Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

9th February 2011

February 25, 2011

I am 62 today. One year older than when my father died. This is also the last entry in my blog. I started it to test out the new media and to see whether I could devise a style that might work for a memoir. On the new media front I have been gratified by the readers and the responses although I should not pretend that it ever became more than Milton’s “fit though few” audience. On the style I was satisfied with some effects but narcissistic self-statisfaction is endemic to the genre and very difficult to outplay. On the down side it eat up far too much time – each entry took much longer to write than an equivalent piece of academic prose and I felt it diminishing my life in two ways. First once I had written down my thought on a subject, it became very difficult to broach that subject in speech – the written form mocked all attempts at spontaneity and elan. Second far far too much time was spent thinking of what might go into the blog – for the 50 or 60 entries there are two or three hundred that were abandoned.
So it is a relief to see it finished. But I like it well enough that it will continue an existence on the website that I am preparing. Willard van Orman Quine wrote that to be is to be a value of a variable, now to be is to be a url. A website will be produced in the next two months and I am considering both Facebook ( on the recommendation of my daughter and the Egyptian Revolution) and Twitter ( on the advice of Marcus Gilroy Ware).

18th January 2011

February 25, 2011

The first time I heard of Christopher Hitchens was when I was spending a weekend at Oxford; my usual practice when an undergraduate at Cambridge. I was staying in rather a louche house and one of its male inmates arrived back in the middle of the afternoon to announce that he had just enjoyed a threesome with Christopher HItchens and some beautiful young woman. As so often in Oxford I marveled at the sophistication of its students.
The first occasion that I saw Christopher Hitchens was I think sometime in my third year as an undergraduate and I found myself in the Gent’s at the Oxford Union ( as I never attended a debate at the Union nor knew anybody who did, I can ‘t think why I was there but I was). Into the room swanned a good looking young blade surrounded by acolytes who continued to talk to the great man ( for thus both he and his torch bearers obviously regarded him) even as he emptied his bladder. His exit was equally theatrical trailing admirers in his wake. As so often in Oxford I marveled at the sophistication of its students.
It was in fact another three years before I met Christopher properly. I had just spent a year at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris studying, amongst others, with Althusser and I aligned myself with ( although I had not yet joined ) the Communist Party. James Pettifer, a friend who was already signed up invited me to a Marxist discussion group that met weekly in Ward’s Public House, a drain just off Piccadilly Circus. I was entranced, as so many have been, from the first . And then , and then , and then but where begin and where resume.

Lisbon March 1975 a week in the real excitement of a real revolution where, in very different ways, our revolutionary beliefs began to evaporate.

Manhattan April 1981. Christopher introduces me to America. For more than a decade we will drink and talk through the restaurants and bars of New York.

Pittsburgh March 1988 Christopher gives a talk which will become Blood Class and Nostalgia – the best modern literary history I have ever heard. I realize, slightly to my surprise, that my great friend is a great thinker.

Pittsburgh February 1991 Christopher comes to give a talk against the First Gulf War entitled “Why are we in Mesopotamia?” People come up to him on the streets and in restaurants. He is famous.

And always drink and talk. Of love and war, of history and poetry, of gossip and greatness, of England and America.

And now I am driving down from Pittsburgh in January , rather than my customary April, to nurse my sick friend and give his wife Carol and my goddaughter Laura Antonia a two day respite from his cancer, diagnosed last summer

I am apprehensive with thoughts of feeding thin gruel to a dying man. In fact, however, Christopher is in great form. A brush with death and a gall bladder operation has taken him off chemo and he is practically full of beans. The first night we entertain Willie Shawcross, a legendary figure for me since his 1972 book Sideshow and we reminisce about Laura Warner, my girlfriend of more than 40 years ago and the sister of Willie’s first wife.

The next day we both work and then Christopher feels well enough to venture out to his favourite restaurant La Tomate. More work as Christopher finishes his column for Slate on Tunisia and fatally we start to listen to Bob Dylan. In nurse mode I feel that Christopher should go to bed but we have started talking of Rosa Luxemburg and the end of the First World War. I insist that it is late and he should go to bed but Christopher is adamant – this is the last time we may talk all night. There are so many pleasures in talking with Christopher – the range of information, the constant wit but also always the poetry. Christopher is the only friend with whom I quote poetry – he longer and more accurately than me. I think of Antony before Actium
Let’s have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let’s mock the midnight bell.

We talk till dawn

6th January 2011

February 25, 2011

Downtown Los Angeles and we’re at the MLA presenting Keywords. The all too p[leasurable holiday is already over and now, 5 years after we started, we present our project to a packed and interested room. Jonathaon is chairing and Kellie, Stephen and Alan all speak well. I close with these thoughts:

I want to offer a very quick sketch of the historical conditions of the production of Keywords and to then use that sketch to pose some major theoretical questions that have arisen in the five years since we began the Keywords project in 2005.
Raymond published Keywords in 1976 and then a second edition in 1983. This would seem to place this work as part of that moment of his work when he was a leading professor at Cambridge and a leading figure in the world of academic Marxism. But these dates are extremely misleading for the work that Raymond drew on in Keywords is in fact from a period twenty years earlier; the period when he was a lecturer in adult education and when his work was much more clearly a part of that last great wave of democratic politics that came out of the second world war. It was also work that clearly defined itself against the then dominant form of Marxism, the official Stalinist version of dialectical materialism. I will return to the differing political situations of Williams in the fifties and the seventies/eighties but I want now to turn to the specific organisation of information in which Raymond’s work of that period must be located.
One of the many brilliant chapters in The Long Revolution, the book that makes a trio with Keywords and Culture and Society, is devoted to the growth of the press. Williams specifies seven stages beginning in 1665 and culminating in the present with what he calls “the new tendencies within an achieved expansion”.

Keywords, and the work with which it was associated, is thus contemporaneous with what Williams called “the achieved expansion” of the press and I think that it would be possible to argue that Williams’s very concept of a keyword is linked to the discursive space opened up by a national press.
But then the irony is that Raymond’s work is written in the very last moments when that discursive space is unchallenged. It is widely agreed that the starting date for television in Britain is 1957 (the year in which commercial television started broadcasting) and that 1959 was the first election in which television played a major part. The exact ways in which television displaced the press and the particular ways in which this affected the keywords that Raymond was to analyse must await further researches but I would hazard the hypothesis that television, for as long as it was dominated by a public service remit, preserved and enlarged the discursive space which Raymond was engaged in describing. It is for this reason that when the books were published in 1976 and 1983 (two years after Channel 4 launched in the last decade of public service television), the time lag between production and reception was not noticed by any reviewer I read or reader that I talked to.
However, when we sat down to begin work on updating Keywords in 2005, it became clear that we seemed to be in a new discursive universe. On the one hand the breaking of the public service remit for British television in 1990 transformed the relationship between press and television. More importantly the birth of the Internet had fundamentally altered the public discursive space. If in 1990 research showed that for the vast majority of the population the only use for writing after leaving formal education was the making of lists (as the telephone had very largely usurped the role of letter writing), the next twenty years saw an explosion of writing as e-mailing, texting, blogging and twittering saw an explosion of the written language which redefines our very notion of public and private and may even be set fair to abolish entirely the press which provided the central articulation for keywords.
It might be thought that such considerations renders the very project of a keywords obsolete and that we now inhabit a universe in which the notion of investigating polysemous words whose history carry within them clues to sharpening and making more acute social debate is simply obsolete. And yet when we look at banking, at health, at education we see in words like bonus, well being and excellence a crystallization of social contradictions. Indeed the whole question of the formation of policy ( a key keyword) is now conducted in a way in which the press, television and the internet are being reconfigured in ways that seem to change shape daily.
The task is then to try to understand how to define our corpus and, perhaps more radically, to understand our task as defining new corpora and their interaction It is also a question of trying to understand our own activity. When Williams worked on his trilogy in the fifties he defined his audience in terms of commercial publishers ( neither Culture and Society or The Long Revolution were published academically) and, more importantly, in term of the Labour movement in general and the Labour Party in particular. Anyone who has followed the gruesome farce that was New Labour may find it difficult to understand that in the sixties it was still possible to believe that the Labour Party might usher in the new Jerusalem. However, right up to the May Day manifesto in 1968 this was Raymond’s animating belief. If 1968 and, earlier than that, a renewed interest in the Marxisms of Lukacs and Gramsci made Raymond turn towards the university for his major audience, it is clear now that this was a diminution of ambition and possible influence. How far Raymond saw it in that way I do not know but it would be an interesting topic to discuss.
What is clear is that the digital revolution and the internet now open up new audiences and possibilities. At the most banal level it makes the searching of vast acres of text for context and variation a possibility that Raymond could not have dreamt of. The standard example I use is of Raymond reading through the complete works of Hume looking for Hume’s uses of the word ‘society’ – a work of three months that would now take less than 15 minutes. There are of course losses as well as gains in such procedures but it is worth emphasizing , at the most banal level, what extra tools we now dispose of. But it is not simply tools but also corpora. We are promised by Wikileaks in the weeks to come all the internal communications over a long period of time from one of the banks that currently hold all Western governments to ransom. It does not seem too far-fetched to think that it might be interesting to tease out the keywords in such a corpus. It should also be clear that such a task would, of necessity, be a collective one.
It is here that the design of our website is absolutely key. For it must be possible to think of a website that will maintain the highest standards of scholarly accuracy while encouraging the widest participation, which can be responsive to the moment while acknowledging the long claims of history. What we hope to do between now and June when the website will get its official launch, is to encourage as many people as possible to collaborate with us in finding the right form for what we hope will be a genuinely new content – not simply an updated but a transformed Keywords.

20th December 2010

February 14, 2011

I have written at length about why directing is the most stressful of jobs. I have just spent the first, and almost certainly the last, two days of my life in that role and I have never felt more stressed or more angry as we drive down the French Alps towards Geneva. At the wheel, her face ugly with hatred, Filipa Cesar is in a similar state. The theory was that Filipa would act as cinematographer to my novice director/producer. The practice was two directors and no producer: psychic carnage. In the weeks to come over texts, e-mails, and unbelievably heated telephone calls we will declare a peace. For the moment, however, I know that if we talk then we will crash. And I retain as some consolation to my fury that Filipa has captured some wonderful footage of John Berger and Tilda Swinton in the two days we have just spent filming.

As I can’t talk I look at Mont Blanc as we round the bend and head towards Geneva. I remember Godard, the first time I met him gesturing towards the mountains in reply to my question as to why he was living there. “Of course”, I said for it was these same mountains that had greeted me when I came to my Uncle Niall’s house to learn French on the first stage of my year between St Benedict’s Ealing and Trinity College, Cambridge. And yet now it is as if I see them for the first time. One of the many pleasures of age is how acute one’s sense of beauty becomes. And suddenly Geneva is behind us and we pass the exit to Nyon and my dead uncle’s house is a mere 500 metres off the slip road. The first time I lived away from home, the first time I fell in love, the first time I read The Waves. It moved me deeply at eighteen but when I re-read Woolf’s greatest novel for my modernism course last year, I found it greater yet. I also wondered how an eighteen year old with as little sense of Bloomsbury and modernism as I had could have read it at all. But I did and as I remember the novel, my own waves begin to crash. We pass Rolle and I feel again the emotions on the first film set I visited. Godard had invited me to come and see him at work on Sauve qui peut and those two days changed the direction of my life. But before I can really inhabit that memory we have run out of road and we pull into Lausanne station. Filipa and I snarl our goodbyes and she sets off back down the autoroute to Geneva airport.
I’m early and for ten to fifteen minutes I just stand outside the station letting the tension flow off me in waves. This is the first moment I have stopped since the build up to the first London conference in July and I have never enjoyed such a sense of acute physical relief. And then the train is pulling through the Valais on one of the most beautiful days that I have ever seen, mountain sun and sky combining into the most beautiful of images which ‘fresh images beget”. “ The unpurged images of day recede” and I am plunged further back into memory. At Crans sur Sierre I remember skiing with Isabelle Clerc 43 years earlier , my uncle wisely leaving me to a weekend which I still remember as, for the first time, I felt vaguely able to keep up with Isabelle’s wild flights down the mountain. Suddenly I remember the joy of mobile phones and phone her in Paris but can only leave a nostalgic message on her answering machine in her Montmartre sanctuary which has harboured me so often.
Now we are at Domodossola and changing onto an Italian train. Breakfast with the French, lunch with the Swiss and now the Italians. Three peoples who share these mountains, and two of them a language, and yet three completely different peoples. I phone my children and make a few calls to wish Happy Christmas. All the time the relief becomes more intense. I always used to say that I had never worked harder than the first two years I lectured at Cambridge but this last six months beats even that. Or possibly I just can’t get so much done any more.
It looks as though I will get into Florence in time to catch the 7 o’clock for Siena and then at the last moment the train is held up for ten minutes. I have been in constant telephone touch with Flavia since Lausanne and she offers to drive in but I tell her that I’ll wait for the last train that goes at 8. Siena became a backwater at the end of the middle ages when the marshes that blocked the direct route to Rome were drained. It is still served by the worst road of any major city that I know and its train station really is the end of the line. It is not my citta natale but since 1973 it is where I feel most at home in Europe. By the time we pull in I am the last person on the train and I am suddenly struck by the thought that for the first time I am returning from work to the house in which we both hope that we shall die. And then Flavia is there, her beauty illuminated by the station lights and less able than she was in her youth to hide her pleasure at seeing me. I’ve already given her the headline story of the shooting from Lausanne but I really want a sympathetic listener. Thirty seconds into my litany of complaints about my cinematographer, she says, bringing the conversation to a definitive end “ Well you obviously didn’t give Filipa enough support”.

3rd November 2010

February 14, 2011

Today sees the publication of a book of memoirs about King’s to which I was asked to contribute and I was happy to remember my friends Tony Tanner and Peter Avery. Writing the essay did not bring King’s closer, however but made it recede further into the distance.

H Staircase Gibbs

I think of Tony Tanner often. In fact I’m not sure that I don’t think about Tony whenever I’m reading. Cancel that. I don’t think about him when I’m reading pulp fiction or newspapers for he had no time for one and little for the other. But whenever I am reading the greatest writing, whenever I am trying to follow form and meaning with real intensity then Tony is there if only as a perpetual encouragement and a perpetual model. He was quite simply the best close reader I ever encountered.
I first heard his name in Trinity where I was an undergraduate studying philosophy. My friends Piers Gray and Adrian Poole were standing in front of me in the lunch queue; high on a lecture that they had just come from by a junior lecturer called Tony Tanner. I fear that both my young friends were then prone to that lugubrious Leavisite mood which had so limited undergraduate reading for decades and which favoured the frown and the smirk, and above all, the self satisfied scowl. Frown, smirk and scowl were banished. They were laughing and exclaiming; energised by the preposterous meanings that Tanner had teased out of Madame Bovary.
To think of Tony is to think of King’s. He loved King’s so much that he couldn’t leave it. A fact he proved to himself the hard way. It would be difficult to place Tony directly in King’s most public intellectual tradition: he had no interest in Keynes or economics. Keynes’s Deputy Bursar, however, was Dadie Rylands and it is not impossible to understand Tony as Dadie’s academic heir. Rylands is of course justly famous for his extraordinary role in the history of English theatre in the twentieth century. The whole of the early history of the Royal Shakespeare Company could through the figures of Peter Hall, John Barton and Trevor Nunn be traced back to Dadie and his Marlowe Society productions and this lineage has received due acknowledgment although it is my own personal surmise that the full history, if it is ever written, will make Dadie’s role ever more central. But there are very few indeed who think of Dadie as a major academic figure. He was of an age where one wrote a book only if one had made some earth shaking discovery. What Dadie did was to teach, to direct plays, to talk but above all to read. It was in Cambridge, and Richards and Empson are the key theoretical figures, that close reading was developed as a central academic practice. Leavis was to try to arrogate the practice to himself but in fact it was what defined the whole of the Cambridge English School.
Tony himself was trained at Jesus by Rossiter, one of Richards’s most reflective disciples, and by Brockbank, who went on to become a leading Shakespearean scholar. From there he went on a Harkness to America in the late fifties and discovered the extraordinary range of post was American fiction from Kerouac to Bellow, from Mailer to Burroughs and he came back bearing the good news to Cambridge. It was at this moment that he became a Fellow of King’s. Of course by coming to King’s as he did in 1960, he was for the Leavisites going into the very belly of the beast. King’s was always the enemy for Leavis – full of people too concerned with the social whirl of London, an outpost of upper-class Bloomsbury in the Fens. Not serious enough, not moral enough and, though this was not the language used, full of screaming faggots.
The very great period of King’s came of course at the turn of the nineteenth century when the college was opened to non-Etonians and the names of Forster and Keynes stand as the exemplars of that moment. Dadie was a direct link to that period and served for Tony as his ideal of life and scholarship. The college that Tony entered as a Fellow was in the full tide of what might be called its second wave. Noel Annan as Provost combined administrative skill of an unusual order with the very highest of academic ambitions. In this atmosphere Tony and King’s English thrived but always at his back he heard the whisper of America. I suspect from the minute he returned to England, certainly from when I first met him in 1970, he agonised about whether to leave Cambridge and his beloved King’s for the endless promise of the United States. Finally the decision was made and at the beginning of the academic year 1976 he set off for Johns Hopkins. Scarcely there and he was plunged into the deepest of depressions and when two months later his job in the Cambridge English Faculty was advertised he applied immediately. In a very uncharacteristic moment of generosity, the English Faculty did not hesitate to re-appoint him. But for Tony a job in the English Faculty was only the necessary condition for his real desire – to rejoin the Fellowship of King’s. This was a little more difficult because on Tony’s departure the College had appointed no fewer than three people to fill his place- myself, Norman Bryson and David Simpson. To argue for yet another English Fellow was more than difficult but King’s, in a characteristic moment of generosity, welcomed him back. And so there we all were with John Barrell as our chief. Difficult to imagine such a carnival of criticism but it happened.
And so he returned. As Dadie waspishly put it “ Ah yes Tony – went to America the first time came back with a beautiful American wife and wrote a book called The Reign of Wonder, went off a second time, came back without the wife and wrote a book called Adultery and the Novel.” Indeed the Tony who returned was in many ways a depleted figure. His loss of balance which rendered him an increasing invalid and the trauma of this second American sojourn deepened in the early eighties as his second marriage failed and many of his closest friends left both Cambridge and King’s. His savage drinking, which almost certainly was the major factor in his loss of balance, now developed into debilitating alcoholism and his case seemed hopeless.
I remember sitting with him in the Octagon on one of my rare visits to Cambridge. Tony was hopelessly drunk, in floods of tears and incontinent. For the only time in my life to date, I wished for a friend an early death. There was, however, a miracle. Tony stopped drinking and re-invented himself as a bachelor college don, resumed his incredible productivity as writer, teacher and lecturer and entered on what was perhaps the happiest phase of his life. He even, after a few years, began to drink again without lapsing into chronic alcoholism. His rooms were a centre of talk and laughter, of work and writing, of teaching and learning.
Tony was of that generation of Cambridge English when to be a teacher of English was to teach the whole period of English literature. If American literature was his speciality, he was as happy writing about Pope as William Burroughs, about Jane Austen as Henry James. And in his final years hour and man were matched as he wrote for the Everyman library prefaces to every one of Shakespeare’s plays. It has taken more than a decade to gather them together into a single volume but this year Harvard University Press will bring out the collected prefaces. They will make a companion volume to Dadie Rylands celebrated Shakespeare anthology The Ages of Man. Together they perhaps define King’s English in the twentieth century.
When I became a Fellow of King’s in 1976, I moved into Tony’s old rooms in Gibbs buildings (H4), which were positioned just above Peter Avery’s. Peter I have to say had been a legendary figure when I was a student, an openly homosexual don sometime before anybody had talked of ‘coming out”. Indeed there were always young men in Peter’s rooms, some aiding him with the transcription of a Persian medieval text, some making tea and carrying drinks, and some just there. Peter, who presented a very grand front, simply introduced them and then continued with whatever conversational topic seemed most appropriate. He was a chain smoker and a heavy drinker but above all he was a great talker. We talked often of English literature about which, particularly modern poetry, he was very knowledgeable and we also talked a great deal about Persian literature. But in the period when I was his neighbour we talked most of Iranian politics. I surmised, and the obituaries seemed to bear this out, that Peter had been a spook in Iran and Iraq in the post-war era. What is certain is that he was extremely knowledgeable, extremely well-connected and extremely astute. The result was that I received the highest level briefings on the coming Khomeini revolution long before news of it began to appear in the newspapers. I remember in particular Peter, in considerable distress, telling me of some Iranian provincial governor who has telephoned him desperate to know how to prepare the Western food that the Shah had demanded for a forthcoming visit. For Peter this contempt for his own culture meant that the Shah was doomed, as indeed he was. Even more presciently Peter told me that the first result of the Khomeini revolution would be a war between Iran and Iraq, as Saddam Hussein would attempt to annex Khuzestan. Whenever I visited Cambridge after I left in 1981 my first port of call was H2 Gibbs and the first topic of conversation would be the current state of politics in Iraq and Iran. He undoubtedly maintained contacts in the Foreign Office and possibly with the Secret Service and I know that he exercised whatever influence he had in order to forestall the absolutely disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 whose effects he foresaw fully and in detail.
But truth to tell in later years we talked less and less about politics (too depressing) and more and more about literature and history. In his retirement he produced his major translation of Omar Khayyam and then finally his magnum opus on his much loved Hafiz. Peter was both a Tory and an Anglican but he was the most open and tolerant of men. Perhaps this was due to his sexuality rather than his religion (he once told Tony Tanner “ What between my religion and my sexuality I seem to spend a lot of my time on my knees”) or perhaps his time in the Middle East, or perhaps it was part of King’s best traditions. Whatever the cause, I could bring any visitor to King’s of any age, of whatever education, from any part of the world to Peter’s rooms and they would be listened to, entertained and attended to. He was the most hospitable of men.
When I was asked to write this contribution I immediately thought of both Tony and Peter, and of the H staircase in Gibbs. If I had thought of the Hall and the Senior Combination Room and my life in King’s for the five years I was a Fellow then there would have been other names and other conversations Bob Rowthorn and Bernard Williams, Geoffrey Lloyd and Caroline Humphrey, Martin Rees and Ken Moody, Frank Kermode and Stephen Hugh-Jones. There was also Dadie Rylands himself but to do justice to Dadie one would need both the length of a book and more knowledge of the theatre than I possess. But in the thirty years since I left it was to Peter and Tony that I always returned when I visited to King’s and with their deaths the King’s that I knew has receded into history.
Were they typical of King’s? It is certain that in any other college they would probably have found their life more difficult, there is in King’s a tradition of tolerance which may have pre-dated Keynes and Foster but which any intellectual historian would link both to their names and to the Bloomsbury group which was so important to both King’s first and second waves. They both smoked and drank to excess, but that was not typical, certainly of the King’s of my day, and my guess would be that it is even less typical now. They were both men who took enormous risks with their lives and in that also they were unusual.
Perhaps more typically of the King’s fellowship, they were both convivial men who talked as well if not better than they wrote and conviviality and conversation were values of the college that I was proud to join in 1976. I hope such virtues still endure. Above all, however, they were men of immense learning and here I think I can find something that links them both and links them to a tradition that is identifiably that of the college of Keynes and Rylands, of Annan and Williams. For both Tony and Peter’s learning was exercised in the world. Neither had much time or inclination for the groves of academe. It was John Milton in his famous address to the Parliament of 1643 who wrote that he could not praise “ a fugitive and cloistered virtue” that “never sallied out.’ Both Tony and Peter lived in cloisters but they sallied out with their learning both in print and in person and when they returned to the cloisters they brought the world with them to better teach and educate their students. In this they represented that aspect of King’s that I most valued.

8th October 2010

February 13, 2011

I set out to welcome the new Consortium students. Unbelievably this is the fifteenth intake. And for the first time they will be joined by students on a new MA in Film Curating that we have started with the London Film School. It is so pleasant to teach in Central London. Even if the term involves such terrors as teaching a course on Experiment at the Science Museum. Nothing like an intellectual challenge to make you feel really alive as the academic year starts.

25th-26th September 2010

February 13, 2011

When I was a young man in my twenties I had sometimes dreamt of accomplishing some great work of scholarship and, more often, of writing a grammar. Now I find that I have done both. Of course the claim is largely fraudulent. It is my co-director Lee Grieveson and even more the researchers Tom Rice, Francis Gooding and Richard Osborne who have compiled the catalogue of colonial film which does seem to me a very considerable work of scholarship and Filipa Cesar who with the film Black Balance has produced a grammar. But as the conference winds down I feel a sense of real accomplishment. Paul Gilroy, whose book After Empire, had provided the intellectual framework for the project opened the conference with a great talk and David Trotter and Arjuna Parakrama followed with contributions that really illuminated. Now as two days later I sit and talk with Lee, the researchers and Sarah Joshi I reflect that I feel lucky to have worked on these records of Empire and made them available to others.

23rd September 2010

February 13, 2011

Thursday 23rd

The phone wakes me at 5.30. Dawn is coming up in Manhattan and as Filipa crosses the street from her cab I am struck by her beauty. When you know somebody well, you never see them and it is only absence or a new context that illuminates. I had completely forgotten how beautiful she seemed when I first met her in Lisbon and I forget again as we are swallowed up in the business of living. Filipa dispatched to sleep, I decide that the early start will enable me to do some work. When I finished Derek I thought that I was heading for semi-retirement. But drives don’t work like that and I have piled on the commitments and the obligations ever since. I always say that the hardest I ever worked was my first two years as a lecturer at Cambridge where I was teaching myself both linguistics and philology one step ahead of teaching others. But even then I had lazy summers. This year the end of the Colonial Film project means that I’ve been working all summer for the first time since I was a student. The conference in London in July was bad enough but from the start the big one was Pittsburgh. Only an American research university has the resources to mount a truly international conference that will make the whole project a reconsideration of the British Empire from many perspectives. But such a conference is a lot of work and a lot of money. In addition to showing Filipa’s film Black Balance which reflects on our African material. Filipa is also filming the whole conference, as she filmed the London one for the installation which she will mount in London in November 2011.
My favourite drive is down route 376 from the airport to the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny. I start my so well rehearsed spiel about the beautiful river but the fact that it is written down in this very blog makes it feel stale and tired. My decision to finish with the blog before it takes over my life is confirmed. In any case Filipa can only think of the crew that my long time allies Charlie Humphreys and Filmmakers have produced at the shortest of notices for the shoot of the conference. And I can think only of Tamara Horowitz. In the summer my Pittsburgh friend Harley Trice had said at dinner and out of nowhere “ That was such a great event that you put on for Tamara – why don’t you do it again?” “You can’t repeat a memorial service” I had joked. Whether it was the oddness of Harley’s remark or the fact that this is the tenth anniversary of Tamara’s death but her memory, particularly of the long periods in Pittsburgh when she was a second mother to Finn has been very strong ever since Harley spoke. As we turn up towards the Cathedral I remember the packed event at the Warhol Museum where we commemorated her life. Finn had flown in from London and Christopher from Washington.
When I have united Filipa with her crew – I get to my room and punch her name into spotlight. How technology changes our relation to memory. Twenty years ago I could have spent three days and I could never have found what I wrote then now the words that prefaced my reading of sonnet 64 pop up immediately:

Early this year, as we approached the anniversary of Tamara’s death, an essay of Noel Annan’s reminded me of the last words of Plato’s Phaedo which I will read to you in a moment. In searching for the exact words in a text I had last read as a young student, I found much that was disappointing – thinking on the immortality of the soul much less rich than the Buddhist sutras, a hatred of the body which infects us still through Christianity and a contempt for women still shocking across more than two millennia. But I found also more than a consolation.
Since Tamara’s death I have often felt terrible remorse that I did not encourage her to cry in those final days, to bewail the fate that was cutting the thread of life so short.
The Phaedo recounts the day of Socrates’s death. The day on which he takes, with equanimity and without tears, the hemlock that has been proscribed to end his life. It reminded me that it is the vocation of the philosopher to cultivate an acceptance of life, an affirmation even unto death. Tamara’s fortitude was as remarkable as Socrates perhaps more so as she had no belief in the immortality of the soul. It is thus that I can borrow the final words of the Phaedo: Such was the end of our comrade, who was we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the bravest and also the wisest and the most upright.
But that is not the final word to say about Tamara. First of all it is a little short on jokes and that makes it very suspect. Actually Tamara would probably have made a joke about the repetition of the pompous we and asked who the hell ‘we’ was supposed to be – another group of self-regarding rich males. For Tamara “we’ was always a much more inclusive pronoun and the number and variety of people who came to her deathbed talked little of bravery wisdom and integrity, though they talked of that. Much more they talked as we have talked today about love. And love is what is missing from Phaedo’s list and his final judgment. In her final hours of consciousness it is no exaggeration to say that her wasted body shone with love. And that is the simplest and most correct thing that we can say about Tamara: that she was most loving and much loved.

22nd September 2010

February 13, 2011

I am in Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food at Terminal 5. Younger I used count myself a failure if I was not the last onto the plane, preferably just before they closed the doors. Life was for living not for sitting in airport lounges. As 9/11 followed hard on the heels of my fiftieth birthday , I cannot tell whether age or circumstance changed my view . Now I arrive at least two (preferably three) hours early and work. This time last year Jonathan Arac and I convened a small seminar on the relations between film and novel, more precisely between Hollywood and the American novel in the period 1920-1960. Rashly at the end of the seminar I volunteer to edit the transcript for, say, next week. In January I realize that a simpler way to proceed is to edit my own contributions, no problem in junking or completely rewriting my own words, and get everybody else to do the same. Eight months later and I am furiously cutting and pasting for this is a real deadline – the participants at the seminar must get the transcript before the weekend and I know that I can do nothing once I land in the States because I will be swallowed up in the organizing of the final stage of the Colonial Film research project.
There is a moment of delight as I remember that the last ten pages are simply talking about future plans. Cut and the completed transcript flies into cyberspace for Jonathan to distribute. I board the plane at 5 and sleep almost continuously to arrive in New York at 8. As I get into a taxi I idly turn my phones on and both British and American erupt with texts and messages from Filipa who has missed her connection in Bogota and is casting severe doubt on my abilities as a travel agent. I am mortified because in retrospect it is obvious that she should have taken a direct overnight flight from the biennale in Sao Paulo and not a day flight that meant a connection through Bogota. A bad situation gets worse when it becomes clear that she is so delayed that she will have no time to check into her hotel when she does get to JFK around dawn. One of her texts reads “I would love to go on being your groupie but it takes too much energy”. I resist the temptation to text back that I haven’t noticed too much groupie like behaviour and ring the Kitano in desperation.
The Kitano has transformed my life in New York. For many years I tried to pretend that the grimy and disgusting Grammercy Park hotel was the nec plus ultra of New York living. In this fantasy I was encouraged by Hitchens whose attachment to the place bordered the obsessive. But seven years ago the filth of the room and the inefficiency of the service finally dertermined that I must find somewhere else and a random internet search found me a Japanese hotel in mid town where the majority of staff and guests are Japanese and where I have now stayed so often that I can beg a favour. I go to sleep secure in the knowledge that if Filipa does get in early enough to get a couple of hours sleep, the Kitano will provide a bed.

Ist September 2010

February 13, 2011

London Town. There’s always a rush returning to London although, with age, the rush becomes disturbing as well as exhilarating. Our first stop is Holland Park and tea with our landlady Victoria Gray (aka Tory Rothschild). I’ve known Tory since she was a 14 year old schoolgirl at the Perse and I was an 18 year old undergraduate at Trinity. As she and Flavia chat I have a memory flash: it is 1968 and I see Ben Lloyd leaning against the wall in the Bridge Street hostel, groaning with lust as the young Tory slinks down the street in her school uniform.
Our paths have crossed so multiply over the decades that it would need a novelist to disentangle all the threads but the most important by far is that her husband the playwright Simon Gray was the brother of Piers one of my very closest friends. Both now dead. Piers more than 14 years self slaughtered by alchohol, Simon just two years ago from an embolism which struck when he had just received news of a reprieve from cancer. To talk of people “getting over’ death always strikes me as particularly stupid, you never get over the death of someone you love but you do begin to weave their death into your life. I am struck by how well Tory looks as she greets us.
For breakfast the next morning I sally forth into the roar of Holland Park Avenue. I am enjoying the klaxons and the overwhelming exhaust fumes as I munch through a breakfast outside Patisserie Valerie when my reveries are interrupted by a whacko. Ever since they let them out of the asylums some thirty years ago London has become whacko city and handling the mildly insane is a necessary part of every Londoner’s repertoire. I gaze into the middle distance as my upper class ( whackos come in every class) companion pours out the history of his time at business school. Suddenly a direct question “ What do you do?” “It’s a bit early in the morning to tell” “What Club?”. I’m buggered if I going to discuss the Gunners at 8 o’clock in the morning and I gaze into the middle distance. Luckily my friend’s attention is distracted by what looks like another whacko. “What club?” he barks.
Without breaking stride the new addition to our conversational group bellows “White’s” and I realize in retrospect that the question addressed to me had not been about football. “What about the Garrick?” shouts my friend. This brings the perambulating whacko to an abrupt stop and he turns, retraces his step and leaning close to his interrogator hisses “The Garrick is for actors, White’s is for gentlemen”. He then sets off again at a brisk trot before turning on his heel once more and running back to import more information “ White’s is for shits, the Garrick is for degenerates”.
You couldn’t make it up.