Categories
music

Keep Your Eyes on the Road Up Ahead – I Don’t Seem to Be Able to Use Mine

I’m going to try (once again) to write a bit more here. It will necessarily largely be stringing beads on the thread of the week, and I’ll need to work harder at writing better than comes naturally, but it is with the intention of plugging recent experiences into the wider set of more permanent feelings and thoughts.

Saturdays have become my day for catching up on bookmarked articles and things of interest held in abeyance during the week, so that’s also the time I’m likeliest to post.

Sometimes a song has a line or moment in it which seems to catch something about a moment now, or of another place, without it being clear why:

Pete Hammill’s Sitting Targets reaches a typical point of anguish, with the lines:

And I’m losing control of my body, and I’m running scared.
Oh, remember the black and white movie,
A positional state of affairs,
Of the fashionable interest in moving,
Just to prove that we’re there.

(In fact it is apparently, ‘We’re left with a black and white movie, a positional state of affairs, An obsessional interest in moving, just to prove that we’re there’ which is clearly right on a re-listen. but the line that’s been in my head has been that ‘of the fashionable interest in moving’.)

This is a propulsive song about escape, from an emotional trauma only defined by the terms of its escape.

If we’d been stuck just a few hours more
I’d have cracked up, I’d say.
No, you never can tell when it’s coming;
It’s so hard getting out of the way;

It is something impending that has brought about the crisis – and with the road and car the means of escape it would be wrong to say something coming down the road. It is more something that looms, something unavoidable, but out of sight, something which makes you feel like a sitting target. Target for what is the question implied by the title. I tend to feel that all art of mid-sixties to early 80s should be assumed in some way to be characterised by anxieties of possible sudden nuclear annihilation, and there is obviously existential fear here, but also there is a sense of the claustrophobia of your home environment, of society and time closing in.

Oh you never can tell how it’s going,
No you never can see how it’s been,
But to stay sitting targets is surely
No better than living a dream.

So that set of lines, which kept on surfacing in my head, work against the rest of the song, and critique the urge for escape – the motion is out of control, it is required for a sense of self and of agency, otherwise unavailable to someone staying in the same place.

That this song plays into a deep-seated set of my own anxieties – staying in one place, continuous building on something being an exclusion of other possibilities, ultimately stemming I think from fears of death – is certainly one part of why this song appeals to me generally.

But its point of specific application right now – the thing that caused it to snag on a hook – is harder to define. I find myself circling around the notion that ‘Of a fashionable interest in moving’ is suggestive of psychosomatic mechanisms at play in society at the moment – the need to express internal stresses in other forms.

A trick that Hammill pulls off quite well across his albums I think is to locate these particular moments of emotional agon into social/historical/scientific spaces, which allows for this sort of application.

It is surely not the motion aspect of the song though – a decade of Tory government now using policy as a way of rhetorically realising an apparently expressed desire for a permafrosted 1945-1948 country means it must be more the threat of stasis implied by the idea of sitting targets.

Perhaps it also links into anxieties I have about the debates taking place on the left – the need and indeed the opportunity to reframe for the future, of the possibilities of the new communities that will form, that are forming, identified in their literary expressions by John Self at the end of his piece on the Brexit novel (a phenomenon to which I am totally indifferent, unless it’s written by a John Lanchester of course). The song seems to warn of the need to avoid the stasis born of fear, and inutile movement for movement’s sake, which is not in itself progressive, but an escape.

As I say, I am fully aware these are, in proper Pete Hammill fashion, personal anxieties mapping onto the social and political space.

Categories
books

Silence Tells Me Secretly, Everything

from The Neutral

Reading Barthes on silence as a rhetorical device reminded me just how long it too me to see the pun in Hamlet’s dying line, “the rest is silence”.

Silence as (much deserved) rest. Silence as no more words. Silence as that which lies beyond th’occurrents of the world.

Silence as a pause before the continuation of the music.

Which reminder sent me happily to this:

‘Silence tells me secretly, everything’.

Categories
books ludibria poetry

Woolgathering

The other day, I had a good example of one sort of liminal thinking that goes on when you’re not actually doing any proper thinking, and which for quite long periods seems to do the duty of proper thinking.

I’ve been reading Crashed, Adam Tooze’s… I guess ‘monumental’ is the only word?… history of the Global Financial Crisis and its consequences. On the tube going into work I read this sentence:

In the general crisis of legitimacy in 2010–2011 there was no Archimedean point. There was no place to stand above the fray.

Tooze, Adam. Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (p. 398). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Although the general importance of the point about a crisis of legitimacy and the undermining of technocratic principles was of interest, the phrase ‘Archimedean point’ burned vividly and resulted in a tessellation of thoughts and references unfolding back out across recent experience.

This phrase describing the notional point of distance from the Earth one would need to stand to lever (move or weigh) it, is used in a Richard Eberhart 1947 poem ‘Mysticism Has Not the Patience to Wait for God’s Revelation’ – Kierkegaard.

I first heard not read the poem listening to Geoffrey Hill’s extremely enjoyable Oxford lectures when he was Professor of Poetry there. This reading from the 2012 Michaelmas term lecture, Fields of Force.

That poem contains a line that had been much in my head over the emotional landscape of last couple of years:

All the flowers of the heart turn to ice flowers

But the line is not as such Eberhart’s, exactly. It is in fact, as Hill makes clear, a line from a Søren Kierkegaard journal entry of 1837, translated by Alexander Dru for an English selection of the journals published in 1938. And in fact the original translation is ‘All the flowers of my heart turn to ice flowers’. In the original Swedish:

Enhver mit Hjertes Blomst bliver til en Iisblomst

This is translated in the Indiana University Press edition of the complete Journals (by Edna and Howard Hong), as Every flower of my heart turns into a frost flower. That’s an odd choice. Iisblomst seems better represented both in terms of image and rhythm by ‘ice flower’. And regardless the form ‘all the flowers of the heart turn to ice flowers’ had become symbolic to me of the emotional landscape I had been inhabiting.

I had in fact already been reminded of it very recently reading a good piece on Petrarch in the London Review of Books.

A series of puns in Canzoniere 239 begins conventionally with ‘dolce l’aura al tempo novo’ (‘the sweet breeze in springtime’); then becomes rather weirder, ‘col bue zoppo andrem cacciando l’aura’ (‘with a lame ox we will go hunting the breeze’); and finally arrives at one of those lines of pure lyric dynamite that lurk throughout the collection: ‘in rete accolgo l’aura e ’n ghiaccio i fiori’ (‘in a net I gather the breeze and in the ice flowers’).

Nicholl, Charles. “On the Sixth Day.” Rev. of Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer, by Christopher Celenza. London Review of Books
 41.3 (2019): 23-26. 9 Mar. 2019 <https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n03/charles-nicholl/on-the-sixth-day>.

‘Ice flowers’ as a fragment of this significant emotional symbol caused me to look up from the article and stare out of the window for a while. This meant that I didn’t notice what I should have noticed, even with my rudimentary Italian, and supposed better English poetic parsing, that ‘ice flowers’ is not here a noun phrase. I must have noticed something was amiss because I haplessly reverse logicked it and decided I quite liked the odd way – disconcerting, slightly haunting – ‘ice flowers’ didn’t have a referent, unless perhaps it was breeze.

‘In a net I gather the breeze and in the ice, flowers’ is the meaning, and no matter the fluidity of the original medieval Italian, probably needs that comma.

But I do not think I would have noticed the phrase had that comma, that small humanist innovation just post-dating Petrarch, been present.

Woolgathering. Carding the wool of language and thought. The processing that takes place beneath thought. An underground emotional shuttling of data and information around our hidden frames of reference, from digitally recorded lectures (incomplete), to translation decisions and the poetry of language, and half-noticed phrases leaping by association to others. From the tube in March 2019, through to the Eurozone Crisis of 2010-2012, to a notional point in the cosmos from which you can shift the Earth itself, posited by a 3rd Century BC Sicilian, to Geoffrey Hill in Oxford in 2012, to Eberhart in Boston in 1947 working at his wife’s father’s floor wax company in the aftermath of the war, to the graduate Kierkegaard in Copenhagen 1837 at the beginnings of his relationship with Regine Olsen, to the publishing almost a century later of Alexander Dru’s 1938 translation, to my front room a couple of weeks beforehand reading the LRB, then whirling back to trecento Italy, and Petrarch’s infatuation for ‘Laura’, the path strewn, like breadcrumbs in the forest, with the flowers of the heart.

[This too-lyrical ending was not how I had intended to finish this – I got carried away and decided to let it stand, on the suggested basis that in one view, no matter the cognitive and neurochemical processes, the vehicle for these transactions is feeling and emotion.

However, the word jumped into my mind when considering this process was ‘cachinnation’, and no matter how much I tried to banish it on the grounds of meaning, it insisted on its relevance. It is the background mocking laughter to our thought, a distant ghost transmission from before Babel, like background radiation, a laughter which gives this blog its name – diasyrmus – and whose sigil is the goat.]

"Mysticism Has Not the Patience to Wait for God's Revelation"
Kierkegaard


But to reach the Archimedean point
Was all my steadfastness;
The disjointed times to teach
Courage from what is dreadful.

It was the glimpses in the lightning
Made me a sage, but made me say
No word to make another fight,
My own fighting heart full of dismay.

Spirit, soul, and fire are reached!
And springs of the mind, like springs of the feet
Tell all, all know, nothing wavers there!
All the flowers of the heart turn to ice-flowers,

Heaviness of the world prevailing
("The higher we go the more terrible it is")
Duplicity of man, heart-hate,
The hypocrite, the vain, the whipper, the cheat,

The eternal ape on the leash,
Drawing us down to faith,
Which the Greeks call divine folly,
The tug of laughter and of irony.

from Burr Oaks (1947), by Richard Eberhart
Categories
books modernism quotidiana

Homage to Jay

from Blast 1, edited by Wyndham Lewis (1914)

Largely indifferent to my hair, I went to cheap barbers most of my life. After an emotional crash a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to spend money on a haircut, more money than I would usually.

I found a salon – it’s the only word – and although in part this was about asserting a new identity and look to try and do away with the immediate past, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted, and ended up spending more on the same haircut.

Certainly more than sixpence.

It was a good haircut though. It made me feel a little better and grew out well, and I’ve gone back ever since. In fact I had my haircut there just this morning.

The quality of the haircut has varied according to the person doing it.

But since I found Jay, he is the only one who can cut my hair. Jay is golden.

He is meticulous in his attentions, and carefully formal in how he approaches the different areas of my skull.

He pins up the longer hair on the top of my head with clips, and attends to the sides with his scissors and razor, so that in the mirror, with my widow’s peak pattern baldness growing more evident with every day, I appear like a corrupt or hapless middle-aged character in a Kurosawa film.

And most important of all, apart from a greeting and one or two efficient queries to do with my wishes, he says not a word.

As my haircut is not at all complicated, and in fact rather dull, it is impossible to say whether what I perceive to be the quality of the haircut is perceptible by others, though as in art, I suspect small efforts and details add to an overall effect without being perceived.

Increasingly I feel the value to be one of ritual however. The attentiveness and care, and the returning to an area to clip, cut and lightly grazed until it is satisfactory, is what comprises the value.

Like shoes, haircuts seem to me to have an intrinsic value greater than some other elements of style and presentation.

This is late 19th C bourgeois ideology, and while Wyndham Lewis’ interest is that of the modernist artist bringing formal processes of delineation, division and abstraction to the wild and incoherent Nature of the Romantics, the page in Blast represents an intersection of modernism with that late 19th Century bourgeois/imperial ideology.

Bless Jay. I live in fear of the day he goes.

Categories
books

redux

why is john lanchester so bad? why does he keep writing? why do they keep letting him do it? why.

Categories
media netflix television

Slippery Pig

(An example of the sort of thing I’ve been posting on LinkedIn. This was originally a fairly lightweight bit of fun, but in fact it opens up a lot of interesting avenues about how the increasingly monopolised and siloed digital spaces – FAANG – seek to work the PRC over the control, aesthetic and exploitation of that online territory, and the vectors of attack and defence.)

This viral Chinese ad for Peppa Pig is wild. 

Here’s the explanation. You’ll need an explanation.

It’s doubly interesting because Peppa was actually banned last year or purged according to the NYT.

As with much of Chinese culture it takes a real expert to understand all the cultural subtexts, but it seems that she had been associating with shèhuì rén (社会人). This literally means ‘society people’ but seems to refer to young, jobless slackers. Not sufficiently culturally aligned it seems (or ‘anti establishment’). Friends of mine don’t like her because she perpetuates gender stereotypes, which shows… something anyway.

Someone who does know about Chinese culture has pointed out how much heavy lifting this ad is doing. It’s relocating Peppa from her foreign context into new soil (or muck). It’s very strenuously placing her in an approved socio-political context. And in doing this, by reducing her foreign caché and boosting her state approved credentials, it’s also presumably reducing her desirability for those ‘soceity people’.

All designed to help rehabilitate her in time for the release of Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year.

When I posted this on LinkedIn, I’d kind of missed the important point that this a major example and case study for the sort of work that brands will need to do if they want to be able to distribute effectively in China.

The aesthetic of this seems likely in some way designed to meet strict cultural and political rules on what is and isn’t appropriate.

Media distribution platforms and content owners will still struggle though. Despite high ambitions in China, Netflix ended up taking the time-honoured approach when faced with significant cultural and regulatory hurdles, and ended up partnering with a local platform, producing ‘modest‘ revenue. (Stranger Things, Black Mirror: yes; House of Cards: absolutely not).

This hasn’t stopped the likes of Google contorting uncomfortably to try and find a way into to what would be the world’s biggest growth market, the worth of whose data will be seen to be astronomical. It will be interesting watching the heavyweights of surveillance capitalism go up against the heavyweight of the surveillance state. My money’s on the PRC.

There’s a useful article here that covers the specific issues around digital publication in China. Short version – nothing much has changed around foreign interests publishing directly: they can’t. It’s more about trying to reframe publishing to include digital platforms – where “material that would traditionally be published in print form is clearly intended to be included”. However:

The unclear area applies only to new forms of publishing developed solely for the Internet and with no traditional print analog. 

https://www.chinalawblog.com/2016/03/chinas-new-online-publishing-rules-another-nail-in-the-vie-coffin.html

As with regulation in my area – accessibility (subtitles, captions, audio description) – regulators are struggling to define the content the rules cover, and the companies to whom it applies. That’s probably a post for another day.

Follow up:

Who made the ad and why did they take the approach they did?

A partial answer here:

“Besides drawing attention to the movie, what I wanted to do through this trailer was to share the same values that are highlighted in the movie – family, reunion, harmony and love,” its director Zhang Dapeng told local media last month.

And, Who is distributing Peppa in China – who is set to make money here?

And another partial answer from the same article: the film is a joint venture between the British ‘Entertainment One’ and Alibaba. And there’s a shitload of merch.Who made the ad and why did they take the approach they did?

Other

Surveillance capitalism v surveillance state – exploiting a population’s data? (worth thinking about the burglar’s guide to the city – helicopters for LA, cameras for London).

The aesthetic and style of western firms attempting to enter China.

Regulating online – working out what and who does and doesn’t count.

Categories
Uncategorized

A Place to Let the Words In

I ‘ve been struggling to find a consistent place to post the stuff I want to put words to.

First, I still read and have plenty of thorts about books and writing, which was what this blog was always for. In fact I’ve been reading more over the last year or so than I have done in a long time. But I’d begun to regard this blog as somewhat essayistic in character – serious treatments with actual conclusions, which held me back from posting stuff where I hadn’t reached my conclusions.

Second, I’ve found quite a lot of my mind is taken up with the topics of work and business, and quite a lot of the time I want to write about that as well.

Those two areas didn’t really co-exist in my mind, so I started to post the work/business stuff on linkedin.

I’ll probably carry on doing that – linkedin is horrible, but as a networking tool which means you don’t have to network it has high value – but it’s a bit constraining. There are things I want to say that don’t feel appropriate for that forum. It’s v much “views expressed here are necessarily those of a representative of my employer”.

Finally, tumblr, of which I was quite fond, feels like its time has passed, and I wanted a place to microblog a bit on lighter cultural encounters.

Why not all in one place? It should help keep the momentum going, and avoids those high barriers to expression such as ‘dunno which platform to post this’. And in fact as soon a I started thinking this way, I realised that these apparently different areas have been converging for a while for me; it was mainly the vector of the motivating input – the prompt – that had separated them out as categories.

So:

  • stuff prompted by books and words (litblogging – what I always intended any blog I kept to be)
  • stuff prompted by quotidian writing: business, broadcasting industry, politics &c (the linkedin stuff, but with less worry that someone at work is going to pull me up for talking about business bullshit and full luxury communism)
  • stuff prompted by what i’ve encountered out and about (tumblr – photos and frivolity)

And I’ll see how they rub up against each other.

Categories
books

The Squalid Rag

The notion of the palimpsest has a sort of fame, outside its technical sense, as a minor tool in the armoury of criticism and theory. At its most basic it’s a writing surface that can be cleansed for reuse. Intrinsic in its theoretical meaning is reference to the imperfect scouring of parchment in the early Medieval period for reinscription. Although the method they used erased previous texts by the light of their own time, it left them capable of retrieval by later more sophisticated chemical processes in the more powerful light of the 19th Century, so that future ages found multiple texts all present on a single parchment, waiting to be revealed, nothing lost.

Categories
books

A Private View

I wrote this blog entry after a period of the usual sort of struggle – not really just a matter of writing or thinking, but more generally of lack of direction and general uncertainty. I think it’s an ok piece. Jocelyn Brooke deserves some decent criticism, and there isn’t that much around. It’s 50 years since he died, which I’d hoped to commemorate with something new, but I didn’t get round to it. Reblogging this from its old home is partly a small attempt to fulfil something along those lines, but also to kickstart more regular posting here, on Brooke and others.

Nothing seems worth talking about, writing a mere exercise in style. Experiments that might justify such an exercise seem egregious, and to obscure the matter in hand. Attempts at elegance come across as both callow and conservative, at worst pompous – like a child pretending to be an adult. Plain speaking seems uninteresting, and dangerously revealing of a moribund and fruitless intellect.

Clearly, a subject is needed.

Jocelyn Brooke is worth writing about for many reasons, but has hardly been written about at all. The ground is still fresh and I can tell myself that what I am writing is not an exercise in redundant self-gratification. We can pretend. It is, after all, a start.

Categories
books poetry

First Step

The question of the utility of literature and of art generally is never quite scotched. If someone asks me about the value of literature, or more bluntly says that they don’t see the point, there are are all sorts of thoughts and statements that come crowding in, an abundance of personal, emotional and intellectual objections, but no knock-out blow. That’s partly because any decent answer feels like it needs to encompass some sort of reasonably worked theory about the Importance (capital I) of Art (capital A), and that is very contended ground – abundant with theory and argument, but also messy, incoherent and sometimes contradictory.