Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Too Busy

It’s everywhere. Have you noticed? People are too busy to do anything. Worse than snow or high winds, one day it will bring the economy to a standstill.

Quality

Suddenly, like a revelation, you recognise a different society existing within your own country. The comic section of this week’s TLS gave me an early Christmas present. Its writer having some fun at the Guardian’s expense, knocking the Equal Opportunity monitoring forms that have been sent to their contributors.

"Where once you were judged by your writing, you must now expect genetics to be taken into account."

Very good; but like most weak comedy missing the point. In the public sector monitoring diversity, to ensure there is no institutional discrimination, has been around for decades. However, it seems unknown at the TLS, and may be an innovation at the Guardian, if our reviewer is to be believed. How behind the times! They will be telling us next that their only write with quill pens… What a strange place the press is. It is a little world all by itself; a sort of Monte Carlo on the River Thames. A fantasy world, free of the all the constraints, and social justice, that makes life liveable for the rest of us.

Behind this quote there is an interesting assumption: that entry into the media is determined by quality alone (until now, of course, when everything changes). But this is surely not the case. Compare the quality of most of the journalists with the work of writers who never appear in the mainstream press. Think about Nick Davis’ Churnalism. For isn’t there another form of discrimination that is never mentioned? Opinion. That there is a certain conventional wisdom that you cannot stray too far beyond, too often; otherwise you are out.

All in the Words?

In his review of the new Lydia Davis translation Julian Barnes goes through seven(!) versions of Madame Bovary to show that over the last 125 years there has been a subtle shift towards a more literal interpretation of the original French.  The problem has remained the same, of course: how to give the English reader a similar experience to that of their French counterpart; although the answer has changed slightly, and appears to increasingly lie in a more faithful rendering of the original language; as opposed to its recreation into an English equivalent.[i]  However, these different approaches appear not to lead to progressive improvements, just subtle shifts of emphasis; sometimes merely reflecting cultural changes in the host country.  Amidst which Madame Bovary herself alters hardly at all.

Is a desire for fidelity to the original all that is going on here?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sunday, 19 December 2010

To Die For

I swerve around the ice. I crash cars, bang bins over; kill three passers-by: so many different people I see, but do not notice. My mind is elsewhere. It’s on holiday! It’s all over the place, slaloming around the words in my ears, around the cats and Kerouac copies; between stitches in roadside ditches, and the widows rich and free. Stitches? I hear an electric scream. Why stitches? They skate into the pictures before me; circling the weathergirl, so beautiful in front of the white fluffy clouds she moves like galleons on a war map. I look again. Squeezed inside a tiny TV she’s winking at the sun. I look into my windscreen and it’s so strange. She’s on a broomstick in her black underwear: the snowflakes, she says, will be stars! with the Beatniks, and cats, and the sunshine stitches on velvet witches.... Stitches? I kill some more people; a dog, and three birds, their feathers confetti around my windows. And there she is again. I speed up, skid and slide; I lose control. No longer do I follow the singer around his song. No longer do I watch the pictures before me; nor see the open air; only bushes, trees, and large rocks. There is an electric scream; my brakes do not work…

And when I look into my window?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Apparatchiks

It is a test for the Liberal establishment.  Will they support Julian Assange; or will they let him go; into America’s very own Gulag Archipelago.  The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel published the documents; but was it for love or for money?  Was it to expose the duplicity of our governments; or was it for the advertising revenue of increased readerships?  We will soon find out; though the signs are not encouraging.  That pre-eminent liberal journal The New York Review of Books commissioned a blog post attacking Assange as an amoral technocrat; while the Times doesn’t appear to particularly like its own material.[i] 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Debris of Life and Mind

There is so little that is close and warm.
It is as if we were never children.

Sit in the room.  It is true in the moonlight
That it is as if we had never been young.

We ought not to be awake.  It is from this
That a bright red woman will be arising

And, standing in violent golds, will brush her hair.
She will speak thoughtfully the words of a line.

She will think about them not quite able to sing.
Besides, when the sky is so blue, things sing them-
selves,

Even for her, already for her.  She will listen
And feel that her colour is a meditation,

The most gay and not so gay as it was.
Stay here.  Speak of familiar things awhile.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Russian Climate

Now one more word for the professors of philosophy.  I have always felt compelled to admire not only the sagacity, the correct and fine tact with which, immediately on its appearance, they recognized my philosophy as something quite different from, and indeed dangerous to, their own attempts, or in popular language as something that did not suit their purpose; but also the sure and astute policy by virtue of which they at once found out the only correct procedure towards it, the perfect unanimity with which they applied this, and finally the determination with which they have remained faithful to it.  This procedure, which incidentally commended itself almost by the ease with which it can be carried out, consists, as is well known, in wholly ignoring and thus in secreting – according to Goethe’s malicious expression, which really means suppressing what is of importance and of significance.  The effectiveness of this silent method is enhanced by the corybantic shouting with which the birth of the spiritual children of those of the same mind is reciprocally celebrated, shouting which forces the public to look and to notice the important airs with which they greet one another over it.  Who could fail to recognize the purpose of this procedure?  Is there nothing to be said against the maxim primum vivere, deinde philosophari?[i]  The gentlemen want to live, and indeed to live by philosophy.  To philosophy they are assigned with their wives and children, and in spite of Petrarch’s povera e nuda vai filosophia,[ii] they have taken a chance on it.[iii]

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Totem

I am always curious to read David Osler, our Socialist friend. He knows what to write, before he writes it; at least that’s how it reads to me. Take his piece on Gordon Brown, and the invite to Mrs Thatcher. The conclusion is determined from the start. No doubts, no digressions; bang! Brown is nailed. Is this what Marx meant by the iron laws of history? I assume party political writing demands this kind of thing: it cannot risk exploring a topic, but has to confirm an opinion; for you must not lose the membership along the way.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Buy Everything!

The last days of free Morocco, before the French occupied…

The whole emerging world of western mechanical invention was dangled before his eyes, and his palaces became vast playrooms, guarding secrets no graver than those of gramophones, toy railways, typewriters, musical stuffed birds and a great host of clockwork toys.  A gold camera was imported from England.  Outside, there were bicycle races with ladies of the harem in fancy dress, roller-skating, miniature rifle ranges, balloons and fire-works; even though there was no road in all Morocco, a hansom cab and a scarlet state coach reached Fez from London.  The transport of a billiard table, lurching on camel-back from Larache to the royal palace at Fez was but one of a thousand bizarre extravagances devised by the government in its efforts to divert the Sultan’s attention from the terrible state his country had fallen.  A crook American sold him for 40,000 dollars a British bulldog with false teeth.  A German firm sold him a motorboat; this occupied a room to itself in the palace and was tended by a German engineer; though there was never any suggestion of the vessel putting to sea….  (Gavin Maxwell, Lords of the Atlas)

What the author describes is the impact of Western Capitalism on a culture that had not previously experienced it.  Sultan Abd El Aziz has the riches, until they ran out, to buy whatever he desires; an advertiser’s dream.  This is part of an extraordinary chapter that shows the decadence of the Sultan’s court in its last days.  However, what strikes most, because of the freshness of the description, this is consumer capitalism at its most pure, is the likeness to the West today.  It is a perfect metaphor for today’s society.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Boring Stuff

I have substantially rewritten Found You! and Bashing Brodsky (II) & (III).  The former has signficant new material.

The pages have been changed to an index; I may add more detail later.

Southwold