Late thirty- or early forty-somethings together, or The Way We Live Now

Armitage thinking. Maybe. A pose is typically both more and less than it appears to be. I always wonder what happens in the second immediately after the shutter falls. Does he lift his countenance, so that we see him grin or stare at us as he lets his right arm fall, or does he grimace and drop his head, extending the arm across his forehead? Photograph by David Venni, 2009. Source: Русскоязычный Cайт Pичардa Армитиджa.


Uhtred is reflecting on his youth from the vantage of old age in the background as I start to write this. One unmistakable problem with human life is the difficulty of reflecting on things as they happen. Friends with kids all say that the days are too long and the years are too short, but they are not the only ones who feel that way. Why does life go by so quickly? Or should we just embrace the increasing pace with which the moments pass? Should we try to juggle many balls, or concentrate on one purpose that we call our own, or fulfill the promise that others see in us? Should we do familiar things and succeed at them, or try new things that are hard, and risk failure? I’m not certain. Who can tell?

Though it may unintentionally repeat some stuff mentioned elsewhere already, this post marks my belated effort not to threadnap from RAFrenzy. Longstanding readers know that one cause of my Armitagemania is an experience of severe over-identification with Mr. Armitage. I began to read press about him and interviews he’s given in January 2010. My perusal of his creative work has been enhanced by this extraneous information, but it’s not just that — it’s that I see so many similarities between our lives. To counter this reaction, I developed a four-level epistemological scheme to remind myself and others what we can reliably know about Richard Armitage based on the information we have. On that scheme (and even though I never published the final post in that series, because I lacked the energy at the time to deal with the controversy I feared), I usually force myself to read between C and D, thus subjecting my identification to a reading against the grain. I was interested in how the reactions to this question lined up based on the questions asked; Nat wanted to know what popped out at readers in response to the piece, a strategy that demanded interpretation of what was important and thus pushed the reader from A to B. RAFrenzy’s commentators were a bit edgier, and she and some of them discussed the response of feeling manipulated and how they felt about it, with the information emerging that the piece was following the generic conventions of a regular feature in the Times in which people are asked to describe their day; the discussion both of generic convention and the awareness of feelings of manipulation  — no matter how people felt about it — pushed many of those readings from B to C and even toward some features of D. I should note that reading at C or D does not constitute an interpretation of Mr. Armitage as a dissimulator, or even anything negative: one can accept happily that little that one perceives about the world based on certain kinds of sources is very reliable. Most of what this feature narrates is entirely of a piece with his previous statements, not all of which have been patently transparent. As I’ve noted, the hide/reveal dynamic at the foundation of pudens depends on most interpreters of a text taking a position between B and C, and the resulting unsettling or provocative uncertainty about the reliability of the interpretations we advance. Individuals will take different stances in this dialectic. Mesmered, notably, prefers opacity, noting that she wants Armitage to remain an enigma. Indeed, many of RAFrenzy’s readers were happy with the information as presented in this feature even as they acknowledged that they were not reading the full picture and being manipulated in line with tropes that mirrored those of the magazines we read as teenagers. In order not to deceive myself about my place as interpreter, I try as much as I can to read at D, but what I say below is a departure from that stance, as it is definitely a B reading. That doesn’t mean the interview isn’t saturated with tropes, both shared cultural ones (“I respect my heritage,” e.g.) and more specific rhetorical patterns typical of Armitage’s statements to the press. I could give a D reading, but I’m exploring the B reading here because the questions it raises are still resonating in my emotions a few days later, particularly after what happened during this work week, and I wonder if historians who read sources like this feature in another century will see them as symptomatic of anything about the mood of our lives. At the same time that I consider this reading sympathetic, I continue to ask myself whether the speculative quality of this kind of writing is entirely fair to Mr. Armitage. It’s certainly too presumptuous. On the other hand, this is my blog, and this summer I was able, finally, to establish for myself that the real Mr. Armitage is not part of its target audience. As I said at the beginning, he’s a text that I interpret to understand my life.


I still don’t know exactly why. Maybe it’s being roughly the same age as Richard Armitage (I’m two and half years older) and the many assumed common experiences that entails, even across oceans. Maybe it’s a certain kind of upbringing (with parents who say: work hard, don’t take anything for granted, don’t call attention to yourself, eat healthy food, come see us at Christmastime) — being “raised right.” Maybe it’s superficially similar experiences in childhood and adolescence (early water trauma, bookishness, important years of musical education that did not lead to a career as a musician and an on-again, off-again relationship with one’s instrument(s) as an adult, performance experiences that emphasized responsibility to the collective — be on time, learn your lines, no fooling around–, the move “away” in late adolescence, a life path that differs strongly from one’s parents’). Maybe it’s knowing that I’ve listened to a lot of the same music. Maybe it’s having had a roughly similar career trajectory (a career that demands significant creativity, a slightly surprising “big break” in one’s career in one’s early 30s, being on the cusp of a modest success that potentially promises more, not having thought ahead of time what success might entail in other realms of one’s life; being overtaken by the demands of the job and feeling some sort of need to keep it going). Given what I understand about various remarks he’s made about wanting to maintain the freedom to pursue work he likes as long as he can and not getting too comfortable, we may both be autotelic personalities. Or maybe it’s just that I also often eat microwaved oatmeal (or, as he calls it, “porridge”) for breakfast. But boy, do I overidentify with what I know about this man.

So I read this interview and think that mutatis mutandis, I could have given it. It’s like he’s describing my life. Right down to that porridge, which almost reads as emblematic. Easy to buy, easy to store, easy to cook, little mess, leaves time for fifteen minutes more sleep in the morning. Pi’s called the habits described here “living the life of the mind,” “dull as dishwater” and “in a rut.” Guilty as charged — at least in terms of what I am speculating is the sense in which she meant those remarks, i.e., as a reading of this feature, not as a description of the real qualities of a life as actually lived. I love that she said those things, because they spoke to me at a gut level. Skip the next section and go directly to the picture of Lucas North’s bare chest if you don’t want to read how my rather boring life as I depict it below is like that of Richard Armitage as depicted in this interview. I beg your forgiveness in advance for the repetitive employment of the words “too,” “also,” “like,” and “as.”


Photo of Richard Armitage in the Times, September 12, 2010. Source: Richard Armitage Net, crediting the scan and cropping of the image to Orpheus; original photo by Joe McGorty, credited in the feature itself. Fortunately, Orpheus cropped the photo so I don’t have to talk about my fascination with the way the inseam of his right jeans leg is twisted and seems to call attention to his fantastic thigh musculature. Though the graceful draping of the left hand is clearly in evidence. Yeah, my eyes can’t escape this photo, or the intriguing curves of his eyebrows over that arresting gaze. A pose is simultaneously more and less than it appears to be. The physical stance says “this is who I am.” But: Have you asked yourself what “NO ESCAPE” refers to in the larger sense?

Like Mr. Armitage, I work long days and if I am not standing on the mat at the appointed time, usually no one can take my place, at least in the short term. Despite recent gains in productivity due to the tech boom, the minute remains unforgiving, and most creativity or developmental activity can’t really be hurried; I, too, need my sleep (it also comes easily), struggle to rise on time, and need a failsafe to make sure I rise. I also have worked out all the quick ways to make a nourishing breakfast, how long it takes to cook each, and how to make them in microwave- and dishwasher-safe crockery and thus prevent a pileup of dirty pans. Not dirtying unnecessary dishes in the first place is important because I, too, neglect mundane household tasks until the situation gets out of hand. I also leave worn clothes on the floor and re-wear items because I’ve forgotten or lacked the time to do laundry. A great deal of my free time goes to training / preparation for work, partly because I enjoy it — I chose this career and I worked hard to get here — but also partly because I don’t want to be embarrassed by lack of awareness or preparation. Fear of not being up-to-date on secondary literature, or not being able to answer students’ questions, are the scholar’s equivalents of incentives to train for scenes in which one has to “appear half-naked.” During my education I also underestimated the amount of time I’d have to spend on such repetitive preparations. But, as for Armitage, what makes it worthwhile for me is the excitement of the flow experience, which I, like him, experience as a longed-for loss of control with an addictive rush. I’ve been fortunate to experience it both in the classroom and as a researcher and writer.

Continuing the parallel narrative: as I’ve written, the Servetus family ate local. My mother usually cooks a dinner made from actual ingredients, and I love to eat at her table, not because of its high art, but because of her perfect execution of simple meals. I too have an abiding respect for my family and its roots in local beliefs and customs, though I live and work outside of these by my own choice. My work, which I also experience as a performance, is exhausting and all consuming and demands a period of “switch off.” Just as Armitage turns to activities that earlier in the day were “training,” I tune out with periodicals, books, media, and the world of my thoughts. The overall mood of this interview is that the most crucial parts of the day outside of performing or rehearsing are spent alone. Like Armitage, I also stew and avoid unnecessary confrontation (though I suspect I can be pushed into them more easily than he). I don’t experience violent outbursts, but one of the major revelations of two years of therapy was the extent to which my quotidian sunniness is a pose that hides anger and rage. I, too, have a fuse that wears out, not often, but with frightening results. I don’t get there very often, but (in parallel to Armitage’s statement about exploiting emotions he doesn’t like) I accept this about myself and find that it has its uses.

Like his evening, mine is devoted to preparation for the next day of work and future plans, with which, as he expresses with inadvertent elegance, one must “catch up” because one is always already behind. My apartment is also strewn with books and papers, mostly in piles. I didn’t have cleaning help either until last fall, when I realized that what I also thought of as “organized mess” was eroding into dirt because I rarely saw it exposed to daylight. Then again, given recent revelations about the clandestine activities of the British boulevard press, Mr. Armitage probably has good reason to preserve his private sphere, not just his confidential scripts, from any cleaner he doesn’t know personally — up to now, one presumes, his profile hasn’t been of enough general interest for anyone to bother hacking his cell phone, but he may be getting there. No secret scripts in my apartment, but certainly a few things I’d take extreme measures to prevent strangers from seeing, and recently I recognized that the mess supports my introversion, although it’s hard to know what causes what. Like Armitage, I find something I like to eat for dinner and eat it over and over. (Saves energy puzzling about what to make and time spent seeking out unusual ingredients for creativity elsewhere.) A one-dish meal involving couscous and an omega-3 rich fish like salmon is fast and hard to mess up once you know not to overcook the fish. To end the story, I also have a huge pile of books next to my bed (and on the nightstand, and propped up on the headboard, and actually in the bed, too, which is often hard on the books).

The only significant divergences I see here from my life are the twenty years spent resident in one area — something true of almost no professional my age I know in the United States, as we gravitate from school to school, fellowship to fellowship, job to job, while developing actors establish networks and contacts in a limited number of places at first before they attain the stature to work wherever they please — though I share another experience of his: traveling abroad for work long enough to need a local social life and more than a hotel or trailer, but not long enough to establish a real life much beyond that with colleagues — and the question of baths. I never voluntarily immerse myself in water (I was in a bath most recently in 1993) except in nightmares. Showers only, please. If I were cooking the salmon and tomato couscous recipe from Jamie Oliver’s iPhone app, I’d be tempted to simplify it slightly (who’s got time to crush fennel seeds?). And, although this departure may not be significant, like many of Natalie’s readers, I feel that microwaved eggs approach impalatability. Servetus likes eggs for breakfast, too. If she has a lot of time, she eats them in a diner; if she has none, she hardboils and peels them the night before and eats one the drive to work. Most often, however, she stops at the big student dormitory on the way to her office from her parking garage and buys them to go in a breakfast taco (recipe in link, picture at left). These — especially the tortillas — may be harder to find in London than here. Oh, the sadness of a life without breakfast tacos. But I digress.

These are the lives — his and mine — of geeks. Yes, in answer to the question your eyes ask as they widen when you walk into my office and see the loaded shelves, I can tell you “what’s in” every book among the hundreds there. I live the life of the mind and I share it with students and readers in creative ways. Sometimes I even write for you, dear readers. But the most significant moments of my day virtually always happen when I am alone; indeed, I have to preserve my solitude in order to keep those things happening, because I am emotionally dependent on their occurrence. When this is good, it is very very good. And yet. On some days the freest moment of my day, the only divergence from the rut of my material life, is the consumption of that breakfast taco. The last time my parents came to visit, unfortunately during the academic term, they left two days early, explaining that they not only found my apartment too sloppy, but that they experienced by life as stressful and boring in equal measure. Not only is it better to be alone, it’s quite frequently easier.

Mr. Armitage, too, has expressed the sentiment that his life as he describes it to interviewers is boring. More than once. It’s not that either of us mourns this, I suspect. Not precisely.


Lucas North (Richard Armitage), navel-gazing in a very literal sense as he follows Harry’s eyes to the tattoos he’s brought back from his captivity in Russia, in Spooks 7.1. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery. Do we probe our own scars most closely when our attention is directed to them by the glances of spectators? If so, if we’re not prepared, every interview must become a potentially risky opportunity for the performance of self.

Back to boring. I think Mr. Armitage’s statements in this vein are often read as feints (D), the attempts of a very private individual (an impression confirmed in this feature) to deflect the romantic euphoria of overeager fans for their single idol by insisting that he’s just a normal guy. If that’s the case, the strategy is backfiring, as for many of us the conscientious guy next door is even more alluring than the sexy celebrity who strides down every red carpet, even if we do like a man in formal wear (some enough to write over 10,000 words about it). (Or maybe he’s using reverse psychology.) Though I’d still look at the pictures, I’d be much less interested in him as a creative artist if he were the regular prey of paparazzi or gossip columnists, as jazzbaby1 wrote somewhere recently (can’t find the link).

But his statements also make clear that the A reading is surprisingly plausible here, as his report of his own experiences in a day is remarkably concrete. Mr. Armitage is not living the life of a star, and not just out of an oft-expressed personal inclination against that. As the Times feature seems to substantiate, he marshals his limited time do all the preparation and overlearning that fuel the quality performances he’s delivering regularly — the piece reveals the scaffolding, the notional girders that support an apparent effortlessness on screen that makes it look as if these performances cost him nothing. I hope we all realize that the reading at night to feed his mind and spirit is just as essential to that end as the morning trip to the gym on behalf of his abs, even if the result of the latter is more immediately visible than the former and he (sadly) gives us more detail about his diet and exercise than about his reading. Now, I suspect most readers will pick either A or C/D for their understanding of this interview. But though some interpretations may be more persuasive than others, divergent readings never have to exclude each other; what’s interesting about them is how they collide, how we doubt and undermine a particular reading even as we provide it.

So just to be contrary, I’m going to continue to plumb the B reading, and here’s why. Considering the genre of the medium as an influence on what’s said in the piece (strategy C), pushes us back towards B. The apparent intention of the feature is that by describing the details of one’s day, the subject creates an implicit picture in microcosm of the meaning of his life. By avoiding too much conscious self-reflection, the narrator thus calls it forth in his audience; the narration thus invites the reader to ponder the similarity of his own life to that of the subject (the B reading strategy). In short, the boundaries placed on the reflections of the narrator as to meaning call forth a conceit in the mind of the reader which suggests to us that we can indeed understand our own lives by understanding Richard Armitage’s. (And if pudens works between B and C, the piece does an especially good job of keeping the reader in delicious suspense about “the real Armitage.”)

Perhaps this conclusion about the rhetorical impetus of the piece appears to me in such stark relief because what Mr. Armitage offers us here is so evocative of a certain kind of life, one that so many people “our age,” and probably many others, are leading right now.


Closeup of Lucas North’s tattoos immediately following the scene above in Spooks 7.1. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery. Nice view of the iliac crest here, of course, with the veins close to the surface of the skin making Lucas (Richard Armitage) look even more vulnerable. But has anyone else found intriguing that the Gnothi Seauton slogan is written on Lucas’s body just at the boundaries of the abdomen and the groin — the physical margin that marks off both vulnerability and male generativity? Whoever made the decision to write that there (cough) seems to be telling us rather forcefully that self-knowledge is the key to creativity. Laying aside whether it’s true, there’s also the nagging question about whether it’s a sustainable life strategy for very long. Knowing himself in Spooks 7 and 8 seems to redeem and condemn Lucas simultaneously. Like Lucas, who importunes his ex-wife to spy for him the second he attains a semblance of control, sacrificing relationship to bolster a reorientation of his sense of self and vocation in the career he’s followed since university, we are left with no NO ESCAPE from who we think we are. For the late thirty-something and the early forty-something, awareness of self seems to become both more immutable and more inexorable.

So, B says: the material in this feature describes the life of the better sort of geek. He’s always had raw talent, but he had to learn how to channel it. He’s not so awkward and naive any more as he was once, physically or rhetorically or politically, and his dreams are coming to fruition. He’s learned not only how to pursue his art, but also how to sell it. It’s the life of the geek who’s well on his way to having made it but is still not sure what “making it” means except in a general sense. He’s been working so hard for so long that he hasn’t always had the luxury to think in tremendous detail about what he wants to achieve, in part because whatever artistic goal is on the table at that moment demands all of his workmanship, all the honing of the skill.

The demands he makes on himself in this regard stem not from any necessary or apparent artistic insufficiency on his part, but from what he learned as a child about investing goals with moral ethos. What’s worth doing is worth doing as well as it can be done. This kind of geek will not risk providing a performance that is less good than he knows it could be. Certainly not for his audience — but especially not for himself. In practice this is harder than it sounds — it involves not just “doing your best” in the sense of “trying hard,” and moves beyond knowing what your best is and striving to reach that; ultimately, it requires knowing what your best is in the grand scheme of your artistic ambitions, of everything you could be, and the last is the hardest and most daunting of all. To put it in classical terms: you can’t achieve an end without significant investment in techne, but techne leaves little room for contemplation of telos. (Note I read at cross purposes to Aristotle here, regarding both skill / technique and intention / wisdom as essential to the fulfillment of art.) Yet, to know where you’re going, you have to keep telos in mind.

Now: It’s not that the geek doesn’t have goals and values, or that he can’t articulate the ones he’s been working towards. On the contrary, those matters have been driving him forward all along. Rather, it’s that he’s been so single-minded for so long, putting in the necessary time, that he hasn’t been able to devote much attention to keeping his eyes not just on the artistic telos, but also on the potential conflict between the goals, practices, and values that relate to this end, and the possibility that he also has or in the course of his experiences is developing desires that fall outside their scope. Moments in our geek’s personality thus begin to collide. This rather abstract description of the geek’s experience should sound strikingly familiar to you, because put in these terms, it’s the process that Richard Armitage told Vulpes Libris he builds into the characterization of every role he performs. Armitage’s characters as artistic creations are thus constructed to experience exactly the same kind of potential conflict about identity as the artist who produces them.  This fashioning is an element of their energy, and of what makes them so compelling in terms of our personal identification with their problems; they are trapped in the same bind between potential and reality inherent in certain moments of the human condition: trapped between reality and desire, between circumstance and aspiration, between the thing they feel they need to be, the thing they know they can be, and their own frailties and obstacles.

Mr. Armitage’s day circumscribes that particular meaning: of a life given to an art that demands all, even, perhaps the time to think with more concentration about how one’s own desires and wishes are developing and changing, and how one’s own activities contribute to or detract from what one has defined in vague terms as one’s own artistic telos. I thus read the feature about Mr. Armitage as a still life that traces the contours of a problem, that in my own life, seems to be emerging at the very beginning of mid-life, just as one begins to realize that time, life, and energy are limited and that choosing one thing means having to neglect or abandon another. This is a “day in the life” of the life of the single, creative professional who’s on a journey of self-discovery that is tangled up in unclear ways with artistic or professional ambitions, who has to know himself well enough to make choices, because he’s starting to realize he’s not going to get it all in anymore.

Let’s get concrete. B says: The tone of the feature is upbeat; this is Richard Armitage’s life as he lives it, and it reads as energetic and a bit endearing and certainly very tiring. Busy, busy, got to keep in shape, of course eat right, vegetables, fish, healthy meals, I live in a bit of a mess and got a bit of a temper and I am conflict-avoidant so you might not want to live with me, crazy days at work, boring meals, evenings with scripts and books. Of course, a pose is always more and less than it appears. The person who tells the story gets to choose the mode of his performance, and it’s not always easy. But the same details could say: busy, busy, concerned about body image in an industry where looks count and eating healthy because of that even though I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t have to, no time to clean or organize, not a lot of patience with people who might weight down my free time, driven to rage by my frustration with potentially problematic relationships, crazy days at work, can’t take time to think of something new to eat, gotta make sure I’ve got those lines down, thank heavens I’ve got a bath and books at the end of the day to inspire me for the future and to keep me sane. The one almost implies the other.

This is the framework within which I most instinctively understand some of the more poignant statements that explode the canned genre of many of the pieces written about him, for instance, about where he feels himself to be in life: “I am searching for a place where I can just be, not necessarily a physical place to settle down, a state of mind. I like to get home to Leicestershire but I rarely have much chance. Time seems to be so short.” Or in response to an interviewer’s rather impertinent insistence that it’s time for him to start a family: “Yes, I’d like a wife and family. … I’m quite relieved I don’t have that responsibility [of being a parent] in real life, but I look around and my fellow actors are having babies and I’m envious. One day, one day. … [Turning 40 is] part of the problem, isn’t it, because I still feel like I’m 25 in my head. I always thought when I got to 40 it would be OK because I’d feel 40, but I don’t.” I’m not suggesting that Mr. Armitage is constantly angst-ridden about his choices, but I do recognize the situation of the speaker here. I don’t quite know where the last fifteen years of my life went, either. When the questions come up for people in this position, it’s often easier for us to assume one can deal with them some day rather than now, but there’s so little time to think about our state of mind. We wonder whether, in a situation where so much is demanded, we will ever have the opportunity to contemplate the telos of our decisions; indeed, “time seems to be so short” could be the caption to the life of every late thirties, early forties creative professional, and it’s difficult to imagine that it will ever get any better. It’s particularly hard when all is going well, which is what we want, since we also fears the stasis or dissipation of what we’ve managed to put together. Is it really necessary to keep building just to hang on to what we already have? Where do we get the bravery to ask the hard questions when life is filled with the details of maintaining what we have now? Do the easy, familiar, practical? Dare the new, unfamiliar, difficult? Try to slow life down, or embrace the whirlwind pace and accept or deny the heft of the personal price we are inevitably paying for it?

If leading the lives we feel called to live — honing the relevant skills, pursuing the related ends — is the inescapable consequence of self-knowledge, it seems pointless to mourn the pieces of a life we can’t incorporate and better to accept the outcomes of the self-knowledge. This conclusion seems to be a central element of Armitage’s portrayal of Lucas North, John Porter, and Guy of Gisborne, and it is a theme that emerges in both Moving On and George Gently. But self-knowledge, too, is a pose, always simultaneously more and less that it appears to be: much less than a transparent guide to what one should do with one’s life, yet more influential on choices that appear increasingly predetermined by some essential moment of “being.” It’s not clear what comes first: “the place to just be,” or the contingent “being.”

What is the pose? Which is the rut? The whirlwind we’re living in these days? Or the lives we’ve set aside in order to live in the whirlwind? Which are we supposed to embrace? The life of the mind and everything it demands, everything it hints to us that we should renounce? Or an existence without the life of the mind?  Self-knowledge? Or the lack of it? Is there no compromise? No way out?

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) up against a barrier in the London Underground and out of ammo as he’s being chased by a Russian hit squad in Spooks 7.8. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery

~ by Servetus on September 16, 2010.

54 Responses to “Late thirty- or early forty-somethings together, or The Way We Live Now”

  1. Oh, waht a magnificent post! I need time to digest it, but just for now – thank you for posting the pic of the iliac crest with the veins. It always has a huge impact on me, the utter vulnerability of this spot where the skin is extremely thin and soft.


    • Thanks Nietzsche. I feel like there’s a weird undertone in that scene between the half-naked, just-rescued Lucas and the fully clad in his political uniform Harry that is undergirded by Mr. Armitage’s extreme leanness here.


      • It is weird and reminds me of Lucas telling Sarah,”Harry and me? It’s a sexual thing.” He chucles then, but, yes, I think it is, and not only sexual, but intensely emotional as well – all those hints at Harry’s sore conscience, in this scene, or when Lucas tells Connie he stayed loyal to his country. Watch Harry’s expression there. It tore at my heart. It’s as though Harry had postponed and postponed again fighting for Lucas’s release for petty political reasons, but did not succeed in qieting his conscience’s voice. Maybe, maybe Lucas was Harry’s younger, enthusiastic ego he can’t relate to anymore and which makes him feel uncomfortable? Now, seeing that younger man whom he may have loved once (and I don’t necessarily mean explicit physical encounters!) with his terrible experiences etched on his skin it all comes back – the enthusiasm, the failures, the playing to politicians’ rules, maybe weak moments, when he conformed to hos political masters but could have put up a more decent fight…Under the political uniform there is another vulnerable human being who doesn’t want to be exposed, and suffers because of it.

        Hope that posting wasn’t too erratic…


        • This is beautiful, Nietzsche. One reason that the Lucas character speaks to me is the themes it raises about the failure of our mentors/idols/good examples. One of the hardest parts of “growing up” for idealists is learning to accept the failures of the people we admire or at least not letting them crush us. And yet this failure is maybe more than Lucas can / should forgive …


  2. This post could begin another of those 500 hits from commenters!

    The Epistomelogical Approach:
    The epistemological approach frustrates me to some extent, because I find it difficult to apply to human behaviour, which is mutable. On the one hand, I relate to this interpretation (A/B/C or D) – on the other hand…

    “Shaken, Stirred…Acute?”
    Having been shaken and stirred for about six months, I’m emerging slowly from “shaken” (still stirred, though.) 😀 Slightly better able to appreciate being manipulated, but striving toward “acute”. (in your dreams, lady!)

    Is it manipulation or the marketing necessary to this industry in particular? Acting, as well as directing, writing, cinematography are intrinsically manipulative. A production is conceived, worked through for specific effects. While not the sole preserve of this industry, it can be more easily perceived, perhaps, than in other professions/organizations/walks of life.

    Onward and upward – towards “acute” – will settle for just a bit more objectivity, thanks!


    • This is a nice point, fitzg — my issue was mostly with “what we can know about Mr. Armitage’s behavior” vs “how Mr. Armitage actually behaves,” but the B approach fuses these two separate questions. You’re right that people change. We haven’t been able to get at that especially closely for Mr. Armitage, because he’s really only had a seven year career, but I think that indices are starting to appear of changes occurring in him. If I remain fascinated, eventually I’ll probably talk about those, to.

      Every speech act is inherently manipulative. I told my students this on Thursday — I said essentially according to the Greeks there are three ethos deeds that a speaker needs to perform in order to convince, and this is how I am performing them in this lecture — and you’d have thought I had stripped naked and danced on the lectern, they were so amazed. So it’s more of a spectrum of manipulation than manipulation vs nonmanipulation. I mean, even on this blog, where I regularly perform benevolence and attempt arete (‘excellence’), I am trying to convince you of something. The question is what.


  3. @nietzsche, I understand. More than you know. 😉


  4. @fitzg,

    Marketing IS manipulation.


  5. @RAFrenzy – Indeed it is is. I expressed that poorly.


  6. Thank you, that was fascinating to read. (I’m listening to BBC Radio 1, as I type this hoping the advertised interview with Richard Armitage will come on before I have to leave for work. I’m sure I’m enjoying being manipulated).
    Mine is a very “dull” comment, but it’s about his statement of feeling 25 and not 40 as he approaches that age. Do we ever feel in our minds our chronological age? At any point we may feel younger or older than we truly are. I know for me, and I’m much older than Richard Armitage, I also feel “25” in my mind. It’s only when my body betrays me and reminds me of my true age that I reflect on how short life truly is. Yes, when I look in the mirror also, and the face looking back at me is not my face, or not the face in my mind. Richard Armitage however does not look like most late 30’s nearing 40 men I know. His profession demands he maintain his looks for as long as he can, indeed we his fans demand it of him as well. He’s also lucky that he’s better looking now than he was when he truly was 25. (From handsome to gorgeous). As an intelligent man, he realizes his physical beauty are part of the package he brings to casting agents and responsible in part for his current success, though he may not say it out loud (modesty again). But I think, from his interviews, that part of him wishes he could be a different Richard Armitage, one valued for his mind and his considerable talent (though he’s always more than modest) than for his body. Anyway, sorry to ramble…


    • I hope I get to listen to these pieces in a few days — I wasn’t going to get up that much earlier than normal to hear them. Hope that makes me more normal than I feel.

      I don’t think this comment is dull. I wonder how we deal with it as our picture of our age diverges more and more from our actual age and our age as others perceive it. I note that most of the friends I have made recently are at least a decade younger than me, and I wonder what this means. Lately I’ve concluded that it means I am trying to recapture the intellectual and emotional energy of the late twenties that seems absent in so many of my chronological peers. And I wonder if he wonders if he could explore or regain those kinds of energies by taking on different roles.

      Thus, I also think he might wish to be a different Richard Armitage — or rather, that he was getting roles that allowed him to cultivate different aspects of his art. I am really hoping that the recent more commercial success will allow him to make the choices that he most wants to in that regard.


      • Great post!

        I’m older than you Servetus and I remember looking back on my late thirties /early forties and realizing with a jolt that it was my most successful time, professionally at least. It certainly didn’t feel like it at the time, but then how could I have known? Only hindsight tells you these things.

        I think the belief, or hope, that there’s still a different self to come never really goes away. I fervently hope RA’s best days still lie ahead, but who can tell? That’s the killer.

        Chasing fulfilment through one path (like work) at the possible expense of other kinds of fulfilment is a delicate balancing act that so many of us battle with. RA’s current career dilemma seems to embody this so well. Will it all be worth it in the end?

        No wonder he strikes a chord with you, and me, and so many others.

        PS: am patiently waiting for you to post that fourth segment.


        • Thanks, feefa!

          I think there’s a kind of sense in which, when we’re frustrated, believing in that other, better self that is still coming gives us hope, or at least the energy to rise from our bed each day. I know that the beginning of each academic semester I find myself thinking that this could be the term when everything changes. (Not that that is ever true.) I think as long as one really does feel fulfilled the sacrifices are worth it; but inevitably moments come where one wonders. Such a (relatively) detailed depiction of a day in the life is the sort of thing that makes one wonder.

          I think it’s good for people to read, though, that creative professionals have to spend a lot of time in preparation. One of my pet peeves about the US press on academics is the repeated statement that “professors only work 9 hours a week.” If that means 9 hours in the classroom, well, first of all that applies to a minority of individuals. Most professors in the US teach well more than that. But even so, that cuts out all the time that we spent preparing. Our audiences see only the end product, that 75 minutes of compressed, well thought out erudition. They don’t see the decade(s) of work that went into being able to do that.


  7. I think you touched on the paradox of what is means to be an Gen Xer. We have that thick layer of cynicism, protecting that soft layer of hope. What struck me about your post is that if you could reverse “career” and “family” you could be describing my life. In my early 30’s I got married and a few years later had kids. Now, pushing 40 I am working to get my career/passion off of the ground. And you do look at the clock and wonder is it too late? Can you have it all? Or is it time to let the dream do and go back to the 9 to 5? It’s like can we have it all? Home, family, and a job we love? Is that reasonable?

    I often ask myself why this particular actor? I think your post today really answered that question on a few levels, not in so much as I eat microwave oatmeal, bec I do the quick oats on the stove!!! But because in some sense, of what we see relefected back to ourselves.

    Yet on another level, I do like the fact that he is an enigma. If you read that other article, he is talking about refraining from pizza, dating a lot, and dating famous people or ex- girlfriends. I was like who IS this guy? Just made me realize that I will prob never know, and to be honest, I am totally ok with that.

    Thank you for your deeply thoughtful post and putting yourself out there so we have the opportunity to ponder our own lives. One last thing, as for age, my mom turned 77 this summer and at her b-day dinner, she kept saying to me, “I can’t believe I am 77. I don’t feel 77. Where did the time go?” I think regardless of your age, we tend to have that feeling, which I think is a good thing.

    And yes, you summed it up beautifully, being a parent is long days and quick years!!!!


    • Thanks for saying this, @Rob. I was wondering whether I should bring Gen X into it, but (a) I didn’t know if that’s a concept that’s been applied to the UK and (b) I find most of the writing on Gen X that I’ve read to be horrible — probably because a lot of it’s written by condescending baby boomers. (with apologies to any boomers reading — not all of you are condescending, but I’ve gotten sick, since the early 1990s, of being constantly informed about all the ways that my generation’s political and personal choices are sabotaging the planet). Indeed, I was wondering as I hit publish on that post whether the book I should be writing is entitled “Confessions of a Gen Xer” rather than “me + richard armitage.” In the current economic environment a similar discourse seems to be emerging about those lazy twenty somethings, to wit:

      I wonder a lot about the family and kids question — but on a very abstract level. That’s what I read in Mr. Armitage’s most recent statement about family life: yeah, it’s important, yeah, I’d like to have it, no, I don’t know how to realize it at the moment, so I’ll think about it tomorrow, when I actually feel old enough to have a family … My biological clock never ticked audibly, and my thinking about it remained completely abstract (and still is, as I contemplate the possibility of alternative family arrangements or alternatives to the traditional family).

      On the question of what to choose, as this post reveals, I am wrapped up in serious conflict. I am almost, but not quite sure, about what I am doing — and I do think that what we know about Armitage suggests that he encounters similar problems (even if he doesn’t ask the questions or answer them in the same way we do) and indeed builds the problems into his characters.

      I just saw that other article, and I don’t know that it really contradicts this one — it might, and it might not. He says he’s never short of a date, i.e., if he wants/needs one, he gets one, but he doesn’t say he goes out all the time, either. 🙂 I liked the implication, though, that he’s on good enough terms with exes that they would go out with him in a pinch. That’s not true of me. I cut a section out of it in the original piece, but my parallel to his catastrophic temper in relationships is a capacity for extreme coldness that people who haven’t seen it up close don’t believe I have. As my penultimate xBF said of me, “Servetus is the woman who will tell you she will never ever speak to you again and actually achieve that.”

      And I’m SO glad he said he wouldn’t date a fan. Hopefully that will tamp down on some of the strangeness.

      Thanks for the kind words — but it’s really Richard Armitage who gives us the opportunity to ponder our own lives.


  8. It’s thrilling to be so challenged on so many levels by your latest post, Servetus. You’re always so open about your own life and yet so intellectually stringent. Much of what you write goes to the heart of the essential questions we ask ourselves “in the quiet of the night!” If we had chosen differently, would it mean a significantly different life?

    It was thought that I would perhaps achieve academic success etter university, but choosing a husband from a different country meant starting life in a new culture where it took time to find one’s feet. Three kids meant devoting one’s life to their welfare and putting your own ambitions on a back-burner until they were older. You land up in a different place to your original plans and in the process have become different from those you grew up with. And the hardest part of being homesick is the feeling that you have missed out on the lives of these important people, but there’s no going home because that’s changed, too. And yet the present is rich and fulfilling and you know that in the life you have lived you have been stretched and challenged and have achieved other goals that you would not otherwise have achieved.

    Rob asks “why this particular actor?” For me it is partly because he is English and seems to share so many cultural values. I grew up in a little town north of London, studied in London, have lived in Leicester. My best friends live in Southeast London and this is where I stay when I’m in the UK, so I’m familiar with the area. His personality seems so familiar, too, his bookishness, his English self-deprecation, his love of a laugh. I don’t seem to need a translator to “get” him. But the appeal is so much more. This is an extremely talented actor who challenges himself in the ways you describe in your post, who creates unforgettable characters, who is achingly beautiful and enigmatic in that he cannot be pinned down and easily analysed. He’s so unique that I find myself still enthralled after nine months!


    • Thanks for your typically astute remarks, Milly! This point about how “home” has changed, too, is really absolutely on target and part of the problem in asking these questions in the middle of the night. “Would it be different” has to apply not only to oneself but also to the “road not taken.” I actually read Armitage as embracing the stance you describe here: maybe not everything about his career is what he dreamed of, and yet he’s come a long way.

      Still enthralled here, too. Maybe more than ever.


  9. I agree. I never felt like a Gen Xer or felt that that really defined me. I think our generation is that of disillusionment, as we saw in our childhoods many systems break down such as marriage, corporate America, etc. So the cyncisim is that of self protection more than anything. I really enjoyed watching how Obama during his campaign was able to tap into the idea of “hope,” because that is not something that our generation was was familiar with, yet when I talked to Gen Y and the ecoboomers they are so hopeful and believe that they can have and deserver to have whatever they want. Whereas we, the Xers we don’t live in that world. And I am not judging, I am just making an obeservation.

    For me this post was really about you, and on that level, I releated to you, Mr. Armitage was just a prism (I am sure theere is a better word to use here, but I am a grad school drop out and can’t think of it).

    I think you always look at your life and wonder what if? Or can I have the complete package love, family, a fullfilling work and excell at all of it? If there are any people out there doing this please chim in!!!


    • I, too, am interested in further views from Gen Xers and others.

      And yes, this post was really about me. As is most of this blog. Mr. Armitage is just a disguise. 🙂 But I do feel compelled to keep discussion on him going. Since he was the prism I used to discuss my situation. And because I am much less interesting than he is.

      And for me, any way, you are absolutely right about the disillusionment / hope question. I want to be hopeful, but it’s been drummed out of me by my life experiences. I found myself unable, except very rarely, to connect with the enthusiasm of the Obama campaign, although I was equally repelled but what I perceived as the direct embrace of cynicism by the GOP (as exemplified by Giuliani’s speech to the RNC). Don’t worry, readers, I am not getting off onto my political opinions here, just demonstrating about Gen X skepticism. Although the kids I teach now — “millennials”? — are more scared about the future than anything.


  10. Wow! Great post.


  11. Well, as someone who naturally takes the “D” position about Richard Armitage, I think it is not necessarily a good thing to identify with him because it confuses his meaning with yours, his life with yours, his future with your own–and an over-identification with anyone can insensibly create missed opportunities to be yourself.

    I think that many of us reading this could check ourselves off as having many, perhaps all of the qualities you feel you have in common with RA. I certainly can, but I don’t think I could claim that they add up so much that they give me much real reason to identify with him. Nor do I think those common traits or experiences could under any circumstances give HIM much reason to identify with ME. But if the common matters were so significant, surely they would?

    And I don’t think they would. Consequently I worry about making too much of any seeming similarities, in part because at times it appears that you may idealize him greatly, almost making him a kind of totem or spiritual guide, a “prism” to examine your life through. If he knew your similarities, would he choose to use your life as a prism to see his own through, or would he not see real significance there? (Since I’m at a D position, the answer, of course, is “Who knows?”)

    He’s a man. He’s got a bald spot. He’s probably a good deal taller than you are. Start to list the dissimilarities and I think you might come up with a far longer list, starting with female, American, academic . . .

    Would HE recognize your lives as being similar in the way that you do?

    Also, I think that his interview, barring a few sentences, is as deliberately bland and perhaps as self-protective as the PR handouts of the Hollywood stars of the 1950s. No one who wants to appeal to fans is going to stress dissimilarity between his life and his fans’ lives. Yes, he’s not an ideal person; I call a tendency to say unforgivable things and throw chairs through windows is pretty appalling, and a good deal different from having a sunny disposition that at time masks rage (and that’s all in your favor). Perhaps some of what he says represents what his life is truly like on his days off–pretty much the life of a monk, really (which makes the comparison with the academic life resonate, I suspect). But this is one idealized day produced for consumption by the only people who will bother reading to the end–fans. His life probably has some of these characteristics some of the time. But only 2 out of 7 days, at best; and we can’t possibly know if this represents reality any more than features about Joan Crawford being a wonderful mother did. Perhaps the interview describes Richard Armitage’s typical day off; perhaps he’s left things out–attendance at mass or snorting up lots of cocaine with drunken friends or volunteering to help a child learn to read or reading the stack of men’s magazines most single men have stuffed away out of sight somewhere.

    I recognize that you are deliberately taking a “B” stance here, but fundamentally, are there real grounds for anything but D? Do the common qualities truly add up to having greater significance than the differences do? Is there truly enough straw to make bricks and build with them?

    I recognize the harshness of what I’ve written, and this is certainly not a post that I’d expect a response to. But I genuinely am concerned about you investing so much in a person, or the idea of a person, who is unlikely to be able to give you what you may need from him, even in understanding the self you use him to examine. He’s not a beacon, not a guide, not a seer’s stone; he’s a stranger.


    • Thanks for your concern, AAA — and for the charity of giving the B reading to my post, which I address further below. 🙂

      Just to be clear, I’ll publish and respond to any comment as long as it doesn’t attack me on a personal level (as opposed to my arguments), accuse me of criminal insanity, attack another commentator, or explode the terms of a particular conversation. This comment does none of those things, indeed it responds to issues I raise in the post, so it’s fair game to write and for me to respond to. Thus a few responses:

      -The structural interpretive issue: I did say that I was deliberately giving this the B reading, and I listed the reasons I was doing that here. I did not say that B was all I got out of thinking about this issue, or that this was everything I thought about what was in the article. I mentioned that readings collide and undermine themselves, and you offer some good reasons here to undermine the B reading. I don’t really disagree with anything you say about what we can(‘t) know about Armitage.

      But I do think that the sympathies I might feel — whether momentary or of longer persistence — when reading a piece like this are relevant to my reading of Mr. Armitage, not least because they appear to be shared with other readers who are also skeptical of what we can know about him. We might call this analysis a way of making ourselves aware of the resonance of a particular rhetorical effect. This post really asks and attempts to answer only, for those people who read the piece and felt inter alia a certain kind of sympathy with it, why they might have done so, why this kind of piece can be appealing even if it says relatively little and/or deceives and obfuscates with what it does say. I absolutely agree that many of the bases of kinship I feel to what I read about Armitage in articles are much more broadly shared — having been born in a particular historical circumstance, for example — or illusory (I don’t really know anything about his family dynamic). I just don’t think the fact that they are broadly shared makes them intepretatively insignificant. B is built on encouraging some degree of commensurability, along the lines the interpreter chooses, and even D would admit that attributing significance is an act that lies within the power of the interpreter. If I sensed no commensurability at all, presumably I wouldn’t be writing this blog as I would feel no identification with the man. In the broadest sense, of course, we are both homo sapiens sapiens. This may mean nothing or everything depending on the significance with which I choose to invest it. Much of the reading that most people do in every day life situations (apart from scholars) depends on the reader’s ability / desire to manufacture sympathy. The post asks inter alia what the basis is for that decision in the reader and argues that recognition of perceived similarities in certain life circumstances is one reason.

      -The details of the comparison: again, I don’t really disagree. Of course we could list many things that I do not have in common with Mr. Armitage, or list ways in which my reasoning about comparisons is faulty, or point to holes in comparative possibilities. I attempted to undermine myself by mentioning that the consumption of microwave oatmeal could be a similarity that causes me to sympathize with him — and of course I was being silly. I no doubt sympathize with plenty of people who eat fried eggs and ham for breakfast and despise plenty of people who are eating microwave oatmeal and I don’t suddenly love someone I otherwise despise just because I learn they like the same bands as I do. I doubt he collects porcelain, for instance; that would be relatively easy to ascertain; I suspect if we had gone to school together we would not have been friends; as a retrospective counterfactual hypothetical that would be harder to query. You list a lot of traits he may or may not have and these could be listed of me as well. Significantly, for instance, the article omits to mention what in Mr. Armitage’s life is so aggravating that he experiences the impulse to throw furniture around; and my comparison of my feelings to his as described in this article also omits that information — I am purposely being as vague as he was. So you also know about my life (afaik) only what I write about it here. It might be possible that my sympathies with what this article says about Armitage are also relevant to 2 of 7 days. (As I say jokingly to students who ask me whether I believe in G-d: “I believe anything I say to you at least 75% of the time.”) No description of either object or subject is ever complete, and certainly not in a venue like this one. I suspect the areas of incommensurability are much stronger once we move off of the concrete detail level of the comparison that the feature took. The point here was not to idealize Richard Armitage or claim that he has no faults or secret vices; or to claim that about myself, either. It was to point out the creation of a mood via details that lends itself to sympathetic readings based on sharing a particular life stage as it is described in the feature. My remarks say this specifically, as they refer to “how my rather boring life as I depict it below is like that of Richard Armitage as depicted in this interview.”

      –One of the compelling issues for me in pursuing B, and admittedly it’s buried in the last third of the piece, which got edited for reasons of time a lot less stringently than the first parts, was the question of how the collision of certain sorts of life experiences and skills/desires/goals shows up again in the performances one gives (in his case as an actor, in my case as well, me). I think whether or not we think anything about what is said in that feature corresponds in any way to something real about Richard Armitage’s life, the feature creates a general impression that is consonant with what Armitage has said about the role of compromise, collision and contradiction in his constitution of characters/roles. I find that possibility intriguing, and I think it’s a reason for the sympathy of the characters he plays. The question of “daily life as mirror of meaning” is one vantage point for setting up that contradiction and for making it sympathetic to his audiences. Of course, Richard Armitage is yet another role that Richard Armitage is playing, so the last third of the work, before I ask all the questions, ultimately suggests that any statement about B will ultimately lead us to D. I realized this while writing and thought about making it more explicit, but (again) ran out of time and space. (Part of me is astounded that people read these long things, frankly. I enjoy a much better reception as an interpreter of Armitage than I do as a scholar on my actual subject.)

      -as to the harmfulness to myself of pursuing this kind of reading: again, thanks for your concern. I have one intellectual response and one personal one.

      The intellectual one is that you seem to assume that Mr. Armitage is not real in a meaningful sense to you (“he’s a stranger”) while Servetus, for whom you express concern, is — that is, that there’s some harm in this activity that can be done to me that is more real (or at least has a different quality) than a discursive one. Laying aside whether that’s true or not, and again, appreciating the kindness that lies behind that impulse, I don’t think that you are in an epistemological position to be able, fairly, to constitute Armitage as a discursive object but Servetus as a real subject. (If you follow D, that is.) Reasonably speaking, for you, my pain at my current life circumstances as recorded in this post, like any of his statements about his perceptions about his life, is “only” a text. (Again, following D.) I can only write “thank you for your concern,” which I “mean” sincerely, if I am that real subject, of course. But I don’t think you as my interlocutor can choose for me to be real (and suffer real harm) while stating that Mr. Armitage as we understand him through the texts we read about him is not real (and thus is stating nothing real about his day). And actually, you’ll note that I never say that I know Mr. Armitage, that I can guess what he is thinking, or anything like that. When I discuss the position of “our geek,” I am writing about him and myself as hypothetical constructs in a particular life circumstance. At the end of the post, the furthest I go is to say that “I recognize the position of the speaker here.” Even as I give the B reading I continue to constitute him as discursive object. Ultimately, particularly since I say throughout this blog that it has nothing to do with the real Mr. Armitage and everything to do with me, it doesn’t even matter for the purposes of my self-exploration if every single thing I write about him here is a misunderstanding. He is a beacon if I construct him that way. I write because I am conflicted about that effect, but perhaps not in the way you think that I should be.

      -personally, and now writing as if I am a real subject, something that I believe on at least 2 of 7 days: I do thank you for my concern. But I don’t believe that I am harming myself here, not just yet, or at least not in ways that I am willing to be harmed. Part of it is that my experiences in the last two decade have sucked everything out of me that didn’t serve my career goals, and following Armitage is something that bears no instrumentalizable relationship to my career and that makes it not only enjoyable but also useful to me. I can’t deny that those experiences have changed who I am, that I am able to abstract from the means of observation and analysis I learned as an academic. I am not doing any of this, writing any of this, without a lot of thought about its significance.

      Hope we’re still friends. 🙂


    • Just realized in rereading that I forgot to answer one thing: would Mr. Armitage think our lives are similar if he were reading about them?

      I doubt it. But assuming an actual Mr. Armitage who is not a discursive construction thinking about me, we’re in radically different situations. I think he is best off assuming that he has little to nothing in common with his fans. Given that he write character biographies from several different perspectives from his roles, he might be amenable to my probing of the self vs performance and troubling nature of perception issues. Or he might not. But no, I don’t imagine that he’d ever see my life (or his own discursive construction of it) in anything like the terms that I see his. But I don’t demand that of him, here or elsewhere.


  12. @servetus,
    First, blessed Yom Kippur to you. Second, this is one of the most elegant phrases I’ve ever read, “the piece reveals the scaffolding, the notional girders that support an apparent effortlessness on screen that makes it look as if these performances cost him nothing.” Thank you for it.

    This was a week that was professionally troubling for a few people that I care very much about and it is fitting that your treatise addresses routine and ruts. I’ve decided that thinking about a routine as a rut is incorrect. On a road, the rut is the deviation, the flaw, that usually causes problems, accidents, flat tires, etc. In other words, bad things. The routine is what keeps us riding along…it is one thing to not make time to do the laundry, it is another to be UNABLE to do the laundry because the washing machine hit a “rut” and broke down.

    I read Kathleen Norris’ “The Quotidian Mysteries” and I learned to appreciate that God is in the day to day things we do. He can be found in the folding of the laundry or the reading of the secondary literature (kudos to you servetus for that kind of dedication and respect for your students and colleagues). So perhaps routine can serve two purposes. The first is to be able to function and live (eat, sleep, work, pay bills, etc) and second, to have a grateful heart that we can have a routine, keep riding on down the road.

    My heart is turned inside out for my dear one who cannot get back her routine right now because of fear that her security and job will be taken from her, she’s been knocked off of her axis.

    Regarding our dear Mr. A. I am very happy that he seems to live such a normal existence and that he seems at peace with it. He has worked out his “flow” (and yes, I had to look up autotelic, thanks for the link!) and what he needs to center and ground himself so he can pursue that which he loves. I wish us all that joy.


    • Thanks for the good wishes, Ann Marie. One of the reasons I think I found this so sympathetic is precisely this issue of perceived effortlessness: people say, “oh, you do that so easily.” Well, not really. The performer does it easily because that ease is in itself manufactured, which sometimes takes a great effort. I think the feature showed that he puts a lot of effort in in ways that the average person who’d like to perform with ease probably either doesn’t think about or wouldn’t be willing to pursue if s/he did.

      I like the distinction between rut and routine that you make. Indeed, a rut keeps us going in a direction that will eventually wear our the axle of our car, whereas a routine opens us up to possibility. I ‘ll have to read _Quotidian Mysteries_. I read _Acedia and me_ last year and it provided a breakthrough moment.

      As to secondary reading: I am not a big defender of tenure, but if it is to be defended, it has to be on the assumption that those who have it keep up to date on the state of the art. You wouldn’t consult a dentist who hadn’t learned any new techniques in the last fifteen years, so why would you consult a historian who hadn’t read anything in the last decade?

      I hope that your friends are able to recover their equilibrium.

      My friend here (with whom I discussed this article for an hour, a week ago) would have said something similar to your last paragraph for her own reading of it: that it reflects a solitary joy in knowing what he needs to do and doing it. I agree, it’s something we all need. After a day of introspection yesterday I am even more convinced that this is what we have to work toward in our frighteningly busy lives.


  13. Apology to baby boomers accepted! 😀
    Apology for being one! 🙂
    Not that I feel defined by the term. Too absurd!


    • No need to apologize for when you were born, fitzg! This is one of my personal issues that I probably shouldn’t have exposed on the blog, as it’s totally irrational and potentially threatening to commentators.


  14. Not a problem! I have issue with the long-ago donkey who tarred a group of post-war brats born during a fifteen-year period, with one brush. Not an issue with subsequent generations/half generations, etc.

    Please don’t censor your comments unnecesarily. You weren’t offensive. And I doubt that your issue is either irrational or unjustified.


  15. Still friends, of course, and thank you for your detailed response–though you genuinely aren’t obliged to respond to me (or anyone else, but I want to make my personal expectations explicit: you’re an academic. You have a busy life, and if you’re like most academics, there’s a good deal of time-consuming slog built in that’s more important than answering me.)

    You’re quite right, Dr. S; I thought of you as being closer to a mode a la B, rather than D, and believed what you said about yourself. I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s true. I could think of lots of reasons why RA might construct a packaged, highly edited version of himself and his day for the Sunday Times, but it didn’t occur to me that you would have done such a sculptural version of yourself on this blog.

    I feel, rightly or wrongly, much more confident that the ethos you offer us here allows us to have more of a “B” feeling about you, if that makes sense, than the sort of “D” feeling I have towards RA. The rhetorical situation on this blog is, after all, so different from the situation RA faces when he decides what to say about himself, what to leave out, and, possibly, even what to distort.

    Here, you’ve explained a great deal about your activities and thoughts, and while what you tell us is edited–anyone writing or speaking about her life is editing it, consciously or unconsciously, because SOMETHING has to be left out–I felt that your readers had reason to trust what you described about yourself, your favorite meals, your workload, your intellectual interests, your family, your faith, and so on. From this point of view, I’d assumed that this blog, like many others that get high hits from fans, functions in part as a sounding post that allows you–whoever the real “you” is at the moment–to get feedback, and especially to get friendly comments and positive reinforcement that’s certainly deserved. It’s possible for anyone to lie on her blog, to try to make herself look wiser or wilder or more sexually experienced than she is, say, but I feel that your posts probably reflect many aspects of your life in a very real way (as you can see, I’m stuck rather stickily to seeing Dr. S as “B”, and perhaps I’m wrong to). Certainly, for instance, you respond to posts with an unusual grace and care . . . and, having seen so much of that, I’ve also been led to suspect that you have the ability to exercise the same traits outside of your blog, and probably do so, at least some of the time (which is about as much as anyone could ever expect). I would be surprised if that thoughtful, graceful response never appeared on comments you write on papers, for instance.

    One of my reactions to the Sunday Times piece is probably somewhat unusual: I felt that what RA said–and/or, perhaps, the way the journalist edited it–was quite probably the product of careful rhetorical crafting designed to leave fans with a highly designed version of RA which would at the same time leave readers feeling that they actually know him better, without actually knowing him better. And I felt that I was being manipulated. I don’t feel that way about your presentation of self. The self we create when we write can be crafted or even deceptive, and however much we might want to write as “B,” there are going to be aspects of our lives that don’t get reflected in our words. But I’ve put more trust in your presentation of self than I might in RA’s, in part because when I see him he is usually performing “not-RA” but MacDuff, John Porter, etc., and I haven’t seen you NOT be Dr. S. He’s interviewed occasionally but the questions are limited, as is the space in a newspaper column, and there’s a good deal of repetition built in by journalists (who grab “He was in a circus” and run with it, for instance). And, even if he wants to be true to himself, he can’t say “I’m going home angry because my co-star, A, is impossible to work with–I’ve never known a stupider, vainer person–and the frequent changes in the script mean that I spend time memorizing lines and then find they’re different when I arrive on the set. It makes me want to punch walls. Then I’ve got to be there earlier than everybody and stand upright and perfectly still in ccld rooms for two hours when they need to put the tattoos on. GOD I wish they hadn’t given me tattoos! And I had a backstory for Lucas that the scripts this year trashed, so I have to try to understand a different Lucas than the one I played last year. They never do that to Harry or Ruth, they’re consistent . . . ”

    You, on the other hand, are able to complain if you happen to want to, or to move away from the nominal subject of the blog if you want to talk about an unusual meal that’s a lovely tradition in your family, whereas RA can’t say “You know, I don’t want to do PR for Spooks in this interview; I’d like to tell you about a recipe of my mother’s that I’ve been thinking about.”

    The nature of the blog is such that if you choose to, you have more freedom to reflect more of yourself than RA does, I think. I may be a fool, but I trust you. It’s not that I inherently always distrust RA. I’m just aware that because he’s a popular male lead, he may feel he has to craft version(s) of himself very self-consciously. Thus if people ask him his hobbies, now he doesn’t say “picking my nose” or “picking my spots.”

    I’m glad to hear that the blog and the ongoing project it engages in are helpful to you; as you know, that’s been a real concern of mine. But that has left me wondering about something that probably should be obvious to me, but isn’t. Please don’t take this as a hostile question; it isn’t one. But: you frequently say that what you are doing in writing a blog focusing on RA is helpful to you, and I’m not confident that I understand the specifics of that–in what way or ways is it helpful? Obviously, discussing something far from one’s field can be a pleasurable escape for an academic, so I can see that, but why is a blog that frequently centers on Richard Armitage helpful to you (whether you think of yourself as A, B, C, or D who is helped)? I may be hopelessly dim in not seeing this immediately, and I really am curious about it, so I’m not asking this in a hostile way. But perhaps others of your readers would also be interested in understanding more of how the blog has been helping you; it’s an intriguing question, and someday, if you get the chance, I for one would love to hear more. (Then maybe I’ll go out and start a blog myself; I could use more things that are helpful in my life . . . )


    • @AAA, I loved the fictional RA rant you described. I have often thought that the underlying reality of more benign statements is more like what you describe than not.

      I have been quite impressed with servetus’ thoughtful extrapolation from seemingly innocuous points of observation. I find thoughtful discussion, with the opportunity for self-reflection, refreshing. That the launching platform is frequently Mr. A. just makes it that much more interesting and enjoyable.


    • Well, I had a wretched class today (very hard to elicit anything from the students; this year’s crowd really seems to see me as a not very interesting tv program they are compelled to watch, and I’m going to have to do something to circumvent that soon or I will lose interest in them, which will be fatal for the class) and now have office hours, at which I have seen no one, and my brain is fried from lecturing, so we’ll see how far I get. 🙂

      I didn’t mean to undermine your confidence (or anyone else’s) that I am who I say I am; in fact I haven’t stated anything about myself on the blog that I consciously know to be untrue. Also, at least three people whom I know IRL read this, and they would of course notice if I were to do so, so that’s a hedge; Servetus the blogger is not totally contiguous with me — I would probably never be quite this explicit in my admiration for anyone’s body in real life — but there are important overlaps, and one of them is with Dr. Servetus as instructor. A lot of these posts end up playing out like the discussions in my classes. Of course there are omissions, and many, many things I feel that I can’t say for reasons of prudence — such as descriptions of most of the things that happen at work that really aggravate me. I try very hard to be kind, both IRL and here, partially out of religious conviction (tikkun olam), partially because I think criticism or questioning bears the greatest fruit for the development of intellects and ideas in situations where the interlocutors are trying to show unconditional positive regard to each other (even if we don’t always feel it) and partially because I and others close to me have been the object of unkindness recently and I feel the need not to let it stain my soul. I also strongly believe that the things we do change us; by acting kindly, then, I become kind. I see that as a goal worth striving for, and I do attempt to strive for it on this blog (among other places).

      The question is still the extent to which the information in the Times feature (and the genre, etc.) entitles it to the strong B reading I gave it in the original post. I said that AAA had no reason to believe that what I say about myself here is more real than what Armitage says about himself in interviews, and AAA said the context and variety of my statements make her give me a B reading that she is unable to give to Armitage in the Times feature.

      AAA, your kind interpretation and all these statements about the “real me” notwithstanding, still I don’t completely accept your argument that I am more entitled to a B reading than Mr. Armitage solely on the basis of genre (blogs vs features / interviews). I don’t think that information that masquerades as statements about reality has a higher degree of veracity simply because it appears in one venue vs. another. If it is true that Mr. Armitage eats “porridge” for breakfast, then it would be true if it were printed in the National Enquirer or the Congressional Record (and some people probably think the former more reliable than the latter). We might note that statistically the latter is more likely to be accurate than the former, but that doesn’t imply anything as to the truth of any given piece of information. Presumably “reality” would by its very nature be independent of our statements about what it “is” and true statements about it would be true no matter where they appear. Different contexts tell us different things, maybe, about how to read information, i.e., about its credibility, but not more or less about information’s reliability.
      But are the contexts in which Servetus the blogger writes about Armitage and his impact on her life, and in which Armitage speaks about his life, really so different? I would argue that the dilemmas of blogging in a practical world context are drawn from the rhetorical problems that the conceit behind the Times feature attempts to circumvent. The attraction of reading a blog is that you feel you get to know someone, someone who can be more revealing of her life precisely because she doesn’t constantly confront the consequences of the revelations. I can complain about work in honest ways without consequences. That is: AAA, I understand you to be asserting that the blogger is hypothetically free from the generic constraint that the interviewee (or in this case, the subject of the Times feature) is bound by – PR for a particular production, preset question formats, a stupid interviewer. I don’t think that’s true, though, beyond a superficial sense; I think that believing that is the “big lie” of blogging. Instead, blogging is a conceit that works in ways remarkably similar to that of the Times feature; by reading details about my life and particularly the way I describe them in the context of your own experiences, you conclude that you can know something about me (“B”). An essential act of empathy is required on your part, and if I wish to be empathized with, I have to provide fodder for empathy.
      Both bloggers and readers are trapped in the conceit. The seductiveness of blogging lies in its ostensible freedom, but one is not really free to speak freely. Quickly, one learns that certain things should never be articulated explicitly: my real name, my employer’s real name, how I feel about them, even what the weather is like or what the football team is doing, etc., because they would identify me – i.e., they say something real. I can’t name my employer by name; certain people who appear here regularly (“my friend and colleague the former Cambridge professor,” “my mom,” “my best friend here,” “my ex-SO,” “the grad student”) have pseudonyms and relational descriptors rather than names and identities that are independent of me. So the blogger who wishes to be prudent (which I have to be – because if what I wrote appeared crazy to you, you would stop believing it and reading me) learns that she has to write in allusion, synecdoche, metaphor. I can tell you how people feel after the football game here, for example, but not what teams were playing or what the score was. In practice, here, I hint, because my relationship to my pseudonymity is conflicted, and at least one person has written to express concern that my identity is much too obvious from remarks I’ve made. Also, as one blogs more and more one realizes that one develops a narrative of oneself (I talked about this a bit this summer, about how Servetus the blogger feels about meeting Armitage is different from how Dr. Servetus feels about it) that has to remain developmentally consistent. As Ann Marie notes, I draw or imply meaning from fairly innocuous things, but this is not a choice I make or something that’s necessarily particularly charming about my real personality: admittedly, this is a pattern that I often follow in my own thinking, but also and more importantly, it is the generic convention of blogging, and it’s thus a skill that I have to hone. As reader, if you are to find me sympathetic, which is why you want to keep reading, because you believe you are learning something essentially real about me, you need to believe that I am telling you something true about myself even as central pieces of my identity remain hidden – not only to protect myself, but also so that I remain credible to you. This is exactly the generic convention of the Times feature (use innocuous detail to create the impression of a life and a self) and exactly the situation in which Armitage the narrator in that article finds himself. So he is also stuck in the credibility trap created by the conceit – he also must seek simultaneously to conceal and to reveal (even if one suspects that the “real” Armitage would probably rather conceal.) He must remain credible.

      So if making statements about our lives, either in a blog or in the Times feature, moves us from the issue of veracity to credibility, speaking as a historian, it seems odd to me to argue that one can be more confident of the credibility of information about someone about whom one has only one source they can use to understand than about someone who is commented upon by many sources. All you know about me (afaik) is what I say about myself here — my sole performance for you, whereas in contrast you have multiple sources of information about Mr. Armitage that can be compared against each other. In fact you can compare his performances in his roles vs his performances of himself and while you might not come to any conclusions about “who he really is” you would at least know something about who he wishes himself to be in public when he is not playing one of his roles, information which in turn might allow you to draw conclusions about him. You can compare what he says in new articles to things that he said in previous statements to see whether they are consistent, and judge their credibility on that basis. You also have statements about him from people who have seen him in venues where you have not seen him (at work, for example), where as the only testimonial that others can bring forward about me — people who like me because they like the blog, essentially — all derive from a single performance. If Richard Armitage in the feature is only performing tropes, you must conclude that I am as well (D).

      I could go further with this argument that as a reader you have strong reasons to suspect I am not a real person but a performance, a collection of tropes performed on behalf of a goal, just like Richard Armitage is in interviews. ***Hypothetically,*** if you were Richard Armitage’s publicist, wouldn’t you like to create someone like Servetus the blogger to blog on his behalf? By and large, at least? Wasn’t Julie Powell great for Julia Child, despite how Ms. Child apparently felt about her? I admit that probably more of my posts than a publicist would prefer concern his body parts, and typically people who do publicity prefer short bursts rather than these long tomes I’ve been writing from time to time, and I suppose you could potentially worry about the overidentification issue (will I eventually become dangerous to him personally? At least one reader has thought so). Those flaws, though, could be just the things that make me seem real enough not to be a blatant marketing tool. Seriously, an educated woman who writes almost every day, takes acting / drama / TV seriously – as if it matters in a larger sense than as “mere” entertainment, provides a lot of detail, attempts to be charitable even as she is critical, and says that she seeks to do no one harm? Someone who’s struggling with aspects of her life and sees your client as a port in the storm, but is also giggly with an eye for the absurd — who is both fangrrl and intellectual? Someone who suppresses most of her base impulses apart from the mildly (hetero)sexual? Who says that she is much too shy to ever try to meet Mr. Armitage, even a stagedoor venue where such encounters are expected? If I didn’t exist, wouldn’t you try to invent me? (German saying: “Wenn es Dich nicht gäbe, müßte man Dich erfinden.”) [Servetus grins self-deprecatingly and/or sarcastically.]

      I want to stress that in real life, I am not a paid publicity machine for Mr. Armitage – no one asked me to write this blog, tells me what I should write, or pays me to write it. It can even be seen as self-damaging, as you note. But I think the argument is obvious that what you respond to when you think of “me” and/or your sympathies with “me” (B) is actually a response to a particular style of writing (D) and an agglomeration of tropes, artfully arranged to make me appear sympathetic — even as those tropes may seek an ethical end. I’m no idiot and I could also write to make myself unsympathetic; that is simply contravenes my ends. You have no convincing evidence on the mere basis of this blog to assume there is a real Servetus here who is any different from the real Armitage that ostensibly lies behind the one we read about in the press. No, Mr. Armitage can’t talk about one of his favorite childhood meals in the detail that I can. But that doesn’t imply that it is impossible to derive a sympathetic reading from what he does say when asked about personal matters, or from what he narrates from the minutiae of his life. He is also (presumably) the person he wishes to be in these interviews, just as I am on this blog. I may have even more control than he does, since only I edit myself, and can work harder to try to eliminate what I would understand as misreadings, whereas he is edited by multiple people and is constantly (mis)understood even with regard to matters that are purely semantic. (Today, for instance, I read that he “ran away from home” to the circus and his Equity card. The actual circumstances – he’s been quoted at least once as resisting this interpretation by saying that actually he was permitted to go – are already fit into the showbiz trope of “running away with the circus,” and are thus now taking on additional features due to linguistic slippage and this probably isn’t the end. Poor man. I really had hopes during the SB publicity that at least this trope was fading until I heard the Lorraine show interviewer implying that he would juggle vegetables for the audience.)

      I said at some point that this is exactly the interview I’d have advised him to give had I been his publicist, precisely for the reason that you say you feel manipulated — because all these details and the tone in which they are offered to the reader call forth a sort of sympathy that makes you think you know him better than you actually do. Apart from the revelation about his temper he says nothing of consequence and even that is so vague that it’s hard to interpret. He doesn’t say that he actually throws chairs through windows; just that he has the “kind of temper you can’t apologise for,” and then gives an example that could be a statement about his actions or could be a metaphor for how he feels when his temper erupts. (And I’d also say the troubling thing here isn’t the temper or the furniture throwing but the statement that “you can’t apologise for [it],” though of course it’s also unclear what that statement, made in the second person, really means.) But back to the question of whether there is anything in the article that leads us to think it could merit the B reading, your feelings of manipulation indicate to me that the article actually succeeds in its ends (creating verisimilitude) rather than failing. Your reaction paradoxically affirms the merits of the B reading. It’s not that you read the details say “he’s lying,” or “it can’t be true that [fill in the blank],” it’s that you say, “this information, despite its verisimilitude, cannot be significant. It does not tell me what I really want to know.” You question the validity of conceit at work — not the veracity of the account — potentially because you realize that the details of your day, apart from the interpretation you place on them yourself, are not especially meaningful. But that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to assume that the same is true for others, or that the details of Mr. Armitage’s life have no broader meaning for telling us who he is. Those meanings in themselves can be the product of misunderstanding depending on how we read the details (Armitage thinks this is an upbeat story of an artistic life that requires certain compromises, its readers think it tells the story of a wretched, lonely existence; Armitage sees it as productive; Servetus sees it as the story of an exhausting routine, a ferris wheel one can’t get off, etc.). But that doesn’t mean there is no point in trying to attribute a sympathetic meaning to them.

      Again, I actually embrace the D reading, but this would be the argument for B as I see it so far.
      As to how this helps me: I will write more about that. I promised RAFrenzy that I’d write at least one more post on the theme of “the moment at which I realized that something about Armitage touched upon a deeper meaning in my life,” akin to her diary entries. I’ve been drafting stuff. It’s hard to find a voice that is meaningful in a detailed way but not too pathetic or imprudently revealing. It’s tempting to tell all, but that transgresses the bounds of phronesis and in turn my credibility as a commentator on both Armitage and on my life. In a very real sense, I find myself as blogger in the same narrative dilemma as the Armitage of the Times feature. It’s just that the stakes might be higher for me, if looked at from my own perspective, anyway.


      • @servetus, sorry you had a wretched class, I hope the aha moment for them and you occurs soon when they realize that whatever you are bringing them is worthwhile. Perhaps it is time to tap into your inner creative Armitage to find a new way. Who knows?

        I did want to comment on a point in your post above,”As reader, if you are to find me sympathetic, which is why you want to keep reading, because you believe you are learning something essentially real about me.” Somehow, maybe because I am new to blogging since last winter’s intro to all things Armitage, but I don’t find it necessary to find you sympathetic. It is enough for me to read and experience a higher level of thinking than I get to do most of the day in RL. For the same reason that I cultivate friends who read interesting books about Richard III and are willing to discuss history and Titulus Regius, for example, I read this blog. It exercises my mind and as a result benefits my day to day RL thinking.

        Should I be worried, I wonder now, that the things in this blog that used to make me feel wonky, like the iliac crest discussions, do so much less frequently? Ah well, growth has its price. 🙂


        • Thanks for the strokes, Ann Marie. I really need to figure out their currency and start dealing in it. Part of the issue is that this is the last time I will teach this class here and so I don’t have a big investment in tweaking, and that keeps me fresh. But this particular group doesn’t seem to fit the generalizations that usually apply to the people who take this class. They may need a lot more tweaking; I may need to throw the plan for the semester out of the window and start over with what’s important to them. I’ve done that occasionally and if nothing else it at least convinces them that I care about their response to the material.

          Perhaps sympathetic in its usual sense is the wrong word, as I regularly read blogs by people who I don’t much like. Credible? Not sure. You do have to believe I am “real” according to some definition of that term. I have to say that I tend not to read heavily intellectual blogs — but that might change if I didn’t spend all my time exercising my mind. For me it’s the glimpse at something I wouldn’t experience otherwise. I also don’t read many academic blogs (though there are plenty of them).

          You know, I wonder about the genre of “iliac crest” posts, too. When I started, I didn’t want to write that sort of stuff. I limited visual posts mostly to saying “he looks good here” or “nice to see him smiling” or some comment like that. I started talking more about his body in conjunction with the identity issues (and the clothing stuff), around early to mid-June. At that point somebody said, “I’m relieved to realize you have a naughty side, too, Servetus,” and after that I wrote a lot of that stuff. It had the advantage of being a lot easier to write than a heavily analytical piece or even a humorous one. It also felt liberating to be able to say “this body part appeals to me and here’s why.” I was obviously somewhat conflicted about it, since that’s also about the time that I created “objectification” as a post category, but I didn’t interrogate it much. And I haven’t published the most heavily analytical post that I wrote on that theme, about how watching the SB video arouses me — what the mechanisms are that are being motivated — because it’s just too embarrassing in its current form. I guess I learned that I can also analyze (my own) desire. I do think that’s growth. But I agree that it is also troubling. 🙂


  16. I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I felt a person writing a blog was necessarily more apt to present herself in a way that allowed a “B” reading; I don’t think that’s the case. For instance, someone trawling for underage sexual partners might present himself as a 17 year old, rather than the 58 year old pedophile he is; the internet gives deception a wide field to work in. I meant that the nature and amount of information about yourself that you give in this specific blog suggest that you are being relatively genuine and straightforward in presenting yourself, while the fact that RA has to do PR for his shows and himself, and has said comparatively little about himself, means that if he wishes to lie or misrepresent himself, he has more opportunity to distort his nature and activities than you might, and more stake in doing so. As Erving Goffman claims, any time we are in the presence of others–physically or rhetorically–we are “performing” a version of ourselves, but some performances are “cynical” and some are more “sincere”–closer to the performer’s own sense of her “real” self. Of course “Dr. S” might be a complete construct of the Armitage PR machine, but as you imply, there is analysis in your blog that would make RA or his publicist squirm; that isn’t at all characteristic of RA’s PR, so the idea that you are a creation of PR doesn’t float with me. Of course you as a blogger might present an entirely false version of yourself; but do you? You’ve given me, at least, little reason to suspect that. Yes, you could be “D,” but I believe you’re not. Perhaps I am simply credulous.

    Of course as a blogger who says–I’m going to assume truthfully–that she is a professor at a real university with real family members, real professional colleagues, real opinions about her university, and so on, you have to avoid giving specifics; if you didn’t, I’d certainly have more reason to suspect you were not very alert to the implications of blogging indiscriminately and either terminally naive or not a professor, since most professors are smart enough to realize that a blog focusing on an actor is unlikely to resound well with their peers and frankness about their employers is often simply stupid. The fact that you disguise your identity is actually more indicative that you are a professor and understand university politics than the reverse. It’s not proof; nothing here is proof. But it falls in line with many other indications that you are, in fact, reporting on your own real life and real opinions, not fully and foolishly, but in a relatively undisguised way.

    In regard to the Sunday Times article, I’m not sure that I’ve “said” that ““this information, despite its verisimilitude, cannot be significant. It does not tell me what I really want to know.” I don’t feel that the information has a great deal of “verisimilitude,” or that I “really want to know” a great deal about RA. There’s a good deal I could live without knowing; I’d be just as happy not to imagine RA in a real-life temper, if he is prone to them. I have no idea whatsoever if his account is as honest as he could possibly make it, but I actually DO question the veracity of the account, rather than finding my doubts confirm it. I don’t know if you are overreading me or if I am misunderstanding you here.

    Like Ann Marie, I don’t necessarily read a blog, or a message board about an actor, because I feel sympathetic to the writer or the actor; perhaps I am a sociologist fascinated by fandoms and their rhetorical representations on the internet.


    • Perhaps you are a sociologist? 🙂 Skully has brought up Goffmann before and I checked out of the library but I have yet to read it. Need to get on top of that.

      I just posted some more “real” information about me: a recording of my actual voice, which I am not skilled enough to disguise, and from looking at the text I can isolate five facts about myself in my narration, all of which are true. 🙂 No, I’m not a paid spokesman for Richard Armitage. I don’t think he could afford my fees (grin), or if he could I’d tell him to keep the money so that I could keep my rhetorical freedom. But as I’m writing recommendations for grad schools and professional schools right now, I’m tempted to point out that it’s precisely the artfully placed dissonant note that is thought to enhance credibility in the text. I’m supposed to write at least a few mildly critical things in each recommendation in order to enhance its believability. Writing a few things that Mr. Armitage didn’t appreciate could enhance my credibility as a blogger even I were his rhetorical creature; seeding doubt in any account does often work to enhance the perception of credibility — though I certainly concede that your own reading in this particular case may diverge from the general pattern.

      I also agree that there are different reasons for reading a blog, and that was an overassertion on my part. I still think that if I knew someone were essentially writing fiction about their life while claiming it to be the truth, I’d be less interested in their blog. It’s a sort of willing suspension of disbelief that I might be unusually susceptible to. Of course we all fictionalize to some extent, but for me the effect of resemblance to reality (“verisimilitude”) is an important hook in finding an author credible. I think that’s why I read so many blogs that I essentially disagree with or whose authors I think I wouldn’t like — because they write about themselves in convincing ways that seem “real.” Of course these texts are primarily mimetic. But it’s the possibility that they could be that hooks me, and I experience a similar effect when reading the Times feature. If you wanted to create a high level of verisimilitude, I would argue, details are the way to do it, especially if you have ethical concerns about the veracity or authenticity of your self-narration and a simultaneous perceived need for privacy. Because it can be argued that the details don’t matter, that they only gain significance within an interpretive framework that you then conceal from the reader.

      I wonder how much more accurate information you have about me than you have about Richard Armitage, though. I’ve admitted my profession, the state I live in, the country where I do my research, the region of the country where I grew up, the sorts of subjects I teach, the religion I practice, that I go to a therapist, and I’ve hinted at where I work, that I’m looking for a new job and maybe a new career, that I’m experiencing a sort of extended existential crisis, and that I have liberal political opinions. You know a fair amount about my mood if you read the blog every day and something about my general cognitive style if you analyze the patterns of my analysis. But there are a lot of things you do or at least can know about Richard Armitage that you don’t know about me — his real name, for example, his family members’ names, where he went to school, his birthday, all of his professional career engagements, etc., etc. You know some big, general (admittedly important) things about me and about him. A lot of detail about him (now), perhaps slightly less about me. Maybe the real difference is that I am supplying the narrative framework for understanding all these things, mostly by telling slightly extended stories about myself or my upbringing, whereas Armitage doesn’t do that and one has to undertake (a risky) extrapolation. At the same time, many things you “know” about me you know primarily by deduction (that I might respond to students the same way I do to commentators) and they also involve extrapolations.

      Rereading my previous answer makes me think that I got carried away on the wave of my own prose, and I apologize for that. I was responding mostly to the assertion that there are strong differences between Servetus and Armitage when they function as narrators of their lives for broader audiences. Apart from what I concluded at the end of the last paragraph, I still don’t think there are, or perhaps if there are I can’t find them located in genre. I don’t think there are strong genre-related reasons to assume that Armitage is a cynical narrator in this piece beyond the general proviso that we shouldn’t believe everything we read, and that applies to me, as well. The strongest difference is the question of interpretive framework, I’m starting to think now, but that raises other questions for me with regard to what I (perhaps mis)understand to be your reaction to the Times feature.

      Originally you said that reading it made you feel manipulated because it was highly crafted. (You compared it, I believe, to publicity that portrayed Joan Crawford as a good mother.) I assumed you meant “manipulated” in the sense of “being expected to believe that this information about Mr. Armitage was true when it is not.” That’s still what I hear you to be asserting when you say that you question the veracity of the account, that you read Armitage as a cynical performer (one possibility under D). I suppose I could take a Weberian ideal type response to that — and say that the general impression can be true even if many or most of the data points don’t fit the actual case — the point being the general impression created in the mind of the reader by the article as opposed to the veracity of any one detail. Presumably people can still speak the truth when they speak by allusion. But perhaps you also meant “manipulated” in the sense of “being expected to draw a certain impression of or feeling about Mr. Armitage from the article,” and to me, the latter is an effect of language, unavoidable, and not a factor that can be used to differentiate authors who are more or less “deserving” of the B reading.

      I don’t get, though, if you don’t care about knowing something or even a great deal about Richard Armitage’s life, why you would feel manipulated by the article. Presumably if you don’t care, then it doesn’t matter to you if all of the information is accidentally or intentionally deceptive. Or are you in the same camp with mesmered, preferring to know less rather than more? I think it would be interesting, if you are a sociologist fascinated by fandoms, for example, to do an initial reading of how fans reacted to the statement in this article about his temper. I haven’t seen lots of negative response to it beyond “I don’t like violence” or “if that’s true, I wouldn’t like it.” Or do you think that’s an aspect of a cynical performance of self on his part here?


  17. I’m sorry; I replied to this a couple of days ago and managed to lose it. I’ll try to be uncharacteristically brief. I felt manipulated by the article because I feel manipulated by pretty much everything in that genre–the puff piece in the guise of questions and answers about an actor’s personal life, timed to coincide with the release of a new show. It’s a form of PR designed to get people to feel familiar with the actor and like him or her–identify with him because he too loves chocolate, say. Millions of people love chocolate, my grandma loves chocolate, so it’s not a really startling, weird quirk to love chocolate, but a fan or possible fan may feel a frisson of familiarity and identification when learning that an attractive, hot, handsome actor s/he’s got a bit of a crush on does too. It seems more significant to her or him than it is.

    Pieces like these are PR, are packaging, and I find it interesting to see how actors are packaged in such pieces. And when I read such pieces, a big cynical part of thinks “I wonder how much of this is true? I wonder if there are things that are left out that don’t fit into what fans want from the male lead of a spy show?” If Sean Connery is afraid of mice, we’d never know it from a piece like the Sunday Times article.

    I’m puzzled as to why the mention of what sounds like a volcanic temper got mentioned, consequently; I think your explanation is better than the only thing I came up with: RA has been known to say the wrong thing in the past. It’s a long time since he responded to questions about what his hobbies are with “Picking my nose” and “picking my spots” (pimples), but hey, that’s what he said; it doesn’t fit in very well with anybody’s ideal, dream date (I hope).

    I think that there’s almost no negative response to the revelation about his temper (if that’s factually true, and if he’s Mr. D instead of Mr. B, we’ll never know) because, as T. S. Eliot said, “Human beings cannot stand too much reality,” especially when it might alter happy and cherished parts of the human being’s fantasy life. I suspect that many fans have romantic fantasies about RA or his characters; otherwise, fanfic wouldn’t exist, because much of fanfic is story versions of romantic and/or sexual fantasies. In our fantasies very few of us want to picture the scene RA’s words might conjure up: RA-character rips into his partner (who of course is a lot like the fantasist, only better) and says some genuinely unforgivable things. Mocks her. Belittles her. Announces in a fury that their sex life is pathetic because she’s such a repressed b*tch and that’s why he’s been sleeping with her best friend. Says something he’ll regret because it’s so awful it’s unforgivable and ends the relationship. Things like that happen to people, but not in their romantic fantasy lives–so if inconvenient information about a crush-object surfaces, it’s quietly pushed down till it disappears and is forgotten about entirely. Then the fantasies can go on unimpeded.


    • Sorry to lose the initial response but this one is great, too, AAA.

      It strikes me that one possible reading is that these questionable statements about himself (picking my nose or pimples, the temper, and a particular favorite of mine: I don’t like to / wish I didn’t have to wash) are becoming an attempt to resist genre on the part of the speaker. (This would be an expansion of the B reading, or possibly C, I suppose.) That early radio interview where he says he picks his nose “sounds genuine,” mostly because he sounds surprised by the question as it’s put to him, but afterwards he’s given feedback that that’s gross (though I am not sure why — I see people doing it all the time), so he stops saying that (or things like it), and then at some point he starts resisting the public demand for information it likes and so he occasionally says problematic things anyway, i.e., he knows he’s not supposed to say them and he does. To some extent that’s where my reading of the temper fits: I am not supposed to say how I really I am because that’s potentially objectionable, so if I say something real that’s objectionable, you should react to it in that way, i.e., as if it is objectionable. It’s a sort of “stay away from me, I am not the person of your fantasies” assertion. (Still C, I think, but verging on D.) He can’t go too far, of course: if he said, “I beat up my last girlfriend,” even if that were true, it would not only move beyond the realm of what most people find acceptable (though I am sure there are some diehard fans who would ask whether it was GF’s fault) it would also move beyond the bounds of the character Richard Armitage as he’s established him in the media up till now. (So the potential of an audience member stumbling onto A or D reading may exercise some limits on the information presented in a C or B narrative. Interesting. Must think more.)

      I continue to assume that I will never know anything real about Mr. Armitage, although I would argue that not all readings are equal — it’s not arbitrary which one we choose in any setting — there are better and worse readings. But (and here I suppose I am venturing onto holy ground in my filthy shoes), I don’t have any epistemological problems with the reading of the violence you offer at the end. Though I’ve never had a chair thrown in my presence, having dated more than one brooder, I can say that in my experience that is often how it works out: the brooding personality (for whatever reason: fear, narcissism, lack of experience in intimate relationships — there can be many) is not able to have productive or potentially painful conversations and concludes unconsciously or even consciously that change is not possible and so ending a relationship is the only option, but giving the impossibility of a conversation, the only way to leave is to do something unforgivable. That was my reason for saying what’s troubling about the story is that he feels he can’t apologize for certain behaviors (even as the meaning of “can’t” is obscure in his narration). Honestly, though, I still don’t think that that reading makes my version of B impossible: if the B reading is that I’m sympathizing with Mr. Armitage because I think he’s at a particular life stage where one is working too hard, the experience of unpleasant emotions or the expression of unacceptable behaviors could be seen as a result of that. It strains the B reading slightly as he doesn’t make that causal attribution in his own narrative, but it’s not totally implausible.

      I think to some extent people are starting to sort out information they have about him that doesn’t fit in the interpretive framework they’ve established based on previous media — it wouldn’t necessarily have to be sincerity and romance, although that’s what it is in this case. It will be interesting as time passes to see if any other data emerge that challenge the framework we have.

      I’ve so enjoyed this exchange, AAA.


  18. […] fences make good neighbors. On both sides we pay a price for the free experience of his artistry: as much as I may identify with what I know about him, I can’t ever have him as my friend, and even if he likes what well-disposed fans write, he […]


  19. […] Having conceded all of those rational critiques about what I am about to write in advance, this is how I feel. And I think what’s getting me this week is the way that Spooks 9.7 ends up in confluence with things I’ve already wondered about Mr. Armitage as a fellow late thirty, early fortysomething. […]


  20. […] I’m willfully ignoring his recent revelation about his temper. I and a different commentator speculated on the potential reasons for that disclosure and about why we read little negative respon…. At any rate, for whatever reason, I don’t feel it. [Interestingly, while I was composing […]


  21. […] on shelves. I’ve got a book bag with leisure reading, too. It’s not different at home, as I’ve noted before. If I were going to invite someone into my bed, I’d have to buy and fill an additional […]


  22. […] written extensively before about my bizarre over-identification with Richard Armitage as a person standing on the brink of middle age. But that came after, once I had learned something about him. I suppose that the first post in this […]


  23. […] self-knowledge and creativity as exemplified by the location of the tattoo on Lucas’ body are here. Source: […]


  24. […] genre of the photo — the picture that illustrates something in the article that tells us what your day is like. The definitive evidence that proves the search to know more always ends in less knowledge, that […]


  25. […] in Armitage’s public perception affect my identity as his fan? And at that point, I realized, as over-identified with the fellow as I was (and remain), I dreaded the possibility of experiencing an identity shift in response to his. Was […]


  26. […] of Richard Armitage as a real life romantic partner. The real Servetus and the real Armitage have lots in common in terms of the human condition, I’ve thought, but little in common in terms of the sorts of things that make a relationship […]


  27. […] house — when he was discussing the need to kill a hypothetical cleaner who saw his scripts, I felt like important features of my life were captured perfectly in Armitage’s self-descripti…. In contrast, Maria Grazia found herself […]


  28. […] my students, but I think this question fascinates me for a number of additional reasons. First, I’ve identified a few affinities between my childhood and Armitage’s. Second, as my mother often said to me when I was younger, I was a hard child to parent (now I know […]


  29. […] but heavily controlled, illusion he’s been presenting in the past in his audiobooks. If his work occasionally seemed to result from the calculated pullback of the overlearner, he seems now to have gained a sort of artistic stamina that allows the illusion to move further […]


  30. […] from the author, who turned forty-five-and-a-half this week. Perhaps to read as an elaboration on this. Or a variation on this. And keep in mind, if you disagree with the silly associations I make about […]


  31. […] of my assumptions are based on the fact that Armitage and I are rough age-mates and that, although we grew up in different countries, we have sim…. We have also both worked (I have quit; he is still working) in highly competitive professions […]


  32. […] long time ago I wrote a post about being a certain age and how it unites those of us who might otherwise have litt…, the feeling that a lot of people in my generation that life is often living us, rather than us […]


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