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brainThe final section of case studies in Oliver Sacks’ ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’ is called ‘The World of the Simple’.

The first of the four essays examines the case of a young woman called Rebecca who, because of a number of physical and neurological handicaps, had spent her life being branded as a moron.

Sacks admits that he also initially regarded her as little more than a “broken creature” and something of a hopeless case. The neurological tests he carried out only served to confirm her retarded state. But when he saw her outside the clinic, he formed an entirely different impression.

He witnessed her instinctive and serene response to nature then later observed that when she danced or performed in theatre workshops she exhibited none of the awkwardness and clumsiness he had assumed was her permanent condition.

All this forced him to question how such subjects are judged; he wrote: “I thought, as I watched her on the bench – enjoying not just a simple but a sacred view of nature – our approach, our ‘evaluations’, are ridiculously inadequate”.

Reading this chapter made me reflect how the same inadequacies Sacks described can routinely be found in our educational institutions. For instance, standardized testing in schools is,at best, only a measure of one aspect of a young child’s intelligence. View full article »

THE NIX by Nathan Hill (Picador Books, 2016)

thenixAccording to the cliché,  everybody has at least one book in them. Nathan Hill has now written his in the form of this bold and hugely entertaining debut novel.

The American author says that his previous attempts at fiction followed formulas in vain attempts to win a lucrative book deal.

After a series of rejections he decided to cut his losses and simply write a book to please himself. In doing so, he had no idea whether or not it would be published.

It took him ten years to write, a slow but enjoyable process that he equated to tending to his own garden. The result is a triumph. View full article »

I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck (USA, 2016)
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The story of Black men and women in America is not a pretty one. This is an understatement. From slavery and segregation to the present day struggle to convince diehard bigots that their lives matter, the story is dominated by violence and oppression.

This sobering documentary may focus mainly on events from the past but it is no abstract history lesson.

The film is based on James Baldwin’s ‘Remember This House’, his uncompleted memoirs about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers; three prominent civil rights activists who were all assassinated in the 1960s before they reached 40. View full article »

9e1294e6fcdbbaf68ecdf171bd269f81651a92e2“Kill yr idols” advocated Sonic Youth back in the day, an extreme strategy that is not actually an invitation to murder but a warning against putting faith in heroes. Bob Dylan meant something similar when he sang (in Subterranean Homesick Blues) “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters”.

Be your own person is the implicit message. While it’s ok to admire and respect others, it’s always worth remembering that people have a nasty habit of letting you down. Keeping a healthy sense of detachment avoids being disillusioned. Far safer to set your own goals, maintain your own standards and generally search for the hero inside yourself.

Devendra Banhart is a case in point. I was a huge fan of his when he burst upon the scene under the wing of head Swan Michael Gira. 2004’s Rejoicing In The Hands remains one of my all time favorite albums and I had the good fortune to see him play songs from this and its immediate follow ups – Nino Rojo and Cripple Crow. For a while he could do no wrong in my eyes. His charm, wit and good looks added to his appeal. In short , though not quite an idol , he used to be a hero. View full article »

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“Bands are like psychotic families” – Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon (A Girl In A Band)

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