I caught a few minutes of a BBC dramatisation yesterday when I was impatiently waiting for ‘Match of the Day’ to start. It is called ‘Atlantis’ and puts together different stories from the Ancient world in a friendly adventure Saturday-night format. The costumes look good, as ever with these television adaptations and what they call the production values are all fine, but why do they never try and push the dialogue out into a more alien zone. I know they would have spoken Greek, so whatever words are chosen are a compromise anyway, but the dialogue uttered by Pythagoras or Pasiphae or Ariadne make them sound as if they are in a suburban sit-com from the 1970s. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day says some bearskin-clad heavy. Did they really say stuff like that in Ancient Atlantis? I should go, says what looks like a suitor for Ariadne’s hand, as though he were an embarassed public school boy. And best of all: you’ve tidied up, uttered by some proto-Feminist female to some warrior type (male). It just doesn’t work as drama if we are forever being thrust back to our own time. The producers may well claim they want to make it relevant to a modern audience, but if they think anything alien will be rejected by contemporary viewers, why don’t they get Pythagoras and Ariadne to live in a gated community just outside Harpenden. The Persians invaders or whoever are due to turn up later in the series could be men in hard hats starting work on High Speed Two.
Reading a biography of Mahler it strikes me that the person he most reminds me of is Jose Mourinho. Both are constantly on the move. Porto to Chelsea; Chelsea to Inter; Inter to Real and then back to Chelsea, for the Happy One. And Mahler was the same. The Prague Opera; the Budapest Opera; the Vienna Court Opera. A mixture of conscious intriguing plus hot-headed inability to keep their mouths shut sent these two special ones careering from one institution to the next. Both football coach and orchestra conductor (which is what Mahler’s main money-making activity was) are engaged on similar activities (I actually saw Fabio Capello at a Mahler concert a few years ago); they set the tone for orchestra or squad and represent the formation but don’t actually make the play themselves. Elias Canetti in his study of Crowds and Power says you can understand all you need to know about power by observing an orchestra conductor at work. He stands while the orchestra sits; he has the entire score in front of him where the orchestra members have component parts. His hands command and rebuke. And this infantile fascination with the law-giver, the oracle, has invaded the football pitch. Cameras now document every gesture, twitch and glance of the Special One. The term Special One clearly comes from Jose’s infelicitous translation from the Romance languages notion of ‘special’ which is more ‘particular’ in the sense of ‘different’, but its ongoing journalistic currency is significant.
There is an unpleasant line that runs Mahler – Furtwangler – Karajan. Hitler would be a branch off that line. One man (rarely a woman) is made to embody a collective aspiration, with a quasi-mystical power. Historically, the Germans have best embodied the tendency, though you could do another little Italian branch with Mussolini and Di Cannio. Hodgson is a kind of Chamberlain. Of course, what we must always say is that in the end it is the orchestra that plays the music, the players that score the goals and individuals (albeit in uniforms) that pull the triggers.
On Saturday I went to Sluice, an anti-Freeze, art fair. Not my thing really. Contemporary art gets too much play time in this country for no good reason. But there was a little talk between curators that I attended, where the idea was expressed that curating was and had been for quite a time a part of the art product itself. I suppose it is. If it is, it parallels with another creeping phenomenon. In ‘The X-Factor’ the judges, who then become curators of the singers, have become the centre of attraction. Glamour accretes around them. It reminds me of how accountants, now (when they can manage this) called consultants, have acquired strange glamour, so that working for, say, Accenture is seen as a sexy job rather than the dull bean counter role it used to be viewed as. Those closest to money now have the power to also sex themselves up. It is the equivalent to an ape putting on false eyelashes and lipstick, and, many now seem to want to tart themselves up in that way.
Marx, in Prawer’s translation, says it well:
“What I am and what I can do is not at all determined by my individuality. I am ugly but can buy myself the most beautiful woman in the world, for the effect of ugliness, its power to repel, has been annihilated by money…Does not money transform all my incapacities into their opposite?”
When I was on the South Bank yesterday I noticed a Charlie Chaplin looking rather forlorn. One of those performers who stand on a raised box and punctuate keeping deathly still with the odd theatrical gesture. It was drizzeling. Business was slow. This Chaplin was peeved.
Later, after the concert I’d attended, I was walking back the same way and found myself behind the Chaplin who was consulting his mobile phone as he went along the river promenade. I then heard him say sternly to a Frankenstein figure “All right. That’s it!” The Frankenstein, himself stood on a raised box and being observed, perhaps even tipped, by a couple of tourists, glared back, annoyed as only a Frankenstein’s monster can be. Maybe he had stolen Chaplin’s pitch.
As I passed them I looked back. The two were staring each other out and the embarrassed tourists were also staring, confused and disorientated, their trip to the South Bank soured.
It occurs to me now: was this confrontation between two such unlikely protagonists part of the show? Frankenstein versus Chaplin. Like the old horror films where Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein or the Wolfman. If so, the public will need to be educated in the genre before it can work.
I have noticed that nowadays there is always a dramatic pause after This…. As in This… is the ten o’clock news. Or even on the underground or the bus where a computerized voice tells you that This… is Gloucester road ot This… is Oildrum Avenue.
My pledge is never to pause after this but to just run it on, as though I were uttering a bland bit of unshouting sentence that has no claims to grandeur. It may well be that greater dramatic force will gather around less portentous phrasing.
I have other rhetorical aims too. Never to say: the thing is… I shall, however, endeavour to start some sentences with: the thing isn’t... and see where that lands me. The other term I am actively trying to avoid at the present time is: the gay community or the teaching community. The word community is only ever used in a positive way. When did you last here the term the Klu-Klux clan community. I, of course, have no criticism of the invisible and probably fictional bonds that bind all teachers and gays together. However, words like community do, I believe, smuggle all kinds of nonsense through. Like any other words, their should have their visas checked.
A new book is due to come out about the daily rituals of creative writers and artists, which will no doubt recount the routines of Proust, Balzac and Beethoven with their excessive or over-pernickety consumption of coffee, the precise timings of Emmanuel Kant’s walks and the early morning habits of any number of scribblers or tunesmiths. Rituals, of course, are the same as routines but doused in the whiff of incense by dint of being performed by grander folk. Routines are rituals minus the sanctimoniouness.
I often consider whether I am a person of rituals/routines or not. Living alone, I believe I have more free time than most people and know how easy it is to lose yourself in an ocean of freedom. A few years ago when I was unhappily freelance I understood I need a structure of sorts, although last year when I worked full time I realized you can have too much. My happiness lies between the two. At weekends I need some shape; the Saturday morning cafe; the Saturday morning newspaper; scrambled eggs for lunch. All little rituals of mine own invention. But nothing ruins a weekend more than chocabloc rituals.
Parents have their rituals/routines set for them by the requirements of their kids. Sitting bedraggled watching an offspring spring off a bouncy castle, they invest in the child as much as Proust with his night shifts over pen and ink was investing in his novel. The lives of parents are locked into rituals/routines. My scrambled eggs are the best I’ve got.