Monday 18 April 2022

Rip it Up and Start Again (2009)

Rip it Up and Start Again is an excellent book by Simon Reynolds about post-punk music between 1978-1984. It covers the bands and musical movements that dominated my teenage years and is very well researched and written.

The following excerpt rings very true for me. At the time, even though The Beatles had only fallen to pieces less than 10 years previously, no-one was bothered about their music.  There was too much other music to find.

'The prime years of post-punk - the half decade from 1978 to 1982 - were like that: a fortune. I’ve come pretty close since, but I’ve never been quite as exhilarated as I was back then. Certainly, I’ve never been so utterly focused on the present.

As I recall it now, I never bought any old records. Why would you? There were so many new records that you had to have that there was simply no earthly reason to investigate the past. I had cassettes of the best of The Beatles and the Stones taped off friends, a copy of The Doors’ anthology Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine, but that was it. Partly this was because the reissue culture that inundates us today didn’t exist then; record companies even deleted albums. As a result, huge swaths of the recent past were virtually inaccessible. But mainly it was because there was no time to look back wistfully to something through which you’d never lived. There was too much happening right now.'

Sunday 17 April 2022

A present of things past, a present of things present, a present of things to come.

One of the most thought provoking passages in Lewis Hyde's book A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past, is about time and St Augustine's Confessions. Here it is:

He moves then to thinking of these temporal categories as existing not by themselves but as human mind-states, all of them taking place in that fleeting present. His boyhood lies in the past, but when he recalls it, he is “looking on its image in present time.” To speak of time with any exactness, we need to say that “there are three times: a present of things past, a present of things present, a present of things to come.” And we have a name for each of these: “The present considering the past is the memory, the present considering the present is immediate awareness, the present considering the future is expectation.”

And time? Time is the experience of simultaneously holding two of these states in mind. When we do so, the mind gets stretched out just as the body gets stretched out when touching two separate spots in space. Augustine’s name for this mental stretching out is “distension”, a term he probably borrowed from Plotinus, who also speaks of time as a “spreading out (diastasis) of life.” Says Augustine, “I have come to think that time is simply a distension. But of what is it a distension? I do not know, but it would be surprising if it is not that of the mind itself.”

Wilko dreams of dashi (2022)

The documentary, Jiro dreams of Sushi, focuses on the 85 year old sushi chef Jiro Ono, doing what a Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties is supposed to do, that is to demonstrate such intense dedication to their craft that they completely transcend what the basic version of the same craft is capable of delivering.  In the case of Jiro, his sushi is so good that his tiny (10 seat) Tokyo subway sushi shop repeatedly won 3 Michelin stars. He is widely recognised as a ‘living national treasure’.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the UK does not have any equivalent way of conferring high status on outstanding craft practitioners.  However, such levels of craft do exist. A few weekends ago, my son and I experienced something similar to the experience that Jiro delivers to his customers, when we spent more than three hours in a tiny one Michelin star restaurant called Fraiche in Oxton, Birkenhead (on the night we were there, only 4 customers were eating, but more frequently there  are 8 - 10 customers). 

The restaurant is owned and run by the chef Marc Wilkinson. On the night we went, there  were only two members of staff, Wilkinson, and a waitress/sommelier. The food was exceptionally good, delivered in about 13 tiny ‘courses’, each of which came with an explanation of where the ingredients had come from and what was special about the dish. The experience was wonderful, because it was an immersion into the complete dedication that Wilkinson has to his craft. As he has said:

Fraiche is a very personal journey for me, building a modern cuisine on a classical trained foundation to keep my sensibilities in check. My expanding cooking techniques and cutting edge preparations help me to express myself, thus enabling me to offer our guests a complete "experience", taking them on both a culinary and visual journey.

On reflection, although his customers are of very high importance to Wilkinson, I got the impression that he may have been almost as happy cooking all of the food he made without any customers being present. His focus and drive to create the food that he sees and tastes in his minds eye, is the primary thing, and the fact that he has paying guests who want to eat his food, helps to subsidise and validate his efforts.

And yes, having spent an evening with Wilkinson, I am convinced that he does dream of dashi (a Japanese broth which is most commonly made from an edible kelp called kombu).

Wednesday 13 April 2022



HERE is a superb piece by James Parker in The Atlantic on Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five.  

Fifty years have passed since the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s the same age as me. And the older I get, and the more lumps fall off my brain, the more I find that rereading is the thing. Build your own little cockeyed canon and then bear down on it; get to know it, forward and backward; get to know it well. So I don’t know how many times I’ve read Slaughterhouse-Five. Three? Four? It never gets old, is the point. It never wanes in energy. This book is in no way the blossom of a flower. Slaughterhouse-Five is more in the nature of a superpower that the mutant author had to teach himself to master—and then could use, at full strength, only once.

What I love about this is Parker's acceptance as he gets older that 'rereading is the thing'. It's what I have been doing for years: Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, Cannery Row, The Old Ways, Popper. But I have never thought of this habit of mine as building '...your own cockeyed canon' and bearing down on it. I will now. 

So it goes.

Friday 8 April 2022

Two Legs, Thing Using and Talking (1998)


This paper by Francis Evans is one of the best things I have read about the interaction of our human capacity to walk, talk, make things, and technology. In Google Scholar it has just 9 citations, which means that in the past 20+ years it has been cited in other scientific papers less than once per year. 

The Abstract Reads:

Instead of seeing technology as outside ourselves, it is argued that it is an innate human function and the main driving force in human evolution. Opportunistic ‘thing using’, long before stone tools appeared, was the likeliest cause of bipedalism. It also forced brain development and the emergence of creativity. The neural basis for this creative technical activity later provided the brain functions on which language could develop. This simple unifying hypothesis has interesting implications for the way that we see technology in history, and for determinist theories of the future. It also bears on the way engineers are trained, and more important, the human faculties which need to be fostered in children.

It can be downloaded HERE.