Monday, June 29, 2009
I've been interested in historical continuities recently. Human nature, standing on the shoulders of giants, and the like.
(Via Boing Boing)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Which, as The Wife has noted, leaves me in a perfect state of mind to match the silly state of the media mind (i.e., wall-to-wall, 24-hour obsession with all things Jackobury) that has blossomed all around me.
And I suppose that while my brain seems to have temporarily shut down (encouraged, perhaps, by drinking too much red wine in the sun at a retirement party for my boss this afternoon) I'm still left ahead of Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones, who seems to suffer from this condition on a more permanent basis.
That's just a surmise based on the evidence of her commentary in today's Waily Snail entitled 'What's really oppressing women isn't the burka, it's their breasts'.
It's really quite...appalling.
But educational: I wasn't aware that Victoria Beckham was 'oppressed'. I'm appalled that some worthy charity has not intervened and helped the poor woman.
And then there's this useful tit-bit that our Liz offers:
Believe it or not, I once had very big breasts.
I did not know that. But without a reason to think otherwise, reader, I believe her. And I urge you to do likewise.
And the learning (and tragedy) doesn't stop there:
I’d been anorexic for years and when force-feeding and threats of hospitalisation hadn’t worked, in my early 20s my endocrinologist started feeding me drugs and hormones to make me eat and to make me fat. My breasts grew rapidly. Clothes no longer hung properly.
My drug-induced breasts were nothing like the ones you see these days on the covers of men’s magazines: natural big breasts hang, honeydew melon-shaped, towards your waist.
Thanks Liz. Truly, this is information we can use.
It's especially gratifying -- I think we will all agree -- to see the Fail standing up for feminism and against the the objectification of celebrity women via their breasts.
Also via the Vomity Pail (which is distributed free by my hotel), I encountered 'Miss Ellie', who has been voted 'ugliest dog' at some kind of fair in California that concerns itself with such things.
The pure-bred, pint-sized pageant participant -- who has as far as I know not yet expressed any opinion about mammarial oppression -- has a strangely endearing charm, I must say. And she also called forth an immediate (though cross-species) association:
I always was more of a cat person.
Looking forward to being home.
Home (dir. Ursula Meier). More here.
Meier explains at Cineuropa:
It is a contemporary family tale; it is about isolation turning into madness. There are strong intimate ties between the characters, which will be revealed by the motorway. It becomes the screen onto which each of the characters projects their own neuroses. It is also a mirror of the world – violent, aggressive, and polluted – which enters the homes of people who thought they would be able to live alone, set apart from society. In this sense, it is a film about Switzerland.
Anyway, here's some music for Sunday. 'Fraid I have no time for more. TTFN!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The Seekers, "Georgy Girl" (1968).
If I find the time this weekend I might watch the film. Might cheer me up.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Boris Vian, "Le Déserteur"
June Carter Cash, "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?"
Monday, June 22, 2009
Among the stack of books I'm working my way through is E. S. P. Haynes's 1923 libertarian tract The Enemies of Liberty, which took aim at a broad range of threats, as he saw it, to traditional freedoms.
It's interesting to see in this period how frequently certain writers contrasted English liberties with their presumed opposites elsewhere, typically in Germany (a reasonably common epithet in this context seems to have been 'Prussianism') or, interestingly, America.
As an appendix to his book, Haynes prints an essay from A.P. Herbert on ‘Prohibition in America’, which he wrote after a sojourn of several weeks enjoying that blessed land's freedoms:
‘The truth is, I fear—and I hope my American friends will forgive the remark—that as a nation they seem to have very little idea of social liberty. They are not so much Puritan as persecuted. Formal political liberty and formal social equality they have ad nauseam, but these are poor substitutes. They seem to like it when an Irish policeman flourishes his club at a gentleman in the street and refers to him as “That Man,” for this shows that all men are equal, and the gentleman is a good as the policeman. But he is not—not by many miles. Anyone who shouts loud enough for a long time will put the gentleman in his place—and he seems to enjoy it. For he has no King and no titled aristocracy, and he flatters himself he is a sturdy, independent fellow, standing no nonsense. But in fact I found him a little cowed, with the habit of being dragooned and bullied and sitting down under it—under the policeman, the Press, the politicians, the literary critics, his wife, the Irish, the Middle-West, and any kind of tom-fool League or organisation that has the energy, cash and Publicity organisation to spread it abroad day and night, for years together, that black is white, or peppermints bad for the soul.’
Herbert, 'Prohibition in America', printed in Haynes, The Enemies of Liberty (1923), 179-80.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Spike Milligan, "Pakistani Dalek" (via)
As the canned laughter is a bit overpowering, here's the script.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
That'll teach you not to carry your ID-card!
But that's only the special Sunday treatment. The rest of the week you will merely be tasered.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Simple. Sometimes effective.
There is apparently a new album by The Thermals.
This is the first single, 'Now We Know'.
The Debut, 'Photograph Song' (via Boing Boing)
Sonic Youth, 'Sacred Trickster' (Via Dale)
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Well, ok – that’s not exactly true (but somehow I couldn’t resist this opening line). Ishiguro’s writing is really more about coitus non performatus: in his books, budding relationships are left to peter out, secret desires remain undeclared and potentially joyful emotional roads are not taken. His characters typically lack the honesty and courage to acknowledge and express their feelings and so end up lonely and disappointed.
The butler Stephens, narrator-protagonist of The Remains of the Day, is haunted by the memory of his former colleague Miss Kenton, but fails to confess his love when he meets her many years later. In a similar way, the uptight Christopher Banks in When We Were Orphans is unable to act upon his feelings for the eccentric Sarah Hemmings, with whom he briefly hopes to start a new life. In Never Let Me Go characters copulate with gay abandon, but because they are clones regularly culled for their organs until they die they have been brainwashed into not developing any deep feelings for their sexual partners.
Taking up some of the author's pet themes - strained relationships, a sense of imminent loss and a general disappointment with life - and presenting variations on them, Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (Faber and Faber, 2009) is an entirely typical Ishiguro book.
In “Crooner” an ageing American singer hires a Polish street musician in Venice to serenade the woman he is about to divorce because he believes that she hampers his comeback. In “Come Rain or Come Shine” Raymond, a middle-aged language teacher is confronted with the possibility that he might have misinterpreted a long-standing college friendship. In “Malvern Hills” an overconfident but unsuccessful young musician plays a practical joke on a Swiss couple only to regret it when realising their appreciation of his work.
Nocturnes sets up an analogy between the skillful handling of musical instruments and the way human beings instrumentalise each other in the pursuit of their own interests (the Polish musician being the artistic equivalent to the cliché of the Ukrainian hit-man - helping to kill her softly). Importantly, however, the exploitative relationships that Ishiguro describes are never unilateral: rather than confronting each other as victims and perpetrators, his characters are entangled in a gordian knot of complicity.
The Polish guitarist in “Crooner” is not only attracted by the cash promised him for his services, but also clearly enjoys the opportunity to fawn upon a star beloved by his mother. In “Come Rain or Come Shine”, Raymond is summoned by his old friend Charlie to revitalise his marriage, but he is willing to do so because of a latent desire for Charlie's wife Emily (who, it turns out, has been despising him for as long as she has known him). The other stories, too, emphasise the power and pervasiveness of the human need to be acknowledged and liked by others while also depicting the unrecognised submissive acts of self-prostitution that this need results in.
In that sense, yes, the stories are truly tragic (and I'm not one to use this category lightly). But they are also tragic in so far as the characters are blind to these entanglements, while still priding themselves on their superior perceptiveness. This is as close as contemporary fiction gets to creating a sense of hamartia.
Again in a way that is typical of Ishiguro’s work, these personal encounters are set against a larger historical context - more concretely post-cold war Europe - invoked by the stories’ settings and their cosmopolitan dramatis personae. On a superficial level they could be read as vignettes about global tourism in which a variety of real geographic spaces (Venice, London, the Malvern hills, Hollywood) become the setting for miniature dramas about love, disappointment and the unbridgeable gaps that separate people.
America, however, seems to dominate these global encounters, whether explicitly, as in "Crooner", or implicitly, as in “Come Rain or Come Shine”, a story that seems to be inspired by the American phrase “the dog ate my homework” (on this point the story is woefully misread by Frank Kermode in his unflatteringly indifferent LRB review). In “Nocturne”, the only story set in America, an all-American obsession with beauty is contained within the “hush-hush floor” of a Hollywood hotel, where stars (or those aspiring to stardom) hide after their cosmetic surgery, but there is the notion that in the long run Old Europe will be smitten by this obsession, too.
Of course it already has. This suggests that the it is not Ishiguro's point to depict America as a noxious cultural virus. It would also be too simple to read the collection as a jeremiad about how human beings are entrapped in their sadly isolated existence. More likely and maybe appropriate is an inverse interpretation: in Ishiguro's stories, the personal is the political, so that global diplomacy (or the lack thereof) merely echoes what human beings do to each other in private.
To cite Mr Heston (out of context): "It's people!"
So far, so good - with their focus on individual experience, these psychological stories point outward towards politics at large. And yet there is an odd sense of artifice in all them, as though Ishiguro was consciously constructing stage sets for his overt messages, as if to remind us that this is fiction with no immediate referential relationship to the real world. Although they are all about communication - in foreign languages and on foreign soil - characters often speak a stilted code more akin to an emotionally and contextually empty Esperanto (or botched phrasebook Hungarian for that matter):
“‘Mr Gardner,’ I said eventually, ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking. But is Mrs Gardner expecting this recital? Or is it going to be a wonderful surprise?’” (“Crooner").
“‘ Of course, our country has many beautiful features. But here, in this spot, you have a special charm. We have wanted to visit this part of England for so long. We always talked of it, and now finally we are here!’” (“Malvern Hills”).In Ishiguro's stories, communication is always slightly askew because although his characters have technically mastered English (either because they are native speakers or proficient foreigners), they seem to lack a level of understanding external to the purely linguistic. In them, English acts as a perfectly functional lingua franca which, even when applied successfully, nevertheless guarantees that strangers remain strangers.
What remains? Music, perhaps, that universal language - although Ishiguro is not one to idealise its communicative scope. Even music can be misunderstood or lead to misunderstandings.
Friday, June 12, 2009
It's striking that, before you've even read a few dozen pages, you find such amazing examples of both cutting insult and sublime praise.
The insult comes from a review of J. B. Priestley's novel Angel Pavement:
When a novel lacks the indefinable, unmistakable thing we call beauty, one looks in it for sound delineation of character, or humour of situation, or verbal wit. But one looks in vain in Angel Pavement--Mr. Priestley can be clever, but he cannot be in any way memorable. (26)Oh, that's painful, in a particularly painful way. But then comes the coup de grâce: Orwell notes that Priestley has been much over-praised by other reviewers, and he continues,
Once this absurd praise is discounted, we can salute Mr. Priestley for the qualities which he really possesses, and take Angel Pavement for what it is: an excellent holiday novel , genuinely gay and pleasant, which supplies a good bulk of reading matter for ten and sixpence.(Emphasis added, 27)
Oh man...that must have burned.
On the other hand, Orwell knew how to make a well-placed compliment.
In the context of a review of a biography of Herman Melville, he enthuses:
More important than his strength, he had--what is implied in real strength--passionate sensitiveness; to him seas were deeper and skies were vaster than to other men, and similarly beauty was more actual and pain and humiliation more agonising. Who but Melville would have seen the beauty and terror of a ridiculous beast like a whale? And who else could have written scenes like the bullying of Harry in Redburn, or that shocking and ludicrous account of an amputation in White Jacket? Such things were done by a man who felt more vividly than common men, just as a kestrel sees more vividly than a mole. (Emphasis added, 20-21.)
Partly because of this review, and partly because I noted recently that Melville also made the top of the 'best reads' list by J. G. Ballard some years ago (I found this in the additional material added to my copy of Millennium People), I have thought I should probably give Moby Dick another chance.
It was--like many things...and nearly Shakespeare!...ruined for me in high school (a common story, perhaps).
Though my renewed Melvillian interests may also be partly because I've been enjoying my belated discovery of Mastodon's 2004 heavy metal concept album, Leviathan, which is based on that novel about the white whale.
(I very much like the song--though not so much the video--for 'Blood and Thunder'...which for some reason involves clowns. Far scarier than whales, if you ask me.)
Any post-secondary-school Melville fans out there with their own observations?
And, yes, I know: from a strictly naturalistic perspective, one could have turned Orwell's metaphor on it's head, saying just as a mole feels more vividly than a kestrel.
But somehow I don't think it'd have worked as well.
The sceptred isle hath no dimwit like a blonde Scot in a beanie!
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
And this one, although it's really more audio-based, features a striking image (from his wife's Flickr photostream) of singer-songwriter John Darnielle with a somewhat disgruntled-looking wombat. (It may be, though that 'disgruntled' is more or less the default expression of a wombat, how do I know?)
And you don't run across that sort of thing every day.
Moreover, I have now discovered yet another cosmic link between JD and yours truly: the Cubs have, apparently, broken his heart too.
The Mountain Goats, 'The Sign' (orig. Ace of Base), 2002.
Previous Mountain Goats clips and comments available here.
Other MG version of 'The Sign'.
Monday, June 08, 2009
(Which is more than slightly reminiscent of the spoof educational series 'Look Around You'.)
Speaking of learning languages:
And speaking of hovercrafts (full of eels, or otherwise):
(The last sentence of that report is somehow also fitting...)
I have a sentimental spot for the old hovercraft: in the late 1970s my family took it from Britain to the Continent and back (we were visiting relatives who were in Belgium).
I enjoyed the Hovercraft...but threw up on it going both ways.
Somers, John tells me, was in Three's Company, the American version of Man About the House - the latter a show I was seriously addicted to when -uhm, like, little - much to the dismay of my mother, who had a dismissive little formula to describe anything British: "bad hair, bad teeth, bad wallpaper".
You must know that I come from a family where wallpaper is considered to be intrinsically common.
So the following had my mother pulling her hair every Friday evening, because I absolutely had to watch it (and in fact found it funny):
I was in London and Northampton over the weekend and you know what - nothing has changed. Nothing at all ....
I was at that time (the late seventies) a raving-loony Anglophile who'd swoon at the sight of an Underground sign. Which is why, years later on a Monday evening I would watch Francis Matthews display his chesthair and fake bake in the BBC's much beloved (by me) language programme Follow Me:
Yes, this is what English had to sound like, plummy and right posh (though Matthews was born in York, and probably capable of quite impressive Northern diphtongs).
Oh yeah (oh yeah), those were the humble years before Blighty turned from a slum tout court into a slum where you could purchase avocados and everyone has a plasma TV:
As well as into "The Home of the British Nazi Party."
A pair of male penguins has adopted an abandoned chick, now about a month old, at a zoo in Bremerhaven, Germany. Zoo veterinarian Joachin Schöne said Wednesday that the two Humboldt penguins took turns incubating the egg, which had been abandoned by its biological parents. Zookeepers had placed the egg near the two male penguins in the hope that they would care for it as their own. The experiment, so far, has worked.
Here, an image of the proud baby daddies, 'Z' and 'Vielpunkt', and their adopted offspring:
Ah, family values, eh?....
Friday, June 05, 2009
While doing some work tonight, I had on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's wonderful (but I have the feeling somehow overlooked) 1941 film 49th Parallel.
The basic plot involves the survivors of a German U-Boat crew trying to make their way across Canada to the (at that point officially neutral) US.
There are many powerful moments in the film, one involving Anton Walbrook as the leader of a Hutterite community who responds to the fanatical Nazism of the naval lieutenant (played with remarkably convincing menace by Eric Portman).
Leslie Howard also has a key role in the film (as an author, canoeist and Thomas Mann fan...and a surprisingly good shot with a pistol), and I learned something looking at his Wikipedia page that I didn't know: he died in 1943 after being shot down on a flight from Lisbon to Bristol.
Several exhaustively detailed books such as Bloody Biscay: The Story of the Luftwaffe's Only Long Range Maritime Fighter Unit, V Gruppe/Kampfgeschwader 40, and Its Adversaries 1942-1944 (2001 by Chris Goss) by (which comes to a slightly different conclusion), Flight 777 (1957 by Ian Colvin), and In Search of My Father: A Portrait of Leslie Howard (1984 by Ronald Howard, Leslie's son), conclude that the Germans were almost certainly out to shoot down the plane in order to kill Howard himself. His intelligence-gathering activities (while ostensibly on "entertainer goodwill" tours), as well as the chance to demoralise Britain with the loss of one of its most outspokenly patriotic figures, were behind the Luftwaffe (German air-force) attack. Ronald Howard's book, in particular, explores in great detail written German orders to the Ju-88 Staffel (squadron) based in France assigned to intercept the aircraft, as well as communiqués on the British side which verify intelligence reports of the time indicating a deliberate attack on Howard.
I did not know that.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
One of Brown's closest aides vowed "the prime minister will only be taken out of Downing Street in a box"[...]
Bada bing, bada boom...
Or, if you require something a little more decisive:
Ah, politics is a dirty business...
[UPDATE] Is this the (metaphorical) Fangschuss?
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
The following editorial (of which I re-print about the first half, after which it goes into some rather culturally-specific stuff about betting) gives voice to a common set of complaints about over-interference by the state and police in the late 1920s.
As an added bonus, it combines this with a swipe at the rich and at Parliament for sticking it to the common man while living it up themselves.
The more things change...
Violent Tugs at the Apron Strings
Public Calls for “Heroic Doses” of Being Left Alone
Because some people have apoplexy after recklessly stuffing themselves with hot buttered muffins swilled down with tea in toxic quantities, we do not, at present, legislate as to the quantities of those accessories to the really pious life that may be consumed at one sitting.
It is condoned by super-moral political people because tea and muffin dyspepsia and apoplexy are not connected with that perishing word ‘drink.’
Nor do we legislate—and jaw with shocky-shocky faces—after debates interspersed with murmured moans of approval, against the respectable habit of a flutter in Futures or speculating in margins on the Stock Exchange. Bishops and Baptists, Brewers and Milk and Soda Dealers, and even Parliamentary pietists have been known to practise that enticing game!THE NON-WICKED
You have to have ‘a bit’ to enable you to do it. That makes it non-wicked. It is not ‘gaming’: it is not ‘betting’; it is not—oh, dear, No!—it is not participating in the Lottery!
Therefore, it is not to be condemned and must not be stopped by Act of Parliament drafted by deeply sly Puritans and ‘amended’ by them in Committee with the view afterwards of applying it to cases to which it was never intended to apply.
Almost at every turn to-day the people are met in their desire for fun and amusement with some Act, Order or Regulation of the Verboten or “Defense de...” kind, and just as their ‘faces want to smile’ they can’t let ‘em. Into the dock they must go. Soon, in Britain, Trappist monks will be the only people who have not been before the Bench, and they may have to go also if they don’t get certificates with their seed potatoes.
I suppose there always will have to be some laws that harrow our bodies, but it is time that Parliament and Parish Constables gave our souls a rest.
We need most sorely and most bitterly what the doctors call ‘heroic doses’ of being left alone.
(T.A. Hannam, World’s Pictorial News, 16 December 1928, p. 4.)
Quite apart from the subject matter, I am often struck by the style of writing that was common in newspapers from the 1920s. Often a bit over the top, there are times when it is remarkably euphonious, even poetic.
Keep in mind, this was the World's Pictorial News, which--as it described itself to potential advertisers--was aimed at 'artisans, skilled and agricultural labourers, and their respective families'. (It promoted itself in this context as 'the paper that’s published on pay-day'.)
So, we're firmly in working-class tabloid country here.
But its writing (if not always its opinions) compares very favourably with today's Sun or Mail.
Just re-read those first few paragraphs...
There is, for instance, the more direct method...
A man brought his German-born neighbour close to tears by twice calling her a schweinhund, a court heard yesterday....which suffers only the slight drawback that a knowledge of German that goes beyond comic books may be essential: the correct word is Schweinehund.
Don't forget that little linking 'e', and always remember that all German nouns, especially the insulting ones, should be capitalised. (Thanks to The Wife for the link.)
The other, more subtle way of insulting the Germans may be observed in an article at the Guardian by Ashley Seager a few days ago.
It's about the impact of the Global Financial Worldwide Totally Scary Economic Thingy (or whatever) on this here place I call home.
So far as it goes, I think Ashley is correct--though not entirely original--in saying that said economic impact is going to be...wait for it...quite severe.
But he manages the very strange feat of suggesting that key characteristics of the German economy (Making High-Quality Things That The World Wants To Buy) and of the German population more generally (Being Somewhat Cautious With Their Money and Not Going Crazily Into Debt) are not the sensible and virtuous things you might have thought and are...instead...somehow...deeply shameful.
I think he should have just come out and used the word Schweinehund.
It would have been friendlier.