Thursday, 24 July 2014

My poem is Guardian Poem of the Week

is the link

great commentary by Carol Rumens and 125 comments, mostly interesting, so far (after 24 hours)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Donald Barthelme...and Stewart Lee

Barthelme's most anthologised story 'The Indian Uprising' works like allegory, where 'Indians' stand for all the other races that the US have oppressed (especially, in 1968, when the story was published, the Vietnamese). It's also like allegory in the apparent randomness of many of its references, but where the associations become surreal.
That story isn't all that representative, though, because it's not funny as so many of Barthelme's stories are. I was just reading 'The King of Jazz' and the self-consciousness about language there reminded me of certain stand-up comedians. Stewart Lee in one of his books talks about the comic value of certain words like 'wool' for example. But one of his comic effects is based on being exaggeratedly articulate and wordy, and, when Barthelme describes an especially effective piece of jazz playing he does something similar when he says that it 'sounds like the cutting edge of fumaroles smoking on the slopes of an oyster fungus growing an aspen a mule deer wandering a montane of the Sierra coatimundis moving in packs across the face of Arkansas...

Friday, 4 April 2014

Stewart Lee on observational comedy

Stewart Lee objects to observational comedy in the same way that modernists object to realism:  it's an impatience with a stale, populist and complacent consensus. Lee parodies the observational mode of calling upon the audience to agree that, eg, this is how women behave, or how children behave, because it makes assumptions, for one thing about the observer and the observed, and places the observer in a position of authority, and stereotypes the observed and implies they're thoroughly predictable. He has a great range of strategies at his own command, but an especially brilliant one is to defamiliarise observational comedy by doing it from a radically skewed point of view - from the perspective of an insect in his 'Pestival' riff, and, in his recent TV show, from the perspective of an 'oligarch' living in London. The repeated words emphasise the alienness of these points of view - 'mandibles' in 'Pestival', 'prostitutes' in the oligarch one - because they parody the stale parameters in observational material with concepts that are entirely other to 'common-sense' consensual reality. This mode, like modernist deconstructions of realism, reveals ideological assumptions in what it parodies.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

'Martin Amis's England'

I've written in praise of Amis's Money and London Fields, in particular, and those novels did seem to sum up much that was going on in Britain when they were published, so it was shocking to watch Amis on BBC 4 sounding utterly out of touch, describing an England that hasn't existed since the death of Princes Diana. He looked and sounded like someone parodied by Paul Whitehouse and struck a note that suggested that he had stopped thinking actively some time ago. The lowest point (but the whole thing was an extended low point) was when he declared that English people binge drink because of the loss of Empire.  This was accompanied by ancient footage of English youth frolicking in the streets: those youths are by now middle-aged, but even for them the Empire might have been something that Kenneth Wolstenholme had elegised in black and white - 'They think it's all over' - except even older and more irrelevant.