Monday, 31 May 2010

Female Authors

I just read this article on the BBC news website, and found it rather interesting (of course I would, I'm a woman, and therefore obviously hard-wired to find anything about equality for my sex interesting - it can't be just because it's about equality, and the fact that, as a moral and principled person, I support such a concept. Oh no no).

I also found the comments interesting, particularly those made by "Graphis" and comment 6. I disagree with Graphis' stance, but the objection he makes is certainly one worth dealing with - it's not so 'paper-thin' as to be dismissible without answer, after all, it's a fairly common objection to any act of positive discrimination. People complain about there being grants reserved that are only available for black people, but ignore the fact that these grants exist because every single day of their lives, white people still benefit from the colour of their skin.

The article makes it pretty obvious at the start that the discrimination Graphis' denies still does happen in literature because the male voice is perceived as neutral and the female voice as female (note that this is an opinion the male authors agreed with too, so it's not just women trying to find an excuse for not being as good). And it's true. In the literary world, male writers benefit every day simply by dint of gender. It applies not just to the author's gender, but also to their protagonist's gender. Would Harry Potter have been so successful as Harriet Potter? Probably not. Boys don't want to read about girls, but girls don't mind reading about boys. So when the judges were reading through all the books to draw-up their shortlist it is, unfortunately, still very probable that their reading of a book was shaped rather drastically by whether the author was female or not - because people as a whole generally read a book written by a female in a different way - in a feminine way which makes it unappealing for some (men and women alike). One wonders how many women would be on the shortlist if they'd published their books under pseudonymous male names.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Aristophanes; Lysistrata and Other Plays

The other plays being Clouds and the Archanians. These were the last three Aristophanes plays I had yet to read, a fact for dry amusement when I consider that the only Aristophanes play I've ever had a notable interest in is Clouds. I needed to read Lysistrata because that's the play one of the Classics students at my uni wants to put on next year (not if I can do anything about it), so I was reading it with an eye for detail about what props we'd need, how many actors we could get away with, etc, and of course, how funny we could make it. Which is the main problem with all Aristophanes really, half the humour is lost on a modern audience, because they have no idea who Cleon was and don't find the plethora of jokes attacking his cowardice funny. So the sex, food and faeces jokes are still funny, if that's your sort of thing, but a lot of it falls flat unless you can find a way to tweak it, so another thing I was looking for was whether the jokes would be easily adaptable to a contemporary issue that we could get a few laughs out of, but Lysistrata is about going on sex-strike until the men agree to end the war, and the Iraq war fiasco is probably slightly too old to get a huge amount of laughs out.

Anyway, enough of my musings on that issue. I like Clouds best, even if it is taking the pee out of Socrates, but they're all okay. I wouldn't recommend reading a lot of Aristophanes unless you're a classicist though, or prepared to sit there, constantly flicking to the back of the book to have the joke explained to you by an endnote.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel; Describing Inner Experience?

Describing Inner Experience? is a non-fiction book exploring the problems of introspection (what we think are currently thinking about, and how we are thinking). Most think introspection is easy, but in truth the ease is a deception and knowing the manner in which you actually think (inner voice, images, etc.) is surprisingly, and perhaps depressingly, hard. The arguments abound for the unreliability of introspection, but now is not the time or place to go into them.

Hurlburt is a cautious optimist about whether we can discover anything reliable about introspection. He developed a beep method (DES - descriptive experience sampling) - in which participants wear a device that beeps randomly throughout the day indicating that at various moments they should stop and record both the content and form of their thoughts - to aid in discovering how and what people think, and believes his method the most successful at present. Schwitzgebel is a serious pessimist about what we can know about introspection, and about Hurlburt's DES method. But the two combined forces to write this book, combining both of their perspectives on introspection and jointly examining a case of Hurlburt's DES method. The book has introductory chapters on both of their stances, transcripts of their interviews with the subject of the DES participant, and concluding remarks from both authors. Dotted throughout are also small boxes of discussions about key issues between Hurburt and Schwitzgebel.

Firstly, the form of the book is excellent, and makes for easy reading - if one is not interested in reading the deeper discussions on a particular issue, one can simply skip that boxed discussion. The introductory and concluding remarks by both authors are useful, illuminating, and frame the interview transcripts nicely. The interviews themselves are rather fascinating discussions of how the participants thinks, with both authors probing Melanie (the subject) for details about her experience.

As someone who finds the questions of introspection fascinating, I think I would have found it harder to pick up a better book. The style is easy to read and understand, even in the discussions of more complex issues, and gives a well balanced overview to two key stances in introspection. I would recommend either this book, or some of Hurlburt's other reports of the DES method to anyone who is remotely interested in how other people think (and how could you not be interested in that?).

Silvie, where did you go?

Not that anyone reading this would care (honesty rather than self-pity), but I've had a busy few months with dissertation writing, writing a paper for a conference, co-organising a conference, being co-producer and artistic director for a performance of Euripides' Bacchae and revising/doing normal uni work. I've read a lot in that time, but unfortunately - painfully, almost - no single book cover to cover. I just haven't had time. I've had to read the chapter, article or pages that I needed to, and then leave it. What about my free time (surely I still have some?) That's been spent mostly for the last few weeks making and painting masks for the production, finding costumes, and doing all the other duties I usually do in my 'work time'. There's really not been a lot of 'free' time. Thought I will admit that I developed a mild addiction to Harvest Moon, so I've spent the little free time that I did have playing that.

So I'm now rather behind on most, if not all, of my reading goals for this year. Luckily, my revision actually did allow me to read one book cover to cover, and since everything else is over now bar my beautifully spaced out exams (I couldn't ask for a better exam time-table), I'll hopefully have time to start reading again, and reviewing. Starting with the wonderful book I finished just a few days ago.

I probably should have kept updating this blog during that time, to let people know I wasn't dead, but as I said, I doubt anyone actually reads this so I saw no point in notifying my non-existent audience (apologies to your non-existent feelings, there), especially since I didn't really have anything bookish to say - and this blog is supposed to be about the books more than me.