Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Elsewhere in our familial blogosphere

My forthcoming book, The Most Remarkable Woman in England: Poison, Celebrity and the Trials of Beatrice Pace, makes some early public appearances. (It will be available in August.)

And, inspired by comments at another blog on poisoning and the inter-war period, I address a few matters of relevance.

Thank you for your attention.

Glengarry Get Lost

Reading a New York Times article on Christopher Hitchens's book criticism led me to something I'd missed over the summer: Hitch's review of David Mamet's The Secret Knowledge.

I haven't read Mamet's description of (or explanation for) his abandonment of left-liberalism for new-fangled right-wingery, and I don't think I will be.

It struck me that his book sounds very much like an expanded version of his 2008 Village Voice essay, "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'".

And that, though much shorter, was more than enough of a chore to read.

As I noted at the time (rather testily, I will admit).

It seems that, these days, Mamet's someone best ignored.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rock and Pop!

Well hello there ... and a very merry Christmas everyone!

Once again, we had our traditional festive movie-binge, which culminated in two and a half hours worth of George Harrison in the shape of Living in the Material World by Martin Scorsese.

Highly recommended!

Anyway, here's a snippet to share:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye Hitch

I was preoccupied with other things when I heard of Christopher Hitchens's death last Friday, and, while it was far from unexpected, thinking about that event provokes a kind of blue funk that will keep me from writing all but the most cursory of notes.

But I feel that I should say something.

First, if there was one writer and essayist who has by turns intrigued, influenced, inspired and infuriated me since my days as a rather earnestly 'political' teenager in the mid-1980s, it was he. I didn't always agree with his conclusions; however, I found that even -- perhaps especially -- at those times, it was worthwhile engaging with his arguments: if I remained unconvinced, I at least had to think much harder about why that was so.

I'd like to think that what I lost in terms of comfortable self-righteousness I gained with regard to rigorous self-criticism.

Second, I had the pleasure of not only making his acquaintance but also, in what now seems like an episode from another world, of enjoying his (and his wife's) hospitality at their home in Washington, DC. Despite his rather formidable public persona, Christopher, I learned first-hand, was in no way short of warmth, humour and generosity. He recalled that dinner when I wrote him not long ago to express my dismay at his illness.

That will all remain a very fond memory.

But I'm going to miss reading his views and hearing his voice.

Ian McEwan's farewell is well worth reading, as are the others gathered or mentioned by Norm and Terry.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Vertical violence

Via my friend Chris, I was made aware of a post at Blood & Treasure referring to a new building design that has been unveiled for a planned skyscraper in Seoul, South Korea.

It's referred to as 'The Cloud':

I will leave aside any aesthetic comments (other than WTF!!!! An image of a twin-towered complex exploding...who thought this was a good concept?) and simply use this image as an excuse to note the recent publication of a collection of essays, J. G. Ballard: Visions and Revisions.

This collection derives from a conference in which I participated some years ago and includes an essay by your humble narrator ('"Going mad is their only way of staying sane": Norbert Elias and the Civilised Violence of J. G. Ballard') on the novels High-Rise  and Super-Cannes.

Whilst wandering around Bloomsbury a few days ago I had the pleasure of discovering this book in one of my favourite London bookshops and finding my essay nestled there among the others.

In academia you have to take your joys where you find them.

I recommend this book for those of you interested in Ballard's writing.

I'm very happy to be among the essays contained within it.

Tory MP 'regrets' Nazi stag party...

...because, let's face it, it became public.

And while we're at it, can we please make it verboten to apologise -- as was done in this case -- 'for the offence caused': this is a particularly annoying weasely apology in which one implies that those who took offence share at least a significant amount of joint responsibility with those who caused the offence.

I mean: Conservatives in particular love to go on about personal responsibility, something that Mr. Burley (who, while enjoying a good old Nazi dress-up party, no doubt finds himself amongst those Tory backbenchers who bray on and on about the dangers of German 'dominance' in the Europe that they are so ardently pushing Britain to leave) seems to not be able even to identify, let alone accept.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Folly of Fools ....

According to the Guardian, "William Hague has insisted that the UK will still 'lead the way' on key issues in Europe even though it will not be among the 23 countries drawing up a separate treaty".

On which "key issues", I'm wondering. Which "issues" are there still left for the UK to discuss with the rest of Europe? And where will it lead us when it takes the lead? To Glastonbury or into the jungle with Katie Price?

No pal, let's face it - you're out. Game over.

At least the hilarious Hague corroborates Robert Trivers' argument in his new, long-overdue book The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life:

At every single stage ... from its biased arrival, to its biased encoding, to organizing it around false logic, to misremembering and then misrepresenting it to others, the mind continually acts to distort information flow in favor of the usual good goal of appearing better than one really is.

I do hope Santa has already sent out his bulk order for the book, to use as a particularly timely stocking-filler for our distant friends in Whitehall. They might need reminding that their post-imperial self-importance is a mere self-delusion.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A holiday gift idea for the Cassandras on your Christmas list

Noted in the ‘Gramophone Notes’ section of a British political magazine:

With Europe in its present state one should not be surprised by the plethora of Cassandras that have arisen; yet that the Columbia company should be found among them is rather astonishing. No doubt the Handel centenary (still dragging out its weary length) is mainly responsible for our being reminded that “The Lord is a Man of War” (Israel in Egypt); but was it a mere coincidence that the same company has also given us a new recording of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique?

For this work, written just over a hundred years ago under the influence of Alfred de Musset’s extraordinary translation of De Quincey’s “Opium-Eater,” is in fact a perfect picture of the European scene to-day, down to the Hell’s kitchen with which it ends—shrieks of the Sabbath and heavy undertone of the Dies Irae menacing us with an untimely end.

‘Gramophone notes’, The New Statesman and Nation, 20 April 1935, p. 564. 

I tend to find my 'shrieks of the Sabbath' and menaces of 'an untimely end' in various forms of extreme metal music, but this Berlioz guy sounds pretty heavy.

Perhaps he's worth a listen in these troubling times.

We'll definitely have to get our hands on a gramophone.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

"Every new band feels like I've heard them before ..."

Goodness me, is it a dreary old day! Looks like it'll never become light and the gloom matches my irrepressible sense of ennui.

Here's the soundtrack to the mood:

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Music for Sunday

I'm currently filling in this lengthy online form by the German Academic Council in connection with a research evaluation exercise they're putting us through this year.

Yes, that's how I'm spending my Sunday. Good thing the weather's lousy and I have no adventy things to do.

Anyway, in the section entitled "Awards and prizes" I'm asked to list "important" awards and prizes bestowed upon me in the past 5 years . Which made me giggle - a bit - until it made me depressed. But thankfully my otherwise unhealthy associationism kicked in and pulled me out of my slough of despond by reminding me of a line in XTC's "The Mayor of Simpleton": the one about "all those Nobel prizes that I've never won."

Which in turn reminded me just how charming this track is:

And now I'm feeling better.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Separated by a common language

Something I ran across in The Spectator while looking for something rather different:
I reckon myself fairly competent as an interpreter of American newspaper headlines, but the Washington correspondent of the Morning Post sends one which, even with his translation as a guide, I still find baffling at points. It reads


and its purport appears to be that the University of Chicago has invited an Oxford professor to supervise the production of a dictionary of American English. Most of it, of course, crystal clear. But—Midway? And Limey?
‘A Spectator’s Notebook’ (by ‘Janus’), 1 January 1937, p. 6

There was a follow-up the next week:

Thanks are due to correspondents who have explained satisfactorily the American terms, “Midway” and “Limey.” “Midway,” as I rather suspected, is the University of Chicago, and for fairly obvious reasons. “Limey” is more interesting. In old sailing-ship days the Board of Trade required the crews of British vessels to be served with a ration of lime-juice when ten days out of port as a preventive against scurvy. Hence “lime-juicer” or “limey,”=(1) a British ship, (2) a British sailor, (3) any Britisher.
‘A Spectator’s Notebook’ (by ‘Janus’), 8 January 1937, p. 38
I would have thought that 'Limey' would have been better known back then, but perhaps not. (It was commonly known in my household growing up, but then again it was half-Limey.)

What threw me a bit was the use of the word 'dope' as a verb...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

This is the end of childhood

I grew up during the decades of creative synergy between the Federal Republic of Germany and Czechoslovakia. Oh, did those Czechs make beautiful weapons TV programmes for children! Luzie, der Schrecken der Straße, Die Märchenbraut - and above all, Drei Nüsse für Aschenbrödel, which today enjoys a cult-following amongst nostalgic German thirty-somethings. This was a very happy time indeed.

For years all I wanted to do is learn Czech and say "ahoi" to my friends behind the iron curtain (Czechoslovakia never seemed very iron-curtainy to us because of those programmes - only like a mildly more grimy and old-fashioned Germany). Prague was like a far off wonderland where plasticine figures played pranks on neighbourhood bullies and Breughel paintings would come to life to jingling Mark Mothersbaugh-style soundtracks. People looked shoddy but were clearly happy - more open, witty and creative than us mollycoddled capitalists with our digital watches.

I shed secret tears when the beautiful Dana Vavrova died two years ago of cancer, an actress whose career began in the Czech fairy tale TV circuit and who later on became well-known in Germany.

And I was deeply saddened to read today about the death of Zdenek Miler, another marvellously creative Czech, and father of the little mole beloved by generations of German children.

I remember watching these films in 8-mil versions in school.

Rest in peace, Zdenek Miler - you made so many of us very, very happy!

'You are John Carter of Earth?'

Why, yes I am!

But this guy's experiences bear only a glancing similarity with my own.

But I remember, from my youth, his books and comics, and I've blogged about him before.

And man, does Mars look hostile.

Father Rhine is a bit thirsty

Germany is currently experiencing the driest November since records were kept (g).

Which has meant that here on our part of the Rhine, people can stroll about on what is usually covered by several metres of water....

(Photo source)