Monday, September 29, 2008

It's like that

AA Gill reviews the Spanish restaurant El Bulli, in The Sunday Times:

Food on paper is only ever an approximation of food in the mouth, and it relies on a shared experience, and if you haven’t eaten here, you haven’t had the experience.

Well, yes... but by that reasoning, isn't all criticism essentially pointless?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Postmodern pleading

Just to disprove the notion that Ulster Protestants have no sense of humour:

The defence case of Michael Stone, accused of attempting to kill Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 2006, has raised eyebrows in political, legal and artistic circles alike. On the face of it, his claim that his actions constituted "performance art" is an attempt to claim kinship with those, such as the Dadaists and Situationists, who have sought to blur the boundaries between art and political protest...

Follow this link for the journalistic equivalent of one of those end-of-terrace murals.

Your 100 best tunes (or not)

I rather thought that memes had gone horribly out of fashion, until Kek-W kicked off his take-a-passing-fancy-for-a-blindfolded-walk 10cc Top Ten idea. The gist of it was that you didn't actually need to provide a 10cc Top Ten; simply something that began with the notion of a 10cc Top Ten. It was the thought processes he was after, not whether anyone would be brave enough to admit they loved 'Dreadlock Holiday'.

(Brief conceptual aside... If we're doing the free-form, rhizomatic thing, is this a new meme, or is it a continuation of Kek's orginal meme? In fact, are all blog memes simply a continuation of the first time one blogger asked another blogger to do something, then pass it on? Are they all part of one vast MemeBorg, neither collective nor individual? Oh, just nod, I'm not a stalker or anything.)

What I've done is to list my 100 favourite choonz, as young people probably no longer say. I tried not to think too hard, simply jotting them down until I got to a hundred, then stopping; as a result, I now disagree intensely with about 10% of the inclusions, but there it is. I'm surprised to see that Camera Obscura haven't made an appearance; and there's nothing from the Two-Tone stable. No T. Rex, no XTC, no De La Soul, no Buddy Holly, no Nurse With Wound, no Louis Jordan, no Siouxsie, no Ian Dury. I feel as if I should be writing letters of apology to a few people.

Random as it was, I did stick to a few self-imposed rules. No artist could have more than one song on the list; indeed, if a performer played a prominent role in more than one act, only one of those acts could appear. (So the presence of Pink Floyd prohibits the inclusion of any Syd Barrett solo stuff; Mark E. Smith's shouty bit at number 31 means The Fall are disqualified). No song could appear in two different versions, although strangely, there are three different songs with the same title, and two more with a very similar title to that. And no classical music, because that raises too many questions about what specifically it is that you're selecting (A whole symphony? A movement? The twiddly bit from that lager advert?) and issues of attribution. (Are the Goldberg Variations 'by' Bach or 'by' Glenn Gould?)

But none of that need concern you. What I want is not necessarily your 100 fave platters with the above restrictions, although if that's what happens, that's fine. It's what you concoct on your own blogs in response to this, and what happens afterwards.

Anyroad up, here's the list:

1. Abba, 'The Winner Takes It All'
2. Air, 'Playground Love'
3. Al Green, 'How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?'
4. Aretha Franklin, 'Don’t Play That Song'
5. Associates, 'Those First Impressions'
6. Beach Boys, 'God Only Knows'
7. Beatles, 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun'
8. Beck, 'Totally Confused'
9. Belle and Sebastian, 'The State I Am In'
10. Blur, 'You’re So Great'
11. Bo Diddley, 'Who Do You Love?'
12. Bob Dylan, 'I Want You'
13. Buzzcocks, 'Love You More'
14. Chavela Vargas, 'Paloma Negra'
15. Chic, 'I Want Your Love'
16. Creedence Clearwater Revival, 'Traveling Band'
17. Darlene Love, 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)'
18. David Bowie, 'Be My Wife'
19. Dolly Parton, 'I Will Always Love You'
20. Drifters, 'Save The Last Dance For Me'
21. Duke Special, 'Last Night I Nearly Died'
22. Dusty Springfield, 'I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten'
23. Ella Fitzgerald, 'How High The Moon'
24. Elvis Costello, 'I Want You'
25. Flaming Lips, 'Do You Realize?'
26. Françoise Hardy, 'Comment Te Dire Adieu?'
27. Frank Sinatra, 'One For My Baby'
28. Go! Team, 'Everyone’s A VIP To Someone'
29. Guillemots, 'Trains To Brazil'
30. Ink Spots, 'Don’t Get Around Much Any More'
31. Inspiral Carpets w/ Mark E Smith, 'I Want You'
32. Jackie Mittoo, 'Get Up And Get It'
33. Jackson Five, 'I Want You Back'
34. Jacques Brel, 'Ne Me Quitte Pas'
35. Jane, 'It’s A Fine Day'
36. Jesus & Mary Chain, 'Just Like Honey'
37. John Holt, 'Ali Baba'
38. Johnny Cash & June Carter, 'Jackson'
39. Judy Street, 'What'
40. Kinks, 'Victoria'
41. Lorraine Ellison, 'Stay With Me'
42. Lovin’ Spoonful, 'Darling Be Home Soon'
43. Magnetic Fields, 'How Fucking Romantic'
44. Maher Shalal Hash Baz, 'Post Office'
45. Mamas & the Papas, '12.30 (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)'
46. Manic Street Preachers, 'Faster'
47. Marvin Gaye, 'Too Busy Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Baby'
48. Maurice and Mac, 'You Left The Water Running'
49. Moldy Peaches, 'Nothing Came Out'
50. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, 'Summer Wine'
51. Neil Innes, 'How Sweet To Be An Idiot'
52. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, 'Into My Arms'
53. Nirvana, 'All Apologies'
54. Otis Redding, 'Shake'
55. Pet Shop Boys, 'Your Funny Uncle'
56. Pink Floyd , 'Jugband Blues'
57. Pixies, 'Debaser'
58. Pizzicato Five, 'Twiggy Twiggy'
59. Pogues, 'Rainy Night In Soho'
60. Primal Scream, 'Star Fruit Surf Rider'
61. Prince, 'Temptation'
62. Prince Buster, 'Girl Why Don’t You Answer'
63. Pulp, 'Babies'
64. Radiohead , 'Climbing Up The Walls'
65. Ramsey Lewis Trio, 'Wade In The Water'
66. Randy Newman, 'I Think It’s Going To Rain Today'
67. Rascals, 'Good Lovin’'
68. Rolling Stones, 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want'
69. Roxy Music, 'Remake Remodel'
70. Sebadoh, 'Willing To Wait'
71. Sex Pistols, 'Pretty Vacant'
72. Shirelles, 'Baby It’s You'
73. Shonen Knife, 'Top Of The World'
74. Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, 'Kites'
75. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 'This Train'
76. Small Faces, 'All Or Nothing'
77. Smiths, 'You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby'
78. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, 'I Second That Emotion'
79. Soft Cell, 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'
80. Son House, 'John The Revelator'
81. Standells, 'Dirty Water'
82. Stereolab, 'French Disko'
83. Stooges, 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'
84. Sugarcubes, 'Birthday'
85. Super Furry Animals, 'God! Show Me Magic'
86. Swan Silvertones, 'Trouble In My Way'
87. Sylvian/Sakamoto, 'Forbidden Colours'
88. Temptations, 'I Can’t Get Next To You'
89. Tom Lehrer, 'National Brotherhood Week'
90. Tom Waits , 'Johnsburg, Illinois'
91. Toni Harper, 'Candy Store Blues'
92. Toots & the Maytals, 'Monkey Man'
93. Urusei Yatsura, 'First Day On A New Planet'
94. Velvet Underground, 'The Gift'
95. Vicky Leandros, 'L’Amour Est Bleu'
96. Wah!, 'Come Back'
97. White Stripes, 'In The Cold Cold Night'
98. Willie Nelson, 'Bring Me Sunshine'
99. Wilson Pickett, 'Land Of 1,000 Dances'
100. X-Ray Spex, 'Oh Bondage Up Yours'

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hole in the head

My memory's definitely getting worse. Yesterday, I couldn't remember the name of the woman who played Victor Meldrew's wife; or the capital of Latvia. (Don't write in; they came back eventually.)

The funny thing is, it's not as if I had any need for those facts; I just suddenly became aware of their temporary absence from my mind. It's similar to that jolt of fear when you realise your keys or phone aren't in your pocket, because the weight that you're used to isn't there. A gap makes itself known, like a hole in the brain.

Maybe it's CJD.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The magnificent Bête de Jour has been running a series of posts under the loose category of 'shame', revisiting those life moments that still bring on an intestinal lurch when they edge too far from the box marked "BLISSFULLY FORGOTTEN".

The Beastly One's posts are superb, hovering somewhere between Dostoevsky, Wodehouse and Adrian Mole, but I think his secondary intent - encouraging his readers to post their own tales of self-imposed humiliation - is doomed to failure. Most of us don't feel able to revisit the true depths of our own social loserdom, unless we're: a) in the safe and confidential confines of a therapist's consulting room; or b) profoundly drunk.

I've touched before on a few past moments where my sang froid got a bit chaud, most of them related to mishaps I've endured while undertaking physical exertion, so I've only really got myself to blame. But, prompted by Bête's badgerings, I've remembered another, from about 10 years ago. It's fairly minor on the face of things, but it still provoked a few sweats, cramps and shudders as it loomed into my consciousness. All that happened is that, getting dressed one morning without properly waking up, I put my jumper on back-to-front, and travelled into work thus attired.

Which wouldn't have mattered that much, except that, as noted by the colleague who finally pointed out the sartorial gaffe, it was a V-neck jumper.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crispy cream

More thoughts on The Naked Civil Servant. It's a book that's been dwarfed by its adaptation, and by the rentaquote monster that its author became. To an extent, it's also just an excuse to cram in as many bons mots as possible and is rather similar in that respect to Douglas Coupland's JPod; as with Coupland, you can forgive Mr Crisp to an extent because the mots are really rather bons.

Three that I found particularly pertinent, within the space of two pages:

There are three reasons for becoming a writer. The first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; and the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings.

He missed out "that you want to turn down Oprah" but otherwise, sound advice. Then:

I now know that if you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.

Finally and, to me at least, most pertinently:

Of course the most obvious explanation for my total lack of success was that I was a bad writer. This idea I did not entertain for a moment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

RIP Norman Whitfield

PS: And from the sublime to the egregious (from about 2:29). I've just worked out where Jonathan Ive got the idea for the iMac colour scheme.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

VK computer

In which I tell Tim Berners-Lee that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Whatever Zola wants

From The Naked Civil Servant, by Quentin Crisp:

Now that the marketing of all goods, including books, has become a shameless hoax practised on innocent consumers, the works of M Zola are packaged to look as if they were by Mr Spillane. This ruse works because no one would dare to take a book back to a shop because it wasn't as filthy as the cover promised.

That was 40 years ago. Of course, now we can get any permutation of perversity we desire just by switching off SafeSearch, nobody looks to the literary classics for smut, at least not directly. They get the smut from the TV adaptations, or at least from Andrew Davies's heavy pre-transmission hints about the amount of filth he's packed in this time, although they never turn out to be as naughty as he suggests. Meanwhile, publishers have to sell Austen and Dickens and Gaskell on the basis of them being on the telly, with that one you like in it, you know, that one with the nice hair.

But Crisp's essential point still holds, I suppose. Nobody's ever taken a book back because it didn't have a damp Colin Firth in it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Transnational Psychogeographic: or, Please do not read the lyrics whilst listening to the recordings

Zoë Skoulding, Remains of a Future City (Seren)
Parking Non-Stop, Species Corridor (Klangbad)

Declaration of interest: I was at university with Zoë Skoulding, more years ago than either of us might like to mention. We both hovered on the fringes of various artistic escapades. She was a wry Alice, not explicitly mocking the wannabe Wonderlanders who really thought Thatcherism could be toppled through energetic, black-clad mime, although if you caught her eye at an unguarded moment, the truth was in there. And I just twatted around with cut-up bits of paper, waiting for The Great Dada Revival in the same way that some people today await the Second Coming and/or Sarah Palin. Zoë concocted a fabulous mural at one end of the Nelson Mandela lounge; I delivered a rambling narrative performance that explored the psychedelic undertones of nuclear apocalypse in a manner that owed much to Bob Dylan, but in retrospect, more to Bobby Davro.

So I hope you'll forgive me if I don't offer an objective review of her latest collection of poems, or of the CD by her band, Parking Non-Stop. Instead, all I can offer is reactions, responses, the things that come into my head. Which is a review of sorts, I suppose; just don't expect coherence or conclusions.

And my initial reaction to Remains of a Future City is that I've forgotten how to read poetry; I don't understand it. This is deeply embarrassing: not only did I study it at a supposedly advanced level, I wrote reams of the bloody stuff as well. I find myself responding to the poems like a trainspotter: for example, 'Columns', five pages of text in tall, thin, justified slabs, reminds me of a similar trick that one of the Metaphysicals played; I think it was George Herbert, but it may have been Marvell or Donne; Zoë would know; but should you really approach the subject of a review (even if it's not a review) to provide a crib sheet. And talking of crib sheets, there's a final page that explains some of the more abstruse allusions, namechecking Borges and Vitruvius and the German noiseniks Einstürzende Neubaten and the Situationist Ivan Chtcheglov; and Eliot's notes for 'The Waste Land' ("...any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble") come to mind.

And then I realise that I've got this whole thing arse over tit. Even when I was studying poetry, poking through the droppings of Wyatt and Pope and Keats and Heaney in search of the bone fragments and seed casings that might tell me what they'd had for breakfast, I never understood it when a poet was praised for his or her "clarity". I want clarity when I read the instructions on how to put together a flatpack bookcase, not when I'm peering into someone's soul.

So, start again. Feel it, don't think it. Skoulding's poems are about The City; not a specific city, like Eliot's London or Joyce's Dublin, but fragments of the specific and the imagined that come together to form a concept of urban-ness, a quiddity of city. Often it becomes sentient, organic: "in the curve of the skull/ above the spinal colonnade" ('Temple'); "light contamination/ disappearing down a/ white throat" ('Airport'); "deep in the creases/ of lungs an interior/ surface like raised hands" ('From Mont Royal'). Post-1989 Europe is laid out upon a table like a patient who couldn't afford ether, and the surgeon doesn't know whether to reach for Gray's Anatomy or an A-Z. There's an echo of Thomas Hardy, but the novels not the poems, the sense of environment being the central character in the drama of life (which gives me an excuse to point you backwards to the post I wrote about The Wire, and to realise, aghast, that it was over a year ago.)

Hang on - is this literature about cities, or literature about literature about cities? Ah, what the hell, if I'm really going to get my allusions from the literary remainder shop, I can point to Ishiguro's The Unconsoled, where the unnamed city finds itself too weak to be a nightmare, but contents itself with being a particularly annoying dream; and let's linger for a few seconds in the vicinity of OK Computer-era Radiohead; specifically 'The Tourist', a reproach to people powering their way through Europe so quickly they don't notice it; and the rather more obscure 'A Reminder', with its background white(-ish) noise lifted from a Prague railway station.

Which offers a good excuse to transfer attention to Zoë's band, Parking Non-Stop. Once again, the explanatory notes are part of the fun. PN-S don't have a drummer, but they get their backbeats from recordings made as the meander between their Welsh base and some of the more atmospheric regions of Northern Europe, so credits go to such percussive neophytes as a bison on the Poland-Belarus border, Slovakian woodpeckers, and a nautical winch in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (and I bet that looks ugly in Blogger's layout).

This is more than just a stack of field recordings, though: fragments of Zoë's texts drift in and out; and the found rhythms form a bedrock for odd, slightly retro, melodic noodling, overlaid by echo-laden, occasionally Nico-ish vocals. I'd like to call it Stereolab with a head cold, but that probably sounds like a bad thing; in my sonic universe, it's anything but.

Maybe it's the sound that gives emotional context, in a way that raw words don't. Maybe rock 'n' roll speaks to the corner of my brain that poetry can no longer reach. Which rather contradicts that old saw, variously attributed to Laurie Anderson, Elvis Costello and Frank Zappa, that suggests writing about music is like dancing about architecture; which in turn, raises the question of how to write about writing and music about architecture. Or, indeed, how to dance about it. Which calls, surely, for an expression of the urban psyche through the medium of movement, which might sound like the sort of thing that Zoë and I used to do 20 years ago, but could just as well look like this:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sayonara, carbonara

In one of several conclusions to Welcome to the Machine (I think I was trying to outdo The Return of the King on the false ending front) I suggested that Radiohead's characterisation of Palo Alto as the "city of the future" had become outdated in the decade since the song was recorded, and that Bangkok and Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City and Bangalore might have a better claim to the title.

When they get round to making the Hollywood blockbuster of the book (I'm thinking Robert Downey Jr as Thom Yorke, with Steve Coogan as the Homesick Alien), I think I might need to revise that further. The 21st-century city par excellence just has to be Macao. For a start, it's a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, and if I don't get a chance every few hours to trot out my line that America doesn't rule the world, it's just keeping the seat warm for China, I get a bit edgy. Also, Macao's economy is dependent on gambling, which makes it as appropriate a metaphor for the present state of global capitalism as anything else. (As the planet's resources reach the point of exhaustion, the only available source of money is, well, other money.)

Above all, it's an utterly postmodern environment, cherrypicking components from around the planet to form something that tries to be a simulacrum of everything, and ends up looking like nothing on earth. The most blatant manifestation of this is the Venetian Macao Resort, which takes its design tips not from Venice, but from the Las Vegas version of Venice. Which, by my maths, makes the Macao one Venice 3.0.

Of course, back in the days when there was no modernism to be post about, Marco Polo avoided the detour to the Nevada desert and managed to build up a pretty successful cultural exchange between Venice and Asia. Indeed, some have suggested (and others, mostly Italians, have contradicted them in a distinctly huffy manner) that ol' Marco introduced Chinese noodles to European kitchens, and the only thing the Italians invented off their own bat was the parmesan. Which brings us, in an appropriately roundabout manner, to spaghetti westerns, and the most recent addition to that genre, Sukiyaki Western Django (Dir: Takashi Miike, 2007).

It should go without saying that plenty of westerns have been indebted to Asia (and particularly Japan) over the years: The Magnificent Seven is based on Seven Samurai; Yojimbo gave us A Fistful of Dollars. And the cultural traffic certainly hasn't been one-way: Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) was a tribute to the Thai westerns of the 1960s; Tampopo, notwithstanding its contemporary setting, was branded as "a ramen western".

But Miike isn't content with a straightforward cover version, a fact that will come as little surprise to anyone who's seen his hyperviolent Ichi the Killer. Ponchos and cigarillos are out, replaced by colour-coded gangs in designer punk costumes that might have been rejected by Sigue Sigue Sputnik for being a little too ostentatious. Add a castrated monk and several dollops of Shakespeare's history plays and you've got an environment in which even Clint Eastwood might struggle to make a mark.

The film is nominally a remake of Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966) which, if you weren't lost enough already, also claims to draw its inspiration from Yojimbo, as did Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, which in turn was remade as Desperado. Rodriguez's buddy Quentin Tarantino quoted/borrowed/stole a gruesome ear-cutting scene from Corbucci's film for Reservoir Dogs.

Rather than remake the scene, Miike has borrowed Tarantino, who has a small but significant role as Ringo, which may or may not be a nod to Ringo Lam, director of City on Fire, from which Reservoir Dogs borrowed pretty much everything that didn't come from Django. Confused yet? Smashing.

But, those of you who've made it this far will shout, Tarantino doesn't speak Japanese. That's OK, replies Miike, he can speak English. After all, the Japanese actors will all be speaking English as well, even if they can't. This is the aspect of the film that's attracted the most opprobrium, and meant that for the first time in my life, I was scanning the credits for the dialogue coach. (It's Nadia Venesse, by the way, who also worked on Natural Born Killers, a film written and subsequently disowned by, um, Quentin Tarantino.)

Thanks to Miike's big idea (an odd one, especially since the original spaghetti westerns made so much use of dubbing) many of the actors seem to be trotting out their words phonetically, with little understanding of what they're saying. Hardboiled slang such as "payback's a bitch" and "shit or get off the pot" is moderately amusing when uttered in a thick Japanese accent, but pretty soon it gets rather difficult to understand what the hell is going on.

Which, in any other film, might be a drawback. But in a Japanese remake of an Italian/Spanish remake of a Japanese film, at least one of which is trying to look as if it's set in an American West that was mostly mythical to start with, such a Babel-like scenario feels oddly appropriate. It's like a parlour game stretched across cultures and decades. (Incidentally, I was in a school in Bangkok a few months ago, and a bunch of kids wanted to show me a game that involved whispering into each other's ears, in the hope that the message would get corrupted as it moved along. "I know that game," I said. "It's called Chinese Whispers." A little girl fixed me with an almond eye and announced: "We just call it Whispers.")

When you transport Venice across three continents, it's hardly surprising that any coherent meaning begins to fall away, leaving you with little but a good-looking corpse. Miike's film, like Macao's casino, seems to have got lost in translation, in more than one sense.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

You're a pink paintbrush, I'm a blue paintbrush

Carrying on with the art/sex dialectic that seems to have taken hold in recent days:

One of the more tedious responses to that which the Daily Mail still persists in calling "political correctness" is to demand equal treatment for majority and/or privileged groups. If a students' union has a women's officer, the argument goes, we should have a men's officer. If there's a Black Police Association, why not a White Police Association? Which leads inexorably to heterosexual-only nightclubs, although if you extracted all the gay influences from modern club culture, you'd be left with two blokes called Dave headbanging to Hi Ho Silver Lining.

So what happens when this sort of reactionary pointscoring becomes flesh? What happens when someone stages, let's say, an exhibition of male art?

Unless a certain popular philosopher has sneaked in when I wasn't looking, you can read the rest of it here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Wall Street/five-finger shuffle

Kek-W, stoutly supported by Betty, is kicking off something that's a bit like a meme, but with a cranked-up evolutionary cycle, and a big dose of Deleuzian rhizomatics to go: "a sort of Group-Mind thing whereby we use 10cc as a sort of upside glass-tumbler on an ouija-board". You are encouraged to offer a Top 10 by the aforementioned 75% kosher art-pop titans, except that it doesn't have to be a Top 10, or a list of 10cc songs. But 10cc has to be there somewhere (although I imagine that if this takes off, all traces of 10cc DNA will disappear within a few connections, a bit like homeopathy).

So... a Top 10 of band names that, like 10cc, refer to ejaculation, masturbation and the like, except I can only think of six, and that's pushing it.

• The Lovin' Spoonful
• Pearl Jam
• Bingo Handjob (aka REM)
• Come
• Hand of Onan
• um... Cream?

When you've, er, come up with one of your own, send the link to

And remember, big bloggers don't cry.

PS: First this, and now Billy appears to have a Big Blog Idea, although he's playing it close to his manly chest. Are we in the realms of Web 2.5 yet?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The piece of God that passeth all understanding

This is the second time in less than a month that I've been gazumped by Julian Baggini. CiF ran his piece on the Baltic-Jesus-erection kerfuffle on Wednesday; at least this time they elected not to use my take on the same thing (submitted before his appeared) which would have created a slightly wonky stereo effect.

I'm starting to feel like Pat Boone to Baggini's Little Richard. But I still reckon mine has a better opening sentence, so here it is. If I'm going to hell, I may as well take the rest of you down with me:

Jesus had a penis.

I'm sorry if such information disturbs you, but it is so. This is not just a historical fact, but a theological truth, if one subscribes to orthodox Christian belief. Jesus was God made human flesh, and as such he had the full complement of male body parts: not just the arms, legs and beard, but the bits that most representational art tends to cover with a flowing robe or, in extremis, a skimpy loin cloth. I'm talking cock, balls and bumhole, people.

Now, if Jesus had these bits and pieces, surely they had to be in full working order: otherwise he would have been in some way defective, which isn't really what you want from the earthly manifestation of the Godhead. And the Nazarene was not immune to temptation; he explicitly resisted it, which means it was there to start with (see Matthew, chapter 4). In which case, is it so disturbing to contemplate the notion that Jesus' gentlemanly bits occasionally became tumescent? He urinated and defecated as well. So there.

Sorry for that detour into the no-man's-land between theology, biology and plumbing, but these issues are crucial to the private prosecution being brought by one Emily Mapfuwa against the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Last year, the Baltic displayed Terence Koh's plaster depictions of cultural figures in a state of engorgement. Jesus was one of those represented, and Ms Mapfuwa, with the backing of the Christian Legal Centre, alleges that this particular piece outrages public decency and causes harassment, alarm and distress to the public.

Well, surely only if erections (and by extension, sex and sexuality) are inherently bad things. Most members of the public have willingly submitted to various forms of carnal naughtiness in their time, so if they find themselves outraged, harassed, alarmed or distressed by such references, they're bloody hypocrites. Ms Mapfuwa and her friends are simply reinforcing the notion of Christians as joyless Puritans who are scared of sex, while giving kudos to a lame, derivative, "ooh-look-at-me-I'm-outrageous" bit of schlock, two parts Jeff Koons to one part Da Vinci Code.

But that's not what it's all about, is it? Oh no. Ms Mapfuwa also insists that the gallery would not have dared to display an image of Muhammad in such an up-for-it state. Which is true, but probably more due to a reasonable fear of swivel-eyed suicide bombers than any doctrinal preference. While we're at it, though, the evidence is even more compelling in the case of the Prophet. With his thirteen wives and seven children, it's pretty clear that Muhammad had one as well.

PS: I've just remembered, the lovely Dr Julian also beat me to the punch when Baudrillard died last year. Maybe I'm actually Baggini's simulacrum...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tea and oranges

Excessive YouTube usage may have supplanted patriotism as the last refuge of the abject bounder but, hey, it's the weekend. And for once, there's no arch, sardonic, postmodernist reason for sticking this up other than the fact that it's beautiful.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pretty polymath

From the Telegraph obituary of the extraordinary, irreplaceable, probably-quite-difficult-to-live-with Ken Campbell:

Ken Campbell kept three dogs and was devoted to an African grey parrot which he had bought when his daughter gave him some money to buy a computer. There had been a pet shop next door to the computer showroom. He was, for a time, professor of ventriloquism at Rada.

(And as for the recent local difficulties, all appears to be peaceful this end, although I will update you if anything occurs. Meanwhile, I'm watching a squirrel eat a pomegranate.)