Friday, 30 May 2014

What I've been reading: Deaf Sentence, Gone With the Wind, and make it stop, please, make it stop.

Insert witty comment here
Did you know that if a man tells you any variation of, "You're gorgeous when you're mad", he can seek no legal redress when you punch him in the nuts?

Seriously, how does Gone with the Wind get classified as a romance? Scarlett, as I said last week, is alarmingly pathetic. Rhett Butler is vilest variation on human standard that I've had the misfortune to encounter in a long while. And it's racist. It is so very, very racist. Not just in a "of it's time" kind of way, or a, "call it problematic and rant online" way, but deeply, structurally, horribly and repeatedly racist.

It's toxic. I don't say that lightly. This book is pure poison. It's hateful, hurtful bollocks under a thin veneer of clothes porn. I don't believe in censorship, and viewed as a cultural artefact, it has some interest, but that there are still people out there who read this uncritically? The thought makes me cold and slightly nauseous.

This isn't to say there aren't some half-decent passages, there isn't some good writing, but the values endorsed by the book can be summed up in Melly: kind, compassionate, intelligent and with steel in her spine, she is the kind of woman I'd respect were she not a foaming at the mouth, unthinking bigot. This book terrifies me and not in the way I like to be terrified. It's a book which excuses the Klan, which makes out slavery was a meritocracy and destroys solidarity between oppressed groups. It is a book reproduces rape culture so that the victim is not just responsible for her rape, but for the deaths by lynching of the men who raped her, the arrest and execution of the men who did the lynching and any negative side effects other women feel because of her 'easy' behaviour. It is a horrible, irresponsible novel.

Don't read it. Please, do not read it.

So, feeling a bit fragile, I read some David Lodge. You know where you stand with David Lodge, or at least, I do. The slightly fusty, academic characters are enough like you to engender broad sympathy, but tinged with enough knowing ludicrousness that you walk nicely along the line of 'laughing at' and 'laughing with'. Deaf Sentence, based on wordplay, explores the tribulations and embarrassments and despair of gradual hearing loss, returning again and again to the theme that whereas blindness is a trope of tragedy, deafness is always portrayed as comic.

As with every Lodge novel, it has enough references and critical theory to flatter this reader's intelligence without ever actually challenging it, and it provides a smooth, amusing and occasionally cringe-worthy in its comedy. Then you hit the final chapters. Then you realise that there was a darker undertone throughout the book, a terror, a sadness, a deeper sense of transience grounded in loss of communication, the inadequacy of writing or of speech. In my slightly wounded state following the hatefulness of Gone with the Wind, the tragedy of the last movement of the book hit pretty hard. What Lodge is trying to explore - the tragedy of deafness - is managed pretty effectively, and of course, being Lodge, he offers us the kind of comfort we receive best - the wordless, human compassion of touch, the quiet, harmless current of school-room trivia. When words fall away, these things remain.

Still, not exactly nice on my emotions, so now I'm reading The League. I know where I am with The League because I've read it before. Except...

Used for review purposes

Why is there an elephant being winched down that dock?

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