Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Reading List: July.

Fiction: 

Fiona Shaw: Tell it to the Bees.
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan: Harmless Like You. 
Rachel Cusk: Outline.
Kelly Quindlen: Her Name in the Sky.
Ottessa Moshfegh: Eileen.
Alex White: Every Mountain Made Low.
Jeff VanderMeer: Veniss Underground.
Lara Elena Donnelly: Amberlough. 
Megan Abbott: Give Me Your Hand.
Meg Wolitzer: Surrender, Dorothy.

Films: 

Novitiate (2017, Maggie Betts).
Sangailes vasara (2015, Alante Kavaite).
Blockers (2018, Kay Cannon).
MTV Docs: Transformation (2016).

Shows: 

Superorganism live @ Metro Theatre.
Camp Cope live @ the Sydney Opera House.

Friday, 27 July 2018

The Handmaid's Tale - Table of Contents

Season One: 

Offred
Birth Day
Late
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
Faithful
A Woman's Place
The Other Side
Jezebels
The Bridge
Night

Season Two: 

June
Unwomen
Baggage
Other Women
Seeds
First Blood
After
Women's Work
Smart Power
The Last Ritual
Holly
Postpartum
The Word

The Handmaid's Tale - What are you going to do when they come for your daughter?

The Handmaid’s Tale: 2x12 Postpartum. 
The Handmaid’s Tale: 2x13 The Word. 


The centre of this entire season has been June’s pregnancy, and the impossible situation it has put her in. It was easy to have one single goal – saving and escaping with Hannah – last season, but now that her second daughter is born, June can’t find a way to ensure the safety of both of her children. In what was one of the hardest moments so far – in a show so filled with sheer violence and terror against women – she had to let Hannah go. She had to let her go, even though she finally shared a room with her, even though she was able to talk to her. After her breakdown, after almost escaping Gilead, after not being able to live with herself for giving Hannah up, it was the horrible bookend to that journey. 

Holly – promptly renamed Nichole by the Waterfords, who after attempting to keep June apart from her child have relented, and allowed June to stay in their household – means a whole new set of questions for June. She tried to ensure the safety of her child before she was born by collecting promises from people who were either highly untrustworthy – how bitter, to have to put her hope into Aunt Lydia – or ultimately powerless, like Rita. What June realises in this episode is that not even the Waterfords have the capacity to protect her child from what Gilead has turned into, that Fred Waterford is perhaps Nichole’s most dangerous enemy, because she wasn’t born a son. It’s a terrible lesson learned from Eden’s demise, who held her beliefs so preciously and yet, in a moment of defiance, tried to find true love, true affection, from someone who wasn’t her husband (and June spurred her on, part of that guilt she now carries with herself). In an unexpected act of bravery, she chose to die with her beloved rather than asking for forgiveness, reclaiming the very vows that Nick never truly meant when he spoke them. In a public execution in another repurposed venue, a public swimming pool, she drowned – leaving a horrified June behind, who finds an annotated bible in her possession. June realises that Eden, who has lived in Gilead since she was ten, who must have a vague memory of the world before, who was still able to read, and didn’t give it up just because it was forbidden, tried to make sense of this book for herself rather than following what Gilead was telling her. June realises that Eden was trying to find her own religion, to interpret the bible for herself, that even though she was only fifteen, she had the capacity to think freely, that she was a whole person. I think June spent a lot of time this season regarding Eden as less than a whole person, as did Nick, thinking that Gilead had stolen her spirit entirely, mistrusting her. And then June decides to bring that realisation to Mrs Waterford, remembering how they both felt when they wrote together, when June edited her words. She believes profoundly that Serena shares her belief in the power of words, and the necessity of being able to read them and write them. It’s incredible that June would trust Serena – who has committed such unspeakable sins against her – that June would see the other woman as a possible accomplice in her attempt to reclaim Eden’s humanity and intellect. 

Even more incredibly, Serena does exactly what June hopes she would. She realises what it means that someone like Eden would have such a deep-seated desire to read the bible – that it is a crime against women, even within the tight ideology of Gilead, to forbid them to read the bible, and to create a state in which reading becomes impossible to women. She brings this realisation to the elders of Gilead, and inevitably and brutally realises that the entire ideology of Gilead has nothing to do with religion, or belief, that it is all about one simple thing: to sustain male superiority at all cost. Serena has always been a true believer, and she has always believed that her own suffering and sacrifice has been for a state that mirrors her radical religious beliefs – it is only now, that she suffers the punishment for reading (for quoting the bible back at the very people who claim to defend it), that she realises that Gilead has nothing to do with her own religious beliefs, that it is a façade for that old beast misogyny. 

Serena is broken, too broken to stop what will happen at the end of this episode: everything falls into place, and Nick’s machinations to ensure the safety of his daughter fall into place. In the end, it is an underground railroad of Marthas, women like Rita, who create a situation in which Holly’s freedom becomes possible. She is handed from woman to woman, until finally, the weird ways of fate have her end up in exactly the same spot as Emily. 

Emily, who has suffered so much, who believes her child and her wife lost, who has been sent to die cruelly in the colonies, who has somehow made it out alive from exacting revenge on her torturers. She comes to a breaking point in this episode as well, after being placed with one of the architects of Gilead (played by Bradley Whitford). He is hard to read, once introduced, a man who lives in a house filled with pillaged and now certainly forbidden art, with a wife who has lost her mind over her husband’s crimes. This is the man who has come up with the idea of the colonies, but we the viewers cannot truly read whether he is a depraved, cruel man, or someone who eccentrically suffers the consequences of his own actions. He tries to get to the bottom of Emily, probing her, but Emily has no capacity to tell whether he is trying to catch her out, or truly trying to decide if she is a whole human being with wishes and hopes. There is no space in Gilead for trust, or belief, so she doesn’t, and instead, at her breaking point, stabs Aunt Lydia. It seems so likely that this is the final act of revenge she will be able to perpetrate – she has been nothing but a weapon of revenge since she was separated from her family, it’s like the light in her eyes has gone out, like nothing but violence makes her shine anymore. It is so unlikely that she will make it, once again, out alive. But somehow, she does – because Commander Lawrence turns out to be a man desperate to make up for his sins. Instead of allowing her to be executed, he takes her away, puts her in a car, plays her music, arranges for her safety. This is how she ends up where Holly is – in a truck bound for Canada. 

It’s like this moment that everyone has hoped for for such a long time – for June, to finally make it out of Gilead – except like with so many other stories, we know this one cannot contain June’s escape yet. It isn’t time yet for June to find freedom, and her decision makes sense, in a way. She makes sure that Holly is as safe as she possibly can be, in a Gilead that hates women as profoundly as it does – in Emily’s hands, bound for the border. And then she turns back because she cannot bear to allow her other daughter to be raised in this country. It’s more than that – the way she lifts her head, it is almost as if she now contains all the boundless rage that Emily held, before her unlikely escape. She is ready to burn this whole place down. 

Random notes: 

My favourite scene in the final episode is when June comes to understand that it was Eden's father who turned her in - that he did not hesitate, that his love for his daughter is twisted and false, that he would be ready to see her die just this place. It makes it clear to her that there is no way to protect Holly in Gilead - that in a way, all these women, including Mrs Waterford, are already just one step away from the Unwomen in the Colonies. Gilead does not consider them human, and in the mere five years, it has managed to sever the ties between parents and children.

The other central scene is June, pleading with Serena to let her go, to help her protect their daughter. She knows that Serena loves Holly in her own way, but she also knows that she has to get Serena to the same conclusion that she has come to - that there is no way to raise a girl in Gilead. 

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Reading List: June.

Non-Fiction: 

Maggie Nelson: The Art of Cruelty.

Fiction: 

Nicole Griffith: So Lucky.
James S.A. Corey: Abaddon's Gate.
James S.A. Corey: Cibola Burn.
James S.A. Corey: Nemesis Game.
James S.A. Corey: Babylon's Ashes.
James S.A. Corey: Persepolis Rising.
Tao Lin: Taipei.
Kirsten Chen: Soy Sauce for Beginners.
Becky Albertalli: Leah on the Offbeat.

Films: 

Hannah Gadsby's Nanette (2018.
Love, Simon (2018, Greg Berlanti).

Shows: 

Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Fucking Adelaide, Season 1.
Queer Eye, Season 1, 2.
The Tunnel, Season 3.
Bron/Broen, Season 3.

Das Lied zum Sonntag

Mitski - Nobody



Did its people want too much too?
Did its people want too much?

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Handmaid’s Tale - I tell, therefore you are.

The Handmaid’s Tale: 2x11 Holly.



Last week, when it finally became too much to discuss this show as a fictional narrative without clearly pointing out how much our world has been twisting and turning towards Gilead in the last two years, Fred and Serena raped June to induce the birth, so as to get rid of this stain on their marriage sooner, then Fred attempted to atone for raping her by sending her off to a country cottage to meet her daughter. Things went wrong, Nick was arrested, June was left alone, and close to labour, in the wilderness. The unmitigated horrors of the episode, June’s suffering, her short reunion with her daughter and her attempt to instil strength into her to bear an unbearable situation, became utterly impossible to write about without mentioning the fact that the United States is separating children from their parents and is keeping them in literal cages. 

So here we are now. 
June: I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story, I’m sorry it’s in fragments like a body caught in crossfire, or pulled apart by force, but there is nothing I can do to change it. I’ve tried to put some of the good things in as well.
We’ve never really asked this question before in the show, who June is telling her story to when she addressing a “you” in her speech, who she is recording her life for, who she is trying to reach. Sometimes she addresses it directly to Hannah, or her unborn baby, but just as many times, the identity of the “you” remains vague. It wouldn’t really fit in well with The Handmaid’s Tale if her story were specifically recorded for the purpose of exposing Gilead as what it is, like in the novel, when future scientists discuss the recordings she has left in detail, as a relic of a time long passed. June doesn’t think like that – she is too much alive, and too eager to save her children, than to consider a legacy that she is leaving of her own struggle. Even when she was given the life accounts of other people trapped in Gilead, her reaction to it wasn’t about the effect this would have if it ever get out (even though we have now seen that effect, and how it spoilt the Commander’s attempts to forge a diplomatic relationship with Canada), but the emotional overwhelming sensation of not being alone, of sharing her suffering and her grief with so many other women. 

June promised her unborn child that she would carry it to freedom, but all of those plans have fallen through. Her escape failed. She returned to the escalating horrors of the Waterford household, a place that has, if anything, become more unbearable through the emotional instability of Fred and Serena. They have wreaked havoc, and the damage is done now: June is trapped by herself in a mansion without electricity, snowed in, with no means of escaping. She is also finally as alone as she was just before she managed to almost escape, and once she accepts her situation, she proves as resilient as she was then. She figures out her resources and the options open to her: a fully pantry, a garage with a ridiculous car. She makes a plan. When Fred and Serena visit and try to find her, she hides in the house like a ghost haunting her own story, and witnesses their marriage falling apart in mutual accusations, in frustrations, in Serena’s claim that Fred has taken everything from her, even though all she ever wanted was one baby (a baby that she is stealing from someone else, a baby whose mother she helped rape). She points a gun at them – in what amounts to one of the most emotional tense moments of the show so far – but then can’t fire it, because killing another person is a transgression that is difficult to make, even in Gilead, even after what June has been through. It doesn’t matter in the end – they leave without her, without ever realising how close they came to death. 

I have mentioned before how much I think The Handmaid’s Tale owes to Underground, and how much I wish that Underground were given a chance to tell its story. Consider how much this episode thrives on June’s survival instinct, on her ability to overcome unbelievable odds – a winter cold, a house without electricity, no help from others – to deliver her own baby. Consider how the entire premise of the show The Handmaid’s Tale is that all these things that have historically happened to women, that are still happening to women all over the world, are now happening to privileged women like June. 
In what was maybe the most memorable episode of television that year. Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Rosalee ran through swamps, buried herself, fended off a snake and drew its poison out with a leech, and did countless other things, while pregnant, to not only protect her baby, but also make it possible for that baby to be born in freedom – and for other people to be born in freedom too. In that third episode of the second season of Underground, Rosalee did what seemed superhumanly impossible, and she survived. I don’t care if this episode is a reference to Underground, or if whoever made this episode never saw Ache – having seen both, it’s impossible not to draw a line between an actual, historic account of a struggle for freedom, an actual, historic suffering that reverberates through today, caused by a racism that still costs lives, that still makes it possible for some children to be thought of as less, for some families to be thought of as less sacred than others, and this episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, in which June gives birth, by herself, against all odds, to a healthy baby girl, through the sheer strength of remembering giving birth before, to another lost child, when she was surrounded by her loved ones. And maybe this is also a good time to remember that those loved ones already broke the boundaries of what Gilead considered family, because maybe one of the most radical things that this show has done is to insist that Moira is just as much June’s family as Luke, that she, as the godmother of the child, is as much part of their family unit as Luke is. Moira was there throughout Hannah’s birth – it was June’s mother who was late, due to snow, even though she promised she would be there. 

This is an episode about June’s strength, which she finds in spite of her utter loneliness. She finds that strength within herself, even when she fails to open the garage door, when she can’t find the keys, when she is out in the snow, staring down the wild dog that is either a threat or a sign, and her water breaks. 
June: I keep on going with this limping and mutilated story because I want you to hear it. As I will hear yours too, if I ever get the chance, if I ever meet you, or if you ever escape, in the future or in heaven. By telling you anything at all I am believing in you, I believe you into being. Because I’m telling you this story, I will you into existence. I tell, therefore you are.

Random notes: 

When June, in a moment of almost absurdity, being behind the wheel of a car again, finds a Radio Free America station – transmitting from Anchorage – and then listens to Hungry Heart, it’s fucking heartbreaking. Imagine not taking for granted to drive, and to turn on a car radio. And imagine not being able to take for granted that your motherhood or fatherhood will always protect your child, that nobody would ever separate that bond.  

Westworld - Table of Contents

Season One: 

The Original.
Chestnut.
The Stray. 
Dissonance Theory.
Contrapasso.
The Adversary.
Trompe L'Oeil.
Trace Decay.
The Well-Tempered Clavier.
The Bicameral Mind.

Season Two: 

Journey Into Night.
Reunion
Virtù e Fortuna.
The Riddle of the Sphinx.
Akane No Mai.
Phase Space.
Les Écorchés.
Kiksuya.
Vanishing Point.
The Passenger.