Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Alexander Gardner

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Alexander Gardner –
Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War
By Keith Steiner
Matador – 25.00

How does a camera lie? In this naming of parts, the ways are legion. Most would not question the facts of the doctoring, editing, adjusting of photographs in the modern age of sophisticated airbrushing. The term to ‘photoshop’ is synonymous with contemporary photography in the same manner as to ‘hoover’ is synonymous in domestic management. The alteration of photographs either pre or post exposure is now commonplace, and is not broadly regarded as a breach of ethical standards. The new trope takes its place in a world teeming with smartphone and tablet authored photographs. These photographs engage in stylised composition and promulgate a number of common tropes. Their number renders their imagery indistinct and sometimes invisible.

                                                                                                        (‘The Fallen Man’)

With the advent of fake-news currently marauding the airwaves like an out-of-control tyrant from fake-hell; just as much could readily be applied to photography – could it not?

Along with every schism and trajectory thereof.

Just two, highly in-depth qualities which Keith Steiner address, head on might I add, throughout  Alexander Gardner – Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War.

 

A rather lavishly put together book, which takes both the reader as well as the fan of the photograph on something of a magical mystery tour that’s deeply embedded within some of the most perplexing confines of politics, psychology and photography.

The above quotation ought to send many a curious mind unto perpetual motion; the final terminus of which, as Steiner reminds us in the chapter ‘Reflections on a Looking Glass: The Tragedy of Lewis Payne: The Enigma of Identity,’ invariably reads: ”At risk are the very notions of personhood, selfhood, integrity, identity and personal agency. Readers may recall the blood freezing discarnate incantation which transfixed Orwell’s Winston Smith in Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1949) at his moment of greatest intimacy, privacy and personal realisation – ”You are dead.”

From the tragic Rose Woods of Gettysburg to the equally tragic destruction of New York’s Twin Towers, this book’s powerful assimilation of photographs (and I do mean powerful within the catafalque like context of poignancy), truly are something to behold.

If not believe.
If not try and eventually come to terms with.

As such, the 165 pages of Alexander Gardner – Visionary Photographer of the American Civil War are unsurprisingly special.

As Elizabeth Rigby (later Lady Eastlake) once said in 1857: ”Photography has become a household word and a household want… is found in the cell of the convict… and on the cold brave breast on the battlefield.”

David Marx

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice –
An Anthology of Magical Tales
Edited by Jack Zipes
Illustrated by Natalie Frank
Princeton University Press – £27.95

Prejudice in general is a belief system, not a knowledge system about a particular group, and as a belief system, stereotypes of the targeted groups are based on some obvious distinguishing appearances, but more on activities and functions attributed to the group by way of fantasies.

                                                          (‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Harry
                                                          Potter, and Why Magic Matters’).

Well, who’d have ever thought one would read such profundity in a book entitled The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – An Anthology of Magical Tales?

Not I, that’s for sure.
Especially the very opening line: ”Prejudice in general is a belief system.”

Prejudice is indeed a belief system; which can, more often than not, purport to an abundance of seething, opposing disqualification. The terrible manifestation of which can further evolve unto distinct negativity. A most distinct issue upon which editor, Jack Zipes, further continues when he writes: ”Young Bruehl maintains that there are three elementary forms of fantasy, related to sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism, and childism can involve all three forms of fantasy, belief, and action: ”1) fantasies about being able to self-reproduce and to own the self-reproduced offspring; 2) fantasies about being able to have slaves – usually sex slaves – who are not incest objects; and 3) fantasies about being able to eliminate something felt to be invidiously or secretly depleting one from within.”

The latter is something Theresa May ought to be alerted to in the run up to the pending British Election (on June 8th). Let’s face it, May’s all-round embrace of ”fantasies about being able to eliminate something felt to be invidiously or secretly depleting one from within,” is a thought process she has readily subscribed to – ever since she embarked on becoming Home Secretary in 2010.

That said, An Anthology of Magical Tales really ought not become steeped nor embroiled in political tosh.

Indeed, its 348 pages (excluding Preface, Notes and Acknowledgements, Biographies of Authors, Editors, Collectors and Translators, Filmography, Bibliography, Selected and Chronological List of Sorcerer’s Apprentice Tales and Index) is a socially induced, and perhaps visionary book that presents something of a compelling look at ye traditional tale.

As Pauline Greenhill, Co-Editor of Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney has since written in relation to ‘The Magician and His Pupil’: ”readers will find trenchant insights and may be surprised to learn that a tale they thought they knew has much greater complexity than they imagined.”

As touched on at the outset, there is a variable complexity entwined within this book’s three parts (‘The Humiliated Apprentice Tales, ‘The Rebellious Apprentice Tales’ and the ‘Krabat Tales’), the sort of which is not only enlightening and entertaining, but also exploratory.

Littered with an array of black and white, full-page figures, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice could even be considered rather subversive – especially when placed alongside so much of what is going on in the world today.

David Marx

Read My Lips

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Read My Lips –
Why Americans Are Proud To Pay Taxes
By Vanessa S. Williamson
Princeton University Press – £24.95

In the contemporary era, debates about who deserves to be American are still couched in the rhetoric of who pays taxes. Immigration reformers have campaigned under the slogan ”Viva Taxes!” to highlight the eagerness of unauthorised immigrants to pay their share, and, by implication, their worthiness for legal residency. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton both discussed the status of immigrants in terms of taxes. ”Our undocumented workers in New York pay more in taxes than some of the biggest corporations,” said Clinton, arguing for a path to citizenship for these immigrants. A few months later, Donald Trump justified the cost of mass deportation of more than eleven million undocumented residents, along with other draconian immigration policies, by saying that these immigrants ”are here illegally. They are not paying taxes.” Throughout American history, taxpaying has been a symbolic battlefield on which political elites have fought to define the limits of citizenship.

Hmm, well who’d have thought it?
The American psyche that is, unduly answerable to some sort of societal conscience? That Donald Trump of course, hasn’t declared any tax returns whatsoever in recent years – which he has openly admitted, makes him ”smart” – is of course, a colossal irony.

If not somewhat beside the point.

That said, Read My Lips – Why Americans Are Proud To Pay Taxes, really isn’t beside the point. It is the point; not to mention an altogether enlightening read which may well go some way in deciphering just what it is that essentially makes America, the country as well as its ideology, fundamentally tick. Regardless of the appalling American Dream and the rancid trajectory of nigh everything it ultimately entails.

That said, where Vanessa S. Williamson’s book really holds sway and stands its tax induced ground, is in the perhaps robustly wayward assumption that ”Americans see being a taxpayer, as a role worthy of pride and respect, a sign that one is a contributing member of the community and the nation.”

Having lived in the States, I’d have to say that to a certain degree, this actually might be true.

The paying of taxes does, for whatever bizarre/bonkers reason, inoculate the average American with self-induced feelings of Carte Blanche righteousness and superiority. An avenue of thought, subliminally noted by the author of Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict, Heather Boushey, when she writes: For a long time, many concluded that Americans find taxes revolting, but Williamson, employing quantitative and qualitative analysis, comes to the opposite conclusion. By asking long-unexplored questions about why we pay taxes and what we believe taxes should pay for, she reveals that Americans see paying taxes as an ethical act and one’s civic duty. Taxation with representation is at the core of what it means to be American.”

Quite oft, this is indeed all to annoyingly evident.
Likewise the notion that Americans actually enjoy doing so, which, if truth be silently told, is utter hogwash. Bollocks in fact.

Like most people, Americans abhor paying taxes, because – and here’s the (real) deal – it reeks of socialism; which in the US at least, is deemed worse than paedophilia and murder, homosexuality and communism combined.

So while Read My Lips might invariably make for ambiguous, occasionally entertaining and diversionary reading, it cannot, in all honesty, be taken at all seriously.

Rather like Donald Trump really.

David Marx

Trash Talks

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Trash Talks – Revelations In The Rubbish
By Elizabeth V. Spelman
Oxford University Press – £19.99

In products of intelligent design there is no waste.
The natural world is the product of intelligent design.
Therefore there is no waste in nature.

                                                             (‘Evolutionary Trash’)

Hmm, trash for thought?
Or utter cobblers?
Or in this instance, rubbish?

Throughout Elizabeth V. Spelman’s Trash Talks – Revelations In The Rubbish, there is a whole lot of worldly behaviour to ponder upon so far as the lasting trajectory of waste is concerned. A wide-open cornucopia that has turned some into criminals as a result of fly-tipping, some into thieves as a result of the direct salvaging of financial records, while others into a rife tittle-tattle of class-consciousness due to non-conforming re-cyclists.

Lest it be said that Swindon Borough Council recently took it upon themselves to do away with such hoi polloi ideology, by removing many re-cycling outlets altogether. Were this France, there would undoubtedly be an instantaneous storming of Swindon’s penny-pinching Bastille equivalent overnight. A Euro mode of behaviour which just goes to show that trash does indeed talk – in a variant of ways.

Many of which are more than interestingly addressed throughout these 222 pages.

As Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo, Carolyn Korsmeyer, has noted: ”Far from being merely disposable, what we throw away illuminates both society and our existential selves, for human beings are not only wasteful but themselves become waste in the end. Drawing from sources as varied as Freud and Plato, Veblen, Darwin, and the Buddha, Spelman offers an elegant and original analysis of what trash means when it talks.”

The above opening quote from Chapter Four’s ‘Evolutionary Trash,’ is Charles Darwin, upon whom/which the authoress writes: ”Darwin not only found himself unable to ignore ways in which nature is ‘wasteful,’ ‘clumsy,’ ‘blundering,’ even ‘cruel;’ he quipped that such features would be of great interest and importance to an imagined ‘Devil’s chaplain’ because he recognised that they appeared to present a serious challenge to beliefs about the natural world and its creation shared by many influential scientists and divines active in Darwin’s time […]. Just as Darwin and some of his colleagues regarded the wastefulness found in nature to pose a problem for the hypothesis of intelligent design in the 19th century, many contemporary evolutionary theorists take such waste to be among the difficulties facing current versions of intelligent design: since an intelligent designer surely would not create waste, if there is waste there can’t be intelligent design; but there is waste, so intelligent design cannot be an adequate explanation of the natural world.”

Again, trash for thought or a thought process to be wholeheartedly grappled with?

Either way, Elizabeth Spelman – herself a Professor of Philosophy – has herein written a book a book that really does set the mind to thinking. Not only in relation to what we do actually do with our junk, but how we go about it with regards the big picture (and indeed, that of the wider world).

David Marx

The Other Paris

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The Other Paris – An Illustrated Journey Through
A City’s Poor and Bohemian Past
By Luc Sante
Faber & Faber – £16.99

”Before Haussmann’s reconfiguration of the centre, the neighbourhoods were tightly interwoven; afterward they were more separated, but the classes still met on common ground: on the squares and boulevards. It was said that when cafes began to feature open terraces, the poor discovered what and how to eat from passing by and observing the diners as they ate. And the rich always had the opportunity to absorb the culture of the poor from their markets and entertainments. For that matter, the practice of mixite flourished for at least a century: a house of six or seven stories would feature a shop on the ground floor; the shopkeepers’s dwelling on the mezzanine level; a bourgeois family upstairs from the mezzanine, on the, the ‘noble floor’ then each succeeding story would house people of progressively lesser income. People trudged up as few flights of stairs as they could afford, and as a result, every such house was itself a microcosm of society as a whole.”

When one thinks of Paris, for some idiosyncratically odd and perhaps romantic reason, they invariably conjure up many of the images described and photographed throughout this altogether wonderful book.

To be sure, The Other Paris – An Illustrated Journey Through A City’s Poor and Bohemian Past by Luc Sante is somewhat mesmerising in that it immediately transports the reader unto a place we all – for some reason or other – already know so well. The hustle and bustle, the oft referenced ‘seductive couture and intellectual hauteur’ that makes Paris so intrinsically alluring.

Indeed it’s all here; these 271 pages (excluding Carte de Paris, Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) vividly convey a city for all its captivating worth: ”What an awakening, silent but alive, happens when this city – its streets, houses, sidewalks, lamposts, trees, urinals – is no longer covered like a skin, like a crust, by that grublike swarm of humans rushing to the job machine, but at night comes back to life, swims back to the surface, washes off it s filth, stands back on its feet, scratches itself, sings to break the silence, makes light to rend the darkness. It stretches, relaxes, spreads itself out before me, the solitary walker, the unknown strider, stranding me among its scattered limbs, a vast labyrinth in which I rapturously lose myself, turning every corner, leaving every boulevard at the first left, catching up with the stream once again or passing it by, hopping on one foot, whistling with a but in the corner of my mouth.”

Inundated with a cornucopia of black and white photographs, drawings and reprints of posters (of a long but not necessarily forgotten era), these twelve chapters are as vivid as they are entertaining as they are at times, highly educational.

As The London Review of Books’ Jeremy Harding has since written: ”A poetic guide to the city’s underworld across six centuries, a threepenny opera with a milling crowd of beggars, gangsters, whores and constables, attended by artists, insurrectionaries and intellectuals.”

In and of itself, quite a wide (and unforgiving) gambit; rather like the stunning city of Paris itself.

David Marx

Only Love Remains

9781905570775

Only Love Remains – Lessons from the Dying on the Meaning of Life
By Attilio Stajano
Clairview Books – £14.99

Palliative care is the new face of medicine; it incorporates scientific and technological progress while acknowledging interpersonal relationships and the integrity of the person in his or her various dimensions; physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is a new form of medical care that goes beyond the concept of the hospital business model, in which machines are run to correspond to a balance sheet, and where quality is synonymous with productivity rather than humanity.

Hmm, ”where quality is synonymous with productivity rather than humanity;” an honest account of Britain’s current health system, not to mention an unfortunate symptom of the times (which have most certainly been a changin’).

Were one to ask the vile likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farrage, he’d undoubtedly blame the situation on immigration (like he does everything else, including that of his own preposterous personality). While that other wretch of his smugness personified, George Osborne (currently earning a gazillion pounds a week for merely showing up once a week), would invariably blame it on the country’s severe lack of checks and balances – of which he so clearly knows so much about.

That said, Only Love Remains sounds like the song title of a David Gray song, whilst the book’s subject matter isn’t exactly a hundred miles removed either. Reason being, just like a lot of the Stoke singer-songwriter’s actual work, a great deal of what’s written herein is indeed gentle, reflective and approached with a great deal of conviction.

In fact, Only Love Remains – Lessons from the Dying on the Meaning of Life: Euthanasia or Palliative Care?, is, like the secondary title suggests, a most compelling narrative that fundamentally traverses the threshold of choice: ”If we see the terminally-ill as an inconvenience […], we forego the possibility of finding unexpected resources in ourselves: a tenderness, a touch, a readiness to assist that we did not know we were capable of.

Underlying this book is the momentous and very current debate over euthanasia. In a comprehensive appendix, the author reports on the provision of palliative care services and the laws governing euthanasia in European and English-speaking countries around the world, and the varying implications these have for the way we value and care for the dying.”

Concise and clearly written, these 193 pages are something of a sombre, although enlightening read on a subject we will all – sooner or later – need to confront.

David Marx

The Stone Cradle

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The Stone Cradle – One Woman’s Search for the Truth beyond Everyday Reality
By Patrice Chaplin
Clairview – £13.99

Life is a gift from the few to the many, from those who know and have to those who do not know and have not.

                                                                                                  Amadeo Modigliani

Away from the ever-reaching tendrils of the past I got back to work in the neutral energy of London and my life was practical and structured and suited me. I phoned and asked Dr Arnau, if Girona was the lock, what then was the key? He told me to draw the circles overlapping the Cradle site and draw a line from Girona to Rennes with Canigou in the mid point as I had with The Portal: Rennes, Girona, two towers, two alterpieces. ‘You have already been told the journey is made up of circles. Work out and draw the lock then the key and send it to me.

                                                                                                   (chapter 36).

Anchored in the Catalan City of Girona, and in a somewhat similar spirit to that of her previous books The City of Secrets and The Portal, authoress and playwright, Patrice Chaplin, continues her elongated quest to fully embrace the so-called Hidden Society of said city. Something which has genuinely been preserved since antiquity and has captured the hearts and minds of such influential, illustrious figures as Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Otto Rahn and, would you believe, Howard Hughes no less.

Written in a friendly and almost conversational manner, the 235 pages of The Stone Cradle – One Woman’s Search for the Truth beyond Everyday Reality traverse the fascination with which Chaplin clearly holds Girona. A city she describes as: ”a portal, a gap in the planet’s atmosphere leading to other places and other times. A private society has held this secret for centuries. It’s power in the wrong hands would bring untold darkness”

Hmm, a most succinct description that may go some way into partially explaining the book’s Dramatis Personae which not only include the aforementioned Cocteau, Hughes and Dali, but an array of others – Charlemagne among them…

Didactic and different, overtly enthusiastic and quite possibly (a little) eccentric, The Stone Cradle is rather recondite to the point that it might not actually be for everyone.
But it does nevertheless, make one think.

David Marx