Posts Tagged ‘BBC’
October 22, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve lately fallen down some peculiar Bloomsbury Group rabbit hole. And you wouldn’t be wrong. While I was in London last month—and, incidentally, beginning my own marriage—I reread Nigel Nicolson’s classic Portrait of a Marriage. His parents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, had an enduring relationship and a successful experiment in unconventional coupling: both were more or less openly gay, they lived often parallel lives, and they remained deeply committed to each other.
It is with unreserved enthusiasm that I recommend you listen to this record of Vita Sackville-West reading aloud her poetry. She wrote “The Land” at the height of her affair with Virginia Woolf. Her voice is mellifluous and deep and of another era. It’s time travel. Read More »
September 22, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Little did you know, when you woke up today on this rather ordinary Tuesday, that a treat awaited you. I speak, of course, of the above clip, in which Evelyn Waugh critiques modernism.
No one ever made the mistake of confusing the Waugh of the 1950s with a progressive: by this point, he was fully inhabiting the role of an outspoken, old-guard crank, as loudly disillusioned with modernity and its art as he was by the Church of England. And yet! Even so, one is not quite prepared for his strident tone. He refers to Gertrude Stein as an author of “absolute gibberish”; James Joyce, that “poor, dotty Irishman,” is a producer of “great rot.” Between takes, apparently, Waugh sexually harassed his interviewer, Elizabeth Jane Howard. Read More »
June 9, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
I like to root for the underdog, so I’m always comforted to find Satanism in the news. There are, after all, some two billion Christians in the world, and only about a hundred thousand Satanists; if the eternal war between good and evil is a numbers game, then it would seem the good guys have this one in the bag. And yet Satanism persists—pure evil’s got moxie.
The latest coup from the dark arts is Charlie Charlie Challenge, a Ouija Board-ish pursuit in which players—who tend to be, let’s face it, kids and teens—cross two pencils over a piece of paper and attempt to summon a Mexican demon. According to no less reliable a source than the Daily Mail, four Colombian high school students were hospitalized for “hysteria” after playing the game, which set off an international pandemic of DIY voodoo: Read More »
March 13, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- “Can a writer’s original inspiration survive success? Imagine you are Karl Ove Knausgaard at this point in his career … Why not enjoy success? Why not accept that you are a genius, if people insistently tell you that you are? One way or another, from this point on it will be hard to achieve the same concentration, the same innocence, when you return to the empty page and the next stage in a life story that is now radically transformed.”
- Today in dubious superlatives: Was 1925 really “the greatest year” in the history of literature? The BBC has declared it so. They searched “for a cluster of landmark books” and then asked if said books “continue to enthrall readers and explore our human dilemmas and joys in memorable ways”; 1925, with its Hemingway and its Fitzgerald and its Dos Passos and its Dreiser, came away the victor. But make no mistake: seeking the greatest year in literature is a fool’s errand, just as searching for the greatest minute in history would be.
- Sam Simon, who died this month, is responsible for much of the greatness of golden-age Simpsons episodes, though his collaborations with Matt Groening weren’t always smooth: “It was Simon’s insight that animation allowed The Simpsons to sprawl across a vast canvas, illustrating new locations and inventing characters through the multifold voice talents of the cast. The Springfield the Simpsons inhabit is a mini-world on to itself, with its own rich mythology and history.”
- The science behind “wordnesia,” a “common brain glitch” in which you can’t spell the simplest words and common language has a sheen of unfamiliarity to it: “Russell Epstein, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania … posits that these experiences may be linked to concepts described by psychologist William James … [who] contended that our conscious experiences are made up of components he referred to as the nucleus and the fringe.”
- On the criticism of Bernard Williams: “Williams says that philosophers have typically been motivated by two things: curiosity, and the desire to be helpful. He unhesitatingly gives priority to the former motive … Above all, philosophy offers reflective analysis of our concepts, and, through these and a study of their history, insight into who ‘we’ are. If philosophy is to contribute anything distinctive, however, all this must be carried out with clarity and rigor, and the aim of ‘getting it right’ must ‘be in place.’ ”
- Barbara Wildenboer’s sculptures meld the sprawl of a nervous system to the spines of books.
March 12, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The BBC has just reported that Terry Pratchett has died at sixty-six. Pratchett wrote more than seventy books, most of them part of his Discworld series: satirical, philosophical fantasy novels that earned him a wide readership, sometimes at the expense of the critical attention his work merits. “Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise,” his friend Neil Gaiman wrote of him last June, as he was beginning to slip away to Alzheimer’s. “He will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light … Terry Pratchett is not a jolly old elf at all. Not even close.”
Here’s a bit from Pratchett’s 2007 essay, “Notes from a Successful Fantasy Author: Keep it Real.” It speaks to genre fiction’s unique position as a vehicle for social commentary, and to the set of logic puzzles a fantasy novelist faces in trying to build a new world. You can find it in A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of his nonfiction published last year. Read More »
November 19, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
If you never have, watch this 1964 episode of the BBC show Monitor, in which John Betjeman interviews Philip Larkin. It is twenty-four minutes well spent. There’s the poetry: Larkin reads “Here” and “A Study of Reading Habits” and “Toads Revisited” and “Church Going” and “Wants.” Betjeman inventories the wares of a Hull department store like a mystical incantation.
There's the deliberate portrait of Larkin's circumscribed existence: we see his flat, the cemeteries and streets where he walked, and of course, the library where he worked.
Betjeman was a great champion of The Whitsun Weddings, and his knowledge of and admiration for Larkin’s work is clear. The portrait is certainly what both poets would have wished, carefully orchestrated from its location to its doleful closing quotation. And yet, there is the great, odd moment when Betjeman says, “I envy you, being a librarian. It must be marvelous to have something to fall back on.”