Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Thoughts on Similar Lines

An elderly gentleman of my acquaintance:

"We've got a lovely garden, but I don't enjoy it. If the weather is sunny I am obliged to undertake all sorts of gardening tasks: mowing the lawn, cutting the hedges, weeding, thinning out shrubs, mulching, sometimes moving plants that I'm told 'don't look right where they are' or 'would do better over there'. It can go on all weekend with no let-up. It's a tyranny. Our neighbour just has a rectangular lawn and a few roses. When it's sunny, he just gets out his deckchair and sits and reads in the sun. I would settle for something far less pretty than ours, if only I could get to enjoy it!"

Similarly an academic friend of mine:

" I used to love reading, but since I started on this course, I've grown to dislike it intensely. I've got so many set texts that I have to devote a good portion of my day to just keeping up with them. Then there's the secondary scholarship: vast, in my field. A lot of it is really old and dry as dust and largely discredited, but I need to understand the evolution of the arguments. Sometimes I find that I have been just scanning the words and turning the pages - and I realise I haven't taken any of it in. It's just words, words, words.... Now I get really agitated when I sit down with a book and look forward to making a coffee or whatever - even before I get started. It's horrible: I don't get any pleasure out of reading now. It's just a chore. When I see people with the latest best-seller or a magazine I get really envious."

Today's Gospel reading (Matthew 13:44) concerns the man who discovers a treasure of great value buried in a field. He covers it back over, goes and sells all he has and buys the field.
My question is this:
What if he later realises that the treasure he uncovered is not worth the price he paid for it?

Just wondering....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Et In Aporia Ego

The sun is out, the sky is cloudless. the butterflies are flitting hither and yon. The garden beckons. The neighbours' burglar alarm has been sounding off for about 40mins (ever since the postman shoved a wad of letters through their door). Typically, they went abroad on holiday yesterday FOR A MONTH, with the in-laws, so there is no one to appeal to to sort out this racket. I think I will expire if I am forced to work inside today with the windows shut: pass the cotton wool please, I am going outside. I may be some time.....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sinaiticus Online! Huzzah!

I am salivating at the prospect of the Codex Sinaiticus (good old aleph!) being available online would that it had been thus available for scrutiny during my MA year! Any chance of P46?

The Demonisation of Men

The sun teetering on the edge of shining has necessitated a morning spent inside, doing the usual humdrum stuff and listening with increasing irritation to the radio. What seems to be a trend (maybe increasing, maybe it's always been there) is the demonisation of men: men represented as 'other', wholly hostile, lacking in redeeming features. What is particularly striking is that the language used and the attitudes assumed (what do you expect, they're men, they have no empathy, can't multitask, are inferior carers for children) disturbingly echo superior end-of-empire attitudes to 'foreigners'. I would be tempted to add '.....and what makes it worse is that this demonisation comes from women!' but that would undermine my following argument.
Having moved from a position of passivity to one of notional equality in the social and economic sphere (OK that's debatable, as some will no doubt point out), some women seem intent on completely overturning the male/female roles and behaving towards men in a way that would have been abhorrent to them had the positions never have been reversed. And for this we burnt our bras? The point of equality between the sexes is surely that of equality. Men and women are, after all, human beings: this commonality should overcome and perceived sex-differences.
But this doesn't seem to be the case. Like the child in the playground who bullies and whines until it is given the best toy, women seem to have run scampering into a corner mouthing streams of abuse over their shoulders. There is a terrible complicity in 'sisterhood'. Friends of mine are complicit in their condemnation of their spouses and partners, treating them as they would recalcitrant children who have to be coerced and manipulated into performing what are seen to be appropriate activities; shopping, decorating, childminding. This is often accompanied by general head-shaking and chortling which would be intolerable were the boot on the opposite foot. It appears to me that women are 'getting their own back'. It's an ugly, crass attitude that negates the improvement in womens' status in the last few decades. We are debasing ourselves.
Likewise the 'feminist agenda' and 'readings' that are retrospectively applied to texts that do not require any particular sort of reading to be applied to them. They stand on their own merits, written for humankind. By humans. So what if women don't get much of a mention?
Similarly any other sort of agenda is divisive. It's not clever scholarship: it's corrosive, divisive and demeaning to both those who apply it and to those works to which it is applied. Get over it please. Lift your eyes to see what is good and noble and binds mankind together. Stop squabbling. Grow UP!!!!

Thus Far Thus Good

Thursday and the skies are overcast again: the temperature is pleasant enough, but there doesn't seem to be the promise of the wonderful sunshine of yesterday. Having got the routine tasks out of the way in the morning (dog walking, admin., one full page of Aeneid BkII translation) we made a brief foray into town. Grabbing a couple of muffins and a thermos mug of coffee en route, we went and sat under the lime trees in the central park. All very pleasant. Families were sitting round eating picnics or ice-creams and the atmosphere was one of relaxed cordiality. Quickly popping into the Art Gallery (I know, I know.....but just 'popping in' is better than not going in at all, surely: at least I feel we're maintaining a toe-hold in culture!) and into the obligatory clothes, games and book shops on the way back to the car, we arrived home to a simple bread and cheese lunch and then..........aaah!
I took my new paperback (Michael Psellus' 'Fourteen Byzantine Rulers'), a mug of tea and my packet of French rolling tobacco out into the back garden and, sitting under the vine-clad pergola, read and read and read until the sun move right over and shone on me from the west. Bliss!
The book was surprisingly gripping, dealing with the reminiscences of an 11th century courtier (Psellus) about the machination and intrigues of the Byzantine imperial court. As usual in books of this sort, the first chapter was a tough orientation exercise, with new names flying in from left right and centre. However, after a while, the identities of the characters crystallised and I became engrossed in the details of the Empress Zoe's marriages, John Orphanotrophus' connivings and the arbtirary cruelties and kindnesses of that era. Not for nothing did the adjective 'byzantine' attain its subtle meanings! Having read and enjoyed Judith Herrin's excellent 'Byzantium' it seemed a natural progression to read some first-hand witnesses, and Psellus' conversational style makes for an ideal starting point. I look forward to reading some more very soon......hopefully the sun will come out later....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Happy Days are Here Again

Contrary to all my expectations, the weather forecast for this week looks relatively promising. No imminent downpours, pleasant temperature and a high probability of some sunshine.
Immediately I feel optimistic, being a light and warmth-loving creature (photophilous? thermophilous?). The planning centre of my brain springs into action: long walks across the grassy chalk uplands; grasshopper spotting in the poppy-spattered hay-fields; picnics in the abbey ruins; lounging under dappled willow near the glassy river.
Of course none of this actually happens. The dog throws up in the car; wasp-stings; braying adults and screaming toddlers; someone falls in and wants to go home. But this is not the point. It's the whole mindset that accompanies the prospect and arrival of real summer weather that I relish, the clarity of light and colour, the feeling of well-being and calm. I dislike being penned in, oppressed, restricted in my movements either mentally or physically. But in reality, I am not prevented from doing things at all - it's all in my mind. Thus I have to admit that, like the grasshopper who springs into chirping action on a hot summer day, I am (psychologically at least) a slave to the sunlight.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Here we go...

So this is day one of the School Hols, aka The Six-Week Break, a time when normal time fractures and its disorganised shards eventually coelesce into some sort of 'other' routine. Being very much a creature of time and motion, I find the whole business highly worrying and not a little troublesome. My day is very nicely organised. thank you. Once the children are deposited at school (the school-run economically incorporates the dog-walk), I take my place at the computer with my cup of strong, black coffee (radio on; Start the Week, Midweek, In Our Time, Desert Island Discs, according to day) and start work. First the quotidien admin; replying to emails, scanning articles or blogs before settling to a solid chunk of work or study (lunch or not as the mood and stomach dictate). Various diversionary activities punctuate the week in accordance with the dictum mens sana in corpore sano; Tai Chi, deadlifts and other powerbuilding exercise, cardio work or swimming. Occasionally I am lucky to meet up with friends. I like this life.
And now I must weave together a different sort of routine that will suit all the parties involved.
Unfortunately the most effective way of doing this is to act as the sergeant-major.
"Right you 'orrible lot, get out of them beds and get downstairs, eat your breakfast then we're walking the dog. Thirteen hundred hours we're orf to the gym where you will partake in physical hexercise then we will make a quick sortie to the shops to secure provisions. Sixteen hundred hours will see us back at barracks for approximately two hours R&R, then dinnah, then I will spend approximately one hour on admin. Lights out will be at the usual time."
And everything will run pretty smoothly. The temptation, of course, is to just let them drift through the holidays stuck to their various electronic games, which would indeed keep them quiet. And they are very inclined to do so. However, I am determined that the day will have some sort of form, that exercise will alternate with creativity or some mentally engaging task, that food will appear at regular intervals. Spontaneity is fine, but is often used as a cloak for laziness. Still being in your jim-jams at lunchtime is not going with the flow. It is moral decay, damn you!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why Women Don't Produce Great Art

Listening to Radio 4's self-consciously pro-feminist 'Woman's Hour' this morning I was appalled by the discussion on 'Helen Mirren in a bikini'. I was immensely relieved when on of the Friday panel - author Tim Lott - practically refusing to discuss this banality, saying that it was a pity that women had any interest in this sort of thing and they really should grow up and get over their obsession with appearance (I paraphrase from memory). Cheering silently, I reflected that this is EXACTLY what I have thought for a long time (ever since I first read Simone de Beauvoir at the age of 17). Women are constantly shooting themselves in the foot by becoming hung up on triviality: it's little wonder that they're not taken seriously. Get over it! This isn't knowing ironic feminist self-parody - it's a vapid neurotic obsession that keeps you from achieving or being taken seriously. Many very talented women spend an awful lot of time mentally observing and analysing their actions: it doesn't help that the very people who should be applauding their successes end up bringing the attributes of physicality into the discussion - looks, lifestyle and family in particular.
And this is why women don't produce great art. No, they don't. Don't pretend that textiles and ceramics and all the other second-rate detritus that women artists trot out are in any way equivalent to say, a Rembrandt or Mahler's Second. They're not, and all the politically-correct chin-stroking will not make them so. And don't bleat about the repression of women, patriachalism etc. Women don't produce great art because they are so busy hand-wringing and agonising and pleading their bellies. Women deal in minutiae. Most of the literature produced by them deals in 'relationships', their eyes never rising above the horizon of their locale. I quite agree with Brian Sewell's recent comment that there has never been a first-rank woman artist and that only men are capable of aestheitc greatness. No doubt this was greeted with howls of protest, but he's quite right, and right again to pin it on 'babies'.That there is, in this day and age, a programme called WOMAN'S Hour is shameful. That women actually consent to act in commercials for domestic air-freshener and online bingo is shameful. That they claim to enjoy films like 'Sex In the City' and 'Bridget Jones' is shameful. That they buy magazines that home in on the images and imagined shortcomings of 'celebs' is shameful. If women still aren't taken seriously, they only have themselves to blame. Don't be so SHAL-LOW!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hubris and Hamsters

Reviewing my posts for 2008 thus far I am struck by the fact that I am a complete tosser.
I start with good (nay, grandiose) intentions of doing this, that and the other, but generally these wither or disappear in a puff of dust. True, I feel somewhat hamstrung in that I can do no constructive academic spadework until I find out whether I am going to get funding for my doctorate. There is absolutely no point in reading a load of stuff that may or may not be relevant come October. If it DOES become relevant, I will not be able to remember what I have already read (I need an immediate goal in mind when I read; an essay to be written, a precise point to be proved etc).If not then.....well, it wont BE relevant anymore and it will just have been pointless and a bit sad.....
More realistically, I have come to realise that I am terribly overambitious with my time. I try to schedule in too much material into too little time. I haven't made any recent efforts with Biblical Hebrew; I wimped out of both Arabic and Akkadian, the latter before I had even really started.
As for my musings that I would commence translating my 'Patristic Greek reader' when the weather got warmer (see April 1st's post)......Pah!!! I'm still waiting, and the children finish school for the Summer break TOMORROW!!!! It ain't gonna happen is it? I've still GOT to pursue the OU Latin. Fortunately, at least that's going to plan and I am really enjoying Book 2 of 'The Aeneid', painstakingly, line by line. It's very addictive for someone like me who is a translation freak......I think a page of photostatted text per day would be possible (25 lines? Yes, I think so).
Yesterday saw the very sad passing of little Myrtle the hamster. Only six months old, what looked initially looked like an impacted pouch/?abscess turned out to be a massive malignancy that had grown with such rapidity that the awful pain she must have been in dare not be imagined. Having anaesthatised her and carried out an inspection of the lump the vet gave me an 'I'm very sorry to have to tell you....' sort of phone call. Surprised and sad, I had to give the instruction to end this little life with no more suffering. Picking up the tiny cooling body from the surgery (wrapped in a blue paper-towel shroud), I wept and felt stupid and couldn't imagine how people manage to make this decision for their dogs, or cats, or horses.....Burying her in the garden, the sunshine seemed dim and I felt wretched, like a murderer. Telling my daughter wasn't easy either. We had expected Myrtle to be back at home that evening, nursing a sore pouch and guzzling antibiotics. The initial brave face of a 'cool' eleven-year old crumbled when she saw the empty place where the cage stood, and the open packet of hamster treats that would delight no more.

Monday, July 14, 2008

School Holidays Suck

OK I really need a plan. School holidays are no longer on the horizon, they are looming large, as in 'start next week'. No, that's not large, that's HUGE. That's a HUGE amount of time to fill in between now and September. Hands up all the Mums who are actively looking forward to six weeks at home, in Britain, in the rain, constrained by rising fuel costs, ridiculous entrance fees, disappointing interactive exhibitions and unrealistic expectations! Just as I thought......not that many. I suppose there will be a handful of Cath Kidston-clad optimists who are relishing a bug-hunt on the allotment followed by a floury afternoon round the Aga - there always are. They hang round the school playground on the first day of term weeping as ***** enters the system for the first time bewailing the shortness of childhood and the tyranny of the school run. But not many.
There is a conspiracy of silence amongst mothers who don't know each other too well. Everything is fine and dandy. They love spending as much time as possible with their children. They love the cooking and the cleaning and the sheer mindlessness of the daily routine - it's their JOB after all. Funny though, when you get to know them better, the facade starts to crack.

Really, it would be nice to go into the library to browse the novels without ****** screaming at the top of her voice, without the toddler wanting me to sit down and read the same old book to him on the big, ugly puke-stained fish-shaped cushion in the kids' section, read him that bloody book about the caterpillar that I can't stand in the steady controlled voice that tells everyone what a great mother I am.
Sometimes I just give them pizza and chips.
Sometimes I am so knackered and bored that I've opened the wine by teatime.
Sometimes I wish I could just run off, screaming into the arms of some young man.
Sometimes I feel so desperate for adult company I welcome the chance to chat to the chuggers and the surly postman and the double-glazing salesmen.

This is what I hear. Not tales of satisfaction and contentment, but stories of frustration, boredom and despair, urgently whispered by women who straighten up and add that they DO realise how lucky they are really.

So I approach the six week holiday with trepidation. Again. Knowing that by August's end I will be like the woman who sweeps her own square foot of bare earth with a switch of leaves, over and over, looking to neither right nor left, just at the patch of soil in front of her,which is what remains of her sanity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...

Yep. I bought books. Five to be precise: Newman's 'Apologia Pro Vita Sua', an International Critical Commentary - Matthew, a catalogue of the highlights of Gaston Phoebus' 'Book of the Hunt', a new paperback copy of Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum' and also 'Baudolino' for good measure.
After the rush of buying there is the inevitable remorse. I really ought to get myself banned from bookshops, just like compulsive gamblers can from the bookies.
My excuse for number one is that interest was sparked by Roger Pearse's blog , for number two; that I am building a complete set of ICCs for the New Testament, for number three; my mother is currently interested in medieval painting, for number four; see yesterday's post; for number five; an extrapolation of number four!
There! that sounded reasonable didn't it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lingusitic Determinism and Disappearing Books

Well...the summer sun has briefly triumphed over what may be the wettest (thus far) July for a while and I think I shall venture out to visit some of the nearby second-hand book shops. It is, I admit, a great weakness of mine but as far as I am aware, morally neutral. I will probably come back with a couple of musty paperbacks and if I'm really lucky an International Critical Commentary to add to my growing collection. It's funny how when you are not actively seeking a particular book they seem to be widely available, but when that book is your goal it disappears from view! So it is with Umberto Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum' which I want to read again, having had my appetite stimulated for 'that sort of thing' by the marvellous short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. What an incredible writer Borges was! I can't believe I haven't come across his work before. (if anyone has any recommendations along similar lines they would be more than welcome) So I am seeking the 'Pendulum', but am quite open to other tempting purchases.
Reading Stephen Pinker's 'The Stuff of Thought' the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by the theory of Linguistic Determinism - roughly the idea that language forms concept rather than vice versa. It is a staggering thought that we may be formed by that which we can formulate and articulate in words , that people are blank slates onto which their lexus imposes notion. I imagine that it is a highly contraversial theory, smacking of elitism etc. I have read no further as yet: I don't think Pinker subscribes to LD - no doubt I shall find out as I read on, but the concept was so arresting that, as I have said before, I had to put the book down and ponder what I had just read.