To the World’s End

My DVD copy of Shaun of the Dead I ordered from the UK, not because it was unavailable in this country but because it was quicker and cheaper to find and buy DVDs in this way at that time. Instead of the usual simple structure its case had plastic hinges that kept it closed. I never saw this design again, but came to associate it with the film: as a way of keeping the (comedy) horror in, or the fact of its enjoyment, its value to me. It was like those barely-lockable diaries in circulation when I was younger: known, recognised, and yet still for a limited audience. I taught the movie to my film studies students in a pairing with Napoleon Dynamite, a lesser film that ran out its tenure more quickly than its zombie companion.

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The triumph of Don Ottavio

We wait for the comeuppance, and whatever deus ex machina by which it is delivered. It is what separates us from the other animals, so we say: not the delivery of justice but the assumption that external structures, external forces (“Call it Fate, Call it Karma” as a recent song title had it) will deliver indicators of a final act.

Those notions of divine justice gave the Reformation and Enlightenment dramatists heavy markers around which to circle, from which to depart and then – only pretending! – to return. The man gone up in flames runs first towards us and then away, whether solipsistic academic or unrepentant libertine. The consolation for the audience, who will not themselves get to see Helen of Troy or murder a local dignatory, is to escape this fate, or at least one day to face divine judgement with a more modest curriculum vitae.

Don Giovanni in his eponymous opera gets to try on all the guises, spinning a wheel of entitled lust until he is literally chasing skirts, while his credit, first social, then temporal, runs out. I have yet to see a performance in which the final hell-fires are metaphorical. New Zealand Opera’s production, which this week had a three-show run in Christchurch, kept the flames but removed the divine. It was a rendering in which the moral agents of the Don’s defeat were identifiably of this world. The collusion, the street justice, the competing commercial interests were elements in the staging that turned it gangster, even as the arias kept coming, so sweetly sung that the skin on one of my fingers split from applauding.

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High Tides

I live in a house of high-level pretending, in which it is expected that I will understand the difference between what is said and accepted to be true and what is materially real. The rules change from moment to moment, and I must do my best to keep up with them. Sometimes things are conventionally surreal – as in my elder daughter’s exclamation during a short car journey that when not at home her father lives above the clouds and controls our dreams – and sometimes not.

Most commonly, it is the irruption of fragments and instructions into other activities that governs the flow of the day. I stand at the bench working through emails and a little voice from behind the bench tells me, free of context and full of authority, that it is “Mummy turn!” All must participate, all must play, even when the game is unclear and unspecified.

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Against a Sea of Troubles

Against a modest suite of odds I made it to a Festival film, the movie in question as satisfying and stylish as previous form and the anticipatory publicity suggest. Before it came that brief moment of calculation as the lights go down: how long is it since I’ve watched a movie in a theatre? An acquaintance my friend and I ran into in the foyer had just come from her second Festival film of the day (“I feel a bit blah,” she said), while other, equally cultured souls make the same excursion far less frequently.

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Habits of Mind

Habits of mind
habits of mine

Several afternoons a week at present, I am in my office doing project work. These hours are also the time of day when I am the most tired in the wake of crazy nights (children, watchdogs, the canonical patterns by which my husband maintains servers abroad).

It has been some years since I have had uninterrupted blocks of time to do longer-scale work of this kind. It is becoming apparent to me that the habits that inform this work have not changed since I was a postgraduate student at the turn of the century. A different brief and a great deal of digital noise since then means that I am perpetually out of sync with myself. It was first infuriating, and now might be amusing. I am my own baffled naïf.

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