Today (Saturday 11th November 2017), I presented virtually on the phenomenon of virtual shut up and writes as part of a roundtable on Digital (R)evolutions in Academic Writing. I was honoured to be asked to participate in this panel by Niamh Thornton (you’ll find her on Twitter at @enortee) and delighted when she accepted my suggestion that I present something virtually. If you’re interested in viewing my presentation, it’s on YouTube and I’ve embedded it here:
One of my recent projects has been the production of an article on the 2014 box-office smash Ocho apellidos vascos (Figure 1). The article is to be included in a special journal issue on the film. The title of my piece is ‘”marriage itself as theater”: The Performative Politics of Marriage in Ocho apellidos vascos. My contribution focuses on the pivotal role of marriage in the film specifically in terms of its interlocking with performance and performativity. I propose that within the film marriage functions as a form of utopian unificatory politics that works at both personal and political levels.
I completed the article in the summer of 2016 and have recently been asked to make some changes following peer review. As a result, I’ve rewatched and been thinking and reading about the film again. I thought I’d write a post to facilitate some of the ideas I’ve had as a consequence of the extremely thought-provoking questions raised by the reviewers. I’m aware that this a rather messy and untidy piece and what the writing of it has revealed is that I still need to spend some more time mulling over what I think about this film.
In the original version of the article, my argument followed two main strands: the first concerned the performativity of the marriage ceremony and of regional identity in the film while the second linked this to what I termed utopian unificatory politics. By this I mean that the film proposes marriage as a tool for the union of the distinct autonomous regions – specifically Andalusia and the Basque Country – in Spain. One of the reviewers’ suggestions is that I link these two strands more cohesively and consider the extent to which the paradigm of performativity and the utopian unificatory politics are connected in film.
My article details how marriage in Ocho apellidos vascos is a romantic ideal that, while sustained as the primary objective throughout the film, is ultimately unattainable and perhaps even unnecessary. The plot of the film, and indeed that of its sequel Ocho apellidos catalanes, hinge upon the prospective nuptials of protagonist Amaia (Figure 2). We quickly learn that Amaia has been ditched by her Basque fiancé Antxon. Reluctant to reveal the truth to her estranged father Koldo, Amaia persuades sevillano one-night-stand Rafa, whom she meets on her no-longer-required hen do, to pose as Antxon. Though the couple do reach the altar, Rafa is ultimately unable to go through with the marriage. In spite of this, the film concludes (spoiler alert!) with Amaia travelling to Seville to declare her love for Rafa. This ending thus sustains the heteronormative couple, unmarried though reunited, as the desired object.
How does one negotiate this network of ideas surrounding the heteronormative couple then? The film provides an embittered critique of matrimony. Amaia is jilted not once but twice: initially (and outwith the diegetic content of the film), prior to the wedding, by the unseen Antxon and subsequently, at the church altar, by Rafa posing as Antxon. Early on in the film, we witness the protagonist attempting to return her custom-made wedding dress, willing to take a cut-price refund for the item. She later, having been dumped by Rafa, tosses it on the fire in her home, watching the dress disappear into the flickering flames. The wedding dress therefore becomes a symbol of disillusionment with the heteronormative institution of marriage.
Furthermore, there are no examples of happy marriages beyond the central coupling of the film (Figure 3). There is no mention made of Rafa’s parents. Amaia’s parents are separated. She is estranged from her father and has been for six years and her mother, who does not appear in the film, is apparently in a new relationship with a man from Seville. Merche, who poses as Rafa’s mother, is widowed, her Civil Guard husband presumably a casualty of the Basque conflict. The heteronormative institution of marriage, the film appears to suggest, is, if not an unobtainable ideal, then most certainly an outmoded and redundant concept.
With its renunciation of marriage as the ultimate objective of the heterosexual couple, Ocho apellidos vascos conforms to the genre paradigm of the contemporary romantic comedy. While the genre is renowned for its adherence to the narrative pattern that concludes with the happy ending, specifically the union of man and woman (Mortimer 2010: 4), contemporary works have shown a tendency to replace the romantic relationship with friendship (Deleyto 2003: 182). But, like the contemporary romcom, while the film might dismiss marriage as an antiquated idealism, it retains the heteronormative couple as the ultimate objective for its protagonists who are reunited in the concluding sequence, as mentioned above. In this regard then, Ocho apellidos vascos offers no escape from the heteronormative structures and structures that dominate society, politics and culture.
Without wanting to produce a dichotomous or reductive reading, should we interpret this position on marriage positively or negatively? How are we to understand the depiction of the unmarried couple and its function within familial relationships? How might the personal politics, epitomised by the unmarried couple, at the core of this film map onto national politics?
In my original article, I was quite sceptical about the underlying politics of Ocho apellidos vascos. My initial reaction was that the film is proposing the utopian unification of the nation, in which similarities rather than differences are emphasised, by means of a romantic relationship, if not marriage, between two individuals from distinct autonomous regions within Spain. However, having rewatched and thought some more about the film, I’m starting to wonder if the film is amenable to a more nuanced, and perhaps more generous, reading of kinships and affective relations (Figure 4).
The traditional nuclear family, which typically revolves around the mother and father (or, in other words, the heteronormative married couple), is absent in Ocho apellidos vascos. In its place are a series of affiliations forged through choice: Rafa and his friends, who appear to be a substitute for his family; Rafa and his “mother” Merche; even Merche and Amaia’s father Koldo, who will become romantically involved by the end of the film (and whose love will be rekindled in the sequel Ocho apellidos catalanes). With this in mind, to map the politics of the personal onto the national in Ocho apellidos vascos necessitates a nuanced interpretation of the relationship between the family and the nation. What I’m starting to realise, especially in the writing of this post, is that this relationship, and the associated political stance of the film, is more complex than I initially thought. This is not to suggest, of course, that the film is without issues or flaws but rather that I need to unpack in more detail the undercurrents of personal and national politics at its core.
So today marks two weeks since the start of #AcWriMo 2015 and the halfway point of the initiative. This is the first time I’ve engaged in #AcWriMo – short for Academic Writing Month – despite following the trend on Twitter for the past few years. I signed up for it on a bit of a whim in the last week of October, thinking that I didn’t have much on the go. November has conversely turned out to be an extremely busy month for me work-wise: I’m checking page proofs of a co-edited book on the avant-garde which will be published in Spring 2016; I’m participating in a Pecha Kucha event next week at the Belmont Cinema in Aberdeen; I’ve a book review due in at the end of the month; I’ve an abstract for a journal article due mid-December; not to mention all the other various publication projects I’ve currently got on the go in relation to my PhD thesis! I also work part-time (three full days a week) which limits the time I have to work on academic stuff. So signing up for #AcWriMo and pledging to produce the first draft of an article that I’ve not yet done a whole lot of research for was perhaps not the smartest move I’ve ever made.
One year ago today, I created this blog and posted my first entry. To mark this date, I had hoped to be able to write something reflexive on how blogging has helped with regards my life as a PhD student over the last year. However, given that I’ve recently had to apply for an extension in order to finish my thesis, I’ve simply not had the time! I cannot stress enough though, how useful I think blogging is for the graduate student: it forces you to write regularly, and not always in an academic style – two aspects which I think epitomise the necessity of blogging in the current graduate student environment.
In lieu of my own more detailed reflection on the usefulness of blogging, I’ve decided to post a couple of links to recent posts that themselves address this issue. Ellen C. Spaeth has also recently blogged about her blog’s life in the first year; you can read her post here. See also the list – still being compiled – of reasons you should blog about your research over on The Sociological Imagination blog; read it here.
Over on Twitter today, I’ll be posting links to a few of my posts over the last year. Happy reading!
When I started writing this blog a few months back, I thought that I would focus primarily on Spanish cinema as the subject matter for my posts. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve read so many useful links, usually posted on Twitter, about the processes of PhD research, and academia in general. These links have prompted me to reflect on how I work, what I find useful, and how I could improve.
As I indicated in my last blog post, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks writing and redrafting a section of my thesis. I’ve thus felt inspired to write something personal reflecting on the writing process as I experience it, and I’m intrigued to know how other people approach tasks relating to this process.
When writing, I tend to work through four key stages:
Writing main body;
Typically, when I approach a piece of writing, I begin by compiling a Word document in which I map out a prospective outline. I tend to do this in a linear fashion, beginning with contextual information before moving on to the specifics of my argument. In the process of compiling this document, I also rely on the use of some more old-fashioned tools: a pencil and paper. Using these tools, I mind-map the key ideas that I want to feature in the piece.
Writing main body
Having constructed my plan, I then proceed to the writing. Beginning with a blank document, I tend to write, as with the plan, in a linear fashion. I write quite quickly, not dwelling too much on word choice, but trying to focus on expressing the ideas as coherently as possible. My thoughts, I’m not afraid to admit, are often very sketchy and under-developed in the pre-writing/planning stage; it is through writing that I begin to cultivate my ideas.
Once I’ve written the main body of my piece of work, I usually have to re-read through it, and map out my argument – usually in the form of a flow chart, again with my trusty old favourites (pen and paper). I often struggle with the writing of introductions and conclusions, largely because I find it difficult stating my argument in clear terms. I am in my comfort zone when working at the level of the micro reading, and I am particularly confident writing close analyses of my films. I am not so confident when making big claims, and I do not relish making that move from micro to macro. I find that mapping the outline of my piece of writing helps me to understand the direction of my argument, although I would happily admit that I’ve much to learn about stating my claims clearly.
My final moment in the writing process is to frame the piece with an introduction and a conclusion. As I mentioned above, I always find writing these components particularly difficult. I’ve usually written a very rough introduction when writing the main body – typically ending with a wee note to myself in brackets along the lines of ‘Come back to this when written main body!’. I re-work this based on how my argument has developed. My conclusion usually traces the line I’ve taken throughout the piece, recapping my main points, and gesturing towards a claim, even if not stating it coherently.
With all of this in mind, I’m intrigued to know how other people experience the writing process. What shape does your writing process take? Do you plan before you write? How do you plan? How much do your plans change in the process of writing? Do you plan mid-writing, based on how your writing differs from your original plan? How do you tackle the writing itself? Do you write in a linear, segmented, or anti-linear fashion? How do you tackle the introduction and the conclusion in particular? Do these elements constitute the starting point, midpoint, or endpoint for your writing? Any comments or questions gratefully received!
Thoughts on Spanish cinema, academia and other related things