Tuesday 13 September, 2022

Venice: the last mile

Quote of the Day

“Objects or practices are liberated for full symbolic and ritual use when no longer fettered by practical use. The spurs of Cavalry officers’ dress uniforms are more important for tradition’ when there are no horses, the umbrellas of Guards officers in civilian dress lose their significance when not carried tightly furled (that is, useless).”

  • Eric Hobsbawm in The Invention of Tradition.

I kept thinking of this when watching the preposterous ceremonial charades surrounding the declaration of Charles as King. How many overweight, elderly white males in bejewelled and braided dresses does a country need? And how many of them need suspender belts to keep up those black tights? Also, I’ve just remembered that the new Queen Consort’s ex held the magnificent title of Silver Stick in Waiting. (I am not making this up.) Wonder what he did with his stick?

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Planxty | The Good Ship Kangaroo


An old (1980) recording of one of my favourite songs by Planxty, the best traditional group of my lifetime. Comes with a nice explanation of the song’s origin.

Short Read of the Day

Defeat by Truth is Victory

Here is a touching sermon by the current President of Harvard, a hedge-fund with a nice university attached, to mark the beginning of the Fall semester.

Books, etc.

Cultural Amnesia

This is one of my favourite books — the result of a lifetime’s reading and note-taking by a great cultural critic. Clive was my predecessor-but-one as the Observer’s TV critic, and indeed was the writer who made television criticism into something that could be both insightful and readable. Like me — but with much more energy — he was an autodidact and this book represents a really touching attempt to read everyone worth reading before one dies, and then trying to communicate something of the essence of each. It consists of 106 short essays on writers, artists and thinkers — from Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig, taking in Walter Benjamin, Camus, Miles Davis, Fellini, Freud, de Gaulle, Hazlitt, Hegel, the Manns (Thomas, Heinrich, Michael and Golo), Proust, Sartre, Trotsky, Waugh and Wittgenstein. There are some inclusions that initially raise eyebrows — for example Hitler. Why him? Because “one of the drawbacks of liberal democracy… is the freedom to forget what once threatened its existence”.

If I had a bookshelf in my bathroom, then this would be on it. Instead it sits in the study. And over the years, dipping in to it has been one of the joys of life. The first time I saw Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand Hotel Budapest, for example, I learned that it was partly inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig, about whom I had known precisely nothing. But Clive understood his significance. And now I do too.

What the Truth-Social flop says about Trump

Nice column by Jack Shafer, wondering why did only 3.9m of Trump’s 89m Twitter followers follow him to his personal Twitter-clone?

Trump’s deranged outrage style once contained real entertainment value — which explains why moderates and liberals followed him on Twitter even if they wouldn’t vote for him. But in his post-presidency and especially in the weeks following the Mar-a-Lago search and investigation, the show has gone stale. Vainly, he has sought to top himself by sharing QAnon-related material on Truth Social, denouncing the FBI like a madman trapped in a bunker, and calling for his reinstatement as the “rightful winner“ of the 2020 election. He’s become a carnival geek biting the heads off of snakes, which can be a fabulous show the first couple of times you see it, but after that, meh. Could today’s Trump devise enough fresh outrage to produce even a brief TikTok?

The interesting question — impossible to answer given the unreliability of US mainstream media’s coverage of politics — is whether Trump is really heading for the rocks.

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