Samuel Beckett by Jane Bown

The wrong question

I don’t know when people started asking whether the things in art galleries were actually works of art—sometime between the first Salon des Refusés in 1863 and the exhibition of Fountain (attributed to Marcel Duchamp) in 1917, I suppose. The judges who rejected the ‘impressionist’ paintings in 1863 just thought they were bad: they didn’t…

emeraldcity

Emerald Cities

A friend’s recent email made me think again about why I have never really believed in irreversible progress­, and certainly not in the emerald cities of political ideologues. Whether it’s scientific socialism or the end of history, left or right, all those mirages vanish in the light of actual lives, and especially the traces they…

Malmitalo library

Stories don’t teach

In the third volume of his Essays, Michel de Montaigne writes a line that has since become famous: ‘Je n’enseigne point, je raconte’ It is almost impossible to put this into English. Donald Frame’s standard version – ‘I do not teach, I tell’  – makes telling sound didactic, which is contrary to what Montaigne meant. ‘Raconter’ is to tell…

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The Light Ships launch

Originally posted on Regular Marvels:
Last Saturday was windy and cold. A good part of my drive from Nottingham to Whaplode was through torrents of rain, but as I got closer, the weather grew calmer and I grew more anxious about The Light Ships event. It’s been many years since I’ve organised anything quite like this…

Isaiah Berlin by Richard Wilkinson

Why we need parliaments

Yesterday, Canada’s Parliament was attacked by an armed man. Twenty years ago, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Toronto. The following speech was read on his behalf at the award ceremony and has just been reprinted in The New York Review of Books. It is worth hearing again…

Orkney in September 3

Another Angle of Vision

The last days of September in Orkney: weather fine and sunlit mirrors in Scapa Flow and Hoy Sound. The sky in flux after a day of high wind, creating fantastic cloud shapes. White horses prance on the waves and the ocean at Yesnaby is a frothing mass. I come away from such experience with a…