Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The Electric Literature blog has a post by Nora Fussner on a new iPad app of The Waste Land, which includes the poem read by Eliot, Ted Hughes, Fiona Shaw and others, a facsimile of the typescript edited by Pound, and much more.  Toward the end Fussner comments that it would be nice if other books had the benefit of such an app; she mentions The Last Samurai, which could have clips from the Kurosawa film and translation of the lines in Greek.

I am all for an iPad app with clips from the film (always supposing Toho could be persuaded to cooperate).  In fact, I love the idea of an app that offers more help with Greek than was included in the book. But, um, to the best of my knowledge all lines in Greek within the text ARE translated, and with one exception (a brief quotation from the Odyssey) they are also transliterated. 

(I am only too conscious of the fact that pages offering this help are not especially well designed - when cobbling them together in, if memory serves, WordPerfect 7, I imagined, in my innocence, that they would be handed over to a professional designer who would produce something handsome on the page.  As it happens, the designer and typesetter seem to have seen the Greek, Old Norse and Japanese as tricky stuff they could not reasonably be expected to tackle, so those bits of the text were left pretty much the way they were in the wordprocessed submission.  (The Japanese looked better in the original document, having been typed in using software suitable for Japanese, rather than plonked in as graphics objects in a vanilla Quark file.)  But enough of King Charles' Head.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Languagehat has a post which includes a quotation from the Autobiography of the Protopope Avvakum. "Protopope" in Cyrillic: протопоп.  Impossible not to love.
Tribrachidium was a strange genus of ediacara which has been found in Russian, Ukraine, and Australia. 

Tribrachidium has been described as a member of many groups. It probably lived on the bottom of the ocean filtering food. Like many animals from the Ediacaran Period, Tribrachidium was mysterious and little is known about it.

ABC Age Seven

[But was there an oktokaiogdoekontabrachidium?  We can only surmise...]

(Courtesy Mr Know-it-all)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The humour, while probably more easily appreciated by seasoned birdwatchers, isn't restricted to in jokes.

[Does Jonathan Franzen know about this film? I think he should be told.]

The Disillusioned Taxonomist on The Hide.
There's an interview of Ryan North at

Why dinosaurs? And while the T rex. is a natural, why two other, more obscure dinosaurs? No Triceratops?
I wish I had a better answer than “I had some dinosaur clip art lying around.”

[Best interview answer EVER. ]

Also, the Dinosaur Comics whiteboard is back in stock at TopatoCo.

Speaking of which, I had a phone conversation with my mother the other day. My mother said the book had come, and she had got up to page 49 and COULD NOT GO ON. 

I was completely at a loss.  I have never read Dinosaur Comics in book form.  What terrible thing could have happened on page 49, such that my mother could not go on? (I had ordered my mother a copy of the Dinosaur Comics book, and had been innocently expecting to hear how much she was enjoying it...)

'I got to 'tight wet twat' and I just STOPPED,' said my mother.

I thought: Hm. That doesn't sound much like Dinosaur Comics - I don't THINK.

I cast my mind back over early episodes of DC.  The webcomic has evolved over the years; I once went back and started going through strips from the beginning;  had I missed No. 49? 

My mother said something or other.  I realised that she was not talking about Dinosaur Comics (page 49 of which is, to the best of my knowledge, blameless), but Lightning Rods.  New Directions had sent her a galley.  She had read it years ago and hated it; she had loyally undertaken to read it again, hoping to change her mind, and I had assumed she would hate it again. 

Whereas I had confidently assumed that life in Leisure World would be brightened by Dinosaur Comics.

As, I suspect, it is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview with Mitzi Akaha in Axiom Magazine.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How far should revolutionary thinking be allowed to go? Everything Luxemburg touched she pushed to an extreme – jusqu’à outrance, ‘to the outer limit’, to use her own phrase, the slogan she proposed to her lover Leo Jogiches. ‘We live in turbulent times,’ she wrote in 1906 to Luise and her husband, Karl Kautsky, also from prison, this time in Warsaw, convicted of aiming to overthrow the tsarist government. ‘All that exists deserves to perish,’ she wrote, quoting Goethe’s Faust. It is of course the whole point of a revolution that you cannot know what, if anything, can or should survive. For Luxemburg the danger was as real as it was inspiring. ‘The revolution is magnificent,’ she wrote, again in 1906. ‘Everything else is bilge’ (the German quark, which has since made its way into English, literally means ‘soft white cheese’). But whatever the conditions in which she found herself – in Warsaw, she was one of 14 political prisoners crammed into a single cell – she never lost her fervour: her joy, as she put it, amid the horrors of the world. ‘My inner mood,’ she wrote after listing the indignities of her captivity, ‘is, as always, superb.’ ‘Enthusiasm combined with critical thought,’ she wrote in one of her last letters, ‘what more could we want of ourselves!’ She had the relish and courage of her convictions (although ‘conviction’ might turn out to be not quite the right word). There is no one, I will risk saying, who better captures the spirit – the promise and the risk – of revolution than Rosa Luxemburg.


This isn’t anarchy – Luxemburg is very precisely calling for elections and representative parliamentary forms. Her demands were specific: freedom of the press, right of association and assembly (which had been banned for opponents of the regime). Anything less, she insisted, would lead inevitably to the ‘brutalisation’ of public life. For her, politics was a form of education: in many ways its supreme, if not only true, form. As she had argued in relation to women’s suffrage in 1902, the well-tried argument that people are not mature enough to exercise the right to vote is fatuous: ‘As if there were some other school of political maturity … than simply exercising those rights!’ Not even the revolutionary party in Russia at the time of the mass strike could be said to have ‘made’ the Revolution: it had had ‘to learn its law from the course itself’.


How could you possibly believe that a revolution can or should be mastered or known in advance if you are in touch with those parts of the mind which the mind itself cannot master and which do not even know themselves? ‘There is nothing more changeable than human psychology,’ she wrote to Mathilde Wurm from Wronke prison in 1917: ‘That’s especially because the psyche of the masses, like Thalatta, the eternal sea, always bears within it every latent possibility … they are always on the verge of b, ecoming something totally different from what they seem to be.’ Thirteen years earlier she wrote to her friend Henriette Holst: ‘Don’t believe it’ – she has just allowed herself a rare moment of melancholy – ‘don’t believe me in general, I’m different at every moment, and life is made up only of moments.’ The shifting sands of the revolution and of the psyche are more or less the same thing.

Jacqueline Rose in the LRB - for subscribers, so I'm being bad, very bad. I'm reminded, as I am every two weeks, that the money I pay for a subscription is the best bet I've made all year -- which contributes, after all, to the payment of people I want to read.  It seems selfish, though, to have kept the subscription to myself; I should have taken out 20 subs and bestowed them on deserving cafés. Or something.  Do YOU have a café you frequent, which would be improved by provision of the LRB?  Too cash-strapped to provide?  Drop me a line.


I've been a professional writer for a mere 15 years. I've been a reader since the age of 2. I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish bien pensants somewhere somehow had colluded to get the things I should have been reading to me somehow.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

1986 was not the year I discovered Roland Barthes. That had been at least a year earlier, and (allowing for the tricks of memory) possibly two. I’d come to Barthes in the pages of the British music and style press. There was a brief period in the 1980s – anybody now in their forties who was paying attention will treasure or regret the phase – when the New Musical ExpressThe Face and Blitz were filled with references, gauchely but passionately deployed, to modish French critics and philosophers whose works, at least in that milieu, had not yet acquired the academic label of Theory. In fact, there appeared to be a seamless continuum between the smart journalistic references from the 1970s – Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and the jittery eloquence then possessed by Clive James – and the new (though they were not really new) continental thinkers: Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard.

But it was not so much the thought that seduced me, or the profusion of new names (Artaud, Lévi-Strauss, Kristeva), as Barthes’s style, which seemed to reside mainly in his punctuation. Barthes, I’d later learn, has been well served by his English translators (notably, the poet Richard Howard), and they have tended to retain the hedging of parentheses, the sidelong views calmly opened and closed by em-dashes, the colons like stiles that invite one to clamber on over the thought, sometimes two or three in the same sentence. Rapt in this style, I was still not sure I knew what he was doing: I know now that I really didn’t know: but I had found (as Barthes liked to put it) my critic, my thinker, my writer.

Ruins of the 20th Century

Friday, June 3, 2011

Noam Lupu and Jonas Pontussen (PDF) have a piece on the relationship between inequality and distribution in the new American Political Science Review. There is a lot of debate about whether the level of economic inequality in society leads to greater or lesser distribution – what Lupu and Pontussen suggest is that the structure of inequality (that is – the more particular relationships between different segments in the income distribution, rather than some summary index) is more important. More particularly they argue that if one tries to hold racial and ethnic cleavages constant, the key factor determining redistribution is the income gap between middle income voters and lower income voters. Where this gap is low, middle class people feel some degree of solidarity with the poor and exhibit what Lupu and Pontussen describe as “parochial altruism.” That is, they are more likely to support income redistribution because they feel that the poor are in some sense, ‘like them.’ When the gap is high, middle class people will have a much weaker sense of solidarity with the poor, and hence be less supportive of redistribution. Lupu and Pontussen suggest that the US is an outlier, with weaker solidarity than the structure of US inequality would suggest. They argue that the explanation for this is straightforward – “it is clearly attributable to the high-concentration of racial-ethnic minorities in the bottom of the income distribution.” More bluntly put – middle class Americans feel less solidarity with the very poor because the very poor are more likely to be black.

hat tip Marginal Revolution