Tea From An Urn (The Awakening)
|Don’t make me crumble menacingly at you.|
It’s January 19th, 1984. Paul McCartney is still at number one with “Pipes of Peace,” with Frankie Goes to Hollywood now up to number two. The lower reaches of the charts are basically as described last time, so let’s go even lower and see if there’s anything interesting. The Police have “King of Pain” near its peak, which isn’t nearly as high as you’d expect for that song. The Smiths are in with “This Charming Man.” There. That’s worth noting. Ooh, and on the album charts the first volume of Now That’s What I Call Music! is at number one. So there’s a symbol of the death of culture and hope. In real news, though it’s between this story and the next, we may as well give this one credit for the Apple Macintosh being introduced, just because otherwise I’d have absolutely nothing to talk about before I moved on to Doctor Who.
So here is something that I didn’t realize how much I’d missed writing about until I sat down for this entry: a thoroughly underrated gem. Not one I have to provide some rescue operation on like Terminus, but a story that’s just quite marvelous and largely overlooked. I think the last one of these was, what, Stones of Blood? Regardless, The Awakening is absolutely marvelous.
Perhaps the most striking thing about The Awakening, at least to a modern eye, is that it figures out how to do the two-part story. Or, at least, rediscovers it – David Whitaker had the gist of this figured out in the mid-60s. (Then again, to some extent the entire history of Doctor Who after 1968 is just people figuring out what David Whitaker understood all along.) But as The Awakening is the only 45-minute Doctor Who story to work between The Rescue and Rose, it bears some analysis on those grounds alone.
To some extent, of course, its central innovation is just blindingly obvious: it gets the cliffhanger to work right. Let’s look at the cliffhangers of the two-parters quickly, starting with the post-Rescue ones. The Sontaran Experiment ends with revealing the villain of the piece. Black Orchid ends with the incident that kicks off the murder mystery. The King’s Demons ends with the revelation of the Master. All three of these are cliffhangers in what we might call the game-change mould – they’re revelations that promise a shift in the nature of the story.
Compare those to Whitaker’s two cliffhangers on his two-parters. The Rescue has the Doctor stumbling upon a spike trap, and The Edge of Destruction has a particularly vivid moment of the crew betraying each other. These are not cliffhangers that change the shape of the story, they’re sudden intrusions of danger that we know will be squared away within a minute or two of the start of the next episode so we can get back to the plot.
In most circumstances it is the game-change cliffhangers that are most interesting. The ones that set up a week of trying to figure out what this means about the story are, by and large, the best cliffhangers in the series. But these cliffhangers already suffer in the Davison era, when half the time the cliffhangers are only 24 hour waits and not week-long waits. This is, in some ways, the worst part of the Earthshock reveal. The series went to great lengths to hide its “the Cybermen are back” shock reveal, including turning down a Radio Times cover, and then it only got 24 hours of shock for its trouble because the next episode aired the next day. In a two-parter in this era, there’s no time for the story to breathe at all, and so the idea of inserting the extended period of uncertainty and questioning that a game-changing cliffhanger involves is already a bit silly.
But on top of that, the game-changing cliffhanger creates a very wonky sense of structure, as we discussed back in Black Orchid. The structure that works is the one Whitaker used, in which the cliffhanger is just a pro forma event to end the episode and instead we have a 45 minute piece of storytelling that works according to its own logic and tells the story at its own pace. Which, in the compressed and tight confines of the 50 minute story, is necessary.
But The Awakening manages to have the best of both worlds. Superficially its cliffhanger is the archetypal example of a game-changing cliffhanger – a monster reveal. But in practice it’s not actually an interruption of the story’s plot. It’s obvious from fairly early on that there is some sort of malign alien presence involved. The revelation that it’s a face with glowing green eyes is an impressive visual moment, and thus makes a good cliffhanger, but it changes very little about how the story is progressing. It doesn’t actually require that the Doctor do anything differently. So The Awakening ends up having its cake and eating it too. It has a cliffhanger that is in a real sense a big moment, but that doesn’t require it to alter the structure of its overall plot.
Its overall plot, of course, is a completely standard issue assortment of Doctor Who cliches. Shady dealings in rural villages, power-mad authority figures, sympathetic skeptics, and malign ancient presences. But far from being a set of cliches, The Awakening uses the standards with a real and definable purpose. This is something that is increasingly important in 45-minute stories – the ability to use recognizable elements as a shorthand to sketch out the rules of a story efficiently.
What this allows is for the series to cut down on the sleuthing moments – the sorts of things that were, as the entry on The Adventure Game showed, on the wane in this period anyway. Instead of having a story primarily about watching the Doctor figure out the nature of things we get one about people reacting to the nature of things. (This too is just rediscovering Whitaker, who used this structure to massive effect in The Enemy of The World, where the cliffhangers were largely based on characters finding out things the audience already knew, making the question “what will he do about X,” not “what is X.”)
But what The Awakening does that’s deliciously clever is that it proceeds to comment on the nature of this shorthand. The central plot of the story focuses on the village’s love of pageantry and war games. In other words, on the sort of “heritage themepark” version of history that was the animating spirit of The Kings Demons. The problem with this version of history, of course, is that it removes any sense of progress or change. History stops being a series of material events that lead to the present day and starts being a set of fun things to “experience” – an excuse, in other words, for dressing up and acting silly.
It is in some ways difficult to think of an approach more fundamentally morally opposed to that of Doctor Who than this. Animating Doctor Who at its best, after all, has been the idea that the mercurial spark underlying the Doctor and the phenomenon of material social progress are two sides of the same coin. In other words, Doctor Who is almost completely uninterested in history except inasmuch as it is a form of progress. Heritage themepark history and Doctor Who don’t get along at all.
Central to The Awakening, however, is the idea that there is, underneath the heritage themepark version of the English Civil War, a lurking and irreducible Lovecraftian evil. And it’s telling that it is a blatantly Lovecraftian sort of evil – one of those great lurking malevolent presences. Because the Lovecraftian view of the universe, with irreducible and unavoidable Others lurking in the forgotten and erased, is the perfect commentary on this sort of whitewashing. The central horror of Lovecraft is that underneath all the science and rationality of the world is an unspeakable and incomprehensible terror that is barely and temporarily repressed. And here, underneath the sanitized and easily encapsulated version of history is an unspeakable evil that is specifically manifested by the materiality of history – by the violent viscerality that is consciously erased by turning history into “games.”
And as soon as the series starts poking at that, of course, its more alchemical inclinations rear their heads to work inadvertent horror. At this point in the series, after all, the viewership has been actively primed to interpret everything in light of the series’ past. This is the first story since 1981 to feature no returning concepts. It’s been nearly two years since the series offered a story that was meant to be read on its own merits and terms instead of as a set of allusions to history. Which means, of course, that approaching this story with the expectation that it is a commentary on the series’ past is wholly understandable. Indeed, the series has actively invited us to. It’s even gone and given us a clear door with which to do it, what with its overt nicking of the end of The Daemons and its repetition of the phrase War Games. I mean, it’s practically begging for it.
If we do read The Awakening in the explicit light of these two stories we get two major tools in our reading. The first is the idea that Doctor Who occupies a gap between the materialist empiricism of science and the alchemical storytelling of magic. The second is its evolving conception of time and history, focused particularly on the Time Lords.
It is not a particularly novel observation to note that the Time Lords steadily fell from being interesting to being painfully dull. And we have just exited the fourteen year period of the show in which Gallifrey was ever visited, The Five Doctors being its last actual appearance on the show. So we have, in a sense, completed that fall from grace. And as has been a continual theme of this blog, that fall from grace was a movement from being embodiments of the material dialectic of history to being men in funny hats – to being, in other words, pageantry. So when The Awakening attacks the notion of heritage themepark history while invoking the story name in which the Time Lords first appear after two years of unrelenting continuity references…
What’s funny, of course, is that it’s the later repurposing of Holmes and Dicks’s Time Lords into men in funny hats that is the most blatantly magical. Under Holmes and Dicks the Time Lords were at least material, if not empiricist. They were fantastic, but they were always bound by a worldly connection to material history. It’s not until The Invasion of Time, The Arc of Infinity, and The Five Doctors that they became a purely symbolic narrative function with no relationship to actual things.
(Since we are having ourselves a brief stopover in the realm of the overtly occult, I should note that, historically, we’re now in the early rise of chaos magic, a school of magical thought based on the idea of discarding the idea of an overall metaphysic and instead focusing on the pure material act of magic – the statement of intent and the use of will to effect change on the universe. The Awakening marks the point where Doctor Who starts to play it that way too. The idea that master narratives – a central feature of Thatcher’s occultism – are inherently opposed to effective magic is a matter of pure delight to the animating ideology of Doctor Who.)
The irony of this is that The Awakening restores Doctor Who’s alchemical power by pushing away from the purely magical and back towards materialism and reality. The lurking Lovecraftian horror is materialism, not symbolic horror. But this has always been at the heart of Doctor Who’s power. Just as it’s never really been about a purely empiricist and rationalist viewpoint, it’s also never just been a masturbatory engage with the symbolic. It’s been about the alchemical tempering of symbol and object. And here we see that taken to one of its most delightfully odd consequences – a case in which material reality serves as a lurking horror underpinning the play of the symbolic. In which the material is the uncanny Other of fantasy.
It goes without saying, of course, that the heritage themepark version of history is the natural ally of Thatcher. The one where Britain can be reduced to feel-good moments and pageantry instead of material progress, where the past can be erased at will and replaced with empty rhetoric. Heritage themepark history is the ultimate “there’s no such thing as society” triumph.
This marks the point, then, where, following a painfully long slumber, Doctor Who wakes up and remembers that there is such a thing as the real world. Unfortunately, of course, it’s a little late. Those inclined to intertwine Doctor Who with the cultural movements of Britain cannot help but notice that Doctor Who essentially slumped over and fell asleep on the subject of material reality not long after Thatcher’s first election and only woke up again when the left had been roundly humiliated by her second. Just in time, then, to watch the next miners’ strike.
And just in time to suffer an equally brutal humiliation of its own.
April 11, 2012 @ 12:46 am
It is a gem, albeit a scratched one, with some weak performances, unexciting camerawork and some poor lines. But then that's nothing new.
I think you are unfair to re-enactment societies and the investigatory potential to be found in dressing up and recreating things. Firstly, fairs and fetes are perfectly good and useful ways for communities to gather together. Secondly, by walking the topography for oneself, feeling the weight of a sword or a gun and rediscovering practical shortcuts to working efficiently, interesting historical (re)discoveries can be made. Thirdly, the past as pastiche has its own authenticity – the standards of a materialist history can end up becoming a kind of philosophical gold standard, and surely a weightless environment provides more room for furniture?
Might be worth mentioning Jeremy Deller's Battle of Orgreave re-enactment in 2001, which also involved experienced Civil War, er, re-enactors, as an example of the positive and complicated use of historical pastiche (real 80s clothes!).
On Mrs Thatcher: Well, as the unnamed source for Bob Woodward's book on GWB had it, we're making our own reality now and you historians just need to get scribbling and try to catch up. "There's no such thing as society" is an unremarkable remark in its context. The only interesting thing is the structural purpose of its repeated use by the Left. It seems to me that even the Left are incapable of not thinking religiously. In my opinion "TNSTAS" belongs with Mash'Allah on the windows of Pakistani taxi drivers. But they're voting for Respect now if they vote at all.
The Earthshock episodes were a double punch, and all the more effective in terms of sustaining playground excitement by having a short break between them, but I'm sure someone's already made that point.
April 11, 2012 @ 3:51 am
I ought to add that your central argument is, as ever, thought provoking, ingenious and consistent. But games are always sinister, serious things. The Malus simply makes the game players play to excess. I don't see how its workings have to be equated to a materialist history. After all, if you wonder why the Aztecs performed so many human sacrifices and (supposedly) ate the bodies, you might answer that it was due to a protein deficiency. And then a worldly-wise Marxist might get up and say, "Don't be so stupid, it's the public re-enactment of a predatory class-relation". But that simply swaps an outmoded material explanation for a more sophisticated one, never mind that it fails to diagnose the underlying human need, or ask what it is about the human that manifests itself this way. For which Lovecraft's answer is never a historical-material one.
April 11, 2012 @ 4:22 am
Quick question, to ensure I'm interpreting the terminology correctly: does 'material social progress' imply a teleological historicity?
April 11, 2012 @ 4:26 am
Heritage themepark history is the ultimate “there’s no such thing as society” triumph.
You have this habit of getting reductive when you discuss Thatcherism. It would be just as easy (and just as facile) to say "Heritage themepark history is the ultimate socialist Potemkin village."
April 11, 2012 @ 4:30 am
And had this story taken place in a context where that would have made sense I might have, but in practice the ideology it proves convenient for in this context is Thatcherism.
April 11, 2012 @ 4:39 am
And genuine question rather than rhetorical point: what heritage themeparks are you referring to? I've been to one-off re-enactments and some imaginative museums and historic castles with dummies etc, but in most of these there's a serious commitment to conveying real history. Entertainment too of course, but never just dumb rubbish. The crap ones (Hell Fire Caves being the most recent I've been to) are just lacking in funds, so the waxworks look a bit moth-eaten. Even there, and for a £5 admission charge, there's still plenty of real historical information on the walls.
April 11, 2012 @ 4:45 am
And if you mean stately homes, then indeed they have come a long way in recent years in terms of making-historical the experience, but they were never at any time places for people to come in and just shuffle stupidly through. They emerged as public spaces, at first more like museums with a custodial role, but also as places of beauty where ordinary people, who often had a sensitive and informed interest in, say, ceramics or furniture, could see fine examples up close.
April 11, 2012 @ 4:47 am
And how could the Thatcherites, who were busy making history, not be supposed to have an interest in history? Can you give examples of any actual policies or statements than can reasonably be seen as history-suppressing?
April 11, 2012 @ 5:13 am
Not forgetting that many of the most notorious and fiercely resisted examples of themepark-style reconstruction, from Shakespeare's Globe to classical music with period instruments, have resulted in truthful, beautiful new work. After all, Dr Who itself is a human-scaled theme-park reconstruction of the outside-universe, and despite that and the fact that no-one seems able to distinguish solar system, galaxy and universe, attentive kids are still being inspired to careers in science by watching the show.
April 11, 2012 @ 5:19 am
And had this story taken place in a context where that would have made sense I might have, but in practice the ideology it proves convenient for in this context is Thatcherism.
I'm saying nothing about its appropriateness to this story, which I haven't seen. I'm addressing the idea that there's something particularly Thatcherite about a practice that virtually every governing party (and every seriously competitive political campaign) engages in. This sort of spectacle, in which history is "reduced to feel-good moments and pageantry," is a standard part of politics, and it already was a standard part of politics when Thatcher came along.
I get what you're trying to do by invoking "there's no such thing as society," but it's a stretch. Read the whole quote, not just those six words. Thatcher frames her comment as a demystification, not a mystification; she asks listeners to dig beneath the rhetoric of "society" to see the actual social processes underneath. Her argument is certainly vulnerable to the charge of attempting to insert a new mystification in place of the idea she's challenging. But it's a theory of material history, not a denial of material history.
Discussions that deploy Thatcher as a larger-than-life symbol, be they pro or con, risk falling into a sort of themepark history themselves. Don't let this happen to you.
April 11, 2012 @ 5:41 am
Indeed, in modern times the "feel-good moments and pageantry" are quintessentially New Labour, but of course history has always been used this way. The key text here is "1066 and All That" by Sellar and Yeatman (pub. 1930), whose account of the Civil War reflects the attitudes that are portrayed and subverted in The Awakening.
April 11, 2012 @ 5:50 am
One could make a good argument that all post-War British culture consists of a series of footnotes to 1066 and All That.
April 11, 2012 @ 6:05 am
Have you been to Warwick Castle? That truly is a historical theme park, sacrificing education for spectacle. It is owned by the Merlin Entertainments group (Alton Towers, Madame Tussards, etc).
Mrs Thatcher was a believer in teleological historicity, saying "I am in politics because of the conflict between good and evil, and I believe that in the end good will triumph."
On the other hand, she had a very Whig idea of what history actually is. She also said: "Unless we change our ways and our direction, our greatness as a nation will soon be a footnote in the history books, a distant memory of an offshore island, lost in the mists of time like Camelot, remembered kindly for its noble past." These are clearly not Marxist history books, but Thatcher was forgetting that, according to Sellar and Yeatman, she was too late and History had already come to a .
Finally (because I don't want to spend my entire afternoon thinking about this), Mrs Thatcher once said "I owe nothing to Women's Lib." As has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, the counterpart to this was the denial by 1980s feminist writers that they had anything in common with Thatcher. In reality both Mrs Thatcher and the feminist writers were too close to the history that was actually being made to realise that Thatcher becoming and remaining Prime Minister was a major achievement and an important lesson for the feminist movement and would be an inspiration for younger generations.
If all the Davison two-parters take part in a historical theme-park, then "The Awakening" is the only one in which the Doctor and his companions are not part of the re-enactment. As for "The King's Demons", the Master's TARDIS is disguised as the entirely fictional torture implement known as The Iron Lady.
April 11, 2012 @ 6:12 am
I think you'll find it's the iron maiden (excellent!) that is the Master's TARDIS (bogus!).
April 11, 2012 @ 6:14 am
(The reason I asked the above question is that the idea of 'material social progress' seems to come from a very Whiggish view of history, and I wondered if that was the sense in which Dr Sandifer was using it).
April 11, 2012 @ 6:17 am
I wondered about that too. On re-reading I decided that probably wasn't what was meant, but it does look a bit odd to be condemning Thatcherite 'master narratives' while apparently endorsing the idea of historical 'progress', which is dodgy even if you're not as open to post-modernism as this blog is.
April 11, 2012 @ 6:36 am
My fault on not making the "heritage themepark" terminology more clear – I've been writing entries in word processors and importing them, and frequently forget to add backlinks where they'd be useful. The term should link to the King's Demons entry where it's introduced, and now does.
April 11, 2012 @ 6:39 am
But "material social progress" is part of this blog's manifesto: the entry on "The Brain of Morbius" ended with the conclusion that "the inevitable teleological consequence of the arc of history itself…the resolution to the problem of the alchemists is material social progress".
April 11, 2012 @ 6:43 am
Yes, all political parties operate their public relations by means of feel-good times and pageantry. But I don't think the point is that Labour in the UK (or the New Democrats in my own Canada) would run a political campaign without pageantry or image management. But when Phil (and I) talk about what the political, I think it's more about the broad sense in which all relations between self-conscious creatures are political. All social relationships involve one's interests, and a kind of negotiation with others in and outside of your communities to maintain and improve one's life in the face of changing situations.
What matters about ideas like "There is no such thing as society" isn't what the authors of that speech consciously intended. It's about the power of an idea, divorced from the context of its generation, to effect people's everyday thinking. A political discourse that describes humanity as isolated individuals will have fragmenting affects on society as those ideas proliferate and sneak into other venues. The living material history that Phil's been talking about (and re-read the Brain of Morbius entry for elaboration) is the vision of humans integrated in societies and ecologies. Thatcher's individualism, as it caught on, is a vision of individuals disconnected from their communities, their environments, and even their past and future.
That temporal dimension to isolation is at the heart of Golden Age thinking, and all fundamentalism about a return to a past that, when you do the actual historical research, never really existed (re-read the Margaret Thatcher entry for how that works). Contemporary conservative politics isn't really about conservation at all. In many ways, William F. Buckley's statement, "Conservatism stands in front of the march of history yelling 'STOP!'" was out of step with where his movement would go. Thatcher's, Reagan's, Bush-Cheney's, and (in Canada) Stephen Harper's conservative revolution is about transforming society into a network of isolated individuals who don't really care about each other. To do so, they create an image of a golden age in which we were all isolated individuals and were perfectly happy.
That's the pageantry that the historical re-enactment signifies here. Actual re-enactment societies may have entirely different motivations, but what's important for Phil's narrative is the idea historical theme parks signify. It doesn't re-create the past as it was lived, but a cartoon construction of an imagined golden age.
April 11, 2012 @ 6:47 am
Right, okay. So it's a view of history a bit like Terry Nation's view of evolution then: it has a goal, an end-point (it can't be 'progress' if it doesn't have a goal, it can only be 'movement': you can't progress in a circle).
April 11, 2012 @ 7:27 am
M Thatcher: "No government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation". Sounds like Odinism to me. I cannot see how you get from that (which is surely an argument FOR integrated community) to your arguments above. After all, who divorced the idea from its context but the Left? In the face of what anxiety? Capitalism accelerates change for all of us at the same time and we have different ways of howling out. I'm a bit of a Palaeocon myself, but I certainly don't believe in a past Golden Age any more than I believe in a future one. I don't think Baroness Thatcher did either, although of course as a working politician you make cheering statements. And I shouldn't have to say this to a Post Modernist, but cartoons are just as valid a, etc…
April 11, 2012 @ 7:53 am
Building on Tom's point, here's the full Thatcher quote:
I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.
It's very difficult to read this as an argument for "transforming society into a network of isolated individuals who don't really care about each other." And if you want to jettison authorial intent and argue that it nonetheless had the effect of promoting such a society, you'll have to do more than assert that this is so, and to do so without invoking your own mythical Golden Age of pre-Thatcher social integration.
I say all this as a guy who once refused to attend an event sponsored by an organization I worked for because Thatcher was going to be the featured speaker.
April 11, 2012 @ 9:29 am
The central horror of Lovecraft is that underneath all the science and rationality of the world is an unspeakable and incomprehensible terror that is barely and temporarily repressed.
To me, that describes nearly all horror. Even something as old and hoary as "Dracula" derives its horror from the viewpoint characters realizing and accepting that vampires are real. IMO, the central horror of Lovecraft is not that there is an unspeakable horror suppressed beneath the veneer of rationality. It is that this unspeakable horror considers humanity completely beneath its notice, that our entire species and all its history and accomplishments is not a mote in the eye of Great Cthulhu, who is itself not a mote in the eye of the Blind Idiot God Azathoth.
Which reminds me: Am I the only one who sees shades of Quatermass in "The Awakening"?
April 11, 2012 @ 9:36 am
Progress doesn't necessarily require an endpoint; it just requires a direction of improvement.
April 11, 2012 @ 9:44 am
As I pointed out the last time this came up, the idea that there's "no such thing as society" is also central to the anarcho-communism of Emma Goldman, so its potential range of meanings is a bit broader than Thatcherism.
April 11, 2012 @ 9:47 am
Even in the full quote, though, the central thing that disturbs me is there. I mean, I don't think there's a mythical golden age of social integration, but I do think there's a complete reversal of the viewpoints underlying the welfare state. I mean, I don't think the quote constitutes a digging underneath rhetoric of society. I think it's much closer to the denial of social processes and the replacement of a concept of the social order with a neoliberal fantasy of the primacy of the individual. And I'm far too much of a Marxist to accept the possibility of the individual as a separate phenomenon from the larger social order. To my mind the social order enables the existence of the individual, not the other way around. So Thatcher's claim is still exactly as grotesque as the short quote version.
Which is, I think, why the heritage themepark version of history is so compelling to this particular ideology. It replaces the material social order with a set of abstract, contextless signifiers, thus creating the illusion of the wholly independent individual.
April 11, 2012 @ 9:50 am
Indeed. Deleuze and Guattari's essay on the rhizome is fairly crucial to my notion of progress. The short form – I view progress as motion toward something, not as a process leading towards arrival at something. The endpoint is, I think, necessarily elusive.
April 11, 2012 @ 10:06 am
I don't see the quote as individual vs. society, I see it as govt, vs. society. The quote is saying something like this: when we hypostasise society as though it were an individual, and thus something for which the cpercive state can serve as proxy, we lose the actual relations among people which constitute society in its real and genuine sense.
The problem with the quote is not that it epitomises Thatcherism but precisely the opposite: Thatcherism was a hierarchical, top-down, coercive system wrapped in slogans suggesting the opposite.
April 11, 2012 @ 10:06 am
It still implies an endpoint even if that endpoint (a state of perfect justice, perfect social integration, perfect anarchy, whatever) is entirely theoretical; it is still 'motion towards something' (and by exclusion motion away from other things, eg, a totally individualistic, atomised society) and therefore teleological. Eschatological, even.
And therefore stasis is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is to move backwards, or towards the wrong thing.
Just wanted to check, because it seems like both you and Thatcher are working with the same model (a Whiggish view of history as progress towards a given end), you just have different (and equally whatever-the-opposite-of-immanent-is) ends in mind (her the 'triumph of good over evil', you a spread-out sea of interconnected culture).
April 11, 2012 @ 10:09 am
Ah, no. This is where the rhizome really comes in. Because the thing moved towards need not be consistent moment to moment. There's no telos, there's just direction.
April 11, 2012 @ 10:20 am
No, shades of it for me, too (as well as Sapphire and Steel). Quatermass and the Pit, particularly – there’s the ancient superstition (though in a different way to The Dæmons, superficially similar but mainly just by borrowing from the same source material), the feeding on psychic energy, the palpable sense of mass hysteria that’s very Nigel Kneale, and of course the alien being an inscrutable presence that never talks, merely makes its influence felt directly into people’s brains.
I find it difficult to praise the cliffhanger here, incidentally – not bad in itself, but by having one of the most utter cop-outs of a resolution it may as well hang up a sign saying ‘nothing to see here, move along’. For me, the story works nearly as well as Black Orchid, and is much less top-heavy, but the middle’s a cynical mess and the ending even more of a ‘wave the TARDIS and everything’s fine’.
April 11, 2012 @ 10:35 am
So for the purposes of 'material social progress' you just mean 'material social change'?
All social change, in whatever direction (more liberal, less liberal, more socialist, more capitalist, establishing a welfare state, dismantling a welfare state) counts as progress?
April 11, 2012 @ 10:46 am
That would only be true if the direction were arbitrarily chosen. I mean, I'll grant that there are competing visions of progress at any given moment, but that's beside the point. Rather it's a claim that what constitutes progress in one social context may not in a subsequent one. – that changes in direction are possible.
April 11, 2012 @ 11:06 am
Well, yes, but it only makes sense that the direction is context-dependant. I mean, if you're finding your way through a maze, the direction to go in varies from moment to moment but the end-point is always the same, and it's possible to get closer to or farther from the centre — that is, to be moving in the right or the wrong direction.
So what I mean is, is there a (theoretical) endpoint to this progress, that it's possible to be moving either towards or away from? Obviously the exact direction of travel will depend on the starting point, that's a given. But is there an end-point to aim for?
Given a social context, is it (theoretically) possible to work out in which direction(s) we ought to be moving and which direction(s) we ought not to be moving?
And presumably, if we find we've moved in a circle and ended up back where we started, something has gone wrong, right?
April 11, 2012 @ 11:43 am
Suppose we thought that higher numbers were better than lower ones. Then a move from 7 to 70 would be progress. So would a move from 70 to 700. But there's no endpoint, not even a theoretical one. (People sometimes talk as though infinity were a theoretical endpoint. But no. The positive integers aren't approaching any endpoint — not even asymptotically.
April 11, 2012 @ 11:48 am
Integers are a bad example, though, as we're talking about real history and not mathematical constructs like the integers.
But more importantly, you seem to be disagreeing with Dr Sandifer (in that you're suggesting a constant direction while he reckons the direction can change from moment to moment), and it's his argument I'm interested in trying to understand, not yours.
April 11, 2012 @ 11:50 am
I mean bad analogy, of course, not bad example, but the fact remains, I don't care what you think, only what Dr Sandifer thinks, and the two of you seem to be disagreeing.
April 11, 2012 @ 1:46 pm
I assume that the point made is that you attempt to alleviate specific faults and injustices in a specific social system, rather than judging things to be faults or injustices by comparing them to an ideal state, and then trying to move to that ideal state. Left-wing theory in the late twentieth century is, or ought to be, all too aware of the dangers of setting up an ideal state to progress towards and then trying to take short cuts.
April 11, 2012 @ 1:49 pm
I care what you think, SK, or what BRL thinks, because it helps to bring out what other people think.
And – though I am happy to be wrong about this – it's not so much Terry Nation's view of evolution that has an end point, as the point of view of a character written by Terry Nation, namely Davros who, as narrated by Ronson, "started experiments to establish our final mutational form." The Time Lord at the start of the story foresees a time when the Daleks "will have destroyed all other lifeforms and become the dominant creature in the universe", but that doesn't preclude them from continuing to evolve.
April 11, 2012 @ 2:12 pm
The Awakening has so many nods to alchemy and "Doctor Who" that it is truly begging for that kind of reading, so why not go there? Maybe I'm just looking at the gap between "the begging" and the conclusion of "Time Lords" and seeing a space to fill.
That we get a contemporary story about the reenactment of history (making this story rather self-consciously reflexive) but it also an awful lot of symbolism, symbolism that matters to the unfolding of the story as well as the meta-commentary. Tegan wants to find her Grandfather, for heavens' sake! That she is turned into a May Queen is kind of like placing her in the position of Susan, she's just there for being terrorized. Thankfully, this is subverted.
I love the scene where she's made to change her clothes, a shorthand for a change of identity — she's shoved in a room that's completely empty, except for a single Chair. In the alchemical traditions, the Chair is a symbol of Ascension (think Keeper of Traken) and it soon comes to light that Tegan's "ascension" is conflated with being burned at the stake (which, by the way, is symbolic with being unified with the World Tree, that which connects Above and Below — and look how the Grandfather's name, Verney, is a "tree" name.)
The burning doesn't happen, because Jane, who is also threatened with being a May Queen, simply helps Tegan to escape — and so Tegan gets her clothes back, as well as her Identity. It's a simple sleight of hand, a mercurial trick. And in this reclamation, the world of Sir George immediately begins to crumble.
The nod to "themepark history" surely must apply not just to the historical context of this episode — King's Demons, Black Orchid, Thatcher — but to the long standing tradition of "alchemy" in the Historical. Alchemy "works" by pressing two things together that should never have touched in the first place (nice that we get a Crack in the wall to symbolise this) and in The Awakening we get exactly this — but in this instance, it's not just two television genres, it's the fundamental dichotomy, I think, of Doctor Who, which is the interplay of History and Myth.
Doctor Who is myth, of course, but a myth with a history, and that history has been explored to the hilt at this point in the series — it has been, for lack of a better word, mythologized. But this is exactly what Sir George is doing, mythologizing the history of Little Hodcombe (neat name) through his War Games. And in a sense, this is what the entry of the Doctor into "history" does — it makes myth out of history.
At the same time, the Malus brings Will Chandler out of history and into the myth of Doctor Who. Will Chandler (great name) is not a mythologized character. He is historicized, and it's this historicity that is lauded (hence his name.)
This sets up a nice mirror for how we perceive history. On the one hand, there's the taking of history and making its discrete elements mythic — the themepark approach. On the other hand, there's the taking of "history" and making it Mythic — which is to say that it's the original and ultimately unrepeatable elements of history that make history "history" rather than "myth." And in a supreme irony, it's a Myth that's telling us this truth about History, and in so doing it consumes itself like a snake eating its own tale.
So what's left when the snake has eaten itself? The end of the story. The church collapses in on itself, leaving only the self. In the case of Doctor Who, it can only mean it's time for tea.
April 11, 2012 @ 2:13 pm
Analyse Mrs Thatcher's speech on society and its most coherent feature is its incoherence.
"There is no such thing as society."
– so, Mrs T, why is that the case?
"There are individual men and women, and there are families."
– that is true, Mrs T. But if there is no social order bigger than the family, why are you a member of a political party?
"And no government can do anything except through people"
– that is a truism, Mrs T.
"and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves."
– so must I look to myself first and only then to my wife, children, and parents? This need to "look to myself first" can not be deduced from your previous statements.
"and then, also to look after our neighbour."
– why am I more important than you, Mrs T? Why are you more important than me? In using the word "neighbour", you are inviting me – daring me – to read your comments as a denial of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Whether or not you are a Christian, Mrs T, you must be aware of the shock value of this statement.
"People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation."
– and now, Mrs T, you are simply regurgitating your first year course on British Constitutional Law.
April 11, 2012 @ 2:15 pm
No, it seems that Nation really did harbour this misunderstanding of evolution. At least, exactly the same misunderstanding is at the core of his last Blake's 7 script, "Terminal". It's a wonderfully bleak fable, but scientifically rubbish.
April 11, 2012 @ 2:27 pm
Oh, Terminal. I shouldn't have forgotten that, because Servalan's line about "it is not what Man developed from. It is what Man will become" really stuck in my head, much more than the infamous "Maximum Power".
On the other hand, even that doesn't mean that Man won't evolve further, even if that evolution is in the direction of becoming a giant clam.
But you're quite possibly right. The fact that Nation used the idea twice (only twice – didn't he like it?) suggests that he understood evolution as having a final end. (Did Terry Nation get a credit for "Utopia", by the way?)
insert Thomas More joke here.
April 11, 2012 @ 2:34 pm
I also think there's a danger of confusing individualism with atomism here, when the two are not only different but opposed. As I've written elsewhere: because true individualists "see human interests as harmonious and social cooperation as natural, they are … economic and political individualists, trusting individuals to pursue their goals without coercive control"; their "focus on interconnectedness" leads them to "view society as constitutive of human identity, and thus not as something which must be imposed by coercive government or conformist social pressure." By contrast, atomists "see human interests as naturally conflictual, and thus do not expect social order to emerge unless it is imposed on society by coercive authority," which in turn "leads atomists to reject economic and political individualism."
April 11, 2012 @ 2:38 pm
My example was not meant as an analogy with anything, nor was it meant as either an agreement or a disagreement with Philip, nor was it an attempt to inform you about my view of progress. It was offered simply as an illustration of the falsity of your claim that the notion of directional progress inherently requires an endpoint.
April 11, 2012 @ 3:08 pm
Rhizome concepts is where I feel more comfortable to jump in again. My knowledge of Thatcher, as I wrote about semi-coherently in relation to the heritage park, is still sketchy in a lot of ways. But here's what might be a good way to think about progress in the kind of framework that Deleuze and Guattari help to develop.
Right now, we live in a big, complex world, and we have various problems. There are movements that exacerbate those problems and movements that repair those problems. Repairing, or even acting to repair, those problems changes the world in which we act. So once the movement to repair our first set of problems has done a fair amount of work, the world that movement helped to create has generated new problems. Our current movements aren't prepared to face these new problems, so we need another creative solution. The solutions of today constitute the problems of tomorrow, and this continuing movement to solve novel problems is material social progress.
Think about the narrative of the Doctor that Phil's crafted over the last 15 months. He starts adventuring, and his major problem is how to be a competent adventurer (100,000 BC). In becoming a competent adventurer, he encounters monsters, and must learn to become a hero in order to prevent monsters from destroying all he holds valuable (the Hartnell to Troughton Dalek stories). But not every problem in the world is as simple as fighting monsters (The War Games). So the Doctor has to learn a more complex moral compass.
He moves in fits and starts at first, hampered by his affiliation with a Quatermass/Torchwood style military organization (Mind of Evil, The Daemons) designed by a television producer who tends to think in platitudes instead of problematic situations (Monster of Peladon). But he does develop a more nuanced view of his adventuring lifestyle (And the Silurians, Ambassadors of Death, Curse of Peladon, The Mutants). Once he's fully embraced the adventuring life, he has a handle on this complexity (Brain of Morbius), how to fashion his anarchy and his mercurial powers into a force of great power (The Deadly Assassin).
Nowhere does an endpoint or utopian goal or teleological propulsion enter the picture. Just a person in a problematic situation dealing with those problems, and in the process of dealing with the old problems, constituting new problems, which require further change. That's the story of politics, and life. And Doctor Who.
April 11, 2012 @ 11:28 pm
That seems like a dialectic process of change. Rhizomatic change seems more like seepage. That is to say, operating through channels so complex that some of the change will appear entirely arbitary, in the way mushrooms appear God knows where on your lawn.
There is maybe no political philosophy less fitting for the character of the Doctor than Palaeoconservatism. He starts off adequately enough, but ends up becoming a moralising, meddling interferer, constantly on the run from the Gallifrey First Committee. Sure enough by the Moffat era he's an active collaborator with Churchill.
But your analysis above surely only sustains its momentum by being grounded in a particular political philosophy. The Doctor doesn't run up against problems and then learn new approaches by having to deal with them. He "saves planets mostly": he seeks out things to deal with and continually, as it were, casts himself in front of on-coming tanks. But always gets away with it somehow.
That's quite something to teach the kids. Now a Conservative and a Critical Theorist may both agree that, say, "votes for women" and imperial expansion have some subterranean threads which connect them. It's something easy to understand in the context of a War on Terror sometimes framed as a war for Women's Rights. If we had to lay some crimes at the door of the show, its fit with an ideology of liberal interventionism is a possible one – unlike racism, it's an ideology wholly embedded within the modern programme's set-up. So where you're seeing an unplanned dialectical movement, I'm seeing something much more ideologically driven, or in any case understood through a particular, and morally assigned, ideological lens.
What I don't get at all is how a fit can be made between rhizomatic interrelations and progessive politics (as opposed to mere onward movement, or progress). I think political ideologies begin with a first, ungrounded moral choice. If you reject the possibility of such a free choice, you paradoxically reject the possibility of political reason. Marxists tend not to see things that way, emphasising their materialism, but that's surely not philosophically sustainable.
This is just to try to get to grips with and clear my head about rhizomes. And also to try to explain why I feel so alienated from Phil's stance, or his way of thinking, even when I do follow its twists and turns as a delighted reader.
April 12, 2012 @ 2:07 am
Wow, I think you've thought about this more than anyone involved in the production, including the writer! 🙂
April 12, 2012 @ 2:29 am
It is quietly amazing isn't it? Jane, don't imagine it was unappreciated, despite the absence of contesting comments!
April 12, 2012 @ 4:13 am
If I remember correctly, Margaret Thatcher was addressing the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at the time on the subject of the Good Samaritan. The other thing she notoriously said was that the point of the Good Samaritan was that the Good Samaritan had money to spend on looking after other people.
You can read the parable of the Good Samaritan to suggest that the paradigm act of charity is between two otherwise unconnected individuals with no connections to the social order. You just have to ignore that the parties are a Jew and a Samaritan is one of the fundamental points.
The other difference is that in Thatcher's account the paradigm human being is the self-sufficient agent and the person in need is the Other. Whereas in the parable, the person in need is the paradigm and the Other is the one able to help.
Another objectionable thing about the passage quoted is that it refers to benefit scroungers, a social group whose prominence in right-wing ideology does not seem to reflect its presence in empirical society.
April 12, 2012 @ 4:32 am
The part-purpose of a parable is to challenge the expectations of the hearer, and MT did that in a way that obviously still resonates. "He needed money in order to help me": he needed access to trade, he needed licence to live his life freely. In other words: it's not enough for Jews (say) to be able to worship freely; they need to be able to lend money as well.
The traditional reading has for some become a comfort blanket, disgustingly snug. MT's interpretation is vulgarly material, immediately raises profound questions about the nature of altruism and reward, and continues to dismay new audiences. For that reason I'd say it was a worthy interpretation.
April 12, 2012 @ 4:37 am
I think benefit scroungers are an enormous group in society, but most of them are wealthy corporations.
April 12, 2012 @ 4:37 am
Benefit scroungers are as common as mushrooms; I've scrounged a benefit myself. Indeed, (like you perhaps?) I scrounge it wherever I can. Think of it another way: call it sin – see how common it is. Clearly when the Daily Mail does an expose on this or that scrounger we're meant to envy them a little, think guiltily about ourselves. And you know, I don't feel bad about the whole gratification/guilt shuttle; that would be just another form of guilt. But any well-off family who accept Child Benefit are scroungers in my eyes, or any well-off pensioner who takes advantage of a free TV License. Or any one who visits a museum free of charge when they could well afford to give a donation. No Thatcherite is immune or above such behaviour – we just reckon with it.
April 12, 2012 @ 5:07 am
"and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves."
– so must I look to myself first and only then to my wife, children, and parents? This need to "look to myself first" can not be deduced from your previous statements.
I do not think you have understood what 'look to yourself' means. It does not mean 'look after yourself'. It means 'look to yourself for them means to solve your problems, rather than looking to other people / society to solve them'.
If you image the direct question to which it is an answer (as opposed to the question the interviewer asked; Thatcher, like all politicians, was answering the question she wished he had asked rather than the one he did ask) it is 'when I am in trouble, where should I look for help?' and Thatcher's answer is, 'You must look to yourself first, and only if you are unable to solve it yourself should you look to others.'
That's why the clarification in given in the second sentence: 'It's our duty to look after ourselves'. That is, you should not expect anyone else to look after you if you do not at least try to do it yourself.
So in this way it does follow from the previous statements: if there are individual people and there are families, then to fail to look after yourself but instead expect someone else to look after you, you are putting a burden on another individual or another family. Therefore before you put that burden on another family, you should first try to stand on your own two feet ('look to yourself'). It is in fact your duty to do so, so as to avoid putting any unnecessary burdens on other individuals or other families.
She doesn't specifically say it, but it is an easy corollary that you should also 'look to yourself' to provide for your own wife, children and parents before looking to anyone else to provide for them instead.
(And it does pay to remember that this wasn't part of a speech: she was speaking off the cuff in an interview. Few of us could provide absolutely watertight logically coherent arguments in such a setting.)
April 12, 2012 @ 5:18 am
As Dr Coleman writes, I'm pretty sure from Nation's work as a whole (yes, if it had just been one character that character could have been mistaken, but when it turns up every time he addresses the issue it becomes more likely it was the author's misunderstanding) that he thought of evolution as a directed process: that the path each species would take was set (sort of like how you will look as an old man or woman is determined by genes already present before your birth).
Not entirely sure how to re-engage with the teleology discussion. I would have thought that the process of identifying specific injustices and trying to move away from them did require an end-point goal, even if only a theoretical, vague one such as 'a state where all are equal' or 'a sustainable state where everyone has enough to eat'. Otherwise how do you identify injustices, if not by comparing them with a theoretical state is which there is no injustice?
April 12, 2012 @ 5:29 am
Thatcher's point (whether you agree with it or not, get it right) is that you can only 'look after your neighbour' if you have first looked to yourself for help.
You don't throw a line to a drowning man without making sure first that you are standing on solid ground; otherwise you just end up with two of you in the river. and if you don't look to yourself, but instead rely on others, how can you ever be in a position to look after anyone else? How can you look after your wife and children if you cannot even look after yourself but instead ask other people to look after you?
If you don't look after yourself first, you cannot look after your neighbour; indeed, you will only ever be a burden to them, which is kind of the opposite of looking after them.
April 12, 2012 @ 7:48 am
SK – your suggestion that identification requires comparison reminds me of an argument about a theory of language that some friends of mine and I used to joke about. The theory was that we identified things through contrast with their opposites – so, for instance, to identify a tree we'd have to perform a series of negative identifications – "It's not the sky, it's not the mountain range…" But, of course, this quickly descends into absurdity. "It's not an elephant. It's not a kumquat. It's not two kumquats…"
The root issue is that a positive identification – "this is an injustice," "this is a tree" – is not actually any more complex than a negative identification – "this is not justice," "this is not the sky." And so there's not really any issue to how we identify injustices – we can identify them on their own merits. Indeed, I'd suggest that very often the moment of comparison is subsequent – "can I imagine a viable situation in which this injustice is righted," and that the failure to do so (whether through impossibility, failure of imagination, or complexities of the notion of viability) is what leads to the phenomenon of people allowing what they readily admit are injustices to take place.
April 12, 2012 @ 7:50 am
I am suitably upstaged.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 12, 2012 @ 9:42 am
The last time I watched these, this one struck me as the FIRST time Peter Davison actually began to act like "The Doctor" in my eyes. Of course, that didn't stop his inviting half the cast inside the TARDIS at the end, something that just didn't happen before he came along. (Remember "PLANET OF EVIL"? It would have been so easy to allay suspicions at one point if he'd just let the kill-crazy captain of that morestran ship have a look.)
April 12, 2012 @ 5:48 pm
It's very difficult to read this as an argument for "transforming society into a network of isolated individuals who don't really care about each other."
Actually, I see it as exactly that, but in a rather subversive way. Because when you create this past that everyone just took care of each other and they didn't need the government (what much of the evangelical church in the U.S. is trying to do right now: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/04/10/rick-warren-an-ignorant-claim-a-dishonest-claim-and-a-tribal-claim/), then you create a past that says, "If we only got rid of that government help, it would be like that now and everything would be hunky-dory." Of course, the idea that there's a shining past where everyone had the capability to take care of themselves or have their immediate community take care of them is completely absurd and false. Beyond the fact that there have always been poor and disabled people, it also ignores the fact that there are people that individual communities are unlikely to take care of. This could be because the community is racist, sexist, homophobic, otherwise prejudiced or maybe just the person was always cranky and no one particularly likes them. It creates this idyllic past that people can look back towards and say, "Weren't those the good old days where people came to private charities before all of these greedy people just got things from the government?"
When you think about poor people automatically as mooches, you end up thinking that people should prove to their neighbors that they are worthy before they get help. After all, I get to choose who gets help when I give to charity, why I shouldn't I be able to do that with my tax dollars? And that attitude is what breaks down empathy with others and therefore breaks down society. To me, it's not the direct words but where the message leads that turns into this individualistic mess.
April 13, 2012 @ 12:32 am
But 'injustice' is not like 'a tree', because 'injustice' is specifically a contrast with its opposite. You don't have to go through an exhaustive list of things-it-isn't to identify an injustice, but you do have to know what justice would look like in order to be able to say that this isn't it.
And anyway, then, isn't the specific 'progress' in that moment on that issue towards the (imagined, possibly theoretical) situation where the injustice is righted?
And isn't the general trend of progress (and if you're talking about anything on this site it's the general trend of progress, with occasional tangents into mentioning Doctor Who) therefore towards a (more vaguely imagined, definitely theoretical) situation where all injustices are righted?
I'm still not seeing how your notion of 'progress' doesn't involve at least some movement towards a goal, even if that goal is as vague as 'a situation where there are no injustices left to be righted'. And therefore is inherently teleological.
April 13, 2012 @ 4:04 am
But surely you can start from specific limited cases of justice or injustice, rather than having to have a fully worked out theory to begin with. Certainly, that's how we learnt the concept as children: we weren't given copies of John Rawls as toddlers.
April 13, 2012 @ 4:12 am
A first trivial problem is that it implies that the burden of looking after a person in need is one to be solved by one specific person rather than by a group of people acting together.
Secondly, less trivially, it defines the person in need as the person who has failed to look after themselves, and who has therefore imposed an additional burden on all those who have done so.
Thirdly, it ignores the fact that almost nobody in modern society is capable of looking after themselves sufficiently. Margaret and Denis Thatcher would not make a good job of hunter-gathering. (There must be a joke about Carol Thatcher in I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.) What Margaret Thatcher calls 'looking after yourself' is simply one way of interacting with and depending upon the economic and social structures of one's society.
April 13, 2012 @ 4:17 am
Child benefit doesn't accrue to people because they're otherwise incapable of looking after children without it. It accrues to them because they're human beings. Benefits that accrue to the well-off affirm that receiving benefit isn't an indignity or a mark of failure.
Scrounging for the well-off isn't accepting child benefit when the intention of child benefit is that everyone receives it; it's evading tax to pay for it.
April 13, 2012 @ 4:37 am
Did you miss the bit where I said, 'vague'? There's no need to have a 'fully worked out theory' of justice, but as long as you have some idea of what justice looks like you have an end-point you are moving towards. As you get closer to it you can find yourselves having to try to work out in more detail what exactly your end-point would look like (as now, when a lot of obvious injustices have been dealt with, we find ourselves having to look at the hard edge cases where some people see injustice and others don't) but the fact that you don't have a totally-defined end-point doesn't mean you don't have an end-point. If I want to see the highlands I can start out heading generally north, and I don't really have to make any firm decisions about which Ben to climb until I've crossed the border; but I still have a goal in mind and if I find myself seeing sights that I remember form an episode of Bergerac I know that I've taken a wrong turn somewhere.
July 10, 2014 @ 2:18 am
October 14, 2015 @ 9:14 pm
“Not one I have to provide some rescue operation on like Terminus, but a story that’s just quite marvelous and largely overlooked. I think the last one of these was, what, Stones of Blood?”
The Keeper of Traken or Mawdryn Undead?