Friday, 26 September 2008

ye olde readinge loggue

Since my last enry I have re-read Mansfield Park for teaching purposes. It gave me an idea for a journal article which I am foolishly going to share with the entire googling universe: the ideology of Mansfield Park as a prototype and forgotten avatar of class-based English reality tv makeover shows, chiefly or perhaps exclusively 'Ladette to Lady.' It's all there: a bunch of vulgar 'modern' urban kids are taken to a country house, under the pretext of being given 'advantages' they never could get in the place they come from (Hackney / Portsmouth) where they are made over and also treated like the shit on the bottom of the shoe, by a variety of Mrs Norris types. The 'successful' ones internalise the values of the new environment, and this is ceremonially marked by a series of ejections of those who fail to make the grade. There is a nominal winner but the driver of the whole thing is the process of the country house's absorption of the energy and sturdiness of the urban rabble. Yes, it's all there. But what is the point? So far I can't think of one. If there is one thing adaptation studies teaches you it is to really hate the sort of critical essay that compares two tenuously linked texts and just points out the similarities without explaining why they're interesting or what they mean. Although it is also true that most of the adaptation studies journals mostly publish exactly that sort of essay. Damn! I wish I hadn't told you my idea. Just forget it can you please.

I also re-read Washington Square also for the nth hundredth time, for teaching purposes, and as with MP, without the slightest abatement of my own enjoyment; but, I am coming to the conclusion, that I sometimes do better teaching texts that are not so thoroughly familiar to me as these two are. It's more time-consuming to prepare less familiar texts but I suspect it is more engaging for students if their tutor can be surprised. WS is perhaps now over that line for me. I hope I can take a rest from that subject next year, therefore, and teach something else.

Dorian asked me to get him some books from the uni library about cults (he wants to start one) so I got, and ended up reading, Dark Side of the Moonies by Erica Somethingaustrian - she used to be a Moonie, it's very tell-all, although I got sort of bored with it about two thirds of the way through and only skimmed the bits about her deprogramming. By then the interesting parts, to do with living the life of a Moonie fundraiser, had finished. One of the key characters in Don Delillo's Mao II is a deprogrammed Moonie and I would like to find out if Delillo read and used this book specifically. There is similar behaviour described in each. Of course it could be that they are both participating in a more generally available stereotype about Moonie activities and personalities.

I also read bits of a much drier and conspicuously non-judgmental book called The Endtime Family: Children of God by William Sims Bainbridge. This is a history of the Family with sections about their different practices. The matter of the book comes from interviews and questionnaires conducted with current Family members; there were lots of survey data tables in this book. My uninformed and shallow feeling is that the writer as objective recorder method became something of a fetish: although it's right I dare say that nothing at all is to be gained by condemning or dwelling sensationally on what I think are clearly damaging & degrading practices like the in my opinion misogynistic technique they called "flirty fishing", where women pick up men outside the religion, have sex with them, and "witness" to them (apparently to convert them?) or on the way that keeping members dependent on charity seems to keep them in a state of constant busy uncertainty just getting the next day's (not terribly nutritious) food onto the table. But equally, asking insiders for their views about these practices is not going necessarily to provide a rounded assessment of their effects, in particular their effects on children born into the group's world. I was especially unimpressed to read about the very limited range of books they make available to kids (who are educated at home.)

The other book about cults - The New Believers by David V. Barrett - is very good for dipping into because it's basically short chapters about lots of different ones. It has been lying on the couch for a week now and when I have had a few minutes to kill I have been idly reading about Raelians, Opus Dei, Christadelphians, est, Branch Davidians, LDS, Ba'hais, ISKON, Heaven's Gate, Druids, and lots of other groups of varying degrees of nutterdom. Well, I hope some of this material will be useful to Dorian. To me it seems fairly straightforward: to have a good cult all you need to do is the following:

- Basically adopt an established religion but introduce one enormous incongruous alteration, ie Christianity but with group marriage, or keep it simple and just heavily imply without every actually saying that You are the Messiah,

- Get an outfit (Nikes and nerd haircuts; robes; pastel prairie dresses)

- Give your disciples something to do that will keep them really, really busy (selling flowers, growing their own food, saying a mantra seven hundred times a day.)


Zoe said...

Oooh, you need to get &Duck's husband to send you a selection. He has a magnificent collection of cult literature. My favourites are the appalachian ones who drink acid and take up the serpents - he has a wonderful book about them.

Anonymous said...

Well I think the Mansfield Park article a very fine idea - the ladette thingie being about the extreme prejudice held by the middle classes to thems beneath. Shaw fits into this - I'd love you to explain why a committed socialist writes a play about the transformation of a working class woman into a cipher of middle class respectability.
Austen may have been ironic, Shaw? Quite what a reality show is politically pitching is altogether another question...
Notions of class as culture- culture defined as manners and mores. (Damn - Geelong are leading...)

Andra said...

Damn, we are just jane austen groundhog day! I've always suspected but never had the proof till now.

The best local cult book is by far, "People in Glass Houses" by Tanya Levin. Published in 2007, Tanya describes her slow path away from a fundamental (Hillsong) upbringing along with her attempts to understand the church. As she has an economics degree, it's scary reading.

You will never drink Gloria Jean coffee again. And do avoid the handmade organic twelve tribes produce at your local music festival, but that's another story. Worse.

Anonymous said...

If Dorian is wanting a fiction read as well as cultish non-fiction, I'm presently reading something called The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff - two interweaving plots - historical multiple marriages/polygamy and the other half is an interesting present day plot involving the Yearning for Zion prairie dress cultists and a young gay escapee.
A good read and quite chilling.