Friday, December 31, 2010

And I don't feel any different

Another year, another new year.

Though I have to say, all in all, this one was, personally, better than the previous one. Despite a few painful losses.

Indeed, by my standards, I'm feeling positively optimistic.

Still, this is the song that's running through my head right now.

Best wishes to all our friends and family for a happy, prosperous (or at least not impoverishing) and, above all, healthy 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's the night before Christmas...

...and the Daily Mail, as always, knows how to bring the holiday cheer:

Ah, it warms the old cockles of me 'eart, it does.

Of course, the idea that Hitler saw 'no place for religion in his 1,000-year Reich' is wrong: it's a complicated story, but since we're all a bit busy at this time of year it may be worth simply reminding ourselves that point 24 of the NSDAP's party programme stated:

24. We demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral senses of the Germanic race. The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility.

Just reading that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

So, to cleanse the palate, please accept our best wishes (plagued by the 'Jewish-materialistic spirit' as they may be) for a happy holiday.

In whatever airport or train station you may happen to be stranded.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Assumptions and associations

In my dream last night John and I were drowning in the cabin of a rusty trawler on which we were travelling to God knows where.

Of course I know why I dreamt that dream. See, I have to review this book about Shakespeare and the sea, and reading its preface yesterday somehow seems to have set my mind on maritime matters. Though I didn't expect to be troubled during my sleep by the author's references to the Titanic, as I was more disconcerted during reading the book by his bold assumptions and wild associations (bold assumptions and wild associations, I hasten to admit, that are entirely characteristic of recent research in the Humanities).

The bold assumptions start about four sentences into the book's preface, when the author claims that "we need a poetic history of the oceans."

Well do we? How can a "poetic history of the oceans" improve upon a humble (traditional) "history of the oceans"? Why would an "offshore perspective" review our understanding of "terrestrial literary culture", as the author maintains it would in a later chapter - especially since that perspective is that of terrestrial beings whose view of the sea is inevitably second-hand and imagined?

And anyway, to tell you the truth, what we need is more reason and less rhapsodising, but that's just me being a boring old fart.

This bold assumption is complemented by the claim that one could call, with reference to a not uncontroversial book by Peter Laslett, "the maritime world we have lost" motif. "We need Shakespeare's ocean, now," the author claims, "because late-twentieth-century culture has frayed our connections to the sea." To "postwar Anglophone culture" we are told, "the sea is less important [...] than to prior generations" - you only have to consider how in a city like New York the harbour has changed location: "On the southern tip of Manhattan island, where sailors and longshoremen once walked, bankers stride in isolation."

"In isolation"? So, its communal sailors versus monadic bankers? All very evocative stuff, this, but how true is it, say, when applied to life in nineteenth-century Barnsley or Des Moines?

The wild associations come on top of this rather forced conceit. They're erudite, yes, but they fail to convince at least this reader:
Less obsessive than Melville and more variable than Walcott, Shakespeare presents an always-moving ocean whose full meanings emerge through counterpoint with his literary heirs. Reading these authors together produces multiple visions of oceanic meaning, so that the doomed hunt for Moby-Dick speaks to Walcott's historicized sea and both reconfigure the sea-music of Shakespeare's depths.
We're back to the old "Did Shakespeare read Joyce" question - and we all know how unimpressed I am by academics' clever-clever reconfigurations of logic and chronology. Did Shakespeare read Walcott? Only in the mind of a scholar who had read both and realised that Walcott had read Shakespeare.

Look, this is nought but a shell game for academics!

Still, I'm kind of prone to associations myself, so I know what it's like. Here is a run down of what I had to think of while reading the book that I shall not name:

a) A bit of Purcell

b) A bit of 1970s Brit-Trash

c) Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

Now, thass how cool I is.


I've run across various things relating to words recently; they don't really fit together in any way, but I thought I'd mention them here anyway.

1.) The most important German word of the year, at least as determined by the German Language Society is 'Wutbürger', which means 'enraged citizen'. This has been quite a year for Wutbürger in Germany, what, the controversial building of train stations. And, um, the lowest unemployment rate in two decades.

Lots to be angry about here, indeed.

Perhaps this word, Wutbürger, will become a glorious part of our export-oriented economy and have a great career in other--potentially more justifiably angry--societies, just as Schadenfreude once did; or perhaps, more like Fremdscham, it may remain an under-utilised gem.


2.) Also under the heading of interesting Germanisms: I ran across something unexpected while walking around in Mainz a few weeks ago. I saw a man in a uniform (and with, I think, a gun) emerge from a car on which was printed the striking phrase word Polizeipuppenbühne.

I read that a couple of times, wondering whether my non-native German had it quite...right: was it really 'police puppet stage'?.

I made a point of looking it up when I got home, and, indeed, there is, in our state of Rhineland-Palatinate, a police puppet theatre. And our state is not the only one: Wikipedia (German only, unfortunately) tells us that police puppet theatres emerged in the 1950s as part of various forces' public education activities.

Now, police puppetry is interesting enough; however, research along these lines led me to the wonderful German word Verkehrserziehung, which means, essentially, 'road safety training', and is, of course, one of the main activities of the police puppeteers.

It's a lot more fun as one word, and the success of childhood Verkehrserziehung is part of the reason for the charming German habit (one that I've taken on for myself) of waiting to cross the street until the light says you can.

Not all Germans do this, of course, but still, a large enough number of them do to make it a national characteristic.

3.) Finally, thanks to Andrew, I have been made aware of Google's new Ngram viewer.

This new toy is a certain way for me to lose hours at a time on intriguing but economically worthless inquiries, so I've been trying to avoid it since finding out about it.

However, having written a recently published article about the (American) origins and use (in Britain) of the phrase 'the third degree' (in the sense of illegitimate interrogation), I couldn't resist putting the comparative phrases 'give him the third degree' and 'give her the third degree' into Ngram. (Submitting 'the third degree' would give too many false positives on this topic, as this might refer either to burns or freemasonry.)

This was the result (click to make it larger):

Which is interesting.

My suggestion in the article is that the concept of 'third degree' interrogation was introduced into Britain around 1900 (the first press reference I found was from The Scotsman commenting on the police treatment of Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901).

In the graph above, the references emerge first in the late 1890s. The peaks between the 'him' and 'her' versions match in pattern (if not in magnitude) rather well (most of these seem to come from fictional contexts, i.e., crime thrillers), except for the post WWII period, when the 'him' version is clearly dominant.

Given that I'm still not entirely sure of the nature of the source base, I would rather not make too much of this result, but I find it interesting.

My research stopped in 1939: the rise in references to 'the third degree' since 1990 is a bit of a mystery. I'm wondering whether it has to do with an increase of re-prints of early 20th-century works?

Anyway: that was enough thinking for an evening this close to Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

He can see it on the radar, only seven hours away

There is, like, a crazy amount of snow outside.

It's been a fun weekend overall here in Europaland with regard to the cold'n'white stuff; fortunately, our drive back from northern Bavaria to the middle Rhine region went smoothly today.

And, I think, it is a good time to remember this song, which was one of my favourites from a favourite album from a favourite band back in the college daze:

Galaxie 500, 'Snowstorm'

Friday, December 10, 2010

I hope we're all in crash position when we hit

And, while we're considering the Mountain Goats.

The Mountain Goats, 'Matthew 25:21'.

Nothing like a little Christmas-season vengeance

Speaking of things to look forward to:

And here's a review to accompany the trailer.

Emerging from the long-locked basement

We're still in that dread condition known as Extraordinarily Busy (although things have actually been going pretty well); in combination with some travel and a general fed-upness with the dark and the wintry cold, this has not been an ideal situation for blogging. 

We'll be back soon as soon as we can.

But I wanted to share my joy about the fact that the Mountain Goats have announced a new album, All Eternals Deck.

John Darnielle describes it thus:

If you know the feeling of exultation that comes with having recognized the oncoming train of fate, then that's the other thing the album's about. JD, wouldn't it be easier to write an album of, like, love songs? Probably, I would not know, my focus is mainly death scenes and downtown Portland. It's not like there aren't people in love either dying or getting arrested at 3rd and Yamhill, so really, if you can stretch your definition of "love song" we can all be happy. Other possible points of reference include Burnt Offerings, Go Ask Alice, and that one scene in The Warriors where they're on the train and the sun's coming up and they're safe but you know the scars are permanent now. Reversals of fortune and faces at the window and sudden unexpected screams of triumph here and there. Possible exits from the long-locked basement. These sorts of moments.
The bittersweet part of this, of course, is that the album's not out till the end of March 2011. With song titles such as 'Damn Those Vampires', 'The Autopsy Garland' and 'For Charles Bronson', I, for one, dear reader, am full of the old antici.....pation.

Via some looking into this issue, I see that TMG does the Twitter. Which is helpful, since they've been able to quash the rumour that All Eternals Deck is death metal.

Which is probably all to the good, however, someone should really do a death metal song about that scene from The Warriors.