Tuesday 19 November 2019

The Interpretation of Dreams

In her exuberant utopia The Female Man Joanna Russ notes that the Whileawayans ‘practice secret dream interpretation according to an arbitrary scheme they consider idiotic but very funny’.  The visitor from the future, Janet Evason, almost expounds this system to the teenager Laura, but alas does not, so we never do learn ‘the secret dream-system by which Whileawayans transform matter and embrace the galaxies’.  Janet’s dream that she was skating backwards and Laura’s that a beautiful stranger was teaching her how to shoot remain undeciphered.

Would that we possessed the secret of Whileawayan hermeneutics so that we could interpret in a suitably arbitrary and galaxy-embracing way Bob the weaver’s oneiric experience in News from Nowhere – ‘I dreamed last night that we were off up the river fishing’ – or even that dream of Morris’s own from May 1886:  ‘We were all together in the High-street near the end of River Court Road, and watching shooting stars which were red & green & yellow like the lights on the new Hammersmith bridge, when all at once one fell to earth in the middle of the road and we all bolted for fear it should burst like a shell’.

Asserting that ‘this is the one occasion where he tells of an actual dream of his’, Jack Lindsay interprets Morris’s account in terms of ‘imagery of what is called the birth-trauma’, thereby drawing silently on the work of Otto Rank.  I’m more struck by the near-science-fictional imagery here, as if we have an anticipation of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds.  Aliens landing on earth may be a scary prospect, as in Wells, but there is another way of telling that story, as Russ herself has shown: let a visitor from the utopian future descend to our world, rather than sending a William Guest from the bad old world to the transfigured new one.  So in my application of Whileawayan dream hermeneutics, Morris has distantly anticipated that great mutation in the utopian genre which comes about in the 1970s with The Female Man and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Gothic Remixed

I haven’t actually read Megen de Bruin-MolĂ©’s recently published Gothic Remixed: Monster Mashups and Frankenfiction in 21st Century Culture.  But I like the blurb for it on the Amazon website, which starts as follows: ‘The bestselling genre of Frankenfiction sees classic literature turned into commercial narratives invaded by zombies, vampires, werewolves, and other fantastical monsters’.  And in a local charity shop this afternoon I came across a secondhand copy of Pride and Prejudice and Sea-Monsters, which contained a nice introductory quote from an American critic: ‘What work of literature wouldn’t be improved by the inclusion of a few zombies?’

So I’ve been playing with the idea of turning News from Nowhere into Frankenfiction, in the spirit of Barbara Gribble’s 1985 observation that ‘One wonders how Dick [Hammond] or Walter [Allen] would react to a sudden epidemic of smallpox or an invasion of malicious aliens’.  Only, with Morris’s utopia, we wouldn’t have to import the aliens, monsters and zombies from outside, from a literary elsewhere, since there are plenty of them in Morris’s own works, who could be colourfully unleashed against his utopian socialists in some great Thames valley Ragnarok.

Those two vicious werewolves in the first book of Sigurd the Volsung will try to sink their teeth into Dick Hammond’s throat.  Fafnir the dragon from that work will incinerate Kelmscott manor with his fiery breath.  He will be backed up by assorted monsters from The Earthly Paradise: the hideous serpent from ‘The Love of Alcestis’ and the uncanny Chimaera from ‘Bellerophon in Lycia’, among others.  The repulsive dwarf from The Wood beyond the World will be ‘scuttling along on all-fours like an evil beast and anon giving forth that harsh and evil cry’, and the Harpies from The Life and Death of Jason will launch aerial attacks when required to.  Their leader is the shape-shifting witch-wife of The Water of the Wondrous Isles, who ferries them all down the Thames on her blood-powered Sending Boat to attack communist London.  And they have recruited Grettir from Morris’s translation of the Grettis-Saga, who, though not strictly a monster, has near-superhuman strength which allows him to hurl great boulders and reduce the Hammersmith Guest House to rubble.

Ellen, Dick, Clara, Boffin, Bob the weaver and old Hammond will need all their wits about them (and perhaps William Guest’s time-travelling advice too) to prevail over this terrifying Morrisian crew.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Fracking in England

In chapter XXIV of News from Nowhere Walter Allen mentions ‘the earthquake of the year before last’, so we might be inclined to assume, in the light of the seismic activity we’ve experienced just down the road from me at Preston New Road, Lancashire, that someone has been trying out fracking as an energy source in Morris’s utopia.  But then we realise that cannot be so, since, as old Hammond has already told us in the British Museum, ‘whatever coal or mineral we need is brought to grass and sent whither it is needed with as little as possible of dirt, confusion, and the distressing of quiet people’s lives’.  So it seems impossible that the activities of Cuadrilla, against which many of my local Green Party friends have been protesting for years, would be tolerated in Nowhere.

And now we’re not going to tolerate them here any longer either, it would seem.  For the government has imposed a moratorium upon fracking in England with immediate effect, with Andrea Leadsom telling us that it has been won over by the science which declares that fracking’s seismic impacts cannot be adequately predicted or managed.  All well and good for the moment, but it does not take much political nous to see this announcement as yet another of the shamelessly cynical ‘promises’ that the Tory Party is rolling out in the run-up to the December 12th General Election.  Boris Johnson has been fulsome in his praise of fracking in the past, the government has pumped millions of pounds into support for the industry, and, as Jeremy Corbyn has rightly remarked, the likelihood is that, in the event of a Tory election victory, fracking would be instantly reallowed on the 13th December.