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Index: Notes & Comment

Dreaming of nerve cells.

Charles Vecht, MD: ‘Freud and Cajal had much in common and were close contemporaries. Both came from simple backgrounds out of the mainland of their country, and shared an early interest in neuroanatomy. Also, they were productive and creative writers. Nevertheless, the scientific rigor that Cajal attributed to reproducible observations made him critical of Freud’s theories.’

The Utopian Animal.

David Eisenberg: ‘Owing to the failures of the Enlightenment, which were evinced by the barbarities that persistently accompanied reason’s advance, the rational animal was forced to exit the stage. In his place stands the inhabitant of the present age: the utopian animal.’

The rediscovery of the unique.

H. G. Wells: ‘Science is a match that man has just got alight. He thought he was in a room—in moments of devotion, a temple—and that his light would be reflected from and display walls inscribed with wonderful secrets and pillars carved with philosophical systems wrought into harmony. ‘

Arthur Rimbaud.

Francis Gribble: ‘Fame of a sort had come to him. An increasing coterie had come to recognise the merit of his verse — helped thereto, perhaps, by the scandalous association of his name with Verlaine’s. His memory was destined to be kept alive by a bronze bust, which the German invaders were destined to steal for the sake of copper. But he neither foresaw this tribute nor would have been much elated if he had foreseen it, the call of the East having, long since, upset his scale of values.’

Ringing the changes.

Paul Scott Derrick: ‘Berengarten’s book rings its own personal set of changes on the ‘Book of Changes’. He has constructed a brilliantly complex poetic sequence – or sequence of sequences – that grows out of the wisdom of the Chinese past, implicit in the structures and images of the Chinese language, and will extend its subtle tentacles of words into the minds of future readers. ‘

What are perversions?

Anthony Howell: ‘The text is appropriately supplied with examples from films, and Benvenuto makes interesting points about our propensity to seek out and happily identify with the perverse vicariously via fiction – drama and film enabling a catharsis similar to a positive outcome from analysis, though it appears that analysis has no obligation to come to a conclusion: one can go on seeing one’s analyst as one might any confessor. The devil ensures that temptation is an ongoing affair.’

Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Alan Wall: ‘Although many of the pieces published in these two impressive volumes would be known already to Wittgensteinians, many more would not. Unless you have not only bought anthologies like Rush Rees’s Recollections of Wittgenstein, but also followed such publications as Guy’s Hospital Reports and the Irish Medical Times, or Hermathena, then some of these essays will be new to you. Together they present a composite image of the man which is hugely impressive. Perhaps each century can produce one man like Wittgenstein; certainly not many more. ‘

Basil Bunting.

Anthony Howell: ‘Gone are the mannerisms of Bunting’s apprenticeship: the phrases reminiscent of the way Pound might conclude a snide portrait in Personae, the fusions of word with word that works for Gerald Manley Hopkins but not for the aspiring Northumbrian. Bunting denigrates form in the poem – harking back to an earlier versification crying/before the rules made poetry a pedant’s game – but his poem is nevertheless very finely crafted. The stone-mason’s chisel is a leitmotif accentuating this; indeed, the work, which Bunting describes as an autobiography, continually contrasts a sense of crafting with the sweetness of love-making. ‘

Quixote on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Nigel Wheale: ‘”10:04″ is an advance on “Leaving the Atocha Station”, you might say, even though the first novel was already brilliantly original, smart in the same vein as its successor; the interposed graphic moments seem more nuanced, less blatant kinds of intervention, in the second book. I admire these novels so much because they seem to be making a new kind of factual fiction, poetic narrative, but as always, they are a part of some larger wave.’

England as a pelting farm.

Michael Blackburn: ‘This is Labour’s attempt to look like it’s facing up to a problem and intending to fix it. Except it’s a con. The anti-English, anti-patriotic impulse is now so ingrained in the modern left it will be impossible to get rid of it even if they depose the ultra-left, Brit-hating Corbyn currently in charge. ‘

The far side of Farage.

Michael Blackburn: ‘ Contrary to the media portrayal of him, Robinson emerges from his descriptions of these experiences as a level-headed and generous man who would rather live in peace with his neighbours than be in conflict with them. Perhaps if he were more Middle England he wouldn’t be treated so badly: “Lads like me march and we’re thugs. Middle class tweedies march and the nation is speaking.” It’s the class thing again.’

Refer Madness.

Robert McHenry: ‘It is perhaps telling…that in his prologue to the book Lynch uses the words “information” and “knowledge” an equal number of times, but when, in the epilogue, he turns to Google and Wikipedia, he writes “information” twelve times and “knowledge” not once.’

Peter Lanyon’s ‘Soaring Flight’.

David Nowell Smith: ‘Lanyon took advantage of a different sensation of speed, a different view of earth and sky, so as to blend the layering and juxtaposition of perspective so prevalent in these early works with a reimmersion in sensual experience. The drama of the gliding paintings lies in the encounter of a finite, frail body with the multiplication of perspectives, of intimacy with power.’

Scruton and ‘the nonsense machine’.

Michael Blackburn: ‘It’s a compliment to the quality of Scruton’s writing that he makes this journey through the execrable inanities of modern leftism enjoyable, informative and often amusing. He’s happy to be vitriolic. I like his spearing of Eagleton, for instance, who passes “all art and literature through the grievance mangle, so as to squeeze out the juice of dominance,” which is reminiscent of Harold Bloom’s description of the leftist literary project as “the School of Resentment”.’

With Warhol on the move.

Charles Plymell: ‘One can learn more about the aesthetic of the movement of the age and its art from this book than from all the museum tracts and critical treatments, more about its neuromorphic seeds, its painting, its poetry (of the MacLeish dictum “doesn’t have to mean but be”) than from all the modern art history books. Symbol becomes icon, icon becomes symbol. ‘