dolorosa_12: (Default)
A lot of people have been sharing Yoon Ha Lee's post, 'The problem with problematic'. In it, [personal profile] yhlee responds to criticism levelled at Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series (the first book of which is up for a Hugo this year) by trans and/or nonbinary readers — criticism which has had the effect of removing a lot of nuance from responses to the series. Worse, as [personal profile] yhlee writes, this criticism has had the effect of erasing trans readers such as himself from the discussion altogether:

All this just to say--readers are so individual in their reactions that "never write something hurtful" is untenable.

I think this is related to the going trend these days, which is to ask authors not to write works that are "problematic." But what do we really mean by that? Analysis of, say, racist or sexist elements in media is valuable, and we need more of it. But sometimes what I see is not that, but "don't write problematic works" in the sense of "don't write things that I consider hurtful."


As I am neither trans nor nonbinary, I'm not going to dictate to trans/nonbinary people how they should respond to Palmer's books (which is not what [personal profile] yhlee is doing, either), except to say that I think [personal profile] yhlee is correct when he says that Palmer's future was a dystopia telling itself that it was a utopia, and that you cannot understand her novels unless you view them from this perspective.

However, like [personal profile] yhlee, I think this response to the Terra Ignota books is a symptom of a wider problem. I saw similar discussion around queer representation in Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant, with a number of LGBT reviewers repulsed by the tragic fate of the book's queer characters, and a small minority adoring the book and feeling like their queer identities were being called into question for doing so. Amal El-Mohtar was one of the latter group, and wrote a blog post along those lines:

I’ve been watching conversations emerging — mostly on Twitter, mostly subtweeting, mostly in fits and starts — trying to categorize responses to the book according to some sort of ticky-box taxonomy of readers. I find this utterly repellent. Some people will suggest that only queer people have problems with the book, ergo it must write queer people’s lives poorly; others will counter with “well, Amal liked the book,” as if that could be the last word on the subject; still others will try to parse whether it’s my Brownness or my Queerness that has shaped my response, in pursuit of some sort of One True Response to the book.


I've not read this book, and again, I have no intention of dictating people's responses to it, or telling them that they should read a story which they are going to find upsetting and hurtful. What I find troubling is the idea that people — particularly those of (multiple) marginalised identities — feeling they have to march in ideological lockstep and respond in identical ways to identical stories, especially if there's an implication that a divergent opinion calls their marginalised identity into question (or that they have to pick and choose between one or the other of their marginalisations, as if responding to a story in a certain way means they've prioritised their identity as a POC over their identity as an LGBT person).

I have my own version of this regarding the rhetoric surrounding the 'proper' way to write women. For various reasons, partly because of my personal history, partly because of my lifelong narrative preferences, I respond much better — and will choose to read, watch or be fannish about — stories where the female characters are survivors of trauma, where their heroism has come at great cost, and where their powers are in spite of misogynistic pushback. I could list a thousand examples, but the first handful that spring to mind include the five Wives in Fury Road (victims of sexual violence), the clones in Orphan Black (who are quite literally viewed as patentable property without bodily autonomy), Jessica Jones in the Netflix TV series (a victim of sexual violence and mind-control), Laia from Sabaa Tahir's Ember in the Ashes series (who voluntarily allows herself to be enslaved in order to spy on her enemies, putting herself at constant risk of sexual and physical violence), Shahrzad from Renée Ahdieh's Wrath and the Dawn duology (a retelling of the 1001 Nights played fairly straight), Una from Sophia McDougall's Romanitas trilogy (an escaped slave with a traumatic history that's only hinted at, but which is fairly obvious if you read between the lines), Briseis and Chryseis from the Iliad (captured in war and victims of sexual violence) and Paige Mahoney from Samantha Shannon's Bone Season series, who begins the series in a very Stockholm Syndrome-y situation.

I'm not saying these are the only depictions of female characters that I respond to — some of my favourite stories entirely lack this element! — but these tend to be the fictional characters that are closest to my heart, whose stories I draw on at times when I need courage, and inspire the bulk of my fannish feelings and output. What I don't respond to, and what is very low on my list of narrative priorities, are female characters who enter their stories already powerful, suffer no trauma, and wear their power joyfully and lightly.

And yet I am constantly bombarded (at least in my corner of fandom) with categorical assertions that what female audiences want are untraumatised, joyful, uncomplicatedly happy female characters who revel in their power. This may be true for the vast majority of women and girls — as I said above, I have no intention of dictating others' storytelling preferences. But I'm told, in furious Tumblr post after furious Tumblr post, that the Whedonesque heroine — one who experiences her power as a kind of violation, and who fights at least in part as a response to trauma — is anathema, is unwanted, is hurtful to all female fans. But for me it is precisely this kind of character that gives me courage, because such characters tell me, over and over again, that I as a woman will survive, will be brave, will live on and find power in the support and community of other women, and that women with my experiences will get to be the protagonists of our own stories.

Most of the responses to [personal profile] yhlee's post (outside of the comments on the post itself) seem to have been along the lines of well, this gives us lots to chew on without really engaging in the points made. My feeling is that we'll never progress beyond this point unless people are prepared to talk about the broad spectrum of reactions to stories, and allow for this range of reactions without trying to police people's identities. I have it somewhat easy. I'm not exactly starved for narratives of my chosen type: the world abounds with stories of traumatised women taking back power for themselves, although of course some stories do it better than others. When it comes to depictions of more marginalised identities, the dearth of representation is much starker. This is precisely why the solution to bad or limited representation is not to enforce a uniform response to this representation, but rather to do everything in our power to encourage and enable more representation. (This obviously means significant structural changes to publishing, film- and television-making, and a huge amount of work in amplifying marginalised voices and making creative fields less hostile to creators of marginalised identities.) I believe enforcing a party line when it comes to people of marginalised identities responding to fictional marginalised characters is deeply harmful. I also believe that the cure for this problem is as many stories as possible, so that everyone is spoiled for choice when searching for stories that speak to them.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I know it's a bit late, but I was in Germany without my laptop, and then flat out at work this week, so this is the first chance I've had to post a bunch of links to Yuletide fics. This was my first year participating, and it all went a lot better than I was expecting.

[archiveofourown.org profile] kmo wrote Ouroboros (Wise Child series, Juniper and Wise Child, gen) for me.

I wrote one gift fic and one treat, and both were well received, considering they were for very tiny fandoms.

Beyond the Ninth Wave (Wise Child series, gen). After being driven from their home by Fillan Priest, Juniper and Wise Child adjust to a new life on Finbar's ship.

Reverberations (Romanitas trilogy, gen). Several years after the events of Savage City, Una, Makaria and Noriko meet. All three feel the effects of the war and slave rebellion in different ways.

I really enjoyed many of the fics in the collection this year. Here are some of my particular favourites:

Far from the Blessed Isles by [archiveofourown.org profile] Miss_M (Greek Mythology; Penelope, Circe, Nausicaa, Calypso; T). The dead talked a lot among themselves, there being little else for them to do. Conversation tended to run along circular paths. I love this because it's absolutely unflinching in how it reveals what a raw deal women got in Greek mythology, but still allows these women a space to express their anger about the injustice they experienced.

The Banishing of Winter by [archiveofourown.org profile] Skeiler (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; John Uskglass; G). In 1202, The Raven King "quarreled with Winter, and banished it from his kingdom so that it enjoyed four years of continual Summer." This is that story. This is absolutely fabulous, managing to retain the whimsical, scholarly tone of the book while also perfectly capturing the spirit of a folk tale.

The Price of Honor by [archiveofourown.org profile] keilexandra (The Lions of Al-Rassan; Rodrigo Belmonte/Jehane bet Ishak/Ammar ibn Khairan; M). Jehane and Ammar try to make a life for themselves in Muwardi-occupied Al-Rassan. Some things, a very few of them, may be more important than honor. What-if? AU. Warning for implied sexual violence. If this isn't what happened, this is what should have happened. I particularly appreciate that the author managed to resolve the love triangle in a way that still included Rodrigo's wife, Miranda.

Robbing Peter by [archiveofourown.org profile] cantstoptemplarswillgetme (The Musketeers; d'Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, Aramis, Constance; T). There's no summary, but this is a very silly heist fic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Somebody's Waiting for Someone by [archiveofourown.org profile] stellatundra (Peaky Blinders; Ada Shelby/Freddie Thorne; T). It might be Tommy he goes to France for, but it’s Ada he comes home for. A Freddie-centric fic examining his relationship with various Shelbys.

I also loved almost all the Clarke/Bellamy/Raven fics for The 100 fandom.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
Day Twenty-Nine: A female-centric fic rec

Most of the fic I like is female-centric (the same goes for original fiction), so it was quite hard to make a choice here. I've narrowed it down to three fics.

The first is 'Rabbit' by [archiveofourown.org profile] sanguinity. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with a focus on Jesse Flores. It's such a melancholy, emotional piece of writing, and captures a lot of the tone of the show itself, with its focus on destiny, free will, and the unbearable weight of history and time-travel.

'Mother Tongue' by [archiveofourown.org profile] elle_dritch is Earthsea fic focusing on the different women of the series, and on the notion of quiet, unnoticed 'women's work' that Ursula Le Guin explores in the Earthsea books.

Finally, have my favourite piece of fic ever: 'Words In The Margins' by [archiveofourown.org profile] Jenwryn. It's a character study of Orihime from Bleach (and I think is fairly canon-divergent), and it's hard for me to explain exactly why it appeals so much. I never watched or read Bleach, but I went through a phase of reading a lot of fic for it about five years ago, and something about this fic really caught my attention. I love that Orihime doesn't apologise for her choices, that she admits privately that she can't explain them even to herself, and that that's okay. I love that it's about monsters and humans, about monsters falling in love with humanity, and humans made monstrous. It's wonderful.

The final day )
dolorosa_12: (sleepy hollow)
Day Twenty-Six: Favourite classical female character (from pre-20th century literature or mythology or the like)

Persephone (Greek mythology)

Look, I'm unapologetic about this. I love any and every iteration of this character (well, maybe not Twilight). There's something so powerful about a mother-daughter relationship that's used to explain the changing of the seasons. There's something powerful about the story of a woman who passes into an underworld, and is transformed and changed. I find it hard to articulate why I love this story so much, and I fear being misinterpreted when I say I identify with Persephone, but it's true. I've always been obsessed with crossing-places, turning points, identifiable moments of profound change, and with visible markers of transformation. As long as I can remember I've looked backwards to identify those tiny moments in my life which had reverberations for years afterwards, which unintentionally shaped and changed me. That's what Persephone means to me.

This post by [livejournal.com profile] catvalente says it so much better than I ever could.

I can't leave this question without also mentioning biblical figures such as Esther, Leah and Ruth, and Briseis from the Iliad, whose stories have very personal resonances for me for various reasons.

The other days )

Some other cool links today: a friend of mine, Ellie Barraclough (who was a PhD student with me at Cambridge and now has a permanent post at Durham), did a radio programme on 'The Supernatural North", featuring Philip Pullman and A. S. Byatt. In more Pullman news, he's releasing a new short story set in the His Dark Materials world. And I'm going to be raiding this list at [community profile] ladybusiness for book recommendations for next year.
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Day Twelve: Favorite female character in a movie

Ree (Winter's Bone)

Looking back at all the entries I've written for this meme so far, I think I have a type, or at least a few types of character that always appeal. Ree shares several qualities with my other favourites, most notably a very specific kind of bravery. It's a passive bravery: she endures, rather than acts, and she carries the burdens of those around her because others can't bear to. Her father is a drug dealer who's long since vanished from the scene, her mother is suffering from untreated mental illness, and her community has closed its doors to her. Ree is the only person trying to keep things together for her younger brother and sister. When it looks as if her family will lose their house unless she can find her father, Ree refuses to give up, and she embarks on an emotionally harrowing quest to bring him home.

I spoke in my entry on Peaky Blinders that it was a show about trauma, and male violence, and the way the women in the community tried to manage that violence. Winter's Bone explores similar themes, although Ree is too worn down, too cut off to have the power to direct and manipulate male violence in the way the women of Peaky Blinders do. Rather, she seeks to contain this violence in the hopes of keeping it from her door. As she continues her search for her father, she is exposed to greater and greater danger and ever increasing violence, as it leads her into corners the community would prefer to keep hidden.

The whole film has a sort of mythic quality. It deliberately emphasises the elements of katabasis in its story, as Ree's search for the truth takes her further and further away from light and hope. There's a fabulous scene towards the end of the film in which a group of women take her in a small boat on a river in the middle of the night, like some kind of Appalachian Persephone or Inanna. The river is inky, Ree is fearful, the women are stern and offer no comfort, and the whole thing is shot like a journey to the underworld.

Winter's Bone is not a very hopeful film, and you get the sense that the when the credits roll, Ree has succeeded only in keeping the storm at bay for a little longer, not that her life has much chance of improving. She should be able to endure all the torments the world throws at her, but she shouldn't have to.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
Brace yourselves! I've just done yet another music meme.

Questions and answers behind the cut )

*You haven't lived until you've driven between Canberra and Sydney listening to my mother, sister and me belting out the lyrics to every song on one of our many 'driving CDs'.
dolorosa_12: (pagan kidrouk)
Every so often, a book comes around that is just so perfectly written to engage with my own particular narrative tastes that it's as if it had been written just for me. The most recent such book is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Not only is it as if Shannon sat down with me and made a list of all the things I most wanted to read - and then wrote a book to those specifications - but her playlist for the book is packed full of songs by my favourite artists. And if that's not enough, the song she describes as her protagonist's 'theme' is a song that I've long considered a sort of personal mantra.

Anyway, if you like urban fantasy, alternative versions of London, post-apocalyptic settings that offer hope rather than bleakness, young female protagonists who actually have support networks and female friends, underground networks of criminals operating as a sort of grey market for the dispossessed - in short, if you like all the things I like, you should check it out.

If you need more convincing, my review is here.

And if anyone else has read The Bone Season, I'd love to talk to you, because otherwise I fear this is going to go the way it normally does: namely, me being a lonely Fandom of One.

In other news, today is Matthias' birthday (and my sister Kitty's birthday too) and our anniversary. Yes, we got together three years ago on his birthday. He's currently at a librarian training event in Bury St Edmunds, and when I've finished my shift at work we're meeting up there to have an early dinner before heading back to town for another friend's birthday party. November is such a birthday month. This week alone held my sister Mim's birthday (which she shares with five other friends of mine), my dad's birthday (which he shares with the other friend whose party we're attending tonight) and Kitty's birthday. It seems a bit excessive!
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
This article about children's literature on The Guardian by Meg Rosoff (warning for discussion of death, suicide and illness):

There is a theory that children's literature should uphold the idyll of childhood, offering charming scenarios and happy endings to protect the innocent from life's harsh realities. But children have extraordinary antennae for the things no one will explain. If a child has enough imagination to conjure dragons and monsters under the bed, he has enough imagination to figure out that something adults won't talk about must be truly terrifying. Sex, for instance, divorce or death. And that's where literature can help – by exploring the scary stuff with insight and, on a good day, wisdom.

This article by Malorie Blackman, about libraries. Also on The Guardian and brought to my attention by Matthias:

Libraries are the best literacy resource we have. For children they provide an equaliser that allows everyone access to books, story-telling sessions, homework clubs; expert librarians who give non-partisan assistance and advice regarding books; and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature. Libraries switch children on to a love of reading, with all the ensuing benefits, and can make them lifelong readers. Without them, literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone.

As a librarian, and a lifelong lover of libraries, this matters to me.

This astonishing post on Wait But Why. Like all discussions of the vastness of space seeming endlessness of time, it left me feeling disoriented, overwhelmed, slightly teary, and very humbled. Existence is an amazing and terrifying thing:

I'm not really sure why it's okay that the eventual fate of the universe is cold silence, and I certainly as hell don't know what was going on before the Big Bang. And this is why the most important skill of a species intelligent enough to understand both their insignificance and their mortality is the capability for distraction. Because the facts of reality are just too intense. This is also a reminder of all the things that needed to happen exactly as they happened, for billions of years, on this very particular planet, for you to exist.

This poem by Tumblr user wytchbytch.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
So, whenever I feel a little bit battered by life, I retreat to the comfort classics: The Pagan Chronicles, Ugg boots and leggings, the music of The Sounds. And Buffy. I learnt my lesson the last time I rewatched during a depressive period: nothing beyond Season 3. Season 6, in the wrong mood, can send me into paralysed, despairing inertia.* In any case, I'm going slowly through the episodes, and am currently partway through Season 2. You should consider what follows behind the cut as containing spoilers for the entire series (comics excluded), though.

Scattered thoughts on Buffy, with pictures and footnotes. Also be warned that I talk about the Hades and Persephone motif, which could stray into discussion of rape, so give it a miss if that's not content you want to see )
-------------
*And yes, I am beyond my early worship of all things Joss Whedon. There are significant problems with all of his programs, Buffy included, and I have heard all the criticisms, think most of them have some weight, and understand why some people cannot get anything of value from Buffy. But I think as long as I acknowledge that I'm being a fan of problematic things, it's all right for me to find strength and value in the show.
**Unless it's told by Stephenie Meyer (because that's what Twilight is, really. Never before was there an author with such interesting ideas and such terrible execution. I'm still irritated that Meyer came up with the concept of The Host, because, seriously, a love triangle with only two bodies but three conscious beings is really intriguing.
***Please don't take this as a shipping thing. My Buffy OTP is Buffy/happiness.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
So, whenever I feel a little bit battered by life, I retreat to the comfort classics: The Pagan Chronicles, Ugg boots and leggings, the music of The Sounds. And Buffy. I learnt my lesson the last time I rewatched during a depressive period: nothing beyond Season 3. Season 6, in the wrong mood, can send me into paralysed, despairing inertia.* In any case, I'm going slowly through the episodes, and am currently partway through Season 2. You should consider what follows behind the cut as containing spoilers for the entire series (comics excluded), though.

Scattered thoughts on Buffy, with pictures and footnotes. Also be warned that I talk about the Hades and Persephone motif, which could stray into discussion of rape, so give it a miss if that's not content you want to see )
-------------
*And yes, I am beyond my early worship of all things Joss Whedon. There are significant problems with all of his programs, Buffy included, and I have heard all the criticisms, think most of them have some weight, and understand why some people cannot get anything of value from Buffy. But I think as long as I acknowledge that I'm being a fan of problematic things, it's all right for me to find strength and value in the show.
**Unless it's told by Stephenie Meyer (because that's what Twilight is, really. Never before was there an author with such interesting ideas and such terrible execution. I'm still irritated that Meyer came up with the concept of The Host, because, seriously, a love triangle with only two bodies but three conscious beings is really intriguing.
***Please don't take this as a shipping thing. My Buffy OTP is Buffy/happiness.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
My department is on Tumblr. If you like medieval geekery, and are on Tumblr, you should check it out! In related news, my boyfriend and a friend of ours have started up a blog where they translate Old English riddles and write commentary about them. (For those of you so inclined, Tolkien probably had these kinds of riddles in mind when writing the famous scene in The Hobbit.)

I'm reading The Iliad. I thought it was about time, considering how many adaptations and reworkings I've read (let us not speak of That Travesty of a Movie), including studying a course call The Literature of Troy as a undergrad (which looked at the medieval and Shakespearean versions of the story of Troilus and Cressida). I knew the basic shape of the story, I knew what happened, and yet I still found it extremely confronting to read. The problem was, I inevitably latched onto Briseis. That got me thinking about my whole way of reading/interacting with texts these days. I'm much more alert to issues of agency and voice, which characters are given words and which remain silent. So while I wasn't surprised by the presentation of Briseis, I feel very protective of her as a character, and I want very much to read adaptations of the Iliad that give her a voice. (My first port of call was fanfiction, but I found nothing, other than some stuff based on That Travesty of a Movie. Inevitably, Iliad fandom is all about the Achilles/Patroclus slash, and even more inevitably, Hector/Paris.) In any case, I need to think more about these things, and possibly write something more than these rambly musings.

Horrible Histories author Terry Deary wrote a diatribe against libraries. Foz Meadows wrote a powerful response:

And then, of course, there’s the moral/historical angle: “Because it’s been 150 years, we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers,” Deary moans. “This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.”

The bolding above is my own, and it’s there for a reason. Take a good, long look at that sentence – specifically, at the crucial use and placement of the word wanted, whose past tense indicates that allowing the impoverished access to literature is something we don’t want to do any longer; or rather, that Deary believes we shouldn’t. There’s so much wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to begin. With the fact that, under Deary’s ideal system, the poor are only entitled to literature while they’re of school age, perhaps? With the fact that most of the literary benefit one experiences while a student comes, not from English class, but the school library? Or how about the novel idea that treating support of literacy in poverty as a quirky Victorian prerogative rather than an ongoing social necessity is not only morally repugnant, but incredibly shortsighted when one depends for one’s living on the existence of a literate, interested populace?


John Scalzi also responded:

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete. My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Every time I publish a new book — every time — the first hardcover copy goes to my wife and the second goes to the Bradford library. First because it makes me happy to do it: I love the idea of my book being in my library. Second because that means the library doesn’t have to spend money to buy my book, and can then use it to buy the book of another author — a small but nice way of paying it forward. Third because I wouldn’t be a writer without libraries, hard stop, end of story. Which means I wouldn’t have the life I have without libraries, hard stop, end of story.

I am, in no small part, the sum of what all those libraries I have listed above have made me. When I give my books to my local library, it’s my way of saying: Thank you. For all of it.


My own library story is similar, but different. What I will say is this: libraries gave me words. They gave me the words to understand myself, my space in the world, the people around me. They opened doors, they opened my mind, but it all comes back to the words. They gave me my voice.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)


As you know, I'm not on Tumblr right now, but if I was, this song would be added to my tag of 'following those pomegranate seeds'. It just fits.
dolorosa_12: (una)
I am so grateful.

I am grateful to Alex, for the music.

I am grateful to [livejournal.com profile] thelxiepia, for telling me to go for a walk to improve my mood and getting me the hell out of the house.

I am grateful to M, who, upon hearing of said walk, responded, 'you should take some music, because that always makes you happier'. It does indeed. Pretending it's the soundtrack to running away from zombies makes me happy, for some inexplicable reason.

And then this song came on. Honestly, there was no way I was going to feel sad when this was playing. This is the song that reminds me I can be strong, I can be brave, I can be happy and beautiful and feel wonder.

Sometimes I just need some tough love. True friends are not enablers, and I'm incredibly grateful to have them.

Not having internet at home (beyond the unreliable wifi the neighbours are kindly letting us use) is making me feel very awful. I think I'm going to have to be stricter with myself about stuff in order to avoid getting into such a state again. Thus:

No internet at home. I will be in the internet cafe in the evenings, but I'm not allowed to use it at home at all. (So no forums, sporadic blogging, no chat. For the sake of my sanity.)

Get up at 6 every morning and just run. No excuses. Doesn't matter how cold and dark it is, that's the rule.

Thesis. Every day.

Looking at my tags, I am all about the literary allusions to dispossession. One of these days I'll have to write something about that.

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dolorosa_12: (Default)
rushes into my heart and my skull

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