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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 11th

* Welcome to another year with booklovers the world over on “The Blurb”. Yes, we are a bit late starting this third year of the program, but here we are today– Zane and I – with news about books and writing, an interview with a promising young Australian novelist , Katherine Howell, some beaut music…and the usual lots of useless chat from me, probably.
Our beloved Rhia is unable to be with us this year due to a change in her uni timetable; but she will be keeping everyone up-to-date via the blog, accessible through THE PULSE website: most of what you hear from 3pm each Tuesday will be available in print by the following Friday, especially all-important publishing details of the books we talk about. And please WRITE to us, or PHONE in. We dearly want to know what you think about our show, about what you are reading and so on.

Book & Publishing News

* Have you been reading the diet “Age” over the last few weeks? Brigid Delaney [ whom I interviewed this time last year about her book, “This Restless Life”] has been writing a weekly column. Dare I say, I am quite intolerant of the rubbish that passes for “journalism” in so may of the “soft” columns our papers foist on us these days. Thank heavens, we don’t have to put up with Catherine D or Marieke any more. [Save the trees!] A couple of weeks ago [28/12/1o],Brigid wrote “Bogan benefits lost on smug intellectuals”, her very best column to date, I feel. Humour, insight, political savoir – all the stuff of good magazine writing. The girl has real talent. I emailed her and told her to write a novel; “in the pipeline”, she assured me [from Thailand!]

* There won’t be too many changes to “The Blurb” this year…More listeners: tell your friends. A monthly competition with good book prizes; listen in next week. We have regular interviews; I thought we might give interviewees more of the run of the show – a la M Throsby [ABC FM], lets them choose the music. PATON BOOKS [show sponsors] will have a spot monthly to talk about their stocks, maybe do reviews; I look forward to hearing from Kathryn soon.

* Geelong Regional Library will speak with us each month too. So many great things happening there…I recently viewed a fair bit of “SHOAH”, an outstanding documentary from 30 years ago; interviews with survivors of the nazi concentration camps. A library DVD.

* “Greatescape books” are sponsoring “WOMEN ON HE ROAD” at Airey’s in a few week time. More detail as the date approaches.

* I read “QUADRANT” regularly [because it’s always good to know what The Other Side are up to] and this month’s has a strident [well, that’s a surprise] article “The Decline of Reading In An Age Of Ignorance” by a Rob Nugent who claims that tertiary students “come in knowing next to nothing, and go out in a similar state of empty-hededness, but with a shiny new vocabulary of ideologically correct jargon to suit all occasions.” If I still had a spleen, I’d love to be able to vent it like that.

* Hart Crane was an American poet of the 20s-30s whose star shone briefly, brightly and who has really only been noticed fairly recently, via a “Complete Poems…” in 1968. There is a film coming out later this year entitled “The Broken Tower”, his last [1932] published poem – and our poem for today.

* John Bartlett will be in fortnightly again this year with reviews/interviews and words of wisdom.

This Weeks Review: Bernard Reviewed Three Books About Culture-“The Ninth…”,“The Romantic Revolution”,“Greek Pilgrimage”

In my recent down time I have been reading a few new books about culture. Perhaps they belong in the ‘higher’ end of cultural reflection, but each is quite inclusive and so well written that they are worth the mere couple of hours each takes to read, especially if you are interested in the wonderful world of art, music and literature.

In less than 200 pages, Harvey Sachs tells his reader the story of the development and first performance of Beethoven’s magnificent and quite radical Ninth Symphony in 1824. This is the sort of broad history that I love, where the author tells what else was going on, as well as the finer details of the event or the person under consideration. Of course, it takes some sort of polymath to achieve this. Sachs is such a person: he continually reminds us of the tumultuous era that was the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, not least, of the influence of Ludwig van’s forerunners – Mozart, Haydyn, Bach – without whom his genius might never have reached the height’s it did. We are in the world where, although the American Revolution had delivered such a worthy model of statehood for other nations, France’s experiments with democracy had brought an age of terror and subsequent military despotism that destroyed virtually a generation of English, French and German youth.…though one wonders [with one news columnist today] whether the Constitutional Amendment defending the “bearing of arms’ was not a tragic aberration.

The actual premiere performance of the eponymous work was rather a humble affair compared with any version we would see today in our concert halls. It was poorly rehearsed by quite a small orchestra in a rather tiny venue – and was almost certainly a loss financially – all this while the composer was very hard of hearing. Very few contemporaries realised the enormity that would be Beethoven’s reputation and influence in our day. He was one of many composers, albeit one of the more respected, earning his living by composing. All of this adds up to a reason to put on five CDs with all the symphonies, turning up the volume and having a Beethoven week at my place.

Harvey Sachs: “The Ninth…”, Faber hb, pp 225, rrp $45

Tim Blanning’s book on Romanticism raises the bar even higher. It is of roughly the same size, but of its nature is rather more demanding for the reason, I suspect, that the author has first to wrestle with the over-use and incorrect usage of the term itself. It is a more scholarly work, but rest assured he is writing for the lap reader. [I have no qualification or skill in music, though I am known to warble on occasion, sometimes even in tune.] Blanning deftly explains for us [once he’s dealt rather well with the semantic aspect] how, from about the mid-1700s there was emerging a new vision of the world – largely in reaction to the perceived sterile intellectualism of the late Renaissance and the Enlightenment.[Actually there is a rich area for debate around this question: I believe it lies at the heart of what the “New Atheists” are on about – or should be on about. I believe they are ignorant or naïve about the richness of pre-Enlightenment Christianity which led them to all sorts of invalid because poorly-founded conclusions.]
The way Blanning arranged and delivered his vast-ranging material reminded me of how rare a great uni lecturer. My best ever was Dr, Ian Breward, formerly of the United Faculty of Theology, Melbourne College of Divinity…The student could “hear” Ian’s topic sentence and know when the end of a paragraph was coming. In the space of two semesters, three hours a week, he taught a “History of the Christian Church” course, the last of which I was privileged to hear. Blanning’s delivery is that sort of concise and informed.
What then did I learn about Romanticism from this mini treasure trove? Chronologically, first of all, he pins down roughly 1750-1850. Geographically, the seeds of an almost spontaneous movement came from Germany, then to England and Europe in general. Features? An introspectiveness after the stringent objectivity of the previous three centuries. There was now recognition in full of the notion of the creative genius – with a cult of personality to boot. [Beethoven, Pagnini, Lizt, Goethe.] After the comparative intellectual dryness of the Enlightenment, there was blossoming of emotional and spiritual expression alongside a wider conversation about public morality. Night and dreams became subject matter for all sorts of artistic expression [e.g. “nocturnes”, etc.] Inevitably the new “arts centres”, the academies, bred an elitism [ which we still have?] This was accompanied by the reaction of a philistine bourgeoisie – which spawned its own ‘soft’ aesthetic.
Now, I am not suggesting this is an infallible thesis, but it gave me lots of information and food for thought.

SCORE: *****
Tim Blanning: “The Romantic Revolution”, W&N hb, pp 248, rrp $45

Back in October, I think I mentioned “Greek Pilgrimage’ by La Trobe academic John Carroll. This is not just a journey of the mind for Carroll provides several ‘tourist’ options for the traveller who has time for a couple of weeks in Greece. As I read this compact book – again just 200 pages – I realised the author as an unashamed hellenophile, to the extent that he seems to believe that all that is good and worthy began in that motley Mediterranean archipelago we now call Greece. This makes for lively reading, but I quibble with his scholarship when he calls the Gospel according to Mark a “Life of Christ”. Scripture scholarship left such a notion behind a century ago. As with Blanning’s book, there is a wealth of important information brought together here in a way the lay reader will find only rarely. One of the joys of senior English teaching in my life was introducing students to the eternal relevance of the Greek tragedies, albeit fleetingly, as we studied “Medea” and “Antigone”.

SCORE: ***
John Carroll: “Greek Pilgrimage”, Scribe pb, pp 215, $29-95


With a brand new year at The Blurb comes new theme music, which will be a jazz version of Lennon-McCartney’s “And I Love Her”.

Today we also played local jazz man STEPHEN MURPHY”s mellow, haunting reading of the standard “Stormy Weather”.

As well as his work tutoring Geelong’s legendary ‘Sweethearts of Swing’ at Matthew Flinders, Steve plays in various groups, one of which has a regular gig at our newest nightspot, “The Wrong Crowd” in upper Moorabool Street.

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