Space Oddity
Boxes pimped in transformative ending
Grease, Withnail on betrayal of youth in achieving worldly success
About getting jobs, crappy jobs, selling out
Technical skill in devising and moving the boxes, symbols at first of constraint and social straitjacketing (interviewees’ being asked to climb into small boxes) but in the climax of liberating play.
Redemptive but with a question mark, as the very end is a triumphant spacewalk, but a bit like a march, and at the very moment in Space Oddity where contact is lost with Major Tom. Difficult and thoughtful.
Boxes as costumes (hidden underneath at start, stellar at end; are costumes those of a false but necessary adult life, or childish fantasy?); Meg’s parts (Sarah, Tara, Amélie) – nods to acting

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a meeting by the river (christopher isherwood)

tales of the city by armistead maupin 

the restaurant at the end of the universe by douglas adams 

plato’s phaedo 

neil gaiman’s stardust

book 1 of thucydides’ history of the peloponnesian war

dan leno and the limehouse golem by peter ackroyd

book 2 of thucydides

just read these on a family holiday, thanks to c. s. lewis’ suggestion to always reread something before reading something new. great idea, but I forget: I picked up the first three as retreads, but I think they were first-timers.

now making any notes in evernote, so farewell houyhnhnm for a while.

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In Plato Protagoras seems to be a pompous but likeable old chap who’s dined out on his cleverness for many years. In both Protagoras and Theaetetus he seems to focus on advising young men, both those in power and those seeking it, how to develop ευβουλια to make good decisions regarding their own lives, their households, and their cities. A consultant for ambitious yuppy/wonk types. Paul Allen, One-Minute Manager, etc., with a bit of L. Ron Hubbard thrown in. As Parmenides {controversial} and {uncontroversial surely?} Gorgias, he seems to have pulled this off by cleverly arguing positions which are at once difficult and almost unsustainable, but also attractive to up-and-coming we-know-it-all kids:
– the gods don’t matter
– personal beliefs and values don’t matter, it’s all about process (managerialism)
In other words a pure sophist, as in fact was Socrates (certainly by what conservative Athens thought of him); it’s just that Socrates didn’t make a Blairite mint out of it.

So, in other words, as with much ancient literature, we don’t know how serious their views are, how much they’re winking at their chums when they read their pieces. Is it largely an elite αγων?

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“Sweet Danger” by Marjery Allingham; “Have his Carcase” and “Whose Body?” by Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers is great fun – Wimsey is a wonderful character, such a perfect epitome and caricature of clubland and the Edwardian aristocracy, and her murder mysteries are intricate and teasing. Allingham though is to be preferred: her Campion has greater depths, her plots are more imaginative (“camp”, as Jane Stevens puts it in her introduction to the Omnibus (whole text here I believe), she lacks Sayers’ “snobbery and racism” (ibid.), and her Penguin green covers look better.

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Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

The Illustrated Man was my previous experience of Ray Bradbury: beautiful and disturbing post-war sci-fi stories, set in our present.

Fahrenheit 451 is clearly, from the author’s various prefaces and the publisher’s blurb, a much more famous work, probably because of its theme of book-burning: it’s the lesser-known companion to Brave New World and 1984.

As with his other stories, there’s a superficial lightness of touch, a simplicity, which makes you think at first that his tales will be inconsequential. But they’re not: his hero Montag’s crisis as he begins to doubt the rightness of his career (burning books), and his distant but affectionate relationship with his tragic wife Mildred, are clearly and straightforwardly related, as are the book’s final scenes when he joins a group of dissidents in the countryside, watches his city destroyed in a bombing raid (with an incredible slow-motion description of one bomb’s effects), and joins his friends’ final mission to keep book culture alive. A strange book.

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“The Liturgies of Quakerism” by Ben Pink Dandelion

Perhaps the dullest of book titles. Ever. Especially when received as a Christmas present (one I had asked for…). And I didn’t read it all, as the middle chapters seemed very similar to Pink Dandelion’s more recent and general history of Quakerism (see below). But the last two chapters, where Ben, in his usual slightly over-academicised writing, dissects modern “liberal-Liberal” Quakerism (the changing case of the ls reminds of the tad-precious “F(f)riends” – form designed to include both Members and Attenders), are really interesting. He points out that although in their dedication to silent worship modern Quakers are very much in the tradition of their forebears, they couldn’t be more different in their beliefs, whether theological or in what actually happens in the silence or even what it’s for. He seems in this book to be expressing more clearly some of the tone of his 2014 Swarthmore Lecture: a call (in as much as Quakers could do something as directional) to keep some theological content. [What a phrase I just used! It’s like “mechanically recovered meat” or “collateral damage”. I meant “God”.]

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“The Trial of Mussolini” by ‘Cassius’

A wonderful find (I’ve forgotten where from). A 1943 fictionalised transcript of the trial Benito never had, at some putative war-crimes tribunal in London. Part of the Gollancz series of anonymous books published in the war.

The first prosecution speech reads like a translation of one of Cicero’s Verrine speeches: beautiful periods construct an apparently watertight case against the dictator. But then the defence counsel tears it apart, demonstrating, by ‘interviews’ with members of the pre-war British establishment (quoting their printed words), how Mussolini was courted and praised by general conservative opinion – mainly as a bulwark against Bolshevism. Eventually the prosecution case, as originally set out, collapses, but then, in a clever twist, the judge himself calls witnesses (an Abyssinian, a Spaniard and an Italian), who damn the fascist far more effectively than the accomplished Ciceronian.

I learnt loads, from Italy’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, to the whole pre-war global situation, when no one knew about the war itself or the holocaust, and fascism was a political movement attractive to many as a resurgence of peoples’ energies, as an escape from the enervated modern world and the threats of communist revolution or invasion.

In Cassius’s fascinating book Benito himself is allowed a speech in his own defence: pure and glorious Thrasymachus, its brutal honesty about power and realpolitik does have its own dangerous attractions. Until the judge’s everyman witnesses exposes them.

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