Thursday, 31 July 2014

A life less sweet?

It’s been a low-key month. Email has been sparse, as if everyone’s gone to the Moon ~ or rather, sun-seeking in the Med, or even East Anglia.
  And, purely by accident, I gave up sugar in tea. I just forgot to buy it and felt better for the lack. Which was great ~ until, having sent my bro-in-law Italian nougat for his birthday, a craving for torroncini arose and I discovered specialità dell'Italia here ... 
  Otherwise, these have been the dog days of summer: a lackadaisical month of wandering around in bare feet due to the heat and not doing very much. I even bought the Independent a couple of weekends ago. (Other papers are available!) I hardly ever buy print newspapers; I get news online via AP, Reuters or the BBC, but it was a lazy Sunday. The Indie is like listening to Mozart: I feel energetic and clever for about half an hour after reading it. Then, as with Chinese food, the uploaded art and literary ‘carbs’ fast fade to normal levels. 

I am still trailing after the boy Orpheus, but – having managed to disconnect him from his later followers, the Orphics – the ‘thing,’ (the theory) displays some logic and coherence. The ‘thing’ is complicated by Orphism. If you disassociate Orpheus’s figure from the encrustations of later ages, and the inevitable religious fog which descends, then something very different emerges from the mists of the Dark Ages.
  The same goes for the Eurydike business. The myth of Orpheus is not a sweet romantic tale; strip that out and you have something older and much, much darker. This is what I have gone for.
  (Well, I would, wouldn’t I? Invoking the shade of Cambridge man, who really ‘got’ why people create – in marked contrast to the Eng Lit tutor who preached how dangerous it is for women to write. Tell that to the late Angela Carter, Nadine Gordimer et al.)

The 1.1., 1.2.1 etc modus operandi has proved useful. As with writing a project outline, details emerge from its skeleton. The theoretical hypothesis now stands out. Prior to the clarifying process it was lost in a welter of obscuring detail.
  I don’t find it alarming, narrowing down to a precise focus. In fact, it’s a relief, going from the general to the particular and seeing something take shape. The only annoyance is MS Word™’s endless nagging about ‘the passive voice.’ Word does not approve of the passive. Microsoft’s grammar police appear to have CCTV access to my prose. (Word is now being pernickety over each apostrophe!)

The research / writing schedule has been re-ordered, to render it less bitty and fragmentary. It is tempting, in some theoretical light bulb moment, to rush off to the keyboard and amend or re-write, forgetting this is ideally supposed to be a well-ordered theory or argument. Alterations or additions on p. 2 may well affect p.102, but it isn’t a linear process. More akin to filming episodes or events out of sequence, requiring a continuity person to keep track and avoid anachronisms. When you are director, producer, writer and continuity the muddle potential is huge!
  Amongst my wider family’s mottoes is spero meliora (I hope for the best) so, from ‘defining the myth of Orpheus’ I progressed to ‘The Theory,’ Argo and after. In relating Orpheus-the-myth to μεταβολή (metabolē, change), together with Dionysos, the ψυχή (psychē, soul), in addition to the mysteries and Orpheus vs the gods, plus multiple comparanda and mutations regarding the breaking of boundaries and limits, it all adds up to a neat 9000 words of ‘Introduction.’ What has been so eye opening is how simple it appears. Is this not supposed to be an agon? Or was it simply putting my finger on what connected these aspects? I don’t know at present – and it’s better not to over-analyse. Although the grammar police issue cautions I have a writer’s addiction to flow and to telling a story. Turning ad vocem into scriptis academica is the tricky part. Verba volant, scripta manent.

Overall, July has been coloured by the Ukraine air atrocity and the tragedy of the Gaza.
  There are no words for either of these although it doesnt mean we cannot feel. Who nowadays dares speak truth to power? The media are a hard-bitten lot, taught to distance themselves from their subject matter but, in a crazy world growing smaller every day, it is increasingly difficult to avoid man’s inhumanity. The magnitude of his brutalities exceeds those of wild animals – he slaughters his own kind. Murdering children is easy, especially when you have modern tanks and high-impact WMDs. 

Picture credits: July, ©; 
Banksy. Balloon Girl2005: Israel West Bank barrier, Bethlehem  © Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Vanity projects

Does blogging come under this header? It’s a curious exercise – writing a diary is usually private, even kept under lock and key. But personal writing on what used to be termed the Interweb (still is in some quarters!) is no different from posting on Facebook or despatching bons mots to the Twittersphere. It’s personal, but it’s all social action, too.
  However, the public face one presents to the world, with or without the input of a PR person, can be either guarded or a messy incoherent jumble – either way ‘tisn’t the whole truth.
 This reflection came up because of The Photograph. The Photograph is the depiction at right, the preferred all-purpose shot for every application. Until someone recommends it’s updated. (A polite way of saying it’s passé: we must have a new one.)
  Me-eh! Unlike Dorian Gray’s portrait, time refuses to stand still. (Do you know there’s a syndrome termed DGS? I looked it up.) But virtually every writer I know sports an out-of-date portrait, a favourite flattering picture. Same goes for journo headshots beside bylines, and now on websites, too. But it’s selling yourself; therein lies the rub.
   I loathe having my photo taken. I’m not a Barbra Streisand, only permitting a left profile or whatever, but I like a measure of choice and control, and all photographers are not the same.
  Opinion from A Professional on the current mug-shot: ‘It looks like you had that from a supermarket PhotoMe booth.’
  Oh, thanks a bunch. You really do so-o much for my amour propre, thinks she, wilting.
  Anyway, I presented a definite outline of what is wanted. We shall see whether I get it. Or not.
  I fear those studio types who gaze at one with their heads on one side, and murmur about PhotoShop. (Airbrushing?) Oh, dear. We could be some time.
  On the other hand, one youthful creative guy’s got my suggestion first off, without the necessity of a lengthy explanation, so ...

Perhaps a casual acquaintance was correct, dismissing the PhD as ‘a vanity project.’ Maybe she’s right – it could be. After all, what am I going to do with it, should I ever attain the goal? Except she is an ambitious woman, and younger, and assesses everything she does in terms of an international career and her CV. (And good luck to her – these days we have to make hard decisions: husbands and/or children are often an encumbrance.) But acquiring learning for its own sake appears an alien concept for many. And everything, but everything, has a price.
  Not value, not worth – a price.

It’s the silly season. ‘Down time.’ Dolce far niente, but restless with summer ennui. The thesis has stagnated (hence all these posts). Leaving the writing / re-writing alone, or reading other researchers who’re suffering with the same mental block, only compounds the stasis. 
  Pat Thomson posted a lovely extract from Foucault here  – ‘I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but bring a work, a book, a sentence, and idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes ~ all the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms. ~ Foucault (1977) The Masked Philosopher, p.323.
  How brilliant is that! 

So, instead of research, have been digging up my own history – an odd type of time-travel. Sending an email into the blue is like a dove launched from the Ark: something might, or might not, come back. The quest may be unsuccessful but it points up how much we can remember, given one or two minor clues. Other people recall a patchwork of things which I’ve long forgotten: what Simon Schama terms ‘a community of memory.’ Paul Cartledge’s saying, ‘The past is neither dead nor certain,’ reminds us the ancient Greek word for ‘truth’, mnemosynē, meant, literally, ‘not-forgetting,’ but it’s perplexing how we suddenly understand something, and realise we knew it all along only didn’t recognise it at the time.
  Perhaps I’m attempting to reunite one or two scattered pieces of my ‘truths.’  

Re. perceived truths, its very strange but theres been a rash of evangelicals hereabouts of late. Why this sudden influx? There are apocalyptic summons to the front door, and tracts shoved through the letter-box at all hours. The leaflets and booklets, expensive to produce, are liberally decorated with images depicting drink and drugs etc., and some utterly dire doggerel.  

On the ‘Independence’ front, Salmonds very own vanity project, Im trying to ignore the wretched thing. However, shall misquote Alexandre Dumas, père: “You who are in power have only those whom devotion prompts ~ we who are in expectation have the means that money produces.” – Le comte de Monte-Cristo.  C’est tout.  Going by the BBCs Paul Lewis and Robert Peston, both of whom know what’s what, this referendum will be fought out over money. One woman queried, "What about my pension, earned in Scotland, but I live in Portugal? ..." 

Heigh-ho, the BBC Proms commence this week: 18 July to 13 September. The Last Night, for me, means summer’s gone and autumn’s heading into coming winter. Classical music is one of my refuges, but a lot of popular stuff is creeping in. I agree with art critic Brian Sewell, access to a single Prom won’t ensure people continue to listen afterwards – albeit Paloma Faith possesses a voice which could belong in opera. She can span two octaves and beyond, no effort or strain – unlike juvenile drones tweaked by software to render ’em in C# major. 

The EDINBURGH BOOK FESTIVAL is on next month, 9 – 25 August, this year’s theme being ‘Let’s Talk.’ H’m. Don’t we do enough of that?
  The .pdf brochure, 96 pages long, features 750 authors over some eight hundred events.
 Nick Barley (director) wrote a fervent foreword which is full of hopes for this ‘independence year,’ but I’m afraid I skipped straight through to the writers’ index, from Abdolah to Zito. Some heavyweights, some politicians (of course) and all the old stalwarts who, it seems, appear every year – but an A list? Not really. (Alright – I’m v. hard to please.) And there are reams of children’s books and ‘teen fiction. Acres of ‘em.
  The event I’ve signed up for, and shall make heroic efforts to attend, is Adam Nicolson’s – ‘Why Homer Still Matters.’ According to the blurb, Nicolson’s on a mission to emphasise Homer’s continuing relevance to the world. He argues the great ancient Greek poet can be crucial in helping us understand humanity, love, loss and death as he journeys across France, Ireland, Syria, Sicily and Scotland in search of Homeric enlightenment.
   I support the mission, but I’m not so sure about Scotland ...
  The booking process was a nightmare ~ one of those systems where you’re stuck in an online queue of 2909 people waiting. But sometimes it helps to be psychic. I logged off, drove into town to collect some shopping and a daughter, came home, ate lunch and, at 2.20pm precisely, thought ‘I’ll be at the front of yon queue by now.’ And I was. Bang on, No. 1. Having landed 2 tickets, I hope someone’s up for the second one.
  It will likely cost me a signed copy but, unless it came up on Amazon Vine™, I was purchasing the title anyway. If I have one extra or three, no matter: there is many a Classicist on the Christmas list.

Picture credits: Johnson’s The Vanity Of Human Wishes ©; Homer, Google images © Crystalinks;