Monday, 22 December 2014

A Short Sprint

What’s the best way to snipe at the middle classes?  You stare at the screen. Pick your nose.  And look at my words blankly. The middle classes? I ask again and you scratch your head, and move to click to another website…

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Friday, 12 December 2014

Left Behind

The film feels a little strange.  It feels… We grasp for an image as it flies past the window.  Stretching out we…we strain, we grab, we…we…we’ve got it!  Bringing it back into the room we open our hands and see: a crazy editor high on amphetamines.  Cutely diminutive he trembles in our palms.  “What’s wrong”, we ask.  “The director was odd and manic, and I couldn't stand it so I started taking a shed-load of tablets halfway through the editing.”  He became frenetic with insight and he cut with woeful extravagance; scene after scene falling to the floor, where they waited for the cleaner and her big black bag.  She never missed a morning.  Always there at six o’clock each day.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Two Girls Go Crazy

They’re larking about.  This piece could finish now.  The whole movie described by a single word: fun.  

Is there more to this film than two girls going crazy?  An early shot of a psychedelic apple tree suggests that a moral fable exists amongst the wonderfully confusing images of this odd movie.  The two characters, who are both called Marie, themselves say they have gone to the bad, and proceed to indulge - and to delight in indulging - their own and other people’s sin.  Although there is the suspicion that their acts are only anarchic parodies of a life they do not wish to lead. Is it all just a game?  Is nothing for real?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Reader Against a Black Background

The black is everywhere.  There is a pink table.  A mirror.  A painting.  A vase of flowers bursting out into the room.  There are some sketches.  A woman is sitting on a chair.  She is reading.  Although she could be asleep; her arm and elbow on the table, her fist is resting against her head.

Her black skirt moves as her red legs swing.

The words on the page, invisible to us who can read only a white blank, are revealed by these curious legs.  They look like skittles, and exist half-way between crossed and astride.  The right leg.  In the act of swinging?  Or is it coming to rest on a knee...  Both legs are red with flaming life; as is the face, arms and neck.  This woman is glowing.

Here is movement.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

My Mate Émile

Once again you’ve gone too far.  A few weeks of freedom and look what you’ve got yourself up to.

Well, you know…

We let you out on bail on the condition that you stopped beating up academics.  You were freed on good faith, as you seemed genuinely contrite and…

…and I appeared to have had a good education.  I talk well, don’t I?

No. Not…

Oh, I know you didn't actually say this; but isn't that what you meant?

Ha!  You have too much sauce young man.  And now look what you’ve gone and done: punching that professor in his lower paragraphs and head-butting his sentences. You’re going back inside, you know.

But wait; I…

Look.  It’s no use…

But listen!  Just you listen to this.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Good Bourgeois

The form of this film is also its meaning.  What is this form?  It is best described by analogy: it is like the interior monologues of Leopold Bloom.  Scenes vividly delineated, so that both the characters and the action take on large elements of caricature - The Cremator more Czech expressionism than Czech surrealism -, suddenly shift to others equally striking; the only connecting link a word, an image or a metaphor they both share.  This is a film constructed out of a complex series of association of ideas.  David Hume the major influence on a movie made under a regime where Karl Marx held the monopoly on thought.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Miracle or Mutation?

New things out of old things.  The artist thinks:
A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork of his satchel.  He recited jerks of verse with odd glances at the text:
-Weep no more, woful shepherd, weep no more
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor…
It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible.  Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night.  By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy.  Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds.  Thought is the thought of thought.  Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms.  Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.
A thought enters.  It swims around.  And disturbs the domestic fauna, who shuffling and fluttering kick up the mud and scatter the stones that lie on the mind’s sea-bed. Around and around it goes; almost aimlessly; when suddenly - desire comes like an exclamation mark - it feels the urge to mate.  But…the water is dark and misty.  But what luck!  This intruder - we’ll call him Clive - is too consumed with sexual craving to care about the niceties of the orifice exposed to him.  No matter that it belongs to a different species. Instinct only is left.  He penetrates.  She conceives.  A fluorescent fish swims by to reveal…no, not a whalophin, but a new idea - “thought is the thought of thought….”  After the conception there follows an epiphany - “tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms” -; although to less refined ears it sounds like post-coital repose.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Feel the Thought

I am trotting through Professor Radkau’s sentences when suddenly I encounter an idea of mine; one that I conceived only a few weeks ago… There she is!  Standing alone on the grass by the side of the lane.  Young and beautiful, she is wearing a long red skirt, a pink blouse, and a green waistcoat embroidered with flowers.  She holds a parasol high above her head and she smiles mischievously.  “Didn’t we meet last week in the Critic as Clerk?” she asks.  “Yes, we did”, I reply.  We exchange names - “Fanny zu Reventlow, the Countess of Schwabing"; "Paul Schloss, a professional amateur" -; and pay each other compliments; going on to talk about Robbe-Grillet and Edmund Husserl and a few other things.  We end our brief chat with a promise to meet again in the near future.  As I ride off down the lane I laugh to myself, and yet feel somewhat disconcerted - how can such a character exist independently of me?  And then a curious thought enters my mind (along with the smell of manure from a neighbouring field): am I a replica of her own carefully tailored beauty? A mile further on I meet another woman…  And this happens again and again, my journey punctuated with ideas that I have thought up and written down before - in the Critic as Clerk, in The Temperate Zone, in Freedom Against Freedom. Two weeks ago I thought gemütlichkeit a good way to describe the New Left.  Now I read that Max Weber was highly critical of what he regarded as this specifically German characteristic.  A coincidence for sure.  But I doubt the sanity of the world when Weber tells me that the resistance of concrete things to the easy flow of abstract speculation is what makes us think.  How could I have known of these ideas in advance of reading them?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Critic as Clerk

It was supposed to be simple. I wanted… Well, this is something that has always worried me: whose letter is Ernest actually talking about - his, Hélène’s or Alphonse’s? Too lazy to watch the film again I decided to seek expert advice, and thought I would find it amongst the pages of The Masters of Cinema Series.  Excited, I am impatient, and as I take the booklet from its plastic case I become frustrated at its recalcitrance; and tear it to pieces…Oh dear!  I’m… Can you hear it?  That thick bludgeoning thump! as my friend faints to the floor…  There is a cloud of dust; his partner is coughing; the kids screaming, shouting “dad! we can’t see the screen…”  Then suddenly: silence.  And through the settling dust we hear…a groan; hiccupping tears; a whispered cry…my name is mentioned.  Not, I might add, with either finesse or decorum.  But, my friend, what can I do now?  I’ll try not to scratch the DVD….

Of course I could have searched the film for the particular scene I needed.  But I thought my question too important for any critic to ignore.  I certainly didn’t ignore it; albeit in my original piece I disguised my uncertainty, preferring to develop the logic of my argument to its most extreme and consistent conclusion: Hélène’s love for Alphonse is founded on a complete fiction.  Oh!  Sorry!  I see that I am losing you.  We must take a break.  Go and sit over there; there; there on the floor by that pile of Dickens.  Here’s a cup of tea (Russian Caravan with a shade of milk and one and a half teaspoons of sugar; it should do you quite nicely).  And here are some ginger biscuits.  You don’t like ginger?  What about a Victoria Sponge…  Nice, yes? Oh, I should hope so…  So you’re…you’re comfortable? That’s good. Here is the film.  And here is my original review.   I’ll be back in a couple of hours.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Only One Lepidopterist Here

Penelope Houston was a great critic.  We imagine her in a long skirt and a tightly fitted blouse, whose pearl buttons go all the way up to the neck; which she covers with a ruffle of fine lace.  In her hands she has a long pole with an enormous net which she swishes over a meadow of wild flowers; the tall unruly grass undulating around her hips. The net goes down.  It rises up again.  And her face smiles out in exultation….

Let us look at her in action, as she uses her words to capture the essence of a masterpiece. 

Ray has an unmatched feeling for the moments when a situation catches people unawares and minds perceptibly expand or contract when confronted with some infinitesimal stress.  Mahanagar is particularly rich in these glimpses into minds at sea.  (BFI Notes.)

In the last scene of this film we see how, under the pressure of salaried employment, a couple disintegrates into two isolated individuals; both are alone and both are self-absorbed; Arati mistakenly thinking her husband is angry with her; Subrata soliloquising to himself about the meaning of work - it makes us weak, he says.  Here are “two minds [that really are completely] at sea”.  But then husband and wife reconcile, and walk together through the streets of Calcutta into an unknown future.  The old world, with its well-established certainties based on custom and habit, has collapsed, and the big city has been invaded by odd stories whose endings no one can confidently predict.  The only certainty is love, which provides the emotional resources these characters need to navigate the psychological states Penelope Houston describes in her insightful sentences.  This film about a place whose foundations are suffering an earthquake.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Uncomfortable Company

Too often I criticise the critics.  A couple of punches, a head butt; one carefully placed kick to the goolies, as they approach the postbox to mail their manuscript, usually has the effect I desire.  Take that old fella… Down he goes, his sentences sprawled on the floor around him; “Grahame Greene as an early English example of transgendered martyrology” spreading across the pavement like vomit.  As I stamp on “the aporia generated by an upper class whore whose infidelity becomes a fundamentalist religion” he pleads for his research grants, the three children at public school, the wife who works for the Macmillan Trust…  Suddenly I see myself for the hooligan I am.  I walk away, pleading youthful exuberance and too much literary testosterone.  I crumple up rationality, and throw logic into the nearest dustbin.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Success Story

It is beautiful propaganda.  Of a very strange sort… for it is true; providing we accept the film’s argument on its own terms.  

This is unfair.  It is true even if we do not agree with its assumptions; for even in real life there are women who are young, pretty and impossibly successful.  Such sweet cupcakes!  Red petals on a yellow fluffy bed. We watch as dainty fingers cradle little baskets of corrugated paper; and look on as an index finger tickles a red-tipped rim.  They seem too nice to eat. The girls can’t decide…  So lovely!  They laugh.  And giggle and flirt with the shop owner, who asks if he may photograph them.  He says, whilst mimicking the gesture, slowly open your hands and smile down at your opening palms.  It is his turn to chuckle now.  He compares them to lotus flowers on lily pads.  The girls shout and quiver with uncontainable laughter, and scoff-up his metaphor with their hilarity.  We leave them to his crumbs.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Sailor's Mother

   One morning (raw it was and wet,

   A foggy day in winter time)

   A Woman in the road I met,
   
Not old, though something past her prime:

   Majestic in her person, tall and straight;

And like a Roman matron's was her mien and gait.

   The ancient Spirit is not dead;

   Old times, thought I, are breathing there;

   Proud was I that my country bred

   Such strength, a dignity so fair: 

   She begged an alms, like one in poor estate;

I looked at her again, nor did my pride abate.

   When from these lofty thoughts I woke,

   With the first word I had to spare
   I said to her, 'Beneath your Cloak

   What's that which on your arm you bear?'
   She answered soon as she the question heard,

‘A simple burthen, Sir, a little Singing-bird.’

   And, thus continuing, she said,

  ‘I had a Son, who many a day 

   Sail'd on the seas; but he is dead;

   In Denmark he was cast away;

  And I have been as far as Hull, to see

What clothes he might have left, or other property.

  ‘The Bird and Cage they both were his;

  'Twas my Son's Bird; and neat and trim

   He kept it: many voyages

   This Singing-bird hath gone with him;

   When last he sailed he left the Bird behind;

As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind.

  ‘He to a Fellow-lodger's care

   Had left it, to be watched and fed,

   Till he came back again; and there
   
I found it when my Son was dead;

  And now, God help me for my little wit!

I trail it with me, Sir! he took so much delight in it.’

                                      William Wordsworth

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Saw Your Site. Liked it. Thought I’d, um…add a comment… Instead… Yes… Exactly.

Homage to QWERT YUIOP.  Oh how the memories come back.  I lived with this book for years.  When I did eventually leave off reading it the cover had disintegrated and the pages had fallen out; free at last to float back to that looser wilder world of the newspapers and magazines.  What a book! At least that is how I remember it.  A degree course in literature in the years when I needed it most.  Though Urgent Copy is the better collection, I think.  Slow reviewing as opposed to fast.  There is a lot of fast in QWERT YUIOP.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A Class Act

A person changes.  The effects are at first so subtle nobody notices them, although very quickly a threshold is crossed and we discover that a new kind of person has emerged out of the chrysalis of the old.  An increase in confidence, an assurance in one’s own opinions and an ability to articulate them are all signs that Arati is now a working woman.  She has the spirit of independence, which the household recognises before she does.  This is not what anyone expected.  The balance of power has shifted.  And it is too late to turn back. For once a culture goes it cannot be reclaimed; one change leads to a thousand changes, until nothing is left of the old ways except superannuated custom.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Temperate Zone

The public domain.  It is a peculiar place.  A man-made construction existing all around us but whose foundations are invisible to the five senses.  We know it is there.  We see its signs. Read its words.  Hear its voices.  While numerous pictures pop in and out of our memories.  And yet… when he look too closely it dissolves before our all too piercing, our all too empirical, eyes.  Of course there are places where public activities occur - the Houses of Parliament, a local town hall, the lecture halls of Cambridge University; the secondhand bookshop, the unsung hero of Western culture.  But it is in not these buildings where we will find the public domain.  Look for it there and you will never stop looking; for always it will be just out of reach; even when, miraculously, you find it.  Or you think you do.  You enter an office.  You are puzzled.  It sounds like home or a local cafe; an official touching you on the arm tells you about her pension rights, the increased hours, the clients who complain when they have no right to complain - “I’m doin’ my job aren’t I?”  You are surprised.  You do not know how to respond… “Oh, would you like a tea?”  She praises your dress, she likes its delicate pleats; loves the long sleeves, and the filigree work around the cuffs.  She asks where you bought it….

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Wise Words

Sainte-Beuve’s great work does not go very deep.  The celebrated method which, according to Paul Bourget and so many others, made him the peerless master of nineteenth-century criticism, this system which consisted of not separating the man and his work, of holding the opinion that in forming a judgement of an author - short of his book being “a treatise on pure geometry” - it is not immaterial to begin by knowing the answers to questions which seem at the furthest remove from his work (How did he conduct himself? etc.), to surround oneself with every possible piece of information about a writer, to collate his letters, to pick the brains of those who knew him - talking to them if they are alive, reading whatever they may have written about him if they are dead - this method ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us: that a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.  If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it.  Nothing can exempt us from this pilgrimage of the heart.  There must be no scamping in the pursuit of this truth, and it is taking things too easily to suppose that one fine morning the truth will arrive by post in the form of an unpublished letter submitted to us by a friend’s librarian, or that we shall gather it from the lips of someone who saw a great deal of the author.  Speaking of the great admiration that the work of Stendhal aroused in several writers of the younger generation, Sainte-Beuve said:  “If I may be allowed to say so, in framing a clear estimate of this somewhat complex mind and without going to extremes in any direction, I would still prefer to rely, apart from my own impressions and recollections, on what I was told by M. Mérimée and M. Ampère, on what I should have been told, had he lived, by Jacquemont - by those, in short, who saw him often and appreciated the actual man.”

Why so?  In what way does the fact of having been a friend of Stendhal’s make one better fitted to judge him?  For those friends, the self which which produced the novels was eclipsed by the other, which may have been very inferior to the outer selves of many other people.  Besides, the best proof of this is that Sainte-Beuve, having known Stendhal, having collected all the information he could from M. Mérimée and M. Ampère, having furnished himself, in short, with everything that according to him would enable a critic to judge a book to  a nicety, pronounced judgement on Stendhal as follows: “I have been re-reading, or trying to re-read, Stendhal’s novels; frankly, they are detestable.”  (Marcel Proust, By Way of Sainte-Beuve)

Friday, 6 June 2014

Roses Amongst Weeds

It’s all there in the description.  These facts speak to us, now that we have learned their language.  The differences between Innstetten and the von Briests - his seriousness against their light-heartedness, their cultivated inertia against his prosaic careerism - are precisely elucidated for us; while dull Kessin, a provincial town that squeezes the spirit out of Effi’s lively soul, is described with unforgiving accuracy.  There they all are!  We remember the words we have recently written; see an old Saxony castle collapse under the demolition men; and watch a new government building rise out of its ruins; a dull rectangle built in stone and brick, with a folk dance of decoration over its lintels and in its friezes.  A porch, a huge mouth smothered in a walrus moustache, waits patiently to ingest us.  We ruminate on our decision.  To enter or no…  Then…shouting; a young girl yells out a vulgar comment; a crumpled man talks politics…  An old woman, slim and attractive and dressed in a short red dress, walks past us and tells him to shut up - she stamps her high heels: alles ist scheisse -; a mob surrounds us… There is a false note; solecisms slide into the sentences; phrases become incomprehensible, and we find ourselves stumbling through paragraphs searching for words to grasp.  Professor Roy Pascal has started to speak a different dialect.  He is talking of an outmoded Junker class struggling to survive in a new Germany.  Our hand grabs a nettle, and we yell out in pain.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

More Than A Fiction

It is a remarkably fine summary, and yet its conclusions seem rather thin.  This is a writer who has an E-type Jag, and has driven it to Walton-on-the-Naze.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Spirits and Symbols

We look through a powerful lens.  Peering down we arrest the quick flow of the reading mind to see meanings invisible to the all too swift and commonsensical eye.  Adjusting the focus we enlarge the significance of a few small details until their corporeality dissolves onto a slide fluid with meaning and metaphor.  We see it all so clearly!  A good introduction is like a microscope.  To look at just a few scenes, to stare at one idea, to note some biographical or historical analysis, is to uncover a body of work dense in meaning and intention.  We start to lose ourselves in symbol and allegory… Resting our eyes we wonder at our ignorance.  Did we miss all that?  Of course we did.  Even the slowest reader isn't slow enough to really grasp the novel they are reading. They are thinking to fast to invent it.

Not that we must agree with the critic who brings us these new perspectives.  The best criticism should force us to think against it, clarifying the points of disagreement so that we develop our own insights and arguments.  To change the slide…  The best critics provide a spring board from which we dive into our own pool.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Dangers of Philosophy

Picking a book off the shelf I walk out into the rain, the ink, my thoughts, the pages dissolving into water and transparency…   The girlfriend calls out.  The neighbours look askance.  A stranger rushes by; he thinks I’m posting leaflets - paid a pittance for posting banalities; poor sod, he must be from Poland…  And still it continues to rain, the book in my hand drooping like a flu-soaked handkerchief.  Innstetten.  A man educated into a philosophy so ubiquitous it has become invisible.  So seeped in Kant and Hegel nothing is left but the water marks.  

It began when he was a student.  I remember it clearly.  It was the day we fellow students chucked him in the lake.  He was sleeping in the library; and we carried him out into the street, wrapped him up in old lecture notes and then rolled him down to the water’s edge, where we bumped him into the boat.  He’s awake by now.  Laughing out loud and quoting some nonsense by Fichte…  “Into the barque you go old man!”  And we rowed him out into the middle of the lake.  Or that is what the locals called it.  Though really it is little more than a very large pond, hardly deep enough to drown in…  “Hallo Friedrich!”  Whose up to his knees reciting Mörike.  (There is always a character around to prove one’s point.)  By now our friend is choking with laughter, what with the beer and tobacco and the thought of Elfriede; her fire, her warm towels and her soft soft bed… “What about Schelling?”  In reply Hans lays his lecture notes across the surface of the water…  Meaning turned into metaphor…  “Watch out!”  There is a huge splash as The Phenomenology of Spirit sends a fountain into the air.  

What fun it was!  Innstetten still enjoys himself thinking about it.  His servants aren’t so sure.  Having never completely dried out he drips his transcendental self all over the carpet. They moan and tut tut tut, encouraging a colleague to tell him to “Squeeze yourself out, old fella!”  He never listens.  Soaking Effi’s dress when he puts his arm on her shoulder…

Monday, 5 May 2014

Saturday, 26 April 2014

One Smile was Enough, It was an Earthquake

‘Guilt, if there is such a thing, isn’t bound to time or place and can’t just lapse from one day to the next. Guilt requires expiation; that makes sense. But a time limit is a half-measure, it’s weak, or at least prosaic.’ And he clung to this idea for support, repeating to himself that what had happened had to happen. But at the very moment when he was certain of this, he rejected it again. ‘There must be some time limit, a time limit is the only sensible approach; and whether it’s prosaic into the bargain or not is neither here nor there, what’s sensible is usually prosaic. I’m forty-five now. If I had found the letters twenty-five years later, I would have been seventy. Then Wüllersdorf would have said, “Innstetten, don’t be a fool.” And if Wüllersdorf hadn’t said it, Buddenbrook would have, and if he hadn’t said it I would have said it myself. That much is clear. If you take something to extremes, then you go too far and end up looking ridiculous. No doubt about it. But where does it start? Where is the dividing line? After ten years a duel is still necessary, and they call it honour, and after eleven years, or perhaps after only ten and a half, they call it folly. The dividing line, the dividing line. Where is it? Has it come? Has it already been crossed? When I think of that last look, the resignation, with a smile in spite of his agony, what that look was saying was, “Innstetten, always the stickler for principles… You could have spared me this, and yourself too.” And maybe he was right. My soul seems to be saying something like that. Yes, if I’d been filled with mortal hate, if I’d had a burning lust for revenge… Revenge isn’t admirable, but it’s human, and has a natural human right. As it was, it was all for the sake of an idea, a concept, it was an artificial affair, half play-acting. And now I have to carry on with the act, and send Effi away, and be the ruin of her, and myself too… I should have burnt the letters and the world should never have found out about them. And then when she came back, without any inkling, I should have said, ‘Your place is there,’ and should have inwardly divorced myself from her. Not in the eyes of the world. There are so many lives that aren’t real lives, so many marriages that aren’t real marriages… happiness would have gone, but I wouldn’t have had to live with that eye with its questioning look and its silent, gentle reproof.’  (Theodor Fontane, Effi Briest)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Are You Listening Innstetten?

German culture as it used to be. - When the Germans began to be interesting to the other nations of Europe - it happened not all that long ago - it was on account of a culture which they now no longer possess, which they have, indeed, with a blind zeal shaken off as though it had been an illness: and yet they have had nothing better to put in its place than the political and nationalist lunacy.  To be sure, they have thereby succeeded in becoming much more interesting to the other nations than they formerly were on account of their culture: and so let them be contented!  In the meantime, it cannot be denied that this German culture deluded the Europeans, that it was unworthy of the interest, emulation and imitation it inspired.  Let us today take a look at Schiller, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Schelling, read their correspondence and familiarise ourselves with their large circle of adherents: what do they have in common, what is it in them that seems to us, as we are today, now so insupportable, now so pitiable and moving?  First, their thirst for appearing morally excited at all cost; then, their desire for brilliant, boneless generalities, together with the intention of seeing everything (characters, passions, ages, customs) in as beautiful a light as possible - ‘beautiful’, unfortunately, in the sense of a vague and bad taste which nonetheless boasted of a Greek ancestry.  It is a soft, good-natured, silver-glistering idealism which wants above all to affect noble gestures and a noble voice, a thing as presumptuous as it is harmless, infused with a heartfelt repugnance for ‘cold’ or ’dry’ reality, for the anatomy, for wholehearted passion, for every kind of philosophical temperance and scepticism, but especially for natural science except when it is amenable to being employed as religious symbolism.  Goethe observed these goings-on in his own way: standing aside, gently remonstrating, keeping silent, ever more determined to follow his own, better path.  Somewhat later on, Schopenhauer also observed them - to him much of the real world and the devilry of the world had again become visible, and what he had to say of it was as rough and uncouth as it was enthusiastic: for this devilry had its beauty! - And what was it that misled foreigners that they did not observe German culture in the way in which Goethe and Schopenhauer did, or simply disregard it?  It was the dull lustre, the enigmatic Milky-Way shimmer, that lit up this culture: when they saw it, foreigners said: ‘that is very, very distant from us, there our seeing, hearing, understanding, enjoyment, evaluation cease; nonetheless they could be stars!  Could it be that the Germans have quietly discovered some corner of the heavens and settled down there?  We must try to get closer to the Germans.’  And they did get closer: but hardly had they done so when these same Germans began to exert themselves to get rid of this Milky-Way shimmer; they knew too well that they had not been in the heavens - but in a cloud!
                                          (Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality) 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hi Dan…

Here’s something you might like.  It is a richer and more nuanced version of the Paul Samuelson quote you recently posted.  Its rich analysis identifies the creation of a shared political culture as the determinate factor in the limitation of debate within a society; a process whereby the public come to agree on a few quite basic assumptions, which then protects that culture from severe critical attack.  The author is Keith Middlemas, who has written one of the great books on British politics.  Here he is running at full speed (which may account for his somewhat clumsy sentences)…

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Freedom Against Freedom

Two artists.  The one a genius.  The other… a genius.  Both infatuated with the same woman.  Yet they see her quite differently.  Can they both be right?  

Truth is multifarious, you say, and is understood only via the singular and the concrete.  You are an artist of course, wary of all generalisations and scientific laws; such knowledge outside your compass.  Oh!  I should try applying Boyle’s Law to The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant?  Ha!  So… what are you telling me?  That science is concerned with its own special layer of reality, a simpler, less individuated one than art’s, which is more contingent and diversified, and which requires  techniques that are wider and more flexible to capture it.  I see…  Oh, you want to carry on?  The truth of art lies in the unique work of art, through its details and integrative form.  That’s good, my friend.  And these geniuses… A genius isolates the individual detail, and grasping its significance he turns it into a universal truth.1  This is excellent stuff, even if you do sound like a lecturer from the Open University.  So art will never been made into a science?  Oh!  It will one day?  But then it will no longer be art.  Ha! Of course!  You are very good aren't you?  I believe you can help me.  The men I mentioned: can you sum up the differences between them?  I need to be more specific?  Ok. Think about Effi Briest.  Why does Fontane’s book feel so different to Fassbinder’s film?  You can tell me?  Using just one scene?  Ok.  Off you go.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Fictions Kill

Let’s talk about death.  At least for a couple of paragraphs.  I hope you don’t mind.  I guarantee it won’t disturb you.  You might even be entertained.  Although I’d be surprised if you’ll find it funny.  Yet we never know. The strange characters who wander around my sentences; I once found an especially odd one slumped up against a semi-colon; reading my Liberal Stalinist he went on and on about Lionel Asbo, convinced that I must know himAfter much desultorily conversation he tore out a phrase from my footnotes, and stuffed it into a Lidl’s shopping bag.  Said he was going to sell it to some charity shop off the Kings Road.  Extraordinary posh.  And completely loopy.  Slumming it of course.

In Norman’s Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and A.S Byatt’s Still Life there are two classic death scenes that both use the same tactic: the shock of the completely unexpected.  In both books characters with whom we have become intimately acquainted, and who we expect to live beyond the last full stop, die suddenly.  In Mailer’s book the demise is perfunctorily – it takes little more than a sentence -; and is the exact opposite to a previous death, described in long and agonising detail.  The contrast is stark.  The effect stunning.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Two Poems About Language


1. A Note to the Difficult One

This morning I am ready if you are,
To hear you speaking in your new language.
I think I am beginning to have nearly
A way of writing down what it is I think
You say.  You enunciate very clearly
Terrible words always just beyond me.

I stand in my vocabulary looking out
Through my window of fine water ready
To translate natural occurrences
Into something beyond any idea
Of pleasure.  The wisps of April fly
With light messages to the lonely.

This morning I am ready if you are
To speak.  The early quick rains
Of Spring are drenching the window-glass.
Here in my words looking out
I see your face speaking flying
In a cloud wanting to say something.

W. S. Graham


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

After the Fantasy, the Facts...

One doesn’t need to search Google to discover the truth.  The BFI is kind enough to tell us: Michael Goldsmith went to Liberia, where he was kidnapped by child soldiers.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Weird Evil

This film is on an expedition.  It is searching for the one image that will encapsulate its subject: Bokassa, Emperor of the Central African Republic; tyrant, womanizer, and - and this seems certain - mad.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Religion of Revolution

Rainer!  Have you been reading Guy Debord?  Yes?  No?  Have you been watching Godard and Anderson?  Weekend.  If.  Are these films colonising your camera?  “Possibly, but not in the way you imagine.”  You talk in riddles, and I do not understand you...  Oh, I see, you are, as always, going you own way, doing your own thing; so that we are never quite sure which side you’re on, even when you are on the right side, the side, that is, of the revolution. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

New Gods Now

Only art is saved.  This could be the literal truth.  The objects of art and craft the only things to survive the Middle Ages; the Universal Church long gone, its remnants transubstantiated in Lutheran ritual.  This film, then, a mere truism; although the director surely had some other idea in mind when he allowed these clowns to escape Death’s omnivorous gaze. 

To be clear about our argument we must look at what actually happens to Jof and Mia (and their baby)…

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Young and Free

The window frames it.
Summer sunlight
Shimmering like water
Ripples on the wall…

And there she is!
A white blouse
Loose at the waist
Rolling her buttocks

She waves her knickers
Atop a chorus of giggles,
Her blue skirt
Floating with a frown.

And an old couple
Walk towards them
Enjoying the scene.
Her black flag

Dwindling in the distance
When I look back
A thorny bush swallows
Her beautiful backside

And I see them
Rounding the bend…
A cloud shifts
The light vanishes.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Goodbye Fate!

This is a very British film, even though it is set in Romania and there is no English dialogue.  It is British because of its irony and the emotional control that allows the irony so much prominence.  Here is a movie that has been thought out quite coolly.  This has its risks, of course.  The film exposed to all the dangers of too much self-consciousness; such as, for example, skirting too close to the edge of plot; indeed, there are times when it almost falls over that edge - the ending just a little too good, and it is good, to feel completely true.  The mind that created this film likes puzzles.  It first creates them.  Then it solves them beautifully…