07 November 2011

notepad: November

The purpose of mediocratic ideology is the same as that of Marxist ideology: to make life impossible for genuine intellectuals, i.e. those who might generate real cultural progress. To mask the issue, an ersatz system of high culture has been built up, designed to perpetuate and reinforce the ideology, and to ensure no assistance is given to those whom the system carefully excludes.

• There is a certain sad inevitability in the slow sinking of the European Project, as it goes on blithely doing what it has always been best at doing: spending other people’s money and making grandiose plans.
It is a little reminiscent of the decline of the dinosaurs.
In a way, it would have been beneficial if they could have become just a bit smaller, nimbler and furrier; nevertheless, it was clear they were going to have to go on doing what they did in the same old way, until the final demise.
[7 Nov]

• From looking into the topic of Clara Schumann last month, I was reminded of the debate about Robert’s alleged mental illness (was it syphilis? bipolar? etc).
If he had died yesterday, my suspicion would be that he wasn’t mad at all but developed an iatrogenic condition (possibly exacerbated by grief about the perfidiousness of various parties, perhaps of Brahms or even Clara); and maybe this explanation should be considered even though we are talking about the medical guild of 150 years ago.
As for the claim that you can hear the madness in his final compositions, such as the Violin Concerto (in my opinion one of his best works), the idea is absurd and supports the possibility that the whole Schumann-madness thesis was, and is, a myth.

• ITV’s The Jury was a little slushy at points, and a little far-fetched at others, but overall a good watch, with Julie Walters an amusingly acid barrister.
The series managed to explore a number of legal procedural issues, if briefly, without allowing them to get submerged by the dramatic objectives, as often happens in American legal TV and movie offerings.
Of course, any drama that implicitly promotes the rights of defendants, including jury trial, is likely to score points in my book.
[14 Nov]

• Herewith an extract from another feminist icon, one who did not make a career out of contempt for the patriarchal ethos (no significance intended, it’s just a passage I happen to like).
From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end.

The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of the most intricate colour.

The light fell either upon the smooth, grey back of a pebble, or, the shell of a snail with its brown, circular veins, or falling into a raindrop, it expanded with such intensity of red, blue and yellow the thin walls of water that one expected them to burst and disappear. (Virginia Woolf, ‘Kew Gardens’)
Woolf, of course, was notably portrayed by Nicole Kidman in The Hours, capturing some of her kookiness.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to represent her most interesting quality, and the one which defined her artistry — a painfully extreme level of poetic sensitivity — was completely missed.

• Apparently someone or other has said that “the Left hates the past, but the Right hates the future”.
What nonsense.
The past is fixed, so it should be accepted with good grace; the future is not, so one had better express one’s preferences about it, and express them hard, before the opportunity to do so is gone.

• Clever of the late Steve Jobs and his henchmen to force you to buy an iPod Touch in order to make use of iCloud.
Having so far found Apple products resistible by using far less expensive substitutes, I decided to take the plunge — because one naturally needs to stay abreast of technology, including exciting developments in the cloud* — and have thus become a convert.
I suppose in machinery, as in other areas, one has always had to pay what can seem an unreasonable premium for top quality, and one probably always will.
[21 Nov]

* If you do not understand the cloud, I do not recommend using Wikipedia to resolve your confusion. Information technology is the one area where Wiki fails to present clear explanations to the layman. (Suggestion: get such articles written by ordinary people, not technophiles.)

• “Oxford thinking examines all points”, “Oxford thinking leaves few gaps”, boasts the latest bit of marketing bumf from the University.
But has Oxford ever considered the point that it has a moral obligation to help those who have been unfairly excluded from the academic system return to it (say by assisting them in the process of turning themselves into a fully functional research department), independently of rules, procedures and internal politics?
If Oxford really wanted to have, and be seen to have, an “all points” approach, I can think of no better way than to incorporate us as a department, given that we’re apparently the only intellectual organisation able and willing to express fundamental scepticism about the currently dominant ideology.
[28 Nov]

aphorism of the month:

Everyone is encouraged to think more about the needs of others than about their own; this is because it is easier to be unrealistic about other people.
Celia Green, Advice to Clever Children

food for grey cells:

Professor Krugman meets his match?

The author of this blog is an unsalaried academic. Like his colleagues, he is excluded from the academic system because of the way that system is currently run. (The phrase “sausage factory” was recently used by a government minister, expressing part of the problem.) As a result, he is unable to write in detail about intellectual issues to which he could be contributing, and has to limit himself to brief blog comments.

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