Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Crimea River


No don’t worry; I’m not, like those airheads to whom the BBC panders by broadcasting their fatuous ’phoned-in ‘reactions’, about to give you my opinions on events in Ukrania. Anyone who can’t see at once what America and Russia are up to is unlikely to be enlightened by me.

Instead, Il faut cultiver notre jardin: what’s in the row of books by my bed just now?

First a fat volume by Paul Elie, ‘Reinventing Bach’. Unfortunately Elie belongs to the insulting ‘Let’s make it humanly interesting’ school of biography; you know the sort of thing: ‘As he came down the steps of the Forum, Caesar glanced up at the darkening sky, shivered, and pulled his toga tighter. Would he get home to Calpurnia and a nice bowl of hot pabulum before Jupiter emptied his celestial chamber-pot over Rome?’ But the book is much more about the reception of Bach’s music since the invention of sound recording. Here too there is far too much contentless unevidenced emotional gurgling about what Casals or Schweitzer ‘must have felt’ as they prepared to record, and a fair amount of factual inaccuracy and contradiction: in one bar Schweitzer is recording onto a wax cylinder, in the next onto a disc. There is not a single musical example and very little serious discussion of key-relations or musical form. This is the sort of book that publishers describe as ‘accessible’ and ‘free of technical jargon’. Just when was it that failure to make any demands of the reader became a virtue?

Nevertheless the book is entertaining and well worth reading. At nearly 500 pages it necessarily contains lots of stuff that will be already known only to professionals, and will very much interest mere amateurs like me.

Next, something that does indeed make demands of the reader: a book of essays by Adam Phillips. Phillips is a psychoanalyst, and to be any use at all a psychoanalyst has to be well-read. The Standard Edition of the works of Freud fills a good yard of bookshelf, and one needs to know a fair bit of the German literature and above all Greek mythology to which Freud refers; that’s just for starters. Phillips is quite startlingly well-read in many fields, as the quotations forming epigraphs to these essays show. It would be impertinent of me to say anything about the essays themselves: they are, as teenagers say last time I checked, ‘Awesome’. And to say 'Oh, they're only about psychoanalysis' would be like saying 'Oh, they're only about everything.'

'Bother' said Pooh: I’m only half-way through the little shelf: there are still a book of poetry, a detective novel, a translation studies journal, and two little fascicles of stuff off the internet. But I’ve been told to keep my blog posts short. More tomorrow perhaps, unless people write in to protest.

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