Thursday, October 26, 2023

About things

Back in the glory days of blogging, sometimes I be so overstocked with ideas that I’d regularly put up portmanteau posts, of unrelated stuff that I didn’t have time to discuss at length, but I just wanted to nail down before they were gone. I don’t remember doing it for years and I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m just getting more jaded and/or less curious, or simply because there’s less interesting stuff going on.

But everything seems to be happening today (or maybe I’ve just roused myself from a long creative slumber). First, David Shrigley creates a new, very expensive edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four from pulped copies of The Da Vinci Code (which reminds me of the time I tried and failed to do a chapter-by-chapter blog about the bloody thing.) On the Today programme (go to 2:53 or so), Amol Rajan attempted to shoehorn in TS Eliot and the idea of placing an artist within a tradition, to which Shrigley offered the deadpan response, “I wouldn’t know, I went to art school.” 

Then what looks to be a very poorly thought-out survey that claims to reveal that half of Britons can’t name a black British historical figure but neither offers any criteria for a “right” answer (Who is black? Who is historically significant? Does Stormzy count?) nor provides any context as to the respondents’ knowledge of history in general. Awkward.

This is followed by the news that the Beatles are finally releasing ‘Now and Then’ and touting it as their last song, despite the fact that it’s just another Lennon demo that’s been played around with by the others over the past few decades, as distinct from ‘Carnival of Light’, a genuine Beatles work from 1967 that remains under lock and key and will probably get the retrospective nod as their last last song to mark, I don’t know, Ringo’s 100th birthday.

And finally this, an interview with Ken Russell, apparently in an Oxford student magazine in 1966, and now I’m wondering why someone can’t just take this treatment and make the bloody film...

PS: And a response to the news that shadow chancellor (a job title that sounds like something out of Star Wars) Rachel Reeves may or may not have plagiarised chunks of her new book:

Monday, October 23, 2023

Saturday, October 14, 2023

About postcards

(At the Royal Academy shop.)

We’re now so deep into a digital version of reality that consumers need advice on how to use postcards.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

About stolen books

Authors including Michael Chabon and Sarah Silverman are taking action against Meta (which owns Facebook) for using pirated copies of their books to train generative AI. In The Atlantic, Alex Reisner has published a searchable database of the authors who’ve been similarly exploited and many of these have expressed their annoyance.

As well they might. But do spare a thought for those authors whose words weren’t considered worth stealing. Because I’m bloody furious.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

About Les Misérables

I’m really not sure whether Just Stop Oil’s protests ultimately do any good, but when people watch a show celebrating political protest and then complain when it’s interrupted by an act of political protest, a modest irony klaxon ought to be sounding somewhere.

(Long-term readers of this blog, both of you, do not need to be told that the rendering of the June Rebellion as a piece of uplifting theatrical bombast is what Situationism would define as recuperation, the process by which a subversive act is made palatable to mainstream society; and that last night’s protests were its antonym, détournement, subverting a product of the mainstream. Of course what we need now if for someone to make a facile, glossy musical about Just Stop Oil and the whole process can repeat itself ad infinitum until we all burn to death.)

About classics and comics

Two more contributions to the canon discussion, here as placeholders if nothing else. First, Alexandra Wilson upends Bourdieu by arguing that it’s popular, not classical music than holds all the cultural capital:

Since the 1980s, the media has determinedly and relentlessly painted classical music as “elitist”, boring and old-fashioned. Even Arts Council England, hell-bent on a programme of radical “change” to the cultural landscape, can scarcely conceal its contempt for it. None of this is suggestive of a society in which classical music reigns supreme. It isn’t brave to say you hate classical music so much as bog-standard normal. State publicly that you don’t like classical music, and you’re cool, funny and “relatable”. State publicly that you don’t like popular music, and you’re a weirdo or a snob. 

And in the New Yorker, Stephanie Burt defends Penguin’s decision to define Marvel comics and their ilk as classics:

 Stories become classics when generations of readers sort through them, talk about them, imitate them, and recommend them. In this case, baby boomers read them when they débuted, Gen X-ers grew up with their sequels, and millennials encountered them through Marvel movies. Each generation of fans—initially fanboys, increasingly fangirls, and these days nonbinary fans, too—found new ways not just to read the comics but to use them. That’s how canons form. Amateurs and professionals, over decades, come to something like consensus about which books matter and why—or else they love to argue about it, and we get to follow the arguments. Canons rise and fall, gain works and lose others, when one generation of people with the power to publish, teach, and edit diverges from the one before. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

About magic

My alma mater has announced what sounds like an intriguing MA in Magic and Occult Science, an interdisciplinary degree combining history, religion, archaeology and more. Inevitably, a number of parties have decided to label it as a so-called Mickey Mouse degree, implying that it’s for people intent on pursuing careers as witches and/or wizards. To be fair, I’m not sure whether this demonstrates intellectual laziness (just reading the website beyond the headline would have told them what the course really offers) or a zombie-like understanding that the true purpose of education is to get a job. In any case, universities have been offering courses in religion for hundreds of years and I’m not really sure what the difference is.

It’s more than a little depressing, though, that among those grabbing the wrong end of the wand is one of the most high-profile head teachers in the country.

PS: And, in further education news: