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Showing posts from June, 2010


I have just read this. Tremendously frustrating writer is Michel Henry: he's steeped in Husserl (reminds me what it's like to be adrift amongst the strange landmarks of an unfamiliar philosophy) and with an awkward tendency (it appears to me at least) to repeating an argument that seems to be in essence fully formed by p.10.

On the other hand, I found Material Phenomenology's third and final essay - 'Pathos-with: Reflections on Husserl's Fifth Cartesian Meditation' - to be really rewarding. Strikingly, he describes a 'strange acoustics' (p.115; Kierkegaard's phrase) that constitutes our relation with others. Our intimacies and communities are constructed through senses of proximity that are not literal: imagination and memory mean that what is physically close may be emotively distant, and vice-versa. Displacing 'intentionality and perception' (p.116) from their privileged place, the objective presence of others and their distribution in geom…

Ensemble and Dysfunction: British and American Sitcoms

A rather unserious subject, but I've always had a secret desire to run a specialist module on sitcoms: I have a rather academic attitude to all my favourite comedies. Anyway, I recently had a conversation where the differences between American and British comedy came up. More precisely, it struck me that most of the best American situation comedies are based around a fairly sizeable set of characters: consider Friends (6), SATC (4), The Simpsons (4+) or The Big Bang Theory (5). None of these characters has absolute primacy.
By contrast, the stock-in-trade for the very best British sitcoms tends to be either a single dominant character, with a cast organised around them (consider Reginald Perrin, Fawlty Towers, The Office) or a pair of characters (Peep Show, The Good Life, Steptoe and Son). I don't trust the judgements of this list, but I'd say only seven of the top twenty-five are unambiguously 'ensemble' sitcoms, and one of those (Father Ted) is Irish. Of the top …

Mescal, Mexico and Modernism: Under the Volcano

Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano is a late modernist novel (published in 1947, although begun and set in the thirties) which is perhaps rather obscure, but a book for which I have lot of affection. It's the story of a British consul in a Mexican city, and I first read it when I was in Mexico myself. Having reread it over the last week, I was happy to find out that I still liked it a lot.
The novel's blatantly Joycean - it's relatively experimental, often stream-of-consciousness, and is set on a single day (the Day of the Dead). There's a few things that set it apart. Unlike Joyce's work, which was written about Dublin whilst in exile, Under the Volcano is exilic itself, its protagonists displaced from London and America. It has perhaps a more explicit politics: a post-war novel set in 1939, and with the shadow of the Spanish Civil War and the Mexican revolutionary movement cast heavily over the narrative. Yet, what makes this a great artwork, for me, is the ent…


Two essays that I have recently read and discussed with others are Michel de Certeau's work on the scriptural economy and Walter Benjamin's 'The Storyteller'. Both constitute convincing and powerful critiques of contemporary culture, but appear to do so through problematic references to orality.
Benjamin claims that a certain type of spoken culture - story-telling - is dying or dead. Produced in the spaces and times provided by rhythms of labour (e.g. weaving, sailing) which no longer exist, what appears to have been lost for modernity is the practical knowledge and recordembodied in tales and yarns. These stories - endlessly revisable and transmissable - belonged to no-one and therefore everyone, but they have been displaced by different forms of narrative, such as the novel, which are crystallised as the property and concern of one individual.
De Certeau also begins by referring to a vanished tradition of orality, this time crushed in the face of an order of writing …