1) I haven't had connectivity from home for ages, nor the energy to get myself and my computer to the library, which is why I haven't been around. Currently I'm in a damned uncomfortable chair in a coffee shop. (Are coffee shops furnished with uncomfortable chairs on purpose to keep people from lingering?) I miss talking to you all more regularly. Lack of connectivity has also made it impossible for me to do my German lessons on Duolingo, so today or tomorrow I'm going to the library to acquire a book and hopefully a CD.
2) Reading: I'm working my way sloooooooowly through Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century
, which is very accommodating of the economically ignorant and written in a style that's clear and direct even in translation, but still makes my eyes glaze over if I try to read more than twenty pages at a time.
I recently re-read Bram Stoker's Dracula
; my previous reading was twenty years ago for a grad school class (how is it even possible that I was in graduate school twenty years ago??? where does time go?????). It was my first year in grad school, before I'd switched fields to Renaissance lit, and I was historically challenged to put it mildly, so my impression of the novel was that it was written Very Long Ago and was Old. Re-reading it I was struck by how deeply interested Stoker is in the modernity of the very late nineteenth century--it's all typewriters and shorthand and gramophone recordings on wax and, startlingly, Jonathan Harker taking photographs of the Transylvanian landscape with his "kodak." Of course all that modernity is challenged by ancient evil, but ultimately defeats it (most strikingly when Dracula burns all of Team Van Helsing's documents, but it's okay because they have typescript copies). Something else I didn't notice on first reading was how stuffed the book is with religiosity, in a way that feels forced and in sharp contrast to the modernity. In particular, Stoker can't decide whether Mina Harker is a modern woman with a "brain like a man" or an angel in the house who prays and talks endlessly about God and whose most important characteristic is her purity. (I don't think I'm creating a false dichotomy--Stoker doesn't seem able to have Mina be both at the same time.) I often get the sense that part of Stoker, at least, wanted to write a much stranger and more subversive novel. It's not just the erotic undercurrents he gives to vampirism, but the recurring (it happens twice) homosocial-triangulated structure of a group of men bound by their devotion to a single woman as well as by their friendships among themselves (including the symbolic polyandrous marriage of Lucy Westenra via blood transfusion and the symbolic multiple paternity of Mina's son); the story's omissions (notably Jonathan Harker's unlikely escape from Dracula's castle); the peculiarities of Van Helsing's affect; and everything about Renfield. Also this passage from chapter 15, when Van Helsing takes Seward into Lucy's tomb for the first time: "Holding his candle so that he could read the coffin plates, and so holding it that the sperm dropped in white patches which congealed as they touched the metal, he made assurance of Lucy's coffin." I actually double-checked that against a different edition to make sure it wasn't some transcriber's idea of a joke that had slipped past the Project Gutenberg editors. Stoker is referring to a spermaceti candle, but he can't have been ignorant of the other possibilities inherent in the image of white sperm congealing on a coffin lid. With all this oddness, the insistent religious-ness of other moments feels to me like Stoker trying to hold the story's subversiveness in check.
3) I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, because my job at the moment involves hours of shelf-stocking, which is utterly mindless but which mostly happens before the store is open, so I can listen to music, podcasts, etc. Does anyone have recs for good (free) podcasts? I'm already listening to Welcome to Night Vale and some public radio podcasts (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Ask Me Another, and The Splendid Table--I'm finding the last strangely unsatisfying despite fond memories of it from years ago; either I'm a more advanced cook now or the show has been dumbed down, also there are too-frequent segments about dubious "nutrition" and "anti-obesity" fads). I'm especially interested in science, pop culture stuff, cooking, and quizzes/games/panel shows; I'd prefer to avoid anything political or current-events focused because I get too upset.
4) Speaking of music, I keep meaning to post about an old album that I love and that I think is underrated: Thomas Dolby's The Golden Age of Wireless
. It is, alas, best known for the single "She Blinded Me With Science," a silly novelty song that's unlike everything else on the album, which is a meditation on . . . oh, radio and technology and loneliness and eras ending, and to a surprising extent on the Second World War and its legacy. I've been fond of the album since I was a teenager, but I only made the WWII connection in the last couple of years. One of Our Submarines
was inspired by the death of Dolby's uncle
during the war. And I didn't realize how creepy the lyrics to the beautiful Cloudburst at Shingle Street
were until very recently (I was listening to it one night in bed and suddenly thought "Wait, is the narrator dead
?"), and then I did some googling and discovered that the song is about the persistent myth that an attempted German invasion at Shingle Street (which is a coastal town where some secret weapons research happened during the war) was stopped by the use of gas/petrol pipes buried under the beaches that burst into great clouds of fire at the flick of a switch.
I'll admit that some of the music does sound dated now in its early-80s synthesized way, but I also think that early 80s music is unfairly stigmatized even now that every other
era has had its revival.
Unrelatedly, but I have to complain about this somewhere, at work the Guardians of the Galaxy
soundtrack has been on heavy rotation, and I am more sick of 1970s soft rock than I can possibly tell you.
5) And now I'm off to see if there's any good Dracula
fic on AO3.