Sunday, 31 July 2016

‘Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?’*

I don’t know where I belong.
  I am an EU citizen, and I’m not prepared to let anybody take that away from me. It seems that half of Britain is suffering from the same identity crisis. During these last few weeks, post~ the wretched, ill-thought-out (and very badly timed) referendum on EU membership, there have been numerous conflicting arguments promulgated about what we might gain but precious little about what we will lose.  To date, no one’s providing satisfactory replies.  No one appears to have any honest answers.
 There is a draft paper up on Academia.edu, ‘Political deliberation under conditions of deception: the case of Brexit,’ by Sophie-Grace Chappell, Professor of Philosophy at the OU. I quote from what should be compulsory reading for the 4% who believe they were right – the ‘leave voters who didn’t want to vote in pencil in case MI5 came round and rubbed out their votes, ... protesting loudly in polling stations because there were signs that said ‘Way In’ ...’
  We assume they did not protest about signs that indicated the ‘Way Out’?    
  But what will happen à propos of so much we thought was forever, such as transnational students studying on the Continent?  Or the European Educational Research Association?  In undergrad years I took summer schools in both Athens and Rome, and the experiences are with me still. These go deeper than you realise at the time; you are only fully aware of their value way down the line.

For those of us who not only feel European but also regularly visit and / or reside in one of the Union’s constituent states, it’s hard to know, or remember, what it was like in the UK outside the ‘club.’ We have taken it for granted for forty-odd years, well over half my lifetime, and my daughters have never not been part of it.  The politics of anger make for huge divisions, but I cannot accept that the narrow ‘victory’ for those who want out was democratic, or representative of either modern realities or indeed the truth. Frankly, their future doesn’t seem worth wanting.
  Long columns of prose have poured off the keyboards of journalists, historians and other academics, and plain ordinary people like me. We self-identify ourselves as part of a larger whole than merely a few islands off the edge of the Continent. The shrill ‘Brexiteers’ are so aggressive that one suspects they know they’re on shaky ground.  Metaphorically sticking their fingers in their ears, they can’t hear. They remind me of Scotland’s pro~ ‘Yes’ campaigners in 2014: silly, excitable and overtly hostile, as if anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them is deluded, or a fool.  
 One is neither of those things. 
 Perhaps ‘Outs’ have different, more selfish, priorities in their imagined utopia, rather than
banking and business, exports and education, travel, security or a future for their children and grandchildren.  I understand why ‘Brexiles’ are decamping.  Tom Phillips’s website, encouraging young Brit professional talent to leave the UK, might have been the first such – it won’t be the last (Cf. Reuters). And we’ll be left with the uneducated unemployed here.
  As one man remarked on television, the split is the new peasants’ revolt. While I wouldn’t have put it quite that way, I know exactly what he meant.  And, regarding our new PM, ‘There are few neater indicators of quite how far we’ve travelled ... than to find so many people, particularly non-Tory voters, now actively yearning for it to be Theresa May. “Christ,” muttered one friend with wry despair, “I now want this more than I did Obama.” Yup, we’re all realpolitikos now.’ – Marina Hyde in the Guardian, 9/07/16.
   Still, it’s a fine time to be a journo, particularly a political one. 

I suspect the Rt Hon Boris Johnson being appointed as Foreign Secretary might be in the interests of sending him out of the country at regular intervals.  ‘If tensions were predicted between Theresa May at No 10 and Boris Johnson’s foreign office they spilled out on to the streets over the weekend with a standoff between their respective chief mousers, Larry the Downing St cat, and Palmerston the Foreign Office kitty,’ Guardian, 18/07/16 – with photo. Feline tensions have developed now into all-out war.

The magnum opus proceeds on its way.  As we trudge through the editorial proof reading phase, sinkholes appear: a consequence of having too many different copies or versions of some chapters.  A lot of time was expended inserting a vital but omitted section into the thesis.  Mamma mia! Che un’omissione. ...
  It was a couple of tricky paras of German, on Orpheus in Thrakien und Phrygien. Back in 2013 I’d gone to some lengths to obtain an accurate translation, and then unaccountably misplaced it.  As much of the thesis depends on it, this could have been a serious lapse.  
  Now, German is far, far from being one of one’s linguistic talents.  Native Teuton I am not. I either had to find the original xeroxes, or order up the volume from London and re-investigate.  I chose the latter route, and the book arrived here within 24 hours.  Then the ‘missing’ offprints turned up.  ‘Tis always the way.  Still, at least I found the omission before it was too late.  

Perils of research.  You’ve no idea how many A4 files and boxes of print-offs are lying around this house.  So, an added week of slog before the finish line.  It wasn’t just that I found the sinkhole, it was a matter of inserting it seamlessly into the narrative – parsing, tenses, following argument, everything; all needed to make sense.
  It was important.  I didn’t know how important until I read through the whole MS after inserting the material, and realised how necessary it is for underpinning the thesis. It’s therefore been re-inserted into the work very early on.  Not mid-thesis, where an examiner’s legitimate enquiry could well be, ‘Why didn’t you put it at the beginning?’  
  Then, checking back and forward through the footnotes, I brought these up to par, too.
  On the other hand, finding the mislaid photocopies did bring a new slant to light, on a Mycenaean site and an ancient fresco, so – a sliver of a silver lining?  Albeit, one had to translate it, and ‘Google translate’ isn’t au fait with Bronze Age Greece. (Surely I couldn’t pester Germany again?  I’m afraid I did. In this world of classics and languages there are some very generous academics, willing to share their expertise.)  
  It all makes sense, to me, now, but will the thesis have the desired impact on its readers?  It bears a strong resemblance to Homeric ring composition, ‘in my end is my beginning.’  Literally.
  I’ll miss this daily effort, when it’s all over.  It’ll be like going outside after a long illness and convalescence.  The world will feel strange and new, brighter even.  But right now the European sword of Damocles hanging over us feels like a profound meteorological low, a gloomy depression looming on the horizon.   

I’ve still got bits and pieces to swap around / add in / delete.  I’ve backed-up complete copies on CD-ROM, flashdrive, Dropbox, as well as PC desktop (albeit not daily back-ups) but I’ll need IT aid with the two electronic versions’ requirements.  The prescriptions are stringent.

Let’s hope it doesn’t all come out as Lorem Ipsum – as can happen with computers (put simply, dummy text in the printing and typesetting industry: cf. below).  Or those nasty little boxes instead of legit Greek characters, especially where these cannot be, and shouldn’t be, avoided  – or anglified.
  But Lorem Ipsum has had other uses. Remember the fashion for cushions and soft furnishings with random bits of Latin text?  The curtains in my study bear little gold squares with DULCE*QUATTR*XVIIICN incorporated into the design – meaningless.  Fills up space, nothing more.  One LI problem here is the keyboard that came with the Dell PC when it was new.  It has never kept up with me very well, and now it’s flagging for sure: worn out.  I type ten-fingered, very fast, sight unseen (not looking at the keyboard but at the monitor screen). If I don’t keep a sharp eye on it, characters and punctuation go missing.  This leads to bizarre results. In the course of composing a 100,000 word thesis the keys have taken a helluva bashing. 

OK, break over – back to the grindstone. ...   

PS: I have posted this up days ahead.  Mr Gatess Windows 10 threatens.  I have got rid of the white window icon, and taken all steps to prevent access to my PC, but ... 
  The age-old adage applies, re. the brilliant, stable and popular Windows 7: if it aint broke, dont fix it? 
  
From the web: “Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old.  Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature, discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of ‘de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum’ (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line, ‘Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet...’, comes from a line in section 1.10.32.
   “It’s a standard chunk of Lorem Ipsum, used since the 1500s and ‘reproduced ... for those interested. Sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 from ‘de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum’ by Cicero are also reproduced in their exact original form, accompanied by English versions from the 1914 translation by H. Rackham.”

_____________________________________

*‘Where is this, what country, where on earth am I?’ Seneca (the ‘Younger,’) Hercules Furens, 1138 :
L. Annaeus Seneca. 1921 Tragoediae. (Rudolf Peiper, Gustav Richter) E. Germany: Leipzig, B. G. Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft, editiones minores.

Picture credits:  passports, etc., © 2016, JAS;
EU flag, www.flags.net; lorem ipsum, www.openculture.com;

Monday, 4 July 2016

A land of lost content

**Somewhere between the end of May and 26 June, a post went missing.  Dunno how – or indeed where!  I was certain it had posted itself as scheduled ... 
  Gremlins?  Hostile forces in the aether?
  What is there to recollect?

Summers solstice was 20 June, at 22.34 precisely (allegedly). Not that  I see much of the outside world.  In the words of an ancient song of the sixties, ‘It might as well rain until September.’

Thesis housekeeping proceeds apace.  There are twenty-eight files on my desktop, the magnum opus entire.  The summer months are simply going to be bread and butter work – minus remuneration. The Abstract is finished, Acknowledgements done, plus a lengthy, if still somewhat scrambled bibliography with numerous lacunae: twelve and a bit pages at present, typed single spacing, 11 pt font, and close on 6000 words. It’s currently divided into one and a half pages of ‘Ancients,’ seven pages of ‘Scholarship,’ another 4 pages of ‘Internet, Journals and Online Sources,’ two items of ‘Multi-media,’ and, finally, ‘Fictions.’  It will be expanded or contracted to a prescribed form anon, but ‘Figures, maps and Illustrations / Plates’ are yet to be finalised and listed.
  I’m thinking about whether one needs to list the titles which were background material but not actually cited or quoted from. ...
  Citations are still a bore.  No one replied to my pleas for an absolute ruling, so I’ll go with the Chicago system – it’s my default choice, and straightforward. Harvard in-lines are irritating to reader, and writer.
  Next is a double-check of pagination, to marry up the discrete sections into one whole ‘book,’ the rough completed copy of which is due at the uni by end August.  Pagination will mean fiddling with those sections that require Roman numerals, ahead of the thesis’s actual first No. 1 page.  So, it will be longer than its current two hundred and fifty seven pages.
  However, I foresee a potential fankle.  I have two ‘fair’ copies of chapters to date – and a plethora of bits and pieces to incorporate or move / remove.  Should be fun. Not.

The saga of internal / external examiners hasn’t, as yet, reached a conclusion, and I’m experiencing qualms about ‘who is my reader’?  The audience is important to me.  It’s my imagination, but it sort of sets the tone. Even for the driest of academic prose the rules of writing obtain, and after years of picturing silent readers out there sitting in judgement it’s impossible to shift him, her or them.  

Books – when this four year learnéd exercise is over, I shall have a sale on Abe and Amazon: the many volumes I shall no longer need or want.  Living space in this cottage is under siege, and one must make room on the shelves, let alone clear the floor.

I’ve pruned the Kindle ‘library,’ too.  It’s not that the K won’t hold enough books to fill a stack at another British Library, it’s simply that many downloads are discarded, unfinished.  I tend to comb through free or cheap books on offer, and occasionally alight on gems.  Others are mere dross, not worth the reading. The most recent of such was a real humdinger. I sha’n’t say what it was – I might lay myself open to a libel suit! But the ebook publishing phenomenon has been a gift to every Tom, Dick or Harriet who ever dreamed of writing a novel.  Now they have.  All of ‘em.
  You’ll have better luck if the book’s been conventionally published as well.  Titles tend to be properly edited, for starters.  Self-publishers stick out a mile, and can make readers grind their teeth.  As I’m a pedant and a stickler, a couple of infelicities make for the swift but effective Dorothy Parker reaction. ...

While June began with the BBC’s coverage of the death of Muhammad Ali (it went on, and on, for over 48 hours), we then had HM the Queen’s more important celebrations (which didn’t).  After weeks of hot May sunshine, normal service (grey rain) resumed, but sadly not normal service on the BBC. Weeks and weeks of sport scheduled, with programming all over the place (except for the soaps, those grim opiates for the masses).  I’ve laid in DVDs, but not enough to cover the wretched football in France, the tennis at Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics.  By 21 August I shall have become a gibbering mindless wreck.
  Perhaps I should write another novel!  Except I’ve had enough of this computer to last a lifetime. 

First weekend of June, I was over in Glasgow, and someone went into the rear of my little car.
  The damage wasn’t major, but O! the hassle that has ensued.  The car is still not repaired. In the old days, you obtained three estimates, bunged these to your insurers and your car was fixed as soon as humanly possible.  Not so now.
  To start with, my insurers recommended handing over the no-fault claim to an auto-assistance company.  By doing so, I could avoid paying my hefty excess.  OK – fine. 
  I regretted it almost immediately, but digital contracts had been ‘signed,’ the ‘paperwork’ returned, and rescinding would mean more hassle. 
  It was the gentleman who was dispatched hither to estimate and photograph the damage who really put the lid on the whole thing.  First, he was supposed to be here sometime between six and eight in the evening. 
  He wasn’t.  He was late.  
  Secondly, he roared up to my door in a bright red Ferrari, of all things.  A long low fume-spewing dragon of a car that will have surprised the village residents, let alone such a vehicle landing outside my humble door!
  Don’t ask me which model it was – I haven’t a clue.
  Estimator-man leapt out, Apple phone in hand, and snapped away.  By this time I was experiencing serious reservations.  What is so lucrative about the auto-assistance world that its inspection guys can speed around the countryside in snarling Ferraris?  He and his female passenger then shot off again in a cloud of exhaust that probably broke all emission records, and disappeared around the corner at FTL warp speed. I could hear them for a long, long time after, as they burned up Main Street.
  You know when you see the prancing pony on the front bonnet (hood) that it probably spells trouble with a capital ‘F.’

Apart from the insane murder of one of our parliamentary MPs on 16 June, for which there are no words, there was that damn’ referendum, the ‘in / out’ vote on Europe.  The ‘pro-remain’ intellectuals’ arguments worried me – not because they weren’t cogent: they were – but because no one was listening.  It was all overwrought short-sighted emotionalism, internecine political rivalries, lies, more lies, and therefore (for me, anyway) the result is totally invalid.  It’s not that we have lost, and by such a narrow margin, but what the delusional Brexiteers are not only intent upon taking from us but also forcing upon us.  Its reported that a caucus of lawyers at Mishcon de Reya think the same, and intend to take pre-emptive action against the UK government on behalf of a number of clients. Good.  ‘Bout time.
  Writing this on America’s Independence Day, there’s an inelegant scramble going on for the UK’s top job.  Please let them find someone possessed of a modicum of decency, with a cool head and above all intelligence and experience.
  As for the odious Gove, what can be said?  “As cheap bronze tortured / at the touchstone relapses / to blackness and grime, so this man / tested shows vain ...” Aeschylus, Agamemnon (trans. Richmond Lattimore, Chicago).

Who are the ‘British,’ anyway, when citizenship can be bought? I did not stay up to watch the breathless coverage, the guessing games and talking heads.  What was the point?  We all knew we’d have the result by the time of the breakfast news bulletins.  You cannot change anything, so why bother losing sleep?  However, sleep has been lost since, trying to figure my way around the implications of what appears to be an impossible impasse.

I despair of this dim-witted little country, with its narrow obsessions, its idées fixes and its less-than-educated populace at the mercy of the Daily Mail or its ilk.  #1daughter blogged about her country, and what’s really important in life, but how many voters were like the 90 year old lady who thought full employment will return to the East End if she put her cross in the ‘out’ box? We can’t all go back overnight to some Shangri-la of the seventies, or even the fifties, that lost land of content where we can ‘never come again.’

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
       A.E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad, 1896






Picture credits:  Orpheus coin: Staatliche Muzeen du Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Thrace 3.0: exhibition, Coinage in the land of Orpheus, 16.10.2015 to 15.10.2016, Bode-Museum, http://www.smb.museum/en/exhibitions/detail/thrakien-30-muenzpraegung-im-land-des-orpheus.html (Thracian coins in the holdings of the Berlin Münzkabinett);  Ferrari badge, Google Images;  Mary Beard, http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2016/06/citizenship-for-sale.html; http://jiltedgeneration.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/my-britain-is-britain-of-pied-beauty.html; Home of the Greek word,  http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/physis/platotimaeus/default.asp