Category: Education


EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY a film by Frederick Wiseman (USA, 2017)ex_libris_e28093_the_new_york_public_library

Zadie Smith expressed it well when in ‘North-west London Blues, when she wrote that: “Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy something to stay”.

Appropriately enough, this essay was published in the New York Review of Books for what applies to the London suburbs applies equally to the bustling metropolis of NYC.

This is more than clear from Frederick Wiseman’s painstakingly epic documentary film which presents many of the Big Apple’s library branches and buildings as beacons of anti-capitalist hope. Although not overtly political, it’s hard to miss the fact that these resources represent the polar opposite of everything Trump and his minions stand for. Continue reading

Advertisements

SILENCE IN THE AGE OF NOISE by Erling Kagge (Viking, 2017)

cover Blaise Pascal was exaggerating for effect when he wrote that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” but I understand the point he was making. If you are not at ease with yourself, how can you be truly at peace with the world?

Norwegian explorer, publisher and Rolex model Erling Kagge quotes Pascal but his own lifestyle doesn’t involve much sitting around alone. He has climbed Everest and journeyed to the North and South Poles. He once spent fifty days walking across the Antarctica during which he had no contact with the outside world and no encounters with any human being until he reached his destination. In his Ted Talk (Another Lecture On Nothing) he says “I believe in making life more complicated than it needs to be”. Continue reading

1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded by Jon Savage (Faber & Faber, 2015)

1966“It’s pretty obvious that contemporary music reflects contemporary life. And vice versa” wrote Tony Hall in Record Mirror in 1966. What is taken for granted now needed to be spelled out then.

Nevertheless, there are still precious few writers who able to contextualize music as expertly as Jon Savage.

When writing about Punk in 2004’s ‘England’s Dreaming’, Savage was able to draw directly from his own experiences but, as he was just 13 years old in the Summer of 1966, he is not able to rely solely on first-hand knowledge for this book. The 55 pages of source references illustrate the substantial research that lies behind this authoritative and illuminating study.

I was just 8 years old in that year so I remember even less than he does but I do recall the impact of some TV shows (e.g. Batman, The Monkees, Time Tunnel etc.) and music like The Beatles, the Motown acts and Dusty Springfield. But as far as historical events go, only England winning the soccer world cup sticks in the memory.

Most articles about the sixties paint a superficial and idealised portrait of swinging London, sexual liberation and the birth of the Woodstock generation. Savage goes deeper and reveals the darker aspects of this era and shows that it has definite parallels with the world we inhabit today.

Far from being a time of hedonism and freedom, this was a year lived under the shadow of the atom bomb and the cold war. In addition, the black civil rights movement, growing opposition to the Vietnam war, the demand for women’s liberation and the struggle for gay rights were just some of the causes that led to politicization of the youth both in America and in the UK. Add LSD to this heady cocktail and it’s easy to understand why this year was so musically explosive and accounts for how “1966 began in pop and ended with rock”. Continue reading

Explaining mansplaining

rebecca_solnitThe term ‘mansplaining’ was inspired, though not directly used, by Rebecca Solnit in her marvellous 2008 essay ‘Men Explain Things To Me’.

The word succinctly encapsulates men’s uncanny ability to display what Solnit calls “the confidence of the totally ignorant”.

With barbed wit, she notes how “explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge”.

As she knows to her cost, these kinds of power games are nothing new and represent a pattern of patronizing behavior that, at least until recently, women have learned to put up with.

The #TimesUp and #MeToo initiatives stemming from the outing of Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuses represent a potential sea change in gender attitudes. Now, not a day goes by without fresh accusations and the squalid details of the Larry Nassar case is a further illustration of the can of worms that has been opened. Continue reading

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2016).

lonelycity“When you have no-one, no-one can hurt you”. The bleak lyrics by Will Oldham from ‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ by Palace Brothers are hardly life affirming. Olivia Laing takes a more positive line from Dennis Wilson’s ‘Thoughts of You’ in which the Beach Boy sings how “Loneliness is a very special place”.

However, I doubt that many people equate loneliness with specialness. Most of the time it’s a condition that generates feelings of shame, self loathing and depression. The invisible cloak we wear is a burden rather than a protection.

The ‘adventures’ of Olivia Laing’s compassionate and insightful book nevertheless show how being alone can be, and has been,  the stimulus to greater self knowledge and the impetus towards personal creativity. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: