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Culture

ten poems to introduce oneself with

The idea’s being doing the rounds of poblogs – ten poems you might use to introduce yourself. I guess the ten you pick depends on whether you’re introducing yourself to a possible employer or a possible shag. I’ll leave it to the reader to deicde whether my selection is the equivalent of a resum

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Culture

meme from blogpulse

A list of ‘the top 110 banned books of all time’ – whatever that means. Bold the ones you

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Culture

haiku

Last night
the frogs were croaking.
Snow is falling.

I wonder whether a fixed ‘content word’ count would be a way of providing a clear formal model for haiku in English. i.e. count the nouns, verbs and adjectives. This would come in at six. So would “old pond – frog jumps – sound of water”, pretty much however you translate it. “little snail – inch by inch, climb – Mount Fuji!”, comes in as five in Japanese (katatsuburi soro-soro nobore fuji no yama), something like “snail slowly-slowly climb mount fuji” maybe. And many have even fewer. Hmm. Maybe not.

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Culture

what am I looking for?

It seems a natural question – what kind of thing am I looking for out of literary theory? What would it take to convince me that some body of theory was valuable?

Well, something that I thought was true and non-obvious would be a good start. Even if it didn’t provide any new insights, something that was coherent and provided an explanation for some of the commonplace observations about literature would still be valuable. A knowledge of physics doesn’t really help you to play snooker, or provide any insights into the game as a game, but it’s intellectually satisfying to know that the behaviour of the balls can be explained and predicted.

What you really want, though, is a way of understanding literature that provides new insights. Some aspects of the theoritication of criticism do that, I think. For me, the idea of different ways of reading work – feminist, historical, political – has obvious value. But I never felt it needed any special theoretical justification. It’s just a specialisation, a narrowing of focus to look at one aspect of the work at a time.

I do have an intriguing example from the visual arts. Some years ago I heard a neuroscientist (Semir Zeki) on the radio who was studying the different regions of the brain that processed vision. One particular area was processing something like colour contrasts (I can’t remember now), and the development of Mondrian’s paintings showed a increased tendency over his career to stimule that area precisely. Now that raises the possibility that he was aware of a particular kind of response and was trying to hone his paintings to create that response, even though he didn’t know why his paintings worked.

Where the story gets more interesting is that apparently Vermeer’s work is also very good at stimulating this area of the brain. Art critics have made the Mondrian/Vermeer comparison before, but this provides a precise neurological explanation for where the similarity lies. This little snippet of neuroscience doesn’t tell you everything there is to know about either Mondrian or Vermeer, of course, but it is interesting.

My choice of example no doubt suggests that I think neuroscience is also the way forward in understanding literature, and I certainly think it’s one important way forward. The structures of language as understood by contemporary linguists (i.e. not Saussure), and the way the brain processes language, seem obviously fertile ground for study. I found Pinker’s The Language Instinct fascinating, and I also spent a long time thinking about Dawkins’s idea of memetics at one stage. In the end, though, I wasn’t able to apply them in a way that offered any new insights. Memetics seems sound as a theory, but rarely seems to offer any interesting conclusions that couldn’t be equally well explained without it. And either I don’t know enough about linguistics, or I haven’t been thinking about it in the right way, or both. Or the insights aren’t there to be had.

I’ve just noticed that Zeki has a book about art and the brain, which I may as well add to my Amazon wishlist for the moment. If I ever buy and read it, I’ll let you know what I think.

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Culture

‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

I went to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou today. Which I enjoyed.

Shall We Dance? is a low-key Japanese film about a married salaryman accountant who sees an attractive woman in a dance studio from his commuter train and decides to take ballroom dancing lessons.

Hollywood has just remade it with Richard Gere playing the part as a successful lawyer and J-Lo as the dance teacher. I find it hard to believe that any of the atmosphere could survive that bit of casting. So why do they remake these movies in a way which is guaranteed to kill exactly what was appealing about the original?

I haven’t actually seen the remake – perhaps it’s better than one would expect. I can certainly recommend the original, though.

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Culture

‘Africa Remix’ at the Hayward

I went to see Africa Remix (an exhibition of contemporary African art) at the Hayward Gallery today.

It was the predictable mix of a few good pieces, a sea of mediocrity and some absolute stinkers. I’m sure that’s been true of most broad surveys of contemporary art at any period in history.

I didn’t take any notes (or shell out twenty quid for the catalogue), so I’m afraid I can’t name names, but here are some comments.

The award for most heavy-handed work is shared between two pieces, both video work. One was called something like ‘crossing the line’ and was a video of someone’s feet, filmed from above and projected on the floor so you’re looking down from about where the camera would be. There was a little ditch carved out of the floor, like a gutter. The feet flirted with crossing the line, but didn’t, to the soundtrack of slightly cracked laughter. The information for the piece explained that it was exploring the idea of madness and ‘crossing a line’. In other words, it’s a clich