‘Brigid Brophy is nearly forgotten today, except by those who wish to claim her for a special-interest subliterature that it would have sickened her to be confined to. The author of seven novels written in what Peter Stothard calls a “sparkling and perfumed prose,” she was one of the 1960s’ most daring voices in her explorations of the varieties of sexuality. For instance, Brophy considered masturbation an invaluable spur to the imagination, pointing out that masturbation fantasy was the nearest most people got to the invention of narrative fiction. She was best known during her lifetime for her dashing and learned nonfiction books, especially Black Ship to Hell (1962), a wide-ranging study of human self-destructiveness.
‘Throughout the early 1960s, Brophy employed the comedy of manners as her favored mode for exploring social and sexual mores. From a cool, detached perspective, Flesh (1962) traces the development of a hedonist. In The Snow Ball (1963), she returns to Mozartean sources, examining the sexual psychology of the opera Don Giovanni in the context of a New Year’s Eve costume party in contemporary London. The Finishing Touch (1963), a tale of romantic misadventures in a lesbian-run girls school on the French Riviera, pays homage to the novels of Ronald Firbank, another of Brophy’s icons.
‘Her most ambitious work, In Transit (1969), is a free-associative narrative set in the international terminal of an airport. While the text explores through puns and allusions many of Brophy’s favorite themes (for example, opera, pornography, rationalism, varieties of sexuality), protagonist Patrick/Patricia loses knowledge of language, hence the linguistic means of differentiating sex and gender and, consequently, his/her own distinctive sex or gender.
‘Brophy was an outspoken feminist, atheist, socialist, and pacifist who expressed controversial opinions on marriage, the Vietnam War, religious education in schools, sex, and pornography. She was a vocal campaigner for animal rights and vegetarianism. A 1965 Sunday Times article by Brophy is credited by psychologist Richard D. Ryder with having triggered the formation of the animal rights movement in England. You crossed swords, or pens, with her at your peril.
‘Brophy died in 1995 at the age of 66 of multiple sclerosis, which she had been suffering from for many years. Even from her sickbed, she campaigned for the rights of women, of writers, of prisoners and of animals. She was a vice president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, and no animal escaped her sympathy. Upon her death, her literary agent, Giles Gordon, described her as a “deeply shy, courteous woman” who wrote delightful thank-you letters and kept to rigorous standards in her work. “Woe betide the ‘editor’ who tried to rewrite her fastidious, logical, exact prose, change a colon to a semi-colon (or vice-versa), or try to spell ‘show’ other than ‘shew,’ slavish Shavian that Brophy was.’ — collaged
only known photo of Brophy in her later years
Obituary: Brigid Brophy
Brigid Brophy @ goodreads
‘Desperately seeking Brigid Brophy’
‘Brigid Brophy & Michael Levey: Why Wed at All?’
Brigid Brophy @ Writers No One Reads
Brigid Brophy on censorship
Brigid Brophy on HG Wells
Brigid Brophy on Mozart
Re: Brigid Brophy on Ronald Firbank
Brigid Brophy on James Joyce
Brigid Brophy on Arts councillors
The Darwinist’s Dilemma
by Brigid Brophy
So far as I can tell, the original class distinction (original, that is, in each individual’s experience) is the tremendous gulf between Me and All the Rest of You; any difference I see between You and You is tiny compared with the enormous difference between Me and All Other, a difference I experience in the fact that if I bump you on the head, whether You are in this case animate or a lump of stone, I merely observe the result, whereas if I get bumped on the head the universe, my universe, is totally occupied by an actual, vivid and very unpleasant sensation.
Presently, however, there arises in most of us (perhaps not in psychopaths) a faculty of imagination (I can only label, not describe it), which informs Me that to you, You are a Me. It is this faculty, with its ability to inhabit the other side of the barrier, that knocks the class barrier down. It can never rid me of my egocentric vision. But it persuades me that if I want to make a just appraisal of reality (and I do want to; it’s not a virtue; I can’t help it) then I must perform a series of intellectual adjustments to discount the distorting effect of the particular point of view from which I am obliged to observe reality.
My pain in the head remains more vivid to me than your pain in the head, but if I adjust for this I have to perceive that your hitting me and my hitting you are acts in exactly the same class; I can’t deplore the one without deploring the other; I have weighed them in a balance as accurate as I can make it, found them equally bad, and have thereby set irreversibly out towards social justice.
To my mind, therefore, there was both a logical and a psychological inevitability in basing the claim for the other animals’ rights on social justice. I thought there was enough motive force to carry the claim in the fact that we do, for whatever reason, want to appreciate the real world correctly. That is a force that has led people, from time to time, to make considerable and often uncomfortable intellectual adjustments in order to correct for distortions in their own vision. Some humans used to assume that the planet from which we observe the universe must be the centre of the universe – a slight to the sun, which was no doubt well able to bear it, and the source of a distortion in our knowledge of reality which we have now, not without reluctance, corrected for.
To me, then, it all looked – and indeed it still looks – straightforward. Once my imagination has embarked me (and it has, and I can’t go back on it) on a course of thoughts making for social justice, it inevitably carries me crashing through the class barriers, including speciesism, which may be the last barrier to fall or at least one of the last. What the movement against speciesism asks, in the light of the theory of Evolution, is that the present high barrier between the human and the other animal species should be displaced and re-erected between the animal kingdom and the vegetable kingdom (though evolutionists will expect there to be a no-man’s-land at the border). A millennium from now, there may well be a symposium on the rights of plants. Humans may be working out techniques whereby we could, for instance, derive our food exclusively from fruits, which display as it were a biological acquiescence about falling off into the hands of grasping individuals like ourselves. Plants are individuals, they are sensitive, and they certainly demonstrate an instinctual will to live – that is, they assert in instinctual terms a right to live. But their sensibility and individuality are not carried on by means of a central nervous system, and at the moment that is a place where our knowledge stops and seems to be an intellectually respectable place for our imaginations (at least in practice) to stop.
When I make a central (or at least some sort of organised) nervous system the sticking point, I am not of course making pain the sole delimiting factor of an animal’s rights, including a human animal’s rights. I do not for an instant admit your right to kill me provided you do it by creeping up on me and contriving not to give me pain or fear. I think what I think is that, providing it isn’t threatening our life, we have no right to extinguish an individuality that has been formed by negotiating the world by the agency of a nervous system.
I should add, by the way, that if I have become permanently incapable of pursuing my individuality by the usual agencies you will do me (or what remains of me) a kindness if you extinguish me. Euthanasia is the sole instance in which we behave better to the other animals than to our own species.
Rare footage of Brophy (w/ Diana Rigg, Cathy McGowan, …)
Anthony Burgess a.o. on the Brophy-devised show ‘Take It or Leave It’
Brigid Brophy In Transit
‘Set in an airport (“one of the rare places where twentieth-century design is happy with its own style”), In Transit is a textual labyrinth centering on a contemporary traveler. Waiting for a flight, Evelyn Hillary O’Rooley suffers from uncertainty about his/her gender, provoking him/her to perform a series of unsuccessful, yet hilarious, philosophical and anatomical tests.
‘Brigid Brophy surrounds the kernel of this plot with an unrelenting stream of puns, word games, metafictional moments and surreal situations (like a lesbian revolution in the baggage claim area) that challenge the reader’s preconceptions about life and fiction and that remain endlessly entertaining.’ — Dalkey Archive
Ce qui m’etonnait c’etatit qu’it was my French that disintegrated first.
Thus I expounded my affliction, an instant after I noticed its onset. My words went, of course, unvoiced. A comic-strippist would balloon them under the heading THINKS — a pretty convention, but a convention just the same. For instance, is the ‘THINKS’ part of the thought, imply the thinker is aware of thinking?
Moreover — and this is a much more important omission — comic strips don’t shew whom the thoughts are thought to.
Obviously, it wasn’t myself I was informing I had contracted linguistic leprosy. I’d already known for a good split second.
I was addressing the imaginary interlocutor who is entertained, I surmise, by all self-conscious beings — short of, possibly, the dumb, and probably, infants (in the radical sense of the word).
From the moment infant begins to trail round that rag doll, mop-head or battered bunny and can’t get off to sleep except in its company, you know he’s no longer infant but fant. Bunny is the first of the shadow siblings, a proto-life-partner. Mister and Missus Interlocutor: an incestuous and frequently homosexual marriage has been prearranged. Pity Bunny, that doomed childbride.
I have known myself label the interlocutor with the name and, if I can conjure it, the face of someone I am badly in love with or awe of. But these are forced loans. Cut short the love or awe, and the dialogue continues.
Only death, perhaps, breaks the connection. Perhaps it is Mister Interlocutor who dies first, turning away his head and heed.
The phantom faces of the interlocutor are less troubling than the question of where he is. I am beset by an insidious compulsion to locate him. When my languages gave their first dowser’s-twig twitch and I conceived they might be going to fall off, I still treated that matter less gravely than the problem of where I was addressing my account of it.
The problem was the more acute because I was alone in a concourse of people. After a moment I noticed that my situation had driven me to think my thoughts to the public-address system, which had, for the last hour, been addressing me — inter aliens — which commands (couched as requests), admonitions (a tumble of negative subjunctives) and simple brief loud-hails, not one of which I had elected to act on.
Whichever language it might be I should be left with a few words of when all the rest had dropped off, at least public address would be equipped to understand my halting thoughts. Comforted, I set myself again to enjoying the refuge I was deliberately taking.
Yet it’s imprecise of me to call the public-address system the location of my interlocutor. As a matter of fact, I had not managed to spot where the voice came out — only the three points where it could go whispered in (to a microphone like a hose), murmurings of a uniformed snake-charmer to her phallic love.
The voice did not seem to emerge anywhence. It was loosed upon and irradiated the vast lounge, the top nine tenths of which contained only air and light, the people being mere shifting silt at the base. From time to time public-address commanded. ‘Pass the silt, please.’
The voice was mechanical. Mechanical equals international.
I sprang out of the tweed-suited chair which, sloped backwards, was designed to let you rise from it only as a very slow Venus from the foamrubber, and began to stroll. I would have liked to brisk-march but, alone among strangers, you simply cannot, unless you are sure in the possession of a purpose which, if stopped and asked, you could declare as to the Customs. It makes no difference that you know no one ever would stop you and ask.
I strolled, as if not noticing where, towards the wall of glass through which you could look out on a la piste/die Startbhan/the apron, whereon it was forbidden to smoke/ rauchen/ fumer.
I had not succeeded in leaving the interlocution behind, trapped like drained nectar in the valley of the chair slope. Caught it without an answer at the ready, I merely repeated: Ce qui me’etonnait . . .
Hearing this for the second time round, the interlocutor demanded why it was already in the past tense.
I explained. I cruise, my jaws wide to snow-plough in the present tense, the plankton of experience. This I then excrete rehashed into a continuous narrative in past tense.
Naturally the process is imaged according to bodily functions. That is an old habit of fant’s (fant, the feu infant), so much of whose childtime is preoccupied with them. Even adult fant, book-learned enough to know about metabolism, doesn’t feel it happening. You eat; you excrete; but you never catch your cells in the act of creating themselves out of your food and never hear the pop of sugar-energy released into your service from your laden corpuscles.
No more can you detect your personality and its decisions in the course of being created by your experience. You know why that you ingest the present tense and excrete it as a narrative in the past.
History is in the shit tense. You have left it behind you. Fiction is piss: a stream of past events but not behind you, because they never really happened.
Hence the hold fictional narrative exerts on modern literate man. And hence the slightly shameful quality of its hold.
p.s. Hey. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s nice experiencing and celebrating others’ happiness, and marriage seems to be one of those benchmarks of big happiness for lots of people, and why not, I guess? Yay about your great reuniting with Anita! How was the photo exhibition? That sounds very interesting indeed. My day was … uh, oh, I organized the English subtitles for our film, and I started figuring out the film’s ‘thank you’s’. I went over to my pals Michael and Bene and Milo’s place to visit and eat a piece of Michael’s soon-to-expire birthday cake. He cut me a gigantic piece, and it was great, but it was like eating a giant wad of sugar, so afterwards I felt kind of very sick, but, in the clear light of day, it was worth it, Otherwise, I just hung out and did emails and stuff. What was Tuesday like for you? ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris! Yay quadrupled and much more about your new eBook. I can not wait! ‘100% excited about’ has to be the guiding principle, yes. Prolific writers I like a lot? There must be. Huh, strange, I’ll have to think about that. I definitely admire writers who can generate work at a good clip. 10 short books a year! Go for it, man! I’m doing a ton of stuff myself right now, but they’re in different categories, so it feels less like I’m pouring out work for some reason. My part-finished book is still waiting for me to come back to it. I’m not sure when I will exactly. I do get these urges to jump back into it, but they’re outbalanced by how exciting it is to be making things that aren’t novels, I guess. One of these days the urge to finish my novel will become paramount and dictatorial, I think. I’m just waiting for that to happen. Maybe this year, that seems quite possible. ‘Permanent Green Light’ is all in French. Well, there’s one scene where a song with English lyrics plays, but that’s it. On set, most people spoke French because only I and DP Michael Salerno don’t speak French well. But my comprehension is to the point where I understand what’s going on. When I worked with the performers, I would either talk with them in English, or, in cases where their English wasn’t very good or where what I needed to tell them was complicated, there was a person in charge of taking care of the performers on set who would translate for me and for them. It wasn’t a problem. My French is quite poor. I can’t read French literature. I can read a newspaper or magazine and kind of get what’s going on if I have to. I love when you ramble on about writing, so feel extremely and much more to any old time. Hope you’re having a swell day, pal. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, David. Oh, why is you writing about Allan Carr just an exciting and perfect idea? Because it is. Interesting, Obviously, I can’t wait to read your piece, and I will in a minute. Everyone, David Ehrenstein has written a piece about the fabulously strange and fascinating sort of uncategorizeable impresario figure Allan Carr, occasioned by a new documentary about the guy, and I can guarantee you that David’s thoughts/writing on that subject will be far more than worth your time. Hence, … read it? ** Sypha, Hey. I had ‘Mousetrap’ too, and I just set it up and put it on a table in my bedroom and looked at it like it was a sculpture. Gotcha about Maine. Any chance your family might go for a more unknown location next year? I miss mini-golfing. I probably said before that I grew up with a pool table in my bedroom, so I was really good at pool for a while, although I imagine I’ve gotten shitty at it by this point. ** Steevee, Hi. Yeah, understood. I don’t know. Your friend seems very into making rules and policing art and creating pre-set, generalization-based restrictions and stuff, and I just can’t abide that kind of person. So I just wish you luck with her and with your friendship’s outcome. ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick. Oh, thank you for explaining that. It can be very interesting to read a quickly composed or assigned work by an inherently interesting writer. The speed can lead to interestingly unchecked examples of their talent and happy accidents and things like that. I’m curious about the books, but I don’t know if I’ll order one. Is it possible to read her ‘real’ work somewhere? Oh, she has written a screenplay. That’s super interesting. I’ve been working in that form too, as you know. Yes, based on my/our experiences with the proposed TV series project, which has been under consideration for over a year now, and based on what writers for TV have told us, the ‘very slowly’ thing seems to be standard practice for that medium. I hope she gets some good news before too, too long. Thanks a lot. ** Jamie, Dude, you made it. You found some signal. God bless your signal. My day was pretty alright all in all. French TV used to broadcast the big domino world championship event, so there would be, like, 10 hours straight of people setting up sand launching insanely elaborate domino configurations in search of prizes and world records, and it was heaven to watch. But apparently not widely popular enough, because it’s been years since TV here did that. This week I’m doing some film stuff and trying to do as much non-film stuff as I can before Zac and I get swamped by the color grading next Monday because that will be another 9 am to 7 pm every day kind of work. Schools in China. That’s very interesting. So … you’re gearing the cartoon projects to Chinese school kids? I strangely like watching tennis, but I haven’t switched on Wimbledon yet. Is Nadal still in? I like Nadal. Go Nadal. ** _Black_Acrylic, Indeed about the F&W piece. It’s some kind of ultimate. Who would you get career advice from? Like a professional career advice giver, or … ? ** Jeff J, Hey, Jeff. The original composer/musician re: the opera project dis-involved himself from the project, which wasn’t a huge surprise, to me at least. We have a new composer/musician we want to work with who is very interested in working with us, but we haven’t met with them yet to talk everything out. We will this summer. Zac and I are super-busy with the film, and Gisele is ultra-busy with her/my new dance piece ‘Crowd’ that premieres in November, and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, who’s doing the set, has a big show of her art coming up, so I think we’ll go back to working on the opera this fall. Although if the TV series gets green-lit, that’s going to be very involving, so I don’t know. The opera is scheduled to premiere in Berlin in 2019. I’m not a big fan of Sophia Coppola’s films other than ‘Lost in Translation’ so I’ll probably wait a while on that.I haven’t read Javier Cercas. Huh, cool, I’ll get on investigating his work. That’s exciting. Thanks, Jeff. How’s everything in your immediate world? ** Misanthrope, Me too. I’m those kinds of things’ sucker. Good, good: take care of that. Oh, right, it’s 4th of July today. Fuck. I’ve really lost touch with America, I think. Weird. ** Bill, Hi. Yeah, exactly, I’m totally with you on that plus. Whoa, ‘My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea’ is such a great title. I don’t know of that. Wow, it feels imperative to find to what that is. Huh. Okay, cool, thank you. Are things easing up on your end in the good way? ** Wolf, Wolf! You’re still here, so awesome! I really need to get to Chateau La Coste. I forget how far away it is. This summer maybe. Yeah, why not? I’ll figure it out. And, yes, sort out some Paris plans, that would be the kind of heavenly sucker punch that Paris and I need so much. No kidding. Rah rah! Love, me. ** Right. I thought I would attempt to draw your attention to the work of the greatly undervalued and wonderful writer Brigid Brophy today, and now it’s up to you. See you tomorrow.