Friday, 17 March 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Speaking For Another

“…my feeling is that trans* women are trans* women. I think if you’ve lived in a world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then…change, switch gender it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are. I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one, I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans* women. What I’m saying is that gender is not biology, gender is sociology.”[i]

These words, spoken by Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a short interview with Channel 4 News have been the source of much contention and fallout over the past few days.[ii] Since its posting earlier this week, the video has faced outpourings of backlash from LGBT+ activists, whether they themselves are trans* or advocating on behalf of trans* people.
The charge is one of trans* exclusion. As one may expect, this has led to claims that Chimamanda is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF), a claim which not only fixes her within a particular feminist tradition (rightly or wrongly) and which further employs the acronym as a pejorative. The attack is a simple one. It is an accusation that she is wrong (or perhaps incorrect, if this distinction is to figure anywhere here). This has been accompanied with a plethora of comments which (in same breath as declaring her a TERF) deny her the status of feminist and denounce her ‘ignorance’. According to commenters, she’s woefully misguided, denying ‘facts’,[iii] ignoring the basic reality of trans* people and is, at once, just plainly unaware of the ‘established discourse’. It is unclear as to what discourse this could be.[iv] Perhaps more interesting are those who accuse her of ‘speaking for’ trans* people, where this ‘speaking for’ seems to be an act of ventriloquism, of wrongly inhabiting their space and experiences.
I am not concerned with Adichie’s status as a feminist – in as far as it is an identity label – nor am I particularly concerned with whether or not her views mesh with whatever is perceived as the established discourse. Indeed, this would prompt further questions as to whose discourse this is, where it is enacted (and by whom), and to what end it is employed. Furthermore, it endorses the term ‘feminist’ as an identity status, transforming it from an adjective, a descriptor, to a noun in the form of “I am a feminist”.[v] Instead, my interest is, firstly, the question of trans* exclusion. Does Adichie exclude trans* women from the category of woman? If so upon what grounds? Secondly, I consider the other side of this situation, in which the accusation is one of accusing trans* women of possessing “male privilege”. What exactly this means to say is a question of socialisation, of attitudes towards individuals in terms of how they are recognised in relation to others. It is of central importance to the feminist project as a whole (however one might seek to formulate it) that these concepts are elucidated. For without them, the grounds upon which one wishes to discuss the oppression of both women and female-bodied persons (both in as far as these coincide and split apart), is torn away and the very notion of patriarchy goes with it.
Reading the words Adichie used, it is clear to see why they have been read in this way. Trans* women are spoken of in conjunction and, given the context, opposition with “women”. The structure here is othering, pitting one against the other. One should not rush to condemn those who find issue with this phrasing, there is clearly a tension within the words used. But does this amount to trans* exclusion? Well, as Adichie explained in a clarificatory Facebook post three days after the interview:
“Perhaps I should have said trans women are trans women and cis women are cis women and all are women. Except that 'cis' is not an organic part of my vocabulary. And would probably not be understood by a majority of people. Because saying ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ acknowledges that there is a distinction between women born female and women who transition, without elevating one or the other, which was my point.”[vi]
Within this clarification, Adichie seeks to right misinterpretations of both her meaning and her intentions. At other points within this post, she further establishes not only her personal discomfort with being seen to hold this view, but also with the view itself.[vii] We must of course remember the context of her original comments. They are given to us in a recorded interview (under six minutes in total length), and are not formulated within words which can be edited and revised. Furthermore, the interviewing body is that of Channel 4 News, a national channel. Whether for the sake of inclusivity or not, Adichie makes clear that in this context, the term cis – a term which, by means of its introduction, I think beautifully clears up the charge of trans* exclusion – is likely not to have been understood. The very term cis is part of one particular gender vocabulary which, whilst popular, is far from universally understood – particularly by the general public, with all its subdivisions.
If then, to paraphrase, Adichie is saying that trans* women are trans* women, cis* women are cis* women and both trans* women and cis* women are women, as I think she does, the charge of trans* exclusion becomes more difficult to maintain. All she seems to be maintaining is, as she makes quite clear in her original comments, that we should not be so quick to conflate the two identities, to reduce them into an artificial unity. To be sure, it is strange to me that anyone would wish to challenge this, especially if one wishes to maintain the accusation of her wrongly ‘speaking for’ trans* people. For if trans* women and cis* women are the same, reduced to one, then Adichie, as a cis* woman, is as much a part of the category of trans* woman as a trans* woman is part of category: cis* women.
This would appear to posit a messy state of affairs and one which would only serve to silence issues facing one group, or even both.
So much for trans* exclusion. Yet another issue remains. Adichie makes it clear that, according to her, one of the motivations for separating cis* and trans* women lies in their differing experiences and within the privileges that trans* women face as male-bodied people, presumably before coming out, stating their gender identity or changing their gender performativity.[viii] It is the claim that trans* women have at one time possessed ‘male privilege’ that has been seemingly most picked up to support this claim of ‘speaking for.’
Yet is Adichie inhabiting the voice of a trans* person? Is she speaking on their behalf or disclosing the kinds of experience they may face? Perhaps in part, but it seems that she is more concerned with speaking about trans* people, as someone who is not trans* herself. The line between speaking about someone and ventriloquising them, occupying their voice (perhaps falsely), is a murky one.
As a staple concept within feminism (beginning of course within the ‘second wave’ and radical school of feminism) male privilege from its inception has been articulated by female-bodied people, those often regarded (rightly or wrongly) as women. Male privilege speaks of reception and of experience, and is therefore at least in part speaking on behalf of another. The concept enables us to speak of its lack, it’s converse: formulated originally as female oppression. It is from then that we are able to make any kind of articulation of oppression on the grounds of one’s sex, perceived sex, and – through the developments of queer feminist theory – one’s gender. If it through speaking on behalf of another that such concepts of privilege can be articulated, then it does not seem to be that such ventriloquism is to be solely frowned upon. On the contrary, they are an essential to the very trans-inclusive feminist project.
Of course, this is not to ignore the differences between men and trans* women (including the obvious difference of men being men and trans* women being women), particularly in terms of power and position.[ix] All I wish to note is that speaking of or about (and perhaps even in some sense for) another should not be regarded as some kind of violation or overstepping one’s ‘right’. Feminism as a discipline has – as I think I can state somewhat uncontroversially – been primarily driven and maintained by women (and here I do explicitly include both cis* and trans* women).[x] It has made commentary about both the social position of men – and indeed their experiences – from without, as the nature of the claims do not concern solely the subjective experiences of men, but their socio-political position. Feminism has also commented on the position of women, despite many women claiming (both rightly and wrongly, depending on the case) that feminism misrepresents them. I am thinking here in particular of those women who regard feminism as an elaborate form of ‘whining’, and who are often unaware of those nebulous social forces which shape their experiences. Speaking about and for another, whether one shares with them or is divided from them by some category of identity or another, should not be dismissed de facto.
It should be noted that privilege is not so much about identity in as far as an individual self-identifies, but instead concerns identity in the mode that the individual is seen. Were it so simply the case that self-identification afforded an individual all the privileges of the category with which they identified, then there would be no great disparity between the treatment of trans* and non-binary people compared to the treatment of cis* individuals. This is not the case. We could think of this in terms of simply regarding oneself as human. Historically, those in oppressed categories (whether based on gender, sex, sexuality, race etc.) have been scornfully regarded, in various ways, as sub-human and thus not afforded basic human rights and dignity. This persists even today in spite of the strong sense in which those so oppressed regard themselves as human. This is to say that the possession of such privilege is not so much the ‘fault’ or responsibility of the individual who has the privilege, for the privilege is given (or not given) often in ways that are outside of the direct control of the individual. Thus, to say that someone possesses such a privilege should not be conflated with a moral judgement of the one with the privilege. Of course, I do not mean to ignore the history of using notions such as male privilege to exclude trans* women from the category of woman, but I do contend that no such exclusion is occurring here. But the point stands that one does not need to speak for, or steal the voice of another person, in order to speak about male privilege. It is something which is articulated from without.
If we are to speak of male privilege and speaking about or for others, we must speak of socialisation.
From a young age, socialisation takes root. Whilst I uphold the sex/gender distinction as much as I am able, one must recognise that this conceptual division does not reflect the ‘common sense’ reality. For many people outside feminist discourse, sex and gender are interchangeable and this is reflected in the treatment of children. This is what we could refer to as the ‘common sense’ attitude. As soon as a child is coded as male or female, which most commonly occurs shortly after birth, the child inherits a whole array of gendered meanings. Treatment by others shapes their social position and certain privileges are afforded to those who are – or at least who are regarded as – male-bodied. This and this alone is what is entailed within the claim that trans* women (or at least those who were/are male-bodied) possess/possessed male privilege. Of course, the situation is in some sense changing, resulting in a perhaps more accepting world; but we cannot – in our want to change the world and challenge those elements we find not to sit well with us – ignore the predominant view, the ‘common sense’ approach. In order to challenge this approach, we must first understand it and be able to communicate with those who purport it. Such would be to deny the world to which one wishes to object, to deny the very problem feminism could be said to arise in opposition to.
Laurie Richards’ objections to this point (in her ThinkProgress article) have been objectionably phrased in terms not only of “political dishonesty” (whatever one considers this to mean in this context) but also as ignorance of “decades of scientific research”.[xi] The central claim here appears to be that Adichie is simplifying, erasing a huge amount of emotional turmoil and difficulty (both internal and external) which trans* women experience, that she is using the basis of their once having had male privilege to deny their oppression. Not only is this reading of Adichie’s words somewhat mitigated within her clarification,[xii] but I, as well as at least two prominent gender theorists,[xiii] take further issue with the ‘born this way’ narrative with which she presents trans* experiences (which ironically seems equally if not guiltier of simplistically collapsing trans* narratives than anything Adichie may have said).[xiv] This is reminiscent of the very biological essentialism trans* people so often have to fight against. Furthermore, I consider her understanding of ‘male privilege’ to be quite narrow. We must remember, male privilege is not so much about subjective experience, but about one’s treatment by others. And part of this is to recognise that one may possess privileges, but that these do not mitigate or invalidate any oppressions which one may face.
But conversely, such oppression furthermore does not erase one’s privileges, as Richards seems to claim. To think such would be as reductive as it is claimed Adichie’s comments are. I am thinking here in particular of the response by trans* icon Laverne Cox, whose essential claim is that her being perceived as a feminine boy (whether before or after coming out) erased any male privilege she may have had.[xv] On Cox’s own terms, it is the way in which one is perceived that shapes one’s privilege, but even being regarded as a feminine boy is to be regarded as a boy, as one who is assumed (in this case wrongly) as male. Cox further criticises Adichie – wrongly, I think – on the grounds of presenting a singularising narrative for both trans* and cis* identities.[xvi] Nothing in Adichie’s comments speak to this charge. Instead, she is clear that we should instead be mindful not to conflate and reduce things to simple unities. This stands for cis* and trans* identities as much as it does the overall category of woman.
My main concern here is that to view male privilege so reductively, is to undermine a central aspect of patriarchy. I’ve spoken somewhat lengthily here about Richards’ article on ThinkProgress. As a website, ThinkProgress shares important stories, highlighting key feminist issues. It rightly speaks about the oppression of female-bodied people and women (again, both is as far as these two cohere and divide), drawing attention to issues of oppression which are far more than isolated occurrence, but are caused by the underlying, patriarchal structure of western cultures. In order to speak of these structures, to speak of the system as a whole, we must step outside of ourselves. This is not to say that we leave behind our subjectivity – not that this would be possible anyway – or that we ignore individual voices, but it does necessitate a willingness to speak about and for others. If this is forbidden and viewed exclusively as a transgression, we have reached a dangerous position, one in which we are robbed of the vocabulary with which systemic oppression can be articulated.
One cannot help but feel that this controversy passes comment on the nature of liberal feminist discourse. Whilst overly fixating on the language Adichie uses to express herself – a language which, it must be noted, she explicitly declares as not her own[xvii] – commentators are using an altogether too static notion of discourse. In so doing, they appear to regard feminism and its questions not as a lively field of discussion and engagement, the natural fallout of which is disagreement, but as a foregone conclusion. This is mirrored in those who wish to, on the basis of perceived trans* exclusion, exclude Adichie from feminism itself. The basic formulation is that one must believe this or one may not speak of it at all. It is a dangerous state, one which collapses the richness of diverse discourse. To be clear, this is not a simplistic call for any kind of freedom of speech, and I am certainly not saying that all contributions (I have in mind here hate speech) are to be welcomed equally. Instead, I think it misunderstands the very dynamism at the core of feminism, indeed at the core of anything we might speak of as political speech.[xviii]
To close my thoughts, I would like to end as I began, with Adichie’s own words:
“To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.”[xix]



[i]Channel 4 News, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On Feminism, 2017 <https://www.channel4.com/news/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-on-feminism> [accessed 15 March 2017].
[ii] I include here only two examples, for the sake of brevity. See: Noah Michaelson, ‘Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Under Fire For Comments About Trans Women’, Huffington Post, 11 March 2017 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-feminism_us_58c40324e4b0d1078ca7180b> [accessed 15 March 2017]. and Laurie Richards, ‘No, Trans Women Do Not Grow up with Male Privilege’, ThinkProgress, 15 March 2017 <https://thinkprogress.org/trans-women-do-not-grow-up-with-male-privilege-e51eba1eb42c#.ctt1q0lhw> [accessed 15 March 2017].
[iii] Which is of course to beg the questions of whose facts these are, in what context they are situated, whence comes their factual status.
[iv] To speak of this in terms of ‘the feminist discourse’ would not answer this question, but supplant it with another: which feminist discourse?
[v] There is a sense in which this totalises the status of feminism, collapses its discursive elements into a doctrine
[vi] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘CLARIFYING’, 2017 <https://www.facebook.com/chimamandaadichie/photos/a.469824145943.278768.40389960943/10154893542340944/?type=3&theater> [accessed 15 March 2017].
[vii] Adichie.
[viii] Speaking of course as in Butler’s sense, see: Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990).
[ix] Power is, however, complex and the disparities and similarities across identities and their enactedness and reception is more dense a topic than I can elucidate here fully.
[x] This is obviously not to ignore the many male/masculine contributors to such theory, notably (at least for radical feminism) a reasonably well-known figure: Karl Marx.
[xi] Both quotations are taken from the subtitle in: Richards.      
[xii] “A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own.” - Adichie.
[xiii] I think in particularly here of Judith Butler’s work on sex and gender within: Butler. particularly the chapter ‘Foucault, Herculine, and the politics of sexual discontinuity.’ and Michel Foucault’s work within: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, trans. by Robert Hurley, 5 vols (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), i.
[xiv] Richards
[xv] Laverne Cox, ‘Laverne Cox - Twitter’ <https://twitter.com/Lavernecox?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor> [accessed 15 March 2017].
[xvi] Ibid.
[xvii] Adichie,
[xviii] My thoughts here are informed by Hannah Arendt’s notion of novelty as intrinsic to any true political discourse, see: Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1st edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
[xix] Adichie.


Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, ‘CLARIFYING’, 2017 <https://www.facebook.com/chimamandaadichie/photos/a.469824145943.278768.40389960943/10154893542340944/?type=3&theater> [accessed 15 March 2017]
Arendt, Hannah, The Human Condition, 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)
Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2006)
Channel 4 News, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On Feminism, 2017 <https://www.channel4.com/news/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-on-feminism> [accessed 15 March 2017]
Cox, Laverne, ‘Laverne Cox - Twitter’ <https://twitter.com/Lavernecox?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor> [accessed 15 March 2017]
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, trans. by Robert Hurley, 5 vols (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), i
Michaelson, Noah, ‘Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Under Fire For Comments About Trans Women’, Huffington Post, 11 March 2017 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-feminism_us_58c40324e4b0d1078ca7180b> [accessed 15 March 2017]
Richards, Laurie, ‘No, Trans Women Do Not Grow up with Male Privilege’, ThinkProgress, 15 March 2017 <https://thinkprogress.org/trans-women-do-not-grow-up-with-male-privilege-e51eba1eb42c#.ctt1q0lhw> [accessed 15 March 2017]

Works Consulted

Ahmed, Sara, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006)
de Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex, trans. by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009)
Butler, Judith, Bodies That Matter on the Discursive Limits Of ‘sex’ (Routledge, 2011)
Butler, Judith, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (United States: Columbia University Press, 2012)
Irigaray, Luce, To Speak Is Never Neutral (New York: Routledge, 1997)
Witt, Charlotte, ‘Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Theory’, Philosophical Topics, 23 (1995), 321–44

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Re-instigating this Blog

I have not posted here in almost two years. Within that time, I have become further immersed within the academy, having studied (and completed) my Master's Degree and begun my doctorate. Needless to say, my thinking has greatly developed in that time, as has the direction of my thought. 

This leads to the question of what is to be done to this space? Why do I seek to re-instigate it? How do I intend to do this? And why now?

None of these questions have a set answer, or at least not one which I can easily formulate. In brief, I am endeavouring to consider this space in terms of my research, as somewhere to work through ideas in a slightly more public fashion.

I am unsure how this will progress, but I invite anyone interested to follow along. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Apocalyptic Sentiments: A Reading of 'Filming the Doomsday Clock'

As it has been a while, I thought that this entry would be a return to poetry. By a while, I also mean that it has been some time since I last engaged with poetry critically, and have felt a mighty need to return to it. This year, I have been fortunate enough to be able to study Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Divine Comedy in great detail, but focusing on something both more succinct and more modern makes for a refreshing change of pace. 

This entry's poem was written by Mary Jo Bang, a poet whose work I am reading for the first time as I prepare to write this analysis. As with most of my poetry analyses, the aim is to focus on the text itself and to present some of the connections/allusions which come to mind whilst I am reading it, rather than to provide a heavily analytic discussion. I almost chose to write on An Autopsy of an Era, but instead have chosen Filming the Doomsday Clock. It goes as follows:

Filming the Doomsday Clock
We were told that the cloud cover was a blanket
about to settle into the shape of the present
which, if we wanted to imagine it
as a person, would undoubtedly look startled—
as after a verbal berating
or in advance of a light pistol-whipping.
The camera came and went, came and went,
like a masked man trying to light a too-damp fuse.
The crew was acting like a litter of mimics
trying to make a killing.
Anything to fill the vacuum of time.
The wind whirred and tracked the clouds.
The credits, we were told, would take the form
of a semi-scrawl, urban-sprawl, graffiti-style
typography. The soundtrack would include
instrumental versions of "Try a Little Tenderness."
Our handler, who was walking backward
in order to maintain constant eye contact with us,
nearly stumbled over a girl in a sheath and pearls
who was misting a shelf of hothouse flowers.
While the two apologized to each other,
we stood and watched the fine spray settle
over the leaves and drip onto the floor.
On the way out, we passed a door
with a small window reinforced with wired glass
through which we could see a nurse
positioning a patient on a table. We swore
afterward we'd heard her say, "Lie perfectly still
and look only inward." A clock chimed and
as the others were audibly counting backwards
from five to zero, I thought I heard someone say,
"Now let go of this morbid attachment to things."


First, the title. Already we have a fatalism introduced into the mix. From the outset, we are led into thinking of the end of things. The doomsday clock, for any who are unfamiliar is a conceptual clock-face which represents the proximity of the current situation to widespread global disaster (either in the form of irrevocable climate change, nuclear disaster or some other irreversible event), We also have the word "Filming" which situates us further within contemporary society and introduces connotations of modern technology and modern media culture.

This association with modern media, particularly media in the form of large news corporations is reinforced with the first line. The line itself is formulated as a recording of an address. The plural subject, the "We" that is set up as the first perspective of the poem, is passive in that it is being told, rather than doing the telling. That they are passively receiving a message is an allusion to the passivity with which the modern mass, the "We", interact with massive news corporations. 

The first line contains a further allusion, this time perhaps to climate change, one of the major contenders amongst those things which might make the doomsday clock strike midnight. The mention of a meteorological phenomenon 'cloud cover' opens the poem with this environmental connection, but that the clouds are specifically mentioned as 'cover' furthers the potential commentary on mass media culture, subtly introducing the idea of the media as an impediment to the truth.

Moving on to the second line; that the the clouds are about to 'settle into the shape of the present' is likely indicative of the volatile nature of things. As one can imagine, a doomsday setting (of course, the poem is implying that we are already approaching, of not already part of, this setting) is a time of upheaval and chaos as the structures under which life is lived begin to collapse. Yet, the phrasing is not simply indicating that things are chaotic and that they will settle, but that they will take 'the shape of the present', which places us at the end of the process. The outcome of this settling is now. 

We then move on to a few lines of overt personification. The present is transformed into a 'startled' person, but only, as it says, if 'we wanted to imagine it/as a person'. Carrying on the media reading of the poem, which I seem to have become rather entrenched in, we could take this as the distorting effect the relaying of a narrative can have about the truth of events. Yet this distortion is not a complete removal of reality. It is not an warped understanding, but it is very much changed. Events, whilst shaped by people, are not literally the people themselves (though philosophically there might be a discussion to be had here), yet here the events are being transformed not into people but into a single individual. That this individual is displaying an emotion, fear, makes them all the more real. Furthermore, the description of the fear as akin to that pertaining to 'a verbal berating' (notably a social punishment) or 'in advance of a light pistol-whipping' (the act of using a firearm as a physical weapon, notably here it is only 'light') does serve to provide a character of the 'present'. We are being told something by this metaphor, rather than nothing, but what we are being told has been transformed and changed so much from what it is to what we hear of it being, through this fictionalised media, that it is incredibly different. Like so much of mass media, we can hear grains of truth, but never the whole story. 

Needless to say, I had plenty of media-critical cartoons to chose from...many of which were produced by that very media...curious...
Image shared by gogomrbrown
Moving onwards, we have a continued representation of the media, this time signified by a camera. It 'came and went' multiple times, which perhaps suggests the dogged determination to find something worthy of coverage, a sentiment reinforced by the idea of trying to light a 'fuse'. What is sought by this media coverage, is something which is quite literally explosive. Anything less is a disappointment. Thus, this caricature of the media is as an agent of catastrophe, existing to stir up the public and cause controlled frenzy.

This is further reinforced by the later line 'trying to make a killing'. The media cares less for truth and accurate reporting than it does for financial gain and cash flow. Truly, we have a negative (though not inaccurate) depiction of the media in this and the preceding line: 'the crew was acting like a litter of mimics'. Many criticisms of modern media aim at the conformist approaches it presents, the way in which is transforms us into mindless sheep which follow blindly the ideals and orders pumped directly into our heads. This is reflected here, with this depiction. The media itself is the rabble, yet we still passively receive the message.

A continuation of the idea that the media exist to cause (oops, I meant to say expose) scandals which in turn whip up the public into frenzy, is found in the line 'Anything to fill the vacuum of time'. Here we have presented a comment on modern conditions. Of people sitting idly, twiddling their thumbs until the time has come to tweet and share the latest media frenzy. Time is empty without these incidents, there is nothing beyond this worthy of comment or effort, only the maelstrom of commentary. 

We have a momentary movement to something beyond human control, the wind, and it is depicted as tracking the clouds. Returning to this image of the clouds as a mask for the truth, as that which is eventually going to settle and reveal what is truly happening, yet still partially obscuring it, maintains the media criticism, while at once taking a step back to acknowledge a force far beyond their control. In this sense, it puts the enemy, the media, that which is being so heavily criticised here, in its place. It is a human controlled force, and a powerful one, but it is vastly exceeded by the wind, which is so formative in the clouds which were the first object of our obsession.

Now we have 'the credits' another herald of the end. This time, however, this end point is not to be brought about through the natural forces already mentioned (the clouds and the wind itself) but instead through human forces: societal unrest. For these credits are a 'scrawl', it's 'typography' brought about in the form of 'urban' 'graffiti'. Reminiscent of modern media's hatred of delinquency (and tendency to demonise the lower classes), these lines are a rather beautiful way of capturing the nihilistic tendencies of the modern media, whilst also displaying plainly the way in which they always have another who can be blamed. After all, it could never be our fault.

Like any article of mass media, one must consider the musical side of things, and this is clear in the mention of a 'soundtrack'. The choice of 'Try a Little Tenderness' has a very clear role. The title of the song is intended to invoke a message of compassion, but not only is the media sharing another's message, that is to say Otis Redding's, (which indicates a lack of commitment to this message, as they do not augment it with their own contribution or display any level of engagement beyond 'sharing' it) but they represent this song without its lyrics. It is 'instrumental', lacking its central message, its compassion, its sweetness. The media is lulling us with its proclaimed kindness and compassion, whilst actually using this only as a cover to their own insidiousness, present in the poem as the manipulative way in which they tweak and change minor things to distort reality. 

Image by Carol Simpson, hosted on cartoonwork.com

'Our handler' is the next figure introduced, and this reaffirms the poem's comment on modernity, more specifically focusing on the herd-mentality often spotted amongst the public of the western world. Once again, we are plural, the 'handler' is ours, not mine, and thus we are constituted as a group. This, coupled with the fact that we are again in the passive, and our handler is in the active reaffirms this image of the great herd. Without the handler, we would be lost, yet they are also lost, for they are 'walking backwards'. This line furthers the criticism of the media, which seeks (if not overtly claims) to lead us forward, yet often it does so blindly, blundering and spewing mixed or warped messages.

And the reason this media figure walks backwards? 'eye contact'. Constant communication, pandering, wanting to foster connection which enables them to render us more pliable. Often, news corporations seek to tell us what we want to hear, or at least what they think we want to hear.

We then have the collision between the handler and the girl. To me, this episode is indicative of a minor news story, which rises to the top of the mainstream media (often due to it being a proverbial 'slow news days') and which dominates at the expense of what might be termed, rightly so, more pressing matters. The two collide and then there is a length apology. The girl is 'misting a shelf of hothouse flowers', a domestic task relatively unworthy of attention, much like many of these kinds of news story. We have a hint of the natural, tying us back to the wind and the clouds through not only the mention of the plant, but the act of misting, which could be representative of the way in which these kinds of story tend to be made to seem relevant, whereas in truth they have little place amidst the apparently similar news items. That 'we stood and watched the fine spray settle' without our attention immediately ignoring the incident to focus on the doomsday clock and the apocalyptic situation is reminiscent of the way in which we prefer to watch the viral cat video rather than reading articles concerning the latest breach of human rights.

We become distracted by minutia and this is a calculated phenomenon, someone benefits from this.

The next few lines concern the episode of spying, another activity which the media has been known to engage in. Further, we pry into the private interaction between a nurse (a position which is often criticised by the modern media) and her patient. There is a controlled, invasive feeling to these lines, for we watch through a 'window' which has been 'reinforced with wired glass'. Every precaution has been taken to keep us out, yet we look in.

Her speech is indirectly reported, given to us through what we would have said later. This maps how the media is always reporting on that which has already been said and, since the nature of events are that they unfold constantly, without control and we do not know when something notable is going to happen, we are thus unable to properly prepare and therefore the media report upon that which has already happened. Most of this reporting are completed events, which cannot be fully verified. Certain details are presented which can never be confirmed, only assumed through hearsay.

The suggestion 'only look inward' is an encouragement that we ignore outward circumstances and instead focus on the contents of our thought. I considered the possibility that this could be a more overt tie to a mental health topic, but have not developed this thought further. Regardless, there is the possibility of a suggestion of such a topic. The nurse seems to be guiding people away from the circumstances of the counting clock, which we can assume is leading to the end of the world, รก la the title of the poem.

This countdown begins and we have the only mention of a clock in the poem, before the final line. 'Now let go of this morbid attachment to things'. We could take this line in several ways. It could be a comment on consumer culture, which is in many ways responsible for climate change, one of the possible doomsday scenarios. 'morbid' certainly encourages us to think that this attachment has led to death, as the cause of the apocalypse has. It could be an invocation of Buddhist philosophy. It could be an instruction, a hollow message or a wholesome one. Is it an empty message proclaimed by the media sources, or the hint of a personal voice only coming in at the end of the poem. I suppose this would be determined by the speaker, who is not mentioned, though we know that they are in the singular, it is not a collective voice. To me, the last line is something of a mystery, with too many avenues for me to fully capture here.

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So that concludes me reading of Filming the Doomsday Clock. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Hemlock Grove - Typology

Though reviews have been mixed, the Netflix series Hemlock Grove holds a special place in my heart. I am not sure whether it is simply the weird melange of various horror elements, or if it is just the disturbing essence of something that lurks beneath the service, unspoken by characters who are not quite aware of it themselves, but I have lapped up the first two seasons, begun to read the novel and am awaiting the third, and final season, with great anticipation.

For those of you who have yet to hear of this series (for something Netflix has made itself, it has seemingly not made much of a fuss about it), I would undoubtedly recommend it. The series begins in a small Pennsylvania town, which suffers a terrible string of murders: young women found savaged by some unknown beasts. A young Roma boy, the scion of a wealthy household and a whole cast of other characters seek to uncover the truth. Of course, everything is embedded in the supernatural it a wonderfully dark mixture of tropes and concepts from gothic horror integrated into a modern setting. 

Anyone who has not seen the series can do so on Netflix, but do be careful about reading this entry. There will be spoilers

So, given my interest in identity, particularly MBTI, and my love for the series, it was only a matter of time before I prepared an entry on its characters. Thus, without further ado, here are my MBTI analyses. 


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Peter Rumancek - ISFP (The Composer)

Above all, Peter's actions are informed by a strong sense of self and personal values, formed through this self-hood and through the environments through which he has lived. Having been raised as a Roma, he has internalised the values of these people (or at least the values as they are represented in Hemlock Grove). This is where his sense of self stems from, those he deems to be his people: his family. Familial ties are more important to him than anything else and Peter truly cares about those whom he considers to be part of his inner circle, which eventual begins to include Roman, Letha and various others. He is willing to do whatever it takes to help his mother when she is imprisoned, even at expense of himself. This demonstrates a strong Introverted Feeling (Fi). This is very much followed by Peters perceptiveness. Peter notices things and is appreciates novel sensations and experiences, such as his love of exploration and always wanting to see what is beyond the horizon. This is his Extroverted Sensing (Se). Of course, Peter has access to a whole world of symbols and hidden meanings, through his dreams. Though his ability to decode them is relatively undeveloped, he is led by gut instincts which guide him at key moments, this being demonstrable of Introverted Intuition (Ni). Finally, Peter's inferior function, Extroverted Thinking (Te) comes forth in his impulsive behaviour and general inability to plan ahead. Even when he tries to prepare in advance, things tend to go awry. These functions lead Peter into being an ISFP - the Seeker and Keeper of Human Values. 


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Roman Godfrey - ESFP (The Performer)

Scion of the Godfrey family, Roman overindulges in physical sensation. Sex and cigarettes form a huge part of his lifestyle, and he has a predatory attitude to his relationships with women, often using some of his latent supernatural abilities to coerce them into giving themselves to him. He always seeks out novel sensations in which to indulge himself, and has developed quite the appreciation for the finer things in life. This is demonstrative of a dominant Se. Following this is Fi, for Roman has extremely strong feelings for those whom he is close to. He adores his sister, Shelly, his cousin Letha, and holds his mother with increasing contempt as the season progresses. As the story progresses, the intensity of his bond with Peter increases until Roman is almost dependent upon him. Most people pass him by without him caring, and he only takes his feelings out on others if they are pent up, and usually through physical means (sex and violence), hearkening back to his Se. Roman is not the most proficient planner, though his tertiary Te expresses itself through his ability for force his will upon the eternal world. This manifests through his powers, which always take a toll on him and leave him reeling, but which do enable him to make others do as he wishes. Finally, Roman's life is hugely influenced by visions, images and symbols, a hidden world which he has intense connection to, yet cannot fully understand. This is his inferior Ni, allowing access to, but not full appreciation of these hidden mysteries. Roman struggles with the things he sees in his dreams, far more than Peter, and while informed by gut instinct, less so than Peter. For these reasons, Roman is an ESFP, the Motivator Presenter.

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Letha Godfrey - ESFJ (The Harmoniser)

Above everything, Letha cares for others and wants to ensure that everyone is getting along. This care is not reserved for people she is close to, but for everyone. She offers emotional support to those who have witnessed the terrible murders, even though she is not close to them. In doing so, she specifically offers her support, as an aide, someone to listen. Her emotions likewise change depending upon whom she is with. She picks up on her father's stress when he drives her home from the clinic and immediately seeks to reassure him. When she goes into labour, she wants above anything else to support those around her, even though she is the one having the experience. These all demonstrate a dominant Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Secondary to this is her Introverted Sensing (Si), for Letha is very much informed by her past experiences. The lessons her parents have taught her stick inside her head and she does not rebel against them quickly. When her father tells her to do something, she might complain and object, but she often does it. She has learnt many lessons and is able to use her experiences to inform the present. Despite her relative ignorance as to the supernatural elements in the series, Letha is able to spot connections quickly and is able to pick up on unspoken problems and tensions, even when people are trying to hide things from her. Furthermore, she does not shy away from these potentials, instead earnestly wishing to learn more about them. This is her tertiary Extroverted Intuition (Ne). Finally, Letha's inferior function is her Introverted Thinking (Ti) and she does not spend much time trying to organise her own thoughts. This leads to a feeling that often she is bumbling through the world, rather than organising everything in her head, for she is guided more by emotion, care and her own experiences than abstract reasoning. Thus, Letha is ESFJ, a hostess of the world.

Shelly Godfrey - INFP (The Idealist)

Largely due to an oppressive upbringing and an inability to vocalise her thoughts, Shelly has been forced to live in a world entirely her own, internalising everything. This has undoubtedly led to the formation of her dominant Fi. Shelly has a very small inner circle of people about whom she cares, yet she is willing to do anything it takes to protect and help them. Take, for example, her actions in protecting Peter, Letha and Roman, actions which led to her getting shot. Furthermore, with Roman, she cares for him so much that she literally glows with happiness when he touches her face. Shelly demonstrates a wealth of inner emotion. For instance, when she is corresponding with her uncle, she is verbose, clear and extremely expressive. Following this is her love of ideas. Shelly reads and paints and seeks many ways of absorbing and exploring, even if she is unable to go out into the world and seek her own place, she demonstrates an auxiliary Ne in her interest in novelty. Shelly is driven by a want to understand things and to do so from new perspectives. She has, however, absorbed many lessons from her experiences, particularly those with her mother, Roman and Dr. Pryce She has taken these lessons to heart and they certainly make her more cautious when encountering new things, particularly in the flesh. This is her Si. Beneath is all is her Te, which is undeveloped and prevents her from being able to get the wealth of thoughts within her into the outer world. The constrictive environment of her life and that those around her constantly strive to control her means she struggles to affect her environment as she would like. Due to this, Shelly is an INFP, making life kinder and gentler.

Destiny Rumancek - ENFJ (The Teacher)

Much like Letha, Destiny wants to ensure that those around her are safe. Of course, she cares about her family, particularly Peter, more than she does others, yet at the same time she demonstrates a wealth of care for those she is not so close to. She cares about Roman, even though she has many reasons not to, and goes out of her way to help him and Letha. Destiny faces great risk, often her own powers, in order to protect those around her. She bares the risk because she cares and she cares without much discrimination. This, and her willingness to forgive (not to mention her ability to manipulate others), are the marks of a dominant Fe. Of course, second only to her compassion is her immersion within the world of hidden meanings and symbols. Her mystical side allows her access to a whole realm of representations and messages and it is her task to not only understand them, but also to take instruction from them. This visions enable her to see the world as she wishes it to be and then she has to make it happen. This is her Ni. Destiny has a physical side. She enjoys pleasure and sells a diluted version of her gifts to the public, which a fair amount of farce. Furthermore, she has style and wants to present herself properly. This is tertiary Se. Finally, we have an inferior Ti. Destiny lives in a world of emotion and instinct, not in an analytical dominion of logic.Thus, Destiny is an ENFJ, the Envisioner Mentor.

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Clementine Chasseur - INTJ (The Mastermind)

A member of the Order of the Dragon, Clementine has adopted their principles and thus has a clear understanding of the way in which the world works. She has been imbued with a vision, the image of a world in which the supernatural and the mortal are somewhat able to coexist, provided that werewolves and upir keep by the pact parisienne. Of course, she struggles with this, often seeming to want to simply purge the world of those which she views as beasts. Yet her faith remains strong and she follows the inner pull to create this vision of the world: her dominant Ni. Furthermore, Clementine is able to take her inner vision and shape the world before her accordingly. Her rigorous training enables her to plan and wait patiently for the correct moment to strike. Though she has her impulsive moments, Dr Chasseur plays the long game, biding her time until the best moment to further her long term plan. This is her auxiliary Te. Her tertiary function, Fi, manifests through her personal values and beliefs, which determine much of her morality. Clementine keeps a lot to herself, unwilling to reveal herself to those who are not extremely close to her. So emotionally insular, she is told that all she knows is how to take, she is unable to give. Underneath everything else is her inferior Se. Clementine is known to indulge herself in her pleasures, one of them being women, another being drink. She has a somewhat addictive personality, demonstrative of an undeveloped Se. Thus, Chasseur is an INTJ, one of life's independent thinkers.

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Norman Godfrey - ISFJ (The Protector)

Defined by traditions, Norman is dominated by his family name and his past. He is a relatively cautious man, slow to change and dependent upon the lessons he has learnt over his lifetime. Certainly, Norman is led by experience, rejecting out of hand gut instincts and visions, refusing to believe his own daughter when she claims to have been impregnated by an angel. He has certainly internalised the scientific method of a slow and steady approach to life and its sensations. This is his dominant Si. One of the few things that breaks him out of this caution, however, is protecting those he cares about. Truly, he has an inner circle of people for whom he would die if he had to, but Norman is far more caring generally and genuinely wants to help people. This is, after all, why he became a psychiatrist. This is his Fe. Norman possesses a tertiary Ti, which secures him as a consummate scientist. He is dismissive of visions and the paranormal, wanting a logical explanation and it takes him a long time before he is able to wrap his head around some of the things which are going on in his town. His rationality is a personal one, however, and he is more than willing to allow others to get on with their own lives, and is even willing to support people who are different from him. Finally, we have the inferior Ne, which imbues Norman with a niggling curiosity, the likes of which often get him into dire straights. A man fascinated with ideas, Norman Godfrey is always interested in novelty, yet he is tempered by his natural caution. Therefore, Norman is an ISFJ, service before self.

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Lynda Rumancek - ESFJ (The Harmoniser)

Undoubtedly the better mother of the series, Lynda is largely defined by her position as a mother. This role leads her into her unlawful activities, for above all she wishes to create a life for herself and her son. Her ties to the other Rumanceks are not inconsiderable, but she cares far more intensely for Peter. However, it should be noted that Lynda's dominant Fe manifests in the readiness with which she expresses concern for those around her, particularly those of whom she is initially suspicious. Though she keeps some distance from them, Lynda comes to care for Roman and Letha, even expressing some concern for Olivia, though this is quickly replaced. Lynda isn't stereotypically kind, instead she is more concerned with maintaining harmony and protecting herself and those she cares about. This is demonstrated in her willingness to make a deal with Olivia, though she disapproves of her methods. Throughout her life, Lynda has experienced much as this manifests through her auxiliary Si. She has memorised many tips and tricks, having spent a life on the run from the law. When presented with a problem, Lynda knows how to respond and she had learnt well the need for a contingency plan. Tertiary is her Ne, for Lynda shows a great ability to think on her feet and overcome challenges unconventionally, though these methods are all informed through her previous experiences. Less of a concern for her is inner, logical consistency, manifested in an inferior Ti. Lynda is wonderful at many things, though she does not spend much time organising her inner thoughts. Thus, Lynda is ESFJ, everyone's trusted friend.

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Dr Johann Pryce - ENTJ (The Commander)

Pryce is a man of vision: he foresees a world in which technology and science has overcome what he deems to be perfectly malleable barriers to human advancement. Death, life, all such things are there to be bent and controlled and manipulated by his intellect, but he is not blindly exploring for the sake of it. No, Johann wants to advance himself and prove what can be done. He views his science as greater than a world of myth and superstition with lycanthropes and upir both easily explained by his work...which can also serve to overcome them. His ability to plan and meet deadlines (but also his being so limited by them) is indicative of a dominant Te. Johann thinks of something and the world must bend to accommodate his will. Very little can stop him. These plans are fuelled by an inner vision, a determination for a future state which he wishes to bring into being. This is his auxiliary Ni, granting him a purpose, a vision for how he wishes to see the world. His wishes to become a renowned scientist, to do things that no other human being could dream of doing. It is this sense of directed purpose which filters up into his planning. As a man of science, Johann must be attentive to the state of things as they are and this is his Se: his tertiary function. Before he acts, Dr Pryce watches with keen eye, capable of noticing the most minute of details before synthesising things as they are with how he wishes them to be. Finally, we have Johann's Fi, his emotions, which are kept under control and largely ignored. However, when he grows angry, Pryce shows his anger through acts of violence. Of course, he is not easy to anger, for his feelings are his own, relatively unaffected by the acts of others. Thus, Pryce is an ENTJ, a Commandant Organiser. 

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Olivia Godfrey - INFJ (The Prophet)

I am sure that many will disagree with my typing of Olivia. They will see Olivia and INFJ and immediately refuse it, thinking that there is no way she could be. Yet this is why I think she is quite clearly an INFJ:

Olivia plays the long game and her goals are her own. However, she pursues them without doubt and without falter, willing to do whatever it takes to attain her desired outcome: a perfect child, an heir. There have been many failed attempts, and each of these have been slain, by Olivia's own hand. The way in which she wishes to future to be is entirely defined by her inward sense of purpose, by her internalised superiority and complete faith in the role of the upir. This is undoubtedly the work of a dominant Ni. Even when threatened, not that much can truly harm her, her sense of purpose wins out. Following this is an auxiliary Fe. Although Olivia does not care for others, save perhaps for Roman, she demonstrates far too much awareness of the emotions of others for her to lack this function. She has managed to achieve so much in her life through playing others, through winning over their hearts and minds, inspiring them to adore her. The feelings of others are hers to do with as she wishes. Without her Fe, Olivia would never have achieved so much. Of course, Olivia never doubts herself, or her purpose and many of her rationalisations stem from her tertiary Ti, through which she can rationally organise the contents of her own intentions. So aware of the emotions of others, it is only through the potency of her Ni and the support of her Ti that she can be so cruel. Her Ti enables her to retain her sense of superiority, to rationalise her disregard for others and their infinitesimal lifetimes. Underneath all of these lurks her inferior Se. Undeveloped as it is, it leads Olivia into addiction and a need for the physical. This comes out her in her need to feed, her reliance upon drugs to retain her thirst and her seemingly insatiable want for the pleasures of the flesh. Olivia demands extravagance. Only the best music, food and lovers will do for her. For these reasons, Olivia is clearly an INFJ, fittingly known as an author, for it is by her hand that so much of the happenings in Hemlock Grove come to pass.