I am currently reading blockbusting paperback bestseller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It’s a page-turning thriller which I am much enjoying, in a blockbusting paperback bestseller page-turning thriller kind of way. But I reach page 260, and lo! there is a sudden and awful clunk! Until now, all the dialogue has been believable – you can imagine the characters speaking the words Ms Flynn puts in their mouths. But would anyone, in any circumstances, ever, say:
“I think that’s it. Yes, Amy is using a Madness song to give me a clue to my own freedom, if only I can decipher their wily, ska-infused codes.”
I shall be looking for opportunities to say this as often as possible in future.
A just war, according to Jean Racine, is occasioned when “a King’s puissance is ruin’d in the eyes of strangers”.
Spotted loitering in the British Museum yesterday . . .
Cheese was rarely consumed on an allegorical level in the seventeenth century.
E. de Jongh, cited in The Embarrassment Of Riches : An Interpretation Of Dutch Culture In The Golden Age (1987) by Simon Schama. Lucky for me that I did not live in that place at that time, as my own consumption of cheese is pursued almost exclusively on an allegorical level. I shall have more to say on this matter shortly.
There is a Dutch word . . . verongelijktheid, to be wronged, not by an individual so much as by the world at large. You often see it in the way the much-heralded national team plays soccer.
Proud of their superior skills, their multicultural makeup, the almost mocking manner of their free-flowing play, maddening the players of more prosaic teams, like Germany, the stars of Dutch soccer usually start their games with all the swagger of swinging Amsterdam. In their playful individualism, their progressive daringness, they know they are the best. And sometimes they are. But when things go against them and the plodding Germans, or the bloody-minded Italians, or the cussed English, go up a goal or two, the heads slump, the bickering starts, and the game is lost in a sour mood of verongelijktheid. Why did this have to happen to us? What did we do to deserve this? Aren’t we the best? Well, fuck you!
Ian Buruma, Murder In Amsterdam : The Death Of Theo Van Gogh And The Limits Of Tolerance (2006)
Fossicking in the archives to find the text of What’s On In Mustard Parva (see below), I noticed that the day before I had posted an extract from the magnificently-titled Withered Leaves From Memory’s Garland by Abigail Stanley Hanna (1857):
Next to Rosa Whittier sat Julia Balcolm, with saddened expression of countenance and large deep blue eyes that gazed upon you with a deeper expression of melancholy in their glances than is usual to the merry age of childhood, and elicited your sympathy ere you knew her history. Julia was a cripple. She was drawn to school by an older sister with rosy cheeks, bright flashing black eyes, and a sprightly animated countenance, and carried into the school-room in the arms of her teacher, or some of the older scholars. And so she came, year after year, mingling with the merry group. But where is she now? Yon little mound of heaped up earth covers her remains, and a narrow marble slab tells the place of her repose, and we can but hope she who was denied the privilege of walking on earth may now soar on angel’s wings. This dear child was obliged to crawl from place to place after her more favoured companions, dragging her useless perished limbs behind her. But He who careth for us knew what was best for her, and we cannot doubt His infinite wisdom.
Would that Edward Gorey were with us still, to illustrate this tear-stained yet uplifting tale!
Close to the ruins of Eynsford Castle, Philip [Heseltine / Peter Warlock] shared the small main-street cottage with his composer friend, E. J. Moeran, together with a collection of cats and a Maori housekeeper-cum-factotum, Hal Collins (Te Akau) (d. 1929). Collins had previously been a barman at a London drinking club. [Cecil] Gray gave this intriguing description of him:
“In contra-distinction to this more or less floating population of cats and women, a permanent member of the establishment was a strange character called Hal Collins . . . whose Maori grandmother had been a cannibal and used, within his memory, to lament the passing of the good old days when she could feast upon her kind. Besides being a graphic artist of considerable talent, particularly in woodcut, he was one of those people who, without ever having learned a note of music or received a lesson in piano playing, have an inborn technical dexterity and a quite remarkable gift for improvisation. He used to compose systematically, also, but without being able to write it down; I remember him once playing to me a whole act of an opera he had conceived on the subject of Tristram Shandy . . . He subsisted chiefly on stout, of which he consumed gargantuan quantities, and when elated would perform Maori war dances with quite terrifying realism. On spirits, however, he would run completely amok, in true native fashion, and on one occasion almost succeeded in massacring the entire household.”
Another snippet from Peter Warlock : The Life Of Philip Heseltine by Barry Smith (1994)
[W. B. Yeats' reluctance to have his poetry set to music] was born of his horror at being invited by a certain composer to hear a setting of his Lake Isle Of Innisfree – a poem which voices a solitary man’s desire for still greater solitude – sung by a choir of a thousand Boy Scouts.
Peter Warlock, ‘Mr Yeats And A Musical Censorship’, Musical Times, February 1922
When Berlioz was found wandering about the mountains, note-book in hand, sketching his Overture to King Lear, he was arrested as a spy, and his protests that he was not making notes in a secret cipher were received with ridicule by the police. “It is well known”, they said, “that music cannot be composed without a pianoforte.” Berlioz we know could not play the pianoforte. But his case provides no rule and the fact remains that a great deal of music, especially at the present time, is either extemporized at the keyboard or else built up of fragments discovered, more or less fortuitously at the pianoforte and afterwards unskillfully glued together.
Peter Warlock, ‘A Note On The Mind’s Ear’, Musical Times, February 1922
Both quotations appear in Peter Warlock : The Life Of Philip Heseltine by Barry Smith (1994)
The composer Peter Warlock (1894-1930) – real name Philip Heseltine – was declared unfit for military service during the First World War on account of general neurasthenia and “an inability to micturate when mentally excited, and especially in the presence of other people, with the consequence that he has had occasional prolonged retention”, according to a Harley Street doctor’s report.
As a seemingly fit young man swanning about London, he was subjected to insults from “officious patriots”. His common retort to such persons was to declaim one of his favourite quotations, from Samuel Butler’s poem Psalm Of Montreal:
O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon’s haberdasher,
Who seasonest also the skins of Canadian owls,
Thou callest trousers ‘pants,’ whereas I call them ‘trousers’,
Therefore thou art in hell-fire, and may the Lord pity thee!
Like so many of Isaac’s attempts to apply his imaginative vision to life, this orgone box was compromised by his poverty and his many interests. It was too obviously a homemade, bargain-basement orgone box. It looked more like a cardboard closet or stage telephone booth than it did a scientific apparatus by which to recover the sexual energy one had lost to “culture”. Isaac’s orgone box stood up in the midst of an enormous confusion of bed clothes, review copies, manuscripts, children, and the many people who went in and out of the room as if it were the bathroom. Belligerently sitting inside his orgone box, daring philistines to laugh, Isaac nevertheless looked lost, as if he were waiting in his telephone booth for a call that was not coming through.
Alfred Kazin on Isaac Rosenfeld, quoted in Adventures In The Orgasmatron : Wilhelm Reich And The Invention Of Sex by Christopher Turner (2011)
I have not yet listened to it, but thanks to Strange Flowers I learn that the BBC recently broadcast a radio documentary about Arthur Cravan. This is the kind of thing that justifies the licence fee. But hurry! hurry!, it is only available until 12.00 AM on Thursday 1 January 2099!
“Knitting And Catastrophe In The Cinema”. Who could resist a talk with such a title? Certainly not me, which is why I pranced majestically through the south London streets in freezing temperatures yesterday evening to go and listen to Jonathan Faiers explain all.
Unfortunately, Dr Faiers turned out to be an academic, so his talk – which contained some interesting and intriguing snippets – was couched in dreadful brain-numbing postmodern gobbledegook. I realise that to carve out a career in modern academia you have to talk and write like that, but how one yearns to hear a simple, straightforward sentence! Instead, it’s all “discourses interrogating notions of the Other”, blah blah bollocks. I think “interrogate”, in its various forms, popped out of Dr Faiers’ mouth half a dozen times in little more than twenty minutes. I would happily have subjected him to a proper interrogation, tied to a chair in a secret police basement with a Klieg light shoved in his face.
Things were not helped by the fact that he was unable to master the technology to show us the film clips with which he meant to illustrate his blather. These would have included scenes from The King Of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983), Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961), Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), and Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944). You see what I mean? It could have been very interesting indeed.
In spite of all, I do applaud Dr Faiers for his title. “Knitting And Catastrophe In The Cinema” deserves its place in any list of highly amusing academic studies, alongside the one I devised thirty years ago, in tandem with my then colleague, the journalist and television person Tracey MacLeod. We planned to insert, in a bibliography, reference to a paper entitled “Topiary And Miscegenation In Contemporary Cinema”. Alas, it never appeared, for reasons I cannot now recall.
I am indebted to Ruth Bosch for drawing to my attention this photograph from Paraphilia Magazine, captioned “Russian children taking part in a parade celebrating birds helpful to farming, 1934”. It is instructive to realise that Soviet Communism was not an unalloyed disaster, at least in ornithological terms. Needless to say, I am agog to learn precisely which birds were deemed “helpful to farming”. Skylarks? Peewits? Pratincoles? Any readers equally expert in birds and Bolshevism should contact me immediately.
In the song “Joe The Lion” on his ‘Heroes’ album, David Bowie tells us that “You can buy God”. I had always thought he was spouting twaddle, and pernicious twaddle at that, until I saw, in a New York shop window, the baby Jesus for sale, with a price tag tied to his elbow. Alas, the shop was shut, and I was unable to make purchase.