Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
David Foster Wallace
I never met the man and wasn’t a huge fan of his work, probably because I started with one of his poorer works of fiction; Girl with Curious Hair.
But through the Internet, I was much bigger fan of his journalism, in particular his long thoughtful essays on tennis and the people who play it. It helped immeasurably that David Foster Wallace was a very talented junior tennis player occupying that space a level or two below the pros.
His essay on Roger Federer is finest piece of tennis writing ever and is really useful because if anyone asks me why I’m a bit insane about Fed, or more properly Fed’s work, then directing them to that essay gives precise and beautifully written reasons why; DFW even invented a term for memorised passages of Roger’s play; he called them “Federer moments.”
His essay on the journeyman (and later Maria Sharapova's coach) Michael Joyce, called The String Theory says a lot about the game and himself.
He also reinvented the footnote as a means of having a second more detailed and anoracky essay chugging along alongside the more approachable main one. For instance, the String Theory essay has this brilliant aside about the great Jimmy Connors:
I don't know whether you know this, but Connors had one of the most eccentric games in the history of tennis -- he was an aggressive 'power' player who rarely came to the net, had the serve of an ectomorphic girl, and hit everything totally spinless and flat (which is inadvisable on ground strokes because the absence of spin makes the ball so hard to control). His game was all the more strange because the racket he generated all his firepower from the baseline with was a Wilson T2000, a weird steel thing that's one of the shittiest tennis rackets ever made and is regarded by most serious players as useful only for home defence or prying large rocks out of your backyard or something. Connors was addicted to this racket and kept using it long after Wilson stopped even making it, and he forfeited millions in potential endorsement money by doing so. Connors was also eccentric (and kind of repulsive) in lots of other ways, too, none of which are germane to this article.
You can plough through a couple hundred pages of Joel Drucker's weirdly self obsessed memoir of Jimmy Connors and find nothing as informative or funny as that.
It’s very upsetting that David Foster Wallace is dead.
Labels: Book review
Monday, September 15, 2008
Heckuva job, Sarah!
...[She] is the distilled essence of wingnut. She has it all. She is dishonest. She is a religious nut. She is incurious. She is anti-science. She is inexperienced. She abuses her authority. She hides behind executive privilege. She is a big spender. She works from the gut and places a greater value on instinct than knowledge.
And most dangerous of all, she is supremely self-confident to the point of not recognizing how ill-equipped she is to lead the country. This from last night stood out for me:
Charles Gibson, the interviewer, asked her if she didn’t hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.
“I didn’t hesitate, no,” she said.
He asked if that didn’t that take some hubris.
“I answered him yes,” Ms. Palin said, “because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink. So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.”
Labels: US Politics
Saturday, September 13, 2008
The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien is a Pre-Raphaelite; Cate Blanchette as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy
I don't get it.
Some of the people I most respect, admire and am proud to call my friends just adore Lord of the Rings.
It's sort of a quasi-religious text in some circles, particularly in software engineering where in a group of 10 programmers, at least seven will have read it. Of that seven one or two will be true experts, able to recall passages and scenes in almost photographic detail. It's sort of a common cultural language amongst men who often care little for culture.
Tolkien's influence is massive; single handedly and unwittingly he launched an entire genre - called 'Fantasy' in most bookshops - that features hundreds of writers assembling brick-like volumes about elves, wizards, dwarves, dragons, swords, orcs and associated bollox. I've read a few of these books, mainly shorter ones and all because friends and relatives have insisted I do. Back in the 80s I shared a house with someone who chain read Micheal Moorcock. Later my first brother in law (a software engineer - hah!) insisted I read some book or other by David Gemmel.
As for THE WORK itself, no way.
I read a few pages at school, and a few more at university - more than enough to realise it wasn't for me. Decades later, the films were released - big news in the software community. I didn't see them at the cinema, but a while back they were broadcast in order on consecutive nights or weeks and I sat through them all, sometimes while on the phone with the sound down.
Tonight, the first one which is called The Fellowship of the Ring is on again on ITV1.
Watching it again, its easy to be reminded that all three films are well made and visually stunning, at least in parts. Tolkien's World War 1 experience of mass slaughter in huge impersonal battles is brought to vivid errrr... can we call it life? Scenes (distressingly few scenes alas) that don't feature those irritatingly cute and bumbling and 'lovable' hobbits are generally excellent. Sir Ian McKellan is outstanding playing the kind of role Sir Alec Guiness made his own in the Star Wars films.
And yet... I still don't get it.
There's something very unimaginative about the pseudo medevial set-up, somewhat reminiscent of the whole Victorian Gothic thing. In fact, that might be a way to approach these interminable, technically excellent and ultimately kitsch films - a sort of animated pre-Raphaelite world. The set designers and costume people seem to agree; the achingly lovely Cate Blanchette is straight out of a Rosetti painting, as are the carefully chosen romantic landscapes and elaborate castles. But Pre Raphaelite art is ultimately just over the top pseudo-historic kitsch and often unitentionally hillarious with brave gallant androgynous knights and swooning ladies.
In the United States the works of Aryan Rant seem to occupy the same position and readership as Tolkien does here. I say disturbingly because whereas Tolkien's Edwardian romanticism is essentially harmless, Rant was a genuinely nasty pseudo-philosopher pushing a kind of free-market fascism with narcissistic psychopaths as the heroes.
But I'll write about her another day...
Friday, September 12, 2008
Four Years Old
Thanks to everyone who reads it, and especially those who leave comments.
I'm still insanely busy, but my first free week-end in 4 weeks may provide some time for a bit of writing...
Monday, September 01, 2008
I’ve been stupidly busy recently and have had no time to write blog entries. But while the memory is still fresh, here’s a quick summary of last week-end at the Edinburgh Fringe…
Drove up in the Micra, which is wonderfully economical on A roads – it cost just £40 to go 400 miles which is outstanding.
Once there, D and myself plunged straight into the fest itself, heading over to the Pleasance courtyard to see Steve Hall: Vice-Captain Loser. A good enjoyable stand-up act if not a great one. D and myself have a very good record at the Fringe, notorious for it’s ‘experimental’ acts and really bad student drama. There’s no way anyone could have resented Steve’s stand-up act – even miserable humourless me found it excellent.
Saturday we drove over to Glasgow, which I’ve never visited before. My impressions of Glasgow are heavily influenced by Train Spotting and the earlier little gem That Sinking Feeling, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to discover the real Glasgow (or at least most of it) isn’t much like the films.
D was in charge of showing me around, so we had a typically eclectic day of Edwardian heavy engineering, a tall ship, and some rather nice art-work.
Back in Edinburgh, we went to a reading by Janice Galloway, an author D likes but I’ve never read. She certain read well enough from her latest book, but the perspective (from herself aged 7 or 8 or something) didn’t match the language. In the QA afterwards Janice was asked about this and replied her memory had been helped by a load of old photographs, many of which she’d held up close to her face to study every tiny detail.
She didn’t impress me with that remark – it reminded me of the smarmy and revolting Edmund Morris; the man hired to write Ronald Regan’s authorised biography. To nobody’s surprise but own, Morris found Regan so stupid, dull, untrustworthy and boring that he resorted to turning the biog into a false memoir of Dutch Reagan featuring himself as an invented friend. Much of the book’s incidental detail came from photographs provided by Nancy Reagan which Morris would examine in close up, millimetre by millimetre. Perhaps it’s just the association, but this technique seems to accompany desperation.
On Sunday D indulged my unhealthy obsession with Scottish tower houses, by taking me to see a splendid ruin and a brilliantly preserved original (see top of this post), which is now a hotel and where one day me and K will stay. We finished up the day with a reading and Q&A session from the rude, opinionated and brilliant Will Self. Self’s latest novel seems fairly ordinary (like Mailer and Vidal, I much prefer Self’s journalism and non-fiction to the novels). His Q&A session afterwards was brilliant and slightly scary. As D pointed out, he could comfortably do stand up as well as professionals like Steve Hall.
Rather than spend another night on the sofa, I decided to drive back home that night. It was a good decision – the A1 is rather empty in the small hours of the morning, a constant speed is good for fuel consumption, and I managed to do a load of washing on Sunday afternoon.
Brilliant week-end – every time I go to Edinburgh I wish I could stay longer.