ARTYFACTS: August 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Anthony Kenny (Edinburgh Book Festival) - masterful

When Kenny retired he was asked to write a new History of Western Philosophy. As he said, Russell was inaccurate but readable, Coplestone accurate but boring. His is an attempt to be accurate and readable. (Hard to understand why Russell got the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his book.)

He took us on a quick journey through Western Philosophy, starting with Plato and Aristotle - Plato asked more questions, but Aristotle gave more answers. St Augustine was criticised for his later theological strictures and Aquinas praised as one of the greatest mind of the Middle Ages but a Gulliver held down by Lilliputians (the clergy and Aristotelian physicists). Duns Scotus’s scepticism he saw as an enduring and destructive force stretching all the way to Hume. The problem with the Middle Ages was reverence for sacred books, so Aristotle became an unquestioned orthodoxy. It was only when this reverence for Aristotle was overthrown that philosophy could progress.

After a quick run through Early Modern philosophy from the Continental Rationalists (Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza), against the British Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley and Hume), we get the great unifier Kant. He seemed to have a soft-spot for Bentham but found the Greatest Happiness principle suspect. Interestingly, he saw the mutual antipathy between the Anglo-American and Continental philosophy rather false and destructive. Nevertheless, the only passage he read was a diatribe against Derrida, who he accuses of simply being a deft user of rhetoric in the form of puns, the bawdy, sneers and sniggers. For Kenny, Wittgenstein is, for him, the greatest of the 20th century philosophers.

Philosophy, for Kenny, was a personal journey, which is why he is sceptical of lectures on the subject and in favour of dialogue and tutorials. He thought that much modern philosophy had become trapped in institutional behaviour with far too many journals and obscurism. Given his view that Aquinas’s genius had been thwarted by the Church and modern philosophy thwarted by academia, I asked whether he though Hume was a better philosopher for being outside academia. He admired Hume’s moral philosophy but thought little of his analysis of causality (the opposed position was a view that few held) or basic empiricist theory of impressions.

The book itself is indeed readable and HUGE. Having read a few passages in the bookshop - it's on my next Amazon order.

Steve Bell (Edinburgh Book Festival) - superb

Steve Bell lives about 200 yards from my front door so it was a little odd having to go all the way to Edinburgh to see him. However, it was a full house for Britain’s best loved cartoonist (at least for the left-leaning), who delivered a stonking show narrating the story behind the creation of his best known characters; Thatcher (plain mad), Major (underpant ordinariness), Blair (Thatcher in disguise), Bush (chimp), Charles Kennedy (angry eyes), Ming Campbell (geriatric), Gordon Brown (chin laden), Cameron (young, gifted and plump), Ed Miliband (strange, stary eyes) and Murdoch (mad).

He swore like a trooper throughout, describing Margaret Thatcher as “completely fucking mad” and Murdoch as a “mad old fucker”. But what was fascinating was the methodical observation and sketching of the characters before settling on the caricature. You imagine him sitting at home, pen in hand, but no, he attends Party Conferences, sketches and takes photographs, even scanning cartoons in on his laptop for submission the editor.

Cameron approached him recently, and said, “Hi Steve. What’s this condom thing all about?” What he thought but didn't say was, “because you’re a dick”.

Marc Almond: Ten Plagues (Traverse) - like a bad X-factor audition

What would someone who had never heard of Marc Almond made of this? A guy who can’t sing and can’t act, camping up the Black Death. Like one of these sacrificially awful X-factor auditions, it was comically bad, at times unbearable to watch. His faltering singing voice was not up to the task of a sustained performance of this length and if you thought the singing was bad, the acting, really just strutting about throwing exaggerated gestures, was laughable. You can’t just stick your chin out, look into the air and point. Just as I thought it couldn't get any worse, Marc sings a dialogue with a silent projected, black and white figure in a kilt. I swear the projected image was more realistic than the Almond, who has clearly gone nuts.
You could have been forgiven if you had seen this as some sort of weird, comic and ironic take on musical performance. Melodrama is wearing, so I was relieved when he eventually exited stage right but my heart (no my entire body) sank when he strutted back on for yet more histrionics. The good news is that, in the end, I survived, unlike the many songs I heard, massacred by a plague of plonking piano notes and out of tune singing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Beginners - ill-formed and laboured

A listless, tired movie about Oedipal relationships, complete with fancy dress Freud (just in case you didn’t get it). Let’s admit that Freud is dead (conceptually), and all that ‘four people in a relationship’ stuff has had its day. Oh and there’s also dollops of eros and thanatos, just in case the Oedipal stuff doesn’t get through. OK, maybe I’m in denial, so what about the performances?

Where to begin? First up, the phony relationship with the French actress (tempted to say clichéd), has no depth. She’s scripted to be enigmatic but ends up tedious and annoying. But she’s nothing compared to the Dad’s lover, who’s as flat and wooden as a parquet floor. Christopher Plummer makes the best of a bad role, namely a terminally ill, finally out of the closet man, who laughs at death. The mother looked the most interesting of them all, but we got little from her in the flashbacks, just some bohemian set pieces and think about it – the dad lied to her until the day she died. McGregor’s accent also slips badly in one of the bedroom scenes, where he sounds as Scottish as my mum.

Then there’s the cute dog stuff, with subtitles, that brings a Disneyesque dimension, and I don’t mean that in a kind way. It’s just bad film making, all tell and no show. As for the cuts to coins, colours and objects, that’s like getting ‘hundreds and thousands’ on your ice cream; colourful but in bad taste. As for the graffiti idea – plain embarrassing. This mess of a movie is ill-formed and laboured.