Monday, June 27, 2022

About literature

Two responses to the decision of Sheffield Hallam University to suspend its English literature course, apparently attempting, if not to define literature, to explain what it’s for. The first, from a senior lecturer in that department.
“When was it ever more important in our history for young people to be able to manipulate language and to understand how they are manipulated by language and stories?”
And the second, from the government minister responsible for Hallam and all the other universities, and someone who’s probably a bit nervous about scenario implied by the above:
“Courses that do not lead students on to work or further study fail both the students who pour their time and effort in, and the taxpayer who picks up a substantial portion of the cost.”
(Image: the author and some of his university chums manipulating language in a manner with which the minister might have taken issue, circa 1989.)

Friday, June 24, 2022

About Taylor Swift, etc

Idly Googling with a vague idea for a blog post or a Tweet or a seven-volume novel sequence (that ends in a tantalising manner when I die halfway through writing book five), I came upon this eight-year-old article by Darren Franich, which surprises less by encompassing both Taylor Swift and Jean Baudrillard (meh, that’s the sort of thing The Modern Review used to do in its sleep) than by appearing in, of all places, Entertainment Weekly. An excerpt: 

Eight years before Taylor Swift was born, playboy French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote an essay called “Simulacra and Simulation,” which is filled with important ideas that barely anyone understands. The most explicable and most important idea: Reality as we understand it is actually an elaborate construct, a pale imitation of reality. This was a heavy concept back in 1981; now it’s something that everyone kind of vaguely understands, partially because there are enough people who are young enough to live part-time on the internet who are also old enough to recognize how weird that is, and also partially because “Simulacra and Simulation” inspired all the boring parts of The Matrix.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

About woke

The government and its ideological bedfellows in the media are unanimous in the assertion that “woke” is a bad thing, while cleverly sidestepping any obligation to explain what woke actually means. Until now, when one of the leading witchfinders of woke accidentally reveals that it means you eat cornflakes and may even read books. So, now we know.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

About Missed Connection

I suddenly half-remembered this story a few months ago (What was the time frame? Was it in the New Yorker?) and started to wonder whether I’d imagined it. So this isn’t really a post, more a placeholder, something that in a few years’ time may assure me that it was real. 

I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train. I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. 

You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do...

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

About the singularity

(Note: Small Boo had these thoughts, not me. But she hasn’t got a blog, at least not that I know of.)

There’s an idea knocking about in the tech world called the singularity. Essentially, it’s the point at which artificial intelligence transcends human cognition, where machines become cleverer than brains. It’s long been assumed that the singularity, if it happens, will be a case of machines playing catch-up, of AI’s thinking power developing faster than that of homo sapiens. 

But then a news story broke a few days ago, about the budget airline RyanAir seeking to identify people travelling with fake South African passports by setting them a general knowledge test in Afrikaans. This has inevitably caused great offence as Afrikaans is still seen by many South Africans as the hated language of apartheid; but aside from the PR blooper, it’s a pretty pointless exercise, since only 13% of citizens speak the language – Zulu and Xhosa are more widespread. Add the fact that the questions on the test are littered with grammatical errors and it really looks as if some junior RyanAir apparatchik ran them through Google translate, operating on a vague memory that it’s one of the languages that they speak down there.

And the thought presents itself – could the singularity arrive as a result of AI standing still, while humanity’s intelligence declines to meet it?

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Not about the Jubilee

No, I will not be indulging in bunting-related shenanigans over this inordinately extended weekend, and not just because even Radio 4 has taken to calling the whole thing “PLATTY JUBES”. Instead, here are two things that have amused me recently. First, Jacques Derrida playing cricket.

And then this, which may or may not be sincere: