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Posts Tagged ‘classical reception’

SCENE: the reception area, morning. Sybil is doing accounts. Basil is painstakingly recolouring a map of the world. One of the members of the visiting cultural delegation from Ghana approaches the desk cautiously. He is ignored.

Stephen: Excuse me?

Basil continues to ignore him.

Stephen: Sir? Mr Fawlty?

Basil: Not. Now.

Sybil: Attend to Mr Assamoah, Basil.

Basil: Oh! Right! Stop whatever you’re doing, Basil, it can’t possibly be important!

Sybil: It isn’t.

Basil: But the colours are all wrong! They should be pink! And what’s happened to Rhodesia? (more…)

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I believe there’s now something of a vogue for schematic accounts of world-historical development, built around some sort of organising trope like ‘killer apps’, with far-reaching, if tendentious, contemporary implications. However, so far these seem to be mostly focused on technology and institutions, or built around grand assertions about human psychology, and inexplicably they deal with classical culture only as the/a beginning of a long process rather than as the fundamental cultural theme it clearly is in reality. It’s time to redress the balance. Yes, this is just a short blog post, but editors and publishers can be assured that I can easily turn this into a polemical op ed or trade book just by adding some striking examples, without inflicting any unhelpful nuance on the core thesis. And of course it’s just about Europe and the West; what are you, some kind of cultural Marxist? (more…)

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Attendance is free, but numbers are limited, so please register HERE. (more…)

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There’s a persistent belief that simply describing contemporary political figures in classical terms automatically furthers understanding; Trump is depicted as a Roman emperor, Johnson as Pericles, Cleon or Alcibades, as if this offers us vital clues to their personality or to the situation we’re in. I’m not referring to the passing comments or allusions – the endless evocation of Caligula supposedly making his horse a senator, whenever one or other of these modern autocrats makes an especially egregious appointment, for example – but to the longer-form discussions, the essays and op ed pieces, where the classical frame is clearly intended to illuminate (or at the least to indicate the illumination of the author; the audience may simply be expected to nod admiringly at their erudition). (more…)

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I’ve spent the last couple of days in Aarhus, enjoying some fabulous (though eye-wateringly expensive) beer and giving a lecture to students on ‘Who Owns Classics?’ The answer to that is of course some combination of ‘everyone’ and ‘no one’; the following forty-three minutes was taken up with the exploration of why nevertheless some people feel they have a special claim on classical culture and others may feel excluded or even unworthy (heroically avoiding any mention of one B. Johnson as the epitome of an entitled, proprietorial attitude towards antiquity – until someone else raised it in the questions afterwards). (more…)

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I for one welcome our new Thucydides-quoting overlords… Well, no, not really. Back in 2013, when Dominic Cummings publicly expressed his love for Thucydides and his belief that there is no better book to study for understanding politics, I expressed concern that this was one more data point for the proposition that studying Thucydides can be a Really Bad Thing that leads people to Terrible Conclusions. I decided then not to spend any time developing a detailed analysis of the role played by Thucydides (and Pericles) in his essay ‘On education and and political priorities’, aka the ‘Odyssean Education’ piece, as on first reading it seemed that Cummings was mainly taking Thucydides as a model for critical thinking, something with which I wasn’t inclined to disagree too much, even if this idea clearly then led us in very different directions. A few years later, when Cummings resurfaced in the Vote Leave campaign, there seemed more important things to do than re-read the essay – though in retrospect, as discussed below, I now suspect that there were a few clues in there about his approach to politics that could have been worth discussing.

And now? (more…)

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The problem with developing an interest in classical references in modern political discourse is that the evidence never stops piling up. It’s the advantage of blogging, of course, that it’s easy to update whenever something interesting comes along. When it comes to proper academic analysis, however – since blogs are still not taken seriously for that purpose – there’s a constant fear that a new development will suddenly put things into a different light, locked in endless struggle with the wish/need to get the thing finished.

I cannot decide whether it’s a good or bad thing that my chapter on depictions of Trump as Roman emperor was submitted months ago so can’t include references to the analogies being drawn between his 4th July authoritarian military spectacle and the vast, expensive shows put on for Caligula (more…)

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One of the interesting aspects of being in a country like Romania where my grasp of the language is limited to essentials like hello, excuse me, please, thank you, and may I have a beer/coffee please? – the bare minimum for survival and politeness’ sake – is finding myself much more reliant than usual on visual signs and clues, not just carefully-chosen symbols intended to communicate messages visually but the form in which different unintelligible texts are presented – the structure of a menu, the font choices of official instructions or regulations. It’s a reminder of the wide variety of forms of literacy that exists; in this case, being able to recognise writing, and even hazard a guess at the kind of message intended, without knowing what it means. (more…)

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It’s holiday time, at last – many, many apologies to the people to whom I owe a draft chapter by last month, but I have a five-hour train journey tomorrow, in which it will get finished… In the meantime, we’ve been exploring Bucharest, which has the expected range of classical elements in its architecture, especially the deranged Ceaucescu elements; his immediate inspiration for a giant palace of government and enormous boulevards and parade grounds may have North Korea, but the design has hefty doses of Fascist futuro-classicism (though a lot fewer heroic figures than you might expect).

There were also plenty of neoclassical motifs in the collection of paintings from Romanian artists on the first floor of the palace. (more…)

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One of the slightly awkward aspects of reviewing Laura Jansen’s Borges’ Classics recently for Classics for All was that I couldn’t for the life of me find my copy of his Collected Fictions, so had to rely partly on memory and partly on Laura’s summaries of key pieces. Now that I’ve found it again and am re-reading some old favourites, it seems that this may have been a good thing, as otherwise the temptation to do nothing but quote choice extracts, head off on any number of tangents and then have even more problems getting the review down to a manageable size would have been too great – as it was, I had at least another couple of thousand words of notes and arguments that had to be omitted. It make me admire even more Laura’s success in keeping her book to a reasonable length, rather than trying to tackle every aspect that invites discussion. (more…)

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