Summer lovin’ from Arna!
Comic by Lynda Barry
A love story hidden in a hat
You are looking at a medieval book from c. 1270, but it has a most unusual shape - and a most ironic story. In fact, you are looking at fragments of a such a book, which form a research passion of mine. In the early-modern period bookbinders cut up medieval manuscripts because the handwritten objects had become old-fashioned after the invention of printing. As a result, we encounter snippets of manuscripts on the inside of bookbindings, as I explain in this blog about such beautiful destruction - a more recent discovery is presented in this blog.
Occasionally the recycled parchment sheets were used for other purposes: the pages in this image form the lining of a bishop’s mitre - onto which the cloth was subsequently pasted. What’s remarkable about the hat is not just that the poor bishop had a bunch of hidden medieval pages on his head, but that they were cut from a Norwegian translation of Old French love poetry (so-called lais). Lovers were chasing each other through dark corridors, maidens were frolicking in the fields, knights were butchering each other over nothing. All the while the oblivious bishop was performing the rites of the Holy Mass. It’s a wonderful historical clash; as well as the mother of all irony.
Pic: Copenhagen, Den Arnamagnæanske Samling, MS AM 666 b 4to (c. 1270, Strengleikar, Norse translation of Old French love poems). More information about this wicked item here.
Hey, cool - Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans, has started a Tumblr to tell stories we don’t usually hear otherwise. Submit your tale of being an Unknown American here.
If you look at the other European languages, you will discover that the word for history, as in “historia” (Spanish), “historie” (French), and “gesichte (German), is the same word in those languages for story. Don’t we in Pilipino, sometimes use the Spanish word “historia”, which sounds the same as “istorya”? Now what about the word “kasaysayan”? I do not know how old the word is, but it is definitely richer than the Western words for history which are based largely on the Greek “historie” which means “an inquiry”. “Kasaysayan”, as it is taught in the University of the Philippines, Diliman (or at least when I was teaching there) is rooted in two words: “salaysay”, which means a narrative or story and, more important, “saysay”, or meaning.
In my history classes I always propose the working definition of “kasaysayan” or history as a narrative (which can be written, visual, oral or a combination of all three) about past events that has meaning to a certain group of people in a given time and place. These two components of “kasaysayan” - “salaysay” and “saysay” are inseperable. Without both, you cannot have true history.
I feel more strongly about “kasaysayan” than the Western words for history because in the latter, history can be a mere narrative of past events while “kasaysayan” is not just a narrative or a “salaysay” - it MUST have “saysay” or meaning. If we find meaning in history, then it will gain the power to change our lives. “Saysay” gives us a way of looking at the world, a Filipino viewpoint that influences the way we see the past, the present, and hopefully, the future."
I never really wrote about the One Direction concert and that probably seems strange. Knowing me, knowing myself, how I write about everything until it’s like it didn’t really happen anywhere but in words, sometimes purposefully, it seems strange. Looking at my blog, obviously, I am sure, it seems like something, anything about that day, is missing. Like I should have had at least a pithy list of commentary. Something. I tried. I was even supposed to write something for a Real Publication. It doesn’t feel strange, though. Having been there, having had that experience and knowing what it did to me and how unique and new and powerful it was to me, it doesn’t feel strange that I couldn’t find the right words. I didn’t even take any pictures during the show. My phone was nearly dead from obsessively documenting every moment of the day leading up to the big event, but only nearly. I turned it off before they came on, thinking I’d save the battery for the right moment, for something I had to be able to have and save and share all over the internet, but then I never thought about it again. Not once. I didn’t send any of the snapchats I had promised. I didn’t tweet when Harry came out with glasses on for one song and then immediately removed them again. I didn’t want to. For once I didn’t need an artifact, and later when I would try to piece one together out of some feeling of obligation, it simply did not come out of me. That night could not come out of me.
My sister sobbed through all of “Up All Night.” Big gulping sobs, heaving chest and nails in my arm. They appeared on stage and she came open at the very center and couldn’t hold anything in. Didn’t need to, anyway. She wasn’t alone. There were thousands of us and no one was alone. Liam had on a snapback in that first song. That’s partly why she was crying. She’d tell you that’s why she was crying. I WAS OVERWHELMED, and it’s true, it’s not a lie, it’s not a cover up, but there’s so much more. I didn’t cry until “Little Things” (I cried so much during “little things,” I did, I choked and laughed and wiped all kinds of feelings slime onto my dumb floral croptop, maybe that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to tell you guys anything about this ordeal) but even from that first moment I felt it. I felt a full, warm, thrilling excitement devoid of any irony or eye-rolling or stylish indifference. I felt it and it was weird and it was good and I didn’t know how to do anything except to let it take me away completely.
In line before the show, some little girls borderline heckled me for liking Harry best (“That’s so BORING!”) and they were perfect. One of them had tiny blonde braids and “Louis” written in blue face paint across her forehead and she thought I was a loser and she’ll probably be internet famous in like five years. They guessed that I was sixteen when asked, but it’s possible this was simply the very oldest age they could even conceive of. They couldn’t stop moving. We stood in this line, this hoard, really, for two hours, one of plain waiting, one of moving slowly and sweatily like cattle toward the security gate, and I couldn’t stop watching and noticing the way everyone buzzed and bounced and rolled back and forth onto their heels. It would have been contagious if I didn’t already have the contagion, it would have been intoxicating if I weren’t so drunk already on having raced around a parking lot arm in arm with my two favorite teenage girls from one attraction the other. The radio dj giving away signs that said, “I Want To KISS95.7 One Direction,” the Nabisco truck with the boys emblazoned across the side that we took pictures by for twenty minutes. A group of girls in daisy chains and denim dresses asked me to take a picture of them in front of it with a fancy camera one of them had been wearing around her neck by the strap, that had been bouncing against her as she skipped and leaped around, and I didn’t think they were anything but perfect. I didn’t think anything was anything but perfect and I was right. It was perfect. The apprehensive looking fathers being lead around by their tiny daughters in 1D logo t-shirts were perfect. Even the bud lime strawberrita I had during the opening act (after having my ID very carefully examined) tasted absolutely fucking delicious. Perfect.
They usually sing “Little Things” up on that suspended little bench thing, you know? Up over the crowd, floating like angels, right, like angels, fuck. Our show was outdoors and at a venue where I guess this wasn’t possible, logistically, I don’t know, because they didn’t do it. They sat, instead, on the very edge of the stage, at the end of the little catwalk, legs dangling down entirely within the grasp of the girls in the front row. This meant that in our seats, which were good seats, the best seats I’ve ever had at any concert, seats I couldn’t really believe in, that came to us by such strange luck, a man on craigslist willing to sell them for face value to a “real fan” because his daughter couldn’t make it to the show anymore, from our seats we couldn’t see them as well. It didn’t matter. They were so close to the audience that even a hundred feet away they felt so close to me. “Little Things” is a song that I hated, mocked, conceded as One Direction’s most embarrassing, but live it is something else entirely. It’s quiet and earnest and any quibbles I had about the words faded away when I knew that I was there, really there, witnessing those words being sung directly to the people to whom they mean the most. “If I let you know I’m here for you, maybe you’ll love yourself like I love you,” is, I mean, whatever, we’ve talked this shit to death, but I’m more alive inside, really, everyday, every second, still, when I imagine how it must have felt for the girl who Niall happened to look right at as he sang that line. And that’s not silly, or crazy, it’s not unhealthy, it’s not something for somebody to tear apart in a thinkpiece. It’s beautiful. It was so beautiful. Maybe I haven’t known how to describe this night because it was a night on fire with the purest kind of love, and maybe I thought someone would tell me I was stupid for saying that. Maybe I thought I’d feel stupid for saying it, maybe I felt stupid to think it. It wasn’t stupid. Not a single second of this night was stupid. The hugging. So much hugging. The tears. Girls everywhere all around me draped on each other and screaming and dancing and pouring every word to every song right out from a deep and joyful part of themselves all over some bros who Simon Cowell happened to see could make a bit of money. It wasn’t stupid. It wasn’t stupid at all.
And I never felt sad that we were always always always moving ever closer to the end of it. I never felt sad about how it would be over so soon. I’m like that, usually. I hit crying jags at all my birthday parties as a tiny girl because I’d be paralyzed by the sadness of it ending soon. Perfect dates are only one night long, perfect nights are only hours, I’ve spent so many good and happy and bright and full hours of my life being sorry that I couldn’t keep them forever. The journaling I began so young is part of that. The fevered race to take down every detail of anything that made me feel anything, the idea, however unfounded, that I’d lose it, it would be taken away, if I didn’t forcibly make it concrete in long sentences in stacks and stacks of notebooks. So afraid of forgetting. That’s my problem, I know. That’s something inside of me that feels somehow shortchanged, that can’t accept the way time moves, the way everything is forever in flux and never for always. That’s my problem, but at this concert it wasn’t. I was almost waiting for it to come. On the drive down we chattered manically and blasted our favorite One Direction songs over and over and the girls stunk up the car with permanent marker making signs in the backseat, and I drove and thought about how after tonight the counting down the days would be gone. I didn’t say it but I felt it. I was sorry to have what I wanted because then I wouldn’t be able to want it again. But then it happened. But then they were there and we were there and I never once worried about the end. “What Makes You Beautiful” is the big finale and I was still teary but I wasn’t sad. I was so full. I felt so full of life and love and energy and I didn’t even have the slightest impulse to mock that. It did not occur to me to make a joke of it. I expected it would. I expected to want to laugh at my own happiness but I never did. I wasn’t sad on the drive home. I was floating. I was sore and voiceless and exhausted but I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t going to lose what I had just been given. I had it forever and it was perfect.
"The girls aren’t crazy, the girls are just excited."
I hate when men smirk and gloat and say shit like “Women are attracted to powerful men,” like that negates any feminist impulse, like they think that at the heart of all women is this little, mincing girl that wants to be dominated.
I just roll my eyes because, dude. If you ever read the second half of any fucking harlequin novel ever, and saw how the hero always ends up blubbering on his knees and saying shit like “I can’t live without you! You unman me!” you’d realize that being attracted to powerful men is just the first part of a two-step plan.
The second step is to completely fucking annihilate him.
one of my favorite things about fandom is that the exchange of intellectual and creative property is a legitimate form of gift giving. like ‘i’m so enchanted by you, i love you, let me tell you a story’
"i wish there was a netflix for broadway shows"
literally the whole point of theatre is that it’s live
but not everyone has the resources to see professional theatre…?
listen when did i say it had to be professional theatre there are hundreds of community theatres and regional theatres and avant garde theatres out there like
i’m sorry but theatre is meant to be experienced live otherwise it would be a fucking movie
i’m using “professional” to mean equity, so that also includes regional and maybe even some community theatres.
here’s the thing about theatre being at its best live: it’s a double-edged sword. that makes it special, but it also makes it very, very insular. and that’s great if you’re able to attend productions at those theatres, but what about people who are geographically or monetarily unable to see their favorite broadway/regional shows or actors? why should they just suck it up and accept that the ~sanctity of the medium ought not to be comprised~ when, rights issues notwithstanding, a video recording of the show could be the only way to experience them?
and even people who live in the vicinity of professional theatres often can’t afford ticket prices. i would not begrudge ANYONE the wish to simply watch a filmed version of pippin, for example, rather than shell out $75+ for a ticket or get up at 5 AM to rush the show. even regional theatres are exorbitantly priced nowadays.
look, i’ve seen many, many professional shows in my short lifetime, and even i would jump at the chance to watch a filmed production of practically anything. i really don’t see why this is such a heinous and outrageous idea. theatre is already a grossly overcommercialized and elitist industry when it ought to be inclusive and populist, so why should we deny people outside the circle exposure to shows and actors they’ve always wanted to see?
This is one of the reasons why I respect the British theatre so much. Not only is there a real effort to make theatre more affordable to more of the public, the major theatres film everything and even if it’s not released via NT live or on DVD, you can go to an archival library and watch it there. We don’t have that system in the US. We treat Broadway like it’s the only theatre in this country. Not only is that patently false, most of the best theatre in America is not happening on Broadway (especially after this insipid clusterfuck of a season. Seriously, never in my life have I seen such aggressively mediocre theatre). Innovative, exciting, accessible theatre is happening everywhere. That being said, it often is too expensive, and all theatres need to explore alternative methods of getting what they do to people who want to see it.
Because the bottom line is this: theatre is storytelling. Storytellers should want their stories to reach as many people as possible. I run a theatre company. I want to be able to pay the people who work with me and I know that means that we will eventually have to raise the cost of our tickets. But, we will always film our productions and make them available online or on DVD. Everyone who wants to see live theatre should be able to see it, one way or another.
“What is a Myth?”
A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong (via mothermetroid)
So there was an earlier post that casually referred to Hannibal as a fairy tale, and I had to seize on it because as y’all may have noticed I keep coming back to Hannibal as the Fairy King/Queen. (The Queen has always interested me way more than the King, and in light of the romantic undertones of his relationship with will and aLL THE TAM LIN parallels I can’t help but go there; plus, Hannibal Lecter definitely has some tradish feminine attributes.)
Okay, this is going to be so long that I think I have to break it up into a series. Woo! This part will deal with the general theme of liminality as a characteristic of fairies and fairy tales, and as a point of vulnerability for the human protagonists in those stories.
Fairy tales—by which I mean, the particular subset of European folklore we tend to refer to by that name, since other than that socialized geographic separation there’s no difference between fairy tales and other folklore—in their earlier incarnations were dark, scary, gross, gory things, as I’m sure plenty of the people reading this know. But what’s less known than a lot of the horror factors (body horror, falling into a twisted reality that can’t be made sense of, being trapped, stolen, condemned, held (often by means of food or sex), making a bargain that turns on you—and all of those things are HUGELY important in Hannibal and I’ll get to them later) is the deep, deep importance of borders and liminality in these stories.
Quick definition of liminality:
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
Over and over again, fairies show up at borders—temporal, physical, and existential. Dawn and twilight; thresholds and doorways; birth, death, transitions from girlhood to womanhood and from unmarriage to marriage (I use feminine terms because in my experience those tropes turn up more often than male coming-of-age stories); the woods, the parts of the map on the edges of known, safe territory. The walls between fairy worlds and the “normal” world are, at least in Irish lore, weakest at the four great holidays (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain), which mark the changing of the seasons and the passing of time.
(I owe a hell of a lot to At The Bottom of the Garden, an incredibly fantastic book that revolutionized my understanding of fairy tales, on this point. If you’re interested in the subject at all, I BEG you to read it.)
I bring all this up because Hannibal makes extensive use of liminality. Many of the focal characters have divided, near-contradictory natures: Jack is a ruthless, reckless and manipulative…do-gooder who loves his wife, takes responsibility for his mistakes, and ultimately wants to avoid harming Will beyond repair. Abigail is a vulnerable, homeless, damaged girl-child…who has been knowingly consuming human flesh and participating in murders for years, who killed again solo, and who is preserving Hannibal’s secrets. Hannibal is an elegant, courteous, helpful, nurturing host and friend who loves to feed people…and a serial killer, mental and emotional abuser, and all-around sociopath. (I’m saving Will for later in this post.) They’ve all got unstable personalities with one foot on each side of a border. In fact, I think many of the secondary characters are so comforting and more straightforwardly enjoyable because while they’re still complex and three-dimensional, they’re not quantum in the same way, constantly oscillating between two natures that seem they should never go together. (I’m thinking of Alana, Bev, and, yes, Freddie here.)
Moving on to the second point: murder. (MURDER!!!) Remember how I mentioned the physical, temporal, and existential forms of borders?
- Garret Jacob Hobbs’ murders were about Abigail growing up and leaving home.
- Mushroom man placed his victims in a permanent state of limbo on the threshold between life and death. (Yes, they died eventually, but as he saw it they lived on in the fungi. I am not going to make a vegetative state joke here, but only because fungi are not vegetables. I’m disappointed too.)
- The Angelmaker’s killings were a response to his anxiety about his impending death, and his style of killing was its instrument.
- Tobias (this one’s harder and so it’s a bit of a stretch) stopped his quiet, low-profile murders to announce himself with his serenade as a choice to move on in life, end one phase and begin another, fundamentally change the self he shows to and the role he plays in the world.
- The totem builder was about not only his own passage into old age (change of life stage) but also birth, death, marriage, the family cycle—he didn’t know it, but we did, and as so many brilliant people have pointed out, the fourth wall
is peopleexists to be played with on this show.
- Georgia Mädchen was in another limbo between life and death; she also very literally came in from the edge of the map, from the wild. If existential transformations are about a change of identity, and if their liminal moments are like a ball’s moment of suspension at the top of its arc before the next stage takes hold, then you could say she’s trapped there: not only does she not know who she is, she can’t even define herself by her relationships. (On, say, a girl’s wedding night—and I say this in an old-timey and essentialist context—suddenly her existing familial relationships are being renegotiated, while her future ones have yet to take shape. She’s at a moment of disconnection, untouched by the gravitational pull of relationships.) No one around Georgia is recognizable. She’s nowhere (“we’re in Wolf Trap, Virginia”) and nothing; limbo, again.
The significance of these borders in fairy stories is that it’s in those spaces that a person becomes vulnerable to fairy intervention and seduction. Don’t linger at the wrong times, don’t pause too long in a doorway, and certainly don’t go to the edge of the map, because it’s in those places that you’re in the greatest danger of incursion from the Other. Ward your windows and doors; the chimney, too, if you’re smart. Certainly don’t open the door to strangers and invite them in. This is especially important for Will.
Will exists in a kind of permanent borderland, suspended between his own identity and the myriad others with whom he empathizes; while we spend most of our time on the serial killers, we have to assume he’s experiencing the effects of that empathy to one degree or another in any interaction he participates in. Furthermore, the degree to which we participate in his reenactments means we perceive him as literally two people at once every time we go there.
When we consider that Will is, in fairy terms, permanently vulnerable, both Jack and Hannibal can be read as a kind of fairy incursion. Jack is like a brownie or hob/hobgoblin, bargaining fairies that will help a person with domestic or farm work in exchange for what seems a modest price—but that price often comes with a hidden cost. (I recall one story in which a hob did all of a man’s farm work, but did it so well that his neighbors became suspicious and burned him as a witch. The man had begged the hob to stop or at least slack off; it refused. A deal’s a deal.) Jack offered Will a chance to do good, to do the kind of work he wants and needs to do, but with help: Jack will take care of the logistics and, supposedly, act as a handler to “cover him,” in exchange for Will’s cooperation. All he has to do, supposedly, is walk onto a scene, do his empathy thing, and walk out. But the price, as we’re seeing, turns out to be far higher than Will expected.
Hannibal, on the other hand, is absolutely the ruler of a fairy court. He gains power over people by feeding them his otherworldly food; he owns and dominates his space in a pretty explicitly regal fashion; he’s already been described (unwittingly) as “exotic”; he works by different rules than we do; his favor is a gift and a blow at the same time. He’s seducing Will out of the human world and into a kind of a dream world under the hill where time passes differently. (Usually these places are underground as much as they can be said to be anywhere, though I know of one adaptation where it was a college Classics department). He’s consuming him as a kind of fuel, an entertainment, but it’s a connection nonetheless born of a kind of admiration.
I have strong feelings about why Hannibal is a fairy Queen and not a King, but they’re going to have to wait for later in the series. I plan to do one on the otherworldly qualities of the show’s environment, one on Abigail as a changeling, one on Will’s story as a pretty direct parallel to the Tam Lin ballad, one on Hannibal’s feminine aspects in this context, and one on broader feminine themes of life changes. At least, off the top of my head that’s what I want to do; probably I’ll think of more, sigh.
I’ll update this post with links as I write!
Part 2: Will Graham as Tam Lin