Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Month: September 2015

The Church – Further/Deeper

So, is this The Church‘s latest and greatest? It’s certainly the former and as for being the greatest, no I don’t think so, though I do rate it. It’s grown on me, far more so than the more mystic, reflective Untitled #23. While there’s nothing on this record that approaches the spacey directness of Starfish, it’s a direct album in a glistening kind of way. Maybe that’s to do with new guitarist Ian Haug, who replaced Marty Willson-Piper. Haug’s background is alternative rock with Powderfinger, and his influence may have reined in some of Kilbey‘s experimental tendencies.

Make no mistake though, this is a Church record in every sense, although what that sense is varies usually from album to album. Like I said in another review, each Church record swims in its own logic and this one is no different. As with most of this band’s material, repeated listens are mandatory and if you don’t get their particular brand of psych rock, then you won’t get this album.

Further/Deeper continues a Church tradition begun with Heyday‘s Myrrh in having a trippy, driving opening track, most prominently highlighted by cuts such as Starfish‘s Destination or Gold Afternoon Fix‘s Pharaoh. This record’s Vanishing Man definitely rates among the best Church openers.

In fact, the record goes from strength to strength as you get further and deeper (!) into it – to a point. Album highlights include the surging, throbbing Globe Spinning, which is about as close as The Church gets to a new wave track, and then there’s the delightful Laurel Canyon, and the equally scintillating Love Philtre. The record runs out of steam a little toward the end, though it picks up in a slamming, bright fashion with Miami. Trimmed of a little fat, this record would rate in the top 5 for anything they’ve ever done, yet thirty four years after the release of Of Skins and Heart, it’s marvellous business as usual for The Church. Further and Deeper indeed.

further deeper cover

Ed Greenwood – Spellfire

Spellfire (Shandril's Saga #1)Spellfire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What a likeable silly book. I think this was Greenwood’s first outing as a novelist and to say it shows is superfluous. But unneeded or not, I have to say it anyway. It’s written with such an overwhelmingly amateurish exuberance that almost glows with its own light. I’m sure this is Greenwood’s home D&D campaign transcribed into fiction, particularly from the way some of the action and set pieces are staged.

It’s lacking in many departments – the occasionally poor phrasing, the reliance upon coincidences, the minimal characterisations, the poorly disguised Gandalf in Elminster…but it’s fun and withal, it’s a quick and dirty read that won’t tax your intelligence. The author invented the milieu this book is set in, so there’s that. Ed Greenwood having fun in his own playground.

View all my reviews

The Tempest and Caliban

Another essay I did for university, on the nature of the character Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest


 

The Tempest and Caliban

The Tempest was written in 1611 and is believed to be the last play William Shakespeare wrote, or wrote by himself. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s other works, The Tempest is not based on any one historical incident or previously published works. However, according to American scholar, Todd Borlik, The Tempest may derive its inspiration from the lost medieval narrative, the Life of Saint Guthlac (Borlik 2012). The 1609 shipwreck of the Sea Venture on Bermuda as recorded by author William Strachey (Strachey 1609) is possibly also a source for the play.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I of England, and became James I of England. The period of his reign, 1603-1625, is known as the Jacobean era. During this time, England embarked on many foreign expeditions, not the least of which was the colonisation of Jamestown, Virginia, a locale originally inhabited by the native American Powhatan people. From the beginning there was an unequal partnership between the colonists and the native inhabitants. It is feasible that Shakespeare read of the Jamestown colony and its exploits and fictionalised them in The Tempest. Certainly, as Caliban states: “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou takest from me” (1.2.331-332) is a clear sign for many that Caliban’s island was conquered by Prospero. Yet as Marshall suggests, Shakespeare would not have had any knowledge of North American slavery, since the first slaves were introduced in 1619, eight years after The Tempest was written (Marshall 1998). Was Shakespeare also egalitarian-minded enough to couch his putative disapproval of slavery in the artistic terms The Tempest presents? It is perhaps unlikely, as nowhere within the play is there any outward disparaging of the concept of slavery. On the contrary, Ariel and Caliban are both presented as if slavery is their natural condition.

With The Tempest, the character that seems to seize the most attention with scholars and critics is Caliban. This character, a slave that Prospero has bound into indeterminate service, has been subject to a whole array of interpretations, some ranging from nothing more than the monster Shakespeare overtly states he is, to representations of native people whose land and culture were usurped by European colonialism and expansionism. As Marshall also suggests, scholarship has been quick to make Caliban the “poster boy” for various racial and oppression issues around the world (Marshall 1998). Borlik also says that Caliban has mutated over the years in the eyes of the public and critics from being a grotesque to the stock character known as the “noble savage” (Borlik 2012).

It is not difficult to see why, at least at first glance, Caliban has been interpreted like this. He is the original and seemingly sole surviving non-spirit inhabitant of the isle and ostensibly its master and lord of all he saw before Prospero’s landfall. From the play, he lived in some variety of primal harmony with his island. Prospero’s arrival therefore must have been an irreversible and permanent upheaval, analogous to the upheavals native cultures underwent after European invasion. Although Prospero taught Caliban language (Prospero’s language), basic astronomy and some dietary niceties, Caliban’s return favour of teaching Prospero self-sufficiency on the island was rewarded was Caliban being placed into servitude. “Cursed be that I did so!” (1.2.339) were his bitter words of regret for teaching Prospero what he had. Now he finds himself a slave of the exiled Duke of Milan, relegated to flunkey or mere wood fetcher. To use common parlance, Caliban is now a second-class citizen in his own land – if he can be called a citizen at all. Parallels can be drawn here with the fate of many indigenous cultures around the world, including Australia’s own indigenous people, who up until 1967, were not even classed as Australians for census purposes.

In 1999, a performance of The Tempest directed by Simon Phillips opened in Brisbane. This performance was notable in that indigenous Australians from the Jagera Jarjum dance company performed many parts in the play, including the enslaved characters of Ariel and Caliban (Campbell 2004). Rather than a boat containing the usurping royalty of Milan and Naples, the boat that crashed on the shore in this version was a British ship echoing the events of 1788. Apart from the subjugated native people, the island was also inhabited by Prospero and Miranda: both white people of foreign extraction. Prospero, played by actor John Stanton, was rendered as a brutal tyrant who ruled the island with both an iron fist and an iron will (Campbell 2004).

This depiction reinforces the suffering and alienation the indigenous people of Australia experienced when their country was colonised, a fate they had no say in. As Campbell states in her review of the play, indigenous Australians have not only had to fight for their rights and heritage, they have also struggled to get their history told, especially by themselves (Campbell 2004). The Jagera Jarjum troupe were also aware of the innate power of performing arts as a vehicle for social and cultural change. By performing their rendition of what it essentially a European work of literature, they could not only get their story across, but perhaps instigate changes in the way mainstream society views them, and go to some length to redress shortcomings. As Campbell (2004) also states, the play was warmly received and it was performed in other venues at later times.

However, some feel that this kind of reading of Caliban as a dispossessed native is perilous. Edward Pechter suggests that the colonialist reading of The Tempest begs the question of critical interpretation rather than asks it (Pechter, cited in Robson 2009). This is to say, many who espouse such a textual reading actively believe it and consider it the default. Caliban was not some sort of devil-spawned monster: “a freckled whelp hag-born, not honour’d with a human shape” (1.2.419-420) but the representation of a subjugated or conquered indigenous person, culture and heritage forever lost. As Robson further suggests, there can be no neutral readings of The Tempest and no critic can read the play objectively (Robson 2009). So essentially, it will mean different things to each person who reads it. Robson also cites Ania Loomba, who states that the takeover of the island by Prospero and the subjugation of Caliban is “both racial plunder and a transfer to patriarchy” (Loomba in White, cited by Robson 2009) which is commentary on the island’s former ownership by Sycorax, a female character.

Is Caliban truly a native or indigenous inhabitant of the island? The play states that Sycorax is from Algiers or Argier to use 17th century naming – not the island. Caliban’s father is a devil or the Christian Devil himself, whose abode according to Christian tenet is everywhere. There is no doubt that Caliban was there first which is an important distinction but the play makes it clear that he himself is the son of a migrant. Also, these newer readings of The Tempest overlook or ignore salient points about the character of Caliban. He is a rapist – or at least wants to be – “O ho, O ho! would’t had been done! Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else this isle with Calibans.” (1.2.501-503). His desire for Miranda is quite gleefully admitted on his part.

Throughout the play, Caliban is frequently described in distinct quasi-human or non-human terms. The above-mentioned quote about him not being honoured with a human shape being one such instance. Additionally, many characters remark on his physical non-humanity. In the play, Trinculo and Stephano both refer to him as a monster and one of them confuses him for a fish. Borlik suggests that Caliban is an amalgamation of many legends from the Lincolnshire district of England; specifically he represents the Tiddy Mun, a fen-inhabiting monster that dwelled in the marshes (Borlik 2012). Caliban’s resentment of his plight may mirror that of the fen-dwelling people of Lincolnshire who were losing their land and traditions to reclamation schemes (Borlik 2012). In fact, the word “fen” is mentioned three times in The Tempest. It is therefore possible that Shakespeare is describing a marsh-dwelling bugbear out of legend.

The overarching themes of The Tempest are forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite being wronged and left for dead by usurpers, at the end of the play Prospero has abandoned all thoughts of revenge and retribution, and has forgiven those who overthrew him. Caliban has apparently been emancipated and his island is his own again. This theme is echoed in the aforementioned play by Simon Phillips, which stresses the need for healing between conqueror and conquered, coloniser and colonised (Campbell 2004). This is further reflected in the on-going culture of reconciliation in Australia. So, whatever Caliban’s ultimate or true nature, and whatever The Tempest was intended to mean, both character and play can be viewed as cautionary tales with a hopeful resolution.

References

Borlik, T, 2012, ‘Caliban and the fen demons of Lincolnshire: the Englishness of Shakespeare’s Tempest’, Shakespeare, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 21-51

Campbell, A, 2004, ‘The Tempest: Creating dialogue from points of difference’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 28, no. 82, pp. 15-24

Marshall, T, 1998, ‘The Tempest and the British imperium in 1611’, The Historical Journal, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 375-400

Robson, M, 2009, ‘Case Studies in Reading II: From Text to Theory’ in Hiscock, A & Longstaffe, S (eds), The Shakespeare Handbook, Continuum, London, UK

Strachey, W, 1609, The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britinia, public domain

 

Did Angela do good or bad?

This paper applies a number of ethical concepts to Angela’s actions in the documentary Catfish.


Introduction

This paper addresses the question ‘what is your ethical evaluation of Angela’s deception of Nev in the film Catfish?’ Catfish is a documentary created by Nev Schulman,  Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost in 2010 that follows Nev Schulman as he begins an online friendship with a girl named Abby and culminates in a visit to Abby’s home in Michigan (Catfish 2010). Angela Wesselman-Pierce is Abby’s mother and this much was established by the documentary to be true. However, practically every other disclosure made by Angela prior to her meeting with Nev and sometimes during the meeting is an admitted fabrication on her part. This paper will examine Angela’s reasons for doing this from an ethical point of view.

Ethics is the philosophical branch that deals with the moral questions of right and wrong (Dupré 2013, p. 9). Dupré also states on that same page that ethics are by what we guide ourselves by, the principles that govern our lives and compel us to do right or wrong. So what principles guided Angela as she fabricated a welter of lies and misrepresentations to Nev? Using several of the numerous branches of ethics, there will be a step-by-step analysis of Angela’s deceptions and come to the conclusion that she has done net harm to herself.

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is the principle of providing the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest amount of people (Bentham, as cited in Dupré 2013, p. 78), so how does this ethical theory apply to Catfish? Angela sees a photograph made by Nev, and paints a rendition of it, alleging it is the work of her daughter Abby. This is the initial contact made by Angela to Nev, then with Nev seemingly showing a greater interest in Abby, Angela creates a plethora of Facebook contacts including a fictitious older sister in Megan. At this stage, Angela and Nev are pleased by proceedings; both have benefitted from Angela’s burgeoning fantasy, with no harm yet to come. Angela has benefitted from knowing her respondent has developed an interest in the personae she has created, and Nev’s interest has been piqued by the introduction of Megan, an apparently young and attractive woman.

When Nev and Angela finally meet, it is clear that Angela was taken by surprise. Their pleasure has ended, and a new pain has begun. Nev has the pain of disappointment and a failed deceitful romance, and Angela has the pain of a destroyed fantasy and confabulation. Using utilitarian principles devised by Jeremy Bentham, we can readily ascertain that the resultant pain outweighs the pleasure both initially felt (Bentham 1907).  The good tendencies of Angela’s fantasy have unravelled and she is forced into creating more lies – she has uterine cancer – (Catfish 2010) and extending the lie of the Megan persona. Further, this pain is pre-existing as her child Abby is of the belief that Megan exists, so was the transient pleasure she derived from concocting personae and snaring Nev is a web of deceit worth it?

There is also the issue of her husband, who she has also deceived into believing she is deriving an income from the paintings and was unaware of the personae and staged romance. There was no net pleasure for him at any stage, only potential pain, in which the likelihood of that trickling down to Angela would be strong. In conclusion and in summing the component parts of her actions, Angela’s net result to herself using utilitarian principles is harm.

Deontology

Deontology is the field of ethics that considers whether acts are intrinsically good or bad regardless of the consequences (Dupré 2013, p. 324). There is little doubt from evidence in the documentary that Angela was acting in nobody’s interests other than her own. The consequences of her actions became clear to her when Nev came to her place. Her lies and concoctions were unravelled and her involvement of unwitting family members (viz. Abby) in her fantasy is further evidence that she was heedless of where her actions led. Although she admits to Nev that she had considered ending the fantasy, she felt she had invested too much emotionally to quit (Catfish 2010). After Nev’s arrival, she confesses her sorrow for involving him but there is doubt as to the sincerity of this. This comes across as the guilt of the caught rather than the guilt of the remorseful.

Iain King in his 2008 book How to make good decisions and be right all the time suggests that people ultimately derive their choices from what they want to do and what other people want to do (p. 220). This is to say, that Angela, if she was acting from deontological principles, should have considered Nev’s needs and feelings when she was concocting her fantasy. While it could be readily argued she was catering to his baser desires, his other emotions and feelings were not taken into consideration. In this way, Angela has acted the same way as Plato’s Gyges (Dorbolo 2010). Substituting the social power Facebook has for the invisibility ring, Angela was able to enter Nev’s world, practically sight unseen, and involve him wholly in a realm of deceit.

Facebook was the ring and Angela used its power for fabrication, dishonesty and emotional deceit. Therefore, Angela has taken a path where she thinks she is doing good for all concerned, but in reality, is behaving in a self-serving and selfish manner which ultimately leads to hurt, disappointment and shame for her and it is wrong conduct.

Consequentialism

Consequentialism is defined in one book as “do whatever has the best consequences” (Gensler 1998, p. 242). Probably without ever knowing of this ethical belief, Angela has certainly acted in this manner. Once she had Nev “hooked” into the Facebook personae she had created, the consequences for her actions were increasingly positive for her – until Nev caught up with her in person. As the fictitious world she had made for herself crumbled, Angela realised that the consequences were more serious and less playful than she imagined. People were hurt because of her actions, primarily herself. Nev’s attitude toward Angela (or her personae) shifted from love and desire to disappointment then pity. At the cessation of Catfish Nev states that he feels sorry for Angela.

Although consequentialism is considered the opposite of deontology (Alexander & Moore 2012) it is interesting to note that Angela applied both concepts positively throughout her charade, combined or in tandem. She genuinely thought she was benefitting herself and Nev by perpetuating the fantasy and at the same time she was oblivious of the teleological results of her actions. Did she take in the consequences of involving her true daughter Abby in her schemes? Or the consequences of being deceitful to her husband, her disabled step-children or anyone else in her life? Not before or during the fantasy, only post facto. Once Nev arrived at her house, it was over. The consequences of her deceitful behaviour were made clear and she felt remorseful, though as mentioned earlier, this was most likely as a result of being found out, rather than an assault of her conscience – especially in light of her further falsehoods with regards to cancer and the persona of Megan. So, it can be stated that Angela created her personae and her fantasy with little regard for the consequences.

Conclusion

To summarise, Angela deemed she was doing herself and Nev a net ethical benefit by instigating then perpetuating the personae and the fantasies. The reasons for her doing so go beyond philosophy into the realm of psychology and so will only be briefed upon. From deduction of her actions and words, it is clear Angela lives with a good deal of regret for what she considers a wasted or unfulfilled life. There are clear indications that she is inhabiting a “go-nowhere” existence and her own life has been put on hold to care for her husband’s disabled children. Perhaps then, this is what has driven her to concoct the elaborate fantasy of extended family and friend circles. Despite the pleasure she and Nev initially derived from this, when the reality became known, this same pleasure vanished and was replaced by at first more lies and contrivances, then a pitying remorse. Her ethical choices were shown to be injurious ones, to both herself and those around her.

With utilitarianism, there was pleasure and happiness granted by her actions to all the players until the truth was discovered then net unhappiness outweighed all else, to be replaced by remorse and pity. Therefore, from a utilitarian perspective, Angela has acted unethically. By deontological principles, Angela had only ever her feelings and pleasure needs foremost in her mind, and minimal emotional consideration for anyone else. While she may have considered what she was doing as a “good act”, her deceit and lies in the end provided no net benefit for anybody. Her actions were not overall “good acts” as they led to pain, therefore they were unethical from a deontological viewpoint. From a consequentialism view, her deeds were also unethical as the final consequences were not positive ones and left her in a more negative state than when she started, and left Nev in a likewise final negative state. In conclusion, Angela has behaved in an unethical manner.

References

Alexander, L & Moore, M 2012, ‘Deontological Ethics’, viewed 12 September 2015, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-deontological/

Bentham, J 1907, ‘An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation,’ viewed 12 September 2015, http://www.econlib.org/library/Bentham/bnthPML4.html

Catfish 2010, DVD, motion picture, Supermarché/Hit the Ground, New York

Dorbolo, J 2010, ‘Plato: Ethics – The Ring of Gyges’, viewed 12 September 2015, http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Plato/plato_dialogue_the_ring_of_gyges.html

Dupré, B 2013, 50 ethics ideas you really need to know, Quercus, London

Gensler, H 1998, Ethics: A contemporary introduction, Routledge, New York

King, I 2008, How to make good decisions and be right all the time, Continuum, New York

The Church – Heyday

I’ve been threatening to review this record since I (re)started this blog. Now that you know that, let me get on with things. If one includes the fix-up of Remote Luxury then this is album five for The Church, and what we have here is the stupendous culmination of a musical form that had been taking place since The Blurred Crusade.

Practically every song on this record is a new definition of jangle-rock from the opening mysticism of Myrrh to the concluding restrained thunder of Roman. In between one can find masterpieces such as Columbus, which rates amongst the best thing this band has done, the alluring Tristesse, the furious Tantalized and the epitome of psych/jangle in Disenchanted. The mystic vibe gets a further look in with the instrumental Happy Hunting Ground. The cassette/CD version contained The View sung by Willson-Piper, and Peter Koppes gets an outing on As You Will. Both of these extras add to the album’s lustre, which was already transcendent.

Yes, this is one of those rara avis varieties of record where there isn’t a weak track. Fans and critics cite their next record Starfish as their best, but song for song, this leaves it for dead. Yet, the critics went ooh aah over this record too.

Was it their best thing to date? Or for all time? For mine, it’s up there with Seance in the best thing they’ve ever done category. I feel it’s a better album than Starfish as the songs are better collectively and individually. Starfish was too spare in places for my liking and contains a song or two that aren’t quite there. Heyday, it coruscates and vibrates the whole record through. Close to perfection really.

heyday cover

Steve Kilbey – Miscellanaea Whispers in the Static

Well, what a glorious surprise this was. To be fair, I haven’t given much of Steve Kilbey’s solo work a real listen as what I’ve heard tends to blur together with many songs fighting to distinguish themselves. Yet his first record, the glorious Unearthed, is a masterpiece, full of hidden corners and sonic whisperings. At the other end of the catalogue, this collection with its purposefully misspelled title is almost its equal. Where Unearthed is a crafted album united in theme, this one is a motley crew of odds and sods but what marvellous offcuts and fragments it is.

It opens with the propulsive shimmer of Flummoxed, and things stay in palpably weird and vibrant territory thereafter. The record, true to its sewn together nature, it about half sung, half instrumental. There’s a couple of commissioned songs he’s written for others, such a A Song for Debby and James, and the glorious A Song for Domenique. He’s even concocted a string quartet rendition of Alice Cooper’s Poison which I think is a few notches up the totem pole from the original.

Some of the instrumentals rank among the best things he’s done, such as Carbon Nitrogen and Oxygen, Stately Garden Music and the Wild East.

But the album highlight would be the closing Panthalassic Sea, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church record.

I love this collection and I can’t get enough of it. The one before it, The Idyllist, hasn’t grabbed me the way this one has with is unplanned, delightful chaos. Mr. Kilbey, more like this please.

miscellenaea

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