Tuesday, August 30, 2022

About classical music

An article in the Telegraph marking the 30th anniversary of Classic FM (inadvertently?) exposes an ideological divergence in the way modern conservatives deal with culture.

Ivan Hewitt takes what one might describe as the market-based approach, arguing that Classic FM gives the punters what they want – “delicious treats of an aural kind” – and by doing so attracts twice as many listeners as Radio 3. So that’s good, then. And there’s a passing dig at the BBC licence fee, always a dog whistle to Telegraph readers, even if radio listeners aren’t obliged to pay it. This is the Thatcherite model of culture, free of both state subsidy and a self-appointed elite telling you what’s good. And it has achieved its apotheosis in recent years with the appointment of the ludicrous Nadine Dorries as Secretary of State.

Simon Heffer, meanwhile, takes what to me is a more authentically conservative (as distinct from classical liberal) attitude, in the tradition of Arnold and Eliot: some things are just better than others, even if not many people like them. He grudgingly acknowledges the popularity of Classic FM but...

...it cheapens classical music by treating it as a commodity; worse, it patronises its audience, lulling them into a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome where they mistake mediocrity for excellence, and where boundaries are seldom pushed out. 

The example he gives is the poll of listeners' favourite music, which places the Star Wars theme 250 places above Elgar’s First Symphony. But to define this preference as being objectively wrong, as Heffer does, takes him to dangerous ground. “As a measure of the taste of the most gullible element of the British public, it is invaluable,” he argues. But couldn’t that in turn be applied to the antics of the modern Conservative Party, including the way Liz Truss panders to the prejudices of the party members who are probably going to elect her in the next few days, and indeed to Brexit – which Heffer supported?

(Incidentally, the weight of opinion in the comments section seems to favour Hewitt and Classic FM — which, paradoxically, tends to prove Heffer’s point.)

PS: On a vaguely related theme, quiz show contestant turned researcher Lillian Crawford on what knowledge is for (and which knowledge needs to be known). “Competing on University Challenge made me realise that I quiz not to perform knowledge, but to acquire it.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

About pretending to read

Karen Joy Fowler
I made a New Year’s resolution to stop pretending I had read books I hadn’t. This necessitated a crash course in all those I had already pretended to have read.
Except that often the pretence is so deep and wide that I forget whether or not I really have read the book, so I wouldn’t know which ones I need to catch up on, surreptitiously or otherwise. (See my Gatsby confusion; and, as always, wonder whether or not Pierre Bayard was joking.)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

About corrections

Apologies for literary errors often sound defensive, but I think we’ll let him off this time. (Hugues Panissié, from the 1960 edition of The Real Jazz.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

About Philip Purser

Two gems from the Telegraph obituary of the writer Philip Purser. First, that the first choice for the job of TV critic at the newly-launched Sunday Telegraph in 1961, was the blind journalist TE Utley, because he wouldn’t be distracted by the pictures.

And the conclusion to the obituary he wrote for a colleague: “He is the author, I believe, of my obituary held on file at The Telegraph. I wonder what it says.”

Sunday, August 14, 2022

About Jerry Sadowitz

I still don’t know for certain what Jerry Sadowitz did or said that was so distressing to (some) members of his audience that his subsequent show was cancelled by the venue, and that makes the whole episode even more annoying. The director of the Pleasance, who announced the ban, said only that his material “is not acceptable and does not align with our values”. It’s probably a stretch to equate Sadowitz’s treatment with what’s happened to Salman Rushdie. Nobody’s tried to kill the comedian, although it must be remembered that a furious Canadian (they exist, apparently), once punched him out on stage for beginning a Montreal gig with a cheery “Hello, moose-fuckers!” That said, the statement does bear some comparison with the Ayatollah’s fatwa, in that the precise nature of the crime was kept vague, thus enabling those disposed to take offence to create ever-increasing levels of imagined ideological transgression in their own heads, without ever feeling obliged to see Sadowitz’s show, or read The Satanic Verses.

More importantly though, as many have already said — what did people expect from a Sadowitz show? He’s been cavorting merrily on the wrong side of taste for four decades. And if they hadn’t noticed after all this time that some of his schtick is a bit unpleasant, 30 seconds on Google could have put them right. Modern cultural discourse is certainly sanctimonious and censorious, but far worse, I’d suggest, is the abject absence of curiosity.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

About Salman Rushdie

 Can’t think of much to add to the conversation, but this says it all.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

About male authors

An interesting selection of audiobooks here, recommended by the BBC for holiday listening. Of the 24 books on the list, just seven are by male authors; and three of those men are dead. What’s more, every book by a living man is a work of non-fiction – or, to put it another way, no living male novelist is worth a hearing.

Or are we supposed to stockpile the male writers for winter?

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

About Larkin (again)

There is much buzz, as the centenary of Philip Larkin’s birth approaches, about the notion that his privately expressed opinions should render him a candidate for cancellation. He’s clearly one of the dead white males most at risk of being squeezed out of the curriculum and the canon, as a more diverse slate of poets move in.

That said, I’m white and male, and I didn’t properly get the point of Larkin until I was well into my 30s; the voice of resignation and disappointment that underpins his work never really rang true until I’d experienced it myself. The barrier to understanding him may be as much chronological as ideological.

Which isn’t a reason not to teach Larkin to teenagers of all races, genders and political persuasions, of course. In a complex, multicultural society, empathy is at a premium. It’s important to instruct white boys in the finer points of Maya Angelou; and, equally, to explain to black girls why Larkin thought and wrote as he did.

PS: An enjoyable selection of Larkin-related musings at the New Statesman.

PPS: From the above, Emily Berry quotes some lines from Larkin’s ‘Vers de Société’ that say more than one might have expected about modern, digital modes of interaction: 

...the big wish

Is to have people nice to you, which means 

Doing it back somehow. 

Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines 

Playing at goodness, like going to church?

PPPS: James O'Brien covers the subject: I pop up at about 18.30.