Sometimes phrases or sentences ring round your head for a long season, with meaning beyond that apparently contained in them.

A few years ago, the line ‘I spent that summer in the pursuit of an idea’ was like a flickering compass needle, impelling me to a way of thinking, acting and being. The line itself was from Agnès Varda’s Ulysse, and the method of Varda is exemplary. An idea may be present in the flicker of an image in a photo, or a memory, or an object, or an event, and Varda’s pursuit is neither gentle nor assured exactly, but a mixture of both; she is sure in her method, allowing each moment or object its proper place, neither forcing it nor holding it too loosely. Her simple brief descriptions of experiences and encounters show an easy ability to navigate the realm of feeling. It is as if she is holding in her hands, in her mind, a rare, delicate living thing, and treats it with deep care and interest. It is the tone of an expert, long practised at what she is doing.

At the beginning of this year, it was a phrase from Pierre Michon’s Les Onze, or The Eleven, in a description of a fictional artist, that rang round my head.

A young man so enamoured of the future that they seem to mirror the future of anyone who encounters them.

The second half of that sentence is there only for ballast, it is the first part that made the impression.

In the original French it is [Il était des ce jeunes]… épris l’avenir au point qu’ils semble montrer son propre avenir à quiconque les côtoie.

But it was the translated phrase that was in my head.

Enamoured of the future… In love with the future…

What can those words mean to us today? They seem so alien to me personally, and to the society to which I belong – western, liberal, middle-class. I feel, and feel most of those around me feel, an overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty about the future, personal, societal, global. The personal feeling must be accounted for elsewhere, but the more generalised feelings are bound up with climate change, the political treatment of younger generations, especially since the financial crisis, and a sense of impending and irreversible crisis, an inevitable worsening. The feeling of Western society faced with its demise1I do not wish to imply this is a matter for regret, or indeed for joy. merely it is change and fortunes change with it..

What would it mean, what could it mean, to be enamoured of the future? It is perhaps a feeling we associate with figures in the renaissance, or the enlightenment, a time, it seems to us, full of opportunity and possibility. Of course, those times were full of uncertainty, sometimes apocalyptic uncertainty and full of the deepest religious anxieties. It is unreasonable to suggest that ours are heavier psychological or social burdens because in some way ‘actual’, that is to say ‘scientific’.

We do not need to feel the future is rosy to feel enamoured of the coming week, the possibility contained in it, in love with the coming year, or years, to look at the world around us and for it to knap against the mind and create a spark in the eye. For us to know, in some sense, and to a degree, that the future is ours to live in.

And so I have been saying the phrase to myself, almost like a mantra, at the beginning of 2023. To try and think, how can I order my life, and so arrange my heart and mind, to create this feeling?

2022 Redux

2022 has been a bit of a dog.

Alright let me pour this little cognac and break it down for you1 I just discovered that this is in fact a 2021 joint, but you remove it from my significant 2022 listening over my dead body

Screenshot 2022 12 20 at 18 27
Screenshot 2022 12 20 at 18 28

My conclusion at the end of the year is that I’ve been suffering from a form of anhedonia and chronic, mild/medium, depression. Drink took up more of a role than it should have, I think to tackle the anhedonia, which led to considerable fatigue and ofc probably made the if-that’s-what-it-is anhedonia worse. My social manner was careless, sometimes borderline deplorable, and discouraging to forming new acquaintance, my already middling intellect very weak2 its natural state is C-, it can reach fairly high on occasion, but this year dragged relentlessly at a skiving, bedridden U. It was something of a relief to realise, 2/3rds of the way through that this seems to be a mode i go into from time to time, much of my teenage years for instance, which the natural intellectual ebullience of teenage years mitigated. but as i get older it feels more existential, more a symptom of decay rather than personality, emotions wan to the point of expiry, still protecting a battered and beleaguered heart by rolling up in a ball, cutting cords that should not be cut. Viva Las Vegas.

This all needs to be corrected or at least worked on to the extent it can be. They who strive upwards the angels can save, as the Goethe epigram to Under the Volcano goes. Resplendency in 2023. Let’s do it. And in the interests of identifying what I’ve enjoyed so that I may enjoy more, and better, in 2023, Here Is An End of Year List…

Oh before I do that, an interview with Svetlana Alexievich I read earlier this year, where she said something that captured an important criteria for the things I like. It’s the central paragraph, but I’ll quote the whole thing because it’s so forceful:


In Chornobyl Prayer, there is this story from the wife of a dying liquidator about how he’s dying horribly. When she wants to approach him at the hospital, they don’t let her. They tell her, “Forget that it’s a human being you love; it’s matter that needs to be deactivated.” I was struck by her words—her texts—and captured them. It was on the level of Shakespeare and Dostoevsky.

The things that people said were unique. These were texts from some new life of another world that is approaching very fast now. We have Chornobyl, coronavirus, the revolution, war. We are approaching a new reality for which we are not prepared. But Chornobyl is beyond all that because of the cosmic scale of the catastrophe, cosmic in the sense that it’s a shock to our understanding, our worldview. It’s something entirely new.

Why is this theme so important to me? Because when people can’t understand what’s really happening with their mind, you have to listen to the language of their bodies, how they speak about it themselves, how they try to translate their feelings into words. The body is also a text, so I tried to combine two texts: culture, which didn’t really help me much in this situation, with the text of the body.

These were texts from some new life of another world that is approaching very fast now. Svetlana Alexievich’s work operates beyond and at the margin of the new reality, as does Diego Garcia (see books: below), so does, for instance Alex Ward’s music, particularly last year’s Gated, dealing with moods and emotions that are unfamiliar only because they are not yet hackneyed, using modes and methods designed to framebreak, violently if necessary, inherited models. This is art enables us to retune our antennae to pick up the ‘odds and ends of messages coming out of nowhere’ (Kipling, Wireless) from the future.

Ok, The List:

The Book

Three books on a beech table, The English Understand Wool is on top, with a colourful, childlike cover, a picture of slices of cake. Under it is Gerald Murnane's Last Letter to a Reader, with a muted grey cover, and Diego Garcia, with Fitzcarraldo edition's characterist dark blue cover for fiction.

Helen DeWitt – The English Understand Wool

It’s a very short book, barely even a novella. I read it sitting on a bench in Cádiz’s Plaza Mina to the sound of fountains and children playing football.

A leafy, sunny square in Cadiz
Plaza de Mina, Cádiz

It forms a loop, beginning and ending at the same point. Its manner is as its narrator: precise, fastidious about the right terminology, fastidious about the differences between one thing and another, and how a thing should be done, how one should approach a thing. The sentence cadences are succinct and didactic, the effect in such a brief piece is lapidary. Within its short chapters lie gins, traps, nets, so that you reach the end, sit back, consider some of the book’s aspects, and rapidly find yourself considering the transmission of culture, the nature of understanding, the acquisition of knowledge, and the moral framework which these entail, before going back again to read the text once more and find where, exactly, these considerations might lie in its deft, light, and poised prose (HDW is an exceptional prose stylist – Swift is a good comparison, they both relish the interplay of sly meanings). It is so short that, like a pop song, you can play, rewind, and play, finding the ‘best bits, and delight in the detail and the phrasing.

The concepts with which Helen DeWitt plays cover a wide ground of thought, across literature, language, coding, heuristics, probability, business, getting things done, and anthropology, to name a handful. These are not all the standard inputs to literary work, and they provide tensions, rules, systems, motivations and structure to the behaviour of her protagonists and to the world they perceive and their management of it. It’s all very lightly done, with anything superfluous removed. Although an insight from reading the more clearly satirical Lightning Rods, the comparison that springs to mind is still Jonathan Swift, in eg A Tale of a Tub, where he is managing multiple implications, references and sometimes contradictory meanings in single sentences. That tension in concision is present also in DeWitt’s writing, and also provides the springs of the humour of her writing. These areas of knowledge bring freshness to the prose and thinking.

To take one example, I was pleased I had read Ernest Goffman’s Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behaviour before reading TEUW. Goffman subjects the notion of ‘face’ (as in ‘saving face’) to minute scrutiny and analysis, and it seems to appear very lightly a couple of times in the book, and perhaps contributes partly to the crucial motif of mauvais ton, literally ‘bad tone’ but a better translation would be ‘bad form’. As that translation will indicate, its an expression of class snobbery, though a largely benevolent one – behaving meanly to the people who serve you in some way would be mauvais ton for instance. The motif sits at the centre of some of the dynamics in the book: class v cash, the notion of terroir as a form of cultural knowledge, transmission of knowledge and the optimal syllabus for this.

Helen DeWitt is interested, and her books are interested, in the methods and manner of doing things well, and the tools that relate to that. I won’t land the dreadful word Important on her, but this brings a fresh joy to the writing, and a sense that someone is engaged in the current world and our theoretical and practical understanding of it, combined with a strong artistic sense (across the arts), and most importantly with writing that makes you look up from the page and sit back in sheer pleasure.


Gerald Murnane – Last Letter to a Reader

I picked this up in a very rainy Sydney, along with the 2019 edition of his never-properly-published novel A Season on Earth. As far as I can tell, it’s only fairly recently that you’ve been able to buy Murnane easily outside of Australia, so I use my intermittent visits to pick up the Giramondo editions. The ontology of imaginative and real places in fiction and memory is both process and subject for Murnane. In Last Letter to a Reader he re-reads his books and writes about what he remembers of his feelings during their composition, what he thinks he meant, what strikes him now, what he discovers in writing down the nature of the experience of re-reading his books. That may sound painfully refined, but it’s not; it’s a very good, colloquial, easy-to-read introduction to his writing, thoughtful about finding meaning in the act of writing.

very wet view through a window of a crossroads, the pavement and road glistens
A f’ing wet Sydney

Natasha Soobramanien & Luke Williams – Diego Garcia

A very good, perhaps surprisingly good book. The narrator is a ‘we’, proxies you assume for the actual authors, a couple drifting in Edinburgh, in a sort of precarious post-student life I remember very well, suffering from a form of hypersensitised post-GFC and creative anomie. Periodically the narrative will bifurcate into a double-columned page, when they are apart from each other. The subject of the book, addressed both obliquely and directly, is the forced expulsion of the Chagos Islanders in 1965 as part of the creation of a US Air Force base on the Mauritian island of Diego Garcia, among others, and the last British colony, The British Indian Ocean Territory.

The yoking together of these two worlds shouldn’t work. at all. As described it looks morally wildly self-indulgent for one thing – connecting two people living in London and Edinburgh. But it does work. it’s very well written for a start, with a strong sense of material surroundings and cultural artefacts, with a fluid prose style to convey this well-selected contemporary bricolage of post-GFC culture.

But the overall reason is the book’s purpose: to describe a connexion between brutal colonial displacement, migration, the places people will go, the experiences there, the people you will meet and with whom you’ll interact, and overall an experience of ‘emergencies happening at different speeds’ (to take a line describing a visit to A&E).

One half of the we is Mauritian, which provides one simple part of the equation. But in general, the notion of sagren – Sagren, to the Chagos refugees, a mix of nostalgia, desperation and overwhelming sorrow – a sickness for home so intense it can be deadly – is connected to anger. These feelings are applied to the sense of being dislocated in a time of ‘Emergency’, to the creative and financial state of the two narrators, and the life-story of Chagossian they meet for a short while on the streets of Edinburgh, all coming together to present a sense of the current state of things, whose axis is the Walter Benjamin quote silently injected in the text here:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.

It’s adventurous, daring writing with a sense of what it wants to do with that formal sense of adventure, and it’s well-written so that it carries it off without feeling like… to use a critic’s phrase ‘a partially successful experiment’. I was hesitant about using that phrase, but it’s useful because it allows me to describe the book correctly: it’s a wholly successful experiment, which covers terrain that will surely become increasingly relevant: how countries manage more widespread migration, both economic and that of refugees of some sort or another.

Currently we would rather see migrants die, immiserate them to the point of suicide, or force them via restricted routes to death purely because we do not choose to have the moral capacity to help. (Hey, Suella, what’s your KPI on suicides in detention? Deaths in the channel? Presumably 0 is not an optimal discouragement index score for you?)

More generally, Stephen Bush put it well earlier in the year:

Refugee policies are easier. We can say with extreme confidence that anyone in Ukraine has a compelling case for wanting to leave it, so governments can streamline the process by allowing anyone with a valid passport to treat that document as a visa. And we know what refugees need to make a better life for themselves in a new country: support for their mental and physical health needs, free and easy access to the labour market and help integrating into a new country, usually but not exclusively in the form of language lessons and somewhere to live.

Your country’s ability to do these things is a pretty good test of how effectively governed it is. If your planning and housing system doesn’t have enough flexibility and spare capacity to accommodate some refugees, you almost certainly have a sclerotic planning and housing system. If your community colleges can’t provide them with good enough language skills — people who were already working and living perfectly happily in another country — to enter your labour market, you almost certainly have a very bad adult education system. And if your political class doesn’t have the wit to allow anyone with a valid Ukrainian passport visa-free access to your country, then you almost certainly have a low-wattage political class.

If your country cannot do any of these things, congratulations! You are almost certainly the UK and you are almost certainly heading for a second successive lost decade.


The Film

Flux Gourmet (dir. Peter Strickland)

Flux Gourmet is a film that takes the relationship between food and sound partly explored in Berberian Sound Studio much much further. In doing so Strickland creates conceptual spaces for exploration that might otherwise be unmappable. It is also an amusing ‘what if’ whimsy where ‘sonic catering’ is an artistic space with many artistic collectives vying for bursaries, funding and attention, as well as creating a slightly satiric kink out of the modern socialised fetish seen on food programmes for capturing the sound and sizzle of cooking as something sensuous, extending that into the mundanity of the bourgeois in the supermarket via a series of mime scenarios.

That is the space the film creates and in which it operates, but the main dynamics are where and how this mixture of sensualities are digested and absorbed, and what if you are incapable of digesting them, getting acidic flux (comparable to the sonic flux which is a source of artistic and dramatic contention in the film) and flatulence. The mode of the writer and recorder is meticulously captured in a brilliant performance, again, v delicate and underdelivered, from Makis Papadimitriou. Strickland reverses the vulnerable Englishman in the Italian setting of BBS, with Makis suffering social discomfort in an absurd English mixture of rigid dinner party performance (after dinner speeches are given by each of the collective, each of them excellent), and avant-garde resistance and fetishistic subliminal reaction to those social rules.

The other ruleset in this space is performance and ‘backstage’, where audiences show their gratification in post-performance orgies. What intimacies are available in which spaces, where do we… where are we able to… reveal ourselves, our intestinal and gustatory beings, our sexual fetish – what is the interplay in these spaces, what freedom created, what constraints at play. What role does the private performance of writing and recording have? What is the internal, what the external? Stones (played by Makis, and no Strickland is not frightened of the grotesque or heavy handed joke), sits, a slightly malevolent shadowy outline in the glass panelled toilet, undergoing who knows what malevolent transformation under pressure of these culinary, artistic and social dynamics.

The sound, as you might expect, is extraordinary, spacious, dense, discrete – the writer and recorder’s flatulence is barely registered, the speech of the actors is beautifully captured – that speech in itself nuanced, from Asa Butterfield’s slightly dreary and shy wealthy dropout London, to Gwendoline Christie’s poised, over-rich, and melodramatic depth, and ofc Fatma Mohamed’s crisp, autocratic, ironic voice (god, she and her voice are beautiful). Birdsong and field recordings fill the night and the ‘thinking walks’ the collective go on. The sonic performance and malevolent background miasma of recorded food is also exhilarating and appropriately vicsceral. So yes, the sonic space is, as ever, as rich as the pictorial, dramatic and scripted matter.

The overall effect is to create an unusual mood, a space for new emotions and interactions to be at play, allowing the discovery of something new and unfamiliar.

The Music

Sprints – A Modern Job EP

I don’t know, this is hardly the best or most interesting music released this year, but something about its full-throated, youthful, dublin exuberance hit the spot. It is perhaps a form of nostalgia, but it felt fresh enough to bypass feelings of ‘why are people still doing the exact same thing 30 years on?’ feeling I get from most indie music These Days.

I should have listened to more Alewya, who as far as I can tell released several flawless EPs this year. I’ll rectify that over the festive period.3I didn’t, but did get some tickets for her later in the year

It’s a long time since I’ve listened to music as obsessively as I once did, my listening better classed as skimming these days, but here is a playlist of tracks that have in some way stuck with me, no particular order though Calm Down was a clear favourite of the year, and SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY close behind it.

My god so much indie here. What’s going on.

Oh, and in an otherwise ok I suppose album, The Voltarol Years, Half Man Half Biscuit recorded one of their best ever songs, Oblong of Dreams, a love letter to the Wirral, with the characteristic mix of the mundane, the pastoral, death and the available sublime just at the end of a local field path, all coming together to provide that peculiarly uplifting compassion that for me is their hallmark (more than their ‘humour’).

Albums not represented here, among others.

Deadly Orgone Radiation – Desecration of Form

(Get well soon, James)

OXBOW & Peter Brötzmann – An Eternal Reminder of Not Today / Live at Moers 

Oren Ambarchi – Shebang

Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn – Pigments

Lady Aicha & Pisko Cranes Original Fulu Mziki of Kinsasha – N’Djila Wa Mudjimu

Soccer Mommy – Sometimes Forever

$ilkMoney – I Don’t Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don’t Feel Like It Anymore


This was nearly universally bad, from what I saw. Incredibly conservative4MES sums it up very well in the track Systematic Abuse: ‘it is the same’. However, the prison scenes in Andor were very strong, perhaps because they had their origins in the ’70s film THX1138. So that’s my 2022 vote.

Otherwise, watching the original BBC Edge of Darkness from 1985 was my television highlight. As someone on Twitter said, it does not let up, and is dense with meaning and thought, with substantial direction and the acting, especially Bob Peck of course.



It felt like being a goddam prince visiting a distant land eating at Nandine. The quality in detail was exceptional, from mezze to baclava. I exited the building transformed, almost exuberant, such is the power of a good meal.

a plate of roasted aubergines on a thick orange sauce, with green and red leaves on top
A full plate of richly spiced kurdish food, with sea bass, onions, peppers and tomato

40 Maltby Street

Transformative in a different way – does what a restaurant should do: restore you, but not just in terms of nourishment. Eating three well-constructed, lightly imaginative dishes and taking their recommendation on wine leaves you feeling spiritually and mentally restored too.

My Friends Don’t Like Me, They Don’t Like the Way I Do  

I struggled to maintain social relationships this year – my response to my mental state is to withdraw.

But thanks to those who were in some way a part of it: Dave, Alex, thomp, chuck arrowsmith, gyac & darragh (for Dublin inter alia), tracer hand, ronan, sean, tim, cis, mark s (and the wider ilxor slack cru) carmen, hew, jules, matt, aliya, colleen, calum, jack, james, jem and ofc the infinitely patient comrade alphabet.

as always the people who insist on sticking around for some reason, despite the intermittent communication and erratic manner, are the best part of me.

Bring on 2023.

More Things Can Happen Than Will Happen

I have concluded that a lot of poor decision making and thinking happens because people do not understand the concept ‘more things can happen than will happen.’

They are people who claim they understand risk and probability, but nothing about how they go about things suggests that this is in fact the case.

It is a problem with men particularly. The specific way in which they do not get it is because they have a desire for events to prove them right, or to be ‘right’, in quite binary ways. Dogmatic statements, ex cathedra, and a rather moody, cynical or sceptical manner when it comes to other scenarios are a giveaway of this psychology.

[Later insert]: I meant to say that I think it is to do with the exertion of power and its importance to many men. I wonder if being right is less important than being able to impose ‘being right’ on others. That includes minimising or in some other way diminishing the occasions when an outcome differs from the prediction. It’s not just that forgetfulness of when you were wrong causes this, it’s also a useful personal and (projected by those in power onto an organisation) institutional method of maintaining your rightness. You can impose that forgetfulness on others, or make it costly for them to call it out.

There are other methods of preserving rightness that go along with this:

  • Constant caveating, so that you can always point out you were right really
  • Aggressive assertion of extremely binary views, but chaotically and varying from time to time, even within the sentence-memory of, say, a meeting

It’s extraordinarily psychologically and institutionally unhealthy.

This post in part prompted by a footnote to Helen deWitt’s excellent short story My Heart Belongs to Bertie.

I began reading obsessively about statistics and probability. Peter Bernstein’s Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk was one inspiration; he says: “The revolutionary idea that defines the boundary between modern times and the past is the mastery of risk: the notion that the future is more than a whim of the gods and that men and women are not passive before nature.” Analysis of probability seemed more compelling than ever for fiction; I spent endless hours grappling with R, a programming language with strength in statistical graphics.

R is open source, and it has come a long way since I first downloaded the DMG.

What hasn’t changed, I think, is the gap between people who see why understanding chance matters and people who just don’t get it—people who don’t see why this is crucial to the most basic questions of ethics. I have more glamorous plots in my portfolio than the primitive efforts on display in this story, but the philosophical issue was what I hoped to bring into the open.

DeWitt, Helen. Some Trick (pp. 41-42). New Directions

(I mentioned in the previous post my second happiest birthday, and in fact this specific story has a direct connection with my happiest birthday, in that it was published in an art gallery exhibition catalogue that I picked up visiting the deserted exhibition on my birthday. One of the exhibits was a stack of the catalogues. The story was one of the pieces in the catalogue.)

This sent me back to Peter Bernstein’s Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, which is a very good book, and which contains the sentence:

The Greeks understood that more things might happen in the future than actually will happen.

Bernstein, Peter L.. Against the Gods (p. 64). Wiley

The subject is in the news again with the imminent publication of William MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future and the general salience of effective altruism.

# January Artefacts

I took a run up at Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson at Christmas but ended up with some small frittering on kindle fragments, bookmarked articles from 2021 and The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter. And some golf game on my phone.

I drank too much at the weekend and ended up scraped and ashamed and becalmed. And now at the tail end of that feeling – less bruised, less shamed – find myself in the perfectly receptive mood to read Anniversaries.

Before reading Anniversaries I had bought:

  • Patrick White’s book on Johnson – The Sea View Has Me Again
  • Twenty twenty by Luke Ellis

The latter constantly quotes Anniversaries and I realised how attractive the quoted sentences are.

I was unconvinced immediately by the Ellis but it sent me back to Anniversaries and now I find myself v happy in its company.

A January mood.

The Void

I’ve been struggling to find my centre. How I can add to the world and let it add to me. Covid has somehow reversed my relation to the world – a place from which I withdrew when I chose, when it was sufficient my mind, before Covid, to a place I am struggling to re-enter, how to reach that level of sufficiency, even though in some respects the daily engagement is the same.

Time to re-engage with the blog. Time to post more cooking entries. Time to write up my notebook, with glosses.

23rd December, a Wednesday

Yesterday, something reminded me of this quote, which I couldn’t place at first:

Vacuum, in modern physics, is what you get when you remove everything you can, whether practically or in principle.

Alternatively, vacuum is the state of minimum energy. Intergalactic space is a good approximation to a vacuum.

Void, on the other hand, is a theoretical idealisation. It means nothingness: space without independent properties, whose only role is to keep everything from happening in the same place. Void gives subatomic particles addresses, nothing more.

Frank Wilczek, from Edward Tufte’s Seeing With Fresh Eyes


I’d made a very conscious effort to make my handwriting readable. It’s been atrocious ever since when, and had reached the stage where I couldn’t actually read my notes. This was the first entry in my notebook where I’d made a conscious effort to make my handwriting readable. It’s not good but it is readable.

new handwriting, notes

Other than that this is a terrible entry. ‘Something reminded me of this quote’ – what, you fool? what?!

I have no idea what caused the quote to spring to mind now of course, but re-reading it, I was struck by the notion of the void allowing addresses.

Draw analogy with cadastral addressing and structures: of course between the locations and boundaries there is terrestrial and mundane substance in the world, but between those addressed locations in their abstract plane, there is only a void. They are different addresses, but only a digit between them, or a line in a ledger.

The Matrix does this quite well with the address system for its human batteries: What lies between the individuals is different to what lies between them in their world. There the real world is cadastral, and the unreal world, apparently substantial.

During Covid lockdowns, we became our addresses, physical and IP, with a void inbetween. Homeless people were given interior shelter locations in the UK, a very good reminder we can do these things if we want.

Sentimental Revolutions

Reading the Blanchot essay From Dread to Language gives me the feeling I get when I read existentialism: that this sort of writing is no more than the fag end of Romanticism. As such there is a a sort of highly decadent awareness of the refinements of Romanticism, such that an entire serious essay can explore the minuscule and rarefied space between dread and language, with meaning.

But the whole reminds me of what CS Lewis says in his ‘study in Medieval Tradition’ The Allegory of Love: that romantic love, originating at the end of the eleventh century in Languedoc is one of ‘perhaps three or four’ ‘real changes in human sentiment’ in history:

There can be no mistake about the novelty of romantic love: our only difficulty is to imagine in all its bareness the mental world that existed before its coming – to wipe out of our minds, for a moment, nearly all that makes the food both of modern sentimentality and modern cynicism. We must conceive of our world emptied of that ideal of ‘happiness’ – a happiness grounded on successful romantic love – which still supplies the motive of our popular fiction.

The Allegory of Love, CS Lewis

In this I think he is entirely correct. As anyone who has had to wade through this blog will know, I am very much a product of this Romanticism. I think in many respects it has been a great poison, a philosophical wrong turn, if it is meaningful to say that of something so long and deeply embedded and productive of so many things I love and of which I am made. I’m sure we would have found other poisons. Nevertheless.

My perception is that the self is now so heavily and transparently commoditised, and has, due to many forces, from the internet’s ability to allow people of common feeling and synthetically constructed identity to find each other, and from the increased questioning and exploration of gender and sexual identity, that we are coming out of a great tyranny of Romanticism and the Self, which is in the process of being liquidated. In this respect I feel like the opposite of the canary in the mine, more like a useless but sympathetic confessor of the old errors to the new generations: The Last of the True Romantics saying: ‘this is the nature of the gas which you must expunge so you may breathe and kill my confreres and the things I love’.

There will of course be a great deal of psychological suffering and social conflict born of this liberation. To lose the Self is suicidal – I mean that in a very compressed way of course – a way of saying entire edifice of psychological thinking is built round it. We should be thankful for yards Deleuze and Guattari have put in in this respect.

Apocalypses usefully describe the conditions of change by which the old world ends – oh fearful relativism! – and the new one begins.

This is not why I sat down to write this though. What other three or four ‘real changes in human sentiment’ do we think Lewis means? The word ‘sentiment’ must be relevant here. I might otherwise go for the turn from feudalism to global capitalism – Braudel memorably cites a 15th century(? iirc – i can never find the reference) muleteer on a road from one town to another as ‘the first capitalist’. Or the enlightenment and science coming out of the cauldron of the 17th century, again, the birth pangs of which are memorably collected in Paul Hazard’s wonderful La crise de la conscience européenne, 1680-1715.

But what are those real changes in sentiment (CS Lewis explicitly excludes Christianity’s role, at least in this formation of romance from the equation)? It feels like something must be coming from the industrial revolution, the sense of class belonging, the emergence of the middle class perhaps? Nothing so purely aesthetic as Romanticism though (oh yes of course it had its expressions within capitalism and colonialism). National identity perhaps?

Answers on a postcard.

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.


  • 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.