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Beckett's Dying Words: The Clarendon Lectures 1990 (Clarendon Lectures in English)
Beckett's Dying Words: The Clarendon Lectures 1990 (Clarendon Lectures in English)
by Christopher Ricks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.00

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars vigour mortis, 11 Jan 2009
On the one hand, everyone knows that Beckett's work is important. On the other, it's doubtful that even the most literary-minded of us would say that we keep a copy of 'Malone Dies' for cosy bed-time reading. Beckett is often highly demanding and after all, most of his work is devoted to a single-minded confrontation with the one thing no one wants to think about (least of all in the wee small hours). As a saturnine, black-clad undergraduate I can remember brandishing a copy of the Trilogy in a seminar (I got half-way through it) only to be told by a tutor 'That won't cheer you up!'.

One of the great joys of Christopher Ricks' marvellous book is the way that he reveals a deeper truth in Beckett's vision. Beckett offers no palliative to the reality of our own mortality other than the uncomfortable idea that the possibility of existence never ending is a far more hellish alternative. Furthermore, the sheer vigour with which Beckett uses language to explore the rigours of existence is itself a triumph.

This is not a book that digs up the hoary old chestnuts of deconstruction. For too long, Beckett has been toted in academic-circles as the patron saint of the 'words words words' school of criticism. Ricks aims a few well-aimed broadsides at the idle musings of the post-structualists, in the process showing how the tragi-comic energy of Beckett's language stems precisely from it's reference to the real.

Ricks' little study is a shining example of what criticism SHOULD be. His feel for language is pretty much unparalleled(alright, perhaps by Frank Kermode). It's testament to his brilliance that he can spend two pages teasing out the connotations of Beckett's use of parantheses AND make it an exhilirating read.

Beckett's humour is often neglected, or seen merely in the context of existentialism- here it is rarely out of the foreground. Ricks convincingly links Beckett to Swift's satirical work and spends a great deal of time toying with the absurdly antithetical definitions and etymologies of some of Beckett's word choices. The last chapter on the 'irish bull' is both fascinating and hilarious and Ricks himself can't help slipping in his own Beckettian mots justes.

It's physically a slight little book, but it's more than worth the cover price (alright - why are academic books so expensive these days?!!!). If you care about literature, this deserves a place on your shelf.

This is Civilisation
This is Civilisation
by Matthew Collings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.57

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars more bread and circuses anyone?, 2 Jan 2009
This review is from: This is Civilisation (Paperback)
Collings is an odd potato. As a critic, his gently ironic tone (masking a fierce intelligence) seemed perfectly in keeping with the Brit-Art explosion of the late-nineties. The book and TV series 'This is Modern Art' asked all sorts of awkward questions about what art did, what it was and who it was for. Yes, everything still seemed like a garish carnival of moral and aesthetic relativism - but Collings seemed more than happy to lead you through it - avuncular, charming and disarmingly willing to admit to his own worries and foibles.

'This is Civilisation' is in many ways a similar book - Collings doesn't answer the question suggested by the title, rather, he keeps asking it in interesting ways. Ironically, despite the epic scope of the project,this book is a great deal more intimate than anything he's done before. It begins with accounts of of his father's suicide and his mother's mental illness - 'civilisation' in this context implies an enlightened dream of redemption, the embodiment not just of what mankind is, but what it could be. Collings admits a parallel fascination with the surreal, the jarring and the disturbing - the yang to the enlightenment ying.

For the most part, Collings follows the classic western narrative through Greek classicism to Modernism (interposing arabic art) - though this is in no way pretending to be as comprehensive an overview as Kenneth Clark's study (or E.H. Gombrich's seminal 'History of Art').

He also presents a series of personal vignettes, mostly accounts of his adventures in the contemporary art world. The bemused flaneur of 'This is Modern Art' returns, deliciously opinionated, almost pitying in his assessment of the hyper-commercial world of the international art trade.

There's all sorts of engagement and provocation along the way - it's a testament to Colling's intelligence that he still manages to find new things to say about Greek and early Christian art. A notable high-point is his excellent consideration of Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood - humanist social values that we could well do with today. There is a little repetition from earlier books - though I thoroughly enjoyed his return to Goya. In fact it's Goya's sleep of reason that seems to triumph in the end - the overwhelming tone of the book is one of disillusionment.

It's not that Collings has ceased to find anything to enjoy in the contemporary art world (though it's noticable that craft and application are generally more important to him now than ideas), but there is a sense that the world is disappearing up it's own wotsit and there isn't much anyone can do about it, except worry about what opinion to have over dinner. Of course, this is more or less the message we queue up to be told over and over again at each exhibition of new art, so we've only got ourselves to blame........
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 24, 2012 11:55 PM BST

The Dream Songs
The Dream Songs
by John Berryman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.38

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars life, friends is boring -, 22 Nov 2008
This review is from: The Dream Songs (Paperback)
John Berryman's 'Dream Songs' is one of the great idiosyncracies of modern literature. The poem can be seen as the product of a sort of poetic arms race inspired by the monoliths of High Modernism (Eliot's The Wasteland, Pound's Cantos). Berryman and Robert Lowell (friends and rivals) at once tried to match the giganticism and technical experimentation of their ancestors whilst trying to draw poetry back into the realm of the lyric voice.

Berryman was an extraordinarily gifted poetic technician, and there's no doubt that he gave the canon at least two masterpieces ('Homage to Mistress Bradstreet' and 'The Ball Poem'). But whilst I'd wholeheartedly recommend picking up a copy of 'The Dream Songs' and spending a good few weeks plumbing its depths, it is very much a flawed diamond.

The book is probably best understood as a warped sonnet sequence (Berryman had already done this), except where say Shakespeare uses the sonnet form to explore the psychology of love, Berryman attempts to create a complete psychological portrait of a deeply troubled modern man. The Dream Song form creates a kind of woozy, lurching effect - entirely in keeping with Berryman's booze-derived phantasmagoria.

Berryman was adamant that 'Henry' (the main character of the poem, variously voiced as a black-face minstrel, a Romantic bard, a sheep etc) was definitely NOT him, even though most of the facts of the poem correspond to events in Berryman's life - most noticably in Henry's obsession with his father's suicide, his alcoholism, adultery, and his grief at the deaths of Delmore Schwartz, Ezra Pound and others. It's a tragic irony that 'The Dream Songs' documents a downward spiral of a poetry feeding 'madness and booze' and 'madness and booze' feeding poetry. In the midst of this the creative mind struggles against it's own self-destructive impulses. It's impossible not to read the book in the light of the poet's suicide.

Not that this matters - the original opening 77 Songs are totally bewitching, a kind of tragic slap-stick that draws on everything from Catholic eschatology to B-movie references. It's not always easy reading (it would be nice if someone could publish an edition with notes), but it is consistently fascinating.

That said, the greater bulk of the book (from 'His Toy his Dream..' onwards), does not match the quality of the earlier poems. The Joycean punning and surreal tumbling act largely disappears (surfacing now and again) and you can't help wondering if Berryman needed a decent editor as much as a psychiatrist. Sadly we'll never know.

Black List, Section H
Black List, Section H
by Francis Stuart
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars damned good, 16 Nov 2008
This review is from: Black List, Section H (Paperback)
Francis Stuart is a figure that the Irish Literary establishment would prefer we forget. A few years before his death (2000) he was elected as a Saoi to Aosdana - the highest artistic award in Ireland, but recent years have seen a radical revision of his reputation.

Stuart moved to Nazi Germany shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and made broadcasts to Ireland, singing the praises of Hitler and hinting that an alliance with the Nazis would result in a united country. He now is seen as a fascist anti-semite, a figure of contempt (though strangely, it's ok to read Ezra Pound and Louis-Ferdinand Celine). Most of his books are now out of print - which is a shame, because his work deserves to ranked along the brightest and best of the 20th century.

'Black List Section H' is a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel - beginning with his troubled marriage to Maud Gonne's daughter Iseult, his involvement with the IRA, his move to Germany and his eventual imprisonment at the hands of the Allies.

What marks Stuart out is his overbearing sense of alienation - he believed that to be a successful writer, you had to be in some sense, 'damned' - cursed by your fellow man. In 'Black List' Stuart follows the sort of existential line espoused by Dostoyevksy - there is a sort of quest for redemption, but the bleak implication is that this can only be found in a state of utter psychological and physical ruin.

In my mind, Stuart's anti-semitism is embarrassing - although according to historians he only made one explicitly anti-semitic statement in public - it's hard to ignore his description of a landlord's 'shylock face'. On the other hand, Stuart's peculiar sympathies always seem to be with the underdog and any individual who is suffering. He is also graphically opposed to anyone in authority. It's this awkwardness that makes him so difficult to pigeonhole, and also what makes his writing so fascinating - there's a profound moral ambivalence here that disturbs and enthralls in equal measure.

Drum Sound: More Gems from the Channel One Dub Room 1974-1980
Drum Sound: More Gems from the Channel One Dub Room 1974-1980
Price: £14.76

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars dun bar the shouting, 23 Oct 2008
This is a nice, rounded selection of b-side dubs from the Channel One stable; a typically fine piece of archiving from Pressure Sounds. The cd is largely a showcase for Sly Dunbar's 'double-drum' sound, but most will probably buy it due to the presence of one track only, the extremely rare 'Kunte Kinte Version'(even if it is now available as a 7"). It's hard to imagine a better 4 minutes of dub, a Pabloish, "eastern sound" synthesised flute calling ominously out over a militant rockers riddim. It's rare for Dub to meet the dynamics of a perfect pop record so neatly.

It's inevitable that the rest of the cd pales a little by comparison, though there's lots to enjoy (my picks are 'war version' and 'girl a love you version' - a clattering beast of a record). Production is typically sparse, so you might be a little disappointed if your tastes lean towards the wackier end of dub....

Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
by John Milton
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The devil's in the detail......, 23 Oct 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Paradise Lost (Hardcover)
This is fine gift edition of Milton's biblical soap opera. Pullman's introductions to each of the books of the poem are infectiously enthusiastic and he largely succeeds in persuading us to put aside our struggles with the technical difficulties of Milton's language - suggesting instead that we embrace its phonological drama. The sense does largely follow the sound.

That said, the marked lack of scholarly notes makes this a bad choice for a newbie. Yes, it's nice to read the poem without constantly flicking back and forth looking for glosses on Milton's archaicisms and allusions, but realistically, any student is going to have to fork out on notes to plumb the text's true depths.

The book itself is beautifully presented and chock-full of glorious illustrations (I'd have liked to have seen Gustav Dore's though...) - so it will make a great gift for any lit-head. Older children coming here through 'His Dark Materials' may get the literature bug through this initial encounter, though an illustrated edition of Blake's 'Songs of Innocence and Experience' might be a safer bet.

Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston (Breuer/Engler/Schrammel)
Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston (Breuer/Engler/Schrammel)
Price: £25.88

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars make mine a large one............., 23 Oct 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
At last, Feldman's monumental masterpiece is available at a price that won't scar your conscience. Of all the infamous 'extremely long works' from the composer's late period, 'For Philip Guston' is at once the consummation of ideas explored in works such as 'Triadic Memories' and the most accessible of these extraordinary pieces of music.

The instrumentation (flute, glockenspiel, tubular bells, celesta, piano etc.) is very similar to 'Crippled Symmetry', but the tone is if anything, more meditative.

Listening to Feldman is like being constantly reminded of something you only half-experienced in the first place. His music is built around repeated and subtley altered figures, but the spaces between these figures are often so huge that it's impossible to link them together into any sort of meaningful narrative. As a result, each moment, each particle of time seems imbued with startling sense of presence. In fact, to call 'For Philip Guston' 'monumental' is slightly misleading: this is the same microscopy espoused by Anton Webern, slowed down and pared down in extremis - a four and a half hour long haiku.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 22, 2010 2:34 PM GMT

From Etudes To Cataclysms
From Etudes To Cataclysms
Price: £16.78

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars plinkaplinkaplinakaplinkaplinkaplinkaaaaaaaaaaaowwwwwwwwwwwwwwommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, 12 Oct 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
well that about sums it up really. The world's cuddliest minimalist bangs away on a mutant piano, conjuring up a familiar storm of harmonics.
If you already own 'strumming music' there's probably little point in buying this, other than the fact that Palestine is playing the only 'doppio borgato'(double-bodied) piano in existence - the sound isn't that different to that of his usual Bosendorfer.
If you're new to Palestine this is a fine introduction. The Minimalists are sometimes compared to the Baroque composers (both produce music that eschews narrative in favour of accretion and expansion), but if anything, the high drama of Palestine's sound owes more to Wagner than Scarlatti.
It's like 'Das Rheingold' starting over and over and over and over and over again.....

Jane Eyre [DVD] [2006]
Jane Eyre [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Ruth Wilson
Price: £4.86

9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mills and broonte, 27 Aug 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Jane Eyre [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
She stared into Mr Rochester's black opal eyes and marvelled, he barely looked half his forty years and golly, what a charming manner and a way with children he had, despite what contemporary literature had lead her to believe. As she fell into his manful embrace, large chunks of her life story fell away too, who needs all that bildungsroman stuff when what josephine public is really interested in is bursting bodices? Even Mr St John Rivers now seemed to be an alright chap, even if he was a bit of a stick in the mud, all that supposed terrifying Evangelical bullying faded like so many eccles cakes into the ether.

This might have bothered Jane, after all, she allegedly had a mind like a 'lighted heath' - but no, she'd clearly been at the valium because she'd gone all quiet and mild and even discovering Mrs R. up in the loft with the squirrels merely prompted a nice little stroll out in the peak district, rather than three days of starvation and spiritual upheaval, quaking beneath God's well-impressive omnipotent sky...

'jane jane jane' said Rochester, without moving his lips, which was cleverly explained by the screenwriter through an extended burble about twins that Ms. Bronte had forgot to put in her original book. Indeed, let's have a scene with an ouija board while we're at it.

Tish and pish, the naysayers said - tis TV, and reet entertaining like, tha's got to change sum bits as t'original novel is dense with symbolism and unconvincing cross-dressing - and in all fairness, it's an ok way to pass a rainy sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, we could hardly wait for the forthcoming adaptation of 'Wuthering Heights' in which Heathcliff becomes a sherry-drinking philanthropist, and everyone holds hands and skips......
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 24, 2009 7:07 PM BST

The Holy Mountain [2007] [DVD]
The Holy Mountain [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alejandro Jodorowsky
Offered by Rapid-DVD
Price: £19.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the emperor's new kaftan?, 6 Aug 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Firstly, yes - this film has been slightly over-hyped. 'The Holy Mountain' has acquired a mythic status largely due to the fact that producer Allen Klein withdrew all its prints after an argument with director Jodorowsky. Until recently the film has been talked about by many, but seen by few - so it's not surprising that in some people's minds it's come to represent a totem of forbidden genius.

All of this is slightly ironic, of course, given that the film itself presents a symbolic quest for enlightenment which turns out to be a red herring dressed up in a lysergic-tinged variety of emperor's new clothes. Jodorowsky's film is at once highly original, visually and aurally stunning (the soundtrack is in many ways the best thing about it) and wince-inducingly pretentious.

As a work of surrealism, it suffers in comparison to the films of Luis Bunuel. Like Bunuel, Jodorowsky aims to satirize the empty values of the contemporary capitalist world, but where Bunuel has a witty lightness of touch, Jodorowsky generally goes for the grandstanding statement. Ironically for such an imaginative work, 'The Holy Mountain', leaves little to the imagination. Where Bunuel leaves you wondering what precisely is in a mysterious buzzing box ('Belle de Jour') or why the party guests can't leave the room ('The Exterminating Angel'), Jodorowsky stamps his message out with some of the most gobsmackingly lurid imagery you're ever likely to see in modern cinema.

You have to give the man credit for having such an extraordinary visual imagination - though after an hour most viewers will find that some of the film's ability to stun wears off, you become used to the grammar of body horror and day-glo decadence. You could argue that imagery involving dwarves and amputees has since become a cliched shorthand for surrealism itself, even if Jodorowsky is here using physical mutilation to represent a deeper spiritual malaise.

It's clearly meant to be something a little more profound than simple entertainment, the director wants us to change the way we think and feel. As a consequence, 'The Holy Mountain' has a heavy, sermonising tone. It's probably best understood as an alchemical version of John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' - there's even a 'vanity fair' of sorts in the form of the 'pantheon bar'. If you're just after trippy kicks, you'll get these a plenty, but to see the film only in psychedelic terms is largely to miss the point....

As other reviewers have pointed out, you can see traces of Ken Russell and David Lynch all over the film - but really, flawed though it is, there isn't anything really like it in cinematic history...

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