Eruditorum Press

Christmas and Easter nihilists

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

21 Comments

  1. Eric Gimlin
    October 5, 2012 @ 1:02 am

    I found this book hilarious, and one of the most enjoyable of the NA's I've read so far. "Chap with Wings, five rounds rapid" had me laughing out loud in public, no matter how tortuous the setup was. Not only was the book fun, it was funny.

    Reply

  2. Morgan
    October 5, 2012 @ 1:26 am

    I loved this book, it's probably my favourite of the Cornells (which doesn't of course mean it's the best), and you nail the reason why: joy as the answer. Marvellous.

    (my first comment ever, hello etc etc)

    Reply

  3. Scott
    October 5, 2012 @ 2:18 am

    This was the first New Adventure I read all the way through. Loved it.

    One thing that always caught my attention was the scene where two of the punk band members are talking about (SPOILER) the terrorists blowing up Big Ben, and one of them breathlessly talks about how the terrorists have finally done something 'meaningful' whereas the other points out that all they've really done is blow up 'a sweet old clock'. Which (I think anyway) says something quite interesting about both the power of symbolism and the problems of viewing symbolism and it's power as the end goal in itself, as (it seems to me anyway) a lot of Marxist / anarchist / Situationist-style thinkers have a tendency to fall into the trap of doing — since in a way, they're both right. Since, yes, they've struck a symbolic blow against the political establishment, but at the same time the only end result is that they've destroyed a beautiful old building.

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  4. BerserkRL
    October 5, 2012 @ 3:04 am

    This is also my first comment ever — in MY timeline. But not, I gather, in yours.

    Reply

  5. Matthew Celestis
    October 5, 2012 @ 4:52 am

    I just love this novel; probably my favorite NA.

    The portrayal of the Meddling Monk is just wonderful.

    Reply

  6. jane
    October 5, 2012 @ 8:13 am

    Material social progress is the secret to alchemy, but the underlying principle of alchemy is expressed as thus:

    Cornell makes this explicit in a fantastic scene where an anarchist leader and the Brigadier meet, with the anarchist declaring the Doctor to be a hero of their movement and an anarchist, while the Brigadier claims that “the Doctor symbolizes the best values of British life. Eccentricity, the creative amateur, and civilization.”

    This unification of oppositions is the alchemical marriage, embracing and reveling in contradiction. And this is why the Doctor can never be limited to a Marxist position, because that position is on one end of a polarity, rejecting its mirror image and anything that resembles its mirror image. (It's also why the Doctor can never be limited to a Capitalistic position, for precisely the same reason. Funny how they look like mirror-twins when viewed from a certain angle. This is why mercury is such a quintessential alchemical symbol.)

    But this also has implications for the "secret of alchemy," which is that of material social progress. This too has an Other Side, which is that of individual spiritual progress (or individual emotional progress, if you're anaethema to words like "spiritual.") The two go hand-in-hand, like lovers.

    And from the review above, it seems Cornell understands this, given all the unification of opposites going one, from Ace being a double-agent to the Brigadier's death and resurrection, mixing in fun as an antidote to grim grittiness, drawing from the past to point to the future, while calling it "no future," and even inverting the other principle of alchemy, the interchangeability of symbols and objects, hence the bit about The Clock.

    And Phil, just gotta say I appreciate your coverage of the novels, even though I'm not reading the books myself, because it's really illuminating to what's going on in the current series. Thank you.

    Reply

  7. Aaron
    October 5, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    I love that moment when you realise that nearly the entire plot has been written as set up for that single joke. Cornell even nearly admits it in the acknowledgements section. It's pretty brilliant.

    By the way, does anyone else see a direct similarity between this story and the finale of Season 3 of the New Series? The entire idea of the Monk using radio satellites to control people, the Vardans filling basically the same role as the Toclafane? At least, it's closer than Spare Parts is to Rise of the Cybermen.

    Reply

  8. Jack Graham
    October 5, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

    "This unification of oppositions is the alchemical marriage, embracing and reveling in contradiction." The unity of opposites is also an aspect of 'dialectical materialism' as elaborated by Engels.

    "And this is why the Doctor can never be limited to a Marxist position, because that position is on one end of a polarity, rejecting its mirror image and anything that resembles its mirror image." I don't think Marxism is the 'opposite' of capitalism or anything like that. It has frequently, and in various ways, been practiced (mispracticed perhaps} as a discourse within, and essentially at peace with, capitalism. It has historically been nowhere near as good as it should've been at rejecting its opposites. On the plus side, this means it has the strength to function alongside things that many would consider antithetical to it. Benjamin's adoption of Marxism in addition to his Jewish mysticism was extraordinarily fecund.

    "(It's also why the Doctor can never be limited to a Capitalistic position" Well, much as I try to cultivate optimism of the will, my pessimism of the intellect makes me think that the Doctor probably is fundamentally and inescapably linked to a 'Capitalistic' position. The moments when he seems near to slipping it are rare and very peculiar, i.e. 'The Sun Makers', in which he actually does flirt with Marxism (much more so than Anarchism, in my opinion) and the moment is as uncomfortable as it is enjoyable, hence all the code words (i.e. "the vicious doctrine of egalitarianism")

    "Funny how they look like mirror-twins when viewed from a certain angle." Hmmm. That seems like an empty statement to me. Just about any random set of things can look like mirror-twins when viewed from the right (or wrong) angle. it's true that Marxism is born from capitalist society and so features some of the birthmarks of that society… but what's really fascinating about it is how it transforms these birthmarks through its dialectics. The promethean attitude to nature often (wrongly) identified within it is, in fact, a transformed version of C19th capitalist utilitarianism towards nature, transformed into an extraordinarily sophisticated view of humanity and nature locked into rythms that social forces can push out of alignment.

    And I say this as someone who doesn't really see how a Marxist Doctor would be possible in any sense… let along desirable.

    Reply

  9. jane
    October 6, 2012 @ 7:04 am

    Indeed, the applications of alchemical thinking by Hegel and Engels to history and economics were inspired, and inspiring. But the "fusion of opposites" goes a long way back, in both the Eastern and the Western philosophies, and as much in regard to how we see ourselves as the world around us.

    You're right to point out that the Left/Right dichotomy is a false one; there's much more in common, and much more diversity, in political discourse than such a schematic would suggest. But this is part of the intent of "alchemical fusion," to break down this mode of thinking. Thank you.

    (And hello, Benjamin! I wonder what he'd have to say about the ability to download our own copies of Doctor Who and examine it frame-by-frame, in almost complete antithesis to how film was understand in his time.)

    When it comes to the Doctor, he's rarely participatory in economic processes. Does he produce goods and services for sale? No. He's got a machine that takes care of all the basic necessities of his material existence, no labor but his own required; its moveability suggests personal property, not private property. And aside from those very few instances you've elucidated elsewhere, he rarely engages with the conditions of production as practiced by others, either.

    It has historically been nowhere near as good as it should've been at rejecting its opposites. On the plus side, this means it has the strength to function alongside things that many would consider antithetical to it.

    While both Marxism and Doctor Who practice their own forms of recuperation, they have yet to master the technique with the devastating efficiency of capitalism.

    Reply

  10. Jack Graham
    October 6, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    Recuperation is the key concept and you're right to say that capitalism does it better.

    This is where I have an instinctive problem with PS's view of Doctor Who practicing detournement (though I've yet to properly study his statements regarding this and also lack his thorough familiarity with the Situationists). I tend to suspect that any detournement practiced within a text like Doctor Who is automatically recuperated through commodification and hegemony.

    Without wishing to toot my own horn (especially just after PS has so kindly recommended my blog – again!) this very thing may be seen in my own analysis of 'Spearhead from Space', in which I see the Autons as gothic emblems of commodity fetishism which converge upon various other uneasy representations of capitalism in the story… but in which the sudden eruption of incoherent 'Weird' tentacles is a kind of desperate obfuscation at the thematic crux of the story (the factory where the Nestenes are being produced), blotting out the possible thematic convergence upon capitalism as a system. This could possibly be described as a detournment immediately recuperated within the text itself.

    I think a Marxist Doctor would be immediately recuperated in a less dramatic and overt way. Indeed, I think 'The Sun Maker' probably demonstrates this happening! Even if it weren't, the very achievement of such a thing would have to entail the breaching of DW's identity as a text, to the point where it ceased to be itself and took on a different position altogether in the culture industry… which seems self-defeating too, if the aim was to bring out tendencies within the show (which I agree are there).

    Maybe this feeds into what PS is analysing with regards to the New Adventures' discomfort at being Doctor Who. They are Doctor Who because they say they are, but they're in a decidedly new form and in a new niche in the culture industry. Maybe the NAs are the one place where the Marxist Doctor may have been possible. If so, Cornell's work (while very engaging and intelligent in all the ways PS mentions) might be seen as part of the foreclosure upon this possibility (amongst others).

    Reply

  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 6, 2012 @ 9:12 am

    Ah, but the Situationists already account for that, acknowledging that all détournement is going to be recuperated eventually, requiring détournement to be not a single and successful act but an ongoing process that tries to keep ahead of the capitalist spectacle.

    Reply

  12. Jack Graham
    October 6, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

    Fascinating. A kind of arms race. Or a dialectic.

    I'm going to have to shut up about this until I've done some more reading. 🙂

    Reply

  13. Froborr
    October 6, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

    This is why Blogger needs a Like button.

    Reply

  14. Froborr
    October 6, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

    Caught up!

    Bought EPUBs of both your books. They are the first ebooks I've ever actually paid for.

    Seriously, this blog is amazing. I was very glad to read last post that you're only about a year younger than me; I thought it was closer to five years and I was feeling seriously inadequate.

    Reply

  15. 5tephe
    October 7, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    … I LIKE DOCTOR WHO.

    (I have NO idea what half the words you folks are using mean. But then my degree was in Nursing. Not to say that I don't enjoy reading them, and trying to follow along.

    I wonder, is there some university that would give me part credits toward a media degree just for reading this blog?)

    Reply

  16. Ununnilium
    October 7, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

    I've mostly been able to follow what Dr. Sandifer talks about, but this comment lost me around "automatically recuperated through commodification and hegemony".

    Reply

  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 7, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    To be fair, that was Jack, not me. 🙂

    But the primer:

    Détournement I assume you have via my blog by now, but if not, it's the use of context-breaking parodic juxtapositions to undermine those in power.

    Recuperation is its opposite – the process by which those in power normalize what is radical so that it loses its ability to undermine existing power structures. So what Jack is concerned about is that if something like Doctor Who engages in détournement it's going to be fruitless. First of all, Doctor Who is too commercial and bound up in the existing capitalist order of things to détourn (commoditization), and second of all, the BBC is too much a structure of power to be able to offer a radical possibility (hegemony).

    Reply

  18. Ununnilium
    October 7, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

    Aha.

    That's silly.

    (Actually, I have paragraphs upon paragraphs of why I think that the idea that the parodic undermining of those in power being absorbed into the mainstream somehow takes away its ability to affect said people in power is not only wrong, but the complete opposite of how it does and should work, but my brain is rather fried, so "that's silly" is about the best I can muster at the moment. Thank you very much, however, for making these concepts lucid to the layman.)

    Reply

  19. daibhid-c
    October 8, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    I'm surprised you didn't comment on the Mediasphere, which strikes me as both a great example of how much fun Cornell is having and the sort of "interacting with the nature of story" concept you like. Did Conundrum put you off the idea?

    IIRC, the Doctor has a single line of technobabble to cover the fact that it makes no sense at all, and Cornell just fancied doing a Land of Fiction for seventies britcoms (including a glorious Who/Up Pompeii mashup).

    Reply

  20. Jack Graham
    October 11, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

    As I said, I'm talking about my suspicions rather than my certainties. I'm still thinking about this, so please come back with those paragraphs (if you want!). 🙂

    "…takes away its ability to affect said people in power". I wasn't really talking about the effect on people in power… though, again, I suspect the overall effect upon them of parodic undermining is pretty minimal. Usually. I know David Steel said Spitting Image ruined his credibility…

    And, just for the record, I'm a layman too. Which may be why my usage of the jargon can sometimes be a bit clunky. 🙂

    Reply

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