Monthly Archives: April 2011

Book roundup: Asle Toje, Gösta Hammarlund, A. N. Wilson, Okakura Kakuzō

Asle Toje - The European Union as a Small Power - After the Post-Cold War (2010)

Asle TojeThe European Union as a Small Power – After the Post-Cold War (2010)

The EU talks and dreams big, but is too unfocused to act on the global stage as a genuine great power.  Toje argues that it is best understood as a small power, the middle layer of the international arena, an entity whose interests must be reckoned with by others, but has limited influence on its own outside its immediate neighbourhood.

Recommended: Yes.

Gösta Hammarlund – Hammarlund ’44

These cartoons from Dagbladet in 1944 are the worst newspaper cartoons I have ever seen.  There is nothing interesting about them, not a hint of talent.  This may in fact be the most useless second-hand book purchase I have ever made.

Recommended: Can I burn it?  Can I?  Can I?

A. N. Wilson - After the Victorians - The decline of Britain in the world

A. N. Wilson – After the Victorians – The Decline of Britain in the World (2005)

I don’t mind at all an intuitive and opinionated approach to history, where one tries to get a feel for the age beyond what a list of events will provide, as long as the head in the skies is matched by feet on the ground.  That seems to be the case here.

Recommended: Yes.

Okakura Kakuzō – The Book of Tea (1906)

Eplains the tea ceremony as a Zen/Taoism-inspired attempt at creating beauty out of the mundane.

Recommended: Yes, but mostly for the even more interesting details it hints at.

1950s movies marathon – part 34

I Vinti (1953, Italy, Antonioni)

The post-war kids are absolutely terrible.  They look innocent, but their souls are bottomless pits.  They murder, and steal, and the worst creep of them all is some sort of proto-21st century self-promoter, whose first thought on discovering a dead body is to put it up on YouTube.   Watched it all.

Prisoners of the Casbah (1953, USA)

You know, I think the Grand Vizier may be evil.  1) He has a beard, 2) he’s an efficient administrator – and 3) he’s the Grand Vizier.  Watch out, curiously American-looking princess of that Arab desert tribe, so beloved by Hollywood, where one covers the faces of women but not their midriffs!  Watched: 8 minutes.

Pickup on South Street (1953, USA, Fuller)

In addition the laughably bad, there were also some good movies about Communist spies.  The Thief was one, here is another.  What they have in common is that Communism is just another variation on “generic evil organization that keeps the plot boiling”.  Watched it all.  Oh, and this one too ends with the commie traitors getting punched in the face.  Awright!

The Glenn Miller Story (1953, USA, Mann)

Oh, Anthony Mann – why? Why?!  I understand that cheerful, sappy, historically worthless biopics must be made, because it makes viewers feel in touch with Greatness without having to deal with anything real and disturbing, but why you?  Watched: 13 minutes.

..I should not publish that if I were you, Tennyson

For Osbert, Edith and Sachie Sitwell, as for Virginia Woolf and friends in the so-called Bloomsbury set, having the idea of oneself as an artist was an illusion which friends were perilously good at fostering and encouraging. That is the peril, for an artist, of ‘sets’. When Tennyson read some of Maud aloud in Benjamin Jowett’s drawing room at Oxford, the Master of Balliol said, in his high squeaky voice: ‘I should not publish that if I were you, Tennyson.’ No such voice in the early decades of the twentieth century was ever heard in the Sitwell’s drawing-room, nor over the other side of London in Bloomsbury. ..

Of course, as soon as Facade appeared on a public stage it was lampooned and condemned by all the critics. The Sitwells took this as evidence of the philistinism of the bourgeoisie. The British tradition had been firmly established, of talentless ‘arty’ people convincing themselves that exhibitionism was a substitute for talent. It could be said that this had been going on in the nineteenth century to some extent, but in the twentieth century, there came a parting of the ways in England, especially in London, between good popular books, art and music, and ‘highbrow’ versions which only the initiated could appreciate. Within this veiled holy of holies, the initiates could learn to mouth the names of composers and artists they were supposed to admire, without actually possessing any discernment at all.

- A. N. Wilson, After the Victorians (2005)

..the comparative cheapness of air power

The comparative cheapness of air power, versus manpower, had been demonstrated first in Somaliland, then in Afghanistan. In Somaliland, Mullah Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, inspired by memories of the Mahdi’s holy war with the British in the times of General Gordon, excited a huge following. He claimed magical powers. His followers believed that he could push whole towns into the sea with his feet. No fewer than four British expeditions were mounted against him between 1904 and 1918, killing thousands of the mullah’s men and expensively engaging thousands of British troops. On 21 January 1920 the first RAF bombing raid was sent against him at Medishe. A mere 36 officers, with 189 enlisted men and one flight of six DH9 bombers, visited the mullah’s fort twice daily. Within a month, the mullah had escaped to Abyssinia and the RAF men were back in Britain. The total of British casualties was two native soldiers. Churchill told the House of Commons that it would have cost £6 million to mount a conventional land assault on the mullah; the RAF campaign had cost £70,000.

The emir of Afghanistan was the next to be subjected to RAF bombing raids. In 1919 he had declared jihad against British troops in the North West Frontier of India. The RAF shipped one Handley Page V/1500 bomber to Kabul, where it dropped four 112-pound and sixteen 20-pound bombs. ‘Napoleon’s presence was said to be worth an army corps, but this aeroplane seems to have achieved more than 60,000 men did,’ wrote Basil Liddell Hart.

- A. N. Wilson, After the Victorians (2005)

..hideously in tune with his times

When an artist dies young there is a tendency to overpraise. Pound, however, was not given to that tendency. He saw in Gaudier ‘the most absolute case of genius I’ve ever run into’. What makes this death so continuingly haunting is that Gaudier-Brzeska’s vision of Europe, its art, its culture, and the moment it had reached, was not at variance with the war which killed him. Quite the contrary. The anti-war poets and artists of this period tended either to be of poor artistic capability or to be retrospetive in their hatreds – or both. Gaudier-Brzeska, hideously in tune with his times, embraced the struggle and saluted the violence. The huge numbers being slaughtered reduced the sense of each and every person being of unique value. As in modernist sculptures, men became almost indistinguishable from the tanks or submarines in which they set out to destroy one another, bringing about deaths in numbers which had hitherto only been known in slaughterhouses. From the nameless cannon-fodder arose an inevitable of vision of humanity as something less than what it had once been – of people as ‘the masses’, scarcely distinguishable from one another. They awaited men of genius to lead or inspire them.

- A. N. Wilson, After the Victorians (2005)

..something had died in the night, and no one had noticed

The etiolated lyrics of the English Edwardian poets, followed by the feeble poetic productions of the years which followed, should sound a warning note; something has gone out of the mixture. We are drinking a martini cocktail in which someone has forgotten to put the spirits. Yeats, speaking of the high horse in whose saddle Homer rode, found it in his day to be ‘riderless’.

It was this fact which the young Ezra Pound, however tiresome he might seem to us, could feel. It was something much more than the mere coincidence, which happens every few decades in any literary culture, that apart from the Irishman Yeats and the old Thomas Hardy there were so few poets of any stature writing in Britain in 1908. It was something much deeper than that. Something had died in the night, and no one had noticed.  We are told that the Edwardian period was some kind of glory age, the last summer afternoon before the storm, the brightly lit house party before they all went to die in the mud. Of course on sees how such a perception can be formed. But it might be truer to say that the culture which could allow itself to move into the First World War was one which was already moribund, morbid.

- A. N. Wilson, After the Victorians (2005)

1950s movies marathon – part 33

The Wild One (1953, USA)

The first outlaw biker movie does to the 1950s what Marlon Brando’s gang does to the town they terrorize: Enter it noisily, jeering and taunting, and leave everyone less innocent than they were before.  There’s no turning back now.  Watched it all.

Magnetic Monster (1953, USA)

Radioactivity! Magneticism! Computers! Mumbo-jumbo! Yes, the bad science fiction movie has arrived, and I sure hope it’s here to stay for a while.  Watched: 20 minutes.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, USA)

Locked in a surreal castle, young Patrick McGoohan is forced to conform to the strict piano discipline of Dr T and the new Number Two, his own mother.  Watched it all.  Although Dr Seuss more or less disowned it, this may be the first good children’s movie that takes children seriously, by being absolutely, utterly ridiculous.  And the message it imparts to the kids of the 50s is that sometimes your parents are stupid and you shouldn’t listen to them.  I wonder how that will play out.

Dance Hall Racket (1953, USA)

The only nice thing I can say about this is that I have no idea what they’re trying to do here.  There’s a dance hall.  With crime.  And everyone just stumbles lazily through a script that is like a sketch show without jokes.  And it’s written by and stars Lenny Bruce?!  Watched: 9 minutes.

Book roundup: Robert Paarlberg, Fa’iz El-Ghusein, Det hendte 75

Robert Paarlberg - Food Politics - What Everyone Needs to Know

Robert Paarlberg – Food Politics – What Everyone Needs to Know (2010)

All the big issues in food politics, such as international food prices, food scarcity, genetic modification, subsidies, and obesity.  Surveys the current state of things, and what the different sides believe.  Seems even-handed, though the left won’t like his siding with agricultural science and economics, and I find it shocking how easily he dismisses individual choice as a factor in healthy eating.

Recommended: Yes.

Fa’iz El-Ghusein – Martyred Armenia (1917)

A genocide is just an abstract number until you’ve read the eyewitness account of someone who has stood and cried over the corpses of raped women, lying forgotten by the road.

Recommended: Yes, but the translator has decided to leave out the most gruesome details, (hard as this may be to believe).  Why is there no new translation?

Det hendte 75

All the events of 1975 that you can remember, and some that you can’t, such as the wonderful news that the troubles in Cambodia are over at last.

Recommended: Yes.  Such summaries are almost worthless at the time when they’re published, but when you read them four decades later they illuminate all the concerns and blind spots of their age.

1950s movies marathon – Best of 1952

1952 was either one of the worst years in movie history, or I’ve been unusually hard to satisfy lately. Or perhaps it’s that it offered little new, and this marathon is above all about newness.  I’ll watch anything as long as it’s interesting, and what makes it interesting is that I don’t quite know where to place it.  Almost everything from 1952 fits neatly into existing categories, adding nothing of their own, and what’s left is this meagre picking:

The White Reindeer

Eight Iron Men

Bend of the River

The Thief

Singin’ in the Rain

Viva Zapata!

The Importance of Being Earnest

Children of Hiroshima

Next up: 1953, with 370+ movies lying ready to face the fast-forward button. (Wait, 370?!  Yes.  And rising steadily, year by year.) I shall make you an example to all who see you

On the arrival of a batch of Armenians at Deir-el-Zûr from Ras-el-Ain, the Mutesarrif desired to choose a servant-girl from amongst the women. His eye fell on a handsome girl, and he went up to her, but on his approach she turned white and was about to fall. He told her not to be afraid, and ordered his servant to take her to his house. On returning thither he asked the reason for her terror of him, and she told him that she and her mother had been sent from Ras-el-Ain in charge of a Circassian gendarme, many other Armenian women being with them. On the way, the gendarme called her mother, and told her to give him her money, or he would kill her; she said she had none, so he tortured her till she gave him six liras. He said to her: “You liar! You [Armenians] never cease lying. You have seen what has befallen, and will befall, all Armenians, but you will not take warning, so I shall make you an example to all who see you.” Then he cut off her hands with his dagger, one after the other, then both her feet, all in sight of her daughter, whom he then took aside and violated, whilst her mother, in a dying state, witnessed the act. “And when I saw you approach, I remembered my mother’s fate and dreaded you, thinking that you would treat me as the gendarme treated my mother and myself, before each other’s eyes.”

- Fa’iz El-Ghusein, Martyred Armenia (1917)