Monthly Archives: March 2014

12 Years a Slave: Review

The timings of the title of this film reveal the unpalatable truth of Solomon Northup’s kidnap, that slavery is a removal of liberty, without known end. ‘Years a Slave’ appears first, in print, then the number twelve in script, a figure of hindsight and a prefiguring of time in the film itself. Twelve years is unbearable, but life, a lifetime of slavery, is unforgiveable; as Solomon says following his capture ‘I do not want to survive, I want to live’.


Later comes the excruciating scene of Solomon’s hanging, keeping himself from asphyxiating by just the tips of his toes, sliding in the mud, no one with the authority to cut him down; a long, slow, indefinite period of lynching, he cannot breath, he cannot speak, he cannot move. Despite the sheer rawness of the violence in this film, it is this choking paralysis that really challenges the viewer to watch.


This is also a film about spaces, small, enclosed bodily spaces, and a film about skin; torn, rendered, bruised and bloodied skin, skin as justification for dehumanising a person into property. When Solomon is ‘loaned’ to another plantation, he and the others are warned by their ‘owner’ to behave or he will ‘take it out on’ their skin – justification and excuse for as well as site of brutality. Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the tortured Patsey, is absolutely right when she says that Steve McQueen shines a torch ‘underneath the floorboards […] reminding us what it is we stand on’.

‘It is no measu…

‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society’ (Krishnamurti)

To be well-adjusted to a maladjusted society is not to be well-adjusted.

Dark/Deep Web – and Dark Stores

Dark/Deep Web:


Dark Stores:

Waitrose dark supermarket










‘Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it’ (George Orwell).

‘If we had a ke…

‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence’

Middlemarch, George Eliot

Litter – It’s time for change

Litter - It's time for change

Notice the larger caption stressing individual responsibility for litter – WHO IS RESPONSIBLE… YOU ARE – thrown into relief by the overflowing litter bin in the foreground, which the collective infrastructure has failed to empty.

Kind Omnibus

Kind Omnibus

The Anarchic Hand: Falling and Diving

Margaret Atwood wrote of writing that you – ‘you’, I, she, he, they, someone, anyone – plan what they wish to write, they start writing, and then ‘the writing hand’ takes over…

The Anarchic Hand, also known as Alien Hand Syndrome, is a ‘real life’ medical condition caused by a lesion on either the left or right side of a person’s brain that produces uncontrolled, unpredictable and often violent movement in the oppositely corresponding hand. It is a richly appropriate metaphor; Atwood is gesturing towards writing as anarchic, as alien, as nothing-to-do-with-me, with the hand as both agent and site of dubious agency. To confuse matters further, Atwood is fabled to have a robotic arm, not one actually attached to her body, but entirely autonomous, which is programmed to produce an exact ‘copy’ of her signature, for the signing of thousands of her books, without the need to exhaust the ‘real’ and very wayward Atwood writing hand. Both Atwood’s writing hand and her robotic arm rather uncannily recall W.B. Yeats’ notion of ‘Automatic Writing’, in entirely different ways.

All these ‘hands’, link to notions of control, writing and health. James Joyce, despite having received a bad review for Ulysses from Carl Jung, ultimately took his very ill daughter, Lucia, to see the psychiatrist for a diagnosis. Jung assessed both Lucia and Joyce, together, and he disclosed that Lucia was suffering from hebephrenic schizophrenia and that Joyce himself, although falling short of a diagnosis, exhibited many of the characteristics of the disorder. Typically, the psychiatrist used a metaphor to clarify: ‘Jung concluded that father and daughter were like two people going to the bottom of the sea, “one falling, one diving”’ (A Very Short Introduction to Schizophrenia, Chris Frith and Eve Johnstone). When I told my friend this story, I think he had it right with his reply that, aside from notions of control, the key difference was between experiencing ‘thought disorder’, clinically, and Joyce’s deliberate disordering of his own thoughts, and furthermore, the privilege and good fortune inherent within (the ability to make) such a decision. This is the difference, but the connection remains the link to language, or the complexity of intention, purpose and control within writing – as demonstrated by the (metaphor of the) Anarchic Hand.

I have also recently become fascinated by ‘mouthpieces’, especially on old-fashioned telephones and speaking-tubes, and I have been reading Avital Ronnell’s bizarre and marvellous The Telephone Book. Speaking-tubes were nineteenth-century communication devices installed in houses, so that the wealthier middle and upper classes could relay messages to the servants below stairs, without having to actually go-below-stairs; the technology behind these tubes formed a rather crude prototype for the telephone, and, in fact, according to Ronnell, in some languages the word for speaking-tube and telephone was one-in-the-same. The name ‘speaking-tube’ has made me consider other odds phrases used to described inanimate modern conveniences to save labour, that are often, spookily, personified – such as the dumb-waiter, for example. Speaking-tubes also bring to mind ‘invisible’ friends, or perhaps more specifically, ‘invisible’ interlocutors (and, of course, the terrifying mind-of-its-own speaking-tube in Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger) – and this connects with Jacques Derrida’s notion of the virus as encoded, yet interrupted communication, as well as neither living nor dead. The speaking-tube is a technology of Otherness, and its auditory emphasis (or fetish) is both a powerful and interesting contrast with the contemporary obsession with ‘touch’ and the touch-screen – speaking-tube/touch-screen, sense plus technology, equals technology of Otherness.Speaking-tube1 Speaking-tube2