03 December 2013
The core of Stefan Zweig’s magnificent story Chess is summarised in the observation, ‘the more a man restricts himself the closer he is, conversely, to infinity’. This is said of Mirko Czentovic, a grandmaster who knows nothing but chess; he can barely communicate and has no social skills, he inhabits the game and the world is, to him, just the place where it is played. Nothing can lie beyond chess, it is, therefore, infinity.
Published in 1942, the year of Zweig’s … More
30 November 2013
I am a Manchester City fan so you can aim off for a degree of prejudice in what follows. I also think more about photography than anything else at the moment so you can also aim off for obsession.
‘For his 40th birthday @ManUtd have published a pic of Ryan Giggs in a fascist pose with a violent caption. Classy’
This tweet produced some odd responses: bafflement, derision and one responder who said it was ‘just’ a head … More
06 September 2013
The concave glass walls of Rafael Vinoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street in the City of London focus sunlight so effectively that they melted parts of a parked car, a Jaguar XJ to be exact. Vinoly’s earlier building, the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, singed the hair of at least one visitor by the same mechanism. The fact that nobody in the City of London noticed this in the planning process is a very funny comment on the continued competence of our … More
03 September 2013
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity – a ‘fall’ blockbuster as they say – is a post-human film. Its two stars – George Clooney and Sandra Bullock – could have been played by robots. Clooney plays a standard non-threatening alpha male with a gruff manner and one minor character quirk – an urge to tell stories. Bullock plays her usual sweaty, scared but, when the chips are down, brave and competent woman in a life-threatening crisis. Algorithms for either performance would taken an … More
31 August 2013
Staying at Mountain Village in the Colorado Rockies, I need to catch what the locals call the gondola but we would call a cable car to get down to Telluride. I start at about 9000 feet above sea level. The car first rises up to 10,500 feet and then falls 2000 feet to drop me downtown where the Film Festival is in progress.
For 13 minutes I skim through the ghostly aspens. I have not yet been alone. People jump into … More
27 August 2013
In the early years of Thatcher I remember a conversation with a triumphant right-winger (a self-described bastard) in which he snorted with disdain about ‘people who care.’ I knew what he meant and I still do. On the one hand there is the whole caring industry, always seeking out new ways in which we must care; on the other hand there is the bloated welfare state with all its injustices and ineffectiveness.
Personally, being hyper-empathetic (or so I am told (critically)), … More
22 August 2013
Arianna Huffington has decided to end commenter anonymity at the Huffington Post. Our conversation, she tells me, was ‘very important in my decision’. In my article wrote, ‘Somebody has to teach the internet companies some basic logic – anonymity and free speech are incompatible – and Arianna is in a position to do it.’ As many people don’t seem to understand this point, I had better explain.
Anonymity has been claimed by internet utopians as an aspect of free … More
21 August 2013
I can’t stop thinking about the hair of Michaella McCollum, one of the British drug ‘mules’ arrested in Peru. It is extravagant, absurd, a swollen cushion drawing unflattering attention to her long face and neck. As is that weren’t enough, she is wearing a tee shirt bearing the legend ‘La Vie est Belle’. She is doing everything she can to appear to be ‘living the dream’of youth. Fame is one necessary component of that dream, of course, and … More
20 August 2013
It is immensely satisfying to see Thomas Nagel writing in the New York Times today simply to restate the arguments of his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. (There’s something roguishly clumsy about that sub-title.) It is satisfying because the book was widely (and predictably) trashed by materialist neo-Darwinians, some even suggesting that Nagel, a great philosopher, had cracked or gone completely insane. And yet here he is, not … More
19 August 2013
‘It’s like a kind of close-up magic,’ he writes, ‘where you can see exactly what’s going on – nothing special, no tricks, see – and then suddenly… Hey presto!’
I know exactly what he means, having embarrassed my wife by bursting into uncontrollable sobs after seeing Satyajit Ray’s film The Big City.
As with Nige’s experience of Cather, you can’t see what Ray’s is doing until suddenly you realise he … More