Posts by Cheryll Barron

Happy Valentine’s Grey! ☺ A marker for the most dismal possibilities of e-publishing

Wisdom 5,000 miles from this scene: ‘Anyone who has anything at all to promote… can … claim their self-promotion has something to do with Fifty Shades of Grey.’  - Hadley Freeman in The Guardian

Wisdom 5,000 miles from this scene: ‘Anyone who has anything at all to promote… can … claim their self-promotion has something to do with Fifty Shades of Grey.’
- Hadley Freeman in The Guardian

Depressing but inevitable, we suppose, that proof of the unbounded possibilities of unmediated publishing should have come from this witless book. Never mind, it’s perfect for Falselove-choccie-flowers day.

Highlights from the best commentary – the second set, from a review of the film: there will never be a funnier one.

What a time it is to be alive! For this week of all weeks is when anyone who has anything at all to promote, from duct tape to their own good selves, can attain international attention … All they need to do is somehow claim their self-promotion has something to do with Fifty Shades of Grey.

As even Trappist monks in South Korea know, this is the week that the film of EL James’s hilariously successful book is released. Truly, this would be the perfect Valentine’s Day date …

… [I]t is impossible to think of another movie that has proved itself so amenable to lazy PRs and others desperate to hitch their wagons to this attention-sucking vortex, … I honestly don’t think there’s been a day in the past three months when I haven’t received at least five emails from PRs flogging everything from manicures to men’s ties, that haven’t made some grasping reference to Fifty Shades of Desperation. Condom brands and bedding companies have cannily claimed some sort of alliance with the film, replete with mini films and competitions, with one even offering a prize of “a Sealy Ultimate Support Mattress (in grey!)”. Because what could be sexier than coming home and finding your partner has won you a free grey mattress?

Hadley Freeman in The Guardian, 14 February 2015

Part of the difficulty is the lack of sexual chemistry between the two leads. This is a particularly acute problem in a tale of two lovers exploring a relationship that takes in the wilder shores of bondage, submission, dominance and terrible dialogue.

Grey’s eyes are supposed to blaze with seething lust all the time, but he just looks as if he’s suffering from trapped wind. Nurse, fetch the Tums!

It is true that this Hollywood adaptation is not as bad as the books.

Poor Dakota — the daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith — is often naked, with a high nipple count, lots of buttock shots and occasional flash of front bottom.

Jamie gets to keep his jeans on a lot, which hardly seems fair or feminist, although we do get to see his impressive bottom, rippling with muscles like a bag of walnuts.

Do you trust me?’ he says, undoing her hair.

Yikes, what is he going to give her? A perm?

Soon, they are walking hand in hand towards his sex dungeon for the first time — it’s a big moment in any relationship.

‘Are your Xboxes in there?’ she wonders. The Red Room of Pain where the tyings-up take place — infamous for those who have read the books — looks like a Pilates gym … all sleek cherry leather and shiny clasps.

There are mysterious instruments hung on the walls; whips and manacles, yes. But what are the rest — squirrel tails, that feather duster from Downton Abbey, a paddle, two bread boards?

Meanwhile, there is some hanky panky with ice cubes and a bit of ever so tasteful, slow-motion peacock-feather-tickling that will remind many women not of their libido, but the fact that their mantelpiece could do with a dust.

Jan Moir in The Daily Mail, 11 February 2015

How Switzerland’s naughty winter carnival, Fasnacht, is in the same tradition that gave it the rich world’s most accessible tool for opposing inequality

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Fasnacht is being celebrated, now, in Olten, which is at centre-stage in a tale of two cities in a two-part photo essay on Exposure.co (part 1 and part 2).

Fasnacht is being celebrated, now, in Olten, which is at centre-stage in a tale of two cities in a two-part photo essay on Exposure.co (part 1 and part 2). — photographs by postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

An old idea of cynics is that the worst Christians are always in church to confess their sins on Sundays – in the belief that they are free, after that, to behave as disgracefully as they please for the rest of the week.

Certain aspects of the tradition of pre-Lenten license and lasciviousness could be an approximate parallel, across a whole society, for transactional piety or pseudo-piety – at least, in society as it used to be, when most Westerners were still church-goers. But the parallel is only interesting to weigh as a possibility, and cannot be stretched very far.

In the second half of this post, the connection between Lent and the winter carnival that has preceded it since the Middle Ages, in parts of Europe – and known by the Germans and Swiss as Fasnacht — is explained by Burcu Bayer, a young graduate student in the philosophy department of Turkey’s Yildirim Beyazit University. What she says with a delicious freshness, in a text with distinct notes of Google Translate, shows that Fasnacht-like celebrations are a hugely desirable social safety valve — unlike the petty bargains of hypocrites bending the confession box to their nefarious ends.

Indulging in a good old bacchanal before the fasting and other deprivations of Lent has, by ancient sanction, created an opening for have-nots to mock haves, and – for a few days – give the social order a good rattling.

It cannot be an accident that Switzerland, incontestably the world’s most disciplined and orderly society, celebrates Fasnacht’s setting aside of the usual rules for behaviour with special zest and relishing.

The street scenes in this post are from Olten, one of two rival cities in Enemies: a cash-strapped traveller’s search for the secret of Switzerland’s extreme equality, a book showing how the Swiss have managed to make extreme democracy practical – a long way from untethered intellectualising or idealism. There was certainly no drunkenness, obscene or wild behaviour on display anywhere the camera went on a Saturday afternoon and early evening (in a sequence of events recounted here.)

Olten has a strange and fascinating history as a leader in overthrowing feudalism – starting with its rebellion against the authority of the Catholic Church. The first of the two extracts that follow is from a review of a new book arguing that it was not the seeds of modern scientific thinking that led Westerners to value individual freedom and responsibility as supremely important, but dissent inside the Church:

‘What is the West about?” asks Larry Siedentop, an emeritus fellow of Keble College, Oxford. […] In “Inventing the Individual,” he asks where the Western understanding of liberty comes from and finds—unlike most political thinkers—that its source is Christianity.

This part of the answer, as Mr. Siedentop notes, may prove irritating, because it flies in the face of the comfortable idea that democratic liberty, like modern science, grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment and, in particular, out of the Enlightenment’s struggle against a reactionary and oppressive church. Not so, he says. Western freedom centers on the notion of the responsible individual endowed with a sovereign conscience and unalienable rights, and that notion emerged, in stages, during the centuries between Paul the Apostle and the churchmen of the Middle Ages.

… In the ancient world, he says, the individual did not exist as such. Everyone had his place within a hierarchy, … the father as ruler of the family, the emperor as ruler of the state and its people, and the slave as a “human tool” subject to the will of his owner. Roman law presumed indelible distinctions: slave-free, citizen-alien, master-follower.

Christianity, as preached by St. Paul in the first century and by St. Augustine in the fourth, promised something quite different, and revolutionary. “In Paul’s writings,” Mr. Siedentop writes, “we see the emergence of a new sense of justice, founded on the assumption of moral equality rather than on natural inequality.

’Where ‘I’ Comes From,’ David Gress, The Wall Street Journal, 19 December 2014

In Switzerland, the fire of religious revolution and ‘something quite different’ found abundant fuel in its founding tribes’ own — longstanding — traditions of egalitarianism.

Fasnacht fits those beautifully, as Burcu Bayer shows us – in an authorial voice resembling nothing you’d expect to read in a thesis but, rather, the forthright foreign student at the table next to yours, somewhere, on whose conversation you cannot help eavesdropping:

The Carnival of the middle ages has no parallel in modern times. The official feasts and celebrations were linked to the church, the feudal lords, or the state. Carnivals were related to one of the religious rituals, it was the last blowout before Lent. It was a time of excess, when the prohibitions on carnal satisfaction are abolished and popular creative energy is given full expression in the form of costumes, masks, songs, dances, puppet shows, poems, plays, etc.. Society is, in normal circumstances, ruled by the “head” i.e, in medieval Europe, the court and the church. During Carnival, hierarchy is not only suspended but inverted: The village idiot becomes king; sinners in priestly vestments preach nonsensical or blasphemous sermons. It is a space-time governed by the joyously eating, drinking, screwing and odor-emitting regions of corporal existence, which the mind ignores or otherwise represses. These features of Carnival lead us to relate it with a social criticism. To explain, inverted hierarchy can be read as an acquired right by a social movement, it is peasants’ right to be the head of the society.

Thus, these carnivals became an opportunity to protest. There are different levels of approaching this protest behavior of Carnivals. First line is the reversal of society where idiot becomes king; slave becomes master and so the hierarchy of society is inversed. A second life, a second world is constructed and it is a “world inside out”. It is a world like a utopian realm that freedom, equality and abundance exist.

- from ‘Carnivals as a Site of Protests during Renaissance,’ Burcu Bayer, 2013

Switzerland’s egalitarian spirit has its grassroots pushing up sturdy green blades towards possibilities still undreamt of in other places. Dreams that any Swiss citizen can seek to turn into reality through that quintessentially Swiss political tool, the referendum (as we showed in an earlier post here, quoting Diccon Bewes.) For example? … Well, how about the Basic Income Movement – founded on a vision of everyone being guaranteed a monthly payment large enough to meet fundamental necessities, with no conditions imposed, no questions asked:

This fall, a truck dumped eight million coins outside the Parliament building in Bern, one for every Swiss citizen. It was a publicity stunt for advocates of an audacious social policy that just might become reality in the tiny, rich country. Along with the coins, activists delivered 125,000 signatures — enough to trigger a Swiss public referendum, this time on providing a monthly income to every citizen, no strings attached. Every month, every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young. Poverty would disappear. Economists, needless to say, are sharply divided on what would reappear in its place — and whether such a basic-income scheme might have some appeal for other, less socialist countries too.

‘Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive,’ Annie Lowrey, The New York Times, 12 November 2013

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Carl Djerassi, exemplary forerunner of Post-Gutenberg Man

Carl Djerassi in the late summer of 2013 - postgutenberg [at]gmail.com

Carl Djerassi at home in Green Street in San Francisco in the late summer of 2013
- photograph: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

Recorded with sadness:

Carl Djerassi,

29 October 1923 – 30 January 2015

In an unprecedented commemoration, in our experience, yesterday’s Guardian ran — in addition to a short obituary for the general reader — a long and detailed encapsulation of Carl Djerassi’s extraordinary life in its science pages, and in its arts section, a critique of his dramatic oeuvre by a veteran theatre critic.

The photograph was taken in a poignant, unforgettable afternoon spent with Dr. Djerassi in September, 2013 – in which he revealed that he was recovering from a surgical operation for an illness he hoped to defeat for a second time. One recurring conversational theme was a comparison of recent experiences of grief and bereavement: it was clear that he found the loss of his third wife, the literary scholar Diane Middlebrook, virtually unendurable. We were both unquestionably happier discussing e-publishing and the post-print future — the reason for his invitation after writing, improbably, to express his pleasure and surprise in discovering this ‘sophisticated and literary’ blog.

His mention of having personally designed the gorgeous cover of the book he is holding, in his portrait – Newton’s Darkness: Two Dramatic Views — made it impossible not to ask him to pose with it. This he graciously agreed to do without any fuss, issuing no instructions and imposing no conditions. He could not have been a more relaxed subject.

The cover image he chose for the joint publication in a single volume of his play, Calculus, and Newton’s Hooke, by the English dramatist (and father of a physicist) David Pinner — about curious incidents and relationships in the life of Isaac Newton — is a photograph of a sculpture by Salvador Dali, a perfect choice for the surreal life of the greatest scientist before Einstein.

The news that Dr. Djerassi had designed some of his own book jackets could not have been less surprising after the three entries on this blog nominating him as a leader in the transition to unbounded, unboxed, post-Gutenberg creative expression: ‘Carl Djerassi’s sumptuous foretaste of publishing’s mixed-media future’, parts 1, 2 and 3.

We did not expect to find any mention of his accomplishments as an early prototype of Post-Gutenberg Man in any obituary, and indeed there has been none in the dozen-odd specimens we have read so far. But on this blog and elsewhere, there will be a lot more to say on that subject.

In the meanwhile, because his interest in finding new readers of his work could not have been fiercer, all the way to his final weeks, here is an extract from Dr. Djerassi’s programme notes for Calculus – which should be of particular interest to readers of the most popular item in this site’s archives, ‘The Riddle of Ramanujan,’ an essay and review of a novelisation by David Leavitt of the life of India’s legendary mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Any mention of dabbling in mysticism by a venerated scientific figure is apt to make the typical working scientist bristle, snap, or break out in some other conversational equivalent of hives. Positively the last thing she or he wants to hear is about the brain of Newton not merely leaning heavily in that direction, but every bit as preoccupied by the extra-rational and occult as an ‘exotic’ subcontinental would be three centuries later.

Putting physics on a firm experimental and mathematical foundation – an approach coined Newtonism – earned Newton the ultimate accolade as father of modern scientific thought. However, a revisionist historical analysis, based in part on the discovery by the economist John Maynard Keynes of a huge trove of unpublished papers and documents, has led some scholars to consider Newton the last great mystic rather than first modern scientist.

[…]

… Newton spent much more time on alchemy and mystical theology than on “science”-composing over 1 million words on each of these two endeavors, much more than all his writings on physics combined! His alchemical library was huge and his alchemical experiments, though kept secret from all but a few intimates and servants, consumed much of his waking hours for decades. Even his religious convictions had to be kept secret, because his faith in Arianism (holding that Christ and God are not of one substance) was considered heretical within the Anglican Church.

Born on Christmas day in the year of Galileo’s death, Newton was so convinced of his supernatural powers that he once constructed a virtual anagram of his name (Isaacus Neutonus) in terms of “God’s holy one” (Jeova sanctus unus). His position as a fellow of Trinity College and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge (a chair now held by Stephen Hawking), his subsequent elevation to the important government rank of Master of the Mint, and conferment of a knighthood by Queen Anne …

[ and here, because the playwright would prefer you to read his words in their context – and purchase and arrange for performances of his play — please continue to … http://www.djerassi.com/calculus/calculusfull.pdf ]

Could social, network-centred art knit sensuality, intelligence and the sublime into a John Heath-Stubbs love-at-dawn poem – or a Jane Wilson cloudscape?

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January sky  -- postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

January sky
– postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

Jane Wilson obituary in The New York Times, 20 January 2015

Jane Wilson obituary in The New York Times, 20 January 2015

As if bent on making sure that arts workers glimpsed nothing as frivolous as a ray of hope in entering a new year, the dear old Atlantic ushered in 2015 with this fanfare for a new order:

The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur

Hard-working artisan, solitary genius, credentialed professional—the image of the artist has changed radically over the centuries. What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it?

The pessimism of William Deresiewicz, who wrote the piece, is understandably fiercest in passages weighing the most common advice meted out to anyone instructing artists, writers, musicians and their kin about the digital transition:

“Just get your name out there,” creative types are told. There seems to be a lot of building going on: you’re supposed to build your brand, your network, your social-media presence. 

… Creative entrepreneurship, to start with what is most apparent, is far more interactive, at least in terms of how we understand the word today, than the model of the artist-as-genius, turning his back on the world, and even than the model of the artist as professional, operating within a relatively small and stable set of relationships.

Yet on the evidence in his well-argued essay, Deresiewicz neither sees nor proposes an alternative to accepting this – and accepts a future with no one crafting jewels like this poem:

 

THE UNPREDICTED

The goddess Fortune be praised (on her toothed wheel

I have been mincemeat these several years)

Last night, for a whole night, the unpredictable

Lay in my arms, in a tender and unquiet rest –

(I perceived the irrelevance of my former tears) –

Lay and at dawn departed, I rose and walked the streets

Where a whitsuntide wind blew fresh and blackbirds

Incontestably sang, and the people were beautiful.

John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006)

 

This poet had no interest in fame — was, in the extreme degree, a solitary worker, and died all but unknown, except in certain poetry circles. He mocked ‘the kind of poet who follows literary fashion,’ according to a biographical note on the Poetry Archive site, He was pigeon-holed ‘first as a Romantic and then as a Classicist,’ but his work defied categorisation – ‘refused the labels critics tried to pin on it,’ and ‘often ran counter to prevailing currents’.

Scholarly critics are apt to draw attention to this failure to mould himself to any slot, even when classing ‘The Unpredicted’ as a species whose existence comes as a revelation to the non-expert reader – the aubade, ‘a song or poem about lovers parting at dawn’. That definition comes from a blog post on this form in The Guardian by Billy Mills –an Irish experimental poet and scholar – who wrote that ‘John Heath-Stubbs, in The Unpredicted, contrives to write an aubade that is both traditional and perfectly of his own moment’.

We at post-Gutenberg enjoyed encountering that description of the poem over a year after we came upon it we forget exactly where, and admired it enough to copy it into the back of our diary in January of 2008. Works of art and their makers always somehow mean more to us when we discover them independently – rather than by being lectured about their importance and place in the canon or, for that matter, by decisions based on counting ‘like’s.

To the joy of accidental discovery, in online life, we can add the more frequent delight of coming across similarities between modest records we make of some phenomenon or other — a striking thought, or a scene or image that arrests our attention — and an expert response to virtually the same phenomenon by a celebrated practitioner of an art or craft in which we claim no expertise whatsoever.

Deresiewicz only barely controls his irritation with the effect of putting digital equivalents of traditional tools of artistic creation into non-professional hands:

The democratization of taste, abetted by the Web, coincides with the democratization of creativity. … Everybody seems to fancy himself a writer, a musician, a visual artist. Apple figured this out a long time ago: that the best way to sell us its expensive tools is to convince us that we all have something unique and urgent to express.

But that is surely the wrong conclusion. We might have absolutely nothing to communicate to anyone else when we turn to those tools. We might be trying to do no more than kiss a sunbeam, metaphorically speaking – when, say, glancing out of the window and being startled by back-lit and under-lit clouds turned epiphanic by a sinking sun.

We spent not much more than five minutes capturing what we could of the skyscape in the photographs in this entry. Imagine the surprise, two days later, of staring at Jane Wilson’s ‘American Horizon’ – over which she, with her paint and canvas, probably laboured for hours, if not days. Her record of what she saw is an artistic feat; ours, capturing what we spotted, the gift of digital cameras and fast reflexes.

We had no idea this striking Jane Wilson had ever existed before we read the obituary that accompanied the photograph of her painting. Now, we are trying to learn more about the evolution of her style.

Tentative conclusions about the Deresiewicz lament:

• Artistic loners like Heath-Stubbs will always exist to make the greatest true art: collaborative originality is rare enough to be virtually an oxymoron.

• The more amateurs – gifted or not – in the audience are allowed to share the stage, or deploy tools for art and craft, the keener and deeper will be their appreciation of mastery.

Think of sports fans. Think of how many David Beckham fans love him all the more for all their years spent kicking footballs in vain – knowing they have no chance of ever learning to ‘bend it’ remotely as he can. Football, like other sports, has always been democratic.

 

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A New York Review of Books writer asks: do we have a right to drag other cultures into our 21st century?

Hasidic cantors arriving at Melbourne Airport  --postgutenberg@gmail.com

Hasidic cantors arriving at Melbourne Airport — postgutenberg@gmail.com 

The always excellent Tim Parks, writing on the New York Review of Books blog, had virtually the identical reaction to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy as we did at post-Gutenberg:

The following questions arise: Now that the whole world is my neighbor, my immediate Internet neighbor, do I make any concessions at all, or do I uphold the ancient tradition of satire at all costs? And again, is a culture that takes mortal offense when an image it holds sacred is mocked a second-rate culture that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, my twenty-first-century that is? Do I have the moral authority to decide this?

We wonder if he has noticed that it’s only when the profit motive is at risk that Western culture accepts self-censorship for the sake cultural sensitivity. See: ‘Humour does not travel well — not even in doing business — a fact that the net can only alter slowly, if at all‘.