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Sunday, January 31, 2010

John Terry is a Rat-Faced Knicker-Model-Botherer, or, My Daily Mise-en-Abyme Hell, Never Mind the Other Things I Find to Worry About

One thing I’ve noticed in my life, and Lord knows there haven’t been many, is that I am never more than a prompt or two in the nearest media outlet away from a spot of absurdist mise-en-abyme, and this worries me. For instance, I see John ‘Champions League Vodka’ Terry (slogan: ‘Bottled in Moscow’) has got into a spot of misplaced-winkie-and-tabloids related bother. He attempted to take out not just an injunction against the media to prevent them reporting on his knicker-model-bothering ways, but a super-injunction to prevent them reporting that they were unable to report on his knicker-model-bothering ways. But would he then have had to take out a hyper-injunction to prevent them reporting on the fact that they were unable to report on the fact of his knicker-model-bothering ways, I wonder, and there’s my aforementioned mise-en-abyme in the bag. It could quickly spiral into a very time-consuming activity indeed, could it not. Someone once told me of putting an out-of-office automated reply on his email before going on holidays but sending an email just before he did so, which prompted an automated out-of-office reply at the other end, which then generated an out-of-office reply at his end, and so on, in a cycle terminable only in death or the uninvention of the computer, whichever comes soonest, a bit like the story Evelyn Waugh used to tell about his father’s thank you cards for birthday cards which generated thank you cards for the thank you cards which then etc. If there was any way of transferring his travails (travaux?) to the computer example I’ve just described, perhaps John Terry could bludgeon this story to death with a flood of automated out-of-orifice replies to requests for comment? Yes, that’s exactly what he should do.

In other news, I see a branch of Tesco’s in Wales has introduced a dress code to discourage people from wandering round its aisles in their pyjamas. ‘I’ve got lovely pairs of pyjamas, with bears and penguins on them. I’ve worn my best ones today, just so I look tidy’, snorted Elaine Carmody, in an I-really-am-too-lazy-to-dress-myself-have-you-got-a-problem-with-that kind of way. ‘Do they have any idea how difficult it is to get three kids off to school when you are a single parent? You haven’t got time for a cup of tea, never mind getting all dolled up.’ Which would be why I wander the streets dressed only in my underwear after staying up late the previous night doing a simplex crossword, and with my balls hanging out if I’ve gone for the cryptic instead. Put your goddamn trousers on women, with bears and penguins on them if necessary. I, however, am not putting my underpants on, because unlike getting your mewling brats out of bed, doing a cryptic crossword the night before - that is actually work.

The above two examples raise the question of standards and relative standards, even. Which brings me to my third point. Are appalling criminals in one particular field universally amoral or do they get to be judgemental about forms of criminality outside their field of, em, expertise? There is a sign on the back of Hull buses listing consequences of drink-driving, one of which is ‘Dropped by Friends’. Suppose you were a heroin dealer or paedophile and your fellow heroin dealer or paedophile, let’s call him Keith, got done for drink driving. What would you say to him when he rang you up for a bit of heroin dealing or bairn-worrying? Sorry, don’t want to know you, I think that kind of thing is disgusting? But if that seems disproportionate why don’t heroin dealers and paedophiles always make a point of drink-driving, since it’s hardly any worse than what they’re already doing, is it? Isn’t there a consistency issue here?

I bet you wouldn’t catch a heroin dealer or paedophile walking round Tesco in bear and penguin pyjamas though. These people have some standards, you know.

This is the kind of thing I walk the streets thinking about, believe me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Christopher Reid

Christopher Reid has won the Costa Prize, outright, for his book of elegies, A Scattering.

I’m the riddle to an answer:
I’m an unmarried spouse,
a flesh-and-blood revenant,
my own ghost, inhabitant
of an empty house.

Ghosts don’t come more companionable than Christopher’s work, from which I have derived such pleasure these many years now. He’s not so bad in person either, and I salute him on his entirely deserved triumph, with much pleasure and fondness.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Zero at the Bone

I have written a play. That’s the title above. It features two men in the disused lighthouse on Spurn Point, and their various and violent shenanigans when a mysterious stranger turns up. Coming to a room over an East Hull pub any week now.

Hour after hour finds lined up, stern to prow,
boats from Monrovia, Gdansk or Nassau,
fabulous holds containing Lord knows what,
a UN of unknowns sailing past each night.
Try out my binoculars on the view
and someone’s training his right back on you.
I see things that are there and things that aren’t.
At me too they are looking. [Pause.] What do you want?
To think I stand here gazing at the south bank
and ask why life clings on somewhere so blank,
human life that is, life other than mine,
as if a total blank wouldn’t suit me fine.
A low tide’s worth of curlews now, or ruff,
or godwits, that’s what I call world enough,
here where earth and sea and sky collide
and the only place a man might hide’s a hide.
I never saw a bird I would not follow
if only mine were, like birds’ bones are, hollow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beckett Speaks

This is unexpected. A youtube clip of Beckett reviewing footage of the TV adaptation of What Where. Sound quality poor, but nevertheless: Beckett on tape.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Voltaire on Earthquakes

O malheureux mortels! ô terre déplorable!
O de tous les mortels assemblage effroyable!
D’inutiles douleurs éternel entretien!
Philosophes trompés qui criez: « Tout est bien »;
Accourez, contemplez ces ruines affreuses,
Ces débris, ces lambeaux, ces cendres malheureuses,
Ces femmes, ces enfants l’un sur l’autre entassés,
Sous ces marbres rompus ces membres dispersés;
Cent mille infortunés que la terre dévore,
Qui, sanglants, déchirés, et palpitants encore,
Enterrés sous leurs toits, terminent sans secours
Dans l’horreur des tourments leurs lamentables jours! (...)
Un calife autrefois, à son heure dernière,
Au Dieu qu’il adorait dit pour toute prière:
«Je t’apporte, ô seul roi, seul être illimité,
Tout ce que tu n’as pas dans ton immensité,
Les défauts, les regrets, les maux, et l’ignorance.
Mais il pouvait encore ajouter l’espérance.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Renowned for their Larders

The butcher bird, or shrike, is given to impaling its prey on ‘larders’ of barbed wire or branches. As noted in passing in my review of Simon Armitage and Tim Dee’s The Poetry of Birds, here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Path Taken

Rampaging Hordes of Mink Wish Roger Scruton Harm

Gathering some thoughts on animality in Beckett, I find myself reading Randy Malamud’s Poetic Animals and Animal Souls, an unusual book, in the sense that most academic critics would not interrupt their thoughts on animal poetry (composed by, rather than about animals, you understand) to give you their email addresses, and request you send them any examples you’ve encountered (I’m presuming he’s already seen the above example from icanhascheezburger...). There is also a lengthy description of his son’s experiences at ‘bug camp’, and of a trumpet-playing elephant. But I digress. Malamud frequently finds himself in the position of preaching a state of virtuous ignorance, I find. Are you reading this blog in Scandinavia? If not, then the chances are the view through your window does not include any reindeer. And careful not to go in search of one in the nearest zoo either! ‘I believe strongly’, he writes of Marianne Moore’s ‘Rigorists’, that ‘Moore feels, as I do, that Brooklynites like herself are simply not meant to be in immediate proximity to reindeer, and that we do them (and ourselves and our art) a disservice when we glibly traipse through their habitats, or imprison them within our own, for the purposes of observing them or representing them aesthetically.’ (Since he mentions Brookyln, I can’t help thinking that world’s-single-most-boring-woman, Eilis from Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn, which I read during 24 hours of enforced captivity in Dublin Airport the other day, would strongly agree about the undesirability of reindeer around the place in Brooklyn: I mean, whatever would Father Flood say, not to mention her landlady Mrs Kehoe say, eh? What would they SAY? Are reindeer even CATHOLIC?!) No, those ‘vast herds’ belong in the ‘altogether elsewhere’ Auden imagined for them in ‘The Fall of Rome’, leaving us to contemplate them from afar, but in a state of virtuous ignorance. For such an ardent admirer of Moore’s work (as am I), he would seem to skirt round the small, or not so small, problem from his point of view of her delight in zoos. But maybe that’s a debate for another time.

I was only too happy to see Malamud attack the tedious Mary Oliver, who may not want to skin and eat the animals she likes at, but seems, to me at least, every bit as determined to subjugate the animals she looks at to her entirely anthropocentric sublime (‘If an animal lives in the forest or river, and a poet like Oliver does not see it, does it make a noise? Yes, but we wouldn’t know it from her poetry’). But here’s a conceptual brick wall he finds himself contemplating more than once. If a lion could speak, Wittgenstein said, we would still not be able to understand it. ‘The more we know them’, John Berger has said of animals, ‘the further away they are.’ So when Malamud devotes a chapter to ‘Mesoamerican Spirituality and Animal Co-Essences’ he has to remind himself, a couple of times, that the coyote or the rabbit no more cares about our certified-sensitive indigenous ecopoetic posturings than it does about some piece of lazy schlock by Mary Oliver. All the animal wants is for us to leave it alone. Which is what makes Marianne Moore’s formulation, in a review of Wallace Stevens’ Ideas of Order, so striking: ‘poetry’, she says, ‘is an unintelligible unmistakable vernacular like the language of animals.’ An animal poem does not get any extra points for saying Love the animals! Care for them!, which is one reason at least why the arch-carnivore Ted Hughes is the astonishing animal poet he is. The animal poem is engaged in an exercise in non-relational art, writing for and about a subject from which it should expect neither understanding nor approval. And this is an entirely praiseworthy thing to do. In fact, I can hardly think of a better basis for writing something, anything.

Poetry is a non-relational art.

Elsewhere, I have enjoyed reading Roger Scruton’s latest attempt to grapple with the concept of animal rights in a TLS review of Andrew Linzey’s Why Animal Suffering Matters. I think of Scruton as a Jeremy Clarkson with a taste for Wagner, and down the years, in between, I presume, throttling Down’s Syndrome babies to death with his bare hands, he has resorted to the argument that animals cannot have rights, as they don’t have any responsibilities either (a less amusing variant, perhaps, of Mark Twain’s crack about animal rights meaning ‘Votes for shrimp’). Recalling, in a passage on fur-farming, John Stuart Mill’s argument that ‘the coercion of the criminal law can be justified only in order to prevent us from harming others, and never in order to force our compliance to a moral code’ he then wonders ‘what happened to the argument for decriminalization of homosexuality, despite widespread moral outrage’, meaning what, I wonder. Gay people should not be persecuted because right-wing Christian types (like Roger Scruton) find them distasteful, therefore people who want to skin mink should not be prevented from doing so either, despite my, em, distaste for them? ‘He is right to want to protect animals from people. But people also need to be protected from people’. At which point he has begun to sound like Sarah Palin, who likes to remind us that if God didn’t want us to eat animals he wouldn’t have made them out of food. Dangerous things too, mink. I mean, remember what that kind-of-a-mink, an otter did to Terry Nutkins’ finger. And what of the pine marten, ‘the most nasty, vicious bird you have ever seen’, as former Westmeath Fine Gael councillor Michael Newman recently described it. So be careful in the barn, Roger, and keep the shotgun loaded at all times.

Finally, for factoid-hunters, does anyone know the personal connection (well, almost) between Beckett’s Watt and Roger Scruton? Answer in the comments stream.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Six Steps from Iris Robinson to a United Ireland

Iris Robinson toyboy story sparks wave of sexual hysteria among female DUP voters, leading to collapse of Unionist family values.

Mental-health services stretched to breaking point by resulting hospitalization of guilt-stricken Evangelical types.

Smug-marrieds’ tasteless mansion sector of Northern Irish construction industry implodes, contributing to general economical collapse.

Sammy Wilson seizes control of DUP, squanders province’s entire budget on creationist display at Ulster Museum, leading to widespread food shortages, breakdown of law and order, general anarchy.

Dissident Republicans enter power-vacuum.

United Ireland established.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Wretched Spew

January first,
Two-faced, like Janus:
Shooting a soldier,
Taking a bonus.

February next,
A poet’s Valentine:
Roses are red,
Sir Fred’s a swine.

March arrives
And spring’s at the door,
March-ing the daffodils
Off to war.

For the rest of this parody, titled ‘Bankers and Soldiers’, and a much more enjoyable and accomplished piece of writing than the wretched laureate fare Carol Ann Duffy has been spewing for the doggerel-loving House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, see here.

Advertising High-Definition TV on non-High-Definition TV

He shoots, he scores. My word! Fine set of freckles on the lad Rooney too (handy third-round cup win for United at the weekend, I see (ha ha)). Well, that’s high-definition TV for you, as this ad has just more than comprehensively reminded me. Is it even possible to tell Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba apart on non-HD TV? Probably not. Lucky for me then I’m able to see just how wonderful this HD TV business is on the ad for it I’m watching now on that poxy old TV I have, imagine how miserable the image quality on that piece of junk must be [snip].