I have just bottled my new Ukrainian-style stout, brewed as part of the Brew Ukraine initiative; at the beginning of the invasion, the Pravda craft brewery in Lviv had to stop brewing and switch to a war footing, so they made their recipes and label artwork freely available for other brewers – including home brewers – to produce their beer and help raise funds. I haven’t, unfortunately, found any proper UK breweries doing this, which is a shame as I’d have liked to have had an idea in advance what I was aiming for, but what I’ve got is dark and luscious with a hint of smokiness. Now available for a donation of £2 per 330ml bottle, all proceeds to humanitarian relief – with postage and packing on top if anyone beyond the immediate locality wants to try it, I’m afraid, as I suspect that might be a bit pricy. Cheers! Onwards Ukraine! Putin is a dick, as one of their other beers has it.

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The Clowns

Two blog posts in less than a fortnight? It’s probably obvious that I’ve had a bit of a holiday, caught up on some sleep and generally recharged; Berlin and Potsdam for a long weekend, returning to my favourite city after three years of plague and chaos (one of my more elaborate jazz compositions is called ‘I Still Walk Those Streets in my Dreams’, as during lockdown I regularly found myself walking down Unter den Linden or, more commonly, through familiar places in Zehlendorf and Friedenau). Kaffee und Kuchen, Königsberger Klopse, Kindl*, KaDeWe (which has reorganised its food hall to focus on actually serving food, downsizing the cake section and greatly reducing the beer offering, so may not actually be going back in future…) and Kulturhaus Dussmann… Continue Reading »

‘Doom-scrolling’ is, I imagine, a familiar thing, that many of us have been doing far too much of lately. You may not, however, have come across ‘professional doom-scrolling’, which unfortunately does not mean you get paid for it, but rather involves justification of the activity through some sort of “but I have to do this for work”, addressed to frustrated loved ones and even to ourselves, to explain how this is not simply a deeply unhealthy bit of obsessive behaviour. It’s relevant to this piece I’m working on; I need to cover related issues in class next week; there’s a developing methodological debate that connects to my area. This practice is quite distinct from what we might call ‘catastrophe dissemination’, the uncontrollable urge to link current events to one’s own research in order to write topical social media posts and would-be popular comment pieces, although the professional doom-scroller may indeed end up writing such pieces as a doubling-down on their original justification for spending a deeply problematic amount of time on the Twitter. Continue Reading »

I was reminded this week that the great Cliff Orwin once ran a seminar comparing Jewish and non-Jewish political thought – Herodotus and the Book of Esther – which included in the rubric: ‘The class motto is that of the Oregon Trail: the cowards never started, the weak perished along the way’. (I actually recalled this as ‘fall behind and get eaten by wolves’; similar sentiment…). I cannot help but admire this, while at the same time my own teaching philosophy is that offered by an French Alpine guide, an old friend of my parents: ‘You go at the pace of the slowest member of the party’.* Make sure people don’t get abandoned to the academic equivalent of hyperthermia, modify your goals if necessary, always have escape routes and alternative plans in mind, and always be prepared to change speed. Continue Reading »


I have long had an interest in varying forms of assessment, besides or instead of the conventional types of essays and unseen exams; I’ve experimented at various times with journals, blogs, different sorts of research tasks, online engagement, Wikipedia editing, group projects and probably a few other things. I think more or less all the stuff I’ve written on this has disappeared, with the demise of the various resource sites or organisations who published them (at any rate I’ve given up trying to update the URLs; tl;dr, students are generally massively resistant to anything new as they don’t know how to do well…), but I can demonstrate their past existence. All of this is of course intended to establish my credentials as thoughtful, innovative and even radical in this area – because suddenly I am confronted with something that makes me feel oddly reactionary and resistant: the idea that students should be offered a choice of forms of assessment. 

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This is the moment I’ve been waiting for! I am clearing my schedule for a flood of media invitations, and clearing a space on the mantlepiece ready for the announcement of the next honours list, for I have been CANCELLED. Yes, having solicited my contribution, the editors of a new volume have now decided that free thinking is out of step with their radical Woke agenda, and that even a hint of criticism is not welcome within their opinion bubble. I am devastated, and will be maintaining a dignified silence in order to weep quietly, as soon as I’ve finished alerting my loyal Twitter followers and soliciting a few outraged responses from eminent figures in the field. I’m not orchestrating a pile-on, I’m just trying to defend my reputation. Continue Reading »

All Together Now

I am trying – and so far failing, but there is a vague hope that working through the ideas by writing about them might help – to think of helpful analogies for contemporary big band composition and arrangement. Over the last few years, I’ve happily drawn lessons and ideas from my musical hobby to help think about different aspects of teaching, writing and research, so there must be at least a possibility that the reverse process might also work. I must stress the helpful aspect; I can think of plenty of possible analogies, but they don’t do anything to suggest a way forward. Continue Reading »

Folks, the tone for 2022 has already been set, and I think it’s a pretty clear indication that we should simply go back to bed for the next 362 days: two British newspapers, which still to the best of my knowledge claim a degree of seriousness of purpose, have published articles claiming that the University of Reading has cancelled Semonides. You can imagine the furore: an author whose work has defined and shaped Western Civilization for millennia, beloved by every British schoolchild who first encountered his enchanting imaginative world in primary school, essential for a true understanding of philosophy, politics and cosmology – and they DARE not to assess students on every single line? They’ll be coming for Anacreon next, mark my words. Continue Reading »

2021 on The Sphinx

It’s been…interesting. Even more than usual, doing this annual review has reminded me of all sorts of things that I’d forgotten I’d written, which does reflect both my general mental state this year, and a degree of detachment from the blog that is probably healthy – I’ve managed, partly deliberately, to break the habit of obsessively checking the viewing statistics several times a week. Which is good, because otherwise I would regularly be getting upset as they continue their inexorable decline – worst performance since 2014! Where has everybody gone..? Continue Reading »

Blogs of the Year 2021

Are blogs still dying? Doing my best to separate this question from my feelings about this blog, which is definitely somewhat sickly – further discussion of this when I do my own review of the year – I tend to conclude: answer hazy, try again later. There have been some really excellent posts this year, and sone exciting new voices and ideas, and I honestly haven’t a clue whether they are getting the readership they deserve. It was a little disconcerting, for example, when someone I know on Facebook mentioned that yesterday their blog – albeit a time-limited project where the last post appeared in the first half of the year – got no visitors at all (suddenly my statistics look better than I thought…). I had a vague idea that in current circumstances we would all be looking more to this sort of short-form, informal, immediate commentary, both as readers and writers. But then I did think that, even if I couldn’t manage sustained writing at the moment, I would at least be able to keep up the blog posts, and look where that ended up. Indeed, looking back through this list, I’m struck by how much my reading clearly fell off at various points, and how much I fall back on certain writers time and again…

Anyway, the point of this post is not to moan, but to celebrate, and to remind myself – and whatever readers I have left – of some brilliant stuff they may have forgotten or missed. Continue Reading »