Thursday, 23 October 2008

The bright side

1. OK so these endless meetings give me a headache like my brain is full of very fine hot sand but there are occasional rays of bearability. Watching my boss, an old-style professor, react to a request for "an offline caucus", for example. (He did so warily.) Also just before our deliverables meeting my boss asked me if I knew what "deliverables" meant, and I enjoyed explaining it as those things which must be delivered -- once he knew it was a gerundive he was fine. I really don't know why I don't find American business-speak enjoyable. It's a muscular vernacular, where everything is a metaphor: we have roadmaps not plans; things are frozen not finished; we have to prioritise "low-hanging fruit". But it just annoys me. And it is unclear; my colleague whose first language is German finds it really hard to understand sometimes.

2. But it's over, and I am lucky that I can soothe my jaggled soul with manuscript 448. People are variously rude about Parker, but one of his endearing characteristics is that he loved his wife, Margaret. They got married before it was legal for a priest to do so, and there is a story that before that they had each made a vow not to marry anyone else. When you look through Parker's manuscripts you can see his three main interests from his notes and underlinings: [a.] Anglo-Saxon names and vocabulary [b.] the Protestant reformation as a return to the practices of the pre-degenerate Anglo-Saxon church, so things like King Edgar driving out the clerks from the New Minster at Winchester, and Ælfric's description that communion bread and wine are the flesh and blood of Christ not bodily (lichamlice) but spiritually (gastlice) [c.] priests' marriage. Parker sponsored a defence of priests' marriage, and argued for it vehemently all his life, even when it meant crossing his frightening sovereign. When Elizabeth ordered that married priests' wives could not live with them in cathedral precincts Parker quarrelled with her angrily, declared that he wished he had not accepted his position as archbishop, and would not enforce the decree. Parker and his wife seem to have been very happy together, and Parker never recovered from her death, five years before his. His body had to buried in the usual place, but he asked that his bowels should be removed and buried with Margaret. (Since he was disinterred under the Commonwealth and thrown on a dunghill, maybe it really is almost true that what will survive of us is love -- love, or perhaps bowels.)
Anyway this manuscript is a very beautiful product of late tenth-century Canterbury, one of their last gasps of Insularness. (That is Insular with a big I, meaning the style when it's pointless to distinguish between English and "Celtic", like with the Lindisfarne gospels; it is therefore somewhat less insular with a small i than the subsequent Anglo-Saxon style.) The initials wouldn't look out of place in a Welsh manuscript of the same date. It contains a poem by a certain Prosper to his wife, and Parker thought this was Bishop Prosper of Reggio, and took it as evidence for married priests in the late antique/early medieval church. Bound into this manuscript is the only surviving copy of a little printed book he had made of this poem, containing a facing page Latin and English translation. It's quite sweet. I find Parker's general ineptitude as a poet another of his endearing features. If you've ever heard Tallis's Tunes for Parker's Psalter (perhaps via the Vaughan Williams "fantasia on a theme" version of one of them, which is not a patch on the original) you might have gone so far as to look up Parker's Psalter on Early English Books Online, where you would discover Parker's rather plodding Psalms. (I don't know why they are never sung in college, since the music is fantastic.) I'm guessing that Parker translated Prosper's poem himself.
Age iam precor mearum
Comes irremota rerum
Trepidam, breuemque vitam
Domino Deo dicemus

gets turned into four stanzas of six lines each, starting "Come on O mate". Wherever Prosper says something nice about his wife, a little annotation in the margin of the Latin text says "ergo non reliquit uxorem". It finishes
Persist we styll
All one in wyll,
Rest we one fleshe to go,
Kynde hart doth moue
Eche others loue
Rule we one sprite in two

Vt caro non eadem tantum, sed mens quoque nobis
Vna sit, atque duos spiritus vnus alat.

Sadly our project omits printed material, so this unique little object will not be included.

3. Early English Books Online is brilliant anyway. Try searching on "lewd", or regard this distressing story:
Strange and VVonderful News from NEVVBERRY, Concerning a Youth that was Choak'd by Eating of Custard

Monday, 20 October 2008


Earworms aren't all bad; I can listen to the Soulwax remix of MGMT's Kids in my head with no need of ipod. Here is an live version brilliantly filmed on a phone

(as posted at least twice on popjustice so far) and here is a better quality audio version.
The remixers Soulwax and Freemasons ought to get some sort of credit on the website of my current project. (My colleagues listen to the Ramones and REM. I don't object to their sharing.)

Since this coming week will be entirely taken up with meetings, I might usefully charge my head with many earworms to help me through. There's no wi-fi in our meeting rooms, and only one internet point which we will grudgingly be allowed to use for our project laptop, so I can at least use my own laptop without it looking like I'm just checking my e-mail; however I doubt I'd get away with earphones. We have one of these meeting weeks every year, with our American colleagues, and it is always very hard work. On the plus side there's something about being actively prevented from doing any work and forced to talk about it in a circular manner for hours on end which results in my having strange energetic bouts of super-fruitfulness in those odd moments between items and at the tail ends of lunch breaks.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Why I am a bit melancholy

1. The Corpus Emo-clock has a significant software component. I like the way that the principle of the Vernier scale has been adapted so that the time is shown by the alignment of slits in the dials, because it's quite clever; but apparently the clock has to be corrected by software every five minutes, and this doesn't seem to fit with the idea of it as a mechanical, old-fashioned clockwork clock.

2. Because I can't tell whether MS 88 is English or Continental. It looks English to me; but loads of people have thought it wasn't. I'd like to argue the case but it would take lots of effort, so boh.

3. Because my laptop has started making a noise like a little tractor. It's ominous, and embarrassing in the UL.

4. I have a lot of time for the archbishop of Canterbury. It's great to read about his book on Dostoyevsky, because I am very fond of Dostoyevsky too, especially the Brothers Karamazov which is a wonderful mad book. There's quite a good interview with Williams here. (It's the interviewer who is identifying David Cameron with Stavrogin, not the archbishop, who makes it very clear in the full audio version that he does not intend that sort of parallel; anyway it makes Cameron sound overly interesting if you ask me.) But if he weren't archbishop of Canterbury he could say what he really thinks, and that's a great loss.

5. Vladimir Putin often cheers me up -- for his birthday he released a judo video and was given a tiger cub -- until I start thinking about the state of world politics.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

A shallow response to important stuff

I've just discovered that a friend of mine has an official blog to do with an exhibition he's curating. It's intelligent and interesting; go Matthew! The BL does excellent free exhibitions, and because it's just a few minutes' walk from King's Cross it's worth popping in and catching a slightly later train. This one is about Liberty and citizenship and such. It looks interesting but rather harder work than their usual pretty picture exhibitions. I'm not entirely sure about the big hoarding saying "In some countries you wouldn’t have the right to visit this exhibition about your rights". This person is angry about it because he thinks it panders to the government (which seems a little sensitive to me), but my problem with it is just stylistic, because I can really hear Chris Morris shouting it while pointing and glaring. My other immediate shallow response is that this black-and-white picture is a bit rubbish. But leaving aside stylistic quibbles, I think it's true that we do take various rights for granted, and I certainly ought to understand their importance and history better in order to know how to respond to possible threats. Look at Italy; it's another big European country, like Britain, yet they are fingerprinting all the Romany children* and no one there seems to be bothered. I was sat at dinner a year or more back talking to a hard-boiled and rather angry lawyer, who said something about how awful it was that the government thought it OK for such-and-such to happen, and I thought the suggestion shocking and said surely they'd never get it through, and he said that they'd done it two years ago. Now I can't even remember what that shocking thing was, although it was something to do with the relationship between the government and the judiciary. So I'm hoping this exhibition will decrease my ignorance; there's a lot there for it to work with.

* I just can't rid myself of this image of a little Romany bambino or bambina asking some adult, a teacher or parent, why he or she is being fingerprinted? "Well, small one, it's so that the government can punish you more easily when you grow up into a criminal like all your race." It's foul.