The Abolition of Man

As spending too much time on social media, or worse, clicking back and forth between sites for an elusive dopamine hit- has anyone liked my comment in The Guardian?- makes presence, stillness or spiritual awareness less likely, yesterday I decided to put my computer away all afternoon, and almost succeeded. Hanging out my washing, I got chatting with the lad from upstairs. He has been at the Outdoor Centre for over six years. In the winter, they concentrate on personal development, and he went whitewater rafting in Scotland, but now the centre is getting busy, and the teenagers have a bit of fun on our river, which meanders through a broad valley of lakes and ponds. He has always analysed his options for pros and cons, he tells me. We talked of Heaven and Hell. He believes in both, and is strongly Evangelical: he has a literal belief in the Day of Judgment after Death. “We will all face judgment,” he said, earnestly. I find him quite non-judgmental of my trans status: though I was wigless, just to do housework, I did not feel judged, and so felt reassured and comfortable. We looked up at the red kites circling overhead.

I suggested he read “The Great Divorce”, CS Lewis’s account of people from Hell taking a day-trip to Heaven. Most of them prefer their illusions, and go back down. He thinks Divorce a strange word for Lewis to use, and I explain it is a reference to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I lend him my large single volume of several of Lewis’s works, which has sat unread on my bookshelves for years. He is not a great reader, he says, but his parents liked The Screwtape Letters. My spirituality has changed since I read a lot of Lewis. I decided to read The Abolition of Man, which I have in paperback, to re-evaluate him. I would read it to try and find something I valued in it.

It comes with strong recommendation. A quote on the back says if he were to suggest a book which everyone should read apart from the Bible, Walter Hooper would say The Abolition of Man. He writes, If any book is able to save us from future excesses of folly or evil, it is this book. I would read it to seek value in it.

I disagree with the first of three lectures, Men without Chests, in which Lewis criticises an English textbook. Coleridge heard two tourists at a waterfall, and endorsed the first’s judgment of it as “sublime” but rejected the second’s, “pretty”. The textbook says both are not a judgment about the waterfall, only the speaker’s feelings. I would agree. Everything is sublime, separate from me and the human world, simply and only of itself- a waterfall, a star, a pebble, Blake’s clod of clay. It is valuable to cultivate a sense of the sublime, though, and the most impressive things- such as the waterfall- are a good start. If something has the grandeur to remind me of sublimity, this concerns internal mental states, from cultural associations, my past experiences, my understanding and my emotional responses. And the waterfall is pretty: spray may create rainbows, or the water may glisten in the sun. It seems to me Lewis is attacking phenomenology, mocking what he does not understand; at least, he makes no attempt to explain it, merely attacking an attempt to explain some part of its insights to children.

Lewis quotes Aristotle: the aim of education is to make the youth like and dislike what he ought. Lewis’ example is Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, which in my own English class I learned to call that old lie. Lewis was writing 25 years after Owen’s poem. Sending men to die or kill is monstrous, especially in the first world war. He takes a conservative position that there might be some agreement on what men should value; I say that if we allow people to love what we love, society benefits. At least I agree that it is a good thing to see the waterfall as sublime, but Lewis and I praise and disparage different things, and I am tempted to say I know better than he, or at least that my concept of diverse systems of value better describes real life, and has more value, than his single, allegedly objective, system. Rather than a common understanding of what is good and valuable, I advocate a continuous ferment of discussion, learning better what to value. Lewis’ common understanding would justify colonialism, the White Man’s Burden of civilising lesser races.

So I was surprised that the book is still in print, and there is a book of essays about it, Contemporary Perspectives. I must not simply dismiss the book, but find value in it if I may- for then Lewis and I can communicate from our different positions, conservative or progressive. I claim to be the one who values understanding of other perspectives.

 

Ghost in the Shell

The city is beautiful, as the camera moves through it at night. Moving hologram faces advertise, lights flash, and people lead desperate or dismal lives of poverty amid the buzz and clatter. Street people and street dogs search for sustenance amid danger including law enforcement. I never expected to count the number killed, as mooks appear to be shot, elegantly, one bullet for each chest, or in a hail of bullets, but the irresistible force of each attack, by law enforcement, criminal gang, or billionaire’s private army shocked and repelled me. And the hero falling backwards slowly off a building, her cyborg body capable of such visual brilliance, is beautiful.

The Bad Billionaire, suborning the state for his own purposes, first by corruption then by violence, is introduced early. Will he get his comeuppance in the end? That would be a spoiler: so let us consider The Night Manager, by John Le Carré. In the book, the bad billionaire escapes, his fortune intact, but in the TV serial his tentacles of corruption cannot rescue him from law enforcement. In real life, I scarcely know. Billionaires trade in drugs where society has lost the power to reach them, and billionaires buy governments by paying for campaigns, or by manipulating the news people read. Much of this activity, suborning democracy, is legal, and when there are competition authorities policing monopolies, they fail to prevent the public being gulled. So a “happy ending” where the Billionaire gets his, either by death or prosecution, might simply seem unrealistic, reinforcing our powerlessness in real life as much as a more realistic ending, where he gets away with it, would.

The great corporation saved her life. It is a technological miracle, manipulated for the Billionaire’s own ends. Her understanding of herself, of right and wrong and duty, is broken and reformed, and she finds her old love. I can believe in the world not being as it seems, but less in the Good characters finding out the Bad, and by opposing ending them. I am too jaded for this optimism among the relentless death and destruction and the grinding misery.

The Spider Tank was prefigured in dialogue. “Is the Spider Tank in position?” I wondered what it could be. I hoped for, well, a tank filled with spidery things, either living or technological, like a swarm or sea to consume the victim. That would fit the fighting in virtual reality or a sort of digital consciousness where vision confuses and distracts, and threat lies behind everything familiar or hopeful-seeming. It made a change from going into a darkened bar at night, shooting the bad guys who shoot the pole-dancers by accident but not the good guys. As in a real fire fight you would not know what is going on and the camera shows discrete bits of information continually changing as you would look around; but it makes clear that I would be lying bloody on the ground, before I had a chance to imagine what was going on.

Integrating the self

I have not spoken to my counsellor for over a month, so have a lot of material to work with. I tell her of my dispute with Quakers, lunch with my friend, my holiday.

-I did a little light bullying.
-I don’t think anyone has ever said something like that to me. “How was your holiday?” “Oh, I did a little light bullying.”

I worked quite hard to make sure my friend had as good a holiday as possible, and when I could not find a way threw my weight around to make sure I got what I wanted from it. In particular I was not going to do boring things because conventionally they are supposed to be fun, especially as my companions had such limited ideas of what those were. And because he values my company so much, my friend has to take a certain amount of shit from me.

-You are very hard on yourself.

Yes. “Bullying” and “giving shit” are harsh words for me. I was kind. I was reasonably self-assertive. I was as creative as I could be. My judgment of myself is harsh, and I am allowing the judgment and trying to stop it preventing me doing what I want. Bullying is wrong. My inner critic calls my action bullying, yet I do it anyway. In unsatisfactory circumstances I am happy enough with my conduct.

At one point we reach a stop, and she says she has a question. Fire away.

-You said your internal policeman tasered you for not being sufficiently manly. Did he not get the memo?

We laugh. Apparently not. It is good to be conscious of him, though, rather than just being paralysed. I love the way I make her laugh. I am telling my stories as elegantly and quickly as I can, wanting to get the meaning over, but enjoying how I word them well.

Before lunch, H told me a coat would look good on me. I am playing control games. I like them. If that is her controlling me- what does that do for me? It is what I want. It gives me a sense of connection.

-Would you have bought the coat yourself?
-No. Never. But I love it.
-So she is appreciating a part of you which is usually silent, and giving it a voice.

I am addicted to attention. Or at least that is approaching the truth, one facet of it.
-You are being attractive, and valuing that.
-Crying in public could be that addiction. Yet it seems to me that when I cry my unconscious communicates to my conscious how strong my feeling is, and if I can fully accept my depth of feeling I need not show external symptoms. That can be useful.

She does not demur to that.

I have known I am screwed up and at war with myself all my adult life. I am closer to finding the cause of that than I have ever been, and to finding ways round it. My father was feminine, my mother liked that, they both knew it was utterly shameful and no-one must ever find out. I had one honest conversation with my father about it, three months before he died.

This is my work. It is intensely valuable, because I am valuable.

Being controlled, and passive. My best experience of sex so far was with a man who let me lie back, doing nothing, and with gentleness, empathy and generosity opened me up. I was curled up and self-protective, and he got me to open myself to him. He licked me out. “You taste Goood,” he said. I want to do none of the work, and be accepted.

Bullying. It is a harsh judgment. I am crying.

She says it is difficult to integrate the self when it is so repressed. At her request, I show her my yellow coat. It is very yellow.

We arrange another appointment, and then I watch Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I like it. It is decades-old SF entertainment for teenagers, and I still like it. It is beautifully done. I pause it to think.

Do I need it to be in some way objectively good, before I am allowed- can allow myself- to like it? Now I am weeping hard. NO! I like it! Yet this is an exceptionally good episode, ep 3/7, “Civil Defense”. I love the clever ways they come up with to reduce the threat, always making it worse until the end. I love the way the characters respond in ways like themselves: Quark and Odo flirt together beautifully, subtly showing their regard and care for each other as they bicker. It is funny. At the end, there is surely the tiredest cliché- the computer counts down the seconds to Self Destruct- and the tension of it grips me. I love their heroism: continually knocked back, everyone keeps buggering on. I loved the sense of the characters, and see it is the only DS9 writing credit of Mike Krohn- his only other credit is one TV movie, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning. I may watch that episode again, however ridiculous the whole world might find such a complete waste of time.

Childish entertainments

That perfect child is gone…

I have been reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a serious novel, which happens to have a child as the main character. It has mystery and threat, the sound of someone crying which can never be admitted, a child crushed and broken by Lovelessness and taken to a place of darkness and reclusive suffering, where good people show her care and attention and her own innate resilience and humanity, warmed into love and creativity, produce something beautiful.

From 1911, I note the way they talk of “blacks”. There is the rich person’s way- they were obsequious and servile…they made salaams and called their masters protectors of the poor and names of that sort- then there is the maid’s way- when you read about them in tracts they are always very religious. You always read as a black’s a man and a brother. It is humane.

In the Guardian, I read Why is Frozen so popular? I have just watched it off BBC1, and am a new fan. Lucinda Everett, a fan who loves it for herself not just her children, mentions hearty praise from critics, academics, parents, and equal rights campaigners but the heart is this: The complex, damaged older sister with icy powers that her abusive parents forced her to conceal, was originally the villain of the piece – blue of skin and spiky of hair. But when married songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez composed Let it Go as an empowering ode to self-acceptance, the film was rewritten and Elsa-mania was born. The sister who turns Anna’s heart to ice is a good person! The attempts to control and hide her gifts and true nature-Be the good girl you always have to be; Conceal, don’t feel– only poison them, hurting her and everyone else; and the way to happiness is accepting and freeing them.

I love it. And there are mean spirited comments. Jeez, the film came out three years ago just Let It Go already. And, The old never bothered me anyway. Those had at least an attempt at wit, a play on words, but then I read, Because some parents are happy to feed their children shit. That is merely vile. Frozen is a complex and subtle work of art. It has humour, it is life-affirming with people coming together, and the opening, the fear-filled attempt to render Elsa safe and under control made me weep at the horror of it. It is funny. The ending is beautiful. Calling it “shit” is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

That mean spirit is everywhere in Guardian comments. The Guardian also spoke up for being Liberal: If liberal means holding true to the values of the Enlightenment, including a belief in facts and evidence and reason, then call me a liberal. And if liberal means cherishing the norms and institutions that protect and sustain democracy, from a free press to an independent judiciary, then call me a liberal. Then the second comment calls for cutting foreign aid, much – or most – of which does not reach or benefit those most in need. I think I hate “EliminatetheNegative” more for pretending to care about effectiveness.

Call me a liberal, too. Love and freedom is in those children’s entertainments, and the meanness of “Suck it up, you lost!” will not overwhelm it. Nigel Farage hates his own voters and party members, mocking them as “low grade people”. (I tried to check the original Telegraph interview for context, but it is behind a pay-wall.) There is something truthful and adult- for all people, for all time- in these children’s entertainments. I will become like a child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway!

the-secret-garden

Rules for survival

How might we survive the new world order? In the UK, we are six months ahead into the darkness the US is entering.

Maria Alexandrovna Gessen would know, having lived under Mr Putin, and left Russia in 2013 because she feared as a lesbian that her adopted son would be taken from her. The day after the election, she wrote her rules.

1. Believe the autocrat, when he says something ridiculous or vile. He may lie as he will, pretending to consider more sensible views. He met Mr Gore before appointing Mr Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He met Mr Romney before appointing Mr Tillerson. He was playing with you. Yes, he means to lock her up. He will twist judicial appointments to that end.

2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. The world has not ended, and life proceeds; but calamitous change has begun.

3. Institutions will not save you. Trump will work to undermine and control them. Honest journalists will lose access.

4. Be outraged. Maintain your capacity for shock. There are some things which people do better together, through government, than by unaccountable and opaque foreign companies. In the UK market fundamentalism rules, seeking support from Nationalist stoking of hatred of minorities and foreigners- winning support through nostalgia for strong civil society even as it uses its power to destroy it. Probation services should be carried out impartially by the state, as rehabilitation is too important for the grasping incompetence of MTC. The sell-off continues.

5. Don’t make compromises. Trump will corrupt all who work for him.

6. Remember the future. Resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be normal.

The Electoral College will not save you. All those minor Republican electors will vote for Mr Trump, or enough for him to have a majority, despite Alexander Hamilton’s hope in [people] most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. They will not vote for Mrs Clinton, and if enough deserted Trump it would be for the House of Representatives to select a president.

TV drama gives a lead. There is the charmless, endless NCIS, in which the police, trusted authority figures, find awful criminals and put them away; but three new shows seem more realistic. We have seen two episodes of This is us in the UK, and it seemed to me to have sweet outcomes while raising subjects which could end very very badly. Spoilers for those episodes. A woman tells her husband to stop drinking. He does so, because he loves her. A man finds his father, who abandoned him as a baby. He wants to say “screw you” and storm off, but instead invites the man into his home. The father spends all day away- he could be drinking or taking drugs, but instead he is feeding his cat. In each case we get the happy outcome where Love wins, and are left to imagine how bad it could have been. Timeless is hokum, in which a woman is told she has to save humanity by going back in time to thwart a master-criminal who wishes to change the timeline. It could be the good guys, authority figures, a government agency and a billionaire tech genius, saving the world, but already there is moral ambiguity. Already we see we cannot trust them.

And Class, a children’s spin-off from Doctor Who, already shown in Britain Canada and Australia, to be shown by BBC America, has teenagers saving the World, but it’s a darker, stranger world than children’s programmes when I was a bairn. The authority figures, teachers, are not trustworthy, and anyone can die.

Drama matters as part of the national conversation, affecting how we see events. Powerless despite our facebook grousing, I find some hope in dismantling trust. We have to look out for each other.

Masha Gessen.

Knowing nothing

I know nothing.

The Rabbi was in the square when the Cossack shouted at him, “Hey! Rabbi! Where’re you going!”

The Rabbi responded, “I don’t know”.

The Cossack got angry. “You’re trying to make a fool of me. It won’t work. You always go to the synagogue at this time. I’ll show you you can’t make a fool of me. You’re coming to the lock-up.”

In the lock-up, the Rabbi said to the Cossack, “You asked me where I was going, and I did not know.”

On my facebook feed I can find an understanding of Mr Trump. He is casually corrupt; he has forgotten any number of campaign promises already- the wall, in many places, will just be a fence, and he is not going to torture suspected terrorists; and he appoints dreadful people to his cabinet, including the racist Steve Bannon, the racist Jeff Sessions, and the climate denialist Myron Ebell. He threatens the end of the Republic as a functioning democracy, and may be a kleptocrat as formerly seen in the Philippines and Nigeria. We must be saved from him, by the Electoral College whose purpose is to prevent demagogues (rather than to give a disproportionately large voice to smaller states) or by Jill Stein’s recounts, though no recount has ever overturned such a large majority.

Unfortunately, other people simply do not recognise this. Lots of people are inspired by hope in him and what he will achieve.

“NW” by Zadie Smith is an angry novel. (I saw the TV dramatisation.) Keisha from the council estate works hard, goes to university, and becomes barrister Natalie, effortless dinner party hostess. She is instructed, not to represent the prosecution but merely to appear as a black barrister in the prosecution of a black man, before a black jury. She downloads a hookup app, and sexually humiliates random men. She stands on the parapet of a bridge over a busy road. An old friend begs her to come down, then walks off, loathing her. In the end she goes back to her childhood best friend, who has not had such a career, who is white, and they slump on a hammock. I was reminded, she cannot be colour-blind, she is always aware of skin colour and its social effect. It is chaotic and episodic, not just the happy story of a woman succeeding against all the odds.

The Investigatory Powers Bill requires every ISP to keep our Histories for a year, to surrender on demand to any number of government agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions. No doubt the DWP could disqualify any number of benefit cheats, requiring them to pay back any money paid to them, on the basis that their internet practices were inconsistent with being unfit for work, or their eBay activities showed them to be self-employed traders, a conclusion to be applauded by the Daily Mail. Any number of criminals could be unmasked. Religious extremists may also be caught. Parliament Must Debate the Investigatory Powers Bill Again, said HuffPo. It has been passed by Commons and Lords. Perhaps the Queen will save us from it- as much chance as Jill Stein’s recounts.

from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. I find this verse unpleasant to contemplate. I know I am alright for the moment. What I have, perhaps, is false hope.

suzanne-valadon-self-portrait

The girl on the train

So glad I am not thirty any more!

This is a dark tale of female obsession, women distraught around losing babies or being unable to conceive, and female pretence and denial, carrying on with the daily commute a year after losing the job because of heavy drinking. Has she killed someone? She stalks those involved with a woman who has disappeared.

An unreliable narrator is hard to show on film, but each scene could have been a memory distorted by wish in the way of those habitual liars who believe their fantasy, even after it becomes risible to all others. Three psycho bitches, drinking heavily and being horrible to the mostly decent men.

Sit down, says the male victim to the flaky woman who pretended to be his wife’s friend, and has got him suspected of being her murderer. You know what’s coming next. SIT DOWN! he shouts, and she sits, and he stands over her, and he is merely being reasonable.

She finds a phone and throws it away. She has a perfect marriage. She loves her husband. The phone, which incriminates him, could not be true.

She could do with a chap-stick, said Jayne. Yes, I had noticed her lips. This ordinary commuter woman, in the nice-enough coat, her lips are the first thing I notice not quite right about her. Then ordinary normal things become nightmarish: she takes a pull on her water-bottle, but later we see her fill it with vodka. Surely after five hours she cannot remember, waking up with blood on her temple, she will turn her life around, and we see her at AA, making a really awful confession- but she drinks again.

The film plays with my desire to identify with the main character. She does embarrassing things, and I feel embarrassment, hot and harsh as she shames herself. And then I know she is a liar, a fantasist, a stalker, a baby-stealer, and possibly a murderer. My sympathy drains, and I feel horror for her. Her vulnerability starts as engaging and becomes pitiable.

I may do spoilers in the comments if anyone asks, but all I want to say is that this is a portrayal of a particular kind of relationship a woman can have with a man, and we are shown his complete decency and reasonableness, his caring as she becomes more flaky, and his escape when she becomes unbearable. He finds happiness with another woman. Empathising with the woman we go down into darkness. It is intensely uncomfortable and cathartic.

I did not apply for that job because I felt disgust contemplating the form, disgust for myself and my inadequacy, and how horrible the table- dates, job title, main duties, salary- or personal statement, how you fit the Essential Requirements, how I clearly do not, how I would never get it and only show my uselessness. So I have not tried. All that experience of working, all that experience of interviews, but it is my own judgment which prevents me from going through that again. And my own judgment is too harsh.

Fiction and identity politics

Ooh look! A lesbian on the telly!

She’s in a crime drama, so her sexuality does not come out until the end, when she is revealed as the murderer. She is a psychotherapist, a good source for horror: the touchy-feely carer who validates her teenage client’s feeling that she is worthless, so inciting her to commit suicide, after taking her to bed. Empathy as a way of controlling others: what should be safe is made scary. This is in DCI Banks- To burn in every drop of blood.

I like the way she is so powerful. I don’t need her to be the good character. Is her sexuality used to enhance her repellency? She is suspected only by accident: she appears normal, at first, if controlling.

I like Maxine in Wentworth Prison– she’s trans, warm hearted, strong, one of the good characters. She has a tough time at first but some of the other Good people accept her. It’s innocent fun for me.

On cultural appropriation, Ottomaddox makes a good distinction commenting on Lionel Shriver‘s speech. Shriver speaks out for the freedom of the novelist to enter other people’s minds, including those of other genders or races, saying that restricting her characters to German-heritage middle-aged women in their fifties from North Carolina reduces her creativity. Ottomaddox says there’s a moral duty to display sensitivity when using elements sacred to the oppressed cultures of native Americans or Aboriginal Australians, which have been all but wiped out by the colonisers, but eating sushi is cross-pollination and so acceptable.

Teaching yoga brings to people’s minds the strengths of other cultures. It is generally done respectfully. Yoga teachers go to India to learn their trade. Britain has oppressed India in the past, but now India shows its power.

What would a story of a trans child humiliated and driven to suicide say? I could believe such a story. It certainly happens. Would it instill sympathy with the trans child, or with the bullies? Would it encourage some readers to condemn the parents for permitting a transition? If it did, would that be a reason to deprecate it?

Shriver also says that dramas are criticised for lack of diversity. Her novel was criticised for being straight and white. She calls putting gay characters in drama “tokenism”- it is mere fashion. I like visibility of trans characters. It humanises us.

I am talking myself round to acceptance of any kind of story, any portrayal. If I try to imagine one I would dislike: contemptible Black people in Gone with the Wind? Is the character believeable? Is the work simply outdated, not telling truth as we see it now? I would not trust Tim LaHaye to write a realistic gay character.

I think there is a possibility that a portrayal of a minority character will be oppressive. I don’t think the mere fact that a powerful person is portraying a person under constraint is oppressive. Much of the interest of that character is how they escape constraint, or try to, or fail to.

The ideal, though, follows Martin Luther King’s words to Nichelle Nichols: “You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.”

Julieta

To the London premiere of the new Almodovar film. There is red carpet on the terrace of Somerset house, and the open air café is packed. That Spanish woman in front of the TV camera is gorgeous, her figure shown off beautifully. There’s a problem with fangirling- I don’t know what he looks like, so send off a frantic text. “Short, stocky, white” comes back, by which time I am too late for a photograph. “Beard, sticky-up white hair?” I text. That was indeed the guy.

It was a beautiful film, and the next morning I feel very different about it than last night. Two actresses play Julieta, who is in every scene: we only learn of things where she is not there by someone telling her. I like to sympathise with a protagonist, share in her joys and sorrows, and root for her, and I found Julieta sympathetic. Comprehensive spoilers, as I write of my reaction, though knowing the story may help you appreciate the richness of it. Julieta’s husband dies, and she becomes profoundly depressed. Her teenage daughter has to look after her, but aged 18 leaves, ensuring her mother does not know her address. Some years later, the daughter writes to Julieta, whose new boyfriend drives her to the address.

-It can’t end like that! I want to know what happens next!
So I say they are reconciled, and live in the new place together happily.
-Oh, you’re just spinning.

Of course I was. That was the result I wanted, though I saw that alternatives were possible- in any case, this story is over and a new chapter would start.

In the morning, I felt totally different about it. I thought, a child should not have to care for her mother. There is that brilliant moment when we see Julieta’s face, and it is desolate- just a moment- but lifting your mother out of the bath because of depression- the daughter has to escape her mother. Finding out about the circumstances just before her death makes an excuse, or precipitates it, but that resentment would blight her.

That scene in the train. Julieta is in her twenties, and an older man starts to chat to her. She leaves, and starts to talk to a younger man- she did not like the way the other was looking at her. Then the train emergency brakes, and we see her flung forward painfully. The younger man finds that the older man has killed himself. I had not seen the sexual tension until she complained- why can she not just be friendly, I thought, until she said, and my sympathy went to her again. And- not talking to someone cannot make them kill themself- but-

I could be thinking about this film for days. I suppose I want the protagonist to be a hero- the “male fantasy” of striving heroically and winning through, which H found so dull. This is far more complex. That housekeeper. That scene in the classroom. Being a proof-reader, rather than a teacher- “I found a job which I could do from home”. Together it makes up a life, a character, luck choices and personality. I loved her, then I hated her, now she just is. If I saw it again, I might pigeonhole the incidents, give her marks out of ten for moral worth, but not knowing might be better.

Pedro Almodovar

Recent drama

Dicte, about a Danish journalist, has a blistering opening. Why would a woman have a towel over her eyes as she gave birth? So she would not see the child before it is taken from her, for adoption. Decades later she sees her mother, calls out to her, and her mother and father ignore her, going into a building which we see is a Jehovah’s Witness church.

After that, it becomes predictable and silly. It is aimed at me: Middle-aged woman saves the day! She gets involved with a criminal surrogate mother ring, against journalistic ethics I understand, steals her colleague’s photographs and gives them to the police yet gets forgiven, and through a series of improbable coincidences apprehends the baddies. Meanwhile her recently divorced ex-husband is an idiot, and she has meaningful conversations with her teenage daughter who loves and respects her, and sex with a dishy paediatrician. Everything is about her feelings.

Aimed at young men starting their first job is New Blood. Young man starting his first serious job saves the day! The new trainee detective constable sees the connections the thick sergeant, who resents him, does not see. He finds a photograph, and finds three of the five people in it have been killed in the past month. Through a series of improbable coincidences, he finds a fourth man, who seems unperturbed that he has something in common with three people who have just died violent deaths. The police sergeant, however, does not notice this oddity. I quite liked the two robotic female assassins. There’s a moment when one of them shoots the witness, but not the Young Hero who is standing beside him, with a whole magazine from an assault rifle, and changes magazine before he thinks to run away. Which multinational corporation is the baddie? Both of them! One is murdering subjects of a medical research programme which went wrong, and the other seeks to reveal this to cause a share collapse and engineer a takeover. Both fail, and the beautiful young assassins murder the executive of one- I did not know which, but it did not matter.

Much, much better is Disparue, about a teenager murdered in Lyon. The city is beautiful: the river with the bridges, the trams, the wide streets. The mother is beautiful, and the camera sits on her face as single muscles in it move, showing changing emotions so beautifully. You have to notice details, like the name of the police officer’s boyfriend on her mobile phone, to follow it. Through a series of reasonable deductions, the police find the clues. They go to see the mother of the prostitute Jenny, a witness. “I had a daughter called Veronique” says the mother, and I gasp at the shock, and the economy of its delivery- what it says about their relationship!

The third is the last series of The Musketeers. Well, bad guys plot, good guys discover them, and after a bit of running about, shouting and sword-play Good Triumphs- it gets repetitive, and scenes of men in rough taverns do too. I am very bored. I have little to do. Much, much better is Versailles. The King sees his new-born baby is black, and his very very intense face gets a degree more intense. His brother attends a ball in a lady’s gown, and I am utterly delighted. Oh for a drama aimed at middle-aged trans women!

Signac, portrait of Felix Feneon