Most people know about archaeology thanks to TV documentaries, movies and video games. While mass media is a good channel to introduce complex topics to the general public, the ideas some people can have about archaeology are often detached from the real-life praxis.
Researchers nowadays don’t necessarily prioritize pompous ancient statues, ornamental objects, or riches. While some clusters of past objects made of expensive materials (such as gold, jewels, or gemstones) can be seen as treasures, the truth is that we want to use them to access information about people’s lives. We want to learn about their social organizations, their thoughts, their roles in past societies, and more. Archaeologists don’t search for past elements because our interests are the objects per se, archaeologists want to learn about their contexts, their association with other objects, and the materials used to make them in the hopes of inferring past behaviours.
Like many current storytelling devices like to remind us: sometimes, things are more complex than it seems.
So, let’s start with the basic issue: what is archaeology?
When I started my career, one of the first courses I took was Fundaments of Prehistory (Fundamentos de Prehistoria), and we learned first-hand that Renfew and Banh were the to-go authors for our first lectures. Renfrew and Bahn this, Renfew and Bahn that. They became our archaeological version of Lenny and Carl. Always in pairs, at first. With Renfrew and Bahn came some of my first specific definitions.
But we are going too fast. Archaeology is a subdiscipline of anthropology. So, what is anthropology?
Anthropology is the scientific discipline that studies human societies. The Encyclopedia Britannica calls it: ‘‘the science of humanity’’. And, as the term implies, it is diverse and complex as fuck. This is why it’s divided into different subdisciplines: biological anthropology, physical anthropology, palaeoanthropology, archaeology, social anthropology, linguistic anthropology, cultural anthropology and more… but the focus of this entry is archaeology.
Archaeology focuses on the remains of past human activities. But it’s not like all subdisciplines are strictly divided: their limits can be blurry, as all fields simply put their interests on different aspects of the same object of research: humanity.
Those who are interested in human evolution (hominization) can employ techniques and research strategies from biological anthropology, paleoarchaeology, bioarchaeology, animal ethology and environmental studies. This paragraph is important because interdisciplinarity is very important for scientific research: modern-day scientists not only use elements from other subdisciplines but also from different sciences: geology, history, geography, chemistry, biology and more.
I’ve met people in real life who liked to act as if archaeology was a different field, separated from all others. Nope, it’s not. It’s a sub-discipline of anthropology. We all seek to learn more about humanity, it’s just that our focus is on past events and actions. In college, I’ve also met history students (and a professor!) acting as if anthropology and archaeology were inferior to history just because they use written records. Nope, it’s not. History and anthropology have to complement each other if we truly want to advance. Not everything that is written is veridic, as much as not everything that is underground remains pristine and pure. Records can be changed and biased, human remains and objects can be put there with specific intentions, moved or changed following an agenda.
So, what do archaeologists do? We study past human behaviours. How do we do it? We study materials from past times. Renfrew and Bahn (2016) gave us four specific definitions that we use until today for exams, research papers and as colloquial terms between colleagues: artefacts, ecofacts, features and structures/buildings.
What are artefacts? ‘Artefact’ is the word we’d use to call an object. In Renfrew and Bahn’s words, an artefact is ‘‘Any portable object used, modified, or made by humans; e.g. stone tools, pottery, and metal weapons (chapter 3)’’. Now it gets harder, what could an ecofact be? The first syllables already spoil it: ecofacts, eco-, are related to nature. The authors define ecofacts as ‘‘Non-artifactual organic and environmental remains which have cultural relevance, e.g. faunal and floral material as well as soils and sediments. (Chapters 2 & 6)’’. Animal bones that weren’t intentionally touched by people, shells, eggs, pollen and the like, that’s what ecofacts are. Ecofacts give us clues about past human and animal behaviours, ancient environments and climates. Now, features. According to Renfrew and Bahn, a feature is ‘‘A non-portable artifact; e.g. hearths, architectural elements, or soil stains. (Chapter 3)’’. From features, we can learn about the distribution of elements and mundane activities in past people’s houses, for example. We can learn if there were fires, areas to dispose of trash or if some elements were re-used by new people. Finally, structures/buildings. Here, I use both terms because both can appear in different books, papers and essays. It all depends on what the researchers were working with: houses, temples, communal houses, workshops and the like. According to Renfrew & Bahn, structures are constructions. Archaeologists can work with construction remains to see how past people lived. Stereotypical examples are British campaigns in Egypt, Researchers from the USA working with Mesoamerican Temples and the like.
Naturally, all these terms are not mutually exclusive. You’d be surprised if I told you sometimes appear discussions on different papers among researchers defending that a building remain is just a feature, that some artefacts are just ecofacts. An (in)famous example is the polemic among different researchers concerning the first people in the Americas: the Monteverde site in Chile has evidence of very early human occupations, yet, some scientists state to this day that some architectonical remains are could just pass as features or ecofacts, the supposed aligned trunks that marked different divisions were placed there naturally, that potato remains just naturally grew there. Some revisions are good, as scientists like to revise past information in the light of new discoveries. Others are not.
Well, this is a good moment to say it:
Archaeology is not done without drama.
In fact, no scientific field is safe from it. And everybody who claims that scientific research is neutrally conducted and full of objectivity… well, they probably never witnessed a scientific congress, read papers or considered that we, people, are full of feelings, conscious (and unconscious) bias and motivations that precisely are what drives us to look for information. Some are good, others are bad. Researchers looking for preserving endangered languages around the world? Good. Scientists taking blood samples from Yanomamo indigenous people in Brazil without justifications nor proper information about why did they even want it in the first place? Bad. Fuck off.
Science is biased. That’s all. It’s a result of the times people lived in, with their ideas, knowledge and the beliefs’ past people had.
Naturally, it affected archaeology too. People always have had an interest in the past, to wonder about the origin of some things is unavoidable at some points. The first researchers had a lot of issues: the church, lack of proper working tools, a bias for pretty and valuable ‘treasures’ to the detriment of important contextual information and more. This is not the subject I’ll talk about in this entry, the complicated beginnings of archaeology deserve a blog post of its own.
So, what do archaeologists do nowadays? We are research. The Coronavirus pandemic didn’t make things easy. Some were lucky enough to keep working on their areas because these were away from towns, others because their research projects were located close to the places where they lived. I, for example, started to experiment with QGis, a software originally developed by and for geographers that can truly aid researchers from other disciplines. I did different visualization analyses to have a grasp of how the area my team researches could have been perceived by past inhabitants and travellers.
However, field trips are just a small portion of the archaeological work. Those fancy adventurous journeys we see in Tomb Raider are just a tiny part of the job. And no, there are not ancient curses nor aliens. Archaeologists can work on a place because the local government or neighbourhood association requested their help, because some gas or oil company was conducting explorations and found ancient remains, because the place is under the care of a university or because indigenous people themselves asked for help.
Most of the scientific work is conducted in laboratories. The majority, in fact. The materials extracted are cleaned, processed and stored. Researchers study them with different techniques and materials, depending on what they are interested in learning about. Studying the archaeological material takes most of the time. The other activities are… well, bureaucracy. Lots of it. Permissions, budgets, formularies, papers here, papers there. The image people have is that of a cisgender white researcher (preferably male) dressed in khaki colours, with a fancy hat on their heads. Nope, not at all. Thought, the hat part is true. The sun is very nasty on some parts. You don’t want to end up with bad sunburn or in the hospital.
So, what can we recall about archaeology? Fieldwork is important, but that’s just a small part of the experience. A short one, because most of the work is conducted in laboratories and research institutes. And fieldwork is not a mystical experience about connecting with nature: sometimes, you can’t shower, your colleagues are nasty and is very easy to feel isolated. At the laboratories and other places, you’ll have to deal with competitions, demanding bosses, insufficient equipment and a BIG LOAD of bureaucracy. If we do this, is because we enjoy it. But don’t glamorize it, please. Alcoholism, depression and other mental health issues are big problems within this type of work.
We are not Lara Croft nor Indiana Jones. There are lots of ethical and legal problems in archaeology, too. The relationships between archaeology and indigenous communities are not the best…
Unlike Europe (and even then, it can be discussed, if we consider indigenous populations from the northern part of the continent), the authors of the artefacts, structures, ecofacts and features we work with have descendants. And those descendants, after years of colonialism, discrimination, racism and mistreatment have all the rights to complain and claim the archaeological material we work with. Because some of that archaeological material involves the bodies of important historical figures for them, relatives and the like. You wouldn’t want your grandmother’s corpse opened, studied and exposed in a museum without the permission of your family, would you? Biological anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, bioarchaeology and the like are disciplines that carry ugly historical moments. In my country, Argentina, we have the infamous case of the remains from the Cacique Inakayal, ‘saved’ from imprisonment after the Conquest of the Dessert (read: the military advancing over lots of indigenous peoples’ lands and massacring them), moved to La Plata Museum with his family and then having his body at the museum. It wouldn’t be until 1994 when, after years of insistence from aboriginal communities in Chubut province, the Inakayal’s remains were returned. Here is a very interesting blog post that will introduce you to the history and situations of indigenous peoples from Patagonia.
Nowadays, archaeologists can help indigenous communities as mediators, using the information recovered to aid them on their claims over their ancestral territories, providing them with educational tools or introducing them to fieldwork and the management of their cultural patrimony. Anthropology still carries a huge debt towards native populations in the world.
Archaeology, in fact, it’s not done in a single way. There are ‘alternative archaeologies', like the archaeologist, Ian Hodder calls them. Most of these were born out of a lack of satisfaction with the way the scientific works were conducted before. Indigenous archaeology is one, but there are also feminist and queer archaeologies.
Feminist archaeology comes from a critical perspective concerning the situation of women in modern societies: the fact most researchers are biased to consider that the sexual division of work is similar to the one attested in western societies, when in fact, not all societies division of activities that follow the ‘hunting for men, gathering for women’ pattern, with women inferior to aggressive and dominant men.
Hodder takes from them the claim that there are no universal cultural characteristics, and variation has to be considered: we can see it researching funerary remains, the nutrition on skeletons and artistic representation; there are power negotiations and women can have active roles in society. In fact, I remember a couple of years ago, when there was a big deal after the discovery of a hunter girl in Peru. Why was this a big deal? Because after the researchers started checking other resources, they ended up finding many records of female bodies buried with big-game hunting tools. It was about time to accept it.
Another type of alternative archaeology is queer archaeology. According to the Queer Archaeology website:
A queer archaeology foregrounds how identity in the present shapes our understanding of identity in the past. It challenges taken for granted assumptions, questioning all aspects of archaeological method, theory and practice. A queer archaeology can be a radical and transformative practice. A queer archaeology is both founded in and owes a debt to feminist and radical archaeologies.
Queer archaeology seeks to question heteronormativity in archaeological practice. The binary notions of gender and sexual orientations are an inheritance of Western traditional conceptions. Projecting these ideas on the archaeological record is just… a big no-no. Especially for material remains that don’t have European origins, a.k.a, the rest of the world.
It also works for researchers: some of us are not exactly heterosexuals. Others don’t conform with ‘traditional’ gender ideas.
I remember a rather famous case that became viral on Tumblr. It was the case of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep. This comic illustrates the situation pretty well: two male mummies buried together, with inscriptions portraying them as a traditional couple of Ancient Egypt. The first researchers stated Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep weren’t lovers, despite the obvious implications in the art surrounding them… And this was a single example. There are more out there.
Now, this entry has gotten rather long. I like the idea of writing an extended publication, especially because December got particularly mean to me and I didn’t get to publish any blog entries. And let me tell you, there is another coming soon ;)
So, what do archaeologists do? A lot of shit. We travel, we fill formularies, we drink (that’s not a good thing), we quarrel and we learn. We want to learn more about humanity, and we focus on past times. How did things come to be? Where and how did certain traditions start? Why did some things happen?
But we also do this work while being influenced by our modern world and particular contexts. And, man, it’s not easy to live through these times. Coronavirus, climatic change, the rising of right-wings, economic crises and more. However, the critics and reflections we have about our lives influence our work and conceptions about it. And science advances, too. Now it’s hard to not look at past researches and reexamine them under the light of new discoveries. We question how science was done in the past. We criticize our work environments. We want to change things and avoid repeating mistakes. We change, too. But some of our inquiries, don’t.
Because we still want to learn more about humanity and its past. And about how things came to be and about how did some practices start. It’s just that we do it considering the issues of modern societies and how they influence us (and how we influence them).
Change is brought about by small steps. Archaeologists do a lot of things, and even if a little, we contribute to the change, too.
Cool post about the four main categories of archaeological phenomena, written by Mwalimu Makoba kwa Njia on Blogspot.
Hodder, I. 1988. Interpretación en Arqueología. Editorial Crítica. Cap 8.
Indigenous tribe's blood returned to Brazil after decades. BBC News, 3 April 2015.
Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice (2016).
Here you can check the glossary: https://wwnorton.com/college/archaeology/archaeology7/glossary.aspxJan. 12, 2022, 11:40 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
Warning: this post has spoilers
The Witcher is the Netflix tv show that came out in December of 2019. It became a huge success, and it's what personally made me gain interest in the books. Some people knew about it beforehand because of the videogames, and some other fans were avid readers of the books. Before we all advance, I'd like to repeat the warning above: this post will contain spoilers of the books.
The Witcher we all know and love started as a series of short stories written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, published in different fantasy magazines during the '80s and later recompiled in two books: The Last Wish (1993) and Sword of Destiny (1992). English translations wouldn't appear until much later.
So, why am I writing this blog entry? Because something I loved from reading the books was how the author consistently insisted on a woman's right to choose concerning the subject of motherhood. No one would have expected that in a fantasy series about a grim man who kills monsters, right?
But the theme is repeatedly touched upon in the books. And in the end, motherhood is a very important theme for the plot towards the end of the saga and Cirilla's life. In this blog entry, I'll talk about how Andrzej Sapkowski consistently makes clear that a woman's choice concerning her body and reproductive rights is her own business, and no one else's.
So, let's start with an excerpt from the short story 'A Little Sacrifice' from The Sword of Destiny:
‘Dammit, is only the Trial of the Grasses hazardous? Do only potential witchers take risks? Life is full of hazards, selection also occurs in life, Geralt. Misfortune, sicknesses and wars also select. Defying destiny may be just as hazardous as succumbing to it. Geralt… I would give you the child. But… I’m afraid, too.’
‘I wouldn’t take the child. I couldn’t assume the responsibility. I wouldn’t agree to burden you with it. I wouldn’t want the child to tell you one day… As I’m telling you—’
‘Do you hate that woman, Geralt?’
‘My mother? No, Calanthe. I presume she had a choice… Or perhaps she didn’t? No, but she did; a suitable spell or elixir would have been sufficient… A choice. A choice which should be respected, for it is the holy and irrefutable right of every woman. Emotions are unimportant here. She had the irrefutable right to her decision and she took it. But I think that an encounter with her, the face she would make then… Would give me something of a perverse pleasure, if you know what I mean.’
‘I know perfectly well what you mean,’ she smiled. ‘But you have slim chances of enjoying such a pleasure. I cannot judge your age, Witcher, but I suppose you’re much, much older than your appearance would indicate. So, that woman—’
‘That woman,’ he interrupted coldly, ‘probably looks much, much younger than I do now.’
‘Yes.’ ‘Interesting. I thought sorceresses couldn’t…?’
‘She probably thought so too.’ ‘
Yes. But you’re right, let’s not discuss a woman’s right to this decision, because it is a matter beyond debate. Let us return to our problem. You will not take the child? Definitely?’
This excerpt comes from the moment in which Geralt is tricked by Calanthe by showing him a double for the original Cirilla. Geralt understands he was tricked and goes on to have a conversation with Calanthe; the scene was played very differently in the series, where the adaptation had him imprisoned and skipped this discussion.
Geralt is perfectly capable of separating his own resentment towards Visenya (his mother) from all women's right to choose. He says it himself:
''A choice which should be respected, for it is the holy and irrefutable right of every woman.''
Some media doesn't touch the subject even to this day, and yet, you have Sapkowski openly saying women should choose whether to advance with a pregnancy or not, that's their decision only. For a series of stories written between the end of the '80s and the beginnings of the '90s, the author was way ahead of his times.
Geralt's adventures go forward in the books and our witcher finds himself surrounded by a group of companions, his own hansa. As with many works before and after, Geralt's hansa is composed of a ragtag bunch of misfits, a trope listed in TV Tropes used to name a group of designated heroes who aren't exactly your Lawful Good characters, but, as the name states, a group of weirdos assembled together with the task of saving the world.
Geralt's hansa is formed by Jaskier/Dandelion, our favorite flamboyant bard; Milva, an orphan girl raised by the Dryads of Brokylon; Cahir, a Nilfgaardian soldier boy who is way more understanding than he lets on; Raegis, the Brain of the group, and one of my favourite characters despite his moments of assholery; and our very tsundere witcher.
A moment of drama comes when the characters discover (during different moments of the trip) Milva was pregnant and hiding her condition. In a wartorn land, no one is sure about what to do. And Raegis (who behaved in a way I didn't like at all) keeps pushing for the group to make a decision about what to do. And this very interesting dialogue occurs:
‘We understand,’ Dandelion said finally. ‘We have a problem, gentlemen, husbands and fathers.’
‘More than you think,’ said the vampire. ‘Or less. Everything depends on your point of view.’
‘I don’t understand.’ ‘Well, you should,’ murmured Cahir. ‘She demanded,’ Regis said, ‘that I prepare her a strong and effective… medication. She considers this to be the remedy to her problem. She is determined.’
‘Did you give it to her?’ Regis smiled. ‘Without the agreement of the other fathers?’
‘The medicine that she is asking for,’ Cahir said quietly, ‘is not a miracle cure. I have three sisters; I know what I’m talking about. She seems to think that she will drink the decoction and the next day will continue to ride with us on our journey. This is not so. It will be at least ten days before she can even dream about sitting on a horse. Before you give her the medicine, Regis, you have to tell her. And you can only give her the medicine when we can find her a bed. A clean bed.’
‘I understand,’ Regis nodded. ‘One vote in favour. And you, Geralt?’
‘What about me?’
‘My lords,’ the vampire fixed them with his dark eyes. ‘Do not pretend you do not understand.’
‘In Nilfgaard,’ Cahir said, blushing and lowering his head, ‘such matters are determined solely by the woman. Nobody has the right to influence her decision. Regis said that Milva is determined to take the… medicine. Therefore I think of this fact as accomplished. And the consequences of this fact. But I am a foreigner and not familiar with… I should not have spoken at all. Forgive me.’
‘For what?’ the troubadour said with surprise. ‘Do you think of us as savages, Nilfgaardian? As primitive tribes, adhering to shamanic taboo? It is obvious that only a woman could make such a decision, it is their inherent right! If Milva decides to…’
‘Shut up, Dandelion,’ the Witcher growled. ‘Be so kind as to shut up.’
‘Do you believe otherwise?’ the poet raised his voice. ‘Would you forbid…’
‘Shut up, damn it, because I will not vouch for myself! Regis, I get the feeling you are conducting a poll between us, why? You’re the doctor. The measure which she asks for... Yes, measure because I don’t think the term medicine is suitable here... Only you can prepare the measure and give it to her. And you will do so when asked again. Do not refuse.’
‘The measure has already been prepared,’ Regis held up a small bottle of dark glass. ‘If she asks again, I will not refuse. If she asks again.’
‘So what is this? About our unanimity? The universal consent? What are you waiting for?’
This excerpt has a lot of ideas going on. We learn about Cahir's hidden depths. Dandelion/Jaskier has issues catching on the topic, but once he does, we surprisingly see he can be understanding too. Geralt just wants Raegis to go on with Milva's request, despite Raegis' insistence on not solving the topic. Because Raegis knows what is going on with Milva, he just needs someone to kick some sense back into her.
But then, they are in the worst of situations. In the middle of searching for a lost princess, during Nilfgaard's imperialist invasion, refugees looking for safety, surprise attacks, ambushes here and there. The danger is everywhere.
But we learn Jaskier/Dandelion is not just a cynical bard, Cahir is sensitive to women's issues and we surprisingly learn a bit of Nilfgaard culture, only seen as the creepy Empire beforehand. They get that a woman can AND has to choose for herself.
Later, Raegis gets Geralt to talk with Milva. We learn of the ugly conditions during which she got pregnant: having grief sex with an elf after Milva's team got ambushed and they were among the few survivors. Add that to the lack of sexual education that comes from living in spurious conditions during medieval-esque times and the violence Milva had to live with at her house.
Long story short: Geralt learns Milva joined his expedition because she wasn't sure about the pregnancy but it was too advanced by the time the plot catches onto them. And she joined the team because she thought of saving Ciri as a way to compensate for the abortion of her baby and just... Geralt couldn't know about it. And the choice was a matter of Milva's choice.
Geralt understands he can't force Milva to abort it for the sake of the mission. And he also understands he can't force her to have it.
So, there is this dialogue:
‘That is why you came with me,’ he said raising his head. ‘For this reason.’
She bowered her head.
‘That’s why you came with me,’ he repeated. ‘You wanted to help save someone else’s child. You wanted to pay. To pay off a debt and you were determined to do it at the time, when we left… Someone else’s child for you own. And I promised to help when you needed it. Milva, I cannot help you. Believe me, I cannot.’
This time she was silent. He no longer felt that he could be silent.
‘Then, in Brokilon, I contracted a debt with you and I promised you I would pay. It was not reasonable. I was a fool. You offered me help when I needed urgent help. There is no way to pay that debt. You cannot put a price on something priceless. Some say that absolutely everything in the world has its price. It is not true. Some things are priceless, and you cannot pay. There is an easy way to recognize those things because once lost, they are lost forever. I have lost many of those things. So today I cannot help you.’
‘You just did,’ she said calmly. ‘You do not know how much. Now go, please. Leave me alone. Go away, witcher. Go away, before you shatter my world completely.’
Milva slowly has to understand she can't put Geralt into her issues. No one had a way to know about Milva's hidden pregnancy, except for Raegis and Cahir who caught up on what was going on with Milva before Geralt and Dandelion/Jaskier did. If the show ever adapts this moment (and I believe they will, it's integral for Milva's character development and to slowly deconstruct Cahir's inscrutable military persona), I really hope they can convey the complexity of the situation, because I can foresee the polemics online and the fighting on Tumblr. Milva lacked the necessary tools to make a proper decision, she lives in a conflictive land and has to manage with what is thrown at her. Emotional turmoil, a lack of contention, and both internalized and externalized misogyny, the smurfette principle: Milva's character deserves an analysis of its own. But that may be a subject to another post.
In 2013, Andrzej Sapkowski released another book of the saga: Season of Storms, which was published in 2018 for English-speaking countries. Geralt travels to a new land and meets a sorceress who has a verbal exchange with the king of the land she works at. And they give us this gem:
Coral raised a hand and ostentatiously examined her fingernails. It was meant to signal that she couldn’t give a shit about Belohun’s proviso. The king didn’t decode the signal. Or if he did he concealed it skilfully.
“It has reached our ears,” he puffed angrily, “that the Honourable Madam Neyd makes magical concoctions available to womenfolk who don’t want children. And helps those who are already pregnant to abort the foetus. We, here in Kerack, consider such a practice immoral.”
“What a woman has a natural right to,” replied Coral, dryly, “cannot—ipso facto—be immoral.”
“A woman—” the king straightened up his skinny frame on the throne “—has the right to expect only two gifts from a man: a child in the summer and thin bast slippers in the winter. Both the former and the latter gifts are intended to keep the woman at home, since the home is the proper place for a woman—ascribed to her by nature. A woman with a swollen belly and offspring clinging to her frock will not stray from the home and no foolish ideas will occur to her, which guarantees her man peace of mind. A man with peace of mind can labour hard for the purpose of increasing the wealth and prosperity of his king. Neither do any foolish ideas occur to a man confident of his marriage while toiling by the sweat of his brow and with his nose to the grindstone. But if someone tells a woman she can have a child when she wants and when she doesn’t she mustn’t, and when to cap it all someone offers a method and passes her a physick, then, Honourable Lady, then the social order begins to totter.”
“That’s right,” interjected Prince Xander, who had been waiting for some time for a chance to interject. “Precisely!”
“A woman who is averse to motherhood,” continued Belohun, “a woman whose belly, the cradle and a host of brats don’t imprison her in the homestead, soon yields to carnal urges. The matter is, indeed, obvious and inevitable. Then a man loses his inner calm and balanced state of mind, something suddenly goes out of kilter and stinks in his former harmony, nay, it turns out that there is no harmony or order. In particular, there is none of the order that justifies the daily grind. And the truth is I appropriate the results of that hard work. And from such thoughts it’s but a single step to upheaval. To sedition, rebellion, revolt. Do you see, Neyd? Whoever gives womenfolk contraceptive agents or enables pregnancies to be terminated undermines the social order and incites riots and rebellion.”
“That is so,” interjected Xander. “Absolutely!”
Lytta didn’t care about Belohun’s outer trappings of authority and imperiousness. She knew perfectly well that as a sorceress she was immune and that all the king could do was talk. However, she refrained from bluntly bringing to his attention that things had been out of kilter and stinking in his kingdom for ages, that there was next to no order in it, and that the only “Harmony” known to his subjects was a harlot of the same name at the portside brothel. And mixing up in it women and motherhood—or aversion to motherhood—was evidence not only of misogyny, but also imbecility.
This moment was savage. Years later, Sapkowski still keeps the same ideas and gives them depth. The association of the idea of motherhood and feminity, the way it's used to control the population -but women in specific-, the way the whole exchange reeks of misogyny. Coral's patience is tested and she reacts in a predictable tired way. I know Coral's actions are morally ambiguous in the book, but we can't deny she has a firm stance concerning the topic of motherhood. And it has to be wanted.
Sapkowski writes about diverse women: evil women, nuanced women, good women, and weak women. We can't deny he writes about strong-willed women. And despite all the drama, he keeps on with a general idea:
The choice of continuing with a pregnancy or not it's up to the woman in question.
No one's else.
Andrzej Sapkowski, written and published by Culture.Pl Available on: https://culture.pl/en/artist/andrzej-sapkowski
Creator: Andrzej Sapkowski. Tv Tropes. Available on: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Creator/AndrzejSapkowski
Franchise / The Witcher. Tv Tropes. Available on: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Franchise/TheWitcher
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. Tv Tropes. Available on: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RagtagBunchOfMisfits
Sword of Destiny (2015), by Andrzej Sapkowski. You can buy it here.
Baptism of Fire (2014), by Andrzej Sapkowski. You can buy it here.
Season of Storms, (2018) by Andrzej Sapkowski. You can buy it here.
Nov. 28, 2021, 8:27 p.m.
Plastic Hearts is a Miley Cyrus album released in November of last year. It has strong influences from the '80s and '90s music: pop, ballad, hard rock, folk, and more. Miley's deep, raspy voice together gives it a unique flavor, and, while I am not a music expert myself, I find definitely matches the rock-inspired melodies.
The songs are profound, with lyrics about independence, self-love but also about acknowledging our flaws, and proudly waving them. It was a huge surprise for me (the truth is the epiphany came this year thanks to a friend's suggestion) because I liked all the songs. I don't know if it was the type of album I wanted but it was what I needed to hear without being fully aware of it.
Last year was bad due to many public and private reasons. And, while I am terribly sure Taylor Swift's Folklore and Evermore twin albums are the informal soundtracks of life under the Coronavirus pandemic, Plastic Hearts became a huge balance towards the melancholy and introspection of Folklore and Evermore. Plastic Hearts is about letting the past behind and taking strength to move forward.
Folklore & Evermore are us with our internal thoughts. Plastic Hearts is that energetic person in your life who suddenly comes, slaps your head, tells you to stop suffering, and to leave your house. I really hope everybody can have someone like that in their lives.
So, this post is about the influences and references in this album. Some are things I noticed while listening to it, others are about the previous musical works and artists to whom Miley and her team paid homage in this album.
1) Edge of Seventeen
Edge of Seventeen came out in the year 1982 and was inspired by many events.
According to an interview, Stevie Nicks explained the name of the song came from a conversation she had with Jane Benyo, the first wife of Tom Petty: the pair first met when they were seventeen years old; Jane was from the south of the USA and her accent made the word 'age' sound like 'edge'. Stevie Nicks liked the phonetic sound of the phrase 'Edge of Seventeen', took inspiration from it, and used the phrase for the song.
The other events that inspired the lyrics were the deads of her uncle Jonathan and Jonh Lennon... in the same week.
During those years, Jimmy Levine was Stevie's lover and a very close friend of John. His murder left Jimmy devastated and Stevie found herself struggling to console him in his grief because she also had to travel to visit her favorite uncle, Johnatan, in the hospital. The man was in the last phases of his fight against cancer and passed away in the company of his son and Stevie.
The rest is history.
The song 'High' has these interesting lyrics:
And you, like a rolling stone
Always building cities on the hearts that you broke
The expression 'rolling stone' is very well known in the world in the history of Blues, Rock, and Folk music because many artists have used it.
The first thing that came to my mind was The Rolling Stones band, one of the most famous Rock'n'Roll bands in the world. But upon further research, more interesting information appeared.
According to The Current, The Rolling Stones were inspired by Muddy Water's album to name the band. We all should remember that one of the biggest influences and inspirations behind the birth of Brit-rock was the Afro Blues in the USA. Meanwhile, between the appearance of The Rolling Stones and Muddy Water's music (whose first single was called 'Rollin' Stone') Bob Dylan released the song 'Like a Rolling Stone' in 1968.
The expression rollin' stone left a deep imprint in music history. According to Cambridge Dictionary, it comes from the popular proverb: ''A rollin' stone gathers no moss'', used to talk about people who always travel and change jobs so they lack responsibilities but also ties to people and places.
The song 'Zombie' was inspired by The Troubles/Na Trioblóidí, an ethnic-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted until the year 1998 (By the way, Netflix series' Derry Girls shows an empathetic portrayal of those years).
On March 20th of the year 1993, the IRA (Provisional Irish Republican Army) put a bomb in the town of Warrington, England. It killed two children: Tim Parry, aged 12 years old, and Johnatan Ball, aged 3.
Dolores O'Riordan, The Cranberries' vocalist (who passed on 2018) expresses grief and anger in her song. 'Zombie' is a protest song against war and violence that doesn't lose relevance these years... considering what is happening in the Near East.
4) California Dreaming
Now, the song 'Plastic Hearts' has these lyrics in the chorus:
I've been California dreamin'
Plastic hearts are bleedin'
'Carlifornia dreamin' is a shot-out to the album (and homonymous single) of The Mama's and The Papa's. It was one of the most influential songs of the '60s and it talks about the nostalgia Michelle Phillips (a member of the band) felt while she lived in New York's winter, since she missed California.
I think Miley mentioning the name of the song in the chorus is a beautiful homage to them, especially considering both songs don't deal with exactly happy themes.
5) Hearts of Glass
Miley Cyrus also did a cover of the song 'Heart of Glass' from the band Blondie. It's one of the first songs written by the band, in an interview Debbie Harry talks about how the band couldn't decide on a genre: they tried it as a ballad, and a reggae song until and experimented with synthesizers and came to the result was all know and love nowadays.
In conclusion, Plastic Hearts is an album that draws influence from many genres and artists with different backgrounds. I feel Miley has the potential to do what few pop artists could: to fully shift towards Rock'n'Roll. Her voice allows it, so I hope the best for her. With the passing of so many rock legends, a new voice would be refreshing.
A note: For this article, I tried adding links for the official artists' works so everybody can get a chance to visit them. I don't own the picture used and especially encourage people to explore more of Muddy Waters' work (X XX XXX).
Edit (October 10th): I decided to post all my sources with titles and links inside.
Edit (January 11st): Made a few stylistic changes here and there.Jan. 11, 2022, 6:22 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
We are the generation that grew up watching shows such as Digimon, Inuyasha and The Vision of Escaflowne. There is something attractive about works that involve journeys to other worlds with fantastical settings and exciting adventures. Let’s say, you have your normal fantastical plot: a common person falls into another world. There, they may develop or discover the possession of magical powers, live lots of magical occurrences and even may end up finding love! Magic Knight Rayearth, SAO and Zero no Tsukaima come to my mind, among others.
What’s so interesting about this type of fictional works? We receive the chance to explore themes of our interest, fulfil personal fantasies and escape from our common lives (the real world is already complicated on its own). This article shows how Escapism has its value.
There is a very interesting paradigm going on on Asiatic media concerning travels to other worlds. In fact, according to TV Tropes, this type of fictional work is called Isekai in Japanese media and it’s treated as a genre of its own. And yet, nowadays I find a very interesting twist in this type of media, a twist that makes things very entertaining.
The names of the works I’m talking about sound cliché and melodramatic: ‘My Next Live as a Villainess’, ‘Death is the Only Ending for the Villainess’, ‘The Villainess Lives Twice’, ‘The Villainess reverses the hourglass’. Others are more indirect, such as ‘The Abandoned Empress’ and ‘Your Throne’. Most are told from the point of view of females who have a traditional antagonist role.
I’ve always enjoyed ironic consumption, and these titles worked as magnets to me. What I ended up finding was a refreshing surprise: common women who fell into fantastical worlds made from the plots of novels and games they consumed in their free time, or more traditional ‘villainesses’ who travelled back in time to fix what was wrong in their first lives. In the first case, we would see normal girls who found themselves inside the bodies of ‘villainous’ characters and desperately trying to avoid their bad endings by the use of their knowledge of the plots while commenting on clichés and traditional tropes. In the second case, we see female characters who more or less identify with their ‘villainous’ role and try to change their bad outcomes while learning about themselves and what drove them to make their bad choices.
What do these types of works have in common? They are genre deconstructions. According to TV Tropes, deconstructions happen when a fictional work takes its elements apart and shows how certain elements would work in real life, by contrasting them to ‘real situations’ or parodying them. Sarcastic main characters help, too.
There is a very interesting trend among Asian Media (mainly works made by Korean authors, but there are Japanese too) concerning the deconstruction of traditional stories directed to the female public.
Why is this expression of the isekai genre so interesting?
First, because most stories deal with settings of historical fantasy, where we can indulge ourselves with beautiful Period dresses, gorgeous mansions and attractive love interests. One can’t help but remember the works of Jane Austen or the Brontë Sisters.
Second, because the twists of these works feel refreshing. We consider other points of view. We see why villains become what they become. We get to learn new plot points. Deconstructions give an interesting dose of realism and pragmatism to stories. They are refreshing because they give new angles to an old genre and we can identify with the situations.
But let’s not forget: the focus of this essay is villainesses. We get to see the story from the point of view of female characters who don’t portray themselves as good people and some even feel content with their roles.
Raised in a world where women receive lots of double standards, being pressured from young ages to be proper and good and yet receiving worse punishments than guys for doing the same things like them as a result of unrealistic expectations, along with some unhealthy extremes of social justice culture, where we are oddly pressured to change ourselves and learn from our mistakes yet we are not allowed to fully grow from them, it isn’t hard to identify with villainesses. After all, it is unavoidable to find ourselves as the villains of someone else’s life events. We are not perfect people and we fuck up sometimes. Especially when we are young.
So, why are villainesses so interesting? Because they fuck up, too. These characters don’t try to be saintly good girls and they acknowledge their situations. There is an interesting dose of cynicism underlying these works, in some, it’s more open than in others, such as ‘Your Throne’. Some female leads are noble demons who try to not drag third parties into their schemes, like Medea Belial in the work I previously mentioned. Others define themselves as villainess yet behave as anti-heroines are their worst, such as Aria Roscente in ‘The Villaines Reverses the Hourglass’. And others are heroes who still place themselves in the roles of villains, like Catarina Claes in ‘My Next Life as a Villainess!’’.
What do these three have in common? The leads also have internalized in themselves some moral standards about good and evil.
I don’t think it is surprising to find these types of works during the current fourth wave of Feminism we are living in. Terms such as internalized misogyny, double standards and deconstruction are concepts I learned these past years thanks to social media. So, why do I believe these types of Isekai novels that focus on villainesses are so relevant? Because we see other females’ points of view, we understand their positions and sometimes get to see that the true villains are other characters. Most of the villainesses of these works are, in fact, women with terrible social reputations who behave as anti-heroines at their worst.
There is a reason why the social settings of these stories are during past times. The authors of these works are deconstructing tropes from both old and new media. They are giving voices to Other Characters and show them in a realistic light, they write about flawed women who try to survive in a world full of unrealistic expectations, and that is true for both past and actual times.
It isn't hard for me to recall works such as Northanger Abbey or Jane Eyre. There are reasons why Period novels are still relevant these days, but that it’s not the topic I want to address in this essay. Here is this interesting article that analyses the success of Jane Austen works, while this note from the Guardian does the same for the Brontë sisters. Of course, experts and critics would get annoyed at me for putting Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters on the same page, but please, bear with me: I’m talking about fictional works that deal with abuse, machismo, dysfunctional families and difficult childhoods, subjects still relevant to today. So, what’s so interesting about recalling these themes? It’s the way some Asian authors knew how to retake these stories, added some fantastical elements and still deconstructed others, providing us with a refreshing result.
Most of the isekai works I mentioned above are told from the point of view of young girls who are isolated for their social positions because they come from other worlds and know that their ‘new bodies’ are doomed to die and more.
Imagine being reincarnated as the pretty daughter of a noble family and yet... you find yourself hated and isolated from others, in a situation you cannot control. And you can be murdered in cold blood if you don’t make the right choices. These works make it very clear some situations are ugly and dangerous. They are not painted in a romantic light. And the main characters acknowledge it.
Naturally, there are aspects we could criticize of these works. For example, the main leads usually are white thin ladies in gorgeous period dresses, who despite their issues still benefit from privileged backgrounds. And few of these works address LGTBQ+ representation, as most of the endgames are attractive male leads.
But then, this is not about pitting people against each other. It’s about acknowledging a new paradigm in story-telling, one that subverts and parodies plots.
Change is brought over by small steps. And I think we are going on a good path.
Even if Getinkspired allows you to post a blog, the menu asked of me to choose a genre and... the most similar thing I found was the section of life memories? So, sorry if you clicked this searching for some fictional work.
- A Brief Note on the Value ofEscapism - July, 2014. By NICOLA @ THOUGHTS ON FANTASY Link: https://thoughtsonfantasy.com/2014/07/14/a-brief-note-on-the-value-of-escapism/
- Trapped in Another World - TV Tropes. Link: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TrappedInAnotherWorld
- Deconstruction - TV Tropes. Link: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Deconstruction
- What Makes Jane Austen Relevant to Modern Society? A Closer Look at the Adaptations of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. By Hannah Kingsley. Link: https://www.digitalausten.org/node/50
Why those subversive Brontë sisters still hypnotise us - By: Sarah Hughes. The Observer, Sun 27 Mar 2016 00.05 GMT . Link: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/27/bronte-sisters-enduring-love-affairJuly 16, 2021, 9:45 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0