Culture, Gender and Transformation in Alan Warner’s "Morvern Callar" and Victor Pelevin’s "The Hall of the Singing Caryatids"

A Comparative Approach

Master's Thesis, 2014

104 Pages, Grade: 1.3




1. Culture
1.1 Definition of the term Culture
1.2 Culture forming identity
1.3 Transnationalism and transculturalism

2. Cultural Transformation. Subcultures
2.1 High Culture
2.2 Dismemberment of Orpheus
2.3 Low Culture
2.4 Mass Culture
2.5 Counterculture
2.6 Death in the books
2.7 Plastic world

3. Gender
3.1 Sexual Objectification
3.2 Gender and Identity
3.3 Femininity and Masculinity. Gender Roles

4. Transformation
4.1 Reality and Simulacrum
4.2 The Wind of Change (90s-00s)
4.3 Spiritual Transformation








The aim of this thesis is to compare the books of Alan Warner and Victor Pelevin in terms of culture, gender, and transformation. Both Morvern Callar and ‘The Hall of the Singing Caryatids’ are written in the genre of bildungsroman, which allows us to observe the transformation and growth of protagonists. As both protagonists are young females (one of them working in the brothel, and another one — overcoming suicide of her boyfriend) it is interesting to compare the gender issues they face throughout the narration. The books were published in 1996 (Alan Warn- er’s Morvern Callar) and 2008 (‘The Hall of the Singing Caryatids’ by Vic- tor Pelevin), at the turn of the twenty-first century and the third millenni- um. Both writings contain numerous cultural references, music and arts of the time. As well as comparing the cultures represented in the books, I will also investigate the way the Zeitgeist affected the protagonists.

Allan Warner’s book describes the coming-of-age story of Morvern Callar, a twenty-one year old working-class superstore assistant, who finds her boyfriend dead on the kitchen floor. Experiencing life after his death, Morvern finds that her life actually improves. Morvern, whose name was taken from a peninsula in Scotland, can be considered to be a symbolisation of the land. Representing Scottishness she grows and develops, bringing new hope to her motherland.

Morvern’s surname - Callar - derives from the Gaelic word ‘caller’. Ac- cording to The Oxford English Dictionary, ‘caller’ means ‘fresh, as being opposed to what is beginning to corrupt’, also ‘cool’ (OED Online, 2014). Arriving in Spain, however, Morvern finds out about the Spanish meaning of her name — ‘silent’.

Morvern is undeniably a very quiet girl, a description repeated by many of the characters in the novel, yet she prefers the word ‘taciturn’. She is a listener, not a speaker. Morvern prefers observing the people and the world around her, thus finding her way. Morvern’s playlist (the book con- tains many of the songs included in it) tells us more about her feelings than Morvern herself. What makes Warner’s book particularly interesting, is the way the story can be told by the means of culture and media with a minimum amount of commentary from the narrator. Pelevin’s novella uses printed media more than audio. However, there are a number of songs mentioned in the narration.

In ‘The Hall of the Singing Caryatids’, Lena, a young girl living in Moscow applies for a job in a luxurious brothel for the top Russian oligarchs. Her job is to stay and sing naked in a Malachite Hall, ‘coloured to match’. Lena, who does not want to call her work prostitution, tells her friends they are ‘more like geishas’. Reading a magazine named ‘Counterculture’, Lena wants to understand the concept of a countercul- ture itself as well as the principles of arts and culture in Russia. Her name, being a short form of Elena, means ‘sunshine’. And consequently, Pelevin’s protagonist can be found to seek light and follow it.

As a side effect of an injection of a secret serum Mantis-B, which makes singing caryatids staying perfectly still, Lena starts hallucinating. Discovering the world of mantises, she realises how dull and corrupted her human world is. After that Lena is looking for any opportunity to stay in a world of mantises forever.

‘Dismemberment of Orpheus’ by Ihab Hassan serves as the axis of comparison and the main source of inspiration for this work. Music (as a part of culture), the dead male figure (referring to gender issues), and dismemberment (definitely transforming young female protagonist’s personality) — are the key elements of this research.

1. Culture

1.1 Definition of the term Culture

Widely used nowadays, the term culture has gone through a long trans- formation since its first use as a ‘cultivation of the soul’ (Cultura autem an- imi philosophia est) by Cicero. Agricultural metaphor (from Latin cultura ‘a cultivating, agriculture’) was used in the meaning of the development of a philosophical soul, which was supposed to be the highest possible ideal for the development of any human being (Cicero, M. T., trans. Yonge, C. D., 1888, p. 69).

The Age of Enlightenment saw a broadening of the meaning of culture. It is no longer limited by the boundaries of philosophy . Pufendorf, Rousseau, and Goethe used ‘ cultura animi ’ in a wider sense. For them, cultivation of a soul was achieved not only through the education by phi- losophy, but also by science, ethics, and fine arts (Velkley, 2002).

1.2 Culture forming identity

As a central concept in anthropology in the twentieth century, culture has been mostly used as a shaping element of national identity. According to Herder, it is important to find a collective self and trace one’s ethnic past through national history and language in order to obtain an authentic identity of a person in connection with one’s nation. Thus, a national iden- tity is seen as an integral part of a personal identity (Smith, A. D., 1991, p. 14).

Therefore, if a culture is a shaping element of a national identity, and a national identity forms a personal identity, we cannot deny the major role of culture in a personal identity formation:

… a sense of national identity provides a powerful means of defining and locating individual selves in the world, through the prism of the collective personality and its distinctive culture. It is through a shared, unique culture that we are enabled to know 'who we are' in the contemporary world. By rediscovering that culture we 'rediscover' ourselves, the 'authentic self’, or so it has appeared to many divided and disoriented individuals who have had to contend with the vast changes and uncertainties of the modern world (ibid., p.17).

In both books analysed in this thesis, culture plays one of the major roles in forming the identities of protagonists. The goldish lighter and red nails, raves and Holger Czukay’s music as well as Scottish coast and Highlands and Spanish resorts form the area of culture surrounding Morvern Callar, the main character of Alan Warner’s novel of the same name. To a certain point they affect the development of her personality and contribute to the construction of Morvern’s identity. The identity of Lena, the protagonist of Victor Pelevin’s ‘The Hall of the Singing Caryatids’, is influenced by popu- lar culture and Counterculture, contemporary art installations and gossip magazines. Thus, both characters develop contradictory identities based on the mixture of low and high cultures.

However, contrasts serve as integral parts of one’s identity. They are the boundaries that define the borders of Us and separate Us from the Other. Jeffrey Weeks in his article The Value of Difference develops the idea that one’s identity is formed by conflicts and contradictions:

Identities are not neutral. Behind the quest for identity are dif- ferent, and often conflicting values. By saying who we are, we are also striving to express what we are, what we believe and what we desire. The problem is that these beliefs, needs and desires are often patently in conflict, not only between different communities but within individuals themselves (Weeks, 1990, p. 89).

Throughout the novel Morvern’s personality gradually develops from a working class girl, who works at a supermarket in a small port town to a self-sufficient woman, who builds her future and is now ready to build a future of another human being, this being is a ‘child of raves’. The devel- opment is not finished, yet, as the identity itself is an unstable notion. It changes and evolves many times in the course of one’s life (Giddens, 1991). The same can be said about the character of the second novel. Lena’s identity develops as her ‘colleagues’ talk about contemporary cul- ture, politics and ideology. These characters develop not only intellectual- ly and empirically, but also spiritually: Morvern’s epiphany under the pomegranate tree; Lena’s imaginary conversations with the praying man- tis.

This mirrors Jonathan Rutherford’s theory of constantly changing personality, in which he argues a static object ‘can only conjure up the past, freezing us in another moment’:

Identification, if it is to be productive, can never be with some static and unchanging object. It is an interchange between self and structure, a transforming process (Rutherford, 1990, p. 14).

Therefore, the changes in the characters’ personalities prove their development and are not only necessary, but inevitable. Though the way they change is particularly interesting.

1.3 Transnationalism and transculturalism

At the beginning of the book Morvern Callar appears to be an ordinary working class girl who has nothing to expect from the future. She has started to work in a supermarket at the age of thirteen. She is twenty-one at the time and is still doing the same job (she only changes the depart- ment — from meat section Morvern moves to vegetables). Her boyfriend has just committed suicide and Morvern, it would seem, was left with nothing to hope for, nothing to live for. However, she finds out that her boyfriend left her some money, goes on vacation to Spain, comes back, and returns back to the Spanish rave scene. Spain appears to be the place where Morvern gets her second breath, a missing component that makes her identity transnational and transcultural.

Susan Street argues that the idea of escape is a fundamental aspect of Morvern’s transnational identity. According to Street, ‘Scotland as a narra- tive setting is less important than its function as a place to be left’ (Street, 2009, p.143). Morvern seizes an opportunity to leave Scotland and es- cape to Spain. Running away from her past, she escapes the present through new experiences in a foreign country: warm and sunny Spain ap- pears to be the opposite of cold and misty Scotland. Moreover, as Street points out, Morvern’s home town is a place to be left by its own nature (as a port town), as one of these ‘pastoral, port and waterside locations that in themselves indicate points of possible departure’ (ibid., p. 148).

Spain, on the other hand, represents the far and exotic Other, promising a different, if not a new, life. As Rutherford argues, Otherness is no longer seen as a threat to Us but as a unique experience that can be sold:

Difference ceases to threaten, or to signify power relations. Otherness is sought after for its exchange value, its exoticism and the pleasures, thrills and adventures it can offer (Rutherford, 1990, p. 11).

It is within the quest for identity, that difference becomes a significant part of one’s uniqueness and individuality. In other words, ‘cultural difference sells’ (ibid., p. 11). Morvern Callar buys this difference to purchase a different self, to obtain a new Morvern, and she succeeds.

In Pelevin’s ‘The Hall of the Singing Caryatids’ Lena is warned against dissidence by unknown authorities who appear to be a team of oligarchs, military and civil servants as well as brand managers and ideologists. However, the more she is brainwashed, the more questions arise in her head. These questions are often asked by the praying mantis appearing in Lena’s mind after injections of a special serum Mantis-B and are an- swered by some of her fellow prostitutes who apparently hold a degree in Arts and are surprisingly well informed about contemporary culture and politics.

Thus, Buddhism of the world of mantises and consumerism of the gossip magazines, as well as conceptualism and nihilism of contemporary arts are mixed in her life. The same way as songs about Yugoslavia, ancient Greek and Roman culture, Russian oligarchs, American brands, Japanese Asya and black Kima, Cuban cigars, Kthulhu and Yahweh, Central Asian ornamental design, Wittgenstein and Faberge mix in a transcultural reality that surrounds Lena and shapes her identity.

Mikhail Epstein defines the notion of transculture as an interaction between cultures or a place ‘outside’ one particular culture. Thus, he compares transculture to Bakhtin’s concept of ‘Outsideness’ (sometimes the term is used in its untranslated version ‘ vnenakhodimost ’):

Although transculture depends on the efforts of separate indi- viduals to overcome their identification with specific cultures, on another level it is a process of interaction between cultures themselves in which more and more individuals find themselves "outside" of any particular culture, "outside" of its national, racial, sexual, ideological, and other limitations. I would compare this condition with Bakhtin's idea of vnenakhodimost, which means being located beyond any particular mode of existence, or, in this case, finding one's place on the border of existing cultures. This realm beyond all cultures is located inside transculture (Epstein, 1999, p. 30).

Hence the questions arise: Where are the borders of any particular culture? What do we call the new cultural existence? To understand the cultural shifts and their nature it is necessary to have a closer look at the subcultures represented in the books.

2. Cultural Transformation. Subcultures

2.1 High Culture

High culture as a contrast to low culture represents the culture of a higher society with its elevated style based on the aesthetic ideals of Roman and Greek classics. Matthew Arnold, who defines culture as ‘a study of perfection’ establishes a High Victorian cultural agenda as a model of high culture. He also argues that culture as a study is directed inward, which helps one not to obtain something but become it:

If culture, then, is a study of perfection, and of harmonious per- fection, general perfection, and perfection which consist in becoming something rather than in having something, in an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circumstances, - it is clear that culture […] has a very important function to fulfil for mankind (Arnold, 1869, p. 14).

Arnold has also brought to the academic world the term Philistines, nam- ing Philistines ‘the people who believe most that our greatness and wel- fare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich’ (ibid., p. 20). By that Arnold assumes that the culture is not the privilege of rich people, as they may as well be Philistines. This proves his idea that high culture ‘seeks to do away with classes’ and does not depend on one’s wealth but on one’s inward devel- opment.

Bourdieu, on the contrary, argues that the ‘art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfil a social func- tion of legitimating social differences’ (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 7). High culture or taste, according to him, is a matter of one’s class fractions (class- based social groups). Although the notion of taste is broader than high culture, as it includes not only etiquette, but appreciation of fine food and wine, and even military service, it also relates to different social codes, which can be observed in the dominant class, and cannot be accessed by the lower classes. Thus, according to Bourdieu, high culture is a preroga- tive of a high class.

Morvern Callar spent most of her life in a small port town of Scotland be- ing fostered by a working-class family. She grew up in The Complex, which, according to Alastair Robertson ‘is one of two council housing estates on the outer perimeters’ of Oban, Alan Warner’s native town (Robertson, 2002). Morvern herself describes The Complex as a place where she ‘had had to grow up. Where one young husband owned a camcorder so his four married brothers and him swapped porno videos of their unknowing wives’ (Warner, 1996, p. 43).

Thus, according to Bourdieu’s theory, Morvern should have stayed at the same level as where she was brought up. As a representative of a working-class aesthetics she should have experienced her ‘relationship to the aesthetic norms in a twofold and contradictory way’:

…the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated aesthetic, which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics (Bourdieu, 1996, p. 41).

However, Morvern does not simply ‘define herself in terms of the domi- nant class’. From the very first pages we read about Morvern’s musical preferences, partly shaped by her dead boyfriend. She listens to ‘new ambient, queer jazzish, darkside hardcore’ music as well as to some classical recordings (Warner, 1996, p. 4). When she has brought the dead body, that was ‘heavier than a six-wheeler loaded with tatties’ upstairs to the loft, she listened to Stravinsky’s ‘Orpheus’. Listening to the ballet, Morvern watches her dead boyfriend. Her thoughts are not the thoughts of a ‘dominated class’, described by Bourdieu as ‘a waste of time’ (Bour- dieu, 1996, p. 41). Morvern reflects in a mildly observing, even poetic way:

It started snowing again and flakes spun in through the skylights to the music. His lips were dusted with a layer falling right onto them (Warner, 1996, p. 43).

The ballet ‘Orpheus’, in its turn, refers to the myth of Orpheus, a legendary musician and poet from the ancient Greek myth, known for his magnificent music that was able to move even stones and trees. Like Orpheus, Morvern’s boyfriend brought her to a different level of life by means of music. He enlarged her playlist being alive and raised her confidence and self-awareness being dead.

2.2 Dismemberment of Orpheus

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, after being torn apart by Maenads, Orpheus (more precisely, his head) is still singing (Ovid, trans. Garth, 1961, book XI), just like Morvern’s dead boyfriend, being dismembered and buried in the Highlands, still follows Morvern with his music. Yet, Morvern does not stay under His dead patriarchic eye for a long time. Having read His ‘Live the life people like me have denied you. You are better than us’, Morvern types on the novel’s title her name over her boyfriend’s (Warner, 1996, p. 82).

The same effect we can see with the music that Morvern’s boyfriend left her. While in the beginning of the novel Morvern distinguishes all the recordings she has into her boyfriend’s and hers, this difference disap- pears by the end of the book. There is no more clear distinction between Morvern’s records and her boyfriend’s ones. Every piece of music be- comes Morvern’s. These are her records, playing in her walkman, shap- ing her life.

There is a soundtrack to almost every moment of Morvern’s life (see ap- pendix 1). She listens to the music in Scotland and in Spain, in the air- space between the countries and in the time space between two radically different periods of her life. This music does not merely serve as a back- ground to the story. Morvern’s recordings shape her identity. Moreover, at the most important and difficult moments of Morvern’s life she turns her Walkman on to immerse into an alternative reality. Thus, she creates an alternative self, not a mere superstore assistant, but an adult and mature Morvern, who knows what she wants and where she goes.

While cutting her boyfriend’s body to pieces, Morvern listens to her favourite jazz and ambient music, which can be seen in terms of Ihab Hassan’s ‘Dismemberment of Orpheus’ as Postmodernism overcoming Modernism. Since the aesthetic of fragmentary narration is central to postmodern literature, the postmodern music reflects the literary ‘frag- mentation’ of Morvern’s dead boyfriend. Dismemberment of Morvern’s dead boyfriend can also be seen as deconstruction of the text. Piece by piece Morvern tears off the limbs of her beloved, as if a postmodern reader deconstructs a novel. ‘Orpheus’ is dead and dismembered; his classical recordings are overlapped by Morvern’s fragmented ambient music.

According to Ihab Hassan, postmodern art proclaims dismemberment a central notion to contemporary life. Confirming this idea with the words of Lionel Trilling, Hassan claims:

… The idea of losing oneself up to the point of self-destruction, of surrendering oneself to experience without regard to self-in- terest or conventional morality, of escaping wholly from societal bonds, is an element somewhere in the mind of every modern person (Trilling, qtd. in Hassan, 1982, p. XV).

Drawing schematic differences between the two movements, Hassan provides a table, where postmodernism is opposed to modernism (see Appendix 2). Giving further explanations to the table, he clarifies that this comparison is based on ideas such as ‘rhetoric, linguistics, literary theory, philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis, political science and even theology’ (Hassan, 1982, p. 268). Yet, the author admits, that the dichotomies ‘remain insecure and equivocal’ (ibid., 269).

In fact, substituting postmodernism with Morvern and modernism with her dead boyfriend, we can agree with most of Hassan’s ideas (see Appendix 2). It is obvious, that Morvern’s opportunism (taking ‘chances’), anarchy, silence, deconstruction, and absence (both physical and mental) contrast with her boyfriend’s thoughtfulness: design, hierarchy, logos, creation and presence (in spite of his death at the beginning of the novel, the memory of him is present throughout all the narration).

Continuing this comparison of Morvern as a contemporary substance (art, culture, music, literature, and life in general) and her dead boyfriend as a past, it is interesting to see it in terms of Bakhtin’s theory. In ‘Epic and Novel,' the first part of The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin in- vestigates the differences of the novel in comparison to the epic. Calling the epic a “high genre” Bakhtin outlines its structure comparing the epic to the marble (unchangeable, solid), while the novel is compared to the clay (soft and adjustable).

The epic, according to Bakhtin, reflects on the events that happened in the distant past. These events cannot be changed or altered. Thus, all high genres (i. e. classical literature) ‘are structured in the zone of the dis- tanced image, a zone outside any possible contact with the present in all its openendedness’, argues Bakhtin (Bakhtin, 2008, p. 23). This distant past is Morvern’s dead boyfriend. His footprints in Morvern’s life are solid and unamendable. He is dead and obviously cannot directly contact the present.

Morvern, being an allegory of the present, ‘cannot become an object of representation for the high genres’ as a ‘reality of a lower order in comparison with the epic past’ (ibid., p. 23).

Thus, it is possible to conclude that according to Bakhtin’s theory Morvern represents the present in terms of time, the novel in terms of a literary form, and the lower genre in terms of a literary hierarchy.

Her dead boyfriend, on the other hand, is the idealised past (Morvern even writes He with the capital letter), the epic:

This idealisation of the past in high genres has something of an official air. All external expressions of the dominant force and truth (the expression of everything conclusive) were formulated in the valorised-hierarchical category of the past, in a distanced and distant image (everything from gesture and clothing to liter- ary style, for all are symbols of authority). The novel, however, is associated with the eternally living element of unofficial lan- guage and unofficial thought (holiday forms, familiar speech, profanation) (ibid., p. 24).

Thus, it is not only the class difference that separates Morvern from her dead boyfriend, placing her inferior. As a representative of a contempo- rary culture, she is bound to posses this transitionary position of a ‘flow’ and cannot escape the prevalence of a low (or mass) culture in her life. The same parallels can be found in ‘The Hall of the Singing Caryatids’. Though dismemberment of the oligarch Botvinik is the final scene of the novella, it is a crucial point for a postmodern protagonist, singing prosti- tute Lena, to overcome the modern world she was living in.

This comparison of a prostitute with a postmodern culture echoes in Bakhtin’s statement:

The word postmodernism sounds not only awkward, uncouth; it evokes what it wishes to surpass or suppress, modernism itself. The term thus contains its enemy within (Hassan, 1982, p. 263).

Lena tears off the head of the oligarch under the influence of a drug injec- tion. The serum Mantis-B was used to make the singing caryatids remain motionless for hours. Yet, it had some side effects, causing them halluci- nations of seeing — a praying mantis. After the imaginary mantis ex- plained the sexual cannibalism of the species and ensured Lena: ‘this is the very best thing that one creature can do for another’ (Pelevin, 2011), Lena set her client ‘free’. This happens directly after the sexual en- counter: ‘As soon as it was over, Lena followed the promptings of the ageless wisdom. She squeezed Botvinik’s head tightly between her spiky hands and tugged hard’ (ibid.).

The scene of a prostitute killing a client while ‘dancing the dance that engenders new life’ (ibid.) perfectly reflects Bakhtin’s theory about postmodernism containing modernism within it.

Comparing Lena with the oligarch Botvinik in terms of Ihab Hassan’s table of postmodernism vs modernism (see Appendix 2), the following differences can be found:

Botvinik: Conjunctive (physical ‘conjunction’ with Lena) and closed (a billionaire was mentioned in the Eligible Bachelors of Russia, though there were several theories about his life and no clarity), purpose (a serious businessman he has a clear aim at the Malachite Hall, where Lena works. He has got just ‘half an hour’), design, hierarchy, finished work, type (as an ‘eligible bachelor of Russia’).

Lena: Disjunctive (literally makes Botvinik’s body disjunct) and open (as a prostitute to anyone who pays), play (a job as a Singing Caryatid), chance, anarchy, process, desire, mutant (imagining being a mantis, ‘hid- ing her second pair of legs behind the first’ (ibid.)).

Remarkably, this Orpheus (if we transfer the myth of dismemberment of Orpheus to Botvinik) does not play any instrument himself. However, the music begins as he enters the Malachite Hall. He is the oligarchic type of a modern Orpheus, producing songs not by the means of his vocal cords but by his money.

The list of the songs sung by singing caryatids (see Appendix 3) consists of a mixture of classical and rock music. Apart from this, in his book Pelevin mentions controversial Russian ska-punk singer Shnur, the Eurovision contest, and the Soviet Anthem. The music mentioned in the book is a set of bits and pieces that mixes musical styles and genres in one, just as mass culture does.

However, there is a song that goes through the narrative as a common thread. Nautilus Pompilius’s ‘Wheels of Love’ serve as a warning to the characters, describing love as a death machine, rolling through the peo- ple. An epigraph to the song ‘As Karenina wrote in her letter to Marilyn 1, the wheels of love will squeeze us into a pancake’ is not mentioned in the novella. Yet, the song and the ‘squeezing’ (as with Botvinik’s head in the final scene) of people, their lives and hopes under the wheels of love be- comes a leitmotif of the novella.

“Eve and Adam, they both knew, the wheels of love roll on through . . . ,” began Lena at the audition singing naked while staying on one leg, but she hit a flat note and stopped. This flat note sounds as a warning to her entering the world of commercial love.

Next time when Lena sees the luxurious limousine she ‘lowered her eyes to the glittering nickel-plated hubcaps, surrounded by black rubber. She realised these were the very same wheels of love that she had sung about at the audition. “The important thing now is not to hit any flat notes,” she murmured’ (ibid.).

Trying not to do anything wrong and ‘not to hit any flat notes’ singing caryatids, who all had “Wheels of Love” in their sets, are working in the Malachite Hall. It is important to know that in Russian drug slang ‘wheels’ mean ‘drugs having round form, pills’ and the phrase ‘under the wheels of love’ can also be translated as ‘high on the drugs of love’. Thus, the love can be seen as a drug, which ruins lives.

The caryatids meet oligarch Botvinik with the same song at the final scene, when Lena steps off her caryatid’s pedestal, switching to the national anthem of the Soviet Union just a moment before Botvinik’s death. As Lena is struggling to tear the head of a grey mantis (Botvinik) off, her fellow caryatids change the song from the ‘Wheels of Love’ to Paul Robeson’s English version of the national anthem of the USSR. The head is finally torn off accompanied by the words: ‘Strong in our friendship tried by fire, Long may our crimson flag inspire…’ (ibid.).

Thus, when Orpheus is finally dismembered, it is a high culture (an ‘art music’) that marks his departure. Again, there is a dichotomy of a female protagonist versus male, postmodern against modern, a maenad tearing off the head of Orpheus.

2.3 Low Culture

However, it would not be correct to talk about the two books solely in relation to the dichotomy of high and low culture in them. Both Lena and Morvern cannot be considered as representatives of high or low culture solely. The mixture of the subcultures can be explained by the way of life they (and all the other characters, moreover, other people) have or, simply, by the epoch of postmodernity.

To explain the inherence of the subcultures from one another we should have a closer look at the phenomenon of low culture itself. Herbert J. Gans describes low culture as ‘the culture of the older lower-middle class, but mainly of the skilled and semiskilled factory and service workers, and of the semiskilled white collar workers, the people who obtained nonaca- demic high school educations and often dropped out after the tenth grade’ (Gans, 1975, p. 89).

This description coincides with Morvern’s life. As far as we know from the description of her past (and Morvern does not say much about her child- hood), she was an orphan adopted at a very young age: ‘it was only be- fore my fostermum died they explained I was orphaned’ (Warner, 1996, p. 20). We can notice that there is no self-pity in Morvern’s words but she does take pity on the weaker individuals:

…My fostermum couldn't have children so her and Red Hanna fostered me and took in other Special Girls every summer. I goes about the girl I shared the bunk with for summer. She al- ways wore suppositories and changed them three times a day. Eventually she told me that her father used to attack her every night. She discovered that if she wore suppositories he couldn't get in her that way and I cuddled her all night (ibid., p. 20).

Yet, her working class environment did not take any pity on Morvern herself, and she had to start working at the superstore at the age of thirteen, deprived of further education or career prospects:

Cause of tallness I had started part-time with the superstore when thirteen, the year it got build. The superstore turned a blind eye; get as much out you as they can. You ruin your chances at school doing every evening and weekend. The manager has you working all hours cash in hand, no insurance, so when fifteen or sixteen you go full-time at the start of that summer and never go back to school (ibid., p. 10).

Thus, growing up in a working class family and surrounded by working class colleagues, Morvern seems to be an ordinary representative of low culture.


1 Marilyn Monroe, who also committed suicide

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Culture, Gender and Transformation in Alan Warner’s "Morvern Callar" and Victor Pelevin’s "The Hall of the Singing Caryatids"
A Comparative Approach
University of Flensburg
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Literature, English, Russian, Postmodernism, Warner, Pelevin, Culture, Gender, Transformation, Counterculture, Orpheus, Identity, Transculture, High Culture, Low Culture
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Daria Gaiduk (Author), 2014, Culture, Gender and Transformation in Alan Warner’s "Morvern Callar" and Victor Pelevin’s "The Hall of the Singing Caryatids", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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