Wednesday, August 20, 2014

lazy journalism

I realize because I've done it that a lot of journalism is lazy, that's to say just researched at the desk by googling things. And this behaviour with its sometimes interesting but never verifiable findings is typical of the modern writer's lifestyle.

I think that's why every so often I write about nature. Even though much of what I say is still second-order information sourced from books or the internet, still the fact is that I did see the plants with my own eyes, and here's the photo to prove it.

Something was real. And it was that real contact that I wanted to report; but even then it isn't easy. To describe the real moment. So quite often I fall back on related material that I've read somewhere else. And I just hope that what I'm writing manages to convey some little breath of that true moment about which, so often,  I feel so tongue-tied.


*

What is a forest?  For me the idea contains reassuring elements of darkness and infinitude, that is, uncountableness.

Levin, of course, reproves his brother-in-law's vagueness. No, a forest isn't really infinite. A merchant always counts the trees before he buys.


*

I supposed I had no brothers. And indeed I don't. But when I listened to my first vocal overdub I was surprised by the effect it had on me. It sounded like I had brothers. We were singing a country song and we sounded like crooning cowboys.

*












Monday, August 04, 2014

Sir Walter Scott: Tales of a Grandfather, Marmion, etc.



[Original frontispiece of Tales of a Grandfather, Second Series as published by Cadell in 1829 (actually Nov 1828). From the Walter Scott Image Collection, Edinburgh University Library.]

A LONGER NOTE ON Tales of a Grandfather (1827-31) and The History of Scotland (1829)

Tales of a Grandfather is a history of Scotland up to 1745 - at least this is the bit that people usually talk about, and it equates to the first three series; there was a fourth series (1831) on French history, and an abandoned MS of a 5th series, continuing the French history. The abandonment may have been related to Master Littlejohn's death at ten years old.  He was the grandchild addressed in these volumes, though Scott didn't except in the early pages make much concession to infantile capacities. He does however dwell on memorable tales (even if legendary) and he steers clear of analysis. Until quite recently this was a widely-read book in Scotland; it makes a bizarre appearance in the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s Tomorrow Belongs to Me (1975) – Harvey (born in 1935) made a virtue of being older than other rock stars and of having access to forgotten things. The History of Scotland  (for the Cabinet Cyclopaedia) covers a briefer period, ending in 1603. This is harder to come by, but it makes better reading than the first series of TOAG, which covers the same ground. Both however are good books, if this kind of historical material interests you; in other words, wars, power-struggles, heroic and villainous deeds; not much about social or cultural matters.

On the assumption that even scholars are likely to leave these volumes unread, I’ll mention some passages that deserve attention. (TOAG is, however, currently in print as four paperback volumes with new titles.)

TOAG Chapter XXXIV (the first of the second series), is titled “Progress of Civilisation in Society”. It’s on such a theme that one gains from the clarity enforced on a writer who addresses a child. This is what most of Scott’s contemporaries thought, if they thought at all, but rarely had occasion to say: for example, about the origin and function of property, money, trade, social class and education. It’s interesting that Scott mentions peoples who did not know about boiling water (natives of New South Wales) or even making a fire (presumably the Tasmanians, at that time still in existence).

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Sir Walter Scott, Woodstock (1826)



[Frontispiece of 1871 edition, image from Russell Library, McMaster University

The action of Woodstock is extraordinarily concentrated on its titular location; we are mainly inside the Lodge, almost as often in the grounds, sometimes in the town, but the only time we get any further afield during the main narrative is when Wildrake meets with Cromwell at Windsor (Chs VIII-IX). This scene (which Lockhart ridiculously called better than Macbeth) is certainly a fine one and it sets up a touch of menacing expectation; at some point we know we will see more of Cromwell.

But the novel’s strength is already there and it is fugal in nature.  Woodstock persistently and often literally goes over the same ground. The most speedily revolving cogs are e.g. Wildrake the disguised cavalier gving vent to his royalist feelings or having a drink, motifs that recur incessantly. At a more stately pace, consider the number of substantial scenes that occur while approaching the Lodge:

Approach 1: Trusty Tomkins, then Joceline (Chs 2-3)
Approach 2: Everard and Wildrake (Ch 5)
Approach 3: Everard, Wildrake, Mayor, Holdenough (Ch 10)
Approach 4: Everard, Wildrake, then Tomkins, Harrison (Ch 14)
Approach 5: Everard, Charles, Sir Henry Lee (Ch 25)
Approach 6: Charles, Alice, Rochecliffe (Ch 28)
Approach 7: Cromwell, Pearson and soldiers, Everard, Holdenough, then Rochecliffe, Joceline (Ch 33)

Somewhere at the back of the reader’s mind is the persistent feeling of “I’ve been here before”. Thus when we attend the planned duel of Charles and Everard in Chapter 28, we feel the weight of accumulated combat: this very pair have already crossed swords at the end of Ch 24, Wildrake has mimed a combat with Harrison, Henry Lee has fenced with Tomkins. These clashings have always come to nothing, but the sensation grows that someone, sometime, is going to get themselves killed out here. And that is in fact what’s about to happen, when Joceline’s quarterstaff smacks into Tomkins’ temple.

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Sir Walter Scott, Quentin Durward (1823)



When I wrote my mini-critiques of Scott’s novels, I was rude about this one and I still think I’m right. The praise accorded it in the book by Angus and Jenni Calder seems inexplicable to me, unless they were dazzled by its reception in Europe. For all that, it’s a book that can be read, just. The awful judgment of a critic - was it Taine? - that Scott is “tame” is not easily shrugged off, yet  the critic perhaps didn’t fully appreciate Scott’s anti-heroic instincts.

It occurs to me too that Scott’s interest in royalty is associated with a determination to view the behaviour of a human being when untrammelled by institutions. In the Duke of Burgundy and King Louis he has his chance. These were exceptional lives in their own time, but ours have more in common with them than with the merchants and soldiers. We don’t have all the wealth, but we do have nineteen parts of the freedom. We too can become our own personalities.

C.L Bennet’s (of Dalhousie University) comatose 1967 introduction to Quentin Durward betrays how unrewardingly Scott has been read for at least a century, and what an increasingly ungrateful task popular publishers found it to present Scott classics. This copy, “specially selected for the Airmont Library from the immortal literature of the world”, appears as usual never to have been read.

There are after all considerable obstacles in the path of one who may have been attracted (or whose gift-buying relative was attracted) by the front cover, with its muscular hero (in an astonishing costume of Ivanhoe-meets-Rob Roy) posing heroically while a pitched battle engages furiously a few yards away. After Bennet there is Scott’s 1831 Preface which, with some seriousness and some dullness, and a full page of quotation in French, moralizes over King Louis XI, dispiritingly adding: “It will be easily comprehended, that the little love intrigue of Quentin is only employed as the means of bringing out the story” (as poor a piece of salesmanship as Henry James’ remarks on the mechanism of The Ambassadors). This is one of the later Prefaces that ought now to be relegated to an appendix, because it destroys the effect that Scott first aimed for. He was not one of those rare artists (like Brahms) who could add new material so seamlessly that we are convinced the whole work was built around it.

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Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot (1820)



[Catherine Seyton, engraving after Landseer, 1833. "As they put off, Roland thought he could discover the face of Catherine Seyton... peeping from a loophole to view his departure" (Ch 25). Image from The Walter Scott Image Collection at Edinburgh University Library.]


“By Heaven, Catherine, your tongue wears as many disguises as your person!” Roland Græme complains of the girl he loves. He’s mistaken, for the “audacity” that we admire in Scott’s most entrancing heroine is not deceptive at all, though admittedly she does try to take advantage of the Lady of Lochleven’s belief in a supposed poisoning. The circumstances are a bit unusual. Normally Catherine is, whatever Roland thinks, perfectly sincere and direct. Her games are the spiritedness of youth, and “in sad earnest” she hardly troubles to hide even her love for Roland, and certainly never her unalterable commitment to the Catholic faith. Scott’s most attractive women (Flora MacIvor, Rebecca) are for some reason often committed to a creed he disapproves.

The Abbot is indeed a book full of even more than the usual quota of people in disguise. In the village of Kinross, Roland encounters four in very short order: Henry Seyton as a country maiden, Magdalen Græme as Mother Nicneven, Father Ambrose as a “mean and servile” retainer, and Father Boniface as the gardener Blinkhoolie. All are of course adherents to the “ancient and only road” (Mary’s phrase) that the ruling Protestant party is trying to suppress.

Disguise has the potential of allowing someone to assume a character that expresses their inner selves more openly than their everyday identity does, and here this might be claimed (in their different ways) of both Magdalen-as-Nicneven and Boniface-as-Blinkhoolie.

Pursuing that line of thought as regards Henry is intriguing, but the truth is that whenever Roland tries to treat Henry femininely he walks into a wall. This seems maybe like a crude device for nourishing an artificial mystification in Roland’s mind; he keeps mistaking Henry-as-maiden for Catherine, his supposedly “identical” twin, and there seems no good reason why the real Catherine doesn’t enlighten him. (Roland is apparently unaware that Catherine has a twin at all, even though Henry Seyton is a prominent noble.) The upshot is an androgynous tangle that links the three in features of their personalities. But what is “audacity” in Catherine is impulsiveness and violence in the two young men.

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Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy (1818)


(Above: Jacket of Rob Roy, illustrated edition in Coleccion Historias, Editorial Bruguera, Barcelona 1960 - currently for sale.)


I have finally re-read Rob Roy, and found myself pronouncing it a failure (albeit one written in the midst of Scott’s best period). If so, it’s an interesting kind of failure.

The author of Waverley was, as that book sufficiently shows, an innovator by nature. Rob Roy’s failure is the sort that only innovations are prone to.

It‘s a travelling book, the locale shifting as the book proceeds. In that respect it’s like Waverley or Guy Mannering. This is familiar from picaresque novels, but Scott’s novels are not picaresque novels; they seek a unity of purpose that is different. Or, one could speak of a “narrative logic” - and therefore, potentially, a failure in that “logic” -  that is not courted by picaresque novels. Besides, in the picaresque novel the travelling is a device. The stage backcloth moves but the hero never gets to a new country. When Scott began to make Scotland seem Scottish, that was the end - for the moment, anyway - of the picaresque novel.

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Sir Walter Scott, Old Mortality (1816)


[Image from www.forgottenbookmarks.com]


With Tales of My Landlord, Scott took the opportunity to break free from the already-palpable constraints of being "the author of Waverley" and travelled back a lot further than 60 years; Old Mortality takes place 127 years since. Nevertheless, of all his novels it was the one that stirred most political debate in Scotland. When Scott put the Covenanters stage-centre, he was writing about a historical group who had in recent times become a political symbol of resistance to government tyranny, e.g. for the textile workers who assembled at Loudon-hill in 1815 to celebrate Napoleon's escape from Elba.

The recently-restored title, The Tale of Old Mortality, reminds us that the narrative purports to be based on stories told by the latter-day Covenanter "Old Mortality", as adapted by the author Peter Pattieson,  who writes:

My readers will of course understand, that, in embodying into one compressed narrative many of the anecdotes which I had the advantage of deriving from Old Mortality, I have been far from adopting either his style, his opinions, or even his facts, so far as they appear to have been distorted by party prejudice...

In fact the narrative that follows certainly does not look as if it could have had any basis in such tales as Old Mortality might have spun, except very sporadically, as perhaps in the heroic account of MacBriar's torture and execution; Scott, once he starts to write the story, doesn't attempt to make it reflect the complicated provenance that he has imagined for it in the frame.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

business today

The acquisition of WhatsApp has given Facebook two major advantages, believes Brian Taylor, Digital MD at Jaywing.

"It's removed a serious competitor threat," he explained. "Where Facebook owns 'capturing our moments', WhatsApp dominates one-on-one communication, particularly in emerging markets across Asia."

(Times of India article)

Something about that word "moments" reminds me of some other piece of business language that I read recently. Oh yes, that's it. It was the mission statement in British American Tobacco's investor piece.

WORLD'S BEST AT SATISFYING CONSUMER MOMENTS IN TOBACCO AND BEYOND

(BAT: Our Vision and Strategy)

Our "moments", those things we think most private to us, are of course commoditized. But it's easy to forget that, and it's arresting to see the word used in these contexts.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

under the black poplar




Black Poplar (Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia)




Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola forma serriola)
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Friday, July 25, 2014

More flora of West Swindon



An outbreak of Meadow Cranesbill  (Geranium pratense) by the cycle track near John Lewis at Home. Photo from 22/6/14, hence living up to its Swedish name of Midsommarblomster.


Great Water-dock (Rumex hydrolapathum) by the remnant of canal. Photo 22/6/14.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

literary trivia


I'm following Tom Clark's daily posts about the Gaza war on children. I don't want to, but I am.

http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/hijos-de-un-dios-menor.html
http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/and-then-alien-turned-toward-zanna.html
http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/i-am-bullets-oranges-and-memory-mahmoud.html
http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/have-mercy-mr-obama-do-you-have-heart.html
etc

I read D.S. Marriott's Dogma last night. This is a Barque pamphlet whose contents would have subsequently ended up in one of the more recent Shearsman collections, but I do like a pamphlet.

Marriott's poems are consciously impure, they develop an image of someone who cannot be other than a thrown-together mixture of drowned ghosts and western imagery. The latter, of course, pre-eminently includes the Cambridge influence that continues to sound in these poems even though it's so obvious how different these poems are from Prynne or Milne or Brady or Sutherland.

The poems are impure not because they think it's thrilling to be impure, as per the Montevidayan swamplands (bit of reductive stereotyping there, but you'll know what I mean); these poems are impure because they can't help being impure. Because the conditions of life don't allow it. Specifically black life, according to Marriott's desolately unillusioned analysis.

Andrew Duncan has mentioned Eliot in the same sentence as Marriott, which I interpreted as an attack, but it isn't so. Duncan actually wrote a brilliant and informative piece about Dogma here:

http://jacketmagazine.com/20/dunc-r-trio.html

But anyway, Eliot did cross my mind while reading the Dogma poems.

The Barque people also sent me Monika Rinck (trans. Alistair Noon), which I don't remember ordering but am glad to have, and Streak_Willing_Artesian_Forgotten which I haven't read but which surprises me by being so beautiful to look at.  I'm talking about when you open it up and look at the poem - the beauty comes from the book as a whole product.  The jacket on its own is just functional (and a shade of green that reminds me of something put together in a classroom, which it probably was).

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sir Walter Scott's novels, a brief guide




Those dusty, dull-bound, heavy books lie like pre-Cambrian bedrock on the lower shelves of pubs and hotels. Such is the fate of the former best-seller, the man who popularised tartan shortbread tins, the man who speckled the suburbs of Birmingham with houses called Loch Lomond in streets called Waverley Crescent and Lammermoor Close, where the daughters were once named Rowena, the sons Nigel. 

Scott is the most under-rated writer in the canon of British literature, second only to Dickens among our great nineteenth-century novelists, readable, fertile, vivid, profound, a master. Like every great novelist, he has huge faults. His English prose style is clumsy and slipshod; he “sows from the sack, not from the hand” and the impact of his best work, essentially poetic, is hard to represent from quotations. His output is vast and many of his novels fail. He inaugurated, if he did not cause, the curious Victorian literary convention that sexual feelings don’t really exist; his scenery and weather are often perfunctory, his heroes and heroines are for the most part as stiff as bookmarks. He was also a Tory and a Unionist, which meets with little favour here. But his massive humanity, comedy and invention are triumphs: once discovered, he is never abandoned. So here goes: 25 novels in six pages, a lifetime of reading. 

THE SCOTTISH PERIOD (1814-1820)

Although these are his earliest novels, they are not beginner’s work. When he published Waverley anonymously he was already 40, a celebrated man of letters thanks to his sensationally popular narrative poems. The novels of this period include his greatest achievements. Some of the later novels are deeply immersed in (lowland) Scottish culture too, but here it’s a continuous presence, the lifeblood of the books.

1.  Waverley (1814)

Seminal, and deeply pondered over many years, this is the first historical novel worthy of the name in world literature. Perhaps his masterpiece, although subtler achievements were to follow. Here are all his great themes: the process of change in society, adolescence, humour, outcasts, ideals, compromises, progress and extinctions. Every adventure, every western movie, every sci-fi fantasy adventure you’ve ever read is indebted to this brilliantly innovative book; not to mention Balzac, Tolstoy, George Eliot... A great place to start.10 out of 10.

2.  Guy Mannering (1815)

Scott with a head of steam up, this is frankly an improvisation. Despite its many wonderful scenes and characters, it’s carelessly executed and doesn’t run very deep. The Victorians loved it, but in our severer times: 7 out of 10.

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Flowers of Roslagen - July 2014




Above: a distant Ek (Quercus robur, Pedunculate Oak) framed by aspen, birch and pine.

These pictures were taken in or near Harö in Roslagen. (Coastal edge of Uppland, more or less the northern part of the Stockholm archipelago). Harö means "Hare Island". It isn't quite an island now, but it probably was until recently; the land rises fast along this coast. Nevertheless, the sea is always nearby, and Roslagen's mild climate allows many plants of south/central Sweden to flourish further north than elsewhere. The spectacle of oak and ash trees - and roses! - growing among the usual pines and spruces is extraordinary to a Norrlander's eyes.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Sir Walter Scott: The Black Dwarf (1816)



The Black Dwarf was published as the first volume of the first series of Tales of My Landlord; the other three were occupied by Old Mortality. Scott allowed a friend to echo his own thoughts about the deficiencies of the material and brought the curtain down more quickly that he'd originally planned; the upshot is that the classic Scott gear-change is here disorientating rather than thrilling.

This, at any rate, is Scott's account in the final paragraph of his 1830 Introduction. But the Edinburgh University Library page gives a different impression. According to this page the ending was rushed because Scott was being pressured by his new publishers Blackwood and Murray. It also seems to suggest that the original plan for Tales of My Landlord was four one-volume tales. That could be reconciled with Scott's account only if this plan was a short-lived idea that was already on the scrapheap when Scott was composing the The Black Dwarf.  Anyway, Old Mortality was surely conceived on spacious lines from the first.

The main deficiency that Scott mentions is the Black Dwarf himself, and certainly this static creation (Note 1) doesn't convince as a realistic portrait. Nevertheless I'm sure that Scott's insights into the anguish of being cursed with a monstrous appearance must have influenced the young Mary Shelley, who was just starting to write Frankenstein when The Black Dwarf appeared*. Besides that, the book has a perfunctory insurrection (how unlike the one in Old Mortality!) and a double kidnap that incomprehensibly fizzles out.

So reading the book is more a matter of salvaging lovely details than committing to the tale as a whole. But the details are worth your trouble. This is Scott in 1816, after all!

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

D. S. Marriott Poetry links

[This mini-note about the poet D.S. Marriott has moved to Intercapillary Space:

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/ds-marriott-poetry-links.html


Instead, here's a bit of "The Dog Enchanter":

What if he were to set off
panting through the ruins
swishing his tale
                     over debris
mooching near the craters
the full-throated bark
deep inside the vertebrae
synchronized
           to the weak, the yielding—
his trick to know that ‘ghost’
isn’t the right word for
                              scents
maundering his way
over the ragged ridgeline
where mines make effigies of sense
                 and the universe presses in
pissing on the leafless trees:
                out there, see him return,
                              where the dust
makes his tracks so easy to see
                      as the journey opens before him
                      his cry impending.
                             Yes, see him return...



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Thursday, June 19, 2014

midsummer wood



New leaves of Common Box (Buxus sempervirens)





Not-yet-open panicles of Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa).

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

John Aubrey: The Natural History of Wiltshire (1656-91)

John Aubrey in 1666, portrait by William Faithorne


[Image from the Ashmolean Museum website]

The book I have read is in fact an abridgement first published in 1847. The book was not published in Aubrey’s lifetime and represents a sort of ongoing compendium of “papers” that was added to over many years. He had freely offered these papers to Dr Plott, so he does not seem to have thought of them as a book, even when “tumultuarily stitch’t up”.

[This 1847 edition is available on E-Gutenberg.]

I pointed out a maybug on the pavement of a residential street in Bath. “Look at his antennae, they look like fans”, I lectured happily to a child in the vicinity -  “and look! his poo is green!” The child lingered while we strolled off up the hill. When we were far enough off, there was a stamping sound.

Of his own secret impulse to “make a scrutinie into the waies of nature”, Aubrey says that generally “’Twas held a sinne”, and of himself “Credit there was none; for it gets the contempt of a man’s neighbours”. So it does still, except in highly buffered zones such as universities (where, however, Natural History is not regarded as a subject).


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Molière (1622-73)


[pseud. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin]



Molière, re-imagined by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1694-1752)

You can easily read through Molière, mildly entertained, but thinking, how hackneyed all this is! When two people are at cross-purposes for pages at a time (e.g. Harpagon and Valère in Act V of L’avare), it seems a weak sort of entertainment, like a sitcom before the watershed. Then the sun shines, you feel a little more apt to join the human race, and all the jokes get deeper, they put down roots and extend into the play around them.

Scene from Tartuffe directed by Dominique Serrand, photo Michal Daniel 2006


Le Tartuffe, ou L'Imposteur (1664, revised several times to 1669)

A famous play, but the text that grew out of its difficult history is rather a bodge. Orgon seems to impose on himself, and this utter stupidity distracts from Tartuffe's power. When we eventually meet Tartuffe he seems a bit dim himself, merely a snake in the grass. The main point of the drama, Tartuffe's deception of his host, is hardly dramatized.

"Tartuffe himself is a titanic creation, one who makes our own 'Heap of Infamy' seem by comparison a mere cringing shadow" (John Wood). Strange remark. I really have a problem with seeing Tartuffe as a titanic creation. A role that doesn't appear until Act III more or less cedes any claim to be a protagonist. All we see him as is a conventional seducer. His power as a hypocrite is known only indirectly, and deceives no-one but Orgon and his mother. (Wood's allusion dates him - he is referring to Uriah Heep in David Copperfield.)

[This is a useful free Tartuffe, with introduction by Roger W. Herzel, translation by Prudence L. Steiner.

http://ptchanculto.binhoster.com/books/-Lit-%20Recommended%20Reading/Theater%20-%20Drama/Moliere_Tartuffe.pdf

]


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Monday, June 09, 2014

Bird Cherry (Prunus padus)

Here are some photos of Bird Cherry (Punus padus) when it was newly in bloom  (I took these on April 15th 2014 in West Swindon).






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Friday, May 23, 2014

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Sejanus (1603), The Alchemist (1610), Catiline his Conspiracy (1611), Bartholomew Fair (1614)


Ben Jonson, portrait by Abraham van Blyenberch

[Image taken from the splendid website of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, http://universitypublishingonline.org/cambridge/benjonson/k/essays/jonsons_images_essay/1/ . This is the painting in the National Portrait Gallery. Though unsigned, there's little doubt of the artist or the sitter; it was immediately much copied. It apparently belonged to George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, and it probably shows Jonson in about 1618.] 

Sejanus (1603) 

I have always favoured Ben Jonson’s writing - he is of course abundantly entertaining, but there is something else too, a sort of rugged justice in the grain of his writing, so it's a something I can also find in a poem, even in a panegyric addressed to some obscure noble. ("Favoured" means that I think I approve of Ben Jonson, rather aside from any particular thing that happens when I read him.) 

In spite of this I had never happened to read some of his masterpieces. Sejanus deserves to be called one of these, and is an astonishing play.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

specimens of the literature of Sweden: bottle of shampoo






This is an everyday shampoo. "Swedish hair-care tradition from Dalarna", says the bottle. The county of Dalarna, romantically rural but not too remote from Stockholm, has desirable connotations and is often thought of as the home of folksong; a sort of hyperreal heart of the Swedish nation, as exemplified by the painted wooden horses (dalahästar) that you find in airport souvenir shops, or the idyllic domestic paintings by Carl Larsson that you find on calendars. Here these idyllic connotations are helped along by the fanciful floral design on that very traditional Swedish shade of grey-blue. In Sweden there is, or is imagined to be, a continuity between nineteenth century folk art and tasteful modernist design: in the UK the discontiuity is felt to be stark. This sense of integration with the folk-past has very profound implications for Swedish life and for its economy. It is one of the main stories that Sweden sells to the world. It sells it to its own people too.

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Anne Righter: Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (1962)




Anne Righter (née Bobbyann Roesen, later Anne Barton, 1933 - 2013) is mainly remembered for this book, her first.

When I bought it recently (from Oxfam, because it was the cheapest book in the shop), I imagined hopefully that it would talk about the conception of the play that was shared by Shakespeare, his fellow-actors, and their audiences. Of course that conception could only be discovered by inference. But Righter sticks to a narrower and more directly accessible topic, Shakespeare's use of the play-image within the plays themselves. And, after all, this rigorous concentration does lead to interesting results. The principal one of which, is that Shakespeare's play-references grow to a sort of apotheosis of positivity around 1600, with the chorus speeches of Henry V* and the troupe of players in Hamlet, before then turning negative in character (the poor player who struts and frets). The negativity being especially apparent in Troilus and Timon.
Righter concludes that after 1600 Shakespeare experienced a growing disillusion with the stage; so her book is in effect a late contribution to the Victorian notion of Shakespeare's "dark period". But she links this observation to the history of the Elizabethan drama as a whole. After a long period of development from medieval drama, involving both disintegration and reintegration, a certain high point of naturalistic drama was attained (above all in Shakespeare), then something curdled and then came the transformation into masque which is echoed in certain ways by the elimination of naturalistic illusion in Shakespeare's last plays.

*To be accurate about this, Righter suggests that the Chorus's self-deprecating references to the "Wooden O" etc might mark the beginning of Shakespeare's disillusion with the stage. But I see the speeches as really glorying in the incredible things the stage can do, albeit by recruiting the audience's imagination.

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Saturday, May 03, 2014

Leaving the cottage

(poem still in progress)

LEAVING THE COTTAGE

1
The grass lies on the land,
     that set of keys.
Dumb as a bunch of keys, the grass is.
    It’s you who know!
Do you know what you know?
   Take this clutch of grass
and potter back and forth,
  letting out your prisoners.

2

This blue morning is also over Syria;
    this sky is too high for
that kind of division.
   A dove clears its bowels as it
takes off into the air.
   So many have engraved
their messages on the blue stone:
    everyone is writing on the cover, and
yet the pages are blank.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

My essay about Tim Allen now on Intercapillary Space

My longish review-essay of various works by the fantastic contemporary UK poet Tim Allen is now on Intercapillary Space:

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/tim-allen-settings-etc.html

As usual the essay initially took shape on this blog. I've removed it from its original location, but if you are curious about the context and why I start off by talking about classic novels rather than modern poetry, then this will expain it all:

http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/interim-cluttered-desk.html



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Monday, April 28, 2014

William Shakespeare: King Lear (1605-06)


[Cordelia (Ashley Ricard), Lear (Ron Gural), Regan (Trina Beck), Goneril (Rebecca Frank) in a Tulane Shakespeare Festival production from 2009. Photo by Brad Robbert, image sourced from http://www.nola.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2009/06/post_30.html]


[Line references are to the Series 3 Arden edition, ed. R.A. Foakes, 1997. This conflates the three scenes usually numbered II.2-4 into one tremendous composite scene that begins at dawn and ends at night (II.2).]


From The Faerie Queene, Bk II, Canto X:

                                 27

Next him king Leyr in happie peace long raind,
  But had no issue male him to succeed,
  But three faire daughters, which were well vptraind,
  In all that seemed fit for kingly seed:
  Mongst whom his realme he equally decreed
  To haue diuided. Tho when feeble age
  Nigh to his vtmost date he saw proceed,
  He cald his daughters; and with speeches sage
Inquyrd, which of them most did loue her parentage.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Prunus avium 'Plena'




Prunus avium 'Plena'.  Photos taken 15th April 2014 (a very early year), when a lot of the flowers are opening but the leaves are still small and reddish.

This a double variety of Wild Cherry. It flowers a bit later than most single-flowered Wild Cherry trees, and even from a distance has a noticeably different appearance when flowering: more tufty and irregular, the flowers less obviously sleeving the shoots.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities - "bestselling novel of all time". Allegedly.





The internet generally, and Wikipedia in particular, is obsessed with records. Consequently, you are quite likely to run across the the widely repeated claim that  A Tale of Two Cities is (as the Wikipedia article on Charles Dickens puts it) "the best selling novel of all time".

It isn't the most unlikely statement I've ever heard, but when I tried to trace it back to an authoritative source, I at first got no further than a chatty review by the novelist David Mitchell  in the Daily Telegraph from May 8th 2010.

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/7685510/David-Mitchell-on-Historical-Fiction.html

"Charles Dickens’ second stab at a historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, has sold more than 200 million copies to date, making it the bestselling novel – in any genre – of all time."

 Did Mitchell know what he was talking about? Maybe, but it seems that no-one else does.

Read more »

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Gerald Brenan, Richard Ford, Ronald Fraser



Gerald Brenan (portrait by Dora Carrington)

(Image from http://www.losgazquez.com/blog/?p=342)


Gerald Brenan, South of Granada (1957) 

This feels like it's becoming a rare occasion. I've actually finished a book, what's more a book that I haven't read before, and I've even read it in the prescribed order, from start to finish!  Dr Johnson, they say, never finished a book. I fear I'm going the same way, and can only look back with some relief at all the books I got under my belt in my twenties.

South of Granada, published in 1957 but mainly about Spain in the 1920s, is probably the most admired book in the "Hispanist" genre (i.e. books about Spain in English), notwithstanding Richard Ford. Most of it is about living in a then-remote village (Yegen) in the Alpujarras. The road from Almeria to Granada didn't yet exist, and only mule-traffic was possible. Don Geraldo is now remembered by a plaque, a circular walk (Brenan walked vast distances) and a projected museum. [Chris Stewart's popular books (Driving over Lemons etc) are also set in the Alpujarras. Did you know Chris was once a founder member of Genesis? Wikipedia can be quite interesting sometimes. Eventually everything becomes swamped by its hyperreal projection. The trivia section is what makes tomorrow's news. (In effect, the word "iconic" means "rich in trivia"; there's a vacuum at the heart of it.)]

One of the nicest things, I now remember, about writing about a book is that it gives me a chance to re-discover the pages that, by the time I finish it, are already gliding out of my memory.  Have I commented before, on the tendency of book reviewers to get hung up on the book's ending, to the detriment of their review? And sadly it's rare for the ending to be the most important part of a book.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Prunus sequence UK


Prunus 'Shirofugen', 20th April 2014

In 2014 we're seeing a more spread-out sequence than last year so it's easier to make sense of what's going on  (in 2013 all the early flowerers, except P. cerasifera, were held back by the freezing March and then bloomed all at once). These dates/times are for Southern England. As it's been such a mild winter this year, these dates are very early, around three weeks earlier than last year.

Phase I (very early, before equinox (Mar 20)

White-flowered:

Prunus cerasifera (Cherry-Plum)  - starts before the end of Feb.

Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn)  - starts mid-March, before the equinox; continues to mid-April.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

cherry laurel begins



Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) just coming into flower, on March 21st 2014. (On the same day I also saw the first flowers of Wild Cherry (P. avium) and Sargent Cherry (P. sargentii).)


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Monday, March 24, 2014

hand off


The grass lies on the land,

(1)        that set of keys.

Dumb as a bunch of keys, the grass is.

            It's you who know!

Do you know what you know?

           Take this clutch of grass

& potter back and forth,

           letting out your prisoners.


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Friday, March 21, 2014

visit to the local sewage farm

...attracted in by morning sun and a large golden patch of Colt's-foot (Tussilago farfara).

Photos from 17th March 2014.



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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jenny Allan's "Kit"

Now transferred to here:


  http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/jenny-allans-kit.html




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Thursday, March 13, 2014

William Shakespeare: Measure for Measure (1604)


Kenneth Colley as the Duke* in the 1979 BBC film

[* In the First Folio, the Duke is named as Vincentio (not Vicentio!) at the end of the text, in the "The names of all the Actors". No-one calls him by that name in the text itself, (well, you wouldn't) and so far as I can see he is always just Duke in the speech prefixes and SDs.]


In short order and skyingly, Measure for Measure can now be enjoyed for what it is, a wonderful and serious romantic comedy that is more usefully seen in apposition to Twelfth Night than to the plays it’s more commonly linked with. It works by fleet-footed scenes (all, bar the final one, rather brief) and is not afraid to leave gaps and to make momentary, casual use of characters and situations in pursuit of its object. The play has in fact a formal brilliance that perhaps was a springboard for Shakespeare to leap beyond such perfection into the wild elongations of Lear and Antony and Cleopatra.

Measure for Measure was after Shakespeare’s death rather neglected for three centuries. The reasons, e.g. its bawdiness and the central place it gives to dubiously legal sex, no longer survive as “problems” and nor do the more recent concerns that have been expressed as moral doubts about the behaviour of (chiefly) the Duke and Isabella. Problematizing is not after all a once-for-all process; problems vanish sometimes, and to notice this is a necessary clarification that does not, as some people fear, make things less complex than they are; on the contrary, it just clears the deck for what now appear as the real complexities.


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Thursday, March 06, 2014

pulmonaria begins

Pulmonaria officinalis
Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis), just coming into flower. I saw this one, just coming into flower on 5th march 2013, in a young woodland shelter belt between road and housing in West Swindon.

Pulmonaria is good for chest ailments, thus proving the doctrine of signatures to be not so silly after all. But probably the resemblance of the spotted leaves to diseased lungs was only noticed when the medicinal properties were already known. If Pulmonaria had been good for heartburn or urinary infections then we'd see that, instead.  NB I'd like to have a definite literary source for this resemblance. I'm quite suspicious about it, and it isn't in William Coles Art of Simpling.

P. officinalis is native to central Europe, and is a frequent non-native plant almost throughout the UK. In Sweden it's much rarer and  only seen in the extreme south. On the other hand P. obscura (unspotted leaves) is native and fairly common in central Sweden. (This latter is the plant known in Sweden as Lungört; P. officinalis is known as Fläcklungört.) P. obscura is also known (though incredibly rare) in Suffolk,  - first recorded 1842, but very likely native: all records are on ancient woodland and nobody bothers to grow P. obscura in gardens.


Pulmonaria officinalis, early flowers

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice



29/10/00 - Alone in the flat - I revert to atavistic behaviour - reading Shakespeare, whose plays I’ve neglected for ages. The last time it was The Merry Wives of Windsor - this time The Merchant of Venice - a better play, indeed intermittently gripping (I.3, IV.1). Questions unanswered: Why is Antonio sad (I.1)? Is Shylock’s speech supposed to sound “foreign”? What does “The quality of mercy is not strained” mean, exactly? Why does Portia deny Shylock his principal? (She has saved Antonio - what else matters?)

-----

Yes, there’s no doubt Shakespeare keeps us waiting in the Merchant - in fact, it’s our main posture. Hate and financial embarrassment are significantly more interesting than love in this play. So Act I builds with a dramatic force and logic like the swiftest tragedies. Portia appears as a lively prattler - her good sense is a benefit of economic independence - you can hardly foresee how instrumental she will become in the major plot.

In I.3 it must be said that Antonio behaves with dignity; his outburst of anger surely appeals to us as a principled rejection of usury. In fact we have only Shylock’s word for Antonio’s anti-Semitism, and if Antonio acts imprudently here it is from the practical and productive motives of love (Antonio not denying his previous bald rudeness, but not displaying it either). If his later explanation of Shylock’s hatred is countenanced, it seems that the play intends us to think that Shylock is morbidly over-sensitive. Which is how inconvenient oppressed minorities are usually described by their oppressors.

Whatever may be justly said in extenuation, I think the Merchant is seen most accurately as fundamentally anti-Semitic and also (in David Nirenberg’s terms) anti-Judaic - an author working within the general climate of opinion. If Shakespeare for the most part restricts coarse racial insult to the lips of Graziano, that is more from manners than principle - Graziano is a great joker (so no harm done, then?) and is within the fold of the righteous - fit to marry Nerissa.

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Note for "Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights"



[Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1992 movie).]

 I probably will write a post about Wuthering Heights one day. But for the moment:

It's always nice to recommend on-line material,  and I think the following is a terrific collection of biographical and critical ideas by Clare B. Dunkle (arising from her researches for a prequel to Wuthering Heights)

http://www.claredunkle.com/Design/maidsbrmaster.htm

She writes about the question of Emily's hypothetical second novel here:


Emily could have had more than two years for writing a second novel - i.e. from the time that Wuthering Heights was first packed off to publishers (July 1846?)  up to when she became ill on October 1st, 1848 (at Branwell's funeral).

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Miny imperial

#the tower
#
#
towers, buoyant serapi
Garlands
Berenice strolled on flags
and on heavy inscriptions
Oh, heavenly. I am stood here patient enough

Have you forgiven gas attax yet?

I must feed my child
Cathy.. betrayal #

Berenice scrambled flailed
the plaster knife ran all over the surface
They mustered, unbuttoning

Sov, du lilla videung

Franco in Moscow

Language can't say what I know

They're always asking for strength

the village lives only on its surface,
courting, labouring...
its dead are forgotten

Life, an illusion

The pearl waves pouring through the flume

An afternoon dark with mustering pines

And the child ran into the barn, I panicked,
I couldn't see her I flew
and then I trod on my ankle
like a fool

I banged the cupboards
and the dust flew what a dingy night

I was life, multitudes, when I came to know this.

I rose straight up with my child held above my head, the warmth of patterned blankets descended from Government Hill and burst into floral borders is that the way you imagined it

*

yellow mint tabs, caplet abstracted, multiplication red plaza mosaic,
The figures were cultivating the green, soil plots and the cream chimneys,
generators of a low grey thudding hum across a walkway behind a temple.
The fox-form slunk into the bramble,
The fox's buoyed tail like the sock of coastal plains; no paintings near the coast,
grey and mint panels, ranks of long canted grass reflexion,
the lofted spokes energised, enervated. sink-white aloft. 


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Monday, February 17, 2014

flowers from Jämtland (July 2013)

A few more photos from my stay in Jämtland last July:

Angelica sylvestris

Wild Angelica (Strätta, Angelica sylvestris). One of the most characteristic plants of Norrland.  Often, as here, flushed pink. Grey Alder in the background. 

Dianthus deltoides

Maiden Pink (Baknejlika, Dianthus deltoides). Quite common in villages, road-verges, old farmsteads, pastureland... anywhere, in short, that human beings have managed to win back from the blanket forest.  

Trichophorum alpinum

Cotton Deergrass (Ullsäv, Trichophorum alpinum, formerly known as Scirpus hudsonianus). Common in northern Sweden. Once recorded in Scotland (a bog in Angus from 1791 - c. 1813), but long extinct. An extremely beautiful sight, I thought.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The flowers of Jämtland - Nattviol

Platanthera bifolia flowers and fruits

Pictures from a stay in East Jämtland last summer (early July 2013).

Above, Lesser Butterfly-orchid = Nattviol (Platanthera bifolia). This one is the woodland variety with longer spurs (ssp. latiflora (Drejer) Löjtnant), known in Sweden as "Skogsnattviol".  On the right of the picture above, you can see a dried-up spike from the previous year.

Nattviol means "night violet" and refers to the fragrant scent at evening, designed to appeal to moths.

Here in Jämtland it's close to the northern limit of its range, but this should not lead you into thinking that the plants are rare or sickly.  Here in the woody copse known as "Sjögrens" at the back of our old summer cottage (to which, alas, we were saying our goodbyes) there has always been this healthy colony of nattviol. Perhaps the conditions are exceptionally good, in the sheltered Indal valley, on a calcareous west-facing slope.

Nattviol is a common plant in Sweden (especially central Sweden) and much celebrated, tending to become a symbol of the mystery and melancholy in those white nights of summer.

Dofta, dofta nattviol,
sommarnatt är ljum,
ingen oro sjuder.
Och till skogens tysta rum
långt ur fjärran ljuder
vemodsensam bondfiol.

Fragrant, fragrant night-violet,
summernight warm,
no unease here.
In the wood's silent spaces,
far from commotion,
one sad and lonely peasant violin.

(Erik Grotenfelt - a Finland-Swedish poet, 1891 - 1919. This unhappy poet, novelist and children's-book author, who was an early champion of Edith Södergran, received his military training in Germany, fought for the Whites during the Finnish Civil War, ordered the execution of sixty Red Guards and at least two women at Västankvarn in May 1918, initially carried out the sentences himself  (the men, he said afterwards, were not experienced in the enforcement of judgments), and shot himself a year later.  He was later claimed by Finnish Nazis as an inspirational forerunner, which more or less terminated any lingering interest in his writings.)

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

New on Intercapillary Space...

I've put up a couple of little notes on Intercapillary Space.  They are not much more than annotated links but they cover quite a lot of interesting ground (of a modern-poetry-and-poetics variety, but also taking in militancy and civil unrest, tiger economies, friendship...).

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/some-links-that-i-liked-visiting-in.html

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/links-of-transnational-friendship.html

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Tapping World Summit 2014

Yes, it's that time of year again....

The summit starts on February 24th. Lots of free stuff but it is time-limited, so make sure you sign up before the 24th and you can get a mass of free info about how (and why) to tap. Get on there now and you can watch Nick Ortner's 30-minute chat with Wayne Dyer, which is amazing.

http://www.mytapping.com/2014-tapping-world-summit.html

As for the summit itself, I'm expecting it to be the usual format of two presentations a day, all conducted by the brilliant Jessica Ortner.

(If you don't know why you'd be at all interested in this, then EFT aka "tapping" is a simple but profound technique for changing how you do things to get through life.)

If you're bothered about how this fits with conventional medicine, check out the interview with Lissa Rankin MD:

http://outrageoushealth.weebly.com/my-blog.html

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

What did the summer contain?

What did the summer contain?
(16)   It wasn't only the pine-scent, wasn't only
the meadow-sides flowing like a bright flag.
         At the river you picked up a
                                              handful of
         not only red river-gravel but all
            those one-syllable words: air, & love ...
(What dumb signposts they are! We who are tired
             of kicking up & down the same old road,
well, we have left some dents on them.)
         But, what was it?
Where the grass rippled up a bank,
         where we danced a mazurka & the
                                   sun became a golden berry -
what worm of no syllables
        lay wreathed & smiling in its gut?    

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Monday, February 03, 2014

William Shakespeare: King John (1595?)

Mrs Siddons on Constance, quoted in Thomas Campbell's Life of Mrs Siddons


King John is now about the least-performed of Shakespeare’s plays. I have read a review of a college production at M.I.T.; but it’s a long time since Mrs Siddons and her directors seized eagerly on the role of Constance to make a showstopping display of female loftiness.  The words used by Mrs Siddons, Mrs Jameson and others are “vehemence”, “passion” and “exquisite sensibility”. These were topics of urgent interest. The Romantic/Victorian cult of “the feminine nature” - though really depending on a belittlement of women as practical agents, as is now easily seen - permitted the relief of some acute pressure in that bizarre culture.

R. L. Smallwood’s interpretation of the play (in the New Penguin Shakespeare, 1974) turns its back on all this to emphasise the centrality of the Bastard and Hubert as, eventually, decent bystanders. This reading is humane and detailed, but it has some scarcely acknowledged difficulties. (Despite the evidence of speech prefixes, I hardly accept Hubert as identical with the citizen on the walls of Angiers. The two roles have clearly defined functions and nothing but questions seems to be gained from assimilating them.)

One difficulty is that the Bastard’s outrageous (and nearly implemented) suggestion that Angiers be levelled first and argued over later must be regarded as a sort of sarcasm. The idea is proposed with considerable energy. Another is that the Bastard is not shown as being in possession of the facts, so far as John’s death warrant on Arthur is concerned. This matters if his decisions are to be regarded as morally normative.

                                    If thou didst but consent
            To this most cruel act, do but despair...

So he says to Hubert. But John did consent, and the Bastard, not knowing this, is not really put to the test.

A better approach to this rumbustious character is via his kinship with Richard Coeur de Lion. His impatience with treaties is a military and temperamental one. He is well positioned to make deflating criticisms but he is not at all suitable as a comprehensive guide to political and national behaviour. Pugnacity is a sort of behaviour that is occasionally useful.

It is perhaps with these issues in mind that someone else has proposed playing King John as a “black comedy”, i.e. (so I suppose) a play in which all the action is to some extent vain and there is no moral centre. “Black comedy” seems to me an anachronistic genre, I mean when applied to Shakespeare; it can glide over difficulties but not help us.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595)

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in Franco Zefferelli's 1968 movie


Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars!

There is a tragic point at which all common sense says: it's a million to one against, so you might as well give up. This is the moment when love has to depart from common sense, whose negative conclusions are death warrants. When only a miracle can restore what you love, it becomes necessary to set about creating the conditions for a miracle. And "Nede hath no lawe".

*

- Ese problema… ¿no será el de “Romeo y Julieta”? ¿Es que sus familias no están de acuerdo en esa boda?

The “situation” in Romeo and Juliet is a formidable statement, with the force of folktale, but it belongs to a much larger class of stories of in which social forces stand in the way of a wished-for marriage between two lovers. In most cultures parents have wished to have a say in their child’s choice of a mate. Perhaps the most usual case in real life is when there is some perceived difference in social class, when B is “beneath” what is due to A’s family. In that respect  Romeo and Juliet idealizes. Here, so far as class goes (“both alike in dignity”) the pair could hardly be more eligible for each other. They are perfectly matched in every respect but one, a historic enmity whose details never concern us – an arbitrary enmity. This is difficult for us to relate to, and Jerome Robbins was the visionary who in 1949 saw that the story could be about a cultural and ethnic clash: originally, he imagined a Roman Catholic Tony and a Jewish Maria, but as West Side Story developed the Jets became N. European-American and the Sharks Puerto Rican. This is such a natural transformation of the story that we tend to try and retro-fit it to Romeo and Juliet, but Shakespeare follows Brooke in making both families entirely Veronese (whatever unspecific thing this evoked for him) – though Tybalt does say, intriguingly, “This by his voice should be a Montague”.   

The enmity between the Montagues and the Capulets lacks the drive of ethnic/cultural antipathy; it also lacks an economic angle (such as we learnt to enjoy in that child of West Side Story, The Godfather). The family hostility imagined by Shakespeare is very unlike a feud or a vendetta, which would be patriarchally driven and enforced as duty. Here, on the contrary, old Capulet and (probably) old Montague are merely embarrassed by their legacy. Where the hostility still flourishes is among the younger men and the junior followers. It's far more like urban tribes than we might have expected. Some have inferred conclusions from this that tend to disparage the actions of the lovers and their unfortunate outcomes; they say that the lovers should not have acted against their families, that everyone would have come round in time. This is to revert unexpectedly to the moralistic stance of Brooke’s preface of 1562:

A coople of unfortunate lovers, thralling themselves to unhonest desire, neglecting the authoritie and advise of parents and frendes, conferring their principall counsels with dronken gossyppes, and superstitious friers (the naturally fitte instruments of unchastitie) attemptyng all adventures of peryll, for thattayning of their wished lust, usyng auriculer confession (the kay of whoredome, and treason) for furtheraunce of theyr purpose, abusyng the honorable name of lawefull mariage, the cloke the shame of stolne contractes, finallye, by all meanes of unhonest lyfe, hastyng to most unhappye deathe.

This is not where Brooke’s poem intends to leave us: he leaves a mixed impression, which is what Shakespeare also achieves, though with much greater subtlety. In Shakespeare’s play the dazzle of summer energies produces a range of flowers, of which love is one and violence another; it is truly about society but not in the same sort of way that West Side Story is.

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trippel deckare

I'm reading a "deckare" (i.e. whodunnit) by Stig O Blomberg (1922-99), to brush up on my Swedish. Blomberg was a reporter and 1950s crime novelist who wrote under the pseudonym Olle Villner.

In fact this is an omnibus triple published by Semic. (Incidentally, I have noticed this book in IKEA bookshelf displays.)

In the later crime novels published under his own name, such as Dödens Pilar (Death's Arrows) (1987) - which is the one I'm reading now - Olle Villner is the fictional hero: a reporter, former crime novelist, and author.

Anders O Blomberg has put up the following web page about his father, with some fantastic images of the jackets of the earlier books.



http://www.epx.se/stigo/


Dödens Pilar is set in a guest-house in a small  fishing village on the coast of Bohuslän. (Olle Villner has decided to take a relaxing holiday break....)

Bohuslän is apparently a good locale for crime stories. Camilla Lackberg comes from Fjällbacka and her books are all about the "Tanumshede" force and are usually set in these parts. The appeal might have something to do with Bohuslän being the closest part of the west coast to Stockholm, a natural and scenic destination for week-ends away.

But back to Blomberg's book. In the early pages Villner makes friends with another guest, the elderly Hilding Sand. Good chance to see old-style Swedish manners at work. The pair meet in the corridor and go down to lunch together, each addressing the other in the third person  (If Min Herre has no other plans, may I suggest a walk to the harbour?). Sand becomes quite confiding, but the third-person form is retained all through lunch. Afterwards, when he comes down to the garden after changing his shoes, he says formally: "As the eldest, may I propose that we lay aside titles?" After that they talk normally. This is about two hours after their initial meeting.

Dödens Pilar just about predates the mobile phone and the PC. This makes quite a big difference to the feel of it.  The world is considerably more spacious. It's much easier to "disappear": just walk out of your door. It's impractical to gain information about lots of things. The other thing that stands out to me is that everyone is reading books and magazines. (As the tension mounts, they are sometimes only pretending to read them.)

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Friday, January 24, 2014

home - leaving Norrland

The day of sun developed; the wooden church
(6)                               spires
the faint sighs of cloud in
                                    a clear blue sky,
the chorus of trees waiting to begin
                                    the concert.
Where does the sea find its home?
Where does the beetle in the pit find
                                    its home?
Where do the racing insects of a
                                   day
return, but to now and its noise,
like the squeaking of a carriage?  
                                    
 

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

William Shakespeare: Love's Labour's Lost (1593-94, revised 1597)


Perhaps this play has a shadowy existence for the general reader, though it is now staged rather often. As a child my only glancing contacts with it were practising how to say the word Honorificabilitudinitatibus and singing the incomparable Winter song about "Dick the shepherd blows his nail", which was probably added in the 1597 revision, most likely for the performance for Queen Elizabeth in Christmas 1597. (I am summarizing the most likely sequence of events, though none of these things is certain.)

The quarto title-page describes itself as “Newly corrected and augmented” and this seems to imply that there was an earlier “bad” quarto. In the same manner, the good Q2 of Romeo and Juliet describes itself as "Newly corrected, augmented, and amended", and Q2 of Hamlet “Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect coppie.”



Love's Labour's Lost, Title page of the Quarto


That the hypothesized bad quarto of LLL is not extant is not especially disturbing: after all, the bad quarto of Hamlet survives in only two copies, and was not rediscovered until 1827. There is something oddly polite about these good quarto references to their bad quarto predecessors. The Folio roundly describes all its quarto predecessors as "stol'n and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by frauds and stealths of injurious impostors". Given the Elizabethan taste for invective, you might have expected the good quartos to make a good deal of their own authoritative excellence and of their predecessors’ wicked incompetence: to describe themselves, instead, merely as “corrected” is in some degree to legitimize the earlier publications. Perhaps the former were not quite so illegitimate, or the latter not quite so legitimate, as we might reasonably infer.

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