The Insecurity of My Creativity

Entertainment, Film, News

Joseph Andrew Mclean

I’ve neglected my blog, or as I like to refer to it, the online diary of a mentalist, for a few months. During this barren spell I’ve missed venting my spleen about things and stuff. I’ve missed having a proper rant about a subject out-with the limited 140 characters that are available on Twitter. So to make up for lost time I’m going to pour my heart and soul out about my experience of living with the insecurity of creativity. I feel as manic as Tom Cruise’s character Jerry Maguire, when he spews out his memo/mission statement and then wakes up in a blind panic thinking “what have I done?” I also don’t need to rush off to a 24/7 printers shop in the pouring rain, I just hit post and it’s out there in cyberspace to be spammed, hopefully read and who knows maybe even inspire someone to learn from a few of my mistakes. As the print shop guy says to Jerry Maguire “That’s how you become great man, hang your balls out there.”

So here I go, balls out there style – Why am I so insecure about creativity? I’m not insecure in a financial sense or in a panic about future job prospects. I wish it was that simple, but it’s more complicated. It may seem trivial to some, but I’ve been crippled by a self-induced insecurity about my creativity. How could I, a boy from Partick have the nerve to call himself a writer or a filmmaker? An admission such as this leaves you wide open to some derisory mocking about getting a ‘real’ job. But I’ve never really had a real job. I’m 34 years old and I feel like I’ve served my apprenticeship, I’ve gained the qualifications to back up my claim, but yet there’s still that niggling doubt hanging over me, like a pin being held millimetres away from a balloon, it’s ready to burst my grand plans in an implosion of self-sabotage.

Since graduating as a mature student from the University of Glasgow with an MA in English Literature and Politics, I’ve managed to set up my own production company and I’m producing work for a variety of clients, including shooting music and corporate videos. I’ve also been involved in ongoing meetings with a TV station about some of my projects and ideas. Yet there is still that niggling doubt of being accepted, but who am I trying to gain acceptance from and why do I crave their validation? I know I’m certainly not a member of the Glasgow media set, I’m as far removed from that as you can possibly get. I’m a BAFTA Scotland member and I attend regular screenings and talks, but I’m not one of them, I’m an outsider and I probably always will be, but should I let this bother me? After all, I’m working and I’m shooting projects on a regular basis and I’m happy, so why let an inconsequential thing like approval (from people who will never fully accept me as one of their own) get to me.

I’ve tried to convince myself that after studying at University, including studying screenwriting at the University of California, that I’ve proved my worth, but the insecurity is still there. If someone asks me what I do, I feel it’s pretentious to say filmmaker. I’ve actually caught myself saying I work for a media company! I sometimes question if this attitude will hold me back and ponder if I’m actually projecting my insecurity outwards towards industry targets, as it’s easier to lay the blame at their door for not getting a break or recognition? Maybe that break will come, as I feel like I’m chipping away at a metaphorical brick wall, armed with a dream, hunger and desire to succeed. To me it’s like grasping a small rock hammer and chisel to tear down a stone obstruction that’s of a Berlin wall scale. But as long as I keep writing, as long as I keep making stuff and getting it out there, then at least I will be ready to capitalise on any breaches of the industries defences. All I need is to see a little chink of light through the great wall and it could be enough to inspire me to work harder and faster to tear the fucking thing to a pile of rubble.

I ultimately know the insecurity of my creativity lies within and I know I’m going to have to work on being confident enough to call myself a filmmaker and not be embarrassed by it, after all, if I’d studied for 4 years to be in any other profession other than a creative one I highly doubt if I’d be embarrassed to say what I did for a living. So, here’s to being creative, making stuff and getting it out there into the ether, here’s to taking abstract ideas and transforming them into tangible and quantifiable end products that can be viewed, dissected and critiqued. Perhaps having enough of these end products will enable me to finally feel comfortable with the label that I’ve attached to myself – Joseph Andrew Mclean, filmmaker.

Analysis of The Cutting Room and the authors attempt to work within the existing literary genre of crime fiction.


Analysis of The Cutting Room and the authors attempt to work within the existing literary genre of crime fiction. 

Louise Welsh’s novel sits easily within the parameters and conventions of the crime fiction genre. As an author she has borrowed from the rich history of the genre to create her own narrative and to introduce the reader to the character of Rilke. There are elements of the novel which transcend or defy existing conventions, such as the author’s choice to make her main protagonist a homosexual man, but overall her work is grounded in the traditional roots of crime fiction. Welsh explains this herself when she describes Rilke as being ‘in a long line of literary anti-heroes’ (Welsh, 2003) and she also states that the novel was ‘partly inspired by hard-boiled detective fiction’ (Welsh, 2003).  This paper will examine the history of the genre and provide an analysis of the author’s attempts to work within the crime fiction genre.

Crime fiction is distinguished from mainstream fiction; we expect certain elements to be present in crime novels such as detection, criminals and motives. However there are many sub-genres contained within this broad subject, such as the whodunit, detective fiction and hard-boiled fiction. The Glasgow set crime novel The Cutting Room, could easily be said to fit into the realms of the detective or hard-boiled fiction, as it conforms to many of the conventions that are expected of the genre. The author has clearly been inspired by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin is not a professional detective, much like Welsh’s character Rilke, who is a Glaswegian auctioneer. They are separated by nearly two centuries, yet they still share some common ground in their approach to solving crime, two amateurs, one in Paris and one in Glasgow, using their considerable intellect to try and solve crime. It has been said that Poe introduces the city as a place of ‘darkness that simultaneously liberates and conceals’ (Moore, 2006: 8) and this sentiment can most certainly be applied to the dark, brooding and atmospheric Glasgow that Welsh captures in her novel. Paris has also been described as being a ‘dimly lit city, but not one which Dupin and his narrator friend fear to walk at night’ (Moore, 2006: 8). This again echoes in the work of Welsh, as we note how Rilke is perfectly comfortable traipsing around the city at night and frequenting places such as the Kelvingrove Park after dark.

Rilke describes his journey through the West End to the park, detailing the ‘crazy shadows and darkness’ (Welsh, 2002: 26) that have been cast by the branches of the mature lime trees that line Kelvin Way. He also informs us that if you are able to ‘drown your fear and your conscience, this is the place to come’ (Welsh, 2002: 26) for a bit of rough in the early hours of the morning. This confidence that Rilke exudes demonstrates how comfortable he is in the city, he is not intimated by it, he seems to be equally at home in Glasgow be it daytime or night and shows little fear. This has perhaps got a lot to do with the fact he is capable of handling himself physically, as has been demonstrated in the novel which his violent episodes. The author has tried to outline and explain the reasons for Rilke’s behavior and details on her website how he ‘somehow strays from the path of the righteous at every turn’ (Welsh, 2003). This is evident throughout the novel, as Rilke is presented with opportunities by which to follow the righteous path, such as revealing the contents of the photographs to Inspector Anderson. This would also be the easy option for Rilke, however he chooses not to involve the police and to pursue the history of the graphic photographs he found in the attic of a house clearance he was working on for his auctioneers company. This hidden cache of ‘violent and highly disturbing photographs from the 1950s’ (Welsh, 2003) becomes an obsession for Rilke. His pursuit to discover whether the photographs are authentic, demonstrate a determination. Rilke needs to find out if the young woman ‘had been murdered for the sexual gratification of the house’s owner Mr McKindless, or were the photographs simply staged?’ (Welsh, 2003).  Rilke’s compulsion to uncover the truth also demonstrates that he may stray from the path of the righteous, but he does have his own ‘flawed, but sincere moral code’ (Welsh, 2003). This moral code of Rilke’s at least demonstrates he is determined to do right, so despite some of his dubious behavior in his personal life, we can accept that he is ultimately involved in this crime solving for the right reasons. It’s not for financial gain or personal glory that he pursues the trail left by McKindless, but essentially Rilke wants to discover the truth and more importantly, as he states ‘I can’t leave her there’ (Welsh, 2002: 55). This shows that Rilke may be flawed, a trait in keeping with detectives in literary history from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Ian Rankin’s Rebus, but at least he is determined to do the right thing and to do so by any means possible.

The comparisons with other fictional detectives and crime solvers show that the author has attempted to work within the existing crime genre. Rilke has the same flawed character traits as other famous fictional sleuths, for instance he is described as being ‘fond of a dram’ (Welsh, 2003). This description draws comparisons with Ian Rankin’s character Rebus, who he describes as being a ‘maverick…he’s more private investigator inside the police’ (Murray, 2008: 198). Rankin explains that the reason authors make their characters amateur detectives is because it fits within the ‘British tradition’ (Murray, 2008: 200) of the genre. A similar parallel between the worlds of Rebus and Rilke are that both are influenced by the ‘past acting on the present, past crimes suddenly infecting the present’ (Murray, 2008: 219).  Rilke’s present has been infected by the past crimes of McKindless and this in turn shows us how history has an influence on all of us, without is necessarily realising it. The innocuous house clearance for Rilke’s auctioneer’s house has now turned into a dark web of intrigue and mystery, and all through the influence of past actions of others infecting the present day.  Ian Rankin also states that Rebus is ‘always crossing the line, but he never crosses it very far’ (Murray, 2008: 225), again this can be seen in Rilke’s behavior and shows a similarity between the Edinburgh and Glasgow based sleuths. They are both prepared to step over the line to get at the truth and to get their criminal, but they never go so far beyond it that we lose our fondness for them. It can be argued that we allow our detectives to have these flaws and faults, as we ultimately know that they are determined to do the right thing in the end.

The character traits of Rebus and Rilke fit into the conventions of crime fiction; they are expected to be there, just as much as suspense, justice and suspects are expected to be contained within a crime novel. However these conventions are constantly being subverted and expanded upon, they do so until such subversions ultimately become conventions in literature. For example, as a reader of crime fiction we may come to expect that the detective is a male character, this is true in Rilke’s case, but we also witness a subversion of the genre, as Welsh has made him a homosexual man. This element of the character does pass beyond the limits of the genre; it transcends it, as it challenges our perceptions of what a detective should be like. In this aspect it can be argued that Welsh is ‘reassessing and re-creating in the context of existing cultural codes and conventions’ (Whyte, 1995: 203). The author has taken a traditional element of the genre and she has added a new dimension, another layer to the character. Yet, fundamentally Rilke can be viewed as the same archetypal hard drinking, thrill seeking, fornicating British detective. I don’t think his sexuality diminishes this in any way, as his lifestyle is in keeping with the early hard-boiled private detectives who are ‘aware of sexual overtones and undertones’ (Moore, 2006: 81). Rilke’s sexual encounters take place in parks, toilets and with strangers who appear at windows across the road from pubs he is drinking in. This behaviour fits into the early hard-boiled detective novel as it ‘reveals a failure on the part of most detectives to develop beyond passion or lust’ (Moore, 2006: 90). This is true of Rilke, who seems incapable of developing beyond stolen moments in the dead of night. In doing so, he fits the archetype of the investigator who indulges ‘their lust or passion while solving cases’ (Moore, 2006: 81). The fact Rilke indulges his lust or stays out drinking at night does not distract him from the case; he remains focused on solving the mystery of the photographs.  The personal life of Rilke is fascinating, as it offers a glimpse into unknown worlds, but ultimately it does not detract from the core of the story, which is to solve a mystery and to solve a crime.

This solving of crime is one of the very basic elements of the genre and is one that Welsh adheres to strictly. A detective novel keeps the reader gripped as we search for the answers to ‘questions about who, why and when’ (Symons, 1962: 7).  These very questions keep us turning the page in Welsh’s novel, as we search for truth in this dark, seedy underworld of Glasgow. The detective’s world is the ‘murky reality of red herrings, disguise, forgeries and mistaken identities’ (Reitz, 2004: 86) and this novel is littered with them. We are lead to fill in the blanks and decipher the red herrings from the facts. Welsh has characters such as the Gardner at the McKindless house, who Rilke sees burning things in a bonfire as he arrives to assess the house. This raises questions about what he’s burning and why he is burning them. We are also left with an air of mystery surrounding the revolver under Rilke’s floorboards, is it in innocuous, collectable artifact from the auction room or is it kept for more sinister reasons? This is never elaborated upon in the novel and can be deemed to be a red herring for readers; this is in keeping with the traditional detective stories and is another example of how the author is attempting to work within the existing literary genre.  The author is using a contemporary example of the genre to ‘reflect earlier established conventions’ (Klein, 1999: 1). As discussed earlier, the parameters of the genre are well known and are ‘widely accepted and easily accessible’ (Klein, 1999: 1) and as a result they become the norm, we expect them to be present within a crime novel and Welsh has not disappointed us by excluding them.

The conventions of the crime fiction genre are ever present in the novel and they play up to archetypes and stereotypes. The novel plays up to the stereotype of Glasgow’s ‘reputation as a villains playground’ (Burgess, 1998: 264) and it also shows us a darker underbelly that has not been highlighted in other Glaswegian fiction. This darker side to the city is perhaps even too murky for another famous, fictional Glaswegian detective, Taggart, a detective who ‘investigated intricately plotted crimes’ (Burgess, 1998: 264) in the city. This seedier and darker side of Glasgow that’s to be found in Welsh’s novel demonstrates that writers are ‘looking at a contemporary city with clear and informed eyes’ (Burgess, 1998: 261). This renewed look upon the city allows us to see it in a different light; we can explore aspects that we never knew existed and we are exposed to sub-cultures that thrive in the dark corners of society. This is relevant for such groups as the camera club, who are embroiled in a rather murky world of pornographic photography, all taking place under the seemingly innocent guise of a hobby or enthusiasts club.  But, we are still witnessing this world within the existing framework of the literary genre.

Crime fiction is a form that ‘by being so close to the populist grass roots, is in direct contact with social and political attitudes’ (Klaus & Knight, 1998: 8). This contact and connection allows readers to understand the traditional conventions of the genre. It also reflects the changing attitudes of society and this is evident with the choice of the author to make Rilke a homosexual. This brings into question sexuality and gender, which plays upon the notion of archetypes within the genre. It has been said that even if archetypes could be ‘embodied in an artistic verbal text, the traditional novel would not offer an appropriate framework’ (Whyte, 1995: 65). This highlights how the author has attempted to stay within the confines of the traditional conventions, but she has also evolved the traditional framework in order to incorporate her character and her narrative.

Muliebrity – Analysis of Time


Analysis of time in “Muliebrity”

In this short analysis of Sujata Bhatt’s poem “Muliebrity,” I will focus on the poet’s treatment of time and its significance to her childhood memories in India. I will also examine how the passage of time has an impact, not only on the speaker of the poem, but also on the reader, as we are witnessing this scene through the Sujata Bhatt’s memory. As readers we are reliving it vicariously through the poet and as a result, our impressions of the memory are shaped by the very personal tone of the poem, this feeling is further enhanced by the poet’s use of first person pronoun.


The most striking aspect of the poem in relation to time, is to note how the passing of time and growing older has not dulled the memory of the speaker, as she recalls seeing a girl collecting cow-dung in the streets of Maninagar, in India. This image of a street scene in her local village has in fact remained an extremely vivid and clear memory, which has remained with her for a very long time. As readers we are made aware of the importance of this memory from the very first line of the poem “I have thought so much about the girl.” This opening line sets the scene and the tone for the reader, as it highlights the significance of this memory. We are made to feel that the poet has thought about the girl for some time, and it reiterates the feeling that time has in no way diminished her memory of the events she witnessed in Maninagar. It also creates a sense of space and distance, as we feel the speaker is no longer in Maninagar, time has evolved and moved on since she saw the little girl, yet she can recall being there in a very clear and exact memory.


The same line from the opening of the poem is repeated once again on-line five, “I have thought so much,” but this time to detail “the way she moved her hands and her waist.” This notion of thinking about the girl in such detail highlights to the reader that the Indian girl has had a considerable and lasting impact on the speaker. We are drawn into Bhatt’s world, as she recounts “the smell of cow-dung and road-dust and wet canna lilies.” These memories transport us back in time, to that village in India; we start to build a picture in our mind of the many sights, colours and smells that make up the very fabric of daily life there. It’s obvious to readers that this sensory overload is what captivates the poet and has embedded and etched these memories upon her mind. The childhood memories are so evocative, that even with the passing of time; they have never been dulled or diluted.


Time has not diminished the memory of the little girl and if anything, it has enhanced the memory. The speaker, it seems, has moved on from life in Maninagar, both in sense of growing older and geographically. There is a real sense of the speaker moving further away from the childhood village, but regardless of this distance, the speaker still feels very close to that little girl collecting cow-dung and also still very connected to her childhood in India. The atmosphere created in this poem by Bhatt gives readers an insight into life in that period of Indian history. It also helps to cement the feeling that time can have a major impact upon our memories and imaginations. The descriptions of “the smell of monkey breath and freshly washed clothes” show us that time is intertwined with memory and demonstrates how senses can trigger emotions and place us in an exact period and moment in time, in this case back to Bhatt’s childhood, in India. In line eleven of the poem, she describes the sensual nature of memory beautifully, as she states how “these smells surrounding me separately and simultaneously,” here Bhatt is confirming that each element of the memory is made up if individual aspects, but they ultimately merge, to make up a collective memory and to help capture and encapsulate a specific moment in time. All of these sights and smells help contribute to maintaining and harnessing this childhood memory, they are very important to the speaker, as they are required to help keep the memory alive over the passing of time.


The line “I have thought so much” is used for a third and final time by the speaker in line twelve, this time to describe how she has been “unwilling to use her for a metaphor, for a nice image – but most of all unwilling to forget her.”  This idea that the speaker is unwilling to forget the girl, demonstrates the importance of the memory. She has held onto it and cherished it all this time, and is unwilling to let it slip from her mind. Bhatt is also detailing how she is unwilling to allow it the sacred memory be tarnished, she wants to protect its purity and not subject it to being reduced to a metaphor, which may cheapen or lessen its importance or significance to her. This girl, carrying out a very lowly task of collecting waste in the street is elevated to a higher status via Bhatt’s precise description and overriding memory of her. It’s perhaps a critique on her modern life and the people who surround Bhatt in her new life in America, that she recalls with fondness the “greatness and the power” of a peasant girl collecting cow-dung in a village back in her homeland of India. Bhatt possibly sees a greater good and nobility in that girl, than she can in anyone she encounters in modern times. It makes the reader wonder if perhaps if everyone carried out their work in such a dedicated manner and with such grace, then even menial tasks could be viewed with a sense of beauty and admiration. It also begs the question of which thoughts, memories, actions or deeds will last the duration of time, and which of them will help to shape our present or future.


This memory of the girl in India is clearly so special and precious to Bhatt, that it has been carried with her and cherished for many years. It is therefore understandable that she would not wish to “explain to anyone the greatness and the power glistening through her” in relation to the little girl collecting cow-dung. In a way she is trying to protect that moment in time and the girl, from judgment, critique or even manipulation by others. To date, the images have been safely locked away in her memory, and this has helped to preserve it over time. The childhood memory has not been exposed to other external elements or influences, which may cause it to erode over time.

Life on the open road: a voyage of self-discovery


The quest for meaning and belonging in society is as strong today as it has been throughout history, from the Beat generation to Generation X, there has been a desire to find oneself and try to establish and ascertain our place in the world. This desire has led to great adventures by bold, brave and pioneering figures such as Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild (2007) and Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouac’s fictional alter ego from On the Road. In both art forms of film and the novel, we witness these characters hit the open road to find meaning and purpose in their lives. In this paper I will examine how Sal Paradise and Christopher McCandless both set out with similar intentions, to explore the great expanse of America, but also to ultimately find themselves, as they embark on a voyage of self-discovery. I will also demonstrate why I believe McCandless goes beyond anything that can be found in Kerouac’s novel, as he makes the ultimate sacrifice in his pursuit of life on the open road and his quest to break free from a capitalist, controlled and predetermined lifestyle.

The journey made by Christopher McCandless and Sal Paradise are similar, in that they both originate and start on the East coast of America; Christopher’s adventure begins after he graduates from college in Georgia and Sal Paradise’s starting point is New York. It seems like both of these characters share the same pioneering spirit of their forbears who travelled West in pursuit of a new life on this vast continent. As McCandless states in his notes ‘there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.’ This search for new adventures and ever changing scenery demonstrates a passion for his country and an enthusiasm to truly experience it firsthand. Sal Paradise has similar reasons, in that he is disheartened after his divorce and longs for the freedom of the road, but there is a striking difference in both characters. As the plot unfolds in On the Road, we learn that Sal is a deep thinker, with a burning self-conflict. Sal is torn between the romanticised freedom of life on the open road and domestic life back on the East coast. This internal conflict that afflicts Sal is a question of choosing the right path in life, of making choices between personal freedoms or compromises. Sal is torn between the conventional domestic lifestyle, where he will conform to society’s expectations or to be more radical and break free altogether and choose a completely different path in life. This internal conflict leaves Sal in a state of limbo as he embarks on his travels, he states ‘I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds.’ (Kerouac, 2000: 15) This sense of being caught between two worlds leaves Sal in turmoil; he is unsure of his own identity as he leaves behind his old life and embarks this new life on the road. It is striking to note that Sal is in this self-imposed purgatory, between two worlds, as he not entirely comfortable with the notion of completely abandoning his past. This is in stark contrast to McCandless, who seems determined to fully embrace life on the road and to extinguish any traces of his past life.  He documents his travels on the road as ‘Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.’ (McCandless, May 1992) McCandless transforms himself from straight A student, with seemingly endless opportunities ahead, including studying at Harvard law, to a free spirit, by disposing of the shackles of modern life. He cuts up his bank cards and I.D cards and he donates his $25,000 college fund to Oxfam. This stripping away of identity and ties to society and his old life allows McCandless to fully transform himself and shed his skin. He evens adopts a new name, this occurs at Lake Mead, Arizona, after his car is caught in a flash flood and causes him to abandon it, and begin hitchhiking across the country instead. McCandless also burns the remains of his cash supply, and in doing so he severs the last remnants of his ties to the old world. To complete this transformation, he also assumes a new name, Alexander Supertramp. This metamorphosis, a rebirth as a completely new being distinguishes McCandless from Sal Paradise, as by performing these rituals, he is able to step out from his old world into the new and not be troubled with questions of identity or belonging. Yet, it is interesting to note that Sal Paradise does share a similar experience to McCandless, with this sense of rebirth, as he states ‘I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember because the transitions from life to death and back are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it.’ (Kerouac, 2000: 157) Sal is finding that each new experience on the road is like a rebirth, each transition from one place to the next is like being reborn, but the ghostly aspect of that haunts Sal, is that no matter how many times he experiences it, he is still tied to his old life on the East coast of America.

One aspect of the journey that also unites both of these adventures as they travel west is the city of Los Angeles. Sal Paradise describes his experience as “I never felt sadder in my life. LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle.’ (Kerouac, 2000: 77)  McCandless also experiences this same feeling of loneliness and isolation in Los Angeles. After travelling from Mexico via the rail roads, he finds himself in LA and very quickly he senses that this place is not suitable for him. He struggles to adapt to the concrete jungle after experiencing the freedom of his time on the open road. The short stay in Los Angeles seems to suffocate McCandless as he is overwhelmed by the cacophony of noise and traffic in this vast city. The film also depicts a scene where McCandless sees a vision of himself in a business suit, propping up a bar and chatting to a girl. This epiphany confirms to McCandless that he no longer belongs to this world and any future of studying at Harvard law and fully conforming to society, has now long gone. McCandless has spent too much time in isolation from this world in order to return to it, his journey of self-discovery is a relentless march forward to Alaska, for him the more isolated the location the better, in order to fully realise his dream of life without material possessions or capitalism.

There has been some criticism of Christopher McCandles’ journey to Alaska, most notably from Park Ranger Peter Christian, who outlined his thoughts in an open letter. He stated ‘when you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament . . . essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.’ (Christian, 1992) This view seems to be held by outdoor experts, but I feel they are missing the point of Christopher’s whole philosophy and ethos, perhaps he didn’t want a map, as he didn’t want to be confined to trails and paths that had been laid out by those who had gone before him, and instead he wanted to establish his own territory, free from the restrictions of maps and plans.  He truly embarked on a journey into the wild, and maps were maybe one more piece of the old world he needed to leave behind in order to fully experience the raw, unadulterated, pioneering lifestyle.

In conclusion, both Christopher McCandless and Sal Paradise left home to find some sort of enlightenment on a journey across America and both experienced it to different degrees, with Sal’s being a more internal and inward enlightenment and Christopher’s being all encompassing. Sal Paradise does have moments in the novel, where he is truly seduced by a romantic notion of life on the open road, and I feel he has a real grasp of the potential for adventure and exploration available to him in America. Sal describes how ‘If you drop a rose in the Hudson River at its mysterious source in the Adirondacks, think of all the places it journeys by as it goes out to sea forever’ (Kerouac, 2000: 11). This sense of following a journey from beginning to end, how the scenery constantly evolves, but is ultimately lost forever seems to make Sal want to anchor himself in one place eventually, he is not going to drift forever, like Christopher McCandless or Dean Moriarty. It is also interesting to note that Sal’s quest comes at a point in the cold war era of American history, when conformity was praised and celebrated and outsiders or those who failed to conform, were deemed suspect, this perhaps underpins the turmoil of Sal’s inner conflict, of whether to fully embrace life on the open road or return to domestic life. I feel that Sal cannot abandon his past, as he comments on his journey ‘Behind us lay the whole of America and everything Dean and I had previously known about life, and life on the road. We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic.’ (Kerouac, 2000: 251). In contrast McCandless is able to leave his old life behind for good and he pays the ultimate sacrifice for his belief, as he dies after spending over one hundred days in the Alaskan wilderness. His philosophy never wavered in his quest for self-discovery and he maintained determined to fully experience the joys of life, free from the shackles and excesses of modern society. McCanldess summarises it well in his notes, when he says, ‘So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.’ McCandless was willing to sacrifice everything he had in his pursuit for freedom, and he never looked back, he kept on going until the end of the road.


Christian, P. (1992)  Chris McCandless from an Alaskan Ranger’s Perspective

Kerouac, J. (2000) On the Road, London: Penguin Books

Linson, A. (Producer), & Penn, S. (Director). (2007) Into the Wild [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Vantage

McCandless, C. (1992) Christopher McCandless aka Super Tramp

War of words: The impact of verbal jousting in Oleanna and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.


War of words: The impact of verbal jousting in Oleanna and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Primary Texts

 Mamet, David, Oleanna (London: Methuen Publishing, 2001)

 The verbal jousting between John, a university professor and Carol, his female student, demonstrates the powerful and potentially deadly impact of a war of words. They both battle for every inch of their beliefs in John’s office, which results in a bitter and bloody climax. John’s loss of control, as he grabs and beats Carol, highlights the toxicity of this battle of wills. The professor has lost his composure and his anger erupts in volcanic fashion, as he can no longer engage with Carol on a purely linguistic level. The fact he resorts to violence and is close to hitting her with a chair, shows the rage and contempt he has for Carol’s ‘political correctness’ (Mamet: 79) and he feels threatened by her to such a degree, that in the end he is only capable of winning the argument using physical violence. This is the only way he can really defeat the determined Carol.

Albee, Edward, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Middlesex: Penguin, 1965)

The main characters, George and Martha are embroiled in a nasty and bitter battle. The verbal jousting between the pair is almost theatrical, as it’s not confined to their own marriage or behind closed doors. Instead their battlefield is open to visitors and the full extent of their volleys of abuse is played out in front of guests Nick and Honey. The guests walk into a brutal and frightening social situation in George and Martha’s home, they have front row seats to the humiliation and degradation they both inflict on each other. The “Fun and Games,” in the first act demonstrates the inventive ways the couple try to outdo each other on the linguistic battlefield. In the second act, “Walpurgisnacht,” these games turn even nastier as George and Martha turn their attention to Nick and Honey, in an attempt to force them to reveal their darkest secrets. Finally, in the last act, “The Exorcism,” everyone’s secrets have been revealed and purged. Nick and Honey exit and this leaves Martha and George alone in the house and with the prospect of figuring out how to rebuild their shattered marriage. The war of words in this marriage has left a major impact on both couples and provides an insight into how powerful and cutting personal verbal attacks can be.

Secondary Texts

Murphy, Brenda, “Oleanna: language and power” in The Cambridge Companion to David Mamet, Christopher Bigsby (ed), (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2004) pp. 124-138

 Murphy explores the idea that David Mamet exposes the power dynamics of the student-teacher relationship and the ‘abuses to which it is prone’ (Murphy: 125). The education system is used as a vehicle for Mamet to examine human interactions and Murphy believes these interactions can be defined by the language used by both student and professor. She examines how the use of language demonstrates authority and power, and the knowledge of a certain language or key terms and phrases empowers some people and excludes others. Murphy argues that certain linguistic communities restrict access to outsiders and this divide can be seen in the two worlds of John and Carol colliding in the office.

 Bean, Kellie., “A Few Good Men”, in Gender & Genre Essays on David Mamet, Christopher Hudgins & Leslie Kane (ed.), (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001) pp.109-123

 In this essay Bean argues that Carol, like woman in other plays, suffers the violence inspired by the power struggles between men. She claims that John is a product of misogynist tradition of patriarchy and his treatment of Carol is a result of him trying to defend his masculinity. Bean also argues that David Mamet has disguised a vicious misogynist fantasy in his play, as a weak argument against political correctness. To emphasis this display of masculinity upon the stage, Bean argues the final moments of the play demonstrate how this masculine authority is retained to the detriment of the female role. She feels that Carol is being punished for trying to break with convention and for attempting to step outside her traditional role in society. Carol is being punished, according to Bean, for the power struggles between men and it seems her argument is that Carol is collateral damage, she is caught in the crossfire.

Paolucci, Anne, From Tension to Tonic, The Plays of Edward Albee (Washington: Griffon House, 2000)

 Paulocci focuses on the normal setting of Albee’s play as a way to have a greater and more shocking impact on the audience. The profanities, the grotesque parody and brilliant wit that cut to the core are woven into the fabric of a relatively normal setting, against which this rather abnormal behavior is played out. She also argues that Nick and Honey mirror our discomfort and embarrassment at George and Martha’s antics. She also examines the role of sex within marriage and how George and Martha are using sex as some form of barometer by which to judge Nick and Honey. The most striking aspect of all of this is the fact it plays out in the rather sedate setting of a college campus living room. The kind of place we expect to hear intelligent debates and philosophising, is actually turned into a seedy den that’s embroiled in a war of words that questions marriage and love and examines the various stages of a sexual relationship between a man and woman.

McCarthy Gerry, Edward Albee, (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1987)

 McCarthy argues that Edward Albee balances the roles in his play, in order to involve the audience with the narrative. He believes that Albee’s characters produce a tension between conflicting sympathies and expectations and this is used to challenge the audience throughout the play. McCarthy outlines how the underlying tensions of the play are established in the ‘opening skirmishes’ (McCarthy: 63) and this continues throughout the remaining acts. He also believes the influence of alcohol on the characters leads to the venomous war of words between them, and allows the underlying issues of both couples to boil to the surface.  The tension building during the verbal jousting is similar in a way to Oleanna, as both prove to be expressive and explosive bouts, yet they are ultimately unwinnable games. It seems the war of words takes both sets of characters to a point of no return, it takes them beyond their normal levels of control and ultimately it takes both to  a point that seems beyond repair.

Utopia: The Temple of Paradise – Trailer

Entertainment, Film

One man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

Inspired by the real life events of Jim Jones and his 1970s Cult – The Peoples Temple, from their origins in America to their tragic end in Jonestown, Guyana. This drama set in California & Mexico, is the story of one man’s rise to power from salesman to cult leader within the ‘Temple of Paradise’

Written & Directed by Joseph Andrew Mclean
Stars: Evan Miller and Rachael Ferris