Thursday, 13 November 2008

Update, misc

Rather than tackle a single topic I thought I'd post a few days of diary.

I posted an entry last week (8 Nov, Nature and Culture) about a bike ride along the Thames from Hampton Court to Kingston. As the scene had been striking but I hadn’t taken the camera I went out again on Saturday, this time with camera, when an intervening spell of wild and wet weather had been and gone. As it turned out, though, autumn had changed to winter; it was cold and the sky was dull. I've just been looking through the photographs and they’re drab. I conclude -- as so often before, though I never seem to learn -- that it’s a waste of time taking photographs when the light is poor. Which in this country means a lot of the time.

Still reading my Philosophie magazine. In the interests of economy I was going to not renew, but I got so much out of the latest issue that I changed my mind. Partly it’s good for my French which I'm trying to improve (including a conversation class at the French Institute) but also I learn something about philosophy (e.g, this week, Kant and Searle) and constantly come across articles about which I think something like this would go down well with older English secondary students. I may post a couple of extracts -- but I keep saying that and time spent blogging is time not spent reading, drifting or watching the Parliament channel or my unopened DVDs.

In the library today I got Raymond Williams’s book on Drama from Ibsen to Brecht to see what, if anything, he’d say about Pirandello (see earlier post). There is a chapter and he does discuss Six Characters in Search of an Author (see previous posting) but I found it unsatisfying: Williams seems to be saying that Pirandello was making some ‘professional’ (his word) points about the business of theatre; while I can see the things that made him say that (and I hadn’t picked them all up) I felt the play was existentially disturbing.

The Parliament Channel had the Commons debate about the expansion of Heathrow: again, riveting, the part I saw -- in the evening with 20 MPs max in the house. Superb speech -- fine example of rhetoric -- by John Gummer, who used to be the derided Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer. He spoke apparently without notes, with passion and strong arguments.

However, the final government speech, of which I saw part, was unsatisfying: it appeared that the minister didn’t seriously address points that had been made in the debate. I would have preferred at that point to have had him interviewed by a John Humphries (BBC journalist on the morning Today programme). Radio and TV don’t do rhetoric beyond the soundbite; parliamentary debate doesn’t do cross-examination -- except perhaps in committees, though I haven’t seen many of them yet and rather gather the government has too much control over the selection of chairs (I don’t know how members are chosen).

So, a good debate which I'm sure many people besides me would have enjoyed had they watched it -- and better entertainment, to my taste, than anything on the main terrestrial channels. But the Guardian the following morning had almost nothing on it: not even a mention, that I saw, of Gummer’s speech. Maybe the Guardian’s right: the number of us who would sit down and read even a ten minute speech may be minute.

One of our three good English teachersat Bradford Grammar School, Neville Newhouse, used to tell us not to be swayed by speeches we hear but to make a point of reading them, to avoid having our judgment swayed by rhetoric in the bad, restrictive sense. That was an example of the admirable grammar school emphasis on critical rationality: Susan Stebbing’s Clear and Crooked Thinking was much in vogue, I think. For Aristotle, of course, the logic of Gummer’s argument was as much part of his rhetoric as his appeal to the emotions.

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