Wednesday, 10 September 2014


I was reading my current Lapham's  Quarterly, Fall 2014, devoted to writings, paintings, photographs and artefacts associated with Time. One of the selections was headed, Not Fade Away, the title of an early, almost Doo-Wop, Buddy Holly song; another was headed Reelin' In The Years, a tune by one of those frightful American anthem-churning bands, Steely Dan, more corporation than musical ensemble; Time after Time, both a jazz standard, originally by Mafia-Frankie Sinatra and a pop classic by Cindy Lauper, headed a chapter; The Best Is Yet To Come, another Sinatra tune, opened another selection.

 Finding pop ditty titles rubbing shoulders with Francis Bacon, John Ruskin, Thucydides, de Tocqueville, Chaucer, Einstein and fuck knows who else is a curiosity becoming less incongruous as cultures and sub-cultures merge and blend, as, strapped into mr tdg's ghost train of Progress, we enter homogeneity's endless tunnel; the cult of individuality perversely degrading and blurring everything it perceives, conflating retrievability with wisdom. Ah, Chaucer, gorra Chaucer App, me, off Apple. 

As the satellite navigation system is no such thing - no-one uses it to navigate, but  merely to follow instructions - so the Googleability of all human knowledge without any of the hitherto requisite brainmuscle power which impelled and guided research, sorry Ree-Surch, in the first place is little more than access to a vast, virtually infinite pool of melted InfoStuff, in which nascent, curious Purpose must drown. Google and its smug, know-all brothers will take us not to the stars but back to the swamps. 

 I don't know if Lapham's Quarterly is edited on an AppleMac, cross-referencing topics with song titles and book titles, cliches and headlines, but such is it's vastness and erudition that I fear it must be; clever stuff but as much cyber confection as scholarship, literary love's labours lost. 

But at least it's a book, you can pick it up and carry it around, bookmark it with real bookmarks, or, pagecornering, really make it your own; you can flick through it, touch it, grasp it's refined timber organicness, it is made of the same stuff as ourselves; you don't need Beefheart's E-e-e-eleck-tri-iciteee to fire it up, no server, no router to fail you; no typographic error will impede your progress, no security system demand that you update it. LQ is a gift for the autodidact and even for the less-disciplined, even for  a Fool such as I, known to mrs ishmael as Autolycus, son of Mercury, a clever thief, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, Lapham's Quarterly burnishes my woeful ignorance, entertains, diverts and extends me in a manner which would outshine a hundred years spent a-Googling.

 It is an example, this book versus electronic appliance conundrum, of McLuhanism, of the medium being the message, of the infinite cyber-encyclopaedia distracting the watchdog of the mind, the book taking him for a long walk, exercising him, giving him an appetite.

 Chaucer wrote that, that bit at the top, life is so short....and it reminded me that we all tick to our own time bomb's assembly; that to observe Ruin is only to see Time throwing dust on our passage and that before we know it we become, ourselves, that dust. 

 mr bungalow bill, the other day, was bemoaning his observation of the fatuity of popular music performers, how so many, in asinine decrepitude, conspire in their own ridiucule, devalue by endless repetition their early good luck, maybe even in some cases their early talent. Not all, though, are like that and I recalled that I had posted this at least twice, previously, an older song by an older performer. 

 Lyrically, this song, written by Richard Thompson's former bandmate, the late Sandy Denny, says as much in its way as does the entire current edition of Lapham's Quarterly on Time; musically it has sailed not always so sure and steadfast, Thompson's own, devoted renditions too manly, too growly and accusatory; others, such as Eva Cassidy's and Judy Collins's too stickily lachrymose, mawkishly melancholy, over-stringed, over-sung. Dr Simone's version, here, however, gives the lie to age wearying all in showbusiness, their years condemning. A classically-trained pianist, capable of glorious, jazzy, improvised excess, Nina Simone's spare rendition of our collective brevity is paradoxically timeless, the question framed being its own answer, the Void made Harmony. 


Alphons said...

Let's be fair Mr Ishmael. Nina Simone could sing the telephone directory and she would make it a million seller overnight.As would the other Nina... that one that carried Fredrick for a period.

call me ishmael said...

I am not a jazz lover, mr alphons, not modern jazz, anyway and had steered away from Nina Simone, nor did I care for what mrs narcolept called the inevitable other two Simone hits. This, though, ran over me; the space of confidence, the ache of age, the sublime acceptance of all; the song just a peg on which to hang Life's overcoat; still does, run me over; should be available on free prescription.

Mike said...

I guess you won't be queuing for an iWatch then, Mr I.

call me ishmael said...

The iPad is accursed enough for me, mr mike, never mind having one about my person.

I do realise that being able to communicate instantly with you, down there in Oz, is quite miraculous; it is just the unstoppability of it all, no-one ever pausing to reflect, wondering, is this a good thing? I think, already, people have lost the will to think, to imagine, to cudgel their brains and live, instead, a lot of the time, in digitised reality, soon, they won't know the difference.

Mike said...

I've lived through the birth and explosion of the internet, and on balance I think its a good thing, but I see in my own kids the lack of original thought.

Its very evident in my own field (mathematics); so few people can formulate a problem let alone solve it. When I worked in the City in the 80s, I saw so much poor analysis brought about by the advent of spreadsheets and their ease of use. Whereas in practice, this lead to very poor analysis and false results.

call me ishmael said...

McLuhan's positioin was that every technology was an amplification of our on-board mammalian technologies, thus, rock amplified fist, wheel amplified foot, saw amplified teeth and so on, writing amplified speech, made history of oral tradition, of memory, writing amplifies memory - quick, I must write that down, before I forget it; he diferentiated, too, between hot and cold media - those in which you participate. like radio and reading and those, like television in which you are passive, done unto. There are elements of both hot and cold in IT but I think on balance it will be a cooler rather than a hot medium, an overall bad.

I am curious, mr mike; if you can see it's deleterious impact - even in your family - in a short half-lifetime or so, how, given the basically commercial nature of its operators, do you foresee its impoact in a century or so?

Mike said...

Mr I: its very clear where its going, and it will not take a century. The abundance of "information" and "answers" at the click of a mouse has removed the need for critical and orignal thought - not completely, but to an obvious and increasing extent.

Now we are seeing the control and manipulation of the data - being able to remove stuff from Google being the latest example, but lets not kid ourselves its not happening on a larger scale. Increasingly, the State (not just the Chinks and Iranians) will control the supply of data.

So, biased data + lack of critical appreciation = propaganda and brainwashing. All so the plebs are easier to control.

call me ishmael said...

'Sjust what I thought, too, mr mike. I also see a fairly rapid degeneration of skills which I had considered hardwired, estimation, mental arithmetic - I think that one is almost gone, now; the sense of direction, alright, it is a gender-specific skill but I am astonished by the number of males, visiting, who ask not for directions but for postcode and when I say 'sno good, postcode won't get you here reply, replying course it will, telephoning for directions, later, completely missatnavved; translation, why bother picking up a language dictionary when Google is you bon ami? And so on.

I have long thought Consumerism has made our children coarser than ourselves, rather than, as you might expect, more refined; I now believe that the Internet will cripple them, withering skills developed over millennia.

Bungalow BillL said...

A lovely meditation and great conclusion. It's the loss of patience, which craft demands, that is so regrettable. Info saturation, relentless stimulation, the instant historicising of the recent past ( the "Blair years" treated as though he came just after Gladstone); all of these things condemn us to an eternal present and to a culture of bored disposal. We can't measure ourselves properly any more, locate ourselves, give each other the time and space in which respect and fruitful civic life can come about and the greedy and powerful find it harder to destroy us. We mustn't despair because absolute cultural pessimism is also an illusion and an indulgence and there are many beauties still. But we must keep the time for ourselves and others and for the proper making of things. It's why I and others like your garden interludes. It's why we need public spaces like libraries. It's why even now I think our older churches are such a refuge: I've been reading about the construction of our great cathedrals and the craftsmen and whole lives which were dedicated to that work; now there is a coming together of skill and patience to produce beautiful and human things. The labour of those people hundreds of years ago giving us such pleasure and consolation now.

DtP said...


I hope it's yes because it won't matter. I hope it's no because I need their brains.

I've been asked loads of times, why is the Tory Party getting involved and the sad humainty is the Tory Party has fuck all to do with it. We had Andrew Bonar Law and MacMillan and I can't remember a Jock problem.

Am chuffed about this vote thing tho = kinda cool, maybe

Anonymous said...

My favourite example - all this ropy interweb shit in a nutshell, if you like - is the wikipedia entry for Ian Sommerville. Sommerville was a collaborator, in various ways, of William Burroughs, and according to wikipedia was educated at the King's School, Canterbury. Except he wasn't - he was a grammar-school boy from Darlington (a few years older than my father, who remembers him as famously clever, brains getting him where he was going, nowt else.) This is a small thing, unlikely to matter much to anybody, but I doubt it's untypical. Mendacity and sloppiness, all over the fucking shop. Mix this in with an educational culture that tells children they're "predicted 8 GCSE's, A star to C" (so, like, eight C's, then, darling?) and the "degeneration of skills" you see, and regret, is all too scary, all too true. (I'm not giving up completely on the young just yet, though, in theory at least - have you seen Kate Tempest on YouTube rhapsodising about Shakespeare?)

And yes I know wikibollocks is editable by all but what the fuck, right?


callmeishmael said...

Lamenting editorial failure, indeed absence, is, though, in a way, a blighted caution, mr verge, isn't it? I know that I could never entertain being edited, who am I to demand it of others? Your own, or some of your own literary heroes would never have survived the passage through conventional, publishers' editing. I don't know, therefore, haven't a fucking clue, how or whether we might refine the content of now-touchstone sites shch as wikipedia, riddled, as it is, with errors of omission, commission and default.

But it is not the content I fear but the process and the manner in which surfing is proclaimed as education, but, as you say, what the fuck? Let the parents go figger.

Anonymous said...

Up to a point - s'a difference between editing supposedly straight content (fact-checking, for want of a better) and fucking with somebody's hustle. But you right - "Gravity's Rainbow" for instance, would have been a helluva lot easier to read with all the rocket-fuel riffs removed, but a lesser piece, thinner gruel. (His latest - Bleeding Edge - is disappointing, very clunky sequences supposedly set online circa 2001.)

"Go figger" - I read that and realise that we should all be google-universes unto ourselves; shouldn't need to surf to know what figging means, and where it comes from (from horse-trading to BDSM); that sycophancy means "showing the fig"; what the fig of Spain looked like ("fig to thee, Iceland dog.") All that. Books, and talk, and memory - not fucking google.

Long Live the Ishmaelite Oasis, anyhow. Thanks for keeping it open, Mr Smith.


callmeishmael said...

No, thanks for dropping by mr verge.

mongoose said...

And yet, and yet. We sat today and were unable to make something work. I understood that it didn't work and understood what exactly it wasn't doing that I wanted; the other guy understood why what we had wasn't doing that; and then a couple of clicks later and we knew that we were screwed for the day. There'll be no measuring of those few millivolts difference this day, mongoose, my lad. Time for the pub.

Another few clicks - in the pub - and we had an alternative answer. But we knew what we were about - knew what we didn't know - and how, and the how has become the ability to work out where, to look. A cicrcuit has been drawn and tomorrow will see soldering irons and buffers making. And they call it work.

So it's just a cyber library in the sky. Some of it is worth reading and some of it is even helpful. Occasionally some of it is true. The data itself is just data but its availability is the wonder. What the kids need is the discernment to weigh and the curiosity to keep looking, and wanting to know. That, I think, is in them and always has been, or it isn't and wasn't.

callmeishmael said...

Porn, mr mongoose, they are too young, too hormonal for its random monstrosities, yet too adroit to suffer its banishment; gamb-a-ling, when they have nothing, they have nothing to lose and Oh, the sweet tang of bullying unto suicide. Zuckerberg and Co, I'd put them in jail, for a long time, moral turpitude, outraging public decency, obtaining pecuniary advantage. These wunderkind, people like Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve OddJobs, we used to call them autistic, freaks, now we worship them. Fuck that shit.

Mark said...

The quest for individuality is what drives people to cover themselves in tattoos and stick lumps of metal in themselves - just like all the other individuals.

callmeishmael said...

They frighten me, those people; if they do that shot to themselves, what would they do to me?