We sit and the world has changed. So I brew me up some weird concoctions to deal with the realness (to borrow from the Novelist). Even television shows just beam the past in to the house – a past that has ceased to exist, that never happened. This is my home made sanitizer, which I have called “U-Sanz”. All rights reserved.
The weather is very changeable today. We woke up and it was wet with rain, and as the day wore on, that rain turned to sleet, and, briefly, snow. Intermittently, behind a cover of grey cloud, the sun in poking through. In those instants, the world feels different, almost as if the whole sensation of being is lighter. Now a wind has picked up, blowing in from the East. Gusts are howling down the chimney and – just as I write – a 2 second burst of brilliant Sun. We long for that warmth on our bodies, a journey out of the quotidien.
I came across this very insightful set of words by Max Arthur Macauliffe, who wrote (amongst other things) the immense six volume The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors (Cambridge University Press, 1909). It resonated with me strongly, having been working in academic publishing now for over 15 years. I must have commissioned hundreds of books in that time, and worked on thousands. In that time, I have also published my own novel, and worked on several books of poetry. I’m in the (long, drawn-out, possible stalled) process of writing a second novel. I don’t think this depresses me – in fact, it reminds me that the work is important and that I have worked on books that have had impact on people’s thinking, teaching and learning (more than will be said about my own writings, and I am fairly sanguine about that). Yet it gives me pause, and also encourages me to look within and think : what’s here, that’s truly me, and truly mine, and do I have the humility and patience to actually do anything with it?
“The preacher of old said that ‘of making many books there is no end’. For the last century their publication has increased in geometrical ratio, and prodigious must be the number which find their way into the streets and shops which sell quicquid chartis anticitur ineptis. The author fondly hopes that this work, which contains an account of the last great religion of the world which remains to be exploited, may escape the general fate. At the same time a glance at the shelves of any large library must convince a writer of the vanity of most literary labour, if haply the love of fame is dearer to him than the love of his subject. The blurred and hoary volumes, elaborately illuminated and bound, which no one now ever peruses, were often produced at the expense of years of toil–nay, of health and even life itself–and now remain sad monuments of the transitoriness of fame and the frequent futility of human effort. But there is even a worse fate than this, namely, the obloquy so often meted out to authors instead of the legitimate recompense of lives of strenuous toil devoted to literary or scientific investigation. Even under favourable circumstances the author of an elaborate work of this description, the production of which has occupied several years of his life, cannot always hope even for temporary reward in the approbation of those dear to him, those whom he would wish to please; for either their measure of years has grown full, or separation and varied interests have dulled the feelings of mutual pleasure which would result from his success.”
MAX ARTHUR MACAULIFFE
The Sikh Religion Vol 1, p. xxxii- xxxiv
Interesting few days at MeCCSA, this year being held in Brighton. Off-season seaside towns are an acquired taste but I like the vibe – foam-flecked sea and quiet contemplation.
I’m the Publisher at Rowman and Littlefield and head up the London team, myself commissioning into cultural studies and media and comms. Our media programme is important to us and we are investing in it. Lots of presentations were dealing with the problems of modern life – which is good to see. There was intelligent work presented on AI, smart tech and social media, as well as the structures and ownership of media as it stands in 2020. I think it’s fairly clear the modern media has completely failed to serve the left in any fair way and that the left, to have any chance of survival and eventually returning to power, need to invest heavily in changing the media environment.
I attended Professor Sarah Kember’s interesting keynote, which covered a lot of ground but spent a good while talking about open access. Her description of OA as accelerationist and tied to tenets of neoliberalism made sense. I personally think that it’s more libertarian than idealistic. Information doesn’t necessarily want anything, least of all to be free. (Who decides, who defines free?) In the backdrop, a commercial deal that was actually announced the next day – F1000, the OA research platform, purchased by Taylor and Francis. This is very bad news for OA. It also speaks to Sarah Kember’s point that OA is exhibiting signs that it will function just like other tech developments and enforce more and more of a platform hegemony, and replace a direct many to many relationship (academics to publishers to readers) with one where three or four OA platforms are in the middle. They will make a lot of money for a very few people – which is what tech has really been about. I left with much to follow up on, and read.
So, an evening in Brighton. A pint of warm Deuchars at the Cricketers, which is where Graham Greene drank. Two men wander past and I overhear that Brighton has 800 pubs. I don’t know if this is true. The MeCCSA 2020 opening ceremony is at the Brighton Museum and Gallery, and we drink a few wines and then go to the pub. Before that I’m in The Mash Tun where they are stewing the mulled wine and the whole place smells of cinnamon and nutmeg. Not altogether unpleasant, but still. Brighton seems a bit shabby, maybe Winters are harsh here with the salt air. I end up eating a burger in The Ivy.
As usual, the calendar year winds itself to an exhausted and inconclusive end. Here are some things I learned in the year 2019
- Childcare is hard
- As you age, hangovers increase in severity, but it’s not a straight line correlation. It’s actually a curve whose gradient increases exponentially until the gradient is infinity (y=severity where x=time of life, commonly known as ‘age’)
- Conservative voters are unconcerned for the future of the youth and in doing so express their selfishness its pure, vital terms
- It is possible to tire of coffee made using a v60 cone
- A tiny bit of salt in coffee does actually smooth out the taste
- Your surroundings affect your mood and having a child, with everything you own constantly strewn everywhere, slowly chips away at your sense of self
- KonMarie your stuff
- Western ‘commentators’ love to misunderstand and demonize “the Other’ as part of an age old enterprise, see bullet point above
- It is possible to tire of craft ale
- Craft ale has become mass market ale
- I am not suited to WhatsApp groups
- The far right is on the rise, globally
- The Age of Empire is in retreat and Brexit can be understood as the UK retreating to lick its wounds on its safe little island
- The 2016 referendum will be remembered in history as the event that broke up the UK, finally, and returned England to its retirement years
My year in sandwiches. Disappointing. Don’t think I had a single one that I really enjoyed. The general quality has really gone down and so has the variety. Depressing.
The Joy of the Debut. There’s that fearlessness, and it is to do with the invention on the fly, the trammelled ways have not yet been put in place. It can be gauche or breathtaking in equal measure and it is art’s taking your first unaided steps, the tottering around. Is it because it is unbounded by expectations: I think so. There’s a freedom of limb, of mind, of voice that rarely returns. After this the world of people wanting something like this, or something like that, and you can’t catch this quicksilver again. It’s like bottling magic, impossible, that swagger that comes from looking at the task with the calm eyes of
But then they take it away.
And it will never return?
Is this the middle way, then, bleary eyes, and a hangover that won’t quit? I search for something in your eyes that might equate to sparkling passion but all I find is a direct debit chit and a parking receipt to a National Trust car park. I wonder who I am – am I a John Raymond Baxbury stumbling to a spiritual death, a Chaucerian character caught in some animal facsimile, a greying fox hunting around bin bags and slipping on bin juice on a Sunday morning, my head hitting the wall with the death dull thump of a rotten apple? ‘Life’s what you make it,’ goes the song. But the middle way has its onerous burdens beyond the pop song.
_____ groans and heads back to sleep. It’s far too bright outside.
A friend asked if I wanted to go along to a gig later this year. The band that are playing are called Inhaler, so off I went to look them up. It turns out the band are fronted by Bono’s youngest son, who in voice and looks bears an uncanny resemblance to the big man. I listened to the band using a well-known streaming service. They haven’t put much material out but the songs that I did listen to are almost mid to late period U2, although the publicity machine around Inhaler claim the more street-cred generating Echo and the Bunnymen as a formative influence. I looked through the pictures of the Hewson clan, and realised that despite a boyhood mania for U2, stretching to playing their albums on repeat to the extent I can barely listen to them now, I hadn’t ever been remotely curious about Bono’s children. The web of course, has been curious on my behalf and has millions of pictures of them, as they grew up, went to parties, got papped and hung out with other rich kids. The mania over their ‘career choices’ had entire newspaper stories built around them.
It got me thinking about Bono Jr and his bands’ passage to this sound, this delivery, this cadence. The story is familiar enough to echo the lore, plausibly. Four guys meet at a school in Blackrock, Dublin. They make guitar music. They are signed to a deal. How is it possible to have avoided thirty years of music influence and end up sounding like post-POP U2, when U2 went ahead and ditched the experimentation and went solidly for the coin. The hauntology of vaporware, absent. The compression and sparsity of grime and drill, not there. Even the strides that guitar music has made aren’t there. There’s arguably more modernity in the 1975.
It seems all so boring – the band photographed lovingly by Anais Gallagher, daughter of Noel Gallagher, and forming a sort of already finished, already massive, road-ready and heavy rotation ready successor to U2. Rock dynasties. I mean, I guess plenty of young men follow in their father’s footsteps, and not all young men will have Paul Hewson as their father. But it’s an oddly modern tale, Bloomian anxieties of influence without the anxiety, just the cool, calm collected wearing of an inheritance like a comfortable silken slipper.
Some kind of fealty to my inner projected self is necessary, if only to stop the whole world becoming unmoored. But the courage to face up to what’s there and say, ‘no, this is not quite right – not right at all’ and then move onwards is something I seek. If not an Adlerian ‘courage to be disliked’, then a more neutral strength to steer my immediate atavisms and more humdrum urges to a more real truth. ‘I don’t need to be that person’ is the summary, but the empty and open question after is ‘well, what next?’