Stop It: I Hate the Blob Web

I have spent considerable time over the last few months ‘learning to code’. Lame! My anxiety about the slim job prospects of my Chinese degree has forced me to be darkly familiar with the Chrome console, which I used to open solely by accident. What am I, a human woman who has never seen a single Marvel film, doing in this embarrassing labyrinth of ones and zeroes? 

‘Learning to code’, as it turns out, entails spending virtual time with more experienced developers – watching YouTube tutorials and blindly following in an adjacent window, reading their Medium articles, studying their work. This traumatising experience has, I believe, brought me closer to Silicon Valley’s aesthetic truth.

We live our lives on the Blob Web. We visit and interact with Blob Websites made for Blob People, who do not quite exist. Every niche of blank space is filled with some Blob Diversion: perhaps an illustration of these rounded, ethnically-ambiguous human-approximations in their spherical utopia, or a markedly non-threatening Blob Message (Oopsie! We couldn’t find that page!).

Above is a prime example of Blob Web Design, lifted straight from the front page of travel website Culture Trip. This world of smooth-edged diversity could almost be a parody of its own origins. An interesting side note: apart from the woman in the foreground looking down at her blushing child, these interchangeable symbols of love and tolerance do not have faces. They are like mouthless Sanrio characters for politically active adults, here to create some approximation of warmth or quirk in an attempt to sell a product:

But unlike this line of imagery, the Blob Web could never be considered cute. Intentional or unintentional, these flat illustrations project isolation and eeriness, an idyllic world where everyone is secretly melancholy. The long shadows and limited colour palettes utilised in so many of these graphics remind me of sparse, lonely Western cinematography – take this shot from Once Upon a Time in the West:

Side note: the cactus, rounded and towering, is the perfect Blob Plant.

These Blob People, their faces hidden, could easily be about to whip out their guns and engage in bloody warfare. These illustrations are supposed to look peaceful and harmonious, but their intentional simplicity makes them instead appear hostile and surreal. This is interesting to consider against the background of tokenistic corporate diversity characterising many big tech companies.

This rotund alternate world is not, of course, simply confined to illustrative squares. It permeates its way throughout the internet, identifying itself in the fonts we read, the gently sloping edges of buttons and the small icons we are made to click. I am typing this very essay on Google Docs, because Chromebooks are cheap: in the corner of my screen sits a picture of a ‘doc’, a rounded blue sheet of paper with rounded white lines of text. In some parallel universe, my Blob Self is sitting in her Blob Bed and writing a Blob Essay, which looks just like that and probably reads like this: 

‘I am grateful for this beautiful, accessible, open-source web. It is light, fast, and simple.’

Perhaps she will hand it in to a Blob Professor at Blob University, where students frolic on too-green lawns, reading book-patterned pads and riding their friendly bicycles. 

Blob Culture has few obvious real-world predecessors. Little is explicitly referenced as we are lifted out of our human history and dumped into a worldbuilding exercise created presumably from scratch. We part from a visual language developed through centuries of art, literature and film – the largest Blob People send us straight back to the bottom-heavy fertility figures of Paleolithic times.

Perhaps their maternal curves, gentle gradients and definite occupational iconography project something significant about the louts in their silicon chamber – something Oedipal. On discovery of his accidental incest, Tech Bro takes a pickaxe to his own depth perception, but cannot avoid living the remainder of his life pressed against the bosoms of blurry, melancholy women. The websites he designs are merely cries for help.

This whole globular construction was no accident, and there are numerous contributing factors – in 2014, Google introduced a standard ‘visual language’ and named it Material Design. It turns out that this bland name – blobby in itself – is actually supposed to carry meaning. Material Design, the website explains, is inspired by the physical world and its textures, including how they reflect light and cast shadows. Material surfaces reimagine the mediums of paper and ink.  But this scheme is little more than a hellish appropriation of the physical world. It is as if our tech overlords are gloating – ‘We have given you such a debilitating dopamine addiction that you may never again experience interest in the natural world! Take this poor, boring approximation – something that will spark neither inspiration nor awe –  instead of genuine beauty! It is not enough to be stuck inside reading inane content we’ve tricked you into being interested in – every website you visit, every app you download, must look the same!’

Google describe their Material Design icon library, a new Wingdings of glossy tech iconography, as ‘simple, modern, friendly, and sometimes quirky’ – but nothing regulated for universal use by a multinational corporation could possibly be ‘quirky’. They also have the audacity to use the word ‘beautiful’ several times in their copy, something absurd to apply to such a patronising and monotonous scheme. One of their aims, claims the Material Design website again, is to ‘Unify – Develop a single underlying system that unifies the user experience across platforms, devices, and input methods.’ This sinister intention – an attempt at creating a ubiquitous nanny state of graphic design – should not go unnoticed. The internet is, and should be, a wild frontier of choice, open for aesthetic contributions from anyone with access – what right has Google, or any other entity, to dictate how it might look?

A portion of the Material Design icon library. How many of these pass you by every day without notice?

And if Material Design is supposed to be a ‘reimagining of paper and ink’, it is the paper and ink of a tiresome bureaucrat, or a teenager trying to make pretty notes at school. Real paper yellows with time, is ripped and stuck back onto itself, is emblazoned with creases and round marks from cups. Google’s style guide is nothing but an attempt to make online content timeless in its monotony. While it is easy for modern onlookers to be drawn in by the unaware Geocities-era of web design, these new schemes are too cold and calculated to contain any charm for viewers in decades to come.

Perhaps I am partially angry because I still believe, embarassingly, in the internet as a vehicle for change, rebellion and subculture formation. None of these things should happen in a sanitised, exclusively-Californian environment – the web should and could look like a Czech film poster, or a ransom note, or a madman’s desk, or a doll’s house. We are being gently nudged to spend more and more time online, and this should come with the agency to decide what our aesthetic experience is like.

I Review: Cries and Whispers (1972)

This is my first standalone film review! Apparently I’m not supposed to make value judgements. I will make absurd comparisons instead.

I’m sure many people have already said exactly what I already want to say about Cries and Whispers: at a bookshop near my university, before I had seen any Bergman film (I write having now seen Wild Strawberries, Persona and this) I came across a dictionary-sized guide to his, and only his work. I did not have the physical prowess to comfortably pick up and flip through the book. This scared me – who would or could write a volume this big about my favourite directors, the Hollywood German Jews of the 1930s-70s? What did this man make? Who was he, some kind of celluloid Picasso? Almost all of his films have very long Wikipedia pages and have been subject to rigorous academic study. I am but a pale blue dot in the vast universe of Bergman writers. At least I know more than my own father, who said completely seriously at mention of his name, ‘Ha! You mean Ingmar Bergson!’

Some background: I was basically educated from 2012 to 2015 by Rookie writers in their twenties and thirties who did their best, for some very questionable reason, to convince their young readership that Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides was not only definitely a film intended for impressionable teenagers but also the peak of Western cinema. I bought into this, and now I have a knee-jerk reaction that any film featuring a) a non-zero number of women wearing white dresses in the same room, b) religious iconography, c) female agony, is automatically brilliant. Luckily, all of these things – and more! – exist in Cries and Whispers, the story of three sisters tangled in a web of death, sex, belief and emnity. Obviously, I liked it.

It also turns out that Cries and Whispers is actually a lot closer to my beloved Golden Age of Hollywood than I thought it would be – and to my favourite genre, the stylistic period drama. The ‘strong female lead’ costume dramas of ’30s and ’40s Hollywood – Jezebel, Camille, Gaslight – are similar in their ornate depictions of womanly agony. We are shut into an enclosed space and bombarded with all the melodramatic trappings of an exemplary Sirk, from the positioning of actresses onscreen (like a ballet) to the mood music (Chopin’s Mazurka no. 4 in A minor) and, of course, the colours.

The use of red in this film is famous and almost too obvious – crossing the elementary colour-symbolism line of sex-danger-love-violence until it became a comment on the excess, rather than just the existence, of these elements in the story, fading out scene-by-scene into a final saturation. Bergman thought the soul was black on the outside and red on the inside, and the mansion, with all the rooms and hallways the term ‘mansion’ might entail, serves as a sort of diorama of the human psyche. The women face these reddened experiences – desire, emnity, conceptualisation of death – in separate, designated compartments. The walls, like the elevator scene in The Shining, drip with blood. Their white dresses and wall-drapings constitute innocence, an attempt at remaining unstained by the unsavoury proceedings.

Here are some visual things I was reminded of at various points:

The Parisian apartment in Gigi (1958, dir. Vincente Minnelli)

I wonder if Bergman saw this film? This red interior was just one set-dressing of many – the numerous apartments, ballrooms and parks acted as a barrier to saturation fatigue or claustrophobia, and obviously it would not do to set your hearty musical comedy in just one extremely strange place.

John Singer Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends | Artseer
The Birthday Party by John Singer Sargent (1887)
John Singer Sargent | A Dinner Table at Night | American | The Met
A Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent (1884)

I also wonder whether Bergman looked at these two paintings, which could almost have been screencaps from the film. The faceless gentleman in The Birthday Party looms over supposedly innocent proceedings – the white child and tablecloth, the jovial woman in red – just as death, and the dying sister Agnes, does in the film. The wine in A Dinner Table at Night resembles blood.

I’m glad my early conditioning inspired me to enjoy this. I love finding new loops in the Great Aesthetic Chain and this was a good one.

Have fun! Paint the town red!

Charm Odyssey: A Tour of My ‘Pretty Videos’ Playlist

If you don’t know what to look for, YouTube is unforgiving, laying down concentric circles of brash clickbait designed to leave anyone drained. Although I have wasted many hours watching content with absolutely no sentimental or aesthetic value, my late-night searches of film clips and historical videos have also left me with some real treasures. I have combed through the fruits of my hard work and chosen several that fill me with genuine awe. Have fun!

First is an interview with German punk icon Nina Hagen, from the 1999 documentary Nina Hagen = Punk + Glory (dir. Peter Sempel). This might be my favourite online video, exuding a vibe for which I have not yet found any equal audiovisual matches. Hagen appears here as an odd mix of mythological forest witch Circe and Archie the Inventor, an eccentric character from children’s television show Balamory who does crafts in his pink castle.

Here is another video, where she sings Silent Night (Stille Nacht) in a real church. This is also a good vibe.

Here is a dance sequence from Dames (1934), a Depression-era musical I have never actually seen. I would be far more enthusiastic about modern musicals if the singing was eerie, like this (why don’t films have choir soundtracks anymore?) and if dancers were still allowed to multiply on giant hamster wheels like cygnet amoebas. I have fallen in love with this strange three minutes – why do the women occasionally walk over the camera? Who made those hundreds of white dresses? Who built this Seussian panopticon?

And this dance sequence from the same musical (I am afraid that if I actually watch it in its entirety the new context will ruin a beautiful mystery). This is like a precursor to the ultra-synchronised performances of LOONA’s Butterfly. I think this kind of thing could only come out of South Korea nowadays.

Here is a sequence from the 1951 Powell and Pressburger feature-length Tales of Hoffmann adaptation, the kind of thing you might dream exists only to find that it actually does.

Here is a music video by Czech singer Marta Kubišová. I am still searching for a true audio equivalent to Czech New Wave film, but this is beautiful in its surreal Christian visions.

Here is a full-length Kunqu opera performance (probably from the 60s?) of Tang Xianzu’s 1598 play, Peony Pavilion. This is so consistently otherwordly and pastel that it feels like an actual trip back to a paper cut-out Ming dynasty.

Early colour films make me cry. Here is a beautiful one of flowers blooming in darkness.

And another, of sweet pea varieties.

Here, someone from the BFI discusses very early Technicolor films. I think this muted era of colour technology was beautiful and probably should never have been phased out – see also the first full-length Technicolor film, Becky Sharp, where some scenes look like Renaissance paintings. It’s a very strange experience seeing the real spectra of these early film studios (I usually visualise them in black-and-white, like a child who has been lied to about the recent invention of colour).

Homogeny and Hegemony in Modern ‘Queer’ Culture

In 2018, on my now-defunct Tumblr, I reposted a YouTuber’s Instagram photo. The picture showed her, female and feminine, standing with her male boyfriend. “Ur fav queer couple cruisin the mall”, she had written as a caption.

“this is a straight couple. it’s straight. you’re in a heterosexual relationship. there is nothing remotely “queer” about this in the slightest whatsoever. jesus h christ”, I wrote underneath, in my customary tone of lower-case outrage.

Today, my post has a grand total of 53, 676 notes – likes, comments and reblogs. It had clearly struck a chord with one group and offended another. A chain of similarly maladjusted heterosexual couples posted selfies and stood up for themselves and the proclaimed ‘queerness’ of their relationships, like teenage heroes in dystopian novels. I received many anonymous messages and one actual curse, which a follower kindly reversed for me. The gay people in my own orbit seemed to find the original post just as funny as I had.

The whole ordeal made me wonder: what is it about the word ‘queer’ that inspires such violent emotional sway in online circles? Why do certain people cling to it with their whole selves, and why do others find it so irksome? As a lesbian who has been actively wincing at the term for the past few years, I’m sure I can answer the latter. I will also make a stab at the former.

My university’s student union is perhaps not alone in writing and enforcing its own arbitrary lexicon, something which supposedly allows the underprivileged to feel safe but actually serves to annoy almost everyone but the most sheltered, academia-drunk union higher-ups. For unexplained reasons, the word ‘woman’ must be written as ‘womxn’, pronounced ‘woman-x’ – a convention of demonised second-wave feminism that barely sees use in even the most intricate online social justice circles. When I arrived in September, I aimed to meet other gay people and ended up in my own Room 101, a university-authorised Whatsapp group for ‘Queer Womxn’. The name of the main LGBT society involved the word ‘queer’ too – apparently it had been renamed the year before without much member input.

Determined to use my first-year enthusiasm for unconventional purposes, I made a submission to the university’s ‘anonymous confessions’ Facebook page, complaining about the insensitivity of the word’s use (it is still used as a slur outside ‘progressive’ areas, and our students come from all over the world) and arguing it to be alienating to those who did not intentionally identify with academic queer theory. I watched in excitement as a true variety of students argued for and against the term: within a month, the group’s name was changed. I was heartened to see others dissent and wondered why the union chose ‘queer’ in the first place to summarise this complex grouping of people, some of whom never identified with it at all.

‘Queer’ does not carry neutral implications: it implies a stray from convention at some level, whether biological, social, cultural or a combination of the three. The use of the word to describe all non-heterosexual people on basis of sexuality alone is homophobic, an implication that these groupings are inherently out-of-place or abnormal – when, in fact, same-sex relationships have occurred in several non-human species as well as constantly throughout recorded history. Annamarie Jagose, a scholar in queer studies, claims the word ‘focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire’ – the idea that there can be a mismatch on any level deserves to be left in the past. It is remarkable that thinkpiece-writers today can churn out pieces preaching of widespread fluidity in sexuality and personal gender expression and still brand this supposedly huge cross-section of society with the flaming-hot poker of ‘queer’.

I have read ‘queer’ analyses of classic film and classic literature, which zone in on minute details of centuries of human cultural output, speaking in an elemental sense of individual characters and plots, of ‘queer-coding’ and apparent homoerotic oddities. These academics clearly have no sense of perspective or imagination – the inner circles of arts and culture have been awash with homosexual desire since the beginning of time, and homoeroticism runs rampant as the norm and not the ‘other’ in several artistic traditions. It is absurd to point out ‘queerness’ as an entertaining but unusual isolate in the Western canon when those elements are actually an underlying constant, influencing even heterosexual figures by coincidence.

Sappho’s poetry inspired Catullus and later, the Romantic poets. Ovid’s Metamorphoses, sprinkled with homo- and transsexuality and perhaps the first thinkpiece on sexual fluidity, is still the earliest surviving source for several Greco-Roman myths, acting both deliberately and by proxy as a basis for a significant amount of poetry and art. Da Vinci and Michelangelo, obvious figures in Western art history, were both reportedly gay; this is clear in the latter’s depiction of muscled men. Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets are homoerotic. Oscar Wilde is an obvious example of a homosexual cultural figure. Film school mainstay F.W Murnau was gay. Several members and orbiters of the Bloomsbury Group were gay or bisexual, and a prolific group of actresses in early Hollywood – Marlene Dietrich, Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead and more – had dalliances with each other. This era lives on through the glossy and intimidating graphic work of Tamara de Lempicka, a bisexual woman painting other women. I could go on for eternity – and these are not bullet points on a list, but parts of a huge, shining cultural web. Homoeroticism cannot be picked out and analysed in a special field of ‘queer studies’ when it is embedded in the DNA of virtually every art form – to do so would be to reduce these great contributions to outsider dust. ‘Queer’ only serves to isolate, marginalise and minimise what it describes.

Nothing will stop me from believing that ‘queer’ has been co-opted for corporate means and spread in the neoliberal media to a rapt crowd. With this sanitised term in hand, large organisations can sidestep the discomfort created by social acceptance of homosexuality. There is no explicit Latin-root acknowledgement of how these relationships are formed, no sexual implications included, and no unappealing earthy stereotypes carried over from the word ‘lesbian’. Marketing to a ‘queer community’, something vaguely sentimental but ultimately harmless is a great way to give your corporation an accepting edge while forcing your way into the inner lives of an increasing base of consumers.

The word is at once political and empty. It means everything and nothing, an automated ‘lorem ipsum’ filling in for a marginalised person’s emotive journey, or a university admissions essay read in a state of slumber. Its flimsy net is cast over the widest possible array of people: while the classic LGBT grouping is automatically included, virtually anyone can perform mental gymnastics to apply the word to their own lives, using it as a non-threatening shield in the war of identity politics. These pretenses started to slip in February, when actress Jameela Jamil, whose role judging an HBO-produced voguing competition show was questioned over social media, defended herself with the vague statement that she identified ‘as queer’.

This is 2020, and intricate identity politics govern an internet where it is entertaining to watch others fall. With no way to criticise or be privy to real-world actions, we instead analyse language, public opinion of offence and inoffence constantly in flux, and look at the signifiers used to judge personal circumstances, politics and taste. Young people online, attempting to defy anonymity, look endlessly for new groups to join (this is seen on the wikia I accidentally run, which thousands visit to determine their internet ‘aesthetic’ of best fit). Jamil and countless others defend themselves against cancellation with the vague shield of queerness, something apparently unacceptable to elaborate on, whose inner mechanisms can remain unexplained.

The use by individuals and organisations appears dismissive, a lazy attempt to ignore diversity in taste and opinion and push many into a homogenous, vaguely quirky, vaguely leftist thrall. Pluralism is squashed: while gay people can demonstrably hold any political views, choose to live inside or outside of heterosexual social structures and have their own specific tastes, the word implies some purposeful, corporate-punk rejection of society, at a level different from the basic biology of ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ and ‘bisexual’ – an infantile Hot-Topicisation of leagues of grown adults. I have come across several essays by bisexuals who do not feel ‘queer’ enough: although the meaningless nature of the term makes their premise ridiculous, I suggest that to solve this problem we should drop the phony unity of ‘queerness’ altogether, allowing individuals to embrace the nature of their specific attraction and bond where it is really appropriate with those of similar and adjacent sexualities.

The internet personality I controversially found ‘cruising the mall’ is an ideal model of what it means to be queer today. I believe that decades from now, YouTubers will be studied in depth as reflections of our culture and countercultures – they say much more about the modern psyche than any other source. Seen with a succession of near-identical emasculated boyfriends but only boasting off-screen of her one same-sex relationship, devoting her life to the saccharine outer of Japanese street fashion with no basis in the culture or language, proudly using baby talk and obsessing over children’s anime, this case study is the voice of her generation. Homosexuality has been through a lot in the past ten years or so: sentimentalised, used to signal virtue, used to ward off attacks in an identitarian political landscape, clung to, and picked up in cutesy wrappings for fashion.

I want nothing to do with these people: the ‘queer’ desperation filling the replies of my Tumblr post showed me images of an overprivileged and narcissistic crowd I previously thought was a right-wing illusion. I loathe to see my most intimate self packaged and commodified, used as a bargaining chip in the game of identity politics, and abnormalised in academia. It will never be progressive for individuals and even organisations to group many different people together under a word which means ‘abnormal’.

Reading the Original Ballad of Mulan

I had lots of fun reading through Bai Juyi’s 9th century ‘Long Song of Sorrows’ recently, and thought I could do with some lighter fare – ie. no dying concubines. I decided to read the Ballad of Mulan, something many outside of China have actually heard of and the source material for an array of modern media. This idea couldn’t have come at a better time: Disney’s live-action reboot of their ’90s animated Mulan film is coming out now, in the wake of multiple controversies, and I would love nothing better than the knowledge needed to point out every single thing they did wrong. I also love the intimate, relatable view of history obtainable by reading ancient poetry in the original and thought this level of proximity to an interesting and subversive cultural figure would be a really cool thing to have.

The ‘ballad’ in question here is known in Chinese as ‘木兰辞’ (Mùlán Cí). It probably has folk origins and was first transcribed in the 6th century, but is set in the Northern Wei (386-535AD). There have obviously been many film adaptations in China and overseas, with the Disney animation well-known in Western countries.

I technically study the Beijing dialect of Modern Standard Mandarin but I’ve been taking a Classical Chinese class for the last academic term and reading lots of Tang poetry on the side along with bits of Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber (prototypic Mandarin mixed with Classical Chinese grammar and vocabulary), so I’m familiar with most of the grammatical structures I can see here. So far, I have found it much easier to understand archaic Chinese poetry – with its largely unchanging capsules of meaning – than poetry written in Latin, my first ancient language, and what does confuse me is usually down to genuine omission or ambiguosity (although there is lots of this in philosophical texts) rather than grammatical complexity. The vocabulary is another story, as always, and I’ll be researching as I go along – although I did go on an ‘obscure equestrian words’ segue a few weeks ago and am excited that I initially recognised 骏马 (a fine thoroughbred horse). Although the original poem rhymes, rather delightfully at that, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to convey that at all. In the end, my translation is mostly prose with some rhythmic elements kept for accuracy.

My prose translation

Sighing, sighing yet again, Mulan weaves at home. One cannot hear the sound of the loom, only her womanly sighs – when you ask her, ‘What are you thinking?’, when you ask her ‘What do you remember?’, she thinks of nothing, that is for sure, she remembers nothing.

The night before she had seen a call for soldiers, from which Khan would choose, a military register in twelve volumes, books upon books held the name of her father. Dearest father without a single son – Mulan, without a big brother, wanted to go to market for a horse and bridle. From now on, she would assume her old man’s status.

At the Eastern market she buys a fine steed, at the Western market a saddle and cloth, in the South she buys a bridle, and in the North a long whip.

When the sun rises, she bids her mother and father adieu and leaves, as it sets, she settles down to sleep by the Yellow River. There are no calls made here by parents to their daughters, just the shallow splashing of the flowing river.

When the sun rises, she bids the river adieu and leaves, as it sets, she reaches the peak of the Black Mountain. There are no calls here made by parents to their daughters, just the crude cries of riders in the Yan peaks.

Ten thousand li to carry out the mission: as if in flight, she scales the mountain pass. The Northern wind calls of clanging gold1, the winter light gleams from her armour. The general dies a hundred battles later; ten years on, the soldiers return.

On return, they come to see the divine ruler, the divine ruler who sits in halls that shine. He grants her rewards that spill into the hundreds and thousands.

The khan asks what she wants, but Mulan has no use for a grand title: she wants to gallop a thousand li to return to her hometown.

The grandmother hears the woman return, and embraces her as she comes in through the city walls.

The aunt hears her sister return, and decks out the door in red;

Her little brother hears his sister return and, sharpening his knife, advances on the pig and sheep.

Having opened the door of my eastern quarters, I sit on the bed in my west-facing room.

Having taken off my wartime clothes, I wear my old skirts again.

I arrange my hair in the window and, looking into the mirror, I fasten my yellow patch.

Coming out of the door, I see my companions – my companions are all amazed:

“We travelled together for twelve years – I didn’t know Mulan was a girl”.

The male rabbit’s feet are easily bewildering2, the female’s eyes full of mysteries.

When the two rabbits walk together, who can distinguish whether I am male or female?

*

1 could not think of a clear way to translate this – a gold rattle’s noise is echoed on the wind

2 This phrase is easily bewildering! I thought it might mean that the rabbit runs so quickly that it’s hard to make out its feet. The translations on the Chinese websites I used confirmed this.

I was really charmed by the mirrored structures in this poem, and I think they give Mulan’s character an extra dimension. Particularly successful were the lines describing her farewells and first ventures – they make explicit her displacement from her comforting parents as she reaches the Yellow River, then her father’s calls are replaced by barbarian cries.

The most surprising thing was the assertion at the emperor’s palace that she had 不用 (no use) for an honorary role, and wished to return home to her family – this definitely undermines popular Western interpretations (assumptions) of the poem as a tale reusable for neoliberal means. Mulan is fighting not for personal distinction and honour but to save her father’s life, in an ultimate genderbent sacrifice of Confucian piety. Confucius himself barely acknowledged the existence of women in a moral capacity, and there is clearly an unusually progressive tilt to the poem, especially its last line, but something still feels off about its use to propel liberal feminist ideals of personal fulfilment.

Souped up with delirium at 3am, I attempted to write a translation in verse. This only covers about three quarters of the ballad, missing out Mulan’s return home and the rabbit allegory – at that point I had probably passed out. I fully acknowledge that my attempt was terrible as a standalone literary work, but I also think I came closer to the original tone of the poem than in my prose translation.

My verse translation

There’s the loom again, our Mulan is weaving.

No – not the loom, the sound of her grieving.

When asked why those thoughts – when asked why those woes –

she tells us of nothing and of nothing she shows.

Last night on the board, Khan made a list –

Among his many names was her father, dearly missed.

The man had no son, Mulan had no brother –

she planned to exchange herself for the other.

She buys a horse in the east, a saddle in the west,

A bridle in the south – at north, the whip’s best;

She greets her father by dawn, by night is by the river,

the water sounds out softly and the silence makes her shiver.

She bids the river adieu and by night is at the cliff,

the mountain-folk cries carry and the atmosphere is stiff.

Ten-thousand li before her, and she travels like a bird,

Her armour coldly glints and on the wind, a rattle’s heard.

(A hundred die in battle in a decade – it’s absurd.)

On return she sees the emperor, sitting in his hall,

A multitude of honours, and she deserved them all.

Khan asks what she wants: “A title for her strife?

She wants to gallop many li and see her former life.”

*

I remember reading Douglas Hofstatder’s Le ton beau de Marot and being excited by the comparison of translation to photography as a means of experiencing ‘the real thing’: although you might have a skewed conception of someone’s appearance if you’ve only seen them photographed from one angle, you’ll gradually develop a fuller understanding of how they look in the real world once more and more pictures are available. Similarly, a translation of one poem only reflects the insights and reactions of one translator, working in one style at one time: if you read several translations and start to see enduring patterns and turns of phrase, you will come a step closer to the poem as it exists in its original language. I hope my inclusion of an odd attempt at verse translation somewhat has this effect. It would be very interesting to compile ‘folk’ translations of the ballad from bilingual people across China to see what stands out as a constant- it has been adapted for entertainment and used for political purposes so often.

To summarise, this was really interesting!

Lesbianism and Camp

I have, like thousands of others, now read Sontag’s Notes on “Camp”, an attempt to define the undefinable – a term I had previously catalogued as John Waters movies, pantomimes, a ban on wire hangers and a misunderstood Met Gala dress code, but now feel to be steadily expanding to cover many things I continue to uphold as ideal. I am interested in the public’s conception of camp as gay male domain – I would like to argue in favour of camp’s specific lesbian appeal.

On the fourth page of her essay, attempting to define a camp ‘taste in persons’, Sontag outlines what I believe to be the bridge between cultural sensibility as constructed and human sexuality as felt. She speaks in terms of androgyny, Art Nouveau and Greta Garbo (I will come back to this later) – then, running through a list of screen personalities, finally and crucially reaches the French actress Edwige Feuillère.

In Jacqueline Audry’s Olivia (1951), Feuillère’s piece de resistance, lesbianism and camp intersect on several miraculous levels. This film exists on familiar territory: its slow trickle of female-Oedipal passion runs from wounds slit two decades beforehand by Leontine Sagan’s Maedchen in Uniform. Where stripes were the constant motif in that 1931 production – the Prussian boarding-school uniforms, the Disney-expressionist shadows cast by the banisters of a forbidden staircase – Audry’s 1951 film is characterised by gloss and mirrors, the trademark of the German director, Max Ophüls, to whom she was once an assistant. The repressed atmosphere of wartime Prussia is replaced by a decadent, flowered Versailles in miniature, dictated by traditionally feminine emotion and crowded with obedient patriots.

Olivia, whose arrival at the school from culturally distant England marks the story’s beginning, is our tour guide, and it is from this that the film derives its camp appeal. We see a sophisticated establishment made grotesque in the shiny funhouse mirror of a young girl’s desire. She is Alice in Wonderland, making her first steps, beribboned and finally speaking French, through a looking glass and into a world where all human relationships are flipped back to front. At genteel poetry readings led by Feuillère’s character, she is tested and rewarded on her knowledge of the incestuous Greco-Roman family tree central to Western literature, a spidery logic puzzle in itself.

In this Blytonian fable gone wrong, two headmistresses vie for the attention of their pupils. One, a mysteriously-ill Miss Havisham type played to an obscene degree by Simone Simon, picks favourite students from an keepsake album as the girls in her care take turns to serve her. The other, Feuillère’s vengeful inversion of Sagan’s gentler Fraulein von Bernberg, wooes her subjects as they sit in ever-shrinking groups to hear her recite Racinian verse.

Feuillère’s character, Mlle Julie, is cartoonish in her immorality, a lesbian Child-Catcher who slips into her students’ rooms at night. Her mannerisms are stern, domineering and utterly unexplainable. During an expectedly lavish school dance, she fondles another student in plain view in an attempt to make Olivia jealous, before reconciling and promising her sweets – a textbook child predator, and images which are exceptionally chilling and yet rarely discussed. This female pederasty, along with classical myth in the shape of Racine’s Phèdre and Andromaque, turn the girls’ school into its own Hellenic city-state. Anything goes if you are getting a thorough education.

The film is already an unofficial continuation of the Maedchen in Uniform prophecy, but my favourite comparison is to John Waters’ 1972 Pink Flamingos, the famous, faux-camp, commentary on filth. When the Ophüls-style smoke and mirrors are cast aside, this is essentially all that Olivia is: a war of moral turpitude. Two sides attempt to outdo each other in depravity: on one, a lady of unsound health wallowing in a boudoir and demanding proteinaceous treats – on the other, manipulative exhibitionists happy to engage in petty threats. The normal young women, for the good of society (birthing children to adopt, becoming literate) are thrown, helpless, into the cellar.

In Sontag-land, camp that is decadent but aware of itself cannot truly be camp – it is only camping. Nothing is less aware of itself than an adolescent girl in supposed love – nothing less decadent than an immoral relationship built on candied bribes and alexandrines. Through a child’s-eye view, we see passionate love, adult feuds, material wealth and manipulation, every detail blown up into a novelty. Olivia is both a niche lesbian-interest film and one of the campiest productions in film history.

This pattern – a regression in age, a flight back through the looking-glass – snakes from Audry’s filmmaking into the actual experience of lesbian adulthood, characterised by its self-analysis, its newly aware inspections of a little girl’s mentality. Childhood obsessions, both cartoon and human, are recontextualised, as in the meme below:

In my several years of speaking to other lesbians, I have discovered a significant group preference for outwardly villainous women – the kind of ‘outwardly’ that is only viable in the exaggerated squash-and-stretch-animation of a Disney villain. ‘Camp responds,’ explains Sontag, ‘to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated.’ There are also significant online gatherings for the loving, gently sexual appreciation of a certain genre of middle-aged actress, perhaps a modern vestige of Sontag’s ‘great mannerists’ – Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter. Freud has already attempted an explanation for this preference on the part of the younger, but my additional suggestion is that the personalities of these women are constant, clearly enscribed, visible through years of experience in their mannerisms, actions and possessions. I believe this is constant with Sontag’s idea of camp in narrative as ‘instant character…a person being one, very intense thing’.

Feuillère, 44 when Olivia was filmed, is the ultimate fulfilment of this instant ideal, a solidified older woman to yearn for when young. She is clearly middle-aged, but, under Audry’s gleaming camera, displays no specific signs of aging. Her eyebrows are permanently arched, and she always seems to be quietly amused. She exists as a figurine, a pinnacle of immoral consistency who is destined to bring the title character down with no introspection or change. Her past, drawn on briefly, remains unexplained, making her a living mystery.

The language surrounding lesbianism in the modern world is infantilising, a damning reflection of latent historical ideas unwittingly pushing lesbians into Audry’s house of mirrors. Adults are robbed of dignified eroticism and reduced, with the Instagram mainstay #girlswholikegirls, into cutesy picture-postcards. Women in their twenties and thirties are coaxed back into hopeful adolescence, told to treasure every smidgeon of same-sex affection as a self-affirming statement of identity and societal progression – a kiss for the many, not the few – rather than a mark of ordinary human desire taken for granted by any heterosexual. A woman in tune with these sentiments leads a naïve Adrian Mole-esque life of exaggerated importance: any encounter, valuable by merit of the society it is in, could become a long read in the New York Times, a milestone on an epic personal journey. The grand, unaware statements that inevitably occur could, if slipped in powdered form into a movie script and robbed of political buzzwords, become their own achievements in 21st century camp.

Nobody on the list of camp personae enjoys quite as much lesbian prestige as Greta Garbo, the Swedish actress Robert Sherwood called ‘the official Dream Princess of the Silent Drama Department of Life‘. In the Sontag essay, where she is an emblematic camp androgyne, her ‘perfect beauty’ shelters a ‘haunting androgynous vacancy’. I have seen almost every Garbo film, from the cabinet of curiosities that is 1924’s Saga of Gosta Berling to the abject disaster of 1941’s Two-Faced Woman. She is, without doubt, a flat actress – her portrayals are two-dimensional, her own emotions clearly distant behind her melodramatic mask – and yet, by some miracle combination of personal mythos and off-beat charisma, she almost always succeeds at pulling her viewers, soundly and genuinely, into the ecstatic rises and falls of Hollywood drama. Her natural mannerisms – nervous, self-conscious and unsuppressed from character-to-character – are loudly, unbelievably lesbian, the fidgeting of an anxious suitor. She is the ambitious, androgynous Queen Christina, her most apt role, permanently trapped in the body of some other woman: Anna Karenina, Marie Walewska, Dumas’ Lady of the Camellias. When the trappings of these love-tortured characters fall aside, as they do in her signature 1933 biopic, we see some semblance of Garbo’s lasting impression, a woman laced with suggestive subtext as she wanders between real life and fiction.

It is significant (and quite funny) that much of Garbo’s filmography, from silent film to talking picture, involves prolonged, affectionate physical contact with other women. The heightened melodrama of her heterosexual romances overflows, spilling out into each little scene: she embraces Jenny Hasselquist too readily in The Saga of Gosta Berling, kisses a friend full on the mouth in Queen Christina and congratulates a new bride with great exuberance in Camille. Although kisses between women have not always carried romantic connotations and were once perfectly ordinary greetings, they surely appear far more often in Garbo’s oeuvre than in the average period dramas of the time. The Queen Christina kiss is verified in its lesbian overtones: it was written at the suggestion of Irving Thalberg, engineer of Garbo’s screen persona, who had seen the unambiguously romantic equivalent scene in Madchen in Uniform (1931).

Many of Garbo’s heterosexual period romances are the epitome of camp: absurd frivolity overacted with total seriousness and pride. Whether conscious or unconscious, she is the 1930s prototype of the modern femme lesbian, making an ironic mockery of traditional femininity as an ornate framing device for her own unconventional sensitivities. Sontag’s campy epicene, the fluid and distant androgyne, remains to this day a lesbian subcultural ideal, and Garbo’s filmography provides us with an illuminating glance at the means by which a clash between femininity and homosexuality might be dealt.

I think there is much to the intersection of lesbianism and cultural camp that is still to be explored, but I have at least brought myself closer to a realisation of how this might work: the overdramatic perspective and girlish outlook progressive cultural condescension has brought on us, the distant mockery of heterosexual femininity in lesbian culture and our notable preferences for older, antagonistic and androgynous women all strike chords with Sontag’s conception of camp.

Have a nice time through the looking-glass,

My favourite actress appeared in a Nazi propaganda film. What is she to me now?

Image result for dorothea wieck nitrate

Nitrate taken 1933, Paramount Studios

I left virtual flowers on her virtual grave: her passing, over 30 years before I saw any of her films, depressed me. She seemed enshrined in history before doing anything to warrant it; she reminded me at first sight of L’Inconnue de la Seine, a drowned woman remembered for her beautiful death-mask, and her familial ties to 19th century pianist Clara Schumann were an interesting way to place her into my existing historical narrative.

Said narrative had been ground into dust on my first viewing of Mädchen in Uniform, the 1931 lesbian movie, in equal parts Freudian and anti-fascist, in which Wieck played the love interest and gained overseas notoriety. At the time, I found it unbelievable that something made so long ago could be so believable and relatable – that this strange production had been waiting for me for 80 years. I spent hours cataloguing the little coincidences that mapped this film and the people who made it onto my own life. Six months after that first viewing, in an attempt to make the surreal dream she had acted out real, I began to think about collecting pictures of Wieck: my favourite, a 1939 postcard where she looks noble and solemn, still gleams from a shelf in my bedroom in its cellophane casing.

When you learn to associate a single person with the inner reaches of your sexuality and they associate with evil, what does that make you? I explained away the dubious relationship in the film that I loved; how can I possibly start to explain away the poster on my actress’s IMDb page, its throwback devil-tailed medieval font, its smiling blonde boy placed before two huge Nazi flags?

As a European Jew, when any member of my family told ancestral stories they always seemed to involve having to pack up and move somewhere else. Our incredibly Jewish ‘real’ last name was changed to avoid antisemitism somewhere in 19th century Germany; an intolerant attitude within the military services of late Imperial Russia prompted my dad’s side to move to South Africa, where apartheid was witnessed, a few generations later, from a place of privilege. My actress moved too, a passage eerily similar to those taken by many German Jewish actors and directors: Berlin to Hollywood, for a contract with Paramount. She was even photographed in a staged afternoon tea with notable Nazi-shunner Marlene Dietrich.

Tanja on Twitter: "Marlene Dietrich and Dorothea Wieck in 1933… "

I wish I knew what she really believed – I wish her place in 1931 – starring role in one of the most anti-fascist films ever made, promotion of ideals in direct contrast to those later promoted in Hitler’s Germany, surrounded by cast and crew members of Jewish ancestry – was really enough to outshine the film she made a decade later, the reported compliment from the man himself, and the contrast in career to those who refused outright to work with the regime, such as Hertha Thiele. If I know some actors – favourites of Hitler – were bullied into participating in propaganda, can I judge her for appearing in this production?

How will I remember her from now on? She died a long time before I was born – like many other men and women from the very early days of cinema, she is entirely a memory. Sometimes the difference between her two personae just blurs: her softly-shot glances in Leontine Sagan’s masterpiece, the scenes I had seen a million times within a year, with her smiling, ghostly appearance next to a man in Nazi uniform. It has been and always will be impossible to conceive that someone who made me feel so accepted could be chosen and transplanted, ten years later, into such a villainous world.

I think it is essential to explore the media enjoyed by the generations before our own. My interest in film from this period has brought me closer than I ever thought I would be to a history that barely seemed real when taught in school. But it has also brought me closer to the intense pain and disruption experienced by those vilified under the Nazi regime – I am surely not the first one to experience this distress at a beloved actor or actress suddenly turning on a group I belong to. Even nearly eighty years later, I am hurt by this participation and the ambiguosity surrounding it. I will not be the last one to be hurt.

Among the Lesser Fires: Courtney Love’s Links to the Ancient Augustan Regime

A coin minted during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The comet on the underside, which appeared after Julius Caesar’s death, was used as a symbol of his deification and an adoptive son’s political career. The Latin there reads “Divine Julius”.

(This article contains some potentially offensive language)

I would like to preface this by saying that Hole are a special part of my life, and I owe them a lot. I have carried their lyrics around with me like a particularly angsty and vengeful amulet for the last six or seven years, horrifically misinterpreting them all the while. They have soundtracked countless bus rides to and from school – first relatable, then nostalgic, then relatable again but for different reasons. I even have a folder on my phone specifically for pictures of interesting merchandise (Live Through This snowglobes were released in Germany for a limited run!). Because their discography varies a lot between their three (four?) eras, I usually just stick to one album for a few months at a time – I always find things I never noticed before, or develop a new affinity for a song that was overshadowed in the past.

This year, I grew to love their very early music (I’d class this as 1990-93?). Most of the songs from this period are unforgettable, and showcase the mixture of fantastical lyrics and soft/loud duality that would go on to characterise the band – this is best encapsulated in 20 Years in the Dakota, which I still consider their most outstanding work (but I’ll save that for another post).

Retard Girl, embedded below, recorded in 1990 but properly released in 1997, drew me in with its bassline (which was perfect for my morning trip to school) but didn’t originally charm me with its lyrics. That is, until I realised what the line at about 1:30 was…

The idea of the titular girl being compared to ‘the moon among the lesser fires’ initially seems far, far too romantic for the song; the mixing of grotesque and beautiful imagery in Hole’s discography is something I’m a fan of, but it’s usually done far more artfully than this (some of the songs on Pretty and the Inside, released a year later, use biological terms along with celestial, fairy-tale language and absolutely master it). The profanity of the line after it is just jarring next to this one, and none of the other lyrics carry the same effect. It had piqued my curiosity, and after some research, I found something interesting:

(Thank you, Perseus Digital Archive!)

It was a translated quotation from Horace’s Odes 1.XII! This was the best possible situation! My favourite band of all time using Latin poetry in their lyrics, just as my love for Ovid was reaching dizzying heights! And it seemed to take pride of place for them: here’s the back of the cover of that single, where it’s in the original Latin and an early version of the Pretty on the Inside font (!)

The line also appears in the lyric booklet of Celebrity Skin (released in 1999), as something of a postscript just after Northern Star, a song I’ve always thought of as vaguely Ancient Latin-y anyway. It obviously still meant a lot to Courtney Love (the former song was about her experience of rape, the latter about the spirit of her late husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain; the fact she’d include the same line from Horace, out of all Latin poetry or in fact all published literature, in both songs is pretty miraculous). But the meaning of the line in the original poem might shed some light on things.

The ‘Iulium Sidus’ just before ‘velut inter ignis luna minores’ is in reference to a comet discovered in 44BC, 1034 years before the line was paraphrased on Hole’s debut single. It was named ‘Julius’ Star’ after Julius Caesar, who was assassinated that year, and taken as a sign of his ascension to godly status. In the last book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he describes the gods releasing the comet as a portent of bad things to come after Caesar’s assassination:

Translation Brookes More 1922, hosted on the Perseus Digital Archive

Chilling! But the comet wasn’t only taken as a sign of Julius Caesar’s ascension; his nephew, Augustus Caesar, who became Emperor after his death, used the imagery of the star to mark out the apparently divinely-ordained nature of his familial line, and to launch his own political career. The star appears, for example, on coins from his rule. In Virgil’s famous epic The Aeneid, which Augustus loved and published due to its patriotic nature, Aeneas, the future founder of Rome, is compared to a comet himself:

17th century (! I have some thoughts on that too but that’s for another post) translation by John Dryden of Aeneid Book X

The ‘Sidus Iulium’, in short, was used as propaganda, and whether intentional or not, Courtney Love has flattered the Emperor Augustus, just as I despised Virgil for doing, by referencing the comet. In her latter use of the line, however, she wasn’t likening a fictional founder of a seven-hilled city to the Emperor Augustus – rather, she was comparing her own late husband to Julius Caesar:

The late Cobain is depicted here as a cold and unreachable star, almost deified in his heavenly position like Caesar was (perhaps a reference to Cobain’s position in death as a ‘rock god’ who is often accused of overshadowing Love). Perhaps she’s even claiming to uphold the continued empire as a sort of modern Augustus?

The message of Odes 1.XII fits perfectly with that of Northern Star, but it’s still a mystery as to why this line was so important on the Retard Girl single; a song about playground teasing, not death, and written only four months after she had met Kurt – she wasn’t to begin dating him for another year. A literary mystery! Love’s affinity for literature (an urban legend details her being rejected from Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club talent show after reading a Sylvia Plath poem for her audition) ensures she would never have been in short supply of things to reference – again, why Latin, why Horace and why that line?

Have fun shining among the lesser fires this week,

“I’ll Always be Nourished by Hope of Your Death”: My 20 Favourite Threats and Curses from Ovid’s Ibis

The thing I love the most about studying an ancient language is the humbling amusement of relating to an actual person from millennia ago. Almost all of these amusements have occurred while reading, with happily decreasing levels of difficulty, through the work of Ovid – the exiled poet who inspired Shakespeare (he claimed that “Naso was the man”) among many others with his defining epic The Metamorphoses, wrote a poetic manual for adultery, portrayed himself in equal part as a genius and a pitiful wretch, and, conveniently, was the featured verse author on OCR’s 2019 A-Level Latin translation paper.

I read, and haphazardly translated, swathes of Ovid’s work in preparation for this paper (a flop!) and thus it happened that, in the humid Latin jungle of the Perseus Digital Library, I stumbled upon Ibis. This poem was in elegiacs (the romantic meter, as opposed to the warlike hexameters of the Metamorphoses) and had no linked translation – apparently not even Arthur Golding, my favourite Elizabethan Ovid devotee, had dared touch it. With no idea about its subject matter whatsoever, I began my usual routine of panicked, scrawled translation, only to realise that, dozens of lines later, I still had no idea about its subject matter whatsoever. The poem was clearly not based in Ovid’s romantic triumphs and downfalls, nor his favourite theme of myths with moving parts: I found instead curses that echoed like prayers, interwoven with euphemistic descriptions of exotic methods of torture. I was in love.

A Wikipedia search revealed that Ibis was a ‘curse poem’ (I didn’t know that this genre of Latin literature existed! Why wasn’t this on the A-Level specification? Are there more surviving examples? Can I read them immediately?) and that an eminent scholar called Herman Frankel had referred to it as failing to make “pleasant reading” (Lies!). But perhaps most interestingly, it explained that the identity of Ibis, the object of Ovid’s elaborate threats, was a mystery. It even used the phrase ‘no scholarly consensus has been reached’, at which point I like to imagine lots of classicists throwing things at each other, adjusting their ‘one day without an incident’ sign accordingly afterwards. There’s nothing I love more than an academic mystery! A long poem by my favourite Latin author in which he wishes the worst upon someone whose true identity is unknown is practically a recipe for exultant glee where I’m concerned.

I possess neither the detective skills nor the ancient history knowledge (yet!) to solve the mystery of Ovid’s hatred; I’d guess it’s about the Emperor Augustus, who expelled him from Rome, due to the references to ‘meo exilio’, but I’m sure there are convincing cases for the other suspects. But I can (somewhat) translate the thrills and spills of the poem in a handy condensed list. Perhaps you can use his most cleverly-written insults in conversation or over text to a Latin speaker who’s been angering you lately, mould them into cryptic acronyms for your new secret society, or create a threatening (but authentically Roman) motto for a school or college near you.

  1. noxque die gravior sit tibi, nocte dies’

‘And may you have a night harsher than the day, a day harsher than the night.’ I love this line! The mirrored vocabulary of ‘nox’ and ‘dies’ is so effective in conveying the never-ending misfortune Ovid wants his foe to suffer.

2. ‘da iugulum cultris, hostia dira, meis.’

‘Give your throat over to my sword, dreadful enemy.’ What a threat! Ovid really highlights the pliability of the Latin language here – we have all the information we need from the noun and verb endings, and thus are free to emphasise anything and even create pictures with the word order. He takes full advantage, moving the imperative ‘da’ to the start of the line and ending with ‘meis’ to highlight to his ‘hostia dira’ exactly who’ll cause his grisly end. Isn’t it cool how the words for ‘my sword’ wrap around ‘dreadful enemy’, as if they themselves are trapping him? I texted this line to my friend from Latin class as soon as I’d read it.

3. ‘sisque miser semper, nec sis miserabilis ulli: gaudeat adversis femina virque’

And may you always be miserable, and may you not be miserable for anyone else: woman and man shall rejoice against you.’

4. ‘luctatusque diu cruciatos spiritus artus deserat, et longa torqueat ante mora

And, having mourned for a long time, the breath of life shall leave your tortured limbs, and beforehand, a long delay shall pain you.’ I wish I had access to this kind of Latin while composing curses for people I didn’t like in my Year 8 diary.

5. ‘dedit ipse mihi modo signa futuri Phoebus, et a laeva maesta volavit avis’

Apollo himself gave me the signs of what’s to come, and a mournful bird flew in from the left’. So foreboding! These lines link to a) Ovid seeing himself as a vates, a poet-prophet receiving orders from Apollo, and b) the unlucky sight (to ancient Romans) of birds on the left – a synonym for ‘left’ in Latin is where we get the English ‘sinister’.

6. ‘speque tuae mortis, perfide, semper alar’

‘And I’ll always be nourished, treacherous one, by the hope of your death.’ Gasp!

7. ‘…robora dum montes, dum mollia pabula campi, dum Tiberi liquidas Tuscus habebit aquas, tecum bella geram’

‘…I’ll wage wars with you while the mountains are hard, while the fields have soft pastures, and while the Tiber and Tuscan river have clear waters’. This metaphor goes on for quite a bit in the real thing; he references two tribes, the Ganges and the river Hister too.

8. ‘nec mors mihi finiet iras. saeva sed innocuis manibus arma dabit.’

Nor shall death be the end of my rage, but it will give savage weapons to my harmless hands.’

9. ‘his vivus furiis agitabere, mortuus isdem, et brevior poena vita futura est.’

These furies shall shake you while alive all the same as in death, and your life will be shorter than the punishment.’

10. ‘unguibus et rostro crudus trahet ilia vultur et scindent avidi perfida corda canes.’

‘A bloodstained vulture shall drag your abdomen with its claws and mouth, and greedy dogs will slash through your treacherous heart.’ Obligatory ‘these animals shall eat you when you die’ description – a classic!

11. ‘in loca ab Elysiis diversa vocabere campis, quasque tenet sedes noxia turba, coles’

Places different from the fields of Elysium shall call you, and you’ll inhabit those seats which the unsavoury crowd presides over’ . Ibis won’t do very well in the underworld, for short.

12. ‘ille ego sum vates. ex me tua vulnera disces, dent modo di vires in mea verba suas, carminibus meis accedant pondera rerum, quae rata per luctus experiare tuos.’

‘I’m that poet. From me you shall learn about your wounds – let the gods give power to my words in this way, so they fire up the weight of my poem’s consequences, which are thought to last through your sorrows.’

13. ‘utque ferox periit et fulmine et aequore raptor, sic te mersuras adiuvet ignis aquas.’

‘And as a fierce attacker dies both by lightning and at sea, thus fire shall help you, submersed in water’

14. ‘vulnera totque feras, quot dicitur ille tulisse, cuius ab inferiis culter abesse solet.

And you’ll bear so many wounds, which he’s said to have brought on, he whose knife is accustomed to be away from the shades of the dead’

15. ‘et tua dente fero viscera carpat equus’

And a horse shall pluck out your innards with its sharp teeth’

16. ‘utque repertori nocuit pugnacis iambi, sic sit in exitium lingua proterva tuum.

‘And just as he hurt the author of these warlike couplets, may his crooked tongue reside in your ruin.’

17. ‘utque Agammemnonio vulnus dedit anguis Oresti, tu quoque de morsu virus habente cadas’

‘And as the snake of Orestes wounded Agammemnon, you also shall fall from a poison-bearing bite.’ Here Ovid is using mythological examples to sensationalise his hatred.

18. ‘inque tuis … noxia luminibus spicula condat apis.’

And a bee shall bury its harmful stinger in your eyes.’ Ouch?

19. ‘quodque dolore necis patriae pia filia fecit, vincula per laquei fac tibi guttur eat.’

And as a pious daughter did from the pain of her father’s death, bind your throat, make it go through a noose’ Is this the original ‘kys’?

20. ‘sic tua coniectis fodiantur pectora telis, sic precor auxiliis impediare tuis’

As your heart is dug up by frantic shafts, I pray for your assistance to stop’

I conclude my listicle-style reading of Ovid’s Ibis with the realisation that human insults have not changed. The anonymous messages I received as a controversial blogger are mirrored in these threats from millennia beforehand. Take from that what you will.

I hope the night is better than the day for you, and the day better than the night,

redita sum

I’m not sure whether or not I’m remembered by the same people I remember. In my last days, I had constructed a nice little house for myself, lodged in a corner of a certain disintegrating blue website. I enrobed it in pink and pictures of clouds, adjusted the code again and again so white sparkles flew off the mouse as it moved, and spent the next two years throwing stones into other recesses of the internet, waiting for them to crash back into the volatile glass of my screen and perfecting the art of deflecting them, first with elaborate retorts and then with reaction images that were engineered to be funny in their lack of suitability.

I demolished my little house two months ago (I mourn for you, mouse-sparkles), deciding the infinite content-fountain of the blue website was a drain on my time, and that the name of the website itself devalued any effort I put into anything on it (also I had a massive public mental breakdown about something very private and personal). But I miss having opinions. I would like to continue publicly having opinions about a very diverse range of things. I would like to write very long opinion pieces (my ideal genre) and supplement them with images and see them retrieved by a search engine and taken seriously by others.

I also miss the women (and the two or three men) who read my old posts. They loved cats! It was insane how much they loved cats. When I posted about breaking up with my first girlfriend, one woman revealed she worked in one of the biggest cat cafes in Eastern Europe and cheered me up by sending me photos and the personal details of around twenty different cats – a massive feline data breach. When I asked my followers about their hobbies, another responded by detailing the elaborate fantasy world she had constructed revolving around her cats. I miss them. If either of you are reading this, I love you!

My intention here is to post a bit like my later days on the Blue Website, but more long-form. I don’t plan to talk much at all on radical feminism – my opinion is growing away from it a little these days, and besides, I think I have basically exhausted the subject. Also I don’t want to get banned.

I’ve planned a few essays I want to write, mainly centred around media criticism, but I want to cover some language-based topics too, which is what I’m hopefully pursuing at university from September onwards. There’s nothing I love more than getting lost in a Wikipedia hole and analysing it and writing about it, and I’m going into this with the hope of somehow doing it constructively? The overarching theme of this paragraph is “I have no idea whatsoever what this blog will be about, but I hope you all enjoy it!”

Yours in joy and sorrow,