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Posts Tagged ‘language’

Bemusement So, my new book Classics: why it matters has been reviewed on the Classics For All webpage by Richard Jenkyns – I’d asked for a copy to be sent to them (I don’t know if they’re on the regular distribution list for review copies) as they’re a worthy organisation seeking to promote the study of classics in state schools rather than keeping it as preserve of the elite, and that’s one of the points of the book. Jenkyns is one of their patrons, so it’s entirely reasonable that they asked him to write the review – and he didn’t like it much… Okay, I wouldn’t have expected my comments on the place of ancient languages to win much favour with an eminent Oxford classicist, but is it really true, as is implied, that the book only shows any liveliness when it’s attacking classics? How must I have failed to express myself clearly, if someone thinks that I’m recommending David Engels’ prophecies of doom as a model for classical studies, rather than offering them as an example and symptom of alarming politicised appropriation of the ancient world? And as for the idea that Thucydides is straightforward to read in translation whereas such an approach in the case of Tacitus would inevitably lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding… (more…)

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When it comes to my own writing, at least, I’ve always been a follower of the “that’ll do” principle; not quite the slapdash approach the phrase might imply (though doubtless there are critics out there who think my books exemplify the slapdash approach), but the art of recognising the point of diminishing marginal returns, when – given that perfection will always remain out of reach – the expenditure of addition time and effort ceases to yield proportionate improvements in the quality of the manuscript, especially when it’s probably already months (if not years) overdue and double especially when there are loads of other things I want to write about as well. It’s all about the jazz idea of creating something in the moment, of the moment, and then moving onto what the next moment calls for, rather than endlessly honing the same thing in the hope of transcending intellectual entropy.

This approach has worked well enough – until now. (more…)

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One of the reasons I enjoyed the film Bridge of Spies – others include Mark Rylance, the sights of 1960s Berlin like Friedrichstrasse and Tempelhof, Mark Rylance, Tom Hanks being much less Tom Hanks than usual, and Mark Rylance – was the way that the German and Russian characters spoke German and Russian most of the time: no subtitles, no Denglish with terrible accents (“For you, Tommy, ze Kalte Krieg ist over. Now you are schlaflos in Berlin, oder? Komisch!”).* A really neat bit of alienation; Tom Hanks doesn’t know what the hell is going on, and the audience isn’t going to be any the wiser either, having to rely on tone, facial expressions and body language until the characters/director decide to include him/us in the conversation again by switching to English, not necessarily being completely frank or open. It’s a counterpoint to the shiftiness and duplicity of the CIA bunch, achieving similar effects in plain English through evasion, omission and patriotic rhetoric.

Of course, by this point I had disqualified myself as the intended audience for the film (more…)

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The Classicists email list is having one of its periodic flame wars; in classic horror movie style, a softly-spoken, genteel little email list, which normally spends its days politely relaying conference announcements and information about studentship opportunities, is provoked by a casual remark and transforms into a raging monster.  Clearly some sort of mutant DNA was spliced into the discipline in its past, because this does keep happening in one way or another. “I’m getting pedantic. You wouldn’t like me when I’m pedantic…”

(more…)

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