Monday, February 26, 2007

Revolution in the Head

From “Autumn Journal” (Part IX)
By Louis MacNeice

October comes with rain whipping around the ankles
In waves of white at night
And filling the raw clay trenches (the parks of London
Are a nasty sight).
In a week I return to work, lecturing, coaching,
As impresario of the Ancient Greeks
Who wore the chiton and lived on fish and olives
And talked philosophy or smut in cliques;
Who believed in youth and did not gloze the unpleasant
Consequences of age;
What is life, one said, or what is pleasant
Once you have turned the page
Of love? The days grow worse, the dice are loaded
Against the living man who pays in tears for breath;
Never to be born was the best, call no man happy
This side death.
Conscious — long before Engels — of necessity
And therein free
They plotted out their life with truism and humour
Between the jealous heaven and the callous sea.
And Pindar sang the garland of wild olive
And Alcibiades lived from hand to mouth
Double-crossing Athens, Persia, Sparta,
And many died in the city of plague, and many of drouth
In Sicilian quarries, and many by the spear and arrow
And many more who told their lies too late
Caught in the eternal factions and reactions
Of the city-state.
And free speech shivered on the pikes of Macedonia
And later on the swords of Rome
And Athens became a mere university city
And the goddess born of the foam
Became the kept hetæra, heroine of Menander,
And the philosopher narrowed his focus, confined
His efforts to putting his own soul in order
And keeping a quiet mind.
And for a thousand years they went on talking,
Making such apt remarks,
A race no longer of heroes but of professors
And crooked business men and secretaries and clerks,
Who turned out dapper little elegiac verses
On the ironies of fate, the transience of all
Affections, carefully shunning an over-statement
But working the dying fall.
The Glory that was Greece: put it in a syllabus, grade it
Page by page
To train the mind or even to point a moral
For the present age:
Models of logic and lucidity, dignity, sanity,
The golden mean between opposing ills
Though there were exceptions of course but
only exceptions
The bloody Bacchanals on the Thracian hills.
So the humanist in his room with Jacobean panels
Chewing his pipe and looking on a lazy quad
Chops the Ancient World to turn a sermon
To the greater glory of God.
But I can do nothing so useful or so simple;
These dead are dead
And when I should remember the paragons of Hellas
I think instead
Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,
The careless athletes and the fancy boys,
The hair-splitters, the pedants, the hard-boiled sceptics
And the Agora and the noise
Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring
Libations over graves
And the trimmers at Delphi and the dummies at Sparta
and lastly
I think of the slaves.
And how one can imagine oneself among them
I do not know;
It was all so unimaginably different
And all so long ago.

Something happened in Greece over a very short period of time. Art, theatre, literature, philosophy,and science were created in that crucible. We're still living with the consequences.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

September has come, It is hers whose vitality leaps in the autumn,

Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place;
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy;
Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow,
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
And all of London lilttered with remembered kisses.

- Louis MacNeice, "Autumn Journal"

Friday, February 23, 2007

Piggy in the Middle

Iraq is one of the most unhappy outcomes of British imperialism. Carved from the coprse of the Ottoman Emire after the first world war it is a country that should never have been. Cobbling together Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis and flying in a Hashemite monarch from Jordan to govern the place was hardly conducive to long term stability.

Britain is withdrawing troops because nothing more can be done. The endless dripfeed of news reports on soldiers killed by roadside bombs has sickened everyone. Are these men as expendable as a brass cartridge? Enough is enough.

Let the arab ingrates have their civil war.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Like it Here

The last time I visited New York I hated it.

It wasn't that the place lacked vibrancy, it was just that all that energy was too frenetic: a sense of paranoic violence lurked beneath the surface of things. Gazes were directed downwards, the onwards hurtle toward home and safety not to be compromised by eye contact.

Times Square was a sleazy disgusting porn ridden dump. The subway was like a demented relative losing sight of the only thing that gave their life purpose.

These days people are happy to stop and talk. Is it the aftermath of 9/11 or a consequence of proper policing? I don't know, but I'm not complaining.

Some things haven't changed. People talk to themselves in McDonalds. Vagrants shuffle uncomplainingly, carrying their wordly chattels in bin bags. A black man with no legs rattles his tin. Wall Street disgorges its fat odiousness onto the subway.

I think I'll trudge across to the Rockefeller Center tomorrow. Sometimes capitalism in its rawest form produces something sublime. I plan to vist Trump Tower afterwards. If the ginger one is present I won't be able to contain myself.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Done 'n' Dusted

As plastic fantastic rip off enviroments go airports take some beating. Does anyone about to board a plane seriously require a Hermes scarf, a full manicure, and a pint of overpriced beer?

I am presently in a Glasgow airport hotel. I depart for New York tomorrow and am already rubbing my palms at the prospect of seven hours in cattle class followed by the hell that is American airport security. I haven't concealed a bazooka up my rectum and I don't sport a suspicious islamist beard. It won't make any difference. I will still be subjected to the full gamut of indignities.

Oh well, I shall console myself with the prospect of a large plate of corned beef hash crowned with a fried egg. It will have to do until I can afford a Learjet.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Star Trekking Across the Universe

Let’s face it, Star Trek, in all its various incarnations was utter keek (apart from Uhuru, obviously).

The original consisted mainly of polystyrene rocks and Kirk wrestling with monsters that were a bit slow on their feet and weren’t very scary at all. Then there was the ‘tribbles’ episode. Need I say more?

The Next Generation was even worse; most episodes consisting of tedious conversations between Picard and Mr Data. Talk about a snoreathon. Admittedly the Borg turned up once in a while to liven things up a bit, but that was just an intermission in a sea of tediousness.

Voyager was equally dire. 7 of Nine in a skin-tight leotard was mildly diverting in a vaguely sexual kind of way, but apart from that it was wall to wall conversations and holo deck tediousness.

I didn’t even bother watching Enterprise.

If only they’d allowed the Scots to do it. Just think what might have been.