The problem presented by possessions is living up to them.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
As usual watching this kind of documentary (Life on Earth - The Blue Planet - Planet Earth) raises the fascinating question - for me, at least - of how to classify the experience. If this isn't art I don't know what is. Visually exquisite, sonically powerful.
Today I was struck by the perfection of Sir David's commentary. Direct, unfussy, insightful. And moving. The pictures speak for themselves in terms of the wonder and grandeur (even in minute particulars) of the natural world but he invests it with, paradoxically, a sense of humanity. The sequence of the octopus mother inevitably dying (from lack of food) after tending her brood in the first episode, The Challenges of Life, achieved an archetypal power through its very reticence.
And eight more episodes to go!
Monday, November 28, 2011
Popular fiction at its best.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
By a sort of coincidence being able to see Daryl's stuff (a poem and short prose piece) in print has followed hard on the heels of spotting some poems by other talented young writers of my acquaintance in a volume entitled Roots and Wings - a collection of material generated through the Creative Arts Programme, a project for young writers undertaken annually by the Ministry of Education here. I was given the volume as a freebie following my contribution to a conference last week and have been thoroughly enjoying dipping into it. Oh, and I should say the same of the rather thinner (but equally rich) Though Roach Eyes, a collection of stories from kids in primary schools here based on the splendid notion of a cockroach in a hawker centre as narrator.
I'm always concerned about sounding patronising about students' creative work. I don't fake enthusiasm for what I read, ever, and in the case of students' work I've never had to. The stuff these guys are producing more than repays attention.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Which leads to the big question: why won't those good people at my favourite on-line retailer (actually the only one I've ever bought anything from, I think, other than airline and concert tickets) allow us to use the darn things here on this fine little island? It's not as if this is cowboy territory when it comes to issues of copyright, well not in recent years at least. Maybe they think we're part of China?
Well-meaning folks, by the way, have informed me of all sorts of ways of getting around the ban (if that's what it is) involving arranging addresses for credit cards in the US & UK and buying gift vouchers from amazon itself, but I haven't got the energy. I just want one of those pretty devices, and I want it now.
(Actually I don't want it now really as I've got loads of real books still to read, but I'm feeling infantile, I'm feeling like a real consumer, for once.)
Friday, November 25, 2011
Ron Cook's performance isn't that of a star, but of a fine ensemble player who is still part of the world around him. The comedy is there, but restrained, never really breaking the frame. He looms large, but not larger than life.
But there's another way of looking at the play and the character, not more valid, but equally valid, I think. This is to see the role as a vehicle for a star, a Burbage who will eat up the stage; this calls for a Richard who wrenches the conceptual frame containing him so out of shape that we know it cannot hold him. Even in his defeat he is thrillingly alive in a way those around him are not. I'm not talking here of psychological depth, though. I'm talking of dramatic possibilities - Richard has no depth, he is all actor, all surface, personifying something of the demonic power of the stage itself.
This is the Richard that Kevin Spacey brilliantly rendered last night. He blew everyone else off the stage, such that sturdy performances were made to seem wooden. I say this not in any spirit of criticism of those performances. The (im)balance felt right. Our Hollywood star wasn't upstaging anyone. The sense of ensemble playing was still there, and Sam Mendes in his direction played scrupulous attention to the full world of the play - rightly showing that that world is never truly alive other than when Richard is bustling within it.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Now prettyfying myself enough to be seen in public as we're off to watch Kevin Spacey in Richard III. Double Yowza!!
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
But I must say, I came out with a particularly enhanced appreciation of Degas. There was only one ballerinas piece, which was lovely, but what knocked me sideways were three drawings by the Master, each of which represented a sort of perfection through their transparent simplicity. The one of his younger brother achieved a kind of radiance. (And just using a pencil!)
And by the way, if you've ever thought the ubiquity of Van Gogh and the whole Vincent thing undercuts him as a great, great artist, you're completely wrong. He continues to blaze forth.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Next day, having woken unusually early and dragged myself to the living room, I watched in succession an episode each of Wire In The Blood and Wallender on the BBC Entertainment channel. Both dealt with that obsessive plague of recent British culture, serial killers. I found the first routine, a bit thin, but watchable, and the second utterly compelling. In fact the Missus got to see the end of the Wallender episode and it was clear she was getting hooked despite having missed most of it. But do I intend to watch other episodes? No, not necessarily. The morning's experience felt like a one-off; a holiday from my usual concerns, and precious as a holiday rather than any kind of routine. Mind you, I might just treat myself to a Wallender novel and see how I get on.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
But this is not to say I didn't accomplish anything in terms of grappling with the printed page. I reread the Lu Xun stories I'd put up for discussion just so I wouldn't get completely lost and, to my deep gratification, Medicine came stunningly alive for me as it had never done before. Actually got goose bumps on the last page.
I also made a start on Walden, which I've been meaning to do for ages, but this was only on the last couple of days. Still on the Economy chapter, but enjoying a slow, appreciative read - the only kind that really works with Thoreau, I suspect.
Fortunately I found the perfect read for this trip in Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel, a short book comprising seven pieces - interviews, addresses, that sort of thing - centring on the nature of fiction. This was given to me by Natalie as a present for Teachers' Day and I'm glad she did because I would never have thought to read it otherwise. (Worried Disclaimer: Any of my students reading this, please don't take it that it's a good idea to give me books, if you happen to be feeling generous - and there's no reason to think you should be. I'm more than happy with your simple good wishes.)
Kundera's little book has more dazzling, disturbing ideas per page than it's wise for any man (or woman) to expose himself (or herself) to. Perfect reading for the dissident in any repressive republic. Thought bombs to shake all varieties of walls.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
How on earth could so many of these people be so stupidly, mindlessly, barmily, unfathomably, unthinkingly anti-Semitic? (In passing, it's worth noting that a lot of support for the maniac came from teachers.)
Hitler's complete divorce from reality in the later years, though, springs from a simple and all-too-familiar source. This is Kershaw describing the origin of the illusions about pretty much every aspect of life in the Reich that dominated policy by 1942: It was a problem that afflicted the entire dictatorship - up to and including Hitler himself. Only positive messages were acceptable. Pessimism (which usually meant realism) was a sign of failure. Distortions of the truth were built into the communications system of the Third Reich at every level - most of all in the top echelons of the regime.
Every organisation should find something worth considering there, especially those who come to believe their own publicity.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I should have been looking at the Lonely Planet guide or something, but reading Lu Xun has been the full extent of my preparation. We'll be going to the Luxun Museum, it seems, and I'm intrigued to find out what the authorities there make of him. Not easy to tame, I would have thought. Rather too angular for that. Should be fun.
Noi, rather more pragmatic than myself, thank goodness, tells me it was just two degrees centigrade in Beijing yesterday. So perhaps not so much fun.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Just follow the link above to discover musical riches related to the recent IB Expo, at least one piece sounding like the great Frank Zappa at his greatest. Oh, and Jakko Jakszyk's Catley's Ashes which also features, I rate as my favourite not-Crimson Crimson instrumental.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
I didn't feel any sense of disappointment on awaking, or any euphoria in the dream at her being restored to normal. In fact, I think I felt something almost the opposite: a feeling of things not being quite right. Sometimes an acceptance of the way things are is best, well, accepted.
I'll be ringing Maureen & John tonight though.
Monday, November 7, 2011
One unlooked for source of pleasure in reading these final pages is being able to enjoy reading of the various horrors Herr Hitler and his cronies brought on themselves in terms of the personal suffering they underwent. It's not very noble of me to get a kick out of the suffering of others, but I'm afraid I did. So there you are.
Unfortunately they didn't suffer enough - not even close - for their sins. In this world, anyway.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
So the juxtaposition of the songs is in itself part of the (greater?) meaning of the whole.
The decline of the physical album, first in its vinyl lp form (with two sides) and then as compact disk, means that the possibility of such meaningful juxtapositions will inevitably be reduced. We'll be the poorer for it.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
As so often with the work of a writer who's been in any one's terms a stunning success, it's Springsteen's ability to deal with failure and the broken lives of those who've faced it that seems to come from a place beyond mere talent. He gets inside ordinary lives to explore territory we usually avoid. The brilliant song from which the set takes its title is an example: When the promise is broken you go on living / But it steals something from down in your soul. It's saying something obvious, that we all know, but of which we need reminding when so much of what we encounter in popular culture talks of having it all - and going into a hissy fit when we don't get it.
Come to think of it, that's what seems to go on in schools so much of the time. It's amazing the number of kids who are told they'll be the leaders of tomorrow when they won't. Preparing people for inevitable disappointment still serves some use, I think.
Friday, November 4, 2011
We're off to Melaka ourselves tomorrow. We journey to keep from standing still.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Good night, sleep tight.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
And why worth thinking about? Because Clare, poor mad Clare, is a writer not to like, but to love. This is England. The real England, of the mind. Of Blake. Of Vaughan Williams. Of Dickens. My England. Gone.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Struck by the fact that for the later songs I cover it's proved almost essential to feature the accompanying video. I was intending to try and show the class how the lyrics don't stand alone from the accompanying music, but I realise how far behind the times I am. It's the total experience that counts, sort of moving beyond literature - and I must say I consider that no bad thing.