other links : i ii iii
Can you translate the next 300 words into
if so, please contact me
and there will be rejoicing.
2002 Q1 & Q2
An excellent evening of chat and drink, mixed with ping pong, at
Edina and Geza's.
In the morning, finished the gorgeous 1955 art
book 'The Selective Eye' [the collection
one, in fact], Gyorgyi's
father gave Robin.
A wonderful mix of classic art and what was fresh and recent in the 50s.
Respectful reviews of modernists now slightly forgotten like
Jean Bazaine, then still living,
still at the front edge and still French. One American,
is referred to in terms of his first shows in Paris and Europe.
People who could remember the 1890s were alive to be interviewed,
including two early art dealers who helped
moving around 1900. An oddly breathless account of a visit to
sister in Barcelona recalls that hopeful mood back when
modern was still modern.
Intercut with lovely pieces on the rest of art history: Catalan
Altdorfer, manuscript art, the school of
Rococo, and a fascinating
Mannerism, where an eerie
Parmiagianino Madonna's elongated
right hand echoes another spidery long-fingered hand in a
Madonna with child in
'Fra Angelico at San Marco'.
Ryan tells me to find out more about
I've already found
out about Mr Kobe's
mind one of those myself, actually.
Who is this blonde
Ah, yes h
Last night, after a quiet evening alone with the hiss of the gas hob, the
chirruping of the insects, and the swishing of the trees, I saw a completely
silent electrical storm.
On all sides of
Robin's house, big flashes of
lightning came from below all horizons, yet no thunder. Just crickets and
the trees in the wind.
It was a surprise to find
out how old Margaret Atwood's
Handmaid's Tale' is. Published in 1985,
it’s a novel set in the near future.
It purports to be narrated by a woman in her early 30s with
the cloistered, confined life of a ‘handmaid’ - a rare
woman who is still fertile and might be able to have a child in a
poisoned future world of mass sterility and shrinking population.
Her piece of the world looks eerily familiar yet different.
A tidy American suburb full of 19th-century
houses, well-kept lawns and hedges, large brick villas which once again
have servants. She must dress like a nun, only with a bright red
habit and an old-style headcowl which blocks her peripheral vision with
Commanders own houses here, they have Wives, and Marthas [female servants],
and there are the Aunts. The Eyes [secret police] are more
recognisable from other 20th-century dystopias like
otherwise this world of colour-coded,
status-based Handmaids, Wives, Marthas, Aunts moving around in kitchens
and dormitories smelling of beeswax wood polish, is like a chilly blend of
Norman Rockwell and
Vermeer. The Handmaids have
names like Ofglen and Ofstan to show who they belong to,
as in “of Glen”, perhaps natural for an author named
Her patriarchal world is creepily convincing. The
Ceremony shows how joyless sexual threesomes
can be. Handmaids are there to give Commanders children, since almost
everyone else is sterile. Once-a-month sex is ritualised, sanctified
and the Wife is present. The earlier Handmaid at that house hung herself,
it’s revealed early on.
But we spend
a lot of time inside the Handmaid's head, so it seems wrong
that characters don't develop much. More seriously,
the whole novel rests on several biology premises which
now look pretty strange. The idea that the
father of a baby might stay unknown now sounds peculiar after
almost two decades of DNA tracing - especially for a future society
which is in some ways sophisticated, is deeply obsessed by pregnancy
and fertility, and is highly heirarchical. Worse, the central premise
of the book, that most women cannot become mothers, looks odder and
odder once DNA can be spliced from any person to any egg or sperm -
as plenty of futurists were already predicting back in the 1960s.
Even if only Handmaids can
get pregnant and carry a baby to term, they could easily be pregnant
with babies which are wholly the genetic material of a Commander and
his Wife. Why would a Wife's genes not be spliced into a Handmaid's egg,
as widely predicted long before this book? Surrogate mothers who have
no genetic stake in the baby in their wombs, but are being paid to go
through pregnancy and birth, were being
discussed in the late 1970s. The topic came up in
one of the
Tomorrow’s World books
from the BBC series in around
1973? Of course, it is hard to
get the near future right, which is why when I wrote ‘Frubacher’
back in 1983, I tried to keep it flippant and fluffy.
Atwood’s book took me back to that summer in two ways.
First as an early-80s novel about the near future extrapolating the
present [for me satellite television and pornography, for her
suburban Christian Conservatives and falling birthrates], and
secondly because I wrote it in the afternoons on a giant
concertina of computer printout paper while cleaning the
College in the mornings.
had some of that Handmaid-ish claustrophobia: clean,
white-painted Victorian woodwork, cool, grey-painted,
vaguely convent-like walls with high sash windows above dense,
green gardens. A mildly stuffy air of silent jealousy between women
and stifled longing. That
single long parquet-tiled corridor threading
through several buildings came back vividly reading this.
The book’s mood stayed with me, so Atwood did
something very well.
I wanted to learn more of the characters and what would
I can’t help baulking at how the central pregnancy-fertility
ideas of the story don’t really make sense.
women are implausibly hovering somewhere in-between - still
curiously powerful as Wives considering how powerless women
in general have become. But if Wives
cannot bear children, what sustains their status as Commanders’
And for a
version of the near future choosing the near past,
‘Mandrake’ [an early 70s Britain where a
sinister Ministry of Transport increasingly restricts cars
and the culture regresses decade by decade] still resonates more.
Now there’s a number of things I can do with
Photoshop, I’m still amazed
at how hobbled even the newest versions are. Hobbled by
a professional writer [an experienced newspaper hack, an ad-agency
copywriter] to label the interface properly with phrases [or - praise the Lord -
even sentences] instead of single words. The menus could be more usable
with some discreet use of colour [it is a visual design package, remember?],
but above all a few more words - if possible words put together by someone
who knows how to use them. The help pages reveal just far away they are
from understanding how bad their product is and how good it could be. For
example, any 10-year-old child would construct the ‘replace colour’
control panel to include an option marked “replace
this [1st sample
window] colour with this [2nd
sample window] colour?”. Allowing you to
control the contents of the two sample windows.
Could the idea be more obvious or natural? How dense
does a programmer have to be to think up a ‘replace colour’ operation
without that feature?
that effort, when an extra one or two per cent of thought and money
could make the product four or five thousand per cent easier for
customers to use - as always the almost-forgotten end purpose of what
they do all day at work. Are software firms not ashamed there are
hundreds of independent websites
devoted to explaining their products better than they do? Never mind
sense in computers,
let's start with common sense in programmers.
An outing to
With Gyorgyi &
sets off. After a few hours I notice
just how quiet it is
even with the crickets
or whatever they are.
The luxury of days of reading beckon, unrolling towards the
dark, thundery horizon like
a red carpet across the yellow grass.
Into the countryside. Rain.
suggested I join
Raphael has moved back to
Chatted with Robin. It's
Rob is concerned about my teeth, and kindly invites me for a drink. He tells me
Steve passed him the other day driving a car with one leg out of his car window.
men are paying thousands of dollars
in the Nevada desert.
but not Goran.
A 2nd afternoon working in
about Endre Ratkay,
eccentric Hungarian painter, in the 'mmm' (mai magyar muveszet) series.
Perhaps Nador didn't like Ratkay's paintings,
or just had trouble knowing what to make of them, but he does little more
than write lists of what is in the paintings. And that's what Ratkay's
paintings are like, lists. This is all very Hungarian and semi-autistic of
course, but the paintings are fun. I could not find a website with pictures
of them - I wish I could. Ratkay is/was (he may have died in the 90s, I don't
know) a kind of Hungarian
or Heironymus Bosch. Like them, most
of his canvases are made up of tiny, detailed scenes only vaguely connected
to other scenes nearby. In Ratkay's case, the paintings are divided into
rectangular grids of cells, each with a small mythological scene - often
portrayed jokily with 20th-century characters in episodes from Classical or
Biblical myth, surrealistic juxtapositions and visual non sequiturs. He
probably shared whatever brain disorder, though arguably in a milder form,
Dadd and Bosch had. All three painters were manic detailists, devoid of
any but the sketchiest overview pulling together the whole canvas into one
vision. The clinical aspect of Dadd's art is the clearest, since he painted
two kinds of picture - the
realistic long views with tiny
figures on desert skylines when he was out of the asylum, and the cluttered
portraits of crowds of absurd fairy characters, canvas packed to the edge
with detail, when he was in the asylum. Despite his obvious mental oddness,
the obsessive yet illogical categorisation, the manic pseudo-symobolism,
Ratkay's paintings have a wonderful, intensely private notebook
quality about them, even with their largeness. They share the overcomplex bogus
interconnections that make conspiracy theorists such fun, and resemble
rather attractive versions of the those 17th-century German cabinets of
Ratkay's classics-oriented grammar school, and his belief that
modern art had taken a wrong turn, provided the overall world-view in place
of any pictorial logic. In its list-based pedantry, its strikingly unvisual
(even aphasic) approach to visual art, and its archaism - his paintings
are very Hungarian.
More like heiroglyphs, or curious marginalia to some incomprehensible, lost
encyclopaedia from another age, his grids of images charm and
compel though. With all their 2D and 3D weaknesses (lack of sense of space,
liking for visual clutter, preference for 1D crafts like maths, music, poetry)
Hungarians seem to have some kind of intriguing (genetic?) handicap in visual
processing, and Ratkay's attempt to produce things like painted literary texts
is typically and fascinatingly Magyar.
Read a short booklet by
Like a lot of English painter-eccentrics
Spencer, Lowry, Hockney)
Hungarian artists like Geza Samu or
Endre Ratkay are interesting because they stray from the art mainstream -
almost courting isolation (though Hockney managed to stay very fashionable
even while swimming against the current and going back to figurative art).
Or at least isolation in terms of the
century of surrealism, abstraction and minimalism these painters all saw as
First time in a month the
outside the kitchen go quiet. Slight chill in the night air.
Today, at Ferenciek tere
(Square of the Franciscans)
I passed a girl wearing a
red shirt with the number 21 on in large white digits, holding hands with a
young man in a blue shirt with the number 25 in slightly smaller white digits.
Met new student Sara at
First draft of piece for
Back in the hall of mirrors. Flatteringly thinking I might have
something interesting to say about
it for Rob and I to read. I'm about 30 pages in and already getting
Quick coffee with
Catherine. I return her
Elvis brownies recipe.
passes on the remarkable gossip that folk living round
Nairn claim the late
cuddly grey eminence behind the rise of
was a practising Satanist. Crikey.
Cartoon Geza and Eszter's mother.
Mr Castell, Justin,
Tim, & Alberto.
An odd, shapeless day. A wasted
Ryan phones up about
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
contact at otherlanguages.org
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