Archive for August, 2007

What should journalism be?

August 5, 2007

Writing in his weekly Observer column today, John Naughton (see blogroll) reminds us of what appears to be an almost perennial truth: 

‘Political language’, observed George Orwell in his great essay on ‘Politics and the English Language’, ‘is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ Much the same applies to the output of the public relations industry.

 The he goes on to make an important observation. 

 One of the most important public services (my italics) that mainstream journalism can provide, therefore, consists of decoding PR-speak: translating its half-truths, unsupported assertions and evasions into plain English…..

 Yes, that indeed is what mainstream journalism should be doing, and that is what, for various reasons, not least of which is that journalism and  public relations are seen two sides of the same coin, it all too often fails to do.

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Christine Tobin on the “artist’s dignity”

August 4, 2007

On last night’s edition BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Library the presenter Alyn Shipton was joined by Irish-born Jazz singer  Christine Tobin  (photo and blogroll) to choose the best of Bille Holiday’s recorded output.

Towards the end of the programme, and before playing a May 1956 recording of God Bless the Child, reissued by Verve on the ten cd set The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve (Number 5138592 CD 6), Shipton asks Tobin what she thinks of Verve’s including on it rehearsal versions of songs, including one of God Bless the Child on which which snatches of conversation between Holiday and Tony Scott at Mae and William Dufty’s house, 30 May 1956 are audible.

As I happen to think that the important issue of how much of the artistic process the public should ever be given access to is raised by  the short discussion that followed, I am printing a full transcript of it here. 

Christine Tobin: I think morally it is a suspect thing to do, because and artist will think long and hard deciding when going into the studio what takes to put out. You rehearse the music and you get it right, because you have a vision of how you want it to sound – and obviously Billie Holiday had that – I’m sure she would have had that. Then you get somebody who comes along  and releases that – so it’s not the complete vision she had. I think it’s a great infringement on her dignity.  

( part of Conversation and God Bless The Child (rehearsal) is played) 

Alyn Shipton: I take it slightly differently to that. I listen to that piece of rehearsal – with the car horns and the noise of the street outside and the telephone ringing – all sorts of other conversations going on in the background – and you hear Tony ,,, to get the keys sorted out. (Obviously he’s got a notebook and he’s jotting down “we’re going to do this one in E flat or whatever – he actually goes through it about fourteen times to try to get exactly the right speed, even phrasing) – and then you hear the complete magic in the studio – and her voice has lost its  edge: its lost the rawness of rehearsal and you hear just what an extraordinary she was in the right studio setting. 

Christine Tobin: Yes but in the piece you gust heard saying to “tell that son-of- bitch to go away” or something like that – she does not sound anything like that when she sings. When she sings,  this is the person she is presenting – that’s her artistic decision and the other side is not something she brings to the stage – nor can I hear any sense of it in any of the recordings I have. So, I have to disagree with you – I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s an intrusion – it makes a mockery of a persons artistic choices.

Anybody acquainted -even silghtly – with Tobin will not find the agrument about the issue of material not intended foir public consumption an “an infringement” of “dignity” in any way surprising. She has a very heightened sense of her own dignity as an artist – in fact, some would go so far as to say that her sense of dignitly is so developed that it hampers her artistic development – and no doubt feels that all artists should be imbued with that same sense.

However, be that as it may, there is a lot to be said for the argument she puts in this case. I cannot for the life of me see what insights we are expected to get from rehearsal material of this kind of the kind Verve has made available on Holiday. Alyn Shipton seems to think that it highlights “her complete magic in the studio”, but, by the same token, so would a recording of her singing in the bath or her humming while on a shopping spree.  

That is not say that I would want to see all material of this kind consigned to the dustbin, although I fairly certain that Tobin would.  I do honestly believe that the listener might get a understanding of how the singer had arrived at the definitive version of a song if he or she had access to versions that had been disgarded, and I certainly would not want them to be denied that access forever. As a teacher (which I believe she occasionally is), Tobin should know that the lesson an artist can teach is the importance of choices. If, as students, we cannot see choices being made, how are we to understand them?  

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Jazz Library: Billie Holiday

The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden.

August 4, 2007

The Shield of Achilles (which for copyright reasons cannot be reprinted here) is one of my own personal favourites from among the later poems of W. H. Auden. Although poem, written in 1952,  alludes to scenes from Iliad, it is actually a depiction  of the contemporary world as Auden saw it. In the Iliad, Achilles lends his armour to Patroclus who is subsequently killed Hector. Achilles has new armour made for him by Hephaestus

In the poem Thetis, Achilles’ mother,  notices that contrary to her expectations the shield has scenes that horrify emblazoned on it. The world Thetis sees is not what she expects. Instead of a an ordered civilized world where there is harmony in everything, what she sees is a cruel and uncaring world. Read  on

Auden, America and Christianity.

August 4, 2007

Over the years, there has been a great deal of discussion about whether the poet W. H. Auden’s departure from Britain for the United States in January marked the end of his career as a great poet Auden was a major poet – some would say the major poet – the late 20s and thirties but, after his move to America and his subsequent conversion to the Episcopal Church, both his poetry and standing as a poet went into irreversible decline.

In a June the 4th  posting to Christianity Today the American Christian writer and academic Alan Jacobs makes strong case for a revision of this view. 

Naïve though it may sound, for Auden this country really was a place to start over. And he came to believe that in shrugging off the expectations others had for him, he also had to shrug off his own self-understanding, his own formation as a person and a poet. Auden had always been a critic of Romanticism and an aficionado of earlier and less fashionable poetic movements: from the beginning he had drawn on medieval literature—which he had come to love after hearing some lectures at Oxford by an Anglo-Saxonist named Tolkien—and had celebrated Alexander Pope and Lord Byron—the one Romantic poet Auden admired, in part because everyone else treated him as a minor poet who had been over-celebrated in his lifetime. Auden despised Shelley especially, often singling out for scorn the notion that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” It was a model of poetic power that, he saw, many of the great modernists had accepted as well, for all their vocal anti-Romanticism.

But as he settled into life in America, and into Christian belief, he came to think that he had absorbed more of the Romantic model of the poet as isolated genius than he’d realized. Superficially his verse had not looked Romantic, but deep down, he had accepted distinctively Romantic ideas about the singular power and unique insight of the poet.

………………………………………………………………..Auden’s breaking of his own style now looks like one of the key moral gestures of 20th-century English literature. Auden was one of the first great writers to recognize that, after World War II, the modernist vision—with its abstractions and myths, its glamorizing of danger and sacrifice—was no longer sustainable. Poetry, to be credible in a new world, had to be ethical in a new way: scrupulous about its claims, its concepts, even its language.

……………….. the later poems can be hard to read. The earlier poems are often obscure, but after modernism we’re used to obscurity. (A friend once wrote to James Joyce, puzzled about some passages in what would become Finnegans Wake, to which Joyce gave an incomprehensible reply capped with a jaunty sign-off: “If I can throw any more obscurity on the subject, let me know.”) We know how to read obscurity. But Auden’s later poems, though grounded in public language and public concepts—Greek and Roman mythology, European history, Christian doctrine—are knotty and complex: they demand a distinctive kind of thinking from us. Auden wrote this way because he demanded difficult thought from himself; he resisted easy answers and comforting assurances. He explored forgotten resources from poetry’s past: the medieval love for allegories of the inner life, the essayistic or letter-like meditations of the great Roman poet Horace. But these are resources that readers must struggle to reclaim, and for many it’s not worth the effort.

Above all, and most unusually, Auden saw his poetry as a means of building community among his widely scattered friends. When, a decade ago, I first investigated the trove of Auden’s letters held by the New York Public Library, I was struck by how often Auden turned over a sheet of stationery and, on the back of a letter to a friend, typed out a draft of a poem. And in most cases the published version of that poem would be dedicated to that friend. How many of our great modern poets do such a thing? It is a touching gesture, but also—especially for those of us with an exalted view of poetry—a challenging one.

Let us pay tribute to this remarkable man. He was deeply, deeply flawed—though no more so than I—and his model of the Christian life is, generally speaking, not one I should choose to follow. But he paid (and still pays) a great price in reputation for his embrace of Christianity, as he does for his bold and fearless rethinking of what it means to be a poet. One of the wiser decisions of Auden’s later years was his selection of Edward Mendelson to be his literary executor: among many other activities on the poet’s behalf, Mendelson maintains the website of the Auden Society, where you may find biographical information and many links to the texts of poems and recordings of Auden reading them. Please, go there.

Still Waiting for Godot

August 3, 2007

On this day 1955 the  English-language premiere of  Samuel Beckett’s revolutionary play Waiting for Godot was given English-language  at the Arts Theatre, London, directed by the 24-year-old Peter Hall 

Part of Beckett’s the introduction to an early version reads I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him. The other two who pass by towards the end of each of the two acts, that must be to break up the monotony. All I knew I showed. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me, by a wide margin. I’ll even say that I would have been satisfied with less. As for wanting to find in all that a broader, loftier meaning to carry away from the performance, along with the program and the Eskimo pie, I cannot see the point of it. But it must be possible … Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky, their time and their space, I was able to know them a little, but far from the need to understand. Maybe they owe you explanations. Let them supply it. Without me. They and I are through with each other.

Not surprisingly, it was reported that some of the audience on that first night– perhaps as much as half of it – walked out before the second act, such was their incomprehension. The play has for all that has justifiably gone on to be considered one of the great plays of the last century.   

Waiting for Godot

ACT I (extract)
 

Act 2

Back to Samuel Beckett Resources

A country road. A tree.

Evening.

Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. #

He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again.
As before.
Enter Vladimir.
ESTRAGON:
(giving up again). Nothing to be done.
VLADIMIR:
(advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. (He broods, musing on the struggle. Turning to Estragon.) So there you are again.
ESTRAGON:
Am I?
VLADIMIR:
I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
ESTRAGON:
Me too.
VLADIMIR:
Together again at last! We’ll have to celebrate this. But how? (He reflects.) Get up till I embrace you.
ESTRAGON:
(irritably). Not now, not now.
VLADIMIR:
(hurt, coldly). May one inquire where His Highness spent the night?
ESTRAGON:
In a ditch.
VLADIMIR:
(admiringly). A ditch! Where?
ESTRAGON:
(without gesture). Over there.
VLADIMIR:
And they didn’t beat you?
ESTRAGON:
Beat me? Certainly they beat me.
VLADIMIR:
The same lot as usual?
ESTRAGON:
The same? I don’t know.
VLADIMIR:
When I think of it . . . all these years . . . but for me . . . where would you be . . . (Decisively.) You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute, no doubt about it.
ESTRAGON:
And what of it?
VLADIMIR:
(gloomily). It’s too much for one man. (Pause. Cheerfully.) On the other hand what’s the good of losing heart now, that’s what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties.
ESTRAGON:
Ah stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing.
VLADIMIR:
Hand in hand from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first. We were respectable in those days. Now it’s too late. They wouldn’t even let us up. (Estragon tears at his boot.) What are you doing?
ESTRAGON:
Taking off my boot. Did that never happen to you?
VLADIMIR:
Boots must be taken off every day, I’m tired telling you that. Why don’t you listen to me?
ESTRAGON:
(feebly). Help me!
VLADIMIR:
It hurts?
ESTRAGON:
(angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
VLADIMIR:
(angrily). No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have.
ESTRAGON:
It hurts?
VLADIMIR:
(angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
ESTRAGON:
(pointing). You might button it all the same.
VLADIMIR:
(stooping). True. (He buttons his fly.) Never neglect the little things of life.
ESTRAGON:
What do you expect, you always wait till the last moment.
VLADIMIR:
(musingly). The last moment . . . (He meditates.) Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that?
ESTRAGON:
Why don’t you help me?
VLADIMIR:
Sometimes I feel it coming all the same. Then I go all queer. (He takes off his hat, peers inside it, feels about inside it, shakes it, puts it on again.) How shall I say? Relieved and at the same time . . . (he searches for the word) . . . appalled. (With emphasis.) AP-PALLED. (He takes off his hat again, peers inside it.) Funny. (He knocks on the crown as though to dislodge a foreign body, peers into it again, puts it on again.) Nothing to be done. (Estragon with a supreme effort succeeds in pulling off his boot. He peers inside it, feels about inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out, finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him.) Well?
ESTRAGON:
Nothing.
VLADIMIR:
Show me.
ESTRAGON:
There’s nothing to show.
VLADIMIR:
Try and put it on again.
ESTRAGON:
(examining his foot). I’ll air it for a bit.
VLADIMIR:
There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet. (He takes off his hat again, peers inside it, feels about inside it, knocks on the crown, blows into it, puts it on again.) This is getting alarming. (Silence. Vladimir deep in thought, Estragon pulling at his toes.) One of the thieves was saved. (Pause.) It’s a reasonable percentage. (Pause.) Gogo.
ESTRAGON:
What?
VLADIMIR:
Suppose we repented.
ESTRAGON:
Repented what?
VLADIMIR:
Oh . . . (He reflects.) We wouldn’t have to go into the details.
ESTRAGON:
Our being born?
Vladimir breaks into a hearty laugh which he immediately stifles, his hand pressed to his pubis, his face contorted.
VLADIMIR:
One daren’t even laugh any more.
ESTRAGON:
Dreadful privation.
VLADIMIR:
Merely smile. (He smiles suddenly from ear to ear, keeps smiling, ceases as suddenly.) It’s not the same thing. Nothing to be done. (Pause.) Gogo.
ESTRAGON:
(irritably). What is it?
VLADIMIR:
Did you ever read the Bible?
ESTRAGON:
The Bible . . . (He reflects.) I must have taken a look at it.
VLADIMIR:
Do you remember the Gospels?
ESTRAGON:
I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.
VLADIMIR:
You should have been a poet.
ESTRAGON:
I was. (Gesture towards his rags.) Isn’t that obvious?
Silence.
VLADIMIR:
Where was I . . . How’s your foot?
ESTRAGON:
Swelling visibly.
VLADIMIR:
Ah yes, the two thieves. Do you remember the story?
ESTRAGON:
No.
VLADIMIR:
Shall I tell it to you?
ESTRAGON:
No.
VLADIMIR:
It’ll pass the time. (Pause.) Two thieves, crucified at the same time as our Saviour. One—
ESTRAGON:
Our what?
VLADIMIR:
Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . (he searches for the contrary of saved) . . . damned.
ESTRAGON:
Saved from what?
VLADIMIR:
Hell.

Tommy Makem (November 4 1932 – August 1 2007)

August 3, 2007

The Irish singer Tommy Makem  who found when joined forces with Clancy Brothers and made successful appearaances with them in the early 1960s, first at Newport Folk Festival and subsequently on popular shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show, passed away on August the 1st at the age of 74. Makem and the Clancey’s made two inportant contributions to the popularising Irish singing.

First, they added instrumentation – guitars and banjos – to what had hitherto been an unaccompanied frorm of singing. The adding of this kind of instrumental accompaniment was not new to Americans – Woody Gutherie and The Weavers had been using it for a long time – but it was new to Irish folk singing. Irish singiers and singing groups, such as Christy Moore and The Dubliners, were quick to grasp the significance of this innovation. Ther realised that while unaccompanied singing could be –and still is – every effective when the surroundings are intimate, but that instrumental accompaniment is helpful in holding larger audiences. 

The second innovartion – if such it could be called – was that they treated the songs as neither novelites to be heard in the music halls or art songs to be sung by semi-classical singers such as Count John McCormack. The songs were to some extent returned to the people for whom they made in the first pace and were once more  central to a folk tradition that could stand in its own right. 

Once they had established themseves,  the Clancys and Makem steered clear of further innovation. They seemed more or less content to stick with doing what they did best, which was pleasing large audience. Innovation was left to those who followed. 

Still, the passing of Tommy Makem should not go unmarked. He helped to bring the Irish “folk revival” to an audience it might not otherwise have reached and that in itself was an achievement.

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 Tommy Makem Obituary. The Guardian. August 3 2007

Who was clever then? Joseph Goebbels?

August 3, 2007

One of the lessons that reinforced by reading Clive James‘s massive tome  Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time is that self-deception is not the preserve of stupidity. Clever people are just as capable of getting things wrong in a big way. Take Joseph Goebbels, for example, who, though clever, was capable of thinking himself too clever by half.

As the end neared the only reproach Goebbels made against Hitler was that the Führer had not been sufficiently true to himself, having allowed himself to be surrounded by a gang of opportunists, time-servers and mediocrities. There was certainly some truth in that. Goebbels had good reason to believe of himself as the genuine Nazi article. The comedy lies in his unintentional revelation of what being a genuine Nazi entailed. One thing it entailed was a huge incapacitating overestimation of the world’s tolerance for Nazi policies of territorial aggression and mass murder. Goebbels was right to believe that Stalin threatened civilization in the West with a similar disaster. But he was wrong to believe that the Western allies, when they realized this, would see Nazi Germany as a bastion against the threat. He couldn’t let it occur to him that the unlikely global alliance against Nazi Germany was held together by the existence of Nazi Germany itself, and would be maintained until Nazi Germany was gone. For him it was a thought too simple to be grasped. He was too clever for that.

W. B. Yeats’s The Second Coming.

August 2, 2007

This is one of most haunting and disturbing poems ever written by the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats. While it is a far from comforting poem, it is a poem that rewards every reading. 

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand
Surely the Second coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.
What rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards
Bethlehem to be born?

——————————————————

Wikipedia on The Second Coming 

The Second Coming is a poem by William Butler Yeats first printed in The Dial (November 1920) and afterwards included in his 1921 verse collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer. The poem uses religious symbolism to illustrate Yeats’ anguish over the apparent decline of Europe’s ruling class, and his occult belief that Western civilization (if not the whole world) was nearing the terminal point of a 2000-year historical cycle…………….. 

The discussion that follows should not be read until the poem has been read, and maybe even memorised.

Printing can damage your health.

August 2, 2007

Hot off the pages of silicon.com 

Office laser printers are as unhealthy as cigarettes, according to an Australian professor who is now calling for regulations to limit printer emissions.Office workers who are breathing easy since smoking was banned in public places in the UK can start worrying again, according to research from the Queensland University of Technology’s Air Quality and Health Program, led by physics professor Lidia Morawska.The average printer releases toner particles which can get deep into the lungs and cause respiratory problems and cardiovascular trouble, said Morawska’s team, part of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, and specialists in atmospheric particles.The team tested 62 laser printer models – all relatively new – and found that 17 of them were “high emitters” of toner particles. Despite using similar technology, office photocopiers do not emit particles, they found. The particles have not had a full chemical analysis but some are potential carcinogens, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald. Several of the high emitters were HP LaserJet models, such as the 1320 and 4250, although eight HP LaserJet 4050 series printers were shown to have no emissions, according to reports.

After smoking in designated areas, it’ll be printing in designated areas. It is not something one should be flippant about. I

Who’s a sexy boy then?

August 1, 2007

 This comes from Condé Nast Portfolio: 

Self magazine in China recently conducted a poll asking 1,000 Chinese women aged 25 to 35 whom they would want to have a baby with. (Bill) Gates easily trumped Pitt (No. 10 on the list) and even sexy soccer superstar David Beckham (No. 5).

Read more about Mr Gates the sex symbol here.