Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Finding A Voice

I'm still slow on the uptake when it comes to plundering the Web for its treasures. It only occurred to me today that it might be a good wheeze to see whether there was anything related to Walcott's mighty Omeros on Youtube, and boy was I glad I did. A full reading by the man himself of Book 1 of the epic was the main goody related to Omeros itself, but there was a fair amount of excellent material on other poems and the poet and his background. This included quite an early South Bank Show (at least that's what I think it is, with Mr Bragg looking very fresh, very spry) which I'm fairly sure I watched when it was first broadcast. I suspect this may have put DW on the poetic map for me since I'm pretty sure I never got to encounter anything by him, or indeed of him, at school or university. There's a mention at the beginning of the documentary that Walcott was little known in the UK at that point - a lack that now seems quite extraordinary.

The poet's own reading of Book 1 has wonderfully alerted me to the fact that I was hearing it, and thus the poem as a whole, wrong in my head. Whilst I knew what DW sounded like in interview, and had some sense of the Caribbean accent fundamental to the poem, I was failing to appreciate just how incantatory the underlying rhythms were intended to be. There was something more urgent, more pressing somehow in my mind. But having not just heard but been spellbound by DW's mastery I don't think I'll ever be able to hear anything by him again in any other way. This reminds me of getting similarly intoxicated with Seamus Heaney's voice, and, I suppose, in earlier times with Ted Hughes's.

I suppose this is part of the greatness of these guys. The metaphor of a writer finding a voice is literal with them. They don't so much find it in their work as manifest something that was there all along. And in each of them that voice is intimately tied to a sense of locality, though they effortlessly transcend all that's narrow and parochial.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Slow Progress

I've got several books on the go at the moment, a habit I've tried to break myself of. And spectacularly failed to do so. The problem is the sense that I'm not really doing complete justice to any single book that I'm reading as I keep putting one aside to pick up another. But the thing is that since everything I'm reading is excellent it's just too difficult to resist going back to each isolated case of excellence, and I don't mind taking so long to read each item since there's so much enjoyment in the individual encounter.

Case in point: I can't remember exactly when I started reading Derek Walcott's narrative poem Omeros, or started a rereading, I should say, my first reading having been completed some years back. It feels like a long time back as it's been a regular enough feature of my very late night reading to have its own spot on my bedside table. But I've only just reached Book Three, about a third of the way in. I reckon I'm reading every line at least twice, and probably more. It's just so astonishingly good that it demands instant revisiting just to try and take in what's on the glittering surface, though this reader has a powerful feeling that there are depths he's not managed to plumb - though he has, at least, managed to recognise them.

Walcott's use of the hexameter as his standard line has convinced me that this is the natural line for any narrative verse in English, by the way. And who knew that tercets could be this flexible?

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Finished Philip Roth's brilliantly imagined The Plot Against America today, positively zooming through the final third. As I mentioned in a previous post, at points I'd felt a curious reluctance to read on, regardless of the entirely gripping nature of the novel, since its dark vision of the way a 1940s fascist United States might have been was just a bit too real, just a bit ever so likely, and just a bit too dark in its utter reality. I don't know how Roth does it. The level of plausible detail is such that I needed to remind myself that FDR did win through to a third term (and a sadly curtailed fourth) and that's there's still much to admire about the US.

The fiction has left me feeling sort of vulnerable though, or rather given me an enhanced sense I really didn't need at this particular point in history of the vulnerability of what we might see as civilisation. I've never been much of a one for manifest destinies, or conspiracy theories that suggest that someone, somewhere knows whence it's all headed. The cock-up theory of history seems to me intuitively reflective of what I know of human beings generally and reflective of the way the world looks at the moment.

Mind you, that's all the more reason for us as individuals to try and push things in directions that seem reasonable and sane, limited as any of those efforts might be. Because you just don't know - and maybe things can quite illogically turn out to be reasonably okay after all.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Sheer Laziness

Other than doing a bit of marking in the morning I've been enjoying what the Missus accurately terms a lazy day. The particular laziness of this one was characterised by tea, cake and sleep, though not necessarily in that order. Altogether splendid. And, I suspect, necessary.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Doing Something Well

We had an appointment this afternoon at one of the government offices in town in connection with renewing our green cards. The last time we needed to go down there was some five years ago. Since that time we've had the cards renewed but that hasn't required having new pictures taken or new thumb-prints recorded (which is how the cards cunningly let you get quickly through passport control at the airport here), so we haven't had to go down to get all the necessary done. Now you might be surprised to hear this, but we weren't really worried about the inconvenience of the trip and its attendant bureaucracy since we remembered our previous visit as being a breeze.

And, astonishingly, this one was even breezier. Seriously. The appointment was for 3.30 pm, but we arrived some twenty minutes earlier. Believe it or not, all the paperwork, the photo-taking and the thumb-printing was done by 3.25, and we left five minutes before our appointment time. The already super-efficient processes had been speeded up by having everything done by one highly efficient and friendly lady. We could even check if the photos were okay and were asked if we wanted them done again.

It's easy to make fun of the obsession here with getting work done well and providing excellent service, but when you're on the receiving end of the excellent services you can't help but admire the results. And it all added to the sum of human happiness as we were able to go off in very good time for the cup that cheers at Arab Street and have a fine old time doing precisely nothing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Tyranny Of Numbers

Got to the gym again this evening and did my forty minutes, burning 1 more calorie than I managed on Tuesday.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Something New

Decided to download some music by the recently deceased composer Jonathan Harvey yesterday, and haven't been able to stop listening to it. The piece in question is called Bhakti, and I selected it pretty much at random, because I liked the title (which sort of half-reminded me of a great phase of ace guitarist John McLaughlin's career) and because I'd vaguely picked up through reading here & there about the composer that it's seen as representative, in a good way, of his work in general. He's known for experimenting with sound, αΊ£ la all those IRCAM johnnies, and there's a fair amount of that in Bhakti, though at times it sounds conventional enough - in a modernist, avant garde manner - such that you've got to listen out for it - the sound bending, I mean.

In fact, you've simply got to listen to this music, otherwise there's absolutely no point to it. As background it would empty a room sharpish with its dissonances and unexpected lurches, and it's just too odd and does too much to sort of amiably relax to, soundscape fashion. Frankly it irritates, unless you listen; and then it compels. Partly this is because even on a fourth listen you've no real idea what it's going to do next; and partly it's because eventually it all seems to fit together and make some kind of sense.

I suppose I should feel quite sophisticated listening to what I suspect quite a few folk would regard as cutting edge, arty sort of stuff. But it actually makes me feel quite childish, not really knowing what's going on but stumbling around in its sound world like a kid in a particularly well appointed amusement park. What this must be like to experience in the concert hall, I'd love to know, but severely doubt I'll ever find out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

No Regrets

A counter-intuitive truth I've discovered since developing problems with my back several years ago: it pays to ignore the body's moans and groans and get the thing working. With luck the moans and groans go away, or, at least, recede into the background. I'm hoping this truth still holds good, and I'm not going to regret going to the gym this evening. I've been struggling to move freely of late, having to resort to using a chair for prayers, and sitting with the old geezers at the masjid who struggle to do the necessary. So I wasn't exactly expecting great things on the old elliptical trainer just now. To my surprise I posted good numbers and, more importantly, felt easy and free doing my forty minutes - as well as feeling pleasantly exhausted. 

Just hope the title of this post holds good tomorrow.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Good Idea

Here's a very fruitful idea from Iain McGilchrist's book: ... works of art - music, poems, paintings, great buildings - can be understood only if we appreciate that they are more like people than texts, concepts or things. De-contextualising the idea doesn't help to do it justice, and McGilchrist provides lots of, dare I say, empirical evidence in its favour, but even as a standalone apercu it makes a lot of sense to me. Indeed, it's something I've always 'known', matching perfectly my own experience of encountering great literature and great music. (I'm not so responsive to painting & architecture, so I'll pass on those.)

One of the several implications of this way of looking at how we respond to art is to severely call into question the whole notion of what might be termed the critical-analytic response - otherwise known as how Literature is 'done' in schools and other so-called places of learning. I suspect the real attraction of 'doing' lit this way is that it renders the experience open to some kind of assessment or measurement (clumsy as this usually is); the genuine human encounter is largely closed to such possibilities, which is, I suppose, in part what makes it human.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lots Of Ideas

Reading Iain McGilchrist's The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World is proving to be an extraordinarily thought-provoking experience for this reader. On almost every page there's some fascinating nugget of information - who knew that carp discriminate between the blues and classical music? - but it's the slightly uncanny fact that the broad outlines of the central thesis expounded within its pages are helping me understand almost every random thought I've had for the last few years about art, music, creativity, human nature, paradox - in fact, pretty much the whole caboodle - that's exhilaratingly unnerving. I keep thinking, this explains everything, though, of course, it doesn't. But it does make me feel as if it's possible to get some genuine coherence into what might previously have been characterised as a hodgepodge of intuitions and half-articulated suspicions.

And I'm less than a third of the way in!