This blog is now also available as a once-a-day email. If you think this might work better for you why not subscribe here? (It’s free and there’s a 1-click unsubscribe if you subsequently decide you need to prune your inbox!) One email a day, in your inbox at 07:00 every morning.
Can’t go to that concert? Try this instead.
It’s a wonderful example of what a family of imaginative musicians can do under lockdown conditions. Wish I could sing like that. (Even in the bath.)
Unintended consequence of an earlier pandemic
Cambridge University (where I work) is currently closed because of the virus. Lots of wags have already pointed out that the last time it was closed was in 1665 and Isaac Newton, who was then a scholar at Trinity College, left the University on two occasions to escape the plague and went back to his family home in Woolsthorpe in Lincolnshire. “In those days”, he later wrote, “I was in the prime of my age for invention & minded Mathematics & Philosophy more than at any time since.” So the discovery of gravity was an unexpected byproduct of the plague, a bit like non-stick frying pans were an unintended benefit of the Moon program.
Woolsthorpe is now run by the National Trust and is well worth a visit once things return to some semblance of normality. In the garden is an ancient apple tree that is supposedly a descendant of the tree from which the apple famously dropped onto the boy’s head.
My favourite cartoon (I think it was in the New Yorker but can’t confirm that at the moment), showed Newton looking down at the apple on the ground and rubbing the bump on his head. “Now comes the hard part”, he’s saying. “Getting a research grant to write it up”. (This will appeal to many early-career researchers.)
The National Theatre is streaming some of its plays
The NT is currently closed to live audiences. But Time Out reports that it has come up with an imaginative idea for discharging its cultural obligations as the country’s national theatre — streaming a play every Thursday evening. The current schedule is:
- April 2 ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ by Richard Bean, starring James Corden.
- April 9 ‘Jane Eyre’, adapted by Sally Cookson.
- April 16 ‘Treasure Island’, adapted by Bryony Lavery.
- April 23 ‘Twelfth Night’ by William Shakespeare, starring Tamsin Greig.
In addition, the NT will be rolling out National Theatre Collection study-resources to pupils who are now learning at home.
Live performances won’t restart until at least July.
Learning by doing
Almost everything I know about blogging I’ve learned from Dave Winer who — as I’ve often pointed out is not only a pioneer of the medium but also a great practitioner. A while back, he decided to make his blog, Scripting News, available as a daily email, and I was immediately struck by how useful that was — even to a reader like me who tried to visit the URL every day. So I decided to do the same with Memex 1.1 as it became clear that I would have to self-isolate and would therefore be working from home all the time.
The experiment has had a similar effect. Readership is significantly up, which is gratifying. But also so is engagement. I’m getting emails from readers — some of them very moving — about the impact something I’ve written or pointed to has had on them, as they endure the privations imposed by the pandemic. And — a really nice surprise — many people seem to like the audio Quarantine Diary. It’s all very well talking about the ‘authorial voice’ as embodied in print/type, but it seems that audio reaches parts that print doesn’t. Again, this may be an artefact of the strange times we’re currently living in. But it’s still striking…
I had a lovely email today from a reader in Germany who had been listening to Friday’s diary entry on David Brook’s NYT column and was struck by the idea of fighting fear with conversation. It reminded my correspondent of a passage in Hannah Arendt’s Men in Dark Times:
“However much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellows. Whatever cannot become the object of discourse – the truly sublime, the truly horrible or the uncanny – may find human voice through which to sound into the world, but it is not exactly human. We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking of it we learn to be human.”
And while I’m on the topic, I should say that the audio diary idea was also sparked by the natural way in which Dave Winer often incorporates speech into his daily blog posts.