Archive for the 'culture' Category

One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

October 18th, 2013

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films – A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry –  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

“Parle-moi de ma mère!”

October 3rd, 2013

So this term I’m teaching a somewhat unusual class this term called “Political Thought in the Age of Les Misérables”, for which I was flipping through Edward Copping’s 1858 guidebook, Aspects of Paris. It’s not a great book, but I liked this bit, on pp. 184-7, where he addresses the issues that matter.

‘There is another blemish in modern French drama’, Copping writes, ‘not so serious as those already alluded to, but claiming nevertheless a word of remark’.

(more…)

#chloesmithpoetry

October 4th, 2012

For National Poetry Day, I’ve dredged much of the #chloesmithpoetry out from the depths of my Twitter timeline to archive it here.

People may remember the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Chloe Smith MP, who appeared on Newsnight on 26 June 2012 to defend the Government’s recently-announced delay to the introduction of a planned increase in fuel duty. It is widely reckoned that she didn’t do especially well in the interview–the words “car crash” sprang to many minds, which judged her to be hopelessly out of her depth. Criticism was spread around, to be sure: some found Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style objectionable; others–well, everyone, actually–thought it cowardly of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, to send the most junior minister he could find into the lion’s mouth, rather than defend the U-turn on television himself.

But in a small corner of Twitter the following day, some of us were more struck by the way in which English literature graduate Chloe Smith’s words lent themselves so easily to poetry, and we started experimenting with the literary form made possible by reflecting on the transcript of the interview in the context of a strict 140-character word limit.

So many thanks to Eleanor Crawford, whose marvellous idea it was, and to the others who joined in. It made me happy for days.

  1. el_crawford: They fall across and in different ways/ And that figure will progress, if you like…/that figure is evolving somewhat. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:34
  2. el_crawford: Two roads diverged in a wood and I-/I took the one less travelled by/And that has helped households and businesses. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:35
  3. el_crawford: For reasons which are interesting in themselves/the figures are interesting in themselves. #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 09:36
  4. chrisbrooke: It’s valuable to help / Real people in this way / And I do think that is valued / By people who drive. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:06
  5. el_crawford: I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox/and which you were probably saving for households and businesses/Forgive me #ChloeSmithPoetry Wed Jun 27 13:11
  6. chrisbrooke: It’s an aggregate figure / If you look at the data / It’s an aggregate figure / And I think that’s what’s important here. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:47
  7. chrisbrooke: On Tuesday’s Newsnight / A slogan was unfurled: / Jeremy, I don’t think many things / Are certain in this world. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 13:49
  8. thhamilton: In front of Parliament we revealed to Parliament / As is right and proper, by the way, to Parliament / Help #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:07
  9. chrisbrooke: When I am not sure what to think / I find it helps to say / “The figure is evolving somewhat / As per the data today.” #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:16
  10. woodscolt79: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Listening to families and businesses. Alas! #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:19
  11. chrisbrooke: They do relate / To rather one-off factors / Specifically in terms / Of when some payments were made. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:20
  12. chrisbrooke: I woke up in this morning / And know actually that some of my constituents will really value not having to pay… [etc] #chloesmithblues Wed Jun 27 14:23
  13. chrisbrooke: In a world that we’re facing / Where things are very hard / You have to do what you can / In these hard times. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:28
  14. chrisbrooke: Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold / They fall across / And in different ways. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:32
  15. chrisbrooke: We had a collective discussion / Of that in due course / Although I can’t tell you / The ins and the outs. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 14:47
  16. chrisbrooke: Households and businesses / Families and businesses / Households and businesses / And families. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:02
  17. ejhchess: It doesn’t matter if you’re shite / You’ll get support from Michael White #chloesmithpoetry #sortof Wed Jun 27 15:20
  18. chrisbrooke: As Chloe Smith was fumbling with fuel duty / Old Aaro, watching, thought, “You gorgeous beauty.” #chloesmithpoetry https://t.co/RYsfh1IK Wed Jun 27 15:24
  19. chrisbrooke: The question being asked in May / Was about full cancellation /But as you’ll be aware today / We’re talking about deferral #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 15:39
  20. chrisbrooke: That is of interest perhaps / In a different conversation / But the fact is here / We are sticking to the overall plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:05
  21. chrisbrooke: It’s not just a Westminster Village / Story, Jeremy / It’s real money / In real people’s pockets. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:12
  22. el_crawford: @chrisbrooke I find her turn of phrase Audenesque. Almost chillingly so. Wed Jun 27 16:15
  23. chrisbrooke: As a Minister / In the Treasury / I’ve been involved in the discussions for some time / As a Minister in the Treasury #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:15
  24. chrisbrooke @el_crawford Yes: some of the rhythms of her speech esp. at the end of sentences & the partial repetitions are very twentieth-century verse. Wed Jun 27 16:17
  25. chrisbrooke: It’s not that, I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that I’m afraid, Jeremy. It’s not that. I’m afraid, Jeremy. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:22
  26. chrisbrooke: Mortal, guilty, but to me / Rightly what we seek to use for the credibility of our fiscal plan. #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:34
  27. chrisbrooke: I think the point to be made out of that / And out of what’s been said today / Is that it’s important to do what you can #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 16:44
  28. microlambert: I love you Twitter, because you did this: #chloesmithpoetry Wed Jun 27 20:08

And was Jerusalem builded here?

July 14th, 2012

David Cameron recently said that his preferred English national anthem, for use at sporting occasions and the like, would be ‘Jerusalem’. (I agree: if you’re not going to have the theme tune of The Archers, then ‘Jerusalem’ is the best-available option.) And it turns out the history of the song is even stranger than I thought it was.

Let’s do this backwards.

In 1968 the song entered the public domain after the copyright on it expired, fifty years after the death of its composer, Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918). That copyright had been held by the Women’s Institute, and they held it because it was transferred to them by Parry’s executors in 1928, when the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was being wound up, thanks to the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of the same year. And Parry had assigned the copyright to the NUWSS towards the end of his life because he was so pleased with Millicent Fawcett’s enthusiasm that his song should be, as she called it, ‘the Women Voters’ Hymn’.

Now we’re heading towards the bits of the story I didn’t know before today.

If you read the Wikipedia article, “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”, you learn that Blake’s text was rescued from comparative obscurity when it was re-published by the Poet Laureate, Sir Robert Bridges, in an anthology of poems, The Spirit of Man [pdf], in support of the war effort in 1916. And it was Bridges who suggested to Parry that it be put to music, specifically for a meeting of the Fight for Right campaign in March that year at the Queen’s Hall (which was later destroyed in the Blitz, which is why the Proms are now held at the Royal Albert Hall instead).

Now on the Fight for Right campaign, Wikipedia says this (in the article on ADTFIAT): ‘The aims of this organisation were “to brace the spirit of the nation, that the people of Great Britain, knowing that they are fighting for the best interests of humanity, may refuse any temptation, however insidious, to conclude a premature peace, and may accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion”’, which makes it sound like a crazy jingo campaign, and clearly on some level it was.

But it becomes more interesting when we add in this information, from tehgraun‘s Notes & Queries:

SIR Francis Younghusband was an imperialist (in India), a soldier and the conqueror of Tibet. Later, his views changed and he became a mystic, a friend of Gandhi and an idealist. On August 4, 1915, he published a letter in the Daily Telegraph, which ended: “We are engaged in a spiritual conflict – a holy war – the Fight for Right.” His words took off. By the end of August he had funds, helpers, an office and meetings up and down the country. He was supported by many well-known writers and public figures. Younghusband’s aim was to achieve something better and more lasting than a purely military victory…

And then there’s the stuff about Bridges and Parry and the composition of ‘Jerusalem’, and so on, adding the detail that Younghusband ‘hoped the sentiment would embrace all religions rather than just Christianity, but the movement fizzled out at the end of 1917, largely because of conflict between the jingoists and the idealists’. (It’s not hard to think of reasons why the Gandhians and the imperialists might have had a falling out, I suppose.)

Well, it was in 1917–after the slaughter of the Somme, before the final fizzling of Fight for Right–that Parry withdrew his song from this campaign and reassigned it to the suffragists. (Perhaps he wanted it to be attached to something?) And the rest, as they say, is (the at least slightly more familiar) history.

Patrick French’s Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (Flamingo, 1995) is apparently the place to go for more on this kind of thing. And “Jerusalem” is back in the news this month for happily non-David-Cameron-related reasons, because Prof. Jeremy Dibble at Durham has been reconstructing the original version of the song, whose first stanza was apparently scored for solo soprano.

Vigilante Man

July 14th, 2012

Happy birthday, Woody Guthrie, 100 years old today.

Since private security men are back in the news–as well as economic Depression–I thought we might have “Vigilante Man” to mark the occasion.

The film’s from the 1975 documentary, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”, and Mike Davis has a long essay [77 pp.], ‘What is a Vigilante Man?: White Violence in California History’ over here [pdf], in case you want to read more.

Let Him Go, Let Him Tarry

July 5th, 2012

I’ve been familiar with the song, “Let him go, let him tarry”   since childhood, as it’s one whose very catchy chorus my mother liked to sing:

Let him go, let him tarry, let him sink or let him swim
He doesn’t care for me and I don’t care for him
He can go and find another that I hope he will enjoy
For I’m going to marry a far nicer boy

And while no-one would, I think, mistake it for a feminist anthem—the song is sung, after all, from the point of view of someone who looks forward confidently to conventional heterosexual matrimony—there seems to me to be an admirable defiance to the song, and its message, roughly speaking, is the thoroughly commendable one that women shouldn’t put up with crap from the men in their lives.

I don’t know much at all about the song’s origins. It’s often described as “trad.” or “Irish”, but I haven’t come across anything that counts as real evidence for either label, and I suppose I’m inclined (again, on the basis of no evidence) to agree with people, like whoever wrote this, who think it probably emerged through the music hall tradition some time in the later nineteenth or early twentieth century. I think the oldest recorded version I’ve heard is by Gracie Fields, who sang it as part of a medley or other Irish (or supposedly Irish, at least) songs, though I don’t know what the date of that recording is. It sounds really old (and it’s on Spotify, for people who do that).

“Let him go, let him tarry” became huge, however, in 1945. That’s well documented. (My mother, from whom I learned the song, was born in 1939, which may be significant.) In England, I suspect the breakthrough moment was this scene in the film The Way to the Stars, where the singer is the 16-year old Jean Simmons:

Various websites tell me that “Let Him Go Let Him Tarry” by Joe Loss & Nat Gonella was #1 on the sheet music charts for the week of 26th August 1945, and there’s a nice reminiscence from this discussion of the song from someone who reports that they “First heard this at a VE Day party at Tabley House in Mid Cheshire, sung by one of the daughters of the house (a Miss Leicester-Warren) to her own piano accompaniment.”

But the detail I’m interested in–that motivates the post, and that I’ve never seen discussed anywhere else–is that 1945 is also the year when the song seems to bifurcate. In the United States, Evelyn Knight and the Jesters recorded their version—which is repackaged in a way that changes the song’s message. The first two verses were dropped, and in their place came, first of all, a 3rd-person prologue setting the scene, beginning with the words, “Bridget was a colleen with an independent air…” Well, you know things are going to go wrong from there. And what happens this time round is that Miss Bridget (also my mother’s name, as it happens, not that it matters) spends her later years bemoaning her earlier attitude, for, in the new final verse to the song:

The years rolled on and left poor Bridget high upon the shelf
And often in the evening when she’s sitting by herself
She remembers that young fellow, so debonair and gay
And wishes oh, so often, he’d never heard her say…

Let him go (etc.)…

… Thereby completely transforming the message of the song, which is now a warning to young women that they should put up with crap from the men in their lives, lest they end up like “poor Bridget high upon the shelf”.

I don’t know where what I take to be the new lyrics come from. In my prejudiced way I suppose I assume that they are American in origin—the faux Irishness of “Bridget was a colleen” strikes me as the kind of thing an American would be much more likely to perpetrate, and the only reason I can see for turning a fine song like this inside out is to pander to reactionary taste for commercial purposes, and the Evelyn Knight record is clearly a piece of commercial popular music. But I don’t really know; this seems to be a world where solid evidence is hard to come by, and my “research” doesn’t extend further than the internet. And I also don’t know the 1945 sequencing in any detail, either: the sheet music that was so popular in Britain that Summer was associated with Joe Loss & Nat Gonella, and their recordings—both made, I think, in this country—also have these alternative words.

Nowadays, it seems that both versions circulate. I very much prefer what I think must be the older version. Here, for example, is a video of Eleanor Shanley singing it in concert not so long ago—she starts off with one of her signature songs, “Still I Love Him”, and starts on “Let Him Go ” at 2’50” or so, and although neither the audio nor the video are especially good, it’s clear what a spirited song it still can be:

Ivor the Engine: Cwm Rhondda / Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer

September 20th, 2011

Ivor the Engine, 1958, first series, sixth episode.

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