Saturday, 31 May 2008
'So, right, there's this football manager, and he's got this sweary interior monologue where he thinks about murders and the devil and occasionally comes out of it to tell Johnny Giles or Billy Bremner where to stick it, and he's obsessed with numerology and prophecy, and it fits into a previous sequence of novels in which Millgarth police station in Leeds is a kind of Lovecraftian omphalos and another which links Margaret Thatcher to a neo-Nazi conspiracy.'
'Could you not just have written a 90 page novel in which someone sits in a hotel room smoking- chuck in one very vivid description of S&M and some unreadable musings on the Hegelian Dialectic or the impossibility of writing.'
'No, I think I'll do the novel about the demonically-possessed football manager instead, if it's all the same to you.'
Obviously, a bit unfair on both parties there. Peace seems to have the French transgressive classics- Bataille, Guyotat and (particularly, I think) Celine- behind his work as much as his avowed influences in British social realism and the likes of Derek Raymond or James Ellroy. I think it would be so easy for him to claim this lineage and come across as a bit more hoity in interviews, but he's from Ossett so instead you get him identifying his significant precursors as people like Stan Barstow. Peace's work is vastly, vastly superior to Barstow and John Braine.
On another note, I'd love to find out what the novelised history of Leeds United (AKA 'we all hate Leeds scum', as the fans of every club in in the ridings would have you believe) would have looked like. As Peace doesn't do normal, or pleasant, I'm willing to be that hooliganism would have figured rather heavily, plus the liquidation of the earlier club, Leeds City, and the current financial shenanigans. It probably wouldn't have been quite as visceral as the Clough book though, and might not have tucked in with the comprehensive vision of a post-industrial, mid-apocalyptic 70s/80s Yorkshire that emerges from a reading of the 'Red Riding' quartet and GB84. I just hope they don't bugger the movie version up entirely.
Friday, 30 May 2008
* * * *
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
I often get the feeling that many travel writing afficionados look down on Bryson somewhat. The glossy covers, the mass readership, the sheer mid-Atlantic breeziness of it all - unlike the frequently heavy-handed Paul Theroux, Bryson is predominantly interested in mining the comic potential of the American abroad - all seem to conspire to put people off. What I think is great about Bryson is the unadulterated childishness of his writing, meaning that he seems to locate some kind of Burkean sublime in everything from a Swedish Roll-on Roll-off ferry to a waste paper basket in Dover to an epiphany on the Bosphorus at dusk. Bryson spoils himself in A Walk in the Woods, choosing as his subject matter the mindbendingly lengthy Appalachian Trail, a hiking footpath which wends and winds all the way from northern Georgia to the Canadian border in Maine. The path passes over some of the highest mountains in the eastern United States, and through some of the vastest wildernesses on that side of the Rockies. There's bears, snakes, poisonous deer ticks and unhinged hillbillies to deal with along the way, as if the strenuous walking, sub-zero camping and endless stove food wasn't enough.
Bryson, clearly a capable traveller, would probably have breezed it if he'd gone alone. However, shortly before setting out on his expedition, panic set in, and he decided to footnote all of his Christmas cards with an invitation to accompany him on the walk. Clearly, the gods were looking kindly on his publishers, as the only respondent was an old, seriously overweight college friend with alcohol and drug "issues". "Hilarious consequences" ensue.
However, the jokes (many of which, unsurprisingly, come at the increasingly "tested" accomplice's expense) are matched by a sensitive affinity for the environment in which he finds himself, in both a natural and a human sense. There's a measure of quiet outrage towards the American government over the "secret" poverty of the rural South, which is backed up by a warmth towards its inhabitants (a favourite scene depicts an exhausted Bryson and friend hitching a lift off a just-wed pair of drunkards). On top of this, the book is full of unexpected nuggets of American history which are imbued with the kind of ironic touch The Guardian would have us believe is not commonplace over the pond.
Heartrending because Poppy, our retriever ('our' as in my family in Richmond), died this week at the relatively young age of 12. It all came as something of a shock- I last saw her just under three weeks ago, and she was at her best, tearing through newly-planted hedges and digging up flowerbeds and so on. She was a very 'doggy' dog, in the best sense of that word, which is to say that she was chiefly motivated by food and paid little regard to the niceties of human etiquette. That isn't to say that she wasn't affectionate, or wouldn't play with humans: rather, she was something of a connoisseur of the dirty pawprint on the newly-mopped floor, the underwear stolen from the room of a little-known guest, the surreptitiously 'tasted' baking. The latter speciality was the case in one of my favourite Poppy anecdotes of all time. When I was about sixteen- maybe even fifteen still- and she was in that interim stage dogs go through where they're too big to be called puppies and too immature to be anything else, I was walking up the step out of the kitchen into the living room. Everyone else was through in the office, or whatever that room at the back was at the time (I admit the geography here only makes sense to people who ever visited West Terrace) and I heard a slurping noise. I turned around to find Poppy, with her paws up on the surface, licking- not eating, just licking- a plate of newly-baked flapjacks. The detail here is in the licking, I think. Anyway, there are many others in that vein, which is why she was such a good dog. I can't see the point in dogs if they don't misbehave. So, thanks for all the comedy and other good times (which mostly featured at least a soupcon of hilarity.)
Anyhow, bit gutted this week. Twenty to six? Friday? It's almost a quarter to pub!
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
I also made the slightly- okay, extremely- contentious claim that most, and certainly the best, polemicists are politically inclined towards the right. In the harsh light of (to)day, I'm not entirely sure that that's correct: it's more the case that the right-leaning essay, with its autocommission to penetrate the perceived Doublethink of liberal opinion, has a sense of entitlement when it comes to wearing the obvious garb of polemic. The conservative essay, the terms of which are more or less set out by Juvenal, is always performative. It turns on particular gendered notions: the conservative is 'independent', the conservative 'has the balls' to flick his fingers at cultural consensus. Real men, men of the right, don't mince their words or equivocate or shilly-shally. No, they get in their bloody cars and break the speed limit, never mind the bloody speed cameras! The police should be out catching the real bloody criminals anyway!
Having ruminated a little on this, it strikes me that the anti-ruminatory rhetorical trajectories of right-wing polemics impose the terms of a different kind of performativity on the left-wing polemic. I'm not suggesting that Slavoj Zizek is the natural intellectual opponent for Jeremy Clarkson- let's face it, you're not going to catch Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn wasting precious petrolhead minutes by burying their heads in the New Left Review and getting to know their enemies- but I'm of the opinion that the capacity for demonstratively polemical writing on the modern left has been circumscribed by the willingness of the intellectual, and not so intellectual, libertarian right to stake a claim to the heritage of Juvenal, Swift, and Orwell. I enjoy engaging with the intricacies and verbal shimmies of Zizek et al but it often seems a shame that there is a gap in the ranks of the intellectual left (as opposed to the intellectual centre-left) for an Orwellian straight-shooter.
I'm sure Peter Hitchens would have us all believe that this is because of the intellectual elitism of the left manifested as a tendency to create verbal Chinese walls in order to keep out the proles they purport to speak for. This isn't the case, as far as I see it, though such an analysis pertains to the reason. I think that it's more to do with anxiety. If the voices of the right have inveigled themselves into a particular rhetorical genealogy, I think it's fair to say that they also have a monopoly on the calling of hypocrisy. In Britain, since Thatcher, the left has been expressively hamstrung by the fear that its polemics will be speared on this particular argumentative device. No left-wing speaker ever came off the podium- or, more likely, the soapbox- without the allegation of hypoctisy ringing in their ears either from a real listener or from the the internalised political superego...
...but that all goes somewhere rather different from where I intended. It doesn't matter what one's political proclivities are- everyone should be allowed a slice of the classical pie and, in particular, everyone should have the right to set their internal monologue to 'Juvenal' once in a while without worrying about hypocrisy. I can, however, say one thing for certain in absolute confidence that no-one shall rail against my hypocrisy. I will never, ever, wear Crocs.
I don't want to put a picture of a pair on here because I fear it would threaten the aesthetic unity I've tried to achieve with this blog. If you don't know what they look like- which is probably the case if you come from a southern European country in which stylistic aberrations are not made acceptable on pseudo-ethical grounds- then I suggest you go on Google Image Search. When you find out what they look like, imagine them on a grown man's feet. You probably won't recover until tomorrow.
Now, I really don't care if Crocs are digging wells in Tanzania, replanting rainforest, or forging George Bush's signature on the Kyoto Accord. If they're in one of those space-scraping planes, all grinning like an eco-aware charabanc of Shoe People as they mend the hole in the ozone layer, I still don't care. They could all make like Bruce Willis in Armageddon and do some good work in the field of asteroid deflection and I still would not care, nor be inclined to put my feet into them. Crocs are rank.
Fathers are supposed to wear sensible brogues or, if they're of the County Durham beer-and-tabs variety, winkelpickers. They can wear wellingtons, walking boots, smart shoes for work or a pair of dirty trainers for bike rides and runs.
Mothers are allowed more flexibility in shoe choice. In fact, it's hard to prescribe the right shoes for mothers. I mean, there's plenty of choice, isn't there?
Girlfriends also have plenty of choice in the field of shoes. They probably shouldn't wear the same trainers as their boyfriend has on that day, because that looks weird, but otherwise anything goes.
Boyfriends should wear smart shoes or a decent pair of trainers.
Babies should wear booties or endearingly miniatuised versions of adult Converse hi-tops.
These rules stick. So why oh why oh why oh why do I repeatedly see whole families- mother, father, son and girlfriend, daughter and boyfriend, smaller children, grandchildren, grandparents- all out together wearing Crocs? What message is this supposed to convey? Are they really saving the planet by walking around en masse wearing so-called shoes which make them look as if they belong to a particularly pathetic religious cult? They might be preserving resources by wearing recycled shoes, but if any aliens with fashion sense that extends beyond high tensile body armour and bulbous space hats ever sees the Crocs family on their intergalactic telescope, it won't take them long to decide that we're an aesthetically bereft race who need to be eliminated from the cosmic gene pool. Just don't do it. They might be watching up on Teletraan 8.
A lot of people these days get stick for dressing in cliched gear, even though they look pretty good. It takes something to wear a nice suit out and about, or to dress like James Dean or Marlon Branco or Gene Vincent. You'll probably get a lot of people who wear Crocs looking at you if you do, as if you were unbalancing their eco-karma in your 'efforts to look cool'. If you do dress like John Cale or Humphrey Bogart or Eva bloody Peron, please take some consolation from the fact that your sartorial statement doesn't read 'my house smells of yoghurt and bananas'.
One last thing. I've been pleasantly amused by the appearance of cut-price (ie, snide/ knock-off/ not actually recycled) Crocs on markets recently. Nothing enlivens a hangover more than watching ecobores excitedly handing over cash to opportunistic criminals and thereby exacerbating the problem they think they're addressing. Idiots.
Friday, 23 May 2008
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Anyway, file this one under promises.
Here's an idea: instead of entering into a dickswinging competition to show how tough/ brave you are, why not let someone who can actually shoot take the decisive penalty. Ho ho ho.Couldn't have put it better. Ronaldo's penalty was awful, but he's allowed a few lapses now and again. I think the knowing grin on Michel Platini's face when United went up for the cup said it all: they have indeed been the best team in Europe this season, whilst playing the best football. Note to Arsenal fans there, by the way. 'Playing the best football' means entertaining whilst scoring goals and winning rather than engaging in elaborate one-twos and being sycophantically praised by the 'Manchester' Guardian. Justice, as Thomas Hardy says*, was done...
* Yes, it was a very different context, but it's an awful book and he should just have stuck to the poems. If he'd been writing the poems by the time the book was published. Which he wasn't.
By the way, the first person who mentions realpolitik in this context is an arse. When we discuss the ways in which the power of the media remains unquantifable, we should perhaps think of Silvio as the quantifier.
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
My thesis, if you hadn't guessed, is on the novels of Henry Green. More precisely, it's on some of the novels of Henry Green, because I'm not writing (in any detail, at least) about the first two and last two works of the corpus. If this sounds a bit weird, it's only because Green is a relatively minor novelist. You'll find a lot of studies of Beckett, or Faulkner, or Phillip Roth, or John Updike, or even Angela Carter, which only entertain certain regions of the body of work within their analytical scope. For my purposes, Green's first two novels, Blindness and Living, are, respectively, juvenilia and an attempt to apply modernist narrative principles to the subject matter of Zola-esque ('Zolan'?) Naturalism. The last two, Nothing and Doting, represent a huge departure from their precedents both in terms of narrative style and subject matter. Essentailly, the five novels (and one autobiography) in my study are those that engage to a greater or lesser degree with the historical event (World War II) that coincided with publication. From Party Going (1939) to Concluding (1948), these novels examine the various ways in which the conflict, its precipitations, and its aftermath impacted on the imaginative and unconscious life of a literary culture that was already embroiled in the aesthetic endgame of modernism. The thesis also uses World War Two as a curtain-closer for one type of modernism and suggests that the employment of modernist technique thereafter occurs in a melancholic mode as the attempt to hang onto the stylistic momentum attained by the movement. In one way, they dramatise the fiery end of modernism, whilst in another they stage its apotheosis, as the 'impossibility' of writing engendered by war (as a kind of ultimately unrepresentable event) was, in one way, exactly what experimental writing after Mallarme looked for. I've used the words 'dramatise' and 'stage' here as I attempt to make these arguments by looking into the nuances of setting in these works, analysing why (to give one example) a railway station frozen in foggy London seems the ideal home for a novel set on the brink of WWII (the failure of the trains in the fog is a failure of the imagination when faced with cataclysm: the lyric moment of waiting is distended in the face of this failure, resulting in a lengthily drawn-out prose poem.)
So, this is what I need to do to each chapter:
Introduction: I like most of the introduction, but the big points need to be shifted to the beginning. I also need to add chapter summaries (best left until the chapters are rewritten, I think), and I have an idea for a 'non-glossary' of Greenian figures which I cribbed from a book called Hitchcock's Cryptonymies. The non-glossary wouldn't be too hard- one item a day for a month would seal that, though I hope the external examiner will appreciate it.
Party Going: I'm nearly there with this one, although some points need tidying up and the introduction should be reordered. There's about 1500 words left to write on it about the imaginative resonance of the General Strike, and I need to lose some flabby bits about Derrida and Frank Kermode.
Pack my Bag: Green's autobiography, which I've used to instigate a mini-chapter demonstrating how the arguments expressed by the setting of Party Going are extrapolated in this book to give rise to a fully-fledged 'aesthetics of space'. Ending needs some extension. A few silly bits that need polishing, but I'm not too worried about this.
Caught: Again, nearly there. The first section and middle bit are almost in place, give or take a few unpackings of Lacanian stuff which I've used (no, I haven't read all, or much of Ecrits). There's a bit on London Bohemia which is a bit all over the shop, but that's eminently fixable. I don't want to spend more than a couple of days on this one.
Loving: The task that should begin next week. This was the earliest chapter I wrote, so had to bear the lode of a nascent thesis when it was being composed. Quite scared of this one, but it will be a welcome break after the war of attrition writing the current chapter has been.
Back: This chapter is probably more relevant to me at the moment because it contains many of the germs of things I might be interested in writing about it the Lovecraftian void known as 'afterwards' (English Surrealism and so on). When I wrote this, I was at the beginning of an AHRC grant, and it shows- lots of theoretical arabesques which reflect having the time and money to read lots of barely relevant books in the library. I really like some of this, but it needs my worst enemy, discipline.
Concluding: Finishing this at the moment and it seems to have encountered a theoretical impasse. Tomorrow, I am going to try and breathe life into the end of it, and on Friday I am going to send it off for supervision. I'm proud of some of the stuff in here, but have no idea what to do with the knobbly bits at the moment.
So there you go. Once again, the blogging has proved cathartic after a mostly frustrating day. Time for tea and the Champions League final, I think...
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Anyhow, here's a summary of recent 'stuff'...
As the 'funny' faux-Italian post heading might indicate, my team got beaten on a penalty shoot-out in the play-off semi-final (if hyphens were water, this sentence could irrigate New Mexico.) Lacking the funds or time to go up to Rochdale, I settled for watching the game in the pub and earning the sympathy of various bemused locals. If the Norfolk-accented man who tried to buy me a drink when it was all over is reading this (and I'm virtually certain he isn't), let it be known that he is a 'scholar and a gentleman', as I've heard people in these parts say. Not wanting to alcoholically devastate a whole Saturday because of the psychological shortcomings of Darlington Football Club, I declined and went home to engage in a list of therapeutic activities including:
1- Ignoring the FA Cup final in favour of listening to tunes. The FA Cup final was great when we used to go round Dad's house, drink far too much fizzy drink, eat loads of crisps, watch the 14 1/2 hours of build up, and all support the underdog in the invariably underwhelming game (Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday in 92 and 93 respectively were adopted teams for the afternoon). For what the FA Cup final is like now, substitute 'fizzy drink' for 'lager'- actually, on second thoughts, lager is a 'fizzy drink', albeit without the innocent connotations of that phrase- and delete everything else except for 'underwhelming'. The only exception to this was watching the 2006 final at All Tomorrows' Parties at Camber Sands Holiday Resort in the presence of Jandek and that tall guy from Liars- it was a good game, and involved rather a lot of fizzy drink, but it still didn't match the feeling of lemonade-fuelled despair at John Byrne's futile attempts to snatch an equaliser for the Black Cats against Liverpool in 1992. So, I didn't watch the cup final or indeed listen to it on the radio because I knew it would, once again, be rubbish.
2- Roast a chicken. Few things are more satisfying for the committed carnivore than watching chicken skin turn brown and crisp in the oven. At the risk of offending the all the Modern Parents-types that haunt the 'blogosphere' in search of edgy youth movements to co-opt in features for the BLOODY Guardian Magazine, it wasn't a happy chicken at all. This is because I do not have ten quid to spend on a single bird, despite the fact that I can make one last the best part of a week once I've eaten some of it with vegetables, sandwich-ed it, curried it, and boiled up a broth to make a risotto with. I do all of these undoubtedly admirable things, but the chicken still costs four quid. Should hand-reared, ecstatic, Little Book of Calm-quoting birds come on the market for less than a fiver (and lets face it, that situation is highly fucking unlikely given that a loaf of bread costs the best part of two pounds at the moment), the question is a bit of a non-starter. Until then- take notice, TV execs- stop telling people who don't have the money or time to shop at some ruddy-faced farmers market that everything they do is wrong, thus exacerbating the social divisions that the likes of the BLOODY Guardian Magazine are theoretically opposed to. So, no more The Duchess Goes to Hull please. Two caveats or addendums here. Firstly, I have some mileage left for Jamie Oliver, who I feel attempted to shatter some overly-cosy foodie assumptions before every Humphrey/ Jemima Islingtonite decided it was extremely modish to be seen by one's neighbours up to the elbows in goose or Old Spot or alligator blood (and, of course, great material for one's next weekend supplement column). All of these new foodies probably don't even have taste buds- I'd rather leave matters like this to self-confessedly right wing libertarians like A.A. Gill, who probably don't give a flying one where their hors-d'oeuvres originate as long as they taste good (and admit that they taste best when they've been despatched by a professional butcher rather than some masquerading toff or failed footballer). Secondly, the 'Duchess' probably thinks that she's doing Hull some kind of favour by visiting it. As a regular visitor to, and known admirer of, this most startlingly odd of cities, I would like to suggest that the telly has done her a favour by letting her go to the august home of William Wilberforce, Reckitt's Blue and England's most vituperative rugby league derby. For a night out, or just a day loafing, Hull is bang on. I bet she didn't go and give herself a pounding headache by drinking import stout of dubious provenance at The Adelphi.
3- Running out of time in what Gertrude Stein called 'the time of the composition' now. Anyway, number three in my list of great post-football therapies (I wish I'd thought of slandering Guardian journalists, foodies, and the Duchess of York at the time, as this blog has been pretty cathartic) is MAKING PIZZA DOUGH. And lots of it. And saving it overnight so you can spend the rest of the day speculating about how nice your pizza is going to be. I made the pizza (me: roast chicken, roasted peppers, red onion, cherry toms. Jenny 'the vegetarian': jalapenos, mushrooms, roasted peppers, red onion, cherry toms) after I returned from International Football on Sunday morning still elated after a Gerrard-esque superstrike and they were, indeed, delicious. So, fans of Rangers FC. Next time your side deservedly lose an important match, sift some flour, make a well in it, fill said well with olive oil, add yeast and sugar and salt and water and GET KNEADING. It really makes much more sense than smashing up Manchester city centre and phoning Alan Green on 606 to justify your imbecility on the grounds that 'the TVs weren't working'. Oh, hold on, I don't even have a TV, and it has never occurred to me that I should vent my feelings about this by assembling a posse of my neanderthal mates to chase a member of the Norfolk Constabulary down the street and jump up and down on him. Lads, Gers, whatever you want to be called- make a pizza. When Celtic win the league on Thursday night, make a pizza. When Carlos Cuellar joins an English club in the summer, make a pizza. When the power-sharing exec(snip there, I think- Editorial Superego).
4- Open a can of Kronenbourg, sit on the kitchen worksurface in the sun, and read a detective novel by Michael Dibdin. These works are good, if only because they're driven largely by the writer's obsessive desire to communicate the entire wealth of his mass of Italophilic information (thanks to Michael Dibdin, I now know that people from Ferrara speak with nasal accents, and rather more than I would have wished about the sewage system in Venice) instead of the need to tell an even vaguely plausible detective story.
Anyway, it's my favourite time of the week: seven-a-side time. Thanks for listening, if you were. You've just been witness to a wound-up postgrad venting his frustrations about his work, albeit in a heavily sublimated form.
Friday, 16 May 2008
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Saturday, 3 May 2008
"This is disingenuous, because Orwell's patriotism was the patriotism of a homogenous England under threat from Nazism."
I suggest Genevieve reads The Myth of the Blitz by Angus Calder.
This article raised mixed feelings in me. There has been a marked 'Anglocentric turn' in the last few years, by which I don't necessarily mean a beery, let's-thump-foreigners, siege of Harfleur kind of thing but an anxious reappraisal or taking stock of what we might still be allowed to celebrate for its 'Englishness'. The thing is, we had exactly the same thing at the end of WWII- perhaps Genevieve should go and study some neo-romantic/ English surrealist poetry and painting to see just how 'homogenous' the country was then in terms of the significations that it produced. Then, as now, there were a multitude of possible Englands and 'Englishnesses' (I'm from the County Durham/ North Yorks border and you only have to drive for an hour to Leeds to find a different landscape, different accent, different sense of humour, different attitude to money etc etc).
I think the stock-taking is inevitable (the debate about St George's Day has rumbled on for decades now) and productive as long as it manages to privilege an anti-corporate, environmentalist logic over a nationalist one. What is disturbing about it is the way in which it does seem to have introduced a new basis for snobbery (cf. the Observer's extremely Anglocentric food porn supplement- most of the 'locally sourced' ingredients would cost 75% of the average weekly income!) It does sometimes seem that the people who would sneer at any celebration of national identity five years ago have co-opted it as their own now.
However, it's all well and good for people like Genevieve to get all phenomenological on the idea of Englishness, but the way in which she goes about it seems to infer that there is an ontological basis for national identity in other countries which there isn't here. I would like to think that it is possible to be both open-endedly inclusive and celebratory of 'heritage'. Furthermore, the whole argument seems to be predicated on the notion that everyone except Genevieve accepts the symbology (or, perhaps, the symptomology) of Englishness as given, and a pure predetermination of 'who' we can be. She seems to be saying that the iconography of the past can only ever be one kind of mode of address, that it necessarily constructs us as a particular kind of 'English' subject. Surely there is room for a celebratory play of these significations which, whilst not being ironic or kitschy, is still detached enough to put up some kind of resistance to the ideological interpellation of a homogenously English identity? Can't everyone partake? Is it wrong that I, and many, many others, would rather be drinking outside a traditional village pub than in a fun pub off the A1? Is it wrong to suggest that the 'popularity' of places like Bluewater came about precisely because they were all people were offered by Thatcher and her quangos? Is it wrong to suspect that the thrill of neophilia which drew people to such places is now wearing off and that people from all class backgrounds are now thinking locally both in their consumer activities and in their political ones?
Genevieve probably needs to give her head a shake- this is clearly a muckraking, devil's advocatish article designed to push all the right buttons of bloggers and CiF types. Is there a piece of serious work in the offing here which examines the 'new Anglocentrism', or is this rentaquotism of the worst kind?