Communism was a disaster, capitalism is a disaster. Let’s listen to a couple of old Victorian gents and give socialism a go.
Here’s an amusing diversion: “I Write Like” a ‘statistical analysis tool’ which you can drop any example of your, or someone else’s writing into, and it will then tell you which classic author your prose most resembles. Fortnights of fun.
Sticking some of my old stuff from Spike into it there is one “James Joyce”, one “George Orwell”, one “Mario Puzo”, two “David Foster Wallace” (who I’ve never read)….but about 80% come out as “H P Lovecraft”! Hmm, a certaint over-verbosity perhaps? Heavens forfend.
Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into it. Excerpts from George Bernard Shaw also come out as “H P Lovecraft”, and the front page of tomorrow’s Manchester Evening News is “Charles Dickens”.
Many of the greatest ideas are the simplest, those you can’t believe no-one has come up with before, and that definitely applies to the fascinating website Letters of Note. The site simply reproduces the private and personal letters (in most cases showing the paper original) of a wildly diverse array of famous individuals, from Kafka to Hitler, from Beethoven to Bertand Russell, Jimi Hendrix to Edgar Allen Poe. A few are not from the famous but to them, such as the heartrending letter from Winnie Johnson to Myra Hindley. In many others an extra side is shown to people who you thought you knew, or those you didn’t know at all. Hours, weeks of absorption are here. A few stray favourites:
As I have noted before, I am not usually a fan of our near namesakes smuggoes at the pretendy-Marxist, ultra-libertarian Spiked. Every once in while they do come up with the goods though, as with this review of Román Gubern and Paul Hammond’s new biography of Bunuel. The book sounds a fascinating view of a fascinating scene, and the review brings it out well. Sad and horrible to think of Bunuel shaking hands with Ramon Mercarder (Ernesto Guevara did too by the way.) As ever though, horribly warped politics can still make for great art.
Its impossible to capture the disturbing beauty of David Lynch’s films in words, but Nicolas Lezard’s article in The Guardian has a decent go. As Nicholas says “If ever there was a director who put dreams on to the screen….. without trying to impose a coherent, readily graspable narrative order on them, it is David Lynch.” A-mey-an.
I’m very glad Mr Lynch is happy making music at the moment, and I swear I’ll even get round to listening to it sometime…..but I do wish he’d make another film.
“Dickens is good” shocker. He is though you know. And it’s his birthday, you may have noticed.
I was never interested in Dickens at all during my teens, and school did nothing to counter this. I only bothered to properly explore him after reading George Orwell’s magnificent essay on him, which made the world Dickens had created infinitely more inviting. And I’m very glad I did.
If you like one of these writers but not the other, this essay is bound to inspire at least a kindling of an interest in the unfavoured. If you like both, it’s sublime. If you like neither – sod ya.
It’s great to see there is now an award for the Best Hatchet Job of the Year when it comes to book reviewing. Reading a good literary demolition job is often hugely enjoyable experience, even if it’s just catty score settling (ie. Julie Burchill’s amusing assault on Nick Kent’s NME memoir). Just occasionally though, it can reach a form of high art in itself, the review vastly eclipsing its sorry and hapless target. The funniest review I ever read was Dorothy Parker’s magnificent evisceration of a study of “Happiness” by William Lyon Phelps from 1927 (who sounds a bit like the Alain de Botton of his day). Bite-sizes don’t do it justice: read it in full ( you can do it here on the New Yorker’s website if you pay their subscription, or better still get the works.)
Here they go, as they went.
Selected English Essays – Jonathan Swift, William Hazlitt, Thomas de Quincey, Thomas Carlyle and others
Vague blurb. I didn’t have any specific reading goals for this year other than meanderingly aim to try more for authors I’ve been meaning to read but haven’ yet, rather than exploring further those I’ve already read. This being the case, job done son. Hesse, Bulgakov, Bolano, Raymond Chandler, – two words – superb and delightful.
I was perhaps just slightly surprised about how much I loved The Big Sleep, seeing as how I usually have no interest at all in detective fiction – is this an example of “transcending the genre” or should I perhaps tread further in the shoes of gumshoes in the future? We shall see. Angela Carter was a queer old fish, though I did find The Passion of New Eve dementedly, absurdly enjoyable (not so Bluebeard however, the re-telling of fairytales very dull by comparison.)
With political reading I tried to branch out a bit further, and go back a bit further – to the 18th century to be precise. Tom Paine’s Rights of Man is one of the books I’d often read bits of but never as a whole. It remains a vital statement of liberty, demolishing reaction, fresh, fulsome and invigorating. William Cobbett (the man who rescued Paine’s body from obscurity only to lose it – no – literally) was a rambunctious and contradictory old sod, but his Rural Rides are just as vital in their way, and more enjoyable, a cry of Old England against exploitation, and proof that natural “conservatives” can sometimes make the most effective rebels (see also the sweet sight of Alan Bennett visiting the Occupy protests this year.) Speaking of that rare species, (the worthwhile conservative) I thoroughly enjoyed John Gray’s Black Mass an attack on the utopian mentality from the only modern Tory thinker worth reading.
I’d been meaning to read one of the old Greek philosophers since, well, for decades probably, and was pleased to find Plato’s Republic witty and engaging, not all the trudge I had been feared, and an illuminating foundation stone of our reality. M J Akbar’s life of Nehru was also illuminating, a great look at a genuinely great man. I was highly wary of reading anything by a friend of Peter Mandeslon, but Tristram Hunt’s life of Engels was excellent too.
And finally, up to a couple of big name recent modern novels, relatively recent anyway. Franzen’s Freedom. I sometimes feel almost apologetic for liking Franzen so much, advocate as he is of both naturalistic realism and the ‘state of the nation’ novel, supposedly tired genres. There is no one piece of writing in any of his work which makes the soul soar. Further, I don’t think this did quite live up to The Corrections. That said – I still loved it. Loved it. No-one does characterisation, subtly bringing the players to life quite so perfectly as Franzen in recent years, or if they have, I haven’t read them. And despite my previous that last line, with the whole novel as its preamble….how beautiful. So Freedom; not great perhaps, but very good.
Finally finally, the question of The Finkler Question. This, I did not enjoy so much as Freedom, not nearly so much in fact. I think there was a weight of expectation tied up with its Booker status, and for a comic novel it often isn’t, well, funny enough. To say it’s satirical portrait of the anti-Zionist movement is broad-brush is to be somewhat over generous. That said, I sense that a lot of the backlash against this book has been more on political than aesthetic grounds. And the fact is, there are still enough insights into lust, loss and love to touch this reader anyway, and it does often amuse too. Over-rated maybe, put probably over-backlashed against too. The Finkler Question – not even very good perhaps, but nonetheless still good.
And so on we sail into another dark year. There’s no proof that reading makes you a better person, but it certainly makes a dark world more bearable. Keep at it.
This week’s Private Eye Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Levy conversing on the subject of Christmas in the style of their recent book of exchanges. Or rather, Craig Brown’s imagining of this. Private Eye doesn’t do much online, so here is “Houellebecq” on Santa transcribed by dilligent me:
“Christmas, my dear Bernard-Henri, is, as we know, loathsome, terrifying. That fat man with the snowy white beard in the shitty red suit forcing himself down the chimney uninvited and unanounced is no better than a Nazi, invading the homes of the unsuspecting pack, who, typically, prostrate themselves before this invasion by placing biscuits, glasses of whisky, etc. etc. as though to welcome him.
And what does this fat self-centred fraud bring for me in his sack? A party hat? Who wants a party hat? A few years ago, I might have attempted to extract some tiny drip of pleasure by placing it upon my cock, which is certainly big enough to take it, just as Dostoyevsky might have done, but any pleasure I took in this supreme act of defiance against the fate of mankind would, alas, be hideously momentary. Heavy shit.”
The opposing outlook comes, once again, from Half Man Half Biscuit’s equally brilliant It’s Cliche’d To Be Brilliant At Christmas. This time though, with a rather nice video. Merry Xmas all.
It’s a few years old now but this look at the supposed Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of all Time on the Whatever website is very funny indeed. Ayn Rand’s Christmas is particularly effective.
“In this hour-long radio drama, Santa struggles with the increasing demands of providing gifts for millions of spoiled, ungrateful brats across the world, until a single elf, in the engineering department of his workshop, convinces Santa to go on strike. The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts — and therefore Christmas — possible.”
Sounds like a special Gideon Osborne and his family would enjoy!
I see Frank Miller has aired his erudite views on the Occupy protestors, namely that they are “louts, thieves, rapists”, and, in a quieter moment, as “pond scum”. I would be interested to see the statistics on how many acts of sexual violence have been perpetrated in the name of bringing regulation to a rogue banking system, perhaps Mr Miller has access to information not available to we wider public. Amorphous accusations of rape aside, Miller’s basic thesis is that Occupy protestors are despicable traitors for distracting the American working-class from the task at hand. Okay, so you’re being robbed blind by a rapacious capitalist banking elite but THIS IS NO TIME TO COMPLAIN BECAUSE ONE DAY ANOTHER MOOSLIM MIGHT BOMB YOU AGAIN YOU FAGGOTS!! If I may take a genuine quote from his reflection: “ The Occupy Movement- – HAH! Some ‘movement’, except if the word “bowel” is attached” Miller cheekily adds. Wry satire indeed, though I think Jonathan Swift and Evelyn Waugh can rest easily in their graves.
I’ve read The Dark Knight Returns and and found it entertaining enough, but for all the political intrigue at its margins, at its core is pretty limited world view: the rabid adolescent revenge fantasy, and it doesn’t take much for this, untainted by wider insight, to ossify into lazy dyspeptic conservatism. And so now Miller’s infantile reaction has gone the whole way to its teleological Tea Party totality. His comic book work, and especially the films which stem from it, become more ludicrous as a result. Rick Moody takes on this theme in an article in today’s Guardian. While he makes some salient points, Moody seriously over-reaches himself in attempting to attribute Miller’s sickly bombast to all other super heroic action films produced near the Hollywood hills. The X Men: fascistic? No, no, no, that is lazy poo Moody: learn to differentiate.
Of course great art has been created by reactionaries over the decades, from Dostoyevsky to Celine, from T.S. Eliot to Larkin. But it’s always more comforting when bad politics and bad art go hand in hand, and, you know, this does happen more often than not. When it comes to graphic novels, Alan Moore is a great artist, and this wide scope of humanity shows in his politics. Frank Miller isn’t, and never has been. He’s a mediocre shock merchant and artistic lightweight, and his pitiful lumpen-brained, anti-human take on a world he cannot properly comprehend is quite in keeping with this.
With apologies for the obvious post title : RIP to Shelagh Delaney. A true artistic original, the first to get a female working-class perspective onto the British stage, A Taste of Honey remains a beautiful work. Inspiring Morrissey was a bit of a bonus too. More here.
It’s new Fall album time – no 29: Ersatz GB. Here’s my review – it’s good. Me and other Fall fans will like it, most people won’t. A marginally less flippant observation: I’d say the last few albums (post 2007) are less collections of songs; more skewed symphonies. Of these, last year’s Our Future, Your Clutter is still the most outstanding to me, but give me a bit more time on the new one until I finalise that decree.
Robert Chalmers’ interview in The Independent with MES is the best one in years.Amidst the firey bluster, there’s a spark of vulnerability on show for a change. For a nanosecond. Though as always, the bluster’s brill.
“I’m much more left now, though. I think Stalin had the right idea. Take one out of five fucking newspaper editors, and MPs, and shoot them. Then they’d buck up.”
Meanwhile I will be paying homage to the man and his brow-beaten pawns at Manchester’s Royal Exchange this Sunday. My 14th live worship I believe, at various shrines since 1993. He’s a genius you see, whether your irrelevant mind can see it or not. There are worse cults, and that’s true even if consonants change.
[phpzonsidebar title=”Paul Reekie Books” keywords=”Paul Reekie” num=”1″ country=”US” searchindex=”All” trackingid=”spike” sort=”none” id=”3″]A few years back I read the very fine Children of Albion Rovers, a compendium of writing by young Scottish authors, compiled by Rebel Inc’s Kevin Williamson in 1996, and featuring earlier work by a certain up-and- coming Irvine Welsh. One of the stories was by Paul Reekie. “Submission” was an enjoyably scrappy and digressive look into the world of down-at-heel grimy prole auto-didacts which it seemed was his forte. Paul Reekie was also a performance poet and by all accounts a mighty character on the Edinburgh scene, both literary and otherwise. I hadn’t read anything else by him, but was always glad I’d read
Fast forward to this week, reading an ‘In the Back’ piece in the latest Private Eye. I had missed the fact that last year Reekie, who had long suffered from severe depression, committed suicide at the age of 48. It appears it was not this in itself which pushed him to the edge, but rather the fact the state was no longer prepared to support someone in his condition. He didn’t leave a suicide note, but near his body was the notification letter he received informing him his benefits were to be slashed, making his life unbearable. Here’s an earlier piece in the Scotsman covering the story. Reekie, being the inspirational character he clearly seemed to be, inspired a literary and musical tribute event from friends and admirers, including Irvine Welsh, Kevin Williamson and Vic Goddard of Subway Sect.
Reekie had been “assessed” by the company Atos, an outsourced company hired by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne to drive down spending on disability, in a completely impartial way of course. Private Eye reports that up to 40% of its judgements are being contested in court, with the tax payer picking up the bill (so much for savings.) Of course, it often takes the suffering of an artist to highlight an injustice happening to many others. Private Eye says the Black Triangle disability campaign group has reported 16 suicides naming the actions of Atos as a contributory factor. Who knows what iceberg of human misery floats beneath this agonizing tip?
The Guardian’s National Book Swap seemed like a lovely idea. The wet-lib rag urged its readers to leave much used and much loved books in random public places with a note urging a stranger to pick them up so that they might find the same inspiration enjoyment . They in turn could leave their own favoured tome in place, and so on. As I say, a lovely idea, and I was all set to join in.
The only trouble was, in any of the myriad areas of Greater Manchester which I frequent, I never saw one. I even deliberately went on public transport slightly more often in the hope. Not one, not once. And I wasn’t going to be the one to start – my book would only drop when I saw another, and so in my arms it stayed.
There’s a dreary and misleading moral there if you care to look.
Half Man Half Biscuit are back, with a new album – 90 Bisodol (Crimond). It’s great of course – that much should be obvious. Less expected is that a brilliant article has been written giving this marvelous band the respect they so completely deserve. All fans should read Taylor Parkes’s fabulous piece in the Quietus. My own tribute to the magnificence of HMHB was in my review of Acthung Bono for Spike back in 2005, since that time a few more are beginning to see the Light At The End of the Tunnel, judging by the growing venue sizes for gigs I’ve observed. Get ready for Igauana Andy, and his iguanas.
Superb post from author Joe Konrath re-examining 11 predictions he made about ebooks in 2009 and whether he turned out to be right (he scores around 8 out of 11 – it’s quite scary). And some future predictions for ebooks and publishing in the next five years too. It’s not going to be pretty but it’s undeniably fascinating watching how publishing is changing.
Amazon’s next generation Kindle – christened Kindle Fire – is due to be announced tomorrow (Wednesday 28th September). The Kindle Fire will actually be backlit tablet – ie a similar display to an iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab – rather than the pioneering e-Ink display of previous Kindles. Fans of the existing Kindle shouldn’t worry, however – the Kindle Fire is basically the beginning of a completely separate product line and the existing e-Ink Kindle will continue to be updated and probably get cheaper and cheaper too. A new version of the e-Ink Kindle will probably be out at the same time as the Kindle Fire, ready for the Christmas rush.
While you will be able to read Kindle books on the Kindle Fire using a free Kindle app (just like you can on any existing Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android tablet blah blah blah) the Kindle Fire is not really about books. What it’s about is getting eyeballs onto all Amazon’s other products besides books – video, music etc etc. It’s a heavily modified Android tablet that will seamlessly integrate with Amazon services, delivering content with one seductive click and scarily easy debit of a credit card. Techcrunch has the full scoop, including a mockup of what it looks like (BlackBerry’s ill-fated PlayBook, apparently).
Personally, having used the Kindle app on my iPad to read books for a few months, I gave in and bought a Kindle and haven’t looked back since. If you like to read a lot – and Spike readers surely do – an actual bona fide Kindle is worth getting – I found reading a full length book off a backlit screen eventually hurt my eyes, even though it feels very comfortable at first. The Kindle, by contrast, feels a bit dowdy at first because there’s no light source emanating from it but my reading has gone through the roof since I got it because it’s much more easy on the eye, much more portable and lightweight than an iPad and it’s also scarily easy to get the books I want delivered straight to the device.
The Amazon Kindle Fire is set to be another game changer for sure, but whether it will do much for books beyond what the original Kindle has already pioneered remains to be seen.
I recently finished The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter, someone I hadn’t read before. Reading this wild-chaotic gothic grand guignol was a stormy ride. You only need begin to spy a plot summation (against a dystopian backdrop of America imploding in racial civil war, a misogynist is kidnapped and savagely made female by a self made Earth Mother Goddess…etc..etc.) to get the feeling that overwrought histrionic absurdism may be at work. If anything, it gets madder as the plot progresses. And yet it certainly gripped me all the way through: intellectually stimulating, viscerally thrilling, and, if the florid prose style occasionally flies a little too free from its axis, a controlled chaotic beauty is far more often in evidence. Impressive and enjoyable then. This led me to explore a bit more about Angela, which in turn led me to this article here , a very interesting overview. The Scriptorium is a site I had not heard of before, but contains great summations of what they broadly term “experimental” writers, from Ballard through Carter to Joyce. If you like any or all, its well worth a look.
I’m a sucker for a nicely handled infographic or a clever piece of cover art. Stockholm’s Patrik Svensson (aka Prince Hat) does a great line in typographically-based graphic design, as featured in an advertising campaign for Dubai’s Jashanmal Books.
You can see the posters here, but it’s also worth clicking through to the movie posters (which I’m almost certain I’ve seen on Minimalissimo before) TV shows and music posters on the site. Excellent work, Patrik!
Aside from press releases for self-published space opera bodice rippers and post-apocalyptic political zombie thrillers, Spike receives a lot of correspondence with the plaintive enquiry “What ever happened to Jeff Noon?” We know of several theses being written around the author of Vurt and many, more casual readers have been waiting for something new.
Well, wait no more. Jeff has completed a forthcoming novel and has already begun to push out new work via Twitter. Entitled Ghosts of the Digital Age, the page contains stories, experiments and ‘atmospheres’, all set in Sparkletown.
We are approaching – as you may have noticed – the anniversary of September 11th. Don’t let the media saturation blind you with cynicism to the genuine human tragedy of the date. I think of three distinct horrors, remembering the dead of each.
Firstly, the one on which our media fixates now – the nightmarish massacre of innocent thousands at the World Trade Centre. A barbaric atrocity committed not by misguided freedom fighters, but by repellent clerical fascist thugs, led by a loathsome rich-boy theocrat.
Secondly, the many, many innocent thousands more murdered in no less horrifying style in the following years due to the military-industrial complex of the USA being given carte blanche by the earlier atrocity. Cynical invasions authorised by a loathsome rich-boy plutocrat.
Thirdly, the forgotten anniversary. Before 2001, September 11th was the anniversary of General Pinochet’s 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in Chile. It still is. A coup backed and made possible by the CIA, which saw the massacre of thousands of innocents, and the imprisonment and torture of many thousands more.
Not a happy date. In contrast to the many articles looking for the best fiction inspired by the World Trade Centre attack, Salon Magazine instead gives a view of what it sees as the worst. Cynical, nasty, misguided, tragic….perhaps they give a better reflection of the event and its aftermath than Salon gives them credit?
I’ve not seen this film yet but am intrigued enough to blog about it. Described by indieWIRE as “an apocalyptic love story for the Mad Max generation”, Bellflower has a special preview screening at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image tomorrow (August 4th). The interesting thing for me is that auteur Evan Glodell went so far as designing the camera it was filmed on. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Godard!
The viewing, which kicks off at 7pm, will be followed by a live video call with Glodell and rounded off with a screening of the 35mm print of the original Mad Max.
Sez the press release:
The shockingly violent, darkly romantic indie film Bellflower, a breakout hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is about two friends who build Mad Max-inspired flamethrowers and muscle cars to prepare for global apocalypse. [Glodel’s] custom-made camera… uses vintage parts, and Russian lenses, combined with a digital camera, to create a powerful visual style.
In an age of self-publishing, the role of critic as mere arbiter of taste seems outdated. Concerning itself with essays on contemporary poetry and literary fiction, Gentry Read Literature “strives to present arguments not just feelings”. Making a case as opposed to runing one’s mouth. Run by Daniel Casey out of New Haven, Connecticut, the blog also has a new format to its magazine edition, available via Issu. July has ten new reviews. See for yourself!
The name is an appropriate one, considering Gently Read’s mission to create a respectful and attentive space for poetry and literature. I also like their ‘wishlist‘ of items they’d like contributors to cover. Seems like the perfect way to commission material.
I was just listening to an album I hadn’t played in a while; Portuguese composer Nuno Canavarro’s delightful 1988 collection Plux Quba. Because of his initials and his nationality, I suddenly remembered that photographer Nuno Cera (covered by Spike here) is exhibiting as part of a group show called An Urban Silence at The Exchange in Penzance.
From the press blurb:
Curated by Blair Todd, An Urban Silence presents Nuno Cera, Mauro Cerqueira, Gil Heitor Cortesão Filipa Cesar and João Tabarra. An integral part of the exhibition will be Biblioteca, a cultural library created for this exhibition. It will present books and objects that offer a social and political portrait of Portugal with an insight into the current art scene and influences and references for each of the artists. Further activities for families exploring ideas in the exhibition will be available in the gallery café and education areas.
The exhibition is already open and runs until 17th September. Admission is free.
Nuno Cera’s website.