Almost walking out of the theory of everything

I am just on my way back from watching A Theory of Everything. I had been in two minds about going to see it, given its controversial use of a non disabled actor playing a disabled man. Yet, having touched upon cosmology in my recent conversations with Lyn, I thought I would go see it. Now that I have, however, the actor has become the least of my concerns.

I have never felt so torn about a film. At the same time it struck me as a delicate portrait of one of my heroes, and a piece of pity porn of such enormity that it made me want to vomit. At times the emphasis on disability and pity became so gratuitous that I almost walked out; the lingering shots of Hawking struggling to get up and down stairs as his condition worsened being a notable example. It was so cloying and cliche that, at points, I despaired the film had ever been made. Things were redeemed, though, when upon receiving his first communication aid, they remarked with disgust at hawking now having an American accent. There were also a few good shots of Cambridge, including a couple of the quad where this piece of Hawking-related awesomeness was probably filmed.

The various controversies surrounding him aside, hawking has long been one of my heroes. Yet this film has me torn in two, and, I must say, extremely perturbed. Part of me is glad it was made, yet another part deeply objects to it’s pitying, wallowing, anti-disability overtones.

Politics and reptiles

I find myself growing uneasy at a number of people I’ve encountered who, like me, seem pretty cynical about the current state of things, but who take that cynicism too far. Take this catchy tune, for example. Much of what they say I agree with; but then they go on about ”the new world order”, ”reptillians” and so on. I see no evidence for any such conspiracy. Also, tellingly, they lump taxation in with their otherwise left-sounding list of grievances. When I heard that I smelled a rat: either they are right wing trying to hijack the concerns of the left, or they are just politically naive, rebelling because they think it’s cool but lacking any true understanding. People like these, influenced by p’tahks like David Ilke, thinking they’re being profound but not actually helping. The higher reality they keep asking the rest of us to wake up to boils down to neoliberal greed, and they don’t even realise they’re the ones being manipulated. I suppose it is symptomatic of much bigger issues: political dissatisfaction, lack of true understanding and engagement, and a type of naivete.

insulting displays of pure hypocrisy.

It’s the beeb’s democracy day, commemorating the seven hundredth anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. They had Douglas Carswell on earlier, and I have never seen a more insulting display of pure hypocrisy. Carswell was purporting to stand up for plurality of opinion, freedom of expression, dissemination of democratic power, and most of the things I usually go for. Yet anyone with a functioning brain could tell he was saying things we wanted to hear. This was coming from a member of a party which, if or when it is elected, will destroy the bridges to Europe, revoke just about all of our human rights, suppress any and all minorities, and more than likely suspend democracy and install Farage as a permanent overlord (‘Fhurer’ would probably sound too germanic). Thus for Carswell to pretend to be a champion of democracy flies in the face of everything he and his party actually stands for. It really got my goat. Just as hypocritical, though, was CaMoron tweeting about today being Martin Luthor-King day, and about being ‘inspired’. What a fucking cheek! Dr. King would be appalled at what the Tories are doing, persecuting the defenceless and cutting tax for the rich while millions starve.

Being sure of the past

This will again probably sound a bit silly, but recently I’ve been pondering the fact that, given I do not have a photo of me meeting Patrick Stewart, how do I know it really happened? How can I confirm it actually occurred? My memory could be playing tricks on me. Of course, we all know that, if push came to shove, I could look up the member of staff at the Excel centre who helped me, who could confirm my experience; and it is very unlikely that my brain is playing tricks. Why should I be concerned that my brain might be tricking me over this particular event, when there is a long list of other events of which I have memories but no pictures, simply because it is so important to me? Yet, when you think about it, this is an interesting question. Barthes said that the photo has a unique ability to verify the past, to say ”only and for certain what has been” – although I suppose even that is no longer strictly true these days; so, without a photo, how can we be sure something happened? This is what interests me about historiography, which I began to write about the other day: the idea that history is a discourse open to change and debate. I have a vivd memory; I have several other photographs placing me at the event; but how can I be absolutely sure I met Sir Patrick Stewart without direct photographic evidence? The only possible solution, I suppose, is to endeavour to meet him again!

lee m’s birthday

I was suddenly just thrown into one of my funks. Lee Mayer’s family keep his facebook page open, and it reminded me that he’d be 31 today. The fact of his death still gets to me: he, like my other friends lost, deserved a long, full life; I still feel white hot rage at the injustice of it. Yet I also know I can’t let myself get too down about it. The last year, for instance, truly was a great one – hey, I met Patrick stewart ffs! – and have a feeling this coming year could be even better. Plus I just stumbled over quite an amusing article debating what music the beeb if and when the apocalypse comes. Their answer? What else but this! Very Mayer! Short of the world ending, then, I have much to be cheerful about, and quit a bit to keep me busy, even if such thoughts will still just hit me, as they hit everyone, from time to time.

Barness Campbell on assisted dying.

Loathe though I am to link to anything in the Daily Mail, I’d just like to flag up this excellent speech to the house of lords by baroness Cambell. She raises many questions about the Assisted Dying Bill. Why I try to stay away from the subject, Cambell makes many points which I definitely agree with. People with disabilities, including those with ‘terminal conditions’, need assistance to live, not die. Having seen my mates with muscular dystrophy fight so hard to enjoy their lives to the last, I know what she is talking about.

‘Did I writte that?

This will probably make me sound rather daft, but these days I keep going back to my masters thesis and wondering ‘did I write that’. At 40,000 words, it is the longest thing I have ever written, and I suppose part of me is surprised I was capable of it. Thinking about it, of course, I’m sure I did: when it was being written, nobody saw it but me, Esther, my tutors and my parents, and they would not have added to it. I also recall writing every sentence, every paragraph. I know I’m just being paranoid, doubting my own abilities. I think it also shows how proud I am of it. Mind you, reading it, I come across so many typos I know only I could have written it.

disability, learning disability and historiography

Inspired by yesterday’s event, this morning I jotted the following paragraphs down. It’s early days yet, and at the mo I’m just playing around with ideas, but I have a feeling this could evolve into something quite major. I must admit I’m fascinated…

Let us start by noting that the term ‘history’ is here used to mean not ‘the past’, but the discourse of history: the collection of documents and artefacts through which we can build up an idea of what happened before the present moment. History is therefore not absolute but open to interpretation, depending on how one views or sees the evidence at hand. It also follows that one can only know something happened or existed in the past if it is recorded; great things may have happened before now which we are oblivious to, simply because they were not recorded. Thus we have historiography: the philosophical dimension of history, or the analysis of history as a discourse.

What, then, of those who exist outside of that discourse, who cannot access the means through which one is usually recorded? Many people with disabilities, both learning and physical, cannot express themselves in the Symbolic as easily as others might. Unable to tell their stories, they for the most part exist outside of history, ignored by the mainstream. Often they are shut away in institutions. Their historiography is therefore quite problematic: we know they existed, but how can they reclaim their history?

Precious freedom

This time yesterday I was up in London roaming the capital like anyone else. I was absolutely free. Today sees me at a university event about the history of people with learning disabilities; about how to create an archive of the experiences and stories of people which would otherwise be lost to time. There are a range of exhibits on display, one of which tells how the old institution inmates used to create songs as a form of rebellion and escape, rather like the African slave spirituals of old. I was just listening to some, and now feel haunted and angry: they were prisoners serving life without parole, having committed no crime other than to be born different. The contrast with my own life, free to roam, free to come and go, free to blog, free to be subversive, disturbs me. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I sort of feel guilty. My freedom is indeed precious.

Trip to South Kensington

I am just on my way home from South Kensington. I thought it might be worth coming up to london’s French district to try to get a copy of Charlie Hebdo and to show my solidarity with our french brothers. Besides I had never been to that part of London before and fancied a bit of exploring. Getting there was easy enough bus, tube, bus – although I made the mistake of not parking in the right tube carriage to get off at Green Park, as not all the platform is raised there. Predictably, of course, nowhere was selling Charlie Hebdo – it comes out here on friday apparently – but I enjoyed the trip, got to see the French part of london, and currently have some nice, fresh croisant for Lyn and myself to enjoy.