For reasons too tedious to go into, I won’t be around much the next week or two, and I certainly won’t have the time to write posts for this blog. However, to prevent withdrawal symptoms on my part – going without blogging for extended periods leaves me feeling curiously restive – I thought it might be a good idea to put something up before I go, even if it’s no more than a set of random passing thoughts.
Do please feel free to skip this one if you have better things to do.
Those of you who think it’s been some time since I actually talked about books, you’re perfectly right. In my defence, I have never claimed this was solely a books blog, but books are, nonetheless, the main topic here. However, if I can do trailers like they do in the cinema, forthcoming attractions will include:
– Posts on Austen’s Persuasion and Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, as I complete my Austen read-a-thon and continue my Turgenev project. Re-reading is generally so much more rewarding than first readings, don’t you think? With first readings, you only really skim the surface. To really get to know a book, you need to let it settle in your mind, to let it resonate there some time, and then return to it.
– A post on the first part of Don Quixote. Since it’s actually two novels rather than one, I thought I’d take a break between the two. However, I do want to write up some thoughts on the first part before moving on to the second.
– Something on the short stories of D. H. Lawrence. I have a vast 1400-page volume of the collected short fiction of Lawrence – both short stories and novellas – and, having been much impressed by my re-readings last year of The Rainbow and of Women in Love, am very keen to read through these stories. Reading all 1400 pages without a break for other books is a bit of a tall order, but it seemed reasonable to break the whole thing up into roughly four equal parts. I am now towards the end of the first 350-page chunk, which starts with Lawrence’s earliest attempts at fiction – and he really did find his feet quickly! – and includes towards the end such major works as “The Prussian Officer” and “Daughters of the Vicar”.
Now, admit it – that’s got you all excited, hasn’t it?
My previous post on cultural appropriation has got me thinking: my own personal culture, which I happen to value highly, encompasses the music of, amongst others, Mozart and Schubert. I can assure you that this music has as at least as much value for me as any aspect of ethnic culture does to any ethnic people. (And no, I’m not being flippant: I am, after all, something of an ethnic type myself.) This is serious music, and is, to me, sacred: it is to be listened to seriously, and spoken about only in tones of hushed and awed reverence, as anything other than that would be a desecration. And furthermore, as a lover of classical music, I feel very much marginalised and disempowered in society: as such, I am obviously well placed to resent my culture being appropriated.
So I think the next time anyone who does not share my culture plays the music of Mozart or of Schubert as background music at dinner parties, I should organize a protest to draw attention to my genuinely hurt feelings on the matter. And I should further write some gibberish on my blog here to indicate how deeply my feelings have been hurt.
I might even send the said gibberish to The Guardian and see if they print it. I don’t see why they shouldn’t – especially if I were to drop in a few references to current pop celebrities to make the piece more attractive to their editors.
I have long been a fan of the Marx Brothers, but one of the most dispiriting evenings I have spent in a cinema was a showing of a double bill of two of the Marx Brothers’ finest films – A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. I had been looking forward to it: I’d never seen any of their films on a big screen before, and, what’s more, I had never experienced these films as a shared experience. That, after all, is one of the major advantages the cinema has over the television, or, for that matter, the advantage theatre-going has over private reading: what we see in the cinema or in the theatre is not a private matter, but something shared with many other people; and when we hear others laughing, we feel more inclined to laugh ourselves.
However, the corollary of this is that when others are not laughing, it inhibits one’s own laughter. And on this occasion, the audience was not appreciative. The gags which usually have me splitting my sides all passed with barely a titter; many, under the curious impression that whispers are inaudible, were talking amongst themselves; some even walked out. There was no sign of anyone enjoying these films As a consequence, I came out of the showing feeling very irritated: the experience I shared was one merely of boredom and of annoyance.
It is for this reason that I am not keen to see Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet – even if I could get hold of a ticket (which I can’t). I have no doubt that Cumberbatch is a fine actor, and well capable of doing justice to this notoriously demanding part, but I frankly doubt that those who have booked a full year in advance, or who have flown half way round the world to queue up overnight for tickets that are made available on the day, are too interested in the play as such. After all, there are many productions of Hamlet on the stage – many of them actually very good, there being no shortage of talent – which all pass more or less unnoticed, even in arts pages of quality newspapers: that this particular production has been making front pages is purely a consequence of a culture that worships celebrity, rather than of one that values Shakespeare.
Which is fair enough, I suppose: people are entitled to like whatever they like and it’s really none of my business. Furthermore, it may legitimately be said that the presence of a star encouraging people to go to see Hamlet who would not otherwise have done so can only be Good Thing. But, bearing in mind my experience of that evening in the cinema where two films I love were ruined by an unappreciative audience, I do wonder whether I’d enjoy being at this production. There was a similar event a few years ago, when David Tenant, Dr Who himself, played Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. (In addition, Claudius was Patrick Stewart – Captain Picard, no less!) I didn’t get tickets for that, but a friend who did, while very appreciative of both the production and the performances, told me that there were many young ladies sitting near him who were talking amongst themselves throughout virtually the entire performance. How representative my friend’s experience was, I don’t know, but it does make me wary of going to see something I love where the audience is likely to be less than ideally appreciative. Call it snobbery if you will, but watching Marx Brothers films on DVD at home is a far more enjoyable experience than watching it in a cinema with people who don’t care for them.
And in any case, going to see Hamlet without appreciating or caring much for its cultural import is a form of cultural appropriation, isn’t it? A few demonstrations around Barbican Theatre seem called for here, I think. Oi, you lot! Stop appropriating my culture!
Speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, I see it as made the front page again, this time of The Times (I cannot link to this, as The Times is behind a paywall). Apparently, this production had started with the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, but, having decided during the preview run that this wasn’t working, they have now put it back in the third act where it belongs. Such is the power of celebrity in our times (pun, however pisspoor, fully intended), even this makes the front page.
But what strikes me in the article is a reference in the first paragraph to “traditionalists” finding the transposition of the soliloquy “shocking”. Surely not! Traditionalists – of whom I guess I’d better count myself one – have long been accustomed to far greater outrages to the text than this. It may hurt the egos of certain directors to be told that they no longer shock audiences, but that is the truth – they don’t. Traditionalists – or purists, or whatever you may want to call these imagined mustachio-twirling pantomime villains – may think some of the directorial decisions of various productions silly, or tedious; and sometimes, contrary to popular mythology, they may go the other way, and find some of these decisions interesting, or even perhaps, on occasion, revelatory; but they are long past the stage where they are shocked.
There seems to be a vested interest amongst many in presenting the bulk of theatre-goers and opera-goers as unthinking and unreflective bourgeois philistines who need to be shocked out of their complacency; and, to this end, it is assumed that any departure from the text is bound to shock the audience, and leave them foaming at the mouth. Truth is, not even the most conservative of theatre-goers is likely to be “shocked” by the placing of the famous soliloquy at the start. Some, like myself, may take issue with the directorial decision, and think it ill-considered; but that’s really about as far as it goes. Sorry to disappoint.
That’s all for now, I think. See you all in September, when I will be back to writing proper posts on proper books.