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“…the light is liquid, radiant, heartbreaking…” #rolandbarthes #incidents

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It won’t have escaped the notice of the most casual of visitors to the Ramblings that I’ve written quite a lot about Roland Barthes over the last few years…! I’ve read several of his major works, but I’m often attracted to more marginal writings; so when I stumbled across mention of today’s book I couldn’t resist. “Incidents”, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan and published by Seagull books, draws together four essays and was originally first published shortly after Barthes’ untimely death. These are more personal works than might be usually expected from such a theorist, although of course he did write the extremely personal “Mourning Diary“. As the jacket of “Incidents” states, Barthes was wary of keeping a journal just with a view to having it published; however, these are diary-like experiments and they’re all very different and all quite fascinating.

The first section of the book is a fairly straightforward work called “The Light of the South West“. It’s something of a paean to an area of France from which the author came and loved very much and this comes through in his lyrical prose. The second piece, “Incidents“, give its title to the collection and this is very different to the first. In this, Barthes records his experiences on a visit to Morocco; the structure is fragmentary, much like “Mourning Diary”, and this is a very personal work as it reveals the author paying men and boys for sex.

Isn’t the great material of modern art today, of daily art, light? In ordinary theatres, the light originates at a distance, directed onto the stage. At Le Palace, the entire theatre is the stage; the light takes all the space there, inside of which it is alive and plays like one of the actors: an intelligent laser, with a complicated and refined mind, like an exhibitor of abstract figurines, it produces enigmatic shapes, with abrupt changes: circles, rectangles, ellipses, lines, ropes, galaxies, twists.

Next up is an essay entitled “At Le Palace Tonight…” in which Barthes gives his impression of a then-fashionable theatre-house in Pars; it’s a remarkably evocative piece, capturing Parisians out and about and enjoying themselves, thought interestingly Barthes comes across as very much an observer rather than a participant. Finally, there’s “Evenings in Paris“, a series of journal entries recording Barthes’ experiences as an older gay man in Paris; again, there’s very much a sense of him feeling like an outsider, and more often than not he ends up at home alone, listening to the radio.

“Incidents” is a fascinating book, and it was published posthumously by Barthes’ literary executor; part of me wonders what the author would have thought about that? As far as I’m aware he kept his private side to himself during his lifetime, and “Mourning Diary”” was also published long after his death. I suppose you could argue that if an author writes *anything* he’s expecting it to be published at some point; and if we argued with that we wouldn’t have Kafka!

However, I found this a fascinating and atmospheric read, and one which shone a new personal light on Roland Barthes. In many ways, he seems to have been a solitary, melancholy man, possibly because he apparently never publicy acknowledged his homosexuality during his lifetime. His more complex works are fascinating, often difficult though always rewarding; however, these fragments of his personal writings are beautiful and haunting, ranging from his romantic attractions to his love of the writings of Chateaubriand.

“Incidents” is published by Seagull Books, and they’ve accompanied this edition with photographs by Bishan Samaddar. They’re fine photographs in their own right, but I have to be honest and say that for me, they didn’t really sit that comfortably with the text; and in fact at times they seemed to be at odds with it so that I was pretty much ignoring them by the end of the book. That aside, however, I found this a thought-provoking read; a glimpse at the man behind the theories; and I’m happy to recall that I have another five volumes of Barthes translations from Seagull lurking on the shelves! Maybe they can be a summer project… ;D

On My Book Table… 12 – moving into May with some potential chunksters!

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For my end of the month post, I thought I’d revive an idea I’ve used in the past, where I share some potential reads perching on my dedicated book table. Goodness knows there are plenty of them, and they’ve spread a little… 😆 More of that later, however; firstly, here’s a picture of the books I read during April:

Not picture – the Maigret, which was an e-book, and Margaret Atwood’s short story My Wicked Mother which was likewise!

As you can see it was a bumper month, much of which may be down to the fact that I had a fortnight off for the Easter break and was able to wallow in some wonderful (and longer!) books – I haven’t read so much, and so well, for a long time… There were a number for the #1954Club, including two volumes of “The Lord of the Rings”; but I’ve also ranged over poetry, non-fiction and essays too, as well as edging closer to the end of my Penguin Moderns box set. Some of these books are still to be reviewed – yes, I’m playing catch up again!

As for where I’ll go next with my reading, well that’s hard to know! I have a pile of review books, and also want to finish a book I’m halfway through for Stu’s Archipelago Reading fortnight. For now, let’s take a look at some of the books on the table:

First up we have some chunksters… And when I say chunksters I mean it as these are really big and heavy books!!! The Benjamin and the Penguin Modern Classics book were gifts at the end of last year, and I *have* been dipping – in particular into the PMC one, which is absolutely lovely but very, very bad for the wishlist… “Modernism” and the Barthes were purchases and again are both very dippable – I just wish I had more time sitting in my book chair to do that dipping!

Next up, here is a very interesting pile of review books from a variety of sources, and some of which are for Shiny New Books and others which will appear here. All of them look fascinating – it’s just a case of deciding which one should be the first to be read!

And here’s a few more review books, including a clutch from Michael Walmer Books; I really do want to get on to Rosalind Brackenbury soon as she sounds like a fascinating and very neglected author.

Truth be told, however, there are more books pending that would ever fit on the book table. In fact, as I hinted at the start of the post, they’re spreading madly; I’ve had to corral a batch of them on an old picnic table we have knocking around the house as you’ll see from this image:

British Library books, NYRB, Columbia University Press, Christmas gifts – so many potential joys waiting to be read. If there’s a zombie apocalypse I shall *definitely* be ok for books; but which one should I read next???

A look ahead to December while winter chill bites! #narniathon #readingplans

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It has been a bit horrible in recent days, what with the extreme weather in the UK and the depressing pandemic situation. But I had a pretty good reading month during November, spending time with some fascinating books, and as always printed matter has been the thing to keep me sane. So here is the pile and there were some very intriguing titles!

I’m pleased to say there were no duds, and actually some really stunning books in the pile! Reviews of these will turn up during December as I am still playing catch-up!

As for reading plans during the last month of 2020, I am definitely going to keep things as simple as I can. December is always a busy month, both at work and home, plus we are hoping to have some of the Offspring home over the festive season (fingers crossed…)

Challenge/event-wise, I am considering Calmgrove’s Narniathon which is a monthly read of all seven of C.S. Lewis’s wonderful Narnia books. I read these over and over as a child – they were one of my bookish props – but I haven’t revisited them for decades and confess to being curious as to how I would find them. So I have dug out my set…

However, spot the deliberate mistake!! For some reason, I have two copies of “Prince Caspian” and my “The Last Battle” has gone missing… I’m sure it’s in a box under a bed somewhere, and I have six months to find it. So assuming I get going with the event, I shall have to try to search it out.

Apart from visiting Narnia, I’ll also be trying to take part in a Twitter readalong of “A Lover’s Discourse” by Roland Barthes which I hope will go a little better than my attempt to join with a Saramago one of “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” (I bailed because I wasn’t for some reason feeling the book – maybe just not its time right now). And I shall be participating in a little event to do with classic crime books – watch this space for more info later in the month!

Those aren’t big bookish commitments, so aside from them I shall continue to keep denting the TBR – and above are some possibilities. Of course, me being me, having posited a pile of possibles I shall probably go on to read something completely different! What are you planning to read for December??

“…frequently contradictory interpretations…” #novnov #gilbertadair #thedeathoftheauthor

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November is a month bursting with challenges, and as I said in my October round-up post, I hope to take part at least in Novellas in November and German Lit Month and maybe even Margaret Atwood Reading Month. But we shall see – I know bad I am about sticking with plans. However, let’s start off the month in a positive way with a novella! “The Death of the Author” by Gilbert Adair is 135 pages in my edition, so the perfect candidate – and it’s a most unusual and thought provoking read. I picked the book up earlier in the year, and as usual can’t recall what prompted me to do so (my memory seems to get more sieve-like by the day…) However, I’ve seen the book described as a satirical look at literary cults, and it’s apparently based on a real person, so I felt inclined to explore…

My second hand copy of the book with an interesting ‘inclusion’ – would love to know the history behind this!

The book is narrated by Leopold Sfax, a critic, theorist and philospher. As the book opens, he’s approached by a woman who plans to write his biography and this throws up a number of problems. Sfax is a emigre Frenchman with an aristocratic background and a hidden history of collaboration in Paris during WW2. Having escaped his country post-War, he’s made a new life in the USA and managed to keep his past buried, while carving out fame as an academic for his “Theory”. A pompous and self-important man, his narrative style and use of language certainly remind this reader a little of Nabokov…

Sfax is reluctant to reveal much of his past, but then doubles back and repeats himself and then expands. Gradually his story is exposed, and the risk is that the facts will become widely known. However, shocking murders occur which shake his academic setting – are these deaths connected with Sfax, and will a solution be found?

Words are far older and fickler and more experienced than the writers who suffer under the delusion that they are ‘using’ them. Words have been around. No one owns them, no one can prescribe how they ought to be read, and most certainly not their author.

That little summary makes the book sound a lot more straightforward than it actually is, because there’s so much going on beneath the surface here. The ‘death of the author’ is of course a concept explored by Roland Barthes in a 1967 essay, where he in effect says that the text must be considered as completely separate from whoever wrote it to avoid limitation of the text. It’s an influential idea which has been discussed, explored, accepted and rejected over the decades, and when I finally get round to reading it I’ll let you know what I think…

Anyway, Adair, takes things a step further with what is perhaps the ultimate unreliable narrator; this text is apparently written by Sfax, existing on his computer, but as we are faced with potentially the literal death of the author, who is writing the text? Is it pure fantasy? Will his secrets ever be publicly known? Did Sfax ever really exist? And so on! It’s a fascinating concept which makes really interesting reading, even if it does boggle your head a bit at times!

As I mentioned earlier, the character of Sfax is apparently based on a real person, the Belgian critic, Paul de Man, who died before knowledge of his past escaped. This adds another layer to the reading of this text, as the fictional Sfax (a Nabakovian name if ever I heard one) and the real de Man could well be considered one and the same. As for the actual ‘death’ of the author, or even his existence, that’s left unresolved at the end of the book and the conclusion may well have you nipping back to the start of the book to reconsider what you’ve read! Whatever else it may be – literary spoof, Nabakovian satire, ripost to Barthes – “The Death of the Author” is a clever and memorable book about which I’m still thinking – and about which I may never be able to draw any concrete conclusions!

Reading Derrida: memories of Roland Barthes #Derrida #Barthes

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Although I have read an *awful* lot of books during my lifetime, there are many authors who are still a bit intimidating and whom I’m nervous of approaching; Roland Barthes was one of those, and although I love what I’ve read, he’s definitely not the easiest of reads. However, even scarier is Jacques Derrida; nevertheless, I’ve often thought of reading him, and when I heard about his book “The Work of Mourning”, which includes a piece on Barthes, I succumbed. I may not get everything he writes, and it may well be a funny place to start with Derrida, but I will give it a go! 😀

Derrida was a French philosopher; born in Algeria, he’s probably best-known for his work on the process of ‘deconstruction’ as a way to understand a text, and he’s closely associated with post-modernism. “The Work of Mourning” is a collection of texts written between 1981 and 2001 in which Derrida reflects on the loss of friends and colleagues over this period. Some are lectures, some eulogies, but all are either engagements or re-engagements with the work of those he’s memorialising.

I do not yet know, and in the end it really does not matter, if I will be able to make it clear why I must leave these thoughts for Roland Barthes fragmentary, or why I value them for their incompleteness even more than for their fragmentation, more for their pronounced incompleteness, for their punctuated yet open interruptions, without even the authoritative edge of an aphorism. These little stones, thoughtfully placed, only one each time, on the end of a name as the promise of return.

As I said, I was intrigued to see what Derrida had to say about Barthes; the pieces are presented in chronological order of death so RB appears at the start, and Derrida focuses in the main on Barthes’ first and last works, “Writing Degree Zero” and “Camera Lucida”. Exploring his reactions to those books, he also explores Barthes’ work in them and the resulting text is exhilarating, if not always an easy read…

What’s particularly interesting is how Derrida draws on “Camera Lucida” as also being a work of mourning; it was, of course, Barthes’ last work and was informed by a photograph of the philosopher’s mother who had recently passed away. This is covered more directly in Barthes’ “Mourning Diary” (which I wrote about here), but Derrida seems to be suggesting that “Camera…” is just as much about mourning, memory and loss as is the other work. As he points out, Barthes final book’s “…time and tempo accompanied his death as no other book, I believe, has ever kept watch over its author.” Barthes, of course, tragically died not long after the publication of his last work, and I believe it’s been actually regarded as the writer’s eulogy for himself.

Although I’ve read “Writing Degree Zero“, I’ve yet to read “Camera Lucida”; however, I know enough about it to trail Derrida in his musings; and although I didn’t always follow his train of thought, there were many shafts of brilliance which stood out from this piece (I could have marked many more than I have…) Certainly, his explorations of photography and memory were fascinating, and I can see how the effect of having photographic records and the way these alter our modern life is continuing to be explored by authors like Maria Stepanova. It also seems to me that Derrida was using the death of Barthes to not only return to the great man’s work, but also to meditate on mortality itself, how we react to it, deal with the loss of a person, and how we think of them after they’ve gone. It’s never less than fascinating, and I’ll be very interested to see his responses to the loss of other friends and colleagues.

“The Working of Mourning” was edited by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, who provide a detailed introduction, and each chapter opens with a short biography of the subject who follows. I suspect, from the quick look I’ve had, that Derrida’s style will vary from piece to piece; certainly the length does, as some are simply a letter sent on the occasion of a death, and some longer, more detailed works like the Barthes. Anyway, my first encounter with Derrida was intriguing, if mentally bracing, but I am determined to keep going with the book – watch this space to see how I continue to get on with him! 😀

 

“…it is power or conflict which produce the purest types of writing.” #rolandbarthes

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Back to Barthes! Since my first reading of his work with “Mythologies” back at the end of 2019, I’ve been on a bit of a journey with his writings. I’ve also read “Mourning Diary” and Roland Barthes; and was transfixed by Prof Richard Clay’s marvellous documentary updating Barthes’ ideas, 21st Century Mythologies. There are any number of Barthes books lurking on the TBR, but for some reason felt very drawn recently to one which is his first published work – “Writing Degree Zero” (here published by Hill and Wang, and translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith).

As the foreword by Adam Thirlwell makes clear, “Writing Degree Zero” was produced during a very interesting period for French writing (it first appeared in 1953); the French intellectuals of the time were heavily involved in a whole range of debates exploring the possibility of a left-wing literature, its form, whether it needed to reach a mass audience and indeed, whether a piece of writing which *did* reach the masses was automatically left wing (I’d argue strongly against the latter, but that’s just me). The debate ranged over the pages of Camus’ newspaper ‘Combat’ and the journal ‘L’Observateur’; and in the midst of this Barthes published his first book which explored these topics and much, much more.

The book is in two parts, each featuring a number of short pieces with titles such as “What is Writing?”, “Political Modes of Writing”, “Writing and Revolution”, “The Utopia of Language” and so on. In these essays, Barthes explores the history of French literature, how political it is, whether it’s accessible to all and what future it has. The first part is particularly interesting because it detaches the concept of ‘writing’ from that of ‘style’ or ‘language’; and Barthes goes on to look back at French classical literature which was designed with a purpose, to educate and inform. He explores the ‘preterite’, a tense which doesn’t exist in English, and discusses its relationship to the structures and conventions of novels. And he declares that Literature is the product of a modern, Capitalist society, and therefore of course not necessarily part of the normal use of language in the everyday.

Roaming through the different phases of French literature, he notes the changes in style and fashion – for example, after the French Revolution – and he believes that after the 1850s the writer was “without Literature” which rather leaves him or her out in the cold. The art of writing becomes a craft, and Barthes ends his exploration of the history of writing by struggling to find a way forward for French literature, some kind of pure, Utopian form, a colourless, almost neutral type of writing which allows a journalistic style to take over – he cites Camus’ prose as a good example.

Well – that’s kind of what I get out of “Writing Degree Zero”, though it’s possible I’m way off – I do find Barthes a Bit Hard at times! But despite this, I found the book absolutely engrossing, particularly the discussions of political writing. Those of us who read regularly perhaps forget that there are many who don’t or can’t, and they may be in the parts of society where political writing should reach. So how do you get those ideas to the people that need them, and in what form? It’s a puzzle, and the discussions here are fascinating though I still don’t know what the answers are. Barthes traces many issues to the roots of bourgeous writing, reminding the reader how elitist it was (and probably still is):

This classical writing is, needless to say, a class writing. Born in the seventeenth century in the group which was closest to the people in power, shaped by force of dogmatic decisions, promptly ridding itself of all grammatical terms of speech forged by the spontaneous subjectivity of ordinary people, and drilled, on the contrary, for a task of definition, bourgeois writing was first presented, with the cynicism customary in the first flush of political victory, as the language of a privileged minority.

As with everything else I’ve read by Barthes, “Writing…” was fascinating; he of course regards language as a form of signs, and those signs are by necessity allied with power. He’s also very aware of the tricks which words can play on us, using (unexpectedly!) the example of Agatha Christie to show just how easy it is for a writer who is clever with language to totally bamboozle any reader. Certainly, if you take a look at any kind of political rhetoric you will see how right he is on that point.

So I didn’t always find “Writing Degree Zero” the easiest of reads, and this post is probably a very simplistic reading which only scratches at the surface; but the rewards reading the book brings are immense. If nothing else, I feel it demonstrates that literature and language are just a couple of the many modern mythologies which Barthes set out to unpick, a process which deserves to be taken up by all and sundry so that we can fight against the constant barrage of lying words we seem to be faced with nowadays..

2020 in Books – in which I once again fail to pick an outright winner…. ;D

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As is traditional on the Ramblings, I’m going to take a look back over my year of reading to pick out some highlights. It certainly has been a very strange and unpleasant year, unlike any I’ve known – I hope 2021 will be better, but who knows what’s to come. Books have, as always, been a comfort and my coping mechanism; and I *have* read a little more than usual, despite the strains of coping with a pandemic world. As usual, I’m not going to do any kind of countdown or top ten – let’s just look at the bookish things which have kept me going!

Comfort reading

A favourite from this year’s BLCC’s releases!

2020 has most definitely been year when there’s been a need for comfort reading. My go-to books are Golden Age crime and once again the British Library Crime Classics have been a source of great joy. I’ve read a good number, and not a dud amongst them! I’ve also felt the urge to do a sudden bit of re-reading – for example, at one point needing pick up Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and revisit the wonderfully perfect ending. Longing for less complex times, I guess.

Indie Presses and Subscriptions

Some of the treats from my Renard Press sub.

If this year has been anything for me, it’s been the year of indie presses and subscriptions! Despite the lockdowns and restrictions, it’s been a joy to see independent publishers flourishing, supported by the love of serious readers and booklovers. I have spent happy hours with many wonderful indie imprints, authors and books, including Notting Hill Editions, Little Toller, Fum d’Estampa, Salt, Galley Beggar, Sublunary Editions and Renard Press; in fact, I did a nice little Q&A with Will Dady, the man behind the latter, for Shiny New Books. And of course it’s been lovely to keep up with Fizcarraldo Editions, who’ve released some quite marvellous volumes this year.

Which leads me on to…

Challenges/Events

I tend to steer away from most of these nowadays, as I find I get all enthusiastic about joining in then instantly want to go off in another direction! However, I did get involved in a Twitter-based readalong of the marvellous Malicroix (published by NYRB Classics), thanks to the influence of Dorian Stuber! A wonderful book and a great joy to take part in this! I’ve managed to reboot some of my personal reading projects, and even expand their scope – let’s see how that works out then…

Fitzcarraldos – I love Fitzcarraldos…

I also ended up co-hosting a two week celebration of the aforementioned Fitzcarraldo with Lizzy – Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight. Not only was this great fun, but it also got me reading quite a bit of my TBR – result! 😀

Which leads me on to…

Reading Weeks

As usual, Simon and I co-hosted two Reading Club Weeks this year, focused on 1920 and 1956. These are always such fun – if you haven’t encountered them, we basically read whatever we want from the year in question, review, post on blogs and other social media and share ideas of great books from the year. We’ll be hosting another in April 2021 so do join in! 😀

Social Media

Social media of all kinds has become pretty much a lifeline over 2020 and it’s been great to be able to keep in touch over the various platforms. Book Twitter is particularly lovely and I have been lucky enough to interact with some wonderful people on there. There have been postcards going around the world and moral support offered to our online friends who have suffered losses over the year. It is a lovely place to visit. Of course, there are always so many reading events to tempt me there, but mostly I manage to hold back because I know I will fail… I didn’t with Malicroix though, so result!

A little pile of my Harvill Leopards!

Twitter was also responsible for the Harvill Leopard Hunt, as it shall be titled, where a number of interested bookish people contributed to a wonderful master list of books issued in that imprint by Tim at Half Print Press. It was huge fun being involved in the detective work, and the resulting checklist is a thing of great beauty and use – you can check it out here! (Do take a look at Half Pint Press too – they produce some gorgeous things!)

Roland Barthes, a documentary and another interview!

Although I was often looking for comfort reads, it hasn’t all been lightweight this year. In particular, I seem to have been haunted by the spirit of Roland Barthes! I first read his Mythologies back at the end of 2019, reviewing it in January this year, and have revisited his work at various points over the year. He’s not always an easy read, but certainly fascinating, stimulating and thought-provoking!

Professor Richard Clay with Dr. Lonnie Bunch (c. Clearstory/BBC)

This also tied in with my Documentary of Year (and Decade!) 21st Century Mythologies with Richard Clay – it was quite superb, and I was delighted to welcome Richard back onto the Ramblings for a return interview. He’s always such an interesting interviewee, brimming with ideas! No doubt I shall continue to return to Barthes – there are several titles I have lurking on the TBR…

Shiny New Books

I continued to provide some reviews for Shiny New Books, the wonderful independent recommendations website. I always enjoy reading other people’s contributions and SNB covers such a wide range of books. Always worth checking out if you’re not sure what to read next, or want to find out what’s come out recently and is worth reading!

Trends in my reading

A translated work I enjoyed very much this year, which led on to many other reading ideas…

I’ve continued to read a lot in translation, from the Russian of course but also from French, German, Portuguese, Polish…. I’ve enjoyed poetry, and also a lot of non-fiction this year. There have been times when I’ve felt that I couldn’t engage properly with fiction, and so essays, philosophy, history, nature writing, travel writing and books which don’t actually fit into any category have been there for me to turn to in times of need. I plan to continue to follow no path but my own and read what I *need* to read!

Outstanding books

I’m not going to pick a best of the year, because I can’t. The kind of books I read are so disparate that it seems unfair to measure them against each other. However, I *shall* highlight some particularly special reads from 2020.

First up, I have ended the year reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland and it’s a stunning book. Mesmerising writing and brimming with ideas and visions, it certainly lives up to its hype and it was the perfect book with which to finish off the year.

I’m a huge fan of Paul Morley’s writing, and so was delighted to be able to review his latest book, A Sound Mind, for Shiny New Books. A wonderfully Morley-esque exploration of classic music in all its shapes and forms, I absolutely loved it.

Another author whose work I’ve loved for a long time is M. John Harrison. He’s hit the public eye a bit more than usual recently, and this year saw the release of a new novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again. It’s another stunning read, proof that Harrison’s powers only increase with the years, and I was so pleased to see it win the Goldsmiths Prize! Lovely Comma Press also released a collection of his stories, Settling the World, which was another outstanding read.

A newer discovery for me is Andrew Lees; I read his wonderful book Mentored by a Madman last year, in a lovely paperback from Notting Hill Editions; it was a marvellous read, and Lees is such a good writer – in this book proving that literature and science go together. NHE published a new book by Lees this year, Brazil That Never Was, and I absolutely loved it. I described it in my review as a “wonderful blend of travelogue, memoir and reflection”, and Lees’ storytelling skills produced an atmospheric and memorable read. I can’t wait for his next book!

I can’t finish this section without mention of Square Haunting, which I covered in February for Shiny New Books. A quite brilliant book covering the lives of five inspirational women living in the same square in London, although at different times, it was an unforgettable read as well as an amazing work of scholarship – and it deserves all the praise it’s had!

*****

Frankly, that’s probably enough for one post – if I go on any longer I shall end up reliving the whole year and with 2020, that’s not something I necessarily want to do. The books I’ve read this year have been 99.9% pure joy (with the very occasional dud…) Whatever 2021 chucks our way I shall hang onto books as a way of maintaining some kind of sanity. Here’s to a better year for us all!

“I remain behind the door” #rolandbarthes

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Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard

Even after all these decades of reading, I still find that there are some books I finish and I just don’t know what to say about them – in a good way, but I still find myself a bit speechless! “Roland Barthes” by Roland Barthes is just such a book; I found it a stunning and absorbing read, yet what can I actually tell you about it? What is it saying to me or anyone else – what is Barthes revealing or concealing? I’ll trying to string something together, but what kind of sense it might make is anyone’s guess! 😀

Well, it’s Roland Barthes again, for a start; a man who’s been haunting the Ramblings this year, either in the form of books of his that I’ve read or documentaries I’ve been watching. I’ve only read a few of his works – he was a prolific man (and “properly clever”, as Richard Clay says!) – so I’m not sure what impelled me to pick up this particular book of his at this time, especially as I have both “Image, Music, Text” and “Cameria Lucida” lurking. But I did, anyway.

“Roland Barthes…” is ostensibly autobiography, but this being Barthes, it’s never going to be a straightforward look at his life. The book opens with a selection of photographs from the thinker’s past – what he describes as a ‘treat to himself’ – and bearing in mind his writings on the effects of images, these are particularly moving and telling. The captions reveal much about Barthes’ early life and family. However, these are followed by no linear narrative; instead, in a format closer to the structure of the “Mourning Diary”, Barthes uses headed paragraphs of varying lengths to explore his life obliquely through his work. It’s an intriguing conceit, and perhaps not surprising from someone who’s used to deconstructing the everyday!

…I myself am my own symbol, I am the story which happens to me: freewheeling in language, I have nothing to compare myself to…

As you can see from the amount of post-its sticking out of this relatively slim book, it’s a deeply thought-provoking piece of work. By looking at his life through the lens of his work, Barthes reveals himself gradually and indirectly – his likes and dislikes (I share his love of the Marx Brothers!), his beliefs and feelings, things which he recalls from his childhood and which still inform his life up to that point. His childhood in Bayonne is a touchstone, shown in the photographs at the start and often recurring in the text sections of the book. Barthes’ voice takes on a dual role, sometimes narrating his life in the first person and sometimes in the third; blurring the line between objectivity and subjectivity perhaps?

Propensity for division: fragments, miniatures, partitions, glittering details (according to Baudelaire, the effect of hashish), a bird’s-eye view of fields, windows, haiku, line drawing, script, photography, in plays the “scene” à l’italienne, in short, depending on your point of view, all the articulation of the semanticist or all the raw material of the fetishist. This propensity is labeled progressive: art of the rising classes proceeds by just such framing (Brecht, Diderot, Eisenstein).

I would be lying if I said this book was an easy read; it explores any number of complex topics and had me reaching for a dictionary at many points. But it’s a fascinating and evocative book to spend time with as not only does it raise all manner of intriguing ideas with phrases jumping at you which need more exploration (hence all the coloured markers!); it also does reveal much about the man himself. He was brilliant, yet apparently full of doubt about his life and his achievement; and I ended up wondering whether he realised that his thinking would become so important to how we decode the modern world.

“Roland Barthes” by Roland Barthes turned out to be unlike any other autobiography I’ve read – but then, Barthes is like no other writer I’ve read! He says at the start of this book that it “must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel” and that’s perhaps a good way to approach it. The real Barthes is often elusive and evasive here – but his ideas shine through and in the end maybe that’s what really matters.

(Although this post is going up in December, I’m going to claim the book for Nonfiction November! I read it in November, wrote the bulk of the above in November, and even if Barthes is obscuring some of the facts, it’s definitely not fiction! :D)

“After Mythologies, the world never looked or meant the same.” #richardclay #rolandbarthes #mythologies

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Intrigued by the ideas of twentieth-century French thinker Roland Barthes, but a little intimidated by his reputation as ‘difficult’? Keen to explore further but wondering whether he’s still relevant in the twenty-first century? Curious as to how he would interpret our modern world? Fear not! A recent documentary is just the solution! 😀

c. ClearStory/BBC

Twenty First Century Mythologies“, written and presented by Professor Richard Clay, aired last night on BBC4. Richard has featured on the Ramblings on numerous occasions – reviews, interviews and inspiration – and I obviously think very highly of his work. He made a welcome revisit to the blog last week, providing a fascinating new interview, some of which is relevant to the programme and you can read it here. However, I think Richard may well have outdone himself on this occasion… His latest programme is focused around the continuing relevance of Roland Barthes; and as I’ve been spending much time in the last year with that great thinker, the documentary had a particular resonance for me.

“Myths” (let’s call the programme that for convenience) takes as its starting point Barthes’ seminal book “Mythologies” and his concept (and exploration) of the forces that shape our lives. Opening the programme atmospherically and poignantly with Barthes’ untimely death, Clay gives a useful summary of Barthes’ thinking. He then goes on to tackle a number of myths, past and present, exploring how relevant they still are; and looks at situations Barthes would not have encountered but would have instantly understood. His aim, as he states it, is to find out how Barthes’ ideas have permeated our culture and how relevant they still are today. And, well – they really are!

The Myth of Plastic (c. ClearStory/BBC)

So the documentary is structured round these sections on specific myths, interspersed with biographical Barthes bites, which works beautifully in giving a picture of the thinker and his work. Richard begins by exploring the myth of plastics, a topic Barthes predicted might affect the world negatively in the long term, as indeed it does; and as the documentary makes clear, despite being aware of the awful problems it causes, we are still using it… In this section, as with many of the others, Clay meets with modern artists of all kinds to explore how they engage with the issues he finds, and this adds a fascinating element to the programme.

The Myth of Money (c. ClearStory/BBC)

Then there is the myth of money, surely the thing which most affects how our world is run nowadays; and the complex, mythical existence of cryptocurrency, which seems as elusive as smoke to me! This feeds into the myth of the Internet, something Barthes never could have foreseen. Richard’s exploration of this is particularly enlightening, exposing as fake the myth of the freedom we supposedly get from Internet with a welcoming burst of scepticism; revealing that it’s a double edged sword, serving those those in control. This is a programme at its mythbusting best, debunking any idea that the internet is controlled by anything other than money

This also linked into a particularly telling section on the myth of the Madonna, looking at the portrayal of women. The art historian in Clay emerged as he explored the history of the portrayal of the Madonna and the pressure on women to conform to images of perfection. Some have turned to self-documentation to supposedly subvert the stereotype; however, I’ve always had doubts about this and as the programme discusses, this has simply replaced the imposed image with a self-imposed one. Another commentator pointed out that this is most definitely a myth as women have simply become objects of their own making, trying to sell themselves within a system created and controlled in the main by young, white men. Which is chilling… I wondered what Barthes would have made of this, particularly as his notions of women very much stemmed from the idealisation of his mother.

c. ClearStory/BBC

The study of signs and symbols can appear a little exotic if you’re unfamiliar, and Richard provides a very handy semiotics 101 explaining Barthes’ system of signs: the signifier being a sign that transmits a meaning to us (e.g. a no entry sign) and the signified being that message or meaning (e.g. don’t drive down this road!) For someone who’s occasionally got a bit woolly about those terms, this was most helpful! Interestingly, with shifts in culture, a signifier can have more than one signified/meaning, that meaning changing according to current perceptions – a good example Clay gives being the yellow vest, once a sign of someone in charge, and now subverted by French protesters. All this, of course, ties in with Richard’s work on iconoclasm and sign transformation – very relevant at the moment with the protests this year, which have seen the meanings conveyed by certain statues of dead white men becoming unacceptable in public places. I’ve often felt that semiotics and iconoclasm are branches on the same tree, but that’s by the by… Anyway, It was certainly entertaining seeing Clay help a graffiti artist recoding traffic signs with stickers in an attempt to cause the public to think about what they’re actually seeing.

Contemplating the Myth of Copyright (c. ClearStory/BBC)

Other myths explored were copyright and authenticity, a knotty subject and one which divides opinions strongly; if you create something, you have a right to have control over it, but that seems impossible in the digital age. The argument of copyright vs creativity is not one I would like to take a definitive stand on, though if anyone ripped off the Ramblings I’d probably be a bit peeved! And the myth of the gun as the ultimate righter of wrongs is unnerving in our modern age of violence, particularly when there’s often such an unrealistic portrayal in the media which establishes that myth, letting us accept the existence of guns. As Richard reminds us, repetition normalises a myth so that we regard it as part of our everyday life; and that’s never more true than of the advertising with which we’re constantly bombarded. Back when “Mythologies” was originally published, Barthes was already aware of the effect of images embedded in culture – how much more is that evident nowadays!

The Myth of Race (c. ClearStory/BBC)

“Myths” concludes with a most powerful section at the end concerning race. Barthes was aware of the contradictions which existed in French society of his time, living in a country in the middle of an imperialist war with Algeria. In his book he deconstructed a troubling “Paris Match” cover; and Clay takes this as his jumping off point to consider the myth of race. Interviewing historian Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, both men acknowledge that less than 1% of 1% of DNA differs between so-called different races of people. However, it’s chilling to hear Bunch state that despite those infinitesimal variances in DNA, we are visual beings and so see and judge by the superficial differences we perceive. It’s a potent piece with which to round off what has been an entertaining yet deeply thought-provoking piece of TV. The documentary closes with the myth of Barthes’ meaningless end; was it really an accident or had he simply given up the will to live, devastated as he had been by his mother’s death? I guess we’ll never know…

“Twenty First Century Mythologies” is a wonderful introduction to the concepts of Roland Barthes and a powerful reminder of how relevant his ideas still are to the times in which we live. Tracing the evolution of Barthes’ life and thought, Clay reveals how the French thinker deconstructed and challenged many of the myths we take for granted nowadays, and goes on to lay bare the myths that came after Barthes. At the end of the documentary, Richard considers whether we can be “post myth”? I don’t think so personally, as the cultural controls imposed by the signs and symbols fed to us by those in charge are too embedded, and most people still don’t think enough about the norms to which they’re expected to conform. We need certain myths to structure the world; what we need to try to do is not let them control us.

Professor Richard Clay (c. ClearStory/BBC)

As I mentioned in my review of “Viral“, Clay wears his erudition lightly, but his commentary here draws on decades of his own research; for example, the defacing of money and coins reminds me of the part of “Utopia” dealing with Thomas Spence. There are sly hints at the Situationists, with the Beach Beneath the Streets becoming Wi Fi Beneath the Streets. What’s especially interesting for me, as someone who’s followed Richard’s work for some time now as well as watching his documentaries from the very start, is seeing how his ideas have evolved, observing how he expands on concepts hinted at in previous programmes. He’s a brilliant communicator, adept at getting complex ideas across in an accessible way and I have to applaud him for continuing with his one-man mission to sneak semiotics into the mainstream! These can be complex topics, but in the hands of an experienced and erudite commentator like Clay, they become wonderfully clear.

As you can tell, I absolutely *loved* this programme – it could have been made for me! It’s quite clear that we can’t underestimate the importance of Barthes’ thinking nowadays, in a world where the population is distracted by consumer society; which I guess is why, even in these days of lies and fake news and no leadership worth talking about, we still put up with so much and don’t rebel. If there is a lesson to be taken from Roland and Richard, I would say that it is to try to look past the constant daily bombardment of signs and symbols, ignoring the distractions, really *seeing* what is in front of us in everyday quotidian life – and question it. That is the liberation of understanding how these myths work. “Twenty First Century Mythologies” is on the iPlayer here at the moment, and I strongly urge you to catch it while you can – definitely my documentary of the decade!

“…asking questions about processes of meaning making…” – A new interview with Professor Richard Clay #c21stmyths @BBCFOUR @clearstoryuk

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If you’re a regular reader of the Ramblings, you’ll know of my love of a good documentary! BBC4 is my channel of choice, and I’ve been known to witter on endlessly about my favourite programmes. I was delighted to have the opportunity last year to interview Professor Richard Clay, the man who’s behind my favourite shows over the last several years; you can visit the two parts here and here. The interview coincided with the transmission of his excellent documentary “How to go Viral: The Art of the Meme”, and you can read my post about that here.

(c. ClearStory/BBC)

Naturally, therefore, I was thrilled to hear that Richard was making a new film, particularly when I found out the subject; the new show is entitled “21st Century Mythologies”, and it takes a look at the work of Roland Barthes, an author who seems to have been haunting my reading in recent months! The documentary takes a look at his relevance in our modern world and airs on BBC4 next week. Ahead of its transmission, I asked Richard if he’d be kind enough to make a repeat visit to the Ramblings and I’m happy to say that he agreed! 😀

KBR: Richard, welcome back to the Ramblings! You last visited around the time of your excellent documentary “How to Go Viral” last year. Apart from your new programme, which we’ll get onto later, have you been working on any interesting projects since then which you can share with us?

RC: Ah, all kinds of stuff! I particularly enjoyed doing a short film, called ‘Revolution Up North’, about the surprising links between the North East and French revolutions. We filmed at the Bowes Museum; it was founded around the collection of Josephine Bowes and her British husband. She was the daughter of a sans-culottes of the first French Revolution and escaped Paris during the revolutions of 1848.

The Bowes Museum (Alden Chadwick, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons)

Myself, a colleague (Dr Gillian Jein), a PhD student (Lauren Dudley), and an undergraduate fine artist (Lauren Kelly) chatted on camera at the Bowes about its amazing collection and the stash of incredible 1968 revolutionary posters produced by Atelier Populaire artists that are down the road at Brancepeth Castle in County Durham (why is another story).

Our film was basically a pitch for an exhibition that we would love to do, bringing modern Parisian street artists, Lek and Sowat, to County Durham to keep the tradition alive! And that is without getting into the claim that the revolutionary martyr Jean-Paul Marat might have studied medicine in Newcastle (maybe he spoke English with a Geordie accent!) or the survival of copper plates used to print fake revolutionary French money in the North East as an act of 1790s economic warfare! One day, I’m sure we will put the film on YouTube.

You’re currently based at Newcastle University, with the intriguing-sounding job title of Professor of Digital Cultures. Could you expand a little on the kind of thing which that (possibly unique) role entails?

There are other academics out there with a Digital Cultures brief. I’m a bit unusual because I’m a ‘translational prof’ and my role spans across subject areas. I’m a kind of champion of working across academic disciplines and sectors of the economy to do stuff together that has digital dimensions. For example, I’m involved with the Creative Fuse North East project that has been going for more than 5 years and involves all 5 of the region’s universities working in collaboration with creative industries (http://www.creativefusene.org.uk).

For someone who appears on TV you have a relatively low online profile. In these days of constant surveillance, either from external sources or self-inflicted, is this a deliberate decision?

It’s a deliberate decision. I’m aware of how our data is harvested and sold by websites and the risks that poses. Hence, I surf the web with cookies turned off to leave less of a trail and I don’t engage with social media. Social media companies are able to gather a few key points of information about each user and establish surprisingly accurate profiles of the products and services they are likely to buy when targeted with adverts. Users’ clicks and cookie data helps sharpen that picture by telling each site you visit where you’ve been previously. Hence, social media platforms are increasingly replacing print publishing as preferred platforms for advertisers because they can micro target their ads at users.

As the saying goes, ‘If it’s free online, you’re the product’. While many people feel okay with that as being a kind of quid pro quo, I am concerned by the ways in which, for example, such data is being used in often highly targeted political campaigns that are divisive and discourage the kinds of dialogue between citizens that seem ever more crucial. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal showed, the sale of huge social media datasets is being used in pretty shady ways by a range of political and commercial players. Plus, I’m not a big fan of accessing news on platforms whose algorithms are designed to give you more and more of the stuff your clicks suggest that you like. I prefer accessing more diverse bodies of opinion. And that’s without even getting into the ‘clickbait’ culture of much web design….

All of that might make me sound like I’m somehow anti-web, which I most certainly am not! Yeah, I choose to surf in particular ways (cookies turned off, clearing my surfing history periodically, having an email address I only use when I need to give one to purchase something online). But I still surf, getting my news, doing research, being a consumer and so on. As I think I said in our last interview, the web is a truly revolutionary tool that is bringing vast benefits to global society. I don’t want to turn it off, I just don’t want to be manipulated.

Moving on to your new documentary, it’s based around the seminal figure of Roland Barthes (who’s made many an appearance on the Ramblings) and is called “21st Century Mythologies”. Can you tell us a little about the show and what sparked the idea of making it?

Well, I was talking to BBC staff about how to do semiotics on television and Cassian Harrison (BBC4 Channel Editor) said, ‘Why not do a C20th take on Barthes’ “Mythologies”?’ I said, ‘Yeah, definitely!’ Then I had to actually read the book which was first published in 1957 and written before Barthes really engaged with semiotics! I loved it. It’s a collection of short essays that Barthes wrote for a magazine about a series of modern myths and then some heavier weight pieces that unpack what he means by a myth – something that is endlessly repeated as if it’s true to the point that we don’t question it. For example, he pointed to strip tease and asked whether it’s actually sexy to sit with strangers watching someone disrobe for money, and to professional wrestling which we know is closer to theatre than competitive sport. So, I selected a bunch of C21st myths and we set about unpicking them through interviews in the U.K., USA, and Italy. Oh, and we snook in some semiotics en route!

When did you first encounter the work of Barthes?

That was at UCL as a Masters student. I read his essay ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ and it blew my mind. I read it every year for 7 years before I realised that the one point that he made that I couldn’t comprehend was about something he later changed his mind about. I love the serious attention he devoted to popular culture. He didn’t see ‘fine art’ as inherently more interesting or worthy of consideration than advertising. It was liberating. Plus, he helped me got my head around semiotics…

“Mythologies” deals, of course, with semiotics and that subject might not appear on first glance to be related your specialism of iconoclasm. However, you’ve discussed the latter in terms of material sign transformation; could you expand on what connections you see between the two disciplines?

Well, I’d say that semiotics is the name given to the study of sign systems and it offers a range of concepts that can be used in such efforts. For example, a statue can be regarded as being a sign that has two components: the signifier (i.e. a statue of, say, a Confederate officer) and the signifieds that it points to (i.e. the meanings that ‘Confederate officer’ has for any given viewer). The signier + signifieds = statue as sign. Thinking about a statue in this way helps us to describe how and why iconoclasm (image breaking) comes about. For many people who know about the Confederacy’s defence of slavery, a statue of a Confederate officer connotes on-going acceptance and, indeed, heroicisation of that cause in a public space. To other people, the same statue’s ‘signifieds’ (its meanings) are more or less acceptable representations of events that took place generations ago. So, the same statue has multiple meanings to different people at any given time.

Caitlin Hobbs, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

As discourse around the Confederacy and its legacies mutates, people have new knowledge to apply in making sense of the statue’s meanings; when another innocent African American is murdered in the street by police officers, those people can come to use material alteration of contested signifiers (statues) to make the object point legibly and publicly to new meanings in public. Hence, the Black Lives Matter graffiti appearing all over Confederate statues in the USA that was then photographed and shared globally online and across the media publicising that the legacies of historic racism are rejected by many people. As protests around such signifiers grew, eventually, activists came to take matters into their own hands and pulled the statues down, often breaking them up, transforming them physically so that what was left (usually just an empty plinth) aligned with their opinions of acceptable meanings (signifiers) in public space and of acceptable behaviour. Hence, I’ve written about the material transformation of signs; but I also write about how those acts are always preceded, accompanied, and followed by transformations of signifiers at the level of discourse which make new meanings available for them and render material transformation imaginable and desirable to some people.

So yeah, I’ve found semiotics useful in terms of thinking about how signs are used to mediate conflicts within societies. But semiotics could equally be used to talk through why some people turn their nose up when they see the signifier that is a jar of Marmite (i.e. it connotes negative meanings for them). We really do live in a republic of signs (a res publica, a public thing) that occupies the material world through which we move and the world of ideas that shapes the sense that we make of that which we see (or hear, or taste, or touch!).

A casual viewer might think that these are abstract ideas which aren’t particularly relevant to them. Why do you think they’re important to our everyday life?

I just think that some of the basic concepts of semiotics are useful tools for thinking with: signifier + signifieds = sign; a symbol as a kind of sign that points to meanings if the viewer knows a rule (i.e. a no entry sign doesn’t look like not entering somewhere; connotation; polysemicity [multiple meanings]; polyvalency [multiple values].) These kinds of notions allow us to deconstruct what is going on when, say, a website tries to get us to make sense of the news it is presenting in a particular way using the signifiers of words, images, film, and/or sound. Thinking semiotically involves asking questions about processes of meaning making and the impact that they have on all aspects of our lives.

Of course, words are signs too. The signifiers that are the written words ‘nation state’ point to meanings in our heads that that vary from person to person, sometimes subtly and sometimes profoundly. Yet, whole tranches of public debate assume that participants are using the words in the same way. In Barthes’s terms, ‘nation state’ is a myth – a notion that is widely used and rarely queried. Yet, armies are mobilised and sent to war in defence of nation states (most of which were not even claimed to exist until after the second half of the nineteenth-century).

Without revealing too much, “21st Century Mythologies” builds to some very powerful concluding sections; it’s perhaps your most impactful programme so far. Did you envisage this when initially planning it?

Yep. I really wanted to end with the myth of ‘race’; a pseudo-scientific myth but probably the most pernicious social reality. I’m always amazed that people speak so readily of, for example, African Americans, as being members of a different ‘race’ to non-African Americans. Yet, Europeans only started to describe people of differing skin tones (varying shades of brown) as belonging to different races at a point in history when ‘white’ people began to enslave other ‘races’ for slavers’ commercial gain? I think that all citizens need to reflect on the world around them as Barthes did and be alert to the fact that there are interest groups out there who do not wish us to unpack and challenge myths like ‘race’ and ask how can they still persist.

Dr. Lonnie Bunch of the Smithsonian Institution with Richard (c. ClearStory/BBC)

Barthes has a long cultural reach, influencing works as diverse as “The 7th Function of Language” by Laurent Binet and “This Little Art” by Kate Briggs. Why do you think he still inspires such interest?

Well, he was properly clever!

It’s hard at the moment to ignore current world circumstances. How has this impacted on your working and teaching – and, indeed, the making of the documentary?

Well, filming was complete before the first lockdown and the finished edit was sent to the BBC during the first month of that lockdown. But contemporary affairs other than the current pandemic had impacted on the film during its development and production. I don’t claim to make objective films any more than I’d claim to write objective history; objectivity is a laudable but unattainable goal. I’ve always thought that history is more or less consciously written in the present, about the past, with an eye on the future and the same applies to documentary film making.

As for the impact of the global pandemic on teaching, most of mine is in one-to-one supervisions with undergraduate and postgraduate students writing a dissertation or thesis. It isn’t quite the same having our discussions over Zoom or Teams, but it’s not as problematic as it is for many other forms of teaching. I really feel for my colleagues and our students, but they are all doing their very best to make the most of deeply challenging circumstances.

You’ve talked in the past about the challenge of condensing your work into a relatively short television format, as well as the difficulty of getting semiotics on camera. Do you think that sometimes TV companies underestimate the interest of their audiences in engaging with more complex ideas?

I think that independent TV companies who make films don’t underestimate audiences’ interests in engaging with challenging ideas, but I’m not sure that the same is the case for all broadcasters. I’ve been lucky because BBC4 took a liking to the kinds of films I’m interested in making. But whether that will last is another matter.

In our previous interview you described yourself as a synthesist, and you’ve explored this path widely with initiatives such as the C.A.K.E. (Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange) events. “21st Century Mythologies”, as with your earlier programmes, draws on a wide range of contributors from different disciplines. Do you regard this cross-curricular approach as crucial?

It is for me! I just like being challenged to think in new ways that help me to look at the world afresh, to ask new questions, to reach new conclusions, to query my own assumptions. But then I’m the kind of person who’d start a conversation at a bus stop; you just never know what you might learn.

You’ve been quite vocal in the past about the focus on STEM in education, championing instead the STEAM model, integrating arts into the mix along with sciences. Do you believe in the continued need for the arts to help us make sense of our world?

I do! Many moons ago I heard the then Director of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) telling a story about his predecessor listening to his equivalent at the Medical Research Council saying, quite rightly, that their work saved lives. The AHRC head said, ‘Yes, but our Council makes people’s lives worth living’.

David’s masterly image

We covered your early career and training as an art historian in our first interview. Popping your art historian hat back on for a moment, do you have a favourite artist and/or painting?

Jacques-Louis David, ‘Marat at his last breath’, oil on canvas, 1793 (Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts, Brussels).

Finally, having gone from strength to strength with your series of wonderful documentaries, do you have any plans for future programmes?

Ah, thanks! The challenge is finding an idea that appeals to commissioning editors; otherwise, it just remains an idea. I’ve been pondering Henri Lefebvre’s argument that all space is coded and how my take on his thinking could shape some good films. But maybe there won’t be more TV commissions for me, and I’ll need to think about whether to make and share films in different ways. Broadcast is being revolutionised by YouTube and streaming. Perhaps it’s time for me to go back to that technology that has stood the test of time for sharing complex ideas – the book!

*****

Well, let’s hope that last sentence comes to pass, because it would be wonderful to see Richard share some new writings! I’d very much like to thank Richard for being prepared to make a revisit to the Ramblings and providing such an utterly fascinating and thought-provoking interview, as brim full of ideas as his documentaries and writings always are. “21st Century Mythologies” premieres on BBC4 on Monday 9th November at 9 a.m. – don’t miss it! 😀

Interview c. Richard Clay/Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings – no unauthorised reproduction, please.

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