Tainted Love

I think it would be fair to say that the idea of Boris Johnson as a national figurehead for classics was problematic long before he started deploying far-right dog whistles in his newspaper column. I actually don’t intend this as a criticism of the charity Classics For All for having invited him to be one of their patrons; I can entirely understand the logic of seeking the support of a prominent public figure who not only studied classics but who continues to make classical references at every opportunity. But the benefits of such an association inevitably come with a potential cost, especially in today’s febrile culture where every controversy is immediately magnified and accentuated, and especially with a political figure who actively courts controversy, in the form of throwaway remarks that can always be excused as a joke if the consequences look like becoming too serious – the current burka fuss is by no means Johnson’s first foray into vulgar racism.

But this goes beyond the sort of embarrassment produced by, say, having a patron convicted of financial irregularities Continue Reading »

One of the incidental benefits of researching the piece I’m currently trying to finish, exploring my attempt at turning the Melian Dialogue into a ‘choose your own adventure’ game, has been the discovery (courtesy of an article by Shawn Graham) of the concept of the ‘creepy treehouse’. To quote a definition from Jared M. Stein (cited from this blog, as the original page seems to have disappeared from the internet and links are broken):

Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards. Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. Creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.

A concrete example: the blog or discussion board facilities on Blackboard and similar Virtual Learning Environments. We look at these and see a useful tool for our teaching, encouraging students to engage with the topic and with each other outside class, hoping to draw on the fact that they allegedly spend all their time online anyway; they see somewhere that is trying to look welcoming and familiar but isn’t, because they didn’t build it, and so at best this is a bit creepy, and most likely it’s some sort of trap… Continue Reading »


Let’s assume that Brexit goes ahead in some form – a depressing thought, but serious people suggest that there simply isn’t time between now and the end of March to set up a second referendum even if the will was already there to do it, so the only hope would be an extension of the Article 50 period, if the will was there to ask for that. Let’s take the further giant imaginative leap and assume that Brexit turns out to be less than wonderful for most people and for the country as a whole. What might we expect – a revival of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ of courage and grit in the face of adversity? Seems unlikely, however much imaginary nostalgia for those days may be underpinning the “of course we can go it alone” project, given that it was all a myth and propaganda exercise in the first place. Continue Reading »

I’m in Berlin this week – a quick visit to meet collaborators and a PhD student, and try to get an article written – and, unusually, part of me wishes I could go back home immediately, for the simple reason that the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, one of my musical heroes, has just died, and I need to binge on his records. Unfortunately I have just the one out here with me, and isn’t one of my favourites; I have had to fight the urge to buy duplicate copies of a load of cds I already own. Continue Reading »

So, is it 1919 or 1938? Which lessons from history should the European Union be keeping in mind in its negotiations with the UK, the dangers of imposing a humiliating settlement on a defeated enemy which leads to the rise of resentment, dangerous populism and violence, or the dangers of abandoning one’s ideals and giving in to aggressive and unjustifiable demands in the hope of keeping the peace, which fuels ever greater demands and does nothing to stop the rise of resentment, populism and violence? Or maybe it’s all about the Holy Roman Empire instead. Thank you, Timothy Garton Ash, your valiant efforts in trying to drum up support for the Chequers compromise when everybody else hates it will not be forgotten. Continue Reading »

Theatre of War

The strong do what they can; the weak suffer what they must…

A familiar line, but context and performance are everything. How do you picture the speaker? A calm, rational, ruthless dictator? A super-villain with a death ray? This is the sort of thing such figures tend to claim – which doesn’t mean that we necessarily accept it at face value. What about a fallen tyrant, a Lear or a Nero, still asserting such arrogance as their world falls apart around them? What if a super-hero was the speaker? (Echoes of Miller’s Batman or Alex Ross’s far superior Kingdom Come). What if it was a woman – whether downtrodden or triumphant? The line becomes less of a statement about the world, and more of a statement about the person speaking… Continue Reading »

There’s been a lot of discussion on the Twitter this week about an advertised vacancy for a fixed-term teaching position that expects the successful candidate to devise an MA module related to their own research. I’m going to out myself as an Old Person, and possibly bring a shower of condemnation on my head, by confessing that my feelings about this are more mixed than the prevalent judgement that this is obviously and unacceptably exploitative. In my day, when I was applying for such positions, I was far more attracted to positions that offered such freedom rather than defining the job in terms of which pre-existing courses should be taught – and, yes, it’s entirely revealing that I think of this in terms of ‘freedom’. Continue Reading »