Canadian four-piece Eric’s Trip was one of the greatest 1990s rock bands. The eccentric group’s giant doomy riffs and sweet melodic hooks were entwined carefully and then dragged through a muck of homespun recording. That same lo-fi production turned their mellow acoustic ballads into brittle serenades. They performed with an overwhelming urgency; they seemed to make music while staring into oblivion. Vocalists Julie Doiron and Rick White sang forlorn lyrics in the hushed tones of a deathbed confession. This gorgeous sonic drama went on to become an element in projects that formed in the wake of the band’s break-up. More recent releases from Eric’s Trip alumni Doiron, White, Chris Thompson, and Mark Gaudet are enduring examples of raw pop-as-psycho therapy yet few know about this crew’s striking experimental film work.
Shot through with violence and limned with dire prophecies, Beowulf is nevertheless bracing in its unshakable grasp of fundamental realities. The poem confronts horror and catastrophe directly, taking in whole epochs and discerning the most basic patterns of human existence: ineluctable rhythms of rise and fall, flourishing and decay, energy and entropy. Laden with words as serviceable as helmet and mail and launched, like the packed funeral boat of Shield Sheafson, founder of the Spear-Danes, “on out into the ocean’s sway,” the poem would be a boon to a people looking to gird itself for long battle under lowering skies. Like any book, it can be salvaged only by the readers it finds. Yet who, today, could refuse this providential cargo, which survives, against all odds, in a single fire-damaged codex?
Weber may have been ready to accept the relativity of values, even if he did so with some reluctance and in a fatalist mood. But we cannot blame him for failing to anticipate our modern tilt into the relativity of facts, which has robbed us of any confidence that in our political disputes we at least agree on what the facts are. Nor can he be blamed if he held fast to the heroic ideal of work as a calling. When one reads Weber today, it is difficult to overcome the impression that this ideal has lost much of its prestige, not least because many politicians (and not a few scholars) seem moved more by a longing for fame than a deeply felt belief in the integrity of their task. Weber’s idea of a calling embodies a paradox: it is a trace of religion in a nonreligious world. But we have passed beyond the last threshold of disenchantment, and even that final ideal now threatens to fall into total eclipse.
Yet even with those qualifications made, Beauchamp has a substantial critique. Ritual in civilian life, he writes, is mostly “denuded of [its] metaphysical coherence and inflected with a destabilizing sense of irony.” In the military, meanwhile, at the last field exercise of their training, Beauchamp and his fellow trainees were asked to sing the Infantryman Song and recite the Infantryman Creed. He writes: “The song and creed were not perfunctory. They took on the power of incantation, simultaneously affirming our new status as infantrymen and conjuring some concrete collective manifestation of our identity.”
In conversations with more than fifteen journalists and industry observers, I tried to understand what it is like to cover Facebook. What I found was troublesome: operating with the secrecy of an intelligence agency and the authority of a state government, Facebook has arrogated to itself vast powers while enjoying, until recently, limited journalistic scrutiny. (Some journalists, like The Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, have done important work linking Facebook data to political corruption in the UK and elsewhere.) Media organizations have stepped up their game, but they suffer from a lack of access, among other power asymmetries.
Many journalists contacted for this story declined to talk out of fear of hurting relationships with Facebook’s communications shop. A number of journalists agreed to be interviewed, only to pass after speaking to their editors and PR reps. Some spoke to me off the record.
Nearly everyone I talked to acknowledged that the relationship between Facebook and journalists had dramatically deteriorated in recent years. It wasn’t long ago, after all, that Facebook and its comms shop was, for many journalists, a valued source.
Didactic poets sometimes close on a darker note. Lucretius’s poem, On the Nature of Things, meant to teach us inner tranquility, concludes with a description of a devastating plague. The first book of Vergil’s Georgics closes with the image of a chariot—the Roman state—running out of control, its driver powerless to stop it. The late Greek writer Oppian’s five-book poem on fishing ends with a sponge-diver mauled to death by creatures of the deep, his colleagues grieving over his remains. And the Ars? It ends with a comic yet disturbing portrait of a mad poet, lashing out at others like a savage bear or bleeding them dry like a parasite. (“Leech” is the final word of the poem, as “human” is the first.) For the poem’s message is in the end a negative one: “Horace does not concretely help his addressees…become better poets or become poets at all because he cannot; in fact, no one can.” Poets need talent as well as training, and for those who want to write without the former, Horace’s implicit advice is, “Don’t.”
The Misteri d’Elx is probably as close as it is possible to come to a living encounter with medieval drama. Buried in its origins is an ancient faith, along with an ancient hatred, to which the poets and composers gave a powerful expression that has miraculously endured into the present. To witness it now is to shuttle back and forth for several days between proximity and distance, engagement and detachment, attraction and revulsion. Its music, its stage magic, and its collective ardor provoke wonder, but if my days in Elche are any indication, the wonder is not unmixed with pain, pain that is a measure of the distance between the world conjured up in the celebrated work of art and the world in which we live, or at least hope to live.
Stevenson died on 3 December 1894 on the island of Upolu, in his study, where he had been working that morning on his novel Weir of Hermiston. After writing the words, ‘It seemed unprovoked, a wilful convulsion of brute nature,’ he put down his pen, and he collapsed later that day. The death that had long threatened him arrived without notice. James was inconsolable and remained that way for a long time. ‘I was haunted indeed with a sense that I should never again see him,’ he wrote, ‘but it was one of the best things in life that he was there, or that one had him ... He lighted up one whole side of the globe, and was in himself a whole province of one’s imagination.’ James was among those of us who are greatly affected by the deaths of others. He never forgot his cousin Minnie Temple, or his brother Wilky, or Alice, who ‘died in London at the age of 43, regretting only that she would not have the pleasure of knowing and reporting herself dead’.†
James had 22 years to live. He would look back at Bournemouth as a time of special dreaming, a time when his sister and his friend – ailing at opposite ends of the town – drew him out and tested his love and gave him matter to dwell on. In just a few years, Robert Louis Stevenson, the singular R.L.S, would become a thing of publicity and history. For his own part, James could reach back into the vanished evenings of that time, and speak about literary vision, about the way ‘the rarest works pop out of the dusk of the inscrutable, the untracked.’ In 1916, close to his own death in Carlyle Mansions, he dictated a series of not quite coherent letters to his secretary, Miss Bosanquet. He spoke in the voice of Napoleon, addressed his late brother and sister, and ‘wandered off’, Edel writes, ‘to allude to ... the great R.L.S. of those days’. There was a surge of words, a stream of consciousness, the shards of broken plates lapping up on the shore.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor