BACK TO BASICS: SCARED BY THE VAMPIRE IN DRACULA

[This is long and contains many spoilers, be warned!]

Reading Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula with fresh eyes is practically impossible. Even new readers carry with them countless images of the vampire in fiction and film (and in many other media, even toys and food). Those of us who return to this bizarre text now and then do so with our vision also colonized by the ubiquitous media vampire, regardless of our previous readings of the text. I’ve tried to become, nonetheless, a reader as inexperienced as possible in my recent re-reading of this atmospheric novel, carried out in preparation of lectures beginning next week. And, to my surprise, I have found Stoker’s masterpiece scarier than ever.

In the introduction to my oldish 1983 edition of Dracula (Oxford’s World Classics), A.N. Wilson gently mocks Stoker’s efforts, sentencing that while “[t]he writing is of a powerful, workaday sensionalistic kind”, in his view “No one in their right mind would think of Stoker as a ‘great writer’”. I agree that Dracula is not in the same league as “Middlemarch or Madame Bovary or War and Peace” but, then, we’re comparing here different kinds of talent. Eliot, Flaubert and Tolstoy could never have written Dracula, for good or bad. And it does take a still poorly understood type of talent to make this weird vampire tale survive since its inception in 1897, after spawning so many other creatures of the night. Also, if you check as I have done, how many ‘original texts’ Stoker uses in each of his chapters to maintain the illusion that his gothic yarn is ‘real’, you’ll see that he did make a remarkable effort to compose his novel. This apparently extends even to his having produced a quite accurate version of how Dutchmen speak English in Van Helsing’s singular idiolect.

Unfortunately, the plethora of ridiculous American-style vampires plaguing us since Anne Rice published Interview with the Vampire in 1976, presenting one of the creatures as a Romantic hero, has done much harm to the vampire myth–I forgot to say that Wilson calls Stoker a myth-maker. In the original novel, as some commentators have noticed, Count Dracula is actually a secondary, even minor, character. His actions are narrated by others–his actual or prospective victims–and they always see him as a menacing, predatory monster; this is how vampires should be portrayed. Edward Cullen and his kind are, excuse me, idiotic embodiments of the still more idiotic idea that a woman might find satisfaction in loving a monster. Victorian Mina does find satisfaction in her Christian conviction that by staking and beheading her harasser the gentlemen in her circle may be saving the Count’s soul, but she is never in love with Dracula. To my dismay (and disappointment), when I explained in a recent seminar that there is no romantic plot in Stoker’s novel, a young girl announced that this is why she will never read the book.

Stephanie Meyer’s already démodé Twilight saga borrows its romantic plot from James V. Hart’s absurd screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola’s so-called Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). This well-received adaptation significantly deviates from the original by supposing that Mina is a reincarnation of Dracula’s long-lost lover Elisabetta, who committed suicide centuries before when both were ruthlessly persecuted by their Ottoman enemies. The Count embraced vampirism in despair but seeing her lover reborn in the portrait of Mina that Jonathan carries with him, he determines to win her back. What is baffling about Hart and Coppola’s work is that theirs is certainly the most accomplished rendering of Stoker’s novel ever seen on the screen. As I re-read the book, I marvelled at how exact some of the filmed scenes were, even despite the bizarre outfits (Lucy’s burial/bridal dress) and the strange tone used by some performers. Anthony Hopkins played Van Helsing right after playing Hannibal Lecter and something of this vampiric character is visible in his Dutch vampire hunter.

I’m going to list next some of the moments that make Stoker’s Dracula so scary (most of them well known) and try to figure out what factors are usually overlooked. Perhaps this is obvious to any reader but I’ll claim that the three strongest points of this novel are: Stoker’s grounding of his paranormal tale on the technoscience of his ultra-modern late 19th century Victorian England, the urgency in the swift race against time in the last third of the novel to save Mina’s soul by killing Dracula and, above all, a very deft use of the hypnagogic state of consciousness, that is to say, of the phase between wakefulness and sleep. The most terrifying moments happen when characters cannot tell whether they are dreaming or being actually attacked. I’m not sure whether Stoker wrote in this way thinking that his readers would read his novel in bed, but the scenes can easily generate nightmares if read before falling asleep. Give it a try… if you dare.

Here are the most horrific touches. In Chapter 2, Harker describes the Count who, incidentally, begins the novel as an old man and progressively ages back towards youth as blood nourishes him. Dracula’s “cruel-looking” mouth with its “peculiarly sharp white teeth” and his “extraordinary pallor” warn us that he’s no ordinary man; but what really scares us is that his hands sport “hairs in the centre of the palm”. When Harker feels their touch he cannot “repress a shudder”–could you? During his imprisonment in Dracula’s castle, Jonathan is shocked by how his jailer pretends that he’s staying as a free guest–when told that he can leave, Harker finds a pack of wolves at the door.

There are a few even more hair-raising moments. One is the sight of the Count creeping down the wall, “using every projection and inequality to move downwards with considerable speed, just as a lizard moves along a wall”. Another one is Dracula’s offering to his brides of a bag with something squirming inside which, when opened, releases “a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child”. And, of course, the death of the poor baby’s mother, attacked by the Count’s feral minions: “There was no cry from the woman, and the howling of the wolves was but short. Before long they streamed away singly, licking their lips”. Notice the concise phrasing.

The horrific events on board the Demeter, the Russian ship carrying Dracula to Whitby (Chapter 7), appear to be the earliest predecessor of the film Alien. If, as its slogan went, ‘in space none can hear you scream’, the same happens at sea during the Demeter’s doomed voyage as Dracula decimates the crew. I must also highlight, obviously, Lucy’s rape in the graveyard, witnessed by Mina (Chapter 8). Rape? Yes, indeed. Mina does not know about Dracula but we do and, so, her inability to clearly see what is going on is totally unnerving. Lucy is here sleepwalking at night in Whitby’s graveyard: “There was undoubtedly something, long and black, bending over the half-reclining white figure. I called in fright, ‘Lucy! Lucy!’ and something raised a head, and from where I was I could see a white face and red, gleaming eyes”. Mina boldly rushes to her friend’s aid but, by then, the phallic ‘something’ is gone. Not from our minds.

Other dreadful moments colour the failed attempts to protect poor Lucy. Her mother dies of a heart attack when a wolf crashes into their bedroom window. As she dies, Mrs. Westenra tears the garlic flowers off Lucy’s neck, leaving her vulnerable again to Dracula’s bite-raping procedure. Lucy writes that “I tried to stir, but there was some spell upon me”; her mother’s dead body also weighs her down. Later, once Lucy dies, a victim of this paralysing dread, we find the most stunning passage in the whole book: Van Helsing’s stark declaration to Dr. Seward that, since Lucy is actually un-dead, he “shall cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic, and I shall drive a stake through her body” (Chapter 13). Appallingly, Seward says: “It made me shudder to think of so mutilating the body of the woman whom I had loved. And yet the feeling was not so strong as I had expected”. How callous and… chilling.

Lucy’s fiancé Arthur is initially dismayed but he soon proceeds gleefully to do the deed, with hands that “never trembled nor even quivered”. Instead of the shortish stake used in films, Arthur impales Lucy with a 90 cm (three-feet) monster weapon as “a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips”. Once the terrible deflowering concludes she looks her old pre-vampire virginal self, seemingly satisfied that her soul has been saved. Please recall that Stoker imagined this sensational assault as a straightforward horror scene, and not as a scene to show the men’s misogyny. This is doubly terrifying for us.

Van Helsing’s list of the vampire’s powers in Chapter 18 is far more daunting than any similar list of features in other versions. Here Dracula is “strong in person as twenty men”, extremely cunning, a powerful necromancer, and capable of appearing “within limitations” whenever and wherever he wants. Most vampires are burnt by daylight but the Count can walk in the sun though only as a vulnerable mortal. The film Nosferatu (1922), an illegal adaptation, introduced (I think) the trope of the lethal sun-rays (or was it the serial Varney the Vampire?). Proof that Dracula can appear as he wishes is how, once invited in by madman Renfield into Dr. Seward’s home, the Count attacks Mina after reaching her bedroom as a mysterious mist. “I thought that I was asleep” she records in her journal, and our horror is amplified because rational Mina cannot tell that this was no dream. The same happened to her husband, remember, in his ordeal with Dracula’s voluptuous brides.

Nothing, however, is as strikingly pornographic and violent as the scene in Chapter 21 when Arthur, Morris, Seward and Van Helsing catch Dracula in Mina and Jonathan’s bed. Harker is “breathing heavily as though in a stupor” and this is the revolting sight the men face: “With his left hand [Dracula] held both Mrs. Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress”. This oral rape and/or bloody fellatio, however, is infantilized by Seward who reports to us that “The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink”. Some kitten, some milk… This is, excuse me, the climax of the whole story.

It is, in any case, Stoker’s merit as a superbly good story-teller that the anti-climax is also full of suspense. In their thrilling chase of the Count back to his Transylvanian lair (he needs to be killed or Mina will become a vampire when she dies, even if never bitten again), our heroes even take the Orient Express!! For, as we are told again and again, this is the 19th century with a vengeance and the vampire cannot compete with the rush of the modern world. And rush the gang of heroes do, all the way to Dracula’s crumbling castle, where Van Helsing indulges in more female decapitation (of the brides), and Morris finally shows that he is not a superfluous addition: the Bowie knife of the American hunter is the tool that stakes Dracula’s heart. Thus is his soul saved, as Mina wishes, although, perplexingly, Morris is also killed (by a gypsy henchman of the Count).

In case you’re interested, the word ‘blood’ appears in the text 115 times (‘vampire’, just 28). ‘Soul’ is mentioned 65 times, and the verb ‘save’ 34. Now here’s the surprise: ‘sleep’ appears 193 times (‘asleep’, 47) but ‘dream’ only 18, and ‘nightmare’ just 6. The biggest surprise of all is that the real keyword of Dracula is ‘time’, with 386 appearances; ‘late’ is used 60 times (‘rush’ 10, ‘hurry’ 10). And ‘train’, 36… they didn’t have modern cars back then. Characters rush here and there in mortal fear that time is running out and that they are too late to save those who risk losing blood and soul while they’re apparently asleep, unaware that they are actually under attack by a monstrous vampire. This gives Dracula its amazing tension, its terse suspense, and its huge capacity to scare.

Step aside, Cullen and company.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (follow updates from @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Please be warned that I check them for spam and this might take some time. Download the yearly volumes: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

SAY YES TO THE DRESS!: THE GUILTY PLEASURES OF A FEMINIST

Every time I binge-watch the reality show Say Yes to the Dress! (usually a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon) I wonder why I like it. This is a series which narrates how brides purchase their bridal gown at Kleinfeld’s, a Manhattan store specializing in this kind of fashion (see https://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/say-yes-to-the-dress/). Each episode lasts a little over 20 minutes and is usually based on a topic that links together a few brides. This might be the disagreements with their entourage, or the determination to buy a particular gown, or the body shape of the bride, or the budget limitations… etc. I tell myself that, precisely, what I enjoy is the art of the show writers in making the most of what appears to be, in principle, a very limited story: ‘bride buys gown’.

This justification, however, only satisfies partially the feminist in me. When I had the chance to buy a wedding gown I simply decided not to do so, which means that I’m not watching the show because I wish I were one of the brides. It’s not a personal matter, clearly. I must also clarify that I don’t particularly like weddings: they are, if you think about it, a theatrical sub-genre that should be studied as such but they’re not, on the whole, a spectacle that I appreciate very much. I more or less understand why couples want to display themselves before family and friends in this way but, perhaps because so often a divorce follows a wedding, I find both ceremony and banquet a perplexing performance. Sorry.

Let me, then, acknowledge the foundation of my guilty pleasure in watching Say Yes to the Dress!: it’s the highly emotional moment when the bride finds the perfect gown and can’t help crying. Obvious, isn’t it? This is the moment around which each episode segment is built, and the reason why the brides that leave Kleinfeld’s with no gown are so disappointed (and disappointing). Still, acknowledging that I’m hooked on that kind of emotion does not explain why. I can go here in two completely different directions. One, the academic anthropological argument suggesting that these tears bring back to me an idea of the sacredness of marriage which has been lost with the devaluation of romantic love. The other, the personal melodramatic argument: since all is so bleak in our world, I’m grateful for small mercies and moments of truly felt happiness.

Of course, like any reality show Say Yes to the Dress! is a fake narrative. I fail to understand the many criticisms that the series constantly receives about the falsity of the events narrated. By this I do not mean that the brides and their feelings are fictional; what I mean is that a) they go through a process of casting (publicly acknowledged, no secrets here), and b) their stories are edited to suit the show’s needs. I marvel at how good the montage of faces showing reactions to the brides’ good and bad choices is in very show. The crew films for hours to produce a clear-cut narrative which unfolds in just a few minutes. And this is inevitably the story of how there is always one perfect choice, once the bad ones are discarded.

This dynamic reproduces the romantic plot behind the purchase of the gown: the brides cry because their finding of the perfect dress mirrors their finding of the perfect partner. This is another reason why I’m addicted to the show: the description of the future husbands. Each bride needs to explain briefly how she met her groom and why she loves him, and this provides very rich data to understand what women want: a man who is caring, one’s best friend and gifted with a good sense of humour. The photos of the couples tell a parallel story, showing a variety of romantic pairings, from the classic high school sweethearts to the May/December couples with an obvious financial incentive. Yet, for once, I like being reassured that the world (well, the USA) is full of good men that these brides do want to marry. I wonder, naturally, whether the marriages last for long. Kleinfeld’s welcomes in some episodes second-chance, divorced brides but, on average, the women in the show are new to marriage. And greatly excited by the prospect.

The production company, TLC, has sold the format to British, Irish and Australia. Funnily, I watched five minutes of the UK version and it didn’t work for me; to be honest, a quite tasteless bride with a fixation for a tacky gown completely put me off. This doesn’t mean that the US brides I watch every Saturday have a marvellous taste… and that might be another source of attraction. I do wonder what the Spanish version would be like and I tell myself that the land of Pronovias and Rosa Clarà is much better equipped to offer brides tasty, classy outfits but, then, I might be deluding myself. Whatever the case might be, whereas I am awed by the gowns that some brides choose (my favourite still is a red gown, chosen by a bride who had never met in the flesh her internet lover), I am constantly amused by what some ridiculous brides choose. And totally baffled by the insistence that some show on wearing ultra-sexy gowns to present themselves publicly as trophy wives.

The show, then, has a manifest peeping-tom charm. I find American society quite strange and Say Yes to the Dress! often confirms that it is an alien world, in terms of taste, class configuration, romantic expectations and even bodily shape. I don’t want to check the internet for criticisms of the show’s castings (in fact, I don’t want to check the internet at all to keep the illusion flowing), but I appreciate the variety of brides on display in terms of race and looks, meaning not just thin/fat but also petite/ultra tall, etc. The whole point, as the store staff insists, is that a bride should feel beautiful, which is not the same as being beautiful. Of course, she needs the right budget, though I can say that spending 15000$ as some brides do, does not mean that you get the best gown for you (it’s often the opposite). Still, you need at least 2500$ which, while not an exaggerated amount, is quite a lot for most working-class brides.

Does watching Say Yes to the Dress! affect my feminist credentials? Am I embarrassing myself by acknowledging this guilty pleasure? I don’t think so. I could use here even the feminist argument that the show is a very complete laboratory for Gender Studies. An episode featuring a lesbian couple, for instance, implicitly invited audiences to accept gay marriage (also to ponder why one bride was wearing a gown and the other a tuxedo). The view is partial, for the gay men are missing from the picture, unless you count the show’s only male presence, Kleinfeld’s fashion consultant and gown designer Randy Fenoli, as a major gay presence. All the brides apparently support the heteronormative foundation of marriage and of wedding pageantry and this means that by watching the show and adding to the audience, I am also backing patriarchy, which would certainly affect negatively my feminist credentials. I cannot claim that I get pleasure from watching women make free choices because, for all I know, most of the brides might be totally deluded and/or anti-feminist to boot. Yet, there is something appealing in a woman’s taking centre-stage. Perhaps for the wrong reasons, I know…

In the past (I’m thinking of my mother’s generation and of 1960s marriages), women were allowed to shine on their wedding day in a hypocritical way, as the ceremony usually marked their patriarchal subjection to a husband. Today, we need to assume, things are different and the women who choose to marry and spend thousands of euros on a bridal gown are making a different kind of statement, hopefully turning on its head the traditional meaning of weddings. Happily for all, going through a wedding is now a choice, not an obligation. I would not call a wedding a feminist event but, then, some of my feminist friends have married in that way and even purchased bridal gowns, never mind that they were not necessarily white.

Feminist or no feminist, man or woman, heterosexual or LGTBI+, we all love a promise of happiness. This can be symbolized in many ways and by many objects and in Say Yes to the Dress! the bridal gown is that kind of symbol. Clearly, it also means other things, such as the bride’s pleasure in looking as good as possible, and, yes, of course, the princess dream, which seems to be common to many women in all classes. Although feminism rejects that fantasy as patriarchal, the decision to display yourself looking your best and being as happy as possible because you have found love seems to me perfectly compatible with a feminist mentality.

Still, guilty pleasures are there to celebrate our own contradictions…

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THE ANONYMIZATION OF AUTHORSHIP: A GROWING TREND

It turns out that ‘anonymization’ is a concept used in the handling of data, to ensure the privacy of the persons providing the information. This is not how I am using the concept here. I refer, instead, to the process by which persons who make important contributions to the fiction we love best, whether as participants or authors, remain anonymous, unknown to the crowds. I’ll refer here mostly to Star Wars, as this is the mega-text that has provoked the thinking behind this post, yet, as you will see, this is a matter beyond popular fiction.

Recently, on 29 October, many news outlets carried the obituary of John Mollo. You’ve never heard of him? Should you have? Judge for yourself: this is the costume designer that won an Oscar in 1978 for the first Star Wars film, now known as Episode IV – A New Hope. He also won an Oscar, together with Bhanu Athaiya, for Gandhi (1982). The designs for the iconic costumes of George Lucas’ film, by the way, were not only Mollo’s; he actually materialized ideas suggested by artist and production designer Ralph McQuarrie, also responsible for the atmospheric set décor, the awesome spaceships and so on.

This means that, just to mention one example, McQuarrie and Mollo are the authors of the suit that makes Darth Vader such a memorable, lasting icon. Yet, we tend to cut the middlemen/women off authorship in cinema and attribute all the merit to the film director, which is downright silly. In a similar vein, checking yesterday out of sheer curiosity who drew the lovely Poppy for the film Trolls (2016), I learned that the artist in question, Craig Kellerman, is very much admired as a character designer in animation. I had never heard about him, though. I see Poppy everyday but the illustration on my office wall is signed ‘Dreamworks’ not Kellerman… And I had no idea that so many animation films that I like have characters created by the same artist (do check his IMDB entry).

More on this matter. On Friday 3 I found myself offering a presentation on Star Wars’s Obi-Wan Kenobi during a seminar on emotion and popular culture. I shared the session with my good friend Fernando Ángel Moreno, who spoke of how the Lovecraftian idea of cosmic horror applies to the saga (it does indeed!). During my talk I quoted two juicy bits of dialogue from the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t know to whom I should attribute the text. A screenwriter was credited for each episode but also a script supervisor, both responding to the series creator and, ultimately, to whoever took charge of the series at Lucas Film. I cannot say, then, who made the crucial decisions about Obi-Wan’s characterization that I discussed. The authors remain anonymous despite their presence in the episode credits. And this worries me, as I’m used to novelists making all the decisions and stepping on firm ground when I do literary studies.

In this regard, Fernando pointed out that in the new Star Wars films the person truly controlling the evolution of characters and story is producer Kathleen Kennedy, who entered the saga with Episode VIII – The Force Awakens (2015); recall that Star Wars no longer belongs to Lucas (he sold his baby to Disney… amazing!). Beyond the films, of course, Star Wars sprawls all over two textual multiverses, now labelled ‘Canon’ and ‘Legends’, which one single researcher can never ever make sense of, not even several teams. This is, I should say, a serious problem for the study of popular fiction, particularly in the audiovisual branch.

The understanding of audiovisual authorship was distorted apparently for ever when, as it is well known, the contributors to Cahiers du Cinema (founded in 1951) determined that for all purposes the author of a film is the director. This surprised both producers, who in the Hollywood studio system were the main originators of films, and humble film directors employed by that system, such as John Ford, who saw themselves suddenly hailed as artists when they regarded themselves as craftsmen. Unfortunately, this view of authorship totally eclipsed the screen writer, still today the most misunderstood contributor to films. Also, as the case of John Mollo shows, other artists were relegated to being an anonymous face in the production team. Film credits grew as these film workers demanded an acknowledgement of their efforts and so did the list of Oscar categories; even so, try to find a film spectator who can name a favourite film editor, or sound designer… I can’t even name screen writers, which is a shame…

In TV series, matters appear to have gone back to the old Hollywood studio system with creators/producers getting all the credit and both episode directors and writers being overlooked as authors. However, since nobody bothers to teach these matters, I’m sure that many youngsters are growing up today thinking, as I did, that actors write the films, lines, scenes and all the rest (I was much impressed by how inventive the ubiquitous Charlton Heston appeared to be); not even what directors do is clear to us. (Please note that sometimes actors do write the lines: the famous sentence about tears in the rain in the speech by the replicant Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner (1982) was contributed by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer. NOT written by Ridley Scott…).

How about print fiction, which comes in books with the name of the author on the cover? Recently, I read the umpteenth article warning about how piracy is destroying the book industry, this time from the point of view of young writers in the middle of writing novel series (see https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/06/pirated-ebooks-threaten-future-of-serial-novels-warn-authors-maggie-stiefvater). Something that very much surprised me is the lack of respect that piratical readers are showing for authors, even when they do like their work. And the downright cheekiness. Author Maggie Stiefvater complained that if sales of her books go any lower, her series (the Shiver and Raven Cycle) will be cancelled by her publisher. A reader immediately twitted back “I never bought ur books I read them online pirated”.

Leaving aside how digital e-book readers have made it easier for all of us to download books illegally uploaded by others, I would argue that anonymization is also to blame. In this case, although it’s a different kind of anonymization from that of the audiovisual industry it is possibly connected. In both cases there appears to be a serious lack of awareness on the side of the consumers of what producing the film or print text entails. Also, the constant flow of film and TV releases, and of book launches, seems to suggest that there will always be someone generation fiction even if particular persons stop. That’s the kind of anonymization I mean. This also has to do with falling average standards. I used to buy lots of books confident that it was money well used but I have become now a very wary customer, tired of being tricked by overhyped fiction (or academic research…) not worth 20 euros a volume, or much more if we think of academic publications.

Some readers’ comments appended to the article I have mentioned argued that Spotify has solved the problem for music (but please remember that unlike musicians writers make no money out of touring); perhaps Netflix and similar platforms are doing the same for film and TV. In both cases, however, the principle of anonymization applies, worsened by the algorithm system that keeps suggesting similar texts to consumers. Music is increasingly becoming muzak, originally the name of a company founded in the 1950s that sold background music to department stores and similar places, later a label used for the kind of music thus marketed. I often find myself in the kind of clothes shop which pesters you with loud music, wondering how specific songwriters feel about their creative work being used in that way. I’m not a Netflix subscriber, and I don’t watch series, but I am also constantly flabbergasted by how my students describe binge watching as a background activity that they combine with others, such as cleaning up the house (and study??). This is what the radio used to be for (or still is, I’m not sure).

Before I lose my thread, let me say that anonymization is also visible in the increasing difficulties to recall names and titles in all areas. Studios started advertising films using the tag line ‘by the director of Fight Club’ rather than ‘by David Fincher’ because spectators showed no interest in recalling directors’ names. I haven’t seen any film yet announced as ‘with the handsome guy in Troy’ rather than ‘with Brad Pitt’ but I assume this might soon happen. As for books, a funny thing is going on. On the one hand, I often come across names of ‘world-famous, best-selling’ authors who are totally unknown to me; on the other, readers mention to me books they have enjoyed but can’t remember the author (and give you just an approximate title).

Perhaps the genre in which anonymization is most worrying is… academic writing. The prose we use is so homogeneous that when I read collective volumes I have very serious problems remembering any of the contributors’ names and distinguishing one chapter from the next. We all use the same style, made even flatter by peer reviewing as any trace of authorial originality tends to be erased. Try being witty in an academic article and see who publishes it… Even though I should say that the average standard is pretty high, with quite sophisticated academic work being now produced, few academic pieces have a distinctive voice. To be honest, I started writing this blog to find my own voice as I’m not even sure it is present in my work. I wish I could write like Terry Eagleton but when I asked him for an interview how he had managed to be a clearly recognizable author with an essayistic voice of his own, he candidly told me this is an option only open to top-rank academics like himself with well-established names. The rest of us, I’m afraid, must aim for the transparent, insipid prose that now keeps academic authorship anonymized.

What a strange zeitgeist: I need to think further how the rampant narcissism of those who create nothing combines with the fall of the creators into anonymity.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (follow updates from @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Please be warned that I check them for spam and this might take some time. Download the yearly volumes: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/