Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

The second post in my Dracula Series.

Existential. Pretentious. Sexy. When I see these three words in a blurb I assume I’ll love the film. And that was certainly the case with Michael Almereyda’s Nadja. “Hal Hartley meets David Lynch” says the Chicago Review. Shot in black and white, almost like a film noir, philosophical riffs are delivered with deadpan irony. Lonely, isolated characters touch each other briefly, and for a moment they seem to really communicate, but then their own alienating drama pulls them back into themselves. Everyone exudes empathy but disregards sympathy. Everyone’s a protagonist. Everyone’s heart is bleeding. Everyone’s consumed.

But for a vampire movie, there is very little blood or human consumption.

The film opens with Nadja, Count Dracula’s daughter, picking up a man at a bar. She’s discussing the difference between European cities and New York, the city she inhabits, the city she embodies. She gets him alone and the camera pixilates as she feeds, as the man dies, Nadja receives a “psychic fax” from her father, who is dying. Still pixilated, we see him stumble down a street, wooden stake sticking out of his chest. “My father is dead.”

Killed by none other than Van Helsing, but a parody of Van Helsing. In the Annotated Dracula, I read many a footnote questioning Dr. Van Helsing’s version of medical knowledge. Apparently, a great deal of Van Helsing’s medical practices, for instance, pumping Lucy full of four different men’s blood without being at all concerned whether or not any would poison her, were outdated for modern Victorian standards. Van Helsing cared more about philosophy, more about chasing vampires, than medical science. He was blunt and matter-of-fact but this came across more humorous and cold as opposed to serious and thoughtful. Many papers have been written on him as a fraud, or even an unprofessional boob, and Almereyda chose to represent him in the latter’s clothes, as the bicycle-loving, long haired eccentric, whose special vampire detecting gear boils down to a pair of John Lennon sunglasses.

Lucy's safe. She has a reflection.

Though Dracula is depicted as hundreds of years old, Van Helsing is not, and while tinkering with Bram Stoker’s narrative is not uncommon, exhibiting Dracula, as both a character imprisoned inside a text and as an ubiquitous culture icon reaching outside of the text, is a postmodern phenomenon.

Nadja is an early nineties stylized indie film. And just as Nadja is Dracula’s daughter, Nadja is Dracula’s daughter. As Van Helsing tells us, Nadja is one of many children. Just as Nadja is one of many texts carrying on the count’s legacy.

Van Helsing’s nephew, Jim, is married to Lucy. Lucy doesn’t like Van Helsing, so Jim tells her to stay home while he goes and bails his uncle out of jail for driving a stake through Dracula’s heart. Van Helsing relays the tale, as if he were simply regurgitating a myth, and Jim tells him that it seems as though he’s gone through something but hasn’t come out the other side. Van Helsing’s story is a burden to Jim, it’s what keeps him away from Lucy, but it seems to essentially bore him. All Jim’s concerned with is how unmoved his “demented,” as Lucy put it, uncle is. And though Van Helsing’s supernatural tale is exciting and interesting, especially since we know he isn’t spinning any yarn, we end up siding with Jim, possibly because the story of Dracula is exhausted. It’s old and stale, like Van Helsing and Dracula, its time is over. They are mere figureheads, settings, moods for new texts to stand in their place. As Van Helsing says about Dracula, “like Elvis at the end. Drugged, confused, surrounded by zombies. He was just going through the motions. The magic was gone. And he knew it.”

Nadja is about the children. It’s about Jim and Lucy, Nadja, Renfield, Edgar, and Cassandra. Lucy and Renfield both echo the original Lucy and Renfield, just as Van Helsing echoes Van Helsing. This is to keep us grounded in the Dracula metaphor, to remind us that the past is prologue, that the present is doomed to repeat the past’s mistakes, especially if they were never understood.

Nadja wants to change her life. She’s sick of killing for the sake of killing, of living her father’s life. She walks down the street, Portishead plays in the background. I’ve got nobody on my side and surely that ain’t right.

Lucy, as the perpetual victim, as the blonde innocent, is seduced by the vampire, by the femme fatale, Nadja. They meet at a bar, exchange family traumas. Lucy’s brother is dead. Her mother is dead. Her father is born again, he doesn’t talk to Lucy. She’s familyless, rootless, she belongs with Jim.

Nadja’s mother is dead. She was a mortal who died during childbirth. Nadja’s father is dead. Nadja’s brother is gravely ill, refuses to feed, hates vampirism, hates Nadja.

Both women are anxious. They are honest and sad. Both are fascinated with the other, but their fascination is subdued. Nadja gets up, goes to the jukebox.

“Life is full of pain. But the pain I feel is the pain of fleeting joy… I’m with someone I love I feel so much joy then I have to go away, even if it’s only for a day I’m sure I’ll never see them again I feel so alone. I don’t know what’s in front of me. I can’t breathe. The pain of fleeting joy.” Nadja.

Lucy understands. She takes Nadja home. Jim isn’t there. She shows Nadja her tarantella. She shows her an ornament on her Christmas tree, an ornament of Dad, of Dracula. Lucy presses the button and scary music shakes the kitschy doll, Nadja becomes frightened. “Why do you show me that!” Lucy becomes maternal, she takes her tarantella back. Nadja apologizes. “I’m anxious,” she repeats. They take photographs and play with sparklers. Fleeting joy. They turn on the stereo, My Bloody Valentine.

They make love in front of a mirror. They make love while Lucy’s on her period. (I’ve always wondered why I had never seen menstruation represented in vampire fiction before.)

They make love under pixilation.

Scenes of passion are all pixilated, shot with a Fisher Price Pixilvision, to represent alienation, how we only know the world from our perspective, how we try to communicate with others and what gets lost in the translation. Almereyda wants to remind us that we’re voyeurs, and we’re only human. There’s so much we can’t know. Vampires aren’t human, they feel their kin’s pain, they know, they understand, for a moment, when they receive the psychic fax, what it’s like to be somebody else. We don’t have that luxury, or curse, if you’d rather. As humans, we translate, we empathize, but we don’t know, we can’t see, our psychic vision’s blurry.

Nadja doesn’t want to kill her. She’s in love, she tells Renfield, who’s in love with her, his maker. He asks her how she knows. “Because I feel terrible.”

The pain of fleeting joy.

Renfield doesn’t want Nadja to turn Lucy, but he has no choice. He is Nadja’s slave, he loves her as the original Renfield loves Dracula, his master. Lucy is as Lucy does, is almost turned. She’s not herself, she’s sick, dying, pining, struggling, zombified.

Nadja goes to her twin brother, Edgar. He’s also dying. He’s also in love with a mortal, Cassandra, his nurse. His love is requited, and for that, or because of that, Edgar hates himself. He wants to die. Nadja convinces Cassandra to bring Edgar to their father’s house in Manhattan. She tells Cassandra that she and Edgar have the same disease, that she’s not dying, that Edgar just needs his special medicine, shark embryos, she says.

Lucy is lost in a trance of forced obsession. Jim finds her at a copy shop (the same one I printed my graduate thesis at!), and leads her to the bar Nadja had picked her up at.

“We can be totally honest? There’s no point in anything, right? And lately I’ve been feeling so disconnected from everything. I take long walks, I go to the park. Sunsets help, somehow. Calendar art, the cornier the better. Once or twice a day I see a woman on the subway I think I can fall in love with. No reason, except, I like her face, her hands, her neck. Then I come home and you’re there and I realize I should be completely happy. I mean, today, seeing you sick, I got so worried. I felt so helpless. All I know is I want to be with you forever.” Jim.

Lucy replies.

“Life is full of pain, but I’m not afraid. The pain I feel is the pain of fleeting joy.” Lucy.

Lucy’s gone. First mentally, then physically. She flees, comes to Nadja’s call. Jim is concerned. He follows her. Van Helsing wants to kill Nadja and Edgar, he thinks he’s leading the charge. He still thinks it’s his narrative. But really, he’s just in the way. Jim doesn’t care about vampires, or Dracula, or all the terrible, mystical horrors surrounding him. He doesn’t care about killing Nadja. He just wants Lucy back. But she’s gone.

“She can’t sort out her feelings. She can’t tell the difference between caring and wanting, emptiness and hunger, loneliness––” Jim

Edgar receives a psychic fax from Nadja, who has taken Cassandra to their homeland, to Transylvania, by the Black Sea, in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains. They all travel to Transylvania, just as the crew in Dracula travels to Transylvania. They use Edgar’s connection to Nadja to locate them, just as Mina’s connection to Dracula is her crew’s compass. Just like her father, Nadja’s emotions are like big storms. Just like her father, Nadja is killed. Just like her father, Nadja’s spirit lives on.

Again, the plots of Nadja and Dracula intersect just as the characters and themes intersect. Nadja takes a little bit of everything it wants, but instead of the philosophical question of morals that the Victorian age obsessed over, Nadja reflects the jaded spirit of the nineties, with its existential angst, apathetic malaise, and narcissistic ennui. Cassandra’s monologue is a mirror.

“The problem is we’ve lost our spirituality. We’ve lost contact with ourselves and what our purpose of existence is. We’ve lost contact with God, and I don’t mean God as a man with a beard, a father, a punisher, but God as a source, a spirit, a stream of energy and light that links all things. We feel empty. We have a huge hole in ourselves. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a huge emptiness in their lives. We look away otherwise you start acting yourself, Why does one day merge with another day? Why does a black night gather in the mouth? Why all these people dead?” Cassandra.

P.S. Netflix‘s description of Nadja is inaccurate.


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Wuthering Heights is… the egg, the nest, the hut, the house, the town, the country, the cathedral, the prison, the dungeon, the cellar door, the attic stairs, the coffin, the hearth, the unlit fire, the beating heart, the bloated brain, the lockbox, the womb, the Mother, the chair of the Father, the castle, the sky, the illusion, the home, the body, the universe.

Wuthering Heights is sitting, is looking, looking in, looking at, looking through a window.

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. ‘Wuthering being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.’ [1]

tu·mult n

a.            a violent or noisy commotion

b.            a psychological or emotional upheaval or agitation (!)

1. House qua Universe.

The house is the first space a human being encounters. It is a representation, a trope of outside existence. Before a baby can understand itself as a thoughtful, rational, mortal being, before it can understand that it is a separate entity from its surroundings, it knows only the house and the people which inhabit it. “It is the human being’s first world.”[2]

It is where a child learns power dynamics, where they learn language, and (in most cases) love. It is the psychoanalytic seat of perpetual return. It is where the child forms, and creates, its self. “Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.”[3] The child’s first home is where Bacchelard locates memories. He says consistently, and constantly, that the adult will come back to it in daydreams, because s/he can’t think of anything more comforting than reliving the memories of early protection.

And it is in this comfortable, comforting way that Wuthering Heights retains the pleasures of the past. For Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights will always retain images of Catherine, of Mr. Earnshaw (the Father), and of overwhelming acceptance and love. This is why he is able to still desire and cherish the Heights when it changes into Hindley’s property. This is why the Height’s can still be his and Catherine’s, despite its sudden transformation into his and Isabelle’s. This is why Wuthering Heights takes on multiple meanings at once.

This is why Brontë only has a handful of characters, and all the action is centered around Wuthering Heights[4].

2. The Egg, not the embryo, the egg.

Though I do believe, and I will address this later in the paper, that, in a way, Wuthering Heights is an extension of both Catherine and Heathcliff’s body (in combination, can we say they fertilize the egg?), but my thoughts presently concern the house merely as a shelter, with a thin shell, a protective barrier. The creation of the embryo, or ovum, or life, is one of life’s greatest mysteries. “It is the formation, not the form, that remains mysterious.”[5] But the metaphysical can of worms aside, half of the egg is a container, and the other half precious cargo.

The narrative is born when Mr. Lockwood breaks, shatters, the protective barrier, the window, which Catherine Earnshaw/Heathcliff/Linton flies up against and tries to breakthrough. She inserts herself into the novel, propels the plot forward, and announces: “Wuthering Heights is haunted! Turn the page, find out how.” How dare Mr. Lockwood! But Heathcliff, the behemoth of a character, trembles, and falls into the nook, the even tinier home, the more enclosed, the safer bed/closet/dresser of Catherine Earnshaw. It is there he retreats to his memories, it is there he and Catherine made themselves “as snug as their means allowed in the arch of the dresser. [She] had just fastened [their] pinafores together, and hung them up for a curtain;”[6] It is there the children hid from their tyrannical dictators, dreamed, and disappeared. Like Aphrodite bursting forth from her shell, the love story of Catherine and Heathcliff begins.

3. The Nest/Womb.

“Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong.”[7] The architect: Emily Brontë, God, the Father (Mr. Earnshaw), a bird? Either way, Wuthering Heights is a resting place for offspring, where they learn, and grow, and prepare themselves for the outside world. In this way, it is Catherine and Heathcliff’s first microcosm. Within Wuthering Heights they expanded, and smeared themselves all over its walls until there was little distinction between them and the space they inhabited. They spread themselves out, hid their traumas and daydreams in the various objects and nooks. They became one with the space, the thing, making the reader think: if the house would burn, our protagonists would burn with it. Even when Catherine left, Heathcliff is consumed with empty nest, and whether or not we are to accept Catherine’s ghost as real, his recreation of her presence is as real and ghost-like as an actual ethereal figure. And say, as I truly believe, that Catherine does exist in some form, and that she did return to Wuthering Heights, and that she wants back inside the home that she and Heathcliff “built,” the ideal situation would be for her and him to copulate, lay an egg. But Bacchelard argues that nests (love nests) are a childish metaphor; utterly absurd. “Among birds, need I recall, love is strictly extracurricular affair, and the nest is not built until later, when the mad love-chase across the fields is over.”[8]

As to not sound childish, I will abandon this metaphor. Catherine and Heathcliff built the nest as they were falling in love, and their lovechild is merely the nest. Their baby is the womb itself, therefore, is an utter impossibility, which does fit in with the theme of Wuthering Heights, but Bacchelard says it’s childish and my space is limited. But, and this is my raison d’être, the nest is [a] breakable thing [wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king[9]].

4. The Hut, possibly the Hearth, and dare I say, Mother.

The noble savages…their haven in the lonely moors of Northern England…their simplest of human plants, their hut. There is no need for our heroes to fantasize about their primitive solitude, about floating on the ether, in total isolation, protected from the society, from monsters, from whathaveyou. “The hut immediately becomes this centralized solitude.”[10] Catherine and Heathcliff are utterly alone, there are only the other members of the household, and it’s an us versus them attitude. And they fight. They fight, they fly, they flee, but only into corners…Their bond is sacred, indestructible, and has no real threat. [See Figure 9.] “The hermit’s hut is an engraving that would suffer from any exaggeration of picturesqueness. Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb ‘to inhabit.’ ”[11]

in·hab·it v

1.            vt to live in or occupy a particular place

2.            vt to be found in or pervade something

3.            vi to reside permanently in a place (!)

Demeter, Goddess of the Hearth, Goddess of the fruitful earth…the mourning mother. Nelly, servant, sister, mother, narrator: “If I can make any sense of your nonsense, Miss…it only goes to convince me…that you are a wicked, unprincipled girl. But trouble me no more with secrets. I’ll not promise to keep them.”[12] Pandora’s Box. For the first time, at least to us, Catherine’s thoughts: Heathcliff the eternal rocks, without him the universe would turn into a mighty stranger, I am Heathcliff…materialize into the house. These words echo, they bounce, off the walls, right into Heathcliff’s ears. Nelly cannot keep what is now mortared to the house. Nelly, the unbridled momma of morality, cannot keep these two savages at bay, cannot control their wicked desires, cannot stay at Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is abandoned yet again. There will be no more women on the Heights for awhile now.

Catherine as Persephone is taken away, but Linton is no Hades, she, herself, is her own Hades. She chose to eat the pomegranate, she chose to marry Linton (her justifications aside). Catherine is the underbelly, the underworld, the obverse of what is. Wuthering Heights moans and creeks in her absence, Catherine moans and croaks in its absence.

Demeter, giver of life, yet, also bringer of the dead. “As a fertility goddess, Demeter, concerned with what the earth brought forth, was connected with the dead.”[13] Life. Death. An unlit fire…Hearth. Listen to Lockwood speak of “what they call the ‘house’ preeminently” (the kitchen and the parlor) with my interruptions/interpretations/disfigurements: The kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter. No signs of roasting, boiling, or baking about the huge fireplace. (No sign of life, of the life force of fuel.) One end reflected (splendidly) both light and heat. (He gets the impression of the life force anyway from the objects, from the pewter, which tower with rows of silver, in an oak dresser, to the very roof.)[14] Does the whole house reflect Heathcliff’s demeanor? Is the attic collapsing into the cellar? Oh wait, I’m ahead of myself…

5. The Cathedral in/and the Attic. The Prison or Dungeon in/and the Cellar.

A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability.[15] (Duh.)

The house is a vertical being, the proof is the dichotomy between the attic and the cellar. Think total opposites. White. Black. Above. Below. Angel, or God, whatever. Devil. The rationality of the roof. The irrationality of the cellar. That one was Bacchelard’s. It’s obvious though. “A roof tells its raison d’être right away: it gives mankind a shelter from the rain and sun he fears.”[16] (Duh.) He says that up in the rafters all our thoughts are clear. In Wuthering Heights, sometimes, on Sunday, the attic becomes a cathedral. Church (Joseph) in the garret. Church, God, the watchful eye, in the attic. (Corners were punishment.) Catherine and Heathcliff hide. Putting God in the attic makes sense, ‘tis closer to the Heavens. But say I want to say Catherine represents the attic: Catherine represents the attic. And, guess what, Heathcliff represents the cellar.

“Mr. Heathcliff forms a SINGULAR CONTRAST TO HIS ABODE AND STYLE OF LIVING[17]…dark-skinned gypsy, in aspect, in dress, and manners a gentleman.”[18] Heathcliff is the Earnshaw’s skeleton. He is the monster everyone is afraid of. “In the cellar, darkness prevails both day and night.”[19] He is the secret.[20] When it concerns Catherine, Heathcliff is not the rational one. Heathcliff is rational in finances, in manipulation (yes, sometimes even when it concerns Catherine). But. And I know one will argue and stamp that Catherine herself is the pure embodiment of irrational, I’m giving this to her A.) to put her on a pedestal B.) for the sake of my argument C.) because she came up with a plan to sustain her and Heathcliff’s irrational love. Which is more than he did.

[“He’ll love and hate, equally under cover.”[21] Under cover of the roof. Oh!]

Catherine dies, always on page 122. “The cellar then becomes buried madness, welled-in tragedy.”[22] Heathcliff, in a nutshell.

6. The Coffin. The Beginning. The Middle.


Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you- haunt me then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe- I know ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always-take any form-drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! It is unutterable! [23]


Lockwood wakes in the oak closet. Rapping against the window. A tree, a watchful stick, an anthropomorphized plant, its branch, arm, raps against the window. He wants to open the window, the hook was soldered to the staple. He breaks the glass, HE BREAKS THE PROTECTIVE LAYER, and Catherine’s ghost grabs his hand with icy (outside) fingers (inside). “Let me in – let me in!… I’m come home, I’d lost my way on the moor…I’ve been a waif for twenty years.”…Lockwood screams, the language of pain…Heathcliff rushes in. “How dare you, under my roof?”[24] He strikes his forehead with rage (attic?). Heathcliff gradually falls back into the shelter of the bed, as Lockwood speaks, finally, sitting down almost concealed behind it.

7. Heart and Brain (the naughty bits…) under Lockbox and Key[25].

It is impossible to consider Wuthering Heights belonging to anyone other than the Earnshaw’s, (and in this instance I’m considering Heathcliff an Earnshaw). Brontë created the setting, Wuthering Heights, around the family, and this setting was a categorical one, not a dialectical one, each member maintained their roles until a new one was bequeathed to them (as in the case with Mr. Earnshaw to Hindley and eventually to Heathcliff).

To think of Wuthering Heights as a skull, keeping the gray matter of the narrative within its boney walls, would be another way of viewing the Heights as a container, a shell. “Shells, like fossils, are to many attempts on the part of nature to prepare forms of different parts of the human body; they are bits of man and woman.”[26] Though this thought can easily be moved to Figure 1, its placement here denotes the dream-like function of the Heights as shell. A shell is mysterious, especially when the mind itself begins to regard itself as a prisoner inside such a shell. The mind both desires and dreads its freedom from its home, but like a snail without its shell, the body, the mucus membrane is vulnerable, and unless it returns has a much higher risk of death. And though this metaphor doesn’t hold true for children today, Catherine was unable to properly exude her hard shell. To her and Heathcliff the shell is not merely a covering that will be abandoned. Wuthering Heights is the home of her heart, without it she was doomed to perish.

“Everything about a creature that comes out of a shell is dialectical. And since it does not come out entirely, the part that comes out contradicts the part that remains inside.”[27] [Heathcliff.] In other words, the shell is a part of the creature. Just because the snail feels no pain when the shell is nicked doesn’t mean it could survive without it. Heathcliff realized this. Catherine, unfortunately, did only when it was too late. And now, because Heathcliff knows Wuthering Heights contains a part of her soul, is where her heart is, he keeps it safely secured, out of Hindley’s or Hareton’s hands. He keeps it bolted. Mr. Lockwood had to walk across the bleak hill. The earth was hard with black frost, it made him, the guest/intruder shiver. First, bushes blocked his passage. But then there was a latch. He was locked out. (“A lock is a psychological threshold”[28]…exactly.)

8. The Castle in the Sky.

The illusion: “ ‘Oh dear! I thought I was home,’ [Catherine] sighed. ‘I thought I was lying in my chamber at Wuthering Heights. Because I’m weak, my brain got confused, and I screamed unconsciously.’ ”[29] Catherine regressed. She retreated to her childhood home…to her soul. Living, existing in another space, another’s home, has driven her to madness. She begs for just a smell of the home so close yet so far away. She cannot bear the confinement of her new home, this foreign home. Catherine feels she has lost touch with herself; she feels as if she were not herself.

I wish I were out of doors- I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy and free…and laughing at my injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed? why does my blood rush into a hell of tumult at a few words? I’m sure I should be myself were I once again the heather on those hills…Open the window again wide, fasten it open! [30]

Catherine feels all would have been right had she still been safe under the protection of the Heights, had she been still inside the womb. She is recalling the moment she left home, her and Heathcliff’s endeavor into the other world, not out loud of course, but the regret trembles in the back of her throat.

First visit to Thrushcross Grange: the discovery of another universe. Catherine and Heathcliff ran from the top of the Heights to the park without stopping, Heathcliff recounts…“We crept through a broken hedge, groped our way up the path, and planted ourselves on a flower-pot under the drawing-room window. The light came from thence; they had not put up the shutters, and the curtains were only half closed.”[31] They were voyeurs, seeing the beckoning light, the Others, “through its light alone, the house becomes human.”[32] They saw the rich. They saw the Lintons. Crimson and gold, and no parents- no authority figures. They hated them. They shrieked. They ran. Catherine fell. The dog attacked her ankle, got her by her Achilles’ heel: her love affair with herself: her selfish self, and the selfish desire for money and power- her drive to hurt those she loves to ensure they love her back: Heathcliff.

Heathcliff’s illusions are more complicated than hers because his psyche is more complicated than hers. Mr. Heathcliff was the lover who waited, was the lover who returned. True, both lovers left and returned, but where Catherine left again (across the moors, to the same original point of departure), Heathcliff stayed (only Brontë knows where he ran off to) and cluttered the house with more sadomasochistic complexities, more illusions/delusions of grandeur. Also, and this will be further examined below, both protagonists suffer from their creation of horcruxes.

Not to mention the way both of them begin to view Wuthering Heights as the crème-de-la-crème of their happiness. If only, for once, they could own Wuthering Heights together, be the tyrannical Mistress and Master of their domain… They are dreaming/daydreaming, mythologizing the house into something sacred and healing. If only they could live together, inside their warm and wonderful womb, all would be solved and settled and perfect, forever.

[I am not dealing with the (metaphysical/metaphorical) debate surrounding whether or not Catherine’s ghost is Catherine (or at least a shade of her) or if it’s merely an illusion. It is more beautiful and relevant to accept the author’s words as fact, and it is highly relevant for my next figure.]

Also see Footnote 15.

9. The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Heathcliff’s first space, first resting place, in the Heights was at the top of the stairs, because, “from the very beginning, he bred bad feeling in the house,”[33] to everyone else, but not Mr. Earnshaw. But by Chapter 4, said Earnshaw grows weak and, to his resentment, is confined to the chimney-corner: the beginning of his immobility, his silence, his escaping into the walls. “The corner is a sort of half-box, part walls, part door.”[34] For Bacchelard, the corner is the chamber of being. Man is always half perpetual movement, half paralyzed parasite. The corner, the half wall, half open space, serves him as a metaphor for this duality. It is fitting that the final seat of the father, the space referred to earlier as “the house,” is the final resting space for Mr. Earnshaw. With his death, he’s passing down the human condition to his kin, and each behave according to their already assigned roles. Hindley becomes the tyrannical father. Catherine becomes the hot piece of ass on the market. Heathcliff becomes the dark man in waiting, the dweller in the shadows. And the house takes on these archetypes. It molds and reconfigures its space, its aura. Wuthering Heights becomes the place where memories are localized.

It is impossible to record thoughts and moments with perfect linearity. The very nature of thought resists such accurate archiving. As a result, people start to externalize their inner selves; they throw memories and feelings into objects. Memories, by definition[35], are motionless, it is space that relies on movement. “The finest specimens  of fossilized duration are to be found in and through space.”[36] This is exactly why Heathcliff keeps Catherine’s room intact, secure. Heathcliff is attempting to keep these memories as pristine, as untainted, as possible. This attempt is not irrational. If Lockwood, as he does, were to stay in Catherine’s room he would have wiped his being all over her walls, and quite possibly the new memory of Lockwood lying in her bed, reading her books, would not efface Heathcliff’s memories of Catherine in that space, but crowd them, force them to share that space. In a way, Heathcliff is safekeeping Catherine’s soul within her room, filling it with sacred objects, turning it into a shrine. In this way, Heathcliff has made a horcrux.

Of course, this rational protection requires Catherine’s absence. And though a ghost is in some form a presence, it is also, and mainly, an absence.

And of course also, it was that same impulse that inspires Heathcliff to fret about his will, namely who will inherit Wuthering Heights. “I wish I could annihilate it from the face of the earth.”[37] He cannot bear to think of another occupying his space, their space, the seat of his memories, the keeper of her soul, the space which contains their compressed time. He is not an organ donor.

10. House qua Body.

I think I have given sufficient evidence: the horcruxes, the beating hearts and bloated brains, that Wuthering Heights is alive, has flesh, and exists only because Catherine and Heathcliff exist inside of it. The day Heathcliff returns to Catherine, Brontë writes about Wuthering Heights and the mist surrounding Thrushcross Grange, the mist outside of the Linton’s window: “Wuthering Heights rose above this silvery vapour-but [the] old house was invisible- it rather dips down on the other side.”[38] Up until that moment Heathcliff was invisible. Catherine was not Catherine. (Catherine Linton ≠ Catherine Earnshaw.) Up until that moment both Catherine and Heathcliff were repressing the Heights, were repressing their childhoods, were repressing each other, their love.

Wuthering Heights has always matched the countenance of its occupants…“And far rather would I be condemned to a perpetual dwelling in the infernal regions, that even for one single night abide beneath the roof of Wuthering Heights again…I don’t like being left by myself in this grim house.”[39] But at one point Nelly blasted the day she left. Nelly is sensitive to auras…

Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man be a dispersed being. It maintains him though the storms of the heavens and through those of life. It is body and soul. [40]

Soul, according to Bacchelard. But. And this is a big but. Brontë was a Christian. She believes in the whole duality of the mind and body thing. There was a reason Heathcliff had to leave the inside of the house to die. (I can’t say he had to leave Wuthering Heights because the entire property is Wuthering Heights, but since I have mainly/only worked on the inside of the home I shall stick with the strict dichotomy between inside and outside.) Anyhoo. Heathcliff left the house. And Bacchelard highlights the aggressive and hostile duality of inside and outside, and he states that “when confronted with outside and inside, [philosophers] think in terms of being and non-being.”[41] [Inside is to mind as outside is to body.]

If the house is his and her body, it is extraordinarily fitting that both of them had to leave its protective layer (lair?) to expire. One could say he left the house in order to meet her, since she was unable to get inside without the help of another. (Was Heathcliff punishing her again? Or could they not be together until death? Probably the latter.) And since they rejected Christian doctrines, according to their stricter times, and according to Joseph, of course they were denied entrance into Heaven. But really. Their heaven is Wuthering Heights. Their home is Wuthering Heights, now and forever. Little Cathy and Hareton move into Thrushcross Grange (her childhood home) and give Wuthering Heights to its rightful owners, Catherine and Heathcliff. Thus, completing their illusion, and giving the reader (me) the happy ending I crave. Of course, Joseph will still be there, but he will only live in the kitchen, and it was decided in class that he was merely part of the setting anyway.

[1] Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Pg. 2. Dover Thrift Editions. © 1996. From here on out I shall be referring to this book as Heights, without italics.

[2] Bacchelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Pg. 7 Beacon Press Books. © 1969. From here on out I shall refer to this book as Space, without italics.

[3] Space 7.

[4] This is why the title is the title.

[5] Space 106.

[6] Heights 14.

[7] Heights 2.

[8] Space 93.

[9] Heathcliff.

[10] Space 32.

[11] Space 32.

[12] Heights 60.

[13] Stapleton, Michael. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology. Bell Publishing Company. © 1978.

[14] Heights 2.

[15] Space 17.

[16] Space 18.

[17] My Caps.

[18] Heights 3.

[19] Space 19.

[20] In the Wuthering Heights in my head Catherine and Heathcliff get it on constantly. I prefer it that way.

[21] Heights 18.

[22] Space 20.

[23] Heights 124.

[24] Heights 18.

[25] Key will not be addressed.

[26] Space 114.

[27] Space 108.

[28] Space.

[29] Heights 91.

[30] Heights 92.

[31] Heights 34.

[32] Space 35.

[33] Heights 27.

[34] Space 137.

[35] mem·o·ry n

1.            the ability of the mind or of an individual or organism to retain learned information and knowledge of past events and experiences and to retrieve it

2.            an individual’s stock of retained knowledge and experience

3.            the knowledge or impression that somebody retains of a particular person, event, period, or subject

4.            the act or a specific instance of remembering

5.            the preservation of knowledge of and, usually, celebration of a deceased person or past event

6.            the knowledge or impression of somebody retained by other people after that person’s death

7.            the period of past time that a person or group is able to remember

8.            the part of a computer in which data is stored.

Also called memory bank

9.            the data storage capacity of a computer

10.            the ability of some materials, for example, plastics and metals, to return to their original shape after being subject to deformation

[36] Space 9.

[37] Heights 244.

[38] Heights 69.

[39] Heights 134 and 247.

[40] Space 7.

[41] Space 212.

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I haven’t read the book. Nor do I plan to, at least not anytime soon. For several reasons. Reason the first: my friend, Ms. Jilian Clearman, warned me that the movie was superior to the book. A rarity, we know, but I generally trust her judgment on most matters. Reason the second: I have my book list for the next several months: La Medusa by Vanessa Place, Erotism by Bataille, The Book of Promethea by Hélène Cixous, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy. I’m also rereading Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, which I think is great, despite her aggressively radical–*sullied*–reputation. Reason the third: the feat would be archaic, or rather, anachronistic to how I’m feeling now, or rather, to who I am now. Then, back when, about a decade ago, this movie really spoke to me, as it was supposed to. I was an outcasted, borderline, narcissistic, bipolar (in the colloquial sense), wannabe emo/goth/hippie chick that wrote obsessively in her diary about her promiscuous sexploitations. Girl, Interrupted was right up my alley. (Euphemism implied.)

Recently I rented the flick, and after not seeing it since my infatuation with it, I must say, aside from the overwhelming nostalgia for my reckless youth, cigarettes included, I was predominantly interested in Susanna Kaysen as outside of myself (as opposed to identifying with her/wanting to become her). I was intrigued by Susanna Kaysen the character, the writer, re-imagined, as unique, extraordinary, utterly complex and dark, gothic and interesting, then boiled down to simple and life-affirming insipidity. Her self-involved, self-projecting, self-personifying extended beyond herself and into the surrounding characters. Each girl, tucked away, locked inside a prism of category, a simple symptom filtered through then magnified to its ultimate fruition. Each girl represents one of her symptoms, making each girl merely a projection of Susanna herself. Kaysen divides herself, again and again, each copy, each personality trait less interesting than the previous, but all essential.

First, the most dominant and domineering, the trait knocking, banging, exploding behind the door is Lisa Rowe, the sociopath. There is a sociopath in each of us, strongest especially in children and teenagers, but through rigorous training, and the desire for social acceptance, for most of us, the sociopath is silenced, subdued, bargained into hibernation. Great stories are told when the beast is set loose again, when Jekyll becomes Hyde and does what we all deep down wish we had the guts to do. Lisa is Susanna’s guts, her id, her other, her mirror. When Susanna writes she writes what Lisa can just say.

“A man is a dad is a fuck is a chicken…Everyone knows he fucks you, what they don’t know is that you like it,” Lisa says to Daisy, another patient, ex inmate at this point, while Susanna covers her ears with a pillow in fear and disgust of Lisa, Daisy, herself, the situation, but mostly at her competing desires to out somebody’s secret, to expose their fear, their inner ids, the chaos, and yet maintain composure, propriety, and dignity, hers and Daisy’s. These are the glue that keeps society together, the grease that slicks the wheels of the turning cogs. Susanna knows the difference between kindness and truth, but she’s ambivalent where her alliance falls. Lisa has the ovarian fortitude to say what she wants, to call Daisy a fatherfucker, to crack the veneer of illusion, with Daisy’s permitted leave, her apartment, her whicker furniture. This statement of fact, Daisy the fatherfucker, helps Lisa sleep at night, it quells her jealousy and her anger that Daisy is considered sane while both she and Susanna are still prisoners. Of course Susanna thinks all this, but only writes it; she is a fence-sitter, powerless, stuck, impuissant, just as she is when confronted with Daisy’s swinging corpse. She can’t run from her death, but Lisa is already out the door.

The other inmates, the ones in the circle, the clique: the anorexic, the liar, the lesbian, and the ugly are not as crazy as the rest of the inmates in the background seem. They speak their minds, they hope, they feel sadness and anger. They’re real people, but only as real as symptoms personified can be. Symptoms, I’m arguing that Susanna is struggling with herself. Two of the symptoms, homosexuality and the Oedipal Complex, though in a woman’s case, the Electra Complex, are latent (or active!) in all of us.

(I’m not at all comparing fucking one’s father to coming out of the closet, I am, however, stating that sexuality works on a sliding scale. Everyone is bisexual, some more than others, just as some are more gay than straight and visa versa. Not everyone is willing to admit this, therefore the homosexual desires become buried, deep within the subconscious, where Freud places all our desires to fuck our gender-respective parents. This is all pop psychology, and each character in Girl, Interrupted fits neatly into a little mentally interrupted box.)

Also, Cynthia, in the book is not a lesbian, but a severely depressive patient who undergoes weekly electroshock therapy, and while we don’t actually see anyone receiving shocks, especially not Cynthia, who appears slow but normal, we get a brief mention of them, and it’s from Lisa, who was taken away because of an episode her and Susanna created. When she returns she grabs Susanna and tells her they must run away, Susanna, afraid and skeptical balks, to which Lisa persuades, “They gave me shocks again.” In other words, help me, save me, get me out of here before they fry my brain, my personality for good. Here, one recalls Drop Dead Fred and the erasing pills.

The anorexic desires to disappear. Susan Bordo writes on the subject of anorexia in her book Unbearable Weight. An anorexic strives to diminish her mass, the space she takes up, as much as possible. It is a disease that extends beyond thinness, beyond presupposed beauty. It is a disease fraught with death drives and invisibility. To not exist, to function as an object does, without machinations is a denial of the body as a living breathing organism. The anorexic considers herself deadweight. A dish of mold. Existing as pure existence, without the need for fuel, the denial of needing fuel. Cognitive dissonance that the body requires to eat, and so, without food, will eat itself. Complete corrosion, auto-erasure. Or, in the film’s case, maybe Janet simply functions as commentary on contemporary society’s love of thinness, our pro-ana gimmicks, and how every girl, whether she claims to be above it or not, is subject to the pressures placed on her weight via the media to be skinny. According to Bordo, anorexia nervosa is a disease that cannot simply be defined medically or psychologically, but must also be looked at from a cultural perspective. It is interesting that she was not at all in the book.

Both Janet and Cynthia are both examples of the film’s attempt to criticize Western culture in the 60’s as viewed from the mouth of the 90’s.

The ugly girl has a similar complex. Sometime during childhood Polly suffered severe burns all over her face and body. As a result, she acts like a perpetual child. She wears footie pajamas and can be seen carrying teddy bears and cuddling cats. When Susanna’s boyfriend pays her a visit, and the two sneak off into her room for a quick ride on the vertigo stick, Polly, or as Lisa calls her, Torch, is kneeling, peering into the crack under the door. Lisa asks her what she’s doing, which, out of embarrassment she says “Nothing,” Lisa tells her to go to her room and do nothing, which she does, in a sprint of tears and anguish. Later that night, she’s taken to the padded room at the end of the hall for combative or disruptive patients. She freaks because she’s ugly and she wants so desperately to have a sexual relationship but because she cannot bear her own image she guards herself with the guise of a child, something Susanna remarks on writing that Polly takes on the role of the child so that people can stand to look at her. After all, a scarred child is sad, causes sympathy, while a scarred adult dredges up feelings of disgust, repulsion, and pity.

Like the anorexic, the liar desires to conceal herself. Georgina is the sanest of the group, though an argument can be made for Cynthia, if she had more than six lines, none of which venture outside her “illness.” This personality trait, lying, faking, falsifying, this symptom is closest to Susanna’s borderline diagnosis. She is Susanna’s roommate both literally and figuratively. Georgina lies to the people that will keep her locked away because she’s clinging to a life made easier, a life where decisions are made for her, a life where she can dream and escape any and all responsibility. Georgina has found a way out of the existential dilemma of choice. A fairy-tale, in a way. She is the flip side to Susanna. While sanity for her is a choice, she chooses the comforts of hotel crazy.

Susanna is “normal,” but also a death-obsessed, lazy, self-indulgent, promiscuous, tragic, dramatic, histrionic little girl. She wants to be Ophelia, twirling in the tower of crazy, but not entirely ready, or able, to let her sanity go. Bottom line: Susanna is ambivalent. Unwilling to conform, and unwilling to let herself completely go mad. She tries, when Whoopi Goldberg throws her in the bathtub, but manages only to look ridiculous by forcing an act. The ham-fisted metaphor of the bathtub is to tell us that Susanna isn’t crazy at all, much as the title, suggests, she is just a girl, interrupted. If she wants out of the ward, or the bathtub, all she has to do is get herself out. All she has to do is confront her Lisa within.

So she sets her mind on doing just that. Lisa still hasn’t returned from their breakout, and while Susanna has the space to think, and write (because Lisa is gone), we’re given a montage of muted scenes showing Susanna talking, writing, and gesturing laid over with a series of life affirming axioms read by Winona as if we were catching glimpses into Susanna’s diary. These maxims and encouraging slogans seem to suggest she has crossed over, made the decision: she is back on the side of right, the side of mediocrity.

When you don’t want to feel, death can seem like a dream, but seeing death, really seeing it, makes dreaming about it fucking ridiculous.

And thus, Susanna is cured of her obsession with her own death. No more pouring and preening over how and when. Now, it’s about life, and love. But she isn’t cured cured, not yet. She has to confront Lisa.

Though I miss Lisa, life without her was easier.

And then magically, Lisa returns. She’s pissed at Susanna’s successes, pissed that Susanna now thinks she’s better than everyone else. In the middle of the night, on her last night in the ward, Susanna wakes to find Georgina missing, along with her diary. In a pant she runs through the labyrinth of the institution, reminding us exactly how scary institutionalization really is (earlier that night another patient, one harmless and sweet, who has had no trouble, is seen hauled away screaming in a straightjacket), all the while hearing, but not seeing, Lisa reading her journal, mocking her, telling everyone else, which now is only Polly and Georgina, what Susanna really thinks.

Lisa is playing the villain, exactly like Susanna wanted. She’s living for Susanna, and here is where they argue about freedom. Susanna is about to be set free. But Lisa screams “I’m free! You don’t know what freedom really is.”

Girl, Interrupted appeared on screen in 1999, and the 90’s were a hotbed for pop psychologists. Soprano’s began its smash success, talk shows were all the rage, and millions of neurological pills were emerging (along with the symptoms these said pills were supposed to abate). Mental disease was on the rise, to each her own flavor, and everyone was desperate to get diagnosed.

And while Girl, Interrupted is set in the 60’s, the film reflects more the spirit of the 90’s. (Whoever controls the present controls the past.) For instance, as mentioned earlier, there is no lesbian or anorexic in the book, schizophrenia factors more heavily, there are two sociopaths, and everyone gets out in the end, including Lisa, whereas in the film, when Susanna’s voice-over says that she saw some later in life outside of the ward, there were others, pan camera over Angelina Jolie, that she never saw again. Of course, leading the viewer to assume, that Lisa remained lobotomized much to the effect of Randle Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was left with the impression that Lisa must be sacrificed in order for Susanna to feel better, to feel normal, to be sane.

But in the end of the film, the truth is, the only truth that we see, is that only Susanna escapes alive, and though we are alluded to some of the other girls’ freedom, we don’t know who, nor do we see it, we only see Susanna fleeing the cuckoo’s nest, finally deciding on sanity and to abandon all the others, the others embedded within her, to a life of captivity, or as Lisa puts it, freedom.

Also, as a side note, the title was taken from a Vermeer painting. Girl Interrupted at Her Music, which I think, if I were to venture a guess, is Kaysen’s way of saying that mental illnesses, particularly the way mentally ill women were treated, à la Yellow Wallpaper and wandering uteruses, is basically an interruption of their otherwise normal lives. To be labeled insane and then locked away, particularly when one is not crazy, places the patient’s life on hold. For some this was desired, for others, it was an intrusion, just as this Des Cartes-looking figure is interrupting this poor girl’s lesson.

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Philosophy and Sex have never met, though in some cases they’ve claimed to, Anne Dufourmantelle assures us–and it’s clear she’s done her homework–that they, in fact, have been avoiding this blind date since its conceptual inception.

Aside from being an exquisite writer, Dufourmantelle is best known for the volume she published with Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, which is based on Derrida’s lectures in Paris. Of Hospitality, its text, is split, consisting of two texts on facing pages. On the left, Dufourmantelle writes, translates, offers “Invitations” as a response, to clarify Derrida’s “Response” on the right. This act of translating, writing and responding, exemplifies the topic of hospitality that the book spotlights, plays into the dance of me/you, host/guest, oscillating between the two, typifying the dichotomy, asking, transforming hospitality into the question of what happens at the borders, in the initial surprise of what happens with the contact of an other, a foreigner, a stranger, you.

In a way, Blind Date; Sex and Philosophy carries the question further by personifying philosophy, and wondering why, on pains of anxiety, why the immense corpus flees in terror from its silent other, its invisibly conjoined counterpart, sex. Not that sex, she points out, has done anything to keep its appointment with philosophy.

“The meeting was scheduled, they say, three thousand years ago. Officially, at least. Since then, it has been continuously postponed.”

Sex and Philosophy are both too self-involved, wrapped in up the superior euphoria of their own being, in their mutual chase for the height, the decimation of desire. Both exist in and of their own right, and outside the confines of language. Both are complete, lack any distracting object (as Lacan says, there is no such thing as sexual relations. And thinking is a masturbatory act, a groping for “Truth”). They think themselves synonymous, both resolute that they’re the defining line of demarcation, separating life from death. In other words, they’re both jealous of each other, blind to the other.

Blind Date…

is the term for a meeting between two beings who do not know each other, who may be able to love each other–a meeting organized by someone else who knows them both and who will not be present at the encounter.

Blind, this is what hides in the shadows, in the margins of the encounter between sex and philosophy. Blind, the lack of sight, a shade, a veil, curtains, darkness, an obstacle, a barrier between seeing and not seeing. Both sex and philosophy are blind to one another. Have never noticed each other. Pretend the other doesn’t exist.


begins with astonishment (Aristotle), declares itself the science of being, hopes to provide for the soul, finds its etymology in love of wisdom, imagines a spiritual education as its vocation, rights itself into a logic of propositions, lingers in schoolbooks, is written in all languages but is thought to think in just one,

is quietly dying out.

“To philosophize about sex” she writes, “is to think of its philosophical preliminaries, its margins, its surroundings, its subterranean periphery, its steep slopes, its white lines.” Because sex is outside of language, slips out of its grasp as a pure event, nothing more, how can one begin to define its boundaries, its borders, what jouissance exactly, precisely, is? Philosophy, thinking, requires language, lives in the world of words, of precision, in the pursuit, the love of wisdom. Philosophy experiences what it thinks, because it appears only in and through the act of thinking.

Upon reading in Levinas, reading about the infinite distance between two people, one thinks, one ponders then the impossibility of seeing and thinking outside of one’s subjective experience. How we see things as we are, not as the things themselves are. The same goes with people. I see Jil, I interpret Jil, I make assumptions on Jil’s behavior because of past experiences I’ve witnessed in Jil, by the patterns she exibits, by what I already know about her personality. But I have no idea what Jil is really thinking when she talks about her mother, outside of the language she uses to tell me, and that language, those words, are never enough. They never convey the thousands of images blurred together of her mother, the various instances, memories of her mother, the emotions surrounding her mother, the sundry feelings that well up at this conjuration, the infinite possibilities that surround their relationship, etc. I know what her mother looks like, I know some of the relevant and important stories that Jil has shared with me, but I have no idea what’s in her head.

This is always felt most painfully with lovers.

According to Aristophanes, and sung about in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, (wo)man is a being that has been cut in two and that has been searching for its other half, its soulmate, ever since.

In Plato’s Symposium he says, “Now, when our first form had been cut in two, each half in  longing for its fellow would come to it again; and then would they fling their arms about each other and in mutual embraces yearn to be grafted together, till they began to perish of hunger and general indolence.”

This cutting, sings Hedwig, is the origin of love.


ends only when explanations are required, comments on itself only as it disappears, disrupts any script that seeks to isolate its effects,

is present everywhere, all the time,

is absent everywhere, all the time.

Sex allows us to experience what is untouchable in the Other. It collapses as much of the infinite distance between two people as possible, it is the closest we come to feeling whole, to shedding our isolation, our being-toward-death. Sex is outside of time as well, or rather, because nothing is really outside of time, sex is inside a time that pretends it doesn’t exist. Sex lives inside an instant, a time cancelled out or wholly given over, a time fully accomplished. “Considered in this light,” she begins, “sex answers to our anguish at being in time through the rediscovered grace of instants miraculously spared from any duration.” Sex is the antidote to metaphysical insecurity, to ontological anxiety. It is an exchange of saliva, flesh, words, scents, oils, betrayals, distances, jealousies, emotions, caresses, memories, penetrations, humors, traumas, parents, ghosts, desires, love.

Sex is a pure quest for jouissance, for the pleasure that culminates in orgasm and annihilation, reducing everything else, the world, including me and you, to oblivion. It is a miniature death, reminding us, that every instance of death begins with an act of sex.

Eroticism, Bataille had said, is the assenting of life, to the point of death.

Sex is our only true response to the anguish of death. Making love makes us forget that life is always on the verge of ending and that the body itself belongs just as much to death as to life. Making love recalls us to death insofar as death is only conceived on the basis of life, and indeed that is what makes it always unreal to us; what fascinates us in death is its total opacity. Until the end we think within life, with death but outside of death. Sex holds me at the edge of the certainty that one day I will disappear.

Ripped away from our mothers, beyond what makes us human, this original separation affects us forever until death.

This is (wo)man’s plight, being born of a separation, an unthinkable solitude from which we will never recover.

This is also the reality of love, the origin of love.

Love, from which all life, all suffering, all existence is based. Love is the genesis of everything. Love in motion. Love of reason. Love in thought, love of thought. Love in matter, love of matter. Love of love.

And the catastrophe if it ever disappeared!

She says the encounter will never take place.

In other words, it has already taken place in the two protagonists’ lack of awareness, their failure to recognize that they knew each other (already), loved each other (already), had left each other and forgiven each other (already), and had finished, perhaps, with the fatigue of meeting. Of remaining only in the suspension of an unhoped-for encounter.

Beautiful, experimental, comprehensive, embracing, obscure, sexy, the kind of book that excites you to read another, to devour as much as you can, to write.

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I get glimpses of the horror of normalcy. Each of these innocents on the street is engulfed by a terror of their own ordinariness. They would do anything to be unique.

Arturo Binewski.

Geek Love is so brilliant, so wonderful, that I almost urge you, if you have not read it, not to read on. This is your official Spoiler Alert.

“This thing of darkness I Acknowledge mine.” Prospero, The Tempest 5.1.275-6, the epigraph to Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love.

Everyone has secret desires, lusts, revulsions, curiosities. Everyone has demons and dragons. No one is as isolated as they think, nor are they as connected as they want. No one can escape their bodies.

Everybody poops. Everybody dies.

To each their own.

Grotesque realism is all about this kind of materialist introspection, it’s about degradation, “the lowering of all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract; it is a transfer to the material level, to the sphere of the earth and body in their indissoluble unity.” (Bakhtin) Powerful images of the humans–often larger or deformed in some way, though not necessarily so–eating, drinking, fucking, menstruating, micturating, and defecating.

“The material bodily principle in grotesque realism is offered in its all-popular festive and utopian aspect. The comic, social, and bodily elements are given here as an indivisible whole. And this whole is gay and gracious.” Bakhtin.

Mikhail Bakhtin developed his theory in his study of Rabelais. Bakhtin thinks that in order to understand Rabelais, one must reconstruct their aesthetic and ideological perceptions by entering and elevating the bawdy, chaotic world of folk humor, in other words, toilet humor. This subversion and liberation has its roots in the carnival, where social hierarchies are overturned, where the fool is wise, and a king is no better than a beggar. Opposites comingle, everyone is included.

The carnivalesque is a joyous event. Festive and utopian.

“Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all people. While the carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time, life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal sprit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part.” Bakhtin.

Ideally, it is vividly felt as an escape from the usual official way of life.

But what if the carnival is your official way of life?

The Binewski’s live behind the glitz, behind the flashing lights. They work hard to be festive, to create gaiety and illusions of hope. To them, the sacred occasion of carnivalesque, the light poetic humor that serves as a beacon from the unbearable weight of drab everyday existence, is itself profane and barren, just like everything else.

The happiness that Oly has in it is the happiness she has in her family, in her love.

“A carnival in daylight is an unfinished beast, anyway. Rain makes it a ghost. The wheezing music from the empty, motionless rides in a soggy, rained-out afternoon midway always hit my chest with a sweet ache. The colored dance of lights in the seeping air flashed the puddles in the sawdust with an oily glamour.” Olympia Binewski.

You can hear the nostalgic ache in her voice contrasted with the decay in her language.

Geek Love opens with Aloysuis Binewski and Lilian Hinchcliff Binewski reminiscing about the times before the children, the day that she decided to geek for him, meaning, she would fling herself into the pit and bite the heads off of chickens. After they were married, to alight the Fabulon circus that Al had inherited, they hatched a plan to breed a family of bona fide freaks. Lil ingests illegal and prescription pills, amphetamines, insecticides, and radioisotopes. She first gives birth to Arturo the Aqua Boy, who has flippers for limbs, then Electra and Iphigenia, the conjoined twins, followed by Olympia, the hunchback albino dwarf, and then Fortunato, a telekinetic, whose appearance is depressingly normal. There were others, who didn’t make it for various, and obvious reasons, who are now floating in jars on display for a moderate price. “Born from normal parents!”

Polishing her late siblings is only one of Oly’s jobs at the Fabulon. She is the useless child, the unmarketable child, but she is also our narrator. The novel oscillates from her childhood on the road, a life lived entirely for Arty, to now, a life lived entirely for her mother and daughter. Though they each know her, as they both live in the same apartment complex as her, neither has any idea of their relation to her.

The novel predominantly takes place at the Fabulon when Oly was a child. This is her story, the Binewski’s story, archived, for her daughter, Miranda.

“In grotesque realism, therefore, the bodily element is deeply positive. It is presented not in a private, egotistic form, severed from the other spheres of life, but as something universal, representing all people.” Bakhtin.

The children’s deformities are not universal, they are unique. The children are proud of their appearance and proud of their family. They are not mere representations to illustrate some satirical truth about Western culture, they each have individual personalities, egos, and desires. They are characters, they have dreams, fears; they love.

The Binewski’s are a traditional nuclear family, with Papa Aloysuis manning the helm, but as soon as Al’s mind shows its first crack the line of power begins to transfer over to his Machiavellian firstborn.

“The material bodily principle is contained not in the biological individual, not in the bourgeois ego, but in the people, a people who are continually growing and renewed. This is why all that is bodily becomes grandiose, exaggerated, immeasurable.” Bakhtin.

As opposed to Arty’s body taking on these qualities, his ego is grandiose, exaggerated, and immeasurable. Stalinist yet Capitalistic. Smothering, exiling anyone who stands in his way, Arty’s act soon bourgeons into a self-help act, a personified greeting card. He becomes a sort of soothsayer with an inflated sense of superiority. An evangelist. A charlatan.

“Arty said, ‘We have this advantage, that the norms expect us to be wise. Even a rat’s-ass dwarf got credit for terrible canniness disguised in his foolery. Freaks are like owls, mythed into blinking, bloodless objectivity. The norms figure our contact with their brand of life is shaky. They see us as cut off from temptation and pettiness. Even our hate is grand by their feeble lights. And the more deformed we are, the higher our supposed sanctity.’ ” Olympia Binewski.

He then takes this idea and turns it into a religion. Arturism.

“What Arty wanted the crowds to hear was that they were all hormone-driven insects and probably deserved to be miserable but that he, the Aqua Boy, could really feel for them because he was in much better shape. That’s what it sounded like to me, but the customers must have been hearing something different because they gobbled it up and seemed to enjoy feeling sorry for themselves. You might figure a mood like that would be bad for the carnival business but it worked the opposite way. The crowd streaming out from Arty’s act would plunge deeper into the midway than all the rest, as though cantankerously determined to treat themselves to the joys of junk food and simp twisters to make up for the misery that had just been revealed to them.” Olympia Binewski.

When this kind of megalomania is taken to its logical conclusion, Arturism has thousands of people paying thousands of dollars, leaving their families, everything behind, to follow the carnival, and amputate their limbs one by one. The Admitted wait on the more advanced, and all meditate on the slogan: Peace, Isolation, Purity. They give Arty monikers like His Armlessness.

While Arturism functions like a religion, there is no mention of god or gods (except maybe His Limblessness), and there is no claim to any afterlife. The cult represents itself as offering earthly sanctuary from the aggravations of life. “Arturo knows All Pain, All Shame, and the Remedy!”

Generally, according to Bakhtin, when the grotesque exaggeration is bodily, the leading themes are fertility, growth, and a teeming abundance, but, as we see, the Fabulon’s motto is about deletion, about disappearing, minimizing the physical self, and what that self can do, in order to feel whole, pure, and at ease.

Ironically, when the ultimate goal of Aturism is reached, a lobotomized head sitting atop a torso, one is completely dependent on the help of others, on the more recently Admitted. Given Arty’s complete success manipulating, it’s easy to forget how dependent he is on Oly how much he needs her to be his hands, to be his extra eyes and ears. She does everything for him. After he finds out she’s pregnant, it’s a startling moment, to watch him feebly attempt to attack her with a plunger as the handle keeps slipping from his flipper.

“I stared through my safe green lenses at Arty, gibbering with frustration in his chair because he couldn’t keep a grip on the stick with his flipper even though his belly rolled in crevices of muscle, though he could lift a hundred and fifty pounds with his neck, he still couldn’t hold the stick to hurt me when he needed to.” Olympia Binewski.

Though Oly doesn’t buy into Arturism, she truly loves Arty, to a point beyond masochism, venturing into more sinister realms, and on the one hand, it’s easy to deduce that she craves a normal life with Arty and baby, and each of them would bust at the seams with incestuous happiness, but that life is an impossibility, for if Arty were normal, if Arty returned her love, he wouldn’t be Arty, he wouldn’t be the one she loves.

“Life for me was not like the songs the redheads played. It wasn’t the electric clutch I had seen ten million times in the midway–the toreador girls pumping flags until those bulging-crotched tractor drivers were strung as tight as banjo wire, glinting in the sun. It wasn’t for me, the stammering hilarity of Papa and Lil, or even the helpless, dribbling lust of the Bag Man rocked by the sight of the twins. I have certainly mourned for myself. I have wallowed in grief for the lonesome, deliberate seep of my love into the air like the smell of uneaten popcorn greening to rubbery staleness. In the end I would always pull up with a sense of glory, that loving is the strong side. It’s feeble to be an object. What’s the point of being loved in return, I’d ask myself. To warm my spine in the dark? To change the face in my mirror every morning? It was none of Arty’s business that I loved him. It was my secret ace, like a bluebird tattooed under pubic hair or a ruby tucked up my ass.

Understand, daughter, that the only reason for your existing was as a tribute to your uncle-father. You were meant to love him. I planned to teach you how to serve him and adore him. You would be his monument and his fortress against mortality.

Forgive me. As soon as you arrived I realized that you were worth more than that.” Olympia Binewski.

Her language is so desperate, so wracked with pain that it’s hard not to be moved by this passage, by her immense yearning to love again. With Arty dead, and her mother and Miranda unaware of her identity, she loves in secret, incognito. She follows both of them, protects them from afar. Miranda doesn’t need as much immediate help as Lil, but she is in danger of becoming a full-fledged norm.

Miranda works at a strip club, but a kind of strip club for very particular fetishes, each of the girls there has a little something extraordinary. Miranda has a tail, which drive a great deal of men wild. At work one night she is approached by Miss Lick, who has the eccentric hobby of locating down and out pretty girls and disfiguring them so that they become more than some man’s wife, or, obversely, locating freaks and paying them to become normal. She has offered Miranda a small fortune to remove her tail. This, of course, outrages Oly, and instead of spilling everything to Miranda, explaining why her tail is so important, she decides to befriend and spy on Miss Lick.

“Miss Lick’s purpose is to liberate women who are liable to be exploited by male hungers. These exploitable women are, in Miss Lick’s view, the pretty ones. She feels great pity for them… If all these pretty women could shed the traits that made men want them (their prettiness) then they would no longer depend on their own exploitability but would use their talents and intelligence to become powerful. Miss Lick has great faith in the truth of this theory. She herself is an example of what can be accomplished by one unencumbered by natural beauty. So am I.” Olympia Binewski.

I have heard and I have read that this contemporary story isn’t as interesting as life at the Fabulon, but I do care to differ. It’s an integral part of the thematic whole. Geek Love champions the unique and freaky, the unconventional and the nonconformist, the ugly and deformed. It’s not that all our souls are deformed and our bodies long to reflect our inner ugly, nor is it that our bodies weigh us down, and that in order to be free we must reduce ourselves to drained, dependent nubs, utter impuissance. This is a message of girl power. One that questions what it exactly means to be normal. To have a normal family life. To experience love normally.

And while “normal” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, it’s an indefinable word, it’s a word that relies on an ever-changing society. Basically, it’s a word that only means “majority.”

“ ‘You are so lucky,’ [Miss Lick] said that night. ‘What fools might consider a handicap is actually an enormous gift. What you’ve accomplished with your voice might never have been possible if you’d been normal.’ ” Olympia Binewski.

This certainly isn’t what Bakhtin had in mind for the carnivalesque. This isn’t a jolly Momento mori reminding us that we are our bodies and we will decay, this isn’t another womb/tomb tale. Through Oly’s strange appearance and her unorthodox upbringing, we learn about her existential languor. In the end, I don’t think Oly is a sad character, or a misunderstood character. She is honest, strong, fiercely loyal, and extremely lovable.

In short, I loved every second of this book.

(And there’s so, so much more I didn’t say.)

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Jennifer Michael Hecht on doubt, from Doubt:

Like belief, doubt takes a lot of different forms, from ancient Skepticism to modern scientific empiricism, from doubt in many gods to doubt in one God, to doubt that recreates and enlivens faith and doubt that is really disbelief. There are also celebrations of the state of doubt itself, from Socratic questioning to Zen koans; there is the sigh of the world-weary, the distracted hum of the scientist, and the rant of the victimized. Yet with all this conceptual difference there is a narrative to tell here: doubters in every century have made use of that which came before.

*Of course, as always, there is a spoiler alert.*

Essentially, metaphorically, this is the premise of Doubt, the play by John Patrick Shanley. And while I haven’t read the play, nor seen it performed, I did immensely enjoy the film, that Shanley directed, starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman as Fr. Flynn opens the narrative with a sermon on doubt. He talks about the importance of uncertainty, the strength, the faith that grows within it, then blossoming beyond it. “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” he says. Flynn is progressive, modern. He believes the school should incorporate a couple secular songs in their Christmas pageant.

Sister Aloysius is a strict, uncompromising conservative nun. She is also the principal of Saint Nicholas, and the children fear her as much as they fear hell. She, of course, opposes both change and Flynn. But she is not the antagonist. Nor is Flynn the protagonist, for that matter. I would argue that those generally clear-cut roles oscillate between the two characters throughout the entire play.

Again, Hecht:

Great believers and great doubters seem like opposites, but they are more similar to each other than to the mass of relatively disinterested or acquiescent men and women.

We are introduced to Aloysius in Sister James’ classroom. James is a naïve nun with a sunny disposition, and though she isn’t a particularly strong character, she is the ipso facto protagonist. Sr. James is having trouble controlling her class when Aloysius walks in. The children, of course, then sit up straighter, take their fingers out of their hair, and pretend to pay attention to James’ dissection of Kennedy’s famous speech. “The only thing to fear,” she says with Aloysius standing hard, stoney-faced in the back of her classroom, “is fear itself.”

Fear is what holds everyone back. There is not a single character in this narrative that isn’t afraid of either God or Aloysius or both. And they all seem to be afraid of themselves.

Later, at a most uncomfortable dinner, Aloysius rings a bell then asks, tells the other nuns to keep an eye on Fr. Flynn. Something doesn’t seem right to her. In other words, she doubts him. The nuns housing quarters are run like an ancient monastery: there is little talking and if any, it’s about the Lord, the Bible, morality, or a sermon. This compared with the boisterous priests’ quarters, where there’s laughter, music, and wine.

It would be easy to dislike Aloysius, to resent her primitive conservatism, but here and there moments of unexpected tenderness are uncovered. Another nun, Sister Veronica, a much older nun, is losing her sight as well as her memory. Aloysius does everything she can to ensure her safe-keeping at the school, encouraging the other nuns to help her walk, eat, and relax; to hide her condition. She is protecting Veronica from the Church that serves her. This both shows her distrust in the Church (which is very much different and separate from God) and her distrust in men, as “men run everything.”

Aloysius is frustrated with the patriarchy. The structure of the church is arranged to keep men in power. Even as the school principal she is not the supreme authority; she has to answer to the priests. In a scene where Aloysuis calls Flynn to her office, to question him as if he were a child in her school, both Aloysius and Flynn begin standing. He uses this as an opportunity to sit in her chair behind her desk, thus reminding her that he holds the power.

It’s 1964 and change seems to be on everyone’s tongue and this is best illustrated with the school’s first black student, Donald Miller.

Donald’s first appearance has him doubting himself, asking another altar server whether or not he thinks he’s fat. Donald is insecure about being black, outcasted, abused, and overweight. He doesn’t make many friends and, possibly because of that, or because he expresses interest in becoming a priest, Flynn befriends, and therefore, protects him.

“The little sheep lagging behind is the one the wolf goes for,” Aloysuis says.

We watch Aloysius and Flynn through the curious, absorbing eyes of Sr. James. We see Aloysius’ fear mongering and her deep suspicion of everyone around her. And we see Flynn behaving oddly, stuffing a child’s undershirt in his locker, calling Donald to his office where he comes back sulking and smelling of alcohol.

James reports all this to Aloysius, who takes this as proof of what she was already suspecting: Flynn is sexually abusing Donald Miller. With this evidence, Aloysius moves beyond doubting Flynn into disbelieving him. Later, she says it was the way a child recoiled from his touch that led to her certainty.

When asked, Flynn has a reasonable explanation. Donald was caught stealing wine, and when confronted, because of his outsider situation, Flynn tells Donald to keep this a secret, because if anyone else found out he would then have to be removed from altar serving, something neither Flynn, nor Donald, nor Donald’s parents want. But Aloysius runs a draconian ship. She removes the boy from altar serving in hopes that the truth will then unearth itself.

No one is happy with this outcome.

The next Sunday, Flynn delivers a sermon about the sin of gossip. He tells a story about a woman who regrets and wishes to repent her gossiping. The priest had told her to Bring a pillow up to her roof, cut it open, then retrieve all the feathers that blow about in the wind. When the woman laments how impossible her task was, that she couldn’t retrieve every feather, the priest then says, such is the metaphor of gossip.

Flynn’s reputation is at stake, and where there is no evidence, yet still certainty, gossip lies.

Flynn is just as certain of his innocence, and thinks he is a force of good for the school, that he’s emulating the Bible’s focus on love. That children need to be taught with compassion, not with fear and discipline. James initially agreed with Flynn, but the more she speaks with Aloysius the more doubt plagues her mind. It’s as if she distrusts her own naïveté.


There was belief before there was doubt.

James is caught in between two extreme, uncompromising forces. She wants Flynn to be innocent, but his word is not enough. It certainly isn’t enough for Aloysius, whom Flynn accuses of holding a witch hunt. All the evidence stacked against him can be reasonably explained, and is, but still, Aloysius doesn’t believe him.

Again, it would be easy to believe Flynn’s innocence, that Aloysius is in fact holding a witch hunt, but there are other signs and symbols for the audience that make us doubt Flynn as well. For example, while Flynn is a progressive character, he is also eccentric. In his first scene with the children, he scolds a child for having dirty fingernails (this is the scene Aloysius sees the child recoil from his touch). Then later, in gym class, he stops the game to tell all of the children the importance of clean fingernails, to which then he reveals his own, and they’re long, like a woman’s (“but it’s okay because they’re clean”), and as the camera zooms in on them, there’s something disconcerting about them. Then, in Aloysius’ office, the fingernails come up again, and he defends himself, saying that he likes them long, but quickly Aloysius snaps, telling him, in effect, to just cut them, to fix it, or make it right. He cowers at this, as if he knows keeping such long fingernails is wrong. We’ve seen him thus far demonstrate to her his authority, but here he doesn’t. He could do the same, after all, long fingernails aren’t a crime, or a sin, they’re just eccentric, however, it is apparent by the way Hoffman acts that Flynn feels shame.

Aloysius has contacted Donald’s mother. Ms. Miller arrives as Aloysius is listening to a compact radio she confiscated from one of the children, illustrating that she isn’t as stuffy and against change as her reputation suggests.

Miller keeps repeating how grateful she is that the St. Nicholas accepted Donald, and that he just has to make it until June, because then he will be graduating from a good school and can then move on to a better high school where he won’t be picked on. Aloysius then brings up Fr. Flynn. Miller expresses how happy she is, and how lucky Donald is to have such an educated man looking out for Donald, as his father is abusive enough that Ms. Miller fears for his life.

Miller doesn’t believe Flynn has molested her son, though her language suggests that even if he did, it is the price that Donald has to pay for a better education, that maybe it’s all right somehow. Miller is a woman rattled with fear, more afraid of rocking the boat, causing trouble, than her son’s well being. Miller begs Aloysius, if she wants to get rid of Flynn, just do it, but please, leave her son out of it because otherwise his father will kill him.

Aloysius keeps her word and continues the game of cat and mouse with Flynn.

Flynn and Aloysius then hold a second meeting, but this time without James, their mediator, or witness. They buck propriety, and the rules, to have this meeting alone, behind closed doors. Aloysius says she had spoken with the nuns of his previous parish and knows the real reasons behind his leaving. Flynn becomes irate that she broke the chain of command and insists she call the priests. She tells him to resign with a leave of absence or suffer exposure. As he doesn’t want the latter, he resigns, but then, instead of punishment, he is promoted to a larger church with a larger school, and Aloysius is disciplined from breaking the chain of command.

In the final scene, Aloysius and James are seated on a park bench. Aloysius admitted she lied about contacting another nun, that the lie would not have worked if he were innocent. His reaction was proof of his guilt. For Aloysius, Flynn’s resignation was his confession, but James doesn’t think it was worth it to lie, to sin. Aloysius then tells her that in pursuit of righting a wrong, there is a price, and that lie was the price to protect the children in her parish.

Then, suddenly, Aloysius breaks down. “I have doubts!” she exclaims. Her façade crumbles and she cries.


Within the mixed, increasingly skeptical community, something new arises: a committed, ardent belief, where the idea of doubt is written into the idea of the religion. Here expressions of doubt can feel threatening very quickly, because the feeling of lost certainty and the pain the accompanies it are now very well known. The moral abyss, the friendless world, seems to be the common state of those outside the community, people swagger with the pride of the independent but also bemoan their fate, compete like animals, abuse drugs, commit violence, and generally invite upheaval into their lives. Those who make a belief commitment reject this and call back to a period of unquestioned belief–but belief has grown much more self-conscious and the group often feels it must consciously police its membership against doubt.

The film ends with uncertainty, or a certainty that one can never be certain of anything. Chaos reigns. Everything isunanswered. The audience debates.

“Life is unfair,” as Kennedy once said.

There is no order, no rules to strictly adhere to. Change will always be on the horizon.

Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman were fantastic. Their acting was subtle and complex. I could see how a lesser troop of actors could sway the audience, persuade them one way or another, but to do so would misinterpret the play’s point.

The quotes from Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book are my relation to the play, not hers. Doubt is a history of doubt. Its full title reads, Doubt; a history. The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.

Howard Zinn says of Doubt, “Jennifer Hecht’s romp–lighthearted but serious–brings to life an awesome array of figures in philosophy, science, and literature, in a way that is wonderfully engaging.”

I would strongly recommend both Hecht’s book and Shanley’s film.

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Philip Pullman’s latest fiction opens with a caveat.

The story I tell comes out of the tension within the dual nature of Jesus Christ, but what I do with it is my responsibility alone. Parts of it read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale; I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories becomes stories.

At a press conference, he also succinctly defended his right to shock, his right to write.

Nobody has the right to stop me writing this book.

Already, Pullman is anticipating the onslaught of religious complaints, the outcries of people clamoring to have his work banned, burned, suppressed. He is, of course, no stranger to offending the religious. He is an open atheist and a great deal of his fiction supports his beliefs. He’s been quoted as saying, “I hope the wretched Catholic church will vanish entirely.”

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is another volume in the Canongate Myth series which also features Margaret Atwood’s retelling of the Odyssey’s Penelope and Jeanette Winterson’s take on Atlas and Heracles. But Ron Charles has a point, if you’re going to retell Greek mythology people are mildly amused, but “if you fiddle with Jesus, people begin collecting dry sticks.”

Pullman splits, he literally twins the abstraction of Jesus Christ into the strong leader, the charismatic preacher Jesus and the weaker, more innovative pencil-pusher Christ. Pullman’s goal is to retell the Gospels of Jesus, replacing all supernatural miracles with hyperbole and misunderstanding. For example, a man comes to Mary claiming to be an angel. He beds her then leaves. Though Mary believes him to be an angel, it is more likely he is a farmhand taking advantage of a very young, naïve married woman. This is one of many liberties Pullman takes regarding Catholic doctrine.

Jeanette Winterson reviews Pullman in the London Times, beginning with a brief précis of Gnosticism, which, she says, is a doctrine of dualism that splits the human condition into a pure, holy spirit and a corrupt, tainted body. “Salvation is through knowledge (gnosis) of this composite self.”

The once suppressed Gnostic text gone DaVinci Code, The Acts of Thomas, has Judas as Jesus’ twin. Judas who still betrays Jesus, but then Brown has him sacrifice himself in order to save his brother.

This view of Gnosticism is directly in line with Logocentricism: the search for the one Truth, the privilege of the spoken word over the written, and language as a fundamental expression of reality.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ plays with this fallacy.

We live in a binary world of opposites. We find them comforting.

(When I say we, I of course, mean some, as feminists have been in an uproar over this binary structure. And they should be.)

According to the psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan, a child splits her perception of her mother into anxious and non-anxious states. The scowling, angry, punishing mother is bad, while the good mother is caring, kind, loves unconditionally. Eventually, the child learns to predict whether the good mother or the bad mother approaches her through facial expressions, vocal intonations, etc. But in time, the child discovers that the arrival of those foreshadowing images hinges upon her behavior. This is where a sense of self evolves.

But still, often there is a dichotomy in our sense of self, and in our sense of others.

This is why the twins trope has been so prevalent in literature. Winterson:

The twin motif is a binary that allows us to look at aspects of the self within the self that are uncomfortable, contradictory or disowned. The twin motif is stretchy enough to include the Jekyll and Hyde problem, where the good self secretly harbours the bad self — the Jungian Shadow that we often deny but that must eventually be met and integrated for psychic wholeness, resolving the dualism of our natures.

As Pullman said, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is supposed to represent the dual nature of Christianity. Even though he transforms Jesus Christ as myth into a historical Jesus, one without superstition or dogma, Pullman still stresses the good message of universal love and compassion. He’s saying that the theology, the magic are what vilify the church.

This is where the “scoundrel” Christ comes in. He thinks that Jesus’ message would best be absorbed if they were to turn his teachings into a business.

I can see it so clearly, Jesus! I can see the whole world united in this Kingdom of the Faithful – think of that! Groups of families worshipping together with a priest in every village and town, an association of local groups under the direction and guidance of a wise elder in the region, the regional leaders all answering to the authority of one supreme director, a kind of regent of God on earth!

Though Jesus rejects both his brother and his ideas, Christ surreptitiously follows him and records all of his teachings. But a mysterious stranger approaches Christ and urges him to alter Jesus’ sermons for the sake of Truth. “There is time, and there is what is beyond time. History belongs to time. In writing of things as they should have been, you are letting truth into history. You are the word of God.”

This is Pullman reminding people that recording history and retelling history changes history. That one cannot tell a story without the lens of subjectivity. That magic can arise from misconstruction. Like he said, this is a story about how stories become stories. This is why, I think, Pullman chose to write this text very plainly, with Orwellian precision.

Just as Orwell wanted to present 1984 with as much objectivity as possible, Pullman stripped his prose bare of any adjectives, adverbs, devices, metaphors, allusions, convolutions, mystifications, manipulations, and disorder. His language, therefore, is simple and clear.

Winterson complains about this; she complains about a lot that I disagree with. I think she misses Pullman’s point, almost completely. It’s not to retell the Gospels of Jesus to illustrate how strong and important women really were, it’s not to consider Jesus as miracle-worker so we can all ponder the what-ifs of bending natural law. She also complains that the book isn’t literary enough, it’s not artistic enough. Pullman’s point is to show that the Gospel of Jesus is just a story. To remind that it is simply a myth. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an atheistic representation of probability. He took the Canongate assignment and made it political.

Religion is a hot-button topic, and it should be.

Church and state are separate. The secular humanists therefore see religion as a political issue, the religious don’t even see it as an issue, they see it as a way of life. And until they agree to keep their beliefs and their opinions away from our laws, then this is a battle that we must, as a nation, encourage at every turn to debate. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an excellent catalyst to get the discussion rolling, and I think it would be wise to make this book part of the high school canon.

*Artwork by Andrew Zig Leipzig. Who also is responsible for DH Krahn‘s bottle design, which is a spectacular gin founded by an ex boyfriend of mine.

Note: I do find it interesting that Winterson critiques Pullman so when she wrote for the same series. I’ve added Weight; the Myth of Atlas and Heracles to my wishlist, but if anyone has read it I’d love to know what you think of it.

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