Posts Tagged ‘classical reception’

One of the things I always do in the Christmas vacation is catch up on the year’s music that I’ve missed. Partly it’s a matter of having a little bit more leisure to try out the unfamiliar, that might throw me off my stride or drive me up the wall, rather than sticking to things that I know will relax me or offer a suitable background for lecture prep or marking. Partly, though, it’s because of the End of Year lists – not so much those of the mainstream press, but something like The Spill, for its random eclecticism and the fact that I know that if contributor X likes something then it is at least worth a listen. It’s how the Spotify algorithm ought to work: a selection of people from across the globe with very different tastes, just presenting what they thought was great. Especially this year, when my involvement in composition classes means I’ve been listening to much more jazz and much less of anything else, this is invaluable in giving me a sense of what else is out there. (And I now have some new marking music – strong recommendation for the latest album from Ulrike Haage, not to mention her soundtrack to the recent Berlin 1945 series).)

And that is what I aim to do with this post every year: (more…)

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A key issue in much work on ‘classical reception’ is the tendency to over-value and over-interpret classical allusions and references. We pounce on every faint echo, because it’s what we’re trained to do and because it’s what we value – without necessarily considering whether it actually matters, or matters very much, or is any more than background cultural noise. And even if the allusion is definitely present, which isn’t always the case, how much can we assume about its meaning for the audience, or its significance in the wider culture? If you regularly search for references to Thucydides on Twitter and other social media, you do get a clear sense that he is a more significant figure than, say, Polybius. But does that make him an all-pervasive influence on modern thinking about war and politics? Not so much. (more…)

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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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