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2012
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January 31st; Isaac Clark, after all these years, still trying to do the dog funk.
January 30th; Irish Radio cheque arrives. I take it straight to the post office to send to NatWest. Some rough-edged mid-1960s guitar music: relations between the sexes seem a little more fraught. The Heard: "When I see her walking by, makes me want to stop and cry." The Chessmen: "...you chase me round, all over town / One thing I know, going to put you down" with hypnotic spirals intercutting an early video. Good-natured youngsters dance on what looks it might be a rather chilly British beach. If you understand the feathers on the motorbike, please drop me a line.

January 29th; Work all Sunday on Wolfson essay. Some late-1950s guitar music cleverly packaged as music from old strip clubs, and cheerful stuff it is too. Gibble Gobble has the proper late-night feel; Snow Surfin' Matador sounds as if it was recorded in someone's bathroom, of course adding to the charm; and The Poor Boys' tune combines a horn section, fuzzy electric bass guitar, a washboard?, a piano, and seemingly a spoons solo, all on one track: like the triple point of water.
January 28th; Meet Marguerite at Iain's party where he (piano) and Sarah (trumpet) play some duets from what Dr Scruton on Thursday taught us to refer to the American Songbook (Scruton was discussing Theodor Adorno's sharp attack on US popular culture after he left the late-1930s Third Reich for Hollywood). Wonderful food and much merriment. The Hungarian guests at one end of the dinner table patiently listen as I work to explain my views on cities, debt, hard & soft currencies in a Magyar not really up to the occasion. Leave at a still civilised hour, so that the party doesn't end quite like this. Searching for that scene that everyone remembers from 'Rollerball', was surprised to find it set to a quite eerie bit of seventies music from slightly earlier in that film written by, of all people, Andre Previn. Finish a borrowed book called 'Sex In History' by Gordon Rattray Taylor, from the mid-1950s, so intriguingly dated. In factual terms, homosexual acts are still illegal under English law, "The Pill" hasn't arrived (latex condoms are briefly mentioned as the transformative contraceptive break-through), and there are still obscenity trials. This book is from before the end of the Chatterley ban, in Larkin's phrase. However, more striking than all this is that Freud is still seen as one of the dominant scientific minds of the century, a veritable Copernicus of psychology. The book has both an index and a quite extensive bibliography yet not even a sentence about who the author is. He appears from context to have been a Freudian psychoanalyst dipping into history, but it's possible that books as racy as this were written under pseudonyms at the time. He says Brazil became Portuguese despite the line drawn by a pope down the Atlantic, though in fact part of Brazil is east of this line so his explanation about Portuguese mariners "reaching South America by the eastward route" sounds wrong. Most of the research looks solid though.
There is some interesting material about the mediaeval period and antiquity but not quite enough simple description of customs and beliefs, and rather too much of one theory. That being the high-water mark of the Viennese doctor's influence, the author gives us a schema of patrist and matrist societies (not to be confused with patriarchy and matriarchy, he says). Patrist societies tend to be strict, masculine, demean women, oppose innovation, and are riddled with suppressed anxiety about homosexuality. Meanwhile matrist societies, says Taylor, are more indulgent, feminine, treat women as equals, embrace new ideas, and are riddled with suppressed anxiety about incest. He suggests that human creativity is at its height in neither mode but rather when a society is halfway through a change between one mode and the other. He has some interesting details about how late pagan phallus and fertility worship persisted in some remote rural districts of Europe even in the 18th century. By his analysis worshipping magical todgers is apparently not patrist, and he gets into a severe muddle in some parts of English history where he has to appeal to the idea that a matrist/patrist reaction is setting in, but some parts of society are still patrist/matrist at the same time, and so forth. It's a neat theory, but carries quite a lot of weight and creaks in places.
His mention of the early years of the Church when it looked as if the Persian Mithras cult was far more widespread and popular across the Roman Empire than Christianity is provocative, and it would nice to hear more of why he thinks one beat the other. In several places he chides historians for saying "this trend replaced that" without saying why and under what conditions, but he really fails his own test in all the interesting passages. The part on the patrist style of both early Protestants and the Catholic CounterReformation is well argued, and there are thin scraps of detail on ecstatic cults like the Angel Dancers, the Agapemonites, the Holy Rollers, and the Family of Love. More on them would have been good.

January 27th; It seems the client is indignant about how I propose to cut his Norway film to make it watchable. Meanwhile, some early-70s French film-score jazz with that hair-blowing-in-the-wind pre-oil-crisis mood: Sexopolis.
January 26th; Bump into Tamas & Henry at Roger Scruton's talk. Scruton gives a very lucid account of his views on music and the social meaning of dancing, agreeing with Plato that there are moral dimensions to musical taste though disagreeing with Plato's vigorous desire to censor anything he disapproved of. Scruton has interesting points about rhythm emerging out of melody, music in itself as separate from the effect music has on us, and about the role of harmony. When I ask him about Paul's remark that all classical music is about the French Revolution, he mildly suggests it's a bit sweeping, but might legitimately apply to Beethoven. Starting to think Scruton is a rather rationalist, oddly Whiggish conservative, though hardly because of his sensible-enough Beethoven remark. Too rooted in Kant, perhaps. A utopian ditty from the Bad Cookies: Let's Get Connected.

January 25th; It seems that a Chinese Year of the Dragon has just started, so two more from Little Dragon: Come Home / Crystal Film.
January 24th; Lots of stuff out there to be found.

January 23rd; Note to self: British bookshop list.
January 22nd; Finally finish new script to recut heritage film on Norway.

January 21st; Read Franc's copy of 'The Course of Irish History'. A book connected to an Irish Republic television series. Each chapter is by a different historian. Would have liked more on the Dark Age Irish kingdoms and local warlords. Interesting that two of the writers express regret that the Norman conquest of Ireland wasn't completed but got rolled back by resurging Gaelic chieftains over the following two centuries. Norman Ireland's enclaves had almost disappeared by the time the Tudors invaded from across the sea, worried about Irish armies intervening in England's feudal civil war, The War of the Roses. Sounds as if somehow the 16th century was just a bit too late to finally unite the island under one ruler. Some of the earlier clan battles and rivalries from four or five centuries before that sound romantic now, probably because of the time that's elapsed.
January 20th; Bit of Northern Soul: The Admirations / You Left Me. Skipping, upbeat rhythm tussles with sad melody. Lovely evening meal at Esther's with Catherine, Heather & Anti. I hear all about Anti's project to sell a powerful microscope to a Hungarian university, and his Tarot cards come out very strangely indeed on the topic.

January 19th; So here is Old Sarum in idealised picture form. Looks like it was important for something.
January 18th; During her morning business programme on Irish radio, Emma phones me up for a short interview about Hungary's constitution & debt crisis.

January 17th; A break from Norwegian film in the office over a green tea with Franc. As I return from the loo past the back tables in the small coffee bar a couple of quite smartly-dressed tarts cheerfully proposition me, blowing me kisses as I apologise for being unable to afford them.
Should I work on my memory for faces?
January 16th; Lunch with Annika. We chat about philosophy, academic conferences, human politics. A more lemony sunset with a chilly wind as I walk back to the office. Heart-stirring winter afternoon shadows charcoaled onto buildings round the back of the Keleti railway station.
Finally, some proper headlines: Demon Infestation in New York school district.

January 15th; Quiet Sunday in Budapest grappling with stuff. Afternoon tea with Annika & Mr Saracco. As I meet her she is walking straight out of a very Nordic-looking sunset just over the Danube. I see only an intense ball of blinding golden light at the river bank and a woman's voice in the heart of the fire laughing and shouting my name. A couple of tunes from the zombie/garage/surf-guitar genre: Watusi Zombie / Invasion of the Apemen.
January 14th; Train up to Budapest from the Alfold or 'Great Plain'. Green tea with Georgina at Lakitelek station. Watch another lowland-dust-enhanced sunset on my train as it trundles through all the one-chestnut-tree village stations, stopping at each one. The sun is red-tinted as it slowly descends, seemingly pinned between long hovering slabs of blue-grey cloud. Short interesting attack on an academic Marxist, and a light, funny account of New Year's Eve. End long day with soothing hot bath at home in Budapest flat. Make sure to use cheerful green bath plug, cleverly connected by short chain to blue rubber float shaped like small whale.

January 13th; Friday. Chinese checkers with Zsuzsi. I win one game, she wins the other. Letty & Kasper are back from their various schools as well.
1/ Article answers the question 'Why Are Clever People Ugly?'
2/ Apparently this is a very odd online German course.
3/ Trailer from a French guns-and-chicks film I've never seen - curious how dated it feels.
4/ Is Sugar Toxic? Slightly plodding but thorough nutrition article.
January 12th; "Taliban Handling Corpse Urination Video Surprisingly Well"

January 11th; Still working on documentary scripts. It seems there was a second, separate nuclear-reactor accident in Japan last year, and it's still not clear if things at that plant are healthy either.
January 10th; Write introduction to Norwegian & Syrian films. Japan's new generation of male 'herbivores' have their women alarmed, apparently.

January 9th; Quarrel with Georgina in the car down to the Alfold. Not a good start. Must note this page about bookcases.
January 8th; Finish another of Robin's books 'Enjoy Your Symptom!' by Slovenian cultural-studies guru Slavoj Zizek (pronounced "Zhizhek"). This is a book of articles, each starting with an example from a film, usually a movie from the 1930s, 40s, or 50s, which is the jumping-off point for a discussion of Zizek's peculiar mix of Marx, Freud, Lacan, and Hitchcock - the four people he likes to talk about most. Like French psychoanalytic thinker Lacan, Zizek manages to write impressively difficult, deep-looking stuff that is also quite good fun to read. His text gives readers a seductive blend. Flattering humour, offhand references to Hegel, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Austin, Brecht, a rich range of sources. It feels like initiation into a sect of penetrating cleverness. You join a small coterie of enlightened ones who see beneath the conspiracy of everyday life. Thinkers who blend popular films and hard philosophy are certainly more prevalent since McLuhan changed how pop intellectuals promote their ideas and themselves. Zizek has a special interest in 1940s film noir and Hitchcock's thrillers. That said, Zizek has clearly read the material he quotes - this is no skating act. Many of his inferences and arguments are frivolous, but he has at least done some genuine reading and thinking. Every few pages you encounter what feels like a sharp insight. The theorist inspiring this book is Jacques Lacan.
Lacan's main thought is that we are all haunted by an unnameable desire which restlessly moves from goal to goal, never satisfied. More mysteriously, this unnameable lack or hunger actually names the lost unity, the vanished Garden of Eden of early childhood before we had names for things and became named ourselves. Each time we reach a goal, Lacan says, this nameless desire moves to another goal, because we do not see that it is itself a kind of label for goal-less bliss, namelessness, lost unity: in a way the very first name. This idea is an interesting one. It seems to explain a lot about human unhappiness.
Lacan's story is essentially that this & related concepts were really what Freud was teaching and that we must all go back and reread Freud. Much of Zizek's discussion is the application of Lacanian ideas like this to film and other bits of current culture, mixed in of course with plenty of Marxist concepts. This book consists of five explicitly Lacanian articles.
In the post-McLuhan, post-Frankfurt way the whole thing is persuasive but still rhetoric. It's written within two traditions (Marx and Freud) which explicitly deny critics the right to answer back. Critics are denounced for either voicing hidden class interests or voicing subconsciously motivated denials, or both. So they can be dismissed without having to even engage with their criticisms. If it admits to being speculation, speculative thought is a very valuable aid to any thinking community. On the other hand, without that essential element of humility, witty & interesting as Zizek's speculations are, he is still just building an elaborate Marxo-Freudist sandcastle on the sneer "Well, you would say that wouldn't you?" (So I need not ...in fact should not listen to you). That's a debating tactic philosophers used to call "poisoning the wells". No-one mistakes Schopenhauer's or Nietzsche's thought-provoking aphorisms for evidence-supported practical conclusions (bodies of social science). Which is why - despite suggesting all the most interesting bits of "Freudian psychology" decades before Freud claimed it all as his own - Schopenhauer & Nietzsche don't have movements named after them using their work as "tools". Zizek and Lacan are both wonderfully thought-provoking, but they claim rather more for themselves than just provoking thought.

January 7th; Back in Budapest. Finish one of Robin's books: 'Understanding Media' by Marshall McLuhan, a fine piece of vintage early-1960s pop-sociology. He outlines his theory of "cool media" like the fuzzy low-res screens of 1950s and 60s television, seminars or comic strips, which all invite audiences to fill in bits and participate, as against "hot media" like radio or cinema or printed text or lectures which enhance one sense sharply and demand less involvement from their audiences. He does this in a set of short snappy chapters, each of which sails airily through a set of literary quotes, references to current advertisements or TV characters, intriguing historical details, making his claims & arguments in playful aphorisms, sometimes even puns. McLuhan was very fashionable, so therefore became unfashionable again, and is now getting his revival. This book though leaves me wondering if they weren't right to be retreating from him in the 70s. He writes very well, he is witty, he has some intriguing ideas - it's a heady mix. His prose is casually sprinkled with rather lovely poetic images: such as where he talks about the road becoming the runway and being rolled up inside the aeroplane as it takes off. However, there is also something glib and smart-alec about the whole theory, or 'vision' might be a better word. It's like a more intelligent version of Marxism, with means of communication replacing means of production as the technical determinant explaining all societies, but of course that's not a high bar to cross. It's not at all clear how strong he thinks these media factors in cultures are - totally determining, moderately influential, mildly influential - and this difference matters quite a lot.
There's naturally something thrilling about a writer who throws out claims like: Hitler could not have risen to power in an era with television, only an era with radio. This thrill should put us on our guard though. His historical details, whisked past us like a conjuror's props, are nonetheless fascinating - the waltz as a "fast, mechanical dance for the mechanical era"; the Eskimo's igloo as a recent, not ancient, development made possible by civilised man's primus stove; the absence of phone directories and ministry switchboards in Soviet Russia in 1960. The use he puts them to is suspect though. Every one of his artfully tossed-in snowflakes of evidence could mean other things, or a mixture of things, and he quotes Elias Canetti far too respectfully for my comfort. McLuhan's blizzard of similes, looked at one by one, are awfully similar to Canetti's transparently daft ideas in 'Crowds and Power' (that prison cells have barred windows because they are like the teeth of a predator's mouth, that trading goods is like a monkey fist opening and closing to grasp tree branches, and so on). He is perhaps excited by Canetti's writing because Canetti showed him how to rebrand lyrical playfulness as intellectual breakthrough? I'm guessing. He frequently wrangles with Toynbee & Mumford, obvious rivals who also try to explain all of history with one or two bold analogies.
One of the few things McLuhan suggests people do is study all these media messages and frames more closely. He says that media are more influential than what is said with them, so we should research them more. Literary people (except for him, of course) cannot "read" visual media; advertisements are richer than heiroglyphics in terms of cultural information; ads, concert posters, bus tickets, airline maps, radio jingles and so on merit serious attention, etc. But how true is all this? They certainly merit intelligent attention, but do they really contain more meaning and interest than boring oldee-worldee objects of study like books? Each medium certainly conveys "a" message, but McLuhan makes it sound like the only message. The medium is "the" message he says, breezily dismissive of mere content. A second's thought here, with the 1960s safely past, shows just how silly is the claim that the medium, the channel, is everything and that the overt message/content counts for much less. Which is what makes it slightly worrying that this is really the founding document of Media Studies. It's worth asking what forty five years of taking McLuhan in deadly earnest (as a theoretical master revealing powerful new analytical equipment, rather than as a clever, talented essayist with some stimulating perspectives and provocative turns of phrase) has actually achieved, for students learning these supposed "media skills" and for everyone else.
January 6th; Recommended online manual written by a pharmacologist about withdrawing from highly addictive tranquilisers, those in the benzodiazepine group. It seems Xanax is one of these. On the train back to Budapest, sun low on skyline goes under the train. As I look out of the carriage on the dark side, I can see a long strip of sun against fences, walls, and hedges, from under the train. Shadows of the wheel units ripple on and off buildings and fields. I spend the whole trip reading by an open window in the corridor, since the compartment has the hottest temperature I've ever felt on a Hungarian train, and they're typically overheated. Like having my legs next to an open oven door.

January 5th; A stroppy, but in parts interesting, fine-art rant. '12 Art World Habits to Ditch in 2012'.
January 4th; Russian spy milks Facebook celebrity.

January 3rd; Robin & I drive Agi & Kata to the next village to catch their coach back to Szekesfehervar. Breezy sunny weather.
January 2nd; Chinese checkers with Zsuzsi, more Tarot reading with Agi & Kata.

January 1st; After dark, as she's nervous about remembering the gears and handling the older car she hasn't driven for a while, I join Georgina in the big blue Mercedes to the next village, Tiszakurt. There we pick up Zsuzsi off the bus back from her New Year's party. Back at home, Agi's niece Kata has also arrived.
Here's a slightly overwritten but still worrying article about ways existing networks can be used to exclude, isolate, and harass individuals. Curious paleontology piece says human brains have been shrinking for several thousand years.


Mark Griffith, site administrator / markgriffith at yahoo.com