Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Semi-Detached

plotz

Semi-Detached –
The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience since Dickens
By John Plotz
Princeton University Press – £27.95

Music proceeds from sensations to determinate ideas, the visual arts from determinate ideas to sensations…. [Painting] can penetrate much further into the region of ideas, and in conformity with them can also expand the realm of intuition more than the other visual arts can do.

                                                                                 Immanuel Kant
                                                                                 (Critique of Judgement)

But poets should
Exert a double vision, should have eyes
To see near things as comprehensively
As if afar they took their point of sight,
And distant things as intimately deep
As if they touched them.

                                                                                  Elizabeth Barrat Browning
                                                                                  (Aurora Leigh)

So begins the third chapter, ‘Visual Interlude I – Double Visions: Pre-Raphaelite Objectivity and Its Pitfalls,’ of this highly reflective, and altogether dense assimilation of the idea of two-minded, subliminal design. A book, which in all honesty, could be deemed to be several different books in one. That of the philosophical and the artistic; also that of the political and scientific.

Not to mention a literary contextualization of what binds these very varying strands together. Or, from the stand-point of being two-minded, not together.

Hence, Immanuel Kant’s nigh cut and dry assertion of there being an acute, artistic polarity betwixt music and the visual arts (music proceeds from sensations to determinate ideas, the visual arts from determinate ideas to sensations). The actual journey between one and the other – or at least the thinking that may inadvertently take place within said journey – is the fundamental premise upon which Semi-Detached – The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience since Dickens is quintessentially based.

Beginning with the decline of romanticism and the inevitable rise of realism, along with John Stuart Mill’s ideas with regards social interaction and subjective perception, author John Plotz goes on to re-evaluate Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which embrace semi-detached states of the attention span as their (prime) subject.

In so doing, he wholeheartedly brings to bear that which takes place between one mind-set of compartmentalization and another.

Ho also discusses how realist writers such as Charles Dickens (hence the book’s sub-title), George Eliot and Henry James show how consciousness can be in more than one place at a time; how the work of William Morris demonstrates the shifting forms of semi-detachment in print and visual media. Yet if that weren’t enough, how Willa Cather created a form of modernism that connected aesthetic dreaming and reality!

So in all, these 243 pages (excluding a List of Illustrations, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) certainly bequeath the reader with an abundance of metaphorical things to both think about and ponder over. The following being a most pertinent example: ”The innovative and unexpected ways that translucency (visual overlay of two realities on one another) and overtones (a form of aural overlay) structure both characters’ and readers’ experiences with Cather’s novel suggest […] a general property of fiction might also be understood as a curious development that overtakes and transforms late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century novels […]. Making the case for Cather as a writer fascinated by moments or states of partial absorption means tracing her complex literary genealogy. Paradoxes abound […] (‘Overtones and Empty Rooms: Willa Cather’s Layers’).

As previously mentioned, Semi-Detached is akin to reading perhaps three books at the same time. As such, one needs to fully assimilate one aspect or argument before being intrepid enough to move onto the next. There again, we are talking about the aesthetic encounter with the likes of Cather and Dickens, Caravaggio and Kant.

Semi-Detached – The Aesthetics of Virtual Experience since Dickens is surprisingly confident, and given the subject matter, never, (n)ever dull. John Plotz has herein investigated a subject matter that surely warrants further investigation – of which this fine book is surely at the vanguard.

David Marx

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Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts

arthur

Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts – An Edwardian Elite and the Riddle of the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings By Trevor Hamilton

Imprint Academic – £14.95

As noted in this book’s Introduction: ”Why Arthur Balfour’s ghosts and why link his name with the cross-correspondence automatic writings? He is known in the twenty-first century, if at all, as an aristocratic politician of a century ago, and some people may well link him with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Yet, during his long political career, the intimate involvement of his family in the interpretation and construction of the cross-correspondences has not yet been fully explored […].”

Until now that is.

Indeed, these nineteen chapters traverse a psychical playing field that could well be described as standing relatively alone. Or, in the words of Tom Ruffles, Communications Officer with The Society for Psychical Research (SPR):”Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts will be essential reading for anyone wishing to study this most intriguing aspect of psychical research.”

In two Parts (The Development of the Cross-Correspondences from 1901-1936 and Assessing the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings), Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts – An Edwardian Elite and the Riddle of the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings makes for surprisingly open and communicative reading.

Given the potential complexity of the actual subject matter itself, it does need to be said that these 279 pages (excluding Preface and Acknowledgements, Appendix, Select Bibliography and References and Index) inadvertently allure the reader into wanting to read more. This might admittedly be because the book’s prime focus is Arthur Balfour – arguably one of the leading Conservative politicians of the early 20th century – and the fact that he was driven to try and communicate with the afterlife. This being the case, due to the death of the love of his life; which, given the fact that Balfour, was in his day, considered something of a rather cold, wet-fish, does lend the book a certain attractive romanticism.

With this invariably in mind, Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts’ further asks if there is any serious evidence of there actually being life after death?

Written by Trevor Hamilton – one of the world’s leading experts on the cross-correspondences that are generally considered the most ”puzzling and for some convincing evidence for life after death” – it does need to be emphasised that this book is thoroughly evaluated from a prime promise and premise of scientific manner.

Whether or not said manner truly makes sense, and in so doing, makes (perfect) sense, is of course, wide open to serried deliberation.

David Marx

A Different Kind Of Animal

animal

A Different Kind Of Animal –
How Culture Transformed Our Species
By Robert Boyd
Princeton University Press – £22. 95

”Robert Boyd marshals an astonishing range of scholarship, colourful vignettes, and anecdotes to argue that humans make use of insights and adaptations that we do not understand. We learn very often not by figuring out how things work but imitating others who have locally useful ”know-how.” Boyd describes the conditions under which selection favours ”a psychology that causes most people to adopt beliefs just because others hold those beliefs” (Introduction).

How exceedingly, woefully true.

”People do indeed adopt beliefs just because others hold those beliefs.”
There are countless examples scattered throughout the history of unfortunate folly; surely the most volatile of late being the fact that so much of (ignorant and myopic) North America has opted to have a cold, callous, cowardly, businessman as its leader – just because others were somehow indoctrinated to believe his vile, yet overtly simplistic, gung-ho rhetoric.

Talking of which, this book’s Introduction further goes on to clarify: ”Not all of the consequences are positive: maladaptive ideas and false beliefs can also spread via blind imitation.” To be sure, hasn’t ”blind imitation” nigh always been at the helm of the western world’s (cultural) downfall?

A Different Kind Of Animal – How Culture Transformed Our Species does much to explain why this is unsurprisingly so.

If nothing else, it’s seven chapters are more than demonstrative in deciphering that while society – to varying degrees – can be smart, ”we are not nearly smart enough to have solved the vast array of problems that confronted our species as it spread across the globe.”

All the more reason that we as a society, ought to tread a whole lot more carefully when it comes to choosing those we feel have our best interests at heart. Two very current, prime reasons being: America’s Donald Trump (for whatever reason), doesn’t believe in climate change, while the UK’s Theresa May (for whatever reason) doesn’t believe in a fair society.

And more than anything else, said two examples go a long, long way, in substantiating that we are indeed: ”not nearly smart enough.”

These 196 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, References and Index) are a fine reflection of human adaptation as seen through some sort of prism of acute vulnerability. As the author of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich, has since both asked and stated: ”What makes us unique? Are we really just smart chimpanzees? Why is our species both so cooperative and yet so violent? Addressing these questions, Robert Boyd adroitly combines detailed analysis of diverse societies, crystal-clear experimental studies, and rich descriptions of hunter-gatherer life with the precision that only mathematics can provide […]. Boyd boldly leads us on a scientific journey to discover who we are and where we came from.”

In and of itself, we would be more than wise to take supreme note of the latter – before it’s too late.

David Marx

The New Routledge & Van Dale Dutch Dictionary

dutch

The New Routledge & Van Dale Dutch Dictionary
Second Edition
Routledge/Van Dale – £125.00

Even though the Dutch language, Nederlands), is spoken by twenty-four million people as a first language – obviously within The Netherlands itself as well as sixty per-cent of Belgium (predominantly within the Flanders region) – it remains the third most widely spoken of the Germanic language after English and German.

Outside of the Low Countries, it is the native language of the majority of the population of Suriname and also holds official status in Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maartin, which are constituent countries of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Then of course, there is South Africa and Namibia, where Afrikaans has evolved into a mutually intelligible daughter language of Dutch, spoken by a further sixteen million people.

This, in conjunction with the fact that I am half Dutch myself, is what triggered me into thinking it was nigh high time I owed a decent Dutch dictionary.

So where else/further to look than this?

The New Routledge & Van Dale Dutch Dictionary is literally the finest, if not the best Dutch/English dictionary available (especially this second edition). Reason being, this more than comprehensive and contemporary two-way dictionary is ideal for Dutch language learners and users at every level.

Some of its key features include over 32,000 Dutch entries in the first edition, with a further 9,000 new definitions and headwords – supported by a further 18,000 translations not to mention a really helpful pronunciation aid. And talking of headwords, there has been a substantial expansion of them throughout this dictionary, which, suffice to say, is in keeping with changes in both the Dutch and English languages themselves. As a result, this second edition includes a further 3,000 new examples.

Along with including the past tense and past participle forms of Dutch irregular verbs, all words also appear in an English spelling. Although interestingly, to avoid confusion, American spellings have not been included; which I do have to say I find of particular interest. For purposes of clarity if nothing else.

That said, perhaps a little clarification with regards the English and American spelling(s) might not go amiss: American spelling can be easily predicted on the pure basis of British spelling(s). For example, many words ending in ‘our’ (humour) and ‘tre’ (centre) are spelt ‘or’ (humor) and ‘ter’ (center) in American English.

Moreover, unlike British spellings, the American equivalents do not always use double consonants; thus American English has words such as ”traveler” and ”jeweler” as opposed to the British ”traveller’ and ”jeweller.” As such, where British and American English differ lexically, there are entries for both.

The New Routledge & Van Dale Dutch Dictionary also includes phonetic transcription, conjugational information (added to the Dutch verbs after relative headwords), while Dutch nouns have been gender marked, which I’m sure many students of the Dutch language will find particularly helpful (for speedy referral if nothing else).

Finally, this altogether handsome and easy to use Dutch/English dictionary benefits from easy referencing, along with an exceedingly well defined – if not improved – format and layout.

In all, the most agreeable and superlative of Dutch dictionaries currently on the market.

David Marx

Disrupt

disrupt

Disrupt
100 Lessons in Business Innovation
By James Bidwell
Nicholas Brealey Publishing – £20.00

In the fourth chapter of Disrupt – 100 Lessons in Business Innovation, there’s a drop-quote which reads: ”The BBC wants to create personalised media that feels natural to the audience and exciting for the storyteller as it scales for millions of individual members.”

Hmm, does this then account for the vast amount of badly written, shonky-shite on the BBC of late? The sort of television that is nigh impossible to watch, let alone have beamed into one’s living room? Personally I think it does, as when anything is overtly analysed – which is to say researched and horribly dissected to such a dense, mathematical degree, that all initial innocence has been horribly suffocated by a menagerie of marketing geeks – there’s no room for true invention.

Nor growth, which might partially explain why Eastenders – surely one of the most odious of television programmes in the history of television programmes – continues to both disrupt and pollute the airwaves.

In and of itself, none of the above ought be in the least surprising; especially when one considers the following (which follows on from the aforementioned quote in the chapter entitled ‘Entertainment’): ”The system also raises the question of the ethics of personal data. How much do we really want media companies to know about us, and at what point does personalised entertainment become, or rely on, a significant invasion of privacy? In the age of big data, with governments knowing ever more about us, it may seem like a more frivolous concern, but it is valuable to constantly keep a check on who is tracking, selling, sharing and applying our personal data, whether it be governments or TV channels.”

If nothing else, much of what James Bidwell has written within these 260 pages is reflective of an increasingly fragmented society.

A society ever more dictated to by B-I-G business, bad government and (perhaps the worst of the lot) soulless media moguls – the accumulation of which is what this cold and most unpleasant of books, fundamentally amounts to.

David Marx

Brittany

Brittany

Brittany
DK Eyewitness Travel – £13.99

With its eventful history, contrasting landscapes, diverse economy and exceptionally rich cultural heritage, Brittany is a multifaceted region. While Breton traditions are very much alive, and while the region is famous for its menhirs, Brittany has also embraced the technological revolutions of the modern age. It is, for example, a major centre of the electronics industry.

                                                                                (‘A Portrait of Brittany’)

I’ve always been a great fan of the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel books; primarily because you always know where you are with them – which might be because of the uniformity of its guides lay-out.

They always begin with a ‘How to use this guide’ section, which essentially consists of a brief description of what lies within: Introduction, Regional Map, Detailed Information on each sight, Major Towns, Street by Street Map(s) and naturally, a section on all the Top Sights.

So far as Brittany is concerned, its 271 pages (excluding General Index, Acknowledgements and a Phrase Book) have been divided into Region by Region – six colour-coded areas for reference (Ille-Et-Vilaine, Cotes D’Armor, Northern Finistere, Southern Finistere, Morbihan and Loire-Atlantique); whereby each chapter opens with an introduction to its respective area, immediately followed by a regional map showing the most interesting towns, villages and places to visit.

As such, navigating one’s way around the chapters and the book in general, is made simple by a numbering system used throughout.

Suffice to say, places of special interest are covered in more detail which may well traverse a few pages. A fine example being the Parlement de Bretagne in the region’s capital of Rennes: ”The Breton parliament, dating from 1618-55, is a major landmark […]. Salomon de Brosse, the architect of the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, designed the facade in the Italian style. The interior courtyard, by contrast, is built in brick and stone in the French style. The interior decoration of the building emphasizes the hallowed importance of Brittany’s independent political power: the sumptuous Salle des Pas-Perdus, with the coat of arms of Brittany and France, and the ceiling of the Grand’Chambre, designed by Louis XIV’s foremost painter, amply express this […].”

All supplemented with colour photographs, illustrations, cutaways, floor-plans, not to mention a cross section layout of architectural gems – such as that just mentioned above – and a visitor’s checklist (phone numbers, addresses, email information etc), Brittany is a truly terrific guide book. As stated in The Independent: ”No other guide whets your appetite quite like this one.”

Indeed – it already proved itself invaluable on our last visit to the region in October, and will most definitely be one of the first items to be packed on our next visit in December.

David Marx

Age of Discovery

agethumbnail_Age of Discovery PB

Age of Discovery –
Navigating the Storms of Our Second Renaissance
By Ian Goldin & Chris Kutarna
Bloomsbury – £10.99

The new maps and media have also transformed financial connections. Finance is always a good place to look for evidence of social change, because it plays a fundamental role in society. We don’t always recognise that role: ‘finance’ is one of those concepts that get used so much, we have a hard time sorting out what it’s really about.

                                                                                            (‘New Tangles’)

In the big picture, the most important wealth gains happen not among the rich but among the poor, for whom increased income assets yield a dramatically different quality of life and powers of choice.

                                                                                             (‘Vitruvian Man’)

Are the above quotes audacious and far-sighted? Or utterly fraudulent and seemingly bonkers? Well if nothing else, many might interpret this book is a testimony to both sides of said argument, and definitely give people a run for their money – fyu pardon ye much used expression.

After all, haven’t a few of us been (t)here before?

The initial Renaissance, governed by the seminal likes of Columbus, Copernicus, Gutenberg and numerous others, redrew the lateral diagnosis of the world, whereby Western civilization shifted from the medieval to the early modern era. Even if such profound change, did came at a tumultuous price: primarily that of social division, political extremism, pandemics and economic turmoil.

Hmm, sounds like the social trajectory of today’s Tory Party – continuing to make people even poorer than they already are. Or ought to be.

Either way, Age of Discovery – Navigating the Storms of Our Second Renaissance is a tempestuous read of the highest order.

Take the following declaration from chapter eight: ”Donald Trump, prophet and doomsayer. He may shock contemporary norms with the seeming originality of his power-taking, but through a Renaissance lens he is an obvious plagiarist. Ever since descending a gold-plated escalator to declare his candidacy for president of the United States, Trump has stolen his lines and stage directions from a populist play-book that is as old as print” (‘Prophets and Bonfires’).

Let it be said that ”lines and stage directions” are not the only thing that Donald Trump has stolen. Other than holding the world to ransom, he has stolen much of America’s future – but far be it for me to misinterpret the intrepid deeds of such a vile human being.

Tread carefully and digest with caution.

David Marx