From the excellent John Peel archives, a record box put together by the British film director, DJ and musician, Don Letts.
Fast learns, slow remembers. Fast proposes, slow disposes. Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous. Fast and small
instructsslow and big by accruedinnovation and by occasional revolution. Slow and big controls small and fast by constraint and constancy. Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power.
The book itself is a curious
artifact, not showy in its technology butcomplex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.
This is crucial, the fact that a book is a thing, physically there, durable, indefinitely reusable, an object of value.
I love it all the more because I didn’t pore over it for days on end. One morning, I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: “Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin. He will wait until you give yourself to him.” You don’t dream things like that and remember them. That’s why I’ve always half credited the lyric to God. It’s never happened before or since. I got up and started working the chords out. I played David Bowie’s Space Oddity backwards, then started messing around with the chords. By the time I’d finished, it sounded nothing like Space Oddity.
This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called the three Princes of Serendip: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of...
Down at the root end of things, blind growth reaches astonishing proportions. So far as I know, only one real experiment has ever been performed to determine the extent and rate of root growth, and when you read the figures, you see why. I have run into various accounts of this experiment, and the only thing they don't reveal is how many lab assistants were blinded for life.
The experimenters studied a single grass plant, winter rye. They let it grow in a greenhouse for four months; then they gingerly spirited away the soil—under microscopes, I imagine—and counted and measured all the roots and root hairs. In four months the plant had set forth 378 miles of roots—that's about three miles a day—in 14 million distinct roots. This is mighty impressive, but when they get down to the root hairs, I boggle completely. In those same four months the rye plant created 14 billion root hairs, and those little things placed end to end just about wouldn't quit. In a single cubic inch of soil, the length of the root hairs totaled 6000 miles.
He didn’t look up. After a while, I said tentatively, “Mr. Hathway.” I couldn’t get the “Alan” out. He motioned for me to sit down, and went on reading. Finally, he raised his head. “I didn’t know someone from Princeton could do digging like this,” he said. “From now on, you do investigative work.”
I responded with my usual savoir faire: “But I don’t know anything about investigative reporting.”
Alan looked at me for what I remember as a very long time. “Just remember,” he said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.” He turned to some other papers on his desk, and after a while I got up and left.
Perhaps some day a typesetting language will become standardized to the point where papers can be submitted to the American Mathematical Society from computer to computer via telephone lines. Galley proofs will not be necessary, but referees and/or copy editors could send suggested changes to the author, and he could insert these into the manuscript, again via telephone.
A few years ago I came up with a new word. I was fed up with the old art-history idea of genius - the notion that gifted individuals turn up out of nowhere and light the way for all the rest of us dummies to follow. I became (and still am) more and more convinced that the important changes in cultural history were actually the product of very large numbers of people and circumstances conspiring to make something new. I call this ‘scenius’ - it means ‘the intelligence and intuition of a whole cultural scene’. It is the communal form of the concept of genius. This word is now starting to gain some currency - the philosopher James Ogilvy uses it in his most recent book.
Now I would love to be involved in making something to explore this idea - to support my thesis that new ideas come into being through a whole host of complicated circumstances, accidents, small incremental contributions made in isolation (as well as gifted individuals, of course) that in total add up to something qualitatively different: something nobody has ever seen before and which could not have been predicted from the elements that went to make it up.
One of the reasons I am attached to this idea is that it is capable of dignifying many more forms of human innovation under its umbrella than the old idea of ‘genius’, which exemplifies what I call the ‘Big Man’ theory of history - where events are changed by the occasional brilliant or terrible man, working in heroic isolation. I would prefer to believe thaf the world is constantly being remade by all its inhabitants: that it is a cooperative enterprise. Folk arts and popular arts have always been criticized because they tend to exhibit evolutionary, incremental change - because they lack sufficient ‘Big Men’ making shockingly radical and unpopular steps into the future. Instead the pop scene carries much of its audience with it - something the fine arts people are inclined to distrust: the secret question is, ‘How can it possibly be good if so many people like it?’
Of course it would be stupid to pretend that everyone’s contribution is therefore equal to every other’s, and I would never claim that. But I want to say that the reality of how culture and ideas evolve is much closer to the one we as pop musicians are liable to accept - of a continuous toing and froing of ideas and imitations and misconstruals, of things becoming thinkable because they are suddenly technically possible, of action and reaction, than the traditional fine-art model which posits an inspired individual sorting it all out for himself and then delivering it unto a largely uncomprehending and ungrateful world.
There are a few recent cultural moments where the scenius process is particularly clear: 1905-1915 in Russia; Dadaism in France; the experimental music scene in America through the late fifties and early sixties; the Anglo-American psychedelic scene of the sixties; punk in 1975-8 (the eclectic and cooperative nature of which is documented in Jon Savage’s book England’s Dreaming); and then perhaps something as specific as the evolution of ‘adobe style' in South Western American architecture, or even the mid to late eighties at Goldsmiths’! It could also be interesting to include some scenes that were less specifically artistic - for Instance, the history of the evolution of the Internet. In all of these sequences, there are sufficient gifted and eccentric individuals to satisfy anyone’s hero appetite, but the interesting thing is how they were fed and supported by a vigorous and diffuse cultural scene. That’s the process I would like to explore.
I am aware that there are already many excellent works on Japan which may be read with great profit; but as their authors are most of them Europeans or Americans, and naturally look at Japanese life and civilisation from an occidental point of view, it occurred to me that notwithstanding the super-abundance of books on Japan, a description of Japanese life by a native of the country might not be without interest.
With the exception of the peony, which entered the poetic canon in the Edo period, all the images are from classical poetry of the Heian period and reflect urban commoners' knowledge of the poetic and cultural associations of the months.
Ironically enough, it seems that one of the most reliable findings in psychology is that only half of psychological studies can be successfully repeated.
No more than one-half of the results of published psychological studies will ever be replicated.
It was a cold morning of the early spring, ... A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths.
London in mist is far above my own ideal ... Whether it is unhealthy or not, is not the question for me. The colour and its effect are most wonderful. I think London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau .. The London mist attracts me so that I do not feel I could live in any other place but London.
I do not quarrel with the Englishmen when they hate the fogs; but I should like to impress on them their strange beauty ... I often thought of the London fogs as of a great artistic problem ... The beauty of the fogs can only appeal to one whose aestheticism is older than life; their grey effect is a far more living thing than darkness or death.