It's like the Marie Celeste round here. Just me and some underemployed catering staff whiling away their time trying to chisel through the gravy crust. They really need safety goggles for that kind of work. I just sent round our end of term Union newsletter and got several hundred out-of-office replies. Slackers! It's not even Friday evening!
Anyway, enough about them. Time to talk about me. I'm feeling uncharacteristically optimistic, which is weird considering a colleague was killed here yesterday. Perhaps it's the contemplation of mortality which makes me value even the mundanity of daily existence.
It's also because I've done a big chunk of writing. I'm writing a piece about jazz in contemporary fiction with a colleague who has published loads of stuff. We're covering Jim Crace's All That Follows, Alan Plater's The Beiderbecke Trilogy and Jackie Kay's Trumpet, which is one of the best novels I've read all year. I'm meant to be doing the section on masculinity and jazz. Basically, I'm claiming that in Plater's novel, jazz creates an 'imagined community' of New Men freed by their secret hobby from the deforming oppression of established gender roles. Which is ironic because only men understand jazz in these novels. They like jazz and historical football facts, and the women look on with amused disdain. On the other hand, it's jazz which gives the men empathy and other supposedly 'feminine' traits. Oh, and it's all played for laughs. For the Crace and Kay novels, I'm arguing that jazz structures the texts and the readers' experiences because it washes away essentialist gender structures. The musicians and those they relate to have to improvise their lives and their understanding of identity under the influence of jazz. In All That Follows, Lennie is 'unmanned' because he can't play jazz any more, nor engage in political activism, or make love to his wife: once the jazz comes back, so do all the other things. Trumpet is different: it's structured like a jazz performance complete with central solo, and the plot is driven by everybody else's reaction to the discovery that dead Joss Moody, married with a son, was actually biologically female. Without jazz, Kay seems to be saying, we are trapped in pre-formed concepts of sex, gender and race, but jazz's natural antipathy to formality enables us to reassess our preconceptions.
1300 words. Unfortunately (for my colleague) it's currently 3500 words. Unfortunately, because as the experienced author, she gets to decide what stays in (if any) and what goes. Being a humble sort of chap, I shall accept the axe without demur. I'm just pleased I got something substantial written.
In the meantime, I have to write an entire 8000 word book chapter on Welsh travel writing by January 15th. So that's the Christmas break spoken for. But at least I have some nice music to soothe me: I've just received Freedom Is A Hammer: Conservative Folk Revolutionaries of the Sixties. I used to teach a course on 1960s US culture, and played the students a lot of rightwing music to demonstrate that much as we might wish it, the majority of Americans at the time were pretty rightwing. I haven't come across the stars of this new CD (Janet Greene, Tony Dolan and Vera Vanderlaan), but I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy it in an infuriating sort of way. They are in many ways the grandparents of the Tea Party movement: stridently conservative yet using the tools of the leftwing 60s counterculture (folk music, protest) to argue their case.
Here's Janet Greene's truly appalling 'Commie Lies': sorry about the visuals - it's been posted by a true believer sadly.
I've also broken the book drought in a small way: Bent Flyvjerg's Megaprojects and Risk about the way construction and engineering companies lie and cheat self-deceiving politicians to get their hands on our cash; and Alasdair Gray's postmodernist Scottish classic 1982, Janine. His Lanark is one of the best books I've ever read, so it was about time I read this one.
Right, back to the writing.