Friday, October 20, 2017

About Adorno’s friends

And in the space of a few days, I change my mind. Way back in the mists of last week, I mused over some people’s lack of curiosity when confronted by something they don’t know or don’t understand. But then, as part of my coursework, I read a piece by Adorno that made passing references to Karl Kraus and Paul Valéry and I was all at sea. In fact, I’d heard of both of them, although only vaguely: Kraus, I seemed to recall, had some connection with Frank Wedekind, the creator of Lulu (not the singer); Valéry I knew because Pierre Bayard had described his hilarious tribute to Anatole France, his predecessor at the Academie Francaise, which he delivered despite clearly not having read a word of France’s work. And if I hadn’t been aware of these molecules of fact, I could have Googled them, right?

But it’s not that straightforward. Adorno refers to “The strictures of Karl Kraus against freedom of the press”. What strictures? When? Where? Then: “If cultural criticism, even at its best with Valéry, sides with conservatism...” Well, that’s all very well, but could you give some examples, Theo? Of course, Adorno simply assumed his readers would know what he was talking about and in his time and place that was probably a valid assumption. There would have been a comfortable fuzz of connotations about Kraus and Valéry so that simply mentioning their names would have triggered the relevant context. And that’s not something that can be replicated by a mere search engine; not a search engine I've ever used, at least.

One thought though; if I’m expected to follow accurate MHRA-style reference guidelines when I’m writing about Adorno, wouldn’t it be nice if Adorno reciprocated?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

About Weinstein

Slightly off-topic in the context of all the decades-old pus oozing from the freshly-lanced boils in Hollywood and beyond, but this passing comment, from a New Yorker article by Molly Ringwald, makes a lot of sense.
I was always a little mystified that Harvey had a reputation as a great tastemaker when he seemed so noticeably lacking in taste himself. But he did have a knack for hiring people who had it, and I figured that’s what passes for taste in Hollywood.
I think we’ve all seen more than enough of Mr Weinstein’s face in the past few days, so here’s lovely, wise Molly instead.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

About Ophelia etc

Storm/Hurricane Ophelia has battered Ireland, but in its slipstream yesterday came a shower of meteorological weirdness over parts of England. The morning was strangely warm for October; and in the afternoon Saharan sand in the wind turned the sun and sky various shades of red and yellow.

It was one of those moments when you had to be there. From inside at about 3pm, it looked as if storm clouds were gathering; stepping outside, everything was suffused with a weird, tawny light; the closest thing I can compare it to was when I was in Stockholm at the height of summer and it was still light past 10pm, but the city was starting to fall asleep anyway. Inevitably, many people took photographs but this was one phenomenon to which mere smartphones could not do justice. For some reason (sorry, ask someone more tech-savvy than me), the odd ambience wouldn’t translate to ones and zeroes and pixels. So, rather than commit the ultimate 21st-century solecism and leave an event unrecorded, many people tweaked their images with various filters so as to give the pictures the appropriate hue. Despite the fact that many of the people who saw those images were looking at the real thing themselves. The simulacrum was momentarily imperfect and had to be nudged back to perfection, especially because the original was still there for comparison.

And then, because it was so difficult to communicate in words or images exactly what was happening, even to people who were experiencing exactly the same thing, we all started talking about Ragnarok and the Book of Revelation, which is much easier.

(John Martin, The Great Day of His Wrath, 1851-53)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

About criticism

Walter Benjamin died in 1940, so I guess we should excuse his tendency to gender-specific pronouns:
Regarding the terrible misconception that the quality indispensable to the true critic is “his own opinion”: it is quite meaningless to learn the opinion of someone about something when you do not even know who he is. The more important the critic, the more he will avoid baldly asserting his own opinion. And the more his insights will absorb his opinions. Instead of giving his own opinion, a great critic enables others to form their opinion on the basis of his critical analysis.

Friday, October 13, 2017

About Austin Rogers and knowing

A successful contestant on the game show Jeopardy is apparently getting attention because of his on-camera gurning but he also says something that rather chimes with my own thoughts about knowing stuff:
I like reading and consuming knowledge; it’s almost irrelevant to my education. If I don’t know something, it visibly perturbs me and I have to find out. Back in the day, that meant dropping everything and finding a newspaper to find out exactly what I was looking for. But now, we have supercomputers in our pockets, which confuses me when people don’t know something and they go, “Well, I guess I’ll never know!” I’m like, “You have a supercomputer in your pocket, you can know right now.” You have all of mankind’s knowledge in your pocket. If you don’t know something, why not find it out immediately and close that chapter? I don’t know, people are weird. They’re not curious.
PS: Vaguely connected: Quentin Letts (the theatre critic for the Daily Mail) has been annoying again, which is as good a reason as any to resuscitate the moment he referred to “the death of Banquo’s children” in Macbeth; and Will Gompertz (the arts editor for the BBC) announced on a recent episode of Pointless Celebrities that Vivaldi wrote La Traviata. Now, it’s always a bit awkward bringing up solecisms such as these in polite society because there’s no fixed cultural canon any more and you have no idea whether someone else may or may not see anything wrong. (For the record, it was Macduff’s children who were murdered; and Verdi wrote La Traviata.) But even if you don’t know (or care), surely you’d expect the theatre critic of a high-profile newspaper or the arts editor the national broadcasting organisation to be better informed. Wouldn’t you?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

About making stuff

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

About Miffy and Tom

In class yesterday, we had a sort of cultural studies show-and-tell, where we each brought in an object and got a bit theoretical on its arse. My piece was a Chinese pencil case that I picked up in Bangkok in 2001. The main design revolves around iterations of Miffy (aka Nijntje), the rabbit character created by the late Dick Bruna in 1955 and (to his chagrin) something of an inspiration to the Japanese Hello Kitty.

But what’s special about this slab of turn-of-the-millennium cross-cultural kitsch is the slab of text on the right; some very slightly mis-spelled lines from the last section of TS Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. Now, I have no idea why these two elements were juxtaposed. I’d guess that whoever designed the piece wasn’t a devoted fan of Modernist poetry; it was just a chunk of the English language and could just as well have been the Shipping Forecast or a recipe for pesto. Serendipitously, though, it tied in with one of the readings we’d been assigned for the class, Andreas Huyssen’s plea for students of culture to get beyond notions of “high” and “low” art and become aware of more significant distinctions (geographical, political, economic, etc). Here were two manifestations of culture, which most people in the room (and reading this) would define as “high” (Eliot) and “low” (or, less pejoratively, “mass” – Miffy); but to the anonymous individual who actually created the thing, there was probably no such distinction.

So, in one piece, high meets low and east meets west. But it gets better. One of my classmates turned the case over and pointed to a few Chinese characters, explaining that they were a reference to the scholars who passed the rigorous civil service exams in imperial times, the only way for poor, unconnected people to make any kind of social advance. So, in addition to high/low and east/west we had ancient/modern. And crucially, in these death-of-the-author days, all of these connections/collisions were pretty much accidental.

And you can even keep pencils in it.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

About Blade Runner 2049

Some disconnected thoughts about the Blade Runner sequel that may, one day, make their way into a coherent review (but probably not). Oh yeah, SPOILER ALERTS.
  • It cannot sensibly be described as short.
  • The horse. The dog. The unicorn in the original? Maybe?
  • People who think Ryan Gosling’s a great actor, and then take the piss out of, say, Keanu Reeves, really ought to take a long, hard look at themselves.
  • Lots of weather.
  • Baudrillard. Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard. Baudrillard. Baudrillard Baudrillard. Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard Baudrillard. Baudrillard. Baudrillard. More about that by Steve Rose.
  • The enormous naked lady with blue hair is meant to be funny, right?
  • Less overtly noir than the original; a bit closer to Star Wars-style space opera (flying out to big domes in the desert, etc).
  • In 2049, the United States will still not have got to grips with metric measurements. (See also Fahrenheit 451.)
  • How many more times can Harrison Ford return to a role from several decades previously in grumpy dad mode? What’s next? A Witness sequel where he finds out he’s knocked up Kelley McGillis?
  • The blonde hooker is very Pris. But is that relevant?
  • I mean, *lots* of weather.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

About Ishiguro

Will Self on Kazuo Ishiguro winning the Nobel Prize:
“He’s a fairly good writer and surely doesn’t deserve the dread ossification and disregard that garnishes such laurels.”

PS: Just seen this: the Harukists gather to mark their man’s perennial Nobel disappointment.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

About Trump/Amis

Toby Litt on The Orange One as a fictional construct with a very specific heritage:
The reason I’m writing this now is that President Trump (I’m sure it’s been said elsewhere a hundred times) is – for me – an Amis character rather than an any-other-fiction-writer-in-the-world character. It’s Amis’s novels – yes, Money – that were on the money about this ludicrous, strutting, wad out, greasy kind of masculinity. Others had stopped taking it seriously, or investing it with pathos and power. It had no future, why bond with it? But for Trump (the name is 1980s Amis) to be up there, in government, using the phrase ‘warmest condolences’ in referring to the Las Vegas Shooting – I feel the need to acknowledge Martin Amis here, to bow in his specific direction. Yes, you were right. This is his reality, as surely as Princess Diana’s death was J.G.Ballard’s, pre-scripted. In that phrase, and in every murderously clumsy verbal gesture and grandiloquent self-serving parp, Trump has been pre-scripted by Amis. Amis pre-understood him. This suggests it’s time to re-read.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

About Isaac Newton

Preparatory reading for my MA course, which begins properly tomorrow, is happily reinforcing my obsession with the notion of an epistemological canon — essentially, what can/should we be expected to know; or, to put it another way, what prompts a disapproving glance from Richard on Pointless?

For example, re-reading Barthes’s Mythologies, I come across this in the introduction:
...which also has echoes of Bachelard and Hjelmslev...
and assume I’m just *meant* to know who they are. I mean, I know there’s Google (although there wasn’t the first time I read Barthes) but the throwaway feel to the phrase implies, you know, Bachelard and Hjelmslev, those guys... And then, in another book, I find:
...the scientist Isaac Newton...
and this annoys me for the opposite reason. Oh, right, the *scientist* Isaac Newton, as opposed to the plumber, the travelling salesman, the serial killer.

But of course, my annoyance is pretty solipsistic; my gripe is that the authors’ assumptions, in both cases, fail to correlate with what I (don’t) know. Although deep down I rather hope there’s someone who’s a mirror image of me, who’s fully conversant with Bachelard and Hjelmslev and all their works, but doesn’t know who Isaac Newton was.

And in other news, I think I’ll give up on social media, because the best Instagram name has already been taken.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

About selfies

I just discovered that the French for selfie is égoportrait, which is entirely perfect and beautiful.

PS: I’ve been advised that égoportrait is specifically Québecois; the French are happy with selfie.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

About mother!

And so I went to see the much-hyped, heavily spoiler-alerted, highly-controversial-or-bust, orthographically wacky mother!, the new film by Darren Aronofsky. It begins as a mid-period Woody Allen movie, then pulls in elements of Rosemary’s Baby, Straw Dogs and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but ultimately it’s just another home improvement TV show gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

About Foucault

“We know what we do and we know, up to a point, why we do it: what we don't know is what what we do does.”
Anyone would think I was about to start an MA in Cultural Studies.

Maybe there’s a reason for this blog to stumble back into some sort of life.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

About Lewis and Diana

Lewis Hamilton, a man who drives cars very fast, has written a poem dedicated to the memory of Princess Diana, a woman who died in a car that was was being driven very fast (but not, it must be said, by Mr Hamilton).

Englands Rose

The day we lost our Nations Rose
Tears we cried like rivers flowed,
The earth stood still
As we laid her to rest,
A day you & I
Will never forget
The people's princess
Who came to see,
The love from a Country
We'd hope she'd lead,
Englands beauty
Captured in one sweet soul,
Carried the torch
God rest her soul,
With the gift she had 
She'd light up the way,
With a smile to show us a brighter day,
Hearts still full 
of the love she gave,
20 years since she laid in her grave
There will never be another like you,
Now a shinning star in the midnight sky
I will always remember you,
Princess Diana
As our sweet nations Rose🌹

It’s not terribly good, is it? I mean, even if he’d taken the trouble to sort out the punctuation and spelling, and find some better rhymes, and learn a bit about scansion, it would still be fairly mundane.  But, hey, what do I know? Many people appear to have liked it. “Beautiful” is a very common response. “Heartfelt” as well. And, in one case, “I can’t wait to call me nan later. Read her this poem. God is great.” Some are even prompted to respond in kind:
A rose, you never used your thorns, the ones you loved abandoned you, your angel face made hearts so warm, you helped the sick... but who helped you?
offers olivercsmith90, perhaps channelling the spirit of Rik the People’s Poet.

A few, though, are less charitable:
wow your just too easy to please, now go read a John Keats poem , and see if Lewis 's poem still ranks with you!!! Yeah it probably would!
suggests simonnoble389. But sofiashinas shoots back:
You can't compare Lewis to Keats, apples and oranges. One is a champion race car driver, another is a brilliant poet. Either way Lewis's homage to Diana goes straight through my heart ❤️ and bring tears to my eyes .. he obviously loves her spirit as most of us did and still do.
Of course, Sofia is setting up a false dichotomy here; one can be “a brilliant poet” and something else as well. TS Eliot worked in a bank; Wallace Stevens sold insurance. Keats himself was a doctor. There’s nothing to say Lewis Hamilton can’t be a champion driver *and* a brilliant poet as well. I mean, his homage goes straight through Sofia’s heart and that’s what matters.

My own response to Mr Hamilton’s efforts was simple and, I hope, sincere.
You are the poet the British people deserve.
Let’s just leave it there.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thursday, August 17, 2017

About initials

The recent BBC coverage of the 50th anniversary of the (partial) decriminalisation of male homosexuality has offered a number of variants on the modish label for those whose sexual and/or gender identity is at variance to the norm; most agree on LGBT, but then they go off in a number of different directions, deploying various combinations of Q, I and A, and disagreeing on what they mean. I am therefore grateful – and not for the first time – to our friends in Canada for letting us know exactly how to define lovers of musical theatre/ladies in sensible shoes:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

About Warhol

Alice Cooper has discovered a version of Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair print in a locker alongside some of his stage props. I was initially amused by the comment from his manager, Shep Gordon, about a discussion the then-drunk rock star may or may not have had with the artist: 
Alice says he remembers having a conversation with Warhol about the picture... he thinks the conversation was real, but he couldn't put his hand on a Bible and say that it was.”
Which is something that would doubtless have tickled Andy. But I’m not sure how he would have taken another of Gordon’s reflections:
“Andy Warhol was not really ‘Andy Warhol’ back then.”
I suspect what Gordon means is that Warhol didn’t command the vast sums on the art market that he can attract now he’s safely dead – which goes for any number of big names. But it seems oddly appropriate in that ‘Andy Warhol’ (as distinct from Andy Warhol) was his greatest work, the spectral, silver-wigged entity, umm-ing and gee-ing and generally being, blurring the lines between art, business, performance and celebrity. In fact, by the mid-70s, it’s possible that Andy Warhol had ceased to exist and only ‘Andy Warhol’ was left.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

About OK Computer

The anniversary bandwagon chugs on; I talk to Greenroom about OK Computer, Naomi Klein, Emmanuel Macron and stuff like that.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

About nostalgia (again)

So, the 20th anniversary of OK Computer approaches, with the inevitable special edition reissue and all that entails. Thom Yorke has grumbled about the backward-looking nature of the whole Britpop phenomenon that dominated the cultural scene while he was recording the album but, as others have pointed out, it’s a bit rich to sneer at nostalgia when you’re celebrating the birthday of your own product.

To be fair, Yorke was actually attempting to do something a bit different with his third album, even if the Pink Floyd and JG Ballard references loomed large. But if he really does object to nostalgia so much, he’d better put his head under a pillow for the rest of the year. There’s the whole Sgt Pepper phenomenon, of course, which is a veritable babushka of nostalgias, packing any number of Victorian and Edwardian references in among the hallucinogens and Mellotrons. I heard David Rodigan lauding Bob Marley’s Exodus last night and, also from 1977, we can expect any amount of old punks getting wistful as Never Mind the Bollocks gets the same treatment later in the year.

Now I’m nearly 50,  a proper old fart, so all this stuff is squarely aimed at me; but what about the young folk for whom even Britpop is just a wispy rumour, something their parents did in the old days before Snapchat? To get an approximate idea, I picked up a copy of NME, a publication that probably stopped trying to tickle my own cultural tummy around the turn of the millennium. The first thing I saw was a wraparound cover promoting movie iterations of Baywatch (a TV show first shown in 1989) and Transformers (a toy line launched in North America in 1984). But the real front page doesn’t say much more about 2017; a moody shot of Liam Gallagher, a man in his mid-40s who had his first hit records 23 years ago. Moreover, the whole design of the cover, with Gallagher in a parka and a jaunty target logo hovering by his grumpy head, seems to be echoing the Mod revival of the late 70s/early 80s, which was in turn a nod to the social and musical eruptions of the early 60s, before even Sgt Pepper hit the racks.

So, has it all ended? Have we really drained the cultural well, so we can only sustain ourselves with echoes of echoes of echoes? Or, in the midst of all these old men looking backwards, is something going to pop up and surprise us all? Can’t see it myself...

PS: To contextualize the idea of Liam etc on the cover, it’s as if, when I first read the NME in about 1984, its exterior was adorned with Adam Faith, and films based on Dixon of Dock Green and Play-Doh.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Seven thoughts about #PepsiLivesMatter

So Pepsi made a commercial in which Kendall Jenner, who is apparently a Kardashian, sort of, shows up at a political demonstration and calmed everyone down with a can of fizzy drink and some people didn’t like it so Pepsi said, yeah, fair enough, we’ll pull it.

  • It’s just a classic example of recuperation, the tactic of reclaiming radical, transgressive  images/tropes in the cause of capitalism. The flipside of the Situationist tactic of détournement. Every time your favourite old punk anthem shows up in a commercial. That.
  • Until this thing happened, I honestly thought Kendall Jenner was a boy.
  • Everyone’s so clean and groomed and pretty. Is that what demos are like now? Blimey.
  • An Iranian friend has pointed out that the placard with supposedly Arabic text on it just contains random characters that don’t mean anything.
  • We’re all talking about Pepsi now.
  • And Kendall Jenner.
  • Right now, Coca-Cola is working on something bigger and better/worse.
PS: Also, this:

Sunday, April 02, 2017

About passports

A few months ago, I unearthed my first passport. It was the long-defunct British Visitors version, acquired at the age of 13 to enable me to go on a school trip to France, during which I would have my first snog, but that’s another tale for another day, or maybe never. A BVP was only valid for a year and allowed entry to a strictly limited array of countries, most of them in Western Europe; you could go to West Berlin, but only by air. Any other mode of transport would involve setting foot on Communist soil.

Which inevitably got me thinking about how much Europe, and travel, and life have changed in the years since; and how much some people apparently wish they hadn’t. Apparently we’re all going to get dark blue passports again, something apparently greatly to be desired by many Brexit voters, along with smoking in pubs, incandescent lightbulbs, pre-decimal currency and the death penalty (we are not informed whether this will be carried out in public). It all rather supports my gut feeling that Brexit is less about leaving the EU, more about going back to an imagined yesterday of Morris Minors and outside toilets, where everything is grey or beige, except the people, who are exclusively white.

But back to the passports. It’s well documented that there were some clear correlations between voting in the referendum with regard to age (older people voted to leave, younger to stay) and educational background (the higher up the learning ladder you went, the more likely you were to be a remainer). But another interesting statistic shows areas that voted heavily for Brexit also had the lowest levels of passport ownership. Which suggests that for many people, the desire for a blue passport is yet another abstract yearning for something that doesn’t really exist.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

About Girlz Wetter

I’ve been sorting through a whole load of storage crates over the past few weeks, some of which have been undisturbed for 13 years or more. Inevitably some of the contents prompt a certain sting of nostalgia: in a few cases I can recall the precise circumstances in which I acquired a particular book or record, or wrote or drew something. But I’m also coming across things that push no buttons whatsoever, even if I feel they ought to.

One such example is this copy of the fanzine Girlz Wetter. Although maybe calling it a fanzine is to overstate its significance. It’s a single A4 sheet of pink paper, folded into a pamphlet tiny enough to fit in your wallet. There’s a review of a gig by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, an interview with Jef Steartfield of Plan A (me neither) and a rather NSFW 14-point “Guide to Being a Groupie”. And that’s your lot, as the back cover announces in no uncertain terms.

The thing is, I have no memory of how I came into possession of this piece. At first I assumed I must have got hold of it in about 1997/8, when I spent a lot of time on the Camden gig circuit: it was hidden amidst a pile of compilation CDs from that era, boasting tracks by the likes of Dweeb, Midget and The Bigger The God. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reference pitches it forwards, to 2001 at the earliest.

What’s interesting about that is that by then it would already have been something of a throwback, as the early rumblings of blogging and social media started to encroach of the turf of print zines. And what’s more, it makes no attempt to perform even those limited gestures of social interaction that print can offer. There’s no information about who the author may be, not even a pseudonym; no contact details, not even a good old analogue PO Box; it’s just there, in your face, make of it what you will. It’s entirely devoid of context, whether in itself or in terms of my own memories. And there’s something rather magnificent about that. I’d be intrigued to know who created it, but at the same time, I quite like the state of ignorance in which I find myself.

Monday, March 13, 2017

About Nazis


Big flip chart with a graph headed “VIEWING FIGURES” and a line pointing down.

Tony (Commissioning Editor): So, Simon, as you can see, what we really need is a blockbuster to lure them back.

Simon (Producer): Hmm. What sort of thing did you have in mind, Tony?

Tony: Well, what’s really getting them excited is Nazis. Swastikas over Buckingham Palace. SS marching down Fifth Avenue. That sort of thing.

Simon: Hmmm. OK, Tony, this is just off the top of my head... but what about a series that shows what would have happened if the Nazis lost the war?

Tony: Lost the war? Bloody hell, Simon, that’s so insane it’s almost brilliant. Tell me more.

Simon: Right, bear with me. Germany invades Poland and quickly takes over most of Europe. But Britain manages to hold out, Hitler overreaches by invading Russia, the Americans join the Allies after Pearl Harbour and following years of carnage and deprivation, with millions of people dying, the Nazi threat is finally vanquished.

Tony: Woah. This is blowing my mind, Simon. So what happens to Hitler?

Simon: OK, get this. Hitler dies. He. Dies. I haven’t thought of the details. Maybe he could shoot himself. In his bunker. Goebbels and some of the others do the same. But most of them are executed. One or two could escape to Argentina — which gives us a potential sequel.

Tony: But isn’t this going to offend people? Insulting the reputations of the brave hypothetical British resistance who didn’t sacrifice their lives to defeat the non-existent invaders?

Simon: I think we should take the risk, Tony. I see a closing montage of ravaged cities and concentration camps, a stern warning to viewers about the dangers of racist demagogues and a reminder that European nations should work together in peace and harmony...

(He tails off. Uncomfortable silence.)

Tony: Simon, you do realise that people like these shows because deep down they wish the Nazis had won after all?

Simon: Yeah, I guess you’re right. OK, shall we do the other thing?

Tony: Yes, OK, let’s do that instead. It’s less risky. Move back the News at Ten for an utterly inept and unfunny chat-show that everyone will take the piss out of on Twitter. Is Walliams free?

Monday, March 06, 2017

About American Gothic and the perils of familiarity

And so to the Royal Academy for America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. Or, let’s be honest, to see one painting, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, which as any file kno depicts the artist’s sister and the artist’s dentist, dolled up as bloody miserable farmers. And so there’s a fluctuating knotlet of gawpers around this one painting and by the time you edge your way between an elbow and a buttock to see it, a sense of disappointment is on the cards. Especially because a far better, more memorable and disturbing picture by Wood, Daughters of Revolution, is on the opposite wall, getting none of the love.

It reminds me of when I first went to the Louvre, at the age of 13. Obviously I took a peep at the Mona bloody Lisa, because that’s what you do, and I reacted the way everybody else does, remarking on how small and brown it is, and going off to look at the Davids instead, because they’re more fun (even if Napoleon is basically Hitler with a better tailor). And, just a few weeks ago, finally getting to see Lord Leighton’s Flaming June in situ at the artist’s gaff near Holland Park, on a brief respite from its Puerto Rican exile. Yes, yes, it’s a nice enough painting and it’s definitely fun to see it displayed exactly as it would have been in Leighton’s studio, but again it’s some of the other, less familiar images, such as Twixt Hope and Fear, with its subject’s bold, almost accusatory gaze, that catch the imagination.

So what’s my bloody problem? Why can’t I respond with appropriate reverence to something that’s widely hailed as a masterpiece? Is it just that I’m already bored with its very ubiquity, its status as a tea towel, a fridge magnet, a meme? Am I so hungry for new sensations that when I go to a gallery I demand to be surprised? And yet, if American Gothic hadn’t been in the exhibition, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Maybe that’s the deal; big ticket paintings act as a sort of aesthetic loss leader, getting in punters whose imagination is instead grabbed by something else.

Or is it just me?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

About Lazarus

So I went to Lazarus, which was great. And yes, it is a jukebox musical, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The London run is almost over, so most of the things that need to be said about it have already been said, but what surprised me is how filmic it is — not just the inevitable back projections but the wide box in which all the action takes place, as if everything’s being shown in Cinemascope; the actors seem there but not there, flickering images on your retina. And yes, Michael C Hall is Thomas Jerome Newton from The Man Who Fell To Earth but not Bowie, and he’s not trying to be.

And inevitably I thought about what and who else is here but not here and what’s happened between the show opening in New York at the end of 2015, when Bowie was alive and would never die; and now, when a pantomime villain, a malevolent space beast has Fallen To Earth. 2016 happened, of course, and all the wrong people died.

And I thought about what art is going to look like in a world with the Bowies dying and the Trumps in charge, the people who fused Newton’s eyes still pulling the strings; and I went home and drank cold gin (I didn’t really) and ran my fingers over the scars that can’t be seen and read this depressing article in the FT about culture under Trump and this even more depressing article in The Quietus about the commodification of the alternative, not to mention the fact that his people don’t seem to think that hip-hop is properly American, and then I read about the government’s bright idea to turn the UK into a sort of cold, porridge-coloured Singapore (I went there once but it was closed) and all the stars that never were will try to sell mortgages to the stars that never will be and the only theatre will be jukebox musicals, but not like Lazarus. And there will still be music, but not like Bowie’s, more like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.