Reading women

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Everything is neglected in my life, including my meal intakes and sleep. But also, this blog, making phone calls to my grandparents, and just the general ‘bits’ of life that make your life more than work and actually bearable. I won’t complain, this year was never going to be easy. But I am annoyed that one of my ‘side projects’, the Women Writers Reading Group, is so neglected by me in particular.

I was reminded this week of the emotions that sparked this ‘project’ (or, whatever the hell it is now – a big flop?). I was talking to someone about how hard it is to get guys, especially young guys, to read women’s books. I guess one of the commonest complaints we both hear is that they feel they can’t ‘relate’ to women’s books, and there’s nothing in it for them. The question is though, how many more books by white men do you want? Is literature all about ‘relating’ rather than learning something new, seeing the world from another person’s perspective? I.e., is it always all about you?

I don’t blame guys entirely for this. The rigid model of masculinity they are still required to enact does not allow much room for them to see the world differently; it does not leave much scope for the idea that perhaps the world isn’t created for you, by you, to service you, and that art and literature by extension, should be all about you. How they are supposed to react to women’s literature and fiction has already been coded for them from birth, and shoved down their throat as ‘masculinity’.

But on the other hand, I do expect more from most human beings, just as I expect more from myself.

So the question is again, how many more books by white men do you want to reflect the world to you as you know it? Why is it so difficult to view women as people, rather than as a niche group you can’t empathise with? Why is it perfectly okay for women to read books by white men as emblems of their own humanity, but not okay for a white man to read a book by any woman of any class, race, or nationality as part of their own humanity too, but instead assume: ‘I can’t relate’.

One of the things about fictional worlds is that they produce all sorts of responses. Not all of them should be comforting. Some of them will require you to stretch what you have been told about yourself and to move beyond yourself and your own ego.

But really, reading women shouldn’t be such a stretch by now – we are, after all, despite what you may have been told, people too.

For imma

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Last night I had a dream that people were allowed to enter my apartment and take whatever items they wanted. Some of them asked me what I would like to keep for myself, and from my hazy dream-memory, the things I wanted to keep were to do with my family.

I woke up and found myself thinking of this poem:

Home is so Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

–Philip Larkin

But this is, and is not, a sad post. Today is my mother’s birthday, and with the biased confidence of anyone who has grown up loved, I can say she is the best mum in the world. So here’s to her. I miss you and love you lots, imma.

Biopic Adaptations Conference

Sunday, November 2, 2014

CFP: Biopic Adaptations

I’m organising a conference with Deborah Cartmell at De Montfort University, and this post is to tell you all about it as well as to invite people to submit paper proposals and register while there’s still time.

The conference description is:

Biopic Adaptations Conference
Centre for Adaptations
De Montfort University
Leicester LE1 9BH
24 February 2015

Although ‘biopics’, or film biographies, have been around since the beginning of cinema, scholarly interest in the subject is only beginning to develop. This conference will bring together scholars and practitioners in a range of topics, such as the evolution of the biopic from the silent to the contemporary period, biopics of writers, sporting heroes, politicians, royalty and gangsters, and debates concerning gender, sexuality, race and historical integrity.

Proposals (between 50-100 words) and a brief biographical note should be sent to Deborah Cartmell and Hila Shachar by 27 November 2014.

Papers will be selected for publication.

Download the Biopic Adaptations conference poster (PDF).

Our keynote speaker for this conference Bafta award-winning writer Amanda Coe, discussing her work for the BBC’s upcoming drama, Life in Squares. Deborah and I will be doing a Q&A session with her in front of an audience, which will also be part of the Cultural Exchanges Festival.

Amanda Coe is a screenwriting associate of the National Film and Television School and she’s written extensively for television, including creating the award-winning Channel 4 series As If and writing the feature Margot for BBC4. She’ll be discussing her work with us, particularly her most recent project, the three-part BBC drama, Life in Squares, which explores the lives of the Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia Woolf, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, E.M. Forster and Maynard Keynes.

Registration is now open for the conference for those who want to attend, and I also strongly encourage any academic friends reading this to submit paper proposals or to pass along the details of this conference to anyone who would be interested. So in short, you can:

: : Register here.

: : Submit paper proposals/abstracts to Deborah Cartmell and Hila Shachar by 27 November, 2014.

: : Share the conference poster here.

Happy Sunday!

Scoping my inbox

Friday, October 17, 2014





I often complain about some of the strange and hateful emails I get. However lately, the opposite kind of random emails have been falling into my inbox. They are filled with kindness from strangers and beautiful things. One such email I received recently is from artist, Philipp Haager, whom I wrote about here.

There’s something about Philipp’s work that just speaks to me on a visceral level, primarily, and then I move on to consider the intellectual implications of it. Not all art follows this logic for me, sometimes the intellect dominates and I feel like I’m doing a disservice to both the artist and their work. At the same time, I’m increasingly unwilling to bend the intellect to any will but its own. Isn’t it lovely though when emotions and thought combine through a piece of art? That’s how I feel about Philipp’s work.

I re-read what I wrote about his work and this passage is worth repeating when describing it: “The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Romantic paintings I am familiar with symbolise a different conceptual world where form is grand, but self-contained. Haager’s paintings, on the other hand, require the viewer’s participation alongside the artist’s vision. These are paintings that are so layered, they literally require you as the viewer to interpret them through your own vision – they move you back into the outside world, and into context. This movement back to the external world of the viewer is a postmodernist tendency that self-reflexively reminds us that all art is the product of a specific time and specific place, rather than something that emerges pristinely transcendent, rooted in an ahistoric Sublime. In a sense, Haager simultaneously calls upon a Romantic ethos while requiring a postmodernist response; and this is an exciting contradictory pull that seeks a ‘both-and’ relationship with art.”

The images above are updated room-shots from Philipp’s last show, Paramountscope, combining paintings he worked on for several years and shown in several exhibitions. In the document Philipp sent me, these paintings are described as a process of “constant questioning of the meaning of the image itself: What we see and how we see, the changing nature of our gaze. The exhibition title alludes both to the dramatic, cinematic aspect of large-format pictures as well as to an inquiry into the visual essence of our media-attuned perception as reflected in painting. Similar to double exposures in photography, or the restoration and digitalisation of old (film) material, the artist has reworked what are in some cases older works that have already been exhibited under a different title or in a different format and rearranged them for this show.”

There’s so much I want to write in response to this, perhaps I will at a later date when I have more time. But in the meantime, you can gaze at some of his images.

* * *

On a somewhat related note, a few weeks ago I received the longest, but also one of the kindest, most sensitive and intelligent emails from someone who reads my blog. It shouldn’t matter that he was a man, and really I’m not in favour of giving guys a cookie every time they act decently to female bloggers. But I do want to point out: women bloggers get a lot of crap thrown their way. I don’t pretend that the emails I get, and have gotten, even compare to some of the constant barrage that other women writers receive. In comparison, my situation is relatively mild. However, when a man who reads your blog sends you a supportive email instead of an abusive one, it can’t help but feel like a glimmer of hope – hope that the loudest misogynist voices can be counteracted by others. So if you’re a man who loves reading a woman’s blog, send her a kind email. Seriously, we get told to shut up all the time; for being too smart/too dumb, too pretty/too ugly; or, for whatever flavour of the month insult it is; or, for simply existing. It would be nice to hear from those who refuse to tell women to go sit quietly in their corner.

And, thanks Andrea!

Images, from top to bottom: Paramountscope, Strzelski Galerie, Stuttgart 2013 (f. l.: n. T. (white); Nearfield, Phase 13; Paramountscope, Strzelski Galerie, Stuttgart 2013 (f. l.: Nearfield, Phase 15 / melting memory (red), Nearfield, Phase 16 / melting memory (green); Paramountscope, Strzelski Galerie, Stuttgart 2013 (f. l.: Nearfield, Phase 15 + 16, Phase 11 (Vers. 2); Paramountscope, Strzelski Galerie, Stuttgart 2013 (v. l. “Tale about a chinese moon”, Phase 14, Misty Memory, Abstract Painting No. 1 (white).

All images are copyrighted to Philipp Haager.

“Then I take a deep breath, and lie”

Saturday, October 4, 2014


I read this article by Etgar Keret and felt more comforted by its lack of comfort than anything else I’ve read lately. Keret doesn’t provide me with a ‘Moral of the Story’ for Yom Kippur, but just a story that points to our inconsolable imperfectness, and the perfection of our vulnerability. I don’t like moralising, didactic points from personal narratives, or linking those holidays which mean so much to Jews around the world with some grand gesture about the world. I like something that reminds me of how weird we all are – we bizarre human beings and all the stupid but lovely things we do.

It’s customary to ask for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, to atone for any hurt you may have caused. I would ideally like to do so too. At the same time, I know this gesture, when ritualised, can become cliché. In order to remind me how it’s not cliché, how it’s profound and essential, Keret also reminds me that as he asks for forgiveness, he prepares to lie. I like that:

“I remember going home from school on that day. I rode my bike, the pedals turned easily, the road felt smooth, and even the uphill parts felt like they were downhill. I never saw her again, but since then, whenever I have a strong urge not to tell the truth, I think of her outside her high-school classroom, smiling broadly, her face full of pimples, saying she accepted my apology. Then I take a deep breath, and lie.”

Image credit: Alone by Emilio Longoni.

A Year of Beauty

Thursday, September 18, 2014

AmberScott_photoJustinRidler - backCover_
Photo: Amber Scott by Justin Ridler

Drest in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck, and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandl’d were,
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, ’twas frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she—
Beautiful exceedingly!

--From “Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

* * *

To help celebrate The Australian Ballet’s launch of its stunning new 2015 season, A Year of Beauty, I’ve compiled my own ode to beauty. If you’d like to take part on Instagram, the hashtag #whatisbeauty will take you to all things ballet and beautiful.

Found here are some beautiful images coupled with some beautiful words...

Full disclosure: I do write for The Australian Ballet, and although I’m biased, I am totally besotted with the 2015 season. It is worthy of a million blog posts. So enjoy!


Photo: Juliet Burnett and Adam Bull by Georges Antoni

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes

--From “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

The Sleeping Beauty

140528_AusBallet_15_01_0240_ext_low res_
Photo: Lana Jones by Georges Antoni

She sleeps: her breathings are not heard
In palace chambers far apart.
The fragrant tresses are not stirred
That lie upon her charmèd heart.
She sleeps; on either hand upswells
The gold-fringed pillow lightly prest:
She sleeps, nor dreams, but ever dwells
A perfect form in perfect rest.

--From “The Sleeping Beauty” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Photo: Chengwu Guo and Madeleine Eastoe by Georges Antoni

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

--From “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by John Keats


Photo: Andrew Killian by Justin Ridler

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

--From “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats


Photo: Amber Scott by Lynette Wills

Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

--From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Swan Lake

Swan Lake Adam Bull and Amber Scott - Liz Ham-1_
Photo: Amber Scott and Adam Bull by Liz Ham 

I love thee, mournful, sober-suited Night!
When the faint moon, yet lingering in her wane.
And veil’d in clouds, with pale uncertain light
Hangs o’er the waters of the restless main.

--From “To Night” by Charlotte Smith

Exit by way of here...

All images are used here with permission from The Australian Ballet. Please seek permission if you’d like to re-blog.


I woke up today with a horrible headache and nausea. I’ve been feeling this way for the past few days. I know exactly what’s causing it: work/deadlines stress. This is called life and it’s pretty normal stuff.

Here’s something that isn’t ordinary that causes nausea too.

How do I separate my ordinary nausea from this one – this one that I seem to write about repetitively and futilely? I don’t even know what to write anymore.

I will say this though. I know my nausea in all its forms is a privilege. It’s the privilege of being alive. There are 6 million people who don’t have that privilege, who are not here to speak for themselves, and who did not die so we can keep abusing their deaths, their innocence and their memories.

Europe and the UK are pretty unpleasant places to be a Jew right now. I find myself negotiating basic things, like what kind of jewellery to put on (better not wear that Star of David necklace I got from my grandmother), or who will recognise my very Jewish and very Israeli name and react badly (this has happened, usually from men, and it’s very intimidating). I find myself frustrated at the smug banality of other people’s reactions and slogans, and the self-congratulation of ‘respectable’ middle-class people who tsk tsk at all the ‘savages’ in the Middle East, but who casually contribute to the rise of both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiments in their own countries.

But all of this comes with the knowledge that I have the privilege of being alive. So I’ll take my nausea and my tears, and I’ll take my rage and shaking hands, and I’ll take my daily negotiations. What I will not take is the minimising and appropriating of 6 million Jews, over and over again.

I would like everyone to visit Auschwitz. Go stand in that pit of pure hell and then tell me if you don’t feel nausea too. If you do, take it as a sign that your body knows, somewhere deep inside, what was done here, and that it will not let you stand by and watch as this hatred rises up again.