Art in China: A show with no actor?

For ten years spanning the sixties and seventies, Chinese artist Liu Bao-Shen kept alive what images the Red Guard had tried to obliterate. The peonies, golden roosters and fabled white phoenixes that typified his subjects had, in their traditionalism, earned him a sentence in a provincial labour camp. There, in the dirt and dust, he traced them by night with a stick.

Subsequently a senior professor at the Xian College of Fine Arts, for those ten years Liu erased his artworks before each dawn until the end of his sentence, when art museums in China would begin to collect and display his paintings.

As Liu etched in the dust, Xi Jinping, appointed chairman of China’s Communist Party last November, himself was sent to labour in the countryside. He was kept between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. This was Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and it most certainly was not televised. As artists, writers and intellectuals were beaten to death, tortured or driven to madness and suicide, fear taught Chinese intellectuals the value of a silence that, despite the subsequent ascents of such veterans as Liu and Xi, lingers in the art and politics of today.

In the shallowest terms, the success of Liu tells of a post-Revolution deliverance for contemporary Chinese artists, made all the more promising by hopes of reform and liberalism projected onto the new chairman.

Under Hu Jintao, China has not only quadrupled its economy but has also seen an incredible proliferation in cultural infrastructure and government support for the arts. Inside the new and colossal art museums, however, progress ends, and an oddity encroaches. Some are filled with safe, approved work, while others are closed to all but national leaders on inspection tours.

The rest are empty vessels. Particularly since the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, censorship of critical voices in China has been fierce, and the relationship of the country’s authorities to its artists remains, at best, ambiguous.

It is this parasitic ambiguity that dominates what Chinese art is permitted, placing more scathing or subversive artists under perpetual threat. Of course, ambiguity is a hallmark of contemporary artistic language. It connects our freedom of interpretation with the limitlessness of our unconscious. In China it assumes an altogether more urgent and prescriptive role, and that is of protective shield, not ‘adopted’, as such, but required in the grinding process of self-censorship. Those who refuse to make use of it are punished accordingly.

Lamenting the neutralization of critical or subversive perspectives in his 1987 work ‘Ways of Seeing’, John Berger complained of the dishonest portrayal of politically powerful artworks under such sublimating terms as ‘beauty, truth, genius, civilization, form, status, taste etc.’. In applying such labels to works with real political undertones, the messages are obscured by the giant umbrella of Greatness.

In China the problem goes beyond one of art criticism, seeping by necessity not just into the mind of the artist himself but into all spheres of public expression. While under house arrest, Ai Wei Wei, an artist as seditious as he is now illustrious, drew parallels in his blog between himself, disgraced politician Bo Xilai, and civil rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng.

Enter Xi Jinping. At the 18th Party Congress in November, during which the Chinese leadership handover began, the sanctioning of a particular exhibition fuelled hopes for increased liberalism. It included photographs of such former political campaigners as Zhao Zinyang, arrested following the Tiananmen massacre and placed under house arrest until his death. Nor has it been forgotten that Xi, speaking to the then US ambassador to China in 2007, openly lauded the work of expository independent film maker Jia Xhangke.

Xi cannot have been ignorant of the weight behind this statement, set as he was to run a country in which such an artist’s documentary aesthetic and treatment of sensitive themes have precluded the official state release of any of his films. His speech at the Party Congress showed the populist expressions not to have waned.

Unlike his predecessors, Xi now addresses a nation of citizens experienced with technology, exposed to information and teeming with cynicism. Microblogging is rife, allowing both fact and sentiment to travel faster than any Great Firewall of censors can contain it. “It is the people,” he has said, “who have created history, and it is the people who are true heroes. The people are the source of our strength.”

‘The people’, however, may not be of such concern to those others in the Communist Party’s standing committee. To find in Xi’s words a reformist promise for the future of China is to misunderstand the system at large. While he may be ‘first among equals’ in the committee, such equals include some of the party’s most ardent conservatives.

Here, the most enthusiastic expectations for change must be tempered. As Liu Bao-Shen continued to draw for years with his stick under cover of darkness, critical artists in China must still veil their art in something, or suffer the consequences.

One an economist trained in North Korea, another a seasoned propagandist, Xi finds himself ruling together with conservative others in a party that operates by consensus, in which no one man’s proclivity for edgy films can be enough.

Circumstance: reviews reviewed


‘This film isn’t about fucking, it’s about human rights’, says the Iranian-American youth in Maryam Kesharvaz’ Circumstance, which opened in the UK on Friday. Surprisingly, despite winning the Sundance Film Festival’s audience award last year, it doesn’t seem overly to have  impressed any audiences over here.  Reviews in the national press have called it ‘crude and predictable’ and essentially making excessive use of the ‘trowel’ as a laying-on utensil where the teaspoon would do. Perhaps the most attention-worthy criticism, however, would be that of Leila Mouri, Iranian women’s rights activist and writer for the Huffington Post, who calls the film ‘a very trivial portrayal of Iranian youths’ sexual desires,’ as opposed to the revolutionary portrayal of sexual minorities that it could be. The opening comment on human rights and fucking does not, I should add, reference Circumstance itself. The speaker is attempting to persuade his Iranian friends to help him dub Gus Van Sant’s ‘Milk’ into Farsi, and to understand the seriousness of his agenda. Mouri’s contention is with the latent message that the Iranian teenagers in the film need an American to stir their political conscience. As it appears in the 107mins on offer, the only right they particularly care about is the right to fuck. I wonder, though, whether the same would be said of a film that dealt specifically with the right to freedom of speech or freedom in education. In a film which tells the tale of two female lovers in a country where ‘morality police’ form a menacing presence and homosexuality is a hang-able offence, the right to sexual freedom seems a pretty important one, no? Circumstance doesn’t undermine other political travesties, it just doesn’t have space to deal with them all. It’s like saying Milk didn’t pay enough attention to the civil rights of California’s dairy farmers.

I will not pretend that the film’s various episodes of sexual fantasy weren’t sometimes lurid and a teeny bit cringe-inducing. The porno-style music and lingering closeups on one particularly full-lipped characters mouth might justify the trowel comments, but the excess and sexual freedom (however jarring) of these scenes are precisely what the film seeks to champion as common rights. The protagonists are teenagers, seeking rebellion in underground parties fueled by booze and drugs. They haven’t had time to prune their sexual fantasies to nice respectable and tasteful ones. The desires of the film’s two lovers are real and devastating, and as relevant to the cause of Iran’s sexual minorities as those of any fully-fledged adult. Following release, both Circumstance and its director are now banned substances in Iran. In London, the film is currently showing only in the Institute for Contemporary Arts – hardly apt for an ‘audience award’ winner. Superficial flaws aside, the film is deeply affecting. As I see it, this makes the disappointment of critics, and the indifference of distributors, a real shame.

The Crystal Quilt - Ageing activists in a cult of youth


For three months in the spring of 2010, Marina Abramović sat at a table in the atrium of MoMA.  Members of the public were invited, one at a time, to join her at the table’s other end.  There was to be no talking, touching, or overtly communicating in any way – the artist’s aim was rather to achieve a ‘luminous state of being’ and to transmit this, engaging with her audience in a kind of  ‘energy dialogue.’  The Artist is Present, as marks on the history of performance art go, was quite a big deal. While a painting might absorb its audience for all of thirty seconds, there were people staring at Marina for ten unbroken hours. This was a performance piece for anyone willing, with unrestricted access for a viewer as crucial as the artist herself.  Interviewed about the piece for a documentary of the same name, Abramović declared: ‘It is one thing to be ‘alternative ‘ when you are 20 or 30 or 40, but excuse me, I’m 63! I don’t want to be alternative any more!’ Alright Marina. I’m not sure energy dialogues are ‘mainstream’ yet, but the format is not really the point here.  Collaboration was being harnessed by Abramović as a legitimate and powerful medium in a very public way, a phenomenon which we now see touching the people of London on a pretty important scale.

 For the past five and a half weeks, and the nine and a half ahead, visitors to the Tate Modern have been, and will be, able to share in a dynamic festival of  ‘social performance’.  Set in the redeveloped underground oil tanks of the former power station, each installation in some sense involves an active social relation between artist and audience, the physical presence of the viewer assuming a highly emphasised role.  At first glance, then, a fairly abstract, if compelling, experiment.  A trip to this week’s Tank exhibits will show how social performance could easily be bigger than this.  A huge board covered in post-its and headed by the words ‘What do you think?’ dominates a wall in the space between tank-rooms.  Visitors post their answers to such questions as ‘How can art change society?’  It was not a great surprise to see several reading ‘FREE PUSSY RIOT!’ or ‘Free Pussy. That’s all.’  Nice succinct answer methinks. Artist Suzanne Lacy, this week at the Tanks, attempts to balance socially purposeful and aesthetically purposeful activity such as the Russian collective and the artists now campaigning for their freedom have made so relevant. Lacy’s Crystal Quilt project, which took place in Minneapolis in 1987, is documented in a retrospective at the Tate, demonstrating the capacity of collaboration between artist and audience to make art a political success. In the original project, 430 women over the age of 60 gathered in a performance exploring the social implications of ageing. It was attended by more than 3000 and broadcast live on television.

The Tanks, according to official Tate bumph, examine the changing role of audience ‘at a moment dominated by social media and new modes of broadcast.’ The Crystal Quilt stands out for having little to do with this at all. ‘Young people,’ says Mark Miller of the Tate, ‘have intuitive relationships with technology that permit natural connections to the imagined, virtual and physical.’ Interesting, but hardly inclusive.  Dubmorphology’s (admittedly brilliant) piece, on in parallel as part of the ‘Undercurrent’ series, is described as ‘a flux laboratory responding to the acoustics, geometry and material surfaces of the Tanks.’ Why are you confused, grandma? It’s just a flux laboratory. Lacy’s piece is all about the overlooked social importance of the older woman. It’s inclusion amid the youth-centric takes art as activism beyond the chronic faddism associated with social media campaigns, and that is a powerful statement. 

Will the genuine hipster please stand up?


A few days ago, a senior sort of character confronted me with a particularly challenging question: ‘What’s a hipster, then?’ Instantly recognisable, hence the metric fucktonne of websites dedicated to hating pictures of them, ‘the hipster’ is a surprisingly tricky concept to define.  Thinking it over, this actually makes a lot of sense.  The hipster is never self-identified.  The hipster is constantly changing. So ill-defined, in fact, is the hipster, that the spectrum of features over which they are reviled is outstandingly large, which makes me wonder – do hipsters actually exist?  I am not proposing that the concept is some kind of conspiracy theory, devised to unite the world in a hatred of thick-rimmed glasses and hemp products.  Interesting, though, that a cultural identity so prominent in society has managed entirely to evade being claimed by its own subscribers.  I suppose you would avoid a label associated with such infamous blogs as ‘lookatthisfuckinghipster’ and ‘hackneyhipsterhate’, but these predominantly sartorially-oriented websites tackle only a fraction of all the things there appear to be to loathe.  The, admittedly amusing, takes as its primary object of mirth photographs of affluent looking families in ultra-modern houses.  A far cry, then, from the BMX-wielding youths of East London.

Perhaps the only thing that can be said to unite all hipsters is the engagement in some kind of counter-culture.  @hipsterproblems delights its followers with such tweets as ‘I’m trying to write a poem. What rhymes with proletariat?’.  Why are they never taken seriously?  Unlike the hippies and punks of bygone eras, the modern-day hipster is motivated by a somewhat paradoxical belief system.  While the counter-cultural sentiment loosely associated with hipsters might have originated as some kind of reaction to capitalism, the trappings of the modern rebellion are strikingly commercialised.  If trucker caps are quirky now, they won’t be for long. The music and fashion choices of the hipster, no sooner have they been identified, are packaged by retailers and promptly sold back to them.  Hence the paradox: hipster A flaunts his hipster image, compelling hipster B to be yet more creative with his, forcing him to seek new consumer goods that aren’t so, well, hipster.  This might well explain the vacuous stereotype.  @hipsterhitler, an online personality attempting to conflate the trend and the monster, comes out with such  announcements as ‘I just slow cooked my garden salad to make it a bit more vintage.’  It’s the kind of superficial inanity attached to the ‘eco-warrior’: ‘I may have cut down Ardennes to invade France but at least I used biodiesel in the chainsaws.’  @hipsterhumor wonders if anyone knows if they can compost their iPhone 3G.  @hipsterproblems wants us to know that ‘if today is Tuesday then I haven’t done laundry in 4 months.’  It definitely doesn’t come from nowhere.  I recently heard one of the most ostentatiously environmentally-minded people of my acquaintance announce that he did not believe in germs.

So they won’t identify themselves.  Are those that we so readily identify as hipsters really such a force for the bad?  It’s ironic that the hipster ‘dogma’ seems to be to resist influence by mainstream advertising and media, while happily being influenced by a parallel dogma, but if that means shunning ethnocentric ideals of beauty, and using androgynous images to champion feminism, for example, that can’t be so bad.  Apparently ethnic diversity within couples is found most frequently amongst hipsters.  That’s not a fad, that’s a form of progress.  If open-mindedness is at the centre of the hipster movement, then why won’t the hipsters stand up and be counted?  Really though, why should the term ‘hipster’ have to be appended to an open-minded outlook, when it’s already attached to all that other crap?  We probably need either to come up with a better definition for the term, or just to stop using it.  That, in Nathan Barley terms, would be total fucking Mexico.

There will be blood, but at the Olympics?


A good week into the Olympic games, we move on today from bicycles and diving boards to a veritable feast of pugilism. Graeco-Roman wrestling comes this afternoon to North Arena 2, and the sad news here for Evening Standard’s Brian Sewell is this: the feast just isn’t bloody enough. His ghoulish piece on our ‘neutered’ version of the original sport seems to have made quite a considerable circulation online, and latches its outrage onto comparison with the Pankration – the ancient Greek precursor to what is actually, in this thoroughly modern era, termed ‘MMA’ (mixed martial arts). The same day, an article was published in Vice, entitled ‘MMA is too brutal for the Olympics, and that’s why we love it.’ Apparently, the ‘soul’ of the bloody and terrifying sport (adjectives considered selling points) would be compromised by admission into the mainstream. The Graeco-Roman or ‘Freestyle’ wrestling event, then, might be construed as the London 2012-friendly incarnation of the ancient practice. And apparently it’s not good enough. Both Sewell and Rosenblatt, journalist for Vice, extol the virile purity the of Pankration and MMA respectively, lauding the ‘kicking, strangling, butting and biting’ of the Greeks and dismissing such legitimate Olympic sports as Judo by assimilation to ‘the combat version of a tea ceremony.’ Of modern freestyle wrestling, asks Sewell – ‘Where’s the fun?’ Haunting sentiments, methinks, not just for their sadistic violence, but also, frustratingly, for their misinformation.

If MMA can justifiably be characterised by compulsory blood, and a fart in the general direction of extraneous regulation, this does not take its cue from the pankration. Rosenblatt cites the ancient event’s ‘barely there rules’ and its boycotting by the Spartans in response to the few rules that it did have. Not so. The pankration was essentially a contest of skill, and there is little ground for its stereotyping as a test of brute strength. Evidence attests to the enforcement of rules prohibiting gouging and biting, and the problem for the Spartans was rather the unrefined nature of these rules, not their mere existence. For them, the primitive sport, associated as it was with training for warfare, was not considered fit for an athletic competition. I wonder why it is for Sewell. While I pity his need for broken noses and twisted scrotums for viewing gratification, I can’t say he really got it from the Greeks. Injuries inflicted in the pankration have long been exaggerated, and, as far as is evident, fatalities were rarer than in modern boxing. So, where does the modern day bloodlust originate? Sewell seems to think his can be traced to the Iliad, and Homer’s description of the match between Odysseus and Ajax. The same Iliad, then, that describes with harrowing sensitivity the pity and waste of bloodshed. Its central hero, Achilles, engages in the necessary violence imposed on his unhappy life but, most importantly, reviles it. Even conceding the brutality of ancient Greek combat sports (which I shall), how does this justify the travesty of any sport today? Not even Olympic-style regulations and expensive headgear can hide the shocking levels of neuronal damage found even in amateur boxers. Do they have to be mangled externally too for the audience to go home satisfied? Olga Butkevych, women’s wrestler for team GB hopes to make wrestling more popular by winning herself a medal this week. ‘In England it is not a popular sport’, she says, ‘so in the future I hope it can change.’ Olga, is that really necessary? 

On a spectacle of ‘La Britishness’


While Danny Boyle was overseeing the final tweakings to his portrait of ‘Britain’s cultural landscape’, ARTE France, French leg of the European cultural broadcasting group and self-professed ‘amoureux du spectacle’ was asking its followers what they understood of ‘la Britishness.’  A series of TV programs screened in France in July answered the question in terms of such cheerful evocations as ‘rock anglais’, the ‘famille royale’ and ‘fish and chips’. If Boyle ever felt the burden of defending and celebrating a nation with a bad press, this was not the series to impress it. That would be the blog. For those who read French, voilà: For the rest, of the ten writers published by ARTE France on the subject, I summarize the grizzly impressions of Britain as follows:

Article on ‘National Pride’: A left wing cowering from the word ‘patriotism’, hereditary superiority complex associated as it is with the BNP.

On British art: An Olympics so heavily commercialised that we are forced to look elsewhere for a genuine ‘snapshot of the era.’

On imperialism and decolonisation: A need to accept Britain’s colonial history, so as to conceive of a future neither orphaned from its roots nor naïve to its place in the world.

On multiculturalism: Failed attempts at achieving it harmoniously.

On student life: A nation with 43% of its chip-pan fires caused by inebriated students with no vocational direction.

On foreign languages: A youth predominantly showing no grasp of or interest in any language other than English.

On sex: Prudes, whose self-deprecating humour can be seen woefully reflected in attitudes to their own bodies and to all matters sexual.

On Scotland: Ongoing tension with the English.

On ‘cool’: A nation engrossed in appearance, whose obsession with masking reality in ‘marketing’ seems directed primarily at foreign investors and tourists.

On the homeland of football: Football.

It was nice, then, to hear of last night’s ceremony that the world’s media rather liked it. If anything was going to divert our cultural self-perception from chip-pan fires, the Queen doing her thing with Daniel Craig was not a bad choice. Nor were Mr. Bean with the London Symphony Orchestra, an NHS-themed dance routine, or that trippy episode with Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Which is a testament, I suppose, to the impossibility of capturing an entire ‘cultural landscape’ in one expensive ceremony. While writers briefed with describing ‘la Britishness’ are understandably inclined to confront the nasty, the joy in British culture inspired by London’s Olympic opening should reassure the disillusioned. There is always something to celebrate, even if some American commentators did assume that Kenneth Branagh was dressed as Abraham Lincoln. 

I wanna knit you a sweater, I wanna write you a love letter…


Last Friday, it was declared by Lauren Cochrane in the Guardian that ‘this summer’s big look’ will have a lot to do with wool. I am no subscriber to ‘this season’s’ anything, but was interested to hear the hurrahs of the Merino Wool industry at the relaunch of the International Woolmark prize, and its suggestion of strengthening ties between high fashion and the cosy yarn. Originally the ‘International Wool Secretariat’, the award was won back in the day by such giant dogs as Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. This year, the privilege goes to Christian Wijnants, lauded by the judges for his ‘sensitivity to the possbilities of wool.’ Apparently Balenciaga, Balmain and Christopher Kain are all on board. So far so snuggly. Hurray for natural fabrics! Hurray for biodegradability! Hurray for fashion’s salutation of the comfortable and comforting? Apparently not. Today, I went through the confusing experience of attending a Craig Lawrence fashion show. Celebrated designer of haute-knitwear for such devotees as Tilda Swinton, Lady Gaga and Björk, the creations exhibited were far from a love letter to womankind.

It all started with a frankly terrifying model covered in pompoms. The girl walked stony-faced as the anemones bobbed cheerfully up and down around her tiny torso. To similar effect marched the angry girl dressed as a giant lollipop and the lady in the tin-foil ballgown. To be fair, these were evidently the ‘art’ pieces, and more wearable varieties on the kyototex knitwear theme followed. Some of these were genuinely beautiful in their way but, on me, the overall effect was somewhat disturbing. Expertly crafted as the pieces were, I couldn’t help but wonder if the designer had aspired to craft the models themselves equally expertly to fit his designs. While several women showcased dresses and shoes strapped to their spindly legs with hazard warning tape, one (as I was unlucky enough to see from the front row) shuffled with her legs tethered by a fine piece of string. Her. Legs. Were. Tethered. Together. A gold loose-knit evening gown, gorgeous from the front but making no attempt to conceal any aspect of the woman’s buttocks, reminded me of the old man that I saw on my way to the show - mooning the street from his bike. Rather than making the models look beautiful, the clothes seemed bent on humiliation. While high-fashion may be embracing the humble yarn, just what exactly does engagement from the world of haute-couture mean for the clothes we actually wear?

Rather than entering the realms of what is practical and desirable for women, high-end design appears to be taking a medium associated with comfort and warmth and painstakingly morphing it into an innovative means of subjecting women to a brutal and impossible aesthetic. Germaine Greer, on asking how ‘if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she could have got?’ explains her question thus: ‘If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?’ There was no way that these knitwear-clad women were running anywhere in their towering Louboutins. Even the ones whose legs were not tied together.

Antigone at the NT: Greek Tragedy?


The first time I witnessed a performance of Sophocles’ Antigone, the costumes of choice were flowing robes and tunics, the chorus a classic band of chanters-in-unison, the setting, as the poet intended, mythical-age Thebes. It was pants. Don Taylor’s new version at the NT, directed by Polly Findlay, is set in the command and control centre of a European police state in the ‘70s. It was cracking. I’m not trying to say the ‘alternative’ setting was what made the show a cracker. In no way is this the first attempt to communicate the timelessness of human conflicts by shifting the tragedies of two and half millennia ago into a modern context. Antigone, in fact, has been staged to reflect the horrors of Nazism, South African apartheid, British imperialism etc. etc. etc. The translation was conceived, however, the performances delivered with sufficient power to make the point startlingly clearly and hauntingly. In this case, the primary conflict – that between familial obligation and duty to the state – is conveyed through a Creon redolent of a pre-Iraq Blair and who, I am told by the programme, ‘is designed to come across as a kind of Kennedy or Obama figure.’ Unflappable in his ideology, and conception of a powerful and morally robust leader, he proves blind to the more meaningful responsibility espoused by Antigone – you can’t just leave your dead brother to rot. Nevertheless, not even the punchiest modern translation can iron out the inevitable references to ancient Greek politics, religion and culture. Unimportant as these may seem, such references should remind us that the play – it’s events, the motivations of its characters, essentially its meat – are, fundamentally, Greek.

I’m not trying to say we should stick religiously to flowing robes and tunics – the setting here is completely beside the point. All I’m saying is that it might be an idea to remember the Greeks. In context, the problem with Creon is not so much his ideology, but the vindictive disposition which underlies the façade. To him, it is inconceivable that his gods, the gods of the city, would demand the burial of one of its traitors. Many of the Greeks would likely have agreed. What’s more, Antigone’s fierce familial loyalty places her among the great aristocratic families of ancient Greece who clung to their self-interested power amidst the growth of a democracy far more egalitarian in conception than anything in modern society. Sophocles champions her, and the conclusion for Creon is ugly, but the play’s morality is a complex tangle of Greek values and ideals. The imposition of a modern relevance on the text is laudable, but if we really want to connect with the tensions of the play, we might want to remind ourselves that Creon is no Blair.

I feel bad about Nora

I feel bad about choosing a hero who dies precisely one week after my decision to love her. Nora Ephron’s agonies over her neck prompted me only seven days ago to consider the possibility of there being any sort of anguish attached to ageing other than the marginally increasing imminence of death. Assuming feminine body-consciousness to be a fleeting adolescent indulgence in having nothing more interesting to think about, I found this affirmation of its persistence outstandingly sigh-worthy. Not that I didn’t believe it, or hadn’t tried at least chewing over it before. At seventeen, that poetic age at which Janis Ian first discovered the incompatibility of ugliness and sex, I read Naomi Woolf spitting fury and disgust at the social disease of ‘beauty pornography.’ Dutifully, I was outraged. Woolf made me conscious of the violence with which my sex continue to be enslaved by images of beauty – by men, by each other, by culture, politics, and by cold, brute economics. I then put the book down and stopped worrying about it too much.

Its not that I don’t take ‘gender issues’ seriously. My rage was genuine. I hated these male violences and apathies of which Woolf spoke, and seethed at the self-inflicted stagnation of so many women. On last finding what remains of my temperamental heart broken, I installed myself in an uncomfortable chair and, eyes firmly glued together with determination, willed myself to be a lesbian. It didn’t work, and on a good day I can accept that the obsolescence of men is not the issue (or, in fact, an issue). But being passably content with, or at least resigned to, my physical self, the beauty-myth problem did not much recur to me after this tender-aged awakening. This time last week, Nora Ephron insisted to me that I was wrong. I read her rantings anew and inexplicably resolved to agree with (almost) everything she said. This was fine by me actually, since after swiftly being reminded that I was in fact a woman, and therefore inevitably deeply distressed about my body, I was then immediately confronted with an alternative concern, and the real focus of said rant – that it was only going to get worse.  Suddenly I felt compelled to do exactly as Ephron ordered and, gratefully young enough to qualify for this, put on a bikini immediately and not take it off until the age of thirty-five. I probably wasn’t going to change the world that Woolf had reminded me to despise, but I could make the fucking most of it à la Nora. Furthermore, if her fictional counterpart could conclude her relationship with a husband (who abandoned her seven-months-pregnant self for another woman) by hurling a key-lime pie in his face, I could almost certainly recover from my University-level emotional ordeal without trying to force lesbianism. Now that she is gone, these moments of realisation are just a few of the reasons why I loved, and feel bad about, Nora.