Friday, 29 September 2017

A.E. Housman and Heroin!

Did you know that the poet A.E. Housman,best known for his "Shropshire Lad" cycle of poems, once took heroin?
   When he was in hospital with serious heart trouble over Christmas 1935, it was given to him as a soporific; which shows how very different medical procedures were eighty years ago! From this experience of the drug, Housman made the interesting comment, "I learnt what it is to be totally deprived of intellect".
   As far as is known, he felt no inclination to renew the experience, and he died the following spring.

(Source: Peter Parker: "Housman Country")

Monday, 18 September 2017

Wales: Gorse and Heather

Last week we went for a walk in the hills to the west of Conwy. The sky was clear and the colours of the gorse and heather were magnificent.

This is the view looking eastwards, with the Conwy river and the castle on the near bank; and the village of Deganwy on the far side.

Looking northeast, we find the Great Orme as a peninsula, with the seaside resort of Llandudno nestling below it.

The view to the north shows the village of Dwygyfylchi (if you're not a Welsh-speaker, don't try to pronounce this!), and in the distance a corner of the island of Anglesey, with Penmon Point and Puffin Island.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Report on Resistentialism, by Paul Jennings

Resistentialism is the name given to a school of philosophy which postulates that inanimate objects hate us, and strive to make life difficult for us at every opportunity: a theory invented by the humorous writer Paul Jennings in the early 1960s. Without doubt, all of us have been struck by this thought at times, but Jennings's inventive genius amplifies it with a mass of baroque detail.
   He begins by tracing the origins of the Resistentialist theory to such figures as a 19th century philosopher named Martin Friedegg, who first coined the word and developed the concept of "Thing-hatred" - but "In the confused terminology of this tortured German mystic we are never sure whether it is the Things who hate us, or we who hate the Things". He also refers to the "Clark-Trimble experiments", in which pieces of toast and marmalade were dropped on a series of carpets, ranging from coarse matting to priceless antique Chinese silk, and it was found that the proportion of pieces landing marmalade-side-downwards varied precisely with the value of the carpet - "except when a carpet was screened from the rest, in which case the toast didn't know that Clark-Trimble had other and better carpets".
   The central figure in Jennings's account is, however, a French intellectual called Pierre-Marie Ventre, who coined the phrase, "Les choses sont contre nous": "Things are against us". His gloomy philosophy sees man as a "neant", literally a "nothing", in futile opposition to the "derniere chose", the ultimate Thing, which is the hostile universe. Ventre thus breaks with "all previous thinkers, from the Eleatics to Marx, who have allowed at least some legitimacy to human thought and action". Ventre has written a play, "Puits Clos", about three old men who live at the bottom of a well, where there are also some bricks; "These symbolise Things, and all the old men hate the bricks as much as they hate each other. The play is full of their pitiful attempts to throw the bricks out of the top of the well, but they can of course never throw high enough, and the bricks always fall back on them".
   The "Theatre Jambon" (!) on Paris's Left Bank has now, we are told, staged a new Resistentialist drama by Blanco del Huevo, in which the two main characters are a piano and a medicine cabinet, which always contrive to frustrate the lives of their human owners, who are reduced to the status of mere "Pousses": literally "pushed-arounds". The machinations of the Things lead to both humans perishing miserably.
   Other followers of Ventre have attempted to reduce or eliminate the impact of Things in their fields. A Resistentialist composer produces a symphony for solo timpanum and thirty conductors, and an artist sits before a blank canvas meditating on natural disasters, such as earthquakes, and sometimes then finds his canvas has been covered with paint. Ventre, however, regards this as a dangerous compromise, since Things should ideally be eliminated altogether, including the canvas and paint.
   Recently, we are told, a heretic has emerged within the Resistentialist group in the form of a dramatist called Qwertyuiop. His plays feature a Nietzschean hero called a "geant", who intervenes, "often with great comic effect", to save humans from suffering disaster at the hands of Things. The hard-line Ventrists have reacted by violently interrupting performances of his plays at the "Theatre des Somnabules", and there have been scuffles and subsequent arrests all over the Left Bank.
   It all goes to show, Jennings concludes, that "Paris still maintains her position as the world's intellectual centre".