, Whedon is uniformly unkind in doling out her fate, though perhaps after 500 years of killing she was due some dying. Multiple times, even.  Darla, Angel’s sire,  is the vampire we meet in the first scene of Buffy. Dusted by Angel in season one, she is revived by Wolfram and Hart three years later, tormented in assorted ways (including one ill-fated pregnancy) until she finally kills herself. Amazing how often that happens in Angel: women sacrificing self for spawn. Though I guess Illyria is not, strictly speaking, spawn.

My title, for whedon-trivia, is borrowed off Cordy, from my favourite Angel episode. This would be Billy, in which Lilah kills her misogynist client. What can I say? Lilah’s got me on my knees. Remember when she gives Wesley The Divine Comedy before he goes all dark and they get all horny? In the original Tuscan, too, so classy and clever, which almost made me want to be a lawyer again.

Billy, though, is in close competition with Guise will be Guise, where Wesley impersonates Angel while the original and a fake swami have the following conversation:

Magev:  “You’re deeply ambivalent.”
Angel:  “Yeah, well, I am and I’m not.”
Magev:  “You need to get over her. – Okay, what does she [Darla] look like?”
Angel:  “She’s beautiful. – Small, blonde…”
Magev:  “Right.  So here’s what you do.  You go out and find yourself some small, blonde thing.  You bed her, you love her, you treat her like crap, you break her heart.  You and your inner demon will thank me, I promise.”

 

 

And, in spirit with these serendipitous times, a poem I found on Spaniard in the Works,

 

Chewing slowly,

Only after I’d eaten

My grandmother,

Mother,

Son-in-law,

Two brothers-in-law,

And father-in-law

(His big family included)

In that order,

And had for dessert

The town’s inhabitants,

 

Did I find, says Kabir,

The beloved that I’ve become

One with

 

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The Step Between.

27 Jun

‘When Adam delved, and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?’

In and Out of Cipher.

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;
then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote.
Derek Walcott,  from The Sea is History

Umberto Eco tells us there is a fate that links the historical novel to medieval topics, that our conflicts can be traced to the tumultuous, ongoing, break between the dark ages and ‘today’– the chugging engine of modernity.  We live, he claims, within a wave of the neo-medieval. The trick is to identify what brand of Middle-Ages is being traded, and Eco identifies ten variations upon the theme. Of the lot, he comes out in favour of the philological Middle-Ages, which “lack sublimity, thank God, and thus look ‘human’”. He would rejoice in Wolf Hall’s painstaking historiography.

If the medieval does haunt the modern, Eco himself fed our steady fascination. No one stalked the antecedents of modernity better than Eco in Name of the Rose or Baudolino.  And no one, Eco inclusive, has injected the modern as precisely into the feudal as Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall. Mantel is aided by her choice of protagonist. A more modern man than Thomas Cromwell you would be hard-pressed to find in our postmodern, neo-medieval times. One might long for Fr. William’s lucidity while parsing the difference between Reginald Pole and Martin Luther, but he remains too enmeshed within the organisation of an earlier time to look through it as astutely as Mantel’s Cromwell does.

Plenty of critics have emphasised the confusion created by Mantel’s consistent use of the third person nominative to refer to Cromwell: there is only one ‘he’ in her novel. I found the device ingenious: substituting the omnipresent divine ‘Him’ with a personal ‘him’ as the driving feature of narrative is a splendid caption for the altering gestalt she captures.

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