Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Reaching the peaks - literally and figuratively

So last week I had an afternoon off and went to London for the launch of the new Norton Shakespeare. It's 3500 pages long and 7.3cm thick (3 inches). In case that's not enough, there's an awful lot more online: more variants, facsimiles, renditions of the various songs). The overall editor is Stephen Greenblatt, the eminence grise of New Historicism, a mode of analysis that I find fascinating though with some reservations. To do extreme violence to its subtlety, it holds that texts should be examined alongside almost any kind of other contemporary texts from shopping lists to diaries, because they'll all feature in some way the cultural and social anxieties which can be found in the texts (even if they're detected through their studied absence).

I'd received a desk inspection copy of the Norton volume and received an invitation, so I decided to go along. I'd be an idiot to miss a lecture by one of the world's greatest living Renaissance scholars. Besides, I could sneak off to the Shard  - that monument to speculative plutocracy - and fulfil my ambition of doing some photography from Europe's highest tower.

Both experiences were fun, but also a bit disappointing. The Shard first, as it doesn't matter in any meaningful way. I'm no architect, but I do think that if I'd built the highest photography spot in Europe, overlooking one of the world's greatest cities, I might just have spent a little extra on non-reflective glass. Just a suggestion. Anyway, I bought a Day and Night ticket for £35, allowing me up the monstrosity in the early afternoon and again at night (Greenblatt was speaking at sunset).

The view is just astonishing - the flat geography of the London region is laid out in front of you and you can see the weather changing from miles away. From this height (much like a tower in Jacksonville, I was informed by a fellow visitor) you can see the city as a system: transport, topography and infrastructure, rather than as a habitat. It was a bit of a dull day so the light wasn't great but the place still looked good. Click these to enlarge, and the rest of the photos are here.

A patch of sun

The open bit at the top of the Shard

Sun over IKEA

Decorative strip reflected on the windows
The Globe Theatre from the Shard

St. Paul's from outside the Globe

Perhaps my favourite picture of all

The night-time shots are a bit clichéd perhaps, but still stunning – mostly for the amount of light pollution.

As to the Greenblatt event, it was fun but a bit of a missed opportunity. Beforehand I had a pint of beer and a piece of cake in the theatre as a Shakespearian homage – I'm sure you'll remember these lines from Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night (apologies for the weird formatting - Blogger won't let me fix it):

Out o' tune, sir: ye lie. Art any more than a
steward? Dost thou think, because thou art
virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

Thou'rt a scholar; let us therefore eat and drink.

Marian, I say! a stoup of wine!

Then it was on to free prosecco surrounded by the most eminent Shakespeareans in the world and their impossibly hip PhD students (all of whom appeared to be auditioning for the role of Fey Quirky Belle and Sebastian LP Cover Star).

I knew I was in trouble when Greenblatt asked for a show of hands from those who had like him edited Shakespeare for publication. A veritable forest went up - I haven't edited so much as a limerick. Anyway, Greenblatt was very funny ('why is my edition 3500 pages long? Because you physically can't make books any bigger') and informative about the volume, as was Gordon McMullan, the other editor present. But what didn't happen was a full-on reflection from his critical perspective of the demands and purposes of editing, or anything like it. 30 minutes between the two and it was back to the fizz. Entertaining enough, but rather more lightweight than I'd expected.


Anonymous said...

Love the photographs.......and enjoyed your review of the launch. Does Greenblatt look like a younger Lord Sugar in real life??

Drusilla72 said...

I don't normally comment Mr Vole, but I am utterly in love with your photo of St Paul's. That's it. Nothing else to see here. Move along.