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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Something even weirder than normal is happening on Thucydides Twitter. I hesitate to use the word ‘invasion’ because of its association with the UK government’s racist anti-migrant rhetoric, but certainly I feel like a scientist in the opening act of one of those movies, puzzled by the suddenly anomalous behaviour of the pond snails he’s been studying, not realising that this is just one small segment of a rapid montage, the dots that will not be joined by anyone except the viewer until Act Two… (more…)

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The Roman Thing

The History of Ancient Rome, Definitively De-Woked; free from excessive emphasis on imperialism, colonialism and class struggle.

Rome must be considered one of the most successful things in history. In the course of centuries Rome grew from a small town on the Tiber River into a vast thing that ultimately embraced England, all of continental Europe west of the Rhine and south of the Danube, most of Asia west of the Euphrates, northern Africa, and the islands of the Mediterranean. Unlike the Greeks, who excelled in intellectual and artistic endeavours, the Romans achieved greatness in their doing stuff, political, and social institutions. Roman society, during the republic, was governed by a strong doing stuff ethos. While this helps to explain the incessant stuff, it does not account for Rome’s success as a thing. (more…)

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Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

The hand on the arm (or in this case the naked calf): affectionate, reassuring – or restraining, controlling, possessive? The expression that we can see on the face of the hand’s owner (the other face is turned away from us and invisible): peaceful and content, or smugly arrogant, or both? The juxtaposition of naked and clothed bodies inevitably raises questions of power, of different kinds – which of course doesn’t preclude affection, or love, but it undoubtedly complicates it. And we observe the scene, and wonder what’s going on, and what the painter thought was going on and intended us to see.

Well, not according to whoever wrote the captions for the Lucian Freud exhibition currently at the National Gallery. (more…)

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If Elon Musk is going to destroy the Bird Site, inadvertently or not – the reported wheeze that everyone will get a timeline prioritising tweets from $8/month ‘verified’ users suggests he doesn’t have the faintest idea what makes it great for many people – I am hoping that he either takes his time (couple of years, say) or gets it over with in the next couple of weeks. I have a chapter forthcoming, at some point in the next year or so, exploring references to Thucydides on Twitter both as a window onto his image in contemporary culture and as a snapshot of the dynamics of social media. It would be nice if Twitter retained something of its current significance when the chapter appears – or, I urgently need to rewrite some sections substantially before the book goes to press, to explain why anyone thought this stuff was worth worrying about back in 2019…

This past week has been very much a matter of “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til some pampered egomaniac has stomped all over it and it’s gone’. (more…)

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I seem to have been writing quite a lot of confidential reviews lately, of article submissions, grant applications and cases for promotion (way to make almost everyone a little bit paranoid…), and so I was intrigued by the news that a journal in the sciences, eLife, has decided to abandon the tradition of acceptance/rejection on the basis of peer review (see announcement here). If an editor decides that a submission is worth sending out to reviewers, then it will be published, together with the reviews.

To be honest, I’m not sure what problem this is supposed to be solving (more…)

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The One and Only

Our regular comfort rewatching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is ar a fairly early stage, but there have been times over the last week and a half, with another bout of COVID now turning into a lingering cold colliding with the second week of teaching and the final stages of putting together a project funding application, when I have been powerfully reminded of Buffy’s Mom’s response to discovering her secret. Specifically, because the dynamic rather echoes my wife’s response to my behaviour whenever I’m illl. “Have you tried not being a Vampire Slayer?” Sorry, I am always going to be an academic. “Well, I just don’t accept that.” (more…)

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Events of the present and future will tend to resemble those of the past – or however else you want to paraphrase Thucydides’ key assumption about the usefulness of his work – or at any rate will remind us of them. This week has been very much a case in point, as commentators have looked back to previous disastrous budgets and currency crises in search of a bit of historical context and/or a yardstick for evaluating disastrousness for the present Kwartastrophic Trussterfuck. I’ve been thinking a bit about my early childhood in the early 1970s (and how much this may have influenced my current instincts to preserve vegetables and hoard firewood), but even more my thoughts have turned to the Greek economic crisis, prompted by the wonderfully Thucydidean phrase used by someone from Nomura finance in the early stage of the pound’s collapse, “hope is not a strategy”. Yes, it’s the Melian Dialogue redividus, once again pitting the Batshit Brexit Party against another inexorable facet of reality. (more…)

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Okay, this is a first for me; I’ve just produced a new episode of the Thucydiocy podcast (Podbean link here; iTunes always takes longer to process), without it being based on a previous blog post. As I tend to use the blog as a repository in case I need to check up on misattributions and misquotations, this is potentially slightly tricky, and so I thought I should simply add a rough transcript (or rather, an expanded version of my script notes) for future reference… (more…)

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Release the Bats!

Yes, it’s been a quiet month on here. Too much heat for my liking; a lot of time spent watering the chillis and aubergines in the greenhouse as a result; and [whispering very quietly so the gods don’t hear] I have actually been feeling slightly more myself at last, so have actually made some progress with writing. But I’ve also been doing some other stuff, in particular organising the Castle Cary Big Bat Count that took place on Saturday. (more…)

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Dog Eat Dog

What should an academic career in the humanities look like today – beyond “not like this”? The question is prompted in the short term by the fact that Mary Beard, to mark her retirement, has taken the opportunity to promote discussion of the academic precariat and the extent to which things have changed over the course of her own career; but if, like me, you use Twitter partly as a means of networking with younger colleagues and early career researchers, this is a topic which has long been pretty well impossible to avoid. One way of trying to think about it, from a not-as-old-as-Mary-but-still-moderately-decrepit-and-comfortably-established perspective, is to wonder about the ideal against which the present situation is being compared; what is it so much worse than, and when did it all change? (more…)

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