Posts Tagged ‘jazz’

Mourning Heavy Song

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. (more…)

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European Echoes

OldenburgWhere is Europe? It’s perhaps not the most obvious answer, but one possibility is: sitting in the elegant Kulturzentrum PFL in Oldenburg the week before last with a mixture of academics, activists, trade unionists, students and regular citizens, listening to an elderly trio playing 1950s British trad jazz a la Chris Barber and Ken Colyer as the introduction to a podium discussion on the theme Wo ist Europa? And, yes, I should have got a photo of the band, rather than this rather off-putting one of the panel. (more…)

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What Holds Us Together

This was, to put it mildly, an interesting week in which to find myself offering commentary on the theme of ‘Was uns zusammenhält’ for a “fish bowl discussion” as part of the Berliner Stiftungswoche. The event itself was extremely interesting (for ancient Chinese proverb values of interesting); representatives of six different Berlin charitable projects taking it in turns to give a 60-second summary of their work, followed by me (in my capacity as Einstein Visiting Fellow) hastily improvising some thoughts on wider themes, followed by more general discussion led by the very impressive moderator, journalist and presenter Jörg Thadeusz, who seemed determined to force me to talk more about Thucydides even when I was trying to waffle about ancient attitudes towards poverty instead. (more…)

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The most interesting and provocative comment on Rachel Moss’s wonderful blog post last month on Choosing Not To Giveon the sacrifices that women are expected to make in academic culture, was from Lucy Northenra: “How many women are remembered for their ability to never miss a school run compared to those who manage against all the odds to publish enough to be made professors?” Rachel’s response was equally passionate: “I may well only have one child, and during the week I see her for an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening. Perhaps I might somehow write an extra 4* publication if I gave up one of those hours each day. For me, the cost isn’t worth it.”

Do you want to be remembered as a great scholar but a lousy parent – or not remembered at all except by your nearest and dearest? Why are you mucking about with plasticine instead of changing the world? Why are you wasting time on an article that five people will read with limited attention when you could be making a real difference to one or two individuals who completely depend on you? Such dilemmas go to the heart of academic ambitions and self-image.* Who do I think I really am, who do I want to be, and what to do about all the things that threaten to get in the way? (more…)

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If you haven’t already seen it, head over immediately to Rebecca Schuman’s hilarious and perceptive piece on Slate, PowerPointless, subtitled “Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education”. Then, if you are a teacher, spend five minutes contemplating those things you have done with PowerPoint that you ought not to have done, for there is no health in you. There are people working on a suitable scale of penances; using the ‘spin’ animation is obviously a sackable offence. Students and other non-academics can, for the moment, start smugly compiling a PowerPoint Bingo card for the next lecture they have to attend; if you have to do PowerPoints they’re probably rubbish as well, but that’s our fault for setting such a bad example. “Faculty who abuse Powerpoint create students who abuse Powerpoint”.

On the whole, I don’t think my practice comes off too badly in terms of the various sins that Schuman identifies; I do at least keep the animation to a minimum, don’t try to cram too many words in tiny font onto a single slide, and have never ever simply read out the words on the screen. On the contrary, I treat the slideshow rather like a jazz standard in small group improvisation (more…)

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How should we think about intertextuality – the tendency for texts to echo/imitate/parody/rework/quote/vaguely remind one of/etc. other texts? In this week’s research seminar, Elena Lombardi from the Bristol Italian Department, as a prelude to her detailed discussion of how Dante, Ariosto and Tasso reworked episodes in Virgil and Lucan, suggested that we needed to think above all in terms of pleasure: the pleasure of the moment of recognition that something familiar has come back, just as children take endless delight in endless games of ‘now it’s here – now it’s gone’. The play between closeness and distance, possession and loss, the ever-ambivalent status of the mother, is reenacted in our experience of reading an author’s (pleasurable) revival of or reference to a text that might otherwise seem to be lost in the past.

Hmm. Well, as a jazz fan, with ears finely attuned to picking up that little allusion to Charlie Parker’s solo in the famously chaotic pre-breakdown recording of Lover Man, I can scarcely deny that this has to be part of the story. Is it the whole thing, though? I can’t help wondering whether it’s wholly accidental that a theory which establishes the pleasure of repetition as a basic human drive ingrained in childhood should be developed by a literary scholar who naturally takes pleasure in recognising textual allusions – it’s a little bit like, though much less dangerous, the way that the running-dogs of capitalist tend to claim self-interest as a basic human drive, purely by accident legitimising their own behaviour. There was talk in the seminar of other sorts of pleasure to be gained from intertextual repetitions – rather less talk of the pains and anxieties and sheer boredom that such repetition might arouse in a different reader. And isn’t this all a bit unilinear in temporal terms – the theory seems to assume that a significant part of the pleasure comes from the recovery of that which was thought lost (classical literature) through recognising it in a more recent artefact, but isn’t there also pleasure (as well as anxiety etc.) to be derived from recognising later ideas in a much earlier piece – finding Hobbes in Thucydides, for example? But perhaps my lack of appreciation for this simply comes down to a more troubled childhood…

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