After name-checking several other Van Morrison biographers (particularly sneering at Rogan's "no poet" stance), Brian Hinton begins to build his own bAfter name-checking several other Van Morrison biographers (particularly sneering at Rogan's "no poet" stance), Brian Hinton begins to build his own biography of the man. His is mostly an awkward and loosely edited info dump too, but (instead of the stark politics/art that Rogan tries) he goes for a dizzying array of other folk-rock allusions -- Kinks, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Cat Stevens, Animals, etc., etc. -- to color the story. Every hint of Morrison's career development, taste in music, location, influence, etc. sees dozens of other hints (sometimes eerily similar or opposite, and thereby quite remarkable, but sometimes not) in other artists' lives.
It's certainly a way to expand and elaborate on the otherwise drab showbiz bio that Morrison's life could easily be. Not the worst way all in all, but not the best either. A 50+ year reign as Irish rock legend -- mixing together blues, jazz, R&B, poetry -- probably, in general, deserves an expansive and elaborate treatment, but exactly like this? I don't know.
Of particular note is a hinge Hinton sees in the early '70s -- after Astral Weeks and Moondance, around the time of Hard Nose the Highway -- of rock in general decaying, become quieter, flimsier. Folk was strengthening, and pop music was turning to James Taylor and Jackson Browne. It's an idea I haven't heard much before, but coheres and clarifies what's always seemed a tricky change: '65 punk + '67 pop + '68 catharsis + '70 soul (all, in a sense, _hard_) retreating into much, much softer, easier tunes. That's how the music business was moving. Maybe that's part of it.
Song by song, through all the albums, he mostly goes. It's sometimes a bland/samey "guitar comes in, keyboards come up, sax comes down" report. But the perspective is sometimes very interesting. What's particularly admirable is that a lot of live performances get the same song-by-song review; what could have been lost to history is given a record. Still, most of the book seems rather choppy. There are starkly bland allusions like "Like Lazarus" (202) and scattered thoughts smushed together with commas. Hinton does have some fresh and evocative comments throughout, but they're adrift in a meandering sea.
Some small moments did catch my eye later on...
*Hinton notes a 1975 Chris Austin quote (from an NME career retrospective of Van Morrison) about the "unpleasant tendency to backbite at his fellow journalists." I don't know exactly who the antecedent of "his" could be there -- Hinton, Austin, or Morrison himself -- but it's a funny little aside.
*He furthermore gives high marks to "I Forgot That Love Existed" off '87's Poetic Champions Compose: it's "about uniting thought and emotion, a heart that can think and a brain that can feel."
*And similarly, he's lucid (more than I'd be capable of, that's for sure! Hehe) about '89's Avalon Sunset's startling Christianity, as well as about Morrison commenting that we should all "fail better." Some really great analysis there.
Unlike Rogan, Hinton gives equal weight to all the albums (sometimes to a fault, as the 'Blowin Your Mind/revenge songs/Astral Weeks' debacle could definitely use some more pages, but that's a small quibble). Also unlike Rogan (but more majorly unfortunate this time), Hinton doesn't seem curious enough about the reactions to Morrison from fans, coworkers, etc. Everything's just seeming to be fated. I appreciate the resistance to gossip, but are all reactions necessarily gossip?...more
I like the Sunday Times's ho-hum pseudo-plaudit on the cover of Johnny Rogan's book on Van Morrison: "No biography is likely to tell you more about MoI like the Sunday Times's ho-hum pseudo-plaudit on the cover of Johnny Rogan's book on Van Morrison: "No biography is likely to tell you more about Morrison." Okay then, interesting endorsement; can it be "more," but in a mediocre way? Apparently yes, as Rogan delivers a great flood of facts without much perspective. I don't know if this is the way of celebrity biographies in general, but it seems almost everything except for the prologue and the epilogue is disposable gossip.
Van Morrison is a five-decades-deep Irish rock poet -- 33 albums, 71 singles, 45 years -- as well as a frustrating, uncompromising, weird asshole. Rogan's thesis is that the politics of Northern Ireland (most notably Ulster belligerents' "No Surrender") can illuminate and clarify that long career. Begun in the privileged but tense environment of Belfast, Morrison's whole life might be shaped by unionist/Protestant loyalty.
A wonderfully thoughtful premise, but delivered (in the bulk of Rogan's work) mostly in stark and empty juxtaposition, rarely in anything like comparison or connection. Whether Morrison is just a cranky Irishman, just a silly New Age hack, or just a simple curmudgeon, the story he lived is, here, rarely anything but a dumb parallel to the Troubles.
One of the principal characters in the book (unseen to Morrison) is Ian Paisley, an omnipresent religious radio man turned superstar political critic (like Charles Coughlin in '30s America) who filled Belfast with a lot of anti-Pope screeds during Morrison's life. Just a coincidence, or the religious/political complement to Morrison's artistic work? It might be clearer from Rogan's work, honestly, if there were less blunt quotation and more incisive analysis. The Paisley descriptions are a good example of page-by-page "stand politics next to art, and see if anything ever comes together" ineffectiveness.
And, aside from political/religious ideas, the predictable material (went to this school, was this kind of person, worked with these people) is not that great. A lot of it, yes, and put together in a decent way, but not much great. Rogan builds the biography from seemingly exhaustive research to bland and predictable results.
The prose is usually awkward, careless, not well edited, and the perspective usually cloudy-eyed and asinine. Just tied-together quotes a lot of the time, and sudden jumps into editorializing, whether single-word ('50s BBC was "staid," '60s West Germany was "permissive") or multi-paragraph (an uncomfortable riff on one Morrison tryst after his mid-'90s split from trophy wife Michelle Rocca).
The end, and to a certain extent the beginning, depart from enough of these weaknesses to make Rogan's book worthwhile. In the epilogue, he can relax from completely reporting Morrison's life and return to pondering it, including Morrison's shift on the definition of "rock" and a quicker, more effective layout of his entire career: the slog of Them, the false breakthrough of "Brown Eyed Girl," the quieter but truer genesis of Astral Weeks, the sylvan '70s, the scandals and disgrace of the '80s and '90s, and beyond....more
A magnum opus for the philosophy of science, and probably one of the most powerful and incisive statements of (and arguments for) a rational, criticalA magnum opus for the philosophy of science, and probably one of the most powerful and incisive statements of (and arguments for) a rational, critical theory for human life. David Deutsch, a physicist at Oxford, makes a profound case in science, history, and the world at large for good explanations and knowledge-creation. He argues, against the grain of nearly every wishy-washy and/or unproductive explanation out there, that human beings and their ideas are the sum-total origin of progress in the universe.
In the course of his work, Deutsch reinforces a system of objective, fluid, beautiful awareness. He nicely parries counterarguments that his propositions are conceited or anthropocentric or purposeless/misguided. He refutes specific ideas and overarching philosophies (empiricism and positivism, holism and induction and behaviorism, postmodernism and most modernism, et al.) that limit by insidious design what we can learn. Society must be dynamic and individuals creative to make a proper memetic vein through which a good and fecund idea can flow.
For instance, particle/wave indecision in quantum theory has led many simpletons to rush into quackery, but Deutsch lucidly analyzes the physics and dials back its more hysterical misunderstanders. Postmodernism can only arbitrarily (in a lightning-quick circulus in probando) propose that everything's arbitrary. And there are reductionist, lazy, dehumanizing 'interpretation-heavy' explanations all the rage in modern science: eg., Jared Diamond's reductionist fallacies, behaviorism's dehumanizing explanation-jumping, etc. In a clear distillation of what pseudoscience is, Deutsch writes that the bad can't always be countered by the good because the bad holds itself immune.
I think Deutsch slips only occasionally, as when he tries to stretch his ideas into aesthetics (beauty has a strange synthesis of both parochial and objectively universal traits, both applied and pure?) or when, during his examination of memetics, he twice mentions offhand some pretty small but pretty egregious points (isn't humanity having more of a place in evolution [analogizing earth's evolutionary lifespan to a day gives humanity a second/a minute/a few hours?] pretty anthropocentric really? & aren't copycat suicides too literal, and therefore crass, of an example for meme-replication?), both of which could do with some more argument.
The conclusion he makes, "nearly there" optimism is actually a pessimistic utopianism (there would be some magical ultimate structure, after which lay an inexplicable void: a tiny frozen island), comes rightly enough in an ultimate chapter called "The Beginning." Science, or indeed any knowledge, claims neither infallibility nor finality; we can only go from problems to better problems, never from problems to solutions....more
Were music to ever not be ridiculous and disposable, we should have to make it so to save us some work in disposing of it.
Reliability remains today soWere music to ever not be ridiculous and disposable, we should have to make it so to save us some work in disposing of it.
Reliability remains today so unreliable, as if relying on something is even itself subject to circumstance. "I can rely on him" spits out the word "rely" as something redoubtably foreign as opposed to "I can"'s and "him"'s natural bases in verifiable experience.
If I were Wittgenstein, I would have zombied up out of the ground in 1977, when G.H. von Wright was about to publish Vermischte Bemerkungen, and snatched the manuscript right out of his hands, croaking (can zombies croak?) "Miscellany is meant to stay miscellaneous!", and scattering all the pages everywhere. (But this would be terribly avoidable, seeing as a virus of sufficient strength to awaken the corpse didn't exist in that year exactly.) But I'm not Wittgenstein, seeing as I speak barely more than a basic snatch of German, and am not a great philosopher, though I should certainly have a "sense of purpose" to be him. Enough to capitalize on all of it? For purposes of very foolish imitation and mockery?
Almost like senses of purpose can utterly replace all other senses, like of smell. Zombies might smell very unpleasant, and be rudely snatching and scattering pages always.
One of Mendelssohn's 1837 piano concertos (2 in d Op. 40) has always struck me as one of his finest....more
At a slim 188 pages, Sleepwalk With Me seems at first pretty usual and shallow. The ol' standup's memoir, short and jokey and no-nonsense. But BirbiglAt a slim 188 pages, Sleepwalk With Me seems at first pretty usual and shallow. The ol' standup's memoir, short and jokey and no-nonsense. But Birbiglia's always been enormously thoughtful and interesting and self-aware -- in comedy routines, ThisAmericanLife monologues, and in the latest promotion for his movie -- so I thought I'd better give his book a shot. As a whole, it's wise, deft, and profoundly worthwhile.
Honestly, for most of its length, Sleepwalk With Me seems to be just yoked-together comedy bits (short staccato sentences, punchy paragraphs, hit-or-miss) about growing up in a Boston suburb in the '70s, funny anecdotes with family and friends, and rocky self-discovery. But there's so much control and pacing and awareness along with those that they're much more special. And the last chapter (the titular essay, and all by itself the premise for the movie) definitely delivers on the potential of what came before.
There are several expertly-reprised notes of grace in Birbiglia's book that stuck out to me: *He recalls his mother's Catholic minced oath: instead of "Like hell!", she'd warn him with "Like fun!" *From an embarrassing childhood misdeed (you may be able to guess what), Birbiglia earned the nickname "Tinkles." *He imagines, while visiting an Alaskan wildlife retreat with his sister, that the bears lumber up to them with just a few peaceful words: "I'm a bear, etc." Each of these punchlines out once and then comes back again, sometimes again a third or fourth time, but always in an interesting and thoughtful way.
And the book's closer, like its opener, notes an opposite-day-satirical but still sweet reprise from his dad, a persistent "Don't tell anyone." It's hard to end an überconfessional memoir with an idea better than that one.
The story is a fascinating one, but The Professor and the Madman has a persistent case of awful, ridiculous, soul-sucking prose. You could be forgivenThe story is a fascinating one, but The Professor and the Madman has a persistent case of awful, ridiculous, soul-sucking prose. You could be forgiven for mistaking Winchester's shoddy flip-flop of tones as something "exciting" or "propulsive," and his cruddy pile-up of digressions and extraneous phrases and wonky parentheticals as "erudite" or "sophisticated" -- I know how it is, to be sucked into a wild, surprising plot like this one -- but his book has a gigantic discrepancy in quality between its story and its writing that I myself can't stomach.
And sure, I could have looked past this ugly, terrible writing style and seen the promise within, if only the rest of it weren't stupidly organized (surprise --> character description --> murder --> awkward treatise on lexicography --> more character description --> another surprise…), and if all of it weren't absolutely dripping with a manipulative, sneering, pretentious tone that made me never want to look at any of it ever again, "promise" or no.
There's only so much chalking up to plot/action/story that I can do before I need to go back to writing style to see the real effectiveness of a book… and an unwillingness to do that -- an unwillingness to say "Okay, apart from the cool story about the crazy guy and the dictionary, is this a well done book?" -- is the only reason I can think of that this piece of shit would ever be popular....more
A very enlightening, well-written excavation of irony and philosophy, in all senses. It's a book that challenges as much as clarifies, and, at least tA very enlightening, well-written excavation of irony and philosophy, in all senses. It's a book that challenges as much as clarifies, and, at least to my mind, it's an intellectual godsend.
Still, a bit frustrating. For instance, in the beginning, Colebrook repeatedly references another philosopher named Rorty, to whom the reader hasn't been introduced (expect perhaps in the reams of back-matter, into which a philistine/philosophy-civilian like me wouldn't be welcome). The dialogue she begins/departs from/returns to with this Rorty is an intriguing one -- puzzling out "irony" as purely literary, literary and philosophical, or some combination thereof, and how; questioning assumptions about irony's metaphysical, metatextual, and existential identity; etc.--but, after that enormously dense little splash, she then steers into an attempt to define the very literal essence of irony.
Certainly not a piece of cake, that question, but not very hard either, comparatively. It threw me off because it's so much simpler and easier than the preceding exegesis: not that this easier, more literal material is inherently bad, just that it maybe would have made more sense coming first. And Colebrook continues to dip in and out of other aestheticians' works, with material that can be complex and mind-bending one moment and simplistic the next. There are sections on the history of irony in philosophy (Socratic, Kantian, modern); the notion of irony vis-a-vis ethics, linguistics, etc.; and the repeated idea of irony's paradoxical representation/destruction/re-creation of the outside world.
All in all, this monograph seems like a compelling, substantial investment in meta-intellectual life. It defends irony's legitimate place in the world, which has always struck me as a commonly (and profoundly) misunderstood textual/rhetorical/mental idea. It isn't some sick, insincere, misbegotten booby trap, some bullshit contraption whipped out inside language to justify assholitude; it's actually a real, vital engagement with words, ideas, and the world that must be embraced and defended....more