Archive for February, 2013

To show affection is to comfort oneself — From Kobayashi, Bonsai Miniature Potted Trees

“The convivium alone … rebuilds limbs, revives humours, restores spirit, delights senses, fosters and awakens reason. The convivium is rest from labours release from cares and nourishment of genius; it is the demonstration of love and splendour, the food of good will, the seasoning of friendship, the leavening of grace and the solace of life.” Letter 42 to Bernardo Bembo, in The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Vol. 2 (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1918), p. 51, Ficino

We last see Beecham house [Hedsor house], home for retired musicians, lit up at night

Our principles as we last see them

Dear friends and readers,

On our way to this film Izzy and I expected another The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, another comic treatment of elderly people coping with retirement, old age, the onset of illnesses which precede death, having only a short time left. It is that and like Best Exotic Marigold, it has a superb cast, one of whom at least (Maggie Smith) has become familiar to many as the wry Dowager in Downton Abbey. Or (I thought) it might be like the Abbey with a central mansion-house, surrounding woods, sequences of intelligent dramatic interaction, and it is that too — Dustin Hoffman as director practices the slow pace, glowing use of sun- and moonlight. The doctor figure, Lucy Cogan (Sheridan Smith) even resembles Joanne Froggart (Anna Smith Bates) in accent, gestures, stalwart charity:

Presiding good faery

But there the resemblance ends. The inner core of Best Exotic is irretrievable disillusion and real problems making ends meet. Unlike Downton, Quartet is not a defense of hierarchy. It’s not the house that’s wonderful; it’s what goes on in it. Quartet is a semi-egalitarian fairy tale: Two opera singers whose marriage went sour decades ago meet, after intensely painful encounters (which however don’t go on for that long), find they still love, miraculously sing the quartet from Rigoletto with precisely the same people they once sung it with to a highly charitable audience willing to buy tickets to help rescue the enterprise from bankruptcy.

Sissy (Pauline Collins) and Jean Porter (Maggie Smith)

Wilf (Billy Connolley) and Reggie (Tom Courtney)

What makes us accept this improbable fluff is a continual playfulness which emerges in all sorts of deprecating jokes about old-age (and sex, and incapabilities, and dignity), everyone making music all over the house as they work towards their fund-raising gala.

Harry (David Ryall), Nobby (Ronnie Fox), George (Trevor Peacock) singing “Are you having any fun?”

Perhaps a clue to the serious moral feel of the piece is in the real pathos in some of the people: Pauline Collins captures a sharp note of need in the way she is so eager for everyone to like her and get along. Michael Gambon is amusing as Cedric, the impresario-dictator who bullies her with ease, but he has not given up his older role yet.

Michael Gambon and Dame Gwyneth Jones seriously evaluate for the gala

The movie is about aging: it’s about being true to what you were despite decrepitude. Not to worry you are not as beautiful, cannot do what you did the way you once did. Let go. Return to it as best you can. Remember. And the credits reinforce this by showing us the musicians and singers in the movie next to photos of them 40-50 years ago, and ending on our principles.

It’s not all opera; there’s music hall. Once a week, Reg lectures to young people in the area about his music and they teach him about rap, hip hop and perhaps rock n’ roll too (though that’s old hat here). He says opera is all about the music, about expressing the inner self, and reprehends how it has been captured by the rich, and set up to intimidate. We see residents dancing all sorts of dances, young people jumping into the bushes (to make love), the doctor smokes on the side quietly in the greenhouse. But the music is mostly opera, mostly Verdi, and Quartet may be regarded as a celebration of operatic song.

For once the trailer is not a mis-characterization except of course the film is altogether quieter for long stretches to allow for relationships to develop, people to fall sick and learn lessons in forgiveness, humility, not to omit kindness. Maggie Smith is not just a jokester (which she is too much of in Downton), but a lonely woman looking for friends (as are they all) and something with which to replace what’s lost; Smith’s talents not given much play in Downton Abbey come out here (see her Bed Among Lentils for these on brilliant moving display).

The movie based on a play by Ronald Harwood; there is apparently a retirement home for musicians in Italy, Casa Verdi, where (like this Beecham house, named after a benefactor, Sir Thomas Beecham) each year a Verdi gala is put on. The quartet in question, with which the film ends in celebration is from Rigoletto.

Izzy and I arrived just as the movie was starting and had to sit 4 rows from the front: the auditorium was crowded. People applauded when it was over, and the credits begin to roll.

I recommend going. It just avoids the cliches of admirable facing-up in the face of adversity to evoke human and bitter moments. I was all anxiety lest everyone not make it to the last scene. You might say this is Dustin Hoffman’s Act 2 of Last Chance Harvey. There we had the 50 year old couple going for a long-night’s romantic walk; here we have the 70 to 80 year olds not able to do that anymore so making music and singing while there’s still time left. This is Hoffman’s vision of his art now:


Move over Woody Allen and Julie Delpy (Two Days in Paris).


[Pray excuse the intrusive ad-words]


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Very first shot of Madame Max Goesler (Barbara Murray) (Pallisers 3:6)

Dear friends and readers,

On the list-serv, Victoria an interesting query: could people cite widows in Victorian novels and what were some attitudes towards them and/or their remarrying? Someone right away mentioned Madame Max Goesler, cited a study in the recent collection Trollope and Gender, with the idea that Trollope’s widows are strong and sympathized-with figures.

That seemed to me (even for a posting) inadequate. Trollope’s fiction (and non-fiction too) abounds in widows using the type with many permutations. the fault-line, what separates the woman off from other women is her assumed sexual experience (knowingness); beyond that she is usually older than women who have never been married and may control property. Towards the type Trollope is ambivalent as he is ambivalent towards aggressive women, which in his fiction except for aging harridans (who usually dislike sex) means sexually pro-active, and women who function as individuals with power and movement outside a husband or family’s control.

The Widow Greenow (a pastoral name) alluring men at seashore picnic (Phiz illustration, Can You Forgive Her?
The Widow Greenow (an early comic example of a woman who knows how to make her “weeds” alluring

A brief suggestive survey (by no means complete). To begin with the most famous: When we first meet Madame Max in Trollope’s books (Can You Forgive Her?) it’s not clear she is a widow; it’s insinuated that she’s paying someone who she married to stay away (a remittance man). Later Trollope drops that when he wants to make her respectable and chaste so Phineas can marry her.

Mrs Hurtle (Miranda Otto) and Paul Montague (Cillian Murphy) at Lowestoffe (they probably go to bed together in the novel, they certainly do in the film, from The Way We Live Now; on the illustration this is based on, see proposal)

Trollope uses this motif for other women whose reputation he wants to cast a slur or hint they are unchaste: Mrs Hurtle’s husband is probably still living (The Way We Live Now). In Miss Mackenzie the women in boarding houses who present themselves as widows are not to be trusted, especially (it seems) in Bath (the hint is they are for sale). Mrs Smith in John Caldigate a very suspicious figure (Trollope’s presentation makes her this way) whom the hero may have married: we are never quite sure, and thus it may actually be that Caldigate’s marriage to the heroine, Hester, may actually be bigamous, whence the title Trollope wanted for his novel, Mrs John Caldigate (to call attention to the reality that we don’t know which of the two is really entitled to be Mrs C).

When John Caldigate first comes upon Mrs Smith: a ship journey remance (Folio Society illustration)

It is true that if a woman is menopausal and remains physically attractive, she is usually presented as sympathetic as well as powerful (Lady Ludlow the best-known from Framley Parsonage), but if she actually exercises that power to thwart a young man of his sexual desires, she is stigmatized (Rachael Ray’s mother) or made a sort of monster (Lady Ball in Miss Mackenzie). If she openly breaks sexual taboos (married for money even though this is allowed men), like Lady Ongar (The Claverings), she is punished harshly.

Mary Ellen Edwards drew Lady Ongar as large — here she’s trying to re-engage the hero’s sympathies (Claverings illustrations)

If she remains attractive, she has ever to be on the watch for the suspicious and distrustful: Lady Mason (Orley Farm) is under her son’s thumb and is seen as a target (and she knows it) before her son’s inheritance is questioned (partly due to his tactlessness). There’s great sympathy for Lady Mason and we are to admire her for winning a case where she was is accused of forgery — when she actually did it. Millais’s illustrations curiously make her out to be even younger than Trollope’s text suggests.

Millais’s Lady Mason shrinks from her needed lawyer Mr Furnivall’s suspicious (jealous) wife (Orley Farm illustrations)

To me though the most interesting uses of this ambivalent type of women in Trollope is where the woman has used the title to cover up a period between one relationship (marriage) and another (a second man where she has not waited until the first one was dead to “protect” herself) and Trollope sympathizes with her: Mrs Mary Askerton (The Belton Estate) now respectably married again had a period where she wasn’t a widow; she became one when her alcoholic (and presumably abusive husband) at long last died; she seems to be a parish still, shunned; it’s not clear that she couldn’t break out in to society, but at any rate only the heroine. Clara Amedroz defies the worst minds and befriends Mrs Askerton. There’s much sympathy in Dr Wortle’s School for Mr and Mrs Peacock; he married her but it’s not clear the previous husband died, and again (as in the case of Lady Mason) personal animosity leads someone to attack them to get at Dr Wortle (in whose school they teach). Madame Max can be related to these until Trollope conveniently forgets about her remittance man.

Showing either that Trollope’s particular configuration of sympathy for the transgressive woman is not share today, or his more devoted readers do not think about this aspect of his fiction enough, there were no original illustrations for these widows, nor have the novels they appear in been filmed or even adapted for radio. The Widow Greenow was cut from the filmed Pallisers. And by Phineas Finn Madame Max has been turned into a chaste type widow who refuses the Duke of Omnium’s proposition that she become his mistress.

After a violent scene where Lopez needles Emily (Sheila Ruskin) over how she enjoys sex with him, and flings her to the door, she shudders (Pallisers 11:23, from The Prime Minister)

Erasures or forgetting aspects of Trollope’s presentations of widows today sometimes work to reinforce his views. When in The Prime Minister Emily Lopez believes herself “polluted” from having married an amoral and (it’s more than hinted) sexually lascivious (and Jewish) man, Ferdinand Lopez, in the novels she at length refuses to remarry the Gallahad-figure Arthur Fletcher (who she loved first and we see again loved during her marriage, causing sexual rage in Lopez). Trollope seems to assume all women should be married. That is the be-all of their existence. The TV programs cut all this. Raven does not make her collapse into the other hero’s arms quickly either. Anticipating the end of Andrew Davies’s The Way We Live Now, Raven’s Emily (like Trollope’s Lily Dale) has been seriously disillusioned, abused, and we are given to understand will marry no more.

Emily prefers her father, Mr Wharton (Pallisers 11:23)

Marie Melmotte (Shirley Henderson) closes the door on everyone (TWWLN 4:12)

While at the Exeter conference (6 years ago now) and today again the question came up why Victorians seem to have a prejudice against widows remarrying. At the conference I remember participants saying widows were a threat to the chances of unmarried women. That’s certainly in Trollope. But he also likens the black widows wear (which he disapproves of when it is too heavy or goes on for too long as hypocritical) to Indian women undergoing suttee where he makes an explicit analogy between how the family of a widow’s husband do not want her children from a second marriage interfering with the inheritance of the first husband’s children. The impulse is to erase her future, not allow her any lest it get in others’ way. And he shares the strong prejudice against women having a pro-active sexual life too (an impulse not gone from our world today), though (as I have discovered) there is still among older men without women this flattering idea that widows are sex-hungry and knowing sexually and will make themselves sexually available for companionships (that’s the real trade-off offered on the older websites for matching people). These stereotypes of widows are hostile to her realities or ignore them at every turn.

At the Exeter conference too some of the men showed they were allured by Trollope’s widows, especially Madame Max. I’ve noticed on list-servs that male viewers often have a crush on Barbara Murray who played the part splendidly. This even though in the novels she is given masculine roles and the words used to describe her by Trollope make her into more of a gentlemen than lady, and in the films she adds to the erotic sophisticated veneer Trollope gives her much comedy (she is given funny scenes rejecting Derek Jacobi as Lord Fawn) and much poignancy and dignity at the series’ close. Early in her career the actress was a powerful Anna Karenina; and in a Wednesday night play the mistress of a broken man played by Donal Mcann.

But rather than repeat what everyone notices, I’ll end on the Widow Bold who was acted equally well (the role quite different) by Janet Maw from Alan Pater’s wonderfully scripted mini-series, Barchester Chronicles:

Another Emily faithful to her father, Mrs Bold looks out anxiously at Mr Harding and the Rev Arabin (English, clergyman, upper class, an ethical ideal for Trollope), and is never taken in by either Mr Slope (the intensely ambitious outsider, Alan Rickman just behind her) or

Bertie Stanhope, the idle ne’er-do-well who wanted her money for his family and himself:

She has just let Bertie (Peter Blythe) know he hasn’t got a chance

She is strongly sympathized with; she is pro-active on her own behalf, sexually passionate; she is liked because she breaks no taboos, loves her little boy and is loyal to her idealistic father

Women in black … The illustrations and stills tell us that for Trollope these are highly sexualized women. They don’t tell us what his narrator and book descriptions do: that Trollope’s taste was for thin women; he was allured by olive-skinned women, women had narrow wrists and small breasts (“narrow shoulders”). (The Victorian ideal is the fecund big blonde, the Juno type Trollope’s narrator calls her, does not attract him personally.)


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Tony Harrison’s is the voice-over; from the TV program aired Nov 4, 1987

Dear friends and readers,

It’s been four days since I reported on three of the 18th century MLA sessions I attended at the MLA held in Boston early this January, and more than a month since I described the trip, where we stayed and what we did outside the MLA.

I’ve got five sessions on poetry on TV and in community centers, on the radio; on paintings in film and doctored photos in graphic novels and newspapers. Two of the great pleasures of my existence — listening to a complete great book read brilliantly while driving my car, and watching the episodes of a long-running great mini-series nowadays mostly on my computer’s DVD player — were the topics of two more. The last I’ve put in my comments section, Agnes Vardes, French film families and how to make a cross-over French hit in contemporary cinema.


Perhaps the best session in the whole of the MLA I went to was Public Poetry in Britain (No. 289, Jan 4th, Friday noon-1:15 pm) where I heard intelligent discussions and poetry read aloud beautifully either by the speaker or the poet on TV or tape: Emily Bloom on Louis MacNeice’s autobiographical poem, Autumn Sequel, and his career on the BBC radio; David R. Sherman on Tony Harrison and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s political communal poetry; Kelly C. MacPhail on Edwin Muir. Theme: how poets attempt public poetry, to be public poets.

Emily Bloom began with MacNeice’s 22 years as an Anglo-Irish personality on the BBC and then went on to Autumn Sequel, a terza rima poem, where MacNeice claimed that the BBC failed to create a public poetry world which reached out to the wide general audience of Britain. Radio even played a roll in the spread of fascism. He was angry at the BBC as cowardly, filled with hackwork. He did not leave because there was little alternative to the BBC if you wanted to be a responsible public poet. She chose stanza from the poem relevant to 2013; MacNeice needed to cross back into the private sphere to speak.

David Sherman contrasted the white traditions of art-folk poetry of Harrison to the Jamaican rhythmic music hall Reggae chanting renditions of African folk song of Johnson. Mr Sherman suggested that poems become public when the community can rally around the poet himself as object/subject of public memory. V is a 448 line poem where V stands for Victory, Victim, Versus. It’s a deeply anti-war poem, compassionate for working people from which Harrison comes. He stands in a snowy graveyard, remembers Leeds where he comes from and begins to read; we get images of police beating up strikers; of Mrs Thatcher with her fingers making a V sign for victory;we hear Scargill’s voice about how in his house there was one book, a Bible. The program was discussed in many newspapers; MPs publicly protested. We see him quietly reading to a group of what looks like well-educated people in a community center.

This makes a striking contrast to the dialect poetry sung by Linton Kwesi Johnson on a tape of a time in a night club. Johnson’s poems were performed around the time of a riot insurrection in Brixton where many black people were badly hurt, jailed. The lines are angry and accompanied by loud percussive instruments (very strong drums). The theme is how Black Britain has to re-invent itself and challenge the rest of the nation to accept them.

Kelly MacPhail’s talk on Edwin Muir was wide-ranging, about Muir’s life, his career, his personal friendships and conflicts especially with Hugh MacDiarmid. Muir involved himself in the political changes in Scotland as the Scottish slowly dealt with having been forcibly unified with England from 1707; Muir took changing positions but remained steadfast in his written Scots-English. He wanted to create a national (Scottish) poetry and this required (it was felt) a true language apart from that of the English. One language that had emerged was a dialect formed in the lowlands as a new standard form of Scots. This seemed to me the language that Burns used. This dialect is, however, much contested. His friend and rival, MacDiamid, who was born in Glasgow, where his parents and siblings died when he was young, went to Paris and studied French, seems to have supported this form of Scottish while late in life Muir (who had married a middle class woman who influenced him) argued poets had a choice of two languages: the genuine ancient Scots tongue, Gaelic, or modern English. Mr MacPhail read aloud from Muir’s Scottish Journey, written while Muir was depressed (1936), about the predicament of a Scottish sensibility who may have to adopt modern British English in order to be readable.

Can anyone speak for an entity called Great Britain?


Scarlett Johansson and Tom Wilkinson in Girl with Pearl Earring

Origin of Tracey Chevalier’s book from which film adapted:

1665 painting by Vermeer

A crowded session I expect many of my readers might have enjoyed as much as I and Jim did occurred the day before, mid-afternoon (Jan 3rd, Thursday, 3:30-4:45 pm, No 90), I attended a rich session on Paintings and Photographs Remediated in Film, Graphic Narrative and Newspaper. David Richter gave another fine power-point presentation of a series of films, this time those using paintings. He began Rohmer’s Perceval where medieval painting shaped the visuals of the film; Rohmer wanted to thwart the viewer’s usual desires. He began with the idea that space in a painting is a static interior, while in a film it move and the screen is implicitly without boundaries. Paintings can be used as set decorations; as protagonists; as providing thematic context (for example in a movie where the characters are discussing war, Pascal’s Guernica is seen against the wall behind them); as paradigms for themes; they enable us to enter the century the film’s story occurs in; they justify symbolic presentations; they foreshadow; they set up parallels; they explain further. In each case he had specific movies which he played clips from and showed us the movie turning into a painting.

A young Colin Firth was the painter (as he later was Vermeer): here he contemplates his work and interprets the original painter’s intent and presence

Prof Richter had left out paintings painted for a film as rare. He did not seem to know of A Month in the County, a film adaptation by Simon Grey and Patrick O’Connor from J.L. Carr’s Booker prize gem novel; there a painting of a Last Judgement was made for the movie and the uncovering of it is central to the film.

Genie Giamo discussed the autobiographical graphic novels of Alison Bechtel, especially her Fun Home, where as in her other novels she lays bare the anguish, tragic events (her father may have killed himself) and fractured memories of her real family. Giamo told us Bechtel doctored the photos she had in order to present a story line about her family that concrete evidence does not support (though it may be true). Giamo defined remediation as a process whereby a pollutant is cleaned from an area; it makes environmental space less hazardous. By publishing her memoirs Bechtel rehabilitates the dark recesses of her mind and life; it’s an act of living in itself. This kind of memoir is done by other women; Bechtel’s also show a sense of humor like when her heroine-self says “I forget to get a job for the last 50 years.” Her family becomes a realistic Adams family. (She seemed to suggest that it didn’t matter whether the photos were “real” or undoctored or not. I disagree. The talk afterwards revealed what one might expect: Bechtel’s family were angry about the books.)

A typical mix of photos and drawings with revealing utterances by Bechtel’s father

A third presentation by Lisa Zunshine was about how people communicate by misinformation and miscommunication, and how art seeks to flatter us into thinking we see inside characters and read photographs and visuals accurately. We are invited to be superior voyeurs. She showed the photograph that was printed in US newspapers of Obama, Hillary Clinton and other people high in Obama’s administration watching the murder of Osama bin Laden, and wanted us to see the interpretations given the people in the photo were imposed by stereotypical preconceptions. The people at the session found her lively sceptical presentation effective.


Six volume Oxford edition of Barchestershire novels

Jim and I were glad we stayed late that Thursday night to attend a session on a type of TV drama I’m addicted to: Serial TV across Boundaries (No. 169, 7:00-8:15 pm). From Kathryn Van Arendonk I had the rare treat of a paper on Trollope and the mini-series, Northern Exposure. As I’ve been pointing to in my blogs on Downton Abbey, Trollope’s serial art is analogous in forms and motifs to serial drama on TV. Northern Exposure gives us a case where a mini-series changed its stories to de-emphasize the male protagonist to give us a portrait of an on-going community, causing the male lead to sue. A love triangle, a place where people gather (bar) become shaping forces. Trollope’s Barchester series shows the same re-forming to create a narrative system, whose preludes or codas can occur in a previous or later novel. The material is capable of perpetual proliferation.

Sean O’Sullivan’s talk on Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective has led me to rent this series from Netflix. Michael Gambon plays an obscure fiction writer in hospital with a painful and ugly skin disease. The BBC allowed Potter creative latitude so that the series was built by putting together fragments of memory; individual episodes were independent of others (they could stand alone) within 3 interwoven stories. We see time unfold with the different floors of the hospital representing different phases of the protagonist’s life; all is integrated with music. The films investigated the personal and communal experience.

A advertising poster for the movie-house version of the film, Mulholland Drive

Jason Mittel’s talk was on Mulholland Drive, which he argued is today a much acclaimed but misunderstood movie because it originated as a mini-series. The pilot episode was re-designed to be a self-contained film to allow the producers to release it to commercial theaters. He showed how the interpretations of the movie as now constituted bring out how a serial film has an uncanny dream-like underlying structure.

The talk afterward was stimulating. Ms Van Arendook said one could learn much by showing how a tightly-knit classic novel (say Austen’s Emma) was changed when it was turned into serial art. It was here I heard what I’ve come to see is true of Dickens: he breaks up his narrative so as to erase their original instalment publication pattern. People deplored the tendency at HBO in the last decade or so to go for the 6 hour mini-series in lieu of the 13-hour one.


To me the most personally gratifying was a session very early Saturday morning (Jan 5th, No. 432, 8:30-9:45 am) called Aural Communications and Close Listening. For years I’ve listened to people apologizing for listening to audio books, explaining (half-apologetically, self-deprecatingly) that listening is almost or as good as silent reading; or, assertions that such experiences must be inferior: you can’t control the speed of the utterance, have no text in front of you & so on. (Well you can control it, you can rewind or click ahead and back, and who says you can’t have a text in front of you or consult it before or later? Many audiobooks come with a downloadable e-text nowadays.

Philip Madoc’s reading and Andrew Davies’ mini-series showed me the reactionary reading of this book is all wrong

Matthew Rubery did more than answer these objections & explain their origins; he defended listening to books as different and sometimes better than silent reading. It is a new embarrassment, because until the later 19th century one form of entertainment in reading households was for the group of people to sit round a fire and listen to someone read aloud a book that was written to be read aloud — as most good novels are. Why do people question the “legitimacy” of aural communication: besides the two I’ve already cited: it’s felt they threaten close or deep reading; the reader is passive and allowing someone else “to do the work” of interpretation; they are abridged. The one objection that he let stand was they are often abridged and abridged poorly, leaving just the bare-bones of a plot. But one need not buy or rent an abridged book.

Two of my favorite readers made this book a deep love of mine

The defense: the narrator is an imagined voice in the book and the reader-narrator is bringing this to life; acoustic performances can deepen and enrich your experience of the book. You are led to see nuances and feelings you might not on your own. Logically, the more times you listen to different readers, the more you see in your book. I’ve listened to whole Trollope novels read aloud by different narrators and can vouch for that. Audio books offer sensuous resonating language when the reader’s voice is trained. (I just love David Case’s voice.) They help you understand the book, and can bring out its ideology. Im a sense audiobooks function the way film adaptations or stage dramatizations do only the text is not change. If their interpretation differs from yours, no one stops you from reading the book on your own. It can be difficult to discern paratexts but a good reader will include (by dropping his or her voice) a footnote, the introduction, notes.


Audio books also enable the phenomenon of the secondary activity while reading. For me listening to books turns what would be excruciatingly frustrated time in traffic jams into privileged time. Some people exercise, others clean their houses; they jog and walk their dogs. There is the wonderful element of imagined company. The drawbacks that Rubery registered were 1) the tendency of these companies to chose voices whose intonation are upper class, thus reinforcing false associations of value with one set of aural sounds rather than another; and 2) that it is difficult to find out what’s out there once an audio company goes out of business or is bought out by a larger company. The profit motive and fear of free downloaders makes the companies unwilling to pool their information into any standard source.

The second speaker, Cornelius Collins, talked about how in our culture the visual dominates the aural so that the aural is not sufficiently discussed and less money is spent on top-of-the-line sound mix and/or readers. Music today is massively compromised to fit i-tune requirements. Audio books are not compiled in a central place and the amateur readers remain under-rated, ignored. Much that is recorded is quickly in danger of being lost within a couple of years. Collins asked, What does it mean to listen closely? citing Peter Zendy’s Listen: A History of our Ears (about how to critically listen), said the way to do this is break the experience into segments (the way one does a movie). We need to discuss it and find a vocabulary for the quality of sound and someone’s tones.

More briefly: Justin St Clair discussed the new phenomenon of novels published as sound tracks, or with sounds of music accompanying them (hybridized reading); Linda Hutcheon’s Adaptation has a section on this new book. One problem here is the sound track is used as an ad for the book, and do not provide a meaningful atmosphere. Lisa Hollenback’s talk was on poetry and music on MP3s. These invite nostalgia is the recording is from time past. Vast websites on line provide experiences of sharing, swapping recordings. Music and story listening become social activities experienced in partly-imagined communities. It is much easier to collect and list music that’s recorded than books because of the free on-line collections.


Izzy and I saw the Agnes Vardes’s film, The Beaches of Agnes (it is every bit that good) that was part of the discussion of Contemporary French film (Jan 5th, Saturday, 10:15-11:30, No. 479). I almost missed the session because the title of the paper no where indicated she was its central subject.

Agnes Vardes speaking at a retrospective series at the Harvard Film Archive

See comments.


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