About Laura Carroll
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Posts by Laura Carroll
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Warnings and insincere apologies in advance for the unmistakable lowbrowery of what follows: yes, it’s a meme. I think it may be the first meme ever to appear at The Valve. In an effort to give it some sort of scholarly dress I’ve answered all the questions with reference to one writer only. Perhaps you’d like to do the same at your blog? That would be nice. Substitute the author (or genre or field or whatever) you’re interested in, and leave a comment or trackback so I can see what you came up with.Continue reading "Book Meme"
Friday, April 21, 2006
Australian Prime Minister thinks Literary Studies is Dumb
Sigh...I don’t know if I can adequately explain, to Valve readers, what’s been going on in the Australian political scene in the leadup to today’s furious media debate about which literary texts ought to be taught in schools and universities in this country and how the ones selected should be presented to students. A thumbnail sketch might mention that history teaching (particularly Australian history since European settlement) is a perennial bone of contention between Left and Right, and that last week JM Coetzee, Les Murray and Harold Bloom all commented publically on what literary studies in Australia ought to be (and perhaps also that there is presently a major political scandal unfolding here around the payment of $300 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, which government ministers are dealing with by claiming they hadn’t read the relevant documents.)
Be that as it may, literary studies has at long last arrived as a political football to be idly kicked about for the amusement of the highest in the land, and not before time - it was getting a bit boring having to be jealous of the historians and the sociologists and the cultural studies people, who seemed to be hogging all of the best governmental tellings-off. Well, today the Prime Minister helpfully shared his opinions on the matter.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Reading and Difference
Maybe you’ve seen it already, the report in the Guardian about the latest instalment in a current English research project into fiction-reading patterns and gender. Personal Political has a very good post up about the article, and various other bloggers including Echidne have commented as well.
The project, directed by the magnificent Lisa Jardine, asks readers to nominate fiction that changed their lives. Two years ago, the Women’s Watershed Fiction study asked four hundred women to identify the significant books in their lives:Continue reading "Reading and Difference"
Friday, March 10, 2006
Pretty Girls in Killer Shoes
To plagiarise Lawrence: Do you read novelisations? If not why not, if you read other kinds of novel and other kinds of film paratext, e.g. screenplays? If you do read them, why? What does a novelisation supply that a movie lacks?
Are novelisations even readable?
Some time back I had a novelisation-fuelled lost weekend. I was trying to find out whether there might be some useful generic lesson therein about how writers deal, in practice, with translating a largely presentational narrative mode (showing) to a largely assertive narrative mode (telling). Reversing the standard novel-to-film flow of material might throw some light on the boring theoretical chestnut about plastic mental imagery versus rigid poured-concrete imagery, I hoped.Continue reading "Pretty Girls in Killer Shoes"
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Tell Us Your Best Library Story, Win Actual Prize!
M.R. James wrote some good ‘uns. So did Borges, Bradbury, Cheever, Danilo Kis, Isaac Babel, Elias Canetti, A.S. Byatt, Umberto Eco, Murakami; everyone loves a good library anecdote. I have it on good authority that there is even a market, small but healthy, for industrial-strength p0rn set amongst the stacks: I guess if you find the Dewey Decimal classification system quiveringly erotic well that’s really nobody’s business but your own.
Everyone loves a good library story, and if you spend much time in libraries they’re not terribly hard to come by, or, dare I say, embroider up into something delightful. (Although I doubt that many of us - professional librarians and archivists aside - still hang out in physical libraries quite as much now as we did ten years ago.) So tell us your best (no more than mildly lurid) library anecdote, here in the comments thread, and you might win a lifetime membership to LibraryThing, worth $25. I have a membership to give away because I won it myself in an in-house contest and I have one of my own already.
LibraryThing is an online personal library cataloguing tool. (You may remember Miriam Burstein wrote about it back in September.) You enter your books via ISBN, title, or keywords, and voila! instant cross-referenced personal library catalogue. It is rather like Flickr or Delicious only for books. LibraryThing utilises user-created tags, so you can sort and group your books according to whatever system you prefer. It’s a social system, so users can see each others’ catalogues, you can see who’s got the same books as you, whose library is most like your own, how many people own a particular book & what they thought about it - or if you just want to know what books you have, you can make your catalogue private. Believe me, it’s frickin’ addictive.
So, the contest will run for a week - until next Thursday, 22 Dec, midnight by the comments box timestamp. Open to anyone and everyone except Valve authors, though their library tales are still welcome, naturally. You can enter as often as you like. I am the judge and I will choose the entry I like best. Correspondence will not be entered into.
PS if you just want to talk about somebody’s library anecdote or whatever but not enter the contest, by all means go ahead.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Pirates of Pemberley
I saw the new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice a little while ago. The present ten-year Jane Austen movie cycle has now officially jumped the shark, for this is a truly lame film and a wasted opportunity to do something fresh and interesting with a uniquely well-known story.Continue reading "Pirates of Pemberley"
Sunday, October 09, 2005
cruel Spoiler, that embosom’d Foe
Anyone else’s heart sinks at the sight of headings like this?
I ask in part because of having recently marked an essay written by an unusually considerate person who did not wish to ruin the story for me by giving away the twisty ending of the assigned novel. (But that’s not really a fit story for the internet.) More generally, the spoiler warning strikes me as one of the most ignoble and infelicitous of recent additions to the modern critical repertoire.Continue reading "cruel Spoiler, that embosom’d Foe"
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Reading the introduction in my edition of Gulliver’s Travels, I came upon this sentence:
Very possibly I’m just feeling a bit fragile this weekend, but is not this an unusually pointed, detailed, and insulting swipe at the poor stupid old thoughtlessly consuming reader?
More and scarier instances of unprovoked editorial attacks on the reader’s self-esteem are sought.
(* Is the term “sledging” known outside the cricket-playing nations? It should be.)
Monday, August 01, 2005
This Week’s List of Books Burned
Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, anyone with a DVD player and a spare couple of days can now “enjoy” a frame-by-frame viewing of François Truffaut’s 1966 movie of Fahrenheit 451, zooming and panning at will.
You’ve proven yourselves adept at doing things with lists; so I have made you a list of the books Truffaut reduces to little heaps of ash. (the ones with readable titles, anyhow.)
Continue reading "This Week’s List of Books Burned"
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
“The most narrow and provincial area of film theory…”
Twenty-one years ago, Dudley Andrew bestowed that accolade upon the study of literary adaptation. Though Andrew was careful then to also point out that adaptation is potentially a rich study - “its distinctive feature, the matching of the cinematic sign system to prior achievements in some other system, can be shown to be distinctive of all representational cinema” - it’s his first judgment that has, unhappily, prevailed. It’s strange and ironic that a field of study with a foot in two separate (but importantly and meaningfully connected) disciplines hasn’t yet managed to do anything terribly impressive with its inheritance, so to speak; a cynic’s view would be that the “discipline” thus replicates the pattern of parasitic decline so many commentators identify in the mechanism of film adaptation itself. Those commentators might like to consider getting a life, however: or at least seeing a wider variety of adaptations. There are some good ones out there, once you get past Masterpiece Theatre.
Anyway, I’m probably biassed, but I can’t think of another sub-discipline of either literary or film studies which is so widely taught, studied and discussed, at all educational levels and in all types of fora and publications, yet remains so undersupplied with concepts and vocabularies purpose-built for talking about the things (texts? or processes?) under investigation. Since Andrew’s essay, film studies has had its anti-theoretical turn, and grand schematics of all kinds are out of style. Mostly this is a good thing; but in the absence of substantial, shared, non-contentious working assumptions about matters like intertextuality, influence, technique and form and medium, authorship, and reception, basically all that remains is....description, comparison, and evaluation, and that’s not enough to constitute a disciplined scholarly discourse, let alone sustain one. In the absence of theory we have a handful of disablingly “narrow and provincial” truisms about adaptation. Only second-rate novels make first-rate movies; translation = treason; faithful adaptation is ethically suspect and technically impossible; movies must pander to the lowest common denominator in ways that books need not; and so on.
When Robert Ray wonders “why has this topic, obviously central to humanities-based film education, prompted so little distinguished work?” he is asking, reasonably, what gives with the seemingly unstaunchable flow of essays about “Director X’s Movie of Writer Y’s Novel” and tiresome books devoted to Canonical Author Z On Screen (or And Cinema or At The Movies). One reason for the oversupply of this kind of work is institutional, no doubt - these things are fast to write and relatively easy to publish, and fit the profile of books libraries can be counted on to purchase. But there must be a stronger, peculiar-to-the-subject reason. I am beginning to think it’s perhaps a manifestation or symptom of adaptation presenting itself to us for consideration: a (naive) response to the way adapted movies irresistibly invite comparison with their sources, openly or furtively.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
“the Berma effect”
The book I’m reading has a pompous name, but otherwise it’s very good - Gerard Genette’s The Work of Art: Immanence and Transcendence. One early thing that I like very much is Genette’s acknowledgement of a range of factors which can interfere with the spectator’s “direct , full and authentic perception” of a celebrated artwork:
“The noblest, and the one most legitimately bound up with the artistic nature of this work, may be dubbed, with reference to a famous passage in Proust, the ‘Berma effect’; we might define it as ‘traumatic anesthesia brought on by the overwhelming sensation that one is in the presence of what is presumably a masterpiece.’”
Already I’ve copied this into my nerdy commonplace book. Rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights cognitive immobility is a sensation intimately familiar to me - not to you, naturally - but in a more general way, I appreciate the ploy of proposing an addition to the common fund of literary-critical terminology which is taken from a fictional dramatising of an aesthetic experience.
I think there ought to be many more of these....parables? Probably they have a name already, & it’d be useful to know it. (It seems important that the individual terms should be named using the idioms of their sources, also.) Another example (maybe a better one) would be “the most photographed barn in America”, from White Noise. True, Baudrillard got in there first, but DeLillo’s vignette and nomenclature is a great deal more fun. It possesses the advantage, too, of having a more specific application in terms of the formal qualities of the object under discussion, and possibly its place in culture. As in, the Mona Lisa is a most photographed barn, the ultimate barn even, but Citizen Kane is not a MPB, despite eternally languishing at the top of lame top 100 lists everywhere, because it doesn’t have the requisite clean and minimal barnlike outlines. (Feel free to shoot this claim down.)
Can you think of some other candidates for “Berma effect” duties? (stipulation: no Borges, that’s too easy.)
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Ridiculous from Today’s Perspective
‘To look either forwards or backwards,’ Italo Calvino suggests, we have to admit the reality of our own cultural contexts. ‘In order to read the classics, you have to establish exactly where you are reading them “from”, otherwise both the reader and the text tend to drift in a timeless haze.’ I’m interested in how texts which interpret other (anterior) texts - movies that adapt novels, for instance - achieve this, without thereby domesticating and ossifying the wildness and strangeness of the life of the past. And by golly, some movies work it through the embassies of literary criticism. Mansfield Park and Lionel Trilling are the topics of the first important conversation between Tom Townsend and Audrey Rouget, the callow hero and modest heroine of Whit Stillman’s 1990 movie Metropolitan.Continue reading "Ridiculous from Today’s Perspective"