Thinking aloud: a change of direction?

Regular readers of this blog – and I believe there are a few – will know that this blog isn’t particularly focussed on any one thing. I don’t even describe this as a “books blog”, or as a “literary blog”: most of my posts are, admittedly, on literary matters, but on the whole, this blog is as unfocussed and as meandering and – let’s be honest – as undisciplined as my mind. I write about whatever takes my fancy, and, on the whole, quite enjoy the freewheeling nature of it all.

However, this freewheeling approach means that this blog doesn’t really have a brand, as such. There’s no niche in which to settle. And recently, I have been tempted, sorely tempted, to give this blog a more distinctive identity. It all started recently when I started tweeting on a book I have been reading recently – a biography of Caravaggio by Helen Langdon (of which more later: watch this space, as they say). And it struck me what a wonderfully rich era, in terms of culture, the turn of the 17th century was – from the 1590 into the 1600s. For me, of course, this was principally the era of Shakespeare; but it was also the era of John Donne, Monteverdi, Francis Bacon, William Byrd, Cervantes, the young Rubens, John Dowland, Caravaggio, Lope de Vega, Ben Jonson, Thomas Campion, El Greco, Johannes Kepler, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, and so on. In short, it was one of the most extraordinary periods in the Western world in terms of culture, and the advancement of learning. Now, wouldn’t it be interesting to focus my blog on this era? Perhaps to discipline myself to write on nothing but this era?

Histories of England tend to split this era into the Tudor period and the Stuart period, thus introducing a break in 1603 with the death of Queen Elizabeth I; and in terms of “-isms”, no-one can really decide whether this was the era of the late Renaissance or the early Baroque: Byrd and Shakespeare are often referred to as Renaissance figures, whereas Caravaggio and Monteverdi are considered Baroque. Perhaps the Italians, ahead of the times as ever, decided to become Baroque somewhat earlier than the British got round to it – who knows!

As with any era, of course, it’s an era of great diversity, and there’s little point – or even perhaps convenience – in sticking labels. What does it matter whether Shakespeare was Renaissance or Caravaggio was Baroque when they were both, at the same time, producing masterpieces of unsurpassed tragic grandeur? It’s an era I really would like to immerse myself in, and writing about it here would be, if nothing else, an education for me: apart from the plays of Shakespeare – whose works I won’t claim to know well, but which I have at least lived with for a great many years – I am really not at all knowledgeable about these other major figures of the time. Wouldn’t it be great to know well the music of Byrd, or of Monteverdi? To come to a deeper understanding of those dark masterpieces of Caravaggio? To appreciate better the poetry of Donne? To re-read Don Quixote? Or, if I allow myself the freedom to go back a decade or two, come to terms – as I have long been intending to do – with the essays of Montaigne?

It’s certainly tempting. However, while I think there will be a great many posts here next year on this fascinating period, I doubt I’d want to lose the freewheeling aspect of this blog: I’d like to give myself the freedom to continue to write about whatever takes my fancy – whether it’s a piece of nostalgia, or some account of some film or play that I’ve just seen, or some concert I’ve just heard, or simply have a damn good rant. That last bit is especially important: I most certainly do not want to give up on my rants, especially when there is so much in our times worth ranting about.

So, no radical changes I suppose; but when we get into 2015 – which is now frighteningly close – do be prepared for a plethora of posts on the arts and culture of the late 16th to the early 17th centuries.

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by sara on September 15, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Sounds very good to me what is your twitter account? Also Montaignes essays are fantastic material and very timeless in their wisdom! Good luck sara

    >

    Reply

  2. Be great area to focus on

    Reply

  3. Posted by alan on September 15, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Hmmm…The Freewheelin’ Old Git.
    I must admit it has a ring to it, I only wish I had the requisite picture editing skills.

    Reply

  4. Posted by John Henrick on September 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Sounds great to me, Himadri, especially if you spend sufficient time on Kit Marlowe, as well as Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. There’s a so-so, albeit convenient, online version at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10800/10800-h/10800-h.htm.

    Reply

    • Thanks for the thumbs up, John! I suppose if I could go back a bit to take in Montaigne, there’s no reason why I couldn’t go forward a bit to Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, although tackling it at the same time as Montaigne and Cervantes may prove a bit too ambitious! Kit Marlowe is certainly on the list. Our lad is now a student with digs in Deptford, and I never go there without thinking of Kit Marlowe.

      It’s good to hear from you, by the way. How are things with you?

      Reply

      • Posted by John Henrick on September 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

        Actually, I turned 86 this year on 9/11, a date that trumps 12/7, infamywise. Well, if it was good enough for O. Henry, D. H. Lawrence, and Arvo Pärt, why should I complain?

      • many belated happy returns, John. I remember now that your birthday fell on a momentous date: O. Henry, D. H. Lawrence, and Arvo Pärt certianly form a formidable trio! I share mine with Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, while my better half is content sharing hers with Joseph Cotten…

  5. Such a rich period, almost bizarrely rich.

    The way I do my little projects, as you have seen, is that I do it until I am sick of it. There’s really no loss of freedom.

    Who knows, when you are done you may want to move on to the mid-17th century. It’s pretty good, too.

    If you want to give Burton a try, which is a good idea, the preface – the first 100 pages or so – contain the best part of the entire monster.

    Reply

  6. Himadri,

    You know, blogs are cheap and easy to start up. Maybe you should leave our comfortable ol’ place here alone and start a new blog that is more specific to your current needs for specificity.

    How’s that sound?

    By the way, are you on Google+? I don’t Facebook or Tweet, but I am on G+ these days –> https://plus.google.com/u/0/117345995266416713461/about/p/pub

    Toodles for now…

    ~Eric

    Reply

    • Hello Eric, it’s hard enough keeping up with one blog, let alone two!

      I’m not on Google+ I’m afraid. i generally use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, and to exchange silly jokes. And I use twitter mainly to publicise new blog posts.

      I don’t know how it is that time passes so quickly. I obviously don’t manage my time well enough!

      Reply

  7. Posted by Carl McLuhan on September 16, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Hi Himadri:

    Looking forward to your posts on whatever topic. But if you choose to wallow around in the 17th century, perhaps that will encourage others to take your lead.

    Carl

    Reply

  8. Himadri – Sure, why not? (I frequently have similar pangs about my own unfocused blog…). I do hope you’ll keep the “freewheeling” quality, though, as you’ve written so beautifully about many works that don’t fall into the proposed period (your unforgettable post on Life and Fate, for example). But like Carl above, I look forward to your posts whatever the subject may be.

    Reply

  9. I think it would be wrong for you not to pursue it, given you know what interests you and it is such an extraordinary period in history – though as others have said it would be a shame if it were too exclusive and so we lost your essays on books or music outside this period.

    Perhaps you could treat the entire project as a seres of extended notes for the book you may one day write in your retirement, “Shakespeare in Context”. That’s not too ambitious, is it?

    Reply

  10. A great period to focus on, Himadri! And as a fan of painters, I can’t wait to read about Caravaggio.

    Reply

  11. Thanks Tom, Carl, Scott, John, Chris and Miguel (if I may address you all at once so as not to repeat myself!) for your encouragement.

    I think there will certainly be a greater focus next year on this period, which, as Tom says, was a “bizarrely rich” period. But I do rather like the unstructured nature of this blog, so there will be, I expect, plenty of diversions, plus all the usual rubbish!

    Chris – I really cannot imagine why anyone would want to read a book by me on this period when there’s no end of genuine experts they could turn to! think I lack the discipline and the expertise to write a book on topics so far outside my own professional background. And I think I rather like my blog-status of “amateur enthusiast”.

    Cheers for now,
    Himadri

    Reply

  12. You post touches on a subject that I have struggled with, and will likely struggle with, throughout my life. It is how much to focus one’s reading, and other attentions, on a specifics verses generalities. Time is the limited resource.

    I do not really have a definitive answer other then to say however you balance it out, you should, as I suspect you will do, enjoy the experience!

    Reply

    • I certainly will do, thanks.

      I am increasingly coming to feel that it is better to know a few things well, than skim through a whole lot of things. Of course, there is much that I won’t even get a chance to skim through – but that can’t be helped. At my age, I find I have read across a fair range, and have a good idea of those areas that are particularly valuable to me. So i might as well get used to the idea that a single lifetime is too short for everything, and focus on whatever i find most enriching.

      Reply

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