The Self-Propelled Island

Two Fridays ago, went gallery hopping with VM not in Chelsea, but on the Upper East Side. Saw a retrospective of David Hammons, the foremost African American conceptualist artist, at Mnuchin Gallery. The most striking work was his Basketball Chandeliers. Also saw portraits and landscapes by Jean-Michel Basquiat, including four paintings of cows and goats. We ended up at the Met, to look at Turner's whaling pictures, before having a drink at the gallery bar.


TLS April 8, 2016

from Pippa Goldschmidt's review of Jules Verne's The Self-Propelled Island, translated by Marie-Therese Noiset:

By contrast, in The Self-Propelled Island, published much later, in 1895, this optimism is tempered with a greater sense of realism; now technology is primarily an enabler of hubris. The novel is set in an apparent utopia; a vast island inhabited only by millionaires which floats around the Pacific, hardly ever needing to dock in its home country of the United States. Only the very rich can afford to live on this island and the initial descriptions quantify the financial value of all the trappings. From this, one might hope for a more satirical edge to the story, especially as it is told through the eyes of outsiders: four penniless French musicians kidnaped on the island and held, initially at least, against their will. Too quickly, however, they accept their loss of liberty and fall in love with the luxury on offer.

TLS April 22 2016

from "Acting on instinct: Dublin, Shakespeare and the 'radical improvisers' of the Easter Rising" by Declan Kiberd:

Men make the world, sighed Karl Marx, but not in conditions of their own choosing. Every so often, however, there is a rebellion not only against the authorities but also against the given conditions, whose ineluctability may no longer be taken as read. At such moments of extreme innovation, Marx added, people anxiously conjure up ghosts from the past. Just as Hamlet, on the verge of insurrection, summoned the ghost of his father, so did the French Revolutionaries of 1789 cast themselves as resurrected Roman democrats .... The immensity of the new departure seemed unutterable, most of all to those who wished to utter it--and so they soothed themselves, as well as their audiences, with images from the past. But, like Hamlet, they also had "that within which passeth show". Impulse-ridden, praisers of rashness, they sought to give voice to a desire so deeply buried within them as to be scarcely conscious of itself as such. They adopted the pose of insurgents, in order to find out what might happen next. 
The only way to be original was to go back to origins: reculer pour mieux sauter. The Irish knew that the classic texts of the past which they "quoted"--from Homer to Shakespeare--contained an intellectual surplus, indicating the contours of the future. Like all visionaries, their innovative intellectuals emitted the light by which they became visible; and they created the thinking according to which their actions would become comprehensible. And, at that point, when their success in changing things made them seem less and less original, they lost their high definition. As subsequent historical accounts adduced clear causes and gave the look of inevitability to what they had done, they began to seem derivative and dull, rather than the radical improvisers that they surely were.


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