Bob Dylan, Again

Norm has crunched yet more numbers coming out of his scientific attempt to calculate the greatest Bob Dylan songs ever based on the preference functions of some of the people who read and write on blogs:

What are Bob Dylan’s finest albums? If the question interests you at all, you’re likely to have your own view, but it occurred to me to have a look and see what guidance might be had from the results of the normblog best songs poll. This is only a loose indication, of course, because no one was voting for albums as such in that poll, and also because I don’t have the time or patience to collate all the votes that came in for all the songs. But putting together the votes for the songs that made the top 53 shows four albums way out in front of the rest.

And these four are, perhaps unsurprisingly, Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Blonde On Blonde (1966), and — his own favourite (and one of mine) — Blood On The Tracks (1975).A “loose indication” indeed: as I’ve already said before, probably more than once on this blog, easily the best Bob Dylan album is John Wesley Harding, even though none of the individual songs on that record made it into my top four, or into Norm’s top fifty three…

UPDATE [11.4.2004]: Norm emails to say “”All Along The Watchtower” was ninth and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” was one of the songs with three votes – both off John Wesley Harding. I don’t know… I slave over the results and you don’t even study them properly…” He’s right, I’m wrong (again), what can I say? I’ll pay more attention in future.

Wilde Serial, #19

Earlier episodes: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII.

“The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde, Part Nineteen

It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV was that he thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result. All the results of the mistakes of governments are quite admirable.

It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other people want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-sacrifice, which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In fact, it does not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It comes naturally and inevitably out of man. It is the point to which all development tends. It is the differentiation to which all organisms grow. It is the perfection that is inherent in every mode of life, and towards which every mode of life quickens. And so Individualism exercises no compulsion over man. On the contrary, it says to man that he should suffer no compulsion to be exercised over him. It does not try to force people to be good. It knows that people are good when they are let alone. Man will develop Individualism out of himself. Man is now so developing Individualism. To ask whether Individualism is practical is like asking whether Evolution is practical. Evolution is the law of life, and there is no evolution except towards individualism. Where this tendency is not expressed, it is a case of artificially arrested growth, or of disease, or of death.

[To be continued…]

Wilde Serial, #18

Not long to go now. I think it’ll run to twenty two instalments, all told.

Earlier episodes: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII.

“The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde, Part Eighteen

It is evident, then, that all authority in such things is bad. People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist to live under. To this question there is only one answer. The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all. Authority over him and his art is ridiculous. It has been stated that under despotism artists have produced lovely work. This is not quite so. Artists have visited despots, not as subjects to be tyrannized over, but as wandering wonder-makers, as fascinating vagrant personalities, to be entertained and charmed and suffered to be at peace, and allowed to create. There is this to be said in favour of the despot, that he, being an individual, may have culture, while the mob, being a monster, has none. One who is an Emperor and King may stoop down to pick up a brush for a painter, but when the democracy stoops down it is merely to throw mud. And yet the democracy have not so far to stoop as the Emperor. In fact, when they want to throw mud they have not to stoop at all. But there is no necessity to separate the monarch from the mob; all authority is equally bad.

There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannizes over the body. There is the despot who tyrannizes over the soul. There is the despot who tyrannizes over the soul and body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called the Pope. The third is called the People. The Prince may be cultivated. Many Princes have been. Yet in the Prince there is danger. One thinks of Dante at the bitter feast in Verona, of Tasso in Ferrara’s madman’s cell. It is better for the artist not to live with Princes. The Pope may be cultivated. Many Popes have been; the bad Popes have been. The bad Popes loved Beauty, almost as passionately, nay, with as much passion as the good Popes hated Thought. To the wickedness of the Papacy humanity owes much. The goodness of the Papacy owes a terrible debt to humanity. Yet, though the Vatican has kept the rhetoric of its thunders, and lost the rod of its lightning, it is better for the artist not to live with Popes. It was a Pope who said of Cellini to a conclave of Cardinals that common laws and common authority were not made for men such as he; but it was a Pope who thrust Cellini into prison, and kept him there till he sickened with rage, and created unreal visions for himself, and saw the gilded sun enter his room, and grew so enamoured of it that he sought to escape, and crept out from tower to tower, and falling through dizzy air at dawn, maimed himself, and was by a vine-dresser covered with vine leaves, and carried in a cart to one who, loving beautiful things, had care of him. There is danger in Popes. And as for the People, what of them and their authority? Perhaps of them and their authority one has spoken enough. Their authority is a thing blind, deaf, hideous, grotesque, tragic, amusing, serious, and obscene. It is impossible for the artist to live with the People. All despots bribe. The People bribe and brutalize. Who told them to exercise authority? They were made to live, to listen, and to love. Some one has done them a great wrong. They have marred themselves by imitation of their superiors. They have taken the sceptre of the Prince. How should they use it? They have taken the triple tiara of the Pope. How should they carry its burden? They are as a clown whose heart is broken. They are as a priest whose soul is not yet born. Let all who love Beauty pity them. Though they themselves love not Beauty, yet let them pity themselves. Who taught them the trick of tyranny ?

There are many other things that one might point out. One might point out how the Renaissance was great, because it sought to solve no social problem, and busied itself not about such things, but suffered the individual to develop freely, beautifully, and naturally, and so had great and individual artists, and great and individual men. One might point out how Louis XIV, by creating the modern state, destroyed the individualism of the artist, and made things monstrous in their monotony of repetition, and contemptible in their conformity to rule, and destroyed throughout all France all those fine freedoms of expression that had made tradition new in beauty, and new modes one with antique form. But the past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It is with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are.

[To be continued]

This Is What The Internet Is For

While I’m on an eighteenth-century kick, here’s a link to the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project, which is based at the University of Michigan. They’ve only posted a fraction of the 70,000 articles from the Encyclopédie, and it’ll probably be a work in progress for ever, but it’s a particularly worthy project.

D’Alembert’s Geneva and Diderot’s Natural Right, needless to say, are among the earliest posted translations.

Rousseau in Staffordshire


Chris Bertram has just blogged about our little disagreement about just which county Jean-Jacques Rousseau was living in in 1766-7 during his time in England. Is it Derbyshire? Or Staffordshire? Radio 3 agrees with me that it’s Staffordshire, and I’m sure we’ll both be listening to “Rousseau in Staffordshire” (a worthy sequel to “Wittgenstein in Connemara”) when it’s broadcast on Sunday night.

All I’ll do here is post a chunk of the OS map of the area — on the Staffordshire side of the Dove — just because I can. (Apologies for the large image. I think it’s worth it.)

And here’s the obligatory copyright notice: Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland. Thanks.

Dead Socialist Watch, #84

Tony Cliff, International Socialist and theorist of Soviet state capitalism; b. 1917, d. 9 April, 2000.

UPDATE [4pm]: I should probably link to this collection of his writings. And also note that he’s only the second of the 84 dead socialists watched so far whom I ever heard speak (probably some time in 1993, though I forget the date; the other was Christopher Hill, DSW#71, on 11 May 1993).

Wilde Serial, #17

Earlier instalments: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI.

“The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde, Part Seventeen

With the novel it is the same thing. Popular authority and the recognition of popular authority are fatal. Thackeray’s Esmond is a beautiful work of art because he wrote it to please himself. In his other novels, in Pendennis, in Philip, in Vanity Fair even, at times, he is too conscious of the public, and spoils his work by appealing directly to the sympathies of the public, or by directly mocking at them. A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to him non-existent. He has no poppied or honeyed cakes through which to give the monster sleep or sustenance. He leaves that to the popular novelist. One incomparable novelist we have now in England, Mr. George Meredith. There are better artists in France, but France has no one whose view of life is so large, so varied, so imaginatively true. There are tellers of stories in Russia who have a more vivid sense of what pain in fiction may be. But to him belongs philosophy in fiction. His people not merely live, but they live in thought. One can see them from myriad points of view. They are suggestive. There is soul in them and around them. They are interpretative and symbolic. And he who made them, those wonderful, quickly moving figures, made them for his own pleasure, and has never asked the public what they wanted, has never cared to know what they wanted, has never allowed the public to dictate to him or influence him in any way, but has gone on intensifying his own personality, and producing his own individual work. At first none came to him. That did not matter. Then the few came to him. That did not change him. The many have come now. He is still the same. He is an incomparable novelist.

With the decorative arts it is not different. The public clung with really pathetic tenacity to what I believe were the direct traditions of the Great Exhibition of international vulgarity, traditions that were so appalling that the houses in which people lived were only fit for blind people to live in. Beautiful things began to be made, beautiful colours came from the dyer’s hand, beautiful patterns from the artist’s brain, and the use of beautiful things and their value and importance were set forth. The public were really very indignant. They lost their temper. They said silly things. No one minded. No one was a whit the worse. No one accepted the authority of public opinion. And now it is almost impossible to enter any modern house without seeing some recognition of good taste, some recognition of the value of lovely surroundings, some sign of appreciation of beauty. In fact, people’s houses are, as a rule, quite charming nowadays. People have been to a very great extent civilized. It is only fair to state, however, that the extraordinary success of the revolution in house-decoration and furniture and the like has not really been due to the majority of the public developing a very fine taste in such matters. It has been chiefly due to the fact that the craftsmen of things so appreciated the pleasure of making what was beautiful, and woke to such a vivid consciousness of the hideousness and vulgarity of what the public had previously wanted, that they simply starved the public out. It would be quite impossible at the present moment to furnish a room as rooms were furnished a few years ago, without going for everything to an auction of second-hand furniture from some third-rate lodging-house. The things are no longer made. However they may object to it, people must nowadays have something charming in their surroundings. Fortunately for them, their assumption of authority in these art-matters came to entire grief.

[More in a bit]