Friday, August 16, 2019

About Dickens

A group of disaffected teens with terrible lives do not want to be studying Dickens and Shakespeare last thing on a Friday... We should be encouraging these pupils, not boring them half to death – why not study literature that is relevant to their lives?
(From an article today about the decline in popularity of English Literature A-level)
“She was brought here last night,” replied the old woman, “by the overseer’s order. She was found lying in the street. She had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces; but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows.”
(Oliver Twist, Chapter One)
“You are to be in all things regulated and governed,” said the gentleman, “by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,” said the gentleman, “for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.”
(Hard Times, Chapter Two)

Monday, August 12, 2019

About content

Benjamin Schwartz, The New Yorker.

PS: And in a slightly less refined mood, by Scribbly G:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

About Schoenberg

Justification for the continued existence of the BBC, and the licence fee, notwithstanding all its idiocies, in a single, silly sentence:

(Darren Henley and Sam Jackson, Classic FM: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Classical Music But Were Too Afraid To Ask, p. 149. And they say pretty much the same about John Cage.)

Friday, August 09, 2019

About memes

An interesting piece by Kathryn Watson about how memes actually happen; and, bouncing off Iain Macmillan’s Abbey Road cover, a reminder that they’ve been doing it for years. (Although how many of them have actually listened to the album, I wonder?)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

About the stubborn persistence of the analogue

Further to my baffled musings about stickers, I’ve been aware of a resurgence of communication that doesn’t quite challenge the digital hegemony, but wants to operate alongside it. I guess graffiti is one example; still obstinately analogue, but wanting to be photographed and shared as much as possible. And the serious creators always include their own Instagram tags. And then there’s something like this: whoever stuck it up hasn’t even bothered to use a laser printer or photocopier, and the jagged frills where the page has been torn from its spiral binding shout its wood pulp reality. But there’s no physical location given, or even a phone number; for any useful details, the analogue isn’t quite enough.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

About Scarlatti

I’ve mentioned before the work of Rutherford Chang, who recorded 100 different copies of the Beatles’s White Album on top of each other. And now someone’s done something similar with all 555 of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas. The funny thing is, the massed Scarlatti sounds more like something the studio-era Beatles might have done than the massed Beatles does.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

About stickers

Gilbert Adair, along with Greil Marcus, Morley/Penman and, strangely enough, James Burke, was one of the people who really got me thinking about stuff that would lead me towards this whole cultural theory malarkey; I picked up Adair’s book Myths and Memories in a remainder shop some time in the late 80s, then followed the skein of influence back to Roland Barthes and I was hooked.

However, although he owes a methodological debt to Barthes, his style is rather different; for a start, in contrast to than Barthes’s own droll, sometimes quasi-Martian view of the physical manifestations of modern life, Adair often let his own prejudices burst through and they’re not always pretty. For one thing, he hated pop music and everything associated with it with a passion. In a later collection, The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, he describes staring at a wall plastered with posters advertising record releases, almost revelling in the fact that he has no idea which bits of text are the bands, which are the titles. And while that flash of ignorance led him to some interesting ponderings on Eco and Malevich, I felt sure that I’d never find myself so baffled by the modern world.

Analogue posters still adorn the walls of London and other cities, even in this digital world and although these days I probably wouldn’t recognise most of the music they advertise, I’ve got at least a vague idea what’s going on. However one thing, on a smaller scale, does now put me in a state of Adairian bafflement - and that’s the invasion of stickers on walls and lamp-posts and bins and the few remaining phone boxes. Obviously there are still stickers advertising political opinions and commercial sex but these are something different, closer to adhesive street art, suggesting some sort of coded meaning that’s permanently closed off to me. But I don’t exult in not knowing, not getting the joke. I just gaze, feeling a bit disconnected, and old. Although, like Adair, I could let it all lead to Eco:
Today in Pompeii tourists are visiting murals depicting Romans with huge penises; originally meant as adverts for brothels, they are now considered great art. In the eighteenth century Telemann was thought a greater composer than Bach; in the nineteenth Eugene Sue a greater writer than Balzac. In 200 years we may consider Picasso inferior to the man currently responsible for the Coca-Cola commercials... So we should never be afraid to analyse marginal or inferior manifestations of our culture.
So, analyse away.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

About tattoos

News comes of a gentleman from Seattle who, his former enthusiasm for Mr Morrissey rather tainted by the singer’s recent toxic outbursts, resolves to do something about his own celebratory tattoo. But instead of having it removed entirely, he has a line put through it and another performer’s – Sheryl Crow in this case but it could be anyone – above. The good memories of what Morrissey offered aren’t wiped out, but his sins are acknowledged. And, of course, if in the coming years Ms Crow should turn into a bumptious old bigot, the same fate could befall her.

I do wonder if this if this might be the answer to all our mithering about representations of people who were once lauded but later turn out to be arses; and also to the existing cultural products of the same. We don’t actually need to tear down the statues of colonialist exploiters or Confederate generals; nor do we remove the works of artists whose behaviours or attitudes transgressed what we now deem to be right and proper, and yes, I’m thinking of the Eric Gill carvings on Broadcasting House. We simply, literally or metaphorically, put a line through them. A small plaque would do, a sticker, an announcement before a performance, a bit of text before a film. If nothing else, it’s a gentle reminder that our own activities (eating meat, using plastic bottles, driving cars, maybe something that today seems so utterly unexceptional that it would seem seriously daft to pick it as an example) will make us look like complete and utter shitbuckets to our descendants. But perhaps, rather than burning our effigies, they’ll be just a little kinder, and add the equivalent of a rueful “tut tut” to what – if anything – we leave behind.