ARTYFACTS: May 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sex, incest & violence in The Duchess of Malfi: Old Vic

Although 500 years old, this Jacobean tragedy is more soaked in sex, incest and violence than your average 18-rated horror movie. It’s a year’s worth of tabloid headlines all wrapped up in one play, with a church sex scandal, incestuous relationship among the toffs, honour killing, spying, poisoning, hangings, stranglings, knifings, serial killing, even a werewolf. It's a Jacobean horror.
The set is magnificent, a tall, menacing structure, full of back-stairs and side entrances with hooded extras and candle-lit entrances. The Duchess enters back-lit from the back of the stage, first as a Queen Elizabeth figure – regal in virginal white. It’s difficult to think of her without reference to Elizabeth 1 – a powerful woman in a society that saw women in traditional terms. Her will takes her into unchartered territory where danger lurks and that’s her downfall. The men are feckless, duplicitous, power-hungry and murderous and she stands alone as someone with backbone and principles. Eve Best is matched only by Harold Lloyd as Ferdinand.
As usual there's a half-villain, Bozola, played as a mercenary Scot. (This seems to be our new fate in fiction - to be seen as lone-wolf, criminal types, who will do anything that's a bit dodgy, with little or no principle.) However, I read this as a clever reference to James 1, who was seen as an unworthy successor to Elizabeth. Charles Spencer, the ill-educated, smug, snobbish, theatre critic for the Telegraph, completely misses this point and attacked the use of a Scottish accent in his review. The fat, lazy critic even had to drag out that old quote about a Scotsman and a ray of sunshine.
London’s theatres have seen the triumph of Euripides over Aeschylus, with musicals, comedy and farce on every corner. It’s good, therefore, to see some serious work, well executed at the Old Vic.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

DV8 don't deviate from controversy

You know you’ve seen something extraordinary when an entire row of college kids give a performance a standing ovation. DV8 take you places dance rarely ventures – hardcore debate. In ‘Can we talk about this’ they dance to a political tune, the debate around political speech.
Nothing grand, just lots of tightly choreographed, gesture-like moves, intercut with video. It’s the huge amount of speech that makes it so different, delivered in deadpan voices but amplified by the dance. Clever surprise in the middle (won’t tell, as other performances today). It was DV8 that introduced me to the joys of modern dance and DV8 continue to deliver the goods.
But here’s a deviant thought. Would DV8 deliver this piece in Bradford to a largely Asian audience? It’s all very well with a wholly white, liberal Brighton audience but would they be brave enough to deliver this in an area dominated by the cultures they often attack? I think not. Interestingly, I’d like George Galloway’s views.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brighton has more than just a whiff of the Devil! The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

If, like me, you have an aversion to traditional ‘thaytaar’, especially cramped seats in the Theatre Royal, you’ll love this ‘strange undoing’. The Brighton Festival has a reputation for theatre in odd locations but this  venue choice was inspired. Let me explain.
The walk down Brighton Pier on a warm evening, to the sounds of seagulls and the smell of fresh donuts was a great start. Performed in Horatio’s bar near the end of the pier, we were given a free whisky, to get us in the mood, and sat down at a table. The great thing about a play set in the bar is that the audience can chat and get to know one another. That we did.
The tale, (I may be wrong but seemed like a loose version of Tam O’Shanter), starts with a Border conference on Scottish ballads and takes the rise out of academics and their phoney theorising. As the snow falls (the audience create a snowstorm using torn up napkins) and the drink takes hold, the goings-on get more and more raucous,. There’s humour, songs, dance, music, striptease and a brilliant sequence in which a drunken night is recalled in the memories of the drunken participants - with increasing horror.
The whole play, by David Grieg, is a ballad, written in verse, and drifts seamlessly in and out of song. What a way to spend an evening, taken to hell and back in a pub. It clatters along at pace, shifts around the tables, leaps up on the tables and literally juggles and ‘plays’ around with storytelling. I should add, unashamedly as I'm Scottish, that this is a Scottish play and had all the traits of Scottish writing and culture; brash, sweary and relished the idea of drunken abandon. Great to see that Scottish theatre is, to my simple mind, alive and kicking.
Then, out in the fresh, evening air of the pier in the dark. The smell of the salt air, the swell on the ink-black sea below and the creak of the wooden boards as we walked back towards land. The Big Wheel spun slowly, the Lady-Boys of Bangkok tent throbbed and the nightclubs beckoned. Brighton has more than just a whiff of the Devil!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Brighton Festival: The Boat Project

Boarded a 30 ft boat made from personal, wooden items this morning in Brighton Marina and was told tales from a talkative sailor, while a band played sea shanties. It was a hoot. Each item has its own story and we were invited to pick a card and hear the story we had picked. Then we were asked to come up with a memory sparked off by the card. I picked a card with a pair of yellow coloured clogs, which sparked off my own memory about a wooden boat and a colour, in this case orange. 
My grandfather was a soldier who fought in both the first and second world wars. He was torpedoed in the south Atlantic Ocean by a U-boat that surfaced and gave them 30 minutes to evacuate into lifeboats. My grandfather had only women and children on board. Luckily the boat had a cargo of oranges and as it sunk they floated to the surface, forming a carpet of orange on the swell. This was a lifesaver. Unfortunately, the Captain’s wife started to drink seawater and went mad, trying to throw the children overboard, so he had to drown her. So the story goes. It was confirmed by a small ebony box presented to him by the people in that boat, that cryptically referred to this act.
This boat is a fine idea that leaves a work of art that you want to look at, touch and think about. The fact that it’s a boat sitting in the water makes it all the more enticing. Look along the sides and you see guitars, toys, hockey sticks, bowls, pencils, signs – hundreds of items, all with their unique tale.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Live-Transmission: clean, loud and blew both the roof and my head off!

Paul Morley, at a debate the evening before, was on good form, decrying punk nostalgia, as it holds up things for new work and artists. Joy Division, for him, were one of the few bands from that era that created work that didn’t sink back into the ever-flowing river of forgotten pop. Out of Kraftwerk, Roxy Music and Bowie (not the New York Dolls, Stooges etc.) they created a sonic sculpture that was enduring.
This was put to the test in the Dome and passed with soaring, sonic colours. Right from the start, Live_Transmission promised to be something fantastic and unique. The Dome had a Kabba-like, black cube right in the middle, made of gauze, with the musicians crammed inside. Onall four sides images were projected. Light images that didn’t detract from the music. The concert hall was dark and boomed away with that low base sound that throbs through your whole body.
Then it started. Brilliantly simple drums and base (the heart of Joy Division’s original sound) and keyboards, formed a motif for the new work that layered strings, brass and electronic sounds on top. At one point it was pure industrial Kraftwerk. It was clean, loud and blew the roof off.
Good to see that they avoided projecting nostalgic images of Curtis and the others. This was not nostalgia, it was exciting new work. Once again, I walked home with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ hooked into my head. How come these four lads from Manchester (well not really – outside Manchester) imagined this stuff. The answer, in part, is that they didn’t. It needed the genius of Martin Hannett, the Producer. However, it also took the genius of Curtis and the talent and ambition of the others to bring their depression and working-class sensibility to create, what is undoubtedly great art. Easily the best thing in the festival so far.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Redgrave & friends: A World I Loved - loved it!

A set of readings, interleaved with music from the Divan Orchestra, told the tale of Lebanon through the memoir of Wadad Makdisi Corta, a woman schoolteacher and activist. No props, gimmicks or exaggeration, just the simple story of one of the most turbulent countries in the world through the eyes of a calm, reasonable woman.
Lebanon has been invaded, trampled upon, shelled from land, shelled from sea and had its borders defined by invaders for thousands of years; Egyptians, Hittites, Crusaders, Mongols, Turks, Germans, Italians, British, Americans, Syrians, Israelis….. Internally it is riven with factions and even today the Syrians, Maronite Christians, Druze and Hizbullah play out their tribal roles. As recently as 2005 the Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was blown up by a Syrian car bomb. Curiously its historical misfortune is also its strength. It has been a haven for liberal values for much of the 20th century, with a population that has to accept difference in everyday life, as it is part of being Lebanese.
What struck me most about the family photographs was how western everyone seemed. The images from the 50s and 60s could have been British men and women. This was, of course, the result of colonialism but colonialism also brought liberal values, which the Lebanese have hung on to. I drank a bottle of Lebanese wine only last week in the The Gilbert Scott in London. The downside is that Lebanon suffered, and still suffers, from the fallout of European wars. Corta’s life spanned the two World Wars and the establishment of the Jewish state. This, above all, has been a catastrophe for Lebanon. The displaced Palestinians had nowhere else to go and the Israelis have repeatedly invaded Lebanon to punish the people who they displaced in the first place. If you’re wondering why there’s been no Arab Spring in Lebanon, that’s because they had their Cedar revolution in 2005, when a million took to the streets and the Syrian troops were forced to leave the country. They were ahead of the curve.
Vanessa Redgrave is no ordinary actress. She has fought the Palestinian case for decades and read these memoirs with feeling and poise. Of course, Corta’s daughter (Edward Said’s widow) and grand daughter, added familial realism to the affair. It was a dignified evening and when we spilled out of the theatre, the street was full of buskers and crammed with young people. I suspect they will be blessed with not having to fight the wars that Costa clearly saw as the madness of men.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Granta: Is Britain still great? London Literati talk bollocks

I had to check my ticket at the end, as this wasn’t a debate about Britain at all, merely a meandering, second-rate, self-obsessed, after dinner, sound off about the SE of England by London’s literati. The chair, Granta’s deputy editor, started by reading out two solid pages of word-processed text as an introduction, so it was clear from the start that there was no theme or spontaneous insights, and that the debate would wander.
Adam Foulds read from his Granta piece, about deep-sea diving and casual drug use. I could not for the life of me see its relevance to the debate. All was revealed – he had submitted the piece for another Granta edition and it had been shoe-horned into this one! At least he was honest about its irrelevance. I should add that we all received a free copy of the current edition of Granta, dedicated to this theme. Having now waded through this, and heard Foulds explanation, I understand why it was free. It’s mostly fag-end pieces and bottom drawer detritus.
Safraz Manzoor was a boor. His only real offer was personal anecdotes about his life in Luton and some petty barbs about his old school. The school had asked him back to speak and all he could do was ridicule them for ‘having an exchange system with other Luton schools’. This is not in fact true. The Schools Linking Project, is a successful low budget initiative targeted at dispelling suspicion between communities in the UK. He confused 'exchange' with attempts to create rounded individuals, with some good old social interaction. It was spiteful and unnecessary. He then had a go at his old school having the ‘performing arts’ as a specialist subject. He was so full of himself that he failed to see the contradiction – they had also invited him in to speak.
The one bright spot was Polly Toynbee, whose book The Verdict, is actually about Britain and does make judgements on what was great or not about Labour’s period in power. Her reading nailed Major’s characterisation of Britain as ‘cricket and warm beer’ confusing England with Britain, Blair’s Cool Britannia as desperate and Brown’s ‘oath to be recited at schools as ‘jingoistic and banal’. She desperately tried to get the debate back on track and rightly hammered Safraz Manzoor’s petty, Daily Mail observations on rewards (everyone earns too much) and schools (gone to rot).
My question was “We have failed to get further north than Luton in the debate and all of the references have been to England. Are we really talking about England here, and will there, perhaps, be no Britain in two years time? (reference to Scottish referendum). Manzoor, said, “I don’t want to sound flippant here” then proceeded to be flippant. “We’re not taking the theme too seriously, it’s just an idea to chat around”. OK, then why on earth would I pay £10 to hear you chat away on what ever comes into your head, especially when those thoughts are so banal? We ended up. Predictably talking about London and the EDL. What’s does the ‘E’ stand for – not Britain.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Interiors: Silence speaks volumes

A silent play? Not a word is heard from the seven actors. The set is a dining room, the event a dinner, the guests get drunk as tale unfolds. The clue is in the title. It’s all about perspectives, looking beyond the obvious to get inside.
Perpective 1: Ordinary places are extraordinary. As the guests arrive, into this cosy, suburban dining room, we’re deliberately thrown, as they’re bearing rifles and handguns. So we learn that the location is the unidentified frozen north, where polar bears roam.
Perpective 2: The ocean, moon and stars are cleverly projected onto the set and it is clear that this is what the actors see outside the window but inside their own heads. We see, for real, at least projected, what they see in reverse, within their own minds. Clever stuff.
Perpective 3: We then see inside the minds of the performers by just observing their behaviour. It is astonishing how much we can tell about their internal thoughts by sight alone. We literally read their minds.
Perpective 4: Not only do we read their minds but we read their minds reading other minds. Two levels of solipsism are revealed. Sometimes the slightest piece of body language reveals their relationship with others, love, unrequited love, lust, indifference.
Perpective 5: As we climb deeper into the characters an unseen narrator voices their innermost thoughts, their inner voices, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. The characters then give voice to their innermost feelings, which even the other actors don't hear, just we the audience..
Perpective 6: The narrator eventually appears on stage and gives actual voice to their predicament and we see life from the outside, from the perspective of death.
Perpective 7: We’re finally told of their fate, that they all die, some sooner than expected, so we see them from outside of time.
Perspective 8: In the end we see inside ourselves, our solipsistic predicament and the cold, nihilism of the universe warmed only by our all too brief relationships with others. It’s about the affirmation of life in the face of certain death. As you’re popped back into the real world, you see that tehre’s another layer of representation – it’s a play. You’ve simply been looking inside the minds of a writer and director.
This all sounds very analytic but the play is seamless and very entertaining.
Successor to Long Life?
Clever thoughtful play and well directed. I suspect, and it is only a surmise, that the writer got this idea from the play Long Life that appeared in the Edinburgh International Festival in 2006. There you walked through the corridor of an old Soviet style apartment block to get to your seat. It didn't stink but smelled - bad. The wall was removed and we saw five bedrooms with sleeping figures. We heard dream talk, farts, coughing, groaning, and as they started to emerge into consciousness and breakfast – it was still dark. As the day progressed their hobbies preoccupied them, rituals were performed and social interactions and encounters marked time until the party in the evening. There they briefly reverted into their youthful, flirtatious and mischievous selves, then struggled back to bed. It was beautiful, ugly, sweet, smelly, happy and sad - it's a long life. The Riga work was different but similar.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Gabrielle Walker: Antarctica - Dark side of the white continent

There really is a 'pole' at the South Pole, it's striped like a barber's shop pole, and I wish I had the startling image Walker took of her friend doing a handstand on the pole, so that, when inverted, he appeared to be holding the entire planet up on a lollipop stick!
The North Pole’s an ocean surrounded by land, the South Pole a continent the size of Europe surrounded by vast oceans. It’s remote, uninhabitable but sublimely beautiful. Walker showed us how she had breathed 1 million year old air from the released bubbles in old ice, experienced a true whiteout where all contrast disappeared and brought the whole place to life with several well-chosen anecdotes.
But her Antarctica has an underbelly, vast lakes of water between the rock and 2 mile thick ice sheet, that the Russian’s have just broken into. There was a fear that the gunk they used in the drill hole would contaminate the lake but it’s under pressure, so it pushed said gunk back up the hole where it lies frozen, to be removed when they return. What will they find there? Probably some weird life forms, she thinks.
The black message from the white continent is the breakup of the ice shelf and the fact that the melted ice, in the form of rising sea-levels, is heading towards, London, Florida and elsewhere. I can’t help be struck by the failure of science to get its message across here. There’s no Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawkins in the field. Gabrielle is charming but she’s more journalist than heavyweight scientist. We need a big hitter.
She was also a bit sycophantic about Antarctic explorers. Roland Huntford’s biography of Scott, showed him as a poor planner, poor leader, arrogant, aloof, inflexible, not knowledgeable about dogs and sled transport and so on. Walker defends him on the basis of his dedication to science, but collecting 35 lbs of rocks, and loading them onto sleds when your comrades were dying, strikes me as neither heroism nor a devotion to science, just recklessness. She’s promulgating that British tradition of confusing heroism with amateurism.
Walker also hinted at the dark side of Antarctica, and I’m sure there’s a good book to be written here. You may think that this is all about science but the huge research budgets are fuelled, not just by science, but by territorial presence. It’s no accident that the US has its research station bang on the South Pole, probably the worst position for research but handy for having a finger in every piece of the geographical pie.
There were some great questions from the audience on the evolution of penguins, Martian meteorites and the failure of getting the climate change message across. This was an hour well spent but I still don't know when London will be flooded by rising seawater - and there's the rub.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Homer’s Illiad – there was no Homer nor a book called The Illiad - discuss

Nearly 3 millennia later we’re still keen to discuss Homer’s 8th C BC tale. Charlotte Higgins (arts correspondent Guardian), Tim Whitmarsh and Mathew Fox, (two academics) got their teeth into the who, what, where, why and when of Homer's Illiad.
The two academics were on the ball, picking away at the mystery of authorship. It would seem that Socratic ignorance is the rule when it comes to Homer. We don’t know who wrote the Illiad, Homer may have been a made-up name, we don’t know whether it was one or many authors, nor do we know if the current text is right, or whether there is one text at all, as it would seem to have been part of a long process of oral singing and storytelling with improvisation at every turn. (There is, however, real doubts about Book ten, which is stylistically different, and doesn’t quite fit.)
Now I have a confession. Although I’m a keen classicist, visited Greece many times to visit Mycaenae, Sparta, Nestor’s Palace and other Homeric sites, stood on the hill of windy Troy and read a pile of Greek philosophy and literature, I’ve always struggled to read The Illiad. I suspect I’m not alone. The first four books are long-winded and the whole book seems extremely repetitive when ‘read’ from the printed page. This is not surprising, as it was never meant to be read. We treat The Illiad as a book but it was never intended to be written down, published or read. It is an oral text, meant to be ‘heard’. That’s why it’s so odd in print, full of repetitive phrases and odd imagery.
I have always been taken by Plato’s point (through his mouthpiece Socrates) in Phaedrus that an oral tradition gets fossilised by writing into a lifeless form.
If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”
My question to the panel was, “Given Plato’s warning about the fossilisation of an oral tradition in writing and print, wouldn’t it be better to teach this classic, not from the printed page, but from film ‘Troy’ or as an ‘audiobook’?” Ok, I was pushing it but wasn’t entirely convinced by his answer, “That it needed a rhapsodist to tell it well”. That’s exactly what good audio books do, the narrator, usually professional actors, play out the story.
Not sure that we needed Charlotte to tell us the entire plot at the start nor the “Was Achilles gay?” issue entirely necessary (academics had their doubts on this one but Charlotte was dead certain that they had had sex) but her point about Helen was interesting. She’s the insider, weaves a tapestry as the war unfolds and has the last word at the end of the book. This was a good enlightening discussion and debate.

Silent - Pavilion Theatre

A homeless, camp tramp digs back into his life in a curious mix of talk, dance, audience interaction and a whiff of dry ice. He peels away the layers, to reveal a gay brother, a failed marriage and mental illness. The twist is his use of Rudolph Valentino as a motif. Works well in the small Pavilion Theatre. It’s like an extended dramatic Irish wake, with the taking of drink, some solid swearing, Actimel and not a little grim humour. Pat Kinevane doesn’t let up, he sweeps you up and drives at 80 mph all the way up the performance fast lane. If anything that’s my only quibble -  the lack of variation in pace. The lesson? We’re all doomed, so let’s have a laugh along the way and don’t take your prejudices, others, or self, too seriously! Grand way to spend a Sunday night.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Vanessa Redgrave BAFTA: A Life in Pictures

Vanessa stepped slowly across the stage, tall, dressed in grey and white, like a huge stork, to rapturous applause from the audience. At 75, she looks great and gave us the sort of honest look at how acting and the movies work that you rarely get from today’s narcissistic celebrities. She’s far too old and wise for that game and has absolutely nothing to prove. As the greatest English actress of her generation (not just me who says this but Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams), she was full of insights.
Michale Billington interviewed her well, with a gentle hand on the rudder keeping the boat flowing in the right direction, never detracting from the star of the show - Vanessa. She talked of submission to the Director and not getting too creative as an actress. Full of admiration for the many Directors’s she had worked with, she emphasized their intelligence and vision. Acting, she said, was like picking a lock, as she extended her pinkie forward, curled it up a little and turned. You had to get inside the hidden box and unpick the character. She talked of the war and of the artist Kokoshka, who taught her to ‘see’. With over 60 movies to pick from we saw some great scenes from Morgan, Blow Up, Isadora, The Bostonians, Julia, Venus and Coriolanus. We saw that same beautiful face, not the classic Hollywood beauty, but an interested, interesting face with inquisitive and intelligent eyes. Although this took place in a huge Concert Hall, and not a cinema, in just a few seconds you were in the scene. You can’t keep your eyes off her face.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been a night with Vanessa, if politics did not make a guest appearance, and it did. She has always been a passionate (and I use that word seriously) supporter of specific causes, especially the Palestinians, and been on the receiving end of some vicious verbal assaults by US Jewish lobbies, who see her as a supporter of terrorism. But has held firm for all those years and continues to fight for this cause. Although she’s no left wing lackey and when someone asked her if she “had something to say to Obama and the US people about war and Guantanamo Bay” she simply said “no”. There was a final insensitive question from someone in the audience asking about her favourite performance by her ‘siblings’. I don’t need to explain why it was insensitive. What was the questioner thinking?
Fantastic evening. Well done Vanessa.

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion - below par

Looked forward to this talk, as I have liked the books in which he brings high-end, philosophical analysis to art, politics, work, travel, architecture and psychology. The Consolation of Philosophy, The Art of Travel, Status Anxiety, The Architecture of Happiness and The Pleasures and Sorrow of Work are reflections on life that are relevant and fresh. But, for de Botton Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion is below par. He takes his plate around the buffet of religions and selects few titbits from religion that he thinks we secularists can munch on to improve our lives.
Sermons. He suggests that educators should preach to teach and that lectures should be spiced up by academics who show passion, to appeal to the heart. This is way off beam. First the ‘lecture’ that most useless pieces of pedagogy, is deeply embedded in education because of the religious nature of the curriculum in our fledgling Universities in the 13th and 14th century. Religion has already shaped education, to the detriment of generations of bored students. It’s the religious tradition of sermons that gave us this boring pedagogy in the first place.
Repetiton. Wrong again. Religion, especially Islam uses repetition and recitation to drill students into believing the certainties of the Koran from a young age. Education is not about closing young minds through repetition by opening up young minds to other possibilities and choices. That’s exactly what religion fears and avoids. It is not so much repetition, as meaningful practice and deep processing that counts.
Calendars. Religious bods see time in terms of dates on which moral issues are celebrated. Oh yeah – like Easter and Christmas, those hideous days of chocolate eggs and gluttony. I was brought up in Scotland where Sundays were days of boredom if not deep depression. We have our own holidays, secular and pagan days like Mayday and New Year’s Eve.
Ritual. So we need to have regular performances to promulgate propaganda. No thanks. As an example, he mentions ‘food’ used by some religions as a way to reflect on moral issues. The tea ceremony in Zen Buddhism etc. But why artificially force ritual into our lives just because religions see it as a way of keeping their flocks tied to the certainty of their beliefs.
Organisation. Religions are organised, he claims, secularists are not. He chose, as an example, the Catholic Church which pulls in $97 billion a year. They’re organised. Yes and also capable of covering up mass rape by priests. Is he really suggesting that they are an exemplary institution? I can honestly say I have nothing to learn from the Catholic Church.
Art. We need to make art more relevant and didactic. No we don’t.
Architecture. The suggestion here is that religions have created wonderful spaces for worship. On that I agree but often at the expense of other forms of architecture. In the secular world we have taken architectural design away from the church, synagogue and mosque to the workplace, museum and domestic house. However, he does have a point on places of contemplation. In a discussion with my mate Ken, over dinner, and someone I’ve travelled with, we both agreed that we had enjoyed the hundreds of churches and mosques we had visited around the world. From the Saxon churches of Sussex and Baroque churches of Rome to the Mosques of Istanbul and Damascus, we have fallen silent and sat for a while.
But overall, there’s more than a touch of Calvinism in his thesis - he’s Swiss after all. We’re all fallen creatures, “we’re all just holding it together” he says, “we need help” he claims to “bring order to the chaos” and are in need of salvation, in this case through some kooky ideas snaffled from the finger-buffet of religions. I think not.
I’m sure this sounded like a good idea when he first thought of it but in the end it’s just a second-rate idea for a second-rate book, not a serious intellectual journey. A more interesting idea would have been, ‘to what extent religion has been replaced by other transformational experiences such as sport, art, media, consumerism and so on’. Now that’s a juicy topic, as they all have their fair share of calendars, events, ritual etc.
I asked him a question, “If you were to write a companion piece on what religions can learn from secularists, what would your top two be?” He got a bit defensive and only gave me one suggestion ‘tolerance’. Bit disappointing for a philosopher. I had at least 100!