Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to get into arguments with inanimate objects

On Saturday's I toddle down to the newsagents on the corner of High Street and get a copy of The Herald Sun (which I almost never read, but is good for the movies) and The Australian. Once I have my Oz, I throw out the business and sports and employment and health and whatever special report it is they have going almost immediately, and get down to business with their Review section. Within minutes my feet is up and the coffee is out and I begin skipping and sorting through each article, reading at my will, and the result is almost exactly like a conversation. I won't say that I shout or grumble or start talking to the newspaper - but I certainly think up responses. They're generally of the form of an argument, though vociferous agreement also takes place.

This week as usual I started with the back-page column. 'Earlier this year somebody took a scene from the film Downfall (set in Hitler's bunker as the Russians approached Berlin) and subtitled it with a script that had then NSW premier Morris Iemma blaming everybody for the failure of his power privatisation plan.'

'Mmm,' I thought, 'Must have seen a different one to that thing Tony ran on his blog a while ago.' (Ironically, the article was about how newspapers were still more important than blogs, though for some reason I couldn't be bothered arguing with this - maybe Steven Matchett looks too nice.)

I noodled on then to the interview with Tilda Swinton, which contained the ominous quote 'The bitch witch franchise is now closed....' To which I could only reply, 'What???? Who's going to play the White Witch in upcoming Narnia films then?' The article also quoted Swinton, 'My face was like a mirror ball because I hadn't discovered powder yet and I was shining like the back of a spoon.' 'What a weird way to describe yourself', I thought.

There was little ground for argument here, so I leafed through until I got to the reviews. There was a review by Michael Ignatieff of a political book, which should have been good for an argument, but I turned over to the Overflow column by Rosemary Sorenson, where I read,

'Thirteen: that's how many unauthorised biographies have been written about Shane Warne. And now there's to be a Keating! - style musical.... the show is aiming to portray the cricketer's human side...'

I snorted. (Inwardly. (Trying doing THAT with your brain when you're at home!)) 'The songs are written by Eddie Prefect! I doubt that he'll be able to pull that one off.'

Over the page, I got into a brief altercation with the review of Kate Grenville's latest novel. The book is about the earliest attempts to write down an Australian Aboriginal language, and contained two passages from the novel: 'Not just the words were opaque, even the cadence was unlike any language he had heard. Trying to hear its form was like trying to take hold of running water.' ('Nice metaphor!' I cried.) And this: 'Learning a language was not a matter of joining any two points with a line. It was a leap into the other.' I snorted again - possibly outwardly, this time - and said to myself, 'Preposterous, there's no way an eighteenth century character is going to use such a pretentious turn of phrase as this.'

I got into a brief gossip with the article on page 13 about literary magazine. Turning over the page again, I looked down and saw the title of Robert Adamson's new book of poems

The Golden Bird: New and Selected Poems.

I screwed my eyes up quizzically and muttered, 'The Golden Bird? Isn't that the title of a George Mackay Brown book? Is that a reference?' The review didn't say. Up above, there was a longer review of the latest Granta edition, with a 'nature writing' theme. Gosh, that got me cranky:

'Probably most readers these days, if they thought about nature writing at all, would picture some idiot - as Jason Cowley in his introduction confesses he once did - "badly dressed, ascetic, misanthropic", standing alone... seeking communion with nature via a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But this was never nature writing...'

Me: 'Ridiculous! Sounds like a perfectly charming way to write about nature to me. Hasn't this idiot ever read Thoreau's chapter in Walden about his measuring of the Walden ponds?'

'Nature writing, if it's any good, isn't merely writing about nature. It's writing from nature's point of view.'

Me: 'Ludicrous! Nature is an abstract concept, and doesn't have a point of view! This is just misguided theology!'

There was a bit of waffling about '... the earth': '... the nature writer recalls the earth, the biotic reality of every human life.'

Me: 'What's so special about 'the earth'? What's it got to do with nature in the abstract? You're just looking for a good metaphor. This isn't it.'

Over the page there weren't any more book reviews, so I folded up the paper and went and had my lunch.


Ampersand Duck said...

It's shameful, isn't it, how many crap sections of the paper you have to peel off to get to the real stuff. Sometimes I buy the enormously enormous Friday Financial Review, and chuck everything except the 'Review' section, which is all of eight pages.

I wish you could buy bits of the paper separately, like modules. That would be an interesting exercise, to see what different strata of people actually *want* from their papers.

TimT said...

One of the reasons I don't buy The Age anymore is they got to the point where they started asking me to buy TWO separate fat sections of their Saturday paper and join them together at home. Waste of time when I was only interested in a couple of pages.

The Australian is actually relatively thin, and I still chuck a lot of that out.

I guess when they buy out their competitors or want to offer a new section to attract new buyers, newspapers just tend to get bigger... with ugly results.

forlorn said...

The absolute pits is when there's a long weekend and they publish bigger papers on both Friday and Saturday with smaller but different main sections, a few new feature and review articles and exactly the same material in all the other endless supplements. And they charge the Sat price for both. This ploy is especially beloved of Fairfax.

But then I find myself skimming a lot of the stuff in the review sections too. Tilda Swinton is marvellous though, as anyone who has seen Orlando would know. She sleepwalks through the witch roles.

Tony said...


TimT said...

I knew I'd missed something obvious. Thanks Tony.

Ann O'Dyne said...

ditto from me on most of all the above post and comment.

are we all in trouble if The Review is what we kick-back with on Saturdays?
I would enjoy it more if you wrote it all dear TimT.

Pity the individual Ms Swinton who has to spew out that pap to fulfill film-promo obligations.

peace and love

Rachel said...

Do you reckon romantic literature falls into the category of nature writing? I don't mean Barbara Cartland romantic, but rather the obsession of the German Romantics with nature... what say you?

TimT said...

Well yes and no. Obviously Coleridge and Wordsworth and poets of their time took nature as a special theme, though they also wrote a lot of social commentary. F'r instance, you get things like Coleridge's 'Ode on Liberty'. And the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is perhaps more about the supernatural than what is strictly natural.

At the same time they wrote in an age of scientific discovery, and nothing is out of limits from the perspective of the sciences... everything, from a scientific perspective, could be seen as 'natural'. So in that sense you could argue that romantic poetry reflects this and is therefore all about nature. But by this same interpretation you could argue that ANY poetry at ANY time is about 'nature', in this general sense.

That doesn't really answer the question... ! Maybe I should have just said 'I don't know', that would have been much easier.

Rachel said...

Good points actually. I know this is going to make me sound completely pretentious but you are right, the take on nature characteristic of the great romantics was imbued with a supernatural tone, a somewhat metaphysical appreciation of science, and of course an examination of whether this fandangled thing called science was finite or not. Fucking hell, I should say something really bogan-like to atone for consciously using the term 'metaphysical appreciation of science'. Oh, I dunno what that hell I'm saying, I guess I just like me some of that romantic writing stuff.

PS I'm only really ever gotten into German romanticism, so any suggestions of other great romantics would indeed be appreciated.

Rachel said...

I was just thinking about the irony of one of Germany's greatest Romantics being a Jew. Incidentally, the school I went to in Germany was named after Heinrich Heine.

TimT said...

I suspect there were English/German cross-influences right through the nineteenth century and early 20th century, so the parallel is probably worth pursuing.

And I'm sure that scientific development and scientific investigation in Germany must have had a big influence as well - perhaps more so, since you had poet/scientist figures like Goethe.

Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's grandfather, wrote some interesting poetry which took as their theme biological nature (he was a working scientist like his grandson). Alfred Wallace was also a scientist/poet.)

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