**NEW Segment** QUICKTHOUGHT: Response to “Literary And/Or Commercial Fiction” by Simon from @SavidgeReads

In this post, I am trying out a new concept which I lovingly named Quickthought. Quickthought is going to be an unscientific view (whether this is possible from my point of view is debatable) on content that I have found on the internet or elsewhere. I hope you enjoy this first piece which is a response to a YouTube video by Simon from @SavidgeReads titled “Literary And/Or Commercial Fiction | A discussion | April 2018”. I highly agree with what Simon says in this video but wanted to take this a little further because I believe this is an issue that, especially from a professional point of view from literary research, we are encountering too often.

I am subscribed to a couple of booktubers whose recommendations and reviews I regularly consult. Especially when university assignments are ahead, one of the first things to do for me is to see whether anyone on YouTube has an opinion about the book. One thing that struck me throughout this process of working is that my head often thought that I might not find anything about a certain book, as it is not commercial enough. Now, what do I mean by that?

Coming from a point of view where I am not actually involved in the whole business of booktube I can only work with my assumptions here. Booktubers regularly receive books from big publishers (such as Penguin, Picador, Vintage etc.), to comment and review for the publisher on their YouTube channel. Basically, this process is not different from regular YouTubers receiving products to advertise in their videos. The books that they are sent are obviously new publications or occasionally a revised edition of a book that has already been published. The publishers, thus, hope to advertise this book on a wider range and get people who put their trust in the opinion of booktubers to buy the book from them. Now, regardless of whether the book is fiction, non-fiction, a poem collection, some kind of anthology, etc. what this does is bring this book into the spotlight. In the best case, the booktuber likes the book, talks about it on their channel, and therefore gives sales a massive boost. Right then and there, I believe, this book undergoes the process of commercialisation. The question is, whether this works the same for every book, or whether there is a different effect for literary fiction and so-called “commercial fiction”. What Simon in his video rightly said is, that there should not be a differentiation of literary fiction and commercial fiction. Fiction is fiction. There is more accessible and less accessible fiction but the fact is that this is not an issue. Even if it were an issue (which it clearly is to some when I hear my peers saying “I’m not reading this or that, I’ve never heard of it before), this is nothing that fiction itself (or ultimately the writers) can solve. I would like to make the point that a book is only as informed as the reader. Let us make this into a concrete example:

Peter, Paul, and Mary are sitting in the park. Everyone is reading a book. Peter is reading a sci-fi novel that is part of a long running series. Paul is reading James Joyce’s Ulysees, and Mary is reading a Nicholas Sparks novel. Suddenly, Mary puts her book down and suggests that it would be fun to change books for the next chapter to change perspectives and see whether they like what the others are reading. Everyone agrees so when they arrive at the next chapter, everyone hands their book to the person sitting next to us. After a couple of minutes, Paul proclaims that he does not like the Nicholas Sparks novel that he was handed by Mary as it does not challenge him. Peter replies that Ulysees bores him since “nothing happens”. Finally, Mary puts down the sci-fi novel and says that it seemed to have been a bad idea to change books since she does not really enjoy the sci-fi novel either.

What is the moral of this story? The moral is that everyone agreeing the Nicholas Sparks novel to be a piece commercial writing does not make it any more accessible to him.  Equally, Peter and Mary do not have an issue with inaccessibility. Hence, we should be careful when we refer to classic or literary fiction literature as being less accessible than commercial literature. In a way, literature can only be as accessible as the reader allows it to be.

Back to the question of the beginning: Why do we believe that some literature is more commercial than other literature? It is absolutely correct that some books sell better than others. Yet, we should not assume that this means that these books are written “easier” for the reader. They can be equally challenging as classics or so-called literary fiction (whatever this entails?), but depending what your knowledge towards the content of the book is, it might be harder for you to grasp the essence of the book. This is a problem I frequently encounter in university. Professors tend to spurn certain books by saying that they are “not part of the literary canon that is appropriate for the study of English literature”.  However, I strongly disagree with that statement since every piece of writing, may it be written as easily as even possible, has its contribution to the culture of reading and bookselling. Luckily, in the last couple of years, young adult fiction and children’s literature are two disciplines in literary research that have proven that it is worth considering books outside the literary canon. In a way, that is something that every person who works in or with literature should be aiming at: Looking beyond the margins of what we are told that needs to be read. I am not saying that lists like the Man Booker Prize, the Costa book prize etc. cannot be a valuable source to find books that do exactly this. Yet, it is always worth to look beyond the borders of the literary canon and consider commercial literature.

Thanks to Simon and his video that inspired this rather spontaneous schmozzle of words. If you agree or disagree, please let me know why and how!

 

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Review: “Lady Bird”, or “How and why we need the chick-flick/coming-of-age story in modern culture”

8092_5921 http://www.empirecinemas.co.uk/synopsis/lady_bird/f5921

In “Lady Bird”, Greta Gerwig shows that we need the chick flick coming-of-age film. However, not necessarily in the form and function that we got to know it over the last decade ( my mind is jumping to “Mean Girls” and “Easy A” which are both brilliant films).  And that is good. Because this kind of chick flick coming-of-age film is more relevant than ever. Why? This will be explored in this brief analysis. To begin with, we will look at the different issues the film raises, such as the relationship between mother and daughter, social inequality, and (the ultimate aim of the film) rediscovering home. But if you have not seen the film yet, here is a brief synopsis:

In this film, we are following Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson to school, to her family home, and ultimately to a new life. Constantly coping with her mother’s demands to make compromises, Lady Bird is struggling to see how and why she cannot live the life that she wants for herself. Throughout the film, she meets different people on her way such as her best friend Julianne “Julie” Steffans and her first boyfriend Danny O’Neill who help her on her journey to finding herself. She has to make experiences with drugs, alcohol, and bad friendships. Not being offered a place at the University of her choice only takes in a little portion of the film, yet it changes her life. With the ending left open, the audience can make up their own mind of whether that change is positive or negative.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not particularly excited to see this film when I read online what it was about. “Another coming-of-age film that covers the usual topics of growing up in rural America” – I thought to myself. Yet, although the film picks up a lot of the classic elements of the chick flick, aka the struggle of whom to take to prom and having sex for the first time, it distances itself from being categorised into one category only. It covers those issues not only from Lady Bird’s perspective but also from that of her parents’ and her friends’. Now, let us get specific about those issues.

Mothers and daughters

As a man, I do not know how well I will grasp the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. However, I feel like I have a right to share what I thought I saw. The portrayal of Lady Bird and her mother is one of the most realistic character relationships I have seen for a while. Marion (Lady Bird’s mother) is constantly worried about her families well-being. For that, she works several shifts at the time, just to come home and get the feeling that Lady Bird and her brother do not help in any way. On top of that, she has to cope with a depressive husband that seems to be unable to find a job. However, she does not give up on her family and always find new ways (always folding the clothes in the evening to keep them from breaking, shopping at the thrift shop to save money on clothes, and taking advantage of her son’s employee discount at the local grocery shop)  to maintain a good life for her and her family. From her perspectives, these ways secure their lifestyle.  Looking at this from the opposite perspective: Lady Bird. She struggles to understand why her mother would employ those rules upon Lady Bird and the rest of the family. And although there are always moments of clash between the two, they love each other dearly. One scene that set this out particularly is when they go shopping for a prom dress and they have a discussion about the fact that Marion loves Lady Bird, yet does not like her. In that instance, I felt like every mother and daughter, or more generally every parent and child could relate. There are always moments where you do not necessarily agree with your child or your parent, eventually leading to a feeling of dislike. Yet, love does not fade. Later in the film, it becomes more obvious how similar the two women actually are, driving cars through Sacramento and looking for houses. Gerwig invites you to take different stands the same situation in the film. As a child, I can relate to Lady Bird. Yet, as a parent, I could probably relate to Marion too. In doing so, she makes the audience constantly re-evaluate its’ opinion towards controversial debates concerning Lady Bird’s future. This is where it differentiates from the classic chick flick coming-of-age film. It does not only team up with the protagonist but considers the characters’ perspectives equally. Even with characters that do not seem to be of huge significance (her father), the audience is encouraged to narrate the story from his perspective. Despite this, it takes the issues portrayed to a different level and creatively approaches those issues which are usually shown simplified in a chick flick coming-of-age film.

Social inequality

The film does not make it a secret that the issue of social inequality plays a major part in the plot. Conflicts arising from this issue frequently influence the relationship within the McPherson family. Yet, it also becomes an issue outside of the family when Lady Bird starts lying to her “friend” about where she lives. As if that is not enough, her father loses his job and seems to struggle to find a new position, endangering the family’s wellbeing. Although this might not be the most obvious detail in the movie, the father is not too concerned with not finding a job. Again,  Marion has to absorb the costs this change brings to her family by working extra shifts. Yet, what some perceive to be a lack of interest of the father to find a job, others interpret it to be a byeffect of his depression. Depressive people frequently struggle to express their emotions in the right matter. In this instance, the father’s conditions worsens throughout the film up to a point, where he sits in front of the computer, playing video games all day long. Again, Gerwig manages to make the real issues of life aware in a chick flick coming-of-age film. Lady Bird, who is aware of the financial difficulties that her parents are facing, does not worry about this a lot as she is concerned with her own problems. This very realistic portrayal of the teenage years succeeds to show that the genre as we used to know it is turned into a multi-layered window into the everyday life of disadvantaged American families. In doing so, it is brutal and sensitive at the same time. The brutality (which was audibly recognisable in the cinema by moments of sheer silence from the audience that had been laughing out loud only second before) is a consequence of the unfulfilled expectations with which the film plays. Authors like Kazuo Ishiguro and John Green have arguably contributed to this by creating a genre of utter safety. The coming-of-age novels written nowadays, although irrevocably dealing with issues of contemporary nature, do not provoke the reader. They do not shake things up. They are usually safe environments in which a conflict is resolved quicker than it had been developed. Gerwig’s portrayal of Lady Bird’s life, however, hits you right in the face. The issues are real and they are only resolvable to a certain extent, just like in reality. At the same time, the aesthetics used in the film create nostalgia, a phenomenon that offers safety and comfort. I would not go as far as to say that this film is not only a revival of the chick flick coming-of-age film as we know it but also revitalises the social problem novel as written by Dickens and his peers. Yet, it stirs things up. It relocates the audience and makes them question their own point of view on social inequality. As a matter of fact, location plays an important part in the narrative.

 

Home

Christine McPherson: I hate California. I want to go to the East Coast. I want to go where culture is like New York.
Marion McPherson: How in the world did I raise such a snob?
Christine McPherson: Or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire where writers live in the woods
Marion McPherson: You wouldn’t get into those schools anyway.
Christine McPherson: Mom!
Marion McPherson: You should just go to City College. You know, with your work ethic just go to City College and then to jail and then back to City College and then maybe you’d learn to pull yourself up and not expect everybody to do everything.

Gerwig, G. Lady Bird. 2017

 

California. The sunshine state. Every now and then people mistake the name of the state with something that is frequently referred to as “LA”, Los Angeles. And although this is arguably a valid mistake seeing that all the media covers about California seems to be situated in Los Angeles, let’s not forget that there are other great cities in California such as San Francisco. Sacramento is one of them too. With a population of approximately 500.000 people, it is not particularly small. In fact, it is actually the capital of California. But why all those facts about Sacramento? Because I am going to argue that Gerwig negotiates her relationship to the Californian capital in this film. As Gerwig is from Sacramento as well, she explores, through the eyes of her protagonist(s), Sacramento. There are several instances in the film where this is stressed. The quote above will serve as evidence one. Lady Bird thinks that California does not offer that to her what she longs for, what she calls culture. From her perspective, culture can only be found in the east i.e. New York or New Hampshire. Again, this is a very common motif in the chick flick: the need to get away. To start a journey where no one keeps the protagonist from what he or she wants in life. However, the film distances itself again from that overused tool and explores the notion of home by means of two different strategies: Movement and the outsider’s perspective. Lady Bird and her mum frequently travel around in the mother’s car (after Lady Bird passes her driver’s license, she drives her own car around). It becomes clear right from the beginning that this will be an important motif as the film opens up with a car scene, and leads to a full closure at the end with Lady Bird driving around on her own without her mother. The driving through Sacramento is a way for Marion and Lady Bird to escape the mundane daily routine that has established throughout their lives on “the wrong side of the tracks”. Movement, for that matter, is a way to narrate not only what is happening in terms of where characters are, but also of what point in their life they find themselves at. It’s metaphoric in that the visual aesthetics of the film hint at the beautiful landside just outside of Sacramento. At the same time, it critiques voices that argue that living in the suburbs on the “wrong side of the track” is miserable. In fact, although it is not Lady Bird’s and her families initial vision of the perfect life, it gives them a sense of home and stability. And although this might explain the ending of the film in which Lady Bird finds herself in New York, everyone approaches the ending different as home is something very subjective.

 

Closing argument

I think that Lady Bird is doing more for the modern film industry than it realises. It revitalises the chick flick coming-of-age story in a more brutal, and at the same time sensitised way than ever. The issues portrayed are more relevant than ever. Funny and yet at the same time devastating, it shows how much potential the chick flick coming-of-age genre still has, and how it is correctly used to take the audiences’ attention by the hand. In a way, let us hope that other directors pick up the foundations that this film has laid for modern cinema, and turn their back on biopics of influential people to tell “life”.

The phantastically​ (un)-dreamy world of Kubin’s “Die Andere Seite” (1909)

In dieser Nacht schlief ich mit großen Gedanken ein. Weniger großartig war mein Traum, den ich seiner Sonderbarkeit wegen doch hierher setzen möchte.

(Kubin , 138)

978-3-499-25556-4My first post. And then I chose to write about an Austrian piece of writing. How come you may justifiably ask. During my year abroad at UCL (University College London), I am currently partaking in a class called “German Literature and Psychology”. As it so happens, this surprisingly thrilling novel was part of the course reading. Since I have only just finished reading it, it seems appropriate to me that it will be used as the primary example of what this blog is (hopefully) going to look like in the future. Let me say, however, that a close reading of the texts I will be trying to dismantle, can only be beneficial in understanding my points. Also, I will be honest with you: I am not going to present my own synopsis of what happens in the book. There will be a synopsis, yes. But be aware that I have copied it. Naturally, I will only put a synopsis in the post that I am satisfied with myself. Besides, the synopsis I will choose will always be spoiler free. But as already mentioned: just read the book. It makes your life, and my life, much easier and these texts are certainly worth your time.

For this first post, we will consider a couple of different aspects that I stumbled upon when reading “Die Andere Seite”. Although some might consider this topic of literary studies a little bit stale, we will first consider the idea of dreams and reality in this novel.  As you can imagine by the subtitle of the novel “Ein phantastischer Roman”, there are a lot of things that cross the realm from the natural to the supernatural, questioning the notions of reality, and in terms of narrative development, the narrator’s reliability. This will ultimately lead to considerations about what the text would like to say about its historical context and the 20th century in German literature before finishing off with an attempt to classify the novel in its entirety, not only in the way it was written and the time it was published, but also in the way it can be read.

So, let us dive into the phantastic world of Alfred Kubin’s (quite limited) literary legacy!

Synopsis

Today’s synopsis of the novel is (with sheer gratefulness on my part) provided by Goodreads user “Marjan” :

On the surface, this is a story about a person who gets an invitation from his old school friend Patera to join him in his newly founded Dream Country. Patera build Dream Country after he inherited an immense wealth in a series of fortunate events. The narrator decides to move there in the utmost secrecy (taking with him only his wife) and from the moment they arrive they are bewildered by the uncanny nature of the Dream Country. But it doesn’t take long after they settle into the odd habits of the Dream Country nation that an arrival of a new citizen challenges the Status Quo of the Dreamers’ way of life and thus brings upon it’s destruction.

Dreams and reality

As already established in my introduction and also by Marjan’s synopsis, one of the novel’s major elements is the “uncanny nature of the dream country”. In that regard, let us take a step back and think about the dream country: In terms of its geographical location, we know that the country must be located somewhere in Asia. It is not entirely clear, where exactly that is. Yet, there are references in the book that support the assumption that it is somewhere close to the capital of Uzbekistan: “Ich selbst trat die Heimreise über Tashkent an […]” (Kubin, 249). At the end of the day, however, this seems to be irrelevant as Kubin is playing with the idea, that the dream country is actually a dream and does, possibly, not even exist. Beyond that, throughout several instances in the novel, the protagonist mentions situations in which either he himself or other inhabitants of the dream country, struggle to stay awake. Although not a revolutionary twist in the writing of the 20th century, this keeps the reader in the uncertainty of whether what we read can actually be trusted. Is the protagonist really experiencing all of this or are we stuck, together with him, in his mind? Kubin definitely knows how to blur the lines between reality and the dream country but the question is, how does he establish the dream world? Here are three things that contribute to the dream country’s degree of reality:

  1. The journey to the dream country: Making the dream country part of the real world ( located somewhere in Asia), it is easier for us, the reader, to imagine it’s existence. The idea that we are capable of travelling there (for example by train as the protagonist and his wife do) makes it tangible for us. On a cognitive side, this creates the effect of physicality and since our mind and brain knows that “real” things are usually tangible, we jump to the conclusion that the dream country must be to some extent real.
  2. Societal Norms: The dream country, as the majority of countries in the world, consists of a society. This society branches into different layers of societal class, just like in reality. Yet, it is not only the existence of those societal regulations that support the degree of reality of the dream country, it is also the fact that this society is frequently facing similar issues as a real society might be (famine, poverty, crime).
  3. The map: Some of you might have noticed the protagonist’s remark about the map of the dream country that can be found at the end of the book. The mapping of locations is a very simple tool to make fictional places appear real. What Lord of the Rings-Fan doesn’t know the routes and ways of Middle-earth or Mordor? And even historical fiction uses maps to establish family relationships that otherwise might be too confusing to follow. A good old map is the answer to creating a vivid mental image in the readers’ mind.

Beyond that, Kubin keeps embedding hints and clues that might as well convince the reader of the complete opposite, the inexistence of the dream country. One such clue, for example, is the fact that the inhabitants of the dream country are referred to as “Traummenschen” (engl. dream people) (Kubin, 57) or occasionally also as “Traumstäder” (engl. dream city people) (58) or “Träumer”. This composition ( here’s a bit of morphological theory for the linguistics people among us), of dream+people seems to be an oxymoron as people are real, yet dreams are only real to a certain extent in that they are only manifested in brain waves and the dreamer’s recollection of their dream. It is therefore only natural, that “Traummenschen” does not initially create a mental image as clear as an image of geographical nature. Yet, Kubin also plays with the physics of the world in his dream country. Whereas gravity and space seem to be acting normally (up to the point of decline and deconstruction of the dream country) as the reader would expect them to from the real world, time plays an important role in exemplifying the surreality of the dream country. Besides the ban on progress, the dream country also puts a ban on clocks/watches (71). Yet, as I am sure that everyone who has ever experienced a boring job or waited for something important to them knows, time can pass very slowly. Especially if it coincides for time to be an inconvenience not to pass. The same phenomenon can be found in the dream country. Additionally, the time leaps made in the protagonist’s narration underline the mundanity that he and his wife experience in the dream country. This is also mentioned a bit more explicit by him but to underline the idea of timelessness we will not look into this in further detail.

Now, you might ask yourself:”What has all this to do with psychology?” (Remember? I read this book for a university class). Well, let me try to broach this subject:

did-you-dream-about-me-im-a-freud-not

 

 

The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activity of the mind – Sigmund Freud

 

 

 

 

Who would have guessed that Freud has his fingers in the pie when we talk about psychology and literature? Total plot twist, right? Yet, if you come to think about it for a serious second, you realise that Freud’s theory about dreams does not quite apply to what we have so far found in the novel. Yes, the character might be dreaming. And yes, these dreams might be interpretable by a psychotherapist. But for us, the reader, it is unfortunately impossible to know what these dreams (or maybe even hallucinations?) mean. What I am trying to say here is quite a simple idea:

We know too little about the protagonist to fully understand to what extent his mind works!

Again, not really a revolutionary thought and yet a very significant if you come to think about that there are several key areas in which Kubin’s novel could be read in a psychoanalytical way. Compare, for example, the fact that the protagonist, just like Freud, differentiates between different “I” personas (87). Another place in which we can find this differentiation is when he feels that someone taps him on the shoulder : “Ich musste übrigens auch ein anderes <<Ich>> haben, denn öfters erhielt ich einen scherzhaften Schlag auf die Schulter und sah einen fremden Mann, der sich missvergnügt entschuldigte” (149). Additionally, we know that Freud started off as a neuroscientist investigating (female forms of) hysteria, one of the symptoms the protagonist’s wife shows briefly after they arrived in the dream country. And as it so happens, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life” was published 8 years prior to “Die Andere Seite” suggesting, that Kubin could have been well aware of Freud’s account of psychoanalysis.

 

The 20th century “phantastic” novel and genre

Now that we have already broached the question of the historical context (namely psychoanalysis) of “Die Andere Seite”, let’s think about the time in which the novel was published.

Not romanticism, and yet not quite modernism. We know that the beginning of modernism (or rather German modernism) is usually roughly estimated to be in 1910 ( Encyclopædia Britannica, German Literature, accessed 29.01.2018). So… where exactly do we place Alfred Kubin’s novel? I want to say that his writing exists on the edge of expressionism and surrealism. Why? Well, we know that Alfred Kubin was not primarily a writer, he was an artist. If you look at some of the drawings he produced during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it will become obvious to you too that he creates different worlds, tells supernatural stories or maybe just tries to cope with mental health issues.(?) (In that regard, I am not going to post any of the drawings, just google them. Also, I am going to include one of his illustrations, quite suitably a drawing of someone dreaming, in the header so make sure to scroll back up and explore that). His pictures are very obviously not trying to create comfort in whoever is looking at them. Rather, it feels like the artist is fighting a battle with himself, being his own opponent. It seems that there is a tension in the pictures that desperately tries to resolve itself, yet as we all know, classic drawings tend to be rather static in that they cannot change. The novel, however, allows for exactly this change. There is a resolution at the end that can be read in different ways. The two ways I found most appealing are by far:

  1. An awakening
  2. The opposite, a neverending state of living in the unconscious

#inception , right? There are undoubtedly more readings, but the question is really, what is your reading? Do you think we are looking into the protagonists mind? Are we seeing a dream ( and subsequently a dream within a dream?)? What exactly do you make of the protagonist’s experiences?

I guess what I am trying to say is:

His only novel has opened a new discourse in German literature, allowing for epochal fluidity between expressionism and surrealism. This is remarkable in that it enables different readings of the novel which makes it a very dynamic text of which everyone has to make their own reading.



There it is. My first post. Tell me what you think. Does it maybe encourage you to read the book? Or are you rather disinclined by my reading of it? Most importantly: I will still have to write an essay about this book so give me feedback if you have read the book and let us get into an exchange of ideas.

Bibliography:

Kubin, Alfred. Die Andere Seite. Hamburg: RoRoRo, 1909.

Encyclopædia Britannica. “German Literature” accessed: 28.01.18. https://www.britannica.com/art/German-literature/The-20th-century