Excavating the mind of the artist

“Cinema uses the language of dreams.”

Federico Fellini

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Among the plethora of mediums available to the artist, moving images have always had the privileged position of coming closest to matching the unpredictable whirring of the mind. It has perhaps become a cliché to liken the cinematic vision to the state of dreaming, yet it is one that rings true. Cinema has the unique ability to dig at once into the mind of the artist, the mind of the cinematic protagonist, and the mind of the audience, creating a separate sphere wherein all three may merge.

Fellini’s Eight and a Half remains one of the purest illustrations of this artistic pursuit. The film, which flits between reality, dream and the artist’s subconsciousness, plays out around the (pre-)production of a film and the laborious process of creating art. As the narrative comes to a conclusion, the final sequence sees production finally begin on the film which up to this point was destined never to be realized. However, upon reaching this moment it seems Fellini has replaced the protagonist, Guido, as the director of the film within the film, for it is at this stage that the entire cast of characters – including Guido – join hands and parade before Fellini’s camera on the film set Guido had envisioned for his own production.

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From the outset it is clear that Guido, the director struggling with the cinematic equivalent of writer’s block, plagued by visions and dreams of his life – past, present and future – is a stand-in for Fellini. As we delve deep into Guido’s psyche, it is Fellini’s mind that unfolds before us. It is impossible to distinguish whether our protagonist is the man in front of the camera or the man behind it. The late, great Roger Ebert looking back at the film in 2000 encapsulated the limbo-esque experience presented to the audience, writing “it does what is almost impossible: Fellini is a magician who discusses, reveals, explains and deconstructs his tricks, while still fooling us with them. He claims he doesn’t know what he wants or how to achieve it, and the film proves he knows exactly, and rejoices in his knowledge”.

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Fellini achieves this artistic ambiguity through his privileging of images over ideas. Andrey Tarkovsky, formulating his manifesto on cinema wrote that the function of film is to “startle us with the authenticity of the actions and the beauty and depths of the artistic images – not by obtrusive illustration of their meaning”. In this school of thought the audience must work to draw ideas from a visualisation. Eight and a Half weaves together images in such a way that we are at once inside Guido’s mind, even while watching him dance across the screen and similarly we see Fellini and all he stands for laid out in front of our eyes, even while his body never crosses the frame.

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Guido remains incredibly passive throughout the film – events unfold around him rather than through him – yet he is the director of the film at the heart of the cinematic narrative and the mind from which the dreams and visions spring. Though, of course it is Fellini who directs the director and finally allows him happiness as Guido is assembled into the cast of his own film, now playing to Fellini’s camera rather than having to stand behind his own. As Guido’s writer’s block subsides, Fellini’s own writer’s block evaporates with the completion of this film, the staggering evidence of which plays out in front of the viewer.

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However, the true genius of Eight and a Half lies not simply in its blending of protagonist and director, but in the way the audience is invited to take up residence within the artistic mind via this path. Starting with the film’s opening, the silent escape from reality as Guido floats out of a traffic jam and into the sky, to everything that comes after, images trickle onto the screen inviting us not simply to spectate, but rather to step into the mind of the director. In viewing the finished work the audience is the final piece of the puzzle, the culmination of Fellini’s triumph and the validation of Guido’s masterpiece. Through seeing the artistic work, we stand as a testament to the struggles of the mind that produced it.

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Fabian Broeker is a first-year PhD student in the Culture, Media and Creative Industries department at King’s College London. His work focuses on digital mediations of intimacy and the utilisation of film as a methodology in academic research.

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APOCALYPSE (wow!)

The future is over. Through the cliché of the Post-Apocalyptic, it has been strip-mined of meaning. The ubiquity of the teleological narrative in mainstream media – the end-narratives of the ‘end times’ – has created franchises of nihilism, which advocate a political quietism that shuts down hope. In the slew of P-A (Post-Apocalyptic) movies since the 1970s onwards we have been seduced by disaster-porn: burning buildings, earthquakes, tsunamis, meteor strikes, epidemics, big freezes, zombie outbreaks ad nauseam. Yet expressing and exploiting eschatological fears is not something new. The end has been nigh for some time.

In the early Eighteenth Century, amid the ongoing Armageddon of the French Terror, riots and revolutions, the Apocalyptic Sublime gripped the public’s imagination with long queues forming to behold John Martin’s masterful painting, ‘The Great Day of his Wrath’, and now in Hollywood blockbusters, cinema audiences are glutting on scenes of mass destruction, whether Earth-based (e.g. The Day After Tomorrow) or on another planet (e.g. JJ Abram’s Star Trek reboot, in which the destruction of Vulcan brought Martin’s vision to CGI-life). World War Z; The Hunger Games; I Am Legend; Children of Men; The Survivalist; A Quiet Place; Birdbox … the list is almost endless. Enabled by digital streaming platforms, we can binge on P-A imagery in the comfort of our homes.

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As in the post-9/11 popularity of ‘trauma memoir’ or Misery Lit, there is a perversely consoling quality to watching others endure (and survive) hard times. Modern purveyors of Fantastika (John Clute’s umbrella term for Science Fiction, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction and associated genres) leap by default to their worst-case scenario with almost brutal glee – ‘my badder is badder than your bad’ – a creative brinkmanship which eventually results in a decommissioning of apocalypse’s shock and awe, until all that is left is a comic potential (as in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead; and The World’s End), literalising the famous dictum of Marx, that history repeats itself, ‘first as a tragedy, then as a farce.’

Yet before this postmodernist neutering, great art was forged from the apocalyptic flames – notably Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, and Richard Jefferies’ After London: or Wild England. And the 20th and early 21st centuries have seen this literary tradition continue in the works of JG Ballard’s (The Drowned World and others); Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; and in the recent trend of ‘Cli-Fi’, climate fiction exploring the impact of Climate Change and the Anthropocene: the works of Kim Stanley Robinson; Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-up Girl and The Water Knife;  TC Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth; Richard Powers The Overstory, and others. Much good has been created in this subgenre, and more is emerging.

And yet the Post-Apocalyptic risks becoming as much of a tired trope as Steampunk – the past’s vision of the future, primarily Victoriana science fiction, in which analogue technology and Imperial ‘what ifs’ offers a refugium from an overly-digitised and bewilderingly geopolitically complex age. What started out as a refreshingly ironic and witty repurposing of SF, has become through its commodified schtick the opposite of the Fantastic, a Fantasy that regresses into nostalgia.

For my money, the ‘trans-apocalyptic’ narrative is more interesting – dramatizing the transition from our current civilisation to what comes after. Rob Hopkins Transition Handbook first created a practical narrative for coping with this time of stress,  ‘skilling up for power down’ in a Post-Peak Oil World. The recent environmental movement which operates under the umbrella of ‘Extinction Rebellion’ has decided that direct action is the only way of throwing a spanner in the works of a system that is destroying the planet. For some, such as those involved in The Dark Mountain Project (spearheaded by Paul Kingsnorth) it is already too late, and the only response is to inhabit the reality of societal collapse and even welcome what they term ‘uncivilisation’. Yet such a discourse forecloses on hope, and while it may be too naively optimistic to hope for what JRR Tolkien called ‘eucatastrope’, the ‘sudden joyous turn’ in the darkest hour, in the same way that the Neoliberalist nihilism of Grimdark (Game of Thrones and all its derivatives) presents an unremittingly bleak depiction of the human condition, I believe that a more balanced approach is needed – what I term Goldendark, which acknowledges the ‘lateness of the hour’ and the complex difficulties we face, but imagines a gleam of light in the gloom, like a last flash of sun on an overcast day.

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I believe the future is in fact unwritten, and we should resist a homogeneous colonising of the imagination, a dominant discourse which perpetuates the idea that ‘you can have any brand of the future you like as long as it is apocalypse’ – a shutdown of the limitless potential of the human imagination to survive, evolve and thrive. Maybe the manner in which that happens will destabilise notions of civilisation, of ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’, of being human even, but the true apocalypse will be the revelation of this next phase of our collective journey.

 

Dr Kevan Manwaring is a writer and Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. He is the author of several books including The Windsmith Elegy series of novels, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest, Lost Islands, and others. He blogs and tweets as the Bardic Academic.

‘The Machine Stops’: What E. M. Forster Knew About the Internet

“How can I possibly explain this? It was naked, humanity seemed naked, and all these tubes and buttons and machineries neither came into the world with us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter supremely while we are here.”

 This year marks one hundred and ten years since The Oxford and Cambridge Review printed ‘The Machine Stops,’ a remarkable short story by E. M. Forster which seems to predict the Internet. It is a strange, Wellsian tale set in a distant future where humans have abandoned the surface of the earth and retreated into a hive-like network of interconnected hexagonal rooms. Though they live alone, they have access to every material convenience and to everybody else in the world at the push of a button, through a global network of networks of machinery known reverentially as ‘The Machine.’ ‘The Machine Stops’ tells the story of Vashti, a ‘swaddled lump of flesh’ with a face ‘as white as fungus,’ and her son Kuno. Kuno is a ‘savage type,’ who defies the Machine to travel to the earth’s surface. After learning, contrary to what he’s been brought up believing, that one doesn’t ‘die immediately in the outer air,’ Kuno tells his mother that ‘The Machine is stopping […] I know the signs.’ To Vashti’s horror and disbelief, Kuno turns out to be right.

 The resemblance of the Machine to the Internet is so striking that it’s hard to believe that Forster could possibly have come up with it in 1909. Vashti has Facebook, inasmuch as she ‘knows’ ‘several thousand people,’ with whom she communicates by ‘button’ from the comfort of her armchair. Other ‘buttons and switches’ are her Amazon, allowing her to order food and clothing, and her Alexa, ‘producing’ music, ‘literature’ and ‘lectures’ on command and controlling her room’s lighting and temperature. Vashti talks to Kuno through a kind of Skype or Facetime, whereby a tablet-like ‘plate’ that she holds in her hands glows with blue light and permits her to ‘see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the world.’

 Her favourite way to spend her time is ‘exchang[ing] ideas with her innumerable friends,’ who ask her if she’s ‘had any ideas lately’ before immediately interrupting to tell her their own ‘ideas.’ Her time is consumed by this constant exchange of ‘ideas’: short, shallow, ten-minute discussions of subjects, which are sent out unedited through the Machine for the whole world to hear. Vashti responds to this constant influx of ‘ideas’ with ‘irritation,’ which is ‘a growing quality in that accelerating age,’ but it never occurs to her to stop. In other words, she’s on Twitter.  Continue reading

Araki’s Apocalypses: Fragments of Doom

Ahead of Gregg Araki’s upcoming series Now Apocalypse, Jacob Engelberg presents a .gif collage exploring the theme of apocalypse throughout the auteur’s body of work. From alien invasions to New World Orders to fecund desert landscapes, and Armageddon Day itself, Araki’s fictional universes often find themselves on the brink of ruin. These precarious worlds—and the despondent characters who inhabit them—are typical of Araki’s singular style. If the world is doomed anyway, then we might as well jump headlong into hedonism as we tumble carelessly on our perilous decline into the abyss. Continue reading

The end of the world

Thank god 2018 is over.

Another after year of worsening climate crisis, the on-going and ruthlessly unseasonal Brexit pantomime, and the never ending stream of social issues eroding altruistic gumption like a deepening coastal shelf (thanks Larkin), it’s easy to feel like the world is ending.

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Call for Submissions: The Still Point Blog – Spring 2019

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers, established in 2014. The Still Point Blog aims to be a forum for discussion, dialogue, collaboration and experimentation.

We invite submissions for the Still Point Blog throughout the spring of 2019. We welcome blog post submissions of 400–500 words (accompanying images or photographs encouraged). However, if you have a longer – or shorter – piece in mind, please contact us to discuss it. We would also be delighted to publish videos, images or any experimental forms of disseminating or reflecting on research. Continue reading

Introducing the new editorial team

Welcome to followers old and new of the Still Point blog.

As the new editorial team gear up to begin a new year of blogging in 2019, we thought we’d get your academic content tummies grumbling with a glimpse behind the curtain.

Here we introduce ourselves and give some insights into how we became familiar with the Still Point and why we wanted to get involved.

Don’t worry! There’s still time for you to get involved too. Continue reading

Join Our Editorial Team – Apply by 14th November 2018

As the current team begin the second and third years of their PhDs, The Still Point Journal is looking for new research students to take over, develop the project, and make it their own. Roles on offer include journal editors, blog editors, and event organisers. Although some experience is a wonderful asset, The Still Point Journal is all about creative experimentation and learning curves, so if you have a passion for literary journals, indie publishing, creative writing, or design, this could be a great opportunity for you.

The Still Point Journal is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers, established in 2014 and supported by the LAHP (London Arts & Humanities Partnership) and the AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council). The Still Point aims to be a forum for dialogue, collaboration and experimentation, and offers a space for creatively writing through ideas in original forms. The Journal features short fiction, poetry and visual art, although its particular focus is on non-fiction writing, related – however tangentially – to our research and the kind of rich thinking and exploration we do during the course of this research. These informal articles and journalistic pieces, free of footnotes or bibliographies, should feel more like a collection of conversations had with fellow researchers over coffee than academic papers.

At The Still Point we believe in the untold stories of the PhD, the creative energy that fizzes at the peripheries, the mind-wanderings and tangential inspirations, and we wanted to create a space to celebrate this. In its current iteration, The Still Point publishes an annual literary journal with submissions from arts and humanities researchers from institutions across London, and runs a regular online blog that accepts submissions from researchers across the world. We are passionate about the medium of print and about exploring new possibilities for the intersection between print and digital media.

In addition to our print issue and blog content, since 2014 The Still Point has organised a range of events exploring the intersection between the creative and the critical, including poetry readings, a creative exchange and art exhibition, a launch party with readings and live music, creative non-fiction workshops, and co-ordinated and curated an innovative online symposium. If you think all of this sounds exciting, then you should think about joining The Still Point.

To Apply

If you would like to join The Still Point editorial team send an email to editor@thestillpointjournal.com telling us why you would like to be involved with the journal, what role you are interested in, and mentioning any experience you think you can bring to the role, by the 14th November 2018.


Roles

Journal Editors

To oversee the development, editing and design of Issue #3 of The Still Point Journal (to be published in a digital and print format), including attendance at monthly editorial meetings.

Main Responsibilities:

  • Develop and write a Call for Submissions (CFS).
  • Circulate and promote the CFS to all relevant institutions, students and student groups.
  • Manage and read through submissions, and select material for Issue #3 after discussion with other editors.
  • Work with the selected writers to edit their pieces, as required.
  • Liaise with a designer to create the layouts for Issue #3
  • Work with the events team to organise a launch party and help to distribute the Issue, including depositing it in libraries such as the BL, and the Southbank Saison Poetry Library.

Blog Editors

To manage the blog for The Still Point Journal for a period of one year, including attendance at monthly Editorial meetings.

Main Responsibilities:

  • Commission new blog posts and liaise with guest writers
  • Edit and upload posts
  • Maintain a schedule, aiming for 1 blog post per week where possible
  • Write posts yourself, including any news regarding the journal
  • Promote new posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  • Use the blog to promote the Print Issue, both the Call for Submissions and the final product
  • Organise an online symposium in July 2017, making the most of the digital medium (optional)

To Apply

If you would like to join The Still Point editorial team send an email to stillpointjournal@gmail.com telling us why you would like to be involved with the journal, what role you are interested in, and mentioning any experience you think you can bring to the role, by the 14th November 2018.

Exhibitions 1 – Charles Dickens: Man of Science

 

Attribution: Charles Dickens by Daniel Maclise, oil on canvas, 1836, National Portrait Gallery, London.

In an 1850 All the Year Round article, Charles Dickens writes about his visit to the Royal Polytechnic Institution as a young boy. He recalls how scientific lectures and exhibitions on display were both entertaining and accessible – an experience that opened up new vistas of knowledge:

There was an indefinable feeling as if it were not real, out-and-out, holiday place: as if our education were in some way going on whenever we were there. Instruction, we felt, lurked behind amusement, and it was impossible to forecast, from the programme of the entertainments, exactly at what point the baleful genius of mental improvement might be expected to claim its victim. There were diverting objects to look at, doubtless, but even machinery in motion – a charming object always to any boy of a well-regulated mind – can be turned to an evil educational account.’ Continue reading