Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Noisy nights in Dublin 3

In 1992 I drew a series of logos for the Irish music magazine Hot Press. Here are some of the better ones. This was one of the very last jobs of my time in Dublin as I moved to London in the summer of that year.

The cinema illustration below was also from this job.

Earlier posts in this series on Dublin music drawings here and here.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Investment advice

Above, a nest-egg, or more simply, an egg.

Below, here it is again with all the other eggs, in one basket. The mistake is an obvious one, and it's not even a very sturdy looking basket.

Counting chicks would certainly be most premature in these circumstances. But should you be lucky enough to be see your investment mature, then simply counting will not be enough to ascertain the true value of your capital gain. Below is a device that you may find helpful.

All images from The Henwife by the Hon. Mrs. Arbuthnott, published by Thomas C. Jack, 45 Ludgate Hill, London, in the year 1887.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Wanna date?

Check out the action at Uncle Eddie's Dating Agency!

A couple of earlier Uncle Eddie favorites: The Poet, and Cicero's "Right Reason".

Motive 2

Marko Attila Hoare writes today:

"Perhaps one day someone will write their PhD dissertation on the reasons why stoppers and other ‘anti-war’ types are so repetitive in making the point that Western leaders are motivated by self-interest rather than altruism. I think it has something to do with the moral legacy of Protestantism, whereby what matters is purity of inner belief rather than outwardly appearing to do good: salvation through faith alone, rather than salvation through good works."

Marko Attila Hoare's post, Antiwar ad absurdum - the Madagascar Plan as an alternative to the Holocaust, is in reaction to an opinion piece by former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby, arguing that "it is likely that, if Britain had made peace in 1940 after the fall of France, the Jews would have been sent to Madagascar." More reaction to his lunacy can be found on Normblog. Mr Wilby is partly inspired by a new book by Nicholson Baker titled Human Smoke. Oliver Kamm's review of that book can be found here.

Related posts: Motive, and Motive 3.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Narcissus at the movies 2

The Lives of Others

On The Lives of Others, wasn't it curious how the glamorous playwright hero and his glamorous actress partner lived in a pad filled with lovely objects, like one of the more beautiful homes in Hampstead, while the Stasi spy lived in a miserable tower block, and had no eye for interior design?

I have little enthusiasm for the idea promoted in the film that there's a direct correlation between a taste for art and a strong moral sense. The secret policeman goes through his life unable to empathise with his fellow humans, but his heart opens to Art. And to Brecht at that!

In the ending of the film, after the playwright learns of all the Stasi man did to protect them, he avoids making direct human contact with the ex-Stasi spy, now apparently living in poverty, but instead uses his story to relaunch a writing career, and the ex-Stasi man gets a book dedicated to him as a reward. How nice, for Art is after all the most important thing. That, and getting your name in print.

I suspect a great deal of this film's success had to do with flattering the audience. "We're people who appreciate art, we read good books, appreciate fine music, go to see interesting foreign films - we love Art, so of course we're good people, and would have been even in the GDR."

To read opinions from people who actually liked the film, go to IMDB.
Update, more opinions and information here.

Previously in this series: Hiroshima mon amour.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Pushing paint about

The head was hard enough, but look at those mitts now! And there's more waiting after this. And the to-do lists have been out of control for months now. And the children don't know the meaning of sleep. Oh, I'm going to have nightmares about painting the paws.

Delicacy is what's needed, not these heavy-handed hams.

Monday, 21 April 2008

A children’s reader on law

When one of my children was still a baby, I dreamt they were reading a hitherto unknown book by Dr Seuss titled The Little Lawyer. I was obviously a parent with ambitions! While I've never come across that book in waking life, I've had my eye out for children's literature that might serve in a children's reader on law.

One candidate would be EB White's Stuart Little, in particular chapter twelve, The Schoolroom. I'm currently reading Richard Reeves' biography of John Stuart Mill, but despite carrying it round for the whole of the Easter holiday, I'm still several hundred pages away from finishing it. Stuart Little is definitely an easier place to start thinking about similar ideas.

In chapter twelve, Stuart Little, a boy who seems very much like a mouse, takes on the job of substitute teacher for a day. His students agree enthusiastically with his suggestion to skip arithmetic, and he is just as short with the subjects of spelling, writing and social studies.

Instead he proposes a discussion on the topic of "the King of the World", modified to Chairman of the World when one child objects that kings are old-fashioned. There follows an examination of what laws will be needed if Stuart is to be Chairman of the World.

"Don't eat mushrooms, they might be toadstools," is one suggestion, but Stuart points out that this is "merely a bit of friendly advice," and "law is much more solemn than advice."

"Nix on swiping anything" is then the first law agreed upon, but the following suggestion, "never poison anything but rats," is rejected by Stuart as unfair to rats. An extended discussion of rat rights ensues.

A law against fighting is proposed, but rejected as impractical. "Men like to fight," says Stuart, "but you're getting warm."

Finally they come up with "absolutely no being mean," as their second law. There follows an energetic bit of role-play as Stuart and the children try out their new legal system.

The laws agreed upon are unexceptional, perhaps. The interesting part is in the laws rejected, and the arguments made.

There are many other pleasures in Stuart Little aside from the condensed legal argument, and the drawings by Garth Williams are wonderful of course. (I've written a bit about some books for younger readers illustrated by him over here.) The film of Stuart Little should be avoided. 

UPDATE: Here’s a very interesting article on the history of Stuart Little, The Lion and the Mouse by Jill Lepore, from The New Yorker, July 21 2008.

Illustration copyright renewed © Garth Williams, 1973

Narcissus at the movies

Hiroshima mon amour

A week has gone by since I saw this film for the first time, somewhere underground in a private film club run by a friendly relative.

Afterwards there was talk, tea and cake, and more talk. I'm not familiar with the mass of criticism written on this film, but I have poked about on the web since, and from the little sample I've read and the response of some in the audience, I suspect that my view of the film may not be shared by the majority, though a few may feel similarly.

If you haven’t seen the film, the following may be of little interest, but nonetheless you can read a short synopsis and find links to reviews on IMDB.

A very short version of the plot: A married French woman who is in Hiroshima to perform in a film about the bomb, has an affair with a married Japanese man. She tells him of an affair she had as a young woman with a German soldier in Nevers, during the occupation of France.

One fellow in the audience wrote later, amongst other things:  "The more I have thought about the woman in Hiroshima, the more I have questioned whether the events she described really happened. Or whether they really happened to her, since we know that such events did take place. We are in the area of false memory, or simply, fabrication. She is an actress, playing an actress, playing an actress, &c, and I don't remember what he was, but he had great suits."

I also found myself suspicious of the account she gives of her past to her lover, and impatient with it too!

Her being an actress also occurred to me as possibly relevant. The man in the film was an architect, a good career in postwar Japan one might imagine, not just in Hiroshima, but also in the many other cities which saw similar loss of life through firebombing.

Perhaps his career is as much a clue as hers. She turns disaster into a performance, he finds a good opportunity to shine in the rubble. There was a good deal of attention paid in the film to filming the modern postwar architecture of the museum and the hotel.

During some of the cake and tea conversations after the main discussion, a couple of further points came up. A key one for me was the meaning of the title. 'Hiroshima my love' emphasises for me the narcissistic possessive nature of her response to the story of the city and the bomb. And her response is to the story as she didn't experience the event. The story of the deaths of tens of thousands at Hiroshima becomes a reflection of her own story of suffering in Nevers, France, a story which involves the death of another, but is firmly focused on herself.

Similarly the architect's pleasure in hearing that he is the first to hear her story of her past in Nevers is a narcissistic possessive response, a mirror of her response to visiting the city. While he said to her 'you didn't see Hiroshima' he fails to realise that he has not truly heard about Nevers. 

Rather than being about internal memory, the film seems more about the stories we tell about the past. Her memories are experienced through the story she tells. The film within the film is a story about the bomb. The museum is a story about the bomb, her description of the exhibits being 'as accurate as possible' only serving to underline the exhibition's removal from the actual event. (It reminds me of a joke by a comedian whose name I've long forgotten, where he came home to find he'd been burgled. Everything had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. Edit: found his name - it was Steven Wright.)

The most glaring omission from her story of Nevers, of the consequences of the affair with the German soldier, is the complete absence of any account of her choice in entering into the relationship, and in continuing it over some time. It was described as something that happened to her, rather than something she chose. The pictures show her as active, constantly going to the soldier, but her words never examine her part in shaping events, rather describing herself as a victim of circumstance.

Similarly the accounts of the Hiroshima bomb are stripped of circumstance, of individual responsibility. She speaks at one point in generalisations of how these things will always continue to happen as long as one nation seeks to dominate another, one race another, one class another, without any reference to who tried to dominate who either in Asia or in Europe. And later the parade of banners staged for the film within the film follows this pattern of avoiding specifics of politics and history to describe the bomb as the result of humans being more developed scientifically than politically, and conclude that 'therefore the human species forfeits our respect'. So what begins as a commemoration of mass murder ends in having no respect for humanity, and within the language of vague pacifism can be heard the seeds of totalitarianism.

At the one point in her wandering the streets monologue where she fantasises about staying with her lover in in Hiroshima, she describes her urge as transgressive and morbidly destructive. She applies this to a fantasy of the future, but as she is substituting the soldier with the architect in her speech, surely this characterisation should be tried out on her past in Nevers, and if Nevers is a narcissistic substitution for Hiroshima, do we bring the characterisation back to wartime Japan?

There is a strong contrast between the absence of recognition of personal choice in her account of Nevers and the choices she makes in her affair with the architect in Hiroshima. While she seems swept off her feet by love, she is determined to maintain control. Her departure is set, she will return to her briefly mentioned husband and children. She plays at loss of control. As she walks at night she imagines him taking her by the shoulders and her losing control, but without him giving her this excuse she doesn't make the choice she fantasises about. If he had acted as she'd fantasised, would she have followed through? It seems doubtful. The fantasy of being married in to her German soldier in Bavaria seems equally doubtful. Certainly it seems unlikely as a lost happy ending, considering that all indications are that her appetite for morbidly destructive transgression predated the death of the soldier.

The above illustration was commissioned for a film column in the Irish magazine Hot Press in 1992.

More cinematic narcissism in a follow up post on The Lives of Others.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Noisy nights in Dublin 2

Here's one I missed out in the earlier set of posters drawn for Dublin bands in the early '90s, again for The Mexican Pets. And below, from around the same time, poster art commissioned by The Golden Horde, but not used.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Conflict corrupts

Mean Military Man Makes Meal of Miserable Masses

The line about absolute power corrupting absolutely made some sense in the context of the argument for which it was coined, but it tends to mislead I think.

It encourages the view that those most likely to be corrupt are the most powerful, that those most deserving of sympathy in any conflict are the weakest party.

This doesn't seem to have been the author's intention - the original phrase begins with 'power tends to corrupt', not power corrupts. One could equally say powerlessness tends to corrupt. Isn't it harder to be selfless and moral in a state of extreme poverty, than in a state of comfort?

Now to the urgent application of the question: war. It cannot be right that if two parties are at war, the most powerful can automatically be considered the most corrupt. Yet this is the view that appeals to so many, the romantic view of resistance, of David versus Goliath, of individuals versus the system. It may have some truth in a particular situation - often it does not. 

All too often relative weakness leads to ruthlessness, to the justification of 'any means necessary', to attacks on the most vulnerable targets rather than the most justifiable, to terror. And too often the assumption that 'powerful' equals 'corrupt' leads to excuses being made on behalf of the weaker party, the ruthless and murderous weaker party, because they are weak and therefore cannot be corrupt.

So my preferred variation of 'power tends to corrupt' is 'conflict corrupts'. It corrupts the powerful and the weak. It corrupts in war, in politics, in business. The moment conversation turns to argument, the moment there is something to be won or lost, the temptation is there to reach for any weapon, just or unjust.

Conflict is unavoidable. The hardest part of engaging in conflict is to avoid one's own corruption.

The above illustration of the world divided into northern corrupt holders of power, and southern powerless victims was published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, in 1994. This simplistic depiction may be more understandable if I tell you it was commissioned to illustrate a review of a book by Noam Chomsky, someone seemingly in thrall to the notion that the most powerful party is always the most corrupt, as well as being himself a good illustration of the temptation of corruption in argument.

At the time I was quite pleased with the clever-clogs hemisphere-as-helmet and hemisphere-as-soupbowl idea. For balance maybe I should post the portrait I painted of Bush Sr for the Sunday Business Post a few years earlier, published on their front page during the buildup to the first Gulf War. I was also quite proud of that one as a high technical achievement done to a short deadline.

Maid of Amsterdam

All together now, sing along with Captain Haddock!

Thanks to Bo for spotting the song.

Extract from Hergé's Explorers on the Moon copyright © Casterman, text copyright © Egmont UK Ltd.

Extract from Burl Ives' Sea Songs of Sailing, Whaling and Fishing copyright © 1956 Burl Ives

Monday, 14 April 2008

Oliver Kamm: Methods of genocide denial

Posted today, a piece by Oliver Kamm with news for any Sleeping Beauties just roused from long slumber, that genocide denial is not a practice exclusive to the far right:

It's not often realised that (as Paul Berman rightly notes in his Terror and Liberalism) Holocaust denial began on the French Left. The first person systematically to advance the proposition that the Holocaust was a hoax perpetrated by international Jewry was Paul Rassinier, a French Socialist and Resistance fighter who had indeed been imprisoned at Buchenwald. There is a fine biography of him by Nadine Fresco, Fabrication d'un antisémite, 1999.

Read the rest here.

Norm: Guns, prejudice and religion

Norman Geras writes today on Obama's recent remarks, characterised by some as elitist and condescending:

Talking about the response of white working-class voters to job losses and economic hardship, what Obama said was:
They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
And the thing I find striking about this is that religion is in there alongside guns, antipathy to other (different) people, and anti-immigrant sentiment - in there as a symptom of bitterness and frustration. It seems to me a rather odd inclusion for someone who, as a believer himself, presumably has an understanding of religion that is different from one which might be offered by an unbeliever. He or she - the unbeliever - may think of religion as merely a symptom of lack, of frustration, unhappiness, grief or fear of death. But those for whom the content of religion is true need no other reason for their belief than that they think it is true. Of course, they might still turn to it in times of frustration and such. Yet it seems odd, even so, to list it next to guns and ethnic prejudice. For a man of faith, they were ill-chosen words indeed.

Could it be that Obama's view of religion is exactly that implied by the quote? That his practice of it is cynically political, due to a view of black working-class voters equivalent to his view of white working-class voters? 

Edit - added 30 April:
There is a more generous interpretation possible than the one I made above, that he is divided in his own mind, with a longing to belong, but a critical faculty that prevents complete belief. It's also possible that being forced to change his mind on some aspects of his religious life, he is now also questioning others.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Hello Sailor

Home from a week at the seaside, and back to painting, painting, painting.