Weekly Playlist 17: Scott

I’ll warn you that however many times I hear the new Shura single, I think something is wrong with my headphones. Nevertheless it’s a great single. With the death of Scott Walker this week I had to include one of my favourite tracks of his. Also, we’ve got the new Ezra Collective single, which is fantastic and bodes well for the album. Polishing it off, we’ve got the wonderful Half Man Half Biscuit painting a picture of a visit to a 24 hour garage.

Enjoy!

  1. BKLYNLDN by Shura
  2. Jackie by Scott Walker
  3. 1950 by King Princess
  4. I Don’t Know by Slum Village
  5. Quest For Coin by Ezra Collective
  6. To the Landing by Typical Sisters
  7. I Want To Be Happy by Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & Max Roach
  8. UFOF by Big Thief
  9. Without You by Model Man
  10. Twenty Four Hour Garage People by Half Man Half Biscuit

Apple Music Link

(Photo by Paul-Louis Pröve on Unsplash)

Women and Power by Mary Beard

Women and Power is a short LRB-published book based on two lectures given by Beard, one on The Public Voice of Women and one on Women in Power.

Beard leaps through history expertly linking Telemachus in the Odyssey telling his mother to go away and shut up because the men are talking to similar (if differently worded) experiences of men talking over women in boardrooms worldwide. Or female politicians photoshopped into the face of Medusa (Caravaggio’s or Cellini’s being the examples stated), as an example of modern audiences using classical tropes as a means of showing male dominance over female attempts at power.

This is a short book that doesn’t look at length at any of these comparisons, as you’d expect from their creation as non-academic lectures, but this makes the book extremely accessible and gives Beard a platform to talk about misogyny in modern life. I found it reminded me of an Ezra Klein podcast (sorry, male voices again) in which a series of interviews he and his interviewees have reiterated the point that issues like misogyny or even animal rights are not single-human moral issues as much as they are systemic society-wide issues. As such, Beard’s situating of misogyny in a grand arc of history make the extremely important point that we have the option to continue to reinforce these problems by operating in these societal structures, or to challenge them as and when we can. As such, it can make an example of the vile shouting of some idiot man on Twitter be seen not as the powerful agent of the patriarchy, but as a symptom of a diseased society. The latter of which seems like something we could, possibly, recover from.

Continuing Beard’s experiences on Twitter, she briefly references examples of men explaining Roman History to her. Obviously, a first thought is ‘what idiot would do that?’ But secondly, there’s the more insidious consideration that not only did a man (many men in fact) feel confident enough to lecture a Cambridge Classics Professor about the subject that she has devoted her life to, but they did it in a public forum, knowing that all their friends and family could be watching. The first of those is an example of the ridiculous things a patriarchy produces (dozy, over-confident men). The latter shows that it’s the society itself that the man is operating in that gives him the confidence to continue, and it’s that that is both important, and hard, to change.

Beard doesn’t, despite the ‘manifesto’ subtitle, give an awful lot of solutions to these societal problems (solving misogyny in a 100 page book would be a big ask, even for someone of Beard’s talents and capabilities), but her role as a classical historian in showing these problems in their broader context is both important and a very enjoyable read.

(Image is the really rather creepy Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsky)

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

It was only as I was coming to the last few chapters of this book that I remembered why I’d put it on my list to read in the first place. It is, of course, because of The Waste Land, since it is in this book that Eliot found “Sesostris, the Sorceress of Ecbatana” being played by the cynical Mr Scogan in a village fete towards the end of the novel, to become the cold-ridden famous clairvoyante, Madame Sesostris in the poem.

This is not a good enough reason to read the book – I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have some interest in Huxley. It doesn’t have a complex plot – we follow the poet Denis Stone in a visit to Crome where a house party is taking place. Various broadly-drawn characters appear (the snobbish artist Gombauld, the pompous owner Mr Wimbush, and his spiritualism-obsessed wife) and the end result is a novel made up of a number of skits, loosely held together by the overarching location. It’s quite clearly satirical, albeit of a novel-form with which I’ve had limited experience (although the form of a book focused on visitors to a grand house would later be commandeered by murder-mystery writers).

I do share a certain empathy with Wimbush when he attempts to prophecy:

“Human contacts have been so highly valued in the past only because reading was not a commonplace accomplishment because books were scarce and difficult to reproduce. The world, you must remember, is only just becoming literate. As reading becomes more and more habitual and widespread, an ever increasing number of people discover that books give them all the pressures of social life and none of its intolerable tedium.”

In some ways, he was right, we spend more time than ever reading, it’s just on Facebook, replacing one form of tedium with another.

Despite being somewhat different from Huxley’s much more famous Brave New World, the same Mr Scogan mentioned above describes “vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires.” – ideas which Huxley would explore in the later novel – but if you come to the book expecting something of the style and approach of Brave New World, you’ll be disappointed. It’s less ambitious, but more lighthearted and often amusing. More of a book to read to give an insight into a novelist with an important career ahead of him than purely worth it on its own terms, but it’s short so not a massive commitment if the idea takes you.

(Image is: Composizione con rosso, blu, giallo, nero e grigio, 1922 by Piet Mondrian)

T.S. Eliot and the Lay Reader by Ethel M. Stephenson

I only searched out this book because of the fact it’s referenced a few times in The Waste Land app for iPad (which comes recommended, incidentally). The book is a bit of an oddity, being published as it was, originally, in 1944. The copy I read was from 1946, and thus Stephenson is still reeling from the discoveries of Nazi concentration camps.

Coming, as it does, long before the 1971 publication of The Waste Land’s facsimile edition, there are a handful of occasions where theories are put forward that are either proved or disproved by that edition. It’s certainly not Stephenson’s fault, but it makes the work somewhat of a historical artefact in its own right.

Overall, though, this is a very accessible, and often rather fun book. As an example of the flowery but readable prose, here’s Stephenson on the What the Thunder Said of The Waste Land

With the consummate skill of the great artist, Eliot has taken us back to the scene of the crucifixion. We are listening to the clamour and the agony in stony places; we are standing in the frosty silence of our own gardens; we who were once whole and living are now dying as the Spring thunder rolls out its message: DAMYATA, DATTA, DAYADHVAM – “Subdue yourselves – Give – Be passionate”

I also appreciate the fact that she starts her section the The Waste Land by saying

A poet’s most famous work is not always his best poetry, but has frequently won its status in the public mind by the scope of it’s appeal.

The book isn’t exclusively about The Waste Land (although it’s certainly the main focus) and I often found Stephenson’s insights into some of the later works to be interesting. On Little Gidding, she says

Eliot is not tied by time, for him all history is also now.

Which is an important insight into the voice of The Four Quartets. This interaction between the almost god-like philosopher (at least, that’s how we like to think of ourselves) perspective, intertwined with the much more parochial, continues the experimentation with voice that Eliot pushed so heavily in The Waste Land. By this time in Eliot’s career, though, the voices are fewer and more distinguishable, if not exactly identified.

It’s a fun, short, read so find a copy in a library, or since it’s appears to be in the public domain just read it online.

Apollo by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker and Mike Collins

 

As my post on the Brady Heywood podcast outlined, I have a particular interest in the Apollo missions, so a comic that told that story was always going to exert a certain gravitational pull on me.

The comic is drawn in a pleasingly 1960s style with the large coloured dots of the Ben Day process, which anchors the whole work nicely. The story is well-told, but the choice of using regular dream sequences was my least-favourite aspect of the comic. It gave echoes of the dream-like science exploration of Interstellar, but to me reduced the overall coherence of the work, especially when compared to the superior First Man film.

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Which leads me to the largest problem with the work. Despite being a good read, visually stimulating and enjoyable, it was trumped by a film that did all those things and much more, and in the same year. Clearly a comic is not a film, but First Man was such an emotional journey that the relative lack of emotion in Apollo made it feel less compelling.

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Overall, it’s worth reading. The story’s simple and enjoyable, and the artwork is great, but it suffers from being trumped by a better work on the same subject.

Weekly Playlist 16: Dream Come True

I think Only Human by KH (Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden under another name) and Running by Helado Negro are two of my favourite tracks of the year so far, so there’s a strong start to this week’s collection. Further down we’ve got one of The Temptations’s first singles – perhaps not one of their best known, but the from the Ondioline introduction onwards – played by Berry Gordy’s wife, Raynoma – it is just a splendid track to enjoy as the sun comes out and days get longer.

The New Breed is one of the only other songs from earlier than this year and it’s a slow burner of a song – piano led, beautiful, and the perfect closer to this week’s selection.

Enjoy!

1. Only Human (Radio Edit) by KH
2. Running by Helado Negro
3. Girls Like by Tinie Tempah feat. Zara Larsson
4. Counting Down the Days by AK
5. Esquima Dream by Stephan Crump
6. 1,2,3 dayz up by Kim Petras feat. SOPHIE
7. (You’re My) Dream Come True by The Temptations
8. Embryo by Jackson Mullane
9. Pretending He Was You by Claude Fontaine
10. The New Breed by Elan Mehler

Apple Music Link

(Image: El sueño de Jacob by José de Ribera)

Us

 

This review contains spoilers to the plot of Us. Watch Us first before reading because it’s an excellent film.


I’m going to run through what I think is my main interpretation of Us first, because I think it’s an extremely clever film, and although I think Baudrillard’s notions permeate the work, the clear analogy running through the work is worth exploring.

There’s a sense in which each of the alternative family are, as the title would suggest, Us, but our worst sides. For example, whereas Jason plays with a toy that makes sparks, his alternative, Pluto (named for the ruler of the underworld) is a pyromaniac with a burned face. These alternatives represent what we would do if unconstrained. As such what holds us back from the ‘darkness of humanity’ as Peele himself puts it, is the social ties, the need we have to put on a mask to interact with others. If, like in America (Us vs ‘U.S.’) at the moment, these masks begin to drop, violence and mayhem will ensue. In this conception both the underground and overground alternatives are both real, held in tension by the image we choose to portray to others. Peele is suggesting (as all horror films do, to some degree) that what is most terrifying is ourselves.

Both Jason and Pluto wear masks, but the key thing that the film is exploring is that we all wear masks. Rather than attacking this as being something terrible and we need to become our ‘true’ selves, I believe the film is saying that these masks have a value. Indeed, towards the end of the film, Jason and Zora exchange a brief moment where, in a moment of terror, he puts on his (Chewbacca) mask. She looks at him as if to say ‘why?’, his gestured retort seems to say ‘why not, it comforts me?’ and she accepts this.


In 1981, Jean Baudrillard published a book, known in English as Simulacra and Simulation. Like most Baudrillard, getting at all aspects of his ideas is not easy but I’ll give a very quick run-through here because it’s important for the rest of what I’d like to suggest.

Simulacra are copies of things where either the original never existed, or where the original at least no longer exists. Baudrillard opens with what he claims to be a quote from Ecclesiastes:

The simulacrum is never what hides the truth – it is truth that hides the fact there is none.

The simulacrum is true.

Baudrillard suggests that societies progress through stages in which we take reality:

  1. Firstly we reproduce it with a sign that is a faithful copy
  2. Next, we come to believe that the sign is an unfaithful copy. Signs no longer seem to reveal reality to us, but they at least suggest a reality is still there, even if the sign fails to capture it fully.
  3. By the third stage, the sign pretends to be a faithful copy, but there is no original. Signs and images still claim to represent something real, but there is no underlying reality that they’re referring to.
  4. In the fourth stage, this simulacrum has no relationship to reality whatsoever – signs just refer to other signs creating a space in which everything only exists in relation to something else. He called this stage the hyperreal. In this stage, any reference to reality is perceived as being oversentimental or naïve.

Baudrillard contends that we went through three historical stages that match these. Premodern times linked the real and the sign, in the Industrial Age, mass reproduction led to copies of items, making commodities which imitate reality. Finally, the post modern age, the simulacrum ‘wins out’ as it were and the relationship between reality and representation vanishes. Everything is a simulation.

I felt that it was useful to give a relatively quick run through the philosophy of the book, but I got a fair amount of it from the rather good Wikipedia page, so if you’d like to read some more about it, I’d start there rather than trying to delve into the book itself which is on the verge of being incomprehensible even if, like me, you’ve got a degree in Philosophy.

Before we return to Us, I’d like to mention that these ideas were explored in 1999’s The Matrix. Indeed, a rather beautiful edition of Simulacra and Simulation is where Neo stores his computer discs. In the Matrix, it transpires that the ‘real world’ that Neo lives in is, in fact, a simulation because robots have decided that humans make good batteries. One reading of The Matrix is, therefore, that the world Neo is escaping by taking the red pill is actually equivalent to the postmodern world in which we live. Neo is in fact taking a journey back to a simpler time where signs and reality were more closely related.

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Us bears a similarity to The Matrix in this respect. The alternative family that the Wilsons meet, simulates their existence in tunnels beneath the world, and like Baudrillard’s contention of a postmodern world, it is unclear quite whose world a simulation of the either, and thus, perhaps neither are truly ‘real’. The pun of the title queries who really is ‘Us’ in these scenario. Are we them, or are they us?

Added to this, though, the film also communicates a number of further interpretations or signs (added to the ones above) that are less related to Baudrillard in appearing to signify things in the real world (although, I guess Baudrillard would probably suggest the real world situations I’m about to describe are merely another collection of signs).

The film is also an expression of how society creates and feeds off a hidden class who operate out of sight of the middle and upper classes, but keep the world operating. The final two acts of the film, therefore, are like a revolution where the working class rise up and destroy their middle class equivalents.

Similarly, there’s an analogy with the American love of incarceration which, like the slavery it replaced, has created an entire group of humans living a shadow existence outside the freedoms we assume for ourselves. Adelaide spends a large amount of the film in chains, and although Peele has specifically said this film isn’t about race (and it certainly doesn’t need to be), he’s certainly making this allusion clear.

The film operates on all of these levels, questioning our notions of reality in a post-modern world, presenting a metaphor of our best and worst selves and how they interact, and speaks to the separation between classes and the incarcerated, all while presenting a genuinely creepy horror film. Quite the achievement.