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Radio 4 Tackles Bad Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 6:01am in

Ho ho! According to next week’s Radio Times for 23rd – 29th May 2020, next Saturday’s The Archive will be on the subject of Bad Culture. This is the type of music, art, literature, film, TV or whatever which is so bad that it’s entertaining. The blurb about it in the Radio Times reads

Steve Punt is joined by Grace Dent, Robin Ince and Laura Snapes to analyse why seemingly bad culture can be so enjoyable, looking at the films of Michael Winner, the songs of Astley and the poetry of Danielle Steele.

The programme’s Archive on 4: So Bad It’s Good?, and it’s on Radio 4, Saturday 23rd May, at 8.00 pm.

Robin Ince, who presents The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Brian Cox, wrote a book a few years ago, The Bad Book Club. This was about some of his favourite terrible books, one of which was the autobiography of John Major’s half-brother, Terry Major-Ball. But people have been particularly bad films for a very long time. I think that goes back to the ’70s at least, when Michael Medved, before he morphed into a right-wing pundit, published The Golden Turkey Awards about some of the worst movies ever made. Then in the early ’80s he presented Channel 4’s The Worst of Hollywood, which screened some of the classics of Bad cinema. These included Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster, The Wild Women of Wonga and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Ed Wood was the stunningly bad director who also gave the world Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex, and Robot Monster. The costume for the latter creature was a gorilla suit with a diving helmet stuck on top. The guy who played it did so because he owned the gorilla suit. I think it’s also in Robot Monster that there’s a 2 minute segment of dinosaurs going on the rampage for no reason at all. It’s because Wood’s studio was right next to that of stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was responsible for a string of SF/monster movies, including Earth Versus the Flying Saucers, as well as the sequence in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad where the Arab sailor fights an army of skeletons. Wood used to go round to Harryhausen and use any material that the other director had no use for after editing. That day Harryhausen had cut 200 feet of film out of a film about dinosaurs, and gave it to Wood when he asked him if there was anything he could use. Glen/Glenda is about a man struggling to come to terms with his transvestism. It’s a serious subject, which in the hands of a good director would no doubt be highly praised by critics. But this was made by Wood, so it’s abysmal. Like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it has Bela Lugosi in it. He plays God in a dream sequence in which he says ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’ This makes no sense at all. The film is, however, one of Alice Cooper’s favourites, or so he told Muriel Grey on Channel 4’s pop programme The Tube a long time ago. When she asked him ‘Why?’, he replied that it was because it made him wonder just what he had just watched because it was so weird. Her reply was classic: ‘You’re a strange boy, Alice’. Yes, and he’s made a whole career out of it. Wood was himself a transvestite with a passion for cashmere sweaters, a fact not lost to the makers of the ’90s film biography of him.

Since The Worst of Hollywood has come Mystery Science Theatre 3000. This is an SF look at Bad Films, in which the crew of an orbiting satellite a thousand watch, and make rude remarks about, terrible movies. The SF author, Jack Womack, responsible for a series of books set in a violent, dystopian future Ambient, Random Acts of Mindless Violence, Heathern and Elvissey, is also an aficionado of weird and Bad books. He supplied a list of some of his favourites in his personal collection, with his comments on them, in an interview he gave in the ’90s to the Science Fiction magazine, SF Eye. They included Bottom’s Up with the Rear Admiral: Memoirs of a ProctologistThe Elvis Image, which is about a journalist crisscrossing the deep south in search of Elvis impersonators, and Behold! The Protong!!! by Stanislaw Szuchalski. Womack described this as ‘America’s greatest eccentric tells you why Communists are descended from the Yeti’. 

A few years an academic did a study of the type of people who deliberately went to see bad movies. He found that they tended to be of above average intelligence, and also watched transgressive cinema. You know, like the films of John Waters and some of the other cinematic horrors Jonathan Ross discussed in the ’80s in his Channel 4 series, The Incredibly Strange Film Show. They like those for the same reasons they enjoy terrible films, because both provide an experience that is outside the mainstream.

This could be a very funny, interesting programme about some truly awful cultural productions. But will it include any clips from Wood’s wretched oeuvre? 

On Station Eleven, Civilizational Collapse, and the PSR

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/05/2020 - 11:14pm in

We have been blessed...in so many ways, have we not? We are blessed most of all in being alive today. We must ask ourselves, 'Why? Why were spared?'...I submit...that everything that has ever happened on this earth has happened for a reason....For it has been revealed to me that the plague of twenty years ago was just the beginning, my angels, only an initial culling of the impure, that last year's pestilence was but further preview and there will be more cullings, far more cullings to come. Emily St. John Mandel (2014) Station Eleven, 59-61 [HT Neil Levy]

Pandemics are never welcome. But the present pandemic is badly timed because the Anglophone and cultural heartland of liberal thought, which for better and for worse is the military and financial epicenter of our civilization, has been struggling with a badly bungled aftermath of a massive financial crisis that ended up reinforcing the advantages of the rich and well-connected by impoverishing state capacity and threatening the privileges and self-confidence of those that formed the bedrock of conservative majorities. These have put state power in the hands of celebrity demagogues and political adventurers with no sense of public welfare and common good, and who strategically try to entrench the politics of zero-sum, and with noxious efficiency try to reduce mutual trust in which they thrive. And so the very powers that were left standing after the cold war, are now more fragile than they have been in two centuries. 

The conceit behind Station Eleven, which has a resolutely Canadian orientation, is that a deadly pandemic, much more deadly than Covid-19, arrives in the aftermath of an "economic collapse, or so everyone called it at the time," (218); I quote from an elegiac moment, in fictional time it is supposed to resonate where we were half a decade ago, when Miranda, a shipping executive who had once been married to a famous actor (Arthur Leander), is looking at "the largest shipping fleet ever assembled...fifty miles east of Singapore Harbor" just before she receives word of the death of Arthur and the first inkling that "the fabric" of civilization would be "unravelling" for a true collapse (239). In her marriage, Miranda had been a kept woman and she sublimated her sense of isolation and entrapment with a cartoon entitled, Station Eleven. The cartoon appears in a limited edition and is the plot device that  ends up connecting the main characters of the story and the invitation to have us reflect obliquely on the meaning of the story told.  

Arthur Leander, by then a faded star, dies while performing Lear in Act 4 of Lear. He dies just as he has been asked (by Gloucester) "Dost thou know me?" And one of the very clever conceits of the novel is that the answer to that question, and the double-life between representation or acting and reality, is unfolded as we try to put the pieces together of the intersections of many lives as if they are a scrambled jigsaw puzzle with constant oblique references to the play and the cartoon. 

And just as a version of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) -- "Nothing will come of nothing" -- structures the action of Lear, so, too, the PSR drives the action of Station Eleven (in addition the passage quoted above, see also p. 96) as we follow along a traveling troupe of musicians and actors (who perform Shakespeare), the so-called Travelling Symphony. And just as there are many oblique angles in the jigsaw, so the PSR has a multiplicity of meanings. For example, for some characters it entails that no moment has special standing and that "everything passes" (249). For others it is the ground for a new vision of life, such as Tyler (249, spoiler alert: "the prophet" quoted above). The vision is propelled by the explanatory demand "to know that" great suffering "happened for a reason." (259)

I read Station Eleven a month ago and it was uncanny how prescient the early pages of the book were then to the unfolding news. And while aesthetically Cormac McCarthy's The Road hangs like a shadow over the book,* and at times Station Eleven insists on making things too explicit -- "Shakespeare had lived in a plague-ridden society with no electricity and so did the Travelling Symphony"  --, there is plenty to admire in St. John Mandel's narrative. And I thought one of the (Sartre inspired) lines captures nicely what makes the present lockdown so harrowing: hell is the absence of the people you long for. (144).

The book stays far from the politics of the pre-pandemic period. A key political point exhibited is that in collapse human diversity reasserts itself; in the state of nature we are shown different kinds of social experiments in human living. At one point the narrator, who turns out to be less omniscient than one realizes, says:

Civilization in Year Twenty was an archipelago of small towns. These towns had fought off ferals, buried their neighbors, lived and died and suffered together in the blood-drenched years just after the collapse, survived against unspeakable odds and then only by holding together into the calm, and these places didn't go out of their way to welcome outsiders. (48)

I don't betray much when I note that in Year Twenty in addition to these towns, there there are more sinister forms of communal life and that one of the most idyllic spots of the former American midwest is a regional airport with enough tranquility and safety to develop a Museum of Civilization.

The book suggests that pandemics unsettle previous commitments about transcendence. The most unsettling new religious vision we're presented with, a veritable "death cult," originates in the grave explanatory demands of the PSR, when a boy searches for the hidden meaning behind his lucky survival "why did they die instead of us." (259; see also 260-261.) The boy's creativity is channeled into a new theology: "A new world requires new gods." (261) And, of course, this new theology will draw on familiar elements. Because in the search for meaning, there is also a desire for the safety we associate with (romanticized) childhood ("we long only for the world we born into." 302))  And I wouldn't be surprised to learn, if I am around in twenty years, that away from the current headlines a new popular religion has originated in our midst. As viruses spread death, deadly memes spread alongside them ("insanity is contagious" (261)). 

Like much of dystopian fiction (recall), Station Eleven presents us less with an image of the future and more with an oblique mirror of our times. I would betray its message if I claimed that civilizational collapse is foreseeable. In the book and, presumably, in reality collapse happens when one is making other plans. But what the history of civilizational collapse also tells us (recall here on Sallust; and more abstractly here) is that it is thinkable in advance and often occurs when the knowledge to prevent it is available yet can't be acted on. In the narrative of Station Eleven, such knowledge is lodged in the surviving plays of Shakespeare, which return from palatial theatres to the circulating knowledge of people in deserted landscapes. But it reminds us, too, that whatever may survive from us beyond collapse, may just be be mere ephemera among the interstices of the cult and culture of celebrity. 

 

*Unlike The Road, Station Eleven also points (throughout the action) toward a new beginning. The earliest signs will be news-reports in which the regularized "announcements of births and deaths and weddings" (263) form the bedrock. The recording of life and death presuppose community; and weddings presuppose possible offspring and property and a planning horizon in which expectations about these need to be regularized. 

Cartoon: Up Pompous

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/04/2020 - 4:03am in

As I said, I’m glad Boris Johnson has recovered enough from the Coronavirus to be sent home. I really don’t want anyone to die from this disease, including BoJob. But his recovery also means that I can at last put up the cartoon below. I was drawing just when it was announced that Johnson had been taken into hospital, and to lampoon the man when he was fighting for his life would have been unacceptable. But Johnson’s illness doesn’t change what he is, or what he and his party stand for. And so they’re still suitable subjects for ridicule and satire.

Johnson prides himself on his classic learning. He presented a series a few years ago on ancient Rome, and had a column in the Spectator when he was its editor, in which he discussed what lessons the classics had for us today. I remember one piece he did in his series about Rome, in which he contrasted the early empire, which was governed by just 12 men, with the army of MEPs and bureaucrats that administer the EU. The obvious lesson there was that smaller government equals good government. Of course the argument falls apart when you consider the vast distance in time, morals and social and technological sophistication, as well as the simple fact that the EU and its constituent nations are meant to be democracies. Ancient Rome wasn’t. It was an oligarchy, in which only a narrow section of the population had the vote, and the only real political power was that of the emperor and the army. The senate continued to meet under the empire, but their debates were so meaningless that I think they more or less stopped having them. One emperor was forced to send them a message requesting them to debate something. With his background in the classics and admiration for ancient Rome, it therefore made sense to lampoon Boris as a Roman politician.

But readers of this blog of a certain age will also remember the late, great Frankie Howerd and the comedy, Up Pompeii. This was set in the famous Roman city, and starred Howerd as the slave, Lurcio. It would start with Lurcio leaving the house, sitting down on a convenient seat, and saying ‘Salute, citizens. And now, the prologue -‘ at which point he would be interrupted by some commotion. And thus would begin that week’s episode. It was a ’70s BBC TV show, but in the winter of 1990-1, it was revived by ITV. Howerd was once again Lurcio. But the show had moved with the times and changed one character. In the original series, I think the son of the family that owned him was supposed to be gay, and the butt of various jokes about effeminacy by Lurcio. This was before the gay rights movement had had quite the impact it has now, when jokes about gays were still acceptable. By the 1990s they weren’t, and so the gay son was replaced by a eunuch, so they could still carry on making the same jokes about lack of masculinity. Sadly, it only lasted one episode, as Howerd died after the first episode was shown.

His material, like the ‘Carry On’ films, is dated now, but Howerd was a great comedian and genuinely funny man. He lived in the village of Mark in Somerset, and after his death his home was turned into a museum. He was very popular and respected there, because whenever they had a village fete, he’d turn up to do a turn and give them his support. He also, I heard, used to rehearse in the church hall. A friend of mine told me he’d actually been in a church service while Howerd was rehearsing, and his lines could be heard coming through the hall. Let’s hope they weren’t the monologue where he pretended to be a vicar, and joked about how last Sunday he held a three-hour service for the incontinent. ‘There wasn’t a dry aisle in the house’, is the punchline to that one.

So I’ve drawn Johnson as a Roman patrician politician, being jeered and pelted with mud, cabbages and buckets of water by the mob. Behind him is Howerd’s Lurcio, looking at once shocked and puzzled, and underneath is one of Howerd’s catchphrases ‘Titter ye not’.

As Johnson and his party are authoritarian and extremely right-wing, I’ve tried to show their Fascistic tendencies in the decoration at the top. The pattern around the panel is based on a Roman design, although I’ve taken a few liberties. If you look at it, it’s composed of repeating swastikas. It also has the fasces, the bundle of rods with an axe attached. This was the ancient Roman symbol of the lictor, a Roman official. The rods symbolised his right to beat, and the axe to behead, Roman citizens. It was also adopted by Mussolini’s Fascists and their counterparts in other nations, like Oswald Mosley’s disgusting BUF.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and it helps cheer you up in these dreadful times.

 

Cartoon: Hellbender (Hellraiser Parody)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 5:03am in

Hello, and welcome to another of my cartoons. This one isn’t political. I thought it would be in very poor taste to mock Boris now that he is in hospital with Coronavirus. Not that it changes what his party is, or what it’s done to Britain – wreck its economy, destroy the welfare state, continue privatising the NHS and cause massive poverty and suffering to its working people. All the while proclaiming very loudly that it’s done the opposite of the above. So instead of attacking Boris, I decided to have a little fun parodying one of my favourite ‘Orror flicks: Hellraiser.

Released in 1987 and directed by Clive Barker, Hellraiser was based on his novella, The Hellbound Heart. This was the story of a family, American Larry Cotton, his daughter Kirsty, and her British stepmother, Julia, who move into a new home in Britain. But Julia has had a secret affair with Larry’s brother, Frank. Seeking extreme sensual pleasures, Frank obtains the Lament Configuration, a mysterious puzzle box. He solves it, only to find that it opens a gateway to hell, and he’s literally torn apart by barbed hooks at the end of chains.

Frank had been living in the house just before the Cottons move in. Looking around the attic room, Julia catches her hand on a nail, bleeding on the floor. The blood brings back Frank as a flayed corpse. Frank explains to her that he has escaped from hell, and must run. However, he needs her to help him. He therefore gets her to lure men back home, where they’re killed so that Frank can use their bodies to make himself whole.

But Kirsty also finds the Lament Configuration. Solving it in her hospital room, she summons the Cenobites, the demons that drag whoever solves it back to their dimension to endure an eternity of pain and suffering. The Cenobites are bald, deathly white, their flesh scarred and mutilated, and clad in black leather. Their leader, Pinhead, who is never actually called that in the original movie, got his name from the nails driven into his head. They differ from other demons in that they derive pleasure from pain. In one of the classic lines from the movie, Pinhead answers Kirsty’s question of who they are: ‘Explorers of the further reaches of experiences. Demons to some, angels to others’.

The film was made for a mere $1 million. Unlike the majority of low budget films, Hellraiser was actually very good. So good in fact that Stephen King declared that he had ‘seen the future of Horror, and it was Clive Barker’. Sadly, that early promise was not fulfilled. Barker has continued writing, adding painting to his skills, but his output is viewed as patchy by critics. Nevertheless, Hellraiser spawned a series of sequels, the first of which, Hellbound, portrayed hell as a kind of demonic Max Escher drawing. It produced a series of comics, and the Cenobites, and especially Pinhead, joined the ranks of great movie monsters.

There’s a type of salamander living in the southern USA called a hellbender. Looking at the similarity between its name and that of Barker’s movie, I simply thought it would be funny to draw a spoof of it in which Pinhead appears as a salamander. The Axalotl is another such creature, though it differs from other species in that it retains it gills throughout its adult life. And the punchline at the bottom is simply a play on the movie’s slogan, ‘It’ll tear your soul apart’.

Incidentally, Andrew Robinson, who played Larry in the film, went to play Garak, the Cardassian tailor/spy in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I hope you enjoy it, and can read the script. Unfortunately, the red doesn’t really stand out against the purple background. Here’s the cartoon. Don’t have nightmares.

 

£20 Notes Now Claimed to Be Part of the Coronavirus Conspiracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/04/2020 - 4:43am in

Okay, the conspiracy theory about Coronavirus being spread by 5G mobile phone masts has reached a new level of Batshit craziness. Zelo Street today has put up a piece debunking the latest wrinkle, which is that the conspiracy is shown on the £20 note. This shows a mobile phone mast, and a schematic of something that looks like the virus, according to the people, who believe this bilge.

But it doesn’t. According to a piece in the Express on Friday, what looks like a phone mast is actually no such thing. It’s a picture of Margate lighthouse, which was a favourite location for the great Victorian painter, Turner. And the putative virus schematic is actually a diagram of Tate Britain’s staircase. Because the £20 note is in honour of Turner, and Tate Britain has got his portrait in it. The Depress is a terrible newspaper, but this time they’ve done something right, especially as, according to the Groan, 20 phone masts have now been set alight. Some of them aren’t even 5G, but 3G or 4G.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/5g-hoax-is-now-beyond-barking.html

This type of rumour – that signs of the conspiracy are in hidden in plain sight, on dollar bills or company logos – has been running around since at least the ’60s. One of the most famous examples is Proctor & Gamble’s logo. This used to show a bearded old man’s head, and thirteen stars. This was alleged to be proof that the company was run by Satanists.  Curls in the old man’s hair were supposed to form 666, the number of the Great Beast of the end times, while the thirteen stars represented the 13 members of a witches’ coven. It was all rubbish. Proctor & Gamble’s an American company, and the 13 stars were supposed to represent the 13 founding states of the USA. The old man did not represent Satan, and it really was just happenstance the way those curls fell. The logo’s since been redesigned, so that the curls have been straightened out so nobody can mistake them for a Biblical prophecy that partly refers to the emperor Nero. The company has been accused of Satanic connections so many times, however, that they have made it very clear that they take an extremely proactive stance to anyone making the claim. This means that the moment someone puts together a flyer, pamphlet or otherwise disseminates the myth, the company goes after them with a suit.

Another example is Marlboro cigarettes. There was a rumour that the company head, Philip Marlboro, was a member of the KKK, and that the company’s connection to the Klan was covertly shown on the cigarettes’ packaging. Looked at the right way, the faces of the packet showed a ‘K’ in red, black and gold. This was supposed to show that the company was part of the Klan against Reds – Socialists and Communists – Blacks, and Golds – the Jews. It’s another myth, though Marlboro won’t say one way or another if it’s true, which is probably a mark of corporate disdain. As a tobacco company, Marlboro’s evil enough without having to include the Klan.

The rumours going around about the £20 note just seem to me to be another example of people finding spurious patterns and meaning where there isn’t any. Now there really are covert conspiracies out there, and sometimes the rumours of secret symbolism are actually true. The city of Bath was planned and laid out in the early 18th century by a freemason, and so the Royal Crescent there really is a lunar symbol, according to masonic symbolism. But that’s far from saying that Bath is run by any kind of Masonic conspiracy now, although I don’t doubt that it has its lodges. That type of secret society and its symbolism exists.

But the myth about the Coronavirus and 5G phone masts is just a myth. Treat it as such.

A Proto-Genealogy of Classic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/04/2020 - 2:23am in

Tags 

art, Berkeley

Whenever a Gentleman and a Scholar tums Editor of any Book, he at the fame Time commences Critick upon his Author ; and that wherever he finds the Reading suspected, manifestly corrupted, deficient in Sense, and unintelligible, he ought to exert every Power and Faculty of the Mind to supply such a Defect, to give Light and restore Sense to the Passage, and, by a reasonable Emendation, to make that satisfactory and consistent with the Context, which before was so absurd, unintelligible, and intricate....But as I have laid it down as a Rule to myself not to be arbitrary, fantastical, or. wanton, in my Conjectures upon our Author, I (hall venture to aim at some little Share of Reputation, in endeavouring to. restore Sense to Pastages in which no Sense has hitherto been found ; or, sailing in that Hope, must submit to incur, which I should be very unwilling to do, the Censure of a rash and vain Pretender.
As Shakespeare stands, or at least ought to stand, in the Nature of a Classic Writer, and, indeed, he is corrupt enough to pass for one of the oldest Stamp, every one, who has a Talent and Ability this Way, is at liberty to make his Comments and Emendations upon him...And he, who has the Luck to be allowed any Merit in it, does not only do a Service to the Poet, but to his Country and its Language. This Author is grown so universal a Book, that there are very few Studies, or Collections of Books, tho' small, amongst which it does not hold a Place: And there is scarce a Poet, that our English Tongue boasts of, who is more the Subject of the Ladies Reading. But with what Pleasure can they read Passages, which the Incorrectness of the Editions will not suffer them to understand?--Lewis Theobald  (1726) Shakespeare restored, or, A specimen of the many errors, as well committed, as unamended, by Mr. Pope in his late edition of this poet: designed not only to correct the said edition, but to restore the true reading of Shakespeare in all the editions ever yet publish'd, v-vi

In his entertaining Philology: the Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities,* James Turner writes that "by the early 1700s, readers had come to see well-known English authors of bygone eras as "Classic" like Cicero or Homer; so Lewis Theobald called Shakespeare in 1726." (80) It occurred to me that my attempt to offer an analysis (inspired by Coetzee's treatment) of the nature of a classic in philosophy had missed an important angle: when (and perhaps why) did "classic" take on something like our meaning? So, I decided to leave Turner aside momentarily, and turned to Theobald. 

In the seventeenth century,  a classic meant something like, "of or belonging to the highest class; approved as a model" (in the still extant sense of being first in class). For many it was obvious (some of ) the Greek and Latin authors counted as classic in this sense ("belonging to or characteristic of standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity" is attested in the 1620s). So, a "classic" in the seventeenth century sense is honorific and refers to a small class of excellent, ancient authors.  In the 1726 Shakespeare restored, Theobald does not use 'classic' and its cognates very often. But in most cases he uses it in the traditional sense.

So, for example (and one of interest to Berkeley scholars), at one point he argues that 'notion' should be inserted where the printed edition of Otello has 'motion.' And then, while illustrating what 'notion' means by appealing, he states "The Classics, I think, have employ'd the Word in the
same Sense: And Cicero, I remember, to quote no worse an Author, has defin'd it thus." (Theobald 1726: p. 129) Somewhat amusingly, Cicero, in turn, is quoted as quoting a Greek authority. 

In fact, in my opinion the only instance he is willing to apply 'classic' in innovative fashion to a more recent author is in the sentence quoted from the introduction above. That Theobald knows he is innovating by applying 'classic' to Shakespeare is, I think, clear from his phrasing. "As Shakespeare stands, or at least ought to stand, in the Nature of a Classic Writer," His "ought to stand" reveals it is not yet established practice, but a proposal.* 

And in order to avoid confusion, Theobald is not claiming that Shakespeare is corrupt  ("and, indeed, he is corrupt enough to pass for one of the oldest Stamp"), but rather that the printed editions of Shakespeare are corrupted (in the same manner as old texts get corrupted over time). Seven years later (in 1733), in the "preface" of his seven volume Works of William Shakespeare, Theobald makes the very point: "Shakespeare's Case has in great Measure resembled That of a corrupt Classick, and consequently, the method of Cure was likewise to bear a Resemblance." (xxxix; the sentence is also quoted by Turner on p. 81.) Here, too, Theobald is not yet insisting that Shakespeare is a classic; a resemblance not being identical to its exemplar.

So, I take it to be an open question when, exactly, 'classic' became decoupled from the small band of ancient exemplars. I welcome suggestions from my learned readers! I suspect, but this is a hypothesis, this only happened when in the battle between ancients and moderns, the balance of power/taste shifted toward the moderns. (Obviously, and as Turner notes later, in the nineteenth century a discipline called 'classical studies' or simply, 'classics' developed, so the story is complicated.) 

Okay, where does this leave me? I have learned that 'classic' in the modern sense may well have been invented in the context of the presentation of a text-critical edition of a text deemed worthy of such philological efforts. I have to admit this surprises me; my guess would have been that 'classic' in this modern sense was first deployed in an educational/curricular setting or, inspired by Coetzee, in a discussion about standards of taste/merit among skilled judges. 

 

 

*I don't mean to suggest I have no reservations about the book. Two big ones are this: (i) I find it odd that Said's Orientalism is neglected entirely; (ii) historicism, and the development of the very idea of culture, is treated as the telos of scientific/mature philology. I hope to return to both issues at some point.

Radio 4 Adaptation on Saturday of Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/03/2020 - 5:01am in

According to next week’s Radio Times, Radio 4 next Saturday, 28th March 2020, is broadcasting an adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’ at 3.00 pm. The blurb for it runs

‘Drama: To the Ends of the Earth: the Mysterious Island

Three very different people escape the American Civil War by stealing a balloon – which crashes near a deserted island. But perhaps it is not quite as deserted as they think. Gregory Evan’s dramatisation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

What struck me about this is that Captain Nemo is played by an Asian actor, Sagar Arya. There’s a bitter controversy at the moment over ‘forced diversity’, the term used for writers, directors and producers altering the gender and race of established characters in order to make traditional, or long-established stories, plays, films or TV series more multicultural, feminist or otherwise inclusive. It might be thought that this is another example, but it would be wrong.

In an interview with Alan Moore I found on YouTube a few months ago, the comics legend behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a series of other strips and graphic novels, explained why he made Nemo an Indian prince in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The comic, which was made into a film a little while ago starring Sean Connery, imagines a kind of late 19th – early 20th century superhero group formed by Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr Hyde, and Captain Nemo. The group travels on their adventures in Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus. The strip was drawn by 2000 AD art robot, Kevin O’Neill, whose art back in the 1980s for an edition of the Green Lantern Corps was judged too horrific for children by the late, unlamented Comics Code. So far, however, I have heard of no-one being left psychologically scarred by his art on The League. Moore stated that he made Nemo Indian, with O’Neill’s art consequently showing the Nautilus’ interior decorated with Indian art and architectural motifs, because that is exactly how Verne described him in The Mysterious Island. He wasn’t at all like James Mason in the Disney movie.

Now I dare say that the Beeb may very well have chosen to adapt The Mysterious Island for radio in order to give this favourite Science Fiction character a new, multicultural twist. But it is faithful to Verne’s original conception of the character. It’ll be interesting to hear what it’s like.

Here’s the video from the AlanMooreVids channel on YouTube, in which Moore talks about the strip. It’s a segment from the BBC 4 series on comics, Comics Britannia. The video shows O’Neill’s art, and the artist himself working. Moore praises his collaborator on the strip, saying that he take the most disturbing of his ideas and make them two or three times more upsetting. But he admires his skill for the grotesque, which in Moore’s view places him up there with the caricaturists Gilray and Hogarth. It’s high praise, but I think Moore’s actually right. If O’Neill had become a caricaturist instead of a comics artist, I think he would be admired as the equal of such greats as Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Cartoon: Mock Movie Poster for ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/03/2020 - 6:49am in

Here’s something that I hope will cheer you all up, or at least the SF fans among you. It’s another of my cartoons, though this time it’s not satire, but a mock movie poster for one of my favourite SF novels, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Harrison was a serious SF writer. One of his novels was Make Room, Make Room!, which was filmed in the 1970s as the dystopian thriller Soylent Green with Charlton Heston. However, he’s probably best known for his series of humorous SF novels, beginning with the Stainless Steel Rat, about the galactic archcriminal, Slippery Jim DiGriz. They’re set in the far future, when humanity has spread across the Galaxy, and living conditions, society and psychology/ social services have all advanced so that crime is all but unknown. All but. Slippery Jim, the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ of the title, is a career criminal who does it simply for the joy of outwitting the authorities. The interstellar police, however, eventually catch up with him, and he’s forcibly recruited into their ranks. And he’s shocked to find that they’re all former criminals. His boss, Inskip, was a notorious thief who robbed a spaceliner in mid-flight. It’s done on the principle of ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. And his first assignment is to capture a stunningly beautiful woman, who’s murdering her way across space. Spoilers: he finally catches her, she’s given psychiatric treatment to rehabilitate her, she’s also recruited by the space rozzers. Di Griz marries her, and the two then become a team, whose adventures are then told in the succeeding books as they, and their sons with them, travel across the universe solving crimes, overthrowing dictators and stopping wars with alien races.

I was wondering who I’d cast as the heroes, and have as director and the scriptwriter adapting it for cinema. The text on the cartoon shows who I decided upon. It reads

A Terry Gilliam film. From the book by Harry Harrison. Adapted by Douglas Adams.

Jacqueline Pearce David Tennant Don Warrington.

It’s definitely fantasy, because Adams and Pearce have sadly passed away, as has Harrison himself. Tennant would be the Stainless Steel Rat, Pearce, who you will remember was Servalan in the epic Blake’s 7, would be the murderess, Angelina, and Don Warrington would be the police chief, Inskip. Yes, I am thinking of his character in Death in Paradise, so it would be a bit of type casting. But he has done humorous SF before. He appeared in an episode of Red Dwarf in the ’90s as one of the members of a spaceship crew of Holograms, all of whom had massive intellects and egos to match. His character appeared on board Red Dwarf and promptly started making sneering remarks about Kryten and Lister. Kryten was described as nearly burnt out, while he described Lister as some kind of subhuman creature, that could in time perhaps be taught some tricks. Until Lister parodied him with a mock report of his own, in which he informed him that he had a sturdy holowhip in the ship’s armoury and was going to use it on his backside pronto if he didn’t leave. At which point Warrington’s arrogant spaceman vanished. And with a threat like that hanging over him, who could blame him?

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you like it and it give you a chuckle in these grim times and keep your chin up! The Coronavirus won’t last forever.

Telegraph Journo Embarrassed by Sargon and Robinson’s Free Speech Organisation

As we know, embarrassing the Tories is good and righteous work. So Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, deserves especial congratulations for making the Tories uncomfortable over the whole question of free speech. He didn’t do it intentionally. It’s just that they found the similarities between Toby Young’s Free Speech Union and a rival right-wing organisation founded by Sargon and the islamophobic thug Tommy Robinson far too close for comfort.

Last month the Spectator’s vile Toby Young announced that he was founding the Free Speech Union along with a load of other rightists. This was going to defend those expressing controversial opinions from being silenced and kicked out of their jobs. The Heil on Sunday quoted Tobes as saying

“People who become the target of ‘Twitter storms’ after making controversial remarks will be defended by a new body called the Free Speech Union. The organisation will ‘stand up for the rights of its members to tell the truth in all circumstances’. The union has been set up by the journalist Toby Young in response to police investigations into a string of ‘non-crime hate incidents’ triggered by outspoken comments”.

“If someone at work writes to your boss to complain about something you’ve said, we’ll write to them, too, and explain the importance of intellectual tolerance and viewpoint diversity. If self-righteous social-media bullies pick on you, we’ll return the fire. If someone launches an online petition calling for you to be sacked, we’ll launch a counter-petition. The enemies of free speech hunt in packs; its defenders must band together too.”

The organisation has a Latin motto, which runs something like ‘Audi altri partem’, which I think means ‘Hear the other side.’

However, it’s not a union, but an incorporated, whose five directors are all spokesmen for the right. They include Young himself, Prof Nigel Biggar, who defends colonialism, Douglas Murray, who has islamophobic opinions, and Radomir Tylecote, who was suspended from the Treasury for writing a book against the EU. And their record of defending their opponents’ right to express their opinions is actually very poor. Zelo Street in their article about the wretched union quoted Paul Bernal, who tweeted

“As Toby Young should know, your commitment to free speech isn’t shown by how well you defend those whose speech you agree with, but how you defend those whose speech you don’t. When his ‘free speech union’ talks about the excesses of the Prevent programme, then see”.

The Street himself commented that it was just free speech for the right, and a way for Tobes and co. to complain about how unfair the world is.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/toby-youngs-free-speech-sham.html

Unfortunately for Tobes’ outfit, Sargon and Tommy Robinson, the founder and former leader of the EDL, have launched their own right-wing free speech organisation, the Hearts of Oak Alliance. And the similarities between the two concerned Tory feminist academic Zoe Strimpel to write a piece for the Torygraph on the first of this month, March 2020, complaining about this fact. Strimpel’s a Cambridge graduate with an M. Phil in gender studies. She’s the author of a series of book on men’s psychology, feminism, dating and romance. She began her article with the statement that her circle of friends has taken on a left-wing hue. It includes many Labour supporters, against whom she has to defend capitalism and Zionism. Well, at least she said ‘Zionism’, rather than accuse them once again of anti-Semitism. She’s upset by them chuckling off her fears about the erosion of free speech and thought, which, she claims, is under attack by a visible machinery of censorship in offices, the cops, universities, arts and online. She cites approvingly a report by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, which advised universities to guard against being the voice of critics of those, who despise the supporter of the traditional values of patriotism, family, faith and local traditions. They have to be willing to represent and not sneer at those, who feel justifiable pride in British history, culture and traditions.

However, she was worried whether it was possible to defend free speech, without sullying the cause with too many real thugs, who wanted to get as close as possible to inciting actual violence under the guise of expressing their democratic rights. Was it possible to challenge the climate of intimidation, snide snitching, and mendacious and manipulative accusations of hate-mongering, racism and making people feel ‘unsafe’, without being a magnet for the alt-right? She agreed to become a member of the advisory board, but has her reservations. She’s uncomfortable about Sargon’s and Robinson’s organisations, because of Sargon’s own anti-feminist, misogynistic views. Sargon was, she declared, far right, a thug, who called feminism ‘a first world female supremacy movement’, and ‘all kinds of blokeish’. He’s also the man responsible for sending that Tweet to Labour MP Jess Philips, telling her that he ‘wouldn’t even rape her’.

She concluded her article by stating that the aims of Tobes’ outfit were perfectly legitimate and free speech is under threat. But it was ‘just a shame that in defending those who ought to speak freely, one has to defend those, who – in an ideal world – wouldn’t have anything to say.’

Sargon was naturally upset at this assault on his character. He therefore posted a piece up on his YouTube channel, Akkad Daily, on the 2nd of March defending himself from her attack. He didn’t deny he was anti-feminist, and defended his own comments on this. But he roundly denied being a thug and far right. He was, he repeated, a Lockean classical liberal, and believed in precisely the same values as those Policy Exchange’s report claimed were under attack.

Sargon is indeed far right. He’s a libertarian, who would like everything privatised and the end of the welfare state. He’s against the European Union and immigration, and is bitterly critical of feminism and affirmative action for women and ethnic minorities. And yes, he is an islamophobe like Robinson. But in very many ways he and Robinson are absolutely no different from Young and his crew. Young is also far right. He’s a right-wing Tory, who attended eugenics conferences whose members and speakers were real Nazis and anti-Semites. And Young also is all kinds of blokeish as well. He’s posted a number of tweets expressing his obsession with women’s breasts. Way back in the ’90s, he also wrote a piece for the men’s magazine, GQ, about how he once dressed up in drag in order to pose as a woman, because he wanted to snog lesbians in gay clubs.

And it’s not just the people in the Free Speech Union, who have no real interest in free speech. Neither does Conservatism or Zionism. Thatcher tried to pass legislation making it illegal for universities to employ Marxists. A week or so ago, Turning Point UK announced that it was launching a British version of its parent organisation’s Professor Watch, a blacklist of university lecturers, who dared to express or teach left-wing views. And anti-Zionist and Israel-critical bloggers, like Tony Greenstein and Martin Odoni have described how Israel’s super-patriotic supporters, like Jonathan Hoffman, don’t want to permit free debate about Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. Rather, they turn up at pro-Palestinian meetings with the intention of heckling, shouting down and otherwise disrupting the proceedings. They also seek to use the law to suppress criticism and factual reporting of Israeli atrocities as anti-Semitism.

Now there are opponents of free speech on the left. But Stimpel, as a good Tory, doesn’t want to recognise that it exists on the right. She’s embarrassed that supporting right-wing speech also means supporting extreme right-wing figures like Sargon and Robinson. But she doesn’t recognise, because she can’t afford to, that Sargon and Robinson aren’t actually much different from Toby Young, Douglas Murray, Radomir Tylecote, Nigel Biggar and the rest. In fact, there’s little difference between the two groups in fundamental attitudes.

It’s just that Sargon’s a little more extreme and doesn’t have a column in a major right-wing newspaper or magazine.

Cartoon: A Tory Nightmare

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/03/2020 - 3:24am in

Here, for your enjoyment, is another of my cartoons satirising the Tory party and the horrors that lead it. This one isn’t based on a science fiction or Horror film, but a great piece of art by the 18th century Swiss painter, Henry Fuseli. Fuseli’s ‘Nightmare’ is a masterpiece of Gothic art. It shows a sleeping woman, a naked imp with a sinister grin crouching on her stomach and a white horse looming over her. I also based it on that photo of the Honorable Member for the 18th century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, lounging, dozing on the green benches in parliament. Which seemed to show how seriously he took the proceedings, and especially the grinding poverty and deprivation his government has inflicted on normal people.

I’ve therefore tried to depict this image in the style of Fuseli’s masterpiece. The sleeper is Rees-Mogg, and the crouching imp is supposed to be our comedy Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Although I’m afraid that my drawing of him here makes him somewhat effeminate, more like a girl. It’s purely accidental, I assure you. And the head of the horse looking at them both is a skull, representing the death and suffering the Tories inflict on people, the economy and British society.

I hope you enjoy it, and please, don’t have nightmares!

 

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