Trump’s WestWorld: The Ultimate Allegory

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Just as the 45th elected president of the United States is about to occupy his throne after an unprecedented campaign, writing a comparison between the artificial world depicted in the HBO series Westworld and the America awakened by Donald J. Trump is just too much fun a task to ignore.

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Attention, this post may contain spoilers related to the HBO series Westworld

Allegory in the geographical sense, or the national allegory, as Fredric Jameson called it, has been used in science fiction since the very beginnings of the genre; Mary Shelley’s England in her novels Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826) mirrored 19th Century England, in an attempt to evoke the Romantic disillusion after Napoleonic Wars; so did Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), as it projected the fears of American citizens towards the Cold War through a post-apocalyptic depiction of Los Angeles.

HBO’s Westworld is no different; the Wild Wild West American looking scenario created by science fiction pioneer Michael Chrichton is unfortunately very similar to the the America to expect in 2017.

The engineers in Chrichton’s Westworld have created the perfect theme park for the bigots and the bullies; this artificial world is in a modern sense a heterotopia of deviation, that is, in Foucauldian terms, a place to which certain individuals can be sent so they can perform deviant actions and follow behaviours otherwise unaccepted/condemned within society. The guests in the theme park are often privileged well-off members of society who can afford a ticket to this simulated world, a space specially designed to satisfy every single one of their desires, no matter how dark their nature.

The result is a make believe scenario in which murder, torture and rape are legitimised by one very simple idea: with the exception of the guests, every other creature in the park is an artificially created being, a robot; a very sophisticated and realistic reproduction of a human being, but a robot still. An object that can be subjected to every form of abuse on a daily basis without the worry of breaking any law or even risk of retribution, as hosts have their thoughts and experiences removed from their memories after every single one of the guests’ visits.

There is nothing new in the way the plot evolves; as other works such as Asimov’s I, Robot or Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell have shown, high levels of sophistication in a cyborg’s consciousness ultimately comes at a price, as some of the androids will ultimately begin to think independently and question their inferior status as robots under human domain. In the case of Westworld, this intellectual defiance begins when some of the hosts begin remembering details of past experiences, despite the fact that they should have, in theory, been completely removed from their artificial brain; interesting notions of memory are invoked through this particular case, but what interest us the most is the hierarchy established between humans and robots.

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While Donald J Trump has not (yet) openly claimed that certain minorities in the US are in fact an army of androids sent by China to stop America being great again, his continuous attacks against Mexican immigrants, women or disabled people (to name just a few), indicate that he would easily endorse the idea of establishing a hierarchy of citizens’ rights on the basis of their class, race and gender, and legislate accordingly.

In Trump’s very own Westworld, citizens from Mexican origin are not only defaulted to potential rapists but also forced to build a wall separating their country of origin from the US. Even if late claims indicate that Mexico will not be paying for the construction of that wall themselves, as it was initially promised by Trump, the mere thought of forcing a community to build a wall around them against their will has a clear resonance to notions of slavery.

So Trump paces around this microcosm he has created, riding his horse with a captured Mexican slave tied to his rope, when he happens to find a young attractive girl who is walking towards her family’s ranch alone. With the exact same sense of entitlement as The Man in Black in Westworld (played by Ed Harris) sexually forces Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) on the basis that she is just a robot, Trump grabs this young woman by the pussy on the basis that she is only a woman.

There are of course obvious differences between the Westworld shown by HBO and the America Trump dreams about when he and his toupee lay in bed at night, the first difference being that the former is a work of fiction and the latter is a crude reality we will witness from 2017 on. The second difference is that, while in order to enter Chrichton’s imagined park you have to be a wealthy business man/woman who can afford the price of the entrance, a ticket to Trump’s Westworld is granted to any American, provided he is a white, heterosexual, non-disabled male.

The rest are only robots. Muslim, African-American, Asian, women, members of the LGTBIQ community, or people with disabilities are just hosts subjected to the authority of Trump’s great white men. They are incredibly similar to real human beings, but somewhat inferior, expendable, liable to function as objects in the new United States that apparently belong to the real American people.

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Are we, scholars working on Iberian peripheral digital projects, arriving late to the DH? A reflection on #hdh2015

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Captura de pantalla 2015-10-22 a les 1.29.08

If I learned anything from #hdh2015 –an international conference organised by HDH (the International Association of “Humanidades Hispánicas Digitales”) and LINDH (Laboratorio de Innovación en Humanidades Digitales)– it is that the Hispanic Digital Humanities are in great shape and growing fast. This second edition of this conference, following the inaugural one hosted by A Coruña in 2013, brought together almost 150 speakers for three dynamic and engaging days in which ideas and projects were shared. In addition to the three-day Hispanic oriented conference, the European Association of Digital Humanities organised their 1st #eadhday2015 as a 4th additional day, bringing the scope of the conference to a European level.

My personal experience overall –taking into account the fact that this was my first DH congress and my first time presenting my PhD project in front of a DH audience– was very positive. You could say that I may not be the best person to give feedback about a DH conference when I’ve attended no others of the kind, but as I’ve had some experience at other international conferences I can confidently say that both LINDH and UNED made #hdh2015 a success. The great venues, the fact that most sessions proceeded in a timely manner, excellent organisation and a good variety of panels made other minor hiccoughs –missing chairs to moderate in a couple of sessions and a projector malfunction in one of the parallel sessions– look unimportant.

There is no need for me to go into much detail about the papers given at the conference, because of its Digital nature and excellent coverage in Twitter of both organisers and delegates. You can look up the Twitter hashtag #hdh2015 to find an impressive live report of the panels and discussions, together with UNED’s audiovisual resources and LINHD’s YouTube channel with a video record of the sessions that took place in the main venue. As well as these, I strongly recommend checking both the LINHD’s account @linhduned and that of its director Elena González Blanco @elenagbg to guide you through the timeline of the sessions.

What I will do –partly because it was one of the questions that from my point of view generated more food for thought and partly because it is a vital question in my research– is to follow on the question posed by Elisabeth Burr @ESU_DH_CT to the organisers of #hdh2015: How come that of the 100+ papers presented at the programme, only a couple of them represented research done on linguistic and cultural minorities?

As incontestable as this observation by Burr was, my point here is that perhaps the criticism pointed to the wrong direction in this case, as I would not necessarily blame the organisation for failing to be inclusive in this sense. It is true that maybe a call for papers translated to some of the other languages within Hispanic Studies could have attracted some more projects, but… where do we draw the line here? If you include Portuguese, Catalan or Galician translations of the CFP, why would you not include respective translations into Quechua, Aymara or Guarani? That is definitely not the issue here. During years, “Hispanic Studies” has worked as an umbrella term including many minority languages within Iberian and Latin American territories. Depending on where you would find this term –mostly for political and cultural reasons– there might have been a higher or lower degree of inclusion of these minority languages, but this is a situation academics working on these areas have become accustomed to. When an academic working on a Galician/Catalan/Guarani poet goes to a Hispanic Studies Conference, he/she knows that besides the slightly political connotation present in the terminology used to name the event, their inclusion in the event itself is somehow guaranteed and generally not questioned. If we take the above to be true, the mere fact of adding the world “Digital” to that so called “umbrella term” that Hispanic Studies has become should initially not pose a problem for the automatic inclusion of those projects that, besides focusing on peripheral cultures or literatures, want to add a digital approach to their methodology. I may be excessively naive in my previous reasoning by removing “weight” to the political issues at stake when I state that there are no underlying reasons to this absence of plurality. But even if the current political situation in Spain could suggest otherwise, my opinion is that the causes are not necessarily connected to politics only. I attribute this absence as being symptomatic of a general climate in determinate areas of Iberian academia, in which we find high quality projects that could have been very relevant to this conference, but decide not to label themselves as a Digital Humanities project and therefore do not engage with this event. And for me, this is a missed opportunity for many of the projects that fall into this classification. I am not quite sure about the reasons behind this tendency, but I believe it is important to raise some questions with the intention of shedding some light on the issue. Some of those questions, which I post here –directed to academics doing research on peripheral literatures and cultures within Hispanic Studies– should probably be answered precisely by these academics, rather than by the organisers of events such as #hdh2015: – Are we, scholars working on Iberian peripheral digital projects, arriving late to the DH? And if so… – How do we fix/learn from this? – Are we the only peripheral cultures in this situation, or is our particular position aggravated by the increasingly favourable status of the Spanish language in the world? PS: I still cry at night remembering how good the food was during the conference. Thanks dh2015!  

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Manuel de Pedrolo and Catalan Culture in Ireland

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It is not the first time that Manuel de Pedrolo’s works has trespassed across Catalonia’s frontiers; Martin Esslin praised his drama in his influential The Theatre of the Absurd (1961), Wesley Barnes included him in his study of The Philosophy and Literature of Existentialism (1968), and George E. Wellwarth mentioned his plays in his article Spanish Underground Drama (1972). More examples of the internationalization of this Catalan author’s works can be seen in the review of his Mecanoscrit del segon origen by the American-based scholar Peter Cocozzella (1975), the analysis made by Louise Johnson in her 1999’s essay Some thoughts on Pedrolo: Estrangement, mothers and others, and the translations of his most successful novels and plays to various European languages.

On this occasion, however, the international presence of Pedrolo’s works acquires a more physical sense, as sixty-eight of Pedrolo’s works have travelled to University College Cork, Ireland, to be located in the Arts and Humanities section of its library. Adelais de Pedrolo, daughter of the author and president of the Manuel de Pedrolo Foundation, kindly donated these books to the Irish institution, after learning that research on the author was being conducted in UCC’s Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies. The project, involving a digital approach to the study of Pedrolo’s legacy and its relationship with Catalan’s literary space during the second half of the twentieth century, is being conducted by PhD student Pedro Fernández – also responsible for the Digital Creative Writing initiative Temps Obert v11.1 – and supervised by Dr. Helena Buffery, current president of The Anglo-Catalan Society and scholar in Catalan Studies.

books_MEDThe books are located in the Arts and Humanities section of University College Cork’s library

These 68 books are now available for consultation and represent what is probably the largest collection of Pedrolo’s works outside Catalonia. Ronan Madden at UCC’s library has taken the lead in the task of cataloguing these works, putting extra special care into indicating the date of composition of every work in the entries. In this particular case, this is as important a detail as the publication date, as Pedrolo’s career was so affected by censorship that the gap between the composition of the work and the actual publication date is sometimes as long as twenty years.

University College Cork is a well-known reference point in Ireland for Hispanic Studies. Its Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies (SPLAS) is known for its multifaceted approach to Hispanic and Iberian Studies, and has hosted international conferences attracting scholars and researchers from Mexican, Argentinian, Galician, Basque, Catalan and Spanish Studies. As far as Catalan literature and culture is concerned, the department is also very active, offering Catalan Language and Culture as subjects at second and final year level in its undergraduate curriculum, thanks to the funding of Institut Ramon Llull and the hard work of the Catalan lectora Núria Massot, who is also a key figure in the promotion of Catalan Culture among Corkonians. Through close collaboration with the Institut Ramon Llull and Cork City Libraries, the department has organized annual events as part of the Cork World Book Fest, celebrated to coincide with the Dia de Sant Jordi. Past events include the visit of Catalan personalities such as poet Jaume Subirana in 2012, cinematographer Isona Passola in 2013, and the recent visits of musician Pau Alabajos and writer Marc Pastor during this year’s edition. Along with these activities, this year will see another important event for Catalan studies in Ireland, as the Anglo-Catalan Society’s 60th anniversary Conference will be held at University College Cork from the 5th to the 7th of September 2014.

Grouppic_MEDFrom left to right: Ronan Madden, Pedro Fernández, Helena Buffery and Núria Massot

If this has been a dynamic year for Catalan Culture in Ireland, these books have also reached the island at a key moment for Pedrolian studies as a whole. In May, a conference about Pedrolian studies Manuel de Pedrolo, contra l’oblit, will be held at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Led by Catalan writer Sebastià Benassar, it is the first time that such a conference on Pedrolo has been celebrated since the 1990´s colloquium Rellegir Pedrolo.

Everything indicates that this could be a good year for Pedrolian studies. The opportunity to break with a twenty-five year period of academic oblivion seems to be within reach. Pedrolo’s relationship with academia has been a problematic one; his condition as a best selling author during the 1970s and 1980s (particularly fuelled by the success of Mecanoscrit del segon origen) made critics reluctant to include any of his works in the canon. Nowadays, the vast and heterogeneous nature of his production stands as a challenge to any scholar interested in analyzing his lifetime project.

The conservation and recognition of the life and works of this prolific writer will therefore require the commitment of Catalan academics to shift their focus towards the figure of this writer “without limits”, who was so central to the contemporary history of Catalan literature. Only four years away from the centenary of the author’s birth, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to do justice to this writer. If our expectations have been raised as cinematographer Carles Porta works against the clock to complete Bigas Luna’s posthumous project – a film adaptation of Mecanoscrit del segon Origen – my only wish is that its commercial success might serve to create awareness of this unjustly forgotten author, and that similar projects to the Jornada Universitària organized by Benassar continue to appear in the future.

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The Round-robin Approach

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One of the usual tasks of traditional researchers involves the creation of labels that situate their work within the otherwise infinite pool of knowledge constructed by mankind. Their tendency has often been to dissect this knowledge in small and carefully shaped pieces that meet the requirements of a specific field. This propensity to individualize areas of study is beneficial to a certain degree and completely justified in moments when academic practice is shifting towards new forms of knowledge. However, as internalized in the general practice as this process may be, it can come at a price in the exceptional times we are currently witnessing, with the Humanities experiencing a massive transformation driven by the Digital Age.

The price I am referring to is the loss of qualitative research production as a result of an excessive fragmentation of knowledge into emerging study areas. I came to think of these dangers during last Friday’s talk at UCC by Professor Enrique Santos Unamuno, from University of Extremadura. When talking about the multidisciplinary projects he is currently involved in, his exposition focused on highlighting the different skills that every contributor was adding to the overall project. Rather than labeling or restraining the scope of his work through new terminology, he employed existing notions taken from philology, cartography, computer science, philosophy, literary criticism between many others, and insisted on the need of all these fields to come together and collaborate between them.

In order for this collaboration to produce qualitative research, there is another necessary ingredient to the recipe: expertise. Through mastering their own field, researchers must excel at it while also becoming aware of their limitations when approaching other areas of knowledge. The aim is to seek the expert advice of other top researchers in these other disciplines, rather than unsuccessfully attempt the impossible task of becoming the ultimate interdisciplinary researcher who can master all subject areas.

Therefore, when we talk about Digital Humanities and its contribution to knowledge, I believe that above all, we have to highlight its collaborative nature, its ability to put together experts on existing fields that are willing to create new forms of knowledge. But most importantly, we have to be really careful when defining or labeling new sub areas within the discipline, as this can also restrain the skills associated to them. In other words, do the Digital Humanities search for a scholar who is an expert philologist interested in a collaboration with an expert on computer science, or do they want this scholar to be half proficient in computer science and half familiar with philological concepts?

Both scenarios are possible within the current definition of a digital humanist, but the question is which of them will produce the best research. The trend imposed by social media engines such as Twitter, which values quantity of information over quality, may be suitable for some aspects of a society shaped by the Digital Age, but when it comes to academia, epistemic integrity surely demands quality over quantity. In order to achieve this, collaboration between scholars in different areas of expertise is essential.

It was perhaps this same collaborative need, or even curiosity, which brought together some crime novel writers in the 1930’s. Figures such as Agatha Christie and Ronald Knox united their creative efforts with other twelve writers from the so-called Detection Club and created works such as The Scoop and Behind the Screen or The Floating Admiral, probably some of the first collaborative creative writing projects in history. Whereas the writing processes behind a literary work and a piece of research may differ considerably, these two practices may have more in common that what we think, as the level of expertise needed to succeed in a particular area of research can be compared to the level of specialization that a writer needs to achieve to succeed in a determinate literary genre.

My interest in this type of narratives is driven by the digital project based on Catalan author Manuel de Pedrolo: Temps Obert v11.1, which started off as a web-based free interpretation of Pedrolo’s ambitious novelistic series Temps obert, an eleven books approach to the concept of ultimate novel. After several weeks and close to forty posts,  the project has turned out to be an interesting portrait of how collaborative writing works, while showing the extent to which the writing process can be influenced by induced thematic and time restrictions; its weekly contributions from five different writers in their different mother tongues exemplify how the plot and style of a narrative can be shaped by not only the collaborative nature of its production, but also the immediacy of publishing on an online platform.

It is quite interesting to see how words evolve to convey different meanings though time, and even more surprising how we immediately associate these meanings to mental images. Since the moment I learned that these collaborative literary experiments were called Round-robin stories, I can’t help but imagine my four colleagues in the project as little fluffy robins chasing each other in circle, waiting for their weekly turn to write their four hundred words.

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Every Time You Moan

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As suggestive as the title of this post may be, don’t expect anything sexual in it, not in the physical sense of it, at least. The sentence is taken from the lyrics of the song Minerva, the first single in Deftones’ self-titled 2003 album. Just today this song came to my mind, while talking to Jessica Jones (a colleague who will probably hate me for writing this lines instead of a 500 words piece on the DH that I promised her), and I came to think about how much that song actually means to me.

To say that I like this song is quite an understatement; one of my first email addresses was sonofminerva@hotmail.com (enjoy as much as you like, spammers, I don’t even log into that account anymore) and if I am ever asked which is my all-time favorite song I have serious doubts when choosing between this song and Hexagram (also from Deftones and giving title to my blog. This probably broke the magic behind such a magic blog title, but the guys from Sacramento kind of deserve all the credit anyway).

The feeling that this song brings me is one of those things that are still and will probably remain unexplained  (like why Scarlett Johansson abandoned the aura of perfection around her in Lost in Translation to inevitably become another skinny mainstream Hollywood actress). So many things have been said and written about other things that create a temporary feeling of euphoria: the so-called running high, the hundreds of chemicals involved in love at first sight, the collective hysteria phenomenon created by Lost and more recently by The Walking Dead (another American failed attempt to properly adapt a brilliant graphic novel), but nothing seems to ever be said about that feeling generated when a song is just too much for your body and soul to handle.

And I fully understand why. How can you really explain the goose bumps when you listen to “that” song? are you one of those people who create a music video around them when that song comes up in your mp3 player? how many times did your mum/dad  entered your room without any warning and caught you, not masturbating (like it happens to normal people) but screaming your lungs out to a remote control that you are using as a microphone?

It happened a lot to some of us, and it is quite difficult to explain. I still remember the first time I listened to Minerva at my best friend Rafa’s house when the album came out (one of us would buy the album and meet the other for a first listening and analyzing of every song, maybe we were a bit weird, now that I think about it) and that same sensation I had that very first time keeps on coming back every time I listen to the song again, eleven years later.

I also remember seeing Deftones play live in Madrid, at the 2003 edition of Festimad, with Aida, another good friend of mine. I recall making it to the front line between a crazed audience that kicked, elbowed and punched in an unsuccessful attempt to get rid of their teenage angst (I would probably die if I attempted the same thing now). What made me run into that battlefield was the mere sound of the opening riff of Minerva. Right in front of Chino Moreno, I extended my arm just in time to touch his fingers, while he was singing precisely the following line:

For the hearts you break, every time you moan…

I’ll be proud of being there and experiencing that unique moment until I die.

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Beautiful Beasts I

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1

Of Walls & Beasts

Of all the things she could have said to him she chose the one that made less noise of all. That short, lousy combination of words rushed out of her mouth, through dry lips that he would never kiss again; for all the beautiful things in his life were cruelly destined to disappear.

“I think you should…” she started in a broken thin voice.

The air around them froze, so the rest of her words had no way of reaching his ears. There was no use for it anyway, as he had already lost the will to listen when he saw what her eyes were saying. He turned his gaze away –the ice around them cutting every single inch of his skin –as the world fell apart without him expecting it.

As he slowly walked towards the wall, he could barely hear her remaining words; she sounded like an echo of the person she once  had been, her voice alienated by the unbearable look in her eyes. He reached the cold surface with the palm of his right hand, before leaning his head towards the whiteness, until his right ear was flat against the wall.

He heard nothing. There was no last advice, no comforting song coming from the heart of the bricks, not a single wise whisper to be heard. He trembled as he grasped the first handful of gypsum and brick out of the wall. He did the same with his left hand, tearing apart another piece of the white cold wall. His fingers would come first, penetrating the wall as a knife stabbing meat, followed by tense hands that would easily tear off chunks of debris. By clinching his fists, he turned the pieces of brick into dust, following an almost mechanical ritual.

During all this time she had been looking past him, her eyes aiming at a point beyond his figure, apart from the things he had always known; somewhere too far away for him to reach. Only once she dared to look at the huge hole in the wall, just in time to see his silhouette disappearing through it. The rest of the time she just kept on looking at someplace beyond that room.

That is why she could not see the beasts coming.

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RUN

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A grey blanket hoovers high above wet land,

as delicate as your wisely concealed lunacy;

soundless, restless, visionary.

Their steps are slow,

like those of miniature soldier figures,

unmoved through centuries, static.

And then you run,

like a maniac, embracing calm,

making a million wasted hours drown into nothingness.

Run,

grasping for air, effortless;

creating an alien feeling of achievement.

Run,

like chased by beasts, like chasing destiny,

and the voice inside your head dies in a whisper;

crushed, unconsciously ambushed.

 

 

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59th Anglo Catalan Society Conference

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For the 59th consecutive year, the Anglo Catalan Society has reunited Catalan studies scholars, artists and cultural figures through its annual international conference, celebrated during the weekend of November the 1st at the University of Manchester. This year’s multidisciplinary gathering, hosted by Catalan TV and cinema expert Adrià Castells, generated an animated and interesting debate about the current situation of Catalan cinema.

With the participation of Catalan acclaimed director Isona Passola, speaker at the conference’s annual Joan Gili lecture, the attendants were given an overall view of Catalan cinema’s current situation, after the country’s financial crisis gave a final blow with the most severe cuts observed in the last decades. These cuts however, according to Passola, have brought the documentary film to a “Golden Age”. Through the alternative funding opportunity represented by Crowd funding websites such as Verkami, many Catalan projects have come to life, reaching in some cases record numbers as L’endemà. Respostes per a decidir, a documentary film produced by Passola which reached the astonishing figure of 348.830 euro, initially asking for 150.000 euro. Another example of a Catalan documentary succeeding through this crowdfunding platform is Manuel de Pedrolo, trencant l’oblit, a documentary on Pedrolo’s life and works being produced by Zeba produccions.

A clear example that confirms Catalan documentary film´s “Golden Age” was the screening of La Plaga, directed by Neus Ballús and produced by Pau Subirós. This delightful piece of art filmed in the outskirts of Barcelona, portraits the lives of different characters trying to subsist in the rural suburbs that still exist around the Catalan “ciutat comtal”. As they struggle through recession and the harshness of rural life, their story is shown through beautifully filmed scenes that capture the essence of every character and situation, blurring the line that separates a documentary from a film.

As a main characteristic in every conference organised by the Anglo-Catalan society, the quality of the papers offered by its participants makes the gathering an indispensable event for any scholar interested in Catalan studies. I find very difficult to pick from the several interesting contributions brought by the papers given in this conference, as its quality was undeniable; but I will give a short overview of the papers that for some reason caught my attention.

Guillem Colom’s paper on Quim Monzó was a thought-provoking one. His extensive analysis on pornography’s presence in the author’s fiction gives us a base from which to explore the various and complex gender implications of his work. Later on the conference we had the chance to see Stefanie Allum’s exploration on the way Catalan culture and identity are reflected in Catalan contemporary cinema. I found her thoughts on the use of symbolism through Catalan culture iconic figures such as such as les muntanyes de Montserrat particularly interesting. One interesting discovery I made was the existence of les mitgeres artístiques de Barcelona, through an interesting paper given by Anna Vives, in which she shown the underlying meaning behind some of this innovative emerging urban art works.

Besides, I learned more about Saïd El Kadaoui Moussaoui, a writer and psychologist based in Gavà, my hometown, after listening to Miquel Pomar’s study centered around his works on immigration. I was also impressed by the quality of Olga Sendra’s paper on Francisco Candel’s representation of the topography of Barcelona suburbs, which gave a unique insight into the different perspectives this landscape can be perceived from, depending on the observer status as immigrant or born Catalan. Rafael Jaime’s depiction of the Catalan exodus to France after Franco’s arrival at Barcelona was another of the highlights in this year’s conference. The showcase of his project based on capturing the testimonies and emotions of the displaced emigrants was both self-explanatory and moving.

Sergi Mainer’s talk on the different techniques employed by Catalan anarchist to spread their messages and cultural projects was also great food for thought. So was Helena Miguélez’s talk comparing the differences between Galician and Catalan masculinity represented through nationalist identity. And last but not least, Aina Monferrer closed the last panel session with her findings on the use of adjectives in Estellés poetry, after a corpus analysis that connected the different instances of use with cultural and stylistic patterns in his work.

The final session of the conference consisted in a beautiful reading of Montserrat Abelló and Maria-Mercè Marçal´s poetry, both in Catalan and English, as part of a reading in memory of Arthur Terry.

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Once Upon a Time, When Original Works Were Still Original…

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Or a brief reflection on Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” reception in 1826.

On January the 23rd, 1826, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published The Last Man, a novel that did not have the initial critical reception that such a piece of work deserved.

One can speculate about the reasons behind the cruel attacks that novel and writer had to endure following its publication, and will sure come up with different possible answers. We have to take into account that Mary Shelley wrote in a time when women writers were not well seen by literally critics. Besides, Mary was the daughter of such radical figures as Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, fact that would not probably help Shelley with critics such as John Wilson Croker, who started his review of Frankenstein with an open attack to Godwin and his followers.

Regardless these irrelevant approaches to criticism, we can still look at the mixed reviews of Frankenstein at the time, and find a common point made by both favorable and not so favorable reviews. Apparently, no other writer before had written a novel with such “marvelous incidents” (Walter Scott) or with “passages which appall the mind and make the flesh creep” (John Wilson Croker). Even if Croker believed that the novel presented “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity”, he could not help but agreeing on the fact that bringing to life a creature made from corpses was something never seen in a piece of writing before. That incredible story with only the Promethean myth as a background was in fact, original.

On the contrary, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man was presented to the critics in 1826, nearly ten years after Byron had written his famous poem Darkness, and about three years after Thomas Campbell had in turn written his counterpart The Last Man. A famous (or rather infamous) discussion about who had first came up with the idea that would later become the “last man” motif started between several authors and critics, including Thomas Campbell, Francis Jeffrey and Thomas Lovell Beddoes among others. The debate itself seemed ridiculous when taking into account that back in 1806 Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville had already published the first “last man” work under the obvious title of Le dernier homme. This was definitely not the ideal scenario for the publication of Shelley’s novel, and I am quite sure that its critical reception was directly affected by these events.

My point here is that the question of originality may have been not the only reason behind Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” poor reception, but a crucial one indeed. It is very difficult to take originality seriously nowadays, in a time when Hollywood commits barbarities like Vanilla sky (2001) remake from Spanish Abre los ojos (1996), Dark Water (2005) remake from Japanese Honogurai mizu no soko kara (2002), or Let Me In (2010) remake from Swedish Låt den rätte komma in (2008). The list is endless, as endless are the profits from American film producers, and shameless the total acceptance/indifference of the vast majority of consumers in general. These are definitely no times for originality, but that was not always the case.

Once upon a time, in the 19th Century, originality and copyright were terms very much associated with respect and dignity. The number of works published per year was ridiculously smaller in comparison with today’s mass publication, and not even a major novel by a consolidated author such as Mary Shelley could avoid being disregarded as not “original enough”. As a result, the novel was last published in America in 1833, remaining forgotten for almost a century, until its next edition appeared in 1969.

It comes without saying that this novel requires the attention that it originally deserved. A new generation of critics have offered new readings of the novel during the past decades, but there is still a lot to be done. The richness of the philosophical and political content in Mary Shelley’s the Last Man gives way to an enormous range of interpretations that need to be drawn by today’s scholars and generations to come.

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