I know, it's ages since I last posted. 24 hours or so! But it's exhausting work maintaining the high standards you've come to expect from me. Take yesterday's post: sophisticated political analysis and a semiotic discussion of the significance of Clark Kent's beard and Superman's lack of beard. I'm exhausted, I tell you!
I'm also rather busy. On top of the massive teaching load, I've two book chapters due in January and I'm frankly struggling to get them written. Every time I sit down to do some substantial work, someone gives me something less important but more urgent to do. Then there are the students who deserve my undivided attention, even if they are calling in to ask for help with essays they haven't started two days before the due date, or to demand information which is and has been available for 3 months on the module guides we give them at the start of the semester.
The other thing I've been doing is preparing to represent a union colleague in a disciplinary hearing tomorrow. It seems frankly wrong that I'm considered responsible enough to entrust with this kind of duty, but beggars can't be choosers, I guess. So I'll be suited and booted tomorrow, ready to do battle. Some advice, however: please, please think about what you say to people. Having spent many years trying to make my students laugh while sneaking in a little educational material, I know that humour is very hard to communicate successfully. If in doubt, shut your mouth. I think tomorrow will be about presenting mitigation and challenging process rather than a Twelve Angry Men scenario, but we'll see.
And then there's Christmas… I have a huge family and circle of friends (I know, hard to believe). Most of them have managed to ensnare a partner of some kind, even one who'll mingle genes with them. So there's an ever-expanding circle of people requiring presents to maintain strong social capital, and so little time in which to find something individual and thoughtful.
Anyway, there are bright spots in my cultural sky. The ongoing project to reduce my book-buying to readable levels is proving astonishingly successful. The only book I've received this week is Benoit Peeters' Derrida: A Biography. Mmmmm… 600 pages of non-deconstructionist stories about the father of deconstruction. I'm a bit concerned by the Guardian review on the back, which praises the book's preference for Derrida's story rather than the theory. One of the best lines in Eugenides' recent (and rather poor) The Marriage Plot had a theory-junky telling someone that Derrida's books were about demolishing the idea that books were about anything. So a biography is an interesting move. I shall report back at some stage.
I have bought a fair amount of music recently, a mix of new and back catalogue stuff. After spending all last week humming a single quirkily-compelling Sparklehorse track, I bought their other three albums, all of which are rather wonderful. Then a chance snatch of music led to a nostalgic purchase of Mega City Four's Sebastopol Rd. It's… not as good as I remember it. Nice enough, I guess, and the band's spiky artwork will endure on the back of a thousand ageing post-punks' leather jackets.
And thus to the new stuff: new Welsh band Race Horses' debut CD Furniture and Martin Rossiter's The Defenestration of St. Martin. Rossiter was the lead singer of rather good 90s indie popsters Gene, so I'm intrigued. The title is a bit troublesome though: 'defenestration' is one of my favourite words (it means being chucked out of – or through – a window). But more than that, either Martin is being tone deaf in using his own name in the title or he's being terribly, terribly arch. Both albums, however, are very decent on first listen, with Race Horses edging it (see what I did there) in the originality stakes despite being massively 'influenced' (to put it kindly) by 1980s electro-pop. Bit of a shame that there isn't a single Welsh-language track on the CD, given their roots in the Welsh scene. Produced by top-quality Welsh musician and producer David Wrench, whom I know slightly.
More culture coming up this weekend: Beethoven's Eroica symphony at Birmingham Symphony Hall. It's the one that goes like this:
As you know, my taste generally lies in 20th-century experimental classical music with a sideline in Renaissance choral work, but some pieces are just inescapable: barely a composer who's lived since Beethoven's time hasn't referenced Eroica in some way. It's musically stunning and historically fascinating. Ludwig van originally named it after and dedicated it to Napoleon Bonaparte in tribute to his perceived extension of the French Revolution's ideals – quite a brave thing for a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor to do. But when Napoleon named himself Emperor too, Beethoven was furious and removed Napoleon's name from the score, renaming it the 'Heroic' symphony. Later on, he responded to Napoleon's death by pointing out that the symphony's Funeral March was written for just this event many years before: the Symphony is no longer hagiographic but does express admiration at least for Napoleon's energy and zeal, if not for his self-aggrandisement.
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