volume 4, issue 2, summer 2009
2: Shannon Kavanagh is an accessory to murder 3: Laura Ward Nokes loses her train of thought 5: Serena Driver investigates the legacy of women’s literature
the zahir the university of york’s culture magazine
17: Benjamin T. Schonewald talks about the recession, Nick Griffin, and ornate palaces of cheese
arts 19: Beth Jane Walton stops staring
7: Rhiannon Williams reviews the limitations of film adaptation
21: Sophie Hill doesn’t want Toulouse feminine reflection
8: Frederick Botham considers the Sylvia Plath effect
23 Kiri Anderson explores the Turbine Hall
9: Becky Ellis asks what Shakespeare’s timelessness really means
24: Nina Courtney Sabey exposes the fashion nobility 25 Eleanor Allen looks into touching-up portraits
10: Huw Halstead looks at Miley Cyrus
11: Emily Labram talks about Sarkozy’s troubled childhood
26: Sophia Hendrickson explains why Bassnectar are just like honey
12: Siobhan Hurley goes on about Facebook
27: Jerome Josey interviews Cursive and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
13: Huw Halstead knows breast about video games 14: James MacDougald sends UAF scrambling
29: Andrew Lopez thinks Glastonbury’s top of the field
31: Guy Rimay-Muranyi’s list of epic songs are surprisingly ecclectic
15: Peter Hagen looks at the symbolic value of money
www.zahir.org.uk Welcome to the summer edition of The Zahir. We’re looking for writers for the next magazine, so if you’d like to get involved as a writer, proof reader, web designer or any other role, please email us at: email@example.com
Editor Siobhan Hurley Deputy Editor Guy Wilson Production Maksymilian Fus Mickiewicz Section Editors Lyndon Ashmore, Literature Huw Halstead, Politics Kiri Anderson, Arts Sophia Hendrickson, Music Deputy Section Editors Eliza Cardale, Literature Emma Hickmore, Music someone else someone else
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Also in this section: 3 Laura War Nokes on a train; 5 Serena Driver on female literature; 7 Rhiannon Williams on adaptations; 8 Frederick Botham on suicides; 9 Becky Ellis on Shakespeare’s timelessness.
Wilde Lessons in Life
t the age of ten, I watched someone die. Granted, it was Piggy in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, but the barrier of fiction meant little as I slowly closed the paperback and stared, wide-eyed as a young boy without his glasses, out at the nothingness of the school library. Someone who had been alive – on the pages of a novel or not – was now dead and I had done nothing to save him. I was a pre-teen accessory to murder. Growing up a ‘big reader’, as over a decade of school reports heralded me to be, I was hardly the most realistic of my peers. It probably isn’t the biggest surprise, given the fact that I was raised by vampires, evil or noble monarchs, and Dorian Gray. At twelve, I was introduced to my first literary Satan. Some time before that, however, I had discovered that they had sex in books too, and the influence that had on relationships years later I still haven’t the confidence to ask. Even when you’re not a Year Six pupil convinced your mother is poisoning you because of something you read in Flowers in the Attic, anyone who grew up with their nose in a book will know the difficulty involved in the sudden realisation that there’s a world out there. Fairy tales taught us about bravery and true love, not GCSEs and heartbreak. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing to be gained from the world of a good book (or even a really terrible one). I won’t hesitate to say that the best of nearly twenty years of books has shaped me, and I’m fairly sure that that’s for
reflects on harmonizing life with literature. the better, at least half of the time. That being said, I, like so many others, could have done without that second in my life, when I finally raised my eyes and saw the word ‘fiction’ above the shelf. It didn’t actually happen like that. But even so, I can say without doubt that so much reading gave me very unrealistic expectations for various areas of life that often, in hindsight, I could have done without. When I was fifteen, I met my first girlfriend, and a few months later at sixteen I told my mum I was bisexual. Having already devoured stacks of LGBT fiction by this point, my head was full of parental rejection, brain-meltingly passionate love making, and – of course – brutal murder. I was fairly sure she wasn’t about to shoot me or send me out into the streets to fend for myself and join a gang, but nothing I’d read prepared me for her actual reaction. In the event, my mum shrugged, said ‘alright’, and went back to making dinner. (And, in the event, even less could have prepared me for what would be my dad’s reaction three years later – to raise his eyebrows over his laptop and ask if that meant I was into threesomes). The biggest problem, I’ve found, in spending a little too much time with
your childhood literary heroes is the way it makes the ordinary appear completely uninteresting. I would find myself on buses, making up short stories about everything and everyone I saw. My own life was boring, so I had to make do with the exciting (though admittedly, often mundane) lives of the people I was beginning to write myself. Eventually, though, I slowly started to come to terms with the insistence of the real world to keep existing around me. I realised that the parts of my life that actually did resemble slightly over-the-top fiction were the parts that I was desperate to do without. I also realised that – once you’ve got your homework in at least – life is more or less what you make it. I wasn’t about to start stealing spiders from circuses or hanging around local elderly men in case they died and revealed an apartment full of mysterious notes about an even more mysterious house. I was, however, more or less over my jealousy and an awful lot less confused. I proved myself by treating books academically, applying to university, leaving home, going clubbing. That being said, I have never completely let go of that girl who cried for the fictional characters she saw die, the reading minority in her North London primary school. Granted, no one gives me stickers for picking up books anymore, but that isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Rather, I – like so many others – came to realise that real life can be just as brilliant as fiction. Sometimes, and I hope Tyler Durden, Dorian Gray, and Declan Gunn will forgive me, it’s even better.
ou are sitting on a train. The destination is irrelevant; the train journey is the important thing. It is a long one. You have triumphantly grabbed the prize trophy of train travel: a forward facing window seat at a communal table. Smug in this knowledge, you have hunkered down and settled in to enjoy the rick-rock of the carriage, the thoughts it detaches from the floor of your brain that float to the surface and then flit by with the countryside that is blowing past. Two men about your age sit opposite you. The one with brown hair and an intense face is reading. You see the alluring silver of a Penguin’s Modern Classic and try to catch a glimpse of the title, but he has the book too close to the table for you to read it. The other one (blonde hair and startled eyes), is writing frantically in a notebook. Half an hour passes. His writing slows, he scribbles something out. He stares out at the fields and the tracks. ‘Why do we do this?’ He asks the train window. A moment of silence. The tension mounts. You flush with anger at the fact that your train journey has been ruined because, despite the perfect seat, you have been caught out by the most unforeseeable of unforeseen problems when travelling: the unhinged and talkative stranger. The silence runs on. You drum your fingers nervously on the table. Do you ignore him? Do you say something? You clear your throat awkwardly.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Laura Ward Nokes observes a discourse on why we read and write.
Mr Intense (that is what your brain seems to have decided to name him) sighs, folds over the page of whatever it is he’s reading, and puts the book on the table. Your eyes flit to the front cover to discover the title. ‘Because it’s what there is.’ He says. They must know each other you think; unless he’s just playing along with Mr Startled– or perhaps they’re both Unhinged Train Talkers. You hope not and stare intently at the cover of the book, lest one of them should catch your eye and try to draw you into a senseless ramble. ‘It’s not though. It’s not is at all. It isn’t really reality. It’s fakery.’ Says Mr Startled. ‘Are you talking about reading or writing?’ asks Mr Intense. ‘I’m talking about both. I’m talking about you and I sitting next to each other on a real train, opposite real people, at a real table, with a real landscape going past, and us missing it all because you’re reading and I’m writing and we’re turning our eyes away from reality. That’s
what I’m talking about.’ ‘I see’ ‘No you don’t, and neither do I; that’s my point’ ‘Ok, I think I understand your meaning.’ ‘And?’ ‘And I think… I think that the question itself is the answer’ ‘How?’ ‘We are all searching for the Why and the How of language. The act of reading and writing in itself is motivated by the questions that it brings up. You say ‘why do we do this?’, but isn’t that what we are seeking and defining when we put pen to paper and eye to page? We simultaneously love language’s nuances and rage against it’s ineptitude, and our own ineptitude around it. Look at Derrida’s exploration of polysemy, it’s a classic example of how the duality of language is at once thrilling and infuriating. We read and write because it’s addictive and it’s unfinished, we just can’t help ourselves. And so often, we look up and out at the world halfway through a sentence and ask ‘where is the why of language? Why is the why? How is the why?’ ‘The why?’ Mr Startled cuts in ‘The reason for the written word: the motivation and purpose of the whole seemingly pointless exercise. We read and write because humans must be free and true in whatever way they can, and the constrictions of language must be constantly tested, moved and reworked to give us freedom and therefore human-
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 ity. Take two quotes: ‘In the beginning was the word’ and ‘the word is power’. They are the why of writing. The word gives us our humanity, and in the word lies the power of humanity. Tell me, what is generally the first act of an oppressor in relation to language?’ Mr Startled pauses. ‘Book burning.’ ‘Exactly. Because by burning a book- no matter how many other copies in the world there may be - it is still a destruction of a purposefully expressed moment of significance in the soul of another. It is a meaningful search for truth, and by burning it you turn the consciousness of a person, a movement or a culture into ashes along with the paper.’ ‘But why does it matter so much? The word isn’t real; it is only an approximation of thought and reality.’ ‘Oh but it is so real. In a sense it is the most real thing of all because language links the physical to the ethereal and the internality of thought to the reality of the world. Look at the act of writing itself; it never fails to astonish me. The idea that a chemical impulse in the shape of a thought resonates enough to
move us to another series of chemical impulses as we pick up a pen and move it across the page in a series of repeated symbols in different combinations. That a thought becomes a thing in its’ own right, a thing that
By burning a book you turn the consciousness of a person, a movement or a culture into ashes along with the paper we no longer have control over once we turn chemical impulse into ink and paper. It gives it both a force that combines the permanence of the written word with the transience of a striking moment. We need that from language with an intensity that will never die. We read, we write, because we need those resonant images: ‘a red notebook, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, a brilliantine trout’, to create linguistic chords that give shape to the ephemeral messiness of consciousness.’
Literature ‘Hmm… Maybe’ ‘Maybe is exactly it!’ the word is maybe - the power of possibility and the… the potentiality of meaning that is expressed through language. That is why we do this. You’ve got it exactly. Maybe.’ ‘A bit tenuous… Oh shit hang on, this is our stop’ You hadn’t realised either; the train is now waiting at an empty station. The two men leap up and jostle their way out towards the doors just behind them. They climb down onto the platform and pause outside the window. Beepbeeepbeeepbeeep. The train doors close. You put your head against the glass so you can hear what they are saying. Mr Intense is buttoning his coat. ‘I suppose the real essence of what I’m trying to say is this: – ‘Scchhhsssshhhhhhhh’. The train sighs over his voice and begins to drag itself out of the station. Unable to stop yourself you bang your curled fist on the window and cry ‘Wait! What is the essence? What is the essence?!’ Mr Intense and Mr. Startled look up. Their surprised faces slide past. The train continues onwards.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Literature’s Female Thread
his year heralds a change in contemporary poetry – for the first time in centuries of the tradition, England has a female poet laureate: Carol-Ann Duffy. A staunch feminist, she is famous for collections such as ‘The World’s Wife’, in which she transforms world history by writing from the perspective of the side-lined women involved with famous historical or fictional men. She defines the modern empowered literary woman today. However, it has taken hundreds of years for women’s writing to reach this level of acceptance and recognition, and for them to even be in a position to attempt it in the first place. Women have been making their livings ever since the history of humanity, but it was through the medium of literature that they began to exist independently from the financial and social necessity of men. It was a long and arduous road for these key literary women through history to assert and prove their ability. This article will focus on a few iconic literary women that have not only made literature what it is today, but have also helped to carve the path of feminism along the way. Widely considered to have been the first woman to make a living by her pen was the 17th century political writer, poet, playwright and novelist Aphra Behn. Even by today’s standards Behn was a woman of astounding versatility who lived an extraordinary life. Travelling to Africa in her childhood and sent to Holland as a spy for Charles II, most probably using sexual charms to gain information, she had experienced far more of the world than the average female of her time. Imprisoned briefly for debt, and then widowed, Behn was a woman ‘forced to write for bread and not ashamed to own it’. Widowed and without many other options, she turned to literature, becoming well acquainted with many male literary figures and gaining fame through her plays. It is testament to the gender prejudice in literature that Behn was scandalised and made into a quasiprostitute figure. The reality is she was an intellectual, radical and empowered woman freed from the social and sexual constraints usually imposed upon women (by men). To this day, Aphra Behn remains shrouded in intrigue -
Serena Driver unravels the legacy of women’s Literature.
her morality still questionable - and has only recently begun to be dug up out of the grave of anonymity and examined for her vast literary worth. She wrote on a vast sliding spectrum of genres, from political tracts to erotic poems and bawdy plays. Her lewd language was complained about while it was dismissed in men’s work. Furthermore, she was not afraid to canvas such taboo subjects as female erotic desire, homosexuality and impotence, which was why future, more censored societies were happy to bury Behn and her work in the dust of history. Behn was one of the first novelists of either gender and a pioneer in the form. She wrote, among others, an epistolary novel entitled ‘Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister’, decades before Samuel Richardson’s classic epistolary novel ‘Clarissa’. In this novel, the female protagonist Sylvia has sex with and then elopes with her brother-in-law. She then embarks on a moral decline, using her beauty to seduce and control young men. Sylvia starts to dress as a man occasionally, for the freedom it gives her. Her role as seducer and controller inverts the established norm of the woman corrupted and abused by man. Behn swaps physical strength for the strength
of sexual desire that Sylvia learns to manipulate, and her cross-dressing symbolises that in some way her power is related to her taking on a masculine identity. Behn herself supports this idea when she writes in a preface to her play ‘The Lucky Chance’, that the poet in her is her ‘Masculine Part’. Women often subvert traditional gender roles in their desire to represent the female point of view in their work. Delarivier Manley, an early 18th century writer, presents a scene in her work ‘The New Atalantis’ (which incidentally she was detained for due to its erotic content) where a young man lies on a bed, exposed and feigning sleep in an attempt to seduce a Duchess. We see the man through the Duchess’ eyes as she lingers over his form, before throwing herself down next to him. This passage is radical again for its subversion of typical literary tropes – the potential seducer eyeing up a maiden’s physical beauty before overcoming her. Manley makes an attempt at equalising the sexes – but this ultimately fails as after the Duchess’s consummation of her desire, she becomes nothing but a commodity, eventually falling out of favour and losing any power she had possessed. This power struggle between the sexes and gender roles occupied another female maverick not afraid to flex her wit and intelligence. Jumping to the end of the 18th century, Mary Wollstonecraft - often labelled the first feminist in the definition we use today - defied the boundaries of femininity and called for more women with ‘masculine’ characteristics. She wasn’t after a revolution of women in top hats and trousers though – she meant more women with the virtues of morality, reason and intelligence. These traits were seen as existing solely in the sphere of men. Gone was the liberal and licentious world of Behn’s 17th century England. Women were supposed to function only in the domestic sphere, with a focus on motherhood and ornament. Women’s fashion, with its tight corsets and excessively high hairstyles, encouraged this emphasis on uselessness and frivolity. Wollstonecraft argued that a ‘revolution’ in ‘female manners’ and the attitudes of men was needed. In a forum charged with heated debates
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 about monarchy and government against the background of the unfolding French Revolution, Wollstonecraft managed to unite arguments on citizens’ rights with arguments on the rights of women – a topic that no one else had seemed too passionate about. Wollstonecraft attempted to do the impossible – write a treatise on feminism when the language did not yet exist for her to do so. The only way she can describe her ideal woman is in masculine terms. However, Wollstonecraft opens the can of worms on women’s role in society, which future novelists and women writers would examine further. For the first time during this period, writing was an acceptable career choice for a woman. If Behn was a pioneer of the novel – the most popular and widelyread medium in literature today – it was women in the 18th century who expanded and cemented the form. Subject material was still limited; a woman was expected to focus on the domestic, or write educational tales for young ladies. Gothic fiction was emerging as a new, experimental form of literature , and one in which women were well established, but their contributions were sneered at by many males in literary circles. When one literary advisor read Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ manuscript, he congratulated it
on possessing ‘no dark passages, no secret chambers... – things that should be left to ladies’ maids and washerwomen.’ All this condescension was heaped on the most celebrated classic of a literary icon. The role of women writers is evident – to stick to impoverished narratives that entertained the ‘low-born masses’ and not to attempt entry into the realms of literary merit. Austen followed the rules on subject material and wrote on the domestic sphere. However, she diverts from
Literature the beaten track by trialling and perfecting a uniquely female perspective. She doesn’t attempt to transfer masculine traits onto women. Austen never gives us a scene between two men. She focuses on the experiences of women in real social contexts that allow her to satirise her society and its rules. Underneath the civilised gatherings, conversations around the dinner table and marriage gossip, social criticisms and a cynical wit are hidden. Throughout history, these and many other daring and inventive women have worked hard to usher more women on the literary scene and attempt to reform a sexist society. They begin by creating strong fictional women – but can only relate their strength to masculinity. Excellent writers have to struggle against complaints and attempts to ruin reputations from disgruntled literary men. By learning from the work of predecessors and building on it, women writers slowly formed a distinct style that was made unique from the assumptions and tropes used in male fiction. Austen made a breakthrough with her style that did not seek to emulate male fiction but asserted a female literary culture. However, the battle for equality in fiction continues well into the 20th century, continued by the likes of Virginia Woolf, and still continues today. A female poet laureate is, however, only the tip of the iceberg for women in literature.
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A Shawshank Redemption, or merely Lost in Translation?
hen I first heard of plans to turn Audrey Niffennegger’s 2004 novel The Time Traveller’s Wife into a blockbuster movie, my heart sank. To see a truly original work of heartbreaking modern fiction reduced to a ‘romantic drama’ on the IMDb website depressed me beyond belief; another brilliant book translated into an insipid and characterless movie. While only time will tell whether this adaptation will succeed as a faithful and endearing visualisation of a muchloved bestseller or an embarrassing footnote in cinematic history, there is no ignoring the role of the novel and short story in the film industry. Novel adaptations are big business. Their circulation in the world has already attracted a following, demonstrating the storyline’s ability to appeal to a wide demographic which presents considerably less financial risk to investors. The film industry flourished during 2008 with revenue at a predicted $9.78 billion in the USA alone, with two of the three biggest earning films being adaptations from graphic novels, The Dark Knight and Iron Man, pulling in a cool $531 million and $318.3 million respectively. Huge potential financial dividends and fan base expansion act as massive incentives for the author, unless perhaps your bank balance is as healthy as Stephen King’s, who famously hated Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining so much, he produced his own notoriously terrible television version. Financial gain aside, the novel adaptation has produced many acclaimed, award winning and moving films, embraced and celebrated by the most important component of cinema - the audience. The number one voted film on IMDb is The Shawshank Redemption, adapted in 1994 from Stephen King’s best-selling novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, nominated for seven Oscars. A quick trawl through the rest of IMDb’s top 250 voted films unearths many other films from books, including The Godfather, Psycho, Trainspotting, To Kill A Mockingbird, Silence of the Lambs, Day of the Jackal, Dr Zhivago, The English Patient, and Goodfellas, with roughly 20, 000 films tagged as ‘adapted from novel’ on the IMDb alone. So what is it that makes a book translate into an excellent film? Or
Rhiannon Williams critiques the world of fantastic and dubious film adaptations. conversely, how can cinema take a brilliant book and occasionally produce some absolute stinkers? Inevitably, a high quality literary source can’t hurt. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the perfect example of the marriage of the written word and the aesthetic, condensing into 558 minutes what took Tolkien roughly twelve years to write. Raking in billions of dollars, single-handedly skyrocketing New Zealand’s tourism and introducing and reminding new and old generations alike of the magic of Middle Earth, the LOTR trilogy has been called the three most influential films of the past 25 years by USA Today. Dubious source aside, LOTR succeeded where the Harry Potter films didn’t. Potter stumbled in my opinion with lukewarm casting and wooden acting, despite an excellent book basis (for the first four at least). While not strictly speaking terrible films in their own right, I consider them vastly subordinate to the visual potential of Potter. Interestingly, it’s often the most difficult or bizarre books that make the most compelling films. Both Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange present huge visual translation problems, consisting of bleak, sparse dialogue and a complicated, intrinsic imaginary language respectively, both excessively violent. Yet on celluloid they became cult classics, the translation from the written to the visual a resounding success. While edits and adjustments to plot and characters are unavoidable in condensing a novel into a screenplay running (mostly) under four hours, these can sometimes alter the original story beyond comprehension. Acting, Producing and Directing student at York Daniel Moody articulates: “Visualisation of any literary source is always going to be problematic, with the mandatory switch between a personal medium to a collaborative one instantly
causing distortion of the material. It’s like trying to fit someone’s face over your own: it won’t fit so you have to stretch it. Images and words have separate possibilities and limitations.” Mary Harron’s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho was famously tamer than its literary equivalent, as cinematic representation of the excessive gore, hardcore pornographic exploitation and mutilation of women would never have made it past the censors, perhaps somewhat thankfully. While providing a great starting point for many movies, pre-existing material can unfortunately create a lazy attitude to filmmaking. The temptation to churn out an entire series of films based upon a book series is lucratively hard to turn down, but the film product often suffers as a result. Determined to capitalise on the global success of the recent Twilight movie, the production team signed up a new director, galloping through filming in order for the sequel New Moon to hit our screens in November, less than a year after the previous release. Clearly, catering to the demands of millions of very excited fans is understandable, but compromising the integrity of a film is an inevitable side-effect of fast-track filmmaking (check out the werewolf graphics in the trailer and see what you think). Sadly, a great book does not always make a great film, and recent disappointments such as Memoirs of a Geisha, the Narnia and Northern Lights series and I am Legend are all lacklustre efforts that failed to capture the magic of their original sources. On a more personal note and as a former Waterstone’s employee, film tie-in covers for books are often ugly, photo-shopped affairs that reduce literature to promotional tools for Scarlet Johannson and Keira Knightly. Many old dears delighted in telling me exactly what they thought of the films of Atonement and The Other Boleyn Girl, whether I wanted to hear it or not (not as good as the books, apparently.) So, a lazy shortcut to making a quick buck, or an essential, living breathing part of modern cinema? I consider these adaptations vital, providing a visual dimension and a deeper appreciation of a cornerstone of 21st century culture, the novel. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return some videotapes…
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Death of the Author
onday 11th February 1963 represents a day of unfulfilled engagements for those close to Sylvia Plath. The table reservation for lunch with her publisher would have to be cancelled. The nurse that was scheduled to arrive at her house on Fitzroy Road at 9 o’clock would not meet with any answer at the door. The stamps borrowed from her downstairs neighbour the previous evening would never be used. Having managed finally to get into Plath’s home the nurse would find the gas taps of the oven on full and her patient-to-be dead. With such disparate facts and trivial observations we try to make sense of an act which is destined to remain enigmatic. The life of the creative mind is typically seen to be a turbulent thing. Our image of the artist is overshadowed by Van Gogh’s ear – an image which paints the creative as mythic beings, half-mad and solitary, descending from the mountain of inspiration every now and then to ply us with their curious craft before ascending once again to the unfathomable stratosphere
Frederick Botham probes into the turbulence of the creative mind. in which they live. Suicide has sadly become a well-recognised aspect of this image throughout history. In the wake of Plath’s death, studies have been undertaken to explore the correlation between creativity and mental illness, and by extension, the prevalence of suicide amongst the creatively-minded. Moreover, Plath’s demise has been used to demonstrate the so-called ‘Sylvia Plath effect’, first theorised by the psychologist James C. Kaufman. His hypothesis posits that female writers in particular are more likely than their male counterparts to display signs of mental illness. How can we explain this tendency? The poet Fernando Pessoa once wrote ‘I’ve no ambitions or desires. / My being a poet isn’t an ambition. /
It’s my way of being alone.’ We can see how the creative process is inextricably isolating. Authorship itself is a concept which is concerned with distinguishing individuals from the anonymity of the masses. The adage that it is ‘lonely at the top’ comes to mind. Perhaps this sense of solitude has an added dimension amongst female writers who have typically had to combat the imposed isolation of a historically phallocentric enterprise – after all, writing has been dominated by men for centuries. Though plausible, this is obviously a rather generalised explanation. Kaufman has resignedly concluded that, for now, the jury is out. We may be imposing a pattern which is not actually there. Just as interesting to consider, however, is the effect of deaths like Plath’s. I suspect many people took up the author’s best known work ‘The Bell Jar’ after her suicide with a sense of inquisitiveness. Like the minute details of her death, her works are destined to be read retrospectively and probed for some hint about her eventual fate. Because of their premature departures, authors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and, more recently, Sarah Kane, are destined to retain, in our consciousness, a sense of their youth. Without straying too far into Freudian territory, I think to a certain extent their age and gender is guaranteed to fascinate us. Just as old as the idea of the artist as a strange creature is the allure of the young lady in danger. What’s more, the deaths of all three of these writers conform to Shakespeare’s tradition of killing off his female characters – their deaths do not involve bloodshed, but remain externally unscathed, so that their image may be preserved. There is certainly something in their deaths which is distinct from, say, the image of a 61 year-old, overweight Ernest Hemingway, missing most of his face. Though we continue to speculate over the deaths of these individuals, in some ways the self-designed death of the author, whether male or female, seems outdated. I wonder how prevalent it will be in our modern literary climate.
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Shakespeare’s Timelessness Here and Now
e was not of an age, but for all time!’ Jonson wrote in his poem to Shakespeare published with the first folio in 1623. Presumably, from this quote comes the phrase that Shakespeare is timeless, one of the few ‘facts’ about the Bard that every school child seems to have learnt. But what is behind this sense of timelessness? Jonson says that Shakespeare is for all time, but as a contemporary of Shakespeare what does that mean? Does he mean that Shakespeare will always be wellknown - as is apparent from the fact that he has been in production ever since his first plays were performed in the early 1590s? Or does Jonson mean that the themes that Shakespeare writes about (love, jealousy, hate, revenge, misunderstandings and confusions) are the aspects that will outlive him? These must be timeless; we are still as human as those watching Shakespeare’s plays four hundred years ago. There have been love stories in every period, and likewise there have been people who wish to listen and watch. Or, is this timelessness shown in the way that every child of school age in Great Britain has studied at least one of his works, and by the countless film adaptations and plays set in multiple periods which are constantly being produced? In York this term there has been The Winter’s Tale performed in the Drama Barn, Twelfth Night at the Theatre Royal, The Tempest being performed in week 8 for Student Action and Julius Caesar being performed at Monkgate, each with only the director’s interpretation of the historic set and the four hundred year old lyrics. The performance of Twelfth Night at Theatre Royal on the first of May even held a question and answer session between the cast and pub-
Becky Ellis questions the meaning of Shakespeare’s timelessness. lic for feedback from both sides. The theme of timelessness was one which seemed to occupy director Juliet Forster’s interpretation of the text. Instead of choosing one time Forster went for all times, saying that her costumes were influenced from the Tudor period through to post World War One. The set - a
cross between a birdcage and a gymnasium - was supposed to denote some fantastical world. But did this timeless impression work? Only the question and answer session resolved doubts about costumes that looked badly researched and, in Olivia’s case, utterly bizarre. Only in a fantasy world could any character wear a transparent mourning gown; Olivia, supposedly an example of modesty, piety and chastity was wearing a costume which could only be a cross between the burlesque and Victorian mourning weeds. So timelessness does not necessarily mean literally timeless - not of no age, but of every one. But where should Shakespeare be set? She’s the Man (2006) and 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) claim to be adaptations of Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew respectively. But apart from similar character names
and a trace of a plot, these adaptations reduce Shakespeare to American high-schools and show very little of their original influence. The ideas of the plots are the same since they include the same emotions, but these productions are hardly timeless, even if they do last longer than countless and forgettable stage productions. But they have lost the language, the regular beat of iambic pentameter which is so typical of English poetry at this time. Shakespeare is timeless because of his language: everyone who has heard Twelfth Night’s opening line ‘If music be the food of love, play on, / Give me excess of it,’ should find it hard to doubt the reality of the torn anguish of Orsino’s love for love. Juliet’s despair, wishful thinking and pure love pull the audience deeper into both her emotions and the play as she declares, ‘what’s in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.’ Shakespeare’s grasp of poetry, combined with the ordinary people who deliver it, are what make these quotes so timeless. But it is those fleeting moments on the stage when the audience can believe in the love of Romeo and Juliet, in the jealousy of Othello or the anguish of King Lear, that keep audiences going back for more. The infinitely more definitive film productions of Shakespeare lose the presence of the audience, the laughter and the constant humour. The beauty of drama is in its different adaptations; no one performance can ever be the same, and time has moved on. Every person can have their own opinions on how each play should be set, or each line performed, but good drama is timeless and is remembered for how its recurrent themes and words can resonate through generations and can be relived again and again.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
e live in a society that loves its role models, almost as much as it loves to argue about them. We talk about how Liverpool Football Club’s captain Steven Gerrard has failed in his duty as a role model when he’s caught assaulting people in a nightclub. Our role models even argue amongst themselves; Peaches Geldof recently proclaimed herself to be a better role model than the muchidealised Miley Cyrus due to her “real” upbringing. To a degree, all of this makes sense. Why shouldn’t kids try to emulate the successes of footballers and singers? Unfortunately, we have come to expect our role models to serve not merely as exemplars of success and excellence, but also as moral guides for children. Should we really be expecting the celebrities who we endow with great power through our idolisation to fulfil the great responsibility of safeguarding children’s moral development? Football is a perfect case study for that question, partly because of professional footballers’ status as heroes, but mostly due to their propensity for selfinflicted bouts of stupidity. Obviously the likes of Newcastle’s ask-questionslater midfielder Joey Barton, who would probably be in jail if he wasn’t a professional footballer, make dreadful role models. But even our more ‘respectable’ footballers are incapable of living up to the expectations we place on them. Tottenham’s Ledley King demonstrated that a footballer can be modest as well as pacific when he helpfully informed a night-club bouncer that his £80,000 a week wage made him important enough to get the £10 an hour bouncer fired. And even Steven Gerrard – long regarded to be English football’s nice guy – has demonstrated his penchant for a little fighting recently. But is this really their fault, or is it ours? Why do we expect someone who is good with a football to be a good person, or a person who makes wise and careful life choices? Liverpool’s reserve goalkeeper Charles Itandje was much maligned in April for seeming
Also in this section: 11 Emily Labram on Nicolas Sarkozy troubled childhood, 12 Siobhan Hurley on Facebook; 13 Huw Halstead asks if video games are sexist; 14 James MacDougald on the BNP
Huw Halstead ponders contemporary role models to dance during the Hillsborough disaster memorial service, accused of being disrespectful and of setting a bad example. But why do we expect a random man who happens to be good at throwing himself in front of moving objects to also be a bastion of social correctness? And why is no one accusing the presumably welleducated journalists of being poor role models, after they ran a mini-hate campaign against Itandje? In some ways, we can be thankful that kids look up to footballers instead of tabloid journalists – otherwise they’d all end up with a zero-accountability mob mentality. It seems to me that expecting people who have been thrust into the public eye by virtue of a specific skill that society happens to deem worthy of adulation to automatically become faultless role models is reckless. Some people have, of course, also attempted to actively identify and propagate ‘good’ celebrity role models and to tackle the media’s arbitrarily assigned role models. Website rolemodel.net, for instance, has identified a number of “outstanding role models” to inspire young people. They lavish praise on Brad Pitt for his family values and for listening to the “voice within”, and on Barbara Bush for supporting her husband and campaigning for literacy. This is all fine, I guess. I mean, allegations of adultery aside, Brad Pitt seems like a fairly decent guy, and the patience Barbara Bush must possess to have been able to put up with a Bush for husband and child for so many years is frankly astounding. But – and here we get to what (I think) is my main point – why must our role models be famous people? Why must we subject some poor sod to the task of trawling through the dregs of celebrity culture to identity some scraps of good moral
behaviour? According to the ever-useful Wikipedia, the term ‘role model’ was coined by sociologist Robert K. Merton, to mean the process of identifying with people who share a similar social role to that which the individual aspires. This raises two points. Firstly, we cannot hope to identify ‘good’ role models, when a role model is a subjective concept based on what ‘social role’ an individual wants to fulfil. Even if we made role model assignment a profession, it would take an army of such people to identify role models that would satisfy every parent’s ideological requirements for their children. Secondly, and I know this sounds kind of lame, but it would surely make more sense for people to take role models from their own lives - their teachers, parents, or friends – as opposed to either arbitrarily assigning moral role models based on skill, or tortuously weeding out which celebrities are appropriate to serve as role models to each specific social aspiration. Of course, all of that is fairly irrelevant really. Most people probably agree that it would be better to have role models from your immediate surroundings than to idolize celebrities, but inevitably, and increasingly as mass media continues to grow, young people will identify with the people they see on TV or in the cinema. So, in light of this depressing inevitability, I propose an ironic solution. Films, video games, and comic books are often blamed by the media, parents, and the government for creating a culture of violence amongst young people. So, if young people really are emulating what they read in comic books, why not have them adopt Spider-Man as a state-sanctioned role model? Really, he’s the perfect candidate: he works hard at school to get good grades, meets a nice girl and settles down with her, works tirelessly to support his aunt after the death of his uncle, saves the innocent from the cruelty of New York’s streets, and is a total badass. Perfect.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Nicolas Isn’t Kozy With The Princess
f Gordon Brown scorned Milton’s Paradise Lost, how indignant would you feel? Would you take to the streets, banners waving, and blockade Heslington Hall? Call it classic French over-reaction if you will, but this was exactly the response of Parisian students when President Sarkozy expressed his dislike of one of France’s earliest novels. The book in question was La Princesse de Cleves by Madame de la Fayette – a seventeenthcentury tale of thwarted love that has featured on French syllabuses since the days of Sarkozy’s boyhood. Evidently, the novel caused the president untold pain, because he now seems to take every opportunity to dismiss it as irrelevant and risible. It was back in February 2006 when Sarkozy first derided the hapless novel. What “sadist or idiot”, he asked, would include questions on Renaissance literature in an exam for public sector workers? “When was the last time you asked a counter clerk what she thought of The Princess of Cleves?” the president humorously enquired. The comment, although intended as an appeal to common sense, instead smacked of blinkered philistinism. Yes, clearly, neither counter clerks, nor presidents for that matter, draw from the fountain of the classics when performing dayto-day tasks. But surely education has always been more than simply equipping youths with the practical skills for labour. And shouldn’t both presidents and blue-collar workers be taught – or force-fed, in the case of young Nicolas – edifying literature, especially in a country like France which prides herself on “Égalité”?
Shouldn’t both presidents and blue-collar workers be taught edifying literature? The French public might have pardoned one disparaging comment from a president who prefers Céline Dion to Chopin. Earlier this year, however, Sarkozy ruffled the feathers of the intellectual elite once again. When discussing on what grounds civil servants should be considered for promotion, he declared that voluntary service should be prioritised. And then, inevitably, he added: “this is just as important as knowing La Princesse de Cleves by heart”. The president then admitted wryly that he had “suffered greatly” at school
Prompting public sector strikes in France, Emily Labram investigates Sarkozy’s difficult relationship with La Princess de Cleves. at the hands of the dreaded novel; one imagines little Nicolas cowering in front of his mother, having presented his latest essay, which is marked with a glaring “ZÉRO”. The president’s aversion to La Princesse extends to a general disdain for cultural pursuits, in favour of such horrors as physical exercise. Remember the photos of ‘Sporty Sarko’ jogging down the Seine – oh la la! – often clad in his favourite NYPD t-shirt? Such incendiary behaviour caused Alain Finkelkraut, a celebrated philosopher, to beg Mr Sarkozy on television to abandon his “undignified” hobby, and to take up walking instead – the pursuit of Socrates, Arthur Rimbaud, and other great men. While the jogging furore subsided, the Princesse de Cleves scandal sparked nationwide protest. Comparisons were made between the “president of bling” and Lafayette’s depiction of the lavish Henry II. Book sales of the novel escalated, and students orchestrated marathon public readings. Two thousand badges branded with the slogan “I’m reading La Princesse de Cleves” sold out in record time. Protesters demonstrated waving placards that read “Free the Princesse of Cleves!” The novelist Régis Jauffret even urged French citizens to send copies of the novel to Sarkozy as a gesture of defiance against the “glorification of ignorance”. Clearly, the French ‘élite’ objects to a president who displays the slightest buffoonery. In fact, it is ironic that the politicians France usually elects as president tend to resemble Obama far more than Sarkozy, whose predecessors – Chirac, Giscard d’Estaing, Pompidou, – were typically academic high-fliers, educated at the prestigious ‘Grandes Écoles’. The son of a Hungarian immigrant, who abandoned him in his childhood, Sarkozy is reported
Actor Tom Cruise gives his famous Sarkozy impression. to have been an average student, whose style of politics has been described as hyperactive rather than sophisticated. French left-wingers cringe at his enthusiasm for America, which has most recently culminated in bull-in-a-china-shop preparations for D-Day. After snubbing the Queen in the hope of liaising with Obama, Sarkozy’s dinner invitation to the American President has just been answered by an embarrassing refusal. Thankfully, the French head of state has been saved from the opinion polls by a combination of factors, which must, without a doubt, include his elegant wife, Carla Bruni. Her immaculate presence at state functions, attired in demure shades of plum and navy, cast waves of refinement over her more diminutive husband. France’s emergence (relatively unscathed) from the economic downturn is a factor of more obvious significance. Sarkozy’s tremendous success in the European Parliamentary elections proves that his electorate still respect and support him. French citizens may be prepared to overlook ‘Sporty Sarko’s’ lowbrow taste in music, his jogging, and his NYPD t-shirt, but he’d better watch his step where La Princesse de Cleves is concerned. One more slip of the tongue, and he’ll have a host of counter-clerks racing after him brandishing placards, and his vengeful mother too, I wouldn’t doubt.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
s anyone else sick of Facebook as a dominion over our relationship status, political disposition and popularity? I certainly am. Let’s face it: Facebook is now the most powerful medium of communication, and with over 200 million users worldwide (and with hundreds of thousands signing up everyday), Mark Zuckerburg is probably swinging from the money trees laughing – laughing – at our addiction to the insipid, at our fascination with status updates, strangers’ old holiday photos and the lives of anyone and everyone else. Sarah Humdinger made carrot and coriander fritters for dinner. Edward Murphy saw a host of buttercups today. I don’t care about these things, do I? I don’t even know anymore. Maybe they fascinate me because I secretly want these things and these experiences that aren’t immediate to me but are to those behind the status. Is it jealousy? I want carrot and coriander fritters, but I can’t have them, and the only way for me to experience them in my woeful, penniless existence is by catching a whiff of them in a status three hours after they’ve been cooked in someone else’s reality. Are we fascinated by the lives of others because we want to emulate them, or because our own lives smack so depressingly of inadequacy and emptiness? Does our addiction to Facebook mark a more sinister trend in some sort of existential crisis, whereby we socket ourselves in the virtual world to escape the real one? Whatever the answer is, this is for sure: Facebook is about numbers, collecting, acquiring, deceiving. Lying. I have exactly 289 friends on Facebook, and in all honesty, I only care for about 18 of them. Why do these spectres from the past still haunt us in the Facebook present? Who is Gill Bennett? I’ve no idea, but she’s my friend apparently. Facebook is about lying, about constructing identities and not really possessing them, about collecting friends as numbers. The truth is we delight in befriending ex-lovers, primary school pals and distant relatives as glittering evidence of our Facebook popularity, and therefore our real social worth, since the two have now become entirely interdependent. I’m not comfortable with my photograph being taken, mostly because my face always senses when it’s being photographed and collapses into itself upon the flash. But crucially
Facing Facts Siobhan Hurley rants about our obsession with Facebook
I don’t want my photograph taken because I know that my frozenKodak-moments-of-all-thingsawkward will be spat back out into the Facebook vacuum the following morning. Photography is just another regrettable dimension of Facebook; we take photographs as evidence of our nights out and as proof of our social experience with real people. But our experiences with real people are only validated and recognised when they’re posted back into the realms of Facebook. We need photographs to prove that we’ve had a good time, that we aren’t hermits and that we
Facebook is about numbers, collecting, acquiring, deceiving. Lying. do have friends, because our anxiety about popularity and perception is greater than ever. A friend of mine told me she was ‘worried’ about one of our other friends because no photos had been tagged of her for quite some time, and there was no other evidence of Facebook activity for at least 7
days. Facebook isn’t just a measure of popularity, then, it’s a measure of our well-being, our presence, our existence. How far we are living through Facebook indicates how far we are living altogether, or even at all. Our experiences in the real world are apparently only complete by forfeiting them to the virtual one. My biggest problem with Facebook, however, is the way it transmutes the language of the real world into something distorted and comical. Take ‘rape’, for example. Needless to say, rape in the real world is violent and horrific. However, ‘rape’ in the Facebook world is hilarious, and this coining of the word ‘rape’ to describe changing someone’s status while they’re not looking, or adding ‘Barbara Streisand’ to their favourite music, reduces rape to something cheeky and a little-bit-mischievous. That ‘so-andso was raped on Facebook the other day’ is a phrase I’m hearing all too often, but many people are dropping Facebook as a qualifier at the end of the sentence since we’ve now come to understand rape as a concept that’s been hijacked by Facebook. After just checking my own account, I see that one unfortunate victim ‘would kill for a cock inside her right now’. Whoever the Facebook ‘rapist’ is, they’ve not only imitated rape as an act of intrusion and a violation of privacy, but the brainless moron has also used the language of violence too, completing the whole thing as a grotesque enactment of the more real, more horrifying reality of rape. People are getting one over on each other by raping each other in cyberspace, and if the lexicon of Facebook isn’t replacing the OED, it’s not long before it will enter it. Tagging, defriending, posting and raping are all words that are permeating our conversations more frequently and with new understandings. The nexus between virtual reality and real life is so interchangeable that what we’re left with is a set of values negotiated back and forth between reality and Facebook itself. So where does that leave us? I for one am confused, but I’m also guilty of buying into this system myself. I check Facebook at least 5 times a day. I’ve done it twice while I’ve written this. But it doesn’t mean I’m not tired of the ridiculousness, the compulsion, the obsession of it all. Clearly, I’m just a Zucker for Facebook.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
What’s the Croft of Sexism?
he likes of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and the schooluniform-clad Dead or Alive girls have seen their sexuality specifically employed to sell video games. Lara Croft has become such a sexual franchise that publisher Eidos employs a full time model, currently British gymnast Alison Carroll, to appear in Lara’s revealing outfits at promotional events. Dead or Alive developers Tecmo are no strangers to such tricks either. Dead or Alive 2 had a bar in the option menu, cleverly disguised as a character age bar, that determined the degree of bounciness in the characters’ breasts, and also boasted a full colour gallery of all the female characters in swimwear. Furthermore, although the Dead or Alive franchise was originally a fighting series only, Tecmo has released two poorly disguised datingsimulations under the guise of beach volleyball games, in which the player plays as the girl of their choosing, and then attempts to flatter the other girls into becoming their volleyball partner, in a quasi-lesbianistic display of game designers’ sexual fantasies. But it doesn’t stop at these blatant examples of sexual marketing. Even female protagonists whose sexuality is not explicitly used to sell video games are subject to the same archetypal feminine video game characteristics: beauty, curvaceous-ness, some degree of playful or suggestive personality, and (occasionally optional) giant breasts. Take Nintendo’s star Samus Aran as an example. Samus was originally an androgynous bounty hunter concealed by a full-body armour suit and referred to as “him” in the instruction manual, until it was revealed at the end of the NES game Metroid that Samus was in fact a beautiful, young, blonde – and a woman. Clearly, the game developers had clocked onto the selling potential of giving their mysterious character a sex transplant. Even with military female protagonists, who have little or no sexual role in a game, great care has been taken to craft them into archetypes of beauty. French resistance fighters Manon Batiste, from Medal of Honour: Underground, and Isabelle DuFontaine, from Call of Duty 3, seem to operate as the ‘sexual relief’ in the game: their beauty is irrelevant to their characterisations, and operates only as in-game eye candy. So, does all of this mean that the video games industry is sexist? Or, as my editor rather more eloquently put it, are female protagonists in video games simply “pretend figures
Huw Halstead asks: why are all female protagonists in video games designed to be hot?
of empowerment; products of male sexual discourse”? Quite possibly. Although there are some exceptions to the rule, none of them do much to dispel the sexism theory. Valve’s surprise 2007 hit Portal starred Chell, a female protagonist who was neither particularly pretty nor particular skinny. Ah, maybe we’re on to something here. Alas, a little digging and we realise that Chell was modelled on voice actress Alésia Glidewell who is particularly pretty and skinny. Poor programming to blame, perhaps. Some people have identified the likes of Resident Evil’s Jill Valentine or Max Payne 2’s Mona Sax as being a better representation of women in gaming,
citing, respectively, a modest dress sense and reasonable sized breasts. However, these ‘exceptions’ start to seem questionable when, firstly, Jill Valentine swaps her sensible army camouflage for a mini skirt and tubetop for promotional reasons, and, secondly, when we discover that Max Payne’s developers included a nude version of Mona Sax in the game, that could be unlocked with cheats. So, disappointingly, when looking for genuine exceptions to the rule, we are pretty much limited to child female protagonists, primarily starring in Japanese survival horror games such as Silent Hill 3, protagonists that are partially or wholly animal, or protagonists from an era when there weren’t enough pixels to animate beauty. However, all of this doesn’t necessarily mean that the video games industry is a sexist machine, exploiting women to sell their product. Let’s take a look, for comparison, at how men are represented in video games. Broadly speaking, they fall into two categories. On the one hand, you have the Western-style male protagonist: a huge, muscle-bound, always-brave, misunderstood antihero. This model is exemplified by Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago, who have enough muscle in their necks alone to power a normal human, approach death and danger with a humorously cavalier attitude, and have tragic back stories involving dead children and missing fathers. On the other hand, there is the Japanese-style protagonist: young, handsomely fresh-faced, and popular with the ladies, such as Devil May Cry’s Dante. It seems to me that such representations are symptomatic of society’s hegemonic concept of masculinity - the strong, heroic, handsome man - in the same way that female protagonists are a product of hegemonic femininity - the curvy, beautiful, fun-loving woman. And such stereotyping is not limited to gender; video games are also rife with racial stereotypes. The stereotype of the hypermasculine, recklessly courageous, enthusiastic black American G.I. is faithfully brought to gaming by The Thing’s token black G.I., whose only significant line is, “I’m locked, loaded, and ready to make shit dead!” So, I propose that the video game industry is more shallow and prone to stereotyping than it is sexist. Whether this is something we should be concerned about, or whether it’s just a predictable product of an industry so rooted in fantasy as the gaming industry, is a much trickier question.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Anti-Semantism James MacDougald argues that, unlike the proverbial omelette, combating the BNP should not involve breaking any eggs
his month, the British National Party beat their own electoral record by winning seats in two European parliamentary constituencies. So, naturally, everyone’s making a big fuss. It goes without saying that holocaust denial is unpalatable, that repatriation of third-generation British Asians is unthinkable and that Nick Griffin is a porky, beetleeyed racist. All the same, the BNP are a legitimate political party. They have won two seats in a free election (no less free because 66% of those eligible did not bother to cast a vote), on top of several council positions they already hold. With almost a million votes at the most recent ballot, it is futile to pretend that their success does not reflect the political tendencies of a significant proportion of the British electorate. Under the present system, there is little chance of the BNP winning a seat in the House of Commons at the next election. But in the meantime, there probably ought to be an enlightened debate about why the party has any support at all. Such a debate would, for example, examine whether or not there is any truth in the suggestion that most BNP voters are more interested in mass immigration, social housing and an increasingly straitened job market than wearing jackboots and attending Nazi rallies. Does the BNP owe its success to the pro-white working class stance they have adopted on these issues – issues which have been pullulating in the supermarkets of Britain for the last twentyfive years? Every pathologist knows that disease is an opportunity to understand the body. In this case, it is the body-politic that needs to be examined. But this debate is not taking place. Why? Because the agenda has been set by Unite Against Fascism, a lunatic band of unreconstructed, knee-jerk Marxists whose campaign to exclude the BNP from politics is considerably more fascist than anything in the BNP manifesto. Now
pay close attention, British liberals, progressive or classical, because these people are your advocates in the court of public opinion. The explicit aim of UAF is to deny the BNP the basic platforms afforded to all the other elected parties in the UK. According to UAF, a party’s right to compete in the political arena is subject to its policies being acceptable to…UAF. Of course! What starry-eyed romantics we were to think that democracy is total and unconditional. Recently, a delegation of yobs from UAF pelted Griffin with eggs at a BNP press conference in Westminster. UAF were also responsible for the riots outside the Oxford Union in 2007. The protestors disrupted a forum at which Nick Griffin and David Irving, the controversial historian, had been invited to speak, even after the students had voted in favour of the event. The subject of the forum was free speech. UAF are a public relations catastrophe, a raggedy assortment of hippies, druids, trainspotters, rent-agobs, po-faced trade unionists and common or garden violent thugs. So it has been no surprise to learn that UAF’s chairman is ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone, the man who upset a Jewish journalist by comparing him to a concentration camp guard shortly before telling two IraqiJewish-Indian businessmen to ‘go back to Iran and try their luck with the Ayatollahs’. Yes, I concede, the journalist was, most likely, a weedy, snivelling nipple of a man, and the two businessmen should probably have been a bit more thick-skinned as well. But the fact remains: Red Ken is too clumsy an opponent for Cambridge-educated master-orator Griffin and his silky, well-spoken
sidekick, Andrew Brons MEP. Which leads on to another problem: language. Semantics are serious, vocabulary vital. As early as 1946, George Orwell observed that ‘The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.’ So is Unite Against Fascism really an appropriate slogan? Fascism seeks to curtail democracy and expand national borders, and generally aligns itself with some or other theory of racial superiority. By contrast, the BNP’s methods are eminently democratic and their defence policy is expressly one of ‘armed neutrality’. Moreover, though the BNP gives shelter to a concentrated supply of retired anti-Semites and parochial racists, their manifesto is more concerned with the perceived practical benefits of racial segregation than the philosophy of white supremacy. Why not Unite Against Racism, which would be more accurate and no less forceful? But apart from the fact that they are chaired by a discredited political cadaver, that their proposals are undemocratic and that the title of their affiliate is practically meaningless, what’s not to like about UAF? I’ve no doubt they mean well, but if their strategy continues to be as violent, stupid and crude as it has hitherto been, we should give them no quarter. Nick Griffin is an inveterate distorter of facts, and is rarely right about anything. Yet he is certainly right to advise David Cameron and the other political leaders who have expressed support for UAF to withdraw it immediately. This organisation truly is a menace to democracy – and I don’t mean the BNP.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 Also in this section: 17 B. T. Schonewald on the recession and its effect on British politics.
Empty Pockets, Empty Gestures?
n the 7th June, 1981, eight Israeli F-16s roared over the Iraqi desert en route to the site of Osirak Nuclear Materials Testing Reactor. They were not there to film Top Gun. Operation Opera was a controversial mission to neutralise the site and disrupt Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions. It was widely condemned, even by the Americans who had provided the fighter jets. Their punishment was to suspend the sale of U.S. warplanes to the Israeli military, resuming the supply later that year. The message was that if Israel intended to use the long reach of its air power for unilateral, aggressive actions, then they would not benefit from the favourable Peace Marble contracts agreed between the two governments. This was a purely symbolic sanction, an act of empty financial protest which was rendered ineffective in material terms by the extant military power already exerted by Israel’s fleet of American and European warplanes. It made little difference to the Israel’s airpower, established by slightly older aircraft and already easily capable of achieving air superiority over its opponents. In April of 2006, Hamas responded to the U.S. and E.U. decision to cut off financial support to the Palestinian Authority (P. A.) by appealing on T.V. stations and websites for individuals to donate money to their new cabinet. According to the Jerusalem Post,
Looking to the Middle East, Peter Hagen examines the role of money as a political instrument the P.A. Planning Minister Samir Abu Aisha described the contributions as a symbolic gesture rather than a significant source of income. And if the symbolic economy at play here were in doubt, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council also claimed that a young girl had donated her life savings of 1,359 Jordanian Dinars to the cause. The emotive power wielded by this public exhibition of support – and, by extension, defiance of the Western sanctions – ignores the relative insignificance of the revenue generated.
Is that a IDF F-16I? Why, yes it is.
Both of these cases share the situation where political agendas hijack financial transaction for a purpose that has little to do with the overt, everyday functions of a financial transaction. In both of these cases money masquerades as ideology. To be more precise, when politics operates in economic clothes, the standard fiduciary significance of hard currency or, more generally, of all financial transactions, is relegated in favour of something altogether less tangible. Here, money is not money. It is the vessel of another significance altogether, in line with an unspoken symbolic order which is invoked to deliver a generalised political message. We are used to the signs and instances of wealth – or indeed poverty – operating at a very basic level in our observations of the world. A glance at Jay-Z’s attire, or a trace of Brian Sewell’s accent, confirms this. However, these instances assume the possession of money: they are predicated upon an actual financial situation. By contrast, the examples of America’s notional sanction of Israel in 1981 and the symbolic gesture of collecting revenue from a broad base of international supporters insinuated by Hamas in 2006 both offer nothing more than a hypothetical financial basis. This is obscured in favour of a claim made in terms of pure gestural significance. Something similar to this
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
has been described by maverick cultural critic, Slavoj Žižek. Such gestural take-overs occur in everyday discourse in the form of polite apologies or similar forms of notional self-sacrifice, where there is “symbolic exchange at its purest… the magic of symbolic exchange is that although at the end we are where we were at the beginning, there is a distinct gain for both parties in their pact of solidarity”. This is clearly at work in the populist insistence of Hamas that support flowed from all corners of the Arab world in negligible financial donations, working through precisely the means of pure symbolism towards an equally specious pact of solidarity. America’s reaction to Operation Opera is a more complex instantiation of a similar phenomenon. It is obvious that the intention was not to achieve a pact of solidarity with Israel. This is more complex than the previous formula where party A makes a notional gesture to B, while B responds in similar terms, and these hypothetical predicates go on to form a pact of solidarity with effects tangible in the real life world in which the parties operate. The departure comes in the form the gestural transaction resulting in results common to part A and a third party: the notional castigation of Israel equally proposing a bond
of allegiance with the wider voice of condemnation against the air raid and a vague warning to the Israeli military – which, conveniently for those interested in the performance of America’s newly-developed F-16, contained no serious consequence or hindrance to the finances or effectiveness of Israel’s military capabilities. In this sense it was the perfect tool for the U.S. administration. In each of these cases where the parallax shift of money from financial to politico-ideological significance occurs, the act of association or solidarity is also an act of opposition. For Hamas, this was to be subversive in the face of real financial sanctions imposed by previously forthcoming nations and institutions – although predicated on what probably qualifies as propaganda. For the U.S. government in the 1980s, the act of opposition was suitably notional, answering their need to preserve close military ties to Israel whilst be seen to protest against the aggression of their ally. So soft and symbolic was their act of protestation, in fact, that Ilan Ramon, the youngest pilot who crossed the border into Iraq to destroy Saddam’s Nuclear facility, was able to became an astronaut, tragically perishing along with six other crew members in the ill-fated NASA Columbia mission in 2003.
Looking to the operation of this notional language which operates parasitically upon false financial grounds, the central question is whether this diplomacy of pure symbolism is capable of passing across – rather than in accordance with – the global divides which spring from conflict in the Middle East, turning the potential for commonality within factions to one between factions. The tentative and occasional use of Confidence Building Measures such as the small-scale release of prisoners in preparation for wider attempts at accord suggest a place for this kind of gesture, but it will require more stable forms of dialogue for these “soft” forms of interaction to operate. Nevertheless, it is possible to believe that this power of money to make real consequences from hypothetical financial activity can operate universally. The potential of money to enact change even completely outside the limits of meaningful economic or financial transactions is suggested by Ecclesiastes 10:19, where “a feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things”. We can only hope that a similar phenomenon of notional financial gestures carrying real conciliatory results also operates with the good people of the student loans company.
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veryone is learning to loathe the news. Every day, there’s a new scare-story or scandal, and increasingly these terrible tales are centred around the murky and oft-misunderstood world of finance. I can’t pretend to know much more than anyone else about the recession, but it doesn’t seem anyone really knows anything at all; at any given point there are hundreds of pundits and commentators spinning out theories about what will happen in five years’ time on the same set of data and any one of them could become ‘The Gloating Economist’, the I-toldyou-so adviser who just got lucky. Increasingly devastating, however, is the impact of the recession on the nation’s politics. Recently, we all witnessed one of the most depressing election results of our time, in which UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) and the BNP (the British National Party) gained their best ever election results. Their success was certainly due to the recent scandal over MP’s expenses, as well as to the recession and the shortage of jobs that a depression entails. Belts are tightening, and with the unemployment rate now at 7.2%, the highest since July 1997, people are looking for someone to blame, and they’ve been provided with any number of targets. While many of us would feel pretty depressed about any country where you can’t buy an island for tired ducks with the public purse, it seems many people felt hard done by paying for de-moulding someone’s chimney and buying Mr. Smith pornographic movies. The problem is that many people are annoyed that while the jobs market suffers and money gets tight, they’re still expected to bankroll home improvements for a parliament consisting mainly of spineless morons. An MP’s wage is already a pretty healthy £64,766 per annum, but then there are the supplementary salaries for being a shadow cabinet minister at the head of a select committee,
and then there are expenses and generous allowances piled on top of that. Given that most places aren’t London, or even near London, the fact that the expenses system also allows MPs a fund for holding a second home is a contentious issue, and the widespread manipulation of that system is currently burning a hole in our newspapers. Considering the notoriously low attendance rate of members at many votes, it’s not difficult to see how many people perceive this salary as money for nothing. Being an MP may be a thankless task, but a lot of MPs aren’t doing anything worth being thankful for, they’re just toeing the line,
A monkey clinging on as career politicians. The BNP in particular have been very keen to position themselves as a party with a values system rooted in logic, rationality, and honesty, while carefully disguising the fact that they’re not letting anyone who isn’t white on the members list. Support for the major parties has plummeted, and despite the fact that the most
Many people are annoyed that while the job market suffers, they’re still expected to pay for MPs home improvements
extraordinary claims made were by Conservatives (moat-cleaning), Labour (plugs and toilet-seats) seem to be the only party hit by the scandal, and the only parties to benefit significantly from their losses in England were on the right-wing. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats might have expected to wring more seats out of Labour than the measly one apiece they got, especially given that the other three lost Labour seats went to the BNP and UKIP. The BNP and UKIP are, of course, a massive set of brain-dead hypocrites. Both Nigel Farage (leader of UKIP) and Nick Griffin strangely neglected to mention in their strenuously antianyone-whoisn’t-white-andfrom-Oldham manifestos that they would be getting paid a healthy wage of €84,000 with expenses, of course - by those damnable foreigners. Because of the job squeeze worsened by the industry of the entire country essentially shutting down, many people think the obvious thing: it’s someone else’s fault. Both UKIP and the BNP capitalised on that, by saying that it was entirely the fault of the French/ blacks/put Madeleine McCann on the 50 pence piece immigrants go home. Anyone who knows anything about anything will tell you that if the UK does leave the EU, the recession will last a lot longer: the cost of imports will increase and, because we aren’t entirely self-sufficient or even capable of achieving total sustainability, we’ll all be in a lot of trouble, paying well over the odds for goods from the world’s largest exporter: the EU. Everyone will live in shacks made from bits of the Angel of the North, except for the billionaires, who will live in ornate castles of soft French cheese simply because they can. Our only hope of a reprieve will be that the people of Luxembourg suddenly realise that without us their famous lust for IrnBru will go unsated. Without the bulk of the EU, the concept of the UK that UKIP and the BNP cling to of Britain
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Benjamin T. Schonewald explores the effect of the recession on voting as a great power, as an international supported will get your say, will military/economic force, is dead, and determine the course of your life. with the anger that the concept of a The government can help out by The biggest winner in newly-impotent Britain will stir, a offering a bank holiday in November political climate in which nationalist as a voting day, as in the USA, and the elections was Voter extremism and fascism is acceptable by fixing the election dates, as in the will emerge, thus further serving the USA, to end the spontaneous nature Apathy will to power of the far-right parties. of holding them, and to end constant With the emergence of the new calls for them. Frankly, I’m getting superpowers (Brazil, India, China) bored of people squalling for Gordon and a resurgent Russia led by a man big winner in this election, really, Brown to hold a general election: who misses the USSR, Britain’s was Voter Apathy: 1,892,015 people he’s not going to hold one until he slice of the pie is about to get a lot who voted last time didn’t turn up absolutely has to, and if you or any of smaller, and the filling will probably to the polls, and the BNP leaped up your loved ones have been whinnying to get two seats, and that’s not even that tired clarion call since 2007, you be disappointingly stringy. Digging a little deeper, however, considering the 30-or-so million who just need to get a grip. It is imperative demonstrates that the ‘victory’ of didn’t turn up to it either. that regardless of the state of the A lot of people who don’t vote global economy, the government UKIP is pretty hollow. UKIP, who came second, visibly push for suggest that transparency and they’re leading progress in its a revolution, activities, so that by the very fact the BNP’s slice of that they pushed the vote doesn’t Labour into third result in them, place, while only unthinkably, gaining a single getting a seat in seat and +0.3% Parliament. of the vote on While people top of last time might be worried around, though about where the it’s doubtful money goes, on that UKIP would whom it is spent, survive the day be it corrupt that it’s revealed MPs or any class that they’ve got grouping that basements full of isn’t their own, lovingly photoanger over it is shopped pictures damaging the of Enoch Powell political system. over Marilyn A lot of MPs will Monroe’s body, or be caught in the Eye spy a striking similarity between Nick and Gordon any other scandal. firing line at the next The turnout for election despite not this election was 15,136,932, which say that it’s too hard to get to the having fiddled the books - or cared represents roughly 34% of the polling station. They’re busy. All the for the ducks – people who do a electorate, which is about 3.6% less politicians are morons. Well, yes, good job for their constituents, but of the electorate than in the 2004 about 99% of them are, but if you just happened to be in the wrong European elections, which means don’t vote, some brainless hooligan parliament, in the wrong party, at that while UKIP might be vigorously who supports a party just because the wrong time. Besides which, what trying to get its nose up its own arse, it they’re the same party he’s always excuse is this fear over money or lack actually polled 152,542 votes less than thereof compared to the absolute at the last election. The BNP polled absence of any moral compass, any over 100,000 votes more than last human compassion, amongst the Everyone will live in time, mainly by painting themselves vulgar fools who voted BNP? The shacks made from bits as people who think UKIP don’t go future of every single person in this far enough, impressively emulating a country is uncertain, regardless of of the Angel of the party whose sole policy is to ruin the class, of colour, of faith, and the key economy. As one pundit pointed out to getting through the recession, to North, except for the this week, as is often the case with pushing through the tough times far-right parties, if the BNP get into billionaires, who will live ahead, will be through unity and power the first thing to happen will not through the vision in ornate castles of soft community, be the eradication of the opposition of division peddled by Nick Griffin (several members of the party itself and his Bigoted National Party. French cheese simply have testified to this as an aim), and Fear of finance is not an excuse for so people who vote BNP have to intolerance, and the green of a dollar because they can. consider whether or not this time will will never be worth the colour of be the last vote they’ll ever get. The skin.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 Also in this section: 21 Sophie Hill on Toulouse-Lautrec; 23 Kiri Anderson explores the Turbine Hall; 24 Nina Courtney Sabey is in fashion; 25 Elanor Allen looks into touching-up portraits
enny Saville’s controversial painting ‘Stare’, the portrait of an anonymous child, was first exhibited in 2005, yet over 4 years after its original unveiling the piece is once again hitting headline news and whipping the countries press into a media frenzy, all thanks to world renowned musicians The Manic Street Preachers. Selected earlier this year as the artwork for the Manic’s album cover ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’, ‘Stare’ was removed from supermarket shelves on account of its distasteful imagery. Saville maintains that the painting is the depiction of a young girl bearing a large red birthmark and not, as it has popularly been misconstrued, the portrayal of a wounded boy with a blood splattered face. Although Saville’s explanation of the work is certainly debatable, what remains significant is the fact that essentially, it is the graphic nature of the image which has been deemed offensive, and not necessarily the theme. So how is it that something that has been described by some as ‘just a beautiful painting’ retains the power to both shock and appal countless others, when explicit photographic images of sex and violence that are so commonplace in the media don’t? Could exploring the visual elements of the painting: style, composition, perspective, and perhaps, most importantly, that which is obscured from view - that which we imagine lies just beyond the limits of the frame - be the key to understanding why this particular work has inspired such diverse and extreme emotional responses? The painting immediately captures the imagination, demanding the viewer’s attention with its piercing and intense look. Simultaneously intriguing and repelling onlookers, ‘Stare’ immediately instils in its spectators an intense enthusiasm for its raw beauty, yet at the same time inspires feelings of dejection and deep disgust. The image is at the same time captivating and disgusting. Stare’ is an extremely ambiguous painting, something which is reflected in the visual techniques employed by Saville in its creation. For example, her expressive style of painting, ‘Lucian-Freudesque’ brushwork and the construction of its composition all play a part in making this a particularly confrontational piece,
Beth Jane Walton looks at the continuing controversy over the Manic Street Preachers’ Saville album cover through which we, as the viewer, come face to face with the unforgettable image of a child in obvious distress. Looking unblinkingly into Saville’s subjects eyes is an uncomfortable experience. It’s unapologetic upclose-and-personal approach is both challenging and provocative. The unidentified child’s head tilts and twists to the right, the left ear almost pricking up like that of a lost puppy listening attentively for the call of its master - something that conveys basic natural instinct. Yet at the same time we can envisage that he or she lifts the ear up in order to listen intently to the whispers of onlookers as they ponder the meaning of this blank expression,
‘Lucian-Freudesque’ brushwork and the construction of its composition all play a part in making this a particularly confrontational piece and make guesswork of the child’s troubling situation, then project on to them various identities, in a vain attempt to answer the question on all of our lips, ‘what does Saville want from us?’ Or perhaps more precisely, what does the painting itself want from us? Setting the portrait against a background of cool blues, misty greys and light greens in contrast to the earthy tones of the skin, serves to
emphasise the bold and bloody hues used to give the appearance of living, breathing, malleable flesh. The background is bright and stimulating, yet cold and almost clinical when coupled with the mysterious bandage like dressings, swathed around the child’s shoulders and chest. Painted in blocks of hue, at times in an almost abstract or impressionistic way, Saville plays with the effects of bright light and bold shadow, creating texture through the use of impasto and thick oil paint. This image essentially consists of layer upon layer of loose strokes of colour, hence the illusion of bruising and rough and raised scar tissue, as opposed to the typical smooth skin of a child. Saville’s expressive style gives the work a certain ambiguity- is the skin scarred and scratched or is this effect of expressive broken brush strokes? An abstract flick of paint across a canvas, or a splattering of blood? It is from these incarnadine marks that all manners of questions arise. Two big blue eyes, heavy and sad ‘stare’ out into the distance, sometimes seemingly straight at us, other times through or past us. Behind this blank gaze is a whole world of worries and woes. The nose, red and bulbous, sore from sobbing? Or swollen and bloody? The lips are set a little apart ready to speak, to reveal kept secrets, but in that moment they are rendered mute, tongue-tied and gawping, conceivably shaken. The eyes are forced to articulate what is unable to be expressed through speech. With the ruffled mop of cropped black hair the child becomes an androgynous character. Reminiscent of the period of time in an infant’s early development before the establishment of a child’s own gender identity as something linked to biological sex, further conveying a sense of true innocence and consequently, helplessness. From this ambiguity and uncertainty stems openness for interpretation. Thus a painting depicting a young girl with a birthmark ‘a stain’ which ‘becomes confused with the shadow of the nose’ is transformed, by way of our own imaginations, into a young boy bloody and bruised, described as inappropriate, too shocking to be shown on supermarket shelves. We imagine that there has been a suicide bomb attack on a busy shopping centre in some far Eastern province during the early
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
morning rush hour. Little remains of the crowded courtyard of cafes and bustling bars. Of the numerous civilian casualties, 7 are confirmed dead. It is thought that this was an isolated incident carried out by a single extremist. For a moment there is unnerving silence, a solitary car alarm sounds, followed in quick succession by another… and then another, all around the sounds of sirens can be heard. A nameless child caught in the blast is rescued from the rubble and carried to the safety of a nearby hospital, a cramped and confusing place. Amidst the chaos of the aftermath he is wrapped in a blanket and set to one side, whilst in the background is the noise of screaming and uncontrollable sobs.
Is this then the scene we envisage when we find ourselves being, at times reluctantly, sucked in to Saville’s painting? ‘Stare’ could
what does Saville want from us?’ Or perhaps more precisely, what does the painting itself want from us?
easily be the headline image on the front page of the News of World. The blue green background, the wall of
some ill equipped and overcrowded hospital on the Gaza strip. Though any knowledge of the real logistics or politics of things is relatively unnecessary, for these place names and phrases to come into play you need only to have seen any news report from the last decade, or to have experienced basic, universal human emotion. It is the true ambiguousness of Saville’s subject matter and the androgynous nature of the child she represents which ultimately gives ‘Stare’ its incredible power, and the scope for interpretation is almost endless. Saville’s technique hinders any kind of final interpretation, assuring those endeavouring towards any kind of ultimate conclusion do so with great difficulty.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Putting Bohemia in Perspective
mention of late NineteenthCentury Parisian bohemia brings with it a whirlwind of impressionist salons, emphatic faces blushing in mirror reflections, women spilling out of corsets, legs lifting CanCan skirts, Degas’s ballet dancers, and light. Light falling dappled through trees; light that ripples dark waters; light that made the painters brush dance in a pattern that brought atmospheric movement to Impressionist and much Post-Impressionist art. Although many paintings were filled with images fuelled by the Moulin Rouge, subject matter did vary; artists swapping their theatrical interiors and scenes of town life for the solitude of trees and landscapes. However among this feast of colour and visuality we may find Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whose small quiet paintings and sketches rest behind glass screens in a dimly lit corner of the Musée d’Orsay. Indeed his work is uncommonly small; my family have always had a large print of La Toilette (1896) hanging on the wall and when I found the original (roughly half the size) I felt the usual
Sophie Hill gives us the impression there’s more to bohemia than we think sense of being thrown as I examined familiar shapes and lines in their delicate reality - think the Mona Lisa though not nearly as disappointing. Here the reality of size brings a quality of realism; the images come across as snapshots of observation, not large glorified scenes of Paris the ‘exciting’ side. Not that Toulouse-Lautrec did not play with this half of Paris; he was commissioned to paint posters for the Moulin Rogue itself and painted its most notorious women, including the dancer Louise Weber, known as ‘La Goulue’ (‘The Glutton’), pioneer of the French Can-Can. But it is in the paintings where his subjects differ from the norm that we find the subtlety and intrigue of an artist who was doing
something rather interesting. Looking at La Toilette we see this snap-shot style; the figure sits with her back towards us in a quiet pause; she is doing nothing, surrounded by piles of clothes and laundry. Sitting watching nobody, her milky elbows rest on her poised knees; she is naked bar a sheet and pulled on black stockings, which give some of the little darkness to the lightness of the room. She is calm in the comfort of her poise and the nonchalance of her attitude, which is mirrored in the openness of the habitually strewn room; indeed the mixed white and yellows of her skin is repeated throughout the painting in the creases and folds of the clothes. The freshness of air on clean skin and cotton is given us through the colour palette of pale blues and creamy whites, very different to the perhaps more usual palettes of dark, decadently oppressive, passion-filled purples and reds of the music hall paintings, or the yellows and greens of Impressionists exteriors. In fact if we look closer at Toulouse-Lautrec’s brush strokes we see an interesting countering of the
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 Impressionist’s dappled patterning, smudges of paint have been replaced with scrawl like lines. It is no wonder that people say Toulouse-Lautrec paints as if he were drawing; texture is given through a sketch like etching and cross-hatching that builds the shadows of the lady’s back and those across the floorboards. We are given an Impressionistic atmosphere in the painting yet achieve a clarity of image that we do not get with Impressionism, in Toulouse-Lautrec’s sketch like technique. His painting is obviously stylised but outlines are clear due to the pencil like quality of the paint. There is movement as with Impressionist dots but of a different kind; a crispness is achieved here that makes the effect of the painting more intense as we have none of the Impressionist blurring. La Toilette has an intimacy, a feeling of human relation as we trace the spine and contours of the lady’s exposed back with our eyes. It is the same feeling of intimacy Sickert gives us in the Camden Town series; the feeling of looking in at life, and this allows the painting to loose any self consciousness. Thinking about it I’m glad that La Toilette is a small painting; it is fitting that such a subtle mood shouldn’t be spread to the overt-ness of a large canvas. Another of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most interesting works is Seule
La Toilette has an intimacy, a feeling of human relation as we trace the spine and contours of the lady’s exposed back
(Alone 1896) which, though it is oil on canvas, is even closer to a style typical of drawing. This is not only apparent through the visual quality of the painting but again through the literal treatment of the brush strokes; they sweep across the canvas as a pencil would paper, elongating the figure’s strewn body. This painting is all about lines; they are simple but effective, creating the angles of our
Above: La Toilette (1889), Left: Seule (1896) figure’s life-like limbs and the creases of the bedding that bring our eyes downwards. A painting that is so linear dependent inevitably has direction, and this one truly does. We cannot help but begin with the figure’s blissful countenance before being drawn down with pointed fingers to the curve of her legs which leave us finally at the floor. These directive lines are echoed throughout the painting and thus tie the composition together perfectly; the figure and the bed are spread out, unified in articulation, before us. The figure in this painting is if anything more ‘exposed’ than the one in La Toilette yet the feeling of solitude is the same. Despite her suggestive pose the figure in Seule doesn’t appear compromised by her position; she is alone, and quite happy to be so. We do not have the impression she is waiting for anyone, or unhappy at having no company; she is languidly content.
There is no denying that this painting is sexually charged: the figure is scantily clad, we see every angle of her body, and she lies on rumpled bed clothes, but the very fact that she is happily alone and lying in such non-descript surroundings puts the painting in a similar category to La Toilette. They both depict figures happy in the normalcy of personal solitude, of having a pause within daily life to have a moment with oneself. Such subtle and intimate feeling, dependent not on the rush of Parisian life or culture but on quiet human emotion, is rare to this degree in the stylistic progression from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism that Toulouse-Lautrec was working in. He gives us small snap-shots of life, and more than this intimate moments of truly feminine reflection; he has slowed the pace of life and style for something that is fresher, more intense, in its quiet captivation.
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‘Bodyspacemotionthings’ Kiri Anderson takes a look at The Turbine Hall’s Latest installation
t looked like a playground still under construction. As the place buzzed with excitement I found myself torn between my inner child and my educated modernist mind…I couldn’t quite decipher the mode of conduct. American artist Robert Morris’ Bodyspacemotionthings is the latest installation in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall where slopes, ropes, boxes, cylinders, and other hollow geometric shapes made of plywood are strategically placed. All of which are occupied by energetic participants, some balancing, some jumping, some running, some stumbling, pushing and pulling, this installation is fundamentally physically demanding. The shapes and structures that Morris has chosen demonstrate a fusion of architectural and sculptural practise, and express his prior engagements with minimalist ethos. Resultant of this duality an appealing hybrid is created, and as he subverts traditional conceptions of classical art he pushes boundaries, annihilates taboos and challenges what ‘art’ today has the potential to be. Thirty eight years ago Morris exhibited this very installation in the Tate for the first time where it rapidly became infamous. As the gallery’s first fully interactive exhibition it was closed after 4 days due to numerous injuries and people running riot “intoxicated by the opportunities”. It was re-opened a few days later, but this time the participatory element was interestingly subtracted. In the 70s his overt invitation to touch, manipulate and explore the art work, generated a state of exhilaration too overwhelming for the public people to digest. Nowadays, we have become accustomed to such challenging concepts in modern art and it is something that, quite frankly, we expect. Despite this informed modern day anticipation there is still an element of shock when institutional shackles are broken and we are offered the freedom to roam. Though
Tube Rolling, the latest exercise fad to grip London the magnitude of such iconoclastic rebellion is seemingly dilute in value, it is still very much in existence. Morris explained, “It’s an opportunity for people to involve themselves with the work, become aware of their own bodies, gravity, effort, fatigue, their bodies under different conditions.” As pre determined modes of traditional artistic practise linger in the backs of our minds, we can begin
There is still an element of shock when institutional shackles are broken and we are offered the freedom to roam to locate the reasons for the elation we experience when we climb Morris’ fixtures- it is resultant of a triumph, a triumph over the art. Here we find no ropes that separate viewer and object, no pane of glass to smack our hand away from the transcendent, autonomous art object. Instead, we are challenged to explore and to touch, to discover its materiality and its literal objectivity. It was in this realisation that I became perplexed by the prospect of having to actively climb, crawl and stumble all over the art, it seemed like an act of sacrilege. His concern is now as it was back then in 1971, what Merleau Ponty termed the “phenomenological experience.” Morris strives to
generate an arousal of the conscious bodily self, to evict the idea of standing back and contemplating art, and instead to demonstrate the vigor of art and how it manages to activate and regulate the space surrounding it, how it controls the space of the viewer. This installation is a prime example of how modern art has exceeded painting; the flat canvas must be destroyed, for it has nothing more to offer than a world of daubs and brushstrokes perpetually clawing at a world of illusion and symbols. Contemporary art aims to seize and investigate much greater concerns: “I want to provide a situation where people can become more aware of themselves and their own experience rather than more aware of some version of my experience.”Morris insists that as we explore he is giving the participant freedom, but of course, this is not fully attainable. He carefully conducts us through the space, from shape to shape, from piece to piece, and as we are herded through this installation, one of highly orchestrated movement, we discover that Morris is in fact standing above us, the puppet master controlling his puppets. “A playground under construction”? No. Morris’ theorization is of course more insightful. With an exploration verging on scientific methodology Bodyspacemotionthings is far removed from conventional artistic practice. Partaker becomes exhibit in this playful conceptualization.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Rock Royalty Descendants Take Over
or a long time becoming a top model was only for the select few, yet at the same time, getting there was anyone’s game. Now in the naughties Rock Royalty rules, and all the top lucrative brands are hiring - yep you’ve guessed it - a descendent from Mummy and Daddy who were once in an uber cool band. But is this really fair? Do we the consumers want this? Well, the answers to these questions are yes if anything is to go by Burberry, Pringle or even Ultimo growth profit. For all those fashionistas who follow the up and coming trends on the catwalks, the lucrative brand advertising in Vogue or even model profiles, you should ask yourself this: why has the fashion world become so exclusive in hiring these Rock Royalty models for top positions (that once upon a time the Croydon girl-next-door had to work her way up to), and does this mean there is no longer a career path in the modelling world that actually exists? First, let’s look at some of these Rock Royalty descendants that have made big money modelling top fashion brands this decade. Love her or hate her, Peaches Geldof knows how to get noticed, raking in the cash by modelling any brand that offers the right price. Who could fail to notice those recent underwear shots, sipping milkshakes seductively? It makes you wonder whether someone as average and curvy as Peaches could really win this position if she was not Sir Bob’s daughter...probably not. Furthermore, there’s the ridiculous inclusion of George Craig from indie band One Night Only in the recent spring/ summer Burberry campaign. This sudden, misguided recruitment of George to model one of Britain’s most credited fashion houses is an insult to the fashion industry. Getting a pretty young girl to model a top designer’s collection, whether adequate or not, is one thing, but to have an inadequate cheesy indie band member to represent a top British label is another. Overall it is a move that creates easy profit, but it is without any class, and Burberry, quite frankly, should have known better. Again, Daisy Lowe is a classic example. Mummy and Daddy ruled the roost throughout the Brit Pop era, so
Threading a path through the fashion industry, Nina Courtney Sabey looks at how kids with famous names are ruling the roost
it was a given that their offspring was going to be shoved into the limelight by her late teens. She hit the fashion industry hard last summer and has just won herself a top job representing Pringle amongst others. Although Daisy probably would have found this journey extremely difficult had she not been within the Rock Royalty clan, I actually happen to favour Miss Lowe. Her long luscious brown locks, curvaceous body and down to earth personality make her easily won position more justifiable. At the end of the day she was born a model and she does the job extremely well - using Mark Ronson to win her more publicity is a true supermodel trait! So what does this to say about the current fashion world? Can the girl or boy next door still reach those top positions? Do we the consumer still enjoy the likes of an attractive model, or do we demand more now, something that only a celebrity’s sprog will satisfy? I argue that the naughties have been dominated and exhausted by Rock Royalty, making the fashion world in general a less exciting place, evermore continuing to put profit above class. The legend of the supermodel died in the last decade and has no hope of returning. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing for the fashion industry as we don’t want a repeat of models getting so full of themselves they appear in cringe worthy George Michael videos again. With the emergence of Agyness Dean, a turn of events is occurring before our very eyes. She is single handedly saving the fashion world and salvaging some of the excitement that has been lost since the 90s. Agyness is a breath of fresh air in this stale decade, a real down to earth girl that has no famous connections and has worked hard to win her top jobs. It’s refreshing. The fact that this gorgeous specimen worked in a chippie makes her even more appealingly honest and keeps the dream alive for the young boys and girls that aspire to become the next Kate Moss or Giselle. So, next time you save up your pennies for a designer bit of clobber, be aware of who is representing your product. Let’s do all we can as consumers to keep the dream alive, before another Lindsey Lohan takes over the fashion world.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
The Idealised Portrait Eleanor Allan explains the history of our obsession with perfection
kin is airbrushed, legs elongated, eyes brightened, arms shrunk – all in order to create images of women that are idealised, depicting a kind of beauty that is completely unattainable. Today, no celebrity - even one aspiring to the highest morals – seems able to appear un-touched up in any magazine or advertisement voluntarily. These idealised images are undoubtedly the reason for the recent craze for exposing and accepting ‘real women’; turning on the television today one can’t help but catch one of Gok Wan’s tiresome tirades, or one of Dove’s advertising campaign based on pseudo-genuine women. Interestingly however, these modified images, pictures that are manipulated to give a false but ultimately more flattering depiction of the model, aren’t without precedent. Harking back to Renaissance portraiture, pictures were frequently produced that gave an ultimately false impression of the sitter. Take our most notorious monarch, King Henry VIII, who, when considering marriage to either Anne of Cleaves or her sister, requested that accurate portraits were created for him to better inform his decision. Henry married Anne – his fourth wife - in 1540, but it was annulled the same year, after never being consummated. According to Henry, Anne’s portrait had been unreliable and misleading. In the seventeenth century, it was the celebrated artist Anthony Van Dyck that excelled at producing beautified and idealised images of the people whom he painted. Van Dyck came to London in April 1632, already an artist of international repute, considered to be the foremost portrait painter in Europe. It was his portraits that were to change the course of English art as he was called upon by the king to paint the royal and stately figures of the time. Monarchical portraits of
the period served highly ornamental purposes, created mainly for reasons of posterity, and therefore depicting a certain beauty (differing heavily from our modern conception of ‘beauty’) became vital. And thus the portrait artist was faced with a choice: he could undertake a simply mimetic description, ‘warts and all,’ or he could correct physical defects - a practise that became known as dissimulationne – a method typical of state portraits since the time of Aristotle. It was the latter option that Van Dyck preferred, and one that seemed more appropriate to his stately models. For those in important public positions, such as royals, it was generally accepted that they should not appear as they are, but as they should be. Charles I, the ruling monarch of Van Dyck’s time, was a great collector of art, a true connoisseur who understood the power of images and appreciated their aesthetic quality. He often hired Van Dyck to paint portraits of his French wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, who was heavily misrepresented by him (see picture). Contemporary descriptions of the queen explain that she was in fact a petite woman –measuring only 1.4 metres – and despite a certain regal presence, it would seem that nine pregnancies in 15 years and prolonged ill health had taken a toll on her body. The portraits however, depict no such qualities. Henrietta Maria wrote the following self-deprecating words to an old friend from exile: ‘be assured there is not a more wretched creature in this world than myself.’ Indeed, when visited by her young niece, the impression the 11-year-old gained was that of ‘a small woman with long thin arms, crooked shoulders and teeth protruding from her mouth like guns from a fort.’ She has also been described as a ‘very plain woman’ with ‘nothing more in her presence in any respect nor garbe than any ordinary woman.’ And this was a woman whose portraits had led people to believe that she was both a beautiful and elegant woman. And so it would seem that the issue of image - an issue that will inevitably accompany any ‘celebrity’ figure - was considered to be just as important during the reigns of Henry VIII and
Charles I as it is now. But whereas 500 years ago the portrait artist’s concern lay in transforming mere mortals in to romantic heroes (or in the case of Van Dyck, trying to epitomize the grace and majesty of court by beautifying stately figures) the modern day equivalent lies in our obsession with depicting a kind of perfect beauty through touch ups and airbrushing. Ultimately, these images don’t depict any kind of reality, but whereas Henry VIII was disappointed by this discovery, we can at least be consoled by it.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Also in this section: 27 Jerome Josey does interviews bands; 29 Andrew Lopez talks about Glastonbury; 31 Guy Rimay-Muranyi asks what makes an epic song.
Sweeter than Honey Sophia Hendrickson explores Bassnectar, a free-form experimental electronica project from California
‘d like to share with you my current musical obsession: an electronic music freeform project entitled Bassnectar. Bassnectar is the creation of Lorin Ashton, aka DJ Lorin of Burning Man fame. What started back in the mid nineties as a tentative exploration of youth culture and social action lives now as an open-source project that is a true exhibition of diversity, passion, creativity and skill. Ashton describes Bassnectar as ‘omni-tempo maximalism’ which roughly translates to music that encompasses all speeds, time signatures, rhythms and that exploits every possible sound source. This is certainly a succinct observation. His use of samples is integral to the intricate tapestry of his work. They range from wind chimes to cash registers to rag-time piano. He also incorporates a multiplicity of samples taken from celebrated figures, notably Martin Luther King, and a political statement from the renowned linguist Noam Chomsky. His music is coloured with political ideologies, but it is still possible to appreciate his compositions without being force-fed explicit opinion. Constantly booked and in demand, Bassnectar maintains a regular touring schedule, playing to thousands of people every month. From sold out festivals to overcrowded clubs and warehouses to tight and tiny bars and venues; his fan-base continues to grow due to his unique magnetism and an innovative take on electronic music. Reports and reviews of his shows document wide-variety, from one-man DJ sets to performances of around a dozen people onstage; from instrumentalists, to DJs, to rappers, to graffiti artists. Be warned
that these shows are not for the stationary; dancing to this music is not a choice, it is a matter of instinct. So, the albums. His last release Underground Communication fuses laid back hip hop tempos with the aggressiveness of heavy break beats and the melodic intricacies of experimental electronica. It’s honey toned hip hop infused with ambient breaks and melodic, airy reprises. Featuring a union of assorted MCs and rhythmic poets complemented by diverse beats and, needless to say, some overpowering bass: prepare yourself for an audio journey from the first track. The heart of the album comes with three tracks back to back: “Yo” featuring relentless yet sensual and vocals from Latina Kristinamaria; “Stomp” is dominated by a pulsing bassline, embellished by metered and moody lyrics from Seasunz; and “Kick it Complex” feat. Persia is gritty and tight, with junglist breaks forcing drive and intensity. The end of this track puts up a fight ‘til the very last, where it snaps into the mysterious and mischievous “Carried Away”: this is a true representation of the sensitivity and intuition with which Bassnectar utilizes sound and sample. That said, I find myself struggling to convey my passion for his double disc debut Mesmerizing the Ultra. It is an untouchable blend of pure genius. The introduction teases attention and heightens expectation with glittering reverb and a mist of electronic nuance. Reaching the second track we are plunged head first into a bassline that is as breathtaking as it is restrained. Bassnectar’s remix of Sound Tribe Sector 9’s “Some Sing” is a true gem: he takes what is already undeniably an incredible piece of funky electronic experimentation, and twists it, adding grime and attitude. “Agent Squish” is another highlight, which features cheeky bass fragments that assault the ears from all angles, complemented by a sly thunderous low freq-rumble that pervades most of this track. The final track of the first CD, a FreQ Nasty remix of “Everybody” (track 6 on CD1) quite simply a raver’s delight. The second CD gestures more towards the ambient, with tracks like “Laughter Crescendo” and “Replenish”, the
latter echoing the shimmering Intro of CD1. It still makes provision, however, for more up-tempo gritty sounds: “Simultaneous” and “Pleasure the Bassnymhpo”. The concluding chapter of the work, “Arrival” (originally by Heavyweight Dub Champion), winds up the album with a pre-emptive nod in the direction of the album to follow. Bassnectar is heading further and further into the murky depths of dubstep. His latest release “Art of Revolution” involves some intense sub-bass throbbing with an energy reinforced by clattering African drums. For dubstep veterans however, this track may leave something wanting. It plays like a naive Music Tech student who has decided to “write some dubstep”. Comparing this track to other recent releases of this genre, (“Rub-a-Dub” by Roommate & The Bassist, Pawn “Fallin in Love“) sees “Art of Revolution” sadly pale in comparison. It is devoid of some Bassnectar magic and ingenuity that is so liberally offered in his other material. It’s not all bad, though. The EP features some excellent remixes of “Art of Revolution” that do incite more exhilaration, including a mix by dubstep heavyweight 6Blocc, and my personal favourite, the Ghislain Poirier Remix. While the original track is a slight disappointment, it does not mean that Bassnectar cannot cut it in the dubstep department. Check out his smash remix of “Last Night” by Me & You (bassnectar.net) and his twisted circus remodelling of Roots Antique’s “Roustabout”; this track is unequivocal fun. With a little more time and experimentation Bassnectar will undeniably churn out further anthems for the dubstep community, although he has already established himself as an artist of great calibre.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
“He Hides Behind Words”
ip Berman and Tim Kasher are both highly acclaimed singer songwriters. Kip Berman is young, bright-eyed and excitable, and along with his fellow members of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, has just debuted with the best pop album of the year. A selftitled record, it has received widespread critical acclaim and all the buzz it deserves from adored publications (xlr8r, the A.V. Club, Pitchfork etc). Tim Kasher, on the other hand, is a well-established icon in the indie-rock scene. Rising to fame with Cursive, he has been involved in side-projects with artists such as The Good Life and good friend Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes). He is well revered for his coarsely tender music and Cursive have just released possibly their most accomplished album yet. I meet both of them within the space of an hour. I find Kip alone in the back room of The Duchess sorting out merchandise. Jerome (J): Where are the others? Kip (K): Checking the town out, shopping too, I think. J: Shopping not your cup of tea? K: Sort of, but I really like getting involved with the little parts of this job too, folding up t-shirts, pricing etc. Already I can tell there’s an aura of humility about him, but that isn't to suggest he is surprised by how fast his band's moving. We quickly settle into conversation, exchanging pleasantries and discussing the venue and its enjoyably cavern-like look. Kip has only good things to say about England: everything from the people he's met here, who have helped put up him and his bandmates, to the wide variety of different cuisine himself, and bandmate Peggy especially, try every night. It soon becomes apparent that Kip’s humility stems from how grateful he is to receive the adoration and attention that his band have been afforded. We press on discussing theirsound and what they were aiming to achieve when writing music. K: You know, there's nothing so grandiose about this, I mean, not demeaning what we've made but
Jerome Josy interviews the lead singers of Cursive and The Pains of being Pure at Heart
what I think we all singularly and collectively wanted to achieve was a good pop record and I think people believe we've done that. I agree earnestly and at the mention of the word influences we dissolve into conversation. There are bursts of laughter at mentions of shoegaze and twee-pop, which leads us to discuss whether they've been pigeon-holed unfairly. I mention My Bloody Valentine and The Smiths before he replies with a grin, K: Man I can't believe they call us those bands! We sound nothing like them! [Laughs] Yeah, I dunno if it's all that bad we've been compared to all these great bands. I mean, I don't think we've particularly tried to sound like them but I think we all feel slightly honoured to be compared to legendary level bands. Kip goes on to profess a love for Britpop (Suede) and for having a special place in his heart for Glasgow's musical exports. Glasgow is the next date on their tour after York. K: Yeah, we're all really excited about it actually. I mean, these are bands we all love independent-
ly, you know, and to get a chance to experience that scene for ourselves, in a way at least, is very cool. The other bandmates return, mostly keeping to themselves after saying hello, although Peggy comes in to interject when our conversation strays to song writing itself. J: What sort of a writer are you? A constant writer of half worked songs or a perfectionist with low productivity? K: I think I'd say I'm a constant writer J: What's the ratio you'd give yourself of good to bad ideas you come up with then? K: [Laughs] Peggy: He'd be lost without my ear helping him! K: Yeah, I need her outside perspective actually. I mean, we're all slightly different but at the same time have overlapping musical interests so we find each other quite easily cohesive actually. J: Where next? K: We're off to Holland after we finish this leg but are going to return to England with a great band from Brighton called Shrag if you know them? Before a couple of European Festivals,
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
like Roskilde and Eurokeenness! Time's up. If his sincerity hasn't convinced you, I implore you to check out the album, or, at the very least, stand out songs ‘This Love is Fucking Right’, ‘Come Saturday’ and ‘Stay Alive’. If I had to define The Pains of Being Pure at Heart it would be as blissful pop. Although not quite as cleancut as you might suspect, neither are they as hazy as the shoegaze jumpers would have you believe. Instead, you are left with a more persuasive pop that mixes a vague sense of gloom with sincerely honest and heart-wamingly affable melodies. We shake hands before I leave, preparing to meet Tim Kasher of Cursive, who are one of my favourite bands. At least, I've been trying to convince myself that. I've avoided listening to most of my favourites from yesteryear so as not to have to deal with them failing to withstand the test of time. But I gave Cursive’s The Ugly Organ another listen recently and found, to my joy, that it blew me away yet again. Tim Kasher is an extraordinary musician and part of the allure is his entrancingly lonely voice, the combination of music and vocals twinging with a beautiful desperation. So it is with great excitement that I go to meet him. This time, it's Fibbers. We walk in during sound check and wait a while before we get our chance
with the man. Cursive guitarist Ted Stevens walks by and introduces himself before their manager introduces us to Tim. There's already some discomfort when comparing this to initially meeting Kip. Tim’s 34 and I’m 20. I feel like a snotty fan boy, humbled before a legend, whereas Kip and myself were contemporaries and casual straight away. This is not to suggest that this is due to Tim's stature as a celebrity, but more how personally awed I felt being with him. After all, Tim Kasher is the author of one of my favourite albums of all-time! Nevertheless, within a couple of minutes we ease off into fluent conversation about a collective passion of ours; music. J: Are you proud of your new album? Tim (T): Yeah, of course. I mean, I'm proud of everything we've done. J: Were you aiming for anything new? Obviously this album is again a departure from your last album, Happy Hollow. T: Well... nothing apart from the usual you know. I think we just try and make sure there's some sort of evolution in our music every time. J: The new album seems a lot more refined and tight than anything you've done before. T: Yeah I guess we've been maturing as musicians for some time now but I hope that isn't an insinuation it's boring. J: No not at all, I think it's quite refreshing. But what do you think the general reception has been of it so far? T: You know I find this actually very interesting. I mean, I think we sort of have various sections of fans now. Separate categories really, because Domestica fans I've sort of found are not the same people who like The Ugly Organ, who are also separate from Happy Hollow. J: I assume The Ugly Organ must be the most popular though? T: Yeah, it is but that's the whole attachment to this ‘emo’ tag with lazy journalism. I mean, we turn down tours with bands who are happy with such a tag all the time but it's tiring being bunched up as ‘emo’ just for being interested in literature and Philip Roth, you know.
Music J: Do you tire of playing old songs at all then? T: No no, I am still as proud of them as the new album. I just meant I guess no-one likes being pigeon-holed. I just sing about my experiences and inspirations. The new album Mama, I'm Swollen is quite the departure from the furious horn-filled, anti-organised religion centric Happy Hollow and The Ugly Organ's brash yet exiguous take on a relationship. It has as many true gems as you'd want (‘We're Going to Hell’, ‘Mama, I'm Satan’, ‘From The Hips’) as well as one of the best songs Kasher's ever written in the subtly powerful 'We Have To Go'.
It’s tiring being bunched up as ‘emo’ just for being interested in literature and Philip Roth, you know
The new album forgoes the reliance in the previous two releases on exuberant instruments to form a distinctive sound. Instead, they've evolved their sound so that it is underpinned with a refined, rock quality that is touched up with ambient electronic eccentricities. Kasher's lyrics are as puncture-inducing and embracive as ever, cementing his status as one of indie-rock's best lyricists. Cursive have reinvented themselves successfully yet again, providing a record that sounds fresh now and that will, with any luck, withstand the tests of time. It is an album borne out of experience and has been finetuned to a ruggedly delicate work, personifying the charms and talents of the band’s lead, Tim Kasher. This is in stark contrast to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, who are a fantastic new pop band. What they lack in experience they make up for with ingenuity. The album is exciting and soothingly catchy, but this once again personifies the band themselves and the rising star that is Kip Berman.
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
Glastonbury’s Got Soul Andrew Lopez tells us just why Glastonbury is the big cheese, and who to look out for at this year’s festival
he daddy. The don. The big cheese. The best. If you have anymore superlatives, add them on and we’re still not close to describing the phenomenon that is the Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts. You can expect to see over 700 acts on more than 80 stages, over 900 acres of fields (mud) across 5 days. The setting is the beautiful Worthy Farm, which is to be found near the small town of Pilton in South West England. Glastonbury itself is an area steeped in mythology, spiritual traditions and legends and the festival certainly captures much of this magic. The organiser is the bald but hilariously bearded Michael Eavis and his sadly unbearded daughter Emily, who donate most of the profits from the festival to a plethora of worthy charities. So with the formalities over, why is this festival so special then? Well as we’ve already seen, the size of the place is frankly mindboggling, and with so many stages,
With so many stages, stamina is more likely to be an issue than not knowing what to see.
stamina is more likely to be an issue than not knowing what to see. And here lies the key point: because of the sheer magnitude of the place,
Glastonbury has so much more to offer you than the average festival. The festival plays host to a truly diverse mix of music; the likes of David Bowie, Radiohead, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and even Jay Z have entertained on the iconic Pyramid Stage. Alongside the obligatory megamassive-selling headliners and supporting casts, Glastonbury offers enough types of music to make up several specialist festivals. This comes in the shape of the party-within-aparty that is the Dance Village, the altogether more debonair and civilised Jazz World, and the similarly tranquil Fields Naomi Campbell makes a dramatic appearance of Avalon where at Glastonbury you can find an “eclectic line-up lights of the weekend will undoubtof folk and roots influenced artists.” edly include the disarmingly charmOther musical treats on offer in- ing and lovely Alessi’s Ark who plays clude the Pyramid Stage’s younger the Queen’s Head Stage on Thurssibling, the Other Stage, the John day. This 18year old Londoner is Peel Stage which houses bands so best compared to Laura Marling for achingly cool and happening that the her haunting, folk-tinged songs and great man himself would have been has a voice in the Joanna Newsom proud, the Glade which is set in an shape of enthrallingly different. Her idyllic woodland area, and the Park album ‘Notes from the Treehouse’ Stage, almost akin to an exclusive was released recently and she would fete, with live music stages, late night certainly be one to catch for some bars and cafes, tipi villages, art instal- afternoon soothing. Regina Spektor lations, stonemasons and craftsmen. makes her return to the UK with a The gems of this year’s festival are modestly placed slot on the Pyramid by no means exclusively to be found Stage on Friday. Although her move on the Pyramid Stage, but here, to a major label and consequently there and everywhere (although more chart friendly output has arguBlur’s headline slot on Sunday night ably moved her away from what so should be a little bit special). High- appealed in the first place, her sim-
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 ply stunning voice and endearingly nervous stage-chat make her a hit in any festival line-up. You can expect her to be road-testing some songs from her forthcoming record ‘Far’ which hits the shops on June 23rd. The West Dance Stage sees a headline slot from the much-lauded DJ and producer Erol Alkan. Having recently produced albums for the Mystery Jets, Late of the Pier and now sadly defunct Long Blondes, Mixmag’s 2006 DJ-of-the-year returns to deliver what will be an electro-tastic set. In an entirely different nature, 3 Daft Monkeys are a band that epitomise the Glastonbury spirit. Often playing numerous sets over the course of the weekend, and in strange locations at that, this mashup of Celtic, Balkan, Latino, Folk and everything else will leave you with the biggest smile on your face that you could possibly imagine. Other notable mentions go to Florence and the Machine who appear on the John Peel Stage on Saturday, Roots Manuva on the World Stage on Sunday and Kasabian warming the crowd up on the Pyramid Stage on Saturday before Bruce Springsteen headlines. Now this is all well and good. We’ve established that you can see pretty much any genre of music that you should so wish over
the course of the weekend. But. The real magic of the festival lies away from all of this; Glastonbury is a unique chance to embrace your freespirited, tree-hugging, neighbourloving side. The soul of the festival can be found amongst the creativity and sheer hippy loving of the Green
The soul of the festival can be found amongst the creativity and sheer hippy loving of the Green Fields.
Fields. This is where Glastonbury’s famous principles, atmosphere and freedom reside and reign supreme, all essentially pointing towards the notion that there is far more to life than consumerism and competition. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no ecowarrior myself, but, there is something strangely captivating, compelling and ultimately comforting in this magical area of the festival. By the time you leave the Green Fields, armed with a stool you’ve made
Music from wood, listened to a didgeridoo/ bongo drum improvisation piece, watched a poetry recital in a solar power marquee resembling something from Alice in Wonderland, and eaten an eastern delicacy sat on a giant toadstool with people dressed in hemp all around, you really do feel determined to change your lifestyle. Leeds festival, this certainly isn’t. Now for the more decadent festival goer and the curious observer alike, the Shangri-La area is, shall we say, an interesting experience. Almost like a festival-within-a-festival, a broad theme is adopted each year and the decorations and attractions are tailored accordingly. This year, festival goers can look forward to ‘Dyscotopia.’ Apparently this involves “a retro-futuristic citadel, a bladerunner inspired city of pleasures gone wrong: a mono-state of quarantined and enforced utopia.” Nice. The Shangri-La’s mission statement is to dedicate itself to “the unceasing pursuit of perfect, regime-sanctioned 24hr pleasure.” You can expect to find giant, fire shooting sculptures to dance on, laser shows, an upside down disco, a club with a strict glam dresscode and a “no tattoo, no entry” policy, ride some ‘alternative’ fair ground rides or even get married to really really just name a few. Glastonbury truly is unique. Whether you want to watch the biggest bands in the world, watch a circus show, watch a play, eat something strange, make something strange, learn to do something strange or find your new best friend, all of this is possible and so much more. So I say pitch your tent, dress as a Roman, experience the long-drops, learn to samba, watch the next big thing, make friends with some hippies, cry when its time to go back to the real world, and enjoy what will undoubtedly be five of the best days of your life. Oh, and remember to watch the sunrise over the Stone Circle. It’s literally the best place in the whole wide world.
Entry to the Green Futures Field
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2
The Art of the Epic
omer’s ‘Odyssey’ is, objectively, an ‘epic’ poem. In fact, there is an ‘epic’ for almost every medium, apart from music. Whether it be in the instrumentation, lyrics, or the sheer crushing power of the wall of sound created, the following ten songs and artists go some way to discovering what lies behind an ‘epic’ song. ‘Staying Alive’ by Cursive (From The Ugly Organ) Around 2001 something very special happened to Cursive. ‘Burst And Bloom’ marked their first release since cellist Gretta Cohen joined their ranks, and the album that followed constituted one of the most bitter and cerebral records ever to come out of the United States, let alone the small but prolific city of Omaha, Nebraska. ‘Staying Alive’ drips with the earnest longings of front-man Tim Kasher to survive and progress after the ordeal that is The Ugly Organ, and the song slowly builds from his whispered entrance until he is literally screaming over the wall of sound that erupts from the five musicians. The luscious backdrop of strings created by Cohen drifts over the clashing and wailing guitars, and the drums continue ‘kicking and screaming’ for a considerable amount of time until they fade into distortion, washed out by the voices of a choir lamenting that ‘the worst is over’. The song consolidates the turmoil that has spanned the record, even revisiting the vocal patterns of ‘A Gentleman Caller’, and perfectly demonstrates the masterful way in which Cursive deal in dynamics, and as the song nears the ten minute mark the ambient tones of guitars and far off strings calmly bring the album to a close, with shredded nerves and hairs on the backs of necks firmly raised. ‘Man The Ramparts’ by Botch (From We Are The Romans) If you’ve ever wondered what the absolute pinnacle of a genre sounds like, a band so perfectly aware of their style and ability and capability to completely reform a style that many would claim to know, look no further than Botch’s We Are The Ro-
What makes an ‘epic’ song? Guy Rimay-Muranyi examines ten songs that make the grade mans. The indisputable behemoths of Mathcore, Botch took what could be done in the confines of Metal music and created some of the most crushing and technical sounds ever recorded. We’re talking about a band who took ‘O Fortuna’ and made it into one of the most frightening, heavy three minutes and nineteen seconds you are ever likely to hear. ‘Man The Ramparts’ sees Botch tackle a ten minute plus ‘epic’, and succeed by drawn out, devastating riffs and only five lines of lyrics. The song also contains a three minute choral element which sounds like a hundred monks in the world’s dingiest cathedral, haunting the listener with the simple refrain ‘we are the Romans’. Countless bands have tried to recapture Botch’s style since their split, and some have succeeded, such as The Bled’s debut Pass The Flask, especially on tracks such as ‘Porcelain Hearts And Hammers For Teeth’, which could have a whole article in its own right on the subject of ‘epic’, but Botch will always be the first, and the undoubted best. ‘As The Storm Unfolds’ by Devil Sold His Soul (From A Fragile Hope) Graduating seamlessly from the Botch ‘School Of Bone Crushing Epic Metal’, Devil Sold His Soul represent the brightest hopes on the UK metal scene right now. Hitting like a jackhammer straight off the mark, ‘As The Storm Unfolds’ takes possibly the most simple riff in existence and creates a truly atmospheric experience, with the help a vocalist whose scream transcends the world of the banshee and enters a whole new world of haunting. The use of keyboards and synths in a brilliantly subtle way adds a dark aura
to the whole proceedings, and Ed Gibbs’ voice is thankfully as suited to singing as it is screaming, so the song never falters, a true feat of genius as the tempo creates the illusion of a song drawn out over days, rather than its actual six minute runtime. ‘Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love And To Be Loved)’ by Bright Eyes (From Lifted, Or, The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground). Such an album title indicates slight delusions of grandeur, and thankfully Conor Oberst, under usual moniker Bright Eyes, delivers wholeheartedly. Yet another song just over the ten minute mark, this alt. country epic starts with a ‘goddamn timpani roll’ and bristles along as Oberst attacks everything from national news stations to the rigid frame of school grades that build a ‘retaining of wall of memory’, which obviously comes into good use here with a song consisting of over 550 words. Oberst set up a ‘drum corps’ for the album rather than using a traditional drum kit, and the song includes wind sections, slide guitars, glockenspiels and horns, building a huge spec-
Ed Gibbs, Devil Sold His Soul
the zahir | volume 4 | issue 2 trum of sound that remains one of the most passionate and impressive songs in his extensive back catalogue. ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen (from Born To Run) When Bruce Springsteen first set foot in the UK with his E Street Band back in 1975, he opened his show at the Hammersmith Odeon with a version of Born To Run’s opener that consisted solely of himself, his harmonica and a beautiful piano accompaniment, with an understated glockenspiel twinkling in the background. A song called ‘Thunder Road’ could never really be anything other than an expansive epic, and it delivers relentlessly on record, constantly gaining momentum as slowly more and more guitars, horns and percussion are layered on, until a simple drum fill signifies its glorious final minute where everything comes together in a truly uplifting coda. The fact that Springsteen had the confidence to strip it right back and still pull of a staggering performance marks ‘Thunder Road’ as a truly epic piece from an undeniable legend. ‘The Rise And Fall’ by Million Dead (From A Song To Ruin) ‘The Rise And Fall’ is not really fourteen minutes long, it is in fact a two and half minute punk slash post hardcore song that combines intricate guitars and a fast paced vocal delivery, and a healthy dose of drummer Ben Dawson’s screaming to bolster up the
Matthew Cooper, aka Eluvium
track even further. The song fires on all cylinders towards an ascending guitar part that sounds like it won’t stop until it’s pushed through the atmosphere, Frank Turner’s vocals becoming more and more passionate and enraged. And then, suddenly, the song collapses into eleven minutes of a Converge style, reverb laden riff as Turner, dripping with self-awareness, croons ‘Thus immersed in barbarous longing’ , his voice eventually swallowed by the layers of shredding that persist until the album’s close. ‘Indoor Swimming At The Space Station’ by Eluvium (From Copia) Matthew Cooper, better known as Eluvium, blends live, sampled and synthetic instruments to turn a simple, repetitive piano refrain into what is ultimately a grandiose and ethereal piece of ambient music. Instruments drift in and out of the spotlight as the piece grows and swells over the course of the ten minutes, and it is a testament to Cooper’s ability that, as is true for most of his work, something so simple can be moulded into something breathtakingly colossal in scope. ‘3peat’ by Lil Wayne (From Tha Carter III) Epic is a term not very often attached to the world of hip-hop. Public Enemy made songs that were densely filled with samples and beats and hugely verbose thanks to Chuck D; Dälek, through the use of grimy, distortion filled beats create almost the opposite in their ambient style of drawn out hip-hop. But ‘epic’ is still a term that largely defies mainstream hip-hop, a feat that Lil Wayne ably overcomes on the opening track of Tha Carter III. A reworking of ‘I’m Me’ off the earlier EP The Leak, the Maestro-produced track works by layering strings over a beat that Wayne drops some of his most aggressive and boastful verses over, with not so much delusions but objective statements of grandeur serving to consolidate a solid gold track. ‘Life Is A Pigsty’ by Morrissey (From Ringleader Of The Tormentors) The Smiths, although being the pinnacle of British pop and/ or rock music, were better known for intricate yet jangly guitar work, miserable yet uplifting lyrics, and a solid drum and bass combination than for being purveyors of the epic pop song. On no less than his eighth solo album, Morrissey proverbial nails the melancholic epic, a song
Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III: “Epic is a term not very often attached to the world of hip-hop” that begins with percussion leaking through the sound of rain outside and switches halfway through to timpani drums and gong crashes as strings and synths sweep through the foreground. ‘Life is a pigsty, and if you don’t know this, then what do you know’ laments Morrissey as Boz Boorers guitars cut through the mix, strangely hopeful over the torrential downpour that continues in the background. ‘Radio Protector’ by 65daysofstatic (From One Time For All Time) Post-rock is a genre that by definition should settle comfortably in a discussion on epic music – it basically consists of using instruments from genres outside of rock, namely classical instruments, and using them to push the boundaries, resulting in the often fifteen minute plus pieces by titans such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, alongside newcomers such as Yndi Halda. 65daysofstatic, on the other hand, take the notion of post-rock and force it through glitchy electronic samples, staggering drumming and guitars and pianos that intertwine and deflect off each other with staggering ease. ‘Radio Protector’ show 65dos at their epic best, a fast-paced piano-driven six minutes that shows how effects laden ambient guitars can work seamlessly with insanely technical drumming and the odd spattering of electronic beats. Epic, in some cases, just doesn’t go far enough to describe the musical feats scaled by artists today.