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Remembering Naipaul

Tuesday, 14 August, 2018

The novelist VS Naipaul, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2001, died on Saturday evening in London. He was born in Trinidad in 1932, wrote more than 30 books including a genuine masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas. He also fell out with the American travel writer Paul Theroux, who he had mentored, after Theroux discovered a book he had given Naipaul in a second-hand bookshop. After a bitter 15-year feud, they reunited and, paying tribute to Naipaul on Sunday, Theroux said: “He never wrote falsely. He was a scourge of anyone who used a cliché or an un-thought out sentence.”

Back in mid-August 16 years ago, Rainy Day went along one evening to hear Naipaul speak. Here’s what we posted the day after, 13 August 2002:

Honoured guest in Munich’s Literaturhaus last night was VS Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature. Now 70, he says his contribution to letters is drawing to a close. Maybe two more books and that’s it. Quality, not quantity, however, is the measure of the man’s work and what a career he has had. His fiction remains definitive of the post-colonial experience and his fact, primarily travel writing, is without parallel because it describes not just places and people but the history and politics that have made them what they are.

From The New York Review of Books here’s part of Ian Buruma’s review of Naipaul’s magnificent Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples:

Why Islam? Why did Naipaul feel the urge to return to the Muslim believers? He offers some reasons. Peoples converted to Islam, he says, become part of the Arab story; they reject their own histories, turn away from nearly everything that is theirs. As a result, he writes, people “develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can easily be set on the boil.” There is another, more sweeping reason. Conversion, Naipaul argues, “can be seen as a kind of crossover from old beliefs, earth religions, the cults of rulers and local deities, to the revealed religions — Christianity and Islam principally — with their larger philosophical and humanitarian and social concerns.” The crossover to Islam, which still goes on, is “like a cultural big bang, the steady grinding down of the old world.”

Buruma is in splendid form here, and he continues: “There are many hints of this parallel with communism in Naipaul’s own account. During his first visit to Tehran, in 1979, he looks at the booksellers and cassette-sellers on Revolution Avenue, near the university. He sees books on the Persian revolution. He sees cassette tapes of Khomeini’s speeches, and those of other ayatollahs. And he sees piles of English translations of Marx and Lenin. As he observes: ‘One revolution appeared to flow into the other.'”

Beyond Belief The similarities do go back further than the recent Islamic upheavals. In the Prologue to Beyond Belief, Naipaul writes that the revealed religions (like Marxism) are more concerned with large humanitarian and social problems than the old beliefs. That is why so many Indians converted to Islam in the past, without having to be forced: Islam, with its egalitarian ethos, seemed the perfect way out for low-caste Hindus, who felt oppressed by the old beliefs. Naipaul doesn’t make a point of this, even though he gives a chilling description of the continuation of Hindu caste prejudices under the Islamic surface of contemporary Pakistan.

Communism, too, has (or had) Meccas far removed from most converts—in Moscow or Beijing. And communism is a notorious wrecker of the past: history is a mere collection of dustbins along the way to Utopia. In his section on Indonesia, Naipaul makes a very interesting comparison between nineteenth- century Sumatran pilgrims to Mecca and colonial students sent abroad in the twentieth century. The pilgrims returned from Arabia under the influence of Wa-habi fundamentalism and were ‘determined to erase local errors, all the customs and ceremonies and earth reverences that carried the taint of the religions that had gone on before….’ This is precisely what the most monstrous tyrants did in our own time, in the name of communism. Pol Pot wanted to remake Cambodia in the image of hazy visions picked up from revolutionary circles in Paris (not perhaps a Mecca of world communism, but at least a major shrine).”

Rest In Peace Sir Vidia. “The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.” — VS Naipaul, In a Free State.


Bos Taurus bossing

Monday, 13 August, 2018

The genus of wild and domestic cattle is called Bos, from the Latin bōs: cow, ox, bull. Arguably, the best known Bos Taurus breed is the black Angus from Scotland.

Bos Taurus

The Black Angus Bull

Out there in the paddock I hear the black bull
He never stops bellowing when the moon is full
I wonder does the moon affect him in some strange way
For I’ve never heard him bellow in the light of the day
The full moon does affect people ’tis said
It has an unsettling effect in the head
And if a mental weakness in humans the full moon can find
Why not it too affect the animal kind
He has his herd of cows with him yet I do wonder why
He bellows all night when the moon’s in the sky
During the hours of day he is always so quiet
And I’ve never heard him bellow on a dark night
But he never stops bellowing when the moon is full
Out there in the paddock the black Angus bull.

Francis Duggan


Bret Easton Ellis on annoying liberals

Sunday, 12 August, 2018

The American fiction writer Bret Easton Ellis is best known for books such Less Than Zero, The Rules Of Attraction and American Psycho. The latter assured notoriety and brought with it the prosperity that allows Ellis to enjoy a “fuck you” attitude of speaking his mind without being terrified of the PC mob. A week ago, he spoke to Rolling Stone about politics and other stuff. Snippet:

Q: You tweeted that you were done discussing politics with liberals at dinner. Is it because everyone plays the role of knee-jerk shock and outrage?

A: Completely. I live with a Trump-hating, millennial socialist. I am not, as my boyfriend will tell everyone, political. I’m interested in the theater of it, how each side plays the game, and how the media has morphed with it. I have never seen liberals be more annoying than they are now. These last few weeks really were a flipping point for me, with the depression over the Supreme Court and the way the detention centers were being spun by the liberal media. It’s obviously a game. Here’s Rachel Maddow crying on TV, and pictures of Trump detention centers. My stepfather, who is a Polish Jew, had his entire family wiped out when he was an infant. Throwing around words like Nazi, Gestapo and comparisons to Weimar Germany is like, “Really guys? You’re going there?” I’ve had enough. I think there’s a reason why the #WalkAway movement is getting it’s ten seconds of fame, because there’s a real reaction toward the stridency of how Democrats are expressing their disappointment. It’s turning a lot of people off.

Q: As a gay man, what if your right to marry is suddenly taken away? Doesn’t that anger you on a primal level?

A: That is suggesting that I believe in identity politics, and that I vote with my penis. It’s suggesting that immigration, the economy and other policies matter so much less than whether I can marry a man. It’s not something that I worry about, or is on my mind. That’s the problem with identity politics, and it’s what got Hillary into trouble. If you have a vagina, you had to vote for Hillary. This has seeped into a bedrock credo among a lot of people, and you’ve gotta step back. People are not one-issue voters. I am not going to vote as a gay man, and I don’t think the idea of us not being allowed to marry is going to happen. Pence has his issues, but Trump is not an anti-gay president in any way, shape or form. I also have gay friends who support and voted for Trump, based on certain policies. It’s not just about being gay and being able to marry.

So true. If you want more, check out The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast. It discuses film, television, music, pop culture and, now and again, politics.


Diarist of the day: Barbara Pym

Saturday, 11 August, 2018

“Visit to Jane Austen’s house?I put my hand down on Jane’s desk and bring it up covered with dust. Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me! One would have imagined the devoted female custodian going round with her duster at least every other day.” Barbara Pym, 11 August 1943

The English writer Barbara Pym died of breast cancer, aged 66, on 11 January 1980. Her sister Hilary continued to promote her work, and helped set up the Barbara Pym Society in 1993.


iPhone, iPhoto

Friday, 10 August, 2018

With thousands of entrants from more than 140 countries, the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards didn’t lack for choice. Interestingly, many of the winning images were shot with iPhone 7s and 6s and even 5s.

The advances in image quality from the first contest in 2008, a year after the iPhone was launched, are remarkable. That first iPhone came with a 2 megapixel camera and an average lens, while the iPhone X now offers 12 megapixel resolution and a dual-lens camera that provides both a wide-angle and a telephoto lens. The wide angle allows for an f/1.8 aperture, while the telephoto has an f/2.4 aperture.

Alexandre Weber, an anthropologist from Switzerland, earned 1st Place with a photo taken using an iPhone 6s. “The picture was taken in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, spontaneously, after a truck drove by. The woman with traditional clothes of a ‘baiana’, was looking after the truck, during her work break.”

 Alexandre Weber of Switzerland for his image  Baiana in Yellow and Blue


Sweeney by Matthew Sweeney

Thursday, 9 August, 2018

On Sunday morning, in Cork, the poet Matthew Sweeney succumbed to a cruel ailment that causes its sufferers so much agony as it wastes away the human body irreversibly: Motor Neuron Disease. Matthew Sweeney was 66 when he died and his poem Sweeney hints at the heart-breaking destruction he experienced in his final year.

Sweeney

Even when I said my head was shrinking
he didn’t believe me. Change doctors, I thought,
but why bother? We’re all hypochondriacs,
and those feathers pushing through my pores
were psychosomatic. My wife was the same
till I pecked her, trying to kiss her, one morning,
scratching her feet with my claws, cawing
good morning till she left the bed with a scream.

I moved out then, onto a branch of the oak
behind the house. That way I could see her
as she opened the car, on her way to work.
Being a crow didn’t stop me fancying her,
Especially when she wore that short black number
I’d bought her in Berlin. I don’t know if she
noticed me. I never saw her look up.
I did see boxes of my books going out.

The nest was a problem. My wife had cursed me
for being useless at DIY, and it was no better now.
I wasn’t a natural flier, either, so I sat
in that tree, soaking, shivering, all day.
Everytime I saw someone carrying a bottle of wine
I cawed. A takeaway curry was worse.
And the day I saw my wife come home
with a man, I flew finally into our wall.

Matthew Sweeney (1952 – 2018)

Matthew Sweeney


No words needed: The Sounds of Seoul

Wednesday, 8 August, 2018

On Monday, here, we had “No words needed: The Silence of The Dolomites,” in which the Danish “visual artist” Casper Rolsted presented his “Silence Project” — a central part of his plan to get us to listen to nature “in undisturbed places”.

Today, we have the opposite, in a sense. Brandon Li, “Filmmaker and global nomad” has created a visual urban experience that’s as far from the Dolomites as it’s possible to be. “I spent a month in Seoul and saw a city racing to the future,” says Li. and Both Li and Rolsted offer us images of urban and natural wonder. The beauty is in the eye, and ear, of the beholder.


Reading the mnemogenic Larkin on reading

Tuesday, 7 August, 2018

A Study of Reading Habits

When getting my nose into a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.

Later, with inch-thin specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my cloak and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.

Don’t read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow and keeps the store,
Seems far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

Philip Larkin (1922 — 1985)

The wonderful thing about Philip Larkin was his honesty. He was able to see through the many boring, cynical rituals that make up much of modern life and compress his visions into verse that remains shocking and hilarious.

Language Note: Martin Amis, in his Poems by Philip Larkin, honours the poet for his “frictionless memorability”, and, he adds, “To use one of Nabokov’s prettiest coinages, he is mnemogenic.” The word was coined by Nabokov in Bend Sinister, where a character named Professor Adam Krug describes a dream of his schooldays, and mentions gaps left by “those of his schoolmates who proved less mnemogenic than others”. From the Latin: mamma + –genesis, the noun “mammogenesis” refers to the growth and development of the mammary gland.


No words needed: The Silence of The Dolomites

Monday, 6 August, 2018

“Each mountain in the Dolomites is like a piece of art. Le Corbusier called them the most beautiful buildings in the world. He said God built them; I’d say nature did. They are so vertical, and each peak is different. The Dolomites have a special face: no other range in the world has this.” — Reinhold Messner, South Tyrolian explorer

Casper Rolsted, who describes himself as a “visual artist specialized in timelapse and aerial photography”, would agree, no doubt, with every word Messer says, except that he thinks they aren’t necessary. That’s why the Dane has created The Silence Project: “If we silent listen to nature in undisturbed places without prejudices we can experience the big diversity of nature and the faintest sounds gain their original importance in the soundscape.”


WordPress goes Gutenberg

Sunday, 5 August, 2018

WordPress, the free and open-source content management system which powers Rainy Day, is developing a completely new editing experience called Gutenberg. Brian Jackson of Kinsta addressed its complexity in a recent post titled Diving Into the New Gutenberg WordPress Editor (Pros and Cons). It’s quite technical in places and if you don’t want to dive into the details, go straight to the comments. Some of them are priceless, and many of them indicate that Gutenberg has a long way to go before it’s really ready to roll. WordPress needs to get this right is the message coming through.

Gutenberg


Hay thoughts from abroad

Saturday, 4 August, 2018

“In my early teens, I acquired a kind of representative status: went on behalf of the family to wakes and funerals and so on. And I would be counted on as an adult contributor when it came to farm work – the hay in the summertime, for example.” — Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

Hay