Art, Books

Windmills of the mind

Don Quixote goes mad in the second paragraph of his own story. This madness, diagnosed by Cervantes, flows from the belief that everything he has read in books of chivalric romance is literally true. He fails to distinguish fiction from reality. His madness is therefore not chemical, nor genetic, nor the result of abusive nurture, but stems from too much reading and, more precisely, too little ability to read what he is reading. His is a literary ailment. In a book of chivalric romance this knight-errant would be quite normal. In a realist novel he is mad; a character who falls frequent prey to his delusions. Continue reading

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Art, Film

Barry Lyndon*

What is luck? The dictionary definition is “success brought about by chance rather than by ones own actions”. To the religious mind nothing can be occasioned by luck because all is within the compass of a providential God. In Christianity what others call ‘luck’ is instead called ‘grace’. The Greeks believed in the randomness and pointlessness of luck, but they ascribed it to the capricious will of the Goddess Fortuna. Fortune was experienced as capriciousness but lay ultimately in the lap of the gods. To the secular mind the possibility of chance is an affront. To surrender to the idea that life is underscored by meaningless, pointless contingency is, for some, too brutal to be contemplated. Therefore instead, for the secular mind, providence is smuggled back in and called behavioural determinism or karma or destiny or fate or some such retrospective self-deceiving comfort. Let us steel ourselves and remain with the definition of luck as nothing more than pure mundane chance. Continue reading

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Miscellaneous

Olympic spirit

And so the Rio Olympics comes to an close. The English tabloids are lobbying for the more photogenic gold-medalists to be knighted. Members of the Great Britain team are returning to London on a specially chartered plane with a golden nose. The green diving pool has been returned to blue. An IOC member has been arrested for corruption. The Brazilians can sleep peacefully now the US frat-boy swimmers crime wave is over. The favelas have been forcibly cleared. My favourite irony was the Russian minister for sport complaining that the crowd’s booing of Russian drugged up competitors was “not sporting.Continue reading

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Art, Books

Don’t judge a book by its cover

A recent book celebrating the artistic spirit of resistance by the Syrian people has made the news. Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline is a collection, translated into English, by over fifty artists and authors who confront violence in their country with poems, songs, satirical cartoons and political posters. It gives voice to the silent and tells an unheard story. It was described in a review by A. L. Kennedy as a “wise, courageous, imaginative and beautiful response to all that is ugly in human behaviour.” The book was a winner of the English PEN award, and its publication supported by the British Council and the Arts Council. It celebrates openness, tolerance, creativity and freedom. Continue reading

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Books, Miscellaneous

Do you mind if I smoke? I don’t care if you burn

Smokers in France are fuming. There is a real prospect that Gauloises and Gitanes, those quintessentially French cigarettes, will soon be banned on the grounds that they are simply too cool. They have been a key part of the French identity since 1910, the very essence of France. How could the great years of the post-war Left Bank cultural explosion have occurred without them? Continue reading

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Books

Dictator Lit

News from the publishing frontier.

Saddam Hussein’s 2003 novel Devil’s Dance is to be published in English for the first time, in December 2016 by Hesperus. The original manuscript was thrillingly smuggled out of Iraq during the early part of the war by his daughter Raghad, whilst its author was left to swing. This exciting literary development should solve most of your Christmas present problems. Continue reading

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Books, Miscellaneous

Anarchy on wheels

A runaway train is hurtling towards five people tied to a railway track ahead. You are in a signal box and can pull a lever to switch the train to a siding upon which one man is standing unawares. Do you pull the lever and save the five but choose to kill the one? Or do you do nothing and allow the five to be killed? This famous question was posed in 1967 by the philosopher Philippa Foot.

Who knew car manufacturers were in the vanguard of ethical theory? Continue reading

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