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Style From A Despair

September 28, 2010



Imagine, then, by miracle, with me,
(Ambiguous gifts, as what gods give must be)
What could not possibly be there,
And learn a style from a despair.

from This Last Pain by William Empson

Yesterday was the 104th anniversary of the birth of William Empson. When he died just over 25 years ago, he was probably the most revered literary critic in the English language. Over 50 years earlier, Empson had introduced a wider reading public to the idea of ‘close reading’, first in his seminal Seven Types of Ambiguity and then in Some Versions of The Pastoral and The Structure of Complex Words.

Empson’s work had a powerful formative influence on the so-called New Criticism of F.R. Leavis and others and he was often claimed as a progenitor by the Post Modernists. Empson–witty, astringent and unclassifiable–would have none of it, contemptuously referring to the New Criticism as ‘the new rigour‘ and a ‘…campaign to make poetry as dull as possible‘. He was even more dismissive of the Post Modern de-constructionists like Barthes and Derrida, calling Derrida ‘…very disgusting‘.

In an age when an ex-Hitler Youth in a dress, presiding over an organisation of child-molesters and financial fraudsters, presumes to lecture the rest of us on ‘morality‘ and warn of the ‘dangers‘ of secularism, it’s good to remember Empson’s contempt for the mumbo-jumbo merchants of the church. Empson regarded Christianity (quite rightly, in my opinion) as morally repugnant and his acid scorn for those who would reclaim dead artists for baby Jesus is typically bracing:

…a strong drive has been going on to recover the children for orthodox or traditional religious beliefs; … and when you understand all that, you may just be able to understand how they manage to present James Joyce as a man devoted to the God who was satisfied by the crucifixion. The concordat was reached over his dead body. —from Using Biography (1985)

Equally refreshing is his dismissal of the God-botherers and their apologists:

The first thing we need to recognize, because modern Christianity goes to extreme lengths to hush it up, is that the moral character of God had become very hard to defend…

The chief new defense invented for God is that he intends to resign, and will do so as soon as he conscientiously can, as soon as a workable alternative to his rule has been prepared…

Empson in a letter to The New York Review of Books, responding to a review of Christopher Hill’s Milton and the English Revolution, June 1978

One of the many unusual aspects of Empson the ‘literary man’ was his keen interest in and appreciation of science and its advancements. In fact, Empson was himself a gifted mathematician:

In 1925, Empson won a scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge and achieved a double first in Mathematics and English in 1929. His supervisor in Mathematics, the father of the mathematician and philosopher Frank P. Ramsey, expressed regret at Empson’s decision to pursue English rather than Mathematics…–wikipedia

Or as the late Frank Kermode put it in a review of John Haffenden’s William Empson: Vol. IAmong the Mandarins:

Part of his eccentricity must be an interest, unshared by most literary people, in the greatest imaginative achievements of the modern mind, which have all been in the sciences. That is, he must try to persuade the ignorant of the importance of modern science; moral progress depends on it.

Not to have some understanding of physics and biology is to get the whole world picture wrong and to fail to understand the true, perhaps tragic situation of the individual in a world transformed by this knowledge.

The London Review of Books, May 19, 2005

Lastly but by no means least, Empson had what (it seems to me) the likes of Rowse, Leavis et al lacked: a strong sense of humour. Empson was absolutely convinced that humour was one of the most powerful weapons one could deploy against the wowsers, the blinkered and the fanatics (Empson, the archetypal non-wowser, was expelled from Cambridge after condoms were discovered in his room by a cleaning-lady) .

While the more genteel and old maid-ish found his wit too caustic (T.S. Eliot described one relatively mild letter from Empson as ‘The rudest I have ever received…’ and forbade Empson to write to him again) the more robust reader delighted in it.

So raise your glass to the shade of William Empson (who was very fond of a drink himself) and try to stifle that sharp pang of regret as you scan The Guardian’s book pages and wonder where it all went so wrong.

I’ll leave you with this poem by Empson and a call for poems on critics and criticism.

Just a Smack at Auden

Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.
What is there to be or do?
What’s become of me or you?
Are we kind or are we true?
Sitting two and two, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall I build a tower, boys, knowing it will rend
Crack upon the hour, boys, waiting for the end?
Shall I pluck a flower, boys, shall I save or spend?
All turns sour, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall I send a wire, boys? Where is there to send?
All are under fire, boys, waiting for the end.
Shall I turn a sire, boys? Shall I choose a friend?
The fat is in the pyre, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall I make it clear, boys, for all to apprehend,
Those that will not hear, boys, waiting for the end,
Knowing it is near, boys, trying to pretend,
Sitting in cold fear, boys, waiting for the end?

Shall we send a cable, boys, accurately penned,
Knowing we are able, boys, waiting for the end,
Via the Tower of Babel, boys? Christ will not ascend.
He’s hiding in his stable, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall we blow a bubble, boys, glittering to distend,
Hiding from our trouble, boys, waiting for the end?
When you build on rubble, boys, Nature will append
Double and re-double, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall we make a tale, boys, that things are sure to mend,
Playing bluff and hale, boys, waiting for the end?
It will be born stale, boys, stinking to offend,
Dying ere it fail, boys, waiting for the end.

Shall we go all wild, boys, waste and make them lend,
Playing at the child, boys, waiting for the end?
It has all been filed, boys, history has a trend,
Each of us enisled, boys, waiting for the end.

What was said by Marx, boys, what did he perpend?
No good being sparks, boys, waiting for the end.
Treason of the clerks, boys, curtains that descend,
Lights becoming darks, boys, waiting for the end.

Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.
Not a chance of blend, boys, things have got to tend.
Think of those who vend, boys, think of how we wend,
Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.

  1. Zeph permalink
    September 28, 2010 12:09 PM

    “I don’t think it quite works. Maybe you could change
    The leading character, and make him, well, less strange?
    Less of an introvert and more a man of action?
    Someone who’d get a more identified reaction?
    This stuff about his father, and him seeing the ghost –
    Yes, mix of genres, but not in a good way. Most
    Of the drama’s coming from the family tension,
    Adding the paranormal brings a new dimension
    Which doesn’t gel, at all. Up to you, of course,
    You’re the writer. And are we going to endorse
    Suicide, in that monologue? Don’t think that’ll do,
    We want a life-affirming guy who battles through.
    What I’d like to see, Will, is a leading man,
    Someone the men admire and women can
    Have a few fantasies about. Get him to drive
    The action, not just mope trying to choose
    Life over death. Nice dialogue, but you could lose
    Most of those long speeches and the piece would play
    With better pace. New draft by Tuesday OK?”

  2. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 28, 2010 12:15 PM

    I’ll take an option on that, Zeph. Brill!

  3. Zeph permalink
    September 28, 2010 12:16 PM

    Totally non-relevant to Empson himself, of course. Just a critic poem.

  4. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 12:31 PM

    …and a cracking one, Zeph. Bravo…

  5. September 28, 2010 12:57 PM

    Like damp toilet paper covered in piss
    Was what I truly thought about this
    Novel about redemption lost and found,
    A feeble attempt to gain moral high ground.
    Another story about the middle class and
    How their trials and tribulations stand
    As a symbol for the general struggles of life,
    As if the failure at dinner to use the right knife
    Cuts deep down into the hearts of us all.
    Pah! The novelist’s imagination is far too small
    The prose he writes is a crashing bore
    He should live a little, get out more
    Work in an office for some honest wages
    Stop wittering on for endless pages.

  6. September 28, 2010 1:57 PM

    A critic would note that the 10th line should read “Pah! The novelist’s imagination is far too small”. [Fixed-Ed.]

    The critic would then note the first line’s debt to JK Huysman’s criticisms where a painting by Robert Delaunay was described as a long streak of piss on the canvass. By a horse. [Duly noted-Ed.]

    The critic would then wonder who the novel in question was by. McEwan? Blyton? A whole genre of British writing?

    But with no evidence to go on the critic would confidently claim it was a book by one of his bêtes noires in order to settle an old score more than anything else.

  7. September 28, 2010 2:03 PM

    My only encounter with Empson is through Jonathan Bate’s Genius of Shakespeare. Bate relates Empson’s argument (as I understand it) that certain aspects of Measure for Measure were impossible for the critical mind to contain prior to the development of quantum theory.

    I also have a beautiful hardback copy of The Meaning of Complex Words which, with its clever ideas and small print, I have as yet failed to read.

  8. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 28, 2010 3:28 PM

    Moaning Lisa

    You don’t like it? OK, so what’s the problem?
    Oh, your wife doesn’t like it. What’s she said?
    The hands? Come on, nobody looks at them,
    it’s a portrait, it’s all about the head,

    the face, mirror of the soul, all that… stuff.
    What can I say, most people like the eyes
    following them around, but fair enough
    I’ll do fucking shades if you think it’s wise.

    I’m not angry. No, I don’t do landscape,
    my lads knock that bit out, they’re very good,
    I supervise and do the general shape.
    It’s how I work, that should be understood.

    A discount? Fuck off! Five points. All right, ten.
    You’re a hard sod, Giocondo. Got a pen?

  9. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 3:33 PM

    Fine work, Ed, MM.

    Further to your remark about Bate and Empson, XB:

    Q: An interesting intersection between the two cultures has recently emerged. A Shakespeare scholar, Jonathan Bate, has published an article showing that the English writer William Empson, one of the most influential literary critics of the 20th century, began in mathematics and physics. When Empson wrote his most famous book, “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” he was attempting to translate into literary criticism the ideas about the physical universe of the new physicists. One of his main influences was the physicist Paul Dirac.

    Dirac was a very shy, rather artistic Englishman at Cambridge. He published a book, “Principles of Quantum Mechanics,” with a sparse beauty and elegance. Dirac was like a Japanese painter, or a maker of Zen Buddhist proverbs, or koans.

    When you read his book, it’s like reading a great piece of poetry, like being in heaven and seeing all these beautiful forms.

    Dirac produced the Dirac Equation, which led to the prediction of what’s called antimatter. That is, you have an electron but you also have, like a mirror image, a positron. You have a proton, but you also have an antiproton. Although Dirac at first didn’t realize what he had, what this equation had, it soon became clear what it meant.

    With antimatter, if an antiparticle meets a particle, like an electron meets a positron, they totally annihilate into radiation. So, it’s complete conversion of matter into energy.

    You can see that these ideas that undermined the previous conceptions of matter and energy would lend themselves to an understanding of the kind of literary ambiguity I gather Empson talked about.

    Empson was also interested in Erwin Schrodinger.

    Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg preceded Dirac. He summarized their work.

    Schrodinger is one of the most interesting figures in all of science. He was a true Renaissance man, with a deep knowledge of eastern philosophy. He synthesized the ideas of Einstein, Bohr and another quantum physicist, Louis de Broglie.

    With the Schrodinger Wave Equation, he more or less reconciled the phenomena of particles and waves, which had been seen as distinct, in a theory that accounted for both. This is one of the central quantum concepts. It was the birth of the modern quantum theory.

    It’s interesting that you compare Dirac with Japanese poetry and that you mention Schrodinger’s interest in eastern mysticism, because Empson went to China and Japan to work as an English professor, and he steeped himself in Asian culture.

    A: In the new physics, just as we see the breakdown of the split between the two cultures, science and the humanities, we also see the split between West and East breaking down, with rationalism and mysticism reconciled, as well.

    from an interview with Jack Sarfatti, The San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 1997

  10. Zeph permalink
    September 28, 2010 3:50 PM

    Great pomes from MM and EAlarmingT. I must say that my one wrote itself very quickly, which just goes to show how bloody easy it is to criticise. To be a proper critic, of course, is something else.

  11. September 28, 2010 3:56 PM

    I’m not sure rationalism and mysticism can be reconciled, can they? They are defined by their opposition. Each demands and is defined by the willed subjection of the other.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately?), don’t most of us inhabit some place or other on the greyscale inbetween? A lot of the things that feel ‘true’ in my gut are, I know, preposterous. And many of the prosaic truths I accept without question as scientific will, in their time, be happpily discarded as collective idiocy.

  12. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 28, 2010 4:04 PM

    Going back to the previous blog, Empson’s poem ‘Let It Go’ was an adolescent theme tune of mine. Something about that deep blankness rang a bell. I was a histrionic youth.

    Excellent blog article, btw.

  13. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 4:16 PM

    I dunno, XB. Maybe they can be reconciled by holding two contradictory thoughts in one’s head at the same time (the mark of a first-class mind, I was always taught); viz:

    A.) all observable phenomena can be explained by rational means.

    B.) the film career of Steven Seagal is inexplicable.

    …the truth is in the middle…or out there…or something…

    Thanks, MM…and here’s:

    Let It Go

    It is this deep blankness is the real thing strange.
    The more things happen to you the more you can’t
    Tell or remember even what they were.

    The contradictions cover such a range.
    The talk would talk and go so far aslant.
    You don’t want madhouse and the whole thing there.

  14. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 4:45 PM

    As regulars know, PH is one of the last redoubts of the villanelle. Empson was a dab hand at them. Here are three of his:

    Missing Dates

    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
    It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

    It is not your system or clear sight that mills
    Down small to the consequence a life requires;
    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

    They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
    Of young dog blood gave but a month’s desires.
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

    It is the Chinese tombs and the slag hills
    Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

    Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
    The complete fire is death. From partial fires
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

    It is the poems you have lost, the ills
    From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.


    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
    Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
    What kindness now could the old salve renew?
    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

    The infection slept (custom or changes inures)
    And when pain’s secondary phase was due
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    How safe I felt, whom memory assures,
    Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

    My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
    My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
    Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    Reflection from Anita Loos

    No man is sure he does not need to climb.
    It is not human to feel safely placed.
    “A girl can’t go on laughing all the time,”

    Wrecked by their games and jeering at their prime
    There are who can, but who can praise their taste?
    No man is sure he does not need to climb.

    Love rules the world but is it rude, or slime?
    All nasty things are sure to be disgraced.
    A girl can’t go on laughing all the time.

    Christ stinks of torture who was caught in lime.
    No star he aimed at is entirely waste.
    No man is sure he does not need to climb.

    It is too weak to speak of right and crime.
    Gentlemen prefer bound feet and the wasp waist.
    A girl can’t go on laughing all the time.

    It gives a million gambits for a mime
    On which a social system can be based:
    No man is sure he does not need to climb,
    A girl can’t go on laughing all the time

    Empson explained his fascination with the form thus:

    Grammatical machinery may be assumed which would make the contradiction into two statements; thus ‘p and -p‘ may mean: ‘If a=a1, then p; if a=a2, then -p. […] If ‘p and -p‘ could only be resolved in one way into: ‘If a=a1, then p; if a=a2, then p,’ it would at least put two statements into one. In many cases the subsidiary uses of language limit very sharply the possible interpretations, and the ambiguity is only of this sensible sort. But it is evident that any degree of complexity of meaning can be extracted by ‘interpreting’ a contradiction; any xa1 and xa2 may be selected, that can be attached to some xa arising out of p; and any such pair may then be read the other way round, as ‘If xa1=xa2, then p; if xa=xa1, then -p.’ The original contradiction has thus been resolved into an indefinite number of contradictions: ‘If a=xay, then p and -p,’ to each of which the same process may again be applied.

    Well…I reckon that’s fair enough, eh?

  15. September 28, 2010 4:47 PM

    Unexciting as it is, the middle always holds the most sense for me. And regardless of what others will say, I always find the fence far too narrow to sit on. It must be walked like a tightrope. But you can see over the heads of those on either side.

    The Bate argument is interesting. He notes (I think) that, before Empson, Isabella was either portrayed as saintly or callous and cruel – critics and directors would take one or the other view, focus on the sections of text that supported it and shoehorn in the rest. A bit like all interpretations of the Bible, ever.

    Empson argued that, just as a particle can be in two places at once, or Stephen Segal gets paid to move around and speak words, Isabella could be – gasp – both saintly and cruel. A breakthrough, apparently. Maybe Christian fundamentalists would find quantum theory useful. Perhaps God is a quantum particle: an all-loving creator and jealous barbecuer of, ah, almost everyone with no contradiction. But wouldn’t that make most Christians capable of holding two contradictory thoughts in one’s head at the same time? I’m confused.

    Although, thinking about it now, I wonder if those critics would have had as much problem with Isabella if she hadn’t been a nun.

  16. September 28, 2010 4:52 PM

    That explanation/equation from Empson reminds me that Wittgenstein was hailed as a genius upon his arrival at Cambridge even though no one, including Bertrand Russell, had the slightest idea what he was going on about.

    I don’t know much about philosophy, but I know what I like.

  17. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 5:58 PM

    I know what else you’d like (if you haven’t read it already): Luke Haines’ Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall, The Auteurs‘ main man’s memoirs of the ‘Brit-pop’ era. Highly entertaining–acerbic, egomaniacal, articulate and cruel, it’s very good value…

  18. September 28, 2010 6:49 PM

    I’ve not read it but I’ve heard it’s splendid. One symptom of mental enfeeblement for me this summer was a struggle with fiction. I’ve fallen back on a lot of music bios and criticism. A Stones biography (they took drugs and Jagger likes money) and a dizzyingly comprehensive thesis on post-punk by Simon Reynolds (people who lived in squats in the 70s liked Marxism but not disco), amongst others.

    Also, apropos of nothing but fantasticness, this video. It’s just a guess but I think Freep is the one who looks like John the Baptist. I’m the blue guy with six arms. Spot the rest?

  19. Reine permalink
    September 28, 2010 7:44 PM

    Excuse me please a moment sir
    My name is Deirdre Dunlop
    I wonder if you have a sec,
    I’m just taking a vox pop

    Ok if I record you on my dictaphone?
    I need to be exacting
    Or the editor will moan

    I am the IT literary critic for my sins
    You know the kind of blather,
    what’s groundbreaking
    what begins
    To touch the public pulse and capture the zeitgeist
    ‘though to be honest, it’s a pain…
    Oh God, oh Jesus Christ
    I think that’s him, do you see
    that fellow over there
    Is he looking, has he seen me?
    Wish I’d bothered with my hair

    Hold this, I’ll be back shortly
    Talk your piece in if you wish
    I’ve got to go and brush my teeth
    Wish I hadn’t touched the fish

    Thank you, I was mistaken
    I thought it was the writer
    I’ve admired him forever
    Hear he’s a gamey blighter

    Mind you, his book’s not bad
    But what am I going to say?
    Next to the shamrock and Guinness
    He’s our ticket to make hay

    People love all this stuff
    About the bad old times,
    Colonial past, grim poverty,
    Church-perpetrated crimes

    Anyway where were we?
    You’d better have your say
    Then I can file this piece of fluff
    And down some chardonnay

    Just your name please, occupation
    if you wish to divulge same
    Your interest in the genre
    Strong new work or too tame

    You know the kind of thing,
    Okay, we’re ready, off you go
    “I am the author dear girl,
    That’s the first thing you should know”

    “As for the rest, this book’s my best,
    My strongest one so far
    Now, file your piece
    And meet me in ten minutes at the bar”

  20. hic8ubique permalink
    September 28, 2010 8:32 PM


    Today it’s borne upon me
    how ignorant and small
    how witless with opinions
    I stand here after all

    so, I alternately laugh and cry
    but mostly I’m struck dumb;
    I retire to the bathtub,
    draw the tap, and suck my thumb.

  21. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 9:14 PM

    Fine, rueful work Reine, hic.

    BTW, XB, I’ve got a 4-CD set for you. It’s called Down Home Blues Classics: Texas 1946-1954.
    You can see the track list HERE. Let me know if you fancy it and I’ll pass it along…

  22. Reine permalink
    September 28, 2010 9:52 PM

    Thanks Mish; a very high standard set early on. Deirdre Dunlop feels like my road not taken but what a ridiculous name. Rich coming from a Reine, eh?

  23. September 28, 2010 10:24 PM

    It wasn’t easy but
    I had to tell the critic that
    Whilst I admired his review
    Of my novel

    – It was heartfelt and courageous –

    I felt it was unoriginal
    Aspiring TLS but falling short
    In thrall to forbears

    He sagged but took it on the chin

    ‘Could you be more specific?’
    He nudged his glasses up his nose
    ‘Oh yes’, I squeezed his shoulder
    ‘Next time,
    Criticise better.’


    And, Mishari, I say yes mama to the blues. Thanks as ever.

  24. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 10:59 PM

    Critical But Stable

    It’s the easy life, to drip disdain
    To sneer at all that comes your way
    And so what if it causes pain?

    The truth may wound, so why explain?
    And who cares what the victims say?
    It’s the easy life, to drip disdain.

    You saw it clear and said it plain:
    You are not here to save the day,
    And so what if it causes pain?

    The heart must not command the brain;
    The vulgar mob can call and bray:
    It’s the easy life, to drip disdain.

    The fool may look for gentle rain
    But you see skies aren’t blue, they’re grey
    And so what if it causes pain?

    The insight that you hoped to gain
    Was just another vain display:
    It’s the easy life, to drip disdain
    And so what if it causes pain?

    • September 29, 2010 9:53 AM

      A critic replies

      Your position on critics you’ve unfurled
      But you unleashed THAT novel onto the world
      Sold to the publisher with the highest bid
      Setting back the punter 25 quid.
      It unleashed my ire, I can only scorn,
      Use my position to make sure I warn
      Anyone with 25 quid to spend
      That this novel will drive them round the bend.
      You’re correct it’s easy to drip disdain
      But buying it and reading it is double the pain.

      Now I must relax in my ivory tower
      Designed to cushion me from the author’s glower.
      Amis is next, shooting fish in a barrel I’d say,
      Bollocks! Just given the critic’s game away.

  25. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:22 PM

    Deirdre Dunlop? Your heart’s desire,
    she didn’t care about the brake,
    her grip was good, she didn’t tire
    but her squealing was hard to take.

  26. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:26 PM

    A fab Aston, sir.

    Dave seemed a little pissed off at Conference. My heart bled for the adjacent-to-torturing git.

  27. Reine permalink
    September 28, 2010 11:29 PM

    She’d lick your Pirelli any day
    And take the Mick out of your Michelin
    Takes a long time to wear that thread down
    But a bit slippery when wet

  28. mishari permalink*
    September 28, 2010 11:33 PM

    Yes, nothing has gladdened my heart lately like the sight of Millivanilliband Sr. exerting every ounce of self-control he possesses not to have a screaming tantrum in front of the cameras. I’m delighted to see the back of the perjuring scumbag. Ed’s no New Dawn but he’s the best of a bad lot, I suppose…

  29. hic8ubique permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:39 AM

    Disoriented, sacked out
    in a strange hotel room
    exhausted and hypoglycemic,
    a knock* and in comes
    room service (?) bearing a wonder
    feast: steaming dishes, a carafe~
    laced with sustenance and comfort,
    yielding voracious gratitude.

    Mishari~ you remind me there of a Dr O’Reilly’s lecture on placebo wherein he cites an assessment
    in which, upon entering med school, students received highest marks for compassion,
    and upon completion, lowest.
    Fascinating poem, your entire offering today, really a privilege to partake here always, but today…
    I don’t know, I’m probably premenstrual.

    (Pardon histrionics, Mowbray.)

  30. hic8ubique permalink
    September 29, 2010 1:07 AM

    It’s an interesting photo selection… bizarre whiskers, a possibly ordinary face behind groucho-esque specs and moustaches,
    a relatively giant capable hand, with a mark on the forearm as if a burn, or ink blot? …toupee-like hair, a look of mandibular bone loss…crop-worthy brow furrows. He seems to have facial crop-circles.
    What a great photo, with the portal behind him like an oblique faceted nimbus.

    • Reine permalink
      September 29, 2010 11:37 AM

      And beautiful elegant hands, well one at least.

  31. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:55 AM


    This is a fair attempt, Darren, but note
    that Hamlet starts with h and has one l.
    I would appreciate it if you wrote

    your name on the top line, and tried to spell
    some of the simpler words with a degree
    of accuracy. ‘Sord’, for instance, ‘ryme’,

    won’t do for examiners or for me.
    I know your fucking phone fills all your time,
    but if you paid some attention in class,

    before your tiny brain finally rots,
    even an imbecile like you might pass.
    If you don’t, I’ll forcibly squeeze your spots

    and drown you in a pool of stinking pus.
    Anyway, a reasonable try. D+.

    • Reine permalink
      September 29, 2010 12:17 PM

      Poor Darren. Pockmarked and bad at spelling, some people have no luck.

  32. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:59 AM

    Elegant? They’re as big as his head! That wrist is like a tree trunk.

  33. September 29, 2010 12:02 PM

    He also appears to have a steaming brioche or baguette embedded in his skull.

    As well as 5 fingers and a thumb.

  34. Reine permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:04 PM

    Beautiful fingers MM, a good strong wrist – all the better to take a good hold of you with my dear as Red Riding Hood’s Granny might have said. DD

  35. mishari permalink*
    September 29, 2010 12:41 PM

    It’s called ‘perspective’, Mowbray…his arm is nearer the camera. Hold up your thumb and block the sun. Gosh…your thumb is awfully big…and that’s not a steaming baguette, it’s a cigarette-holder–Chinese ivory, I suspect…but youse two clowns already knew all this…

  36. September 29, 2010 1:07 PM

    You win this time Al-Adwani but there will be other times.

  37. mishari permalink*
    September 29, 2010 1:23 PM

    You’ve Not Heard The Last Of David, Says Ed MilibandGrauniad headline, today

    So what’s the good news, Ed?

  38. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 29, 2010 1:55 PM

    Ah, perspective. Something I’ve always lacked.

    That Eurovision book is gas. I was reading it last night and MrsM complained that not only was I coughing, I was laughing as well.

    Hope you dodged the cement truck, Reine.

  39. hic8ubique permalink
    September 29, 2010 2:59 PM

    So, Mishari, begging your pardon, how many miles do you reckon between that thumb and eyebrow? If you look in a mirror making the same gesture, what is the size of your hand relative to your head? The perspective should be the same.

    I’m happy to report that the length of my thumb is significantly less than the width of my face.

    I saw Zelary, Reine; loved it.
    Surprised at you not commenting on the relative size of Epsom’s hot baguette.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 29, 2010 6:13 PM

      Empson’s! hot baguette
      Epsoms salts

      Hi, Moon.x

    • Reine permalink
      September 29, 2010 6:54 PM

      Must check it out Hic, Zelary not Empson’s baguette – I’ll just extrapolate.

  40. HLM permalink
    September 29, 2010 5:34 PM

    speedreading everything
    no time for anything
    extraneous or ex
    just swab and clear the decks
    old pizzas, chicken wings
    junk mail and teething rings
    the fish john west rejects
    are those that smell of sex…

  41. Reine permalink
    September 29, 2010 6:52 PM

    I did, thank you, MM. Only you and my father cared. I was not here that early in the day but, alas, will be here for a good while longer. Never a cement truck around when you need it.

  42. September 29, 2010 10:35 PM

    A friend of mine has got a few poems in an anthology and I went to see the launch tonight. Lots of mumbling poets, a fair smattering of self-conscious drear, unecessary explanations and interestingly enough the readers included one Vona Groarke who was accused of National Socialist tendencies by the PotW crew a few weeks back.

    Admittedly the competition weren’t great ( this is best said in a Lancashire accent ) but she were good. A good poem, a good stage-presence ( stage? space in front of some chairs is more accurate ) and a good reading voice. I felt like asking her whether she’d read the thread but then thought she’s had a good evening why ruin it for her.

  43. Reine permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:12 PM

    The critic, an ignoble beast
    Ill liked by many
    And liked the least
    By those on whom he casts aspersions
    For their various arty assertions

    Prefers to venture out at night
    When corners are devoid of light
    Wherein he lurks, ear to the ground
    Eyes peeled, fingers tightly wound
    Around a flute or canapé
    All part of the great panoply

    A world in which his words hold sway
    He makes or breaks, he paves the way
    For contracts rolling thick and fast
    A pay day at long bloody last

    Or else a life of grim despair
    Of bearded chins and matted hair
    And eked out livings in small pools
    While at the big fish the sprat drools

    Yes, the critic holds the power
    To kill your seed or make it flower.

  44. Reine permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:13 PM

    Comma typo after critic in second last line. Not that it matters.[Fixed-Ed.]

    • Reine permalink
      September 29, 2010 11:30 PM

      Thanks Mishari. Appreciated.

  45. mishari permalink*
    September 29, 2010 11:26 PM

    Ed, did she do that poem about invading Poland? Or am I thinking of another poet?

  46. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:31 PM

    Less of the bearded chins and matted hair, please. Though running a hand through the festering mass suggests a shower might be in order. At the weekend, perhaps.

    Did she look like a potential pier-jumper, ET?

    Hitler, it’s said, was a very proficient reader of his own work.

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    I hate Jews,
    What about you? (Die Kunderscheissentoerten, 1927)

    • September 30, 2010 8:52 AM

      On reflection her hair slicked to one side with a little moustache struck me as a bit odd.

      MM Of all the people in the room she looked the least likely to take a running jump off a pier.

  47. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:37 PM

    I was reminded of Bjork (a very typical Scandinavian lady, I’m told) while reading the Eurovision book. I rather liked this:

  48. Captain Ned permalink
    September 29, 2010 11:41 PM

    Jonathan Jones
    has me in groans.
    His latest on Hirst
    could be his worst.*

    *except that it’s not quite as bad as his Franzen debacle.

    Reine, I am much tickled by your bravura rhyming of canapé with panoply.

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:11 AM

      It was a bit of a stretch Ned, but happy to have occasioned a tickle in one of your calibre.

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:17 AM

      … or maybe in both.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:29 AM

      I thought of freep; he would enjoy that too.

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:39 AM

      The Lord bless us, an endorsement from Freep would send me over the edge. Where have you gone Hic?

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:44 AM

      I am seething with authorial rage; my husband, very much an empirical evidence type, has turned critic and dismissed by canapé/panoply rhyme as rubbish. I wish I had a mink handy to set on him. Bloody cheek.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:50 AM

      He deserves to be served a dainty triangle of canvas canopy at luncheon.Tell him I said so.

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:52 AM

      I may serve a sliver of him on a cracker if he keeps it up.

      Thanks Hic for partially restoring my equilibrium.

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:57 AM

      Mrs. Lovett II bids you denizens of PH a goodnight. x

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 30, 2010 1:02 AM

      Him Indoors, your panopticon
      for revenge shall be a canopic jar.
      You brain extracted through your nose,
      you’ll gel in there at your reposement.
      Your punishment shall fit your crime:
      elliptical and not quite rhyming.

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 8:32 AM

      Thank you Hic, Rhymegate seems a bit silly now but I was miffed. He snored while I seethed. I ran through a list of potential rhymes for begrudging bollocks in my head but didn’t get very far.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 30, 2010 12:49 AM

      I’m here, Love.
      evidently I must ‘log in’ to appear smiling at you.
      (Or, I could just do this:… :)
      Freep has told us he’s terribly busy being out-of-doors in the Autumn.
      I was so myself today after work, rampaging the dogs through the woods, since it was too warm to be in the sun. The fungi of many varieties would have pleased both freep and JBC.

  49. mishari permalink*
    September 29, 2010 11:50 PM

    Oh, Christ, is that idiot Jones exhibiting his ineptitude again? Talk about wearing your ignorance on your sleeve…

    I picked up a collection of Brian Sewell’s old reviews and critiques the other day (An Alphabet of Villains, Bloomsbury 1995) and the contrast is striking.

    Whether you agree with Sewell’s judgments or not (and I’m more often in the ‘not’ camp), there’s no denying the depth and breadth of his knowledge or his erudition. His ability to construct a powerful and well-argued case for or against stands in stark contrast to that mealy-mouthed waffler Jones.

    I thought you’d enjoy that Eurovision book, MM. Moore’s an entertaining writer. I’ll pass along his Tour de France book, which is also very funny…

    BTW, Reine, I hope you’ve taken steps to protect yourself from the rampaging mink that are sweeping Eire, leaving a trail of devastation in their sleek-furred wake, the hoors?

  50. Reine permalink
    September 30, 2010 12:16 AM

    God, as if it were not bad enough to have to contend with cement trucks and protesters impeding my access to and egress from work, now I must contend with rampaging mink?

    Overheard in Dublin: “She was a nice girl but didn’t have much luck, she worked for the Government, God help her, and to topirall* she was bitten by a mink and died a slow and painful death.”

    *to top it all.

  51. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 30, 2010 11:22 AM

    Like those unbudging ballcocks
    which sometimes flood the attic
    all this begrudging bollocks
    just totally makes me sick,
    and these misjudging Molochs
    they really get on my wick.

    I wonder if freep is under the knife?

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 2:13 PM

      Most reassuring MM. I have forgiven him, begrudgingly.

  52. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 12:52 PM

    R.I.P Tony Curtis:

  53. September 30, 2010 1:27 PM

    Reine if you put the right food on your shoulders you can have a live mink-stole. Fashionably Lady GaGa-esque plus you avoid the ire of PETA.

    I actually thought Tony Curtis died a while back but RIP indeed. But Some Like it Hot aside I am struggling to think what else he was in ( Look on Wikipedia you idle git ).

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 2:11 PM

      Thanks Ed, I’ll look for a few mice or something later. I am a fan of the fur stole.

      RIP, Tones. He and Lemmon were a class and gas act in SLiH.

  54. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 1:44 PM

    Who could forget Curtis (né Bernard Schwartz of Brooklyn) as the most implausible Viking in film history?

  55. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 1:49 PM

    His filmography is HERE but who could forget Sweet Smell of Success?

  56. September 30, 2010 1:54 PM

    Who could forget Curtis in the Vikings? Well me for a start.

    Was Kirk Douglas in that one too? ( Look on Wikipedia you idle git ).

    (2 minutes later ) Yes he was. I don’t remember Curtis in that film at all. Perhaps Kirk was even more implausible as a Viking than Tony? Or perhaps I had a coat hung over half the TV screen when I last watched it.

  57. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 2:05 PM

    Douglas (né Issur Herschelovich) was equally implausible as a Viking. Curtis and Lancaster, both gifted athletes, were good as circus aerialists in Trapeze:

  58. hic8ubique permalink
    September 30, 2010 2:43 PM

    Reine’s alter-ego Gina in action. I see the resemblance.
    I believe there are still mink stoles in mothballs that I wouldn’t mind parting with… with the heads still on, beady glass eyes, and the little feet dangling. Not quite so bad as a meat bikini, I suppose, but not for me.

    My tea-pot makes a shofar sound, and just last week a friend said it reminded him of Kirk D’s horn in the Vikings, which I’d never seen. And yes, followed by his usual request to see me in a helmet.
    I seem to recall images of Bjork wearing an entire swan, MM.
    That is atypical.

  59. hic8ubique permalink
    September 30, 2010 2:44 PM

    tea-kettle. The tea-pot is silent.

  60. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 2:58 PM

    You don’t (thank God) see them anymore but I remember women wearing fox-stoles. As a small boy, I found them disconcerting, what with the glassy-eyed fox-head still attached and gazing accusingly at one.

    They’ve discovered a habitable planet just as was recently predicted and the good news is, it’s only 20 million light-years away. I’ve already instructed the family to pack…

  61. hic8ubique permalink
    September 30, 2010 3:10 PM

    …and the lips curled back with fangs showing, didn’t embrace that aesthetic as a sensitive lad?

    The Goldilocks Zone planet, not too hot or too cold,
    but juuust right.
    I never understand what would be useful about this particular search.Life can only be a product of the environment it’s evolved in as far as I can tell.One sketchy microbe renders the whole fantasy bust.I feel the whole point of being here is to cope with here.
    Po-faced I know, but open to argument.

    fantasy bust, anyone?

  62. September 30, 2010 3:12 PM

    We used to have a box of fox and mink- stoles liberated from some attic.

    They were too odd – we could never think of a use for them. A couple had two heads on them as well. Eventually the moths and the maggots got them

  63. Zeph permalink
    September 30, 2010 3:39 PM

    Tony Curtis: unexpectedly brilliant in The Boston Strangler (1968). Very unsettling film, with the nightmarish premise that this normal guy is committing all these murders in a split-personality-ish state, and genuinely doesn’t remember a thing about any of them…. it makes you quite worried about what you might have gone and done when you thought you’d just dozed off in front of the TV.

  64. MeltonMowbray permalink
    September 30, 2010 4:03 PM

    Hmmm… perhaps there was more than one reason for moving, Zeph?

    Tony did sterling work in Spartacus. Suffering the attentions of Sir Larry can’t have been easy.

  65. September 30, 2010 6:20 PM

    I saw the excellent ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ only a few weeks ago. I didn’t know Curtis was the voice in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, which I remember seeing as an eight year old and having nightmares for weeks; the only other film to do that to me was ‘Don’t Look Now’, which I saw aged 11. I keep hoping to find a film that will genuinely scare the adult me, but the only film that’s come close to it recently was ‘Antichrist’, which was superb.

  66. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 6:55 PM

    Have you ever seen The Innocents, Simon? It scared me badly when I saw it as a 10 or 11 year-old.

    The film is based on Henry James’ The Turn of The Screw and Martin Scorcese rates it as one of the 10 most frightening films ever made. It’s very effective in that everything is implicit, all the horrors are lurking in the shadows or just off-screen. It’s extremely creepy…

  67. Reine permalink
    September 30, 2010 7:29 PM

    Simon, if it’s creep you’re after, Don’t Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie fits the bill. Won’t have you quaking in your boots but disconcerting to say the least. You’ve probably seen it, set it Venice. Hope all well. R

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 7:42 PM

      Oh, and Wicker Man, the 1973 one with Edward Woodward. As much for a laugh as a scare.

    • mishari permalink*
      September 30, 2010 7:52 PM

      Edward Woodwoodwoodwood had it coming for having such a silly name…

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 7:57 PM

      Ah, now you’ve ruined it. I loved him as The Equaliser; we only had two television channels at the time.

    • mishari permalink*
      September 30, 2010 8:28 PM

      The Equaliser was silly. Here’s Edwoodwoodwoodwoodwood, running around saving lives, careers, families, nations and doing it for nothing.

      Let’s face it, if God did what Edwoodwoodwoodwoodwood did, I might believe in the bastard….

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 8:33 PM

      First, my husband, now you… shitting all over the things I hold dear!

    • mishari permalink*
      September 30, 2010 8:42 PM

      Sorry. I’m in a feral mood…

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 8:55 PM


  68. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 7:39 PM

    Google Street View Maps AntarcticaThe Grauniad, today

    How does that work? I mean, there are no, erm…streets in Antarctica. In fact, there’s not much of anything except snow, ice and rock.

    “Turn left at the seal…no, the other seal…now, right at the Emperor penguin…stop at the ice-crevice…this must be the place…”

  69. Reine permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:03 PM

    My cousin in Engerland posted this earlier. Look what I narrowly missed and then the other hazards I deal with daily. Cue to approx 2 mins and look at her mic.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 30, 2010 10:57 PM

      You mean just at the moment it projects forward and she says:
      …’takin’ it in the arse’ ?
      reminds me of a recent story. I’ll have to mail you…

    • Reine permalink
      September 30, 2010 11:07 PM

      Do that – I am in the middle of a reply to your last one.

      I’ll have a fantasy bust if you have a spare one – mine is beginning to sag, no amount of glitter can disguise it.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      September 30, 2010 11:36 PM

      Ah, the down-side of Dierdre Dunlop’s double Ds?
      Often, I see women out jogging with the girls jouncing about wildly, and I want to say ‘You know, dear, there’ll come a day you’ll wish you’d invested…’, but I don’t.

      Speaking of gravity, I looked at a photo of Vona Groarke that cast a different light on on her poem. The PotW discussed the handicap angle, but I don’t remember mention that she was morbidly obese. If it’s a personal poem, I’d say that was a significant consideration in view of its physical liberation theme.

    • October 1, 2010 9:37 AM

      hic having seen Vona in the flesh less than 2 day’s ago I’d say morbidly obese was straining it a bit. She certainly wasn’t slim, but she wasn’t a flabby waddler either.

      Not having seen the photo it’s possible she could have lost significant weight since it was taken. Perhaps by using the pier-jumping exercise regime video-tape.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 2:39 PM

      EdT~This is the one that made me look closely to see whether it might have been photo-shopped.
      Maybe just obese then, and in need of style advice?

      [Link in hic’s next post-Ed.]

    • October 1, 2010 3:08 PM

      Hic Terminology-wise I don’t know where obese ends and fat begins but I wouldn’t have called the Vona Groarke of 2 days ago obese. Obese signals to me someone who really needs help in controlling their eating.

      Vona could perhaps cut back on her afternoon cream teas but it didn’t strike me that her health was in danger.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 8:08 PM

      A BMI around 30 is where ‘overweight’ becomes ‘obese’, and health risks such as diabetes increase as well, but really my point was just that she looked encumbered enough that her poem about freedom in the body took on a different light for me.

    • October 2, 2010 10:31 AM

      Hic I think the theories concerning an implied fitness fascism fabricated about her poem were particularly loony even for PotW regardless of whether she’s a portly podge or sports a rippling six-pack.

      What interested me was that disabled actor Nabil Shaban was dragooned onto the prosecution desk. I know people who’ve worked really closely with Shaban and he’s a very keen solo flyer and ( allegedly ) quite a reckless driver. So despite his body’s limitations he would understand completely the release that falling through the air brings even if he can’t manage it unaided.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 2, 2010 11:59 AM

      We’re in agreement as far as I can tell, Ed. Maybe we have come full circle to the idea that a person with some sort of impairment might feel a heightened appreciation of some degree of liberation from gravity.

  70. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 9:14 PM

    Jesus…what a shower of shifty gombeen gobshites…I can’t believe you’re not stringing these horrible fuckers up from lamp-posts…

  71. Reine permalink
    September 30, 2010 9:31 PM

    There are few decent ones; the Official Secrets Act precludes me expressing an opinion.

  72. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 9:37 PM

    I too have been a close observer of the doings of the Bank of the United States. I have had men watching you for a long time, and am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country.

    When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the Bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the Bank and annul its charter I shall ruin ten thousand families.

    That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves. I have determined to rout you out and, by the Eternal, (bringing his fist down on the table) I will rout you out.”

    Andrew Jackson (who was born two years after his father emigrated to the US from County Antrim) in 1834 on closing the Second Bank of the United States

    Where’s Old Hickory when we need him?

  73. Captain Ned permalink
    September 30, 2010 10:58 PM

    Bastard bloody Murdoch, pinching Mad Men from the Beeb. He won’t rest until he’s turned absolutely everything to shite, will he? My enjoyment of the rest of the current series will be severely hampered now.

    To be honest, Mishari, I don’t think any more of Sewell than I do of Jones. Of course, he’s had a long career, and he may have been better in his earlier days (so there may well be some good stuff in your book of essays), but whenever I’ve read any of his tedious drivel in the Evening Standard, it’s been clear that he’s more interested in maintaining his dubious public persona than offering any interesting observations on what he’s supposed to be criticizing. He simply strikes his familiar pose of effete, malicious toffery, and then revels in being taken for a national treasure.

    That Waldemar Januszczak annoys me too.

    The Vikings is a great film, one of the very best Hollywood historical epics – much better than Spartacus, that other Douglas-Curtis pairing. I particularly love Ernest Borgnine’s dismissive snort of ‘Wales? That slag heap?’, and Jack Cardiff’s stunning cinematography.

  74. mishari permalink*
    September 30, 2010 11:17 PM

    The Sewell pieces are from the 70s mostly. Part of the problem with Sewell is the persona he cultivates, as you say, Ned. He comes across as such an awful, cringingly toffee-nosed, condescending prick.

    I wish to Christ I’d never seen him on TV. Yuck…and, my dear…that accent! What an absolute hoot. He makes the Queen sound like the barmaid at the Dog & Duck. He must spend an hour every evening polishing the damn thing.

    I haven’t read The Evening Standard in 25 years so I suppose I’ve missed the old tart at his worst but on painters like Salvatore Rosa, Guercino and Carravagio he’s a pleasure to read…he does know his stuff.

    For those of you who haven’t a clue what Ned and I are talking about, here’s Sewell:

  75. hic8ubique permalink
    October 1, 2010 12:02 AM

    Didn’t BS take a salacious pleasure in all that history.
    Her Maj has been out-queened by that one, though not Sir Derek, to my ear.
    He certainly does have a highly theatrical articulation and delivery; ordinary aristocrats are less intelligible.

  76. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 1, 2010 12:25 AM

    I don’t know much about art, but I love Brian Sewell: lucid, erudite and very amusing.

    I thought The War Lord was the best of the Hollywood histories. Charlton Heston actually did some acting.

  77. October 1, 2010 9:31 AM

    Great news everyone they’ve discovered a new kind of penguin fossil.

    Sewell is good on the Renaissance ( on the page only ) but a terrible attention seeker otherwise. With modern stuff i.e anything after 1856 you get the impression he’s had a think about what people might expect him to say and written the exact opposite.

    How does Matthew Collings strike you Cap’n Ned? I’m in two minds. His series on civilisation was really dissappointing but he can still come up with a startling observation.

    El Cid is the greatest Hollywood history lesson in my opinion.. From the title through to the dialogue it united my family in gales of laughter and piss-taking.

  78. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 1, 2010 10:42 AM

    Whatever Love Means

    I love you. Three brief signifiers, yet
    there’s a nexus of meaning in that statement,
    a matrix of contingency so far unset.
    Let’s take our tools and stir the sediment.

    Of course it’s axiomatic that I
    always implies Not-I, but our focus
    in terms of apprehension should surely lie
    squarely in the reader/writer locus.

    It seems the writer (reader?) is engaged
    by the active (passive?) role of the verb
    in some (emotive?) activity staged,
    through an equivocal form, to disturb.

    Or is it? Our inquiry must depend
    on the status of figure ‘Y’ (or ‘you’)
    and whether we choose (or not choose) to blend
    actual modes of being with point-of-view.

    So, let’s take a moment to summarise.
    Provisional ‘I’ has indefinite
    relation with the ‘other’ in the guise
    of uncertain term ‘you’. I think that’s it.

    • Reine permalink
      October 1, 2010 10:24 PM

      MM, you old romantic you. I hope you don’t inflict such argument on poor Mrs MM. You had me at axiomatic.

    • MeltonMowbray permalink
      October 2, 2010 4:41 PM

      In general our discourse is highly structured, consisting principally of task-based dialogues. In leisure contexts the dominant mode of communication is informal, with some incidence of persiflage.

      I left university before semiotics really got going, which I suppose must be obvious.

  79. mishari permalink*
    October 1, 2010 10:50 AM

    Andrew Graham-Dixon did a series on The Art of Spain about 3 years ago that wasn’t half-bad….

    Mind you, who I really enjoy is Jonathon Meades, who we don’t see nearly enough of…

    Check out Jaguar’s new electric car (a 185 HP electric motor at each wheel and a gas-turbine to charge the batteries)…

  80. hic8ubique permalink
    October 1, 2010 2:43 PM

    still trying to post the link correctly EdT~
    Maybe it’s too …big?

    [The link is HERE. When you have a very long link, it’s best to go to and shorten it-Helpful Ed.]

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 6:54 PM

      Thankyou. I’ve bookmarked it.
      ~ Duly Chastened by Your Bold Font hic.

    • mishari permalink*
      October 1, 2010 7:34 PM

      No chastening intended. It’s that links are hard to see, being almost the same colour as ordinary text. I think I’ll embolden all links from now on.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 7:48 PM

      Bobcats however are bold enough as they are. *sorry*

      I’ve been enjoying Meades on and off today.
      He’s entertaining on the opposite pole from Elton John, whom he somewhat resembles.

  81. October 1, 2010 3:33 PM

    I’ll look out for ‘The Innocents’. Another one that’s hardly known but also very creepy is Dead of Night. Wasn’t it Noel Coward who said, “Edward Woodward? Sounds like a fart in the bath.”

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 5:23 PM

      I nearly cracked a rib, reading that.

  82. October 1, 2010 4:07 PM

    Andrew Graham-Dixon’s Art of Spain ain’t half bad. He did one on Russia which I will be re-watching soon with one of yer actual Russians, who may have other opinions.

    I want to see the film where Brian Sewell and Tony Curtis have an awkward chat about statuary whilst sitting in their towels on the edge of the frigidarium.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 5:21 PM

      Joseph Campbell (the comparative religion one) gives a delightful account, exitb, of bathing in a Roman spa with some archbishop, and having a chat, when his grace asks Campbell ‘but don’t you believe in a personal God?’ and Campbell simply says: No.

      Not quite the same scenario, and I’d have to listen to the series again to find it for you, but back in the 80s that was an enormously liberating moment for me. I have a great fondness for his memory.
      His conversations with Bill Moyers on his book The Power of Myth are available online, but I daren’t try to link just now.
      Dog only needs one breakfast.

  83. Captain Ned permalink
    October 1, 2010 6:14 PM

    Ed, I haven’t read or seen enough Collings to offer an opinion. I saw Graham-Dixon’s Russian series, and thought there was a decent programme struggling to get out of the Important Yet Accessible Cultural TV Event straitjacket. Some good stuff, but also the usual problems of would-be-impressive but woolly claims backed up with a pompous score. I felt the same about a recent two-parter on BBC4 about 19th-century civic architecture in the North of England. Commissioners and producers these days can’t seem to be able to let informed, engaging presenters just get on with it; everything has to be jazzed-up and inflated to the point of inanity. I particularly hate it when the first five minutes or so are taken up with breathless trailing about what’s about to follow, about the journey we’re going to embark upon, about how terribly, terribly important and world-changing it all is. It betrays, as much as anything else, a lack of confidence in the material. Meades is a class apart because you don’t feel that some interefering suit is pushing him into doing things he doesn’t want to do.

    Speaking of historical epics, I saw a very un-Hollywoodesque example the other week that I’d heartily recommend: Frantisek Vlacil’s Marketa Lazarova. I first read of it three years ago, when it featured in a list of 75 neglected or underrated films to celebrate Sight and Sound’s 75th anniversary. Czech critics voted it the best film their country has ever produced. I’ve only seen one other Czech film, so I can’t agree or disagree with that estimation, but I can see that it’s plausible; it’s not an exagerration to say that I found it awe-inspiring. It’s available on DVD, along with a couple of the director’s other movies, but I’m not sure what it’s like on the small screen. The effect of its remarkable music and cinematography is unlike anything else I’ve experienced in the cinema.

    Here’s some more about it:

  84. mishari permalink*
    October 1, 2010 6:35 PM

    The film Ned mentions, František Vlácil’s 13th-century epic Markéta Lazarová, can be downloaded HERE or HERE or you can watch it on youtube in 10 minute segments–part 1 is HERE

    I agree with you, Ned: most art programming in the UK is dire–patronising, tin-eared, obvious and plagued with rotten portentous music.

  85. mishari permalink*
    October 1, 2010 8:07 PM

    Which brings me briefly to Ed Miliband, now chosen to be the leader of the British Labor Party. The last time I saw Eddie he was an intern at The Nation in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

    Round the corner from The Nation when it was on Fifth and 13th st in Manhattan was Zinno’s restaurant and amid a pleasant lunch with JoAn Wypijewski, my own intern Richie McKerrow and Eddie, I asked the future leader what I asked all interns as a matter of form, “Eddie, is your hate pure?”

    The man who first asked me that question was the late Jim Goode, editor of Penthouse. Like Playboy, Penthouse would pay good money for long articles about the corruption of America, thus giving the pointyheads an excuse to thumb through the pinups.

    Goode, tall and cadaverous, was gay, clad in black leather as he crouched on the floor of his office, gazing morosely at hundreds of photos of bare-breasted women. As I entered with some screed about corporate and political evil, he snarled, “Alex, is your hate pure?” “Yes, Jim, my hate is pure.”

    It was a good way of assaying interns. The feisty ones would respond excitedly, “Yes, my hate is pure.” I put the question to Eddie Miliband. He gaped at me in shock like Gussie Fink-Nottle watching one of his newts vanish down the plug hole in his bath. “I…I… don’t hate anyone, Alex,” he stammered.

    It’s all you need to know. English capitalism will be safe in his hands, assuming he ever grasps the levers of what passes for power in 10 Downing Street. It is very hard to imagine him as prime minister. He’s forever Fink-Nottle to me.

    Alexander Cockburn (whose father, the great muckraking journalist Claud Cockburn, was one of my teenage heroes) on

  86. mishari permalink*
    October 1, 2010 9:01 PM

    I know this is dull stuff for non-automotive fans but Lamborghini are showing a prototype at the Paris Motor Show called the Sesto Elemento (Sixth Element).

    They claim it’ll do 0 to 60 MPH in 2.5 seconds.

    Go on…count 2 seconds: one thousand, two thousand–you’re now going 60 MPH and accelerating like a rocket. Incredible. HERE’S a photo.

  87. October 1, 2010 10:06 PM

    Thanks for the Vlacil film clips Captain Ned. I read about him recently, was intrigued, got distracted by something ( a squirrel in the garden probably or a bee on a sunflower ) then promptly forgot all about it so good to be reminded. Impressive opening shot of the wolves in the snow, puts you right in there. will look further.

  88. Reine permalink
    October 1, 2010 10:07 PM

    Remind me to go on a diet before the Christmas party!

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 1, 2010 11:07 PM

      Oh, go on with you!

  89. Reine permalink
    October 1, 2010 11:32 PM

    Have just listened to Sewell pouring forth. Entertaining, I’ll give him that.

  90. hic8ubique permalink
    October 2, 2010 12:14 PM

    A lavish version of
    Elizabethan varnish
    “stellar cast” Dame Helen
    looked like John Hurt,
    Caligula wigged ( but she does
    know how to hold court)
    a pedantic road-map script
    for the who’s who bewildered,
    spun out long sugar “feast
    for the senses”, soppy
    Elgarised rewind do-over
    in a sentimental wash out
    of time: guessing it’s on
    your faecal roster,
    Captain Ned.


    Now, this next song is best presented for a private audience of one, whilst sitting naked with your guitar on the edge of your bed…

  91. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 2, 2010 4:46 PM

    Or in the bath with a razor blade.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 2, 2010 4:50 PM

      I love you too, Vicar. x

    • MeltonMowbray permalink
      October 2, 2010 11:36 PM

      Whatever love means.

    • hic8ubique permalink
      October 3, 2010 12:14 AM

      Precisely, MM.

      I’m going out to see Cairo Time, will report back if it’s good, Re.

      Here’s a paragraph from a JMeade article that I enjoyed:
      ‘Iconic: the Adjective of the Age’

      “One of the dafter ideas propagated by the credulous is that the tyrannies of the 20th century owe their enormities to their atheism. The Third Reich, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China were theocracies whose dependence on the iconic was as great as their dependence on terror, on neighbours grassing each other up, on lies as gross as those of any established faith. Dictators routinely attempt to kill God so that they may usurp him, then act like malevolent forces of nature, wreak divine vengeance, massacre innocents. They sack churches, raze temples, burn texts. The next steps on the road to genocide are all art direction and liturgical choreography.”

  92. mishari permalink*
    October 2, 2010 9:04 PM

    The newly elected mayor of Reykjavik will not allow anyone in his political party unless they have watched all five seasons (of The Wire)–from The New York Review of Books. Read the piece HERE

  93. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 3, 2010 3:15 PM

    Shakespearean Tragedy

    Some might find it a little dubious,
    a life spent on the fictional motives
    of people who were themselves fictitious;
    there have been more adventurous lives.

    While the Moor battled the barbarous Turk
    lecturing had most of his attention,
    as Macbeth engaged in his bloody work
    he lived with his sister in Kensington.

    Of course, there are other roads to success
    than becoming a gore-drenched hatchet man;
    without that book of his, I must confess,
    I wouldn’t have passed my English exam.

    I can’t personally thank AC Bradley,
    he died in 1935, sadly.

  94. Reine permalink
    October 3, 2010 9:09 PM

    Suck it Up

    Bunged up with semiotic?
    Try Mowbray’s antibiotic,
    Syrup or capsule are effective
    But if you want his own directive –
    Bend over, relax sphincter
    And watch it disappear

    It’s no cause for alarm,
    It won’t do you any harm
    If your stools are laced with symbols
    (In addition to the Crimbles
    you had after your tea)

    Give it two days and see
    You’ll criticise again with glee
    And persiflage taken daily
    Will help you proceed gaily
    Among your po-faced pals

    So good luck with your motions
    And your hifalutin notions
    We’ll hang on your lofty words
    But keep schtum about the turds

  95. October 4, 2010 12:37 PM


    Uh-oh, only 141 comments too late (things a bit complicated here)…

    In any case, the ghost of Empson still stalks these waste lands

  96. October 5, 2010 1:29 PM

    Poem: spoiler alert

    Critic, I’m at odds with you
    Your praiseful, loud deception
    Persuaded me just yesterday
    To go and see Inception

    ‘Profound, intelligent,’ you cried,
    Declared it A-star rated
    But ‘clever’, in this case, has been
    Confused with ‘complicated’

    Critic, I’m at odds with you
    Your ‘Jungian Rififfi’
    Is ‘Deepak Chopra’s Ocean’s Twelve’
    And Leo’s gone all beefy

    And as for that twist ending
    Which for you capped every theme
    I was taught to never end a tale
    With ‘was it just a dream?’

    Critic, I enclose a manuscript,
    For your perception
    Could help my own dream-thriller script
    Become the next Inception

Comments are closed.