Starting a new subject with a reader is more difficult than picking up an introductory text written with novices in mind. It does, however, have the advantage of offering a full technical vocabulary, and introducing significant writers in the discipline through their own words.
Sadly, the ‘own words’ of cultural theorists (up to Part 3) seem to be quite remarkably dreary – an uglification of English which is hard to forgive, and there are 450 pages still to go. Some of the content is moderately interesting, but Oh! if only we could have it better said! One honourable but momentary exception: Laclau and Mouffe describing their critics as ‘fading epigones’. I had to look ‘epigone’ up in Chambers, and joyed in it, a word at once compendious and splendidly disdainful. Then it was back to uglification for fifteen pages.
This is going to be a long, long, long, long, long, long read.
The beach clay pots are in progress, and I am trying to possess myself in patience and retard their drying to a suitable slowness. This is difficult, as they are completely in the way, all over the kitchen – the conservatory would risk them drying too fast, or unevenly if the sun caught them on one side.
Some of them have cracked anyway, but on this occasion I don’t think it is my lack of patience. The three are all made from the same batch of yellowish-grey clay, which is a 100% failure rate for this particular clay body. Lucky it wasn’t one of the larger batches. I shall not recycle the clay and try again; if it won’t do a slow dry without cracking, I can’t imagine it firing successfully either.
I’ve had some odd things posted to me by various nearests and dearests; this has to be one of the oddest.
In spite of a deep resistance to all forms of sport, I do believe I have invented a new one: Bumble Badminton. Here is the necessary racquet:
I’m getting quite good at this sport. The stupid creatures ramble into the conservatory when I am potting on, and seem to think I may have nectar in my ears.
Four is probably the maximum number of players, assuming you have enough racquets, but playing solo is safer. I’ve decided that points are awarded based on the distance each stroke moves the object towards the goal (door), and subtracted for the distance it returns in between strokes (one point per yard), and also for false strokes. Two extra points are received when the object is propelled through the egress, and style marks are given when it is struck cleanly from the sweet spot on the racquet (the bristles), or for good playing technique, i.e. nothing else in the environment is contacted.
All points are forfeited if the target is squashed. Breakages must be paid for, and the umpire’s decision is final.
On any list of Silly Things To Do, potting on dozens of plants while wearing a white dress must be fairly high up. But it is my loosest and airiest dress, and at eight this morning it was already hot. Smears might come out in the wash – maybe.
Meantime, the tide of plant pots rose and rose, filling the garden tables, obstructing the paving, covering the coal bin, overflowing down the steps, and lapping at the doors. Plant after plant, knocked out of its small pot, was tucked briskly into the new litre pot with nice fresh compost; I was amused to detect in myself the manner of an old-fashioned nurse doing her hospital corners. If I can fend the slugs off, I trust most of my patients will survive.
This is a table. I haven’t seen it for several years as it has been covered with guinea pigs and seedlings in trays and plants in pots. Look: still shiny!
There was something curiously sad about reading The complete robot, though I am puzzled to pin it down. Perhaps it is seeing Asimov’s lifetime of robot stories compressed into one slightly dog-eared volume. The stories are arranged thematically (‘Some immobile robots’, ‘Powell and Donovan’ etc.) so there is no sense of an arc or chronology in the writing, yet time weighs on the volume. Perhaps it is sad to be reminded how thin some of the stories are, how long ago the Golden Age happened, how much more challenging and entertaining the tales were when I was fourteen. Maybe this is the last time I will read them.Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography is mis-named, consisting only of four fragments, written at wide intervals and with purposes which changed as her life altered. The fragments have the immediacy (almost) of a diary, unhomogenised for publication, and often raw with grief or self-knowledge. The letters, of course, were written to be seen by at least one pair of eyes, yet again are created in the immediacy of a particular moment and purpose. Her family life included much loss, disappointment and sadness, and her editor (who was also an adopted daughter) describes the relief with which Margaret Oliphant turned from life when informed that her final illness would be mortal.
And yet the vigour of her literary production was enormous. I’ve read scarcely any of her journalism and none of her non-fiction works, and only a small proportion of the fiction. Those novels I have read are not the easy romantic crowd-pleasers one would expect from a Victorian hack writer, though they are often flawed. On the contrary: Oliphant was capable of a moral complexity at least as challenging as anything to be found in her contemporaries, and sometimes tougher than almost anything I’ve ever read. (She could also be exceedingly witty.) Most of her readers seem to agree that Miss Marjoribanks is the masterpiece, and certainly for me it’s pure joy from cover to cover.
A woman of so much drive and talent, but so religious, so conventional and with so few pretensions, was always going to be a puzzle to the Victorians, and I suspect she remains a stumbling block now, in spite of a developing cloud of critics and apologists. Sometimes I think I’ll try one of the modern biographies; but then again, perhaps I’ll just let her continue to speak for herself.
also going via nowhere in particular.
Cool and drizzly.