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.
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.
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
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.
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:
Bump into Tamas & Henry at
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.
It seems that a Chinese Year of the Dragon has just started, so
two more from Little Dragon:
Come Home /
Lots of stuff out there
to be found.
Note to self: British
Finally finish new script to recut
heritage film on Norway.
Read Franc's copy of
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.
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.
So here is Old Sarum in idealised picture
form. Looks like it was important for something.
During her morning business programme on
Emma phones me up for a short interview about Hungary's constitution & debt crisis.
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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?'
Apparently this is a very odd online
3/ Trailer from a French
I've never seen - curious how dated it feels.
Is Sugar Toxic?
Slightly plodding but thorough nutrition article.
Handling Corpse Urination Video Surprisingly Well"
Still working on documentary scripts.
It seems there was a second, separate
in Japan last year, and it's still not clear if things at that plant are healthy
Write introduction to Norwegian & Syrian films. Japan's
new generation of male
'herbivores' have their women alarmed, apparently.
Quarrel with Georgina in the car down to the Alfold. Not a good start. Must note
this page about
Finish another of Robin's books
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.
Back in Budapest. Finish one of Robin's books:
Media' by Marshall McLuhan, a fine piece of vintage
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
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
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.
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.
A stroppy, but in parts interesting, fine-art rant.
'12 Art World Habits to Ditch
spy milks Facebook celebrity.
Robin & I drive Agi & Kata to the next village to catch their coach back to
Chinese checkers with Zsuzsi,
more Tarot reading with Agi & Kata.
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
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