Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Slaughterhouse 5 - discussion questions for Book Groups

S5 discussion q's

who is Kilgore Trout?

"so it goes", a religious incantation to accompany death. Perhaps a reflex to avoid horror. Is this how religious ritual gets going?  Who's doing the avoiding in this case? KV, the reader, society?

Is the whole book a jazzed up therapy act for KV? You can see how the pieces are all like fragmented memories and recollections, probably whiskey-driven late at night. Is it literature (in the sense of being a deliberate work made of text) or is is something like a mental patient's artwork, astounding and healing yet not quite art? Do you even buy the OR in the last sentence? We could replace with AND, and then talk about why it's both healing and artful. 

Trafalmadorians see all of time in a deep, holistic, mode. Does a sense of deep time mean that nothing is anybody's fault? "The moments are just structured that way, and things are as they are. We never worry about such things". 

Nothing, well how about some things? So, turning the dial down a bit, is morality a function of timescale? A evil act this afternoon (killing a person) could turn out to be the right thing to do in a year. A year's atrocity (bombing cities) defensible over a century. What evil would we tolerate to improve life over a millennium?

Are there moral decisions that are independent of the passage of time? Questions involving the verb To BE rather than those including To DO?

Does Buddhism, say, differ from Christianity on moral issues because of its time structure? Cyclic/holistic rather than Linear/atomic. 

Would you like to be a Trafalmadorian specimen?  Advantages: No job, plenty to eat, can prance around naked, have sex with other excellent specimens, make small talk with the keepers. Or would you wish to get back to your real life?

They were rather obtrusive, had obvious spaceships, got involved with their captives, made worrying remarks about causality, and so forth. Perhaps they were just learning their craft. How do you know that you aren't already in the hands of the rather more competent Crypto-Trafalmadorians?  If so, what sort of real life could you wish to get back to?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dapdune scribbles

Ah, canals! These days more of a set of linear leisure centres than a type of transportation.  Back in the day though, big loads of heavy stuff were pushed and pulled along by boat for hundreds of years, at least until the railways steamed in. This is why Dapdune Wharf in Guildford is now obsolete, and so in the hands of the National Trust (Britain's de facto Ministry of Teashops, Country Carparks and Quaint Things). This is where we learn that the last commercial load went up to London as recently as 1978, and that it's 19 miles to Weybridge (and the Thames). Also that barges would take 30 tons of gunpowder per load from Surrey's mills. Strange to think of the force of Empire being projected by a docile horse at 3 mph along a leafy towpath. 

I was here with Surrey Scribblers, a Meetup group for artistic dabblers in the County. This time we had 5 scribblers, so a very manageable group. Having convened, we ambled the towpath in a southerly direction. Plan was to have several sketching stops and then pub lunch. I think we managed 2!  

Guildford Rowing Cub was a good one, as the crews sat relatively statically whilst being instructed on technique. After a spell we continued, and were distracted by a tour - it was Heritage Open Day weekend - of the Guildford branch of the Freemasons. Oh OK then. We were shown the Temple, various side rooms, drawings of the Rituals in ages gone by, and regalia, regalia, regalia. Nice braid! Any questions?  Yeah, Why??  I think this interlude bemused, intrigued and appalled us in various proportions. Artists tend to the non-hierarchical, solitary and revolutionary. So I doubt there's much overlap with the worldview of the masons. Though I do need to find a nostalgia-inducing snake belt, as once sold in Woolies (the various Masonic aprons had a undoubtedly symbolic serpent as the clasp). 

Onwards to St Catherine's. Lunch at Ye Olde Shippe Inne. No really, that's its name. Nice pizza.

More drawing at the old priory, and checking out the views to the North and West. 

So that was our circular walk, no it was there and back argh. I'm definitely going back to sketch at the rowing clubhouse and the Wharf, as well as various other spots along the river. Watch this space for further reports, and if not too shabby, uploads. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Time's Anvil

This was a welcome Christmas gift, in response to my vague request for "Books of all sorts, e.g. travel, technology, science, natural world, art, design, history, language, culture". It was a bit hard to tell what it was exactly, on opening it, but after a few sniffs I got the idea. A very literate and sensitive yet scientific tour of the land. All lands in principle, but with an emphasis on England. The author is/was a professional archeologist (and explains the modern methodology excellently), but he doesn't rest there. He digs around in climateology, biology, technology, industry, religion, poetry and personal history. Sometimes his topics seem obscure (Saints?) but invariably the logic and fascination of the ideas comes through.

It reminded me in scope of what James Burke was trying to achieve in Connections, and also the main thrust of Peter Ackroyd's psychogeographical tours of London. Namely (the connectionist angle) that everything depends on nearly everything else, and secondly the sheer depth of human activity associated with the most seemingly mundane of places.

I found it absolutely fascinating, and have been outwardly unproductive for several days in the course of reading it. Meanwhile, I'm filled with more questions about how we got here, and where we might go next.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Hold still, this won't hurt a bit

Between two successive waves of student cohorts (one out, another coming in) I snatch a day off. Scroll around the map looking for a place containing Interesting Things to Draw, that is also open on Mondays, in a reasonable travel radius.

Up to London then, but then divert from my usual route to London Bridge. Out of the maze into the ancient stable yard of The George for a pint and a pastrami sandwich. Round the corner to the designated attraction. Up the incredibly narrow windy staircase, popping out in what must have been the bell chamber.  Pay, and squeeze through the gift shop, up yet more stairs into the main room, which is an attic spaced stuffed with displays and artefacts, going by the self explanatory name of The Old Operating Theatre

This is museum of medical relics somehow in the ancestry of Guy's and/or St Thomas' Hospital. The collection is well cared for, and there is evidence of an active outreachy pedagogical approach but they've avoided the neat and tidy BBC effect. It's more akin to the old cabinet of curiosities beloved of the Victorians. The biggest category is Miscellaneous, but the two main sub themes are surgery and biologically derived medicine. Bones, skulls, drawings, books, diagrams of the inner parts of Man (and Woman, and Child), models, pills, stills, pots and pans. Tools of unknown gory function: needles, knives, clamps, saws. Forceps, dilators etc for the beginning of life. Unimaginable instruments for the ending of it, before it has even begun. Samples and boxes and tins of drugs. Apparatus for turning herb into potion or pill. Baskets of herbs and seeds and other plant material giving a warm spicy aroma. 

I settle in and sketch a scene of cases and piles of stuff, incidentally containing one flayed model human and a live pair, talking about museum things. 

Switch to close up for an impression of a still of some sort, surrounded by willow twigs (Aspirin). Fail to capture the quality of the twigs, but the roundness of the iron vessels is quite pleasing 
Pot and Still
Take a couple of shots of the Theatre itself, half heartedly.

The drawing wears me out prematurely (beer was the error?). So I stroll back to Waterloo. There are plenty of tourists around, and my eye picks out all the Nikon and Canon straps. Other middle aged blokes favouring lumpy SLRs, younger crowd into these snazzy looking micro things. Plenty of phones, obviously. We manoeuvre along the Southbank, and past, or rather through, Tate Modern (more quick sketches, loads of school trips amongst the weekday tourists) and various other stops such as Gabriel's Wharf. The sun pushes itself into the scene, so the ambience is delightful.  I manage a bit more photography, but I don't get into it somehow) and finally get back to my station before the rush hour starts. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Sketchbook Update

Here are some art-related uploads to Flickr.

Draw: Gesture. Class described previously.

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Recent Holborn and ULU drop-in classes.

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There of more of each sort in the respective sets.

These are flagged as Moderate in Flickr, so you'll have to log into your Flickr account and set your Safety preferences accordingly, if you want to see the nudes.

Tutored class : Drawing in the British Museum.
The concept of this one was a more experimental approach to drawing, as you can see. Working from the objects on display, and catching a couple of visitors.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

Art practice

A couple of practical art-related posts over at my other blog, Repulsive Monkey.

I've been pushing ahead with drawing practice, and going to Life classes in various places.  Occasional sketchbook output can be seen in my Art set (on Flickr, registration/configuration required to see nude images).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Player of Games

My colleague's book club dumped The Player Of Games, by Iain M. Banks, on her reading list. "I'm really going to hate this", she said, "not my cup of tea at all".

"It's one of my favourite Culture novels", I said, "I must re-read it". Which I did with great pleasure, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear positive reports the following week. OK, so he's sold a few copies but I thought it was a specialist thing. Perhaps I'm underestimating his quality as a writer.

His commonly-used background culture, called (er, what shall we call it?) The Culture has been well-discussed. It's essentially a post-shortage society, which means that they have all the energy and matter they need. No shortage, no money, (almost) no problems. Tiny sarcastic flying robots that can do almost anything, including saving your life if you fall over a cliff. Enormous sentient spaceships that can do everything else. Banks has stated its origins as a hypothetical society where everything is organised how he would want it to be. Banks is, like me I suppose, a bit of an anarchist so it's almost the opposite of a fascist dictatorship.

The Player of Games, may well, as an essay in realpolitik, be about the way in which the powers that be get their way without seeming to use their weight. Poor old Gurgeh, the wizard of all games, he suspects he's being used. And he is, not only for his mastery of games, but for his naive approach to everything else. But he doesn't seem to mind being a pawn in the end.

The amusing bits of Culture novels are often about its limitless entertainments. You want a firework display the size of a canyon? OK then. You want to surf down a waterfall, without breaking your neck? OK then. There never seems to be any hassle, or queues, or tickets, or cops.

I had a tiny taste of this when we were in Austria for a short break. Parts of Austria are extremely well organised and neat, and at the same time laid back. E.g., when it snows, the roads are cleared within a couple of hours, and the buses all keep going. I've no idea if the following is typical.

On an an afternoon walk in the bright snow, about two miles from the village, we stopped for a coffee and strudel at a forest cafe. Someone in our party spotted a stack of toboggans of various sizes outside. Are they for hire? A school party's?

It turned out these were just laid on, for general use, for free. Having been ridden down to the village, they could be stacked against a barn at the end of the lane, and would be returned by a tractor at intervals.

This is perhaps a side-effect of the outdoor industries of the Tirol (all the serious neck-breakers are busy sking nearby, and the village knows the value of competing for entertainment), but can you imagine this in, say, in Surrey or Yorkshire? (Assuming regular snow). No insurance disclaimers. No Deposits. No chains and guard rails. No, er, chavs. Just good old playful fun:

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