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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Wednesday
May262010

In Which We Fell One Of The Greats

at his wedding

The Poet and the Dreamer

by KINGSLEY AMIS

Acquaintance with school examination scripts and with the tastes (or professed tastes) of young people entering the university will suggest that Keats is still the teacher's favourite poet. After all, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and the rest of the train require interpretation, textual or ideological: Keats can be read without a glossary and he believed simply in Beauty.

This immediacy of appeal is reinforced by the straightforwardly romantic subject-matter of the verse and by the engaging personality, tragic life and high aspirations of the poet; nobody, it seems unmistakable, was ever more of a poet than Keats. Most adolescents of any sensitivity will respond with an enthusiasm they may still recall when, bloody but unbowed after their struggles with pass degree, diploma, appointments board and head teacher, they in their turn face the task of implanting tolerance for poetry in the twelve-year old mind.

kingsley with first wife hilly
Any favourable attitude towards any verse must be better than none, and yet the results of an early inoculation with Keats may prove an obstacle to further literary development. If Keats is to be the ideal poet, ideal poetry too readily becomes a tissue of affectionate descriptions of nice things interrupted by occasional complaints that the real world is insufficiently productive of those nice things, and if any pupil should wonder what the dales of Arcardy have got to do with him, then the answer is that poetry deals with 'the world of the imagination', i.e. not with the real world.

Those who undertake to break down such a preconception are likely to suffer from conscience trouble. Is it worth the risk of removing one enjoyment and not managing to substitute a 'better'? Might it not be safer to push the chaps on with their Keats and with the poems that can, with whatever distortion, be assimilated to Keats: 'Christabel', 'Oenone', Paradise Lost (first two books only, of course), snippets from The Faerie Queene?

A rational reading of Keats, whatever the long-term result, is initially destructive. An uneasy suspicion of this is discernible even at the height of the cult in the late nineteenth century. Sidney Colvin, noting a 'dissonance' - or, more accurately, a piece of poetical fudging - in the 'Ode to a Grecian Urn,' remarks consolingly that 'it is a dissonance which the attentive reader can easily reconcile for himself: and none but an attentive reader will notice it.' The attentive reader will have little time for Colvin's book, the recent reissue of which, seventy years after its first publication, motivates some depression.

Kingsley and Hilary in the mid-1950s with, from left, Sally, Philip and Martin.
One imagines it already winging its way to the shelves of school libraries, where its adulatory portraiture and innocent assertion of its subject's greatness will inspire another legion of essays maundering about the way 'the poetry seems to throb in every line with the life of imagination and beauty' in that sugary erotic extravaganza 'The Eve of St Agnes'.

Even in his best poems Keats devotes himself too uncritically to 'the world of the imagination.' Even the 'Ode to the Nightingale', though containing passages which must delight the most jaded, is full of frigidities, of appeals to the remote and merely fanciful. What else are the references to hemlock, Lethe, the Dryad (tautologously described as 'of the trees'), Flora, the blushful Hippocrene (seen as a kind of Greek red sparkling Burgundy, and apparently sedimented at that, Bacchus and his pards (brought in to effect a translation into poetese of the unpoetical notion of getting drunk)?

Such entities are, as Jeffrey observed of the subject of 'Hyperion', 'too far removed from all the sources of human interest.' And to string together counters of this kind, to use 'Olympus' faded hierarchy' as correlatives for what are evidently the most passionate feelings, was a favourite procedure with Keats, as can be seen at a glance at the 'Ode to Psyche' or the 'Ode on Melancholy.'

Poetry was for Keats a matter of 'O Poesy', of Apollo, the Muses and inspired bards. This connects with his attitude to the actual business of writing. According Robert Graves (I cannot track this anecdote), Keats used to dress up in poetic robes and laurel crown to encourage the afflatus. And if Apollo did come through on the line with a personal call, the divine message was not to be tampered with; poetry must come as naturally as leaves to the tree. Keats was too intelligent to believe this all the time, but when he revised his verse at all the task was always scamped and he never became a conscientious craftsman. Shoddily worked sonnets would be thrown off and dispatched to friends the same day, to reappear unaltered in print; he knew Endymion needed radical rewriting, but 'I am tired of it' and 'it is not in my nature to fumble' — in other words, to take undue trouble.

martin amis, elizabeth jane howard and kingsley Endymion, as the Quarterly Review soon pointed out, was scattered with awkwardnesses forced upon, or rather suggested to, the poet by the exigencies of rhyme. Such faults reappear throughout the whole of Keats' work, partly because of his habit of selecting forms that require several rhymes to the same sound.

with john lennon

These forms were chosen capriciously, without regard to their appropriateness or to his own capacities, on occasion merely because they happened to be used by poets he happened to admire. It was only an admiration for Paradise Lost  that eventually took him to blank verse, where common sense might have taken him before 1818. Even the Odes, written for once in original stanza forms, are disfigured by Endymion-like crudities: the 'deceiving elf' of the 'Nightingale', for instance, an incarnation into which 'the Fancy' is recklessly crammed to save having to fumble with the rhyming line, and the two analogous defects of the first stanza - 'emptied...to the drains' (sc. not 'poured down the drain' but 'drained, drunk off') retained to rhyme with 'pains', and 'melodious plot' (so glaringly inappropriate, with its connections with cultivation) retained to rhyme with 'happy lot.'

It is the middle stanzas of the poems — I take it as fairly representing the mature Keats — that its merit chiefly lies, in the unforgettable entrancing picture of the wood itself, and in the poet's confession, of an unwonted sobriety in style, that he finds himself 'half in love with easeful Death.' Here, by chance, there are no technical flaws, and here too, of set purpose, the classical lumber is stowed away.

That English strain which Dr. Leavis rightly notes as a characteristic of Keats at his finest comes to the fore. In addition, the poet is talking about himself, not a Delphic simulacrum of himself, and has something to say about human existence, not a wish-fulfilling caricature of it. But it is only here, and in the induction of the revised 'Hyperion', that Keats fulfilled for more than a line or two his often-made promise to treat of 'the agonies, the strife of human hearts', to become one of those 'to whom the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let them rest.'

To exalt into greatness one whose achievement was actually that of an often delightful, if often awkward, decorative poet may have, as was suggested above, harmful consequences. Any presumption that Keats might in time have become a major artist is cast in doubt by the fact that it is unpromising theories about poetry that derive from defects of character, quite as much as bad influences and the results of illness, which vitiate his existing work.

kingsley photographed by fay godwin
The kind of writer he might have become is indicated in his letters:

Imagine the worst dog-kennel you ever saw, placed upon two poles from a mouldy fencing. In such a wretched thing sat a squalid old woman, squat like an ape half-starved from a scarcity of biscuit in its passage from Madagascar to the Cape, with a pipe in her mouth and looking out with a round-eyed, skinny-lidded inanity, with a sort of horizontal idiotic movement of her hand: squat and lean she sat, and puffed out the smoke, while two ragged, tattered girls carried her along. What a thing would be a history of her life and sensations!

But that was not the kind of subject that 'a glorious denizen' of Poesy's wide heaven could undertake.

POSTSCRIPT 1970:

This now strikes me as a rather clever undergraduate essay (pretty good, that is to say, compared with most of the undergraduate essays I remember). I would not want to withdraw or mitigate any of the nasty remarks about Keats' technical shortcomings and their connection with a self-indulgence deeply embedded in his mind and heart, and to this day I find it genuinely curious that anybody should have written (as M.R. Ridley did) a whole volume called Keats' Craftsmanship: surely a candidate for that shortest-books series along with Canadian Wit and Humour, Great Marxist Humanitarians, and The Vein of Humility in D.H. Lawrence.

However, I neglected to celebrate, or took for granted, that tremendous originality and audaciousness which were far beyond any mere 'decorative' quality and, by making poetry personal, so to speak democratized it. When Keats opened the Nightingale ode by writing, 'My heart aches', he was writing about his own heart and nobody else's. Earlier poems in the first person had had the name of some other character invisibly prefixed to them, normally an idealized or anyway carefully trimmed version of the poet, often, indeed, the Poet, which figure does a good deal of talking in Wordsworth's anecdotal and autobiographical verse. Keats' ability to cut through all that — an ability that must have sprung from the same root as his self-indulgence — made it possible for anybody at all to identify with him in the process of reading the poem.

The results of that 'democratization', like others, may not have been altogether happy, but like them, they were inevitable. Whatever the detail of Keats' performance, this achievement is such that no one who has never thought him the greatest poet in the world, no matter for how brief a period, has any real feeling for literature.

Kingsley Amis died in 1995. He is the author of over twenty novels.

with young Martin Amis

"Summer Begs" - Sarah Jaffe (mp3)

"Pretender" - Sarah Jaffe (mp3)

"Vulnerable" - Sarah Jaffe (mp3)

"Better Than Nothing" - Sarah Jaffe (mp3)

Tuesday
May252010

In Which We Deal With An Obstructed View

Dancing of the Swans

by GEORGIA MIDDLETON

Before we moved, my parents had a medium sized wardrobe against the wall in their bedroom. It was about shoulder height and doubled-doored, with a little bronze handle. One door didn’t close properly and so an old piece of thick cardboard was wedged in to keep it shut. It had a fantastic woody smell. The top was home to a collection of family photos.

The largest photo was of my dad. It was black and white and the frame, thin black – about half an inch in width. He looked about twenty years old which would have made it about 1973. He had a moustache and long curled hair. In the picture, he was sitting on an old horse cart wearing a sturdy pair of dusted-up riding boots back dropped against a dense collection of gumtrees. He isn’t smiling, but he looks happy. During those years, my dad spent a lot of time on farms. Most of his friends lived in the country and for school holidays would return home. Dad went too. He spent summers jackarooing on properties around New South Wales; although how I know this I’m not sure, because we’ve never sat down and talked about it. In fact, we haven’t sat down and talked about anything in a really long time.

When I was about six or seven, he took me to the ballet. It was in the city, where though, I can’t quite remember. We went to see Swan Lake. Details of this outing escape me, such as why we went, or why it was just the two of us. What I do remember is sitting in the theatre, mesmerized by the swans dancing across the stage; long limbed and puffed white silk tulle. I don’t ever recall feeling a desire to be a ballerina, but something that day definitely impressed me. After the ballet, we walked across the Harbour Bridge.

We were on the eastern side and the sky was darkening pink. The sun was lowering behind us in the west. We stopped in the middle of the bridge, up against the steel barrier and looked out over the harbour. I was too small for an unobstructed view and Dad lifted me up. He taught me how to spit from the bridge. In my memory, we spend hours spitting over the edge. In reality, it was probably a lot less. I remember saying one of my spits hit a bald man’s head on a boat going under the bride, and when telling people this later, he always stuck by it as though it were truth. As a six year old I really believed that I had and Dad allowed me to believe so too. I’ll never forget how naughty it felt to spit off the bridge and that my dad was letting me do it. These moments are important to children, to engage in mischievous behaviour, joined by an adult – to know they’re really on your side too. He told me I wasn’t allowed to tell Mum and this was probably one of the few times in my life where I didn’t. It was our secret.

In later days, my dad played Barbies with me. At the time, I remember thinking that he should have felt lucky to be playing Barbies. He played for hours; through several costume changes and re-braids. He not only played Ken but Barbie too, feigning a high pitched ladies voice much to my amusement. We used to set up Barbie camp on the landing at the top of the stairs. I can’t remember what happened in our Barbie town that particular day, but the play session quickly turned to Barbies jumping off the landing down the stairs to their ‘death’, hysterically launching Barbie after Barbie off the top of the stairs to watch them plummet to their death.

It was all Dad's idea. I remember thinking he had invented the greatest Barbie game ever and would spend the next few months begging for him and no one else to be my Barbie-playing friend. I didn’t see it at the time, but looking back I realise that throwing the Barbies off the top of the stairs was the only way he could enjoy playing with them. Either way, it would go for hours and would happen again and again and again. He never said no. And even when one Barbie lost her head in the faux suicide, Dad drew eyes on her breasts with pen and assured me that the game would go on.

Now, years on, we no longer play. I really believe that both of us wish we did, in very different ways. A few weeks back, I had coffee with a friend. We sat in the sun at a small round table. I faced out onto the narrow street. Some time into our coffee, I saw my father on the other side of the street, walking home. I did not run over and say hello. I did not move. I did not call him, or yell. I did not even tell my friend he was there. Instead I sat cold, watching him behind sunglasses. He was alone but smiling.

Georgia Middleton is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Sydney. 

"Biggie Smalls and the Ghetto Slams" - Hot Club de Paris (mp3)

"I'm Not In Love And Neither Are You" - Hot Club de Paris (mp3)

"Three Albums In And Still No Ballad" - Hot Club de Paris (mp3)

"Free the Pterodactyl" - Hot Club de Paris (mp3)

Monday
May242010

In Which The End of Lost Is The Beginning of Something Greater

No Exit

by DICK CHENEY

Lost: The End

creators Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams

I tried to watch the season finale of Modern Family with my wife yesterday, and I didn't understand a word of it. I had to watch the season finale of 30 Rock with the closed captioning on to understand any of the jokes or Julianne Moore's dialogue, although it didn't help that I was forced to cover my eyes whenever Matt Damon appeared because he looks like a creature I invented in Spore.

i'd still take jon hamm without hands Television is doing an incredible job of replicating the real lives of people. The camerawork makes me feel like I'm tagging along in their suitcase. When Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant brought the format of their multi-camera comedy The Office to U.S. shores, I didn't think the new show would be as impossible to understand as the first, especially considering I grew up in this country. It was, and I haven't understood a single word Kathy Bates has said since she joined the show.

TV writers have one set of experiences; the rest of us have a completely different set of experiences. Every day of my life, I talk to Mexican-Americans and Pakistani-Americans and African-Americans and Daniel Faraday. Sure, I'm usually saying, "Could you put that in a plastic bag?" or "U r my constant", but I'm somehow able to communicate with them. Yet everyone on TV is white and I can't understand a single thing they say.

I have not been able to laugh at a single joke Phil has made all season without considerable research except his lol with Kobe. As the final moments of Lost rolled across television screens around the world last night, the disconnect between television writers and the general public grows more distant. People don't like being told that 20 hours of their life was wasted because the writers of Lost read too many messageboards and decided that the show's fans would find it really hilarious if they all met again in heaven.

there's little in the way of postpregnancy care in heavenIf you believe in heaven, this is an insulting, heretical idea. If you don't believe in heaven, why on earth did you elect a president who spends more time advising LeBron James and telling his wife her shoulders look too big in that dress than running this country?

giving birth in heaven takes about two minutes, it's where brooke shields gives birth What happened to Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, and all the other brainaics behind Lost was that they started reading their own press, and feeling bad for what Jeff Jensen's life is going to be like now. They are hardly alone in being corrupted by this development, because Jesse James is doing a television interview in which he'll have to provide a convincing explanation for both infidelity and his passion for the Third Reich.

matthew fox's quips are so much more endearing when you know he's dead Never read what people say about you. The only person who could read his own reviews and not be affected was Donald Rumsfeld and he's now playing a long term-ish game of backgammon with Walt on another undisclosed island. Never cross me, Lambert.

Speaking of which, it did seem fairly unconventional that black people weren't allowed in Lost's version of heaven. All the audience really wanted was more Walt. What kind of show creates a young black kid with magical powers and never has him use them? That's worse than casting Ben Affleck as Daredevil, or anyone. Of course, this is same show that turned Jack Shephard and Hurley into gods but wasn't smart enough to have them part the sea. Even Jesus had to prove he wasn't just a regular bro.

Unlike most of the shows I mentioned earlier, ninety percent of which were written by Mindy Kaling, Lost at least became simpler to understand over time. This is hardly a point in its favor. While much of television has abandoned the cinematic techniques of film presumably because the guy who invented steadicam has naked pictures of Jeff Zucker doing E from Entourage, Lost still believes it can achieve a kind of visual transcendance.

kind of a metaphor for the whole show there lefleuerAt times it has been successful at that, but not in last night's finale, and not since ABC slashed the big budget effects for an endless series of jungle sets that all look identical. We learned, mainly, that the entire sideways world in which Oceanic Flight 815 didn't crash was just everybody being really dead. Some have questioned why Ben Linus would continue hanging around in purgatory to pursue a romantic relationship with the actress who played his daughter, but that's sort of self-explanatory.

ted turner faces a similar sophie's choice every day Since Lost came out of thin air and J.J. Abrams lost interest in the show once he started having regular sex, there was no guiding overlord to say, this is where a 100+ part drama has to go to stay compelling. The three most annoying and clichéd dramatic techniques in the world, all of which Lost used with equal aplomb, are as follows.

1. Everyone is always constantly debating what to call each other. "Can I call you John?" "Call me John." "I'm not Mr. Locke. I'm Mr. John." "Call me Jack." "Blah blah blah." "I'm gay." "I'm bald."

2. Having the end be a take on the beginning. Not even James Patterson does this anymore it's such a joke.

3. Having a character apparently die and reappear again, especially when he is the only pilot on the fucking island.

you're a pilot? i thought you were a doorman Tragically, when it most counted, Lost underestimated its audience. Instead of coming up with a deep mythology to explain the island's supernatural powers, they just got high and read too many Philip Pullman books. In the weirdest "action" scene in recent television memory, before Jack turned Hurley into Jacob he attacked the smoke monster like Morpheus, and Kate killed the the poor guy by shooting him in the back and pushing him off the cliff.

If the writers had just listened to the messageboards (just as Matthew Weiner draws sustenance from these recaps), they would have realized that "satisfying" your audience never works. Surprising your audience always does. Answering a burning question might feel good for the brief seconds it no longer burns, but compelling human drama requires more than plaudits and a really weird concert that presented the unlikely combination of master pianist Daniel Faraday and Driveshaft.

you know you have problems when you're a musician and you can't laid in heaven It would be a shame if the last moments of Lost soured our memories from the artful beginning, when the show's unique form, content and characters provided frights, laughs and drunken driving arrests on Oahu in equal measure. What a show! There are more moments in Lost's brilliant run that will stay with me longer than all of Truffaut or Sartre. Somewhere, someplace, there is a living record of Evangeline Lilly's life before she became the centerpiece of an urban legend about a lost census worker.

The first stories about these characters were compelling and somewhat fresh, by the fifth or sixth story the situations became somewhat familiar. Writers get tricked into repeating their finest moments. It's kind of like how an evening with an ex-girlfriend usually ends in a lot of disagreement about whether or not Matt Damon is now a candidate for assisted suicide and impotency in the bedroom.

shannon was just a huge fan of the republican guard What will happen to all the friends I made during these six seasons? Some will move on to other places, others will reappear on ABC shows because their contracts aren't up yet. I don't know for sure. When I first began reviewing Lost on this site, I was so immature I thought they would tell us what the numbers were. Now I know that's no longer possible. The numbers don't mean anything, Alison Janney was a throwaway guest appearance for an Emmy nomination, and Juliet really did die in that explosion.

Lost showed us the possibilities for the medium of television - how it can undertake themes more complex and sophisticated than the abbreviated length of feature films. It can show us really changing, instead of simply portraying the illusion of change. Being separated from it feels like missing an arm, or a penis. I don't want all my friends to go away, but I'll try to make new ones.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find his previous recaps of Lost here.

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