of irish winds and old gentlemen and german others

I seem to have a little time on my hands. I'm in between grading and I've sent my (only a creator could be fond of and even I am not too keen) draft to be read. This is almost twiddling fingers time for me. So, that means there's time for quite a few things--updating yous on the state of my teaching and telling yous about the films I've been watching. So, here I go (in the form of a list, of course):

1. Discusssed a reading with an undergrad. Had an excellent time debating different themes in said reading, backing up seemingly-odd views* by referring to the text and spent nearly 2 hours doing this. Reading? Beckett's "Krapp's last tape". Student? LilSis2.

2. Tuesday's class, as usual, went totally against plan. Technology, as usual, failed to operate. YouTube video, as always, failed to work on demand. Students, as is their wont, became restless. Felt like sending off a "beware. students are restless. what to do. advise" alert but resisted. Then came THE QUESTION. "What is the difference between objective and subjective ways of doing research?"

(Have decided will be very good in crises from now on and should consider training as a volunteer emergency person)

Brain kept saying "football, football". Ignored it since that is its version of "wave white flag and capitulate and go to happy place".

Instead, asked the kids to say something. Anything.One kid responded by "ohh...the pressure". Others laughed.

There you have it: objective/intersubjective (and, really, there's no "subjective" research in IR. If stuff's in my head, you can't get to it. Nyah. Unless I tell you--then it's intersubjective. The statement and the laughter = intersubjective. Voila!)

Got them to also talk about football as example of obj/intersubj difference. Worked well, I reckon. Kids seem more animated than usual. Could be due to it being a cold day and it also being (I believe) Free Ben & Jerry's ice cream day. But, I shall take it as them being absolutely enthralled by the discussion.

3. Saw (the film, not a peep show) The Lives of Others (aka The Loo). The Loo was not half bad but a bit too laddish for my taste. The (only) woman-with-a-major role betrays her lover, shags an official and then dramatically ... Really! These sorts of women were being written in the '60s and '70s by Fleming, MacLean and Co. Apparently, they were still around in East Germany in the 1990's.

The LOO's main character, a secret service officer, is a marvellous actor but it's a bit difficult believing the playwright who works within the state system, his lovely pill-popping, MP-shagging girlfriend, the disgraced theatre director who tops himself and the thick secret service folks who can't find a loose floorboard being anything more than caricatures. The ending, however, is excellent. Good job, that.

The scary bit? The constant surveillance by the state, the suspicion, the betrayals of each other, the continuous need to be on guard about what one said and did, and, yet, from watching the LOO, East Germany wasn't too bad, really. No guns, no overt violence, fairly good food to eat (especially if you were part of the artistic community, like the "others" were) and so on.

And informers apparently did quite well. Got ciggies and pills and all that. Definitely not the case in The Wind that Shakes the Barley. There, informers were shot. By their own folks, no less.

Surprisingly, the Irish film made by an Englishman has more well-rounded characters (including women). But--oh all right--not the British who are invariably warmongering louts who shout at the top of their voices and ask the Irish to take their kit off. They--the British that is--also pluck out nails. Not those made of iron and not using hammers but the keratin ones and using pincers.

TWTSTB the film does a good job of pointing out the circular nature of violence, the constant redrawing of lines about who belongs in the community (and who doesn't), the need for (and existence of) fairly unsavoury alliances for strategic means, the compromises made by the pro-Treaty folks and, ultimately, the changes in people. The pragmatic young doctor going off to practice in London becomes a committed socialist promoting public ownership and while his brother undergoes a (reverse) change from IRA member to Treaty-supporter.

In the end, both films are about maintaining order. What the state does to maintain order. How it combats chaos. The alliances it makes to maintain its legitimacy. The constant surveillance (backed up by military means) and the categorisation of people. The fear of being flung back into a Hobbesian state of nature (in the case of TWTSTB, the British returning). On the part of the people, the need to live in fear of their lives.

I'd recommend watching both in a darkened theatre, preferably in the afternoon when not many other folks are there. But, if you can only see one, watch TWTSTB. The details do it, for that one. The stumbling run as the doctor tries to get to an injured colleague; the despair of the older brother who says something along the lines of "if we don't keep order, the Brits will come back" as his men, in turn, commit acts of violence; the old woman who refuses to leave her damaged house, saying she had lived there since she was a child; all these could be cheesy caricatures and, yet, in the hands of these actors, they aren't.

In the end, The LOO distances its viewers--this is what we were like, it seems to be saying. This is where we were. The binary identity constructions--the remote, ruthless secret service bloke "discovers" his humanity; the loving, famous actress is having a sordid affair; the suppression of numbers on large-scale suicides by the (seemingly) squeaky clean state--all those are thrust into the viewers' attention as if to say "Look this is how we were". The added implication is that we (Germany and us, the viewers) have moved on.

Ken Loach and TWTSTB don't do any of that. In TWTSTB, the mechanisms of violence continue, even when the actors change. Here's where we were/are/will be. Violence is central, violence is lurking everywhere and we will have to become them to exist in our world. Difference is not eliminated or absorbed but, the "Other within" is a violent, bloody stubborn and potentially destabilising force.

I'm ever so scared of discovering the Other within me, after watching these films. Yes, I was told to by, among others, this lot but I'm not sure my Other(s) are quite ready to be found out. This Other is not a pleasant sight (or activity), really.

* went against most of what was written about the piece.

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At 4/19/2007 11:05 AM, Blogger Bionic-Woman said...

Yay a completed draft - kudos all around :-)!

At 4/19/2007 11:10 PM, Blogger Priya said...

Thanks :-)

You might like the Ken Loach film, btw, especially in view of your research interests on bordering.


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