Colonization and the Abject Female Supervillain

During the period of mass-Christian semi-conversion managed by Olafr Tryggvason, Icelandic saga writers borrowed from Celtic folklore the meme of the super-powered female antagonist. But this was not a stock Nordic character, and so the Icelandic writers turned these Celtic villains into trolls.

Reading Norse folks tales both old and new, it’s not totally clear to me that trolls, in the materialist Nordic forest cultures, aren’t a disrespectful way to depict people, within Nordic society. exhibiting antisocial qualities and brutishness, from either elite or hoi poloi perspective. Grendl and his mother, for example, were trying to beat back and protect themselves from a community of vicious marauders. Trolls aren’t really outsiders. They’re big, ugly, thuggish, irresponsible and dangerous people who live next to and interact with the human or  protagonists a lot. Often trolls are distinguished by long noses, for example, a trait that tends to crop up in Scandinavian people anyway. Modern author Rolf Lidberg’s trolls are clearly just common folk. And trolls and people tend to marry or morph into each other over the course of some stories. After all, troll literally just means magic. Protagonists, including when they seem very much to be representing the youngest member of a family audience, are depicted as underappreciated princesses and princes, while in some stories, characters that start out as talking animals end up being princes. So there’s a lot of fluidity there, between behaviour and metaphorical nature, and there’s a clear tendency to hyperbolic representation in these folktales.

Usually the mighty Icelandic troll ladies were slain by the saga hero, though sometimes they were spared in exchange for treasure, or befriended, as in the case of Brana & Halfdan, according to Martin Puhvel (1987, McGill).

Normal but vengeful females played the boss villain role in Celtic folklore, and usually it took the help of an animal, such as a dog, for the male hero to defeat them. Cats were however associated with the abjected feminine and villainous hags, the cailleach (Puhvel 1987).

As Silvia Federici documented (1998), the crippling fear of women is often the result of instrumental, imperial-cosmopolitan divide-and-conquer interventions imposed upon hinterlands communities. Eleanor Hull’s research (1927) showed that female Celtic supernatural villains like banshees and various evil, watery tarts were degenerate descendants of ancient, mighty war goddesses like Macha and Bodb.

grendels mom

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Making us see

“I truly believe that our societies work by a constant effort to not see reality. There is another scene I often recount: it was when Jean-Luc Godard was receiving an honorary César in the 1980s or in the 1990s, during the Césars ceremony in France. Godard was invited to go on the stage set for the ceremony, in order to receive his César, given that night by Isabelle Huppert. So he went on the stage. All the people in the room, dressed in tuxedos and expensive dresses, were expecting him to deliver a speech in which he would thank his producers, his screenwriters, eventually his mother, as people always do in this kind of situation. But instead, Jean-Luc Godard said, more or less: I would like to thank the telephone operator who works for Gaumont, the cleaning women, etc. And suddenly, the audience laughed. If you thank a screenwriter, everybody thinks it’s moving, but if you thank a cleaning woman, people think it’s funny. Godard was making an important statement about the system that sustains the art milieu; he was underlining the fact that, when you make a piece of art, a movie, there are some people who clean the studio for you, some people who stay ten hours a day in an office to answer the telephone for you.

The situation is the same when you are a writer: you are invited to give a lecture, your publishing house pays for a hotel room for you, and someone in this room cleans your bed, cleans your bathroom. It’s all a system. So when Godard pointed out the way this system works, people laughed as if it was a joke. I saw their laughter as a kind of physical, bodily response in order not to be confronted by what Godard said. Their laughter was a strategy to escape reality, to not see a structurally violent situation.So when I write, I ask myself, How can I prevent people from escaping what I’m trying to show?”
–Édouard Louis

 

NOTAWOLF

“Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault taught me something very important: that there is no truth without anger. That anger is a key to understand our world(s), that it’s maybe even the most scientific tool human beings invented.

If I take a concrete example, my mother had to face, during all her life, extreme difficulties: poverty, precarity, male domination, and male violence. She wanted to wear make-up but my father didn’t want her to; he would say that make-up was for sluts (sic). During twenty years of her life, she endured this masculine violence, but most of the time, when she was talking about herself, she would say: But my life is OK, it could be worse, I cannot complain. Why so? Because her mother and her grandmother before her, and her daughters endured the same violence. This violence became so systematic, it was so present around her, that she ended up thinking that it was «normal». That’s a tragedy; how can you change the world if violence is so systematic that people end up not seeing it anymore?

Only if you are angry you understand that this violence is not normal. Anger is what allows you to take a step back and to understand the social structure you are stuck in. Bourdieu’s and Foucault’s books are full of rage, and so are my books, I hope.” –Édouard Louis

Folke Fridell’s Analysis of Unfreedom in Capitalism

Based mostly on Swedish Syndicalist biographical material, I wrote most of Folke Fridell’s English-language Wikipedia biography. But toward the end, I started doing a little analysis of his work, which is not Wikipedia’s thing. So if they delete it, here’s what I wrote:

Folke Fridell

Fridell was born in 1904, the youngest of a large family (6 siblings, and 6 more half siblings by his father) living in a stream-side home in a woods in Lagan, Kronoberg County, Småland, in Götaland, Sweden. His mother was a public school teacher and seamstress and his father was a soldier, tailor, and postal carrier. The family was locally known for their intense reading culture, and Fridell’s education mostly came through that family culture, the local library, and a book collection he found in a deserted house while he was shepherding. At age 13, he started working in a textile factory, and after a youthful spell of learning the masculine arts of card-playing, drinking, fighting, and generally being a roughneck, at age 19 he was shocked straight by his older brother’s drowning. Thereafter he returned to reading, and in addition took up writing after factory work hours. Fridell married Hanna “Stina” Wahlberg (9 years his junior) in 1934, and together they raised two boys, born 17 years apart. He would remain at the factory until 1946, when he was able to quit and support himself on his writing.[1]

Despite his brief hard-living period, at a young age, Fridell joined the IOGT, the Temperance movement. In 1921, the year of his brother’s death, he participated in the formation of and was made secretary of a local branch of the Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden (Sveriges arbetares centralorganisation, SAC). In meetings, he was at first shy about the organization material he wrote. When the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation (Syndikalistiska arbetarefederationen, SAF) broke from SAC in 1929, Fridell followed, as he admired the more radical politics of the founder, a Swede who had spent some years working and living in the U.S. Fridell became a member of SAC once again when SAF merged back into SAC in 1938.[2]

In the 1930s, Fridell started writing for Arbetare-Kuriren, the newspaper of SAF. After the reunion of SAC and SAF in 1938, he contributed frequently to Arbetaren, SAC’s newspaper. Fridell is recognized as a theorist of syndicalism.[3] He was also active as a lecturer and a delegate at several SAC congresses; from 1942 until 1946, he was a deputy in the organisation’s central committee. Swedish Syndicalist archives include posters prominently advertising Fridell as the featured speaker at May Day demonstrations inviting “All peace- and freedom-loving people together.”[4]

Fridell debuted as a fiction writer with the novel Tack för mig – grottekvarn (“Thanks from me, treadmill” ?) in 1945, and his breakthrough came with his second novel, the strongly autobiographical Död mans hand (1946). He was hooked and wrote a book nearly every year thereafter, winning labor and national awards for his writing every decade of his life after 1950. Although they were savagely denounced and dismissed by conservatives, his novels were widely read, in part thanks to their distribution by book ombudsmen in the factories. Fridell explained the reason behind his art:

“As long as there are proletarians, there is a proletarian literature. And I would like to go a little further and say that as long as people are insulted in their work for so long, there must be voices that speak their language and take their case.”

By his influential criticism of monotonous and soul-killing factory work in the era of Taylorist automation, Fridell become a renewer of the workplace as well as a champion of the right of the worker to defend his dignity and capacity for cooperative decision-making. Other frequent themes of Fridell’s writing were juvenile delinquency, rural emigration, and dystopian views of the future.[5]

Fridell’s work has been regarded as easy to read, conveying an ironic sense of humor. A prolific writer and editorialist, he often wrote in the voice of an alter ego.[6] Some of his plays were translated into English; the working class characters’ dialogue was represented in British cockney accents.

The following excerpt from his novel Tack för mig – grottekvarn demonstrates Fridell’s anarchist, but also very Swedish critique of the suffocating, crushing experience of intimate betrayal, excessively imposed upon workers as unfreedom cascades like a net from the controlling interest of the capitalist (concentrated wealth accumulation):

“Imagine if I went to the employer tomorrow and said, ‘I do not want to work today. I will snatch pike from the brook and laze me in the grassland, for I am a free person.’ What do you think he would say? He would say I was mad, that I should be investigated or detained at a forced labor agency.

I judge his judgment because he is a party to the matter and he loses financially if I celebrate but one day. But that’s not the worst.

Worse it is that everyone else becomes his avatar. My companions would say, ‘Now Oskarsson has gone crazy again.’ And in the barracks all the fools would huddle in the stairwells and pitch pointed words at my old lady, and the kids would ask my kids how it was with crazy Oskarsson! And the end of the whole thing would be my own wife crying, begging me to relent and, for her and the children’s sake, to get back to work yesterday.”

The dialogue suggests the character is struggling with the pain of betrayal, as he partially feminizes that traitorous net of inegalitarian social control. That associative feminization could work as a distraction from the inegalitarian distribution of sovereign agency that, Fridell also recognizes, directs that refracted, enveloping, and penetrating coercive power. Yet Fridell’s analysis, expressed in his creative work, does not point to human social interdependence–or even non-sovereign, delegated agency–as the root of unfreedom. Rather, the cause of unfreedom is the inegalitarian institution of ownership and control–as it dominates, enslaves, and turns against us our own human social interdependence.

In capitalism, we are compelled to betray one another, and our own needs, usually for nothing other than the thoughtless maximization of elites’ relentless accumulation of wealth and rivalry with each other. In this way, our torturous social- and self-dissolution, our unmaking, is automated. That is one devastating price of absolute private property right and absolute elite liberty.

Conversely within this framework, heroism, which is not automated, consists in collectively devising and implementing interventions–deprioritizing capitalist and other rentier interests in control, exploitation, and appropriation–by which working people can regularly allow each other and themselves reasonable freedoms. Apart from fleeting, idiosyncratic moments of grace, heroic interventions cannot be uncontested, painless, or bloodless. But they restore to us our captured social network and ourselves, our freedom. They restore to us our social human capacity to relieve our mortal, sentient suffering.

Fridell died in 1985 at the age of 80 and is buried in the cemetery of Berga church in Lagan.[7] Outside the library in Ljungby, a bronze head sculpture of Folke Fridell commemorates his contributions to the development of literature, working conditions, and human liberty in Sweden.

Deleuze’s "Bartleby; Or The Formula"

Deleuze, Gilles. 1998. “Bartleby; Or, The Formula,” pp. 68-90 in Essays Critical & Clinical. Verso.

Social-literary analysis, see especially pp. 84-90.

(According to Melville,) “If humanity can be saved, and the originals reconciled (with secondary humanity, the inhuman with the human), it will only be through the dissolution or decomposition of the paternal function…As Joyce will say, paternity does not exist, it is an emptiness and nothingness-or rather, a zone of uncertainty haunted by brothers, the brother and sister…Melville will never cease to elaborate on the radical opposition between fraternity and Christian ‘charity’ or paternal ‘philanthropy’…(The fraternal/sororal society) requires a new community, whose members are capable of trust or ‘confidence,’ that is, of a belief in themselves, in the world, in becoming…Long before Lawrence, Melville and Thoreau were diagnosing the American evil, the new cement that would rebuild the wall: paternal authority and filthy charity” (Deleuze 1998: 84-88).

“And what was Bartleby asking for, if not a little confidence from the attorney, who instead responds to him with charity and philanthropy–all the masks of the paternal function?” (Deleuze 1998: 88).

People should keep taking Deleuze’s essays as foundation, and focus in a sustained fashion, on Melville’s anti-conservative unfinished-Enlightenment politics, his class politics, and how they inform his critique of the (Anglo-)American Confidence-Man–i.e. the betrayal of fraternity/sorority and confidence/trust for the sake of profit/surplus accumulation, power accumulation (Not necessarily one’s own; usually one’s employer’s or client’s surplus/power accumulation).

Doesn’t the Confidence-Man betrayal = Magical Rectitude, eg. liberal social progressivism?

at long last

Excerpted from
Michelle Pauli.
“Stiff competition for Bad Sex award.” The Guardian. Monday November 28, 2005.

“Perhaps it isn’t too late for John Updike to bag a Bad Sex award,” wrote Adam Mars-Jones in his Observer review of Villages at the beginning of the year. The longlist for this year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award, announced last Friday, confirms that Mars-Jones’s prediction was on the money.

Updike is in the running for what the organisers call Britain’s “most dreaded literary prize”, with an extract from Villages in which an adulterous character appraises his lover’s vagina: “[it] did not feel like Phyllis’s. Smoother, somehow simpler, its wetness less thick, less of a sauce, more of a glaze”.

But, excruciating as his entry is, Updike is up against some stiff competition. Among the 11 contenders for the prize this year are some of the biggest names in literature, including Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paul Theroux. Of the three, Theroux’s offering, from Blinding Light, is arguably the most deserving of the prize, with its description of a character’s orgasm as

“…not juice at all but a demon eel thrashing in his loins and swimming swiftly up his cock, one whole creature of live slime fighting the stiffness as it rose and bulged at the tip and darted into her mouth.”

Theroux does, at least, manage to insert some punctuation into his description. Giles Coren, however, is in the running for an extract which comprises a 138-word long sentence followed by a two-word followup (“Like Zorro”, in case you were wondering) and which contains the alarming image of an excited male member “leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath”.

There is much unintentional humour in the extracts on offer, most particularly in Guillaume Lecasble’s description of a lobster’s seduction technique (“his feelers were just able to reach the satin of the panties”) and Marlon Brando’s almost incomprehensible sex scene from his posthumously-released novel Fan Tan.

Now in its 13th year, the prize, which only targets literary fiction, aims “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” The winner, who will be announced on December 1 at the In & Out Club in London, is awarded a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s and a bottle of champagne, if he or she turns up.

Last year’s winner, Tom Wolfe, was one of the very few recipients to fail to attend; he later criticised the judges for failing to recognise the irony contained in the winning passage from I Am Charlotte Simmons.


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28.11.2005: Read the longlisted passages for the Bad Sex in Fiction award