Medievalising “The Fall” and Power-Pointing


(and stuff about sex)

I was facebook-talking with some colleagues about PowerPoint, in response to and comment on this article in The Guardian :

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 11.24.33 AMCommentary on that article follows at the end of this post.

The main body of this post is an essay. It’s about another kind of two-dimensional rectangular object—a still from a “moving picture”—seeing what you can do with it in relation to commentary around it. Be that as the main focus (and sequence of items) around which other information is built and communicated, and which structures that new thing as a whole, making it into a whole; or as examples punctuating that new main thing; and/or as commentary within it.

Caveats: This essay’s structure may echo the structures in and of its subject-matter: work in progress / process / motion; by someone who works stanzaically and who also happens to work on medieval poetry; it in turn works a lot on and around, to use Chrétien de Troyes’s terms, san et matiere, and work that is itself—as work—une moult bele conjointure through panser et paine.


This commentary, like its subject-matter, is a cautionary tale about reading, understanding, and learning; or, why The Fall‘s Paul Spector is attractive and perilously seductive (even though I am not usually a fan of beards, a rare exception can be made in his case); charming, enchanting, fascinating, enrapturing; and how he is right. He is probably not good. He might be agreeable. He and his art-work may, as I’ll try to essay, be beautiful. Is the dark scary horror of the larger work around him, The Fall, sublime?

Spector, then: arguably right; not “right-right,” obviously, what with being an evil villain.

Albeit one with a romantic and saintly ending:

The last two minutes at the very end of the final episode:

A lesson for Stella Gibson; set up so that Paul Spector can watch her, imagining, savouring, as she returns slowly.

Handcuffed to Spector, a lesson for Tom Anderson too; a forced imagination including, when Gibson returns, reading her face.

Look at them. Just a last minute, faces, slight shifts. Understanding, in close up and slow motion.

Ambiguity: at whom is Gibson looking?
At both men?
At both as one? (and is this a hint about season 3?)
At both as one and as representing all men?
And what the hell is that look, as ever with her, with that stillness: distant, close, compassionate, alien but trying to understand, moved but trying to keep that motionless, in the private and out of the public (compare the personal diaries of Gibson and of Katie Benedetto).

Two faces change: Spector’s lips open in response to something; then we see that Gibson’s do too. They are looking in each other’s direction. If you look closely, you should be able to detect dilating pupils and the start of a flush.
Are they looking at each other?
Is this the erotic climax of this “true romance” of “parfait amour”?
(And what would Catherine Breillat make of it?)
Are they looking at something else, beyond, in the mind’s eye?
Is Gibson horrified?
On the point of throwing up?
Or just a bit out of breath?
Coincidence, juxtaposed through editing to persuade the reader that this is not comment but causal chain?
Is she about to open her mouth in response to something else next to Spector and Anderson that they can’t see?
All of the above, layered simultaneously, happening in a slowed-down intense expanded moment just like in good old complicated real life?

We never (I think?) see Gibson and Spector face to face, two sets of eyeballs, in classic “closing in for clinch gazing raptured into each others’ eyes” cliché, when reflexive and reciprocal verbs fuse into one, as two singular persons (real and grammatical) become one plural one; a romance trope, for example in Chrétien de Troyes. Never the equality enabled by a third-party voyeur focalisation. The nearest we will have will be this episode’s central long interview scene (more on which anon).

Gibson’s use of “we”: the leader of whole group (including Spector) speaks on their behalf to HQ over a discreet, near-invisible communicative device; is that “we” shifting to her and him, to a plural subject?

Final seconds and gazes. A rather obvious death-sex-birth-rapture moment, with the cradling and iconographical allusions: Pietà; holding a spent companion caringly through post-coital recovery; an opening mouth and upward look that could be infantile; religious or other ecstasy.

The Passion of Spector: his finished work is himself, through martyrdom. The suffering of an outsider artist, for whom that passion is the artistic life, and the art, and the artist. The passion of auto-hagiography.

Nice use of helicopters and their sound and circling: birdlike above the trees. In a fine moment slightly earlier, Gibson and Spector look up separately and watch the helicopter through latticed branches. Steady repetitive circling combined with a steady sound slow everything down and meditatively focus attention. There’s no other sound, no sound-track.

Just that beat.

We’re in the breakbeat. Then the bass drop.

A heartbeat. A ticking clock as the end draws nigh. An echo of gunfire. The rhythmic exact structure has the effect of chopping up the action into distinct frames, a super-slow sequence of dreamlike stills; though the action continues at normal pace.

Helicopters are salvation, intercessionaries, impartial movers between worlds, in yet not of them. Psychopomps, harbingers, angelic, it is easy for them to fall out of the sky as whirling flaming demons. (I was half-expecting that to happen in these last two minutes; only half, as I did realise it would be silly, OTT tragi-comic, an inappropriately gross deus ex machina.)

There is a crossed or exchanged gaze but we don’t see it; while we see the pair, from a third-person point of view, as one unit (like in reflexive-reciprocal-soupy sex scenes like in Flamenca), what happens between them stays hidden, veiled by Gibson’s hair. Compare other drawings of veils: Chrétien’s Lancelot, Flamenca, etc.

Gazing more: while there’s a lot, and a lot of clever stuff, in The Fall about gender issues, and some gazing and perception, it’s far from the old Lacanian Male Gaze turkey. Our two principals both have eyes of that interesting sort of changeable grey that includes other colours. So besides the expressive effects of pupil dilation and contraction and the use of facial muscles around the eyes, as usual with any eyes, we have extras. These eyes can be anything from icily emptily crystalline to murkily opaque; with intermediate stages through progressive lightening and darkening, greening and warm golding, lucid clarity and interest. They look like they’re constantly observing and analysing, yet are hard to read. As with the interview-scene, there’s a lot of non-verbal internal reading going on, isolating the two of them in a private shared world.

There’s a veil; it’s private; Gibson’s precious privacy restored? (more anon on when it was taken from her)

As in the earlier sequence where Gibson walks back up the hill, you see a change, a responsiveness in Spector.
Is this recognition, realisation?
A moment of exchange, togetherness, understanding (entendemen, all senses)?

Have these two very wordy individuals finally manage to communicate? (See: le non-dit in Flamenca)

Iconography. Add a key image from earlier in the series to assist in re-seeing the final scene.

An upward look happens, otherworldly rapture and internal transport. Bernini’s St Theresa. Dreyer’s Joan of Arc.

Role reversal?
Or transformation, translation, continuation, with Gibson as the ape?
Will Spector be reincarnated in Gibson in season 3?
Or was that her all along?
Hence the episode’s name, “What is in me dark illumine?”

Structural symmetry.

Let’s return, symmetrically, to another upwards look.
Looking up at the start of this same last episode: Gibson walks in the footsteps of Spector, not Rose Stagg. This despite victim empathy, shared gender, feminism, visceral obsessive drive against pathological misogyny.

Painterly chiaroscuro: like counter-reformation religious art, a figurative play of dark and light, nothingness and truth, in a staged tableau; although Spector’s art has moved on (in season 2, with respect to season 1) from static tableaux, there will be a second one at the end of the episode and of course that final composition, neither planned nor predicted by him. Probably not, anyway, depending on how paranoid a reader you are and how brilliant you reckon him to be.

A shaft of light: illumination, truth revealed, the entendemen of understanding.

That shaft is juxtaposed with the other illumination from the light-source of Spector’s film, a light created by him, an internal light; see what happens when Gibson realises this, moves away from looking at the crime scene—the more expected interest for a criminal detective—to place herself in the position of the criminal, to position herself as him, to see as him.

Seeing, putting oneself in another’s shoes and under the skin, thinking through; visuality and illumination: what we see here is a brilliant use of video to play with, and play out, point of view. That video is Spector’s strongest seduction and a fine and clever art-work. His art has developed formally, from season 1’s static tableaux (and accompanying book, his Vita nuova on compositional process and commentary) to season 2’s mixed-media interactive performance around Gibson (and incorporating other books).

In the middle of this episode, that video reappears, and the selfie-ing or intermediary use of a tablet, now an interlocutor in a four-person conversation:

Ekphrasis: a film, on a tablet, within a conversation enclosed in an inner chamber, within the rest of the narrative.

A finished work of art.

A reliquary.

A tomb, bearing an inscription that is read and reread, commemorates, and immortalises inspirational object of desire, desire, and desirer-artist.

The film on the tablet brings together three interlocutors, one of whom is lost in time, in another world. It bridges two times and places.

Past-Spector breaks the fourth wall. So does present-Gibson with respect to us.

Moving backwards in a first loop, that footage was first found before this episode and watched all the way through by Gibson and Anderson together. If you’re looking for an ineffable awesome transubstantiative horror that might be “sublime,” that’s your scene. It’s also when Gibson and Anderson first reach entendemen, the start of their relation. Pair that scene with this one, and the hindsight creates an expectation of Things To Come. Recouple (threesome-ify?) these two scenes with Inferno Canto V (amongst other iterations of the trope): Paolo and Francesca get together through reading the romance of Lancelot together (and end up in Hell); it’s come to that time in a series when currents are converging, the weave of threads tightens, and we’re reminded about all the senses of “falls” and of a bookish centrality of Dante (more on which anon).

But: this scene continues a pattern of intermediacy; as in medieval romance kinda-threesomes (Arthur-Guenevere-Lancelot, Marc-Yseult-Tristan), the closest bond of companionable friendship cannot for reasons of social convention go a step further to its natural conclusion, the union of the divided androgyne. Homosocial love via a shared woman to sidestep homosexuality is recast here as a different impossible relationship and desire, one just as horrifying in the translated terms of the here and now.

So past-Spector talks to present-Gibson through the found footage, only able to interact with her indirectly through intermediaries: others’ bodies, film, other writing of a first-person-voice lyric sort. This series is so richly intertextual that it is tempting to see allusion to another Gibson and another detection-discovery adventure revolving around another central work of cinematic art known as “The Footage”: William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. But I digress. (Perhaps.)

Another loop backwards so as to reread this scene in another direction: we are rethinking when Gibson replayed that film at the start of this episode, when she positioned herself as Spector and seemed to be replaying past action in his shoes. But this midpoint conversation reminds us that all we saw in that earlier scene was her watching and listening to what Stagg said, restaging Spector’s work, translating his tornada / envoi aggressive address/attack on her into a dialogue between her and the possibly-dead woman.

Magic mirror, oracular well, interzone portal.

Drama. Close encounter. The closest so far, physically, between Spector and Gibson. Tension, frisson, close-ups (but no “faces on equal level and fusing”). The nearest they and the audience will get in this long-drawn out romance romance to finally getting around to the long-anticipated much-desired Action? A titillating presage of what is to come, at the end of the episode?

Manly silence (see: Arthuriana, parodic play in Chrétien’s Perceval, Le Roman de Silence).

The asking of important questions.

All familiar topoi in episodic narrative, romance, and other cyclical narrative forms that involve aspects of lyric poetry.

[I note with interest, on later rereading, that this shift into medievalism was the point at which my use of bullet-points noticeably diminished. The first versions of this post were very bullet-pointy. I was trying to see if they could be used, with film-stills, in a positively power-pointy way. On rereading, I realised that they bugged me. I prefer stanzaic paragraphs with spaces between them. I should add that writing this essay continued for another day after its first appearance. One of the joys of blogging, compared to print publication, is the way editing and further commentary can blur into composition, preserving a continuum of “process” which would be lost with clean cuts between stages and the frozen stasis of print. But I digress.]

The final episode stands as a slightly separate part, longer, cadenza and coda. Lyric last stanza, tornada / envoi. Wonderful pacing and changes in tempo, motif work for a circularity and concentration through textural densification, hinged around this very long central scene (around 20 minutes) at the exact midpoint.

Midpoint. The classic moment in romance (by which I mean the medieval literary long narrative form, often in verse, often with lyric and translation (narrow and broad sense) aspects) for: a recognition-scene, a discovery or rediscovery of identity, a revelatory dream-vision, finding one’s own tomb in a deep dark otherworldly place like a forest, other self-changing moments and dramatic ekphrastic objects like meeting the Holy Grail. Lancelot, Perceval, Floire et Blancheflor; Gerbert de Montreuil, Froissart, Machaut.


After which life and literature continue: this is only part-way, in pre- and post-modernity… a historicism placing modernity at the epochal mid-point of the anthropocene, epicentre and apogee only because it’s, well, central in medieval structural terms.

Medieval romance may be the centre of my universe and my main point of reference—a dislocated epicentre compared to most literary criticism people, for whom it’s modernity, or the eighteenth century, or the nineteenth—but like anybody else I also live in the world. I watch things like The Fall. I read China Miéville. I listen to dubstep. They’re all part of a creative and cultural continuum (not just my own private inner world), in which modernity is just a glitch. That is, the “modernity” expressed in simple “clean, pure” linear progression without adventure, side-quests, meandering searches for meaning, layers, undercurrents, flow confluence conflation, influx and infusion, “project” that’s “process”; and any resulting works that are any good tend to be tainted by “la circularité du chant”.

Midpoints, looping structures, rhythm, texture, intertextuality.
Breakbeats, bass drops.
Light and dark, shading and tonality, mood and mode.
We’ve looked earlier and will return later to Gestalt, Spiel, and colour.
Here’s another unapologetically formalist way of reading The Fall and any other non-linear, non-modern work; albeit still a modern kind of criticism, via Kant’s third critique, Zeichnung in Komposition:
What in dubstep and its kin is called a “midsection” is, more generally across music, a “bridge.” In classical / Western modern-era music, this becomes a transition which helps to move the work elsewhere, towards conclusion. (Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” is a gorgeous exception.) In contemporary post-modern forms like dubstep, the bridge returns to its earlier sense, the “Steg” in late medieval Meistersinger Tabulatur, related descendant via the earlier Minnesänger to the kind of bridge you would meet in medieval French and Occitan poetry: one of greater prominence, focus, and centrality.

Take for example Chrétien de Troyes’s Lancelot. That romance is an extreme example of “Hammerklavier super-Steg”: as a roman d’aventures, there’s more bridges than anything else. If one’s usual expectations were for a road, with stopping-places, and occasional bridges and cross-roads; in a romance like Lancelot there’s a lot more bridges, cross-roads, and misty bleakness and marshiness where the road becomes a bridge across an inhospitable other world, illusory land on which one should not set foot. (Chrétien does this elsewhere, as will other romance-writers; Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose is almost entirely conversational midsection, with embedded mises en abyme, what with being a dream-vision.)

In the midsection of the romance is a singular bridge: a perillous sword that crosses a chasm and is guarded by ferocious monstrous beasts that turn out to be illusions. We read Lancelot crossing it very, very slowly; one hand and foot at a time; cutting himself and bleeding, drop by drop. That beat again of blood. Which will return at the end of the section when Lancelot bleeds, drop by drop, entering Guenevere’s bed-chamber for a night of love. Over which a veil is drawn, in fourth-wall breaking direct address to the reader. After which a court official detective investigates the crime-scene, reading traces and signs. (Detectives and detection, again.)

There are other sorts of bridge. Subverted anti-bridges in Flamenca, an underground tunnel and thermal springs. A bridge is often also—musically and in medieval romance—a cross-roads.

Think about what bridges do. A bridge doesn’t just take you from A to B. It elevates you, allowing you to see more of your surroundings, around you and below you, forwards to where you might be going and backwards to where you’ve been, the bigger picture with dimensionality and strata. It makes you pause. Contemplate. Consider. The bridge or midsection is central because it affords full-circle vision (including temporal perception) from that point.

Time to pause and reflect on what has gone, and to prepare the listener for what is, at it were, to come. Hence changes in texture and tempo, rhythm, beat.

So. Back to Falling after this present post’s breakbeat mid-point. The final episode is shaped around a conversation in the middle, the moment and hinge around which the whole episode is built, with reflections and echoes in mise en abyme either side of it; rippling out through the second series and back through the first.



It would be wrong to reduce Spector, as Gibson seems to do, to a mere simple Nietzschean. This could be a tragic misreading that would doom a fragile connection to failure; paths can cross, lines can intersect and change direction to merge or interweave, and then again they are just as prone to divergence.

Nietzsche-ing him is more likely to be intended to goad and rile, to mess with him, mind-fucking him back. This would be in character: Gibson and Spector are after all both obsessive controllers. In mind-fucking, in theory there should be no advantage of sex or gender. It’s an even playing-field. Mind-fucking would be Gibson’s equivalent to Spector’s overpowering seductive approach; and we’ve observed her seductive techniques in operation before on three occasions: her directness is as overpowering as Spector’s different approach. Towards the end of the first season’s very first episode, Gibson approaches an attractive stranger. The start of episode 2 shifts between two nocturnal dalliances happening at the same time: Gibson and James Olson, Spector and Sarah Kay. Episode 3, the middle one of the first series, is shaped around a central scene where Spector discovers—by chance—a perfect dark place in the woods; it will be used for a first displacing art-work using a mannequin, and later in the series will become the stage for a second art-work, Spector filming Stagg in her first living tomb.

At the time of this buccolic idyll, Gibson is televised at a press conference and Spector watches the later broadcast on the news. She looks out directly at viewers and addresses the unknown criminal. It is at once a statement to a general audience and a direct message just for Spector, that only he will get, as it (and she) expresses an understanding of him. Spector recognises her cognition. It is a moment of enraptured pupil-dilating mouth-opening, of classic love at first sight; albeit an indirect first sight, mediated by television. The 21st-century translates falling in love when one sees a portrait, receives a lyric poem from them, or hears about them through the courtly rumour-mill and public gossip-networks… This is the moment of first contact, placing both pre-proto-lovers on the same page, before that page is written and sent by Spector to Gibson in a good old-fashioned letter that will start the epistolary romance proper. An epistolary romance that will start with the written and spoken word—a letter, a telephone call—but otherwise be a multi-media creative work, like the rest of Spector’s art.

At the end of that middle episode of the first season, Gibson comments on the sexist tension we’ve all been feeling; a precursor to the sexual tension of the next series, as the thrill of the chase and blood-lust for the kill turn into something more subtle and sophisticated:
She’s still expressing a very “season 1” rather than “season 2” kind of idea—linear progression and simpler dichotomies, man/woman, equality/hierarchy—which will be complicated in the next season. Equality turned out not to be exactly what was in mind; equity, perhaps, in turning our central conversation in season 2’s final episode from what could have just been conflict (in never-ending dualism, resolvable only in forced dominance; remember this is 21st-century Northern Ireland) to conversation… and conversion? “Truth and Reconciliation?”

Spector’s dramatically postponed response is deliberately ambiguous. Have they—as he puts it, “we”—reached an understanding, contact, a meeting of minds, to keep a conversation going, to continue? There is a “relationship” in its proper sense, and has been since the start: crossing paths become links; the visual motif of ties that bind, on Spector’s first victim at the start, handcuffs at the end, Gibson’s hair; police tape and other everyday running bindings throughout the series. Now, a mutual and reciprocal acceptance of relationship? Independently and in conjunction, concord and accord, agreement.

They understand one another.

They have reached an understanding that there is “a thing” between them; even if what that “thing” is remains to be determined.

Intent to continue has been declared by one, speaking in the first-person plural, and the other has not expressed dissent: there is an “understanding” to “have an understanding,” in the terms that will be familiar to both of them, good readers of literature, culture, anthropology.

Or: the several other senses of the medieval Occitan entendemen that keeps turning up in this post.

Core sense: “moving” (like in “tend, tendency”) “towards, into” (like in “engage”). Leaning in: like Paolo and Francesca reading Lancelot. Tension: like the tenso dialogue / exchanged-poem form. The same “tending towards” where seventeenth- and eighteenth-century calculus and aesthetics conjoin. The sublime moment. A sublime historical moment: the re-emergence of pseudo-Longinus’s treatise on the sublime (albeit known off and on, in a mediated way, through at least the 10th-13th c.), Boileau’s translation of 1674 and his (Horatianesqueish) Art poétique; via him, Pope.

“Tending towards” is a motive force in any literature and especially evident in medieval Occitan erotic poetry (which is always many other things at the same time), creating and orchestrating tension, balancing integration and differentiation, under governing aesthetic principles of mesura and razo, aiming towards a sublime san: sense, sensibility, and sanctity. (See: Raimon Vidal de Besalú.)

Entendemen is also “listening” (also seen in the abovementioned scene), an active engaged listening that is cardinal in communication and understanding; and entendemen is of course also “understanding” in its full, highest?, knowledge-sense.

Entendemen is related to Kant’s Verstehen. Exactly how would be the topic for other work. I don’t know. Do you know, O good reader? I thought I should put that here as an open question to people as versant and conversant in Kant as they are in Troubadour poetry and poetics.

And so that this present piece is made in a satisfyingly medieval (sorry: non-modern) shape, with a midpoint about midpoints, at the end of which middle section is something critical and meta-critical, and an embedded other-worldly object, ekphrastic in its possible non-existence.

The modern French “entendement,” related but not identical to the medieval Occitan term, translates as Verstehen around the time of Kant: see for example, in the 1800 Dictionnaire de l’Académie française:

Here’s how “entendement” changes, in French dictionary terms, over the modern period (from the ARTFL Dictionnaires d’autrefois project):


A literary work does not begin and end with its beginning and ending, after all. Spector is Spector The Creator and Destroyer; not just a bleak dark nihilist. He’s dabbled in Nietzsche and fin de siècle decadence; he’ll have been into Crowley, magic, esoteria, symbolism, comparative mythology, that stage lots of bright kids go through in their teens. There will doubtless have been Jung, Circlot, Eliade, … the usual Hip Undergraduate canon. Spector’s thinking and creative expression live and breathe metaphorical sex, death, illumination, alchemical and mystical sublimation. Plus the sublimation of Nietzsche’s Menschliches, Allzumenschliches. Plus possibly at least popular perceptions, translations to common usage, of Freud’s and Lacan’s sexual sublimation (with an objet petit a based on iffy, limited, and reductive reading of troubadour lyric poetry; and of it via Dante and Pound and Eliot); Jung’s mystico-sexual transcendent sublimation is the most probable inspiration.

The interlocutor other is your own tomb that you’re reading: Gibson and Spector are each others’ mirror-tombs.

All jolly good and Clive Barker so far.

Let’s see what happens around the midpoint of this second season, in episodes 3 and 4:

Tit for tat, or continuing the reading-writing-interpretation-reading pattern, in an epistolary romance of poetic exchanges (Flamenca, Le Voir dit, La Belle Dame sans merci).

Spector changes the image that looks out at Gibson from her laptop—her reflection cybernetic inner self—and writes in her inner sanctum personal diary: a forced exchange of hearts and writing on the beloved’s heart (Flamenca), conversation through commentary; a Vita nuova reference? Dark Dante and luminous Beatrice?

The diary-addition is photocopied, enlarged, sealed in a plastic evidence bag. Gibson prints out the image, from a different online source, and pins it to the wall: distancing herself from it through three steps of mediation / technology / changes of form and medium.

In so doing, she re-establishes control as his work and his creative project become material for hers.

Season 1 had two main narratives side by side, each following their course, driven, single-minded. Spector’s “projects,” Gibson’s “procedure,” both are creative works of composition. If in the first series we saw them as works, with an intended end result of a finished complete work (a dead body, a closed case); in season 2, disruption and interruption turn to interaction and construction; and focus shifts from end result (we know, from tropes and audience expectation about dark detective fiction, how things will end) to process.

Not one artist’s creative process, in a single line, that driven single-track mind. The threads moved closer. Other story-lines pulled them together, adding unexpected moves. Season 2 interweaves the Gibson and Spector narratives, crossing, reading each other, interfering directly in each other’s course. Season 1 is regularly lyrically punctuated by longer shots of steady rhythmical movement of a linear character: Spector runs, Gibson swims. The routine continuation of presumed earlier habit. After his Annie Brawley “project” fails, he is forced to run. It’s a different and irregular running; his doubled worlds have collided, his running habits disrupted, perverted to others’ purposes, out of his control. Gibson’s swimming will also be disrupted, as she moves out of the hotel and to a couch in the police station. Look back through the series: not only are privacy, routine, and control gradually disrupted; but those specific physical activities that give space, slowness, respite out of time, peace.

In season 2, we no longer have two single composed controlled compositions, first-person voice single-voice lyric song, canso. Now it’s full literary activity, including reading, reception, rewriting. Interaction: in medieval Occitan poetic terms, moving from canso to the dialogic exchange of tenso to the polyphonic bigger picture of romans. (Parallel: Romance of Flamenca, via O’Brien diss.)

Reading and writing structure the whole arc of the series and individual episodes, generate plot development, and reappearing physical books bridge-link episodes: Spector’s multimedia magnum opus projects, Benedetto’s song-writing, Gibson’s dream-diary; background reading and writing of the online world of Belfast: a city of murals, police procedure and its constant writing, evidence and reviews.

The start of episode 1:

Mise en abyme pairs to the tender final scene of the final episode.

A snapping sound will be echoed in that final scene; both snaps are snaps of ending and peace.

Non-verbal ways of communicating the unspeakable.

Memory, storytelling, and literary activity are in media not necessarily of the most obviously literary sort

The beginning of episode 2:

Gibson is reading, then writing; we see opening titles; and then we see a chiasmic other wing of more writing but by a different hand and in (controlled) conjunction with yet another one, Spector’s.

Spector is getting to Gibson through an intermediary; he has found a way for them to be together; and they are moving towards erotic and poetic conjunction.

There are other erotic intermediaries: the tablet (episode 6, central conversation-scene seen previously), Anderson (end of episode 6, Anderson and Spector stand handcuffed together while Gibson wanders the dark woods):


That is surely the most deliciously piquant threesome in recent TV history, despite—or rather, because—there is no physical contact, it is all in the mind.

Eroticism and erotics (akin to “poetics” in relation to poetry/literature, this is an “art of love”): that can be either the simple physical “having”, about power, overpowering and empowering; or it can be the fuller, richer experience of anticipation, fantasy, imagination. And why not both, if we’re thinking in any terms other than those of traditional cis-male heterosexuality and phallogocentric, hierarchical “either/or”? We’re reminded of Kay’s wise words in the bar in season 1 episode 1—in vino veritas—on good sex being both need and desire.

Spector’s stereotypically feminine larger approach to desire is seemingly the opposite of that of the anthropologist Gibson, who fulfills appetitive needs in a way that she herself describes in stereotypically masculine terms, with conventional roles reversed, in the cool grammar-loving “Man fucks woman. […] Woman fucks man” (it’s all very Introductory French Grammar)…

… that same Gibson who, by this stage in the narrative / game / performance-art-work has been made to spend a fair bit of time and effort walking through the woods, in which to do some imagining herself.

Spector moves beyond pure composition to reading, continuation, rewriting, commentary, irony: moving fluidly fluently between diagetic positions and casually breaking the fourth wall in a way that is shocking in post-medieval pre-post-medieval writing but completely familiar to the medieval and medievalists. See how he interacts with a reader (and potential victim) here in the middle of episode 1:

That’s part of Spector’s journey from the Scottish retreat (rural, slightly isolated, border of wilderness, borderlands of an otherworld), returning to the world from exile. In his various crossings of Dantean waters, the Irish Sea figured first as Lethe and now as Eunoë as he returns, remembers, and does lots of other re- things. Here’s its start, episode 1 midpoint:

Dante’s midlife wanderer in a dark wood:

We’ve been working towards this in the whole work (that is, this season of The Fall and indeed the series as a whole), including intertextual reference via embedded objects: books, art, music, video, Spector’s artwork; we’ve been hovering at the edge of the wood.

The end of The Fall is another romance midpoint-hinge, a living tomb at the heart of the forest on a hill: the overarching structure has changed from symmetrical circularity to recycling loop; just as it changed in the first season from a start that looked like the next episodes would trace a linear progression expected to end in detection and capture. The ending will be open-ended. Expect continuation. And there is indeed a third season being made right now.

Episode 2, just after the exact middle:

(Sums up all of The Fall, figuratively…)

For both our principal players, the dark savagery of Belfast has been:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
(Dante, Inferno, canto I, start).

As The Fall is a medievalistic sort of translation, version, and continuation of Dante, and a conflationary romance mixing in other matiere, it would be unexpected to find a simplistic calque of principal protanists, a simple tripartite formal structure, and clear straightforward matrix maps would be out of character. More likely and expected, for this reader anyway, would be medieval mappings, pathways, and ways; moving towards sen e entendemen.

In Series One Paul, a complicated sort of misogynist, has a moment of illumination on the road to Damascus. A plurality of moments and roads. Lots of running on roads in the dark. A Spector acts as a guide. Guides and guided get mixed around, and hunters and hunted, and reading and writing and interpretative roles (Series Two) as a Spectre hunts the Stellar while they (and others) seek illumination and follow guiding lights. Stella, aptly named as luminous and golden-haired, looks like a Marian blessèd and blessing redemptress at the very end, roles reversed as she cradles Spectre into the afterlife. Factor in the lyre/icism and transcendental magic of a Gibson guitar.

Stella wanders lost in a dark wood at the end, guided by a Spectral Virgil and the ghostly whiff of an ethereal beloved unattainable Beatrice. The body in the trunk, then, brought back to life, may become the spirit-journey guide in Part The Third. Will she substitute for Spector, and if so, how? Or is it poetic readers (or other third persons, groups, Belfast, le siecle / le monde) who have been wandering in both parts (and should expect to continue to do so in the third), guided by a Spectre and a bright-shining Blessed One? Or are we being misdirected, the identity of the wandering wondering seeker of knowledge to be revealed in the third part of the trilogy?

I have several candidates and hypothetical scenarios in mind but would not put money on any of them. Well, no: that’s not entirely true. The obvious money is on Spector returning undead (and casting rumours would support that). Interesting money would be on a shift of focus to Benedetto, Anderson, or Stagg. Less likely but I can still readily imagine: Ferrington, Gibson, Spector mère or fille (a good classically tragic contender). And why not a combination, collective, consortium? A group of women hunting a man, while trying very hard not to be straightforward Amazons or Bacchantes, and while trying just as hard not to fall into the City of Ladies.

No, that’s not complicated enough. I still like the idea of collectivity, collective composition in a mout bele conjointure, though. We mustn’t forget the music of the spheres in Paradiso… Our imaginary Series Three can be as medievalist, post-modernist, and feminist as I please. It’s imaginary. I promise that I will be reasonably content with the actual Series Three provided that it doesn’t involve my pet hates: “One Direction” exposition and explanation, a conclusion of exemplarity, and closure in expiation. I would be seriously irked were there to be irritatingly omniscient patronising flash-backs from the future, equally irritating flash-forwards from psychoanalytically-overdetermined childhood, and/or Dream Visions.

(“Medievalising The Fall (2): further intertextuality” suggests some further matiere via casting intersections bringing two texts together. Could feed into ruminations on hypothetical continuations. Woods, caves, love-triangles, grey areas between close friendship and various other relationships, dark desires, nocturnal deceptions, foretellings and tragic taboos, travels through time and space and the extra-dimensionality of intertextuality, adventuring away anyway despite it all: Merlin has it all. Maybe it’s time for some /slash/ fan fiction… )


After the end?

Echoes, tornadas, and an unexpected event turn what should have been a set coda into an improvised cadenza. Extra concluding stanzas keep looping back and relooping to earlier sequences and motifs, and reach towards potential continuations; in a desire not for a finality of closure, but a yearning for a “tending towards” entendemen, for the continuation of opening out.

The Fall could have ended with Gibson looking into her mirror, into Stagg’s closed eyes.

But it doesn’t. The corpse comes to life. Rebirth from the tomb become womb; offering (a gender-switched) Paschal redemption from the fall from grace in Eden, absolution for Gibson’s sin (that is, for having used Stagg as a tool in her investigation, a piece in a game, dehumanising and objectifying her, and a breach of women’s solidarity); some other Marian imagery to add to the final Pietà with which this present essay started.

Gibson and Spector end, or continue for ever, in a moment that resumes the end of that long middle scene in the last episode: those ambiguous looks, inciting viewer reading and rereading and wondering and discussion. Continuation outside the physical confines of a literary object, here the (current) end of this TV series.

After which everything begins again; traumatised, in looping repetition; or changed by experience, having learned and changed through experience and its processing into knowledge and a Biblical fall after consuming the fruit of the tree of knowledge; or an attempt to start afresh. The loose threads that could continue the weaving: several women. Survivors, successors, offspring one way or another.

A different inheritance, of ideas, alternative routes to the usual immortalities: patrilinearity or death in a blaze of glory.

An alternative therapy, or the natural continuation of what Spector was already practising in counselling his female patient-client-cases (= “projects” and “procedures”)?

Remember how there were four books on the bedside table?

Look closer at that book underneath Dante:


Things that are important to making sense of a work, to the work of finding sense:

  • Text
  • Intertext
  • Context
  • Point of view, the bigger picture picture, empathetic imagination

In short: good reading.

[Editorial note: these are the only bullet-points I’ve left in from previous versions. I realised I dislike bullet-points, by forcing myself to use them constantly. I started slipping up midway through this assay at a powerpointy bulleted essay. What really bugs me about them? I think it’s the ordered list that looks like its items are sequentially connected. Linear. Hierarchical. Well, curvaceous loopiness says no and fuck that antifeminist bull.]

The start of Inferno I continues thus, with light and hope, beasts and guides:

(Princeton Dante Project: Petrocchi edition, Hollander translation.)

Now. You will recall that there were four books on that bedside-table.

La Mort dans l’âme is interesting in its own right (solidarity etc.) and it is part of a trilogy. That trilogy is called Les Chemins de la liberté. These paths are plural.

Dante’s Inferno is only the first part of the three that constitue the Divina commedia; it in turn needs to be read with the Vita nuova alongside.

The book at the bottom of the pile looked like a volume of poetry. I can’t see it properly but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s The Wasteland. While distant and blurry, I’m sure it’s poetry: it’s thin, minimalist in outer design, and the cover looks like several standard poetry series of the 1960s-70s of a sort that a Hip Undergraduate would be able to find and buy cheaply in second-hand or charity bookshops. My reason for guessing The Wasteland? Textual evidence: given doubleness of action, Dante, and “Falls”; and given, from back near the beginning of the first series of The Fall, this:


That’s from the start of season 1’s middle episode: Spector with his book, that sketch-book and journal and commentary that accompanied his more corporeal corpus; his Vita nuova. The start of that episode alternated between Spector and Gibson in their nocturnal pleasures, and—from episode 1 up to that moment with the book, ending when it is gently closed and cloth around it tied neatly—we’ve now seen through a complete Spector project: from finding an idea and research, through composition and performance, to reading and rereading and further commentary afterwards, a precious moment to be savoured forever in The Book of Spector.

Remembering that season 1 is one of contrast and counterpoint (before season 2’s fuller composition), the start of the middle episode pairs up twinned narrative threads and asks us to compare Gibson and Spector in their relative care and tenderness for the significant other each is enjoying. Two scenes of love-making are paired up—that’s all, “conjunction” is for later—as are two sets of comments on sex. This page in Spector’s book should be read against Gibson’s “woman fucks man” piece at the end of that same episode.

Remembering Vita nuova as undercurrent: as intertext; through the theme of reading and interpretation; the “new life” in Spector’s protective feelings towards children, in his counselling of bereaved and broken women, in Rose Stagg’s return to life and how it suprises him (another way to read those last two minutes of the last episode of season 2, as a happy ending).

There’s many a way in which Spector is close to Dante.

Five lines taken in isolation don’t necessarily say very much, nor are they necessarily meant to. That book is his and for him; quotations are synoptic, place-holders to aid in remembering, notes to trigger the rest; and reconfigured, used figuratively, worked into what he is making. Those five lines tell us quite a lot about the “projects” and their maker, and not just ending on “Shadow”:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

–T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, “The Hollow Men” V, ll. 71-end

“Falls” in The Fall are superficially obvious: rebel angels falling from heaven; eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; corruption; need vs. desire; sex and knowledge; pure love vs. tainted love and consequences of guilt, shame, and a fall from grace; an individual’s descent into disorder, madness, losing control; a classic allegory of hypocrisy and hubris; a free-wheeling virtuoso improvisational cadenza; an area of Belfast.

What else do they mean? How does one make sense of them?

Active verb, present tense, third person singular; indeterminate gender; indeterminately continuous or completed.

“The Fall.”
Singular noun, definite article underlining singularity; undifferentiably a continuing condition or a finished resting state.

In both cases, ambiguities can only be resolved by asking questions of any surrounding context. If indeed an ambiguity can be resolved, and if context doesn’t further undefine by opening out further directions.

Context is key to meaning, sense, and understanding; the entendemen of reading and attentive listening; and it opens up the possibility and indeed promise of future continuations.


A cautionary tale that is a tragedy of misreadings.

A fable about reading and learning.


Season 1 pairs an artist with a critic, a writer with a reader. We explore the intent and start to scratch the surface of underlying deeper inspiration; and we see audience reception.

Season 2: continuation, transmission, and “translation” in the large sense.

A creative artist and a detective, both working with intuition, “feel,” imagination, analogical and allegorical thinking, and reading in the larger sense.

A pairing that, via Gibson, echoes a previous and not dissimilarly complementary pairing that depended on never reaching what might seem, superficially, like a natural and logical conclusion: Mulder and Scully in The X-Files. (For some deeply uncanny intertextual haunting, I would also recommend watching S06 E18 again, “Milagro,” which took place around the middle of the whole show.)

A work that adds intertextual echoes through the resonances of its actors’ other roles in other fictional worlds: most obviously to Andersen’s FBI investigator-detective in The X-Files; for some other characters and their actors, see also this next post on further intertextuality; in Dornan’s case, filming The Fall (2013-) would have preceded and overlapped with 50 Shades of Grey (2015). The key intersection is not with that masterpiece of erotica and artful manipulation, but rather with Once Upon a Time (mainly 2011, some episodes in 2012-13). Here Dornan plays a sheriff leading a hazy dreamlike existence in one world, while also being a huntsman in the fairy-land from which he has been raptured along with other inhabitants of fairy-tales (which also mix in assorted myth, legend, medieval romance, and fuzzy history; the narrative shifts between these two main worlds and some others, plus jumps back in time). Abandoned as a child, raised by wolves in the deep wild forest, he is a solitary outsider who seems amoral but has his own moral code; albeit an eccentric one, a heterodoxy incomprehensible to the orthodoxy of central normative power. In a misreading of his morality, the huntsman is later hired as an assassin. When he does not kill Snow White, he is stripped of his memory and capacity for feeling and forced into sexual service as a witch-queen’s pet. From which double imprisonment this damoiseau en détresse will be freed by a kiss taken and a kiss given by another stranger (another investigator/hunter outsider), albeit to die immediately in her arms.

A work, and works within it, that by the end of the second season is multi-media and shares common poetic ground with, amongst other things, some medieval poetry and poetics. We’ve talked about lyricism, lyrical and romance structures, embedding, mise en abyme, ekphrasis, and intertextuality. Here’s another medieval thing that may help in understanding The Fall, both structurally and thematically: the prosimetrum, of which the most famous and much-read, throughout the pre-modern, would include Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae and Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. The latter is one of the major intertexts in any dream-vision allegory, so well-known as to be in the use of a word or idea without any need for allusion, reference, citation, let alone exact and distinctly separated quotation and footnote; like Spector’s diary shorthand but fully infused, distilled, invisible to the naked eye. So. How well does he actually know his Dante?

In De nuptiis, as the title suggests, Philology (f.) marries Mercury (m.). That’s about it. You want plot? Nope. Personnification, psychomachia, neoplatonism, a manual on the seven liberal arts, a didactic allegory on The Importance Of Book-Learning And The Good Life Of The Mind In A Proper Academic Environment. The harmonious union is of intellect and imagination, learning and intelligence. The Fall is not an exact recasting. Gibson and Spector are both learned and bookish, and both continue to learn in life; both, as intuitive analogical thinkers, are imaginative; both, in planning and plotting and manipulative ruthlessness, are analytical logical thinkers. Maybe Spector is more poetic and mercurial; I may be subjectively prejudiced. Maybe Gibson is more brilliant. Given what happens in Martianus’s allegory, what would happen if this pair were to come together? It’s a shuddering thought.

Fortunately, The Fall is not a translation of De nuptiis.

Gibson regards herself as an expert reader… yet each series is shaped around her misreading of what felt like an appropriate lover; as objectifying as Spector, he and she are ill-fated perfectly-matched lovers, star-crossed: “Stella”, “St Paul” on the road to Damascus. Sure there’s never any “sex-sex” between them of the penetrative vaginal sort, but that’s the point: just as Spector raped without intercourse. Erotics and meta-erotics, beyond the having and getting, a sophistication beyond the petty, stupid conservatism and power-politics of Belfast. (The end, and Gibson’s last lover, offer some hope for the future.)

Hasty skim-reading to get the gist, “the main thrust,” “master the key concepts”: reading and sex that are about masculine Having And Getting. Spector misreading, misunderstanding, misrepresenting—playing out in applied practice—Camus.

It’s too easy and simplistic to see this series as refashioning or translating—as novas—Dante’s Divina commedia; and/or on Nietzsche, as facile as the caricature nihilists in The Big Lebowski; to do so would continue the tragedy of misreading, jumping on one central single item, brushing aside all else, all context and complications, all other influences and infusions; the blues, for example. It would be a literary-critical rape. Even Spector’s stalking shows more consideration, empathy, and regard for a whole object of desire (and/or understanding, enacting and embodying as he is the classic “lyric triangle” of conjoined poet-lover-poem). Desire and/as its object as a whole, in itself.

The poverty of linearity: the series is overall chronologically linear, but the pace changes (PowerPoint parallel: one slide is not equal in weight or density to another) and other elements are non-linear. Layering and flow of backstory. Undercurrent histories and/as sub-plots flowing backwards, forwards, sideways; and waxing and waning in relation to the main plot. Twinned deep undercurrents—all too often, in other narratives, at the surface and in normal chronological order—in reverse, ending with a death/(re)birth still.

The Fall is, amongst other things, about metamorphosis, metaphor, and thinking in slow-motion close-up. Illumination. The conjoined poetic, erotic, and epistemological entendemen in medieval Occitan lyric poetry. A magic moment that many a work of art tries to represent; but without simply capturing the moment and in thus “getting and having” it, cutting out all the work fore and aft without which it is senseless and empty: in the examples of The Fall‘s two artists, their finished works can only be fully appreciated by following along the collection, selection, arrangement, collage, presentation/performance and so on that result in “a composition” and are themselves, individually and collectively, “composition.” Spector’s “projects” aren’t just dead bodies, they’re everything from selecton and stalking through diaries and drawing, photography, the making of a book as a whole work. Gibson’s “procedure” isn’t just solving a case.


UPDATE SOME TIME LATER, AFTER SEASON 3… and lo, how very wrong I was.

The example above, using The Fall, is intended to show—in note-form slow-motion action—the kind of “process” in a literary-critical “project.” Reading and thinking allusively, imaginatively (imagically?), analogically. Let’s return now to PowerPoint and see what happens when you juxtapose a second thing that is composed of single rectangles of equal size, run in a sequence. From the original Facebook conversation:
Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 11.24.33 AM

(1) There are many ways to use slides of any sort, just like any communicative support and other physical space and material objects around you. See image below for example: Dude “teaching” while standing still, in a suit, behind lectern? PP is the least of your problems…

Pair an iPad with an iPhone (or use some other slide-moving device) and you can pace, pause, rewind, repeat, and indeed add slides on the fly. It’s 2015 ffs. Pacing and thinking aloud on your feet is perfectly feasible. Unless you’re using PP etc. as an excuse for being Sample Teaching Dude, hanging onto your lectern for your life, standing still (mentally too) or worse still, sitting in a slump with no audience eye-contact?

(2) It’s a classic dialectical sensationalism news item. One can use slides (and use them creatively) AND boards, pre-prepared writing and images (ans whatever other materials) AND interaction, improvisation, digressions, additional stuff from the live action performance. I’ve had students take photos of the board (and I warn them and pause before erasing it and moving on) for years; it’s like having a recording secretary or seminar-scribe, take it in responsible turn. Which also happens to be educationally / andragogcially good, and helps to instill co-operation (and ethical goodness) and community (and political goodness).

Reducing and/both to either/or is just such a despicable sucky dick move.

(3) Some of us need to use things like slides on a mobile device more, and boards less.

I write this during a pause in a physio appointment right now. I am under orders to use the board as little as possible because using them is a contributing factor to fucked-up top right rib and neck. I’ve been teaching using slides over the last 2+ weeks and we’ve just compared x-rays to the rest of the set from various points (and experimentally applying various behavioural changes) over the last two years. I love using acres of boardage but have has to accept that I can’t. I still use it a bit, and my physical limitation is a good reason to use students for writing on the board which is good for them and the class as a whole in lots of ways. Ditto the old OPs.

My x-rays say that two weeks of writing on the board less has made a difference. And there has been no pain; this time last year and the year before I was in screaming agony.

(4) The big issue isn’t boards vs. PP, the singing of old nostalgia tropes praising days of yore. It’s about teaching space and tools being determined and imposed by people who do not teach or learn, who pseudo-think in an unimaginative and purely linear fashion, whose concept of communication is simplistic linear one-way phallogocentric dominance (see Sample Teaching Dude again). Suits. So all too often we end up with classrooms with one single communicative support, or one single stagey area by a projector screen. Usually on top of the bloody board. In a room with four walls (one of them may be windows, but you can use them too), a floor, a ceiling, and humans who move with minds that move.

(5) Non-ranty analogical comment:

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 12.08.38 PM


(6) AS: “I will be so happy when Powerpoint goes away! It kills imagination and listening, it is mind numbing…”

[AS is right. Also, bullet-points are aptly named: macho misogynist killers.]

I’m currently experimenting with using it like I use boards. Work in progress. Will report back… for example, the slides are just a core, just notes (and for 101 in French) so they make no sense unless you’ve been to class 🙂 also, the pre-class version changes during class and the PDF that students get after will reflect that. I’m keeping it as a supplement, not a substitute, for the actual class-as-live-interactive-performance and for students paying attention and making their own notes. Some classes will just have the approximate plan (often with a self-mocking footnote on digression), a synoptic recap of the previous class, a bunch of pictures, and a sneak preview of the next class (on Mondays, of the whole week ahead).

I think history will judge PP and co. as steps towards something better, writing and drawing in the air, having multiple “windows” open in front and around you simultaneously. Like in the film version of “Minority Report”: the tech there was the real big star (and not just compared to that horrid little Cruise chap).

Another thing (which fits with my earlier pre-teaching training, on the legal and film-interviewing side): because I know where things are going next (digressions aside), not only do I not read out slides (obv.) but I’ll talk through a point, with students, then show the slides (or a small group thereof), to which we’ll add the extras from just talking through that point (or their own work searching for and using vocab, formulating an idea, etc.).

Sometimes I’ve found myself showing a slide and riffing off it, sometimes that fits, sometimes I’m less sure (but heck at least it’s still human and motile).

So the slides are place-holders and punctuation and intertextual allusions–like other media in medieval manuscript–and used dynamically; not fixed and linear. And they have to be emphatically a support, like any other tool or prop: not a substitute for a class or for the active and interactive process of paying attention, listening, thinking, thinking through, actually working. Slides like any synopses are dangerous if they’re allowed to be linear, reductive, and static.

I think what I’m doing is that I’m trying to adapt them “medievalistically” as post-book media. Not just the pre-printed book; a whole set of pre-printed media that include ruins and relics: what remains after something alive has gone tells you more or less depending on how good a listener you were and are (see: Mole on attention), and resonates and echoes and haunts more or less and more or less deeply and permanently depending on individual sensitivity; and the potential for continuations. That includes doing things yourself in the future with these relics and ruins, and continuing them. Not memories or memorisation but remembrancing; not the culmination of a monologue but the start of a conversation; neither happiness nor a promise of happiness, but a Nehamasian “only a promise of happiness.”

I like Prezi because I like that kind of look and feel, retaining bigger picture, three- and four-dimensionality. I currently use Keynote and PDFs; another thing I like (and used for many years) is an assortment of open browser tabs, moving from one to the next, with the central thing being a website (I use wordpress blogs a lot). This feels more freely-moving to me than just a slide-show alone, and with more circularity, spirality, loops, three-dimensional balletic moves (yes, the famously balletic O’Brien). If reusing that now, for students who worry (and give bad reviews) about classes where they have to do more work on the spot following, my compromise would be to take screenshots and stick them in a slide-set, to give an account of that time in class; but, I stress, just as an aide-mémoire / remembrancing tool. It’s not the content or the class: that’s something else, the lived experience of the student, the intellectual work then and after that internalises, a process, bref: learning.

(7) One last thing: my colleague MC, who is also a dancer, is wonderful about teaching and learning as dancing…


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