Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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The best selfie out-of-this-world!

space selfie

 

I saw this photo yesterday, and thought that it was too good not to share on here. Following on from my posts on the Papal selfie and the Darth Vader selfie comes this new addition to a very occasional series, which was taken by (I think) a Japanese astronaut on a space-walk from the International Space Station. You can see the sun sitting on the left, but the best bit for me is seeing the reflection of the Earth in the astronaut’s helmet. Just wonderful. Nothing else to say really!

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Christmas Books

It’s taken me a few days to get around to writing this post, but here I finally am. These first few are ones that I picked and therefore knew my partner was saving for me for Christmas:

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  • Jostein Gaarder –  The Ringmaster’s Daughter
  • Jerome K. Jerome –  Three Men in a Boat
  • J.G.Ballard – Crash

I also knew about this next one. You may remember a month or so ago that I was unable to pick up my old edition of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, and that I had decided to purchase one of the pleasantly-designed boxsets (see the discussion with myself in this previous post). Well, a while back I had a rather lucky find at the local library booksale:

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This was also saved until Christmas, and was a ridiculously good find- £20 worth of book for 10p! ‘The Hobbit’ isn’t included, but I should be able to pick that up at some point.

I also had:

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  • E.M. Forster – Maurice
  • F.Scott Fitzgerald –  The Last Tycoon
  • Truman Capote –  Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • William S. Burroughs –  Junky
  • Rudyard Kipling –  Puck of Pook’s Hill (off my parents)

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  • Private Eye: A Cartoon History
  • Nicholas J. Higham & Martin J. Ryan –  The Anglo-Saxon World (off my parents)
  • The Private Eye Annual 2013
  • Private Eye: Eyeballs

Quite a nice amount of reading to be getting on with!

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It’s Christmas!

Nativity by Francis Ashton Jackson (1868-1946)

Nativity by Francis Ashton Jackson (1868-1946)

Just a quick post to say MERRY CHRISTMAS! to all of my viewers and followers, and I hope you have a wonderful time over this festive period.

I have several posts in progress, including an archaeology post and several ‘Thoughts on…’, as well as there hopefully being some Christmas book acquisitions to include, and so I should be posting again several times before New Year. For now, though, MERRY CHRISTMAS again!

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Latest books

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Just a few new books from the past couple of weeks:

  • Kenneth Grahame –  The Wind in the Willows     50p
  • E.M. Forster –  A Room with a View     50p
  • Vladimir Nabokov –  Lolita     50p
  • Elizabeth Gaskell –  The Cranford Chronicles     50p     (containing ‘Mr Harrison’s Confessions’, ‘Cranford’ and ‘My Lady Ludlow’)

I do already own a copy of ‘A Room with a View’, with this cover:

a room with a view

 

However, the Penguin Modern Classics edition shown in the top image has an introduction and notes that this edition doesn’t, so I thought it was worth getting just for that. And, it is in the new Modern Classics series, which I adore on design grounds. However, I do think that this edition does look somewhat gloomy considering the images used on the covers of the other Classics editions:

a room witha view pics

 

I think that the two on the left and the two in the middle are perfectly okay, but the ones on the right look a tad drab in comparison. However, the Classics edition image does look a lot better than the cropped and flipped version in the bottom right, as it seems a lot lighter and inviting. Anyhoo- the big question is which edition should I read? My existing copy or the new one? Decisions decisions!

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A small victory for anthropology: the return of sacred Hopi masks

Image: Reuters

Image: Reuters

There are some stories in the news that irritate me to Hell, and then there are others that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This post involves one of each, and they are both connected.

The Hopi, whose full name is Hopituh Shi-nu-mu (“The Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones”) are a native matrilineal tribe indigenous to the US state of Arizona, that live mainly on a reservation that is completely surrounded by the land of the Navajo. There were, according to the 2010 US census, 18,327 members of the Hopi, and many traditional crafts are carried out in order to make a living, such as high-quality pottery-making, the carving of Kachina dolls, and the making of silver jewellery. As with many tribes around the world, Christianity has been taken up by some Hopi, but traditional religious beliefs still dominate their culture, and it is to these beliefs that the news story in question relates. For the Hopi, ceremonial masks and head-dresses made by members of the tribe are seen as tombs, representing the spirits of the ancestors, and as such these items are treated as sacred and as living beings, being kept behind muslin screens so as they can ‘breathe’ when not in use, and being ritually fed corn pollen. However, despite such objects being protected in the US, with the sale of Native American items being outlawed in 1990, this rule does not extend to other countries. As such, on 9th December 2013, a sale of  27 Hopi masks and artifacts taken from Arizona in the early 20th century went ahead at an auction in Paris. The advocacy group, Survival International, tried unsuccessfully to challenge the auction in court on behalf of the Hopis, but at the sale the Annenberg Foundation stepped in, spending $530,000 (£325,732) on 24 objects with the sole aim of returning these items to the tribe. This is absolutely wonderful news both for the Hopi, indigenous peoples in general, and for anthropology, as it shows that there are people out there who are able to see the importance behind so-called ‘art’ objects and their relevance to the beliefs of others. 

Sadly, in April this year, another sale of 70 Hopi masks took place in Paris, with these items going to collectors for a combined sum of €930,000 (£787,107). These are some of the masks sold:

Image: Getty Images

Image: Getty Images

Acoma sacred mask. Image: AFP

Acoma sacred mask. Image: AFP

Heaume Korosto sacred mask. Image: AFP

Heaume Korosto sacred mask. Image: AFP

Hilili sacred mask. Image: AFP

Hilili sacred mask. Image: AFP

Ho-ote sacred mask. Image: AFP

Ho-ote sacred mask. Image: AFP

Wuyak-ku-ita sacred mask. Image: AFP

Wuyak-ku-ita sacred mask. Image: AFP

At the time of this latter sale back in April, I posted this on Facebook with a link to the BBC News article about the sale:

Seriously- I love the quote at the end: “I guess that museums will be obliged to give back their collections. It’s major. It would be terrible for the art market in general.” Erm….no. There is a difference between the ownership of tribal material by museums and the selling of these items on the open art market. Museums of ethnography such as our own Pitt Rivers work extensively with tribal peoples to gain understanding of customs and beliefs surrounding objects, and closer connections often allow for museums to retain these items but make them accessible to tribes for their own learning, study and occasional use for rituals. Some items are repatriated as they are seen to be important for the people who made them or who have descended from the original creators, and because it is often the moral thing to do, especially if they were taken under overly violent colonial methods, through false means or other illegal practice. To say that they should not be returned due to the loss to the “art market” is an insult to our western intelligence as people who can see objects as more than simply “art”, and is certainly an insult to the Hopi and any other tribal people. To them, these are more than “art” (if they even conceive of ‘art’ for its own sake) and should not be treated by those who feel they are better than indigenous populations as commodities. Items to be learnt from and studied, yes. In the right way this can be very productive for all involved. But not as a means of imposing superiority. And not as something that has nothing but monetary value.

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Thoughts on George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

1984 eyes

This post has been a long time in mental gestation, as I’ve been mulling over for some time how quite to sum up what has to be one of the best books I have ever read. I can’t even say why I particularly like the novel. However, I did build the book up quite a lot in my expectations prior to reading it, as I put it off and put it off in order to wait until I felt ready to engage fully with the text; I didn’t want to approach it half-heartedly. Despite this build-up, I think that the book managed to work on me on its own merit, rather than on my assumptions of what it would be, in part because the book is actually so much more than I had ever expected.  For one, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a love story, albeit one with no happy, fairytale ending. Also, on a political level, it is not so much of a commentary upon what could happen if a political party gained too much power or a nation became an extreme police state, but it is more an exercise in how far the human mind can be stretched before it can too be controlled. In a recent song, Lady Gaga sings that “You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”, but here, in Orwell’s future, they will use your mind and make you believe whatever they want you to, whether this be that two allies are suddenly at war and have forever been in such a state, or that 2 + 2 = 5.  I think that it is this message about the mind that we are presented with here that sticks with me, personally, and which makes the book so much more than mere dystopian fiction or political warning. We know that political regimes can control the information that its subjects receive and the way in which it is presented- Hitler and Stalin did it in the past, and in the present we have Russian government suppressing the voice of those who disagree, the Chinese blocking the internet to stop certain materials reaching into the country, North Korea banning almost everything that speaks of the outside world, and countless other nations that control and censor in order to remain in power. However, it is beyond the reach of any leader to actually control the way in which its people think on a truly base level. Sure, propaganda can brainwash to an extent, but not in the way that we see Winston’s mind turned at the end of this novel, and it is this that is truly frightening- the idea that people may be able to be reprogrammed in such a way as they carry out ‘double-think’ on a daily and continuous basis, and indeed believe that 2 + 2 = 5, despite also being able to see that it logically and mathematically can never be the case. (I’m sure that there are many ways in which it could be argued that people can be made to think exactly what someone else wants them to, and examples that can be given such as Nazis carrying out the atrocities of WWII, but no example can be given where the way that someone thinks is overridden to such an extent as it is here. There were several times during Winston’s torture and interrogation by O’Brien that I gasped aloud due to the latter’s ignorance and frightening acceptance of party lies, such as those detailing Big Brother’s role in science and the works of nature. However, such scenes also work well to show the party and the entire concept of double-think and thought control to be preposterous and something of a hyperbolised distortion of what really goes on.)

Another aspect of the novel that I found frightening was the concept behind ‘Newspeak’- if the langauge is reduced to its barest form and the words for ‘thought-crimes’ are removed, then people will not carry out ‘thought-crimes’, as the words to express the thought will no longer exist. The concept and idea makes sense- for example, I am limited in the amount of French that I can speak, and so if I do not know the word or words for something in French, then I cannot discuss it in that language. However, for a lover of literature and language, such a destruction and reduction of an entire lexicon is a terrifying thought, with the translation of existing works such as Shakespeare and Dickens into ‘Newspeak’ tantamount to sacrilege. Here we can see the way in which the Party attempts to control thought, by changing the very vocabulary that people use to think and therefore the way in which thoughts present themselves and can be ordered in the mind.

I was also surprised and impressed by the way in which the Ministry of Love was made out to be a place where political dissidents were killed, when in actuality it was a place where people were re-educated and taught how to think afresh, with those who were believed to have disappeared simply being reintroduced into society as a different person. This for me managed to place the Party on a different level to actual regimes that are fuelled by oppression, and showed a fate that is almost worse than death. However, the torture scenes were surprisingly effective, and shocking in just quite how graphic they were, considering that the novel was published in 1949. It was also in these torture scenes that I was reminded of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (see here for my ‘Thoughts on…’ regarding this novella), and only at this point that I realised quite how much Burgess was influenced in the writing of his book by Orwell and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Burgess’s debt to Orwell can be seen clearly in the former’s book ‘1985’, which uses his ideas and style to produce a more modern echo of the novel, and which begins with an extended interview with Burgess talking about ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. However, this book and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ don’t just share torture scenes in common, but both stories are ultimately concerned with the nature of human agency and free will, and the ability of the individual to be in control of their own thoughts. It is this shared theme that I think makes these both such fantastic and thought-provoking works, but for me ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ triumphs over ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for several reasons. Whereas the latter concerns itself with the re-education of a teenager who is seen to need altering and correcting before he becomes an adult, Orwell’s story is more frightening, as it does not take an individual susceptible to influence (i.e. the teenager), but a middle-aged adult who is already educated, and so should be already able to think for himself. It also takes the idea of individual control, and extends this to an entire world (or at least an entire country. It is my personal theory that ‘Airstrip One’ is actually the only such controlled nation in the world, and that the rest of the world is actually as we know it to be. All ideas of ‘Eurasia’ and ‘Oceania’ and the endless wars are actually fabrications of the Party, and the world continues as usual beyond the country’s shores). There were many occasions whilst reading the novel that I was genuinely frightened by what I read, and was fearful for the world that was envisaged and the similarities that can be seen between the novel and our world, as well as the potentials that the story offers. To see the book as simply one commentating upon the surveillance and spying of governments is to not get under the skin of the text, and it holds messages and ideas that run deeper than this. I haven’t really touched here upon the love story between Winston and Julia, which forms the axis around which the novel revolves and around which Winston is finally destroyed, but this too should be seen as a further key to understanding the novel. It is love that helps to hold Winston together, as well as the weapon with which he is ultimately defeated.

These ‘Thoughts on…’ have been difficult for me to write, as I have been unsure quite how to explain this novel, its themes and the reasons why I like it so much, but I hope that I have gone someway to explaining my ideas and thoughts. I would not hesitate to recommend this book, and think- as with ‘Animal Farm’- that it should be required reading for everyone; I will certainly be re-reading it, but don’t think that I could cope with it too soon due to the sense of deflation and mental exhaustion that I felt upon completing it.

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Ideas for writing projects

You may recall that I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve finally completed the poetry collection that I’ve been working on, and just need to re-read it a few more times to make sure that I’m happy with it. Well, now I’ve been thinking about what I should write next, and have decided that- whilst I have another book of poetry planned out and begun in snippets- I will begin a novel that I came up with an idea for a few weeks ago, and which I have subsequently planned in quite a bit of detail. I’m also going to write a series of short stories, vignettes and fragments a la Kafka on a variety of topics and in a wide range of styles but with an overarching theme with the intention of putting a book together. Hopefully, these will allow me to experiment with styles and narrative voices, as well as providing stimulating breaks from the novel once I’ve finally taken the plunge and written the first sentence in my new notebook. I will keep posting fairly regular updates on my progress, and hope to be finished by some point next year so I can then pester publishers once I have been rejected copiously with my poems. Wish me luck!

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Four more books

P1000957

I managed to pick up four books today whilst shopping:

  • Harper Lee –  To Kill a Mockingbird     75p
  • Jean Rhys –  Wide Sargasso Sea     50p
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle –  A Study in Scarlet     50p
  • Edward W. Said –  Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient     50p

The last book is the first anthropological work that I have bought for quite a long time, and which should make for interesting reading. At the moment, I am reading Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, which I was very excited about starting, and which is proving very joyful so far- but thoughts to come in due course.

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Darth Vader Selfie

Nothing really to say about this, except that it is pretty nifty. Anything ‘Star Wars’ is good in my book.

Darth Vader selfie

Image: Star Wars/Instagram

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The further joys of library booksales

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You may notice that this photo is decidedly un-crappy, which makes a change from the photos of my last few book-purchasing posts. This time, you can read the titles, but I will still list them anyway:

  • Ian Fleming –  Casino Royale     50p
  • C.S. Lewis –  The Great Divorce     25p
  • Graham Greene –  The Human Factor     25p
  • Donald Barthelme –  Forty Stories     25p
  • Tennessee Williams –  A Streetcar Named Desire and Other Plays     25p
  • John Steinbeck –  East of Eden     25p

As the title suggests, these were all from a library booksale (not the same one as those in previous posts)… well, ‘Casino Royale’ wasn’t. The rest were, though.

Also, we managed to get a very nice and very hefty copy of Oscar Wilde’s collected works for 25p as well, but my wonderful partner has commandeered this one. I may be able to borrow it if I ask very nicely.

The Barthelme book and the Greene book were only spotted by myself as we were leaving the library, as I happened to glance back at the table, and the former caught my eye due to the interesting cover image. I didn’t recognise the author, but recognised the title as being one I read about at the back of my Penguin Classics edition of ‘Ulysses’ and thought sounded worth getting. I’d actually forgotten about it until I saw it at the sale, and hadn’t added it to the list of classics that I want (yes, I do have a list). The fact that it was a silver-spined Penguin Classic also won me around to getting it, too. At the moment, I’m pouncing on any of the Modern Classics that I see. As an aside, this edition also raises an interesting issue (if issue is the right word), as it is in the Modern Classics series, but doesn’t have the Classics-style cover. This is similar to the recent reissues of Kafka by Penguin, and those of John Updike in the Modern Classics range: penguins-kafka-2

I’ve read some rather uncomplimentary things about these covers, but personally I quite like them myself.

A further random book-related point: these aren’t the only books I’ve had recently, but my other half has put some of my recent purchases up for Christmas, including one very special purchase that I am itching to mention, but will save for a special post at Christmas. I’ll do two them, actually- one on the books I already know about, and one on those that I don’t know the identities of.

Oh- one last point: I’ve got two more ‘Thoughts on…’ posts to get up soon- one on Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, and one on Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’. These will come soon, so please be patient!

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The Matilda Project

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Bones Don't Lie

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A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

Early medievalist's thoughts and ponderings, by Jonathan Jarrett

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