Essay: Made to last? – The Jedi texts, totalitarianism and book burning in The Last Jedi

I wrote a short essay about the portrayal of the sacred Jedi texts as paper books in the new Star Wars movie, and how this relates to totalitarianism and the resistance against it. It’s available to read here on Medium.com. Needless to say, spoilers for The Last Jedi.

Excerpt:

Could we imagine that there were once many paper copies of the Jedi texts, which every Jedi was required to own? Would the Empire, and the First Order after it, apply the same censure that the Nazis did, campaigning to destroy all paper copies in the galaxy? The choice the creators of the new trilogy made to go with paper books is certainly an interesting one. Why, in a futuristic society like that of the Star Wars galaxy, where people fly in space ships and use digital interfaces everywhere (even in the 1970s movies), would the sacred Jedi writings be captured in perishable paper books? Why not in a more enduring format like stone or metal tablets, or on some type of holographic device stored in an R2-unit, or even carved into a wall? To my knowledge, these are the first examples of physical reading material in the Star Wars movies. When we see them on screen, they appear to be colourful leather-bound books that might also be the collected works of Dickens or Austen. For the viewer, seeing ancient books on screen immediately communicates that they are valuable, authoritative, precious, and vulnerable: they seem distinctly human in a movie that is chock full of aliens and futuristic apparatuses. So why was it so symbolic for Luke to destroy them, and why did Rey save them if she already had all the knowledge she needed to get on? After all, once the people in charge decide that Torah rolls are of more use in a leather factory to patch up the soles of German soldiers’ boots, or that the letters of Tolstoy may as well be used to wrap fish in the marketplace, how do they retain their credibility? The situation only requires for one person to decide that what is written down must be preserved for future generations, when those who have the knowledge in their heads are gone.

Shutterspeed: Zürich

Four years ago my mum and I went to visit my sister in Zürich, Switzerland. She was doing an internship there and we had decided to take the night train from the Netherlands to Zürich, which would drop us off right in the middle of the city after about ten hours. I spent the visit mostly trotting after the other two and trying to figure out how my new camera worked.

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My first published article: the role of American librarians during World War II

Some months ago, I was asked to contribute an article to TXT Magazine, an academic publication from the University of Leiden’s Book and Digital Media Studies department, which generally focuses on the creation, dissemination and adaptation of books and texts as objects. The theme of this issue was ‘navigating seas of text’. I knew I wanted to write about something World War II-related – naturally – and dove into my reading, finally settling on writing about the role of three American librarians during the war. I relished the opportunity to do research on and write about some cool ladies and about the importance of books during the conflict, and it’s very exciting to see it in print at last! I have scanned it in and it’s available to read under the cut.

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Histourism: Tintern Abbey

Yesterday I visited the famous Tintern Abbey in the southeast of Wales, close to the border with England. The first time I ever heard of it was during my Bachelor’s when we studied William Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798“. Quite a mouthful!

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Shutterspeed: One day in Paris

Whenever I’m in Paris, I always think of Paul Verlaine, one of my favourite poets, who wrote the following lines:

“Quais de Paris! Beaux souvenirs! J’étais agile,
J’étais, sinon bien riche, à mon aise, en ces temps…
J’étais jeune et j’avais des goûts très militants,
Tel, un bon iconographobibliophile.”

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Essay: David Bowie and the Third Reich

The world mourns David Bowie, and rightly so. He’s had an amazing career and he made the world a little brighter by being in it. He was a source of inspiration for countless musicians and other artists, not to mention an icon for the LGBTQ community. I visited the David Bowie Is exhibition in Groningen last week (which I highly recommend!) and I was delighted to see how he combined making art, theatre, fashion, film, and music; he himself was a masterpiece.

However, a celebrity’s death inevitably also unearths their more problematic characteristics, which people are quick to dismiss in the face of their virtues. In David Bowie’s case, something that came up a lot (which I was hitherto unaware of) was his love for fascism and his admiration of Adolf Hitler, whom he compared to a rock star. His persona the Thin White Duke was modelled on an Aryan Übermensch. It is a delicate subject; there are those who attribute the remarks to “cocaine psychosis and extreme misjudgement”, saying that the media exaggerated and “wilfully misunderstood” them (source). Others are not so quick to forgive Bowie and accuse him of having been a Nazi sympathiser and a white supremacist. What I want to do in this post is merely explain why he was seen as such; in no way do I defend his ideologies just because I like his music, nor will I condemn outright the things he said during a period where he claims to have been “politically naive” and likely under the influence of certain substances.

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