January 1st, 2009

breaking bad

2008-9

Like so many of you, judging by the posts, we ended 2008 feeling a bit stunned, a bit sad. There have been good things in the last 12 months, both personally, and in the big world (Obama I suppose the best of these). But the overall feeling of the year is that one has been dealt a heavy blow, and whether one will ever quite recover is still in grave doubt.

The fact remains that our civilisation is based utterly on a resource which is running out. Yet for myself and my family I remain quite optimistic. But I can't help thinking that the individual Anasazi and Maya and no doubt the final Romans remained personally optimistic in the last weekends before their cities fell.

I don't often recount dreams but last night I dreamed I saw a baby lying on the ground, dying. I thought it was not saveable, but I gave it some water to drink, and it sprung back to life and began laughing and crawling about happily. Hopefully a new year omen.
breaking bad

The Dream of Scipio

I have just finished a book called The Dream of Scipio by Ian Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost. Fingerpost was a novel set in Oxford in the 17th century, just after the Civil War. A murder narrative is revealed from several perspectives (like Rashomon). Each subjective story is a partial indicator, like a fingerpost, towards an unknowable truth.

The Dream of Scipio is set in Avignon in three historical periods: the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, and the Vichy Republic, when civilisation is in danger of falling. The reference is to a work by Cicero, about Scipio's dream that he saw the fall of Rome. Like Instance of the Fingerpost it is about the partial unfolding of truth - this time more explicitly linked to Neo-Platonism. It's quite dark, and I feel it realises fairly well what it was like to live in those different periods.

The novel is about various people in each era who make moral compromises to try to save as much as they can of civilisation. As well as Neo-Platonism/Gnosticism another theme is whether good depends on the consequences of your actions, or on right understanding, or on good motives. Another theme is the legacy of European anti-semitism. The plot is rather romantic, and it's not High Art, but I think it manages to hold up under the weight of its theme.
breaking bad

December Books

These were my December books. I've written about most of these already.

The Genius of Shakespeare: Jonathan Bate
An excellent set of essays by some prof from Liverpool University. Great read if you are a fan. No bollocks.
HMS Ulysses: Alistair Maclean (audio)

Spine Chillers: MR James (audio)
Some radio plays introduced by Derek Jacobi. A bit disappointing actually. Not enough Jacobi.
The Giant Under the Snow: John Gordon

Counter-knowledge: Damian Thompson
A quick bunkum-debunker type of book
Paradise Lost: John Milton (audio)

The Dream of Scipio: Iain Pears

One Step Behind: Henning Mankel (audio - only just started it)
A Kurt Wallander novel, unfortunately abridged so I don't know if I am getting the proper effect.