Wednesday, 3 February 2010

'I intend to do everything ... I shall anticipate pleasure everywhere and find it too ... I shall involve myself wholly ... everything matters'

Susan Sontag wrote the above in her journal, aged 16. What a wonderful sentiment! Here are some interesting things that I've read or heard lately.

On Radio 4's 'Today' Programme this morning (complete with Ennio Morricone music, of course):

A two-person button-pressing experiment showed that 'those who reacted to their opponent were on average 21 milliseconds faster than those who initiated the movement.' (Good to know, but Pete Falconer's research about honour, back-shooting and the Western town at night is more interesting if we actually want to learn something about shootouts in Hollywood Westerns.)

2 US populism

In The Economist this week there's some interesting stuff about 'a resurgence of political populism on both the left and the right', which reminded me of a conversation Pete, James and I were having about US vs European politics, and the prospect of drinking with Howard Hawks and/or Frank Capra. A couple of bumper stickers doing the rounds in America at the moment: 'Save trees: stop printing money'; 'Honk if I'm paying your mortgage'.

Also on this subject: alerted me to a recent expression of US populism. Bruce has contributed to a History Channel documentary 'The People Speak', based on a book, A People's History of the United States.

3 The Zero Rupee Note

There's also a sidebar about a fascinating phenomenon in India. A 'piece of paper the colour of a 50-rupee note with a picture of Gandhi on it and a value of nothing' is "circulating" in India. Why?
Its aim is to shame corrupt officials into not demanding bribes. [...]
One official in Tamil Nadu was so stunned to receive the note that he handed back all the bribes he had solicited for providing electricity to a village. Another stood up, offered tea to the old lady from whom he was trying to extort money and approved a loan so her granddaughter could go to college.
[Their creator] thinks the notes work because corrupt officials so rarely encounter resistance that they get scared when they do. And ordinary people are more willing to protest, since the notes have an organisation behind them and they do not feel on their own.

The THE also had a lot of stuff to make me exalt in the fecundity of the world and the human examination of it (helping to offset the predictable and understandable dose of doom and gloom about 'the sector'). Sometimes even dropped in expressions like 'situated messiness' or a single idea/observation ('people in the same class position tend to support different parties depending on where they live') send me off on pleasurable methodological ruminations. And even the barest book synopses make me hungry to read (Darker than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture, by Paul Gilroy. 'Gilroy seeks to awaken a new understanding of W E B Du Bois' intellectual and political legacy by considering the ways that consumerism has diverted African Americans' political and social aspirations').

There are a couple of interestingish pieces (by Alan Ryan and David Greenaway) putting HE's current situation in some kind of historical context (skimming the online versions, I see they've attracted some comment).

The most pleasurable and beautifully-written piece of all this week is written by Bob Blaisdell, an American professor of English, on how he came to love index cards. I've used them for revision and planning purposes in the past. One of my academic inspirations also uses them. Blaisdell mainly talks about using them for the purposes of learning Russian.
As I was putting them into a [...] rubber-banded packet, I realised that there was another connection to baseball cards: the old cards' edges are less sharp, their surfaces even feel warmer. Through my fingertips, before I look down, I know the word or sentence will be a familiar one.
This reminds me of a poetry and philosophy conference I went to where one of the keynotes, Jorie Graham, was talking about the difference, neurologically, between typing and writing with a pen - the importance of tactility to memory and mental processing. (I also can't resist reproducing this great aside: 'I guess I don't understand the pleasure of playing poker on the computer either. I love the feel of cards - not the idea of them.')

5 New blogs

James brought my attention to 'The Feminist Spectator', because her latest blog entry is on Up in the Air. I enjoyed the piece, left a comment, and added the blog to my 'following' list. I'm still thinking about the idea of blogs and the public sphere. On that subject, yet another article in the THE was about Han Han, a Chinese man whose blog has an audience of 242 million! I just tried to read it, but it's not available in translation. It'd take a lot of index cards before I could read it in the original!

Some sort of promise

Where you went out the back door of that house there was a stone water trough in the weeds by the side of the house. A galvanized pipe come off the roof and the trough stayed pretty much full and I remember stoppin there one time and squattin down and lookin at it and I got to thinkin about it. I dont know how long it had been there. A hundred years. Two hundred. You could see the chisel marks in the stone. It was hewed out of solid rock and it was about six foot long and maybe a foot and a half wide and about that deep. Just chiseled out of the rock. And I got to thinkin about the man that done that. That country had not had a time of peace much of any length at all that I knew of. I've read a little of the history of it since and I aint sure it ever had one. But this man had set down with a hammer and chisel and carved out a stone water trough to last ten thousand years. Why was that? What was it that he had faith in? It wasnt that nothin would change. Which is what you might think, I suppose. He had to know bettern that. I've thought about it a good deal. I thought about it after I left there with that house blown to pieces. I'm goin to say that water trough is there yet. It would of took somethin to move it, I can tell you that. So I think about him settin there with his hammer and his chisel, maybe just a hour or two after supper, I dont know. And I have to say that the only thing I can think is that there was some sort of promise in his heart. And I dont have no intentions of carvin a stone water trough. But I would like to be able to make that kind of promise. I think that's what I would like most of all.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men