The Blue Fury 17: Failure of imagination
The Blue Fury is a comic about Janet Frame and Katherine Mansfield haunting a first year teacher.
I’ve said before that I chose Mansfield as a foil for Frame based on her being semi-recognisable. What this actually means is that I chose her for her hair. In this moment, before I colour and upload the comic I made, this strikes me as particularly unfeminist, to choose someone for their hair.
This strip was partly inspired by an essay by Ashleigh Young, “Katherine Would Approve”, which you can find in her book Can You Tolerate This. Or you can click the link. (I guess you are allowed to click the link.) In it, she describes how many people take possession of Mansfield, finding meaning in her connection to their lives. Not only am I’m guilty of being one of the people more interested in Mansfield’s life than her writing, I’ve reduced that interest to hair. Hair that I’ve made sleek and slick. Hair that is no longer her hair. Is hair life? Some would say so. A hollow sort of life, but aesthetically interesting.
But more than Young’s essay, it was my supervisor’s comment, earlier in the year, as I described Janet Frame as an influence, that “Everybody chooses Frame” to write on, which made me feel that my sphere of influences was predictable and small. I felt like Rory Gilmour when she realises that everybody writes about how Hillary had influenced them in their essay for whatever-the-important-thing-they-are-trying-to-get-into. Hillary. We – or I – feel familiar enough with her to refer to her by her first name. The emphasis on her name demands italics. I guess it is somewhat admirable to become a first-name-only person. Like Madonna or Oprah. Maybe I shouldn’t see it as a reduction in the shadow of a more famous Clinton. It’s not the left-overs of an identity, it’s the forging of something unique. Except it can’t be in my part of the world. Hillary, here, means “Sir Ed”. Sorry, Hillary, your name, in my mind at least, has been eaten at both ends by more famous men. Do you have a middle name? The internet would tell me if I could be bothered asking. If so, I can conceive of Hillary’s left over name, her middle name, as a donut hole. Another hollow. Something in between, barely significant and unseen. The bit that it takes a special sort of marketing to sell.
In any case, no one wants to be Rory Gilmore, the girl who people say is good at things but doesn’t actually appear to be. There’s a gap between the telling of the story and the action with her. It’s like the gap between by assertion that these characters are Frame and Mansfield and my knowledge of them.
The idea that everybody wants to write on Frame and that everyone wants a part of Mansfield’s life is another sort of failure of imagination, like teaching the texts you were taught at school. We circle round and round the edges, leaving a void in the centre where our own opinions were meant to go.
But there’s a kind of comfort in feeding off someone else’s legacy, even if you are just using them for their hair. The void is delicious and donut-y, which brings me to the idea that there can be a fruitfulness to a failure of imagination, however lame.
I will gorge on the empty hole, leaving myself feeling bloated and guilty about the consumption of clichéd calories because, as a teenager, I did want to be Rory Gilmore, and I haven’t been sensible enough to let that go.