An intermittently Liberal anthology compiled by Jonathan Calder

Monday, December 29, 2003  

The conservatism of the modernists
Auden was the first poet writing in English who felt at home in the twentieth century. He welcomed into his poetry all the disordered conditions of his time, all its variety of language and event. In this, as in almost everything else, he differed from his modernists predecessors such as Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot or Pound, who had turned nostalgically away from a flawed present to some lost illusory Eden where life was unified, hierarchy secure, and the grand style a natural extension of the vernacular. All of this Auden rejected.

Edward Mendelson's Introduction to W. H. Auden: Selected poems (1979)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 12:52 a.m.

The boyhood of Spassky
In the summer of 1946, Spassky passed his days watching the players in a chess pavilion "with a black knight on top" on an island in Leningrad's river Neva. "Long queen moves fascinated me," he recalls. "I fell in love with the white queen. I dreamed about caressing her in my pocket, but I did not dare to steal her. Chess is pure for me." He had thirteen kopeks for his fare and a glass of water with syrup to see him through until the last streetcar carried him home. His feet were bare. "Soldiers' boots were my worst enemy."

David Edmonds and John Eldinow Bobby Fischer goes to war (2004)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 12:44 a.m.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003  

Towers and stoves
As things are, Descartes's stove and Montaigne's library tower have given us two ways of living and thinking that are at root divergent. Stove people think that you can strip everything away and rebuild reality from precepts; tower people reckon that writing about and exploring or refining beliefs is the best you can do. For tower people, the process of writing and arguing is what thinking is; it is not concluding.

Consciousness for tower people is being partly a body, partly a pen, partly a voice, partly a half-memory of someone else's voice, partly the thing that enables you to realise that you are all those things at once (although this bit of consciousness doesn't always function very well and needs a lot of encouragement), and partly a set of uneasy attitudes, ranging from shame to self-satisfaction, towards what in yourself is received and what seems immediate. Thinking is done not by starting from the beginning, but by thinking onwards and backwards and hoping that some clarification will emerge.

Philosophers on the whole used to be stove people, and would probably have professed austere incomprehension of the position I have just outlined; but since Wittgenstein's great migration from the deathly attempt to circumscribe the totality of what is by a string of propositions in the Tractatus to the language games of the Philosophical Investigations, there have been and are many philosophers of a wide range of political shadings (Michael Oakeshott, Richard Rorty, Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum) who breathe the air of the tower far more easily than they do that of the stove. Maybe if this tendency continues, Montaigne will one day come to seem as significant a figure in the history of philosophy as Descartes.

Colin Burrows' review of Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher by Anne Hartle The Guardian 11 November 2003

posted by Jonathan Calder | 11:36 p.m.

Friday, December 05, 2003  

Oh Oh Antonioni
More than any other film, Blow-Up defined the concept of "Swinging London", as a hedonistic mix of youth, affluence, pop, sex and mini-skirts, set against an historic backdrop and filtered through the eyes of a fashion photographer.

Obituary of David Hemmings The Times 5 December 2003

posted by Jonathan Calder | 9:51 p.m.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003  

Out on the lawn
To step on to a turf is to step out of the everyday; to break with the humdrum and the tyranny of routine. Grass represents liberty. It is the universal opt-out from the confinement of civilisation and regulation. By stepping on to the grass we temporarily reject the ordered world of human affairs and take a brief walk along the edge of the infinite.

The appeal of grass runs deep. You have only to watch the excitement of small toddlers playing outdoors on the lawn. Out here the normal rules are relaxed. Out here it is fine to shout and scream and throw the toys about. No one seems to mind. There is a new freedom to jump and roll about, to splash wildly in the inflatable pool, to abandon for a while the tedious laws of existence. And through it all to feel the cool, soft caress of grass leaves between bare toes.

It is a heady amalgam of the sensual and the spiritual, this anarchic world of grass; a formative experience that will never be forgotten. Primary teachers see it every year - the barely contained explosion of excitement when youngsters are allowed to play on the school field for the first time after the winter. The games they play are the games they played yesterday on the hard tarmac playground - football, handball, skipping and tag; the running, screaming, roughing-and-tumbling of kids everywhere. But when they are played outside, on the soft, green turf, they are imbued with a new joy, a greater abandon.

Years later many will experience the same collision of longing and sensuality when they lie with a lover in the park on a summer night. To make love on grass is to embrace the wild and the untrammelled, to brush against the great forces of the infinite as Laurie Lee did on his magical night beneath the hay wagon with Rosie, his first love.

Grass is a reminder that we have a history older than our lives. We come from some faraway place, and that soft, green vegetation beneath our bodies has made the journey with us. When we touch it, when we walk on it and play on it, lie on it and make love on it, that is when we feel intensely alive.

Graham Harvey The Forgiveness of Nature: The story of grass (2001)

posted by Jonathan Calder | 11:27 p.m.