On Photography, Susan Sontag
Mr Turner, Mike Leigh
Ancient Laughter: On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up, Mary Beard
I’m a latecomer to Susan Sontag – I think On Photography is the first book of hers I’ve ever read. It’s really good, in spite of a very late 70s-early 80s tendency to swoon about like the End of Days is At Hand, and made me wish she were still around to write about the people who get freaked out by selfie-sticks. The racist trope of the native fearing the camera’s soul-stealing powers is pretty old-fashioned, but photography is still enough of a novelty that its new manifestations – which are really just an acceleration of the trend to cheapness, portability and popularisation which Sontag records – arouse responses which it doesn’t seem unfair to call superstitious.
I’ve not been much of a Mike Leigh fan – Naked is one of the very few films that I wish I’d walked out of – but I really enjoyed Mr Turner, which contains a nice set-piece at the very start of photography’s history. I’m not much of an artist-biopic fan, either, but Leigh mostly avoids the genre’s cliches, his 19th century has a very convincing, lived-in feel, and Timothy Spall’s performance is admirable. It’s worth seeing on the big screen, as the cinematography is excellent. The audience I saw it with tittered in embarrassment at some of the parts which I found most touching and convincing – Turner singing out of tune to an out of tune pianoforte at a patron’s country house, for example. By our standards, there would have been so much slightly-off music in the days before recordings – George Bernard Shaw’s early work as a music critic is very instructive.
I’d been looking forward to Mary Beard’s Laughter in Ancient Rome ever since I saw a copy in Melbourne last year, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a dried and more scholarly work than her Pompeii – Life and Death in a Roman Town, but that added to the austere pleasure of a text which not only describes the most ineffable of emotional responses – the history of theories of laughter is something like a narrative of repeated attempts to catch smoke – but also attempts to register that response’s echoes across the gulf between ourselves and the ancient world.
Posted in book, film, review, rome
Tagged book, classics, film, laughter, Mary Beard, Mike Leigh, photography, review, Susan Sontag
This full-length fan video for J Dilla’s Donuts is brilliant.
A big sprawling sf novel from 1968 which I’ve long been uneasily aware that I should have already read, given that I love the weirder reaches of the new wave. The kaleidoscopic structure, which interleaves excerpts of in-universe texts and high-speed montages of headlines and advertising slogans with more straightahead narrative chapters, make it seem more experimental than it actually is, but also make it more fun than your average dystopia, and a lot less of a slog than it otherwise could be. (It does get to be a slog toward the end, as one subplot turns into a sort of spy thriller, a genre I always find hard work.)
It’s set in a 2010 in which world population has reached seven billion. Apart from this one spot-on prediction, it would be a bit tiresome to list exactly which technologies and social changes Brunner did and didn’t get right, but the flavour of his overcrowded and stressed world is weirdly familiar enough to make it cut thorough the layer of ersartz-nadsat-futurespeak which is one of the book’s most dated features. But no-one, as someone observed on Twitter, ever gets future slang right, and everyone in the 60s thought that pop music in the 21st century would be much weirder than it actually turned out.
Being an ambitious 60s sf novel, there’s a Big Author Mouthpiece, a macho pop sociologist with the very BAM name “Chad C Mulligan”: another thing that 60s sf in general got wrong was that the future would have even wilder gurus, whereas we ended up with squares like De Botton and Gladwell.
Overall, it’s impressive and thought-provoking, and I was right to feel guilty: I should have read it years ago.
Posted in books, review, sf
Tagged books, review, sf
The hereditary ruler of Bohemia observed evidence of a heavy snowfall on the anniversary of the death by stoning of the protomartyr of the Christian religion.
A woody shrub bearing red berries and spiked leaves, and a tenacious, leafy vine capable of climbing for great distances over trees, rocks and artificial structures: of all the vegetative life-forms in this biome, the former is metaphorically endowed with a metal headdress indicating its superiority.
I recommend that you refrain from emitting verbal noises at a level above that of ordinary conversation, from expressing emotional distress by keening and emitting saline fluid from your eyes, and from protruding your lips in a petulant manner, for the following reason: we anticipate the arrival of an incarnation of Nikolaos, the sanctified Bishop of Myra, in this human settlement.
The period of time when this planet’s primary is hidden by the horizon is distinguished by both a lack of audible frequencies and an atmosphere of reverence. Nonetheless, and without disturbing the still conditions, a certain luminescence may be observed, presumably due to reflected radiation from either a natural satellite or an orbiting megastructure of some kind.
Posted in christmas
A month or so ago I started making playlists based on tracks that reminded me of some of my favourite fantasy authors: here are versions of them (minus a couple of obscure 80s Australian indie tracks which aren’t on GrooveShark)
Grey-Green Music: Philip K Dick
The Voices of Time: J G Ballard
The Lathe of Heaven: Ursula K Le Guin
The Autumnal City: Samuel R Delany
I love you so much fun and I have to be a good day to be a good time to get a new one is the best thing ever is when you have to be a good day to be a good time to get a new one is the best thing ever is when you have to be a good day to be a good time to get a new one is the best thing ever
(Written by choosing the first word suggested by iOS 8’s visual autocorrect)