Tag Archives: John Ruskin

2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review


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!


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


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


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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Thoughts on Ruskin’s ‘Great Ideas’

Ruskin on art and life

I finished reading this book before starting the Kafka works that I am currently enjoying, but never got around to posting on it.  This has been due to my reticence over attempting to succinctly explain the ideas within it. As I stated in a previous blog entry, this is one of the books in Penguin’s ‘Great ideas’ series, and is made up of two extracts from Ruskin’s existing books: ‘The Nature of Gothic’ from The Stones of Venice Vol. 2 (1853), and ‘The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy’ from The Two Paths (1859).

The writing style of Ruskin is typically Victorian and somewhat hard going, but soon grew on me and became easier to follow- I think it just threw me at first. The first extract is a celebration of the Gothic style of architecture, claiming that this Mediaeval combination of features is the most perfect building style due to six “…characteristic or moral elements”, which he lists as: “1. Savageness. 2. Changefulness. 3. Naturalism. 4. Grotesqueness. 5. Rigidity. 6. Redundance.” I didn’t quite follow some of his logic within the chapter, or understand some of his points (I think that I may need to re-read it in due course), but what shone through more than anything was both Ruskin’s love for the architecture he was discussing and his sheer passion for his subject matter. He went off on various tangents within the piece, but the most important point that seemed to be made was on the nature and the production of art. Within his explanation of “savageness”, Ruskin suggests that the perfection of the Gothic comes from its imperfection- an imperfection that is due to true thought, feeling and application of craftsmen, rather than the perfection created by skilled workers who give no thought to their work. He views these latter people as slaves, and believes that people should do without convenience, beauty or cheapness, as these can only be gained through the “…degradation of the workman”. We then get a list of ways in which this can be prevented:

1. Never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which Invention has no share.

2. Never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end.

3. Never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the preserving records of great works.

Through his examples, he displays his dislike for mass production and thoughtless creation that exploits the worker rather than celebrating them, and provides us with a moral and a philosophy that is as equally relevant now in the 21st century as it was then in the 19th. Despite some reservations, I found this piece of great interest as both an insight into the way Ruskin thought, and as an alternative way of viewing art and the work of the craftsman. From an anthropological stance, this latter point is of interest as it provides arguments that can be given in any discussion of the question of art- what it is; whether some things actually are art, and just as a way of providing another case study for a society’s opinions about art (as I’ve stated on the ‘Archaeology & Anthropology‘ page above, the anthropology of art is one of my particular interests in this discipline).

The second piece in this book was the essay ‘The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy’, that originally was “A lecture delivered at Tunbridge Wells, February 16th, 1858”. I will say less on this piece, in part because I have less to say, and in part because this does not seem to have been the main focus of this ‘Great Ideas’ volume.

The essay takes as its subject iron due to it being integral to the economic and manufacturing of Tunbridge Wells at the time, and personally I think that the piece begins well. Even though a few of his facts are slightly questionable now, and some seem naive in their assumptions, he starts by explaining how both the natural and the man-made landscape are affected by iron in its oxidised form and how the majority of the colour and features we find so asthetically appealing are due to iron. I found myself learning a great deal from this, and at several moments as I was reading I found myself thinking “Oh yeah; I never thought of that!” However, I felt that Ruskin became somewhat unstuck in his discussion of iron in policy, as all this seemed to amount to was a religious and moral rant about war, which took away somewhat of the intellectual argument he begun with. I don’t mean to say by this that religious discussions cannot be intellectual- far from it; it is just that he didn’t really seem to make an argument, and seemed to… well- moan, for want of a better word.

However, despite the book ending on this rather flat note, I was pleasantly surprised by the two pieces as a whole, and am interested in delving further into Ruskin’s work in order to understand some of his other ideas and to see how these two segments fit into his wider academic philosophy. The book is also quite a recognisable product of its time, and it is also enlightening to read Ruskin as a way of further understanding his times. Slightly heavy going at times, but recommended on several levels!

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Reading update

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, but in this time I have managed to procure some new reading matter, and have made progress with another book. However, I haven’t started the Kafka book I said I would read next. This will be digested in due course. Anyhoo- my new books can be seen below:


Incase the titles are a tad difficult to read, here they are from left to right, along with the price that I paid for them:

  • Lewis Carroll- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (two volumes)  10p each (yes- really!)
  • Ian Fleming- Diamonds are Forever  50p
  • John Ruskin- On Art and Life (Penguin Great Ideas No. 15)  50p
  • Penelope Lively- Heat Wave  25p
  • Carol Ann Duffy- The World’s Wife  25p
  • Rudyard Kipling-  Just So Stories  £1.49
  • Thomas More- Utopia  £1.49
  • Seamus Heaney- North  £1.49
  • Martin Amis- Money  £1.49

I have currently been distracted away from the Kafka collection by another Penguin Classics book titled The Cloud of Unknowing and other works, which is a decent-sized volume of 14th century Christian teachings about the sheer impossibility of actually perceiving and understanding God, which I have recently learnt is actually a way of thinking that is taken up by the Eastern Churches, but not so much in the West. In the West the view is generally more along the lines of God being a friendly, approachable father-figure, whereas in the East, he is a powerful and unreachable being who cannot be represented in human terms and who can never be fully understood by simple mortals weighed down by sin and their perception of the body. To truly know God, The Cloud teaches that a person must become a contemplative, and be able to stop perceiving and thinking about his own existence to focus solely on God. The …other works of the title are shorter pieces believed to have been written by the same anonymous author upon similar themes, and it is in fact quite a good read. A tad heavy going at times, but it certainly gives food for thought and has provided me with a few new ways to look at both myself, my faith, and my perception of God. Also, the whole idea of a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ is a great metaphor and image to use in my poetry…


Once I’ve finished this, I plan to read the Heaney and Duffy poetry collections, and then the two Lewis Carroll books, before finally getting to the Kafka. I promise to provide opinions etc. when I finish these.

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