This text is based on the seminar presentation I have prepared for the doctoral students in the PhD programme in English Studies of my Department. It is published here in case some any other PhD student finds it useful.

‘Why publish and should I…?’, you may be wondering. Publication is an essential aspect of academic life: it is indeed the main method to present research results and new ideas (apart from teaching, attending conferences, giving talks…). Unlike what I was told when I was a PhD student myself (but never heeded), the sooner you start publishing, the better; remember that publications are, besides, a key component in accreditation processes in Spain. You may have heard, by the way, of ‘impostor syndrome’: you might feel that you lack the authority to publish, but this authority is only acquired by publishing, so this is what you need to do. Academic writing, of course, is learned by reading, reading, and reading academic work, and understanding its conventions. Pay attention! To publish you need good academic skills, acquired during you BA and MA studies, but also a thick skin to stand criticism (which can be very harsh) and rejection.

Publication takes a minimum of six months from handing in your text to seeing it published, one year on average, and in some cases two years (or more). Thus, if you want to have one or two publications by the time you hand in your PhD dissertation, the second year might be a good time to begin. You may transform part of your future dissertation into an article; if this is published before you finish your thesis you can still use the text in it (with permission); indeed, some dissertations consist of a collection of previously published articles, though this is not a model we recommend in our programme (precisely because publication in the Humanities is a rather slow process). Writing an article for publication in the second year is also a way of testing your academic skills. If it is rejected, that is an experience you can also learn from… Please, note that our programme requires that you submit (not necessarily publish) an article to an indexed journal (= one that is acknowledged as significant in its field).

‘Where should I start publishing?’, you may be thinking. Please, note that I am speaking here of a journal publication, but (at least in Literary Studies) you might also start publishing by contributing a chapter to a collective volume (though this is usually less valued than an article). If you’re working with a research group, you need to follow the research lines marked by the principal investigator (perhaps s/he is also your supervisor). In Spain, many of us in English Studies have started publishing in the online journal of the Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos (AEDEAN), Atlantis, which has quite a good reputation (it is what we call a B-list journal). Ask your supervisor for advice and use databases such as, for instance, MIAR ( to learn which journals might be a good choice for you, and how they are ranked. Yes, journals are ranked by performance (they are indexed).

MIAR, for instance, uses the ICDS index (Secondary Composite Index Broadcasting) which refers to the “visibility of the journal in different scientific databases of international scope or in repertoires evaluation of periodicals”. MIAR awards points to each journal according to how visible it is in the Web of Science Core Collections and Web of Science classic (AHCI, SCIE, SSCI o ESCI), Scopus, and other abstract and indexing databases (specialized or multidisciplinary); international catalogues like Latindex or assessment lists (such as Catalan CARHUS Plus, European ERIHPlus or Spanish Sello de Calidad FECYT). Spanish database DIALNET is also taken into account and so is the “rate of survival of the journal, considering a maximum of 30 years in the calculation”. Until recently, it might happen that the journal where you published an article was rated A+ but by the time you passed assessment, or applied for a scholarship, etc, the journal was down to C or D, and so was your article. Fortunately, this has been corrected now. By the way, each subject category of journals is sub-divided into four quartiles: Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4. Q1 corresponds to the top 25% journals; Q2 to the 25 to 50% group; Q3, 50 to 75% group; and Q4 to the bottom 75%-100% group. Logically, everybody wants to publish in the A+/Q1, journals but, unless you really are exceptionally talented, this is not really where you should begin; aspiring to publication in a B/Q2 journal is more advisable. Apart from MIAR, see our library’s databases website here (and do ask your supervisor).

How a journal rates is called its ‘impact factor’ (IF) or ‘journal impact factor’ (JIF). Just for you to really understand the academic world we live in, Wikipedia explains that IF and JIF refer to “a scientometric index calculated by Clarivate that reflects the yearly average number of citations of articles published in the last two years in a given journal”. Wikipedia further informs that Eugene Garfield, founder of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), invented the impact factor. This has been calculated yearly since 1975 “for journals listed in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR)”. So what is Clarivate? Well, because of a series of financial operations, JCR is now the property of private corporation Clarivate, established by the Onex Corporation and the Baring Private Equity Asia. Check and infer whatever you need to infer from this. It is assumed, in any case, that the higher the ranking, the better positioned the journal is and the more authors it attracts, being able to select the very best. However, many scholars dispute that the highest ranking journals are really the best in their field (and what happens when their field is very small, like Medieval Catalan Literature?). Perhaps all this is talk for another seminar.

‘But… how do I really start publishing?’, you may be wondering. There are, I think, three main ways. A) You write an article on your own initiative and send it to a journal. B) You attend a conference and the paper you present is further developed into an article which either you send to a journal or is included in a publication derived from the conference (monographic journal issue, proceedings, collective book). C) You respond to a call for papers (cfp) sent by an editor seeking contributors (to a monographic journal issue, or a collective volume). How do you get cfps? You join an association (such as AEDEAN), or a mailing list, or browse specialised websites (such as This is important: you need to be very active in your search for journals and cfps, they will not simply come to you.

A few other notes, a bit randomly. Are you supposed to pay for publication? No, even though this is not uncommon in other fields, and not unheard of for books in ours. Will you be paid for publication? No, the only type of publication for which you might get royalties are books. What is Open Access? A European Union mandate indicates that academic publication should be ideally freely available online, this is what Open Access means. Online journals follow this mandate and I personally prefer open access because it gives more visibility to my work, though it must be noted that the highest ranking journals are usually only accessible through the very expensive databases to which universities subscribe. Some publishers sell Open Access, that is to say, they allow you to publish online work you have already published for them–for a fee. How about the digital repository at UAB? (Dipòsit Digital de Documentació, I do publish a lot at DDD, but this is considered self-publication and, therefore, useless for official validation or accreditation. You can use, however, DDD to publish work in progress, or other work usually not accepted directly for publication (such as conference presentations).

Once you have chosen the journal to which you want to submit your article, you need to edit it according to their guide for authors. Make sure you absolutely respect their preferred word count (articles and book chapters range from 4500 to 10000 words, though 7000-8000 is the more habitual length). Follow the journal’s (or book editor’s) instructions to submit: in some cases this just involves sending an email, in others you need to use a specific online application. You need to send your article anonymised (with no indication of who you are); the abstract and keywords are habitually sent in a separate document, usually with your name in it and contact information. Make sure you receive an acknowledgement of receipt; if you don’t, contact the journal/book editor within the week following your submission. A very important rule is that you cannot send your article simultaneously to several journals; you need to wait for a journal’s negative decision to try another journal. I am not 100% sure why this is the case, since it slows down very much the process of publication, but apparently this is to avoid having many peer reviewers assessing the same text (or the same reviewer assessing it for two journals).

Once you submit your article (or book chapter) the editor will send it to the reviewers, who will review it anonymously. This is the process known as blind peer reviewing. The number of reviewers used to be three, but is now down to two, and in some cases one. The journal (or book editor) should contact you in a reasonable period of time (ideally, a few weeks, usually a few months) and email you the reviews. Of course, the higher ranking journals take longer to review articles as they get many submissions. Some reviewers write some notes, others long reports (I usually also send the text submitted with corrections and notes). Three things may happen: a) your article is accepted with no further revision (very rare…); b) your article is accepted but you’re asked to revise it before re-submitting; c) your article is rejected (in that case, you are free to send it elsewhere). Rejection is common, and reviewers’ reports can be very harsh. Be ready for that! Do not reply to rejection emails with negative, rude comments. Just say thanks, move on and send the article elsewhere. If you have been asked to revise your article, this usually means that the journal is interested, though it might well be that your second (or third, or fourth) revision is finally rejected. It happens to all of us! Be patient and stay calm!!! The reviewers may ask you to simply rewrite some passages, or add certain quotations and sources, but in some cases revision might be extensive and require substantial rewriting. This is part of the process. Always keep the different versions of the text revised, just in case you need to go back to any of them (number or date them). If you do not agree with certain aspects of the peer reviewing, you may discuss them with the editor but be ready to accept his/her opinion, and do as you’re told.

Once your article (or book chapter) is accepted, the editor will contact you next to proof-read it (= to check that the text sent for publication has no errors). At this stage, you may not change your article/book chapter substantially; you can only correct spelling or punctuation mistakes, some occasional vocabulary and grammar errors. Once your text is published, you should get the .pdf (article) and ideally a hard copy of the book (for a chapter), and of course add it to your CV. Published authors track their citation impact index through Web of Science, Scopus, or Google Scholar. The more you publish, and the more you’re quoted, the higher your citation index will be. Of course, I always wonder whether the trick is to publish something controversial but rather foolish so that everyone cites you to explain how wrong you are. That also increases your citation index!

There are no hard and fast rules about how much a doctoral student should publish. I would recommend two publications (at least accepted) before submitting your PhD (two publications in three to five years is feasible). Publishing in books of proceedings derived from a conference is not well valued today, not even when the editors stress there has been a peer-reviewed assessment of the texts. And, yes, journal articles are valued above book chapters because supposedly, peer reviewing is more ‘serious’ in articles (I don’t agree with this). Co-authorship, by the way, is common in the sciences (including Linguistics) but not in Literary Studies (in which usually collaboration is limited to two authors, very rarely more). If you’re planning to get an accreditation as a Lector in the Catalan system or Profesor Contratado Doctor in the Spanish system, check the publication requirements now, so that you can plan your career in advance. And don’t forget to open an account at Research Gate or, to follow what other researchers in your field are doing.

Now, some notes on my personal experience. I have been publishing since 1994 (my first publication was a paper I wrote for a course in my doctoral programme) and it never gets any easier. I have never had a straightforward acceptance with no revisions, no matter how minor, though I must say that I have published everything I have written in close to 100 articles and book chapters (and some books). I am used to having my articles rejected, sometimes in very harsh ways: my article on Sirius in Harry Potter, got six furious rejections (it is now a chapter in one of my books). I have had two ‘desk rejections’ recently (meaning that my article did not go past the editor, who refused to send it to peer reviewers, in one case with no explanation at all). Most of my reviewers have been very kind persons who have helped me very much to improve my work; some, believe me, were haters who should never have reviewed any papers. I consider peer reviewing very necessary but I am against its anonymity, precisely because it gives room to too harsh comments. When I peer-review an article that I don’t like, I write the report as if I had to meet the author in person. I have peer-reviewed some articles that were simply terrible, usually coming from inexperienced authors (one can guess that) so please, ask your supervisor and other experienced researchers to read your work before you send it, at least at the beginning of your career.

You may find it frustrating (as I do, to be honest) to follow the conventions of academic prose, but this is absolutely necessary, otherwise you will never get published. I myself keep this blog to write on academic themes in a free style, and without supervision from reviewers. I recommend that you do that, too. Writing a blog is NOT hard work, but fun!! You should enjoy writing about what you are learning for your PhD dissertation, even if nobody else is interested.

Good luck, may your citation index grows to be very high!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from Visit my website


I wrote my last post about a documentary film and I was not really thinking of continuing with the same topic but I came across a very interesting article by Carlos Lara, “¿Debería poder ganar un documental el Goya a Mejor Película?” (“Should a documentary film win the Goya to Best Film?”) so, here I go again. Lara is asking the question in relation to this year’s Goya winner for best documentary, El año del descubrimiento by Luis López Carrasco and to one of the nominees, My Mexican Bretzel by Nuria Giménez Lorang. In Lara’s view, these two films are much better (meaning far more daring) than those in the fiction film category, the winner Las niñas, and the nominees, Adú, Ane, Sentimental and La boda de Rosa. I cannot offer an informed opinion as I have only seen Iciar Bollaín’s La boda de Rosa, which I absolutely loved. I can say, however, that I have found myself not only watching more and more documentary films in the last year but also finding them far more satisfactory than fiction films. Incidentally, I must note that the Romanian documentary Collective is making history at this year’s Oscars, after being nominated in the best documentary and the best international feature film categories. I must also note that whereas 24 women have won Oscars for feature-length documentary films (Barbara Kopple has won twice) only 1 woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won an Oscar for best director. I would say, then, that it is also in women’s interests to make documentary films more prominent and visible.

What Carlos Lara is implicitly asking is why documentary films are less valued than fiction films. Please, note that the label ‘fiction film’ is only used when it is necessary to contrast what we usually just call ‘films’ with documentary films. That is, then, one of the problems: any film which carries an adjective in its label (documentary film, animated film, short film) appears to be in a separate category from the generic category ‘film’, which in fact corresponds specifically to the feature-length live-action fiction film. The supposition, I assume, is that the fiction film is better valued because it is supposedly harder to tell a story from scratch, through scenes performed by actors, than creating a film using animation, or involving scenes from real life, or told in less than 90 minutes. As you can see, the moment this is made explicit, it sounds quite absurd. Only prejudiced convention determines that the feature-length live-action fiction film is accepted as the main category for films. There is, in fact, no specific reason why the other kinds of films are undervalued, except a poor understanding of the effort it takes to make them and of their aesthetics.

Having mentioned the word ‘aesthetics’ I will now ask the question of whether this is all we take into consideration when choosing to watch a fiction film or a documentary. Believe me when I say that trying to define the fiction film and the documentary film for what they do is much harder than it seems, and perhaps aesthetics is the answer to what separates one from the other. Let me take an example on which I have written: the documentary by Rob Epstein, The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, Oscar Award winner) and the fiction film Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant). This was the winner of an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, which went to Sean Penn, and of an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, awarded to Dustin Lance Black. Here the problems begin, for although Milk is not based on a previous work, the connections between Black’s ‘original’ screenplay and Epstein’s documentary are more than obvious. Van Sant, besides, uses original footage also used by Epstein, recreating some of the scenes with his actors.

Anyway, my point is that both films tell in a very talented way the same story: how Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected for office (he was a member of San Francisco’s Town Council) was murdered in cold blood, by his fellow councillor Dan White, who also killed the mayor, George Moscone. Now ask yourself how you would like to know about this tragic event: through the documentary or through the fiction film? Just trust me when I say that both tell the story proficiently and in a moving, entertaining way. Advantages of the documentary? It is, obviously, far more informative and has plenty of footage of the real Harvey Milk, and other persons of his circle. Advantages of the fiction film? It recreates far more personal aspects of Milk’s private life into which the documentary does not go, and the acting is very good. I would say that both films are excellent and, in combination, a superb cinematic experience. Yet, we rarely find time for two films on the same topic. In fact, although I see the point in making a documentary once the fiction film has been made, I see little point in making the fiction film once the documentary is available, particularly if said documentary is a great film as Epstein’s is. Consider, if you want another example, why Robert Zemeckis’s fiction film The Walk (2015) exists, since James Marsh’s Man on Wire (2008) tells wonderfully the story of how Frenchman Phillip Petite crossed on a wire the distance between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. Is it a matter of availability? Of audiences not knowing that certain documentaries exist? Or is it, as I say, a question of aesthetics? Why do audiences prefer the fakery of fiction film to the ‘authenticity’ of the documentary?

I have written the word ‘authenticity’ in inverted comas because this is the issue that bedevils any understanding of the documentary. To put it simply, fiction films can lie as much as they want, even when they recreate real-life events, but documentary films are not supposed to lie, yet they do. In fact, it is quite possible that all boils down to a misunderstanding. Famously, the Scottish father of the documentary, John Grierson, commended in a review Moana (1926) –a film portraying the natives of the South Pacific made by the American father of the documentary Robert Flaherty– for its “documentary” value, which eventually lent this film genre its name. As happens, however, Flaherty’s film was full of staged scenes that he had invented on the basis of the local ‘traditions’ which he forced his native actors to perform; besides, Grierson wrote that Moana was perhaps more interesting for its poetic values. The idea that the documentary documents reality does not come simply from that review and that remark but it is certainly connected with it, and has made it almost impossible to define the genre with precision since not all documentaries ‘document’ reality (many re-create it) and what you may mean by ‘reality’ is also open to discussion. Take, for instance, Goya’s nominee My Mexican Bretzel. Apparently, director Nuria Giménez Lorang uses in it the home movies shot by her grandfather from the 1940s to the 1960s (footage which she found by chance), grafting onto these moving images the melodramatic story of her grandmother Vivian, a story which is, basically, invented. How is that a documentary?

Every time I try to think of some rule that fiction films and documentaries cannot break, there appears an exception perhaps because the two film languages have mixed in recent times. I had never noticed, for instance, that documentaries use music in ways very similar to fiction films, giving some scenes the tone of a thriller, or of melodrama, as the director wishes. Some scholars claim that, ultimately, the basis of the difference between a fiction film and a documentary is a matter of expectations: audiences expect to be told a story in fiction films, but to be enlightened about an aspect of reality they didn’t know in documentaries (as if they were lessons). It doesn’t work like this, either. Just think of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) and how much one may learn from it about the Holocaust, even though it cannot be called at all a documentary film like, for instance, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985). Actually, Spielberg’s film created a big scandal by having the cameras enter the showers at Auschwitz, a moment that no other film, fictional or documentary, had dared recreate. Lanzmann was among the American director’s most vocal critics. Yet, this is just a matter connected with historical taboos, not a matter of what films –fictional or documentary– can do.

You may recall that one year ago we were all fascinated by Netflix’s documentary mini-series Tiger King (directed by Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode). There was a hilarious moment (I can’t recall whether it was in the series or in a bonus feature) in which Joe King fantasized about being played by Brad Pitt in a film about his life. That is hilarious not only because there are many obvious physical differences between King and Pitt, but because there is already a great film about King’s life: the mini-series. In a similar vein, let me repeat a curious anecdote I just heard actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt narrate: Philippe Petite, the man who did walk between the Twin Towers, remember?, taught the actor, who plays him in Ron Howard’s film, how to walk on a wire. This is bizarre, not only because just fancy the real-life man teaching the actor how to do what made him famous but also because, according to director James Marsh, Petite is a big narcissist that absolutely wanted to dominate the shooting of his documentary. Why Petite would feel interested in Gordon-Levitt’s performance is something I fail to grasp. Was he flattered in some way? Why not jealous?

All in all, I am going to argue that what ultimately makes the difference between choosing to see a fiction film or a documentary film has to do with a specific element of the aesthetics of the fictional film: acting. Moana, the film by Flaherty I have mentioned, inaugurated docufiction on the sly, by including staged scenes. Without going so far, many documentaries include recreations of scenes of real life for which there is no footage, usually employing actors in a rather anonymous way, frequently cast just because they look like the real-life person they play. On the other hand, the docudrama is supposed to bridge the gap between the fiction film and the documentary by sticking as closely as possible to the ‘truth’ of events while still being presented as a fiction film. Milk is a docudrama in that sense, and The Walk. I believe, however, that very few spectators think of films based on real-life events as docudramas, since the dramatic license many take is quite generous. I don’t think any spectator is now as naïve as to think that a film wholly based on staged scenes can be trusted. This is why I am claiming that ultimately what gives the feature-length, live-action fiction film its popularity over the documentary is the audience’s preference for acting, to the point that given the choice between seeing a documentary with the real-life person and a docudrama with an actor playing that person, the latter is preferred.

What I have been discovering –or rediscovering– in the last year is that actor-dominated films (= fiction films) are not necessarily more entertaining, or more fulfilling, than narrative or argumentative films in which acting is non-existent or just used at the basic level of re-creation (= documentaries). Despite marvelling at how Tom Hanks plays classic children’s TV star Mr. Rogers in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), this fiction film cannot compare to the far better documentary film by Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), also on Fred Rogers. Indeed, when Hanks and Heller saw together Neville’s film, the actor asked the director why they were making their film at all… An obvious answer is that Hanks could attract viewers to the figure of Mr. Rogers in ways the far less known documentary by Neville could not, though this is not really a merit of fiction films (or of actors) but of their distribution channels. Now that we are used to finding so many documentaries on the streaming platforms the situation might change. My guess is that, if given the same visibility as fiction films, documentary films might grow to be just as popular and valued.

Here is, by the way, a very basic bibliography for documentaries in case you’re interested:
Aitken, Ian (ed.). The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film. Routledge, 2013 (2006).
Aufderheide, Patricia. Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford UP, 2007.
Bruzzi, Stella. New documentary: A Critical Introduction. Routledge, 2006 (2000).
Ellis, John. Documentary: Witness and Self-Revelation. Routledge, 2012.
Grant, Barry Keith and Sloniowski, Jeannette (eds.). Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Wayne State UP, 2014 (1998).
McLane, Betsy A. A New History of Documentary Film. Continuum, 2012.
Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Indiana UP, 2017 (third edition).
Renov, Michael. The Subject of Documentary. University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Enjoy! (And if you subscribe to Netflix, watch Father, Soldier, Son…).

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from Visit my website


It is habitual in scholarly work that a text illuminates another text quite by chance, in that phenomenon usually called serendipity. Reading the second edition of Sarah Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004, 2014) to fill in a serious gap in my list of books read, I have found myself considering in the light of what she writes a documentary everyone in Spain should see: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s multi-award winner El Silencio de Otros (The Silence of Others, 2019). What Ahmed writes about shame in her volume has helped me to process my own feelings of shame regarding what the documentary narrates even though, as you will see, the cases in question are quite different.
I find that Ahmed writes in a rather abstract way, as if she were a philosopher mainly, and after finally reading her book, I realise that she is one of those big names whose texts everyone plunders following their own interests and not necessarily what she says. Of course, I am going to do exactly the same here. Incidentally, I have been amazed to learn that Ahmed is now an independent scholar, having severed her ties with all universities. This happened in 2016 after she discovered that her employer, Goldsmith’s College in London, had been turning a blind eye on a long list of sexual abuses perpetrated by its male professors. I applaud her brave decision, though few of us at a far more modest academic tier can take that kind of dramatic step (I also wonder to what extent her leaving helped the female students—but I digress).
Briefly, El Silencio de Otros (available on Netflix) deals with how the Ley de Amnistía passed by the post-Franco new democratic Parliament has prevented the crimes of Franco’s henchmen from being investigated. The film’s focus falls on a variety of cases, from the recovery of the remains of persons executed by the anti-Republican military rebels to the suffering of the victims of torturer Billy el Niño, passing through the thousands of babies stolen between 1940 and 1990. All these cases are grouped under the Querella argentina, the name received by the class action lawsuit investigated by Argentinian judge María Romilda Servini de Cubria between 2010 and 2015 (with no sentences whatsoever). She accepted the case on the principle of universal justice at the request of two descendants of victims of the Francoist regime. This was after Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón was expelled from the judiciary for trying to investigate the crimes, on the grounds that he was breaking the Amnesty Law of 1977.
The documentary focuses on a variety of persons, but two elderly women stand out among them: María Martín, who lost her mother, and Ascensión Murieta, who lost her father, both to the brutal action of murderous Francoist squads decimating the ‘reds’. María, the classic Spanish village grandmother clad in black, opens the documentary pointing at the road crossing her village and claiming that her mother and other victims lie under it. Garzón’s own lawsuit mentions 114226 victims whose bodies were then missing; less than 10% have been disinterred and properly buried thanks to the Ley de la Memoria Histórica of 2011 and other legislation previously passed by regional Governments. I must clarify, however, that most identifications, if not all, have been carried out by the NGO Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, not by the authorities. I had assumed that most victims were piled in the mass graves of cemeteries, in lonely spots in the woods and in road ditches, but it had not occurred to me that cars might be rolling over dead bodies on a daily basis. That seemed far worse than the decision by the Málaga Town Council, withdrawn in 2017, to place an area for dogs on top of mass grave number eight in the local cemetery of San Rafael, one of the biggest collections of Francoist mass graves in Spain. Seeing the cars roll by, I felt not only sorrow for María and her mother but also a very deep shame about the nation where I live.
In Alfredo Sanzol’s excellent play En la Luna (2012) two characters discuss, if I recall this correctly, the problems one has to rescue the remains of her Republican grandfather from the road ditch where he was thrown by his executors. The scene happens in 1990, and the other character, a man, comforts her saying that all will be well because, surely, they cannot have the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992 with so many bodies still unclaimed. That scene still strikes me because Sanzol stresses in this clever way the idea that Spain has never been subjected to the international scrutiny that other countries have faced, including the Argentina of Justice Salvini. In her country and in other post-dictatorial democracies, all the Amnesty Laws passed to protect criminal regimes where annulled so that the crimes against humanity could be judged. Spain, in contrast, has always taken the position that forgiving works better than judging, applying a ‘let bygones be bygones’ policy that the Socialist-sponsored Ley de la Memoria Histórica has barely eroded.
An argument often invoked is that the Civil War, anyway, happened a long time ago, which disregards both the abuses committed by the long dictatorship and the existence of survivors from the war itself. The other main argument is that, anyway, the ‘Reds’ were also genocidal murderers who killed thousands arbitrarily during the Republic and the war, and who would have likewise exterminated many fallen foes had they won. This argument, often invoked by right-wing persons of Francoist leanings, does acknowledge the crimes, as it can be seen, but justifies them on the spurious grounds that the ‘others’ were equally brutal. I doubt this is the case, but even so the Ley de Memoria Histórica is not limited to the Republican victims but to all victims. Yet, since no descendants of the Civil War winners are digging mass graves or road ditches to rescue the bones of their grandparents this possibly means that the victims caused by the Republicans were not that many, or that they are properly buried. I cannot explain otherwise the indifference to the obvious suffering of persons like Ascensión Murieta, who lost her father Timoteo in 1939, when she was only six, and could only ease her pain the day his body was found in 2017, as El Silencio de Otros shows.
Sara Ahmed refers in The Cultural Politics of Emotion to the ‘Stolen Generations’ of Australia, that is to say, the indigenous children mostly of mixed race forcefully but ‘legally’ removed from their families by a combination of the Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, between 1905 and 1967, in some case as late as the 1970s. The appalling idea behind this mass kidnapping was that the children could be in this way assimilated into the white Australian nation, though, of course, this awful crime only resulted in deep personal and national trauma. A formal apology was presented in 2008 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, though at the time Ahmed was writing Prime Minister John Howard had adamantly rejected all calls for an apology. The situation, as you can see, is quite different from the Civil War and the dictatorship in Spain though, at least until 2008, the key question was similar: those in power refused to acknowledge a crime against humanity and apologize for it. Ahmed worries that shame can be acknowledged hypocritically so that those who apologize do so to continue a false narrative of national unity. Yet, she worries above all by how the lack of shame then embodied by Prime Minister Howard undermines the communal ability to “identify with a national ideal” (111). Although acknowledging the “brutal history” is not a magic solution, shame appears to be a positive step so that “the shame of the absence of shame” (111) can be overcome, always taking care that this witnessing might not “repeat the passing over” of the victims “in the very desire to move beyond shame and into pride” (111).
Most importantly, in cases such as that of the Stolen Generation, the shame is not only faced internally but externally, before “international civil society” (112). Ahmed, a British-born Australian, writes that “Being seen as an ideal nation is here defined as that which will pass down in time, not in our memories, but in how we are remembered by others. The desire for shame is here the desire to be seen as fulfilling an ideal, the desire to be ‘judged by history’ as an ideal nation” (112). In her conclusions, Ahmed writes that “The projects of reconciliation and reparation are not about the ‘nation’ recovering: they are about whether those who are the victims of injustice can find a way of living in the nation that feels better through the process of speaking about the past, and through exposing the wounds that get concealed by the ‘truths’ of a certain history” (201). In the Australian case, and in others like Argentina or Chile, the international mechanism of shame has more or less worked (remember that Justice Garzón managed to have Augusto Pinochet arrested in London in 1998 but the monster walked away free thanks to the efforts of Margaret Thatcher and President George Bush senior). What is extraordinary about the Spanish case is that the international mechanism of shame has had no effect: Justice Salvini was simply not allowed to interrogate either witnesses or the accused in Spain (extradition was, of course, denied), whereas Amnesty International’s calls to the Attorney General’s Office of Spain to investigate and prosecute the crimes have been ignored. Watching El Silencio de Otros I felt shame at the lack of shame, particularly because I do not see on the horizon any apology, much less any serious, committed investigation.
I find the idea of being proud of one’s nation quite silly for there is no nation truly free of fault. At least, though, I would like not to feel ashamed, as I can only feel for as long as 100000 fellow Spaniards remain buried in mass graves or under the tarmac daily tread on by rushing cars. I would be very proud if the Spanish Parliament agreed by unanimity to put each of these victims in the family graves where they belong, because that would mean that a first step into healing the nation had been taken. But since this is a fantasy, we must live in shame. So far, we have done quite a good job of hiding this deep national shame, so much so that Franco’s heirs are daily gaining power, as if they have nothing to apologize for. In view of all this, it is logically easier for me, and for many others, to deny that we are Spanish and to cling with all our might onto the idea that we are Catalan. Not really because we are independentists, or because Catalonia is a perfectly civilized haven, but because being Catalan is not internationally connected with any specific shameful events. It’s a little like being Danish if you know what I mean.
By the way, if you watch El Silencio de Otros and come across calls to abolish the Amnesty Law of 1977, be careful. As happens, the law was passed to free those unfairly accused and imprisoned by Franco’s regime, though it has had the side-effect of helping the Francoist henchmen to escape prison. This law does need to be abolished but only to be replaced by a new law that finally applies internationally accepted legislation about crimes against humanity to Spain—and that lifts the veil of shame under which we still live.

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National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (Los Angeles, 1988) became a world-wide celebrity two months ago, after her reading of her poem “The Hill We Climb” during President Joe Biden’s inauguration (on 6th January). I am not particularly interested in assessing her quality as a poet, which I find rather overvalued, but on criticizing the appalling decision taken to dismiss the work of her Catalan translator Víctor Obiols, on whose defence I am writing this post (and no, I have never met him). Allow me to explain the details of the case.
Gorman will publish later this year a poetry collection with the title of her inauguration poem, which is eagerly awaited. Her Dutch publishers, Meulenhoff, announced early this month that writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld had been chosen to be Gorman’s translator (I’m following among other sources Rijneveld, 29, the youngest winner of the International Booker prize for her debut novel The Discomfort of Evening, and a non-binary person very much aware of the pressures of public opinion, seemed a very good choice. They did welcome the commission, mentioning in a tweet Gorman’s “power of reconciliation” as a major point in their decision, but subsequently withdrew from the project, after a remarkable tweetstorm.
This was unleased by Janice Deul, a black Dutch journalist and activist, who published an article in Volksrant, arguing that, as a white person, Rijneveld was not the best choice to translate Gorman. She asked (or demanded) that the publishers choose someone like the American poet, that is to say, young, female and “unapologetically Black” for the task. Many others echoed her complaint and, as noted, Rijneveld abandoned the project, subsequently writing in their Twitter account that “I had happily devoted myself to translating Amanda’s work, seeing it as the greatest task to keep her strength, tone and style. However, I realise that I am in a position to think and feel that way, where many are not. I still wish that her ideas reach as many readers as possible and open hearts.” Later, she published a (not very good) poem in The Guardian ( about the experience, claiming that even though she has always resisted judgement in this case she feels “able to grasp when it/ isn’t your place, when you must kneel for a poem because/ another person can make it more inhabitable; not out of/ unwillingness, not out of dismay, but because you know/ there is so much inequality, people still discriminated against,/ what you want is fraternity (…).” As I write, two weeks after the uproar no other Dutch translator has been appointed.
Víctor Obiols, an experienced translator known also by his artistic name Víctor Bocanegra (he’s a poet and musician), was vetted by Gorman’s agents five days ago when he had already handed in his Catalan translation of her forthcoming book to publishers Univers. Speaking to Jordi Nopca for the Catalan newspaper Ara Obiols declared that he was told that Gorman’s agents wanted “una dona amb un perfil d’activista i, si pot ser, d’origen afroamericà” (“a woman with an activist profile and, if possible, with an African-American origin”). Author Nuria Barrios is so far translating with no problem Gorman’s poem for Lumen into Spanish but Univers are still seeking a new translator, having paid Obiols for a translated text that will never be published.
Obiols told global news agency AFP that this “It is a very complicated subject that cannot be treated with frivolity. But if I cannot translate a poet because she is a woman, young, black, an American of the 21st century, neither can I translate Homer because I am not a Greek of the eighth century BC. Or could not have translated Shakespeare because I am not a 16th-century Englishman.” He made, however, a more biting comment on his Twitter account when he wrote that (my translation) perhaps Gorman’s agents think that “a translator into Catalan who is also black–perhaps a woman with roots in Western Africa and raised in Catalonia–might have much more in common with a Los Angeles Afro-American, with a Harvard degree, who is also a model.” In fact, the agents’ request that Gorman be translated into Catalan by an African-American, if possible, only shows an appalling ignorance of Catalonia’s own black population and a US-centric bias that can never go well with translation.
I was not going to write about this ridiculous, absurd affair but I read an article in El Confidencial ( ) calling for some sort of action to protect the translators. I am not myself a professional translator but I have done some translating, and I feel immense loyalty to this group of always unfairly treated professionals. Without translators there is no intercultural communication and the last thing they need is being disrespected for their personal identity. Yes, I’m calling what Amanda Gorman’s agents are doing a profound disrespect, particularly because both in the Dutch and in the Catalan cases the translator was already at work or done. The payment Obiols has received is not sufficient apology for the slap in the face he has got for not being young (a sign of ageism), a woman (of androphobia) and African-American (of racism). Spanish legislation guarantees that no person can be discriminated by reasons of identity in the job market, and what has happened with Obiols is, in my view, illegal. It is, besides, idiotic, for Gorman’s agents have no guarantee that a translator closer to her identity will produce a better translation.
The translators interviewed in El Confidencial try to take the hullaballoo with some humour that can hardly disguise the sinister overtones of the case. Mercedes Cebrián jokes that she can only translate short-sighted persons, being one herself, but finds the situation a story out of Black Mirror, the kind of scary situation that can quickly snowball and that benefits nobody except a “maddened Puritanism” (my translation). Another translator, Isabel García Adánez, points out that this attitude only harms the author, who can find herself in a ghettoized literary circle. I must say that I have been tempted to email Gorman’s agents to explain the damage they are doing to their client’s reputation in Catalonia with this misguided positioning but, well, let them learn the lesson. I am also thinking of the new Dutch and Catalan translators and how they will feel knowing that they have been picked up because of their skin colour and not their professional value. No doubt, this may be an opportunity for an aspiring translator who happens to be a black young woman to make her professional name, but the circumstances are, to say the least, dubious.
Translators are, most obviously, persons, not machines, and their personalities are part of the translation process. Translator and theorist Laurence Venuti has even asked for translation to be considered a literary genre, and translators a type of writer. I quite agree with his view, for it is obvious to me that readers in countries like Spain, where everybody reads translations, seem to believe that translators are an irrelevant part of the process of intercultural communication. Each translator has their style and no two translations can be alike, but, of course, one thing is saying this and quite another is claiming that the translator’s identity must match that of the author. I know, of course, of cases in which the work of a woman has been substantially altered by her male translator; a most famous instance is that of H. M. Parshley’s generally very poor 1953 translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex into English, only corrected with Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier 2009 version. I think, however, that translators are on the whole a particularly open-minded set of professionals; it is hard for me to think of someone with no empathy devoting their lives to translating the words of others. There is, I believe, a generosity in this that has been woefully overlooked in the Gorman case.
I always say that in controversial cases what one needs to do is to consider the opposite to correctly gauge the offense. Now suppose that a young, African-American, female translator had already completed her translation into English of Víctor Obiols’ poetry (remember he is a poet?) and that he asked his agents to reject it, replacing her with a white, middle-aged man like himself. That would be immediately read as an outrageous act of combined sexism and racism, and that is what it would be. As Obiols notes, Amanda Gorman is, besides young and African-American, a beautiful woman with a modelling contract with IMG Models. If we go down the identity path, it could be argued that her translator should also have the experience of being physically very attractive for, surely, being a great-looking woman is not at all the same as being plain (as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre comments on). Where, then, does identity stop? Could a plain, old black woman translator understand Gorman as her agents wish? Which factor should predominate: age, age, race? How about beauty, class, nationality?
The growing racial separatism is, in short, racializing persons and situations that should not be racialized. Interracial collaboration will always be necessary (how many female black translators is Gorman going to find in, say, Russia or China?), which is why I think that the wrong stance has been taken. As happens, Dutch publisher Meulenhoff did mention that Amanda Gorman had selected Rijneveld to be her translator. What offended Janice Deul was not really the choice but that the publishers described Rijneveld as a “dream candidate.” Her opinion noting that Rijneveld, though not a bad choice, was not at all the perfect one became magnified by social media ranting into a general opinion that Rijneveld was an inacceptable choice. What went wrong in this case, then, is that a) Meulenhoff bowed down to social media frenzy, b) Rijneveld did not stand her ground as she should have done, c) Gorman never gave her opinion. For all we know, she is disappointed but her Twitter account makes no mention of the Dutch or the Catalan translations. The lack of comment is, of course, a comment in itself suggesting that Gorman is failing to be aware of what her misguided agents are doing on her behalf.
Hopefully, this is yet another storm in a tweetcup, but it does hurt to see translation and translators treated in this awfully ignorant way. My recommendation to Gorman is that she changes agents, not translators, as quickly as possible before too much damage is done and her “power of reconciliation” evaporates.

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In case this might interest any scholars working on men and masculinity in cinema, here’s my bibliography of the field, from 1977 to 2020. The selection does not include many books on the filmographies in other languages than English, though there are some volumes that do deal with them and that are included here to mark the beginning of certain trends. I have organized this by decade for readers to see how an academic field grows from nothing to become a fully established area of research.

1970s and 1980s: the prehistory, before the field becomes fully academic. Please note that the interest in exploring men in cinema begins with a woman and in the middle of the second feminist wave, before the establishment of Masculinity Studies in the late 1980s /early 1990s. Also note the attention paid at this early stage to the representation of gay men by activist Vito Russo.
Mellen, Joan 1977. Big bad wolves: Masculinity in the American Film. Pantheon Books.
Spoto, Donald. 1978. Camerado: Hollywood and the American man. New American Library.
Malone, Michael. 1979. Heroes of Eros: Male sexuality in the movies. Dutton.
Russo, Vito. 1981, 1987 (revised). The celluloid closet: Homosexuality in the movies. Harper & Row.
Neibaur, James L. 1989. Tough guy: The American movie macho. McFarland & Co.

1990s: I once read that Cultural Studies were invented by Routledge, and perhaps this statement has a point –you know that a field is consolidated when Routledge starts publishing research on it. Please note the focus on the concept ‘Hollywood’ and the emergence of specific genres (film noir) and periods (the 1950s, the Reagan era). 1993 certainly was a glorious year. Note the attention paid to specific actors and the beginnings of an interest in foreign cinema.
Krutnik, Frank. 1991. In a lonely street: Film noir, genre and masculinity. Routledge.
Silverman, Kaja 1992. Male subjectivity at the margins. Routledge.
Clover, Carol J. 1993. Men, women and chainsaws: Gender in the modern horror film. British Film Institute.
Cohan, Steven and Ina Rae Hark. 1993, 2016. Screening the male: Exploring masculinities in the Hollywood cinema. Routledge.
Jeffords, Susan. 1993. Hard bodies: Hollywood masculinity in the Reagan era. Rutgers UP.
Kirkham, Pat and Jane Thumin. 1993. You Tarzan: Masculinity, movies, and men. Lawrence & Wishart.
Penley, Constance and Sharon Willis. 1993. Male trouble. University of Minnesota Press.
Tasker, Yvonne. 1993. Spectacular bodies: Gender, genre and the action cinema. Routledge.
Bingham, Dennis. 1994 Acting male: Masculinities in the films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood. Rutgers UP.
Callaghan, Lisa. 1994. Hollywood images of masculinity: Eastwood, Hoffman, Redford and Schwarzenegger. Oxford UP.
Reckley, Ralph. 1994. Images of the black male in literature and film: Essays in criticism. Middle Atlantic Writers Association Press.
Sklar, Robert. 1994. City boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. Princeton UP.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. 1996. Westerns: Making the man in fiction and film. University of Chicago Press.
Cohan, Steven. 1997. Masked men: Masculinity and the movies in the fifties. Indiana UP.
Powrie, Phil. 1997. French Cinema in the 1980s: Nostalgia and the crisis of masculinity. Oxford UP.

2000-2004: 2002 was another glorious year! Please notice the attention paid to national and ethnic masculinities, homosexuality, and, interestingly, children’s cinema –a trend that should, definitely, grow. You’ll find referenced here books on the films by specific directors (this is a trend that has not really caught on) and in foreign-language cinema (a trend now fully blown).
Chan, Jachinson W. 2001. Chinese American masculinities: From Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee. Routledge.
Lehman, Peter. ed. 2001. Masculinity: Bodies, movies, culture. Routledge.
Spicer, Andrew. 2001. Typical men: The representation of masculinity in popular British cinema. I.B. Tauris.
Trice, Ashton D. and Samuel A. Holland. 2001. Heroes, antiheroes, and dolts: Portrayals of masculinity in American popular films, 1921-1999. McFarland.
Abbott, Megan E. 2002. The street was mine: White masculinity in hardboiled fiction and film noir. Palgrave Macmillan.
Butters, Gerald R. 2002. Black manhood on the silent screen. UP of Kansas.
Clum, John M. 2002. He’s all man: Male homosexuality and myths of masculinity in American drama and film. Palgrave.
Holmlund, Christine. 2002. Impossible bodies: Femininity and masculinity at the movies. Routledge.
Lang, Robert. 2002. Masculine interests: Homoerotics in Hollywood film. Columbia UP.
LaSalle, Mick. 2002. Dangerous men: Pre-code Hollywood and the birth of the modern man. St. Martin’s Press.
MacKinnon, Kenneth. 2002. Love, tears, and the male spectator. Fairleigh Dickinson UP.
Stephens, John. ed. 2002. Ways of being male: Representing masculinities in children’s literature and film. Routledge.
Perriam, Christopher. 2003. Stars and masculinities in Spanish cinema: From Banderas to Bardem. Oxford UP.
Nicholls, Mark Desmond. 2004. Scorsese’s men: Melancholia and the mob. Pluto Press.
Powrie, Phil, Ann Davies, and Bruce Babington, eds. 2004. The trouble with Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema. Wallflower.
Reich, Jacqueline. 2004. Beyond the Latin lover: Marcello Mastroianni, masculinity, and Italian cinema. Indiana UP.

2005-2009: Hall’s 2005 handbook shows that by this date the label ‘masculinity in cinema’ was already being used in courses in Film Studies, otherwise why publish a handbook? I’d like to call your attention to how Creed’s volume on men is far less known than her seminal 1993 volume on women. Here the glorious year is 2006. Pullen’s volume is the only one dealing with masculinity in documentary film I have found; Zacahry Ingle and David M. Sutera’s edited volume Gender and Genre in Sports Documentaries: Critical Essays (2013), deals partly with women (which is right, as it announces it deals with ‘gender’).
Bruzzi, Stella 2005. Bringing up daddy: Fatherhood and masculinity in post-war Hollywood. British Film Institute.
Creed, Barbara. 2005. Phallic panic: Film, horror and the primal uncanny. Melbourne UP.
Hall, Matthew 2005. Teaching men and film. British Film Institute.
Chopra-Gant, Mike. 2006. Hollywood genres and postwar America: Masculinity, family and nation in popular movies and film noir. I.B. Tauris.
Claydon, E. Anna. 2006. The representation of masculinity in British cinema of the 1960s: Lawrence of Arabia, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and The Hill. Edwin Mellen Press.
Dennis, J. P. 2006. Queering teen culture: All-American boys and same-sex desire in film and television. Harrington Park Press.
Gallagher, Mark. 2006. Action figures: Men, action films, and contemporary adventure narratives. Palgrave Macmillan.
Gates, Philippa. 2006. Detecting men: Masculinity and the Hollywood detective film. State University of New York Press.
Gerstner, David. 2006. Manly arts: Masculinity and nation in early American cinema. Duke UP.
Harris, Keith M. 2006. Boys, boyz, bois: An ethics of Black masculinity in film and popular media. Routledge.
Plain, Gill. 2006. John Mills and British cinema: Masculinity, identity and nation. Edinburgh UP.
Eberwein, Robert. 2007. Armed forces: Masculinity and sexuality in the American war film. Rutgers UP.
Koureas, Gabriel. 2007. Memory, masculinity, and national identity in British visual culture, 1914-1930: A study of ‘unconquerable manhood.’ Ashgate.
Pullen, Christopher. 2007. Documenting gay men: Identity and performance in reality television and documentary film. McFarland & Co.
Baker, Brian. 2008. Masculinity in fiction and film: Representing men in popular genres, 1945-2000. Continuum.
Grønstad, Asbjørn 2008. Transfigurations: Violence, death and masculinity in American cinema. Amsterdam UP.
Patterson, Eric. 2008. On Brokeback Mountain: Meditations about masculinity, fear, and love in the story and the film. Lexington Books.
Cornell, Drucilla. 2009. Clint Eastwood and issues of American masculinity. Fordham UP.
Fouz-Hernández, Santiago, ed. 2009. Mysterious skin: Male bodies in contemporary cinema. I.B. Tauris.
Morag, Raya. 2009. Defeated masculinity: Post-traumatic cinema in the aftermath of war. Peter Lang.
Nystrom, Derek. 2009. Hard hats, rednecks, and macho men: Class in 1970s American cinema. Oxford UP.
Schleier, Merrill 2009. Skyscraper cinema: Architecture and gender in American film. University of Minnesota Press.

2010-2014: Yes, 26 books in five years! I’d like to call attention to Bruzzi’s book, which is the only one I have seen so far which claims that the cinema made by men has a certain style, and therefore we should speak of men’s cinema, as we speak of women’s cinema. I stand by that! I also would like to call attention to Amy Davis’s volume, the first one to discuss masculinity in animated children’s cinema.
Donovan, Barna William 2010. Blood, guns, and testosterone: Action films, audiences, and a thirst for violence. Scarecrow Press, 2010.
Larke-Walsh, George S. 2010. Screening the mafia: Masculinity, ethnicity and mobsters from The Godfather to The Sopranos. McFarland & Co.
Rehling, Nicola. 2010. Extra-ordinary men: White heterosexual masculinity and contemporary popular cinema. Lexington Books.
Cornelius, Michael G. 2011. Of muscles and men: Essays on the sword and sandal film. McFarland & Company.
Donald, Ralph and Karen MacDonald. 2011. Reel men at war: Masculinity and the American war film. Scarecrow Press.
Grant, Barry Keith. 2011. Shadows of doubt: Negotiations of masculinity in American genre films. Wayne State UP.
Gray, Richard J. and Betty Kaklamanidou, eds. 2011. The 21st century superhero: Essays on gender, genre and globalization in film. McFarland & Co.
Greven, David. 2011. Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush. University of Texas Press.
Peberdy, Donna. 2011. Masculinity and film performance: Male angst in contemporary American cinema. Palgrave Macmillan.
Vicari, Justin. 2011. Male bisexuality in current cinema: Images of growth, rebellion and survival. McFarland & Co.
King, Claire Sisco. 2012. Washed in blood: Male sacrifice, trauma, and the cinema. Rutgers UP.
Schultz, Robert T. 2012. Soured on the system: Disaffected men in 20th century American film. McFarland & Co.
Shimizu, Celine Parreñas. 2012. Straitjacket sexualities: Unbinding Asian American manhoods in the movies. Stanford UP.
Alberti, John. 2013, 2016. Masculinity in the contemporary romantic comedy: Gender as genre. Routledge.
Alberti, John. 2013. Masculinity in contemporary popular cinema. Taylor and Francis.
Bruzzi, Stella. 2013. Men’s cinema: Masculinity and mise-en-scène in Hollywood. Edinburgh UP.
Combe, Kirk and Brenda M. Boyle. 2013. Masculinity and monstrosity in contemporary Hollywood films. Palgrave Macmillan.
Davis, Amy M. 2013. Handsome heroes & vile villains: Men in Disney’s feature animation. John Libbey.
Greven, David. 2013. Psycho-sexual: Male desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin. University of Texas Press.
Hamad, Hannah. 2013. Postfeminism and paternity in contemporary US film: Framing fatherhood. Routledge.
Ingle, Zachary and David M. Sutera, eds. 2013. Gender and genre in sports documentaries: Critical essays. Scarecrow Press.
Jackson II, Ronald, and Jamie E. Moshin, eds. 2013. Communicating marginalized masculinities: Identity politics in TV, film, and new media. Routledge.
Meeuf, Russell. 2013. John Wayne’s world: Transnational masculinity in the fifties. University of Texas Press.
Moser, Joseph Paul. 2013. Irish masculinity on screen: The pugilists and peacemakers of John Ford, Jim Sheridan and Paul Greengrass. McFarland & Co.
Deangelis, Michael. 2014. Reading the bromance: Homosocial relationships in film and television. Wayne State UP.
O’Brien, Daniel. 2014. Classical masculinity and the spectacular body on film: The mighty sons of Hercules. Palgrave.

2015-2019: Here are all the trends: nationality, ethnicity, specific male stars, genres (with science fiction and romance complementing the analysis in previous decades of film noir, western and actions films), previously ignored decades, and whatever you may wish…
Fain, Kimberly. 2015. Black Hollywood: From butlers to superheroes, the changing role of African American men in the movies. Praeger.
Yu, Sabrina Qiong. 2015. Jet Li: Chinese masculinity and transnational film stardom. Edinburgh UP.
Balducci, Anthony. 2016. I won’t grow up!: The comic man-child in film from 1901 to the present. McFarland & Co.
Bell, Matt. 2016. The boys in the band: Flashpoints of cinema, history, and queer politics. Wayne State UP.
Wooden, Shannon R. and Ken Gillam 2016. Pixar’s boy stories: Masculinity in a postmodern age. Rowman & Littlefield.
Greven, David. 2017. Ghost faces: Hollywood and post-millennial masculinity. State University of New York Press.
O’Brien, Daniel. 2017. Black masculinity on film: Native sons and white lies. Palgrave Macmillan.
Carrasco, Rocío. 2018. New heroes on screen: Prototypes of masculinity in contemporary science fiction cinema. Universidad de Huelva.
Kac-Vergne, Marianne 2018. Masculinity in contemporary science fiction cinema: Cyborgs, troopers and other men of the future. I.B. Tauris.
Allan, J. A. 2019. Men, masculinities, and popular romance. Routledge.
Deakin, Pete. 2019. White masculinity in crisis in Hollywood’s fin de millennium cinema. Lexington Books.
Kelly, Gillian. 2019. Robert Taylor: Male beauty, masculinity, and stardom in Hollywood. UP of Mississippi.
Petersen, Christina. 2019. The freshman: Comedy and masculinity in 1920s film and youth culture. Routledge.
Willis, Joseph P. 2019. Threatened masculinity: From British fiction 1880-1915 to Cold-War German cinema. Routledge.

2020-2021: I assume that Covid-19 has affected academic production because I have only found these titles for 2020 (including my own volume!). Although the bibliography was intended to cover until 2020, I’d like to mention too Shary’s volume, as I think age should be the next big field of research in Film Studies connected with men and masculinities. The representation of little boys and of old men needs to be better assessed.
Barnett, Katie. 2020. Fathers on film: Paternity and masculinity in 1990s Hollywood. Bloomsbury Academic.
Donnar, Glen. 2020. Troubling masculinities: Terror, gender, and monstrous others in American film post-9/11. UP of Mississippi.
Luzón-Aguado, Virginia. 2020. Harrison Ford: Masculinity and stardom in Hollywood. Bloomsbury.
Martín, Sara. 2020. Representations of Masculinity in Literature and Film: Focus on Men. Cambridge Scholars Publishers.
Padva, Gilad. 2020. Straight skin, gay masks and pretending to be gay on screen. Routledge.
Shary, Timothy. 2021. Cinemas of boyhood: Masculinity, sexuality, nationality. Berghahn.

So you can see how a field of research grows from zero to one hundred –if you’re curious pay attention to which publishers have issued these books and you will see that there is a pattern there. I hope this is useful!

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A recent article in The Washington Post announced that “1 in 6 Gen Z adults are LGBT: And this number could continue to grow.” Gen Zers are the persons born between 1997 and 2012 (or 2015 depending on the sources). They are, thus, between 6 and 24 years old, but the article refers specifically to those over 18. Journalist Samantha Schmidt describes this demographic as “a group of young Americans that is breaking from binary notions of gender and sexuality—and is far more likely than older generations to identify as something other than heterosexual.” Yes, this is indeed cause for celebration, but we’re speaking about 16.6% of Gen Zers at most, meaning that 83.4% still see themselves as binary and heterosexual, a reality nobody really knows how to approach.
Schmidt’s data come from a Gallup survey declaring that 5.6% of all US adults identify as LGTB, whereas the percentage was 4.5% in the previous survey of 2017 (3.5% in 2012). The survey has other very interesting figures: “More than half of LGBT adults (54.6%) identify as bisexual. About a quarter (24.5%) say they are gay, with 11.7% identifying as lesbian and 11.3% as transgender;” only 3.3% give other self-definitions regarding gender and sexuality. Gallup confirms that 3.1% of Americans identify as bisexual (most of them are women), 1.4% as gay, 0.7% as lesbian, and 0.6% as transgender (which is a gender identity, not a sexual identity). The figures for Generation Z are 11.5% bisexual, 2.1% gay, 1.4% lesbian and 1.8% transgender (other 0.4%). “The pronounced generational differences” Gallup concludes, “raise questions about whether higher LGBT identification in younger than older Americans reflects a true shift in sexual orientation, or if it merely reflects a greater willingness of younger people to identify as LGBT.”
My view is quite different: what the survey unveils, at least for the USA, is that the label LGBT might soon implode, as bisexuality, which is increasingly accompanied by individuals’ declaring themselves genderfluid, is undermining any essentialisms that may still survive in this label. I don’t want to go too much into this complex territory for fear of offending anyone but I must ask how a gay man and a genderfluid bisexual person can be grouped under the same label since the former’s identity depends on binary constructions which are totally irrelevant (and unwelcome) for the latter. The Gallup survey seems to speak, rather, of a future in which the majority will still be heterosexual but diminishing (maybe down to 60-50%), followed by a very large group of bisexual persons (perhaps even 20 to 25%), next homosexuals (gays and lesbians), then transgender people, and then others (what happened to intersexuals and asexuals in this survey?). There will come a time, therefore, when the label LGTB, or LGTBIAQ+, whatever you prefer, will have to be reconsidered. As far as I am concerned, I welcome any news that speak of a greater variety of identities for people, related both to gender and reality. I find it cool that persons may refer to themselves as bisexual and genderfluid rather than be repressed for refusing binary labels (even though bisexual is also a binary label, pansexual being the non-binary term). However, I am left with two important questions: how do we speak of heterosexuality in this changing context? And why is sexuality still so important to define a person’s identity?
About ten years ago I wrote a little book called Desafíos a la heterosexualidad obligatoria [Challenges to Compulsory Heterosexuality] (yes, you can download it for free) and last week I was interviewed on it by Maria Giménez for the radio programme ‘Feminismes a Ràdio 4’ (here’s the podcast, in Catalan). I must say that my book has one very negative review on GoodReads, calling me awfully patronizing, and I have not re-read it since then for fear of really sounding condescending. I wish that person could explain to me over coffee why I sound so terribly to them but I think I can guess: the point I made in the book is that we need to establish a better dialogue between LGTB persons and the heterosexuals I called ‘heteroqueer’ (borrowing the word from Jackson Katz), that is to say, the persons who, like myself, do not care at all for heteronormativity. Or maybe it’s just that my tone is really patronizing, for which I apologize.
Heterosexuality is not an invention of patriarchy, but it is certainly the case that patriarchy has used it to constitute the norm by which all other sexual identities have been repressed: that is what we call heteronormativity. This has been used to repress heterosexuals themselves, forcing us to understand sexuality as a tool for procreation, which of course it is not (or not only). In case you didn’t know, the word ‘heterosexuality’ emerged in the 1920s, long after homosexuality (coined in 1869) to name a perversion: the sexual practice by man-woman couples who had sex without intention to reproduce. Heterosexuals, it turns out, know very little about the history of the concept and, unlike LGTB persons, have a very poor understanding of our own sexual identity. In fact, my book came about because I was harping all the time about this to the LGTB members of the research group I belonged to (Body and textuality) and its principal investigator, Meri Torras, asked me to write the volume and be done complaining, for which I thank her (though, as you can see, I am not done complaining).
‘Heteroqueer’ has never caught on but, as I did when I wrote the book, I still feel that the label LGTB forgets the heterosexuals who are not heteronormative and firmly reject heteronormativity. The position of heterosexuals in identity activism is as uncomfortable as the position of men in feminism (or whites in racism): we may be accepted as allies, but never as members integral to the movement. This is fine by me, but, just as I think that men can help feminism by undermining patriarchy, I believe that heterosexuals can help (and do help) LGTB persons by undermining heteronormativity. If it is a matter of renouncing privilege, then I think this can and must be done. My point is that just as it is not right to promote androphobia and identify all men with the patriarchal enemy –as French radical feminist Pauline Harmange has done in her recent book I Hate Men– it is not right to see all heterosexuals as the very embodiment of heteronormativity. As a heterosexual woman I stress that the patriarchal construction is heteronormativity, not heterosexuality, and, being in favour of the demolition of normativity for good, I declare myself an anti-patriarchal, anti-heteronormative heterosexual woman. This is my choice, and, if reading this you think that I am a deluded person who cannot see that her gender and her sexuality have been conditioned by patriarchy, maybe you’re being patronizing…
Having said that, I must say that I am totally fed up with the insistence on sex and what I will call ‘sexnormativity’. Heteronormativity has been used to repress people horribly into thinking that sex should be connected with reproduction, but now that sex has been disconnected from reproduction (not too successfully, thinking of how many women need to have abortions every year) we are in the grip of this constant compulsion to be sexual beings all the time. I wrote ten years ago and I will insist now that human affectivity goes beyond sex, not only with one’s partners but generally in life. I’m really sick and tired of reading so many articles and books about how we connect with other persons in bed while nobody seems to care about how we connect with others as friends, in a work-related context, in the neighbourhood, etc. I agree, of course, that sex needs to be discussed as openly as possible, both in its good and its bad aspects, but there seems to be a kind of sex police out there monitoring how often we have sex and with how many partners, from adolescence to the day we die. To be honest, I fail to understand why sex has this hyperbolic presence in our lives, though I very much suspect that this is not examined in depth because the main promoters of its omnipresence are sexnormativist men. I am not disputing the discourse of sexual liberation but wondering why this aspect of human behaviour is taking up so much personal and social energy, at the expense of other forms of human affectivity.
So, going back to where I started, I will insist that both LGTB and heterosexuality are labels that need to be revised and reconfigured, even lost if that would help everyone be happier. As regards gender, as much as I like the label ‘genderfluid’ I still think that we do not have yet the cultural markers –from fashion down to person’s names– that can help genderfluid non-binary persons make themselves visible. We do need them urgently. I do not doubt for a moment that humankind would be better off with more variety, and with many more genderfluid pansexuals. But, above all, I would like to have sex become less ubiquitous in the media, the social networks, and so on, so that people can be free from compulsory sexnormativity. Perhaps I’ll eventually write a book called Challenges to Compulsory Sexuality. And try to be less patronizing…

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Allow me to begin by venting my massive annoyance with the new platform which my university has chosen to keep track of our academic activities, as if ORCID,, and my own webpage were not enough. I have spent two and a half complete working days trying to make sense of its user-unfriendly approach to my CV, which I keep as tidy as a work of art (after all, it covers 30 years of my life). Apart from delaying the writing of this post and all my other activities, the platform has given me a terrible headache, enhanced by my realization that I will need at least four more complete working days, if not more, to put everything in its place. In the process, by the way, I have discovered that Scopus only registers one of my publications, when the real figure, leaving aside what I have self-published, is about 100. If I have to enter everything again there, I’ll scream!!! I’m fed up with the co-existence of so many platforms and their general lack of intercommunication.
My topic today is not that, however, but a delicious book by Pierre Bayard, the French scholar and psychoanalyst. I have read his volume Comment parler des livres que l’on n’a pas lus? (2007) in its Catalan translation by David Clusellas i Codina, and my first observation needs to be that in this and in the English translation the final interrogation mark has been lost. What was a query becomes a statement, which is curious to say the least. Apart from the books we have read and know well, Bayard refers to four categories of books: the ones we don’t know, the ones we have skimmed, the ones we have heard of, and the ones we have forgotten. I’m using here the table of contents of the English translation (by Jeffrey Mehlman), though I remain mystified by category two. The French original refers to ‘Les livres que l’on a parcourous’ and I don’t know sufficient French to be sure that ‘skimmed’ is a good translation (‘parcour’ means to travel); the Catalan translator has chosen ‘fullejat’ (‘fuilleter’ in French) which could be translated as ‘leaf through’. In my own reading practice I have never leafed through any book; this is a word I might connect to a magazine or a coffee table book, but not a volume with no illustrations. I was, therefore, totally confused by what Bayard meant until I simply accepted that he does indeed leaf through books he is not too keen on reading.
Please, recall that Bayard teaches Literature at the University of Paris VIII. Although I suspect that the whole volume is written very much tongue-in-cheek, I remain surprised by his willingness to openly declare that he often speaks in class of books he has not read –as his students do. I may have spoken of books I have not read in the context of giving information about an author’s oeuvre but I swear that I have never ever discussed a book I have not read at least twice. I agree with Bayard that many of my students discuss in their exercises books they have never read, and I once had a major incident with a gentleman who casually commented in another course that he had never read any of the books in mine despite having obtained an A. Instead of failing him retrospectively, as I could do, I called him to my office for him to explain to me how he did it, and that was a very interesting meeting. However, I simply cannot imagine what kind of teaching can emerge from a classroom in which absolutely nobody, including the teacher, has read the book under analysis. Bayard claims that is the best possible situation to produce something new and creative but, again, I think he jokes.
One matter in which I do find that he seems more serious is his declaration that (quoting the English translation) “Being cultivated is a matter not of having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books as a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to others”. If you read ten introductions to Victorian Literature there comes a moment in which you might be able to speak reasonably about the Victorian novel without having read any. If you add to this the Sparknotes summaries then you can pass as a true lover of Victorian fiction. The question, however, is why would you want to do that? It is very unlikely that you would find another person interested in a conversation about Victorian fiction who was also passing him/herself as a reader, so why pretend? I don’t think I could have a minimally intelligible conversation about, say, Italian 19th century fiction, just by being familiar with the main names and titles in a context in which the other person supposed I was a reader of that type of fiction. For me, the knowledge of the book system to which Bayard refers is a process of filling in the blanks, though I confess that to this day I am not sure how many Victorian novels you should have read before qualifying to teach Victorian Literature. I have teaching that for almost 30 years now and, obviously, when I started I had only read a tiny fraction of the Victorian novels I have read now. A list, that anyway, still seems pitifully short to me.
So, my rule number one so far: don’t speak of books you have not read as if you knew them well, for, regardless of what students may think, your not having read them does show. Regarding the books we leaf through, or skim, I must say that now that I think about it there is a type of book I do leaf through: academic books, when I need a quotation for one of my articles. We would all lie if we claimed that we read the academic books we quote from beginning to end, it is simply not the case. I would not leaf through a novel, though, and if I start skimming then this is a sign that my energies are flagging and I am about to abandon the book. I have recently abandoned a 450 page novel around page 320, or as my e-book reader indicates, around 2:30 hours away from the end. I just could not go on, even though my usual rule is that past the 50% mark I must finish. This poses a problem, which Bayard does tackle: he argues that the unfinished book should count as a read book, whereas I tend not to add the unfinished volumes to the list of books I have read (I do keep a list, this is literal not metaphorical). Since I have recently abandoned about half a dozen novels, my list looks pitiful this month, as if I have somehow failed. I have even considered keeping a separate list of unfinished books, but this seems going too far. I see many readers posting reviews in GoodReads in which they do acknowledge they never finished the book under review. They make a point that if an author fails to interest them sufficiently that is part of the process of reading and, hence, of reviewing. This sounds fine to me for a platform like GoodReads but, again, rule number two, I would never teach a book I have not finished, or discuss it academically.
An even more tantalizing concept than that of the unfinished book is the forgotten book. Bayard explains in a wonderful chapter that Montaigne did not know how to tackle the problem of his forgetfulness as a reader until he hit on the system of making a note on the final page naming the date when he had finished the book and adding his opinion. Montaigne, nonetheless, discovered eventually that the method did not work at all; additionally, he felt as if his opinions were someone else’s. I started keeping a list of all I read when I discovered that I had re-read a book I had already read but forgotten. Even with the list, I’ve had some incidents of that kind. And when at the end of each year I go through the list for the last twelve months I inevitably discover one or two books I have already forgotten.
My good friend Bill Phillips has a wonderful capacity to recall the plots of the many novels he reads months after he read them, but my memory is rather mediocre in that sense and I can only recall in detail the books I teach or have written about. These are books that, please recall, I have read at least twice, in some cases ten or more times. This means that I recall having read particular books and having generally enjoyed them or not, but I can only remember specific details if I make notes. From Bayard’s perspective, this means that my whole reading experience consists mainly of books I have forgotten, which might well be the case. I have the impression, besides, that the more I read the more I forget as if my brain were a hard disk with a limited capacity. I don’t know if this is the same for all readers, as we hardly speak about these matters in my academic circle, or with my students.
The other book I’m reading these days, Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great (2014), is a collection of blog posts which she wrote commenting on the science fiction and fantasy she was re-reading for the website Walton does not speak of re-reading as a cure against forgetfulness but as a re-encounter with characters she values as friends. I do not re-read much because, like many other readers, I feel that life is too short to read the same book more than once. I must acknowledge, though, than when I re-read a book I need to teach or write about the pleasure is always bigger the second time around, or even the third. In the case of the two novels I have recently written about (Iain M. Banks’s The Algebraist and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312) I only truly loved them in the third reading –not because they are not good books but because I wasn’t paying enough attention. It occurs to me now that I actually choose the books I write about when I implicitly accept that I would like to re-read them, and the other way round: a book I don’t want to re-read is, most definitely, one I don’t want to teach or analyse. Walton, going back to her book, is Bayard’s direct opposite, for instead of speaking of books she does not know, she speaks of books she knows very intimately and to which she returns regularly. I believe this is how it should be done.
So, to sum up, as much as I loved reading Bayard’s book, I would not speak of books I have not read. If someone tells me about a book I have not read I have no problems to acknowledge my ignorance. I remain convinced, in any case, that Bayard’s book is a fine satire against those who speak of books they have not read, perhaps because the possibility that most conversations on books are carried out by people who don’t read scares me too much.

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Blogger Jim Harmon ( left a comment on my post “Theorizing Character: A Few Pointers”, recommending an article on characters published in The Guardian by James Wood: “A Life of Their Own”. I didn’t know who Woods is: a major literary critic employed in publications such as The Guardian itself, The New Republic, and currently The New Yorker magazine (he’s also a part-time associate professor at Harvard). As it turns out, Wood is the author of a best-selling non-academic volume, How Fiction Works (2008, 2019) which can be said to be the heir to E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (1927). The article on characters published in The Guardian is actually a central part of Wood’s volume, and a continuation of Forster’s discussion of characters as flat or round, among other matters. My focus, however, is not character today but literary criticism. The date seems, besides, particularly appropriate, as Prof. J. Hillis Miller, who did so much to introduce deconstructionism decades ago, has just passed ( I would define deconstructionism as the last gasp of traditional literary criticism before the total dominance of the literary theory which it helped to introduce from 1990 onward.
Wood’s volume is a deliciously old-fashioned study, devoid of all theory, about how realist fiction works. The title of the book is, actually, incorrect because even though there are some comments on what we habitually call genre fiction, Wood is only interested in realism. He adamantly denies that this is a genre, as many including myself claim, even though I remain more convinced than ever after reading his volume that realism is indeed a genre dealing with the life crises of mainly middle-class characters living in contexts identifiable as historically accurate or representing the mundane present. Wood says that no realist novel needs to mention Trump and that gives you an idea of what he means: in realist fiction, the socio-political reality that so interested 19th century novelists is missing, to the point that I wonder whether Covid-19 will ever feature in it. Realism of the kind Wood loves functions as if referring to issues beyond the characters’ personal lives is in bad taste. A problem, as Wood notes, is that since writers themselves have started being bored by the inner life of the average individuals often described in realist fiction, they have started moving towards more overtly autobiographical fiction, even half-abandoning the fictional. But I digress.
The question that seems to confuse the study of realism is that part of the definition of the genre is the use of literary prose and the foregrounding of form over plot. This is, I think, a direct consequence of dealing with the minute events of life as it is on planet Earth: you need to make matters interesting from an artistic point of view or risk alienating your reader out of pure boredom. A novel about nothing, as Flaubert wanted to write, needs to rely on a solid linguistic artistry and narrative technique to engage readers’ attention, whereas a plot-driven novel can do away with literary prose and formal experimentation because the point of engagement, so to speak, is provided by what happens.
Take, for instance, a detective novel. This genre is 100% realist in the sense that, unless supernatural elements intervene, the detective works against a background that readers accept as a representation of real life. Indeed, many detective fiction works are successful not so much because of the case they explore but because of the description of the social and geographical background (yes, I’m thinking of Nordic noir, or of Tartan noir). The best detective fiction is as good as any realist novel (using Wood’s vocabulary) at using free indirect style, strong characterization, plenty of details based on good powers of observation and so on. The main difference is that detective fiction writers do not use prose full of artistic literary elements (though I have thought here immediately about classic US noir’s invention of hard-boiled dialogue). I am not saying that detective fiction cannot be literary like the works of, say, Vladimir Nabokov; what I am saying is that if it is literary this is an added element and not part of the core of the genre. Readers, in short, do not read detective fiction for the literariness of the prose and any experiments in narrative structure but this does not mean that no novel in this genre is literary. I would say the opposite: that the best genre novels enter the particular genre canon because of their literary values. No reader loves a poorly written novel.
Wood, in contrast, focuses on a long selection of realist writers, from Miguel de Cervantes to Ali Smith, to lovingly enthuse about the beauties of their literary achievements in selected passages from their books. His clever, insightful, theory-free application of close reading is truly enjoyable and I hadn’t realized I was missing this so much until I read his little volume. I was reminded, above all, of Erich Auerbach’s classic Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Mimesis: Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur, 1946), which I read as an undergrad student in the 1980s. By the way, Wood notes that his book is being used as a handbook in many university courses but I have my doubts about its usefulness, simply because most of the literary authors he mentions (the canon complemented by a 21st century selection) might be unknown to undergrad students. Part of the value of Wood’s book comes from enjoying analyses of literary classics (or prestige new fiction) one is already familiar with, and as an introduction it can be a bit overwhelming for someone who has never heard of Thomas Mann or Karl Ove Knausgaard. But I digress again…
Wood does pay attention to detail, and does it amazingly well, because he can do it. He is, after all, a literary critic working in the media, whereas we, scholars, are no longer allowed to produce literary criticism but just theory-framed issue analysis. I have always argued that all types of fiction need to be subjected to the type of illuminating close reading that Wood offers for literary fiction because only good textual criticism can help a genre progress. If we only focus on the plot elements or on the identity politics affecting characterization then we end up encouraging a type of writing that, while satisfactory on those fronts, is weak as literature. Beyond the type of story you enjoy, you need to be demanding about the quality of its writing; that seems pretty obvious to me. I love science-fiction, as I have noted countless times here, but this doesn’t mean that I am willing to put up with bad writing.
In fact, now that I am reading lots of science-fiction novels, for reasons that I will eventually explain, I am getting really fed up with the sloppiness dominating the genre today. Ursula K. Le Guin was a marvellous writer (and I can say that having read also all her realistic short stories) but many of the writers I am going through these days are either awful or, in the best cases, pedestrian. There seems to be, besides, a regrettable divide between the good prose writers and the good plot-makers. Lavie Tidhar writes lovely literary prose but his Central Station has no story. Everyone loves the space opera series The Expanse by James S.A. Corey but, though the plot is thrilling enough, I fail to be excited by the lack of authorial insight into the characters and the flat dialogue which is never conversation. Nobody, however, among my science fiction colleagues is commenting on these matters, as if proper literary criticism was taboo (that is left for the formidably clever readers in GoodReads and the media reviewers).
Intriguingly, Wood partly undermines his argumentation about the intrinsic difference between realism and the so-called narrative genres when he writes that realism, “seen broadly as truthfulness to the way things are” (205), goes beyond verisimilitude to be what he calls “lifeness”: “life brought to different life by the highest artistry” (206). He insists that this is the reason why realism cannot be a genre, yet at the same time Wood claims that lifeness is what allows the genres to exist, from magical realism to the western. The novelist, he says, must always “act as if the available novelistic methods are continually about to turn into mere convention and so has to try to outwit that inevitable ageing” (206). There is plenty to unpack here but in essence two ideas emerge: a) if an impression of lifeness is a mark of the best fiction, there is no reason why it should not be found beyond the novel of everyday life, as long as the writer is willing to employ the “highest artistry”; b) if lifeness allows all genres to exist, there is no reason to think of realism as a strand of fiction apart from all genres (in fact, I don’t quote understand the idea that some kind of fiction has no genre for all fiction obeys generic conventions). In short, any novel of any type can be literary if the writer displays the “highest artistry” and all novels of all types aspire to tricking the readers into accepting that what they are reading is a slice of life of the context chosen for representation. When we read The Lords of the Rings, we get carried away by the illusion of life that Tolkien conjures up for us, even though we know very well that Hobbits do not exist. When we read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables we enjoy the same magical trick but from another angle. That Tolkien’s Middle-earth has never existed but Hugo’s France has is irrelevant, or, if you wish, a matter of the reader’s preferences. What matters is that both books are great works of fiction full of lifeness.
Seeking a more formal approach to science fiction, I ended up reading Peter Stockwell’s The Poetics of Science Fiction (2000), a volume that tries to undermine the type of subjective, impressionistic criticism that critic-reviewers like Wood produce by offering a scientific approach based on stylistics and cognitive linguistics. Whereas Wood is after a certain notion of beauty, admiring the writer’s personal ability to manipulate prose for his/her ends, Stockwell takes a whole genre to explore how it works at a macro level. His assumption is that if you map the linguistic and stylistic resources that a genre uses, then you will be able to say whether a particular text uses them well, beyond offering a personal opinion. It is a commendable position, but also one that forgets that writing fiction is an art, not a scientific endeavour. You can apply all the mathematics in the world to explain why Michelangelo’s David is so beautiful, but this will just result in an extremely limited impression of its appeal. Likewise, you may describe in all detail, as Stockwell does, all the types of metaphor used in science fiction and how readers understand worldbuilding but this doesn’t explain why Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) hit such a raw nerve when it was published and why it has become such a huge classic. In a way deconstruction came about to bridge the gap between impressionistic personal criticism and this new brand of objective stylistic criticism to re-introduce formalism, which had been already all the vogue in the early 20th century. In the end, though, literary theory has bridged no gap but left us with no guiding compass to truly read the texts.
You might think I am exaggerating but I am reading these days plenty of academic writing in which textual analysis has practically disappeared under a tremendous barrage of secondary sources, and in which building a theoretical frame matters more than introducing the author. Wood’s book has made my discomfort with this practice more nagging than usual, and I am wondering why I never see any analyses of the beauties of genre fiction, which are many. I do not agree that genre fiction should be the subject of clinical description, as Stockwell proposes. And the other way round: possibly only 10% of all genre fiction can sustain literary analysis in Wood’s style. But how about downplaying the role of theory and of identity politics, and looking at how texts are actually written? How about expressing more appreciation for how the writers we admire do what they do with words? I’m not asking for a return to pure formalism, but for a better grasp of writing itself and for a celebration in all genres –including realism– of that elusive thing Wood calls lifeness. It seems to me that is the very reason why we love reading fiction, whether as plain readers or as as professional academics.

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This post is intended to be a sort of ‘making of’ of the new e-book I have edited and which has been written by the students in my MA course on Gender Studies this past semester. It is my ninth project of that kind (see the full list at These e-books gather together short essays, and in some cases longer papers or brief factsheets, written by students as part of their assessment but mainly with a view to online publication. The new e-book is called Gender in 21st Century Animated Children’s Cinema and it can be downloaded for free from I have also uploaded onto the digital repository of my university a narrated PowerPoint corresponding to the symposium presentation “Collaborative authorship: Publishing E-Books on Fantasy and Science Fiction with BA and MA students” (, which more or less repeats what I describe here (but with illustrations!). This is what I presented at the meeting on born-digital texts to which I referred a few posts ago.
I started publishing e-books with students both in the BA and the MA degrees in English Studies because my university, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, invited all teachers to take advantage of the possibilities open by the digital repositories inaugurated in 2006. In 2013-14 I taught a course on Harry Potter for which I asked my students to write a brief essay about their experience of reading the series. When I saw that the essays had quality and interest I put together a volume which I published online in the digital repository. Then I put together a second volume with the academic papers written to obtain the course grade. These were my first two publications with students, in this case fourth-year BA students in the degree in English Studies, with a C1 to C2 command of English. Next, in 2015, I published a volume gathering together work written for a fourth year BA course on Gender Studies, including again personal essays and papers. I published a second volume a few years later, in 2018.
In the previous four publications I had worked with quite large groups of about 40 BA students. For the next two, Reading Sf Short Fiction: 50 Titles and Gender in 21st Century SF Cinema, I worked with much smaller groups. The science-fiction short fiction guide was written by only 15 BA students enrolled in an elective monographic fourth-year course on this genre. The e-book about gender in sf cinema was written by just 8 MA students in my Gender Studies course, with a similar C1 to C2 level. This is the minimum number this kind of project needs as each of the students had six films in their hands, which also meant six essays for the e-book of about 1500 words each. Of course, I could have chosen to cover less than 50 films, but this is quite a nice number if you want to cover minimally an extensive field. My two most recent projects before the new e-book were Frankenstein’s Film Legacy, written by a group of second year BA students with a lower B2 to C1 level, and Focus on the USA: Representing the Nation in Early 21st Century Documentary Film written by a group of 4th year BA students. This e-book is the most complex publication I have edited so far because I was not familiar myself with about 50% of the films and I had to learn about them as I taught the course. It is also a very long volume, with 90 essays.
All these e-books, published as .pdf files, are available for free from the digital repository of my university. They have generated together more than 22,000 downloads in six years, from a long list of nations all over the world. The most successful one is the short fiction guide which accounts for about 40% of the downloads, and seems to be particularly popular in the United States. I cannot explain its success except that it appears to be the most practical of the e-books I have published with students.
The last e-book has been written by 13 MA students of diverse nationalities (Spanish, American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian) who have produced excellent work analysing how animated children’s cinema deals with gender issues. The novelty of the e-book and of the course is that unlike what is habitual in academic work it does not focus on a single animation studio. I did read in preparation for the course the two books by Amy Davis on Disney and another book by Shannon Wooden and Ken Gillam on Pixar. There are, however, no academic books yet on studios such as DreamWorks, Laika, Illumination, Blue Sky and so on. In contrast the e-book includes films by all these and others. The films are in any case all of them English-language films mostly made in the United States because they have been studied in an English Studies degree.
It was by no means easy to focus just on 50 titles, the maximum a small MA group can cover, even though it was my criterion to work only on 21st century films. I am myself a keen spectator of that kind of animated film so I relied on my previous knowledge of the genre to organise the course. Even so, I went through many lists of the best, taking into account that the films should also be interesting from a gender issues perspective. However, I must say there I discarded very few on those grounds for, as my students found out, all films for children implicitly address gender issues. An annoying problem was that many of the films made now have sequels and I found it very difficult to focus just on the first film and disregard the sequels. Perhaps I should have done that but I decided that taking a look at the franchises made sense to see precisely how gender evolved in them, or not at all.
Generally speaking, from the first film, Monsters Inc (2001) to the last, Onward (2020), there has been a general improvement in the treatment of gender though within a rather conservative pattern. Again generally speaking, the female characters are better represented, with many more strong, independent girls and women. Nevertheless, the influence of the Disney Princess stereotype still persists, even in films that try to opposite it openly. Besides, most films addressed to children have male characters as protagonists, even though it is by no means true that men or boys are always positively represented. The other matter that we established is that most animated films addressed to children are stubbornly heteronormative. There were hints that some characters could be gay or lesbian but only in Onward, that is to say last year, did we come across an openly LGBTI+ character, who has, it must be noted, a very minor role. So, on the whole the treatment of gender issues has improved but very slowly and we hope that the pressure put on the studios after the #MeToo campaigns and others will help to make animated children’s films generally more progressive and closer to what the march of gender progress demands.
For those who might be interested, this is how I taught the course. I used two of the ten teaching weeks for an introduction to Gender Studies and to animation, based on four 90’ lectures. Then I used the rest of the eight weeks for students’ class presentations of the gender issues in each film, with two to four 15’ presentations per session, apart from a teacher’s mini-lecture also of about 15’. I offered students a sample presentation, and I myself participated in the course as one more student. Each of us had four films in our hands. When we had to move online because of Covid-19, I kept the same format, though instead of streaming live presentations we used narrated PowerPoints that were later commented on in the corresponding forum. I don’t know whether this was the effect of certain competitiveness but the PowerPoints were in some cases simply spectacular. All students did much more than I asked them for. I must say that if the course had been run face-to-face it would have been impossible to deal with all the material that they uploaded after we went online, with most presentations running to 20 minutes instead of 10 to 15, as I had initially asked. The presentations were intended to be a draft of the essay that students later submitted; this was based on my own sample essay (including credits, film poster, three reasons why the film is interesting, a 1500-word essay). In total we covered 57 films, so the e-book contains 57 essays. I encouraged students to use for both the presentations and for the essays three secondary sources, including film reviews and academic secondary sources. Luckily, this time I had a research assistant helping all of us to find bibliography. We have found some academic work for most of the pre-2010 films but not so much for the more recent films, hence the importance of the film reviews.
I must note that I corrected in depth the essays, handed in two weeks after each presentation, but I did not grade them yet. If they were good enough, I accepted them for publication; if they required revision I returned them for a second draft, to be delivered one week before the final grades were due. That was the case with about 30% of the essays. This might surprise some but I asked students to self-assess: 50% of the final grade came from the essays, 30% from the presentations, and 20% from the forum contributions, that is to say the questions they asked their classmates. All assessed themselves fairly, though I upgraded some marks after going through the revised essays. Once I gathered the 57 essays together (216 pages, 105000 words), I spent about 35 hours revising them for the final publishable version, with most of that time used to correct the second versions of the essays for which I had asked students to rewrite.
I didn’t ask students to see all the films and I have not checked or valued in any way how many they did see, but I assume from their comments that they were familiar directly with at least half (in some cases more, in others less). Regarding the approach to Gender Studies, I have allowed students to express their own views and ideas freely. I am myself a feminist specialised in Masculinities Studies but I have not imposed on my students a single criterion (at least, I hope I have not done that). In any case, rather unified criteria emerged from classroom discussion with very little discrepancy, perhaps because the films are on the whole rather conservative, as I have noted, and they were quite easy to analyse and criticise. The students were clearly much more progressive and advanced in their understanding of gender than the studio executives.
I am extremely proud of my students’ great work. Thank you Rubén Campos, Manu Díaz, Cristina Espejo, Silvia Gervasi, Maria Guallar, Naiara López, Jessiah Mellott, Raquel Prieto, Alba Sánchez, Thu Trang Tran, Jamie Wang, Ting Wang and Helena Zúñiga for a wonderful experience in the midst of a hard time that seems hardly the best for doing good academic work. I hope your e-book is immensely successful!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from Visit my website


One of my BA dissertation tutorees has asked me to work on Childish Gambino’s fascinating, controversial music video “This is America” (2018, and I’m happy to have the chance of returning to a film genre that I neglect too much. Ages ago (or so it seems), I published the essay “El cuerpo en el videoclip musical: Más que carne fresca” (in Meri Torras (ed.), Corporizar el pensamiento: Escrituras y lecturas del cuerpo en la cultura occidental. Pontevedra: Mirabel, 2006. 175-194), which came from a seminar on the same topic which I taught at UAB. I will always remember a hilarious moment in it. I had decided to debate with students The Prodigy’s video for the song “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997). I had more than a little distaste for the lyrics (just a monotonous repetition of “Change my pitch up!/ Smack my bitch up!”) but the video directed by Jonas Åkerlund is still one of my favourites. It narrates from a first person point of view a riotous night in London, with plenty of booze, drugs, and sex. The spectator assumes that the invisible protagonist behind the camera must be a man but the big final reveal is that this is actually a young woman. When I walked into the room, I saw that one of the students was an elderly lady and, ageist me, I worried that she might be scandalized. Funnily, when the video was over, she raised her hand and asked me very eagerly “can you play it again, please?” Everyone laughed.
I wrote a few years later another article on a music video, “Unstable meanings, unstable methods: Analysing Linkin Park’s song ‘What I’ve Done’” (José Ramón Ibáñez Ibáñez & José Francisco Fernández Sánchez (eds.), A View from the South: Contemporary English and American Studies. Almería: Editorial Universidad de Almería, 2011. 150-157), in which I showed how even when a song is popular there can be very little agreement on what it actually means. The song appears to deal with a man’s regrets about his past misbehaviour, either because he has been a drug addict or because he has been abusive in a relationship, or both. In contrast, the video directed by one of Linkin Park’s members, Joe Hahn, shows the band playing in the desert with the performance intercut with a montage of documentary images, mostly showing the conflicts in which the USA have been involved. Chester Bennington’s passionate singing changes radically depending on what you decide the song is about: a heart-felt apology from a single man speaking for himself perhaps to a woman, or a heart-felt apology by an American man ashamed of his nation and asking the world for forgiveness. And this just because some images were added to a performance in the music video.
Back to my student. She is also taking a Practicum with me consisting of doing academic activities connected with Literature and Culture. Since the actual content is very open, I have employed her so far as my research assistant for my MA course on gender in animated children’s fiction and will employ her now producing a guide of the best American music videos of the 21st century (for online publication on UAB’s digital repository and under her name, not mine). This is for two reasons: one, I think that working on other music videos will enhance her understanding of Gambino’s video for her BA dissertation; two, I very much wanted to learn from a much younger person about the current state of the music video. There are always lists of the best at the end of the year and, inevitably, I stumble upon this or that music video on YouTube or browsing the international press. I must say that, unfortunately, I seem to have lost my former passion for pop and rock, which lasted until I became incapable of working with the music on and found listening to it outside working hours incompatible with the lots of reading I need to do. Besides, I could never accomplish the transition from the album to the Spotify list, without which following the ups and downs of current music styles is hard enough. I know, more or less, who is who but if asked to name ten great songs of the last decade I would be lost. Yes, quite sad –perhaps I should teach a course and get back on track!
I agreed with my tutoree that she would select 50 great music videos of the 21st century and then we could decide how to write about them for the guide. She sent me the selection last week and I spend a few wonderful hours on Saturday enjoying a list if not of the best at least of the very good music videos which the past two decades have given us. My student has mostly chosen elegant, well-made videos that illustrate great songs by a notable variety of US performers. I’m not going to comment on the list itself (I keep that for when she publishes the guide) but I will say that, as she and I know, all lists are bound to be very personal even when the person making the selection tries to be as open-minded as possible. Everyone has favourites and in the immense world of popular music there is no way two persons can agree on what is best. It is, besides, very hard to say in which ways a music video is a quality work, for, surely, some great videos corresponding to not so popular songs must pass unnoticed, whereas other videos get noticed just for the song, not because the video has any filmic values. Surely, the video for Luis Fonsi’s hit “Despacito” has no special values as a film, despite being the second most played video on YouTube ever (behind “Baby Shark”!). Even worse, some music videos have become extremely popular for very wrong reasons, and I’m thinking here of the exploitative images in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”.
This leads to me to video number 51 –“WAP”. My student did not include it in her selection but “WAP” is no doubt the most talked about music video of 2020. Here are some notes. “WAP” is a song published by New York rapper Cardi B (born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar in 1992) featuring Texan rapper Meghan thee Stallion (Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, b. 1995). The song, which mixes hip hop, dirty rap, and trap, deals quite explicitly with sexual matters, with both artists singing and rapping about women’s sexual preferences and their expectations regarding men’s performance during sex (‘wap’ incidentally is an acronym for ‘wet-ass pussy’). “WAP” was generally well-received for its expression of female sexual agency but its dirty lyrics ( were also a source of enormous controversy, with some criticizing them for their vulgar language. There was quite a backlash from conservative politicians (i.e. Trumpian Republicans) who even asked for some form of censorship, though their complaints mostly helped “WAP” to become an even more popular hit. Most progressive media outlets defended Cardi B’s raunchy song as an expression of black female empowerment through popular American culture’s reverence for the rebellious artist.
The music video (, directed by the extremely experienced Collin Tilley but with plenty of input from Cardi B herself, made the controversy even more vivid, with figures such as British comedian Russell Brand arguing that there was little difference between pornographic sexualization by men and the supposedly self-empowering presentation of the women in it. The video shows Cardi B and Meghan thee Stallion, dressed in sexy outfits by haute couture designers (Nicolas Jebran, Thierry Mugler), walking in an extravagant mansion full of powerful women similarly dressed. The imagery uses plenty of animal print decorations and psychedelic colours in the style of Willie Wonka’s factory. A pool scene offers a sensual dance routine (by JaQuel Knight) imitated countless times on TikTok. The video features non-singing cameos by Kylie Jenner, Normani, Rosalía, Mulatto, Rubi Rose, and Sukihana, all contributing to enhancing the representation of female power. The video was celebrated, like the song, and soon hailed as one of the best of 2020, if not the best. However, beyond its sexiness, the video became a source of criticism for its use of live animals (with big cats appearing as pets for rich women) and for the presence of white celebrity Kylie Jenner. Cardi B defended her choice, arguing that race should not be a consideration (Jenner has been often accused of appropriating black culture) and that Kim Kardashian’s sister also appears as her personal friend.
There is an immense difference between Gambino’s “This is America” and Cardi B’s “WAP” but both have something in common: they are a wonderfully compressed representation of a rich bunch of interconnected issues, and require a savvy audience to make sense. I understand why my student is interested in the former far more than in the latter. Gambino’s issues, focused on racial discrimination in the USA, seem to be far more serious socially speaking than Cardi B and Meghan thee Stallion’s hymn to the hyperactive vagina. Yet, each knows its audience very well. Gambino throws one allusion after the other to events every black person in the USA should be able to identify whereas Cardi B appeals to those who follow the ins and outs of celebrity culture and of black female empowerment in the American music circuit. If you don’t know any of the celebrities appearing in the video, you will be mystified –though I remain mystified about why Rosalía accepted appearing in a sort of torero outfit without singing at all. Kylie Jenner’s presence is not, in my view, insulting in racial terms but because unlike Rosalía she is no artist and Cardi B hardly needs her to endorse her own art. Gambino, by the way, appears naked from the waste up in his film but this is not intended as a sexy display of his quite sexy anatomy. In contrast, Cardi B and her colleague Meghan display their curves in all their glorious abundance. In one of the scenes Cardi B’s breasts are quite visible, even though the nipples are covered, and this is when, like Russell Brand, I did doubt whether this was empowerment or self-exploitation. My own idol, Kylie Minogue, has found much more classy ways of being her own woman –and no, this is not prudery but a certain tiredness after seeing women claim power by showing their bodies for the last thirty five years, since Madonna started the trend. I recall dealing with the exact same issue in my 2006 article regarding a video with Jennifer Lopez…
See? These tiny films, lasting on average 3 minutes, are food for thought in ways much longer films are not. Half advertisement, half art the music video still survives and, from what I see in my 50+1 songs exploration, has a great future ahead. I’ll make sure to be more alert to it.

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Last week I had the great pleasure of participating in the seminar “El miedo y la esperanza: utopías y distopías en las artes y la cultura de masas” (Fear and hope: Utopias and Dystopias in the Arts and Mass Culture, within the Escola d’Humanitats run by the magazine La maleta de Portbou. I must thank Prof. Antonio Monegal for his invitation. It is not habitual in my hectic profession to be asked to debate ideas with others and after the seminar was over I felt immensely satisfied to have benefited from a great conversation lasting for six hours –what a luxury! I must note, incidentally, that the seminar was originally programmed for March 2020 in Tarragona, but had to be delayed because of Covid-19. The meeting last week was moved to Barcelona but I must say that it became a hybrid event, with three of us participating from home and the rest in the La Caixa venue of Palau Macaya. The dystopia we are living in right now made it impossible for me to see my colleagues’ faces, except for those online, as all were using facemasks. I don’t how this will look in the future documentary film that is to come out of our meeting, particularly when this is seen once the pandemic is over, hopefully at the end of this dystopian year of 2021.
I tend to forget that Spanish academia favours an encyclopaedic approach in contrast to the argumentative discourse preferred by Anglo-American academia. Thus, whereas my own contribution –a discussion of Iain M. Bank’s utopia the Culture– was focused on a single author and a novel series, my colleagues’ contributions gathered together a great variety of titles, with possibly Iván Pastor’s panorama of current comics being the most wide-ranging. This worked well since it allowed for abundant discussion among all of us also in a wide-ranging fashion which was, after all, the object of the seminar. The participants, I must note, were not only academics but also practising artists and writers (some also academics). I found it very refreshing to meet them, and I also felt awed, as I tend to feel a little silly discussing authors in front of other literary authors… (I refer here to Laura Fernández and José Ovejero).
I must note that my contribution was the only one exclusively focused on utopia, even though the seminar was supposed to deal with both utopia and dystopia. This is not at all a criticism of my colleagues’ excellent talks but a way of stressing a major problem: the utopia/dystopia ratio works overwhelmingly in favour of the latter. At one point Prof. Monegal mentioned that IMDB mentions about 150 productions connected with utopia, but about 1500 related to dystopia; one to ten, then. The torrent of titles that came under discussion was, therefore, necessarily dystopian because this is what interests audiences –or, at least, what they are being offered by artists of all kinds. In fact, an issue that was raised is to what extent the insistence on the dystopian text is a capitalist ruse to keep all of us under control. A society that has no illusions about its future will not demand any changes and will most likely adapt to whatever little is offered in the way of social advances. At some point in the transition from the 1970s to the 1980s the very idea of a positive, brighter future was lost and without it there is very little that utopia can do to be appealing. Dystopia, in contrast, confirms again and again (or sells) the generalized impression that any utopia is necessarily misleading.
In my own contribution I insisted on a question that seems to me of great importance, namely, that utopia is never as easy to narrate as dystopia. Take, for instance, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games. At the end of the story an epilogue hints that the formerly dictatorial civilization of Panem has been rebuilt as a democratic nation, under the leadership of the former rebels. It would have been very interesting to narrate Katniss Everdeen’s participation in that rebirth but Collins chose instead to involve Katniss in a plot twist that totally deprives her of any power she might have and that strands her in a domestic situation most of us judge to be just barely happy. Collins, of course, could have proceeded and narrate the building of a new utopia in a reformed Panem but instead she has published a rather dull novel about how tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow came to be: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Indeed, most of Collins’ readers expected her to go further back into the history of Panem and narrate how the United States became that dystopian monstrosity, which says plenty about the sad mood in the American nation. It is my personal opinion that we do not need more stories about the fall into dystopia that may ring prophetic, but new stories about how to build utopia beginning with current dystopia. They can be still full of incident and strife, and be exciting in its proclamation of a new beginning. I would agree, however, that narrating stories about utopia once this is in place might not be that thrilling. As Iain Banks once explained, persons who live in a utopia can also experiment disappointment or conflict but whatever crisis you choose to narrate it would be just too similar to what you might find in the typical middle-class novel in which the social background is inexistent. This is why he preferred to narrate the clash between the utopian Culture and those less advanced civilizations that resisted its intervention.
Apart from the problem of its narrative limitations, utopia seems to have another significant problem of an aesthetic kind. This was made evident by Fito Conesa’s observations about a series of rather kitsch utopian images which turned out to be propaganda for the Jehova’s Witnesses. What he suggested is that any ideally pastoral image of happy people in a lovely environment makes us cringe rather than feel elated and I would attribute this cringeworthy effect to the steady undermining of beauty as an artistic category and of the sentimental in the current structure of feeling. Beauty, of course, is not gone as an aesthetic category but it is not something we actively seek in connection to the utopian future –we may admire the beauty of certain individuals or natural landscapes, but beauty is not at all connected with social living. When it is, as happens in the orbital for the very rich of the film Elysium, beauty is offered as a marker of privilege, not as a communal aspiration. In contrast, the ugly landscape of dystopia seems ubiquitous and even socially inescapable, a constant feature of the future because it is already a dominant feature of the present all over Earth. If a beautiful human-made, communal landscape appears in fiction, then you can be sure that it hides something behind, usually of a sinister nature (think of the film The Island).
Utopia, in short, is not cool either narratively speaking or in its aesthetics, whereas dystopia has managed to be cool both as a tale and in looks. How can this double handicap of utopia be counteracted? To be honest, I don’t know, being neither a narrator nor an artist. One thing I can say, though: capitalism is infinitely flexible and it will certainly accommodate any utopia that is attractive to a significant number of people. If one day someone makes a truly good adaptation of a Culture novel by Iain Banks and the image of its utopia works well, that might start a new fashion. If it were in my power, I would go further and establish a well-endowed competition for utopian stories (though I would make it a condition that they are not separatist with, for instance, women-only civilizations or blacks-only civilizations, on the utopian principle that the elimination of prejudice should be paramount). Leaving aside the nightmare that Covid-19 currently is, I’m tired of that sinking feeling that dystopia produces, whether it comes from the daily reading of the news or the fantasies of depressing storytelling (ten seasons of The Waking Dead? Why?!).
One of the participants in the seminar, artist and academic María Ruido, complained that what most disgusted her is the habitual treatment of basic human rights as a utopia, in the sense of something unfeasible. She worries, most rightly, that the Covid-19 crisis will further undermine any social protest and will even push back the achievements of the last decades as regards workers’ rights and women’s rights. María and I stressed that the utopias behind these rights –Communism, feminism– have not been fully developed but should be given some room in any utopia to be. I believe that feminism is currently the only functional utopia in the sense that all women, even the non-feminists, are motivated by the idea that our future must necessarily be better until it is truly good. The many strong female characters in fiction and the many bold women in real life model their lifestyles on this utopian aspiration (whereas men wander lost in the now decadent patriarchal dystopia). In contrast, what has become almost taboo is any discussion of work and by this María and I meant something quite similar: not just the appalling lack of quality of most occupations but also the enormous amount of time that work takes.
Between 1820 and 1920 the average working hours went from 76 a week to 42, but in the last 100 years nothing has been done to reduce our weekly toil from 40 to 30 or less. We are told again and again that this would bring chaos, with more unemployment, lower pay rates, etc. but it just seems impossible to believe that productivity remains the same as in 1920. Something needs to be done and change demanded. The utopia spoused by 1970s radical feminism as regards the family had to do with this, precisely: the domestic model defended was a household in which each member worked no more than four hours a day, so that there was sufficient time to raise children and enjoy leisure of a constructive, active kind. Instead, we work very long hours, with more instability than ever and with hardly any chance of truly reconciling work with private life. Any attempt to reverse this trend is immediately branded communist agitation and dismissed as an afront to common sense. Thus capitalism thrives and utopia dies, while we consume as if there is no tomorrow the dystopian tales that capitalism itself sells to us.
Let’s create, then, utopia anew, for the sake of the future, with uplifting tales and pleasure in beauty.

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Last week I attended the symposium organized by Saskia Kersten (U. Hertfordshire) and Christian Ludwig (Frei U. Berlin) called “Born-Digital Texts and its Uses in the Foreign-Language Classroom”, on which this post focuses. I first got in touch with Prof. Ludwig a while ago, when I replied to his cfp for the volume he has edited with Elizabeth Shipley, Mapping the Imaginative II (Universitätsverlag Winter, 2020). I have contributed to this volume the essay “Producing E-books on Fantasy and Science Fiction with University Students: Classroom Projects”, which describes the process by which I have edited the first five volumes out of eight that I have published so far with students in the BA and MA English Studies degrees for which I work (see The ninth e-book, on which I am now working, was the subject of my presentation. Funnily, I didn’t know that these e-books are born-digital texts until I read the cfp for the symposium. Although there is not a total agreement on the definition of this concept, in principle a born-digital text is any type of text that is first created and circulates in a digital format, such as an e-book. The disagreements have to do with whether the born-digital texts can be made available in a non-digital form (an e-book can be printed as a book). However, once you know the concept, the idea is easy to grasp: many born-digital texts, from photos to hashtags, will remain digital and will not be transferred to any analogical medium; even though some might, the label is still useful.
The general question asked in the symposium was how we should adapt the foreign-language classroom to make the most of the familiarity of our students with the diverse digital media. This is not, of course, a new question. It was first asked back in the 1990s when internet access was first made commercially available, and when other digital tools such as e-mail were introduced. The difference is that for some years now our students have been coming from the cohorts born after this time. There has been much talk about how those born from the mid-1990s onward are digital natives and it is indisputable that their lives are organized around digital platforms in ways that those of previous generations are not. Of course, as a symposium participant reminded me, we should not divide digital users along generational lines, but even though we can find many of these users in older generations, it seems obvious to me that any child or young person with no access to their generation’s heavily digitalized environment runs a risk of becoming a social pariah. A participant mentioned how the lack of access to social media of less privileged children may become a problem in their future, when prospective employers check their networks and draw a blank. This is possibly already a problem for many of us –I’m sure that my empty accounts in Facebook and Instagram, my minimalist use of Twitter, and my absence from Linked In are inexplicable to many digital frequent users.
My approach to using digital media in the English Literature classroom remains sceptical, even though I am at the same time a staunch defender of that strategy. Of course, having taught online for the last two semesters I cannot say that the digital tools should have a minimal impact on the Literature classroom but, as I did in the symposium, I want to defend what I called the principle of reciprocity. By this I mean that I am very much concerned that many of the strategies described in the symposium and elsewhere are based on an academic surrender before the push of the social media and on the sad acceptance that some skills are being lost for good because students find them boring. That is to say, we, teachers that work with language from the primary school to university, seem to be giving up on the importance of two immensely important skills, reading and writing, in which we have a solid training; I mean of substantial texts, and not what young learners come across in the social media and, generally, online. I would agree that one can learn a foreign language on the basis of limited texts, and that not all learners should be expected to produce lengthy essays. However, as much as audiovisual media, from Netflix series to YouTube gamers’ life play streaming, can help learners, their knowledge in this case of English is going to be limited without some intensive reading and without the ability to write beyond the 280 characters on Twitter. By this principle of reciprocity, then, I mean that I am willing to incorporate digital media to my classroom as long as students are willing to read and write at the demanding level that higher education and academic life requires.
I understand that my position is totally conditioned by the fact that I don’t teach English language but English Literature, and I certainly see the point of adapting language teaching in primary and secondary school to other types of students than mine. The main point of the symposium, in a way, was to establish that learning English from print books, as it has been done so far is limiting –and here I mean both books written specifically to teach English but also fiction in English. I have no doubt whatsoever that the kind of exercise consisting of writing imaginary letters of complaint to a travel agency (which my 16-year-old niece showed me recently) has little reason to be in the current EFL classroom in comparison to producing a few minutes of narrated video to post on YouTube. Yet, perhaps a main problem is that attractive reading and writing has never been well integrated in English teaching, and little has been made of what students are actually reading. My colleagues and I have been told that in some secondary schools Literature has been introduced in English classes in which students have an advanced command of English, but I have little idea (rather, none) of how that is being done. If it were up to me, I would have secondary school students produce booktubing videos in English, based on short fiction, or novels. Even long sagas, for, let’s recall that YA fiction is usually published in trilogies or series, and consumed precisely by young readers sitting in high school classrooms.
Although I am explaining myself here very poorly, what I am trying to say is that what most worries me about the use of born-digital texts in the classroom inspired by social media, platforms like YouTube, gaming and so on is the lowering of educational standards. In my case, the e-books I have been producing with my students actually make higher demands on them since in my kind of project-oriented learning their written exercises are not simple classroom exercises but writing that needs to be ready for publication. As the participants in the symposium argued, there is indeed a barrier between the classroom and the outside online world in the sense that teachers and students are encouraged to integrate all digital media in learning but not to produce texts for it. One of the participants noted with undisguised bitterness that her university would not allow her to upload born-digital texts produced by her students, invoking matters of privacy and of authorship. Another noted that, indeed, authorship could be a problem but in my own university this has been solved by having students sign their permission to have their work uploaded onto our digital repository. With this I mean that there seems to be an important contradiction between having students bring to the classroom strategies of digital production and communication that they use in their private lives only to tell them that what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. I find this very limiting. My approach has been, instead, that if we are to invite students to produce born-digital texts, then there must be a place for these to be visible; otherwise, the skills learned appear to be just part of assessment instead of part of an actual experience in communication at the level of actual real life.
In this sense, an interesting matter is how limited the production of videos for YouTube is in higher education (at least as far as my experience goes). I recently wrote an essay on Pat Frank’s SF novel Alas, Babylon (1959) and I came across many videos produced by American high school children commenting on it, as this novel is apparently a set text in many schools. Good for them! In contrast, YouTube does not seem to attract much attention in higher education. I have tried several times to convince my colleagues to start a YouTube channel but nobody has the know-how, my university does not provide training and, since it is not a priority, I keep delaying the project. I naively assumed that all institutions of higher education had advanced YouTube channels but I must say that the panorama is quite pitiful. I’m sure that many university teachers keep their own channels but I see no systematic effort on the side of the universities to turn YouTube into a far more effective educational tool. By this I do not simply mean as a platform for teachers to deliver lectures and upload teaching materials but as a platform for students to contribute to generally available online knowledge, in a foreign language or in their own. I have not given up on the idea of opening a channel for my Department and I certainly have many ideas for it, but I just don’t know enough about this medium, my younger colleagues are too busy having three jobs at the same time to help me, and we couldn’t find among our 400 students any with experience as a booktuber, LifePlay gamer or similar. So much for digital natives!!! Again, my ambitions for the future YouTube channel is not that it might make learning easier or more fun, quite the opposite: I’d like to have students learn skills that can be applied to improving standards. Excuse me but it seems to me that fine as current booktubing is to circulate opinion and encourage reading, it is missing quality academic criticism and I fail to understand why this is not being provided by universities. If you follow me, then, I would not have students imitate anyone but do a new job, which is right now vacant. Too ambitious, I know, but someone should do it.
This leads me to another concern that was voiced in the symposium: who should be responsible for the teachers’ training in digital media? My impression is that all the participants were making an effort to apply their own knowledge to their teaching but that this knowledge had been acquired independently from their institutions. This always happens: the institution of learning, whether this is a primary school or a university, suddenly decides to introduce a new tool, but it is always up to the teachers to train themselves in it. This has recently happened with Teams in my university, chosen overnight to be our main platform for online teaching, but possibly starts with e-mail back in the 1990s. The problem is, then, not only that we should be making the most of digital platforms that in many cases we just don’t know how to use (see my comments on YouTube) but also that these platforms’ popularity changes enormously in time. Using Facebook as a teaching resource may have seemed a good idea just a few years ago, but it is now hopelessly old-fashioned. And by the time a teacher learns to use Tik-Tok, this will have been replaced by some other platform not even born today. From this perspective old-fashioned, non-digital materials appear to have a certain advantage.
Finally, I’ll mention another matter that worries me: using born-digital texts can be time-consuming and not at all ‘cost-effective’. My MA students have been producing narrated PowerPoints for our virtual classroom, and one of them decided to produce instead a video. It took him 15 hours to produce a 15-minute video. His efforts and the results were generally admired, but not more than some of the PowerPoints, which means that he invested in his born-digital text too much. There must be, then, a balance between the time invested and the learning results. Producing, for instance, videos for YouTube only makes sense as a tool to teach/learn language if the skills needed for that have been already acquired or take limited time to be acquired. And the other way round: the more proficient a teacher is in the process of producing born-digital texts with students, the lighter the task of producing them is (as I know from my already longish experience of editing e-books).
So, in short: the foreign-language classroom can be and should be at some levels a place for the production of born-digital texts but this process should contribute to enhancing the educational experience (not to trivializing it). It also needs to strike a balance between the time invested in mastering the digital skills and the time devoted to learning the language, which in the end is the main target. I would also insist that the activities need to be carried out in a spirit of reciprocity, with teachers learning from students’ experiences in the digital media and students’ willing to learn from teachers indispensable skills in reading and writing substantial texts.
Thanks Saskia and Christian for the great symposium!

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A year ago I published a monographic volume called Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in the British Novel: From Hitler to Voldemort in which I aimed at showing how real-life and fictional villains embody patriarchy’s promise of power to complicit men. Some fulfil that promise to a degree so hyperbolic that they need to be eliminated, hence the need for heroes. Most ambitious patriarchal men, however, understand that there are legal and ethical limits to their power. They struggle anyway to take their empowerment as far as possible, risking a downfall but protecting themselves effectively whether they are called Mark Zuckerberg or Vladimir Putin. In other cases, such as that of Hitler or Voldemort, the massive sense of entitlement overwhelms all caution, resulting in a series of missteps that lead to an eventual downfall. I believe this is what we have seen this past week with Donald Trump’s enticement of his followers to take the Capitol and prevent Joe Biden from being formally proclaimed as the next US President. Trump has gone too far in his villainy, heroically stopped by the Senate and Congress, but although he seems to have reached the end of his political career (if the impeachment proceeds he will be banned from holding any kind of public office), the future looks uncertain. Most tyrannies end with the death of the tyrant, but we still need to see how democracy copes with a living would-be tyrant.
The assault on democracy of last January 6 has been brewing since the very day Republican Trump won the Presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton in November 2016, if not earlier. As I have written here diverse times, I blame American women for Trump’s win: many more men than women voted for Hillary Clinton, and that says all we need to know about the failure of feminism in the United States. I do not particularly sympathize with Senator Clinton but given the choice between her and the patriarchal monster Donald Trump, I would not have hesitated to vote for her. The question, then, is why American women allowed Trump to be elected, both the liberal women who did not bother to vote at all, and the conservative women who voted for this pussy-grabbing narcissist. How the man who was mostly considered a joke by 80% Americans in 2015 could become the US President in 2016 is a gendered matter indeed. In view of how he has degraded the American Presidency to limits unthinkable before his election, I believe many US voters owe a deep apology to Senator Clinton. I do not know what kind of President she would have been but one thing is certain: a much better one than the resident monster at the White House.
The one thing I most clearly remember about the 2016 election was President Obama saying in an informal TV intervention, addressing Trump himself, something along the lines of “the difference between you and me is that I will be remembered as an American President but you won’t, you’re not qualified”, implying that he would never be elected. There was in this remark both total lucidity (Trump indeed was not qualified) and a bit of arrogance, which possibly has incapacitated the Democratic Party from fighting Trump more adequately. Just as I blame the Democratic women for not having mobilized all American women in favour of Hillary Clinton, I blame the Democratic men for not having been more effective in counteracting Trump’s worst traits as a patriarchal man. Joe Biden’s calm, sedate personality (from what I see) seems to be what is needed now, but throughout the four years of this nightmare I have been wondering, much peeved and annoyed, why former President Obama was not opposing Trump more forcefully. I understand that an implicit rule of American politics prevents former Presidents from criticising their successors but I believe that Obama has gone too far in obeying that rule. I very much doubt that Trump will show so much leniency towards Biden, particularly if he still thinks of a hypothetical 2024 re-election but even if that goal is out of bounds for whatever legal reasons. In most democracies there is an opposition leader keeping the Prime Minister on their toes, and I believe that this figure is sorely missing in US politics. The President has, in short, too much power.
Surprised as I have been by the barrage of disrespect with which President Trump has been treated by late night show hosts and a variety of political critics, I have been even more surprised by the tolerance shown towards his behaviour. Yes, Trump was impeached, but this is a man whose personal demeanour is simply outrageous. He has shattered all the limits, from being known as a sexual abuser to making constant diplomatic gaffes in his dealings with the likes of Putin or Kim Jong-Un. Any other democratic leader in the world would have been ousted by far less, and new elections called to replace him. And that’s another weakness, I think, of the American democracy: its inefficient electoral system. I am not siding at all with Trump’s claim that the system is fraudulent (funny how he never raised the issue when he was himself elected) but noting that it is too inflexible. Supposing the impeachment had progressed or the 25th Amendment invoked, this would still have left Americans in the hands of Mike Pence, who, as Vice-President, has seconded each of Trump’s steps. That he chose to stay in Capitol and certify Biden’s win does not exonerate him from his responsibility in maintaining President Trump in power for four horrendous years. There should be a mechanism to call for new elections in case the US President behaves, as Trump has done, despicably. I will possibly eat my words if/when Joe Biden resigns and VP Kamala Harris becomes the first woman President of the USA, but it still seems to be anomalous that Americans are stuck with their choices for four years no matter what might happen.
Another issue I wish to raise is that of the Grand Old Party’s complicity with Trump. The GOP or Republican Party elected him their candidate, whereas, please recall this for future reference, Hitler ran for Prime Minister supported by his own Nazi Party. Donald Trump seemed initially the kind of fringe figure that would try to enter US politics using his own platform (in the style of Kanye West’s Birthday Party and the other third parties that backed independent candidates in the recent election). What is astonishing and disgusting is that the same Republican Party that backed Abraham Lincoln could back Donald Trump. I have not forgotten about Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, but in comparison to Trump they appear to be now excellent Presidents. It was even funny to read Bush’s press statement complaining that the USA are not a banana republic as the current incumbent at the White House believes, but also tragic. While democratic leaders all over the world worried how Trump’s behaviour would inspire other right-wing populists, the right-wing populists in power mocked the ineptitude of their American colleague. The Republican Party, and particularly Trump sycophants such as Ted Cruz or the extremely dangerous Josh Hawley, are to blame for the brutal attack against democracy perpetrated by the Capitol rabble as much as Trump himself.
This leads me to the concept of ‘the people’ and Trump’s argument that the closing down of his violence-mongering Twitter account is an attack against the right wing. The social media are not directly responsible for the possibly unsolvable political polarization of our times in all democracies because they were not created with that purpose. However, they are guilty of remaining passive as the fanatical political divide grew. Within democracy, there is room for the expression of diverging political views, but those views that threaten democracy itself, whether they are communist or fascist, need to be firmly rejected. Trump and his followers are using the classic Nazi argument in protecting extreme right-wing positions as a legitimate political stance but one thing is the democratic right and quite another the undemocratic extreme right. In that sense, all popular revolts that aim at invading Parliaments are undemocratic, hence intolerable and punishable by law. One thing is taking the Bastille to start a revolution against absolutist monarchy, and quite another taking the Capitol to deny the legitimate election of a new US President. The vandals assaulting the Capitol last Wednesday are not an expression of the American people, but its enemy, and so is Trump.
About the man himself, I’ll just say that the scariest thing about him is that there could be someone even worse, by which I mean more intelligent. The biographical volumes Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success (a.k.a The Truth about Trump) by Michael D’Antonio (2015) and Too Much and Never Enough (2020) by Mary Trump (Donald’s niece and a reputed clinical psychologist) describe in all detail the sociopathic personality of this immature, self-loving man. Yet, as happens in Hitler’s case, there is a major risk in stressing the singularity of an individual man whose rise is actually symptomatic of the society to which he appeals. Hitler rose with the complicity of the German upper classes at a time of profound economic crisis when the social anger of the disenfranchised masses had to be diverted away from Communism and given an outlet. Hitler was willing and able to play the role of German hero, to make Germany great again, and eventually escaped the control of his enablers, sinking the nation into chaos. Still, had he been unwilling and unable, I’m sure that some other messianic figure would have played the role, with the same or even worse consequences if that is conceivable. In Trump’s case the GOP was responding to eight years of Obama’s presidency, which exposed the deep racism of American society, and to a deep social fracture caused by the rampages of US capitalism amongst the less privileged segments of the white population. Trump was there to channel their grievances, despite being himself (supposedly) a key businessman, but, I insist, it could have been someone else, as shown by the number of ambitious men in the GOP biding his time as he falls. In short, you may send Trump to jail for life but what the USA needs is a much deeper structural change that prevents someone even worse from rising. For if he rises, the next assault against the Capitol will be carried out by fully armed militias that will not hesitate to execute the people’s representatives. Just think how much worse last week’s invasion could have been, perhaps the beginning of a second Civil War, in the hands of a more capable man.
Patriarchal villainy works, precisely in this way: it maintains a structure of power that is occupied by successive patriarchal men. The men themselves do not matter very much, and it is hopefully a sign of American patriarchy’s decadence that it has been unable to single out a more intelligent man than the clownish Trump. What matters is the structure and how it connects with privilege, and the sense of entitlement of the already privileged. In this case, please note that whereas Hitler came from the impoverished middle classes, Trump comes from American business aristocracy (though I insist that everything indicates he is not as rich as he claims). In that sense, democracy is just a slight deviation from the patriarchal norm stating that those with power rule but it is certainly preferable to any other system, if only because now and then it allows for genuine change. Of course, although I am calling the system ‘patriarchy’, we should not believe this is just an association of men–as we can see, there are now men and women on both sides of the democratic divide; the horrid thing is that the undemocratic women have been freed by feminism to express their undemocratic ideologies. For each Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez there is a ‘Trump in heels’, as State Senator Amanda Chase has described herself, though they are not democratic political equivalents: the former protects civil rights guaranteed by democracy, the latter does not.
I want to finish by appealing to the democratic right wing. I do not agree with your constant attempts to curb down personal freedom and to enable big business to rule our lives but democracy cannot be sustained without your firm defence. It is up to the Republican Party to regain lost honour and stop Trump and all other aspiring tyrants by impeaching him so that he can never hold office again, and it is likewise imperative to make sure that no other person like him will ever represent the GOP. The right wing should not oppose the democratic left wing but fight the undemocratic extreme right wing (as much as the undemocratic extreme left wing, of course). The Washington Post has been carrying since 2017 as its grim slogan ‘Democracy dies in darkness’, borrowed from journalist Bob Woodward, and this has almost happened in the nation that supposedly stands for the defence of democracy all over the world. Pearl Harbour and 9/11 were days that will live in infamy, but at least in those cases the enemy was external. 6 January 2021 will also live in infamy, but this time the enemy is American and wants democracy to end. This is how patriarchal villainy operates and it is something that all honourable conservative politicians should acknowledge to protect fragile democracy from any aspiring patriarchal villain.

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As someone wrote recently, it makes sense to think of the 1970s as 40 years ago but how can 1980 be 40 years ago? This has come to my mind in relation to a question asked by one of my Master’s students. He wanted to know whether, on the whole and considering our current access to countless sources of information, academic writing has improved in the Humanities. This question started my recollection of the times when I didn’t have access to the Internet, much less to a computer. Having been born in the mid- 1960s, I’m old enough to have seen a dramatic change in academic work in my own lifetime. As this student told me, there will be far less difference between the academic life of people born in the 1990s and in the 2020s than there is between the academic life of the people born like myself in the 1960s and that of those born in the 1990s. I can only say that he’s totally right.
So let me go back to 1980, the year when I started secondary school. The first papers I handed in were handwritten, a situation which continued for at least three more years until my fourth and last course, what used to be called Curso de Orientación Universitaria (College Orientation Course). If you think that what comes next is the arrival of a PC to my working-class home you are in an alternate universe. What I got then, when I was 17, was my grand-father’s second-hand typewriter, a rather basic, heavy Olivetti. I recall in one particular instance a long Literature paper which I wrote by hand and my mom typed late into a Sunday evening; she had been an admin clerk before marrying, and still had the typing skills that I have never acquired. The typewriter in question, however, had a few glitches, one of which was that the Spanish orthographic stress key was broken. This means that the accents in my paper, which was in Spanish, were all open, in Catalan style. My teacher forgave me because she knew from what kind of home I came from.
This state of matters continued for a while. I enrolled as a university student in 1984, that Orwellian year. I continued using a typewriter, though I seem to recall a lighter new Olivetti made of plastic, with some suspicion that it was not mine but, again, someone else’s. I continued writing handwritten and typed papers based, of course, on school library resources until 1987. I spent the year 1986-87 in England as an au-pair girl and all my communication with my family and friends was through handwritten letters and the occasional phone call from a phone booth. Only when I returned from England did I finally have access to a computer, that of my boyfriend at the time, a nerdish type who grasped how important PCs would be before this was generally understood. All this time, please notice, I was still using library resources: those of my own university, the Autònoma, and the resources of the British Institute in Barcelona, which were in many cases better than what I found at UAB.
After completing the five-year Licenciatura, I started in 1991 my doctoral studies. Doctoral programmes consisted of two years of taking courses with a third year for writing your first dissertation, or tesina. I still wrote mine using bibliography on paper from libraries because although the Internet had already been born it only existed in very limited military and scientific circles. I recall purchasing dozens of articles, very expensively photocopied, from the British Library. I started work on my doctoral dissertation in 1993, spending one year in Scotland (1994-95), still with no internet access, not even e-mail. Like back in 1986-87, all communication with family and friends was done though snail mail and phone calls (no cell phones yet!). I submitted my doctoral dissertation in 1996 still without an Internet connection, though the novelty then was the introduction of email in our communications. This means that if you wanted to publish an article you would snail-mail the hard copies of the article accompanied by a cover letter and then whether the article was accepted or not would be communicated to you in the same way, by letter.
The first academic websites were started then, in the mid-1990s, and some look as they did originally. I was going through the Victorian website the other day and I realised that the layout and most of the texts that you can find there possibly come from that time. The same goes for many other websites built in the 1990s on a voluntary basis that need a revamp but will be lost for lack of volunteers. My post-doc life begins in 1996, when home Internet access also became generally available, but without a flat rate, which means that any prolonged consultation with any website could potentially cost a lot of money. In 1998 I became a consultant at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, the first online university in Spain, and that was an interesting position because the job included free Internet access. Telefónica eventually offered, around 2000, a flat rate, which was really the moment when the Internet took off in Spain (and so did illegal downloading of music, films, books…).
From 2000 onward, then, we academics started having access to many online sources, which means that composing a bibliography became quite easy. Months of research could suddenly be done in one afternoon sitting before your computer, accessing catalogues anywhere in the world. However, what truly made the difference was database access. A catalogue tells you what is available and where, but the database usually contains part of what is available as downloadable texts and that makes an enormous difference. You might have a bibliography which is 200 entries long but if none of those sources is really accessible there is not much point in its bulk. The wonder of research in the last 15 years, then, is not only that any list can be quickly compiled but also that you can download onto your computer in just a few hours many sources, particularly articles in journals. Books remain a grey area of research because not so many are accessible from college libraries as e-books. Universities subscribe to article databases but there are not equivalent book databases, which is the reason why everyone is using Google Books but keeping quiet about it. The price of academic books has gone through the roof so that few researchers and even few libraries can actually purchase books, which may easily cost 100 euros or more (a non-illustrated hardback). So, thanks Google!, you know what for.
The abundance of sources does not necessarily mean, however, that we are producing better research or better academic writing. A typical article in the Humanities usually contains around thirty secondary sources. They take less time to be located but still take a long time to be read. In the past, before the 1990s, when theory exploded, researchers in the Humanities could get away with using a maximum of ten sources for each article. This is a luxury that we can no longer afford. The proliferation of bibliography might seem to be a benefit and in many senses it is. Yet, at the same time, it has resulted in a style of writing that is very constrictive. Most articles I read these days consist of a long barrage of quotations taking the introduction and usually two thirds of the article itself, leaving just a little corner, usually less than one third of the article, for the actual discussion of the text supposedly analysed in it. Before so much bibliography was available and used, literary criticism was literary criticism, that is to say, it was an exercise in reading focused on what the primary source did say. The voice of the scholar had to be strong because it had to sustain the whole analysis, and so you got classics of literary criticism such as Leslie Fiedler, Tony Tanner, John Hillis Miller, Marianne Thormählen, Catherine Belsey, Elaine Showalter and so on.
Now there is very little room for one’s own voice among so many secondary sources, and to be honest this is one of the reasons why I started writing this blog: I was losing my voice in my own academic production. Since the need to publish has grown enormously, this means that you have less time for each of the articles or chapters you write; many sources need to be read diagonally, looking for that quotation which will contribute to your own article. Articles are more frequently quoted than books because a) they are more easily found in databases, b) can be read more quickly. Nobody uses bibliographies in which most items are books that must be read from beginning to end, for a quotation ends up costing too many working hours. That’s our reality. All this constant flow of bibliography, then, is coming when we have least time to benefit from it: to sit down and absorb whatever may be new and exciting. In my worst days I think that literary criticism is dead and we are just endlessly circulating the secondary sources without really paying much attention to what the literary authors themselves are saying. Post-1990s academic rhetoric, in short, has eaten up academic creativity in Literary Studies, and even in the apparently less conventional Cultural Studies.
This can be very daunting for a beginner in the field but, like all rhetoric, academic writing has a playful side. You need to look at academic research as a complex game, with rules that need to be mastered. I do not mean that scholarship is trivial or banal. I just mean that in order to get published you need to learn how to play the game, and this includes understanding which sources you need to check and how valuable they are for you. Having said that and although I’m not going to praise those times when literary criticism was written by hand and based on what your university library housed, we have certainly lost an indefinite something. The Internet has brought the world to our fingertips, but our brain still needs time to process information and deliver solid discourse. Yet time is what we most lack now, in our frantic effort to excel when more people than ever are in academia.
In a sense, then, the cyberpunk dream of the 1980s–if only we could access all the academic riches computers contain–has become if not a nightmare, certainly a source of anxiety, for those who rule academic life have decided that we need to use that flood of information to generate a flood of academic work and so increase the deluge until nobody can really follow it. The solution is to work on one’s own little corner, and play the game as best one can.

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I’m working these days on an article about Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312, which has turned out to be a love story. Science fiction does not often deal with that topic, and, besides, this novel has been mainly read as a utopian tale of regeneration after Earth is devastated by the effects of climate change. Robinson presents a scenario in which Earth is a backward remnant of pre-Spacer times, preventing its own survival while Mars, the Saturn League, and Mercury progress towards a new alliance which will one day leave our stubborn little planet and its pseudo-feudal capitalism (the author’s appreciation) behind. As it is typical of Robinson’s fiction, the world building is energetic and requires masses of information that, without constituting info-dumps as they do in less gifted writers, do conceal in this case the centrality of the romantic motif. That 2312 is essentially a love story is not, after all, my own impression, but the author’s own. At least he declared at the time of publication that “I began with the idea of the romance at the center of the novel, between two people from Mercury and Saturn who were (surprise!) mercurial and saturnine in character, and thus a real odd couple”. The project of building their high-tech future civilization became necessarily “a major component of the novel, but it all began by trying to give the central romance its proper setting”, three hundred years into our future (in Susan De Guardiola “The Future Is Fun”. Publishers Weekly, 259.10, March 2012, 54).
To make matters even more complicated, Robinson’s odd couple is composed by two persons–Swan Er Hong from Mercury and Fitz Wahram from Titan, one of the moons of Saturn–who are not particularly likeable and who take a long time to have a series of almost random meetings transform into something that we might call with conviction romance. It took me two readings (the kind of exercise to which you only submit for academic reasons, or out of love for a writer) to grasp the mechanics of their love, and a third reading, which I finally totally enjoyed, to truly warm up to them. So, as you can see, I am recommending 2312 only to sf die-hards willing to go to all that trouble to enjoy an interplanetary tale of love.
What finally struck a chord with me is that Swan and Wahram have time and space as we don’t have, for theirs is a world in which longevity is expanding (reaching the 200 year mark is common) and in which none of members of the new post-human sub-species known as the Smalls have yet died of old age. The more years you live, as we’re beginning to learn in real-life, the harder it is to think of marriage for life. Swan’s grandmother Alex had lived with her partner for 70 years before she died (please recall that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Edinburgh have been married for 73 years) but what do love and marriage mean when you’re life expectancy might be in the hundreds? As for space, which does not seem to trouble Swan and Wahram in their many comings and goings across the Solar System to which Robinson confines space travel, I was reminded of Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’, but in reverse since 2312’s odd couple have “world enough and time” to let their love grow “Vaster than empires and more slow”. It doesn’t take Wahram “Two hundred to adore each breast” Swan possesses nor “thirty thousand to the rest” but about three years for him to declare his love, which (attention!) is but a blink of the eye, considering that he is 113 and she 137. The 24 year gap, however, is nothing in a context in which, as it appears, people remain young as they age, at least judging by Swan’s fierce love of physical adventure.
Now, here comes the really peculiar gender bit in Robinson’s world: longevity is significantly improved for the individuals he calls bisexual but are really hermaphrodites, possessing a male and a female sex (we call them usually intersexuals). This is the accidental result of therapies that have led “to very sophisticated surgical and hormonal treatments for interventions in utero, in puberty, and during adulthood. The XX/XY dichotomy still exists, but in the context of a wide variety of habit, usage, and terminology”. As Robinson adds, “principal categories of self-image for gender include feminine, masculine, androgynous, gynandromorphous, hermaphroditic, ambisexual, bisexual, intersex, neuter, eunuch, nonsexual, undifferentiated, gay, lesbian, queer, invert, homosexual, polymorphous, poly, labile, berdache, hijra, two-spirit”, with some “cultures deemphasizing gender (…) sometimes referred to as ursuline cultures”, a nice wink at Ursula K. Leguin’s masterpiece The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) in which the Gethenians remain sexless and genderless except for a few days every cycle. As for Swan and Wahram, she is a woman-identified gynandromorph and he is a man-identified androgyne. Both have parented children as mothers and fathers.
Among readers that did not enjoy 2312, no complaint is louder than that of Robinson’s admirer and fellow sf author, Vandana Singh. She wrote in her blog a scathing indictment of this novel (“Why KSR’s 2312 is a Fail on Many Counts”. Antariksh Yatra: Journeys in Space, Time and the Imagination 19 March 2013, that, focused, above all, on the patronizing attitude that Swan and Wahram assume towards Earth. Swan’s misguided attempts to help Africans build homes fast with the help of AI-guided machinery is totally unacceptable in the context of the novel but Singh was incensed above all by how the couple and their extra-terrestrial allies decide to start a revolution on Earth to increase the safety of the other more prosperous planets. Singh denounces that this smacks of the worst colonial ideology, as Earthlings are treated as if “They aren’t people” but just “a monolithic mass of misery, beyond help”.
Her anger against what she calls Robinson’s betrayal of his post-colonial readers expands to his alleged mismanagement of the gender issues: “It is worth mentioning also that despite its apparent imaginativeness on the subject of human sexuality, gender and variations thereof, the book seems to idealize heterosexual mating, although between hermaphroditic beings. (Come on!) The romance between the two main characters, even independent of sexuality, does not come across as believable”. I was flabbergasted by this–not because Singh found the romance unappealing, as I found it when I first read the novel, but because she decried Robinson’s supposed idealization of heterosexual mating. Now, here’s the only sex scene in 2312. Judge for yourself: “Now it was said that their particular combination of genders was the perfect match, a complete experience, ‘the double lock and key’, all possible pleasures at once; but Wahram had always found it rather complicated. As with most wombmen, his little vagina was located far enough down in his pubic hair that his own erection blocked access to it; the best way to engage there once he was aroused was for the one with the big vagina to slide down onto the big penis most of the way, then lean out but also back in, in a somewhat acrobatic move for both partners. Then with luck the little join could be made, and the double lock and key accomplished, after which the usual movements would work perfectly well, and some fancier back-and-forths also. Swan turned out to be perfectly adept at the join, and after that she laughed and kissed him again. They warmed up pretty fast”.
Quoting Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” is not something I do frequently, for fear of misreading her opaque philosopher’s prose. But I found in its pages that given that heteronormativity is maintained by the ‘logic’ that ‘he’ is the penetrator and ‘she’ the penetrated “then, without this heterosexual matrix, as it were, it appears that the stability of these gendered positions would be called into question” (51, original italics). So, if you have a couple for whom sex consists of mutual penetration, I understand that this cannot be heterosexual mating, as Singh calls it, but something else. Furthermore, Butler notes, “The heterosexual logic that requires that identification and desire be mutually exclusive is one of the most reductive of heterosexism’s psychological instruments: if one identifies as a given gender, one must desire a different gender” (239, original italics). Neither for Wahram nor for Swan is their double sex and gendered identity an obstacle in this sense: both have had a diversity of sexual partners and both have, as noted, fathered children and been mothers. In fact, Robinson goes as far as to have Swan visit several times a former partner that goes by the gender-neutral name Zasha and for whom he never uses a personal pronoun. The child Swan and Zasha have parented together is a girl but though it appears that Swan was the father, this does not mean that Zasha, the alleged mother, is a woman. She could be another gynandromorph or a wombman like Wahram. Or someone else in gender terms altogether.
My personal perception is that Robinson is trying to do many things at the same time with Swan and Wahram. To begin with, I don’t think he offers conventional heterosexuality disguised as something else with this couple’s hermaphroditism but a comment on how perhaps only mutual penetration in intercourse could break heterosexuality away from heteronormativity. I am tempted to use the word heteroqueer for Swan and Wahram but I realize that it falls short since they are not really heterosexual: they are bisexual intersexuals, but I’m not sure whether there is a category for them, taking into account that each member of the couple identifies as either a man or a woman. Following this binary identification, they cannot be called gender-neutral or gender-fluid, so perhaps what Robinson is saying with all this is that not even three hundred years into the future will we have solved the matter of gender–though I hope we do sooner than that.
Actually, and this is the other big statement in the novel about sex, Robinson is saying that it just matters far less than love. In his otherwise quite insufferable philosophical novel On Love, Alain de Botton has some brilliant moments and, so, he says through the narrative voice of his main male character that love should be divided into mature and immature, categories by which he does not mean a difference connected with age but with idealization. Immature love is trapped by it, hence bound to be disappointing, yet this is the type we prefer. In contrast, “the philosophy of mature love is marked by an active awareness of the good and bad within each person, it is full of temperance, it resists idealization, it is free of jealousy, masochism, or obsession, it is a form of friendship with a sexual dimension, it is pleasant, peaceful, and reciprocated (and perhaps explains why most people who have known the wilder shores of desire would refuse its painlessness the title of ‘love’)” (185). I find that Swan and Wahran’s love is a great instance of mature love in this sense, though it is true that their romance is also mature because both are facing what could be called a second life, when most of the experiences of a habitual life have been gone through, and neither fully knows what to do with the years ahead.
When the word marriage starts looming in their horizon, Swan wonders what this old-fashioned patriarchal word may mean in a society in which, Robinson writes, “affection, child rearing, sex, lust, cohabitation, family, and friendship have all been delinked from each other and reconfigured as affect states” and in which individuals are free to engage in “line marriage, group marriage, polygamy, polyandry, panmixia, timed contracts, crèches, sexual friendships” in whatever capacity they choose. Yet, as Stephanie Coontz writes in Marriage a History: How Love Conquered Marriage (2005), marriage remains, though “optional and more brittle” still “the highest expression of commitment” (309). Perhaps it will be still that in 2312, on Mars, Mercury, Titan or wherever Swan and Wahram choose to live. Of course, there is no guarantee that a union across vast time and space can work better than a union among conventionally aged humans living together 24/7 but Robinson is throwing at us this peculiar ‘what if?’ and it is just fascinating to consider its implications – had we but world and time enough.

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