Thursday, 1 May 2014

Vaginas. And Gyles Brandreth.

Good morning all. This is dissertation week so I've spent my time reassuring students, then tearing my hair out as the bureaucracy loses a significant number. You'd have thought that insisting on a stupid submission date, they'd then expect large numbers of people to be queuing and have systems in place to deal with it… rather than closing early and losing track of so many important pieces of work. Thankfully they've all now turned up and the process of marking can begin. Right now, 40 dissertations are spread out on my floor awaiting distribution and attention.

Thankfully, it's not all chores. Yesterday Emma Rees came to talk about her book The Vagina: a Literary and Cultural History, which she originally wanted to call Vulvanomics because it covers the economic ecosystem of female genitalia too. She didn't want to use 'vagina' in the title because that's only a part of the general area, and some of her talk was about the etymological history of the various words used in science and the vernacular to describe it, from Grose's "c**t: a nasty word for a nasty thing' (1788) to Woman's Hour's reluctance to even allow the phrase 'the c word'. We saw some appalling adverts (click to enlarge):

read some 14th-century French fabliaux, talked about the Kilpeck Sheela and discussed vagina dentatae in films and popular culture. Lots of students turned up (some of them sober) as well as staff colleagues and the discussion was lively (and funny). I was really pleased that quite a few male students turned up: though there should definitely be space for women-only discussion, I think it's important that everybody engages with these ideas, particularly as men are responsible for many of the discourses surrounding women's bodies.

Lots of us bought copies of Emma's excellent book and then we went to the pub, and later for curry with Emma and her lovely husband - one of the best nights out I've had for ages.

What else has happened this week? Well, I've added to my pile of novels by politicians considerably. I'm planning to write a paper on the aesthetics of the politician's novel, because amazingly, it doesn't seem to have been done (write in to prove me wrong). Here's my original list of candidates: I've added a lot more to my spreadsheet since then. I'm not convinced the process of reading these novels will be entirely enjoyable, judging by the reviews of many but I think there's at least a paper in the phenomenon, the notion of politician as 'brand', the media context and most importantly, the link between being a politician and the kind of fiction they write – mostly political thrillers.

At the moment, I'm trying to decide how to sub-divide the works. I'm going to exclude professional authors who became politicians (goodbye PD James (author of the worst novel I've read in years, Death Comes To Pemberley), Ruth Rendell and John Buchan, but perhaps also Douglas Hurd) but I may include non-elected people in the fuzzy halo of politics: spy chief Stella Rimington, Michael Dobbs (his House of Cards trilogy is awful, though the UK and recent US adaptations are much better), Alastair Campbell and a few others.

I think I'll give a pre-history of writing by politicians but declare an official start with the professionalisation of politics: perhaps from the date of salaried MPs (1911), or from universal suffrage (1928). I haven't yet decided whether to exclude novels written before the author was elected or appointed (doing so would reduce my Louise Mensch reading list considerably).

This week, I got copies of Brian Sedgemore's Power Failure (sounds like a prog-rock band) and Mr Secretary of State, Chris Mullin's The Year of the Fire Monkey and Gyles Brandreth's Who Is Nick Saint? (suspiciously absent from his bibliography: he's currently flogging a series called The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries. The Labour novels are usually suspicious about the 'deep state', which is always opposed to Labour and to socialism, whereas Tory ones are about individuals behaving heroically or awfully - matching the parties' supposed ideologies. I've got about 65 novels (at a minimum) and a few collections of poetry so far: more suggestions gratefully received. In particular: does anyone know of fiction or poetry by SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs and assembly members? I'd be astonished if there isn't any, given the intellectual nature of Welsh-language culture and its entwinement with politics, but I can't find any. (Also shocking: there has never been a female Plaid MP, though the current leader is the brilliant Leanne Wood). There are plenty of Sinn Féin authors, from Gerry Adams in the present day to several of the 1918 Dail Éireann representatives, like Piaras Béaslaí.

Anyway, that's all just thinking aloud. Now it's time to go and put on my bow tie for the student-organised Teaching Awards! I've been nominated as 'Outstanding' and 'Inspirational'. Which just goes to show what a sophisticated sense of humour my students have. Toodle-pip!


Phil said...

I've been nominated for the prestigious "Who? No, not him, I was thinking of the other one" award; I think I'm in with a shout.

Then again, I haven't seen any of my dissertation students in the last month, or indeed gone into the office more than about twice. There may be a correlation!

Jason D Jawando said...

I think you've missed Rupert Allason, who wrote spy novels as Nigel West.

Phil said...

The last time I paid sustained attention to Plaid was in the mid-90s, and I'm convinced there was a rising Plaid politician then who was a poet. Damned if I can dredge up the name. Possibly a Dafydd(!); not Wigley or E-T, though.

The Plashing Vole said...

Thanks Jason - I'd forgotten that particularly unpleasant individual. Now added to the spreadsheet.

Phil - hope you won. Thanks for the tip: I'll tap in to my Llenyddiaeth Cymraeg network.

Arron Hook said...

You forgot to mention A Very British Coup when you mentioned Chris Mullin. Though I'm a Tory, I think it's a great book. Also what about Disraeli? Sybil is another great read. Have you ever read No Love for Johnnie by Wilfred Fienburgh? I've heard it's good but I never been able to get hold of a copy.

The Plashing Vole said...

Hi. I didn't mention it because I've already got it and read it. Will definitely be covering it. Disraeli is fascinating but I think he's been covered extensively elsewhere. No Love for Johnnie is great. I have it, and also the film.

The Plashing Vole said...

Hi. I didn't mention it because I've already got it and read it. Will definitely be covering it. Disraeli is fascinating but I think he's been covered extensively elsewhere. No Love for Johnnie is great. I have it, and also the film.