Posts from 1st February 2005

Feb 05

Translated Accounts by James Kelman

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 112 views

Translated Accounts by James Kelman

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. It’s a bunch of short pieces, fragments, from a handful of narrators (three or four, the back cover says, and I’ll take its word for it), about living under some repressive regime – probably back in communist East Europe, at a guess. This is all very well, and it’s an impressive image that Kelman creates, forceful and unflinching and harrowing, with what strikes me as an unusual depth of understanding (one of his great strengths, but hitherto brought to bear on relatively ordinary Glaswegians), capturing some of the internal differences that a repressive society enforces.

But why is it written in this extraordinary way? It doesn’t explain itself, but it reads like very awkward, even bad, translations. Besides that, it’s so abstract – the country isn’t named, and nor is a single person in it. What’s this about? The lack of naming may have certain meanings, about the limitations of communication from such a nation, perhaps an attempt at universalising, perhaps something to deny the reader the ability to focus onto personalities, since it’s hard enough most of the time to work out if this might be the same narrator as that one a few chapters back, so we are forced inside, into the thoughts and feelings and explanations of the narrators. But why that stilted, clumsy prose all the way? Is this about the inability to communicate between two utterly different societies? A simple gimmick?

Weirdly, it occasionally reminded me of late Beckett: “The period when nothing can be done, this is that period. I walked on.” Isn’t that almost explicitly reminiscent of the end of The Unnameable? There are other such specific echoes, here and there, but there is also the obsessive introspection, the vagueness of any outer world. Then another odd connection occurred to me: by this stage, if I have my chronology right, Beckett had begun to write in a foreign language (French) and translate back to English! I have the feeling that there is something more in this line of thought, a vague grasp of the shape of a deeper connection. Is there anyone else there who has read them both who might be able to say more? Has Kelman talked about Beckett at all? Maybe I just need to reread the trilogy, but I don’t imagine I’ll do that soon.


I Hate MusicPost a comment • 416 views

Day 16: Seymour

The ache in my shoulder was incessant, like the purgatorial ache of a bass guitar yoked around my neck. Instead however I was yoked to this perky young rap fan who had spent much of the previous night dragging me down the darkest alleyways of Boston. We had slept by some large industrial bins out the back of the a fish restaurant which had given us a rude lobster-like awakening at 3am. Not the rudest of course, that would be woken by the B-52’s doing Rock Lobster, but half shells on your cranium in the dark is still unpleasant.

“So what are you doing here girlfriend?” Simone said. She had a habit of calling me girlfriend because she was under some sort of illusion I liked her. Either that or she could not remember the two syllables of Tanya.
“I am on an epic journey to circumnavigate the world via the medium of rubbish music.”
“You mean like rock music?”
“I mean like all music.”
“What, even Naz and Jay-Z.”
“Especially Naz and Jay-Z. Take Jay-Z, only last year he was saying he had 99 problems. Well wouldn’t he, all things being equal, be better off sorting out those problems rather than making a record. Especially considering that amongst his problem is an inability to rap, speak, rhyme or even hit the beat properly.”

Simone shut up at this point and scowled at me. It really was just like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones. Or Lawrence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin in Fled. But I don’t think either of us wanted to be the Baldwin. She was certainly happy to lead me, and managed to drag me into the back of a refrigerated Dunkin’ Donuts van just after dawn. We breakfasted on scowls, stares and chocolate covered doughnuts.

Lack of conversation, massive comedown after a sugar rush and the lowered temperature made us drowsy after some time and it was clear the van had moved well out of the Boston area. How far was unclear until we were woken by the van door clicking open. Fresh cold air leaked in, it was the deep midwinter after all and the driver yelped to see two orange boiler-suited, well let’s be unfair, boilers leaping out of his van.

“Come on girl,” Simone called again, yanking me out of yet another van.
“Really, you must not -” and I was interrupted by slipping on some ice. “Now I have really had it. Where on earth are we?” I said, on my arse, unhappy and stuck in the middle of a smallish town. A smallish town which happily had a big sign for me.

Seymour, Connecticut. An All-American Community

I sighed. If this town was anywhere near as shit as the band with the same name, my troubles were far from over.


Imagine a parallel universe without music.

Nice isn’t it.

Okay, shift along a bit. Imagine a parallel universe where the bosses of Food records sat down with the nascent Seymour in 1989.
“We want to sign you,” says Food boss Dave Food. “But we think your name is a bit rubbish.”
“What’s wrong with Seymour?” Says chirpy pop mockney Albarn.
“Its a bit middle-class.”
“We’re a bit middle-class.”
“Well we would rather people did not know.”
Albarn goes off to talk to the band.
“We have thought it over, and we are not willing to compromise our art school credibility and artistic integrity.”
“You got that boring drummer in.”
“That wasn’t a compromise. Graham needed someone to get the spiders out of the tour bus. No, the name is Seymour. That is the name of the band that is going to change the musical landscape in the UK over the next ten years.”
“Well if you won’t change your name, you can fuck right off with your sub-baggy pretty boy mope-rock.” And with this he swans out of The Litten Tree and rips up the contract. Seymour does not get a deal, splits up, and Albarn becomes a presenter on Dial-A Date at 1am in the morning on Thursday nights.

If only we could get to this parallel universe. If only…

The Big Bang and How We Came To Know It.

Proven By Science3 comments • 340 views

The Big Bang and How We Came To Know It.

The newest book by Simon Singh, simply entitled “Big Bang”, has garnered many fantastic reviews (for example, Scientific American, Toronto Globe and Mail, Guardian). I haven’t seen it yet, but I have been a fan of Singh’s ever since receiving his book “Fermat’s Enigma” as a gift many years ago. Among all the wild (and often poorly written) hoopla surrounding the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, Singh wrote a book that a) didn’t talk down to you like you were an idiot, b) featured a enthusiastic, narrative style that read more like a slow-building detective novel than a book about math, and c) delved deeply into the personalities of the main characters, even going so far as to reconstruct email conversations between the principles in order to build the drama and excitement in their own words.

Furthermore, this article implies that Singh’s book contains some long overdue popular credit for Ralph Alpher. One could say that Alpher is to 20th century physics what Rosalind Franklin is to 20th century biology — and then some. Franklin may have taken the X-Ray photographs of DNA, but she couldn’t properly interpret her own data. Alpher not only provided theoretical justification for the Big Bang (a term coined by his Ph.D. supervisor George Gamow), but he also wrote papers about how to experimentally verify his theories. That experiment was eventually performed in 1965, with the detection of the cosmic background radiation by Penzias and Wilson. Both of them were unaware that Alpher, along with Gamow and Robert Herman, had predicted the existence of this radiation seventeen years earlier. They even received the 1978 Nobel Prize for their work. Alpher and his collaborators got nothing.

For further reading, this classic Discover article recounts Alpher’s life and work in more detail. And presumably, so does Simon Singh’s new book.

One Line Reviews:

Do You SeePost a comment • 238 views

One Line Reviews:

Sideways: Middle aged depressive breaks drink driving laws constantly in order to find happiness.

Turtles Can Fly: Mr Magoo Jr, played for tragedy on the border of Iraq.

A Very Long Engagement: Amnesia, trauma and shell-shock is no barrier to love – huzzah!

Elektra: Words do not exist to explain how shit this film is.

Fake Dancehall vs Real Dancehall

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 370 views

Fake Dancehall vs Real Dancehall: very interesting ILM thread started by Chuck Eddy. So interesting that I almost posted – but what’s the answer?

I think the difference is one of inclusivity – the ‘real’ stuff in these smallish genres tends to be made within and for a specific community. It can be latched onto by people outside that community, but that isn’t why the music exists. (This is one of the things that the dancehall/homophobia debate makes particularly stark.)

The fake stuff meanwhile is trying to communicate with a wider community, perhaps including ‘hipsters’ or ‘kids’ or ‘ordinary record buyers’. The communication might just be “CMON BUY ME NOW” but maybe it’s the open-ness and attempt to communicate that comes through in the music?