Thursday, 28 July 2022

The Question in Bodies #47: What say of it? What say of CONSCIENCE grim?

Alain Delon as William Wilson in Spirits of the Dead (1968)
“What say of it? What say of CONSCIENCE grim, that spectre in my path?” – Chamberlaine’s Pharronida – Poe, “William Wilson”

I have never quite nailed down in my head whether I think Edgar Allan Poe misremembered the spurious epigrammatic quotes that pepper his work or if he just made them up. It doesn’t matter, in the end, but the effect is the same: an epigram offers up your text to be commented on by the world that already exists. It places it in a space, a context. But Poe’s epigrams all too often enhance the unreality of his worlds, the dreamlike nature of his stories. The footnotes in the editions of Poe I have – I have several – pretty much always say of the epigrams at the start of his stories and poems something like “this quote does not appear in the source it’s attributed to”.

The one at the start of “William Wilson”, my favourite of all Poe’s stories, might be the best example.

Monday, 25 July 2022

The Question in Bodies Podcast, Episode 4: Return of the House of Psychotic Women, feat. Kier-La Janisse

Emma Roberts in The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015)

In this episode I talk with festival programmer, writer and editor, and award-winning director of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror Kier-La Janisse, about the imminently released new edition of her hugely influential book House of Psychotic Women. We talk about how Kier-La created a genre, her favourites of the films that have been made since, and just how much bigger the new edition is – which you can order at fabpress.com/hopw-expanded-edition-hardcover.html

Thursday, 21 July 2022

The Question in Bodies #46: Transeverything Identity in the Films of Julia Ducournau


(Spoilers, all of them)

people are just not good to each other

A little girl mucks about in the back of a car. Her behaviour gets worse and worse; eventually she takes off her seatbelt, and her dad, his attention now thoroughly distracted, crashes the car. To reconstruct her smashed skull, a titanium plate is implanted, which leaves her with a distinctive spiral scar on the side of her head. Leaving the hospital, the child ignores her parents, running to the car, which she embraces, and kisses.

Cut to her adult life: now she is a bisexual, genderfluid adult dancer. She is also a casual serial killer, whose lack of care attracts police attention. She has sex with a fancy custom car, and gets pregnant by it. As her body experiences the changes that might come from bearing a semi-mechanical mutant made of flesh, metal and engine oil, she goes on the run.

Look. All that is probably enough to be getting on with, but really that doesn’t even get you past the first half of Julia Ducorneau’s stunning 2021 film Titane (simply, “Titanium”). And you really need to have seen this movie before you read this next part. I mean, you can read this and you’ll be fine, it won’t ruin your life, so perhaps rather than tell you that you need to have seen it maybe it is better to say that I want you to have seen it. I think it’s a film that travels in directions that are better seen than talked about. And I'm going to be breaking down scenes in detail.

Now, while “Spoiler” discourse is usually toxic and stupid, a way to strangle discussion and thought in the crib, some films are simply better experienced without you knowing anything about them. And there’s a reason a film that looks on paper like a fairly direct piece of New French Extremity wound up winning the 2021 Palme d’Or (and a reason that, quite frankly, if I’d been on that jury at Cannes, I’d have voted to give it the Palme d’Or as well). Because what happens next turns a film with a bit of body horror and some quirky and gory murders into something entirely different. It becomes something smaller, stranger, and oddly, dysfunctionally beautiful.

But calling it dysfunctional isn’t right either. Like the highly polished custom that fathers Alexia’s child, Titane hides precision engineering under its shining bodywork, and its unique quirks a signifier of a surprising amount of passion, and even love.

Monday, 18 July 2022

The Question in Bodies Podcast, Episode 3: Bodies in Space, with Gwendolyn Kiste


It's episode 3! I'm super honoured to have with me multiple award winning author, Perky Goth style icon and official Nicest Person in Horror Gwendolyn Kiste. I talk with Gwendolyn – writer of The Rust Maidens, Boneset and Feathers, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and others – about the modern Gothic, the relationship of the human body to its environment and some other stuff, because we like digressions, like what an ambry is.

You should totally go and look at gwendolynkiste.com: her new novel, Reluctant Immortals, has just come out, so make sure you get on that. 

Listen on your favourite podcast outlet, or visit thequestioninbodies.podbean.com for all the episodes. 

Thursday, 14 July 2022

The Question in Bodies #45: That Haunting Sense of Unexpressed Deformity

Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame.
– Stevenson, “Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case”

Living with duality is something that I think most people do to some extent; we compartmentalise our selves, we communicate in different ways in different contexts. And it’s a survival technique, a thing we do naturally to maintain social discourse and our place in it.

But what if you’re autistic and you don’t know you’re autistic, and these changes of tone and etiquette don’t come naturally to you? This isn’t theoretical. In the house where I spent my childhood, sex and gender weren’t just taboo subjects, they were active subjects of revulsion and shame. I learned about bodily differences embarrassingly late. No positive depictions or discussions of sexuality were tolerated at home; and my mother particularly responded to scenes of people enjoying the act of kissing or canoodling with disgust and revulsion. 

(Footnote: I clearly remember the moment of the first same-sex kiss on British TV, between Colin and Guido on the episode of Eastenders broadcast 24th January 1989. I remember my parents’ seething outrage at it, having known in advance from the newspaper that this would be the episode where that happened, and having made absolutely sure that they tuned in and did not miss it.) 

The result of it was that very early on I developed a private imaginary space where I could escape the constant surveillance under which I was kept. And actually, my imaginary scenes weren’t really anything to be ashamed of – they certainly weren’t the twisted evil I was scared that everyone would think they were, and in later life I’ve actually become proud of the unique and odd fantasy world I made, and I have even used it in my work. But it didn’t matter. An internal Demiurge in my brain had brought into existence a fantastical world where my sexuality and imagination lived, separate from the world I presented to those about me, and the result was that I fractured.

Monday, 11 July 2022

The Question in Bodies Podcast, Episode 2: The Good For Her Cinematic Universe, with Eve Elizabeth Moriarty


We got as far as episode 2!

In this week's episode, I'm joined in a flurry of tripartite author names by my pal Eve Elizabeth Moriarty, to talk about the Good For Her Cinematic Universe: the "girl bossification" of horror, bad takes about The Witch (2015), Midsommar (2019) and Promising Young Woman (2020), and how all these things reflect more than just dodgy critique. 

Eve's take on Midsommar can be found here.

The podcast is gradually populating the usual podcast venues – Apple Podcasts, Podchaser, Spotify, Audible and others – but you can find the podcast site here.

Want to get episodes a couple of weeks early? Back my Patreon. It's literally only one American dollar a month. 

Thursday, 7 July 2022

The Question in Bodies #44: Roko's Modern Basilisk


 We appreciate power (we appreciate power)

Transhumanism, as a response to the Question in Bodies, isn’t monolithic, any more than any other apocalyptic worldview; it has its schisms, its alternative approaches. There’s the benevolent version that posits simply that we simply have to let our children survive and change into something we won’t recognise – see “Low-Flying Aircraft” for this version, but also, see the joyous pansexual genderblend of Sense8 (2015-2018), where the evolution of humanity into clusters of linked consciousness is, although at the risk of exploitation (the main conflict of the series), the key to a coming age of empathy and hope.

Monday, 4 July 2022

The Question in Bodies podcast, Episode 1: Hope, Joy and Storytelling, with Dr Monique Lacoste

 

(But what sort of Doctor are you?)
It's the beginning, and the moment has been prepared for. 

For the next nine weeks, we're going to be putting out Season One of the Question in Bodies podcast, a catalogue of inconclusive conversations about culture, gender, bodies, literature, movies and horror. In this first episode I'm joined by the first of a wide cast of friends, colleagues and co-conspirators, Dr. Monique Lacoste, to talk about what representation looks like, whether we can imagine a different world, and whether or not we can find genuine hope and joy in a storytelling environment saturated with capitalist realism. When the only show in town is the MCU, where is the genuine chance to have hope, joy and, dare we say it, love? 

Expect lots of questions, and few answers, but the getting there is entertaining.

We shout out to Raquel Benedict at Rite Gud in the course of this, which is our favourite podcast right now. Raquel is going to guest in a future episode (spoilers). 

Over the next few days, you'll be able to find The Question on the usual podcast sources – it's already gone to Spotify and Amazon; Google and Apple are soon to follow. 

Thanks to Steve Horry for our logo, and the banging theme tune.