Wednesday 17 October 2012

Not just an also-ran

Bronze, Royal Academy, London

Popular perceptions - which are not always to be trusted - have it that, in the arts, metals are like the performers in traditional rock bands. There are the big shots, strutting their stuff at the front of the stage with mike or guitar and getting fame and fortune, followed by the honest plodders who do their bit onstage too but, somehow, never get the hype. In this view gold and silver, chosen for top statues, vessels and decoration, are the star turns whilst bronze is the respectable but sad runner-up. This exhibition is a chance for us to re-evaluate its place in the artistic pecking order. What is there among the exhibits here that shows this metal on its mettle?

The early part of the exhibition may lead us to think that bronze is a material cut-out for solemn statues and not much else. But we see ‘St John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee’ (1506-1511), comprising three figures by Giovan Francesco Rustici, a close associate of Leonardo. Designed to go above the north door of the Florence Baptistry, it looks like a knock-off of traditional solemn Roman statuary, complete with the didactic raised arm of the Baptist — until we spot the ragged clothes hugging his emaciated body which contrast with the well-dressed, sleek look of his listeners. We’re suddenly aware of the difference between the lifestyles — and beliefs - of the preacher and his audience. Staying with spiritual subjects. Alfred Gilbert’s ‘St Elizabeth of Hungary’ (1899) looks, at first. on the verge of supermodel-like campness (as we might expect from the creator of Eros,) but the expression on her face leaves us puzzled. is she devoted or exasperated and, if so, why?

Mythology makes its mark with the Etruscan ’Chimera of Arezzo’ (c.400 BC), showing this mythical, hybrid animal with lion’s head, goat’s body and serpent’s tail, at bay with its back arched and its scaly neck raised to scare off attackers (perhaps Bellerophon, at whose hands this fire-breathing monster would eventually meet its doom). And we can feel the heat of ‘Vulcan’s Forge’ (1611) by Adriaen de Vries, as every muscle is strained by its stripped toilers (Vulcan was the Roman god of fire, and smith to the gods). But any arachnaphobes seeing this and sweltering in spirit will find their flesh turn cold when they encounter ‘Spider lV’ (1996), by Louise Bourgeois, insinuating its way up a wall as_ it looks for cover from which it can spin its web and devour its prey.

How the ‘Astante Ewer’ (c.1390-1400), inscribed with the royal arms of England, ended-up in what is present-day Ghana is a mystery, but what is obvious is its practical styling: it’s bulbous but well-balanced, has a spout which is generous but which won’t spill the ewer’s contents, and a long, curving handle which looks easy to manoeuvre. lt demonstrates that art, design and practicality had met together long before Modernism started to lay down rather obvious points about form following function. From monarchical furnishings we move to the power of monarchy itself with a bust of ‘Catherine de’ Medici’ (1580-1600) by Germain Pilon. He gives this French queen consort, mother of three kings and patron of the arts a hard, self-assured expression. She expects obedience as a right and a slight frown is a harbinger of what’s in store if it’ s not forthcoming.

A running figure by Umberto Boccioni demonstrates ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ (1913, cast 1972) with a human body that seems to be formed by a whirlwind of blade-like semi-circles. The Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, issued by Boccioni in 1912, spoke of destroying the materiality of bodies, but this sculpture radiates corporeal human power. You can almost smell the sweat as it cuts its way through the air. This sculpture ought to be used regularly when sport is promoted, an ever-present icon for athletic achievement: a perceived undertone of Fascism within Futurism is, possibly, why it’s not. Nearer our own time, David Smith gives us his ‘Portrait of a Painter’ (1954). The figure is elongated with, both amusingly and seriously, an artist’s palette for a head, a reminder that an artist should have an obsession about the nature and content of his or her work. And Richard Deacon’s jagged pile of ‘Bronze Nails’ (2007) looks — at first -threatening, like some form of trench defence from a First World War battlefield. But look at it for long enough and it seems to mutate into a comfortable straw-like bale.

These bronzes deliver a hammer-blow to any suspicion that their component is, somehow, inferior as a working metal to gold and silver. But there may be a lingering feeling that this exhibition lacks deeper value because it has the feel of being a thematic and chronological mish-mash, reminiscent of the sort of sleepy country town museum where you might find Roman coins exhibited next to an assegai donated by some long-dead veteran of the Zulu wars. However, this perception is undone — in a quiet, factual way — by the exhibition’s Second Room, which is devoted to the technical side of bronze casting, complete with diagrams and films showing the stage-by-stage process it involves. This instructional material captures the imagination, and seems to arouse just as much interest amongst the onlookers as the bronzes themselves. And this is good, because there are wide cultural implications here. in recent years within the arts, it can be said that metallic sculpture has - with the occasional exception like Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ - taken a back seat behind (easily-constructed) installations.

Maybe this is because at the heart of metal-work lies skilled craft, with its need to mentally master and physically apply scientific knowledge - along with the unavoidable effort this entails. in other words, technical education is involved here and this is something which has, arguably, been neglected by educationalists since the end of the Second World War. There are a number of possible reasons for this: the fetish for university education, leading to the importance of technical training being downgraded and the dumbing-down of institutions and degrees so that all get prizes; the view that science - upon which technical knowledge is dependent - is a cold, hard, logical thing, unlike the arts which are felt to be warm, fluffy and inclusive (anyone who conceives thus of art evidently hasn’t wrestled with, say, the anti-democratic sentiments expressed by Shakespeare and Eliot); and a culture of instant gratification which wants immediate results and which is not helped by modern educational approaches which pander to pupils’ — sorry, students’ — short attention spans instead of imposing the hard work of learning. ‘My time is now’ is the mantra on the lips of every X Factor wannabe.

It would be good to think that craft’s time has come — or, rather, returned. The Olympic legacy is to be welcomed — if it materialises — but not everyone is cut out for the sports field. The imminent return to rigour in examinations (but will it be allowed to survive?) is long overdue, but not everyone can shine in the hothouse of academic endeavour with its atmosphere of abstract speculation. The hard graft of craft, with the technical education it involves, is something where non-sporty or academic pupils can be achievers. But this isn’t just a place where refugees from sports-field and classroom can be dumped: craft is a skilled field where pupils can come into their own. Most importantly of all, it has intrinsic value because it is a forum for the expansion of human knowledge. Like bronze itself, it isn’t simply an also-ran. This exhibition is important, not only because of its visual pleasure and the skills whose application it manifests, but also because of what it can point to as a future fruitful field of human achievement. It’s a reminder that the artificer, as well as the artist. has a vital role in culture.


Till 9 December 2012


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Monday 15 October 2012

Connoisseurship and condescension

Bronze, Royal Academy of Arts, London / Raphael, Teylers Museum, Haarlem

These two very different shows invite consideration of the purpose of art exhibitions. One is a focused display of Raphael drawings. The other is a compilation of disparate works including some masterpieces whose only common feature is that they are made of bronze.

Some of the earliest art exhibitions gathered together selections of the greatest works they could find, without particular concern for coherence. The vast Manchester Art Treasures exhibition of 1857 is the exemplar, with a panoply of masterpieces largely from British aristocratic collections. These displays offered public entertainment without pedagogic purpose. Later in the nineteenth century art history became more professional, with expert curators like von Bode in Berlin. A particular focus was on attribution, and exhibitions were staged to permit comparison between works attributed to particular artists to facilitate the task of separating works by an artist from those of his studio, or by followers or even forgers.

Today this kind of connoisseurship is often frowned upon and is disdained as elitist in certain academic circles. In some museums traditional displays organised by chronology and geography have been rejected for themes, gathering together landscapes and portraits irrespective of when, where or by whom they were painted. Curators seek to make museums as accessible as possible; anyone can already see that a painting is a landscape, but it requires some knowledge to identify it as a seventeenth century Dutch landscape by Ruisdael. Thematic arrangement might make it easier to relate to when you come in from the street, but the problem is that you go back to the street with no new knowledge or understanding. It flatters the untutored eye, but it offers no tuition. This approach actually condescends to the lay visitor by assuming that they lack interest or ability to develop critical faculties and increase knowledge.

Bronze is a thematic display that includes great masterpieces, and it is an absolute stinker. The immediately striking problem is the lighting. Spotlights add a degree of drama, particularly to the larger bronzes like the copy of Cellini’s ‘Perseus’, but militate against appreciation of the art by permitting us to see only a fraction of the whole. It privileges immediate sensation over relaxed contemplation, the impact of the whole over the appreciation of the parts. Some of the smaller bronzes are hardly visible. Worst of all is Vries’ ‘Hercules, Nessus and Deianira’ which is high up on a pedestal and scarcely lit at all.

Sculptures designed to be seen in the round are placed against walls, and some of the smaller bronzes are placed at the back of deep pedestals, making them hard to see at all. It’s particularly tragic to see some of the loans from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is walkable from the Royal Academy. At the V&A they were in daylight and could be seen in the round, with no admission charge; for the duration of this exhibition you have to pay £14 to see them as shadowy ghosts. I am grateful for the guards’ forbearance of my use of a torch, which made it possible to see so much that was otherwise not visible. I was careful to avoid disturbing other visitors, but I actually found groups congregating around me, amazed at what they were unable to see with the mean lighting provided at the RA.

The presentation is stupid. There is no nicer word for it. It is a meaningless hodgepodge of works from vastly different civilizations across time and space. Nothing is gained from showing late twentieth century abstract expressionist Kooning next to Italian renaissance Ghiberti. The catalogue explains that the thematic display was intended to dissuade people from concentrating on the periods they already know best, like the Italian renaissance. But it has the opposite effect. Each exhibit is stranded without context. Because the exhibition provides no context or meaning, we are forced back on what we already know. A display of bronzes from Benin, or from ancient China, may engage me and help me to understand less familiar traditions. Sticking them randomly with classical and renaissance bronzes brought together simply because they all depict animals makes me focus more on the things I know better. It was only after I left that I realised just how one-sidedly I had concentrated on the familiar, without particularly intending to do so. Instructive comparisons emerge by happenstance, such as between ancient and renaissance bronzes. But even here the fact of their being cast in bronze is incidental; marble sculptures could show the same effect.

The problems are replicated in the catalogue. Chapters cover recognisable art historical categories rather than themes, allegedly to provide a balance with the exhibition, but I suspect in practice because there is so little to say about bronze animals across history. The essays are good, but inevitably too brief to do justice to vast spans of art history, and they struggle to focus on bronze because they have to provide context on the wider culture. The illustrations are poor quality and the catalogue entries are a travesty – just a few hundred words each, squeezed in at the back. They can only hint at context, condition and attribution.

Bronze is still an exhibition you should make every effort to see. The quality of the exhibits is astonishing and some rarely seen works are on display. There are ‘Oh My God’ moments around every corner, as yet another obscure masterpiece is revealed. Pierino da Vinci’s ‘The Death of Count Ugolino della Gheradesca and His Sons’ is a work of genius, but still little-known as it was only recently rediscovered. One of my favourite sculptors is Adriaen de Vries, but his work is not easily accessible. His Forge of Vulcan from Munich is a remarkable tour-de-force, a deep relief of great virtuosity. Several of the classical bronzes are also of the very highest quality, and it was a treat to see them alongside those from the renaissance. But the exhibition is less than the sum of its parts, and I left feeling cheated. It obscured more than it revealed and I learned nothing from the display.

How different is the lovely Raphael show in Haarlem. It is a small, select display of drawings primarily from two old collections, the Albertina in Vienna and the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. Three of the drawings at the Teylers Museum have recently been re-attributed to Raphael, and the exhibition gives context to these works.

A video explains the principles of attributing drawings to Raphael, and has a debate between the two curators about a drawing’s attribution, one favouring Raphael and the other favouring his school. The format is unfortunate; it seems to have been designed by someone working in children’s television. The voting buttons at the end are an absurd gimmick that detract from the seriousness of curatorial intent, reducing connoisseurship to a popularity contest. But the idea of engaging a general audience in the process of attribution is inspired.

The drawings are magnificent. Seeing originals by both Raphael and his best students reveals the master’s unique genius far more clearly than reproductions, which tend particularly to flatter artists like Penni and Giulio Romano. The exhibition covers the whole of Raphael’s short career, from the wonderful early sketches for several versions of the ‘Madonna and Child’, capturing an astonishing range of emotion with a mere few pen strokes, to the masterful studies for the Transfiguration, surely amongst the best drawings in the whole history of art.

Personally I was convinced of only one of the three re-attributions, the excellent ‘Putto with the Attributes of Vulcan’. The ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ is damaged, so judgement must be more provisional, but its quality does not convince. The hatching is more mechanical than the ‘St Paul’, and the hands are oddly emphasised (perhaps partly an issue of conservation), with corrections that seem atypical, although the foreshortening is skilful. ‘Joshua Addressing the Israelites at Shechem’ is also too damaged for confident attribution, though it is plausible. The ‘Three Female Heads’ is disputed between the curators, but it reflects neither Raphael’s working practice nor his genius. The hatching of the upper two heads is accomplished, but the overall effect is less good than Raphael, an indication of a talented copyist who can replicate the parts without capturing the spirit of the whole

The booklet provided is really useful. No dry technical guide, it conveys a real sense of excitement and offers qualitative judgments. It provides useful information that is so often lacking in museums, such as detail about the condition. The superb accompanying catalogue amplifies these points and has fine quality reproductions. Experiencing this exhibition makes clear that the process of engaging in questions of attribution isn’t an arcane antiquarian pursuit; it is a lively and dynamic engagement with art that trains us to appreciate artistic excellence and recognise gradations of quality. Not everyone has the time to devote to become an expert connoisseur, and we are blessed with varying degrees of natural aptitude. But we can all engage at some level and emerge with a better appreciation of art. The process is so much more rewarding than scattering art loosely related to a common theme.

Seeing these two exhibitions within a couple of days of each other was a fascinating contrast in museological approach. Bronze aims to entertain, to impress and even to overwhelm with its accumulation of great works. But it deadens the soul with poor display and foolish presentation. In every respect Raphael is the more worthy exhibition. It shows that connoisseurship is not just for the cognoscenti. It invites visitors into a wider conversation about art, rather than condescending to them. It is more than the sum of its parts; its purpose is to educate and to enlighten, and I think every visitor will come away enriched and invigorated.


Bronze is at the Royal Academy in London till 9 December 2012
Raphael is at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem till 6 January 2013


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Friday 12 October 2012

Here comes the science

The Geek Manifesto, by Mark Henderson (Bantam Press 2012)

Back around the time of the 2010 general election, I wrote a couple of articles on Culture Wars and elsewhere criticising what seemed a slightly eccentric and minority fad for so called ‘evidence based policy’. 

But this desire to use scientific methods and data to determine government policy has been going from strength to strength. Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame) has collaborated on a paper on using randomised controlled trials in assessing policy with the Number 10 Behavioural Insight Team, the unit responsible for implementation of all the hippest trends in government, such has the so called ‘nudge’ agenda. A number of books, such as Alex Rosenberg’s The Athiest’s Guide to Reality and Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape have been unapologetically making the case for a predominant role for science in moral and philosophical thought. Meanwhile, the technocratic governments in Greece and Italy have illustrated the tendency for ‘expert’ knowledge to trump elected politicians in the real world.

Mark Henderson’s latest book, The Geek Manifesto, is one of the most coherent expressions of this viewpoint to have been put forward. It’s certainly caught the zeitgeist, with a well orchestrated campaign to have it sent to every MP in parliament, and a considerable buzz on Twitter around its release. Given my previous antagonism to evidence-based policy, I expected to hate the book, but it was interesting, well-written and nuanced, and I agreed with a large chunk of it; although there were still areas of disagreement that I’ll elaborate on below.

An astute previous reviewer of Henderson’s book recognised its key duality – that it is both a defence of science as an interest group, and as a method of enquiry that should be applied to politics. In the former role, as a partisan defence of science and researchers, the book is a great read, and one I can easily endorse. It starts with a rundown of some of the recent political clashes of recent years that mobilised ‘geeks’, such as the Simon Singh libel trial and the ‘Science is Vital’ protest against government cuts. It makes a strong case for defending science funding, arguing that it plays a vital role in promoting economic growth. In this Henderson is more successful than those who make the much weaker case that higher education should be protected for its economic value, but runs close to making the same mistake of focusing on cost-benefit analysis; if economics becomes the decisive factor in where funding goes, obscure areas can lose out. But he is good on making the point that the open-ended nature of scientific research means that funders in government can’t guarantee themselves a safe return – it is about taking a gamble on where new discoveries might lead us. It is also refreshing to hear someone argue unashamedly that economic growth is a good and necessary thing. He makes good arguments about getting organised to counter anti-research lobby groups such as the Catholic Church, whose well-oiled letter-writing campaigns give them disproportionate clout in government consultations on so called ‘ethical’ issues.

But Henderson himself seems a little wary of this role as simply an advocate for scientific researchers, warning about the risk of becoming ‘just another special interest’. Instead, his broader aim is to reshape the way politics is done, replacing ideological perspectives with ‘rational’ ones gleaned from the scientific method.

He starts off well, criticising the ‘policy-based evidence’ of politicians who like using stats to give an aura of authority to their policies, running through a plethora of incidents where politicians have ignored, wilfully misinterpreted or simply invented ‘evidence’ to back up their particular hobby horses. He’s clear that politicians should have the right to ignore evidence, but thinks they should be clear when and why they do this, and be held to account for faking or abusing evidence. He is good on the abortion debate too, recognising that it is primarily a moral issue, but taking up those on the anti-abortion side such as Nadine Dorries who use distorted scientific claims to back up their position. Indeed, for all their bleating about the ‘New Atheism’, Dorries and her ilk can be as guilty of scientism as their opponents.

There are a whole series of other areas where Henderson sees a much greater role for the scientific method, such as properly constructed trials of policies to judge their efficacy. These are superficially convincing, and if I were a civil servant, I might take note. But this is the point – while there might be much to said for better use of evidence in the technical implementation of policy, the political framework that any particular policy operates in is a social and not a technical question.

For instance, Henderson argies that a greater use of randomised controlled trials in education will give a better idea of which techniques will work than the current tendency to follow fads, which seems fair enough. But he goes on to advocate teaching the scientific method as opposed to traditional scientific content. This is an area of considerable disagreement, given the (admitted by Henderson) awful implementation of this change to the curriculum in British schools, and can’t just be resolved by a few trials; what we want the next generation to know is a question for all of society, not just based on pedagogical success rates. There is also the sense that if I were a teacher, it would be slightly grating to be told that all my problems were down to my lack of evidence base; it is probably more complicated than that!

These tensions are also present in his chapter on the environment. Henderson starts by highlighting the irrational and conspiratorial thinking of many climate sceptics, but then goes on to note the mirror image mentality of many in the green movement, hysterically suspicious of GM crops and nuclear power. He astutely recognises that while the science of climate change ought to be a ‘matter of physics and chemistry’, the entire scientific debate has become so politicised that it has ‘invited those who disagree with the political solutions advanced by the green movement to go after the science as well’.

Henderson recognises that much of the green movement’s hostility to technology is a deeply held ethical and political viewpoint. But his solution is that they undergo a ‘Clause 4 moment’, and just accept the evidence that these technologies aren’t harmful, and sideline those who don’t. This is like demanding that Catholics accept the evidence on fetal viability on abortion – it is deluded, and attempts to collapse a legitimate social and moral schism between ideological opponents into a technical discussion. Henderson is following a trend amongst prominent environmentalists such as Mark Lynas and George Monbiot, both of whom he cites, in trying to spruce up the green movement’s scientific credentials and strip away its more radical aspects, which has been criticised by other deeper greens such as Paul Kingsnorth (who have also been guilty in their time of using the supposed irrefutability of ‘the peer reviewed science’ as a tool to attack opponents).

And for all the claims of objectivity, there is still a political framework that any policy, however much evidence there is to back it up, works within. For instance, in his discussion of drugs policy, Henderson sees politicians ignoring the evidence on harm reduction as simply down to Daily Mail-style moralistic pressure. But even if the evidence were totally overwhelming, there is more to the discussion. Drug policy is a form of social control that enables the state to regulate individual behaviour; politicians are not going to simply give that up because ‘the science’ tells them to. A liberal drugs policy needs to be founded on liberalism, rather than evidence; the former is what is in short supply, not the latter. Conversely, the most effective anti-drugs intervention ever conducted was Chairman Mao’s brutal stamping out of opium addiction after the Chinese revolution. No Western politician thankfully would dream of doing such a thing, despite the evidence of this policy’s success, because of the unspoken moral assumptions they hold to.

But this ability of evidence-based policy to obscure social conflicts, to make political rule seem objective and managerial, and to give ideas-lite politicians some guide as to what to do is precisely what attracts the political class to it. The desire to use science for political ends is nothing new. But while previous schools of thought that used or abused it – whether the Social Darwinists of the 19th century, or the epidemiological turn of the remains of the left since the Black Report in the 1980s – were keen to call on the supposed positive findings of science for a pre-existing political end, evidence-based policy is a desire for the method or process of experiment to tell us what to do. It is a deeply demoralised response to the collapse of the traditional political divisions of left and right.

I’m sure Henderson would reject this characterisation of the call for evidence-based policy. To be fair, he generally caveats what he has to say with a nod to democratic legitimacy, but he occasionally slips, at one point talking of using science to “resolve the great questions of the day”. But more broadly, where the call for ‘science’ in policymaking is legitimate – in deciding between different policy options within an already established political framework – it is technocratic and mundane; elsewhere it rapidly becomes either eccentric or authoritarian, closing down the scope for political action. Any big step worth getting excited about, whether overthrowing an unjust government, a colonial master, or a radical change to society such as establishing a welfare state or extending the suffrage, will always be a leap of faith, which people will take in the absence of a peer-reviewed cost-benefit analysis.

In addition to this misunderstanding of politics, I think there is a misunderstanding of science. The undifferentiated term ‘science’ used by Henderson and others collapses together a whole plethora of different forms of knowledge. Even in the natural sciences there is a considerable variation between ‘hard’ experimental sciences such as particle physics or molecular biology, and softer observational or modelling-based sciences such as ecology. When we enter the realm of human beings, things become even more complex. Their ability to choose things other than the ‘correct’ or predicted course of action is what separates the practice of medicine from its scientific basis, and causes the ‘softness’ of the social sciences that many contemporary science enthusiasts so disparage. But their foray into politics and society will lead them into the same problems, without the circumspection and self-awareness of sociologists and political theorists; Henderson doesn’t even mention the hundred year history of experiments in social management such as Taylorism. Despite this manifesto, evidence-based policy enthusiasts’ demand for hard answers in the realm of politics and society is very likely to go unanswered.


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Wednesday 3 October 2012

The academy in an era of crisis and intellectual uncertainty

Reflections on the state of academia in advance of a Battle of Ideas Satellite event in Athens on Friday 5 October 2012

We live in times when the academy and education in general seem to be high on the agenda of governments and of cultural elites in the Western world. And yet, there seems to be a great ambiguity in answering a very simple question: what is the academy good for today? Various answers would treat academy in a quite instrumental way, as a path to a promising career, as means to provide social mobility to the lower social strata, as a source of boosting the economy and even as an identity forming procedure (hence the emphasis placed on the ‘student experience’ by UK academic institutions). What is lost in all the above is the original purpose of the academy: the pursuit of knowledge and truth, the questioning of certainties and thus the expansion of a society’s horizons.

This predicament of the academy, and its alienation from its primary noble mission, has its roots in the political, ideological and economic condition of our times: the shift in capitalism’s paradigm and its recent serious crisis, the influence of a set of ideas that has become known as postmodernism, and also the marketisation of education, leading to a managerial ethos alien to the academy’s quest for truth and excellence. Needless to say, all three factors are interconnected.

The opening of higher education to the masses took place in the Western world in the aftermath of the Second World War. A new massive middle class was rising to cover needs in the technical and bureaucratic domain, as well as to provide social services that were now available to almost everyone. This was one the one side the result of the privileged position that the working class, due to its strength, would find itself against capital at that time and also a characteristic of the state operating as a ‘collective capitalist’ and training the working force. On a more ideological level, the idea of rising up the social ladder through education was an important lure for the lower classes, which considered education as the means towards a promotion to the upper classes. Education had thus an instrumental role to play, although at that time this appeared to be in the best practical interests of the majority.

Procedures taking place in the last three decades have slowly changed the aforementioned pattern. On the one hand, as a general trend in capitalism, the demand for labour is diminishing. On the other hand, an economic stagnation strikes heavily on the working and middle classes, whereas the state is less and less willing to support these classes. The ‘surplus working population’ (obviously in a social and not a Malthusian way) that Marx had described is now not only including unskilled workers, but also highly skilled labour and would-be members of the middle class, who in the times of crisis are absorbed in precarious forms of employment. This surplus labour power is useless to capital, not only as producers, but not even as consumers, as profit is more and more disconnected from the circulation of products in the ‘real’ market.

Obviously, young people want to avoid such a bleak future. Thus, education is suddenly becoming more and more a luxury and in uncertain times, an investment that is very carefully and wisely made by the individual, on a risk-based approach and with emphasis on promises for a future pay back, in a precarious and demanding job market. This means the university is almost uniquely dealing with skills learning and training, which compromises the character and the ethos of academia. Sections of the academy such as philosophy, arts and politics, which in the past have significantly contributed in the widening of humanity’s horizons, are either surviving as an instrument for social policy, or are facing a total decay and even extinction. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is obviously totally lost somewhere in between these trends.

But the idea of the academy as a place for the pursuit of truth is also eroded by the intellectual atmosphere that seems to be prevailing in recent decades. Trends such as post-structuralism, cultural theory, identity politics and so on promote an understanding of the world (or of multiple worlds) where there is no such thing as universal truth. A diversity of ‘knowledges’, particularism and subjectivism question key notions of the Enlightenment such as reason, science and universal truths and, thus, undermine the figure of the intellectual and of the academic. If there is no such thing as Truth, why bother discovering it in the first place? Of course the thing about truth is that if you’re certain you’ve found it, you probably haven’t… but this doesn’t mean that pursuing truth, while perhaps tentative and temporal, is not a worthwhile goal and the prerequisite for intellectual progress and humanity’s great leaps forward.

The third and most widely discussed factor leading to an undermining of the idea of the academy is the marketisation of education. This procedure has been critiqued, especially by the Left, on various grounds. Here I will focus on how it undermines the academy as an institution servicing knowledge. If university is nowadays a business, the teacher is automatically transformed to a service provider and the student is a customer (and in cases such as in the UK, a customer that pays a lot). There is a phrase in Greece, saying that ‘the customer is always right’. This has profound implications in the academic procedure, undermining the role of the teacher in an era where scepticism towards adult authority is already creating uncertainties on the ontology of the pedagogic system. Education is a procedure which is often demanding, tiring and dull. However, in order to avoid a harsh evaluation by an unsatisfied customer, the teacher might prefer to compromise academic standards in order to make his ‘product’ more appealing.

As the sociologist Frank Furedi has developed in his work, the provision of the ‘commodity’ that education is becoming is based on a pre-arranged agreement, a quid pro quo procedure where each side gives and takes in a very narrowly confined space. This means that the questioning of the uncertainties and the promotion of ideas that might be heretical and outside a suffocating atmosphere of political correctness which prevails modern managerial world, becomes difficult, if not impossible. Education becomes a ‘procedure driven’ experience, where how someone learns becomes more important than what he actually learns.  Thus, we see that a huge amount of money, time and energy is spend by the university for an army of experts, ‘learning enhancers’, human resources officers and student union lobbyists who have nothing to do with anything regarding the pursuit of knowledge.

It is easy to understand that in a time of a global financial crisis, the zeitgeist is quite hostile to the idea of an academy servicing knowledge and the pursuit of truth. However, knowledge and truth are closely linked to the capacity of human beings to bring change and write history. And at the moment we need these things more than ever. 


Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a PhD candidate and an assistant lecture in Environmental Sociology in University of Kent, Canterbury. He is speaking at the Battle of Ideas Satellite event What’s the academy worth today? in Athens on Friday 5 October, as well as in the Battle of Ideas weekend in London on 20-21 October in sessions on A European Spring? and Occupy: Illusory Radicalism?.


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Tuesday 2 October 2012

Man’s futile quest for permanence

Three Sisters, Young Vic Theatre, London

Benedict Andrews’ modern version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters could have royally pissed me off. Andrews wrote and directed this production and his stamp is all over it. There’s not a word, sound or visual flourish that hasn’t come from him. It could so easily have felt like one huge ego trip – only it works. It works really, really well.

We begin fairly conservatively, although the raised stage has been stripped bare and weird, brash lighting floods the stage and extends out into the audience. It all feels very exposed. The three sisters – weary Olga, moody Masha and dreamy Irina – sit in a triangle formation around the stage. They approach the stage as they approach their lives. Olga (Mariah Gale – honest and intriguing as ever) uses the stage as a desk, Masha (Vanessa Kirby – cruel and mesmerising) smokes and sulks and Irina (Gala Gordon) tiptoes and twizzles around the space, willing people to look at her and love her. 

So far, the production feels clean and the characters vibrant and elegantly defined. The rest of the troops then file in for Irina’s birthday dinner and the play’s themes, quickly and ingeniously, start to resonate strongly. Although the script feels quite casual, packed with contemporary allusions and blunt swear words, it’s lively and true to the characters. And, whilst the dialogue feels ever so loose, the direction is deceptively rigorous, revealing Chekov’s concerns with perfectly considered playfulness.

Vershinin (William Houston) – who looks like a classic romantic hero and sounds like hypnotist – picks up on the girls’ earlier discussion about prevailing memories and hopes for the future. He imagines wiping the board clean and beginning his life anew; ‘I’d invent a radical new existence for myself – in a room like this for example…’ The stage hums with meaning, so clear and so urgent you almost want to reach out and shake the characters silly; ‘Look, here you are anew! Here you are in our room and you’re exactly the same! What do you make of your wafty philosophising now, old chum?!’

It’s rare to feel so involved in a Chekov play and it’s down to Andrews and his magic, directorial wand. Gradually he allows his stage business to speak, loudly and clearly, for the play. A gentle stream of contemporary allusions gradually trickles through the production. Masha’s husband enters wearing jeans. Another chap mentions his despair at being slumped, uselessly, in front of the TV.  These are not arbitrary attempts at modernising a classic; they are clever touches that constantly reaffirm the play’s obsession with time, memory and man’s futile quest for permanence.

The gang leaves the table to pose for a photograph; a moment that again allows Andrews to crystallise Chekov’s characters and concerns. As the girls pose, with varying degrees of confidence, their photo is taken using a snazzy camera ‘from the future’. It feels both hopeful and sad, stressing that the world will continue to advance and these characters, no matter how much they desire change, will stay exactly the same, rooted to the spot by this photograph, by society and by their own instinctive and immutable natures.

These ideas, so latent in Chekov’s text, continue to build splendidly. In the second half, following a devastating fire, the sisters discuss their futures. As they wrangle over a fate that has already been written for them – already been played out countless times across the centuries – stage men, dressed as soldiers, silently dismantle the set between them. The sisters’ are blind to the world changing beneath their very feet.

Interesting, too, is the audience’s reaction to this potentially disruptive stage business. Initially, as the stage hands enter the stage, one greets their arrival with hope; is this a new character come to clear up this mess? But, as that hope is distinguished repeatedly, one starts to tune out the stage-hands. One learns to ignore their subtle but absolute overhaul of the stage space, our world for the night. It’s a strange feeling; almost as if we have become one of the characters on stage, resolutely ignoring or at least unable to change the shifting landscape in front of us.
The contemporary allusions gather pace. We are shown frequent and disturbing flashes from the future. Brother Andry slopes across the stage in a football kit and his wife, Natasha, bears a nasty resemblance to a WAG. It’s doubly depressing, in a play that contains so many characters who long for a better and enlightened future, to see this bleak glimpse from our present. Is this what these characters hoped for? Is this what we call progress? Is this a time we will even want to preserve – or one we might hope to forget? 


Till 3 November 2012


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Monday 24 September 2012

A horse-drawn carriage?

Mademoiselle Julie, Barbican, London

Having got her knickers off and well and truly in a twist, Miss Julie wails to her servant-cum-lover (ha!): ‘Do you see any way out of this?’ Well, yes, actually. Strindberg’s Miss Julie is meant to create a dangerous dilemma; the daughter of a count sleeps with a servant and, with their secret set to be exposed, decides to kill herself instead. Only, in this contemporary French adaptation by Terje Sinding, the quandary seems merely a pickle. After all, we live in an age when Prince Harry can frolic with a bevy of naked ladies and emerge relatively unscathed. A minor scandal involving a minor member of the aristocracy isn’t too traumatic these days. Hell, Hello would probably play good money for the pictures.

Director Frederic Fisbach’s ‘adaptation’ is one of those most frustrating of beasts; not an adaptation in the slightest. Sure, the text has been directly translated into French and the set has been changed. Mademoiselle Julie now lives in a slick penthouse, all white walls and clean lines and abstract vegetation on the balcony. But while the setting might look bang up to date, the text and characters remain identical. This – obviously- creates some serious problems.

You see, people don’t have servants any more. At least, they very rarely call them servants. Counts don’t really live near farms, either. Miss Julie’s problematic paramour – man servant Jean – remains, in this version, the son of a farm labourer. The references to fields and oats and carriages remain intact. Have you seen a penthouse situated in the middle of a field recently? Have you seen a horse-drawn carriage anywhere, other than a theme park? No. Just no. Yet Terje Sinding’s translation resolutely hangs on to all these references. Every other line clangs horribly and the characters seem out of time and out of their minds. They’re not living in the real world, which is pretty disappointing given this is meant to be one of Strindberg’s most realistic and emotionally honest plays.

Fisbach further confuses matters with some supremely indulgent directorial flourishes. As Miss Julie (Juliette Binoche – who looks and sounds like she’s on an almighty come down) and Jean (Nicolas Bouchard – completely confused) flirt and suck each other’s feet, a bunch of posh party-goers dance in the background. Everyone is hidden behind glass walls and everyone is miked up. This miking rips the emotional subtly right out of the play. The actors are either very loud and very, very angry or super soft and afraid. The microphones don’t allow for any subtlety in between.

In between the scenes, the guests are used to increasingly dubious dramatic effect. When Julie and Jean decide to slip off to the bedroom, the dancers traipse forward, all of them wearing masks. Later, an actor dressed as a white shredded tree solemnly walks forward, observed by a man with a rabbit for a head. What this is meant to provoke – other than quiet titters – is anyone’s guess.

The actors seem completely out of sorts. On film, Binoche positively bleeds with soul; she’s a subtle, quietly alluring and deeply engaging performer. In this production, she’s experimenting with emotions rather than genuinely channelling them. At one point, she screams in despair only to stop suddenly and raise her hands enquiringly. If Binoche was playing a genuinely unhinged soul than these kind of abrupt emotional displays might appeal. But for the most of the time she simply seems stoned out of her mind; a spoilt hippy with nowhere left to turn. She’s incredibly muted and, when she tries to turn up the volume, it just feels like a blast of noise.

Productions with surtitles can often be exquisitely involving affairs; one gets so wrapped up in the emotion of the play that one barely needs the words at all. Just as Shakespeare’s English starts to make perfect sense in a lucid production, so too do we start to believe we understand French/Italian/any language at all, if the emotional vocabulary shines through strongly enough. But here, with the actors hidden behind screens, the emotions erratic and dishonest, the action arbitrary at best and the translation downright obfuscating, not only is the fourth wall kept intact but a massive, concrete fifth wall is erected in front of the stage;  the audience is left locked outside, straining for a glimpse of the play we had so hoped to see.


Till 29 September 2012


Theatre

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Saturday 22 September 2012

CW editorial note - 22 September 2012

From Julius to Julietta

From Julius to Julietta

As summer comes to an end, Miriam Gillinson and Matt Trueman review a selection of London theatre productions, including Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, King Lear at the Almeida and Choir Boys at the Royal Court, while Philip Cunliffe reviews the RSC’s touring African Julius Caesar and Timandra Harkness reviews the ENO’s Julietta. Meanwhile, Mark Napier looks forward to a future transformed by technology and Miranda Kiek anticipates JK Rowling’s first novel for adults, while Nicky Charlish reviews Cathi Unsworth’s seaside noir novel, Weirdo.

22 September 2012

Don’t miss out on this year’s Battle of Ideas festival at the Barbican on the weekend of 20-21 October.


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Where cockroaches lurk

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth (Serpent's Tail, 2012)

Every crime writer sets his or her fictional detective some challenges to face. With this book, she sets herself one, too - how to give a conventional crime scenario a new twist, rescue it from being the bearer of familiar, if entertaining, clichés. Then, having done so, she must - like a defendant - await the verdict from her readers, discover their evaluation of how well she has succeeded in pleading her case. What’s it going to be here?

Established noir crime writer Cathi Unsworth takes what might be regarded as a hackneyed theme - a possible long-standing miscarriage of justice in a small town with the threat of dark secrets waiting to be revealed as the truth (in this case, covered-up for two decades) is eventually brought to light. Private investigator Sean Ward — a former policeman retired from the force after having been shot in the line of duty — is hired by a barrister to re-open the case of Corrine Woodrow, convicted, when she was 15, of murdering one of her classmates in the Norfolk seaside holiday town of Ernemouth, where they lived, and who has been subsequently loaded with sensationalist insults by the tabloid press. For new forensic evidence has come to light, indicating that Woodrow didn’t act alone. In his quest, Ward gets support from a helpful local newspaper editor and an enthusiastic retired Detective Inspector who worked on the original case. With the aid of the proprietor of an old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, Ward also bones-up on the history of the town (a local pub, germane to the case, is named after Captain Swing, the mythical figure of anti- industrial riots in the early 19th century). Another policeman emerges, one who was also involved in the case and who seems reluctant to help with Ward’s quest. Then events start to take a sinister turn…

So far, so conventional — we might think. An injustice waiting to be resolved, a detective with a backstory of demons, all par for the conventional crime novel course. But this is where we make a classic detection error — leaping to judgement before all the evidence is gathered. In unfolding the story, Unsworth doesn’t simply deal with the issue of a possible wrong that needs righting. She leads us — with the aid of flashbacks to the time of the killing - on a journey into the underbelly of small-town life. This isn’t a picture of a seaside resort according to the upbeat monotone of a tourist guide: she shows us a place of piss-stinking public lavatories, seemingly-good hotels where cockroaches lurk, and a pier under which prostitutes cater to the needs of males who wish to unburden their self-hatred, as well as sexual fluids, onto someone else. There is a nervous fear of difference — a transgendered tattooist is the butt of casual prejudice and, in some of the flashback scenes, we see disaffected kids trying to escape — all too briefly — from the confinements of small-town boredom and bleakness by adopting goth fashions and music (Unsworth, a former Melody Maker scribe, selects an excellent sound-track to accompany these evocations of frail flight from monotonous reality). A boy is made to wear a tuxedo for his first formal function, marking his entry into the social climb in a town that is all-too-adept at looking after its own: in this community the traditional East Anglian valediction of ‘Mind how you go’ takes on a sinister tone.

ln doing this, Unsworth is able to summon-up —and lead us to and from — darkness and light with almost dizzying speed: we sense the institutional claustrophobia, lightened fitfully with some art therapy, of the special unit for the criminally insane where Woodrow is incarcerated; Ward’s first sight of Ernemouth is a dramatic view of a river estuary with a vast expanse of water but later, as he follows the tattooist from the pub to her home, the quiet, dark little side streets of the town seem to be places of brooding, vigilant menace; Unsworth doesn’t spare us the shock experienced by a policeman when he makes the all-important first encounter with the corpse of the victim in all its fly-swarming, stinking horror.

This novel has other features going for it. It’s peopled with believable characters, not simply marionettes to provide the moving pieces — and justification — for an exercise in neat problem-solving. Also, a crime novel of this sort can easily become an exercise in literary slumming or a ‘Why oh why?’ feast of nostalgia-tinted social examination: this one avoids those pitfalls. We may not like the young people whose lives it lays bare for us, but we sense the social limits in which they live and this encourages us – as noir writing is intended to do — not only to look at the societal structures and moral rules under which they are being brought-up, but to re-examine our own limitations too. It does this especially by taking a long-overdue swipe at the popular hysteria (to be carefully distinguished from real grief and true empathy) which often accompanies the perpetration of crimes against — or by — the young. And it reminds us that we do not need to go abroad if we wish to find the strange, or to walk down mean, oppressive streets - they lurk here, within our shores, awaiting our exploration.

Finally, in this novel, Ernemouth — and the accumulated, time-encrusted evil revealed there all the more as some of its people try to hide it - stands for the dark side of human behaviour and the endeavours made by flawed people to sweep it under the carpet. And it’s best visited with Unsworth’s guidance. This novel is as bracing as the wind blowing across the North Sea. And as chilling.


Fiction

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The literary Sorting Hat

Does JK Rowling have what it takes to transfigure herself into a writer for grown-ups?

On the 27 September, Waterstones will open their doors at 7am in order that JK Rowling fans can lay hold of her new novel, A Casual Vacancy as soon as legally possible. Waterstones did the same for her Harry Potter series – Rowling’s new book, however, is not aimed at children but adults, and doesn’t a pre-dawn vigil outside a bookshop seem just a little bit, well, age-inappropriate?

Ninety years ago, Richmal Crompton published Just William, a collection of stories about a renegade schoolboy called William Brown. He, his motley crew of Outlaws and a lisping Thatcher-in-frills named Violet Elizabeth Bott, went on to feature in 30 more William books – books which set in aspic Crompton’s reputation of a classic children’s author. Yet Crompton did not only write children’s stories - in fact she wrote over forty novels for adults. For the most part they have been forgotten, eclipsed by her all-encompassing reputation as a children’s writer. Crompton herself once regretfully acknowledged that William Brown, her supreme literary creation, had become her ‘Frankenstein’s monster’. Does the infantile furore surrounding her book’s publication point to Rowling sharing Crompton’s fate?

A new car game – try to list the writers who are equally famous as both children’s and adult authors. It is surprisingly difficult. Take, for instance, John Grisham. He writes a series of legal thrillers for children about a pre-pubescent legal eagle, but in spite of their tremendous popularity, the books are still seen as something of an aberration, a diversion from Grisham’s day job as a writer of adult fiction. The same is also true in reverse. Anthony Horowitz has published four novels aimed at adults but his status (in terms of novel-writing at least) is unshakeably that of a children’s writer. Does the classification of Grisham and Horowitz argue an innate tendency on the part of readers and publishers to pigeon-hole, or is it merely a reflection the ratio of children’s versus adult novels in their fictional output? As tempting as an explanation the latter maybe, it is not in itself adequate. Crompton’s adult novels significantly outnumbered her William stories, similarly her contemporary, Noel Streatfeild, wrote almost as many books for adults as children. Two of Rowling’s own favourite authors – Elizabeth Goudge and Dodie Smith – wrote more fiction for adults than children, but it is for their work for young people they are chiefly remembered.

We did not always pigeon-hole authors in this way. Early 19th century writer Maria Edgeworth was acknowledged equally for her didactic children’s fiction as her novels for adults. The urge to put writers into distinct camps is undoubtedly in part a by-product of modern marketing – these days an author seems to function almost as much as a genre mark or brand as does Mills and Boon, or Nike.

Two authors who have managed to spring the children/adult author trap are Jill Paton Walsh and Penelope Lively, something which can probably be attributed to the significant acclaim they have received for both sides of their work. Their children’s novels have been Smarties, Carnegie and Whitbread prize-winners and both authors have been Booker-shortlisted for their adult work. If you want to avoid being categorised, you not only have to be an exceptionally skilled writer, but the award panels have to say you are. Does JK Rowling have what it takes to transfigure herself into a writer for grown-ups? The snobbery with which the literary establishment tends to regard the Harry Potter books makes it seem unlikely. Her boy-wizard may well become her own ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ and as surely as the Sorting Hat sorts Hogwarts students into Slytherin or Gryffindor, she will be thought of in perpetuity as a children’s author.


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Beyond capitalism?

Could new technology make the world more free and equal?

With a plethora of scientific and technological developments such as sustainable energy, interstellar mining operations, in vitro (laboratory grown) meat, synthetic biology (from genetic modification to artificial wombs), 3D printing and extensions such as the chemputer we are steadily advancing towards a different kind of world. Towards a world in which energy, food, medicine and resource conflicts could become redundant – a world with no need for the dichotomies of rich and poor, haves and have nots, a world with few limits and Ferraris for all.

Many would see these utopian imaginings as a naive idealism, a mere quixotic fantasy, or even a negative, dystopian drive for ‘progress’, but it seems clear that where once these developments were plain fantasy we are now facing the prospect of a world without need, a world in which suffering can become a thing of the past and some stronger semblance of equality can be easily realised. We can help forge a world in which the current paradigm of capitalism, based on individualism and conspicuous consumption, can fall by the wayside without necessitating a reduction in our living standards or a restriction on our freedoms, be it through authoritarian government or sheer redistribution; these radical technologies can engender unprecedented changes and fantastic realities for the future.

Yet defenders of privilege and conservative fear-mongers will no doubt remain; these thoughts of utopia, free of want, and a realisation of equality are by no means new. Technological developments have been quick to enliven the minds of idealists throughout the ages. Economists at the beginning of Europe’s industrial revolution dreamt of and foresaw the end of want and desire, yet the goal posts consistently changed whilst Malthusian fears remained, continuing to do so to this day as the rich and powerful further their expectations, desires and demands. Early 20th century economists such as Thorstein Veblen helped to develop the Technocratic movement, a utopian dream not dissimilar to Plato’s Republic, the theorising of an egalitarian system of abundance based on constant technological advances, alongside stable socio-political positions, enabling the provision of leisure, education and equality for those nations with adequate natural resources. Veblen dreamt of four-hour working days with a focus on the pursuit of education, sport and design; a fulfilment of Enlightenment ideals, yet greed got the better of us and equality is increasingly a state of reverie.

Of course alarm bells may justly ring at the thought of this technocratic fantasy; devoid of democracy, with the risk of sidelining humanity in a ceaseless pursuit of progress. Yet at least in theory these dreams offer much appeal against the unrestrained and immoral capitalism which sees the rich get richer whilst the poor stagnate as we offer lip service to the virtues of egalitarianism.

Although powerful and dominant groups will always seek to stifle the revolutionary potentials of new technologies, as they have in the past these impending developments look set to see the democratisation of production. Specifically with technologies such as the 3D printer, as resources are gathered from the stars or created ex nihilo (out of nothing) we must question our desires and expectations of the future in earnest. As we have seen from the technological revolutions within the music industry through peer-to-peer sharing applications such as Napster or BitTorrent, 3D printers will only exacerbate issues around intellectual copyright and the sharing of information, attempts at protectionism are already fighting a losing battle against an internet that cannot be reined in by futile laws and restrictions. Intellectual copyrights, protection and internet regulation will increasingly become the fundamental battlegrounds for an equitable society whereby mine and future generation’s openness to sharing will struggle against corporate interests and the established hierarchy.

We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave for future generations and what values we are content to raise our children with. For a start we must move away from insidious individualism and thoughts of personal protectionism. Whilst there is no doubt that these are issues for the future we must begin shifting the paradigm in order to prepare the ground for the changes that will be seen, if not in our lifetimes, but in our children’s. Already we are struggling to reframe the narrative from one of constant employment with lengthy and oppressive working lives to one of employment for all, an end to retirement,  shared workloads and a stronger emphasis on leisure, community work, sport and education.

As the developments outlined earlier move towards reality we must ensure that we do not repeat the failings of the industrial revolution, that we ensure a lifetime of education to the highest standard for all, not simply those who can afford it. Genuine equality must not be viewed as supererogation as these technologies and scientific pursuits are making its actualisation possible. It is therefore up to us to ensure that entire future generations are encouraged to live meaningful lives, and to do so we need to look beyond capitalism.


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Friday 21 September 2012

Between Game of Thrones and Star Wars

King Lear, Almeida Theatre, London

In the middle of that wind-wracked heath, a sapling sprouts; a shoot of green in a barren wasteland. It troubles you all through the interval and, by the time you’ve returned refreshed, so too is the stage. Grass has sprung through the brickwork of Tom Scutt’s labyrinthine castle. There’s an edge of Chenobyl, of nature creeping back in after man has plumbed the depths.

Lear reborn? Surely not? Well, um, yes, actually. Madness is the making of Jonathan Pryce’s king; it swipes humility into vanity’s place. Surrounded by those ‘men of stone’, all costumed in the tones of lichen and limescale, Pryce softens. Many Lears spend the second half glazed and distant, frazzled and out of their minds, so that you see symptoms and abstract frailty above all else. Not Pryce; he scales back after the (admittedly underpowered) episode on the heath, growing steadily more human and never so loopy that he might be dismissed. There’s always connection and, with it, newfound compassion, both to Clive Wood’s Gloucester and Phoebe Fox’s Cordelia.

Nevertheless, Michael Attenborough’s production does very little beyond that. Indeed, it looks and feels mostly like an abstact, non-comittal Lear that could, thanks to Scutt’s warped futurish-medieval costumes (caught between Game of Thrones and Star Wars), date from any point in the last 40 years. Attenborough’s direction – all entrances, tableaux and exits – is becomes rather stilted and repetitious.

What comes out of this, however, is a real sense of the play’s patterns; the double-acts that run through it. Trevor Fox’s gruff Northern Fool, deadpan to the end, clings to Lear’s back as the stormclouds gather; a soul or shadow. Edmund and Edgar battle like clones. Goneril (Zoe Waites) and Regan (Jenny Jules) have an equal share of their father’s flintiness. The stone set, hexagonal and symmetrical, has something of Alice and Wonderland’s hall of doors, as if life were nothing but a sequence of infinite, identical chambers and choice a meaningless concept.

The only other revelation is Fox’s Cordelia. No eye-lash batting innocent, she is absolutely her father’s daughter and her sisters’ sister, matching their mettle whenever necessary. Fox can be stand-offish and sharp-tongued, where Cordelia so often simply wilts. I couldn’t help but wish for more of the same invention and invigoration elsewhere.



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A Drew boy never tells

Choir Boy, Royal Court Upstairs, London

Patience is not a virtue one generally associates with new writing; particularly today, given a development culture that values nimble efficiency so highly. The cry of the dramaturg – ‘Whittle. Whittle’ – can be heard beneath every play that strains its vocabulary through a particular theme so we might spot its territory, if not its purposes, from the off.

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s never been one for gut-busting slogan-heavy plays, but his latest is positively saintly. Bit by bit, scene by scene, it kneads away at its situation, adding layer upon layer and warming to its several themes. Set in an all-black, all-boys American prep school, Choir Boy gently probes at the notion of meaning and the tension between fitting in and standing out.

At first, it looks weighed down by school-set dramas that have gone before. It takes a while for the Charles R Drew School choristers shake off the shadow of Glee, particularly newly-elected choir leader Pharus; gay, bright and intent on turning his pariah-status into an advantage. He’s bullied by Bobby as much for the preferential treatment he’s afforded as his sexuality.

Later, there are strong echoes of Dead Poet’s Society and The History Boys, when a quietly inspirational unorthodox teacher, Mr Pendleton, turns up. McCraney finally moves into Another Country territory with the blossoming of a delicate, surprising love. But McCraney moves beyond archetypes and stock narratives, gently unpicking how these boys see themselves in relation to one another and to history. Overseen by David Burke’s soft-edged Pendleton, a classroom discussion on gospel music, its traditions, contemporary resonance and undercurrents of meaning is particularly intricate. McCraney manages to make every interaction thoroughly political, both within the play’s own narrative and beyond.

But it’s his storytelling that’s particularly adept. Time and again, McCraney seeds an idea two or three scenes before bringing it to fruition, allowing each plot device to bed in and become integral, before twisting the tale. By the time his whodunnit arises – as Pharus is physically assaulted – he has fishy tales and red herrings lined up and waiting. A Drew boy never tells. He allows others the honour of coming clean. The second half grows is finely poised and poignant.

Dominic Cooke’s production boasts the finest young ensemble since The History Boys, too good to be dismissed as ensemble acting. Dominic Smith is a tender Machiavellian as Pharus; Khali Best a well-balanced best friend and Eric Kofi Abrefa conveys the bruises beneath the bully. Throw in some gorgeous gospel-singing and McCraney’s play lets us sit back and chew on its complexities.


Till 6 October 2012


Theatre

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A world without cause or consequence

Julietta, ENO, Coliseum, London

He arrives in a strange town, carrying a little suitcase. He asks the little boy in the fez to take him to the Hotel Voyageur, but the little boy says he can’t because he has no legs. But moments later he does have legs, indeed the very suggestion he might not have legs is absurd. The boy’s father offers to take him to the hotel, then denies there’s any such hotel. This would be a surreal city even if it weren’t in the shape of a giant concertina that expands slowly across the stage.

Nobody here remembers anything, except our central character, Michel. He is only here because of a memory, a woman he heard singing when he visited this town before, as he walked back to the station. Now having memories makes him a VIP here. He sings a trivial story about a toy duckling he had as a child, and the townsfolk wistfully echo ‘Quack quack’ and make him the Commander of the town.
It’s a dreamlike world without cause and effect, where meaning is arbitrary. The music is tuneful and playful, but the orchestra underscores the changeable mood of a situation that can change from high romance to menace without warning. When Michel finds Julietta again, their duet soars with the strings like a moment in Wagner. But does she truly remember him?

In fact, in the forest that lacks landmarks or any sense of distance, she begs him to make up memories of their time together, instead of the disappointingly limited truth. Everyone here is seeking an imaginary past, and they don’t care whose it is. The seller of memories glides across the stage inside a wardrobe, then brings out photographs of a Spanish holiday Michel and Julietta never shared. She doesn’t care, but he does; ‘These are all fantasies, made up. What’s the point of that? I want real things, real memories’.

Written in the 1930s by Bohuslav Martinu, a cosmopolitan Czech with a French wife, and based on a play by French/Russian Georges Neveux, the opera premiered in Prague in 1938. Its poetic surrealism veils a more serious absurdity. What does it mean if our memories are arbitrary, are no more than stories we tell ourselves? If the feelings of love are the same, does it matter if the shared past on which they rest was bought by the yard, or borrowed?

Michel feels that his love is real because it is based on a true memory of a young woman singing at a window. But it seems he is not the only man searching for the lost beloved, Julietta. Is his romantic quest as much a delusion as any of the townspeople’s memories?

Martinu’s vocal lines have a lightness of touch that makes room for comedy as well as romance and jeopardy. The vocal echo is a recurring motif, adding to the sense of unreality and disorientation. Beauty runs through, among the witty instrumentation and dramatic crescendos. But it’s an unsettling beauty, modernist discords upsetting the romantic themes just as the narrative slides about, causeless and unpredictable.

According to the programme notes, the playwright had also been approached by Kurt Weill about adapting Julietta, and only turned him down after hearing Martinu play the first act. It’s interesting to speculate what that version would have been like – darker, perhaps, more pointedly political? (Martinu and his wife would flee across Europe to America only a couple of years after the opera’s premiere).
But Martinu’s opera doesn’t make historically specific links, nor does this production seek to retrospectively impose them. So we’re free to take it on different levels, as philosophy or entertainment, an amusing fantasy or a resonant glimpse into a world without cause or consequence, memory or meaning.


Till 3 October 2012


MusicOpera

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Exquisite nuance and boiling, burning impact

Hedda Gabler, Old Vic Theatre, London

Many critics have quibbled about this latest version of Hedda Gabler, penned by the mighty Brian Friel; the comic touches are distracting, the characters are too broad (ha, this is Ibsen!) and even Hedda herself is a tad over-defined. Bull crap. The fact is a gigantic – nay comic sized - star has been born in the shape of Sheridan Smith. For that, we should all be screaming her name from the rooftops.

Hedda Gabler is often described as the great female role; the Hamlet for the fairer sex. This is a silly comparison. Hamlet vocalises almost everything he feels and the joy in watching an actor take on this role is in seeing how they accent these externalised, internal thoughts. In the case of Hedda, everything is trapped inside. It’s a harder role to play; at least, the route to expression is much more obscure. The actress has little chance to voice her feelings and must resort, instead, to actions. 

It strikes me that Katie Mitchell – a director who is known for advising her actors on the tiniest moves they make – could encourage some extraordinary Ibsen performances. Anna Mackmin is no Katie Mitchell and, Christ, there are some clunky touches in this production. The worst is a penchant for underlining the dramatic moments with music. Ibsen is a master of structure and emphasis. He certainly doesn’t need ominous chords to underscore his drama. It’s all very much there in the text.

Yet Smith rises above this occasionally over-emphatic production to deliver a performance of exquisite nuance and boiling, burning impact. Some critics have labelled Smith’s Hedda an outright bitch. Others have responded more sympathetically. I had a number of conversations in the interval, with excited spectators, all of whom varied wildly in their reactions to Smith’s haughty Hedda. Such animated and spontaneous discussion points to a performance both strong enough to really tussle with, yet flexible enough to wriggle around in and form your own conclusions.

Hedda’s journey from a trapped and fiendishly bored wife to a vicious fiend with her claws exposed can be tracked simply through Smith’s smiles. There’s a rainbow of repression in those stretched grins. Initially, as Hedda and her husband George (Adrian Scarborough) from their honeymoon, Hedda’s smiles are merely a thin veil for her frustrations. They’re the smiles that no doubt many wives have adopted over the years; an attempt to lightly conceal the deepening frustrations of marriage. 

But as the scenes progress and the frustrations deepen, the smiles get tighter and more disturbing. The bigger the smile, the deeper the agony. And when Hedda laughs (such as when she discovers George’s professorship might be in doubt), it’s like a death cry. A horrible screech that reminds us how twisted Hedda’s feelings, Hedda’s soul, has become. It’s as if Hedda’s spirit and energy has been pushed down so deep that it has turned rotten, eating up its host from the inside out. It’s a situation that cannot be sustained. Some might see her death as cowardly. I see it is as brave; a final attempt to kill the ugliness inside her, which she can no longer quench or control.


Till 10 November 2012


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African Caesar

Julius Caesar, Theatre Royal, London

An increasingly wary and superstitious military leader on the cusp of seizing absolute power, overshadowing a fractious ruling elite who in turn oversee a fragile republic, encompassing volatile, powerful but politically disorganised masses … It is not difficult to see how such a scenario could slide into assassination, civil war and further political disintegration. By the same token, it is easy to see how readily Shakespeare’s play about the fall of the Roman republic can be transplanted into the context of post-colonial Africa. This is the premise of Gregory Doran’s gripping new production of Julius Caesar.

On a stage at once evoking a classical Senate chamber and a battle-scarred Third World stadium, Caesar emerges in a blazing white suit with brilliantined hair and fly whisk. Kalashnikov assault rifles and machetes replace daggers and swords, gaudy African kaftans the senatorial robes, the soothsayer becomes a tribal witch-doctor, and African music and dance energise the political debates, rallies and confrontations. But while Doran’s staging triumphantly reaffirms the suppleness of Shakespeare’s language and the modernity of his political themes, his production nonetheless fails to expose any hitherto overlooked dimension of the play or to reinterpret its key ideas. More problematically, Doran’s production also fails in its depiction of the relationship at the core of the play – that between the two leaders of the anti-Caesar faction, Cassius and Brutus.

Nor indeed is the translation of the play into the setting of modern Africa consistently successful. In depicting the terrifying murder of Cinna the poet as a tyre-and-petrol ‘necklacing’ by a mob searching for Caesar’s assassins, a mode of execution reserved for those accused of collaborating with apartheid here becomes simply a cipher for African turmoil and factional violence. Nor is the portrayal of Caesar as an aging, slight Mugabe-esque figure fully convincing, as it is difficult to see this fading despot, blustering about being the ‘elder and more terrible twin’ to the lion of Danger, as a military leader fresh from the victory celebrated in the opening of the first act – nor as a chief still sufficiently virile as to retain loyalty as fierce as that displayed by the charismatic and ruthless Marc Anthony.

A new setting for a classic play may be applied more or less consistently. But for the new framework to truly revitalise the play, it has to be about more than substituting one set of props and costumes for another, or indeed about the actors’ accents and skin colour. Despite all the effort and daring at threading Shakespeare’s play through the modern African context, in some fundamental respects Doran’s production is simply conventional. Brutus is offered us as the protagonist whose presence and introspection is supposed to cohere the play as a whole. The moment of Caesar’s assassination itself is cynically played as rank hypocrisy, as if the bloody hands of the conspirators alone are sufficiently ironic as to undermine their cries of ‘Liberty, freedom, enfranchisement!’ – leaving Shakespeare’s prior series of powerful, conflicting political arguments across the first part of the play as mere empty rhetoric.

With the first three acts speedily running together, the play is powered along by a superb ensemble cast: Ray Fearon as Marc Anthony powerfully portrays the transition from handsome, blithesome follower of Caesar to ruthless, dominant triumvir, delivering a mesmerising soliloquy over Caesar’s body when he prophecies civil war as the terrible price to be paid for Caesar’s death. In playing the power-hungry autocrat, Jeffery Kissoon convincingly blends superstitious paranoia with childish credulity and delight as he is lured to his death by the promise of more accolades and adulation. Even the comparatively minor roles are well played: the sardonic, snobbish conspirator Caska (Joseph Mydell), the quick-thinking Decius (Andrew French) who convinces Caesar to venture forth on the Ides of March, and a hulking Metellus Cimber (Mark Theodore) – all commanding effective stage presences without relying on the kinetic bombast and bellowing of some of their peers. 

Unfortunately the weakest links in the chain are the two most important – the two leaders of the anti-Caesarist conspiracy, Cassius and Brutus, played by Cyril Nri and Paterson Joseph, respectively. Joseph is certainly the weaker of the two, with the least convincing rendition of an African accent and a performance that oscillates between flippant clownishness to pompous yawping. His funeral oration for Caesar is delivered too breezily and briskly to effectively convey the elegance of Shakespeare’s argument for the legitimacy of the assassination, undercutting the subsequent effect of Anthony’s even more powerful speech that rallies the populace to Caesarism.

Even in Joseph’s case however, it is less a question of the actor’s skill than the choices made in the direction of the production as a whole. In Brutus’ suicide scene for instance Shakespeare has the soldier Strato as the last man to see Brutus alive. Here, Strato is bizarrely replaced by Brutus’ dopey young servant, Lucius (again, superbly played by Simon Manyonda), injecting unneeded levity into a poignant scene where the complete rout of the anti-Caesarist faction – and the crushing of their hopes for liberty – has to be unwaveringly conveyed. Although delivering a convincing performance, Nri’s Cassius here is played as a harried man, driven to pre-emptively strike at Caesar before Caesar strikes at him. Cassius’ brilliant, elegantly-constructed arguments to convince Brutus of the threat Caesar poses to the republic are thus rapidly delivered out of personal desperation, not with the careful forethought that would be needed to win Brutus to a plot as intricately planned and broadly-based as Cassius’ is. Played as agitated and emotionally unstable, the focus, strategic rationality and organisational skills of the character of Cassius dissipate: his contempt for the superstition, pusillanimity and irresponsibility of Rome’s leaders collapses into an unbalanced search for his own personal security.

It is in choosing to portray Brutus and Cassius in this fashion that the main fault of the production lies – specifically, in the lack of complimentarity between their characters, whose fraught but mutually dependent relationship is the mainstay of the play. One of the longstanding debates attached to JuliusCaesar is identifying the protagonist of the play, given that the title character is dead by the start of the third act and delivers far fewer lines than his brooding assassin, Brutus. For all his thoughtfulness and introspection, Brutus’ role in the drama is too limited to cohere the play, for he must be led by Cassius, who tells him he ‘will modestly discover to yourself / That of yourself which you yet know not of’. Despite all his political acumen and psychological insight, Cassius is in turn dependent on Brutus. He wavers more than once in the play, needing to lean on Brutus’ confidence. Not only does he need Brutus to be the public face of the uprising but also, against his better judgement, Cassius gives way to Brutus’ elegantly phrased but spurious reasoning at two crucial junctures: when he bends to Brutus’ magnanimity in refusing to mount a full-scale purge following Caesar’s death, and when he concedes to Brutus’ bald strategy of frontal attack instead of holding their ground, resulting in their military defeat at Philippi.

Brutus has the nobility, restraint and public adulation that the haughty Cassius lacks; Cassius the ruthlessness, cunning and energy that the dignified Brutus lacks – complimentary qualities that they fail to blend into lasting, joint success. Therein lies the tragedy of the play and the centrality of Caesar to it. For were these two flawed, mutually dependent characters fused into one single, politically self-sufficient leader able to impose their vision on the republic that person would be … Caesar, their enemy, the only figure able to sublimate the antagonisms and rivalries of Rome’s fissiparous elite.

While Doran’s Brutus and Cassius have flaws aplenty as well as the bickering and political disagreements of a fraught and doomed partnership, the performances have not been designed in such a way as to deliver the personae bound up with the language of Shakespeare’s political arguments. Unforgivably pitched by the RSC as a brisk ‘thriller’ of political succession rather than the tragedy that Shakespeare intended, the meaning of characters’ choices and the dignity of the doomed struggle against Caesar is blunted, for Caesarism is inescapable. In conceitedly musing ‘How many / ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown?’, Cassius is oblivious to the irony that in murdering Caesar he has immortalised him.


Now touring


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National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Contemporary Writers
New writers, new works, databased by the British Council

Pen Pusher
London-based free literary magazine

Story
Celebrate the short story!

Orange Prize
Only the fairer sex need apply

Man Booker Prize
Literary Prize of the Finest Quality

Granta
The up and coming speak

The Bookseller
Infused with news from the world of books

International Pen
Writers around the world campaign for freedom of expression

Serpent’s Tail
Independent publisher for experimental voices

Random House
Fiction from the biggest publisher around

Edinburgh Book Festival
Books books and discussing books galore

Jewish Book Week
Celebrating, discussing and critiquing Jewish Lit


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Battle of Ideas

Institute of Contemporary Arts

Intelligence Squared

Gresham College

LSE Public Lectures

Fabian Society Events

Exhibitions and Talks at the British Library



Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for this year’s Battle of Ideas festival.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Internet Movie Database
IMDB - does exactly what it says on the tin

BFI
British Film Institute’s Finest

BFI’s Sight and Sound
World cinema eating its heart out

They shoot pictures, don’t they?
Dedicated to the art of directing

Barbican Film
Some of the most innovative films in town

ICA Film
Independent, political and art-house gorge-fest

National Media Museum
Not nearly as bad as it sounds

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Internet Movie Database
IMDB - does exactly what it says on the tin

BFI
British Film Institute’s Finest

BFI’s Sight and Sound
World cinema eating its heart out

They shoot pictures, don’t they?
Dedicated to the art of directing

Barbican Film
Some of the most innovative films in town

ICA Film
Independent, political and art-house gorge-fest

National Media Museum
Not nearly as bad as it sounds

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.