Tuesday, 28 September 2010

And here's something else you might not know...

There was a recent news report that some doctors are campaigning for the introduction of plastic glasses only in pubs. This is to reduce the number of injuries caused by glassing apparently. Now I have never glassed anyone and have no immediate plans to do so, but it so happens that I do know, in theory anyway, how to break the bottom off a beer bottle so that it can be used as an improvised weapon just as they used to do in films but no longer seem to. It seems that just smashing the thing against the nearest hard surface will cause the bottle to shatter completely in your hand and as you are clutching it tightly this causes nastiness to your palm. Now I’m not going to tell you how to it, I’m not Frederick Forsythe, but I merely use it as an example of the odd bits of information I’ve picked up over the years. I know the correct lights that a ship should show while sailing at night and used to be able to tie a bowline knot one-handedly. I know, thanks to a couple of medical students, the most painful thing you can do to a man and owing to my intense conviction that it would come up as a jackpot question in a pub quiz, the registration number of the car that Patrick McGoohan is driving in the opening credits of The Prisoner. On matters of pronunciation I know, thanks to one of my brothers, how to pronounce the name of the Norse god Odin correctly and thanks to George Bernard Shaw that the words ghoti and fish can be pronounced the same way. I know the fates of the six wives of Henry VIII and at a push I can remember the accomplishments that were required before you could join the men of Finn Mac Cool, legendary hero of Old Ireland. I freely admit that some of this knowledge may be of limited use.

For there is a hierarchy in knowledge. Knowing the names of all the actors who have played Dr Who is an accomplishment that is, on the whole, held in a degree of contempt. Knowing the names of all the players who scored winning goals in a football team’s championship wins is at worst seen as being a bit keen. Being able to name all the books in the Apocrypha makes you a theologian and understanding the ramifications of the salic law makes you a mediaevalist. My father knew how to manumit a slave which, along with a few other details, made him a barrister.

Well I think that knowledge should be equal. Let us put aside these old prejudices and admit to being proud that you know the names of everyone who performed at Woodstock or all the lyrics to Bony M’s Rasputin or the solution to every Sherlock Holmes mystery. Let's call an end to this apartheid style segregation of useless knowledge and three cheers for mnemonics.

Oh, and if you want to know which host of which tea-time quiz show also played James Bond, give me a shout.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Durham Cathedral, an apology

Apparently you don't have to pay an entry fee to get into Durham Cathedral. Apologies if my stating that you do may have caused some readers to mistakenly assume that you do. I hope that clears that up.

Last time I believe a self-confessed tory.

As recompense, here's a out-of-focus photo of Tony Blair's autobiography in a satirical setting:

I am empiricist Anglophone, hear me roar

In the current issue of the London Review of Books there is a crit of a book about the French cinema magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. It begins thus:

In an essay on Avatar in the March issue of the French film journal Cahiers du cinéma, Slavoj Zizek wrote that, despite its superficial espousal of revolutionary action (by blue-skinned aliens rising up against earthling exploitation), the film was in fact entirely reactionary. In an interview in the following issue of Cahiers, Zizek cheerfully admitted that he had written his piece without actually seeing Avatar. Empiricist Anglophone critics were horrified, no doubt, but Zizek’s article persuasively made its point nonetheless.

I was a tad taken aback. The writer of the crit, one Jonathan Romney, rather deftly seems to be saying that expecting important and busy critics to actually see the film they’re criticising is not only unreasonable but downright parochial. Well, in the spirit of those activist groups in the ‘70s I am going to reclaim the negative vernacular and say loud and proud that I am an empiricist Anglophone critic and proud of it.

To make it worse, the critic in question not only is commenting on a film he has not seen, he is challenging the whole basis of it. He cares not if the makers say that it is about such and such, he has not seen it and so knows that it is not. And critics wonder why they are disliked in some circles.

For the record I have not seen Avatar, nor do I intend to as I disliked the director’s previous film, Titanic, so much. This means that my contribution to any critical discussion on it is limited to why I won’t see it and that seems fair enough. But then I’m an empiricist Anglophone and that’s what we’re like. Get used to it.

This thinking is not, I’m sorry to say, restricted to psychic critics like young master Zizek. It’s very common in the Anglophone literarti as well. In my bookselling days, many were the times that I was informed in a lordly manner that the Harry Potter books were terribly written or that The Da Vinci Code was awful by people who had read none of them. Any attempts at discussion would be waved away with a dismissive laugh. The accuracy of their opinions was, of course, unimportant. The point here was to ensure that everyone knew that they had impeccable taste and so had no need to read such vulgar and, let us be honest, plebeian books and would no more dream of doing so than they would dream of holidaying in Ibiza.

As it happens, I have read the Harry Potter books and The Da Vinci Code and, in my empiricist Anglophonic way, I believe the former to be flatly written, rather than badly written, and the later volumes scream out for heavy editing, while the latter is like a late-night kebab after a night clubbing in a number of surprising ways.