Monday, March 27, 2023

About Great Expectations

Watching the latest TV iteration of Great Expectations and suddenly I'm 18 again and in a tutorial and Dr Chris Brooks of blessed memory pretty much devotes all 90 minutes to the first paragraph, including his contention that “Pip” represents potential, but also something apparently insignificant that might be spat out.

“Great Expectorations,” I say and immediately wish I hadn’t.

And Chris looks at me with an expression not unlike the one that Miss Havisham bestows on Pip when she first sees him, but with less warmth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

About World Poetry Day

It is, apparently, so I did one. 

‘On Watching A Noah Baumbach Movie’ 

The dialectical sparring created 
an intellectual conflagration so intense 
it burned their minds beyond recognition 
and they could only be identified 
by reference to their high school transcripts.

Friday, March 17, 2023

About Nadine Dorries

For no particular reason, I asked ChatGPT to write a sonnet about Nadine Dorries and, intriguingly, it’s just about bad enough to be a sonnet written by Nadine Dorries (if the former Culture Secretary knew what a sonnet was). 

Fair Nadine, who in politics finds her place,
Her voice is heard with vigor and with grace,
She stands for values, for freedom and for right, 
And battles those who seek to dim the light. 
With passion, she defends the common folk, 
And fights for justice, always without cloak, 
Her heart is true, her mind is clear and bright, 
And with her words, she challenges the might. 
Her spirit soars, unbound by fear or doubt, 
And with her strength, she leads the righteous rout, 
For she believes in truth and in what's just, 
And in her cause, she puts her sacred trust. 
So let us hail fair Nadine's noble heart, 
For in her work, she plays a vital part.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

About bad writing

Alan Moore
Read terrible books, because they can be more inspiring than good books. If you’re inspired by a good book, there is always the danger of plagiarism, of writing something too close to it. Whereas a genuinely helpful reaction to a piece of work that you’re reading is: ‘Jesus Christ, I could write this shit.’ It’s immensely liberating. Analyse what they’re doing badly and you’ll discover all the mistakes not to make.

And, in the course of a pretty depressing article about the death of English Literature as an academic discipline, Nathan Heller attempts to clarify Lionel Trilling’s notions about why it might still matter:
... one of those pursuits, like acupuncture or psychoanalysis, which seem to produce salutary effects through mechanisms that we have tried but basically failed to explain.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

About not reading and not knowing

Yet again, life throws up a nugget that could have found a home in my dissertation. From Mark Bauerlein:
In my limited experience as a teacher, I’ve noticed in the last 10 years that students are no less intelligent and no less ambitious but there are two big differences: reading habits have slipped, along with general knowledge. You can quote me on this: you guys don't know anything.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

About facts

I vaguely remember a sachet of this stuff coming through the door but not this promotion. Gazing with wonder at a time (early 70s) when facts were collectable assets, the NFTs of the moment, Panini football stickers for the nerd community.

Friday, February 24, 2023

About Ingres

I’ve been yelling at Radio 4 more than ever in recent days. First, because the tautology “[N]-year anniversary” seems to have been deemed acceptable by continuity announcers; and this week, when the presenter of the network’s flagship arts show pronounced the name of the painter Ingres... well, you listen (around 32.30). There are two levels to this, I guess. First, should the presenter of such a prestigious show be expected to know how to pronounce the name of a fairly important 19th-century artist? And then, if he does drop the ball (and even the best of us makes the occasional fumble), should there not be people around who know how to catch it?

Or does it not really matter any more?

PS: Previous musings on what Front Row presenters should or shouldn’t be expected to know.

Friday, February 17, 2023

About American English

Even as the American Empire follows its British equivalent towards irrelevance, it refuses to go down without a fight, on the linguistic front. I’ve noticed an increasing tendency on London menus to describe a key component of eggs Benedict as an English muffin; of course, a generation ago we would have called it a muffin.

And this, found in a recent crime novel. It reads at first like a bold assertion of cultural independence but really it’s just a desperate plea to have one’s strange Limey peccadillos indulged, and not to get punched in the process.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

About Delilah

Nick Cave on the condemnation being visited on a 50-plus-year-old song, ‘Delilah’: 
I understand there is a principle here, but on some level I like the fact that some songs are controversial enough to be outlawed. It fills me with a kind of professional pride to be a part of the sometimes contentious business of songwriting. It’s cool. I like it. I just wish it was a more worthy song to be awarded that greatest of honours, indeed that supreme privilege, of being banned.

A reminder that “cancel culture” is nothing new, that it was visited on ‘Je T’Aime’ and ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Relax’ and merely added to the outlaw cachet of those songs and their writers and performers. Ultimately the Welsh Rugby Union won’t kill Delilah, it will make her stronger. 

Thursday, February 09, 2023

About Burt Bacharach (RIP)

I refuse to choose. But if I do have to pick one, it’s this, and it’s because of the lyrics and yes, I know Burt didn’t write the lyrics, don’t @ me (is “don’t @ me” still a thing?) but even the lyrics, just a sliver of them:

...and all the stars that never were/Are parking cars and pumping gas...

Which, had it arisen in The Last Tycoon or All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard or Barton Fink would still say everything that ever needed to be said about the vagaries of fame and showbiz and all that cal.


PS: And in other news, I learned that Burt’s dad was called Bert Bacharach, and I’m convinced that if Junior had copied that spelling, the history of postwar American music might have been ever so slightly different...

Monday, January 23, 2023

About ChatGPT

Music critic Simon Reynolds is sanguine regarding the threat that an AI program such as ChatGPT might present to his trade:

...A.I. has no need to write, either — no deep-seated motivation to put words on paper or on screen. The kind of texts it generates resemble what I think of as “motiveless” writing, like school homework, or advertorial. Proper music criticism, even if done to earn a living, is closer to the sort of willed writing that fills diaries, journals and poems — where the compulsion to write is internal rather than externally imposed.

Except that what he (and, if you were to put a gun to my head, I) would define as “proper music criticism” has been in retreat for years, squeezed out by the twin monsters of economics and technology in favour of, well, advertorial. Mr Reynolds may well survive the onslaught, but any number of lesser names may not be so lucky.

In other news, I had a go with the program, and this happened:

PS: Also this, from The Times. “Artistic types” indeed.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

About the B-52’s

In a farewell to the B-52’s, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre opines: “...there are tons of different people who have made incredibly iconic, important music, who aren’t straight white guys, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.” Nice of her to rescue the likes of Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Tchaikovsky, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Kate Bush from the obscurity to which the critical consensus has consigned them over the decades.

Sarcasm aside, to be fair, I think she’s leaning towards a good point; that the Georgia band made a virtue of spurning the dumb machismo that has long afflicted rock music. A few years ago I saw an exhibition of rock instruments at the Met in New York and while others drooled over the guitars of Hendrix, Page, Townshend and the like, I only had eyes for the Farfisa organ that made this happen:

Monday, January 09, 2023

About Lydon

It’s not the fact that John Lydon’s Public Image Limited is in the running to represent Ireland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest that’s startling. It’s that the song – about his love for his wife, in the throes of dementia – is actually rather good.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

About blogging

LC, one of the mainstays of our little virtual gang when this whole thing felt like the future, directs us to this article by Monique Judge, suggesting that blogging needs to make a comeback. Except I think what she really wants is something that isn’t Twitter.