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2010
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February 28th; Rikke kindly comes almost straight off her train to take Wilma the puppy back into the Norwegian dog-loving vet-student community, so that I can have a carefree afternoon at Martin's enjoying his and Klara's fine cooking with a host of other friends at a lunch that stretches until 6pm. From there on to a lovely dinner with Terri & Alvi that goes on until late as we natter about various topics. Meanwhile: typical scene at villa in Buda hills.
February 27th; The chunks of frozen snow washed away four or five days ago in a week of rainy weather. Today starts off rainy too, and I take Wilma the puppy downstairs at 7am to relieve herself, but she is having none of the nasty wet weather and frowns at me crossly before scampering back up the steps into my dry apartment building. By lunchtime, though, real warm weather starts. Sun comes out and it no longer feels chilly. For people who really like this website's colour scheme, some Alan Charlton paintings: A rather sober 'Untitled' triptych, a soothing set of identical canvases, some more of that sort of thing, and in case that was too busy and cluttered, a more restrained painting, also 'Untitled'.

February 26th; Friday. Wilma the pug puppy is a busy soul with a strong personality. Unlike the previous two dogs, Wilma takes exception to the rain and even to walks as long as going round the block. She would much rather race around a comfortable, dry apartment getting me to tug various of her toys she is hanging onto with her teeth. She seems intriguingly unconcerned about pissing in my flat, but I suppose she is a puppy, and anyway, the floor is tiled. Takes me one day to train her to always urinate on the begging magazines I get sent by Clare and Cambridge. Wilma likes my sofa and seems to find the flat quite an interesting place on balance. She likes that there is much to sniff and chew, though whimpers and squeaks crossly if I am boring and do not play enough with her.
February 25th; Thursday. Lunch with Wilma and Mystery Friend 2 at Iguana. We briefly mention Otto Weininger. Meet Eve of Budadogs to hear about her ambitious photographic-memory training course. Then later to an anthropology talk with Dorina where the lecturer describes a study visit to Iceland.

February 24th; Wednesday. After pub quiz on the team with Inese, Jill, & Jooa {once again we come fourth to last, but all the teams score many more points than two weeks ago}, I meet Inger to pick up her pug puppy Wilma for four nights. Wilma is one of the famous Smuggled Puppies that entered Norway with papers "not in order", so are waiting a few months outside Norway before attempting to re-enter.
February 23rd; Tuesday. To Mystery Friend 2 for curry and a watch of the director's cut of 'Apocalypse Now' with Martin & Edith & Edith's dog Simon. Intriguing to see some new scenes that were not in the film I saw alone on a 6th-form History outing where everyone else, including the teacher, failed to turn up at the cinema. The French dinner scene was appalling. Sheen's wild-eyed stare which for most of the film successfully conveys "What am I doing in this ghastly war?" somehow imperceptibly slides during this meal into conveying "What am I doing in this ghastly scene?" Much of the up-river weirdness is suggested by use of coloured smoke. Watching this film again right through for the first time in three decades, and able to compare it to Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', I am struck that something unintended happened with the film. On the surface, like Conrad's novella, it indicts Western imperialism and colonialism. Yet somehow Coppola's film, while working to make American civilisation look weak, hysterical, and hypocritical, accidentally says something revealing about the local culture. This undercuts all the surface images of rich Americans bombing poor Asians which signal The Message of The Film. Colonel Kurtz's ultimate sin is going beyond the bounds of decency in a crazy war, and this really means he went native. His closing speech about the Viet Cong amputating the arms of some vaccinated village children, and him 'realising' the US needs to fight the war in the same way, is supposed to make him sound like a deranged Nietzschean. Actually it lets slip that what he was really guilty of was descending from impersonal, industrialised brutality to more personal, Oriental viciousness. The monstrous regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, as well as atrocities by the Vietnamese without US involvement, show this difference. As low and nasty as the smug, cowardly US war effort was, their local opponents were clearly even lower and nastier. The heart of darkness is in the dark continent after all, an extra layer of subtlety Conrad's work hints at better than Coppola's.

February 22nd; Monday. Finish a book called 'Mind Wide Open' by Steven Johnson, who seems to be tring to build a franchise as the thinking man's Malcolm Gladwell. Disappointing read. Bits start promisingly, but most of it seems to just repeat what we all knew from a handful of science articles 15 years ago, padded out with a sort of waffly watered-down gonzo journalism. So Johnson does Simon Baron-Cohen's mood interpretation test, looking at lots of photographs just of pairs of eyes. Johnson is rolled inside a brain scanner, and describes how claustrophobic it is. Johnson tells us a storm blew in the window of his Manhattan apartment, and his amygdala has made him nervous about windy days ever since. Likewise, being in New York on 2001 September 11th has made him nervous about days which aren't windy, but have clear blue skies. I was stunned when he refers respectfully to Eric Kandel, whose tedious tome about the wiring of sea slugs and pompous recounting of what he said at his Nobel Prize ceremony clearly formed part of Johnson's crash reading list for this book. Even more startling, like Kandel, he cannot produce a book like this without mentioning Freud. The 30-page conclusion, unbelievably, is all about Freud's theories and the tiny areas where they seem to overlap with postwar neuroscience findings. Johnson once mentions Nietzsche and Schopenhauer without apparently realising that they, not Freud, created our view of the fragmented self and the subconscious. Then he discusses each of Freud's ideas, again and again saying things like "this part of Freud's scaffolding got it wrong" without apparently bringing together his own remarks to see that all of Freud's contributions were wrong, and the only parts where his beliefs still resonate today came wholesale from the two German philosophers. As modest authors nearly say, all the worthwhile bits of psychoanalysis were actually taken from Sigmund's predecessors, while all the mistakes were his alone. This much is obvious early in the book, if it was not already obvious early last century. Traumas are not weakened by being talked about, they are strengthened. The subconscious is not censoring suppressed memories and hiding them from the conscious mind - the researchers Johnson has coffee with show it is precisely the other way round. The mind's modules are nothing like the ones the Viennese doctor imagined, and they're not built largely around sex. And so on. Who even mentions Sigmund now? The conclusion might have been an idea of his publisher, or of Johnson himself, but America's inability to let go of Freud must be the equivalent of Europe's inability to let go of Marx. And then, every time we get to an interesting moment, like his mention of 'rejection sensitivity', we soon swerve back to Johnson's self-indulgent prose instead of saying anything new. Each hormone, brain region, mood alteration drug seems about to get interesting, but never does. I suspect Johnson just can't think of anything of value to ask experts when he meets them. The footnotes {why stuffed at the back?} are more interesting than the book itself, which is really a kind of extended magazine article.
February 21st; Sunday. Work on e-summary for book.

February 20th; Saturday. Seems Regina can help me with iPhone programmers.
February 19th; Brunch with Martin. Start 'Memo'.

February 18th; Bobbling round town by tram & metro, I finish the agreeably slim book Rob kindly gave me, 'Neuroscience & Philosophy', made up mainly of a slightly tetchy exchange of views between Maxwell Bennett & Peter Hacker in the blue corner, and Daniel Dennett & John Searle {on the same side for once} in the red corner. To sum up, Bennett & Hacker argue for the Wittgensteinian view that philosophers are therapists of linguistic confusion, and that many neuroscientists make category errors with sentences like "the brain remembers..." and so on. Dennett defends his not unreasonable emergent-property view that modules in the brain do a simpler version of whole-person thinking, simpler at each level down, until it makes sense to speak of groups of neurons {or thermostats} doing a kind of primitive thinking or believing, out of which higher properties are assembled. Dennett says Hacker reminds him of Oxford in the 1960s, whereas he reminds me more of Cambridge in the 1930s and Oxford in the 1940s, not that I was at either place at any of those times, of course. Dennett also snidely refers to "St. Ludwig". Good to see that some irreverence for The Master is finally allowed, since it wasn't kosher in the 1980s - I remember that much. Searle responds a bit less huffily to the Hacker attackers, and more expertly skewers Wittgenstein's breath-taking claims about conditions for the use of verbs being the main criterion for judging what entities there are. Later in the afternoon, more time on public transport lets me finish Frances Yates' 'The Art of Memory', a history of artificial memory techniques as interpreted by Renaissance thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to Gottfried Leibniz. Yates has some quite startling insights, bringing us a mnemonic dimension to Dante's 'Inferno', to Llull's revolving logic discs, and to Giordano Bruno's audacious cosmology. In a curious digression, she argues that Robert Fludd's discussion of a 'memory theatre' gives us the best clues we have available as to what the Globe theatre where Shakespeare's plays were performed looked like.
February 17th; Over a Chinese-restaurant lunch, a friend urges me to visit Hungary's 'heart chakra', the Dobogoko of course. Think I shall.

February 16th; Continues to hint at a thaw, but every road still lined by knee-high ridges of chunky white frozen stuff. On Saturday, leaving Mariannpsy's flat, I saw in their yellow-tiled apartment-block courtyard a thalidomide snowman with no arms, but still a solid four-foot-high torso and head. The neck still wore a scarf of copper-coloured tinsel, and a surprisingly shiny and new-looking inverted saucepan sat on the featureless head as a hat or helmet. Judging by continuing temperatures around zero, that snowman is probably still much as I saw him three days ago. Three miserable artworks by the unusual but clearly very unhappy 60s minimalist Eva Hesse: Hang up / Ingeminate / Untitled. Finally, I get round to it, and make those angel/fairy/whatever cakes.
February 15th; Monday. Song by Soopasoul Brand Nu: "Never forget how I helped you hide from The Man.... Who was the one that kept your name all good in the hood?" Ah, the cruelty of men. Superior mix of Filur's I-Want-You number by Goldtrix.

February 14th; Sunday. Wake up with my head full of spirals from last night's two small glasses of beer & two very small glasses of some sneaky cocktail. Finally I roll out clay ready to air dry before going in Timea's kiln in a few days. Order two books about Giordano Bruno. Quoting songs like this, people often write "You know who you are" ...but come to think of it, you probably don't.
February 13th; Saturday. Eszter's friends reconvene at Sandokan bar for her birthday & even more imminent departure to Brussels. Mystery Friend 2 gives me two shot glasses of some lethal mystery cocktail they prepare behind the bar, and evening at once becomes confusing.

February 12th; Friday. Long, tiresome day that ends well. Around 2pm am almost killed or crippled on icy country road when an irate Georgina driving the green Benz {with three of her children in it} tries to ram the blue Benz containing Robin & myself off the road. Very Steve McQueen. Later at 9pm back in Budapest pop along to my first ever speed-dating event, hosted by Howard, at the same bar as Wednesday. Surprisingly good-looking people turn up. I enjoy the event a great deal, noticing everyone is nervous except me - close encounter with grim reaper this afternoon puts other challenges in proportion.
February 11th; Thursday. Up early for train to Kecskemet, from where Robin picks me up for our mission to Serbia. In one bleak spot, an open, snow-covered plain blends with thick white skies. We find some of his artworks at the rectory in the remote village, meet the priest, and have drinks with Vince, who tells us of his book detailing "All my lovers, all my fuckers, everything!"

February 10th; Wednesday. Sunspot 1046 looks busy too. Evening at Howard's pub-quiz event, in a team with Jill & Inese. Considering there are only three of us {other teams have 4 or 5 people in them} we do well to not come last or 2nd last {we come 4th last, and 6th or 7th from top place}, and I feel very smug for knowing that Lichtenstein is, or used to be, the world's leading exporter of dentures.
February 9th; Tuesday. Back in Budapest in time to meet Martin for a philosophy talk given by Konrad Talmont-Kaminski. Very interesting - about defending misbeliefs from experience. Wine & salty nibbles afterwards with the philosophy folk. Then to Martin's for a delicious dinner with lots of Eszter's French-speaking friends.

February 8th; Sunspot 1045 is apparently very large & active.
February 7th; Robin & I drive in the snow to church for the afternoon service at 3pm, but find it empty and locked, with the large Xmas pentacle still on the side of the belltower. We drive on to Nagyrev, site of the famous epidemic of husband-poisoning before World War One. There we get to the vicarage, find it empty too, facing another larger church also quiet and dark, with no footprints in the thick snow leading up to the closed door. We drive around, stop off at a bar made dismal by - Robin points out - the use of grey mortar for all the internal brick and tilework. Driving out again, we chance on the vicar and he gives Robin a CD with three films on it. Later on, we visit Pisti at Tiszainoka in his pink room to pick up some more films.
Late at night I finish Robin's copy of a book called 'Arts of Darkness' by Thomas Hibbs. This is a curious review of American 'film noir', from the 1940s American movies first given that name, stretching through 'neo-noir' and 'sci-fi noir'. Hibbs says that film noir's sense of claustrophic hopelessness - where a central character goes on a quest, often misguided, often leading him or her to become increasingly entrapped in a web of doubt and guilt - asks important questions about modern alienation. Hibbs' main idea is that the best philosophical guide to this perplexity and darkness is not the existentialists or Nietzsche, but Pascal, the French philosopher, theologian & mathematician he quotes throughout. Pascal speaks of a hidden God, and expresses spiritual misgivings that undercut the Enlightenment project of science and rationalism. Hibbs see these misgivings echoed in movies from 'The Maltese Falcon' to 'Blade Runner'. He points out that many directors unaware of Pascal claim they were influenced by T.S. Eliot's 'Wasteland', itself strongly influenced by Pascal. Despite some odd typos {on page 207 he writes 'bribes' when he means 'blackmails'} the review of fifty or so movies is enjoyable, and convincing in parts. A lengthier comparison of Hitchcock and Greene would have been interesting, since both are arguably much more important for the genre and cinema in general than most of the titles he leaves in, and the prolonged discussion of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' doesn't quite persuade, but overall the book is worth reading. Two complaints would be that 1) the film descriptions sit separately and fail to quite form an overall argument, and 2) despite references to 'America' the book glides past the thought that film noir might describe a set of social problems distinctive to the US. The idea that damage to traditional social customs & structures might be the root of both film noir's angst and Blaise Pascal's 17th-century worries never crosses Hibbs' mind. To compare twisted plots about dark rainy streets and cynical femmes fatales with the agonised theology of Europe's century of religious wars clearly strikes the author as quite a daring step already. Yet it is not much further to note two more links. Both the United States of the film noir genre and the France of the critics that named it are cultures heavily involved with moving pictures. They are also societies that repeatedly insist they remade themselves afresh from a clean slate just one and a half lifetimes before Hitchcock's birth.

February 6th; We pop over to Tiszafoldvar and I buy some nails & a rolling pin in a cramped hardware store. A small dog dozes behind the counter, curled up comfortably in a single plastic shopping basket.
February 5th; I hear how Georgina's latest car crash happened on the icy, snowed-up country road just as she was driving fast to the village with divorce papers. Once the car turned over, and she got out unscathed, the divorce documents had disappeared and are probably still hidden, waiting in the ditch to reappear once the snow melts. Markets react nervously to Greek, Spanish, and Portuguese debt worries.

February 4th; Train down to Robin's in daylight. Huge sections of open plain covered in thick snow, lines of shrubs & fencing separating fields smothered or blurred, until sections look like vast white lakes, brighter than the pale grey sky above them.
February 3rd; Biology lesson with Exotic Girl 1.

February 2nd; Lunch at Martin's with Exotic Girl 1. Martin, while talking about Spanish/Catalan cuisine, makes a wonderful pudding which he calls a failure.
February 1st; Leisurely squiffiness with Rob. My 1st homework: the circle of fifths.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com

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