All this and presenting ‘Ask the Family’

Couple of nods in this direction

1) Agreed.

2) Weird. I was thinking on the bus today about Chris Petit, and the way his new books (‘the thinking man’s airport thrillers!’) don’t acknowledge he’s the author of Robinson and director of Radio On. I wondered if I shouldn’t post something about it, or read The Passenger, but STML’s already there. And frankly, does a better job than I would have.

I guess all I’ve got to add is a discussion of the eternal Robinson.

Back in the day, myself and a pal wanted to set up a sort of literary email newsletter. Reviews and mockery, mostly. There are some ideas left over from our discussions which I still think worth doing – readers monitoring remainder bookshops for good finds to share is nice and practical – but it didn’t really come to anything in that form (though for me, it mutated into the Books Diary, then this site. And here we all are! Tea, anyone?)

After long debate, we decided to call it Robinson.

It’s just the great literary name. Let’s go through them!



Let’s not. This has been removed because I want to use the Robinson list for something else. It was an interesting idea thrown away. I’ll post when that something else comes out.

Please Empson, Don’t Hurt ‘Em!

Taking a look at Milton’s God. Extraordinary book.

I don’t know how much people bother with it. Most people only seem to read Seven Types of Ambiguity and Some Versions of Pastoral (yes, of course we hope that is the title of Perlman‘s follow-up novel) from the criticism; they don’t even really go for Complex Words, which is A-fucking-1. It’s also odd how few people even take the time to mention that Empson had one of history’s maddest arrangements of facial hair:

The handlebar/neckbeard double team! Let’s take another look:

I mean, wow. How do you decide on that?

Milton’s God is all good Empson fun, but the final chapter is strong stuff (in a good way, an intoxicating liquor way ) . He’s one of the great anti-christians of the last century; but I’d never seen it packed together quite so tightly.

Quote time!

Empson wants to get home that there’s a great deal of torture worship in Christianity. In fact:

The symbol of the Religion of Love is a torture.

He’s angry!

The Christian God the Father, the God of Tertullian, Augustine and Aquinas, is the wickedest thing yet invented by the black heart of man.

Lord, that’s a bit strong isn’t it, Wi…

[The Blessed] must sit beside God for all eternity and watch almost all the people they have loved on Earth being tortured by God… and they must incessantly praise God for his mercy.

And the Crucifixion?

In return for those three hours of ecstasy, the Father would give up the pleasure of torturing for all eternity a small proportion of mankind.

Go! Go! Go!

Mucking about with people’s sex, always a disgusting business of course, is the epidemic or grass-roots way for Christians to gratify their God, when prevented by public opinion from having an epidemic or orgy of torture. The phrase ‘mucking about’ may seem to lack precision or dignity, but I do not know what else would cover what it is needed to describe. Apart from what goes on among believers, it is a regular demand of Christians to alter the public law, so that people who are not even supposed to be Christians can be tormented under rules invented for the edification of believers.

I think he’s losing his rag a bit there — repetition of ‘epidemic’ and ‘believers’ is a little sloppy (although he’s shading meanings with the ‘epidemic’ I suppose) — but interesting points, and one I’m not used to hearing put so starkly.

Bracing. That might be my single-word description of Empson’s criticism. He doesn’t read like anyone else, and that’s a virtue few critics have; plus there’s that loose persuasive style that’s actually pleasure. He’s been my favourite critic for just about ever; better wrong in his train than right and a bore.

(There’s a tangential thought here too, about the age of criticism that now seems over. One of the Martin Amis bunch – I think Amis himself – describes somewhere how he and his cronies were obsessed by lit crit and the arguments of Leavis, Empson, Ricks, Kermode et al even after college; that reading lit crit was seen as a vital part of a civilised mind, and that now this attitude has died away. He’s right and wrong in that; the lit crittiness of it sounds very mid-century to me; but I think a (surprising) number of intellectually active non-academics have transferred those thoughts/impulses/values to theory instead.)

A quick word on the poetry, I suppose. I used to like Empson’s poetry more than I do. Do people still sell him as one of the greats of the last century? I always recall a certain type of fast analytical young man bigging up the Empson oeuvre; I’m not sure if that didn’t pass slightly with the publication of the Haffenden edition. Certainly it made me more reserved. Empson was an astute self-critic, and I think he regrets lacking the ‘singing line’ at some point. He’s spot on there: the bulk of his work sounds a lot stiffer to me than it used to, a bit too rigid and mechanical to hold me now. That said, there’s at least half-a-dozen poems of his with which you do not fuck; and which of us can claim so much?

Anyway, neckbeard:

Improbable Slashfic Revisited

Following on from the encounter between Dalziel and Pascoe (but not to be confused with the Dragonball/Anne Frank Hitler-fighting crossover, which was simply fanfic and not really sexual THANK GOD), here’s another piece of slash that makes me feel slightly perplexed. Let’s see if you can guess which early 80s Channel 4 TV series we have here:

It must have been half an hour or more before I regained my senses; my recollections of that time are limited to the solemnity with which F—— accepted and returned my declaration; his soft laugh as I scattered kisses on his face and hands; the foolish endearments we exchanged which seemed appropriate to the time and the situation but which would be cheapened by being set down in writing. At length I recall gathering him to me once again and burying my face in his curls, while he addressed himself to my collarbone.

RIP Grant McClellan

I love The Go-Betweens. I listened to them a lot once. Random play threw up ‘Love Goes On’ only this afternoon, and I thought it was great again, and wondered why I hadn’t listened to them much lately.

This doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t you get to live forever if you write ‘Cattle And Cane’? Or at least get to make 70? 48 is just wrong.

The Crap Delft Project II

You’ve missed your chance to bid on this beauty.

The spotter asks some penetrating questions:

What is he holding? Dumbells?

My theory is that they’re sort of pockets on a waistcoat, but might be hankies. It’s the face that gets me. It has the look of a 70s darts player to it.

This has made me think about Toby Jugs a lot, but I’ve come to no conclusions and am left with more questions than answers.

Don’t miss the man who is mortally curious to know ‘how is it done?’

As I’m sure you give a shit about, I care little for web 2.0. This site remains uninteractive. Solitary. Reaping and singing by itself. A monad. Dove-like, it sits brooding on the vast abyss. Innovations like comments or trackbacks or replying to emails? Not for me. As such, I haven’t taken to Digg and still mostly get that sort of news from Slashdot.

There’s a specific type of Slashdot poster that nags at my mind. I’m sure they’re all over the web, but I know them best from /.

The type I’m thinking of drone on about building their own computer or getting off-grid energy or buying all their electrical goods via some mad tax-shopping principle and generally admire their own acumen at finding the cheapest and yet most effective solution to every situation. They’d have every right to feel pleased at this, of course, had they done so; but you often suspect that they have in fact arranged painfully complex and time-consuming solutions, and that their pleasure is firstly a simple self-satisfaction in unorthodoxy; and secondly a more sinister delight in explaining that you — that’s you, buddy — are a grade-A sucker for not doing exactly the same.

Oh, and there’s a tone of manly common sense that they use. Brrr.

Anyway, whether you follow me or no, this type has sat at the back of my mind for a while. The spirit gets on my wick; but there was an echo of something, and I couldn’t quite place it. I was walking down the street (Concrete, Walsh, concrete!), that’s to say Jermyn Street, the other day (What did I just say?), by which I mean last Thursday, and it struck me. They’re Flann O’Brien’s bores.

They’re there, in The Best of Myles towards the back, after the stuff on Irish, which is I think where some people get off.

Let us extract.

Have you met — look, this hurts me as much as it hurts you — have you met The Man Who Buys Wholesale? (You’re in for it this time)
You have asked this gargoyle to ‘dinner’ becdause he has put some business your way during the year, and there may be more where that came from. The clown comes into your room, rubbing his deformed, calloused hands, looks round, checks up on fittings, decorations, etc. Walks over to your radio. It is a year old — 1947 should see it paid for. He examines it closely, taps it, disconnects it, turns it upside down, shakes it, breaks one of the leads, leaves it on its side, takes out handkerchief and wipes hands. Infuriated, you manage to say:
‘What do you think of the radio?’
‘Hah? The radio? Aw, yeh. Aw, with a bit of adjustment it’d be a nice job. I’ll get you a nice one. Them nine pound ones wears out in no time…’
By now you are practically rigid with hatred and disgust. This figure of £9 is of course a trap — and you are going to deliberately fall into it. You thoroughly despise yourself. You say
‘But look here — nine pounds! That set is costing me eighty-seven pounds…’
The foul mountebank springs from the chair, comes over, puts both hands on your shoulders:
‘Are you mad, Mac? Are you in your right mind man?’
‘It’s a perfectly good set,’ you stammer, now loathing yourself utterly, ‘it… it… works quite well and eighty-seven pounds is the recognised retail price. I thought you’d know that!’
The claws are now taken off your shoulders. The monster elaborately averts the face and, addressing the far wall, says: Th’unfortunate man must be mad! Makes a show of walking away sadly, suddenly whips round and shouts, showering you with saliva:
Are you crackers? Have you taken leave of your wits? I wouldn’t have believed it of you, that’s all I can say. Of course I know it’s the retail price. But shure, man alive, no one is supposed to buy stuff retail! Shure that went out years ago. Now I’ve two sets at home…’

You can also find the following in O’Brien’s collection:

  • The Man With The Watch
  • The Man With The Blade
  • The Man Who Never Gives Pennies to Beggars
  • The Man Who Is His Own Lawyer
  • The Man Who Does His Own Carpentry and Talks About It
  • The Man Who’s Already Had New Potatoes For Three Months

Incidentally, The Slaves of Solitude still isn’t in print. I think it might be the best book ever on bores. I think Hamilton (along with Kingsley Amis) understand something fundamental about bores (the real wear-you-down fuckers; not just people who can be a bit boring); that it’s a power game and there’s an inclination to the totalitarian native to the type.

The game lowered my opinion of human nature (was ≤ spiders; now < spiders)

Henry Fairlie provided me with a shorter preamble. ‘Very original chap, Philip Toynbee,’ he said once when the name came up in conversation.
‘In what way? Not in what he writes, surely to —’
‘In his life. He’s an ex-alcoholic who’s turned himself into a very heavy drinker. Now any fool can switch from alcoholism to total abstention — happens every day. What Philip’s done shows originality. And takes style.’

Kinglsey Amis, Memoirs

I’ve just had a nasty run-in with World of Warcraft myself, so I enjoyed reading this over at plasticbag.

Props on the attempt to find a means of control based on shame. Very powerful, ignominy. I’ve just gone for deletion from the hard drive and cancellation of account myself: despite the compelling, joyless pleasure derived from WoW’s clear goals and repetitive action (so much running!), I suspect there are better ways to spend my time.

According to Nietzsche, my way of handling this is weakness, of course: choosing absolute abstinence is the sign of a morally corrupt nature not strong enough for moderation. Probably tainted by the slave morality of Christianity. Fair enough. But, unlike some nineteenth-century German philosophers I could mention, I haven’t got syphilis, or at least not the sort that makes you get locked up in lunatic asylum, so I don’t think it’s too hard to spot the real winner here.