literature

Douglas Adams – Live In Göttingen

I’m very happy someone put this on youtube, and you will be too if you give yourself 45 minutes and just listen.

This is fantastic. I think there are a couple of bits missing from the whole presentation (which I suggest you try to get a hold of)  but I’ve put them on here in what I think is the correct order.

The first one is below, the others are also below, if you click the continuation page.

I say with complete confidence,  this will be moving, informative and utterly hilarious…

 

Not Just Kennedy

Huxley the trouble with fictionBeing overshadowed today, as it was 50 years ago, is the death of Aldous Huxley (and also that of C.S. Lewis but I feel he was best described by Philip Pullman as a “tweedy medievalist” in an article The Darkside of Narnia).

Huxley, like Kennedy, died in somewhat unusual circumstances. Unable to speak, blind from a long-standing illness and terminally ill with cancer,  he apparently wrote a request to his wife that she inject him with LSD. She obliged with 2 doses and he passed away.

Whilst he said some things I wouldn’t care to promote too much, I do have a lot of time for his writing and thinking.

“Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very first that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and the country around it. Rub it in.”

Aldous Huxley Meaninglessness“And let me add,” said the Principal, “that we always teach the science of relationship in conjunction with the ethics of relationship. Balance, give and take, no excesses—it’s the rule of nature and, translated out of fact into morality, it ought to be the rule among people.

In that light, and given all the anniversaries are focusing on someone else today, here are a good few of them (just in case you’ve never noticed the quote at the top of this page).

There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old. Government by clubs and firing squads, by artificial famine, mass imprisonment and mass deportation, is not merely inhumane (nobody cares much about that nowadays); it is demonstrably inefficient and, in an age of advanced technology, inefficiency is the sin against the Holy Ghost. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors, and school teachers.

…[such propagandists] accomplish their greatest triumphs,not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects… totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have done by the most eloquent denunciations, the most compelling of logical rebuttals.

 Aldous Huxley, in his 1946 revised foreword to Brave new worldHuxley on Propaganda

Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem Quotes Human Existence

“The twentieth century had dispensed with the formal declaration of war and introduced the fifth column, sabotage, cold war, and war by proxy, but that was only the beginning. Summit meetings for disarmament pursued mutual understanding and a balance of power but were also held to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. The world of the war-or-peace alternative became a world in which war was peace and peace war”.

92 years ago today in Lwów in Poland (but which is now part of the Ukraine, Stanislaw Lem was born.

I was first put on to him by Philip Challinor, who kindly gifted me one of his books. I was immediately taken aback by just how good it was.

When Philip first gave me the book (The Cyberiad) I felt that the quote on the cover “The best writer alive working in any language at the moment” or something like that, was a bold claim indeed. As I continued reading the book it seemed a fairer and fairer assessment.

He wasn’t particularly popular with some other well-known science-fiction writers, probably because he was frequently insulting about them. It would be fair to say that they often responded in kind.

Strangely, he’s probably most famous for something that he didn’t like. His book Solaris was adapted by Andrei Trakovsky into a film that is now regarded as a classic. Lem made quite a few disparaging comments about both film and director…

“I have fundamental reservations to this adaptation. First of all I would have liked to see the planet Solaris which the director unfortunately denied me as the film was to be a cinematically subdued work. And secondly — as I told Tarkovsky during one of our quarrels — he didn’t make Solaris at all, he made Crime and Punishment. What we get in the film is only how this abominable Kelvin has driven poor Harey to suicide and then he has pangs of conscience which are amplified by her appearance; a strange and incomprehensible appearance”.

Stanislaw Lem quotes hitFurthermore, he seemed a little peeved at being left out of the process…

“Tarkovsky reminds me of a sergeant from the time of Turgenev — he is very pleasant and extremely prepossessing and at the same time visionary and elusive. One cannot “catch” him anywhere because he is always at a slightly different place already. This is simply the type of person he is. When I understood that I stopped bothering. This director cannot be reshaped anymore, and first of all one cannot convince him of anything as he is going to recast everything in his “own way” no matter what”.

There are many other adaptations of his work about which we have less information about his approval or disapproval. There are many less well-known films based on his work.

It’s always best to go to source though and I’m writing this just to give you a recommendation for some very good reading, as Philip was kind enough to do for me.

Stanislaw Lem Genius

The Scottish Independence Podcast 21 – Alan Bissett

25534_largeYesterday, for episode 21 of the Scottish Independence Podcast I spoke with Scottish writer Alan Bissett.

Alan is the author of numerous books and plays but made an entrance onto the political scene, and in particular the debate surrounding the Independence Referendum,  with the publication of his poem Vote Britain, which almost immediately went viral.

Since then he has been speaking at many campaign events as well as writing for websites such as Bella Caledonia and National Collective.

In our conversation we mulled over why Alan supports Indy, how Vote Britain was written and the reaction to it and about the difficulties that expressing things in a way that might be considered too Scottish might bring for a writer or artist. This neatly led us on to the manufactured hullaballoo regarding Alasdair Gray’s comments on the lack of Scots leading Scottish cultural institution and some ideas on James Kelman too.

Furthermore, we talked about Alan entering into some debates on the subject of feminism and how this can be tricky territory for those born with a y chromosome.

Finally, we talked about what Alan has coming up at the Edinburgh festival in the summer.

Hope you enjoy…

As usual, this is the direct download link (right click and save as)

You can listen to the show online at its web page

Or you can subscribe with itunes

Enjoy

Michael Greenwell

On The Grander Scale Of Things

I have always loved this…

“There are two great powers,” the man said, “and they’ve been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.”

-Philip Pullman

 

Orwell & The BBC

The BBC wesbite has a section about Orwell and whilst it has some information about his decision to leave, specifically his resignation letter. I think both the letter and the site however are missing out the major points in his decision to leave.

What Orwell saw at the BBC during war time helped him to create the Ministry of Truth after all.

Anyway, I think some of the more important points about is decision to leave are included in this little audio clip, reproduced with kind permission from the author Michael Shelden whose Orwell book is probably the best biography of him that is out there.

For more on the BBC you could try listening to this.

 

Review – Radical Therapies – by Philip Challinor

Philip Challinor blogs under the name The Curmudgeon. If you have visited that site you will know that a quick wit, combined with his great mix of sometimes arcane and sometimes garbled newpoliticmanagementspeak result in some sublime moments.

Radical Therapies is one of his several advances into longer format writing and while it doesn’t really use the funny jargonese it combines insight with a dark imagination to make 3 memorable stories.

The first story, The Little Doctor, is the story of a war criminal told from the point of view of the war criminal. You might think this is somewhat unusual but if you do I would remind that Bush and Blair have recently published memoirs and talked (or in the case of one of them, tried to talk) about their roles in the imperial ventures of our time.

At first it seems like the war in question could be current or marginally in the future. As it progresses, the character’s names serve to give the story the parallel world feel that the story needs to make its point; they could all be from anywhere or from nowhere. Similarly, not putting the story in any place we can put our finger on gives the impression that it could be everywhere. The winners or losers could be any state.

Without any kind of anchor for the reader (where is it? when is it?), in the opening pages it takes a little careful reading at the start but very quickly it becomes a page-turner.

The war criminal is in prison and awaiting his execution and recounts events leading up to his current situation. This is interspersed with his dealings with the prison guards and various functionaries representing the victorious powers in the war.

“Why should you be [put on trial] ?” said the Warden. “As I told you, the position is quite clear. Everyone knows what went on in that place, the … the researches you carried out; it was all thoroughly documented, and most of the documentation has survived. There is no doubt as to your actions or the actions of your colleagues – the Anthill business, for instance, and Project Fiat. It only remains to pronounce judgement.”

“I see,” I said.

“I suppose,” he said with a slight, ironical smile, “I suppose to you that sounds like nothing more than victor’s justice.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was any other kind.”

The researches in question were various cloning and DNA experiments carried out at a facility originally designed to solve a food crisis. Originally well-intentioned (if ethically dubious) scientific work is subsumed by the events going on around it and radically altered in its scope. The scientists themselves are more perturbed by the interruption to them doing the work they want to than moral concerns about the work they must now do.

There is also a historical element in the conclusion of The Little Doctor but I will leave that for you to find out.

The second and third stories (Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth and The House of Stairs) make a good job of actually making hospital drama interesting. That said, they are unlike any other hospital dramas you are likely to read.

Both Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth and The House of Stairs are like the worst imaginings between wake and sleep. The former features a man shackled in a bizarre fashion, always unsure of whether he is being cured or tortured. The doctor that he doesn’t know whether to trust or hate flits in and out along with the “nurse-thing”. A surprising beginning finishes with a surprising end. All through it the question “should I be laughing at this?” is swimming in the background.

The final story, The House of Stairs isn’t quite so much like a horror scene as Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth but again, it is eerie and atmospheric and takes place in a fantastic imagined world. It vaguely reminded me of Lanark by Alasdair Gray and also of THX-1138 and I hope he won’t hate me for saying that. The surreality of the setting is dragged back to more corporeal concerns by the action.

An escape from a maze (or in this case a labyrinthine institution) is made much more terrifying if you don’t know how you got in there, or if an exit even exists.

You can buy it here.

Picture It…

You may have noticed, especially if you follow me on twitter, that I have been using a lot of these kinds of pictures with quotes on recently. I have made a few and there are more coming. Please feel free to use them.

They will all be put in the pictures section of this website. At the moment they are under some other ones I made with a different generator some time ago.

I am updating it here regularly but also putting them on twitter.

Hope you like some of them.

William S. Burroughs Hit & Miss

Have had a few days off and spent some of that time, whilst cleaning the house, listening to all those audio interviews and lectures that I had downloaded but hadn’t got around to.

One of the more bizarre ones was this offering from William S. Burroughs in which he explains the cut-up writing technique that he sometimes used (though it is thought to date back to the Dadaists) and some musicians such as David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke have also used.

All well and good explaining this writing style and providing and reading interesting examples. The fact that he mixes this up with some bizarre flimflam about ethereal voices being heard on recordings makes it fascinating to see how he tries to walk the line of suggesting that these things are there but without seeming like a loon. 

Oh No, Not Another Brave New World / 1984 Comparison

Actually this isn’t a comparison as such, nor is it another ‘Who was right?’ article. I was looking for a post somewhere which compared what the two had said about each others work and couldn’t find one so I decided to do it here. As you will see, whilst both taking pains to praise the work of the other, they also both maintained that their own nightmare vision was closer to the truth.

Orwell of course died long before Huxley and was therefore did not have the chance to see how the fame and importance of the two books (particularly his own)  grew steadily throughout the 20th century. Therefore I will give him the first word here…

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a sort of post-war parody of the Wellsian Utopia, these tendencies are immensely exaggerated. Here the hedonistic principle is pushed to its utmost, the whole world has turned into a Riviera hotel. But though Brave New World was a brilliant caricature of the present (the present of 1930), it probably casts no light on the future. No society of that kind would last more than a couple of generations, because a ruling class which thought principally in terms of a “good time” would soon lose its vitality. A ruling class has got to have a strict morality, a quasi-religious belief in itself, a mystique.

Before Orwell died however...

In October 1949, as George Orwell lay dying of lung disease in a London hospital, he received a letter from Aldous Huxley. Huxley had just read Orwell’s recently published 1984.

To get a letter from the older, more eminent Huxley was a big deal for any writer, but for Orwell it held special meaning because Huxley was the author of Brave New World (1932), the visionary novel with which 1984 was being roundly compared. Huxley had also been one of Orwell’s teachers at Eton.

Huxley was overwhelmed by 1984, telling Orwell “how fine and how profoundly important the book is.”

But while he agreed that the future would be dominated by totalitarian regimes ruling sheep-like subjects, Huxley did not share Orwell’s violent vision of torture, “boot-on-the-face,” sex repression and endless war.

“My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and that these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World … . Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.”

Later, in the introduction to the 1958 work Brave New World Revisited (Full text available here), which is a non-fiction piece in which Huxley considered if society had moved towards or away from the society he had described in Brave New World,  Huxley gave special mention to 1984 in his introduction…

  George Orwell’s 1984 was a magnified projection into the future of a present that contained Stalinism and an immediate past that had witnessed the flowering of Nazism. Brave New World was written before the rise of Hitler to supreme power in Germany and when the Russian tyrant had not yet got into his stride. In 1931 systematic terrorism was not the obsessive contem­porary fact which it had become in 1948, and the fu­ture dictatorship of my imaginary world was a good deal less brutal than the future dictatorship so brilliantly portrayed by Orwell. In the context of 1948, 1984 seemed dreadfully convincing. But tyrants, after all, are mortal and circumstances change. Recent developments in Russia and recent advances in science and technology have robbed Orwell’s book of some of its gruesome verisimilitude. A nuclear war will, of course, make nonsense of everybody’s predictions. But, assuming for the moment that the Great Powers can somehow refrain from destroying us, we can say that it now looks as though the odds were more in favor of something like Brave New World than of something like 1984.

        In the light of what we have recently learned about animal behavior in general, and human behavior in particular, it has become clear that control through the punishment of undesirable behavior is less effec­tive, in the long run, than control through the rein­forcement of desirable behavior by rewards, and that government through terror works on the whole less well than government through the non-violent manip­ulation of the environment and of the thoughts and feelings of individual men, women and children. Pun­ishment temporarily puts a stop to undesirable behav­ior, but does not permanently reduce the victim’s tend­ency to indulge in it. Moreover, the psycho-physical by-products of punishment may be just as undesirable as the behavior for which an individual has been pun­ished. Psychotherapy is largely concerned with the de­bilitating or anti-social consequences of past punish­ments.

        The society described in 1984 is a society controlled almost exclusively by punishment and the fear of pun­ishment. In the imaginary world of my own fable, pun­ishment is infrequent and generally mild. The nearly perfect control exercised by the government is achieved by systematic reinforcement of desirable be­havior, by many kinds of nearly non-violent manipula­tion, both physical and psychological, and by genetic standardization. Babies in bottles and the centralized control of reproduction are not perhaps impossible; but it is quite clear that for a long time to come we shall remain a viviparous species breeding at random. For practical purposes genetic standardization may be ruled out. Societies will continue to be controlled post-natally — by punishment, as in the past, and to an ever increasing extent by the more effective methods of reward and scientific manipulation.

There is also film of Huxley talking about this which includes the text of a letter Huxley wrote to Orwell…