Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Concrete Jungle

I don't know who first coined the phrase 'concrete jungle' but the phrase has been in my mind after re-reading Jonathan Potter's Death and Furniture. Abandon the idea that buildings are constructed using bricks and mortar and, of course, concrete; buildings are constructed with words.
Driving in Fife today we passed an billboard advert for '3-4 bedroom family homes'.  The implication in that advert is that 'the family' is something that requires more than one bedroom, that families are fertile hetrosexuals, and in consequence, families are constituted by children.  Now that would be a sign '3-4 bedroom houses to suit fertile and actively reproductive hetrosexuals'! No? Has anyone ever seen a one bedroom apartment advertised as a 'family apartment'?

To 'describe' a building is to constitute it, to place it in relation of difference to all others.  To say it is a 'domestic property' is to say it isn't a 'commercial property', to say it is Gothic is to say it isn't Modern or neo-classical, and to say it's a 'concrete jungle' is to say it isn't beautiful, loveable, habitable, rural, natural, village-like, and not traditional.

The OED defines 'concrete jungle as;

A wild, tangled mass. Also, a place of bewildering complexity or confusion; a place where the ‘law of the jungle’ prevails; a scene of ruthless competition, struggle, or exploitation; ..("jungle, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 23 March 2011 <>.)

Why 'jungle'?  Why not some other 'natural' term that conveyed a 'wild, tangled mass', like 'wood' or 'forest' or scrub'' or use a pejorative to emphasize its ugliness or unnaturalness 'nightmare' or 'wilderness' or 'splodge' or 'frenzy' or ... well, anything.   The idea that the inner city had become a place where 'the law of the jungle prevailed' conjures up images of "Heart of Darkness', and there's the rub.  'Concrete jungles' doesn't 'describe' the city centre, it evaluates it. But what is at the heart of this evaluation?  Concrete jungles in the UK didn't exist until after WWII and can, therefore, be associated with that social period. 'Concrete jungles' didn't exist until the period of Commonwealth immigration.  'Concrete jungles' didn't exist before scary "black" people came to live in the inner cities, and that's what the 'jungle' refers to.

'Concrete jungle' is a racist term designed to construct a reality of a pre-Modern white Britain.  A mythic island of white harmony, natural order, and vernacular architecture.

Friday, 4 March 2011

the language of useless sex

In an article in EducationGuadrian by Jessica Shepherd and Sue Learner, 'What a gay day' describe the effect of teaching about 'gender issues'.  Elly Barnes, a music teacher at the school in question, said "We have also changed the language used in the school. I used to hear the word 'gay' being used all the time, as a derogatory term. Now we hardly hear that."
I was telling my partner about the article but she had never heard 'gay' being used to mean to refer to something that was broken or useless, such as 'this blog is gay'.  I think when I was doing U211 last year a fellow student had heard someone (her son?) describe a pen as 'gay' because it no longer worked. That started a discussion on the the derogatory slang we had both heard growing up in the east-end of Glasgow, and particularly the word 'bent'.
It seemed obvious that 'bent' was in contradistinction to 'straight', a word that the BBC website used today in Why Would A Straight Couple Want A Civil Partnership? and that 'bent' and 'straight' referred to sexual positions in such a way that in the heterosexual missionary position the man is 'straight' whilst in homosexual sex the 'bent' man, or the 'bender', is the one who 'assumes the receptive position for anal intercourse' as the OED puts it, (Draft Addition, 2007, n.).  i suppose that that would mean that a lesbian wasn't necessarily 'bent', although the OED records that 'gay' has historically been applied to men and women (adj. 4d) though predominantly the former.
It was pointed out to me, however, that 'bent' has further connotations. 'Bent' can also mean, according to Tony Thorne's Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, 'crooked' in the phrase ' a bent copper' with the concomitant slang of 'going straight'; and (of course) to be a crook is to be crooked. If one considers a screwdriver to be of any use as a screwdriver it would need to be straight but if it were 'bent' or crooked (I apologise for the continuing phallic theme) one might go so far as to describe it as useless.  In that context we can see how 'gay' might, linguistically, be related to useless or rubbish.
Additionally, one of the arguments I remember hearing about the uselessness of gay sex was its inability to produce children. This again might explain the present-day use of 'gay' as useless.

Deconstructing 'The Ring' - Sisters Aren't Doing It For Themselves

There are three sororities in The Ring: the Rhinemaidens, the Valkyries, and the Norns.

In Das Rheingold, the Rhinemaidens lose the gold (the verb is problematic).  In Gotterdammerung, the rope snaps and the Norns lose their eternal wisdom.  In both cases the sisters have an object which, at the end of the scene, they don't have.  In the case of the Rhinemaidens' loss Alberich clearly has a causal role.  The Norns' recount the story of the previous three evenings, and whilst the rope snaps when they recall Alberich's actions the music is most certainly Siegfried's.

The Valkyries stand apart in two ways.  The scene starts with all the Valkyries except Brunnhilde.  In contrast to the Rhinemaidens and the Norns, Brunnhilde brings an object to the group.  The rejection of Sieglinde is quite distinct from the loss, but by rejecting her the sorority, in turn, loses one of its own members. Each group of sisters loses something, and in this respect, the structure is of loss from the outside.




There is, here, no 'meaning'. One could construct or project onto these events a feminist interpretation but that would not be in this pattern.  There is nothing outside of the pattern. There is nothing except the pattern.

Deconstructing 'The Ring' - Prelude

Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen has an interminable amount of interpretations.  In no particular order, I will offer a reading that does not exceed the boundaries of the text.

Each post will take a particular group, motif or action that happens either across the four works or within the individual works.  The relation to each will be considered only so far as it contrasts/compares to its counterparts.  By following through this method the intention will not be to demonstrate The Ring's structure but, rather, its structures.