Monthly Archives: March 2014

A new low for TV and a slap in the face to proper archaeology

I’ve only heard about this programme recently, and so am aware that much has already been said about it, but National Geographic are planning on 13th May to air in the UK a ‘documentary’ entitled ‘Nazi War Diggers’. The clips of this show already released were quickly taken off the internet after the negative comments started, and to be honest, it is easy to see why. The programme sees a group of individuals (I can’t call them archaeologists, for the simple reason that they aren’t) digging up remains of fallen Second World War soldiers in Latvia, with the proposed intentions of  ‘sav[ing] this history from being looted or lost’.

However, the only ‘looting’ that seems to be taking place is that by the presenters of this programme. I have seen several television documentaries where battlefield archaeologists excavate French trenches and battlefields from WWI in order to return the bodies of loved ones to their families for proper reinterment. These excavations are carried out with sensitivity, for a legitimate reason, and by professionally trained archaeologists and osteologists using correct archaeological excavation procedures. I do not have an issue with this, and if this is what ‘Nazi War Diggers’ was about, then there would be no issue. The footage, however, that was released and the images abounding on the ‘net that have been taken from the programme or used to publicise it show a group of inept amateurs digging away with no regard for archaeological techniques or contexts (for example, using sharp tools close to bones, not recording the material found in any way, and pulling bones out of the ground using brute force, rather than carefully and slowly excavating around them), and much less regard for the individuals whose remains they are removing.

Dr Tony Pollard, the Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, has said this about the programme:

I’m appalled that a major broadcaster has sunk to the levels of exploitation television. I’ve been at the forefront of battlefield archaeology for fifteen years, and I have spent much time getting the subject taken seriously.

This just looks like they’ve gone around digging up bodies, because TV likes a dead body.

This shows no evidence of even the most basic archaeological principles – this is treasure hunting not archaeology.

I have seen human remains brandished like trophies before but in dodgy YouTube videos. The fact that this comes from a commissioned TV series is quite beyond belief.

The trailer on the internet was absolutely shocking, and very damaging for National Geographic.

Whether these bodies are those of Allied soldiers, German soldiers, or soldiers of any other nation, they should not be handled and removed in such a way that shows such basic disregard for common decency, human morality, the ethics of the past, or for people who were someone’s son, friend, father or brother. A pile of human bones is not just a collection of objects (it is indeed that, but not just that)- it is the physical presence of a person who is no longer alive and who is no longer in the world to defend and protect themself. There is no reason why these remains should be treated with any less respect than those buried in cemeteries or those held in museums, and the trivialisation of their removal and handling is lamentable. Not only do the diggers (I can’t call them excavators, because this suggests some sort of archaeological methodology has been adhered to) pull bones out of the ground, but they blatantly show scant knowledge of osteology or human anatomy, and worryingly little evidence of what they do with the bodies once they have removed them.

Not only is this programme a new low for television and its need to broadcast crap catering to the lowest common denominator, but it is also a shot in the foot for the once-respectable National Geographic, and a body-blow to the good name of archaeology, and battlefield archaeology in particular (which has a bad enough time of it as it is, with many people against such excavation, and which often finds itself having to defend itself way too much). I shall not be watching this programme for fear of throwing something through my screen whilst it is on, and have decided against posting any images to illustrate this rant, as I do not want to condone what those idiots have done in any way. As an archaeologist, I see the historic, scientific, practical and moral need to excavate human remains, and in recent years massive steps have been made in this field when it comes to repatriation of bones and body parts to those of other cultures, and in the general handling and study of such material. This, though, does not mean that I condone the gratuitous unearthing of individuals when there is no motive other than selfish self-publicity and the need to increase television viewing figures. Will the production team carry out tests on the bodies in order to return them to the families for reburial? Will they rebury them in a manner befitting a dead soldier? I think not, and it is truly shameful.

One last thought: I wonder if such a programme would be permissable were it Allied soldiers being excavated in France or Belgium in such a way? Is it because these individuals were ‘Nazis’ that such ill treatment is possible? Are we still to retain such pointless and ridiculous prejudices?

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Thoughts on Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’

FearAndLoathingInLasVegasWallpapers2

I never expected that this would be the case when I started to read it, but Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ has become one of my favourite books. I can’t really say why, either, other than it is a great read and highly entertaining, as well as being really engaging due to the relaxed first-person narrative. The subject matter is not one that I particularly like (i.e. excessive drinking and drug taking-  although I’m looking forward to reading Burrough’s ‘Junky’, and am currently getting absorbed by Amis’s ‘Money’ with its permanently sozzled narrator), but it does make for some highly-interesting and surprisingly amusing scenes. Also, the descriptions are rather poetic, too. Indeed, the first few lines of the book set the pace for the tone of much of the rest of the work:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process.

As with ‘On the Road’, much of this novel is a road-trip story that is a dramatised account of the author’s real-life experiences, and in a similar way, the main protagonists all seem somewhat lacking in intention and direction. However, unlike Kerouac, Thompson is travelling as part of a journalism assignment, with the drug-taking and illegal activities taking place whilst carrying out this intention, and with little regard for the consequences; Thompson (or ‘Raoul Duke’) and his Samoan attorney will return to their real lives as soon as the events of the novel are over. In ‘On the Road’, the travelling and the events that occur are still an escape from the author’s usual life, but are also integral to creating his life, and allowing him to experiment with new avenues and paths down which to move on with his life.

I managed to surprise myself reading this text in part as well because some of my favourite passages and scenes involved the characters getting incredibly high or wasted whilst locked in their hotel rooms, and the light way in which their drug taking is approached. I think that it appealed to me so much simply because these actions are so far removed from both what I know and what I would usually read, and it made an incredibly fresh change. Also, the Ralph Steadman images make the book interesting, as besides being wonderfully evocative and lively (if a little chaotic and disturbing), they also give an incredibly adult book a somewhat childish air, as very few adult novels have in-text drawings.

This is definitely a text that I would recommend, and will happily read it again when I get the chance. Also, it has given me many ideas for my own writing, which can only be a good thing!

Tagged , , , ,

Lemurs can take pictures too

You may have realised that I am quite fond of strange selfies, and so I thought I’d post these two images I came across the other day:

Bekily the lemur

Image: ZSL London/PA

Lemur takes selfie

Image: ZSL London/PA

These are two images taken by Bekily, a 12-year-old ring-tailed lemur at London Zoo. ‘Nuff said really.

———-

If you are interested in the other selfies I’ve posted, these are Pope Francis, Darth Vader, and an astronaut.

Tagged , , ,

Iggle Piggle and Chaucer: New Statesman 11/09/2013

DHX MEDIA LTD. - DHX Media acquires Ragdoll Worldwide

 

Regular readers of this blog will know by now that I have two children, and like many 2 and 3 year-olds, one of their favourite television programmes is the BBC’s ‘In the Night Garden‘. Personally, I really dislike it and find Iggle Piggle- the blue idiot in the centre of the above image- incredibly irritating, but they seem to find it facinating. However, I have not realised until now that there are perhaps deeper meanings to this programme. I can’t really paraphrase this, and so will post the whole article. It’s taken from the New Statesman website, posted on 11th September 2013.

***********

In the Night Garden is secretly teaching our toddlers Chaucer

By Amy Licence

On weekdays at 6.20pm, CBeebies, the BBC’s channel for the under-4s, screens the popular show In the Night Garden. Toddlers across the UK watch Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and their friends having adventures in fairy-tale woodlands filled with sunshine and flowers. Described by the BBC as representing a “magical place that exists between waking and sleeping in a child’s imagination,” the programme is both enjoyable and educational. The explanatory webpage emphasises its playfulness and confidence-building repetition, plus its use of words, rhyme and music, which create a “happy world” of “loveable characters” and “nursery rhyme nonsense.” Pre-schoolers love to sing along with the characters and add to their collection of the show’s merchandise, from talking toys to clothing, play-doh sets and lunch boxes. Parents can be reassured by the BBC’s admission that the “tone of the programme is deliberately literary” although it is perhaps more literary than they realise. What these tots are actually getting is a dose of the conventions of medieval poetry. Specifically, Chaucer’s dream visions.

Chaucer is best remembered today for his unfinished collection of stories The Canterbury Tales, written at the end of the fifteenth century. It is vibrant with humour, irony and brilliant characters. But this is only a portion of his work. He also made a translation of the French dream vision The Romance of the Rose and wrote several of his own versions of the genre. In these, characterisation takes a back seat in favour of more early forms of allegory, where figures were less individuals, than representations of abstract virtues and vices. Chaucer’s poems, The Parliament of Fowls, The Legend of Good Women, The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame, follow strict conventions, like a tick-list, of details relating to structure, setting and characters. And, funnily enough, CBeebies’ In the Night Garden contains many of them too.

The programme begins with a sleepy-eyed toddler, lying in bed, having the palm of their hand stroked soothingly. “The night is black and the stars are bright and the sea is dark and deep” begins the song, almost hypnotically. Just as the toddler drifts off, so dream poetry often begin with the narrator lying down restlessly and hoping for the onset of sleep. As “the day began to fail and the dark night” arrives, as in The Parliament of Fowls, the boundaries blur between the conscious and waking worlds. Here, Chaucer’s narrator often meets a guide, who helps him navigate through this dream world. For CBeebies’ sleepy toddlers, there is the blue, fluffy figure of Iggle Piggle, perhaps child-speak for “Little Pickle.” Presented like a toddler’s drawing of a man, with his little shock of red hair and matching blanket, he is the “everyman” bridge between the worlds.

Iggle Piggle journeys to the realm of dreams in a boat. He drifts away on the dark waves, with a little light at the top of his mast showing the way through the gloom. This is timeless literary convention, a common metaphor for the process of sleep, and puts distance between the real world and the imagined. We recognise it as a journey, a temporary measure before we enter the dream proper. Iggle Piggle’s boat never lands. We don’t see him beach it on a distant shore and climb out. This is where the magic begins. Chaucer might supply us with a sudden capsize: “the steering oar did suddenly drag him overboard in his sleep” but the BBC’s explanation is far more toddler-friendly. As we watch, the stars turn into white flowers, which bud and open, like unfolding dreams. A symbolic barrier has been crossed, like falling asleep or dying, passing mysteriously into another realm. This is the world of the Night Garden.

Iggle Piggle finds himself in a landscape of bright colours. Friends await him in an idealised garden where the sun always shines, large stylised flowers bloom and others cluster in bright balls, like gems. It is an eternal, temperate summer, as the dream convention demands; the sun is “clad all new again,” almost in an inversion of the winter of Narnia. Chaucer’s gardens have “no awkwardness of hot or cold” in their “summer sunlight” and “blue, bright, clear” air. His woodland is lush and green, with trees “fresh and green as emerald” and sweet grass “embroidered” with flowers. The BBC’s landscape is reminiscent of this, with “blossoming boughs beside a river” and “ flowers white, blue, yellow and red,” peopled by a cast of unusual imaginary figures. Yet it is Upsy Daisy whom Iggle Piggle most wants to see: “of all the flowers in the mead, love I the white and red I see, such as men call daisies.”  There is no doubt in the children’s minds that she is his BFF, his best friend forever.

Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy’s love affair is a chaste one. They hold hands and even sometimes give each other cloth-mouthed kisses but theirs is a courtly love in the best of medieval traditions. In appearance Upsy Daisy is very feminine, the opposite to Iggle Piggle, with her pink and orange hair and clothes contrasting with his blueness, the epitomic symbols of masculinity and femininity. She is aptly named. Chaucer reverences the humble flower as “the eye of day, the empress and flower of flowers all,” “a daisy is crowned with white petals light,” suggestive of the character’s sticking up coronet of hair. Chaucer’s idealised women, often the Goddess Flora, are the “flower of flowers,” colourful, bright and full of life. Upsy Daisy is also accomplished and affectionate; she sings, dances and kisses flowers, causing them to grow, as Chaucer’s Flora does. The narrator of The Book of the Duchess watches “her dance so gracefully, carol and sing so sweetly.”

Upsy Daisy looks like, and is, a child’s doll. The heroines of Chaucer’s dreams are also similarly mannequinesque, with “golden hair and wide bright eyes.” One is even strangely boneless and unreal; her neck is “smooth and flat without hollow or collarbone” and “every limb rounded, fleshy and not over-thin,” while another is “a feminine creature, that never formed by nature, was such another seen.” They are as animate as the toys that people the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle’s little fabric heart, however, has been won. Quick to swoon in situations of intense emotion, such as a sneeze, he recalls the guide of The Book of the Duchess, eager “to worship her and serve as best I then could,” who declares his love but “she never gave a straw for all my tale.” The toys play with the ball, symbolic of the to and fro of romance. They are the lovers of medieval legend, forever enclosed within their perfect garden but childlike, safe and innocent. And, just as in The Parliament of Fowls, they have their own Cupid, the dumpy brown Makka Pakka, reminiscent of a little Renaissance putto.

Upsy Daisy’s bed is a potent symbol. Seemingly with a life of its own, it is always rushing through the landscape to music, coming to rest among the daisies. A bright yellow, it recalls Venus’s “bed of gold” as described by Chaucer. Unsurprisingly, it is an entirely chaste bed, given over to sleep alone, although its playful trickery reminds us of the illusion and deception of dreams. Only Upsy Daisy is allowed to occupy this bed, as her sleeping and waking, in fact her existence as a dream-woman, are functions of Iggle Piggle’s subconscious.

Just like the dream visions, In the Night Garden never deviates from its structure. The beginning of the end is signalled by the BBC’s own parliament of fowls, a multi-coloured collection of birds signing in harmony. These are a common symbol for Chaucer, ranging from a “sweet” or “angelic” chorus in most poems, to gathering on St Valentine’s day in order to select a mate. The “lays of love” they sing in The Legend of Good Women “upon the branches full of blossom soft” could describe their serenading of the toys in the sunshine as well as signalling the approach of bedtime to their young audience. After this, all the characters come together to sing. As in Chaucer’s poems, the landscape is peopled with other gods and goddesses, mysterious and allegorical figures. From the giant Haahoos to the tiny Pontipines, to the train-like Ninky Nonk and flying Pinky Ponk, we are reminded of dream-like discrepancies in perspective and alternative, child-like ways of viewing the world.

Together, the toys sing and dance under a gazebo, decorated with their images and flashing with coloured lights. It’s a bit of a love-in. As the BBC’s website declares, all characters “interact and love each other… unconditionally.” Chaucer’s poems contain descriptions of various temples to Venus, made of glass, with long pillars and ornamented with images. Women, in The Parliament of Fowls “danced they there, that was their duty, year on year.” It is a happy, utopian vision, attractive and inclusive to children, who sing or sway along with the familiar moves.

After the song, the vision is ended by sleep. The characters stop playing, say good night and close their eyes. Only Iggle Piggle is left awake, although ironically, as the narrator, he is actually asleep in the external “reality” of the structure. He still clutches his red blanket, a constant reminder throughout of his dormant state and imminent return home. The cessation of the dream world signals to the audience that he is about to awake and that the program will end. The credits roll over the image of him in the boat again and the watching toddlers, symbolised by the child falling asleep at the start, “wake” again from its spell. That is when the real bedtime arrives and the hard work for the parents begins. With any luck, someone they “know is safe and snug and drifting off to sleep.”

Tagged , , , ,

Books from the past few weeks

A few more books purchased over the past couple of weeks:

WP_20140310_003

  • Mary Wolstonecraft –  A Vindication of the Rights of Men & A Vindication of the Rights of Woman     50p
  • Iain Banks –  The Wasp Factory     40p
  • Oscar Wilde –  The Happy Prince     20p
  • Ernest Hemingway –  The Old Man and the Sea     99p
  • Jeanette Winterson –  Sexing the Cherry     50p
  • Virago at 40: A Celebration     50p
  • George and Weedon Grossmith –  The Diary of a Nobody     50p
  • Laurie Lee –  Cider with Rosie     50p
  • S.E. Hinton –  The Outsiders     Free (swapped with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
  • Ross Raisin –  God’s Own Country     Free (swapped with Through the Looking Glass)

The last two came from a book swap we’ve had at work for the past week, and I swapped my individual copies of Lewis Carroll’s wonderful work, as I’ve also got an Oxford Classics edition with both volumes in one book.

Interestingly, the Hinton book is one that I recognised but didn’t know why, and eventually realised it’s because I’d seen it advertised on the Penguin Classics website. This, however, is a Puffin edition, which I thought was interesting, showing again that the distinction between children’s books and adult texts is often blurred. I feel that I should do a post about that soon.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Spotty Mouse

o-DAMIEN-HIRST-MICKEY-MOUSE-570

Quick post now just to say that despite the reservations I have with Damien Hirst, I do quite like his recent print of Mickey Mouse. I couldn’t really say why I like it- I just do. Even if I could have done it myself using Paint or some brightly-coloured markers.

Tagged , ,

Thoughts on Donald Barthelme’s ‘Forty Stories’

Forty Stories

 

It is perhaps interesting that for me the best part of this book was the introduction written by somebody else.

*

Q: And why was this?

A: Because it was the most entertaining part and made the most sense.

*

-Surely not?

-Why yes.

-Really?

-As sure as eggs is eggs is eggs. With bacon. Fried in chocolate for the delectation of the discerning middle classes.

*

The expectation that was assumed to be in evidence was not proved to be as such when the reading actually commenced following the cesation of the previous tome which previously I have reviewed and thought upon prior to this thinking and musing and thought about, leaving the reader in no doubt as to what this reader thinks re: this forty-storey book of stories (not as tall as first thought- blame the government and the recession and the teachers on strike along with the bloody airport staff) that you may or may not have come across. Therefore the sense of what I write (along with the logic of illogical executions, randomly placed lions and latter-day saints living in apartment blocks) will either be all perfectly sensible or unknown to the extreme.

*

-So is he like Kafka?

-What?

-Kafka.

-Who?

-Kafka.

-Yes.

-How?

-They’re both dead.

-More specific…

-Is that not specific enough?

-No.

-Not like Kafka, no. More scatological and less obvious. And without the questionable presence of insects. But similar in some ways-

[insert b&w engraving of a Victorian lady in a bathing costume, a woodlouse and a Greek temple]

-Even better, let’s use a bold black circle as a discussion point. You must reference Ghandi, the Buddha and Jacques Cousteau. In any order. Your time begins once the porcupines have registered and taken their seats on the plane. Any second now…

*

Kaboom and kaballah. Bismillah and bar mitzvah. Etcetera. Etc. Et. E.

*

And so on.

And a bit more.

-Did it inform you about the present state of the state’s present president? Or Global Warming?

-No.

-Did you enjoy it?

-Ask me another question.

-Did you derive pleasure from it?

-That’s the same question.

-But different wording.

-I don’t know. Yes and no.

*

Q: Why yes?

A: Because some of the stories were interesting and surreal but in a good way.

Q: And why no?

A: Because some of the stories were unintelligible and surreal but in a bad way.

*

Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby. That was a good one. As was The temptation of St. Anthony. And Porcupines at the university. And Lightening. And Sakrete. And The genius.

*

Somebody else = Dave Eggers (as per Penguin Modern Classics edition ISBN on request. Send a postcard.)

*

I may read this book again at some point but at the present moment I know not when but I do hope to at some point as then I may learn to understand the intricacies of the many texts [40 to be more or less precise- Ed.] in this book cut and spliced from other Bartheleme books of short tales and stories and vignettes and randomness that I will never bother to read due to the bad taste and headache this volume left upon the counter next to the coffee mug i drowned my sorrows in, and which was not as good as either the cover (always judge a book by it) or the introduction (never judge a book by it) made it out to be.

*

Now go and make me an omlette using only the words on this page and the pages of fifteen separate newspapers from the day on which your favourite uncle turned into a teenager. Then tune in next time for the next exciting installment. Leave your comments and likes and etceteras below, above, behind and all around like love. Here is the author:

tentacled man

Image: Dan Hillier

Now enjoy with a selection of chocolates from around the world, presented on a seaweed platter. And don’t forget the bacon.

Tagged , , ,

Thoughts on Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’

Moominpappa's new hat

Yes, I know that this is technically a children’s book. However, as I’ve said before about Roald Dahl, I think it’s fine to read children’s book when adult if they are classics, and Jansson’s Moomin books fit that label magnificently.

Finn Family Moomintroll is the third Moomin book, published in 1948, but was marketed as the first in the series when published in the UK in the 1961. I honestly can’t remember whether I’ve read it before, as I did read several of the stories when I was younger, and remember that I really enjoyed them. Upon reading this book now, I was impressed by the fact that it is not all light and airy, and indeed the series gets progressively darker in the later books Moominland Midwinter, Moominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November. Strangely, this darker tone appeals to me, and I would be interested to read these volumes.

Finn Family Moomintroll revolves around the discovery of a magician’s hat which can transform anything placed inside it into something else, and this makes for some inspired and entertaining exploits. I particularly liked the clouds that appeared from an eggshell placed in the hat, and found the entire plot extremely satisfying.

There’s very little else to say about this, but I did enjoy it, and hope to read more, with the eventual hope that I can introduce my children to this series, and have a new excuse to buy them all!

Tagged , ,

Thoughts on Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’

The original scroll manuscript of 'On the Road'. Image: theguardian.com

The original scroll manuscript of ‘On the Road’. Image: theguardian.com

I approached this text with an almost reverential awe, but have to say that in all, I didn’t find it as good as I had expected it to be. This was because the style was not quite as experimental and radical as I had imagined it to be, with the ‘Spontaneous Prose’ style not as free and ‘spontaneous’ as it was built up to be when I was researching Kerouac and the book prior to reading it. I expected it to be slightly more fragmentary and random, rather than simply free-flowing, and to not follow a narrative structure as closely as it does. That isn’t to say that the book does not come across as relaxed and almost conversational, though, because it does, and this is a source of a great deal of the book’s charm for me.

Within the novel, there are some passages of great lyrical beauty. For example, I particularly liked this section from Part 2 Chapter 10:

And just for a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transitions from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it. I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic Mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like the action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water. I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine lat in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die, and walked our miles and picked up ten long butts and took them back to Marylou’s hotel room and poured their tobacco in my old pipe and lit it up. I was too young to know what had happened. In the window I smelled all the food of San Francisco. There were seafood places out there where the uns were hot, and the baskets were good enough to eat too; were the menus themselves were soft with foody esculence as though dipped in hot broths and roasted dry and good enough to eat too. Just show me the bluefish spangle on a seafood menu and I’d eat it; let me smell the drawn butter and lobster claws. There were places where they specialized in thick red roast beef au jus, or roast chicken basted in wine. There were places where hamburgs sizzled on grills and the coffee was only a nickel. And oh, that pan-fried chow mein flavored air that blew into my room from Chinatown, vying with the spaghetti sauces of North Beach, the soft-shell crab of Fisherman’s Wharf – nay, the ribs of Fillmore turning on spits! Throw in the Market Street chili beans, redhot, and french-fried potatoes of the Embarcadero wino night, and steamed clams from Sausalito across the bay, and that’s my ah-dream of San Francisco. Add fog, hunger-making raw fog, and the throb of neons in the soft night, the clack of high-heeled beauties, white doves in a Chinese grocery window…

I adored the theme and the sentiments that Kerouac presented, and I can see why Bob Dylan is quoted on the back cover of the Penguin Modern Classics edition as saying that ‘It changed my life like it changed everyone else’s’, as the book provides a glimpse into a life that- whilst still being concerned with the mundanity and troubles of everyday existence- is primarily focussed upon travel and the search for happiness through the nomadic lifestyle of the great American Roadtripper. If you overlook the lack of money and the problems that Sal and Dean face, then the ability to set out into the wide expanses of raw country and endless desert is an intoxicating idea and a treasure chest of beauty and possibilities. However, for most of us such a dream would always stay just that- a dream- and the pressures and stresses of the 21st century make the idea of such a lifestyle in the present all the more remote and improbable.

I also enjoyed the literary allusions in the text, which I feel add much to the theme and the intent of the book, even if many of the interpretations may have not been intended. On the Road is a wonderful example- as are most of Kerouac’s novels- of a roman à clef, being a fictionalised account of the travels that Kerouac made with his friend Neal Cassady across America, with the names of Kerouac, Cassady and their other friends being changed for legal reasons prior to publication. For example, the author becomes Sal Paradise, and Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty, with the writer William S. Burroughs appearing as Old Bull Lee. Therefore, the relationship between Sal and Dean is rooted in reality, but I cannot avoid the similarity between their relationship and that of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Both Dean and Jay are characters whom seem to be quite shallow and empty individuals with little purpose in life and yet have a profound impact on the narrator of their respective stories, with Nick and Sal both idolising their friends and seeing them as almost incorruptible men who stand for all that is good in the world, despite their evident failings. To be honest, I find Dean an easy character to dislike, and was very unimpressed with the image of him that is created for the reader, as he seems to be a complete and utter arse. That is purely my opinion, though, based on the way that Dean is shown to breeze through life leaving woman after woman behind to look after his ever-expanding count of children, and how very little about him seems to be honest or convincing- he seems insincere through his hyperbolic sincerity. However, he does work well to represent the pointlessness and futility of many people’s lives in the US in the 1950s, and can be seem perhaps as a metaphor for the emptiness and directionless nature of the post-war years. 

I am interested to read more Kerouac to learn more of his style and about him, and feel that my experience of On the Road is somewhat incomplete if I don’t read the Original Scroll edition. I’m not going to hunt this out yet, but will certainly make an effort to get hold of a copy when i next feel like reading this book. Also, this is definitely a book that I do hope to read again, as there is so much in the text that I feel I must have missed things. Highly recommended, but it may change your outlook on your own life!

Tagged , , ,
The Matilda Project

Bookish Adventures

Penguin Blog

Thoughts and ideas from the world of Penguin

Women of Mongolia

New Media Research Expedition Through Altai and Ulaanbaatar, Summer 2015

Triumph Of The Now

"lefty cuck buzzwords"

Pretty Books

One girl's adventures in books, food and travel

A Medley Of Extemporanea

Books, books and more books (and libraries too)

Great Writers Inspire

Learning from the Past

Deathsplanation

n. 1. The act or process of explaining about death 2. Something that explains about death 3. A mutual clarification of misunderstandings about death; a reconciliation.

A Bone to Pick

by Scott D. Haddow

Asylum

John Self's Shelves

Anthropology.net

Beyond bones & stones

Tales From the Landing Book Shelves

The TBR Pile: Stories, Poems, Arts and Culture

bloodfromstones

A great WordPress.com site

SARA PERRY

The Archaeological Eye

Prehistories

Adventures in Time and Place

Don't Bend, Ascend

Something Different

These Bones Of Mine

A blog focusing on Human Osteology & Archaeology

History Echoes

History, Archaeology, Anthropology, Technology, and Mythology

archaeologyntwales

archaeology in wales cared for by the national trust

The Feast Bowl

The Wordpress blog for the National Museums of Scotland

History Undusted

The dusty bits of history undusted and presented to the unsuspecting public.

Stephanie Huesler

My ponderings, research, tidbits & the nuts and bolts of good writing.

Stoke Minster

the historic & Civic Church of Stoke-on-Trent

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

The World according to Dina

Notes on Seeing, Reading & Writing, Living & Loving in The North

Museum Postcard

Reviews and thoughts on museums explored

Bones Don't Lie

Current News in Mortuary Archaeology and Bioarchaeology

Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

How can we use material traces of past lives to understand sex and gender in the past?

A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

Early medievalist's thoughts and ponderings, by Jonathan Jarrett

%d bloggers like this: