Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Review: The Suppliant Women at the Young Vic: for [smiths] magazine

Ferociously executed and deliciously, faultlessly synchronised, David Greig’s revision of Aeschylus’s play, The Suppliant Women is in the spirit of the community-based original. Greig’s reworking of the text has been championed by community choruses in Edinburgh, Belfast, Newcastle and Dublin and now takes pride of place in London’s Young Vic theatre. It charts the journey of fifty women, daughters of Danaos, from Egypt to Greece fleeing forced marriage with their cousins, the “unholy sons of King Aegyptos”. The Suppliant Women presents the female condition in flight, navigating Diasporic identities under a strict patriarchal thumb. In keeping with Ancient Greek performance, the evening is prefaced by an announcement from a civic official; Conservative MP John Glen, parliamentary under-secretary for Arts, Heritage and Culture. Glen recites the names of the play’s sponsors, marking government subsidisation of the arts through percentages of ticket prices. Glen conducts a libation, pouring a bottle of red wine along the porous grey stone of the open stage, squawking “in the name of Dionysses, god of wine, rejoice!”  I find the inclusion of a true-to-life politician here intriguing. When theatre is so often a place to evade reality, Glen injects realism and reminds the audience of their benevolent rulers and the cultural allocation of their taxes.
Women are at the heart of this play, and the chorus rightfully take centre stage. It is a patchwork flurry of multi-coloured women, all residents of Southwark- having trained for the play since September under the direction of Ramin Gray, choreographer Sasha Milavic Davies and vocal leader Mary King. The chorus of women largely operate as one body, only splitting off to individual voices in times of crisis, Gemma May giving a highly commendable performance as chorus leader. The use of incense, candles, torches, flapping scarves and confetti all invite a high sensory engagement. Live percussion and woodwind accompanies Greig’s rhythmically loaded language, reminiscent of Kate Tempest’s metered delivery, albeit en-masse. The women brandish suppliant branches threaded with white fabric which they use to simulate the motion of their journey by sea, swing over their heads and lay down as offerings to their recipients. The women are plagued by the violence of men, their attractive youth and their vulnerability as asylum seekers, crying “the worries of women as exiles are endless”. This speaks of a universal female condition; their only bargaining chip in the kingdom of men being the threat of self-destruction through suicide, cursing the city of Argos. This is a play that ruminates on human migration and attitudes towards migrants, transcending the historicity of the original; “if you’re a migrant the people will talk”.
"Equal power to all Women" is the triumphant closing war-cry. It is eternally relevant.


Words by Literary and Creative Editor, Ellie Potts. 
--- @eldpotts
Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein: Notorious at The Barbican: Review

Drawing on the canon of queer and radical feminist performance art, Lauren Barri Holstein’s Notorious at the Barbican Centre is a slap in the face of convention. Alternatively known as ‘The Famous’, Holstein pushes, prods and (literally) pisses on formal representations of the female body in an anarchic, brash cacophony of saccharine pop, feathers and vaginal secretions; foregrounding the abject.
The stage is a greyscale, decadent assembly of chandeliers and velvet drapes soundtrack to a looped clip of a crackling gramophone. Nestled in the Barbican’s basement Pit theatre, Notorious is tucked away sub-street level like a naughty secret, driven to the underground whilst some lofty Shakespearean production takes place several metres above our heads.
Notorious opens with plumes of smoke and three witchy corpses hanging behind the weighty curtains; humming and groaning in and out of harmony with each other. Ghostly legs protrude from beneath uniform dresses styled from tresses of grey hair extensions. “So there are rumours going around about me- have you heard them?” Holstein purrs, in hushed Kardashian tones. Her face is projected in real time, luminous green onto feathered curtains. The curious backdrop gives the projection a textured distortion, amplifying her exaggerated features. Holstein parades the video camera, the LED screen reflecting a mirror image back towards her. She confesses stories of sleeping in forests, decomposing corpses and animals penetrating her vagina- all delivered in a thick, breathy whisper.  Her words are laced with conspiring voices, blurring the distinctions of truth and reality in performance and systematically critiquing her exaggerated gender performance.
She surveys the audience and thanks former students for attending, momentarily dropping the valley girl guise to assume her reality as an academic at Queen Mary University. Holstein convulses erratically, sound tracked by Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop”, madly jerking at her pubis and imitating a crudely explosive orgasm somewhere between twerking and electrocution. The final flourish is a jelly snake emerging from her vagina whilst gyrating, gazing into the audience and subsequently eating it. Holstein is unsettling, brash, and quite frankly- punk as fuck.
Her wig falls off in the frenzy, unabashedly revealing an exposed flesh coloured skull-cap that mutates her complex gender identity. What follows is a series of shrill confessions, “I know that I can be a whore sometimes and also I’m really sorry for being such a slut [...] last night I snuck into your flat and replaced all of your garbage bags with female condoms because they’re roughly the same size”. A grizzly series of apologies follow from Holstein’s spooky minions (Krista Vuori and Brogan Davison), charting bestiality, abused tampons and vomit-related blunders, drawing on audience members to project their pleas for pardon. These become more and more farfetched, questioning feminine exteriority. “I’m really sorry about my face” grins Krista, maniacally. She proceeds to imitate her own suicide, hanging to her “favourite song” No Limit by 2 Unlimited. After a minute or so, Krista tires of the hanging and starts feverishly bounding in time in to the music.
Holstein dons a squid wig and a dress made of beads and braids that expose her bare breasts. Retrieving the video camera, she fishes the lens between her labia before asking “familiar?”. Soon we notice an artificial eye has been placed inside her vagina and Holstein twists her legs, making the lips of her labia open and close imitating a winking eye. “Vaginas are hilarious you guys” she snarls, before placing the ball in her mouth and sucking, chewing and spitting the putrid orb to the beat of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships”. Holstein starts to deconstruct her fishy headdress, pulling it tentacle after tentacle and smacking them against her own body in an act of voyeuristically motivated self-flagellation. A lone tentacle flies into the audience, she kisses the residual legs. The track loops and Holstein is suspended and bound and passing on the remaining tentacles to her minions she is lightly whipped. Thereafter, Brogan is told to “incorporate a lesbian sex scene” and delivers an x-rated monologue, fancifully inconsistent and aligned with the male gaze of contemporary pornography. The absurdity of the story reaches its climax as Brogan screams of being “furiously fisted with pizza”.
Holstein is suspended again, this time with the cry that “I need to purify myself”. She inserts test-tubes of coloured paint, confetti and coins into her vagina to the tune of Disney’s “Let it Go” and Miley’s “Wrecking Ball”.“Are you feeling better now? I’m feeling better” smiles Holstein, in-between gasps for air. What’s interesting about all of the evening’s physically intense skits is that despite the formal dance training of Holstein and her troupe, they are thoroughly exhausted and breathless following each rendition; complaining and swearing unrelentingly.
 “You’re here so I have to do something I suppose” she sighs, changing into her final incarnation; a sickening agglomeration of a Lolita-style crop-top and skirt, topped with a Rococo wig that she parades giggling, drinking soda and hula-hooping. As the hoop presses against her diaphragm Holstein erupts with burps that intersect her girlish giggles. She whines for want of a piss, spits out her mouthful of soda, curtsies and projects a resounding belch.
Retiring to an armchair in the corner of the stage Holstein reflects on her multiple forms, drifting between theatricality and presented reality. “You guys, this is the real me, the pure me, I’ve been resurrected as a sexy baby. This is how you should remember me... as I truly am.” This final form is a “rebirth”, cultivated by the audience’s desires to witness a woman being punished for her sexual agency because as Holstein rightfully articulates, “it’s really enjoyable to feel pity”.  
The performance culminates in an act of public urination over a small heap of popping candy which Holstein eats (“I just had to!”). She submerges her body in it, before finally assuming a highly dramatised “dead” pose, framed by her two underlings as the gramophone crackle resumes and then swells into Britney Spears’s “Work Bitch”.
In sum, Lauren Barri Holstein’s Notorious was born to unashamedly incite disgust. Holstein is no stranger to hitting the press for her radical performance art, gaining notoriety in The Telegraph in 2015 for showing clips from her production Splat! during her time as a first year lecturer at Queen Mary University. Notorious delights in Kristeva’s notion of the abject, and clumsily, stickily, meshes the perverse with the intimate. But does it promise anything less? Of course not. Despite critical lambasting from conservative publications, Holstein is making a stern comment on the socio-cultural implications of hyper-sexualisation in the post-modern age and interrogates the taboo and stigmatism that still pervades the female form.
Notorious takes the road:

All rights to Tim Fluck.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Letters of Sylvia Plath 1940-1956: Live at the Southbank

Letters of Sylvia Plath was an evening of scholarly spectacle and revelling at the brilliance of the late literary luminary; trailing the hefty publication of Sylvia Plath’s collected letters between 1940-1956 and a veritable staple of the Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival. In the words of the Southbank, “The festival celebrates the role words can play in reimagining a world on the brink” and this year’s bill boasted everyone from Claudia Rankine to Tom Hanks and Hilary Rodham Clinton. As I glided over Waterloo bridge I couldn’t help but notice cascades of illuminated messages daubing the building’s exterior as part of the “Wall of Dreams” initiative for the Poetry International Festival; hopes and dreams of European refugees and migrants, setting a sombre tone and emphasising the importance of language, of self, and of action.
The evening was arranged with a panel of literary veterans; Eimear McBride, Max Porter, Sarah Howe and chaired by Lavinia Greenlaw, all clustered in the vast hall like some great cultural womb. Plath’s letters were read by Lydia Wilson following an introduction from Plath’s daughter Frieda Hughes. “She is best explained in her own words” Frieda began, marking  her respect for her father’s sensitive treatment of her mother’s literary catalogue and the posthumous publishing of Ariel. She praises her mother’s determination and formidable work ethic, evidenced at a strikingly young age in her letters. Plath’s first letter is written aged 7 to her father, and as Greenlaw notes, shows that she is “thinking about colour, pause and effect”, experimenting with the colours she writes in and dramatically varying sentence length. “I got ink on my fingers. I had to rub it off with a stone” Plath dreams, prophesising her poetic voice.
In a letter to her mother in 1943, the young Sylvia recounts a meticulous list of tasks and times, showing a sense of maternal guardianship over her younger brother Warren, as well as an eagerness to please. Plath shows a strong awareness of her poetic voice and a need to shape her reception in the letter she writes aged 17 to her German pen-pal Hans, sent along with a selection of poems in traditional rhyme. Alongside these, Plath laments “I wish I could be there to explain the poems to you”. In this selection of her early poems; The City, The Farewell and The Stranger, Plath imitates the technical perfection of Frost and Dickenson in the custom of “New England mastery”. There is a fascination with how things work and the effect of action, and Sarah Howe marks Plath’s profound impact on her own work and the “powerful and dangerous influence” of Plath during early adolescence through her beguiling engagement with the self and external presentation. The self is a core preoccupation of Plath at this age, and she takes an active role in the deliberate editing of her presented self. From letter to letter we seen a renewed Plath, keenly aware of the stern eye of the letter’s recipient with each new self fresh and attuned to the intended reader. These voices are far removed from the pained cries of her journals and Plath shapes her self from correspondence to correspondence.
In 1950, aged 17, Plath’s voice is sardonic and shows a pitying scorn for left-footed intellectuals in letters to her long-time confidante Eddie Cohen. Plath enacts the desire to sculpt her true image and remains critical of deceptive photography; naming herself “a red-blooded American girl [...] original, unconventional [...] ice-cream and pickles are my dish”. However, behind this “sarcastic, sceptical and callous” surface is a far more misanthropic core and Plath deplores that her contemporaries “seldom realise the chaos that oozes beneath my exterior”. As Eimear McBride articulates, “you don’t think this gracious writing will reveal a savage interior”.
In a striking letter to the editor of Harper’s magazine in 1953, aged 20, Plath evidences her driving desire to edit, post-submission, by suggesting revisions for her poem Doomsday in her first dalliance with an “adult” publication. The narrative voice is what Porter calls a “high functioning Capitalist”, laughing and gloating that through working random odd-jobs she is paid twice; financially as well as using experience as subject fodder for poems and stories. Drawing back to the panel, Max Porter confesses his admiration for Plath’s daring professionalism, business-like determination and incredible attention to detail; every letter a “calibrated weapon”. Plath is highly productive despite being on the precipice of a self-destructive depression, this letter marginally predating her suicide attempt of 1953.
This period of trauma is retrospectively addressed in a 1953 letter to Eddie Cohen, as Plath explains the delay in her response to Cohen’s letter. She charts her summer at Mademoiselle, an exhausted return home, writing “glib jingles” and a consuming sense of being “sterile, empty, unread”. “The body is amazingly stubborn when it comes to sacrificing oneself” Plath writes, adding “the worst I hope is over”.
The neat timeline of the evening then follows Plath’s relocation to Cambridge in 1955, disapprovingly pronouncing her disdain at British men and their neglectful dental hygiene, British weather and British food. Plath’s overt disgust at Cambridge’s poor coffee and dwindling sunshine is swiftly forgotten as she meets her future husband at a literary soiree. Plath’s love for Ted Hughes is all-encompassing, she writes in 1956, “I do not merely idolise, I can see the core of him”. Still, there is a bitter pessimism to her writing that resists a rose-tinted honeymoon phase “I have fallen terribly in love which can only lead to great hurt [...] such a torment and pain to love him” she writes, and it feels unbearably prescient. Nevertheless, Plath is creatively rich, living and loving and immersing her poetry in Britain’s pastoral. Her creative output increases and she declares “my voice is taking shape, coming strong”.
The evening is rounded off with readings from the panellists- Eimear McBride choosing a haunting extract from The Bell Jar in which Esther fawns over baths “so hot you can barely stand to get in it”, with a shrewd attention to detail and memory of tubs and patterned ceilings. Max Porter reads Plath’s poem “The Detective”, following Sarah Howe reading of “Sheep in Fog”. We are reminded of Plath’s surreptitious wedding to Ted Hughes, and she boasts “if possible we are a happy Heathcliffe and Cathy”.
We hear an archived clip of Plath reading her poem Spinster set against an image of her at a typewriter on the Yorkshire moors. In this, the evening’s final reading, the unspoken is deafening. The disintegration of Plath’s relationship with Hughes and the much-speculated marital turmoil is barely alluded to throughout the evening. This is, I feel, in part a result of the timeframe which the letters span as well as the presence of Frieda Hughes as the family’s successor.
Letters of Sylvia Plath celebrates Plath’s lifelong curiosity with the world around her, pulsating from her formative years to the collection’s end. The letters capture her insatiable desire to shape opinion, capture her environment and reflect her essential spirit through language. There’s a wry sense of humour, a quick mind and a furious commitment to practise and discipline. Words can’t even begin.
Words by Senior Literary and Creative Editor, Ellie Potts.

Written for [smiths] magazine, 2017.
All creative commons: allhalls flickr.com

Thursday, 26 October 2017

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker: Reviewed

Shortlisted for this year’s Goldsmiths prize, Nicola Barker’s striking contender H(A)PPY  is a daringly artful exploration of censorship, Semiotics and typographic trickery.  

Perhaps characterised as the novel that no-one quite knows how to pronounce correctly (“happy with parenthesis?”) Nicola Barker’s H(A)PPY  is a flourish of narrative self-surveillance moulded in a universe where one’s thoughts are moderated by Sensors for the collective pursuit of perfection. Barker’s world of Graphs, Oracular Devices and Information Streams feels simultaneously other-worldly and familiar in this age of infinite data, and draws on the rich traditions of Sci-Fi and Dystopian fictions.
H(A)PPY charts Mira A’s systematic demystification with the omnipotent System and the work’s title alludes to this fragmentation of truths and emotional modulations. Mira’s thoughts imperfectly oscillate between conformity and creativity, ultimately descending into unregulated language; “DECLARING WAR ON THE SYSTEM”. Barker’s novelistic experimentation with form operates on two levels; first challenging traditional methods of reading by baiting the eye with a smattering of colour to skim before reading the page. Secondly, the reader can’t help but speculate the reasoning behind the coloured grouping of these words, and as the frequency of colouring increases with the rising number of flagged words, our Mira A. becomes increasingly fraught, restricting her thought-patterns. The act is reminiscent of word-processing and technological monitoring of human expression, contributing to a fitting sense of dystopian suffocation.
The novel is thoughtfully prefaced by the Author’s suggestion that “Although by no means essential, this novel is best enjoyed in conjunction with Agustin Barrios: The Complete Historical Guitar Recordings 1913-1942.” and as such, music is a key thematic preoccupation which allows Barker to navigate the extent to which creativity is moderated under repressive regimes.
Barker’s critique of language domination is seen through the attention to the political history of Paraguay and the subversive use of Guarani. The symbolic use of Guarani (or rather, English marked in Green to indicate its use) is employed as a means of covertly communicating- reminding us of the potency of words. “I told her to be careful,' The Stranger said, 'not to be seduced by language. It can often be beguiling - seductive - beautiful, yet it is also unpredictable, dangerous, even lethal.”

Conceptual notions such as ‘the Past’ and ‘the Young’ are capitalised, marking these ideas as fixed, intangible models. Words are also marked with coloured fonts- reds, purples and blues, in a seemingly indecipherable code. Language takes centre stage and the attempt to polish and hone a perfect language is in tandem with the brutal attempt to homogenise the human condition- the ruling class of ‘the Young’ aspiring for neutrality and “smoothed” genitals, as well as removing their capacity to feel pain. The novel is a feat of typographic design, testing the eye and modes of reading as Barker delights in a breakdown of the language and methods of story-telling narratives, championing the incomplete, imperfect and illogical.  

Words by Elinor Potts for [smiths] magazine
credit: Twitter

Monday, 23 October 2017

Westward Hold (a poem)

Hold, Held, Holden
My Westward, Wayward Home.
Bestward, Backward,

Atlantic line
Peppered with grockels and neoprene
Seasonal swells deposit throngs of lazy bodies
Saunter on the boulevard
Thick wet chips
Stones the size of babies
(You feel like an insect)

Hikers, Bikers and afternoon doggers
a school of Hasidic Jews
I spy them from my viewing point
Kipling's Tor, Beckett is spitting.

by Elinor Potts

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Chris Kraus: After Kathy Acker, 25/09/17 London Review Bookshop

A sold-out affair at Bloomsbury’s prestigious London Review bookshop, Kraus’ ode to the late, great Acker was welcomed to the shelf by Juliet Jacques (author of Trans: a memoir) and the novel’s author Chris Kraus (author also of I Love Dick, Aliens and Anorexia). The atmosphere was cosy, punters nursing obligatory wine glasses in a sea of literary spectacles and polished brogues. After Kathy Acker is what Kraus champions as a “career biography” written posthumously from a limited narrator as woman who moved in similar artistic circles during New York’s wild 70s/80s. Kraus marks Acker’s death as “radicalising” and speaks of her access to Acker’s diaries shortly after her death and the question of when and whether to write the biography. “If you wait 20 years it’s all very elegiac” she asserts, striving for a “revisionist history of 80s New York”. Their stories and circles are undoubtedly similar; sleeping with the same people (Sylvère Lotringer), going to the same parties, breathing the same air. Whilst Kraus marks the scene as “snobby” and “air-clad”, Acker’s work is also tinged with this sentiment of claustrophobia and Kraus reads a short extract from her “Politics”; exploring Acker’s relationship with writing, pornographic work, sexual politics and familial estrangement. She speaks also of Acker’s “self-serving white lies” which she employed throughout her career to “give her the legitimacy that she deserved”. This invites a discussion of writing and the self (“a biography is a hologram composed of fragments”) as well as Kraus admitting that contrary to critical knowledge, she had not been personally acquainted with Acker. Kraus speaks reverently of Great Expectations and the short story’s artful meshing of grieving and the writing process though is keen to mark the gendered assumptions of women who write about women that “anything short of hating or liking will be seen as envy”. Further to this, Jacques draws attention to Acker’s experiments with CD-ROMs as a result of being ex-communicated from literary circles after falling out of critical fashion in the mid-80s and the conversation touches on Acker’s foray into theatre with plays such as Desire. Both Kraus and Acker’s New York is filthy, sexually liberated and self-masturbatory and the evening’s discussion siphons into the ouroboros-y of the art scene and spoken word nights in which Acker (“the chamber writer of Downtown New York”) would rattle off the names and shames of former flames to an audience of friends; “feeding the scene back into itself”. Kraus’ immortalisation of Acker is humbly motivated and driven by the desire to write the true Acker back into the subject space, rather than purely an object of scandal and sex, untimely taken. I purchased myself a copy, quietly squirming at the price, quietly asking Chris Kraus to sign it then promptly faded away, rosy-cheeked, on the 171 in a cloud of free wine and biblio-bliss.

Words by Elinor Potts
Written for [smiths] magazine

Sunday, 3 September 2017

An open letter to irresponsible journalism

To the journalist who dragged his name through the dirt for the sake of small-town politics. Did you have a good weekend? Are those a new pair of shoes? Did you lie awake knowing that the individual you outed for "deviance"  spent his morning looking between an angry mob and a blade's edge?
I love my family thoroughly and unconditionally. I'm exhausted from a string of unpaid work experiences and weekends working night shifts at festivals to fund an English degree. How was that for you? It's my Mother's 53rd birthday today and it is today that I was invited to witness the full extent of deceptive, nonchalant and singleminded reportage.
At 9 AM this morning he promised me not to talk about politics, balancing a tray of croissants and niceties as we walked in to greet my mother. It was whilst gripping the steering wheel on the road to the station that he finally erupted, spitting a torrent of classified truths, bracketed by confidentiality. NON-DISCLOSURE. NON-DISCLOSURE. NON-DISCLOSURE.
Did you know that the man you mis-quoted for the sake of a marginal political monopoly has been unemployed for months? That scandal peppers his google search? A mis-quote that has flown far further than the shire, sneering at us across the Atlantic from behind a paywall. Did you momentarily consider the repercussions on a family? On an individual's will to live? How was your holiday in the Maldives? I know the tropes that you're clumsily fashioning, designing your victim, selling your salacious poison to city-slicking gossip-mongers.
Trading counterfeit news-bites is hardly enough to keep the bailiffs away from a crumbling publication. My initials are laced with fire and I'll write for the right to an honest press.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

[smiths] magazine: Slavoj Žižek ‘The Courage of Hopelessness’ at AK Wien Bildungszentrum, Vienna. 20/05/17

The annual climax of the Viennese cultural calendar can only be Festwochen; the Austrian capital’s culture festival held this year between 12th May-18th June. Established in the 1950s, Wiener Festwochen remarks on its website, ‘[it was/is] necessary to reconnect with the world, to integrate the city and the country into the international discourse of art and culture, to promote life, openness, and the idea of a future’. Events span theatre, dance, art-installations, music and lectures; celebrating individuals at the forefront of socio-political activism, avant-garde artistry and intellectual thinking. The festival is heavily subsidised by the Austrian government and though many of the events are ticketed roughly between 10-65, a reasonable amount of the events that take place over Festwochen were free- including those by postcolonial celebrity Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Hegelian-Marxist and movie-pundit Slavoj Žižek and Fannie Sosa’s sex-positive Feminist ‘twerkshop’. A premium cultural smorgasbord.
It was as part of ‘The Academy of Unlearning’ lecture series that Slavoj Žižek’s lecture on ‘The Courage of Hopelessness’ was positioned; a collection of lectures touching on Western democracy, social dislocation and the European migrant crisis- encouraging participants to tap into a system of re-education and critique individual boundaries of understanding. 
As an intellectual who is perhaps both admired and lambasted in equal measures by contemporary medias, Slavoj Žižek has an unshakable cult status amongst memes junkies and uni-educated white Corbynites alike. The Ed Sheeran of the hard-Left if you will; Žižek fronts a shy-boy scruffy exterior that downplays ‘intellectual genius’, idolised by his adoring disciples.  Žižek’s writings on Ideology, Psychoanalysis and Film Theory- famously popularised for the mass-market in films The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012) cemented him as the poster-boy for Hegelian-Marxism, prescribing a transcendental celebrity glow to his characteristic idiosyncrasies and habitual mannerisms.
Following the publication of ‘The Final Countdown: Europe, Refugees and the Left’, Žižek’s essay and lecture title derives from the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben claim that “thought is the courage of hopelessness”. Speaking in the present tense, Žižek underscores the bleakness of European politics with destructive language, ‘The true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlight of another train approaching us from the opposite direction’. Exploring this prophetic collision, he goes on to mark this oncoming threat as the ‘flow of refugees’ or ‘the problem of refugees’ that will certainly ‘explode again’. His central claim here is (perhaps unsurprisingly) radical, calling for a ‘move away from the humanitarian’.
‘This fascination with refugees suffering is the ultimate fetish because it changes a mega serious political problem into a humanitarian concern, and sentimental liberals always like this, to change again and avoid critical political analysis and begin to talk this rubbish of “are our hearts open enough”? [...] We don’t need open hearts we need precise political action to break this cycle of global geopolitics’

Interrogating the difficulty of multiculturalism, Žižek points the finger at the ‘the burden of a specific way of life’ and the ambiguities that surround this ‘way’ as a point of conflict and uncertainty. Using the Lacanian  notion of ‘jouissance’, Žižek consolidates the notion of a ‘way of life’ as ‘not direct pleasure but the enjoyment of organising pleasure’ culturally organised in such a way that it ignores cultural attitudes to sexual customs and hierarchy as values that exist ‘at the very core of a way of life’. Žižek presents the idea of arranged marriages as a key component to a way of life, citing cultural conflicts within his native Slovenia, as well as looking at the model of the Indian caste system as a way of life that was used to the benefit of British imperialism, stating that ‘authentic imperialism has always been multicultural’.
The discourse is dense and pessimistic, focus turning to the recent French election and the futility of neoliberal politics, ‘Macron embodies politics that produced Le Pen’ and Žižek asserts despondently; ‘a vote for Macron is a vote for Le Pen in four years time’.
At one point, Žižek confesses to having streamed the recent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on piratebay (‘I caught myself enjoying it very much, I was horrified’). Broadening into a Lacanian discussion on the sources of pleasure, Žižek digresses into an account of rape of which the perpetrator denied being motivated by carnal desires and was thus considered innocent by the Mexican authorities. Here, Žižek revisits his trope that ‘of course, feminists explode’, marking the Left’s obsessive preoccupation with safe-spaces and a general emotional excess with his argumentation teetering towards the Right. The attention to detail in describing the account as well as the depiction of graphic violence in the screened video clip underscores Žižek’s inability to censor or shelter. This extends to his provocative brand of apathetic humour, and on a theoretical level in the assertions of his lecture argumentation that calls for a move away from humanitarianism. Who needs trigger warnings, right?
The proceeding Q&A followed in a very Žižekian manner, scrutinising the mediation of pre-meditated questions through a host and reminding the audience to save their clapping for when they are directed, signposting the conventions of a conference.  The initial question: ‘How did you sleep yesterday?’ is met with frostiness that exposes Žižek’s personal brand of radical humour through juvenile hyperbole ‘What is the point of this question? If you put it the way you have put it, it would be like I have raped five children.’
As he tries to engage in a direct Q&A with audience members Žižek confesses ‘I feel bad. The best thing would be to- this is deepest anti-feminist manipulation- have a lady ask the questions so that we can say that ladies were also- you know.’ Though Žižek does undoubtedly recognise the extremes of his humour as an alienating factor, what is posed as a noble intervention for the sake of inclusion is dashed as soon as the audience member is chosen- an older Austrian man- over the energetically waving arm of a female audience member. In doing this, Žižek reduces a demonstrative act to a futile pledge to compensate for his poor taste in humour, further isolating the voices of Left-wing women within a panel and audience largely made-up of men. Žižekers hang off their demi-god’s every word, praying for the next available moment to laugh heartily and declare their commonality.
In sum, I’m a sucker for free culture. Festwochen’s scintillating selection of scholars, exhibitions, installations and performances had me from the word go, and the accessibility of free entry is a credit to the Austrian government and Arts funding.
Hey, maybe I am a misguided, hysterical ‘exploding feminist’ but declaring progress to be a move away from empathy is certainly heavy handed.

written for [smiths] magazine: http://www.smithsmagazine.co.uk/2017/09/04/vienna-festwochen-slavoj-zizek-the-courage-of-hopelessness-at-ak-wien-bildungszentrum-vienna-200517/ 

Elinor Potts

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Hinds Band Review for Cool Brother zine

Hinds are a fully-charged female four-piece hailing from Madrid, favoured by the likes of Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. Comprised of Ade, Amber and front-girls, Carlotta and Ana, we’ve seen them escalade in size, strength and following.
It all began two years ago, when 2014 saw Ana and Carlotta release their debut EP, Bamboo. Charming, fun and totally badass, Bamboo is a pared back lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll ditty with a shoe-scuffing call and response to playground pining. They’ve hardly been sitting pretty since. That year, we watched Hinds battle intimate venues like Corsica Studios, while remaining deers in the headlights when it came to interacting with the crowd. Incessantly giggling, dewy-faced and doe-eyed, they were still getting to grips with the English language. In 2015, we were treated to a wealth of gigs, from Hong Kong to Hoxton, and 16 performances at SXSW. Now, they’re headlining Koko, they’re playing Glastonbury two years in a row and they’ve performed along side the likes of The Libertines, The Black Lips and The Strokes.
Yet, despite being on the road more than Kerouac, they still found the time to write and record debut album, Leave Me Alone. Suitably evocative of teenage rebellion, it goes hand-in-hand with their nonchalant attitude. Stand-out tracks include Garden and the toe-tapping Warts; a cautionary tale of a psycho witch, delivered with a playful lure; ‘She acts too crazy/Absurdly wild/Always ready for a winky/She always burns her warts’.
They’ve achieved a lot in two years. Promising an electric and thoroughly vivacious live performance, Hinds are definitely ones to circle in your festival programmes this summer.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Notes from Vienna

The Erasmus student is a dying breed, and as one of the last years of Goldsmiths exports (NB: they’ve pledged to continue the scheme for the next two years) I shall hereby present to you an account of the first month of life in Vienna which has taken form in roughly 5 non-chronological chapters:

1)      Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Upon receiving confirmation last August that I would be studying in Vienna for my second semester I swiftly downloaded Duolingo and smugly assumed that I was already part-way to learning fluent German. A few weeks of sporadic testing and I could confidently declare that ‘the beetles drink milk’ which made me strongly evaluate the relevance of vocabulary available on Duolingo and so I consequently stopped trying entirely. As a result I now have a purely beetle-based understanding of the German language and am thus finding it somewhat troublesome navigating social situations. Despite being anxious to avoid the stereotype of the Brit abroad as overly reliant on the assumption their host will speak English, I have in no way deviated from this stereotype, thus finding myself in a constant state of self-deprecation, idealistically guessing my way through the entire language with my knowledge of English, Swedish and smiles (the universal tongue).
2           2)      Transition
Comparatively, rent in Vienna is an absolute pinch and close to half of what I had been paying in Deptford so I really shouldn’t be complaining. Unfortunately this has come at the cost of my beloved student-living disarray that seemingly does not extend to Austrian student digs owing to a non-exhaustive list of house rules that I am penalised for failing to abide by.
If I were to describe the lavish architecture of Vienna to a South East Londonder I would liken it to Deptford Town Hall x100. It’s objectively jaw-dropping and a perpetual delight. From the University building itself to parliament, the museum quarter, grandiose theatres and opera houses, strolling around the city is a constant thrill. For those who feel culturally unfulfilled in spite of the intimidating rich cultural backdrop of Vienna, there is an opera themed public toilet in Karlsplatz station that charges you 50 cent to piss to Strauss; an exercise easily achieved in the comfort of your own home for the price of a Spotify premium account.

3           3)      Nose-diving into a life of meat- my passionate affair with a Käsekrainer
Away from the judgements of South-East vegans, I have developed a deeply spiritual connection with the Austrian witching-hour delicacy known as the Käsekrainer or ‘Carniolan sausage’ over the course of this month. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this work of Austro-Hungarian genius, the Carniolan sausage is a dish of true perfection; a pork (?) sausage internally laced with hot cheese between a waistcoat of baguette. But beware: this ambrosial masterpiece is served with a side order of risk, as the visitor’s guide to Vienna advises; ‘if you’re not careful, a sufficiently-distressed Käsekrainer can propel hot fat huge distances, necessitating the wearing of protective goggles.’[1]. For those of you hankering for a sample, there are various restaurants around London that serve the dish, though in much more formal setting. This is a dish best served Wasted.
Asides from national specialities, the discovery of the pay-as-you-wish restaurant Der Wiener Deewan has entrenched meat-eating habits with a delicious selection of all-you-can-eat set curries for whatever price you feel is most fair. This frankly blew the collective minds of me and my culinary companion, opting for a medium sized mains portion and dessert for €6.50 each. My newfound meat-based lifestyle is delicious and I am never turning back.

4          4)      Rebirth/ Running around/Foreign territory
As a response to chapter 3 and with all this abundant spare time that I used to fill with socialising and evenings at the Marquis of Granby I decided to invest my time and physical energy in the preconception of the Erasmus student as self-interested. The transition to healthy-Goth (a reworking of the notion of Health Goth with a diminished emphasis on the aesthetic) has been a tale of two halves; thwarted somewhat by the devilish presence of cheap European cigarettes and bottles of Prosecco at €3 a pop. In the first week I donned my optimistic gym wear and triumphantly announced to my new housemates I was going on a run in a (rehearsed) nonchalant tone, hereby marking my new persona as part-time runner. Leaving the flat I found myself blindly ‘running’ around the local neighbourhood block-by-block, polishing off this athletic venture with a stroll around the local Austrian equivalent of Waitrose, and window shopping for food in sports-gear. I cheerfully imagined the telephone conversations of my flatmates, ‘Our new flatmate’s great, she’s only been here two days and she’s always out running!’. Such painfully unsustainable lies. 
5         5)      Brexit Repentance (BrePentance?)
The legacy of June 23rd is still hot on the tongues of many Austrians when you confess British nationality. Furthermore, having opted for more Cultural Theory based modules at the University of Vienna I am given daily reminders of the brutal history of British colonial imperialism and am plagued by a cloud of generally perpetual guilt. All in all, it’s not a great time to be a Brit abroad and as a some-time bar-dwelling exchange student, you’ll constantly find yourself haplessly apologising on behalf of your country’s idiocy. I’ve taken to wearing my ‘Don’t blame me I voted Remain’ badge regularly to avoid confusion.
I recently attended an event hosted by the university welcoming incoming exchange students that fell on the day that the UK formally began the process of leaving the EU. Speaker Heinz Fassmann (Vice-Rector of International Affairs) asked for a show of hands of UK students and later approached me after the speeches (regrettably directly after I had launched myself at the most handsome buffet I have ever witnessed) asking me- essentially on behalf of all Erasmus departments in the UK, what was going to happen to the scheme moving forward, as 50% of students of the University of Vienna seek an exchange to the UK. What then ensued was a furious rant delivered between mouthfuls of smoked salmon and red wine about the monumental confusion of Brexit and lack of understanding surrounding EU-funded schemes and free movement going forward.  The lethal mixture of Brexit-talk and a free bar left me thoroughly red in the face.

This has been life thus far; a whirlwind few weeks of flustering around in a holiday-mode daze that I’m reluctantly emerging from. Am I integrating? Maybe. I’ve invested in some red slippers emblazoned with ‘Austria: Vienna’ in white stitching so I guess I am part there. Unfortunately I didn’t inspect said slippers thoroughly enough and it turned out that I’d purchased two left shoes. Hopefully this isn’t some horrible metaphor for bumbling through life.

Words by Ellie Potts. 
Written for publication in [smiths] magazine, all rights reserved.

[1] http://www.visitingvienna.com/eatingdrinking/food/kasekrainer/

Monday, 27 February 2017

Mike McCormack in Conversation with Blake Morrison for [smiths] magazine

Ellie Potts gives a detailed account of Goldsmiths Prize winner Mike McCormack's interview with Blake Morrison.

Speaking in the wake of his success, Mike McCormack explored the creative process in crafting his 2016 Goldsmiths Prize winning novel Solar Bones. As an inventive and experimental work, McCormack’s novel surpassed the criteria to ‘open up new possibilities for the novel form’ and as the fourth winner of the prize, McCormack follows in the line of distinguished previous winners including Eimear McBride, Ali Smith, and Kevin Barry.
Being McCormack’s third published novel, he professed his fluctuating successes that eventually bred Solar Bones. McCormack’s first edition of short stories Crow’s Requiem published in 1986 emphatically “divided the world”, receiving what McCormack confessed as the worst review he has ever seen; lamenting the felling of trees for the book’s print and despairingly noting ‘I can think of nothing good to say about this book’. What proceeded was what McCormack describes as “ten years of nothing” following being dropped by his publisher after the publication of Notes from a Coma. To Morrison however, the arresting opening of Solar Bones was what set the novel apart from others on the shortlist, highlighting the vivid depiction of a deconstructed tractor that marks the protagonist Marcus Conway’s fascination with the fragility of the universe and the process of disassembling.
As a novel written in a single sentence, McCormack was keen to shy away from the labels of stream of consciousness narrative, marking the continuous fluidity between thoughts of the ghostly narration that fails to lapse. In spite of McCormack’s absence of grammatical punctuation, he utilises white space as a means of punctuating and describes the novel as “easiest understood as an Aria”. Whilst radical in form, McCormack blends an amalgamation of high and low brow culture, making biblical allusions alongside reference to Radiohead albums that he declared as following in the tradition of Thomas Pynchon; the “giver of license to low comedy”.
Through McCormack’s brief experience having trained as an engineer, he foregrounds the importance of working characters to stimulate “pulse and routine”. “Engineers build the world” he declared, “they facilitate every moment, this lecture hall is conceived through an engineer”. As a graduate of English and Philosophy from the University of Galway, McCormack also commended the influence of artists and creatives on his craft that manifests in the novel through Marcus’ artist daughter. The fragmentation of form and dispersion of words across the page within Solar Bones is therefore indebted to the influence of McCormack’s artistic tradition and the visual aesthetic of paragraphs that tend to “stand and stare”. McCormack also attributed his visual awareness of artistic forms to the influence of his wife as an artist and the process of staring at a white canvas waiting for images to emerge.
As a novel that charts the male experience, McCormack was keen to mark the shades of masculinity that are present within the novel and stressed that the heroes of the novel are all women. The dominance of women throughout the creative process was touched upon by Morrison through McCormack’s female agent and the publishing of the novel by the Irish publishing company Tramp Press run by Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff- as well as the process of selection for the Goldsmiths prize, with Morrison being the only male member of the panel.
McCormack communicated a deep familiarity with the environments and routines of his characters and there is a Joycean geographical precision to the locations they inhabit, informed by the epidemics of water contamination near Galway that resonate within the novel. Whilst Morrison marked the British publishing industry ‘the most conservative in the world’, McCormack praised the presence of platforms such as the Goldsmiths prize for championing innovative fiction such as this. Despite the shortfalls of the British publishing industry that did not wholly mesh with the Irish imagination, McCormack honoured his own publishers for “getting it” and not having to explain the condition of the novel and later recognising the rising movement of young Irish writers such as Clare Louise Bennett and Eimear McBride with her open acknowledgement of the influence of Joyce upon her work.
The evening invited a thoroughly intriguing introduction to an original and organically artistic work of innovative fiction.
original article available at: