Happy Holidays from the team at Kill Your Darlings! In this, our last podcast for 2017, we bring you our recommendations for the holiday season. If your loved ones won’t like any of them (are you sure you want to spend time with them?) you could always give them Hera Lindsay Bird reading ‘Monica’, or Hannah McGregor and Marcelle Kosman talking about Witch, Please. Whatever you’ve read/played/listened to/watched or consumed this year, we hope you’ve had a culturally great one. All the best till 2018! xox
Note: This episode contains some strong language.
Meaghan Dew (KYD): Hello and welcome back to the last Kill Your Darlings Podcast of 2017. It’s been a year you may be glad to see the back of, but we hope you came across something interesting this year: a book you loved, a TV show that made you stay up all night, a podcast that made you look forward to your commute, or a film that had you transfixed. Whatever it was, now is the time to celebrate it.
We’re starting out with the last of our recordings from the Melbourne Writers Festival. I am drawing a bit of a long bow here, but I can say that all our guests today have used cultural touchstones to kick off their own work, whether critical or creative. We’ll talk to Hannah and Marcelle from Witch, Please and chat to the KYD crew about their highlights from the year that was.
But before that, here’s Hera Lindsay Bird reading her poem ‘Monica’.
Hera Lindsay Bird: Monica / Monica / Monica / Monica / Monica Geller off popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S / Is one of the worst characters in the history of television / She makes me want to wash my hands with hand sanitizer / She makes me want to stand in an abandoned Ukrainian parking lot / And scream her name at a bunch of dead crows / Nobody liked her, except for Chandler / He married her, and that brings me to my second point / What kind of a name for a show was F.R.I.E.N.D.S / When two of them were related / And the rest of them just fucked for ten seasons? / Maybe their fucking was secondary to their friendship / Or they all had enough emotional equilibrium / To be able to maintain a constant state of mutual-respect / Despite the fucking / Or conspicuous nonfucking / That was occurring in their lives / But I have to say / It just doesn’t seem emotionally realistic / Especially considering that / They were not the most self-aware of people / And to be able to maintain a friendship / Through the various complications of heterosexual monogamy / Is enormously difficult / Especially when you take into consideration / What cunts they all were
I fell in love with a friend once / And we liked to congratulate each other what good friends we were / And how it was great that we could be such good friends, and still fuck / Until we stopped fucking / And then we weren’t such good friends anymore
I had a dream the other night / About this friend, and how we were walking / Through sunlight, many years ago / Dragged up from the vaults, like / Old military propaganda / You know the kind; young women leaving a factory / Arm in arm, while their fiancées / Are being handsomely shot to death in Prague / And even though this friend doesn’t love me anymore / And I don’t love them / At least, not in a romantic sense / The memory of what it had been like not to want / To strap concrete blocks to my head / And drown myself in a public fountain rather than spend another day / With them not talking to me / Came back, and I remembered the world / For a moment, as it had been / When we had just met, and love seemed possible / And neither of us resented the other one / And it made me sad / Not just because things ended badly / But more broadly / Because my sadness had less to do with the emotional specifics of that situation / And more to do with the transitory nature of romantic love / Which is becoming relevant to me once again / Because I just met someone new / And this dream reminded me / That, although I believe that there are ways that love can endure / It’s just that statistically, or / Based on personal experience / It’s unlikely that things are going to go well for long / There is such a narrow window / For happiness in this life / And if the past is anything to go by / Everything is about to go slowly but inevitably wrong / In a non-confrontational, but ultimately disappointing way
Monica / Monica / Monica / Monica / Monica Geller from popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S / Was the favourite character of the Uber driver / Who drove me home the other day / And is the main reason for this poem / Because I remember thinking Monica??? / Maybe he doesn’t remember who she is / Because when I asked him specifically / Which character he liked best off F.R.I.E.N.D.S / He said ‘the woman’ / And when I listed their names for him / Phoebe, Rachel and Monica / He said Monica / But he said it with a kind of question mark at the end / Like……. Monica? / Which led me to believe / Either, he was ashamed of liking her / Or he didn’t know who he was talking about / And had got her confused with one of the other / Less objectively terrible characters. / I think the driver meant to say Phoebe / Because Phoebe is everyone’s favourite / She once stabbed a police officer / She once gave birth to her brother’s triplets / She doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about her / Monica gives a shit what everyone thinks about her / Monica’s parents didn’t treat her very well / And that’s probably where a lot of her underlying insecurities come from / That have since manifested themselves in controlling / And manipulative behaviour / It’s not that I think Monica is unredeemable / I can recognize that her personality has been shaped / By a desire to succeed / And that even when she did succeed, it was never enough / Particularly for her mother, who made her feel like her dreams were stupid / And a waste of time. / And that kind of constant belittlement can do fucked up things to a person / So maybe, getting really upset when people don’t use coasters / Is an understandable, or at least comparatively sane response / To the psychic baggage / Of your parents never having believed in you / Often I look at the world / And I am dumbfounded that anyone can function at all / Given the kind of violence that / So many people have inherited from the past / But that’s still no excuse to throw / A dinner plate at your friends, during a quiet game of Pictionary / And even if that was an isolated incident / And she was able to move on from it / It still doesn’t make me want to watch her on TV / I am falling in love and I don’t know what to do about it / Throw me in a haunted wheelbarrow and set me on fire / And don’t even get me started on Ross
KYD: That was poet Hera Lindsay Bird reading her poem ‘Monica’, which you can find in her self titled book out now with Victoria University Press.
Another of my highlights of the year was discovering Witch, Please, a fortnightly podcast about the Harry Potter world brought to you by Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor. They appeared at the festival remotely from Canada, so this interview was recorded via Skype. Please excuse any issues with the sound.
Hannah McGregor: Witch, Please is a usually fortnightly podcast about the Harry Potter world. So we started off by doing episodes about all of the books and all of the movies and now that we are done doing episodes about all of the books and all of the movies, we’ve ventured outwards into other related topics about Harry Potter fandom and other kinds of spin-offs and stuff like that. And both Marcelle and I – this is Hannah speaking – both Marcelle and I are literature scholars and feminists and feminist scholars – those Venn diagrams overlap. And so a big informing piece of how we make Witch, Please is about sort of bringing our feminist lens to think about the Harry Potter books, both in terms of how we read them and then in terms of like the larger fan community that has developed around the books as well.
Marcelle Kosman: Mmhm. Great, nailed it.
KYD: So tell me about your origin story. How did you first decide to podcast about the Harry Potter books’ true hero, Hermione Granger?
MK: Well, we initially decided to do this as what Hannah called a friendship project – this is Marcelle speaking now. I always want to reread the books and Hannah, at the time that we started, had never reread the Harry Potter series and, as we came to learn, had actually never read the entire series – oops. And so we thought ‘What the heck, you know what would be really funny? Is if we recorded our conversations and we’ll put them on the internet and then maybe some of our friends will listen? And that’ll be like a funny thing that we do.’ And, unknowingly, in this process we tapped into a really phenomenal community of feminist Harry Potter fans and I hear that our podcast is great and I believe people when they tell us that. But what this really suggests to me is that there is such a – such a huge, hungry world of feminists out there wanting pop culture podcasts. And so we were really fortunate that we happened to appear right at a time when podcasts were really taking off in the mainstream. Our podcast, like, it – almost entirely word-of-mouth I would say, the way that it has spread. So this thing that we thought we would do just as a like fun, goofy friendship thing turned into a very serious thing with, like, commitments and listeners who have opinions about our opinions, and yeah. So it’s really – we never anticipated that this would happen. It’s very – it’s incredible.
KYD: You did mention that you tapped into this great community of people out there who are both feminist and love the Harry Potter series. I think to be a feminist and to be consuming pop culture is to be always having to overlook to a certain extent problematic elements, or to have to sometimes get angry about them but still love the thing and to acknowledge the problematic.
MK: Oh, yeah.
KYD: You guys seem a really great model for how you can love something and feel nostalgic about it without giving it a free pass on the more problematic stuff. Did it take a while to come to that point with Harry Potter? Or was it simply a matter of rereading it at this point you brought different things to it then you had when you read it originally?
HM: I think, for me, part of sort of my journey as a feminist critic of pop culture has been moving from feeling like in order to love things I need to ignore pieces of them to learning how to blend critique and love together. And so, I know the first time around that I read these books – you know, I wasn’t thinking of them with any degree of the same sort of critical frame that I bring to bear today. And that’s partly because of the education and training I’ve had in between and also partly because the experience of being a feminist in the world consuming pop culture is a constant training in balancing love and critique. So I think for me this podcast really did come along at a perfect moment in my life, where I was ready to do this kind of thinking about how to bridge critique and love. And I also think a big part of – again I’m speaking just for myself here – but a big part of arriving at that relationship to these texts via this podcast also came from getting to do this thinking out loud with Marcelle.
HM: So that it felt like there was this fundamentally feminist practice of engaging with the texts together joyously, communally, emotionally – sometimes drunkenly –
HM: Furiously, weepingly, despairingly – you know, with all of this, just bringing our full selves into our readings, so that there was just, like, ample room for all of the love and all of the anger that these books brought out in us.
MK: Yeah, I would say that that is one hundred percent true for me too, even though I had read them – I had read the whole series a number of times before we did the podcast – I got so much more out of it reading it alongside somebody who… somebody with whom I could talk critically about the things and with whom I had a sort of shared vocabulary to pick apart the things that I felt complicated about. And somebody who didn’t require that I just, you know, love it unconditionally. Yeah, it was definitely the same experience for me too. And I would say that also having listeners of our podcast engage with us through Twitter about the books and about the movies has done similar work and has opened my eyes to things that I definitely wouldn’t have thought of before and helped me to see the books and the films and the whole world in really rich and much more nuanced and engaging ways.
KYD: Part of that shared language that you both have is, to a certain extent, an academic language, or you both have access to an academic language. So you will mention, like, Foucault multiple times in an episode along with crazy spells or whether Harry is an idiot or whether the casting of Lupin is accurate. Do you ever rework something with the knowledge that your audience is not necessarily an academic one? Or might not have access to the same shared vocabulary that you both have?
MK: I think, I’m not, I think we maybe – I know I’ve gotten lazier in this more recently. But I know at the beginning of the podcast, as soon as people started listening who weren’t just our friends, I feel like we put in effort into explaining things. So like, if we used every jargon-y term we would try to explain it. I can’t remember the last time I have done that, but when I think I’ve tried to do is talk about things still with a critical vocabulary but try to use – an expression that use with my students is using a one dollar word instead of a ten dollar word. So like, don’t use a ten dollar word when a one dollar one will do just fine. Yeah, I don’t know. What about you, Hannah?
HM: I think that – something that started to really come through in the way that we made the podcast – as we started to garner a listenership beyond our, like, immediate social community – was that both of us started to bring a lot of our teaching skill sets into it. So, you know, it’s this big part of being an academic is that not only do you have this vocabulary and this theoretical background, but that also you spend a lot of time in classrooms of people who don’t have those vocabularies yet, trying to explain those things. And I think a lot of the time that’s what we’re bringing into the podcast – Is that sort of, that teacher-ly approach to like, ‘Cool, okay, we really think that Foucault is going to help us understand Azkaban better, because like, that’s a real panopticon up in there. Let’s pause and explain to you what Foucault is, so that you can also participate in this conversation.’ You know, I think that’s the best – it’s the approach that I like to take to having academic conversations in not necessarily academic venues. Like, I think these vocabularies are useful. I think these ideas are useful. I think they help us think about, you know, books and movies in different ways, but we also need to do the work of like explaining where we’re coming from and why we’re using the words we are. Otherwise an academic vocabulary just becomes another way of shutting some people out of the conversation.
MK: Mmhm. Yeah. Yeah!
KYD: You’ve mentioned that you bring the world, and your experience of the world, to Harry Potter but in some ways you also bring Harry Potter as a way of looking at parts of the world itself. You’ve spoken on Harry Potter in relation to white nationalism.
KYD: So how did that come about that you went from using the world to read or interrogate Harry Potter to using part of Harry Potter as a way to read or explain parts of the world?
MK: This is Marcelle again. I have this very distinct memory of, I believe – I can’t remember which episode Hannah and I were recording – it was one of the books and we were sitting on my back porch and we were talking about – it was either the sixth or the seventh book – and I had this sudden realisation in the moment that the situation, the way in which muggles were being used as a metaphor, in the novels was a really useful way of understanding what was happening to Muslims right now. So I think – I could be, I might be misremembering – but I think that that for me was not necessarily a turning point, because I think for me and for a lot of literature scholars literature is always a way of understanding and making sense of the world. Like we are, I think Thomas King says this, we are story people, we are story creatures. And so, like, we tell stories to explain things that are otherwise unexplainable or to make sense of things that are otherwise incomprehensible. And so yeah, so that – we had sort of said – we sort of laughed that like we should have gone back and done the whole podcast over again but, instead of muggles being like a generic stand in for anything, looking at it from a specifically like –
HM: Post-9/11 reading, yeah.
MK: Exactly. Post-9/11, Islamaphobia is real, kind of reading.Yeah, so that was when I first – that’s how I remember first becoming engaged and interested in the particular salience of it now. And then, you know, the like very aggressive and un-ignoreable rise of white nationalism over the last year has made the way that Harry Potter teaches us about fascism seem much more urgent and much more important. So – and also I love speaking at, you know, comic expos and it seemed like a really great opportunity to talk to a big room full of people about Harry Potter, but also about anti-racism.
HM: Yeah, what I would add to that is that I think Harry Potter has a unique status in the world right now as being a shared text that a whole, like a book, a series of books that a whole generation of people have all read. There is no other book in the world that is as widely read as Harry Potter is and, you know, that kind of mass cultural phenomenon means that it becomes a shared vocabulary that we can use to have a lot of conversations. It becomes something we can think with.
HM: And it’s a good – it’s a good series of books for that because there’s a lot of good stuff in there to help us think about the world. We see fans using the house sorting system to think about their identities. We see people using Hogwarts to think about education, what it has meant to them. And it’s every bit as feasible for Harry Potter fans to use Voldemort as a way to think about the rise of white nationalism. It’s just another way of taking this shared story that we have to draw on and using it as a tool to sort of make sense of and navigate the world. Which is, like, what culture is for.
KYD: That was Marcelle and Hannah from Witch, Please, a funny, intelligent and all round wonderful podcast about the world of Harry Potter. Thank you to Melbourne Writers Festival for arranging these recordings.
It’s a reflective time of year and here at KYD we’re looking back what we saw, read, watched, played, listened to and generally enjoyed in 2017.
Dzenana Vucic: So my name is Dzenana. I am the most recent KYD intern, exiting last week, and I guess I things that I’d like to recommend is – I just finished Susan Sontag’s On Photography, which really gave me a new perspective on the way that I use Instagram and also travel photos. So I definitely recommend that just to sort of shake up your ideas about what you’re doing with your phone sometimes. And another one that I recently – actually two books and I’d really recommend, the first being The Life to Come by Michelle de Krester, which was absolutely extraordinary and a really…I’d say scathing, but lovingly scathing look at Australian culture. And the second one is Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, which was a series of short stories about Chinese-American immigrants living in New York, which was so utterly compelling that I raced through it. And while I was camping, one of my friends borrowed it and actually had to – I had to fight it off her, so – well, not fight, it was obviously not a physical fistfight, but definitely had to sneak it back. So I definitely recommend that one as well. But I think one of the things I really liked was how honest it was about, sort of, the awkwardness of girlhood sexuality. And it made – I was, you know, being a female and a young female is kinda awkward because there’s a lot of sexuality forced upon you and it handled it – and the awkwardness and the misunderstanding and the vague discomfort – with so much grace and so much honesty that it was honestly just one of the best things I’ve read in the last couple years, easily.
Freya Howarth: Hi, my name is Freya. I was an editorial intern at KYD this year. I also work at Readings, St Kilda as a bookseller and I have encountered a number of books that I really enjoyed this year, including At The Existentialist Cafe which is an excellent group biography of the existentialists and set against the background of the twentieth century’s many conflicts and the many conflicts that occur within the existentialist movement. And it’s really fascinating and it’s kind of gossipy and it’s packed full of great anecdotes about nuns trying to smuggle manuscripts and it’s really good and I would highly recommend that. I also really enjoyed Nadia Spiegelman’s book, I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This, which is a memoir about her life, her mother’s life, her grandmother’s life and her great grandmother’s life. And it’s kind of about the ways that family trauma is inherited but also the really complicated ways in which you can love someone but also kind of caused all this damage and the very different ways in which people remember the same moments and tell them very differently. And it was very moving, interesting book. And I’m actually not usually into biography and memoir, but I seem to have gravitated towards that this year.
Samantha Forge: So I’m Sam and I’m a contributing editor Kill Your Darlings – I write mostly about arts policy. And my number one book for 2017 was absolutely The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is just – It blew me away when I read it. It was so wonderful and so unique and different to anything else that I’d read in the past. It was a really unique perspective on the life of a teenage girl living in this place in America – kind of a sort of, I don’t want to say the ghetto, but like a sort of a really hard neighborhood – that, you know, you read so much about in the news, but Angie just really bought it to life in a way that I found so moving and so wonderful and I feel like everybody in the world should read this book before they judge anything to do with the things you read, you hear on the news about, you know, shootings or violence in these kinds of communities because you’re not hearing the whole story. And I felt for the first time reading this book that I really, I heard the whole story and it just brought me to tears but it was wonderful. And I also think that because it sort of centres the perspective of a teenage girl, which is not a perspective that we often see in popular culture, it’s particularly important that people see how these young women are moving through the world and how the world is affecting them. So I love it and everybody should read it. I don’t care how old you are or what your gender is. Go out there and buy a copy.
Alice Cottrell: Hi, my name is Alice. I’m the publication manager at KYD. My top recommendations for the year are, in nonfiction terms, I’d say We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a collection of essays that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote over the last eight years while he was staff writer at The Atlantic, largely covering African-American politics and Obama’s tenure as president and that’s interspersed with short pieces by Ta-Nehisi about where he was in his life when he was writing each of those pieces and a more kind of reflective angle on them because they’re written in a particular present, I guess. And my fiction pick of the year I think was published last year but is a novel called His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnet, who’s a Scottish writer who’s written an imagined history of his family lineage. So it’s set in I think the eighteen hundreds in a rural Scottish community. And it’s a murder mystery written in a really interesting structure of letters, documents, first-hand testimony, autopsies, et cetera and it just kind of gradually unravels this crime. Yeah, super intriguing, beautifully written, really atmospheric and loved it.
Alan Vaarwerk: I’m Alan, I’m the editor of KYD, and my recommendation would be – I’ve written about this a little bit, I’ve been talking about it for a while, it’s Clair Aman’s Bird Country. It’s a book of short stories published by Text. It’s – I’m a little bit biased because it’s set in the town that I grew up in, Grafton, and – but aside from that, it’s just a reallylovely collection of short stories about – yeah, just a really – slice of Australia and it’s just a really, really beautiful collection. It meant a lot to me as someone who grew up in that sort of town, but I think it’s going to mean a lot to a lot of people. So that’s my recommendation.
KYD: Thanks to the KYD team along with Marcelle Kosman, Hannah McGregor and Hera Lindsay Bird. You can find more of our 2017 recommendations on our website. And that’s all we have time for.
I’m Meaghan Dew and you’ve been listening to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. We’re taking a bit of a break now and we hope you’re doing the same, but we’ll be back next year with more interviews, readings, discussion and reviews. Until then, thank you for listening and supporting Kill Your Darlings this year. We really appreciate it. Happy holidays!