Category: language

emersonquoteI haven’t read the book that contains this quote but they are wise words and is something I need to practice more:

“Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.”

From ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff’ by Richard Carlson (1997)

Related : Frock Files blog on the same topic (this is also where I nicked the image from!)


(Translated by Ralph Manheim, Minerva paperback, 1991)

One of Zadie Smith’s more sobering rules for budding writers was that they should be resigned to “the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied”.

This bleak, but no doubt realistic, viewpoint is one I suspect Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke would also subscribe to.

In ‘The Afternoon Of A Writer’ he presents the scribe’s life as one dogged by self doubt, guilt and constant feelings of inadequacy.

The brief tale follows a nameless man who having spent some time writing “a few lines that had clarified a state of affairs to his satisfaction” goes out for a random stroll around a nameless European city before returning home where he feeds his nameless cat and goes to bed. His life is no bed of roses! Continue reading

GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (Riverhead Books, 2010)

girl-in-translationAs a compelling, at times shocking, account of a young immigrant’s life in America this book has many merits. As a convincing work of narrative fiction it leaves a lot to be desired.

The episodic nature of the novel is problematic in that the story has a disjointed quality. As the author jumps from one event to the next, the reader is left with more questions than answers.

In the opening chapter we learn that the mother of the first person narrator, Kimberley Chang, had suffered from tuberculosis in China but her state of health is something which is barely mentioned therafter.

Later on, at the age of 18, when it is clear that Kimberley (Kim) needs to obtain U.S. citizenship, she applies and studies hard for naturalization but we are never told how the actual test went. The cumulative effect of these gaps is disorientating and infuriating. Continue reading

"Are you talking to me?"

Say cheese!


There’s a quiet menace about Mark Kozelek. His songs reveal he’s a sensitive guy but his highly personal, story songs never stray into sentimentalism.

The lyrics are full of the humdrum details from his life at home or on the road yet are delivered with such intensity that they seem positively revelatory.

He sings of being unable to shake his melancholy nature, a condition that I imagine is exacerbated by touring on his own and having time to brood in lonely hotel rooms.

On stage during this two-hour solo performance he’s not ice cold but not warm either. There’s no charm offensive. He seems pissed off that the audience don’t talk to him but doesn’t do much to meet us half way. He doesn’t even know what city he’s playing in so you get the impression that part of him doesn’t give a damn who’s listening and why.

He wonders why there is so much graffiti in Rome but nobody dares venture an opinion as to why Italians are so into street art. In the US, Kozelek says, kids have better things to do; they’re too busy mugging and stabbing people. This is a topic he also touches on in song form in Richard Ramirez Died Of Natural Causes.

Having a few rows of seating and playing under dimmed lighting efficiently communicates the fact that you take pictures or videos at your own peril. And amazingly, no-one does. I can’t remember the last show I went to when there was so little chatter and so few pulling out smart phones. “You are a nice, respectful audience”, Kozelek acknowledges near the end and he was not wrong. Continue reading

A Hawk & A Hacksaw – husband and wife duo Heather Trost & Jeremy Barnes performing at the Bronson club, Ravenna as part of the Transmissions Festival they curated.

 Father Murphy, A Hawk & A Hacksaw, Mouse On Mars at the Bronson Club, Ravenna.

The juxstaposition of styles presented during this concert  showed how sonic transmissions in our technically challenging (and challenged!) age can be by turns nostalgic, alienating and invigorating.

In Keywords (A vocabulary of culture and society) Marxist academic Raymond Williams wrote that, in the 18th century, the verb ‘to modernize’ was mainly applied to buildings and was not automatically regarded as something positive. Nowadays, modernization is generally associated with improvement and forward thinking. Williams noted that when we say modern now we generally refer to something which is “unquestionably favourable and desirable”. It signifies that you are up with the times and at one with the contemporary world.

Compare this to words like ‘tradition’ or ‘traditionalist’ which are commonly used to dismiss something as quaint yet old-fashioned and contrary to notions of innovation or change. We associate these terms with the work of artisans and craftsmen and think of outdated skills handed down from generation to generation.

When applied to music, ‘tradition’ is usually linked to an analog philosophy while to describe sounds as ‘modern’  is to say the artist is making a break with the past. However, an incessantly forward momentum has its pitfalls. The fact that discerning listeners will still seek out vinyl releases or lossless audio is a sign that the ‘modern’ day digital revolution is regarded in some quarters as a step backwards.

On the third and final day of Ravenna’s Transmissions festival the stark contrast between the old and the new was very evident. After being gently wooed by the Balkan-influenced folky charm of A Hawk And A Hacksaw (+ special guests) we were abruptly wowed by the uncompromising techno beats of German duo Mouse On Mars. Continue reading


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