Friday, 14 December 2012

Zombie Studies / Aesthetics

This requires further investigation

Zombie Studies. "It is a class to die for - Zombie studies is now on the curriculum at the University of Baltimore." Reports the BBC. And Academia.

Further reading:

Boon, Kevin Alexander. "Ontological anxiety made flesh: the zombie in literature, film and culture." Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil (2007): 33-43;

Lauro, Sarah Juliet and Karen Embry, “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism,” boundary 2 (2008)

Lieberman, Matthew D. "What zombies can’t do: A social cognitive neuroscience approach to the irreducibility of reflective consciousness." In two minds: Dual processes and beyond (2009): 293-316;

Petchesky, Rosalind. "Phantom Empire: A Feminist Reflection Ten Years After 9/11." WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly 39.3 (2011): 288-294;

Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012)

Hassler-Forest, D. A. N. "Cowboys and zombies: Destabilizing patriarchal discourse in The Walking Dead." Studies in Comics 2.2 (2012): 339-355;

Soldier, Dave. "Eine Kleine Naughtmusik: How Nefarious Nonartists Cleverly Imitate Music." Leonardo Music Journal (2002): 53-58;

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (New York: Random House, 2006).

Bishop, Kyle William. American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. (McFarland, 2010) 

Jones, Steve. "Gender Monstrosity: Deadgirl and the sexual politics of zombie-rape. (Taylor and Francis 2012)

Peter Dendle, “Zombie Movies and the ‘Millennial Generation,” Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human, ed. Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011) 175-86

Christie, Deborah, and Sarah Juliet Lauro. Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-human. (Fordham Univ Press, 2011)

The Zombie Survival GuideComplete Protection from the Living Dead (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003).

McCullough, Joseph. Zombies: A Hunter's Guide. Osprey Publishing, 2010; 

Moreman, Christopher M., and Cory James Rushton. Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. McFarland, 2011.

Grey (A Zombie Ecology) by J J Cohen here. This was based on the keynote at the Sensualising Deformity conference at the University of Edinburgh, 15-16th June 2012.

Bardolatory: "Night of the Living Dead - Shakespeare and Romero" here

Meme Warfare

Aday, S. et al. (2010) Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Peaceworks
Bennett, W.L. (2003) The Internet and Global Activism, In Contesting Media Power
Bennett, W.L. (2003) Communicating Global Activism: Strengths and vulnerabilities of networked politics, In Information, Communication & Society
Cammaerts, B. (2007) Jamming the political: beyond counter-hegemonic practices, In Continuum: journal of media & cultural studies
Hancox, D. (2011) FIGHT BACK! A Reader on the Winter of Protest, Open Democracy
Hiruta, K. (2013) Two Cheers for Laughtivism, Practical Ethics: Ethics in the News
Horwatt, E. (2007) A Taxonomy of Digital Video Remixing: Contemporary Found Footage Practice on the Internet, In Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation
McClish, C.L. (2009) Activism Based in Embarrassment: The Anti-Consumption Spirituality of the Reverend Billy, In Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies
Peters, A. (2012) Part Two: open source activism and memes, Open Democracy
Pickerel, W., Jorgensen, H. & Bennett, L. (2002) Culture Jams and Meme Warfare: Kalle Lasn, Adbusters, and media activism, Tactics in Global Activism for the 21st century
Popovic, S. (2013) The Power of Laughtivism: Srdja Popovic, At TEDxBG
White, M. Activism After Clicktivism, Q Ideas for the common good
De Voy, S. (2005) Meme Warfare: How to overthrow the powers that be on a low budget

Heterarchy and Memepunk Discourses

"And yet when I say "strange loop", I have something else in mind — a less concrete, more elusive notion. What I mean by "strange loop" is — here goes a first stab, anyway — not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive "upward" shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle. That is, despite one's sense of departing ever further from one's origin, one winds up, to one's shock, exactly where one had started out. In short, a strange loop is a paradoxical level-crossing feedback loop."

— Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop, pp. 101-102

"In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference."

— Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop, p. 363

Someone drew my attention to these quotations with reference to the fashion for #seapunk. Which in turn led me to concoct #dogpunk, #catpunk, #memepunk and the Tudor innuendo #methinkspunk.

With first mover advantage, I define #memepunk as "the ultimate DIY of ephemeral teratology" ...

Further Reading

"Eight Aspects of grotesque kitsch and freaky metamorphosis."   Available Here.


The Leviathan, Second Nature, and the Artificial Man

Our society is populated by cyborg discourses, robotics, genetic modification, zombie studies and newly emergent teratologies. But Hobbes' reconstruction of the traditional notion of the body politic as a man machine makes fascinating reading. It also provides a dark allegory of human nature, greed and self-interest.

If you ever imagined that political theory was a dull, disembodied discourse, take another look at  the introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan, published in 1651.

NATURE, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the ‘art,’ of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within; why may we not say, that all ‘automata’ (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the ‘heart’ but a ‘spring’; and the ‘nerves’ but so many ‘strings’; and the ‘joints’ but so many ‘wheels,’ giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the artificer? ‘Art’ goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, ‘man.’

For by art is created that great ‘Leviathan’ called a ‘Commonwealth’ or ‘State,’ in Latin civitas, which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the ‘sovereignty’ is an artificial ‘soul,’ as giving life and motion to the whole body; the ‘magistrates’ and other ‘officers’ of judicature and execution, artificial ‘joints’; ‘reward’ and ‘punishment,’ by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty every joint and member is moved to perform his duty, are the ‘nerves,’ that do the same in the body natural; the ‘wealth’ and ‘riches’ of all the particular members are the ‘strength’; salus populi, the ‘people’s safety,’ its ‘business’; ‘counsellors,’ by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the ‘memory’; ‘equity’ and ‘laws,’ an artificial ‘reason’ and ‘will’; ‘concord,’ ‘health’; ‘sedition,’ ‘sickness’; and ‘civil war,’ ‘death.’ Lastly, the ‘pacts’ and ‘covenants’, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that ‘fiat,’ or the ‘let us make man,’ pronounced by God in the creation.

Text: Hobbes' Leviathan (1651)

Militarism and Colonialism: Monster cartography. See below! More here.


Also worth exploring is L'homme Machine / The Man Machine (1748) by La Mettrie (1709-1751), discussed by Karl Popper:

"Yet the doctrine that man is a machine was argued most forcefully in 1751, long before the theory of evolution became generally accepted, by de La Mettrie; and the theory of evolution gave the problem an even sharper edge, by suggesting there may be no clear distinction between living matter and dead matter. And, in spite of the victory of the new quantum theory, and the conversion of so many physicists to indeterminism de La Mettrie's doctrine that man is a machine has perhaps more defenders than before among physicists, biologists and philosophers; especially in the form of the thesis that man in a computer."

"Of Clouds and Cuckoos", in Objective Knowledge (1978), p. 224.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Grotesque Soviet Opera

Last night I chose to listen to a CD recording of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk produced in 1990. A couple of hours later I heard that Galina Vishnevskaya had died. What a sad loss. Hearing the opera again led me to reconsider her life, and the strange opera in which she sings the leading soprano role. The opera, like her life, was a stormy affair.

Stalin famously walked out of a performance of  Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, leading to a denunciation of the opera in the infamous Pravda article "Chaos instead of music" in 1936

For more than twenty years Shostakovich's opera remained in limbo as a shameful, hideous example of what Pravda's editorial called "din, gnash and screech", "cacophony" and "musical noise"

A 1935 review in the New York Sun called it "pornophony", referring to the lurid descriptive music in the sex scenes. Stravinsky described the opera as "lamentably provincial", considering the musical portrayal primitively realistic.

The EMI Libretto booklet notes that "The police force in Lady Macbeth is at once frightening and amusing. At the same time, Shostakovich by the very unfolding of the conflict emphasizes that the existence of such a grotesque and horrifying mechanism is possible only in a society that is built on violence, from top to bottom." p. 10.

Daniil Zhitomirsky accused the work of "primitive satire" in its treatment of the priest and police, but acknowledges the "incredible force" of the last scene. [Wikipedia]

The opera still has the power to shock. Reviewing a performance of the Opera at Staatstheater Wiesbaden on May 16, 2005 the critic summarised the plot as follows:

"In the first five scenes, they had witnessed the brutal rape of a maid, had seen Katerina sexually fantasizing (masturbating) in her bed, and then having sex with Sergei. They were forced to watch Katerina's sadistic father-in-law Boris whip Sergei to within inches of his life and then see Boris himself die, writhing in agony after eating rat poison. And finally, before the curtain came down for the interval, they gaped in horror as Katerina and her lover strangled her husband Zinovy to death."

Notes from the Daily Telegraph obituary:

Her star began to wane in 1969 when Rostropovich offered his friend, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, sanctuary in his dacha outside Moscow after discovering that the dissident writer was living in a shack without heat or running water. Rostropovich came under official pressure to evict him, but the musician not only refused, he wrote an open letter to the press in which he proclaimed that “Each human being must have the right to think for himself and to express his opinion without fear.

Almost immediately, Rostropovich’s name disappeared from the billboards owing, according to the official line, to his “decline as a musician”. Galina Vishnevskaya, who had urged caution on her husband, was initially allowed to continue performing. But she found that she had become a non-person; when she sang the lead in Prokofiev’s The Gambler, her name was not even mentioned in the reviews.


Further Reading

Wilson, Elizabeth (1994). Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Princeton University Press

Frolova-Walker, Marina (2005). "11. Russian opera; The retrieval of the human element: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and The Fiery Angel". In Mervyn Cooke. The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera. London: Cambridge University Press. pp. 182–186

Taruskin, Richard (1989). "The Opera and the Dictator: the peculiar martyrdom of Dmitri Shostakovich." The New Republic, March 20, 1989, pp. 34-40 

Emerson, Caryl. "Back to the future: Shostakovich’s revision of Leskov’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District”." Cambridge Opera Journal 1.1 (1989): 60-62.
Makanowitzky, Barbara. "Music to Serve the State." Russian Review 24.3 (1965): 266-277.
Chapple, Freda. "Adaptation as Education: A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District." Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance 1.1 (2007): 17-31.
White, Richard HR. "Shostakovich versus the Central Committee: the power of music." Clinical Medicine, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians 8.4 (2008): 405-409.
Frolova-Walker, Marina. "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Bleak Tragedy or Black Comedy?." The Opera Quarterly 25.1-2 (2009): 150-156.
Clark, Katerina. "Culture and Soviet Power." Theater 33.1 (2003): 96-98.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Origins of the Ogre, Darwin and the Dark Imaginary

Neanderthal - H.G. Wells's Outline of History

H.G. Wells's The Outline of History (1921) includes this graphic description of the

We know nothing of the appearance of the Neanderthal man, but this absence of intermixture seems to suggest an extreme hairiness, an ugliness, or a repulsive strangeness in his appearance over and above his low forehead, his beetle brows, his ape neck, and his inferior stature. Or he"and she"may have been too fierce to tame. Says Sir Harry Johnston, in a survey of the rise of modern man in his Views and Reviews: The dim racial remembrance of such gorilla-like monsters, with cunning brains, shambling gait, hairy bodies, strong teeth, and possibly cannibalistic tendencies, may he the germ of the ogre in folklore...p.40

Bernard F. Dick, has pointed out that William Golding derived his inspiration for The Inheritors from this passage, as the novelist explained:

Wells' Outline of History played a great part in my life because my father was a rationalist, and the Outline was something he took neat. Well now, Wells' Outline of History is the rationalist's gospel in excelsis, I should think. I got this from my father, and by and by it seemed to me not to be large enough. It seemed to me to be too neat and slick. And when I re-read it as an adult I came across his picture of Neanderthal man, our immediate predecessors, as being the gross brutal creatures who were possibly the basis of the mythological bad man, whatever he may be, the ogre. I thought to myself that this is just absurd. What we're
doing is externalizing our inside. ["The Meaning of It All," 10.]

In his chapter on Golding, Dick concludes that

The Neanderthals are not the heroes, nor are the New People the villains of the novel. If the New People are the "true men," as Wells called moderns in the Outline, if they are supposed to tower over the rest of creation, they should be capable of using their intellect to quell their dark, demonic urges. Yet the opposite is true: the New People are less able to master them than the Neanderthals. Each rung on the evolutionary ladder brings additional knowledge, but always at a price.

Lisa Fluet further explores TS Eliot's participation - as a book reviewer - in the debate on Darwinism between Wells and Belloc.

Where do we put Eliot's Apeneck Sweeney in this discussion?

Any thoughts on Eliot's monstrous modernity?


"As for the men of my time who have been able to capture a large audience . . . they are all, by comparison with Mr. Wells, pygmies." --- T. S. Eliot, "Wells as Journalist"

Further Reading

Fluet, Lisa. "Modernism and Disciplinary History: On HG Wells and TS Eliot." Twentieth-Century Literature (2004): 283-316.

Dick, Bernard F. "Chapter 3: Our Ancestral Ogres." William Golding, Rev. ed. Bernard F. Dick. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Twayne's English Authors Series 57. The Twayne Authors Series. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.

Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor, William Golding: A Critical Study (New York, 1967) 

William Golding, "The Meaning of It All," Books and Bookmen 5 (October 1959): 9-10

Robert D. Evans, "The Inheritors: Some Inversions," in William Golding: Some Critical Considerations, ed. Jack I. Biles and Robert O. Evans (New York, 1970)

Costa, Richard Hauer. "Chapter 10: Wells and the Critics." H. G. Wells, Rev. ed. Richard Hauer Costa. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985. Twayne's English Authors Series 43. The Twayne Authors Series. Web. 11 Dec. 2012. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Black Dwarf - 13 Observations on Walter Scott and Wuthering Heights

This was the 1st of one thousand short blogs on deformity, the monstrous, and the grotesque. It's an ongoing project.

I'm not sure why I wanted to start with one of Scott's least-read fictions. Perhaps reading it recalled Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and my Yorkshire ancestry? Recent critics have indeed claimed to find similarities between the two texts (see further reading, below). After selecting some of the most noteworthy quotations I will be offering 13 observations on the text.

"The ideal being who is here presented as residing in solitude, and haunted by a consciousness of his own deformity and a suspicion of his being generally subjected to the scorn of his fellow men, is not altogether imaginary. An individual existed many years since, under the Author's observation, which suggested such a character. this poor unfortunate man's name was David Ritchie, an native of Tweeddale."

The Introduction to The Black Dwarf also quotes from the Scots Magazine (1817: i.207)

"His skull," says this authority, "which was of an oblong, and rather unusual shape, was of such strength that he could strike it with ease through the panel of a door or the end of a tar barrel. His laugh is said to have been quite horrible; and is screech-owl-voice, shrill, uncouth, and dissonant, corresponded well with his other peculiarities."

"He never wore shoes, being unable to adapt them to his misshapen fin-like feet, but always had both feet and legs quite concealed, and wrapt up with pieces of cloth."

"A jealous, misanthropical, and irritable temper was his most prominent characteristic. The sense of his deformity haunted him like a phantom; and the insults and scorn to which this exposed him had poisoned his heart with fierce and bitter feelings, which, from other traits in his character, do not appear to have been largely infused into his original temperament than that of his fellow-men.

"He detested children, on account of their propensity to insult and persecute him. To strangers he was generally reserved, crabbed, and surly; and though he by no means refused assistance or charity, he on many occasions neither expressed  nor exhibited much gratitude."

The author proceeds to speculate, in his introduction

Nature maintains a certain balance of good and evil in all her works; and there is no state perhaps so utterly desolate which does not possess some source of gratification peculiar to itself. This poor man, whose misanthropy was founded sense of his own preternatural deformity, had yet his own particular enjoyments. driven into solitude, he became an admirer of the beauties of nature. His garden, which he sedulously cultivated, and from a piece of wild moorland made a very productive spot, was his pride and delight; but he was also an admirer of more natural beauty: the soft sweep of the green hill, the bubbling of a clear fountain, or the complexities of a wild thicket, were scenes on which he gazed for hours, and, he said, with inexpressible delight. it was perhaps for this reason that he was fond of Shenstone's pastorals and some parts of Paradise Lost. The Author has heard his most unmusical voice repeat the celebrated description of Paradise, which he seemed fully to appreciate."

"He expressed disgust at the idea of his remains being mixed with the common rubbish, as he called it, of the churchyard, and selected with his usual taste a beautiful and wild spot in the glen where he had his hermitage, in which to take his last repose. He changed his mind, however, and was finally interred in the common burial-ground of Manor parish."

"The Author has invested Wise Elshie with some qualities which made him appear, in the eyes of the vulgar, a man possessed of supernatural power. common fame paid David Ritchie a similar compliment, for some of the poor and ignorant, as well as all the children in the neigbourhood, held him to be what is called 'uncanny.' He himself did not altogether the idea; it enlarged his very limited circle of power, and in so far gratified his conceit; and it soothed his misanthropy, by increasing his means of giving terror or pain. But even in a rude Scottish glen thirty years back the fear of sorcery was very much out of date."

"David Ritchie affected to frequent solitary scenes, especially such as were supposed to be haunted, and valued himself upon his courage in doing so. To be sure, he had little chance of meeting anything more ugly than himself."

"David often received gratuities from strangers, which he never asked, never refused, and never seemed to consider as an obligation. he had a right, indeed, to regard himself as one of Nature's paupers, to whom she gave a title to be maintained by his kind, even by that deformity which closed against him all ordinary ways of supporting himself by his own labour."

"When he died, in the beginning of the present century, he was found to have hoarded about twenty pounds, a habit very consistent with his disposition; for wealth is power, and power was what David Ritchie desired to possess, as a compensation for his exclusion from society."

"Dr Fergusson considered him as a man of a powerful capacity and original ideas, but whose mind was thrown off its just bias by a predominant degree of self-love, and self-opinion, galled by the sense of ridicule and contempt, and avenging itself upon society, in idea at least, by a gloomy misanthropy."

"The story was intended to be longer, and the catastrophe more artificially brought out; but a friendly critic, to whose opinion I subjected the work in its progress, was of opinion that the idea of the Solitary was of as kind too revolting, and more likely to disgust than to interest the reader. as I had a good right to consider my adviser as an excellent judge of public opinion, I got off my subject by hastening the story to an end as fast as it was possible; and by huddling into one volume a tale which was designed to occupy two, have perhaps produced a narrative as much disproportioned and distorted as the Black Dwarf who is its subject."


  1. Scott’s portrait is multiple and ambiguous
  1. The grotesque seldom partakes of unqualified horror or unmixed disgust. Scott draws on the Ritchie’s aesthetic temperament as a redeeming feature 
  1. Scott has shown that Ritchie’s ill-temper is the product of society’s hostility to him, rather than innate
  1. Ritchie resembles Frankenstein’s monster insofar as there is a link to the appreciation of Nature and poetry, namely John Milton’s Paradise Lost 
  1. But he is also Satan, the outsider and observer of a paradise from which he is excluded. John Milton’s Paradise Lost again
  1. Ritchie is a romantic and solitary figure, located in nature. His physical deformity is a product of nature. (Rather than a result of a supernatural curse.) 
  1. The social fabric of society supports him through charity
  1. Common preconception that the diminutive in size, inevitably seek power. They also suffer from an inward turn. On both counts note period satires on Napoleon Bonaparte. 
  1. Interesting to have a “description” of his voice – the monstrous tends to rely on the visual effigy.
  1. The deformity is physical but it is also phenomenal and gothic; it is something that haunts him. 
  1. He is outside of humanity (“common  rubbish”) but his destiny, in death, is to rejoin it.
  1. The novel is a grotesque. Two in One. Scott also wrote that he was “tired of the ground I had trode so often before I had walked over two thirds of the course. [...] So I quarrelled with my story, & bungled up a conclusion as a boarding school Miss finishes a task which she had commenced with great glee & accuracy” (Letter to Lady Louisa Stuart: 14 November 1816.) 
  1. Further research on legends, the  “Brown Man of the Moors”

Further reading

Boatright, Mody C. "Demonology in the Novels of Sir Walter Scott: A Study in Regionalism." Studies in English (1934): 75-88. "The Black Dwarf is one of the least satisfactory of Scott's tales, and the attempt at mystification with theRadcliffian ending is no small factor in the failure of the work"

Boatright, Mody C. "Witchcraft in the Novels of Sir Walter Scott." Studies in English (1933): 95-112.
Carson, James P. "Scott and the Romantic Dog." Journal for Eighteenth‐Century Studies 33.4 (2010): 647-661.

Garbin, Lidia. ‘Literary Giants and Black Dwarfs’, Scottish Studies Review, 1 (2000), 78-93.

Gordon, Robert C. "The Bride of Lammermoor: A Novel of Tory Pessimism." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 12.2 (1957): 110-124. "Two other novels reveal Scott's deepening awareness of the tragic possibilities in the mutations of human history. The Black Dwarf, the most abortive of the Waverley Novels, is a study in the misanthropy of a deformed and embittered man..."

Hendrix, Richard. "Popular Humor and" The Black Dwarf"." The Journal of British Studies 16.1 (1976): 108-128.

Hwang, Jing‐Huey. "Rethinking Britishness in the Fictional Japanese Letters of TJ Wooler's Black Dwarf." Journal for Eighteenth‐Century Studies.

Irvine, Robert P. "Scott's" The Black Dwarf": The Gothic and the Female Author." Studies in Romanticism 38.2 (1999): 223-248.

Jones, Steven E. 'Satiric Performance in The Black Dwarf', in Satire and Romanticism. New York, NY.: St Martin’s Press, 2000., pp. 71-110. Considers how far Thomas J. Wooler's satirical weekly The Black Dwarf (1817-24) may have been inspired by Scott's novel of the same name.

Oda, Yukari. "Wuthering Heights and the Waverley Novels: Sir Walter Scott's Influence on Emily Brontë." Bronte Studies 32.3 (2007): 217-226.

Parsons, Coleman O. "The Original of the Black Dwarf." Studies in Philology 40.4 (1943): 567-575. Reads The Black Dwarf as the 'intentional representation of a Timon-like personality endowed with a Byronic and, possibly, Scottian awareness of physical deformity'.

Smith, Sheila. "'At Once Strong and Eerie': The Supernatural in Wuthering Heights and Its Debt to the Traditional Ballad." Review of English Studies (1992): 498-517.

Truten, Jack. "Sir Walter Scott: Folklore and Fiction." Studies in Scottish Literature 26.1 (1991): 18.

Wooler, Thomas Jonathan, ed. The Black Dwarf. Vol. 6. T. J. Wooler, 1821.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Infectious Trolls

The frequency and popularity of trolling appears to be on the increase. This phenomenon seems to me infectious and viral, as more people are being drawn into the activity, or starting to think of it as normal behaviour.

But there is always the tendency to forget that what appears new may have been around for some time. We quickly forget the indignities of the past.

Many cultural commentators suggest that we are losing a sense of dignity and respect.

But does the Troll phenomenon precede the emergence of internet subcultures?

Is it the widening social participation of the internet, and the speed interactivity, that really fuels the apparent trending of Trollery?

Here there appears to be a sense of social or cultural prejudice, that the Trolls are the uneducated masses who have failed to learn the polite discourse and dialogue of enlightened conversational spaces.

None the less, I've recently witnessed troll fireworks in an academic list devoted to eighteenth-century studies. The reputation of Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, was also fiercely debated recently on the same email discussion list. Again there was the sense of ephemeral and careless attacks, with others fanning the flames in other ways.

Witnessing these happenings I began to speculate about the clarity of the dividing line between the belligerent displays of antagoniosts and the monstrous behaviour of the iconoclastic Trolls.

I'm awaiting the issue of a discussion concerning the origins of immoderate debate from the academic list, and will supplement this blog when responses are communicated to me.

Bcakground: from Wikipedia:

"In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. The noun troll may refer to the provocative message itself, as in: "That was an excellent troll you posted."

While the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labels subjective, with trolling describing intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families."

Last year the BBC reported:

"For some the word derives from a fishing term for towing bait behind a boat, for others it comes from the Norse monsters. But today trolling is more likely to involve a keyboard and mouse than a trawler, and if not a monster, it is a very modern menace.
Opponents might characterise it as the internet equivalent of road rage, vandalising a grave, or kicking a man when he's down.
Trolling is a phenomenon that has swept across websites in recent years. Online forums, Facebook pages and newspaper comment forms are bombarded with insults, provocations or threats. Supporters argue it's about humour, mischief and freedom of speech. But for many the ferocity and personal nature of the abuse verges on hate speech."
"We're all capable of becoming a troll, says Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist in the US and author of You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier admits he has sometimes behaved badly online and believes the cloak of anonymity can encourage people to react in extreme ways.
"The temptation is there and we can get caught up in impulses. If someone reacts, it's emotional and it can be hard to get out of. We can all become trolls."

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Lives of the Necromancers (William Godwin)

Here are my grotesque and monstrous quotations from  Lives of the Necromancers (1834) by William Godwin (1756– 1836)

["Godwin is most famous for two books that he published within the space of a year: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, an attack on political institutions, and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, which attacks aristocratic privilege, but also is the first mystery novel. Based on the success of both, Godwin featured prominently in the radical circles of London in the 1790s. In the ensuing conservative reaction to British radicalism, Godwin was attacked, in part because of his marriage to the pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 and his candid biography of her after her death; their daughter, Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley) would go on to write Frankenstein and marry the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley."]

It is in such a state of the faculties that it is entirely natural and simple, that one should mistake a mere dumb animal for one's relative or near connection in disguise. And, the delusion having once begun, the deluded individual gives to every gesture and motion of limb and eye an explanation that forwards the deception. It is in the same way that in ignorant ages the notion of changeling has been produced. The weak and fascinated mother sees every feature with a turn of expression unknown before, all the habits of the child appear different and strange, till the parent herself denies her offspring, and sees in the object so lately cherished and doated on, a monster uncouth and horrible of aspect.


Various enchantments were therefore employed by those unhappy mortals whose special desire was to bring down calamity and plagues upon the individuals or tribes of men against whom their animosity was directed. Unlawful and detested words and mysteries were called into action to conjure up demons who should yield their powerful and tremendous assistance. Songs of a wild and maniacal character were chaunted. Noisome scents and the burning of all unhallowed and odious things were resorted to. In later times books and formulas of a terrific character were commonly employed, upon the reading or recital of which the prodigies resorted to began to display themselves. The heavens were darkened; the thunder rolled; and fierce and blinding lightnings flashed from one corner of the heavens to the other. The earth quaked and rocked from side to side. All monstrous and deformed things shewed themselves, "Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire," enough to cause the stoutest heart to quail. Lastly, devils, whose name was legion, and to whose forms and distorted and menacing countenances superstition had annexed the most frightful ideas, crowded in countless multitudes upon the spectator, whose breath was flame, whose dances were full of terror, and whose strength infinitely exceeded every thing human. Such were the appalling conceptions which ages of bigotry and ignorance annexed to the notion of sorcery, and with these they scared the unhappy beings over whom this notion had usurped an ascendancy into lunacy, and prepared them for the perpetrating flagitious and unheard-of deeds.

They were at large, even though confined to the smallest dimensions. They "could be bounded in a nutshell, and count themselves kings of infinite space."

One of the mischiefs that were most frequently imputed to them, was the changing the beautiful child of some doating parents, for a babe marked with ugliness and deformity.

Last of all, Jupiter presented her with a sealed box, of which the lid was no sooner unclosed, than a multitude of calamities and evils of all imaginable sorts flew out, only Hope remaining at the bottom.

On the discovery of this circumstance, Acrisius caused both mother and child to be inclosed in a chest, and committed to the waves. The chest however drifted upon the lands of a person of royal descent in the island of Seriphos, who extended his care and hospitality to both. When Perseus grew to man's estate, he was commissioned by the king of Seriphos to bring him the head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons.


reclaimed the savage man, from slaughter, and an indulgence in food that was loathsome and foul. And this has with sufficient probability been interpreted to mean, that he found the race of men among whom he lived cannibals, and that, to cure them the more completely of this horrible practice, he taught them to be contented to subsist upon the fruits of the earth.

Man in every age is full of incongruous and incompatible principles; and, when we shall cease to be inconsistent, we shall cease to be men.

Finally he can endure this uncertainty no longer; and, in defiance of the prohibition he has received, cannot refrain from turning his head to ascertain whether he is baffled, and has spent all his labour in vain. He sees her; but no sooner he sees her, than she becomes evanescent and impalpable; farther and farther she retreats before him; she utters a shrill cry, and endeavours to articulate; but she grows more and more imperceptible; and in the conclusion he is left with the scene around him in all respects the same as it had been before his incantations. The result of the whole that is known of Orpheus, is, that he was an eminently great and virtuous man, but was the victim of singular calamity. We have not yet done with the history of Orpheus. As has been said, he fell a sacrifice to the resentment and fury of the women of his native soil. They are affirmed to have torn him limb from limb. His head, divided from his body, floated down the waters of the Hebrus, and miraculously, as it passed along to the sea, it was still heard to exclaim in mournful accents, Eurydice, Eurydice!  At length it was carried ashore on the island of Lesbos.  Here, by some extraordinary concurrence of circumstances, it found a resting-place in a fissure of a rock over-arched by a cave, and, thus domiciliated, is said to have retained the power of speech, and to have uttered oracles. Not only the people of Lesbos resorted to it for guidance in difficult questions, but also the Asiatic Greeks from Ionia and Aetolia; and its fame and character for predicting future events even extended to Babylon.

But Cylon, from feelings of the deepest reverence and awe for Pythagoras, which he had cherished for years, was filled even to bursting with inextinguishable hatred and revenge. The unparalleled merits, the venerable age of the master whom he had so long followed, had no power to control his violence.

Yet this man, thus enlightened and philanthropical, established his system of proceeding upon narrow and exclusive principles, and conducted it by methods of artifice, quackery and delusion. One of his leading maxims was, that the great and fundamental truths to the establishment of which he devoted himself, were studiously to be concealed from the vulgar, and only to be imparted to a select few, and after years of the severest noviciate and trial.


The authority and dogmatical assertions of the master were to remain unquestioned; and the pupils were to fashion themselves to obsequious and implicit submission, and were the furthest in the world from being encouraged to the independent exercise of their own understandings. There was nothing that Pythagoras was more fixed to discountenance, than the communication of the truths upon which he placed the highest value, to the uninitiated. It is not probable therefore that he wrote any thing: all was communicated orally, by such gradations, and with such discretion, as he might think fit to adopt and to exercise. Delusion and falsehood were main features of his instruction. With what respect therefore can we consider, and what manliness worthy of his high character and endowments can we impute to, his discourses delivered from behind a curtain, his hiding himself during the day, and only appearing by night in a garb assumed for the purpose of exciting awe and veneration?

For these reasons he wrote nothing; but consigned all to the frail and uncertain custody of tradition. And distant posterity has amply avenged itself upon the narrowness of his policy; and the name of Pythagoras, which would otherwise have been ranked with the first luminaries of mankind, and consigned to everlasting gratitude, has in consequence of a few radical and fatal mistakes, been often loaded with obloquy, and the hero who bore it been indiscriminately classed among the votaries of imposture and artifice.

After a prelude of many unintelligible sounds, uttered with fervour and a sort of frenzy, she became by degrees more distinct. She uttered incoherent sentences, with breaks and pauses, that were filled up with preternatural efforts and distorted gestures; while the priests stood by, carefully recording her words, and then reducing them into a sort of obscure signification.

Saying this, behold, the ghost of the dead man stood erect before her, trembling at the view of his own unanimated limbs, and loth to enter again the confines of his wonted prison. He shrinks to invest himself with the gored bosom, and the fibres from which death had separated him. Unhappy wretch, to whom death had not given the privilege to die! Erichtho, impatient at the unlooked for delay, lashes the unmoving corpse with one of her serpents. She calls anew on the powers of hell, and threatens to pronounce the dreadful name, which cannot be articulated without consequences never to be thought of, nor without the direst necessity to be ventured upon. At length the congealed blood becomes liquid and warm; it oozes from the wounds, and creeps steadily along the veins and the members; the fibres are called into action beneath the gelid breast, and the nerves once more become instinct with life. Life and death are there at once. The arteries beat; the muscles are braced; the body raises itself, not by degrees, but at a single impulse, and stands erect. The eyelids unclose. The countenance is not that of a living subject, but of the dead. The paleness of the complexion, the rigidity of the lines, remain; and he looks about with an unmeaning stare, but utters no sound. He waits on the potent enchantress.