Friday, 25 July 2008

Asparagus mon amour

These narrow fellows are my asparagus plant seedlings. The seeds were planted about three months ago, and it will be at least another eighteen months of careful nurturing, and a planting out in a permanent garden bed of their own, and some rather scary-sounding cutting back, before we see any edible asparagus off them. The very idea of keeping tender plants like this alive and growing for two years before they become productive is a bit overwhelming. They're all right now but it's so very easy for young plants to suddenly die in the blasting hot part of summer if you fail to keep up their maintenance for a day or two.

The seeds were an unplanned impulse buy based almost entirely on the fact that the variety is called "Fat Bastard." You know what I'll say on the day I finally see spears making their way up from the underground, don't you. I've got twenty-five plants here. I wonder how many will make it.

Friday Mogblog - Hong Kong Horripilation Edition

My friend in Hong Kong (who owns those visitor cats, and who is staying on there a little longer now) came back to Melbourne recently for a holiday, out-Magiing the Magi with what is indubitably the finest gift anyone has ever given or received: a cat acupuncture points model.

Kitty is made of a clammy-feeling soft vinyl, and is about the size of a loaf of bread. One side is white with the points picked out in red dots with black numbers, like this:

The other side is a little more graphic. Highly educational, though, of course. It appears that the cat brain is a sort of small conical trickle of baby poo descending down the side of the head. I never would have guessed.

The numbers correspond to instructions in an accompanying leaflet. The treatable conditions are not generally of the sort that my cats are much prone to (except they do admittedly have 'impotence', but they don't feel inadequate because of it.)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

A new disease?

I appear to have grown some new bones in my elbows. That's how it feels anyway. I rest them on the desk and it feels like instead of there being a flat spot there is actually a big wobbly knucklebone in there. I was filling in a form just now and leaning my head on the other hand and because of the wobbling I became distracted and spelled "examination" wrong. Now i'll have to go and get another form. But from where? This was the last one in the pigeonhole. I hope the new bones do not grow any larger, I won't be able to put my coat on. Or take it off.
It's disturbing.

I'm writing this down just in case I don't make it.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Another reposted post from the Ancien Regime of yore

More repostings today. I was going to apologise but then I thought, no.

"Cardinal Biggles! Fetch.....THE SOFT CUSHIONS!!!", originally screened May 14, 2005.

* * *

We made our beautiful floor cushions yesterday, hurray! and they turned out so well that in their honour we spontaneously shifted round all the living-room furniture to accommodate them, and additionally we are now considering applying to Channel 31 about hosting our own lifestyle program. The show would have all the usual segments about how to make bacon and pineapple cake, how to build an aircraft carrier out of MDF, how to break into your neighbour's house and paint their rumpus room purple etc, but the gimmick would be that Baz would be the host. He certainly "helped" a lot during the cushion-making enterprise.

Dorian bought some cotton padding of the kind used inside futon mattresses. As soon as the cat saw this he made a bee-line for it.

While he sat there looking mighty pleased with himself we measured out and cut up our kimono silk lengths.

I sewed up the seams and Dorian pressed them flat. Baz meanwhile worked on making sure the cotton padding was evenly kneaded.

Then we put the covers onto the padding, which made the cat a bit angry.

But he's a clever Baz, and before too long he understood why we were putting the cover around the cotton fluff.

Next we vacuumed up all the bits of white cotton fluff that had transferred to the outside of the cushions. Once again, Basil assisted to the best of his ability.

Then I stitched the open end closed and voila!

And after installation in spontaneously rearranged loungeroom....

* * *

Here endeth the repost. And for the record I will state that eighteen months ago those two cushions were cut in half and restitched to make four smaller square ones, and about a year after that one cat pooed himself on one cushion, and few months after that a different cat was sick all over another, and then I stuffed them bodily into the washing machine (the cushions not the explosive cats) and the colours ran. Such is life.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Reading log

It's been a while since I did this & I haven't kept proper track.

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally O'Rourke. Plenty of bitter, mirthless LOLs in this one. Basically, a drunken, single, unhappy old woman in her thirties, with flashing dark eyes and a successful career living in a New York apartment and selling her paintings of country cottages over the internet, buys an old dressing table and inside it there is a letter FROM MR DARCY TO JANE AUSTEN and another SEALED letter back from Jane to Darcy! omg omg omg: Northanger Abbey or what. Anyway, the painter lady eventually works out that a modern-day American called Fitzwilliam Darcy (latest hereditary owner of an ex-slave plantation in Virginia) banged his head falling off his horse and woke up in 1810, to find JA ripping his trousers off (literally.) He's back in the present now, phew. But in 1810, he was in Love with Jane (who wanted him to 'teach' her what Love is like. Poor Mr Darcy, alone in the lonely present with his massive wealth and respectful black servants. However, Artist woman sorts him out. The End. Oops, spoilers back there, I spoiled it for you. Sorry about that.

Now I am reading another one which is much the same. Think I'm going to write something about time travel romances featuring Austen. It's good to get the emotions out here and now so I can think about them calmly later on.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe. A lovely book, and quite the page-turner (all seven hundred closely printed pages of it), but I got a little tired of every mysterious shadowy figure or snatch of unearthly sweet music eventually having a natural explanation.

On not liking South Africa by Jenny Diski in the current LRB is not a book, but I read it a few days ago and haven't been able to stop thinking about it. You should read it too.

unnamed book about film adaptation by unnamed film theorist, published late last year; I finally worked up the courage to get it and read it, and am presently experiencing an immense feeling of relief that it's not all the same as my thesis. I should have read it straight off and saved myself the fear and angst.

last but not least....Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers. After reading some of you writing about how you appreciate it I got a copy and read it. A pretty terrific book: in places, verging on greatness. I was totally unprepared for the depth of feeling in the Harriet / Peter relationship (never having read Sayers before) and even though I feel certain that the woman dons Miss Lydgate and Miss de Vine in all their solitary scholarly glory are heavily idealised by Sayers they still said things that made me think quite hard about whether I'm properly cut out for university work, especially as it is now constituted, with endless horrible rankings and scorings and the requirement to do be shrewd and do things strategically rather than for their natural worth or interest. The depiction of the desperate economic and social vulnerability of the women's college bit hard and reminded me very much of A Room of One's Own. I liked the period details too. But the ending.... and now there really will be a big break for the proper quarantining of spoilers, because it really is a detective novel.....

so here are some pictures I took in Port Fairy on the weekend....

Spoiler starts here

OK, if you're reading this I assume you know the book. A lot of the goodwill the book banked up with me dissipated very quickly when it turned out it was the scout that did it. I thought that was a bit of a cheat, but more importantly the scapegoating of the working class woman really saddened me. I understand that the sad logic of the thing is that virulent misogynist prejudice about educated and un-heterosexual women is not confined to men, but still, the same effect could have been got using a character who is not a servant. Anyway, in all other respects an excellent novel. Should I read more of Sayers or will they be anticlimaxes now?

Bad, bad, really really bad

I saw a call for papers for a conference about bad cinema. I want to go - feeling a bit wistful for conferencing, especially of the sort one isn't responsible for - but I'm having a very hard time thinking of something to write a paper about, and I've been trying for quite a while.
The organisers suggest:
1. Cultural value and theory
2. Bad feeling and affect
3. Aesthetic value and bad art
4. Cultural morals and politics
5. Bad film theory and criticism
None of which helps me out a great deal. I could't trust myself not to do something foolish relative to 5, 2 will be oversubscribed since 'affect' is such a buzzword at the moment (I don't quite know what's wrong with 'emotion', but there you are) and 1 and 4, well, they seem a little vague to me.

The sort of thing I like to write really fits best into 3, but I never get any further than thinking that if art really is authentically bad, (let's say, 'The Passion of the Christ') and not 'so bad it's good' or Roger Corman movies or some similarly lame hipster-ironised subject, it's so damaged that there's nothing you can do except shake your head and put it out of its misery.

What would really be fun would be to give a paper on Ken Russell, but only people like the PM think his films are bad. Hm! I shall have to think about this some more.

Paint a vulgar picture

I watched the Joy Division film. And I thought it was pretty dreadful, veering off sharply into ghoulishness at the end. There is something fundamentally awful about the rock documentary genre as it's commonly practised anyway: I just don't want to hear from vague critics and scenesters about how electrifying something was or how you just knew you were hearing something profoundly amazing taking place. Presumably because primary video is scarce or nonexistent, or alternatively because it's too expensive, the whole thing seemed taken up with blokes reminiscing, and honestly, everyone's got hindsight.

That is a general complaint. In this movie I got specifically itchy about the absolute lack of thought about the punk rock narrative being assembled - it was repeatedly said that this band was not a commercial product and for its short life it successfully resisted cooptation into the maket and the industry. This is being said in voiceover while we're shown 'iconic' pictures of the group in Manchester, taken of course by a record company photographer who told them where to stand and how to look, and the screen is repeatedly triumphantly filled with approving reviews in music paper after music paper. After a certain point everything that happened to the band was presented as another instance of them 'making it' - going on the BBC, playing in Europe etc. Maybe it's right that Joy Division remained essentially amateur and consequently at liberty, I don't know enough about them to say. What I disliked was the argument that they did being made inside the genre frame of the aspirational artists successfully winning mass acclaim.

And then at the very end of the film when the appallingly sad details of the end of Ian Curtis's life were laid out, I thought that the preceding triumphant phrases about Joy Division's art began to seem almost inexcusably callous and shallow. Not only did nobody appear willing to say that his behaviour and especially his writing could have been picked up as the symptoms of extreme unhappiness that they were, nobody seemed to even be aware of this. It was obscene.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

World Youth Day

The pope is in Sydney! How nice for Sydney. But what is he doing there? Better watch some relevant Father Ted videos to find out.

General Catholicism activities:

Today's youth:

And today's youth ministries.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Would you like to help

This coming semester, in collaboration with a certain Land Baron around here, I will be trying out the use of group course blogs in teaching English. Not so novel perhaps, course blogs have been done before, but it's new for us and (we think) for our faculty, and we're planning to use the blogs in ways that have integrity - ie not using them as just another new-fangled place to park some text. The baron's students, all seventeen thousand of them, are going to be working on private blogs because they will be workshopping their writing. So let's wish them luck. My students' blog however is right out in the open on the public WWW and it is an essential element of the exercise that the blog and whatever they write on it is interlinked with the rest of the blogosphere and broader internet. This semester it is an experiment, and participation in it is voluntary and not assessed. I'm doing all I can think of to make sure it's taken up and is a worthwhile exercise. Next year I plan to make it mandatory.

The blog topic is non-academic appropriations of and responses to Jane Austen - Jane Austen in 'popular culture', the Austen industry, fandoms, mailing lists, LJ communities Austen spinoffs and sequels, fanfic, Austen coopted into marketing irrelevant products, Austen memes, Austen tourism - anything of that nature. I want students to find themselves things to write about and to write about them interestingly, knowledgeably, critically, and fairly. By doing it on a blog (with trackbacks etc) I expect that some of the 'subject matter' they discuss will, from time to time, pop up in the comments box to join in the discussion. In fact, I hope very much that this happens, as one goal of the whole exercise is to challenge the unspoken assumption prevalent in what scholarly work there is on 'Janeite' cultures that academics speak and fans are spoken about. Other goals: to build up a sort of annotated bibliography of material to be drawn on in end of semester research assignments, to give students some practice at writing appropriately and engagingly for a wide, non-university audience, and to likewise give them practice at managing 2.0 style interactive discussion.

Going by the interests of past cohorts taking this course they won't find it hard to come up with JA-related material to write about. But I do expect that almost all students will be more or less new to writing for a wide (though not too visible) readership, and in particular, to writing about subjects who are real, potentially responding people (as opposed to literary critics who only exist in the rarefied virtual world of electronic journals and thus can be misinterpreted or scolded with impunity.)

So this is why I am asking if readers of this blog would like to help and participate. You would be doing these people a great favour and me too of course, and it might even be interesting (if you're interested in this sort of thing.) Two kinds of actually rather large favours I am a-seeking. The first one's obvious: will you read the blog (subscribe if you use a feed reader) and maybe comment on it sometimes?

The second one is more involved and applies to people who have blogs of their own. Would you consider writing a post at your blog, which I can then link to from the course blog, so that the students can read it and take it on board before they start doing their own stuff? The reason for this is partly to kickstart the students' awareness that their blog is not an isolated space, it is embedded in the network, and partly to get some of you to share your significant expertise and experience.

I'm particularly keen to have a post from a cultural studies blogger on the issue of studying fandom, which I know hardly anything about. It's not a core area addressed by this course but I would like them to have a brief introduction to some basic ideas. And if anyone has a strong personal or professional interest in the general theme of the blog and wants to share their thoughts on it that would be fantastic.

Other post subjects that would be excellent are: advice about reader-friendly, entertaining blog style, advice about writing about living people without annoying or (gah) defaming them, advice about dealing with comments and so forth. Not least by any means, if the whole notion awakens a feeling of goodwill and excitement in you (as, I guess you've picked up, it does in me) and you want to simply welcome these people into the blogosphere, posts doing that will be very gratefully received.

The blog itself is here
. If you can join in with this project, or have questions, let me know. The course starts on 23 July so I would want to have your posts linked a couple of days before.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


What's people's opinions of branded giveaway 'stuff' advertising 'waste-wise' and 'sustainability' ? I'm talking mugs, pens, caps, tshirts, that sort of thing.


A bwca sent me a link last week to this story (BBC) about the high price someone paid for an inscribed presentation copy of the first edition of Emma.

Let me just quote a bit:

'Slightly spoiled'

Austen gave nine presentation copies of Emma to family, one to the library of the Prince Regent and one to a countess.

Ms Sharp's was the only one given to a personal friend - a demonstration of the bond between the two women.

They became friends while Ms Sharp was working as governess to the author's brother Edward, and remained close for many years.

For the novel, Austen created a governess character called Miss Taylor.

Set in Regency England, the novel's heroine, a young woman aged 21, is described in the opening paragraph as "handsome, clever and rich", but also "slightly spoiled".

Don't worry about the book or Anne Sharp or anything for a minute.

This is Emma's entire opening paragraph.

EMMA WOODHOUSE, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Trying to be fair I checked the rest of the first page and a bit, until the topic changes. Funnily, no trace of 'slightly spoiled' there either.

I thought: hmmm, where do journalists (and press release writers) go when they want some random yet marginally relevant words with which to pad out their articles?

Wikipedia's page on Emma says, under the subheading 'Principal Characters':

Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of the story, is a beautiful, high-spirited, intellectual, and 'slightly' spoiled woman of almost 21.

At least the Wiki kids managed to get her age right. 'Intellectual'? - well, I suppose to them Emma seems like a bit of an egghead. I don't know why 'slightly' appears in quotation marks like that. It's not a quotation.

Stuff like this makes me sad for the BBC, of whom it's not unreasonable to expect better.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

admin note

Because of the amount of comment spam I'm getting, on old posts mostly, and despite the code word typing thing being turned on, I've had to go over to screening comments. Sorry about that.

question about podcasting

dear world at large,

it seems that the university is unable to host audio files of lectures so that students with timetable clashes can have podcasts, so i will be arranging the hosting myself. Can somebody recommend a cheap and reliable hosting service for me to use? There won't be a lot of downloads. It would be really good if someone could point me to a hosting service that was not just raw server space but already set up in some fashion to make podcasting simple (ie I just upload the mp3 somehwere and the feed is automatically created...or can tell I know a lot about this can't you.) I seem to have an unusually large number of people enrolling who can't make it to the lecture time and I'm very reluctant to turn them away.