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Self-isolation: staff picks to keep you stimulated (week 2)

by 1 Apr 2020Culture

Now is a good time for reflection. Lecturer Desré Barnard (Contextual Studies) chooses books and films that will get you thinking about yourself, your relationship and society. But she also throws in a couple of escapist options and an approach to self-help unlike any other.

I haven’t had much time to read books which are not related to critical theory (nerd alert) but I have dug into my archives and have the following as some fun suggestions:

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, And What It Means for Modern Relationships

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

A captivating look into how our ideas of modern relationships have formed. I have always been interested in social formations and notions of “acceptable” behaviour, and from whence these stem (economic, ideological, religious and so on). This book has an excellent balance of academic and non-academic writing. As Steve Taylor says, Sex at Dawn is “a wonderfully provocative and well-written book which completely re-evaluates human sexual behavior and gets to the root of many of our social and psychological ills”. My one gripe is that it is very heteronormative, but it is fascinating nonetheless.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, and Calm the F**k Down

by Sarah Knight

These are an interesting twist on a self-help book, laden with profanity and humour, but at their core have insightful suggestions about how to deal with the pressures of contemporary life. Sarah Knight, a self-proclaimed anti-guru, has a whole series, but I have only read these two thus far.

Broken Monsters

by Lauren Beukes

I am finally getting around to a bit of South African fiction, and am really excited to delve into some femxle writers! I cannot personally review it as yet, but the buzz surrounding the book is/was definitive.

Various other authors I can suggest

Jasper Fforde
Kurt Vonnegut (especially Jailbird – masterful manipulation of your sense of time)
Terry Pratchett


My suggestions are a little heavy, but are, in my opinion, poignant and thought-provoking. I suggest staggering these and intermittently watching something lighter (as always: Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes to mind).

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai de commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

by Jeanne Dielman

Whilst this film is longer than your average feature (as arthouse films usually are), this is a fascinating filmic experience wherein a womxn’s domestic work is chronicled over the course of three days. I think this is a poignant piece to be watching whilst we are in isolation.

Gates of Heaven (1978)

by Errol Morris

A documentary about a pet cemetery. Yes, you read that correctly. Through a series of interviews, Morris delves into the psyches of the eccentric residents of the town of Vernon, Florida. As a filmic object, there are many static drawn-out scenes that leave the interviewees and the viewers very unsettled. Morris also pioneered a technique called the Interrotron. Read about it here: https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2017/07/07/the-interrotron-how-errol-morris-changed-the-way-documentaries-watch-us

In a fun anecdote, Werner Hertzog, the brilliant German director, pledged that if the documentary was completed and shown in a public theater, he would eat his shoe. Needless to say: he ate his shoe. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNNGzMK5e4c

The People vs Patriarchy (2017), and The People vs The Rainbow Nation (2016)

by Lebogang Rasethaba

These are compelling documentaries about the reality of South African life. I must add a trigger warning here: the documentaries contain sensitive conversations that may be upsetting to some people. Both are available in their entirety via YouTube. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

by Wes Anderson

Really I can recommend anything by director Wes Anderson. His aesthetic is iconic: nostalgic and innocent. The striking colour palettes and comedic and, at times, melancholic storylines make his work instantly recognisable. Anderson is what is known as an auteur, a director who uses a specific style, specific actors, and repeated themes to create an entire body of work. Anderson, for example, always has (amongst other major themes) a missing parent or a “broken” family, a pet or person with a disability, the theme of smoking, sibling rivalry, and the actors Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Tilda Swinton.
For more on this, read here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auteur

There are many examples of auteurs in the pantheon of great directors, including the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Catherine Breillat, Michael Haneke, Tim Burton and so on. 

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