Sunday, October 29, 2006

Own Your Own Words

A thoughtful essay on the meaning of words from Steven Johnson who takes his starting point from Raymond Williams' book Keywords:
"But one immense change separates us from the semantic battles of the mid-70’s, a change visible in the term “key word” itself, which is now most commonly used to describe computerized search requests. In Williams’s time, if one was seeking the real-world associations or usage of a given term — to see a specific word in its native habitat, and not the caged environs of Roget’s Thesaurus or the Oxford English Dictionary — the options were limited. Today, however, we type our key word into Google and instantly get an entire field guide to its present usage: in op-ed columns, advertising blurbs, blog posts, MySpace pages, diaries, scholarly publications, wherever."
From the New York Times:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

While Susan Sontag lay dying

Angela McRobbie writes on Open Democracy about the accounts of Susan Sontag that were published just before and shortly after her death in 2004: "It is ironic then that Susan Sontag is now being deified in a way which counters the sensibility of her own style, which was invariably to locate herself behind the work which she wrote about. Her much-quoted comment about mind as passion, her commitment to seriousness, her disavowal of the chat-show circuit, and latterly, her stance on the stifling of dissent in the United States after 9/11, as well as her late return to the portrayal of suffering in the photographic image, all mark her out as an intellectual for whom social and cultural critique are forms of public service, a kind of dedicating of one's intellect to the principle of democracy."


Candida Hofer's photographs of Libraries "are sober and restrained – the atmosphere is disturbed by neither visitors nor users, especially as she forgoes any staging of the locations. The emptiness is imbued with substance by a subtle attention to colour, and the prevailing silence instilled with a metaphysical quality that gives voice to the objects, over and above the eloquence of the furnishings or the pathos of the architecture." The book also has an introduction by Umberto Eco who provides a "witty reflection on the role of libraries in all our lives."

Beautiful as they are libraries are nothing without people using them, and people are the one element missing from these photographs.

Oor Wullie

"The Broons & Oor Wullie" is a great place to find out about the work of Comic illustrator Dudley Watkins. there are illustrations from early strips of both the Broons and Oor Wullie, and a listing of the annuals and other other books published by D.C. Thomson that feature these cartoon characters - best of all is the well-illustrated biography of Watkins, who was also the artist who drew those other comic greats - Desperate Dan and Lord Snooty.

Cafe Culture and the Writer

The history of the coffee culture is the subject of The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe. Author Noel Riley Fitch writes about 40 surviving cafes in 20 European cities and the part they have played in fuelling intellectual, cultural and political change in Europe.
Alice Jones reviews the book in The Independent:

Monday, October 23, 2006

John Campbell

I was once lucky enough to stumble upon the Edinburgh story-telling festival, and completely by chance went to listen to John Campbell whose lyrical voice held the audience spell-bound with the funniest stories I have ever heard. I went back to hear John tell his stories every evening and the Netherbow Centre was always completely packed with people. No fey stories of princes and princesses but everyday stories about the people of Ulster. John had the rare gift of making people laugh - thanks John you were great.

From the Living Tradition:

Guardian obituary:,,1892256,00.html

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Being Max Weber

Peter Thomas reviews Joachim Radkau's: Max Weber: die Leidenschaft des Denkens for the New Left Review. Radkau's book is the first full biography for 80 years, and contains new details of Weber's life seen through Green spectacles.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Free Thinking Festival

The Free Thinking Festival - a weekend of free events including provocative talks, debates , interviews and performance will take place in Liverpool Friday 3 - Sunday 5 November

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Anarchist Book Fair

The London Anarchist Book Fair will be held on Saturday 21st October 10.00 a.m. - 6.00 p.m. at the Resource Centre, 356 Holloway Road, London N7. There will be some 80 stalls, and among the many events taking place will be at talk by Dorothy Rowe: "How powerful people manipulate our fear", and John Pilger will be discussing his new book "Freedom Next Time". The full programme is available as a pdf download.

Seeds Beneath the Snow

A new book from David Goodway, Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow, "seeks to recover and revitalize" an indigenous anarchist tradition in British literature. From Liverpool University Press:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Knowledge of the Movement of the Stars: the Buried Libraries of Timbuktu

Imperial colonisers arrogantly assumed that Africa lacked a written tradition - when in fact in some parts of Africa literacy was more common in the 14th century than it was in Europe. In order to prevent the wholesale looting of manuscripts by Europeans they were carefully hidden - and these hidden manuscripts are now emerging. This article in the Washington Post looks at the lost libraries of Timbuktu: