Arriving at Another Language

A lot is made of what we say at the moment. We are made to choose our words very carefully. Saying the wrong thing can get you pilloried, abused, shamed or even fired in this day and age due to the immediate and vociferous reaction by online mobs who are only too happy and quick to reach for the torch and pitchfork. Both the left and right appear to have their demands on how sacrosanct language is and how it should be deployed and used; the Nu-Right delight in using inappropriate language, pleased when they offend by using racist or sexist slurs, complaining of political correctness gone mad, whilst the Left angrily demand all discourse be pulped through the fine mesh screening filter of tolerance and inclusion. Ironically the roles of both have reversed, the typically free and liberal Left demand control and censorious guidelines for discourse and the traditionally control loving Right dislike the control imposed upon their vocabulary. Some more sensible people would argue that the best method lies somewhere in the middle, that one side shouldn’t be so quick to clutch their pearls and the other should not so deliberately try and goad and insult. The trouble is the whole debate isn’t as cut and dried as this. Ironically both sides are guilty of the others sins yet are seemingly unable to recognise the deficiencies in their argument. Language (whether it be English, Spanish, Cantonese, Flemish or any language) is a strange and capricious beast that has been variously described, mainly in science fiction, as living creature, totem and even a virus. For a better understanding of how language can affect us on a fundamental level there is a modern treatise for just this topic in the recent film ‘Arrival’.

*Spoilers for Arrival ahead*

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the short story ‘The Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang, ‘Arrival’ is ostensibly a science fiction film about invading Aliens. This is far from true it turns out when the Aliens try to communicate with us and by learning their language the lead protagonist discovers it has altered her perception of time. Events of her future appear as memories and events of her past appear as current. Whilst the film itself deals with determinism (an interesting source of intense debate in the field of physics as the Uncertainty Principle comes under closer and closer scrutiny thanks to developments at CERN) it is a profound indicator of how language, on a fundamental level, changes a person’s perception. A study by Georgetown University in America discovered that learning two languages and developing an increased vocabulary increased the Grey Matter in the brain but the European Commission published a study in 2012 that showed people fluent in more than one language suffered from poorer verbal skills because they carry two or more languages with them every time they speak thus creating difficulties whereby they use fewer words day to day and have more frequent tip-of-the-tongue moments as the brain tries to compute a vast library of sounds, this means being bilingual effects your speech on a lexical level but also a syntactic one. Therefore while being bilingual does effect your brain development, increasing the efficiency of the brain’s executive control system that looks after high-level thought, multi-tasking, and sustained attention, and the increase in grey matter, no study exists that shows links between bilingualism and executive intelligence, emotional intelligence and intelligence quotient, i.e. being bilingual doesn’t actually make you smarter (despite what a typically histrionic and poorly researched article by the Daily Mail may have said). What it DOES do, rather amazingly, is changes the actual physical structure of the brain and its processes. So on a very basic level we are defined by the language we speak and how often we speak it. When it comes to perception however things get even more interesting.

Much is made of ‘The Right Word’. Certainly as a poet this is always the bullseye you aim for but what it implies is how the wrong word can create a really deep shift in a discourse or simply total confusion. By omitting a word or clarifying clause to a statement, or simply emphasising the wrong part of a phrase, a jovial conversation can quickly become an argument. The joke of the little boy asked to go down the road and see how Old Mrs Kettle is only to return with the answer “78” contains an inherent truth that our moment is defined by the language we choose to employ. Time itself can be warped and changed simply by shifting tenses, something many note in the English and French languages as being particularly odd. Gone, go and going; past, present and future, if misused can create a strange logical time loop. “Where have you been?” when asked of someone not completely fluent in English, replied with “I go to the toilet” taken at face value means they are going to the toilet at that moment (and more importantly didn’t answer your question!). Of course we know this is malleable, especially when dealing with people who do not speak our language, but when taken on a broader scale we are essentially walling ourselves into our cultures with our given languages. In literature, particularly poetry, much is made of a translation because something written artistically in its mother tongue will be intrenched in cultural nuance, aphorism, argot, idiom and technicalities not present in the other language, therefore something is missing in transference, typically the inherent ‘sense’ of the original is lost. The first line of Albert Camus ‘The Outsider’ being a fine case in point. In poetry there is an oft ignored method called the ‘Version’ whereby you do not translate the poem necessarily but re-write it, hopefully capturing its essence, in your own tongue and hopefully impart that which the original did and it is this that creates the most interesting response to those who argue over language via the notion of language as response to perception rather than perception as a response to language and therefore a way of ‘translating’ an idea/poem/image so it is better understood in its nature by those reading/seeing/hearing it.

Nietzsche once said: “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in Grammar”. Which feeds in well to the major political arguments surrounding the Left and Right’s demands on language; both sides are failing their respective battles because they both believe their language is the correct one and not the fallible creature it truly is. The flaw that Nietzsche, I think, is trying to wrestle with is that language indicates the way things are, not that the way things are informs language. As an example, if you were to see a four legged animal on a lead in the street you might say “that’s a dog” and you would be right, we have the word Dog so when it is said our mind immediately conjures up the image of a dog. The trouble is we then imagine a Platonic ‘Form’ of a dog, an ideal dog that doesn’t exist or is probably our favourite dog from real life or fiction, until we begin to describe it with an endless stream of adjectives: its a short haired, jack russell terrier, with a loud yip and a milky eye that farts when it sneezes and doesn’t eat dried food because… etc. Language does not account for the uniqueness of the dog in an instant when attempting to communicate this. We can see and absorb the individual nature of it but have to create a spider graph of words around it to lock down it’s reality in conversation or dialogue. An ideal language would be able to invent a word upon seeing the object that perfectly communicates its individual features, its nuances and its character, something that Ted Chiang and Denis Villeneuve approach in their story of a language that can perfectly communicate between species because it relies on an entire lifespan of the individual to find the correct instance or example of something that needs to be communicated as Amy Adam’s character does to the Chinese general which in turn saves the globe from intergalactic war. A language that communicates totally and completely in the briefest time would be incredibly freeing, imagine being able to gather all the nuance and empathy of a political argument in a sound.

Sadly we aren’t there yet. As Nietzsche said we are still ruled by our God of grammar, that god in our syntax that still says “It is raining”, “What time is it?” The magical IT or THEY that controls our structure of speech and ultimately our reality, or at least our perception of it. France even has its Conservatoire which perfectly maintains the French vocabulary so no foreign words can intrude unnecessarily, a true example of the tyranny of language personified as a loop; we define language, language defines us. Which, for me, is where poetry comes in. The poet Don Patterson described poetry as “A method of failure”, by which he meant poetry should always exceed its grasp, trying to capture the ineffable in a word or phrase, so that whilst it may fall short we do then have a more appropriate short hand for a given feeling, emotion, state of mind, place, time and so on. Shakespeare was the master of this, a neologist of such depth and complexity nobody goes a single day speaking English without quoting him. No one individual has done more for English communication and expression since. The notion, so beautifully captured in both the short story and film of Arrival, that every facet of our lives is defined not just by our experiences but how they are communicated is one that everyone speaking any language today should heed. With societal division at its highest in centuries the need for better communication, a more frank and nuanced dialogue, is desperately needed and – for me at least – that means: more poetry.

Very Language

…Such word.

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During a conflab with my good buddy and sounding board the other night we got onto the notion of trigger warnings and ableist speech came up. What we were discussing was their practicality. Now before I get every hardcore right wing or left wing political activist/commentator leaping all over me, we were not questioning their merit we were discussing their practicality. Every day a new issue is brought up (almost exclusively on the internet) about these two practices that requires a furthering of their reach. My argument is that anything can be a trigger and almost anyone (that isn’t a white male, ‘playing life on easy mode’) can have discriminative language used against them. So whilst correctly identifying someone’s choice of sex/gender/partnership and sensitively considering the impact of your topic on someone’s mental health is noble and ultimately the decent thing, language and active discussion on almost any topic becomes somewhat over burdened. The problem being that when talking about anything there would have to be drawn out parenthesise, asides, footnotes or explanations for any nouns or adjectives. This can kill a discussion stone dead and is actively inhibitive of necessary arguments that need to be made to further the cause of the topics that necessitate trigger warnings and ableist/gender language.

I am well aware of this being an unpopular view. The journalist Helen Lewis was drummed off Twitter for saying much the same thing but to be honest that’s not really what I want to talk about. I wanted to talk about language’s continued evolution and how it is being forced to evolve quicker thanks to modern technology.

First and foremost, I write poetry and prose so words are close to my heart. I am biased but you would be a fool to ignore the fact that human’s ability to speak (in whatever language) along with our awareness of mortality is pretty much what defines us as a species. Without language we would not be where we are. We are almost entirely made of language. Every language the world over be it French, Cantonese, Finnish, Spanish, Russian, English or any of the multitude of other languages we have on earth, have developed and evolved over the centuries. I recently read Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ which is over 2000 years old and am currently reading Anne Carson’s ‘Red Doc>’ published last year and the leap from translation of an ancient text to modern speech and syntax is staggering. Obviously Art of War is a modern translation but the context is that much more different when Sun Tzu wrote it and let us be clear – this is the whole thrust of my argument – Words have definitions, context gives meaning.

Picking someone up on a (perhaps admittedly poor choice of) word I feel is counter productive, in the same way I want to smash grammar nazis heads in with a fucking rock. The sanctity of language is something humans defend with their last breath WITHOUT the need for its policing. We need language and we need to be understood, even the most wilfully illiterate troll needs his words to get his asinine and prejudiced view across. As such I really feel the aggressive nature with which a misspelled or mistyped word or a poorly chosen word is used and the user actively eviscerated, helps no one. If the speech they are trying to make is generally for the good I’d rather take the whole than the pieces. Details can be deceiving and often a case of not seeing the woods for the trees.

Nietzsche once wrote “I’m afraid we cannot give up God as we still have grammar”. I only heard this quote last week and it struck a deep chord. What (it is my understanding) Nietzsche meant by this is the fact we still use phrases like “It is raining” or “They wouldn’t let it happen”. The ‘It’ and the ‘They’ are non-specific references to some form of linguistic deity. So “God”, in some form resides with in our language. NOW; Due to the world becoming more secular in general and with the advent of the internet (originally a platform for discussion without militant censorship) being an ideal place to foster this notion it seems this particular hiding place for The Man Upstairs is finally being over turned. What do I mean? Ladies and gentleman, I give you: Doge

In the world of the internet Doge is not the first trend of his kind to come along, who can haz forgets LOL Cats? But Doge to me is an indicative point of reference for the use of humour (its always humour that makes the most progressive ideas popular) to disassemble our language. I hate the word “Meme” because its origins lie with someone I detest but seeing as that is how they self-identify I shall use the term: Memes have always deliberately used language badly to make the funnies and give all the lols. To the point where I actually said the word “Obvs” out loud in conversation the other day in an entirely un-ironic way. This is not new.

“He’s going to bring up Poetry again isn’t he?” YES I BLOODY WELL AM.

Modernism is a good place to start when considering how forcefully it tried to “Make It New!” as Ezra Pound once said. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake are exemplars of a case to be made for the deliberate and systematic destruction of syntax and words being used incorrectly or at least strangely. These are traditionally seen as being the ‘outsiders’ though, not mass consumed literature or art like Memes and such. Yet for the last 15 years read any self-confessed ‘Literary Fiction’ *spits* and you’ll see the same attempts to reappraise language, Cormac McCarthy being a prime candidate. ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘The Road’ are sparse, practically barren texts with barely any punctuation beyond a full stop and the odd comma. But for me it always comes down to poetry. Poetry has been doing this since it started being composed and language used in such a way. I remembered a poem by Robert Herrick the other day from the 17th century called ‘Dreams’:

“Here we are all, day by day; by night we’re hurled

By dreams, each one, into a several world.”

Firstly, what a fabulous poem. He wipes the floor with a lot of other poems about dreams in two lines of pentameter. Secondly, check out that last phrase: “A several world”. “A many Cat” “Very Dog” “Such Piglet” “So Poem”. Poetry was body slamming linguists and grammarists from day one. It is where language goes when it wants to cut loose or breed and that fundamentally is the problem with the world’s dogged adherence to by turns ye olde grammar or “must-include-everyone-and-everything” language.

Language is its own thing, whatever language that may be. Like water it finds its quickest path and goes that way weather we build a dam or not. It is a living breathing, creature that grows limbs and shoots lazers from its eyes and has an Adamantium skeleton. Which is why getting on your high horse and berating others for the “your/you’re” SIN seems almost tragically quaint. You can beat the irony drum as much as you like too but bad grammar and silly linguistics are everywhere. It is almost the sole mode of communication on some websites. Use “Meme Speech”, as some nitwits pejoratively refer to it, on Twitter or anywhere on the web and expect a flood of very reply, so response. In many ways, language itself is God. It is our creator and we are at its beck and call all the time. Fascinating then, that so many religions have been built around it. I should stress I am no christian and do not have any fealty to any faith yet nor do I, or would ever, pronounce myself as Atheist. There are just as many churches and doctrines with that particular faith as any that adhere to a deity. Equally words being that which I hope to make a career out of, I most certainly do not feel the need to be its staunch defender. Language doesn’t need my, your or anybody’s help to develop and accommodate new ideas of gender, ableism, race or trauma.

The difference comes with our intent and that is the context in which it is said. If you have an hour these guys make the point but funnier and more in depth than I do but to put it succinctly: If you are talking about a topic in its defence and either through ignorance or poor choice of humour use language someone deems insulting, rude, insensitive or triggering then I’m probably not going to call you on it A) Because millions of people are lurking in wait to do it instead but B) Because the chances are I’ll agree with your argument and want other people to hear it, poorly phrased syntax and all.

We do not own language, it owns us. It shapes and defines us as our identities shift and as our “isms” become more abstract and psychological and so language will move to accommodate. The internet, text talk and literature are actively trying to dismantle preconceived notions of the English language and are transmuting it as I write. Trying to rigidly enforce a set of archaic rules on a system that is already being collapsed so that minorities or the well being of others can be better met seems counter productive as whatever happens with language in the generations to come will be designed around our new method of thinking and broader inclusivity. The language of the 20th century will be as unrecognisable then as Chaucerian English is now.

God may be in the grammar but the Devil is certainly in the detail.

doge copy

In Defence of Curses

*This post will contain very strong language start to finish so if you are of a sensitive disposition or are easily offended don’t be a cunt about it and fuck off now*

I recently had a poem published in Penguin’s ‘Poetry of Sex’ Anthology edited by Sophie Hannah. As you may gather from the title it was a collection of poems about the ‘Physical Act of Love’ i.e. Shagging, Fucking, Doing it, nobbing, slap and tickle, how’s your father, knee trembler in the alley, boning, screwing, buggering, dicking, the old in and out, scissoring, on the job, posh wank, bit o’the other, etc etc etc.

My poem has come in for a bit of a pasting it must be said: A friend of mine described it as fucking misogynistic (which I don’t think it is) and a reviewer in The Times described it as “irredeemable in its witless procession of profanities”. What I am not twatting well going to do is write a long piece defending my poem. Fuck that. Its a poem, it speaks for itself, it can defend itself and certainly doesn’t need me to stick up for it. I am going to defend my use of language within the poem as this seems to be what has warranted such arse-fondling ire.

‘Haikus to Fuck To’ is my poem and as the name implies its about fucking. Not having sex, not procreating, not ‘making love’, not shagging or anything else; its about fucking. To my mind fucking is a great description. There are plenty of different types of sex but the word fuck and in this case its verb form is wonderfully articulate and summons up the exact sense of mind I wanted to present. ‘Making love’ sounds like a slow and romantic act, sex just sounds slightly dismissive like the couple who have been at it for a few days and are relating the third bout, a shag sounds like something you’ve done that’s a bit naughty spur of the moment, and there is nothing wrong with any of the above and I have indulged in all of them but I wanted to write a poem about Fucking. Fucking is carnal, lustful and passionate, something the word itself relates wonderfully. It also imparts the necessary secrecy and the, not in the way you imagine, violent nature of the act itself. Fucking was the perfect word. ‘To fuck to’.

Swears are shitting necessary. Stephen Fry said it really cunting well when he said “The English language has its stately homes and castles and equally has its slums”. As any economist or sociologist knows extreme wealth cannot exist without extreme poverty, likewise buggering sumptuous words that impart the best in us cannot exist with out the cocksucking hideous and mother fucking blunt elements that portray the worst. We need swear words to counter balance what we say everyday, it is in a very small way an act of resistance on our part to use them in everyday speech let alone in a book or public address.

Curse words as they are sometimes known are just fucking that. Words of curse.

“curse |kəːs|

noun

1 a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something …”

So says the dictionary. These could be long speeches condemning the object of hate to a woeful end or a “magic word” that cast its spell over something in hopes of destroying it. These curses were no doubt well thought out and – early on – probably in Latin so they probably extended to some sort of versification i.e. They were lyrical. This meant they struck a subliminal chord with someone hearing it so it sounded cruel and nasty even if you didn’t know what it meant. This is immediately apparent in our ‘curse words’ now. The way we have whittled down our swear words to almost extreme economy is because not only do they have the weight of hundreds of years of usage and the arseing horrible meanings they inflict but they are also perfectly sculpted works of auditory art.

Lets look at the big three: Shit, Fuck and Cunt. All four letters and they all end with those crashing stops – ‘T’ and ‘ck’. They are physically harsh to say. You cannot soften the ends of these words without dropping the letters entirely. The ‘T’ at the end of shit can be dropped but the blunt end is still implied as the ‘i’ sound is unresolved. Fuck sweeps open with the ‘F’ sound before crashing to a halt with the double tap of the ‘ck’. That’s impossible to deaden. Cunt is still considered the worst. Not least because of its sexually derogatory and sexist overtones but because it is the harshest to say. It starts with a hard ‘c’ a hard ‘uh’ sound followed by a hard ‘en’ and finishes with a solid ‘t’ that is practically a smack in the face. There is no letter you don’t pronounce and every single one is a hammer blow. These words are tailor made to be curses and could not be anything else, even without their connotations.

For this reason I still maintain they are works of fucking art in the English language and are some of the only words that carry impact or make people shy away or simply refuse to say them. In short that is gold dust for a poet. Words being a writer’s main currency, swear words – like archaic or forgotten words – are like shit-gargling £50 notes. But like anything of this nature it is the rarity that makes them impactful, overuse and repetition will kill a word or at least strip it of its meaning (another thing poetry deliberately dwells on, as I discussed previously). There is a wonderful South Park episode where they are allowed to say Shit continually through the episode and has a counter tallying up the amount of times it is said in the episode. It literally treats Shit as a “Word of Curse” and it awakens a group of magical warrior knights who bring down armageddon with a giant fire breathing dragon. Obviously this is hyperbole for comedic effect but it rings true. Having slums next to every stately homes, school, hospital and museum might be a bit much in city planning, likewise with language. Swear words serve a purpose but overuse removes them of their jizz-palming purpose.

My poem used these words for purpose. I tried my best not to repeat myself and use as many differing swear words as I could within the poem so it would have an accumulative effect. The words I used in the poem that are deemed not fit for children or mixed company: Tits, Cock, Dick, Wank, Pussy, Cunt, Cum, Fuck and Minge, each word being perhaps wince inducing but with such high density and consistency would make for an impactful poem. What I think was more unpleasant for people was their sexual context, it is a very anatomically descriptive poem and such strong language in a sensitive area of discussion was perhaps too much for some. In this way it worked too bloody well and what I discovered is how for all the right wing press’ arguments for us being a promiscuous society with no morals or taboos left to break, it seems a few little four letter words set in an ancient Japanese poetic form can still turn people’s stomach and rile them to revolt. For this reason swear words are really sodding GOOD. They make a point better than most words and in less time and syllables than other words.

Having lived alone for some years now, I found my language gets worse and worse (or more colourful as I like to cunting think); akin to that sailor talk people frequently speak of. As such when out with friends I find I swear a lot more freely and realise people look slightly embarrassed or at least look around the pub to ensure no one heard me. I remember getting sent indoors while doing a reading of a play about Thomas Beckett at school due to a, in my opinion highly literate and articulate, slew of profanities. The reason I resist the use of the word ‘Profanities’ is for this reason. The idea that these ‘Curse Words’ being ‘magical’ or in a true sense ‘pagan’ are “Against God” and frankly: Fuck that. There is far more cause for ‘Profane’ language than saintly language. We have obtained more from nautical and service language in everyday speech than anywhere else so “sailor talk”, to me at least, is far more valuable than any saintly speech. So my delightful reviewer who (for some reason) perceives wit as being the chief weapon in a poet’s arsenal, declaring my poem in equally cliched journalistic alliteration a “procession of profanities” I consider the shart-darting highest compliment.

In many ways this has made me think of swear words more as ‘Curse Words’ than before because they do almost seem to cast a magic spell. Like JK Rowling’s brilliant subversion of “Abracadabra” in Harry Potter into “Avarda Kedavra”, the worst of the ‘Unforgivable Curses’, the ‘Killing Curse’, swear word’s meanings have altered and changed but their power is still present. Depending on how or where or when they are delivered a curse can be as powerful as those magical curses wizards and witches would bring down on their hated enemies. Love me or loathe me for my appreciation of such ungodly words but as a self-proclaimed “wordsmith” they are some of my most precious fucking tools in my cunting wonderful shitshed.

Poo cum titty willy bum.

P.S. The path to good swears is a long one and the path to enlightenment is and always will be Viz and its saintly work ‘Roger Mellie’s Profanisaurus’. Buy yourself a copy and cry with laughter. Contrary to newspaper criticism some of the sharpest and funniest WIT comes from portmanteau swearing, crass imagery and out-and-out silly words. Pick it up in a bookshop, pick a page at random and scare people around you by collapsing in a fit of very loud guffaws. You fucking well deserve it.

‘Tino Unchanged

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Django Unchanged is Quentin Tarantino’s seventh movie I am told. And it is very good. It is not his best, by quite some margin I might add. I don’t know if this is because his style remains unchanged after more than 20 years or that the world has simply moved on and it has become less cool or if it is probably his most un-Tarantino movie. It is certainly his most expensive looking and lavish which is very un-Tarantino. I do find most of this hard to believe as QT’s last feature, Inglorious Basterds, was such a dazzling and enjoyable flick with so much of his trademark dialogue, gore, anachronistic music and editing ticks. Django does most of this but it feels rather token. Tarantino really feels like he was attempting an Oscar movie for this one so the dialogue is not necessarily period correct but certainly amped down from the blink-and-you-miss-it banter of previous films, the gore is excessive as ever but attempts to be more realistic, the music has no stone cold classics in it and is not as inspired but more traditionally sympathetic to whats happening on screen and there are a few customary crash zooms and silly bits of screen texts but these are few and far between. No, QT seems to really want to get this story across in this one.

It’s a shame its not that good a story.

Django is a stock revenge movie plot. Bounty Hunter finds an accomplice, teaches him the trade and have a few adventures before going after the bad guy who has his wife. That’s it. You know what’s going to happen in the end within the first few minutes. The point should be the journey getting there but sadly the incredibly flabby script bogs us down in, even for Tarantino, unnecessary guff. For once it is not QT’s flare for cinema that makes this a worthwhile film, it is actually its topic.

Django uses every frame of its three hour run time in pointing out what a bunch of brutal, murderous, evil, oblivious, ignorant, arrogant, wankers white men are. Despite what Tarantino’s incredibly blinkered view of the world thinks, he is not the first person to tackle slavery in cinema (he has apparently become a gross egotist since his heyday) but he is the first person to show it in this way. Due to Tarantino’s well established style we expect certain things from him which is normally used to great effect in juxtaposition, here however gratuitous violence and searing language is, sadly, apt.

Many years ago Mel Brooks made an incredibly funny film called Blazing Saddles. People seem to have forgotten about this which is frankly bizarre as the parallels between it and Django are remarkable: A black slave is freed, has dead shot white man as a friend who set out to kill a rich and stupid white man slave trader whilst dodging the slings and arrows of the common people and their complete contempt for a black person with any sort of power. … While people say Nigger a lot.

Yes I wrote the ‘N’ word. I tried writing this post without it but it doesn’t work so live with it. I am not using it in a pejorative sense I am using it as reference and citation. Lets just hang a big “I’m Not Racist” banner over this whole review before you knee-jerk pricks try to jump down my throat. If you’re offended by strong language please fuck off now. Also there may be spoilers from here on out so be warned…

Much has been made of QT’s liberal use of the word Nigger in Django and it is understandably wince inducing to some. For me however, – which made me feel rather ill afterward – was the fact I stopped noticing it after the 2nd or 3rd time (within the first 20 minutes or so). Tarantino uses Nigger in almost all his films but normally spoken by black people which, due to reclamation, is more acceptable if not ‘pleasant’. Django is a period piece and frankly it would be a very strange period piece about the grotesqueries of slavery if people didn’t say Nigger when referring to a black person. This slipped in unnoticed to me and was only afterward I realised how horrendous that is and is indicative of the success of the film. QT displays better than any other film how appallingly we treated slaves (and I do mean ‘We’) and is horribly resonant today when Racism is still pervasive in our society yet not as explicit or flagrant. The violence and abuse meted out to the slaves in this film made my stomach churn. There is a great deal of graphic violence in the film but a lot of it is preposterous and regarding gun fights that are pretty standard action movie fare, a slave being ripped apart, two slaves being paid to beat each other to death, whippings, brandings and castration are shown to us on screen and like the abundance of the word Nigger force us to recognise exactly what we did in graphic detail. It is uncomfortable to watch needless to say. Spielberg films like Amistad and no doubt the tandem slave cinema epic ‘Lincoln’ will talk about these horrors or you might see watered down versions of the above but due to QTs style he does not flinch and confronts us explicitly with that which White Men should feel truly be ashamed of. This kind of violence is normally contested as unnecessary or gratuitous, not in this case. This is probably exactly what happened.

The film has a lot of negative points against it though, sadly. It is much, much too long and needed some more than judicious editing. Tarantino has clearly grown fat on his own hype (and just plain ‘got fat’ actually as his truly dreadful cameo reveals) and his excesses are growing more grand by the film, this proves the tipping point it would appear. Foxx does not turn in the powerhouse performance I was told to expect, he is by no means bad but it is pretty run of the mill for this sort of film. DiCappuccino continues his long campaign as “Most Overrated Actor in History” but turning in a completely hollow and shouty performance that, despite top billing, accounts for little more than extended cameo (again due to the film’s length). FUCKING LENS FLARE needs to FUCK OFF from cinematographer’s “look, we’re so retro and gritty” handbook. By and large the cinematography is very pretty, the shot of blood splattering white cotton is a lovely bit of cinematic imagery, but PISS OFF WITH THE LENS FLARE! The ending reeeeeeeally annoyed me. It should have ended 20 minutes before it did but for some reason rattles on and on for no good reason. Whilst one of those gloriously wordy, subtext ridden, tension-cranking scenes around a table is present it doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of Basterds. And sadly, for the most part, it is pretty much a standard western.

However, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson turn in near perfect performances that charm you flat and make your blood boil in equal measure. Don Jonson’s cameo is bloody funny too. There are some real laugh out loud gags as well, which make me forgive a lot, the Klu Klux Klan scene being a particular hoot. But in general it is Tarantino’s desire to actually show the Slave trade in all its tooth and claw that is its most enduring feature. He did not, as I say, finally bring it to light but its the first example of a film that grabs us by the collar and wipes our noses in the massive turd which just did on the carpet.

Not a brilliant film but a necessary one.