Tuesday, October 17, 2006

COLLAPSE

Just wanted to add my voice to those trumpeting the advent of COLLAPSE. My copy arrived today with incredible swiftness and, well, that's the rest of the day gone really. In fact, it's probably the rest of the week gone. Not only is the thing nearly three hundred pages long, but it's packed with material that is simultaneously fascinating and so complicated (in a really good way) that it will have you rushing off to check stuff right left and centre.

It looks very nice too and is small enough to put in your pocket so that you can read it on the bus as you head off to the library to take out their books on number theory.

It's available here, and well worth the money.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Degeneration

I’ve just spent an enjoyable couple of weeks wading through Max Nordau’s Degeneration; an attack on the art and culture of the nineteenth century fin de siècle. The vast quantity of bile with which Nordau sprays his targets is absolutely wonderful. Here he is on realism in Ibsen:
The small features pinned by Ibsen to his two-legged theses, to give them, at least, as much resemblance to humanity as is possessed by a scarecrow, are borrowed from the society of a hideous hole on the Norwegian coast, composed of drunkards and silly louts, of idiots and crazed hysterical geese, who in their whole life have never formed a clearer thought than: ‘How can I get hold of a bottle of brandy?’ or ‘How can I make myself interesting to men?’ (p. 405).

As for Nietzsche:
First of all it is essential to become habituated to Nietzsche’s style. This is, I admit, unnecessary for the alienist. To him this sort of style is well known and familiar. He frequently reads writings (it is true, as a rule, unprinted) of a similar order of thought and diction, and he reads them, not for his pleasure, but that he may prescribe the confinement of the author in an asylum (p. 417).

To prove his points, Nordau provides the reader with enormous numbers of quotations which he then reads with such stunning literal mindedness that they become absurd. This is not to say that some of them are not absurd in the first place, but anybody who interprets the famous gateway scene in Zarathustra’s ‘The Vision and the Riddle’ as the ‘self-evident fact’ that ‘the fleeting instant of the present is the point of contact of the past and the future’ (p. 418) is clearly not paying attention.

The interesting thing about the book is how contemporary much of it sounds. Why? Because the same arguments are still being trotted out today. It’s true that many of Nordau’s targets are no longer taken to task for their inability to hold arguments or talk about the ‘real world’, but if you take names such as 'Symbolism' and 'Nietzsche', and substitute others such as 'Deconstruction' and 'Baudrillard', the book would read very similarly to various tedious and uninformed attacks upon continental philosophy which litter the shelves of the philosophy sections of Waterstones up and down the country. The only real differences are that Nordau is so delightfully rude about his targets and he actually has a thesis as to why all these people are writing such rubbish.

The clue is actually in the above quote about Nietsche: Nordau thinks that all these artists and thinkers are literally insane: Basically, the strain of living in an age of information overload (he cites daily newspapers as an example) has driven the nerves of large portions of the population of Europe to exhaustion. This results in the clinical condition which forms the title of the book. Your run of the mill degenerates simply become criminals, but the artistic ones channel their malaise into painting and literature (partly, apparently, because they haven’t got the bottle to go out and do real crimes). They then gain followers who form schools (apparently a sure sign of degeneration as real artists are strong enough to work alone) and the sickness spreads.

Nordau’s long clinical accounts of degeneration are delightful. My favourite characters are the graphomaniacs who (take heed ye bloggers!) are unable to stop publishing any old nonsense, often repeating themselves as they go and, most heinously of all, using different coloured inks in the process. Unhappily though he is on rather a sticky wicket as he is a devout follower of Lombroso (the book is littered with desriptions of jawlines and foreheads) and consequently his scientific credentials are not much better than those of some of his targets.

Nordau ends the book with a prognosis for the twentieth century: He sees things getting much worse but then, good Darwinian that he is, the degenerates will die out; possibly to be replaced by a hardier breed of steel nerved men able to absorb vast quantities of information:
The end of the twentieth century, therefore, will probably see a generation to whom it will not be injurious to read a dozen square yards of newspapers daily, to be constantly called to the telephone (p. 541).

Art will then be left to women and children as men become more scientific and so no longer require such frivolities in order to live well ordered and beneficial lives.

Poor Max. He must be spinning in his grave, but at least we have the likes of Sokal and Bricmont to carry on the fight.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Bob Woodward's Book on the Iraq War

It portrays Bush as determined to stick it out even if his only supporters are whittled down to his wife and the White House dog. 'I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me,' Woodward quotes Bush as having told top Republicans at a White House meeting.

How stupid is George Bush? What makes him think that he currently has, let alone can count on, Barney's support?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I am a prize winning photographer!


Here you see the winning entry from the open class at the local horticultural show. So what did I win for this masterpiece? The princely sum of thirty-five pence. We don't half live the high life out here in the Flatlands.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Yet more proof...

...that the Daily Mail and it's readers constitute an unholy alliance of nostalgia for an age that never was, reactionary knee-jerking, and plain stupidity.

Royal Mail has begun selling postage over the Internet and with uncanny precision, the DM and its fetid followers have pounced upon the central outrage of this pernicious act. Is it the fact that such a move will deprive Post Offices of yet more income, thereby constituting one more step in Royal Mail's ongoing campaign, aided and abetted by government complicity, to reduce the size of the network by taking so much business away that smaller Post Offices are forced to close, thereby simultaneously allowing Royal Mail to claim that it's not their fault and obviating the need to dish out redundancy payments? Ermm, no actually: it's the fact that the new downloadable labels will not have the Queen's head on them.

Click the link. Check out the outrage in the readers' comments, then wonder at the stupidity of a such a large bunch of imbeciles getting worked up over this terrible change, all of whom have apparently failed to notice that the Queen's head has been absent from vast quantities of their mail for decades due to the use of franking machines and printed Post Office labels.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Public Service Announcement

Every week I buy a TV guide, and every week I hurl it across the room complaining bitterly about the fact that there’s nothing worth watching. Next week however is a different story: two decent, nay essential, programmes!
Sunday, ITV 23:10 – The South Bank Show on J.G. Ballard
Friday, BBC2 23:35 – The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E. Smith.
So I can finally give the DVD player a couple of nights off.

What are we doing in the Little House? Playing Lego Star Wars II: very probably the best video game ever made.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Equal Opportunities

Remember how the introduction of university top-up fees was not going to put off students from poorer backgrounds and would certainly not end up discriminating in favour of the well off? Of course you didn't believe it and neither did I, but here's something that I never imagined even at my most cynical:
Degree discount for up-front cash.

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