Hanging about

Present, future, past

I have just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale. Which I enjoyed a lot.

Nonetheless, being where I am with my thesis, a couple of things struck me very distinctly about the book. In my thesis, I am examining the manner in which the representation of the past is impacted by the present in which the representation is produced. The Handmaid's Tale, in contrast, is a very clear example of the manner in which representations of the future are impacted by that present. And the present for The Handmaid's Tale is the same present as that which I am considering for my thesis, published as it was in the mid 1980s. It is so clearly a story which springs from the same time as Operation Rescue and Backlash! and the general reversal in fortune of women's rights and sexual freedoms that were considered to be occuring during the 1980s. The notion of executing abortionists and viewing women as vessels for procreation carries to a potential conclusion the kinds of policies that right wing conservatives were promulgating during the 1980s. Similarly, the depictions of terrorism and discussions of pollution and declining birth rates all reflect the politics and discourses of the time. It is interesting in this manner how much the way we represent the past and the future have in common – the central idea that all representations are truly about the present in which we live.

I was also struck, once again, by the emphasis on literacy within the novel. Unlike Anathem and The Stone Gods, however, the lack of literacy is being forced on women as a method of social control, rather than being something that has naturally withered away. I love the image of the illicit scrabble games and trashy magazine reading!

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Jude designed and created his own board game which we have now all played with him.

Conceptually very simple, but artistically rendered….

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Sebastian decided to put away the competition, and help Jude learn a few new skills. It was all very fraternal (and very sweet).

First, riding on his old bike….


Then helping him on the scooter…


…before demonstrating how it is done!

The next day, swimming lessons…


where both Jude and Sebastian are making progress! Tis time is Jude's first year at swimming lessons – we didn't bother before, just took them swimming regularly. But now there is a bit more coordination, and some progress towards actual swimming, so all worthwhile. Sebastian is very excited as next week his whole lesson is in the "big" pool.

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Iron Chef Orange

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Saturday night was Iron Chef Orange. There was no traditional duck a l'orange, but there were certainly a number of other extremely tasty dishes. We commenced with quail with orange, fig and pecan and then for main course we had a veritable cornucopia – citrus fish, chicken, orange and pea pasta, orange and rocket salad, orange beef stir fry and pork and orange stir fry. All delicious. Dessert was particularly good – blood orange and cointreau sorbet, orange icecream, Spanish orange syrup cakes and a spectacular orange dessert which featured normal oranges, blood oranges, lasange, sour cream and syrup.

All the small boys bar Atticus went off to watch DVDs in the study, while Atticus did a fabulous job of keeping us all entertained with his infectious giggle, enthusiastic hand clapping and very cute smiles.

The citrus Iron Chefs have certainly been a success – and for our next challenge we have cumin.

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Weight of a collective past and symbolic present

It interests me how much cultural and ideological symbolism can be loaded onto two people. Reading this article, one has to celebrate the fact that Michelle Obama has achieved the status within US society she has, given her family's past as slaves. However, it does add to the weight of cultural significance that the Obamas have to carry.

The article notes that Michelle Obama wasn't aware of much of her family history until the election campaign. I don't think this this indicates a cynical engagement with it, more a need by those who create and construct cultural understanding to "connect her to the essence of the African-American experience" as well as to reinforce the essential American-ness of the Obamas, to see them following the path of the American dream. Just as Barack Obama connected to it almost instinctively (though he is much too good a politican and rhetoritician for it to have been accidental) in his victory speech, the idea of rags-to-riches, the impossible achievement of the American dream is essential to the normalising narrative of the Obamas. Their foreigness to the traditions of political power in the US – young and black – requires a cultural discourse which places them back within the cultural comfort zone. While Obama may tout the idea of changing politics, changing cultural discourses of power is much harder. The slave family-to First Lady narrative provides this connection as it buys into the pervasive mythology of the American Dream. The normalisation of Michelle Obama continues through the presentation of her as "First Mom", a woman who puts her family first and has no political ambitions of her own. Having learnt the culturally symbolic lessons of the last unusual inhabitants of the White House (who also connected explicitly with the American Dream – just don't mention Ivy League universities), the Obamas are thoroughly engaged with the symbolism of America, helping to hide the foreigness of their name and the radical nature of their blackness in the White House.

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As it was ridiculously hot outside, the boys spent the afternoon building, adjusting and rebuilding towers of lego.

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