27 April 2015
TWELFTH YEAR BLOGDAY AND "THE HARD PROBLEM"
Here is how this blog began on 27th April 2003:
My name is Augustine and this is my first blog. I am Natalie's alter egoist. I'm the ventriloquist and she's the dummy.
I'm embarassed that I thought I could keep up the pretense of being a cartoon character with a life of her own. Can there be such a thing as an alter ego?
Appropriately and coincidentally, on Saturday I went to see Tom Stoppard's new play at the National Theatre, The Hard Problem. (I hadn't read any reviews before seeing the play). The 'hard problem' is the mystery of consciousness. At least it's a hard problem for those who have a problem with believing that anything which is not material can exist, those who are absolutely convinced that the activity of a physical organ, the brain, is consciousness.
I don't have that particular hard problem because it seems completely rational to me that non-material things can exist and interact with matter. Does Augustine stand for consciousness while 'Natalie' is merely the body she inhabits, the hand that drew the cartoon character 'Augustine'? Maybe. Why not?
Bravo to Stoppard for tackling a controversial and profound subject on the stage - where better? Unfortunately in this play the characters he created are not controversial enough. It's as if he was afraid to come up with bold leaps of the imagination in case he'd be mocked on one hand by the orthodoxy of science, and on the other hand by the orthodoxy of religion or spirituality. Instead he sticks to safe territory, merely presenting known points of view spoken by mostly conventional characters within a situation that apes the real world but is too contrived to be convincing.
The most annoying stereotype in the play is the female lead, Hilary. She represent the educated, intelligent but naive believer: she believes in God, in morality, in altruism, in motherlove and in getting ahead career-wise, more or less on her terms. In order to embody these characteristics, Stoppard makes her female (of course), young, pretty, excitable and emotional, 'zany' in a cute way. Very Hollywood. To demonstrate her naivety, the playwright has her kneeling at the foot of the bed to say her prayers, after sex. Any original, probing, challenging point of view which might be expressed by a non-stereotypical, non-naive believer is automatically excluded because the Hilary persona is unable to depart from the conventional role Stoppard gives her. The male characters have more to say and are more rounded but they too are trapped in a script that is like a clever academic exercise.
The programme notes by Stoppard are more interesting and include an exchange of letters between himself and Richard Dawkins and an extract of a letter from Professor Armand Marie Leroi, leaving us to draw our own conclusions about where he, Stoppard, stands in the debate. I hope he isn't tired and hasn't lost his pizzaz, his ability to take on perennial philosophical questions and invigorate them in wildly original ways.
There's more to say on the Alter Ego theme but I want to wander away from it now. After the play I walked along the South Bank, always a pleasure, always filled with life and unexpected sights, sounds and smells, especially on a beautiful April afternoon. There's also a very speedy little movie at the bottom of the photos: skateboarders performing at their special hang-out.
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5 April 2015
PARIS SALON DU LIVRE and more
That's where I was from the 19th to the 23rd of March from 10am to 8pm every day, behind stand Number B46. All because I heard about the Salon by chance the week before it opened and, on the spur of the moment, decided I had to be there.
This is a major international book fair and it was extremely unlikely that any stands would still be available - they are generally booked a year in advance. I got on the phone to the organisers and demanded the smallest possible space in the Art Square section where, according to the website, there would be livres d'artiste exhibitors. As luck would have it Stand B46 was not taken. I took it. Too late for inclusion in the already printed catalogue but an online mention was posted. The Old Stile Press generously agreed to share the cost of my coup de tête and I took plenty of OSP publicity along with copies of the three books we have collaborated on: Revelation, Scenes from the Life of Jesus and, of course, the newly minted Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France.
Pushing the button which activates my inner robot I sprang into Organiser Mode, booked Eurostar tickets, obtained instructions for collecting keys to my sister's flat in Paris, bought a new lightweight wheelie suitcase to carry heavy books, ordered business cards and ...ah... that's when I noticed my outer robot was not as springy as it used to be. On the way to collect the cards all the way across London, the tube suddenly stopped abruptly and I fell, hard, onto my right side. Sharp pain in the ribs but, lifted up by kind passengers, I went on my way with no further ado. Further ado came later when cracked ribs began protesting every movement they were forced to make before, during and after unpremeditated jaunt to a book fair, of all things unsuited to dodgy ribs. Fortunately I could take advantage of the situation by asking for Assistance getting on and off Eurostar and was hugely impressed by their efficiency in this respect.
Did I enjoy the whole experience? No. Would I do it again? No. Was it worth doing? Yes, absolutely. Reasons why it was not enjoyable: cracked ribs. Freezing cold inside the huge hall (heating out of order). Not the right ambiance for showing/selling this kind of book. Bad/expensive snack food at the fair. Interminable hours sitting & standing. Long daily metro journeys to and fro. Awkward and off-piste position of stand B46 at first.
One of a few (not good) snacking areas.
Reasons why it was worthwhile: excellent contacts established. Meetings with some very interesting and sympathique individuals. One sale and potentially more to come. Sincere, deeply touching comments from many who stopped by. Everyone, regardless of background or age (including adolescents) was familiar with the writings of Blaise Cendrars and admired our version of Trans-Siberian. Fellow exhibitors in the immediate vicinity were without exception friendly and supportive. And, on the third day, out of the blue, a Salon official came over and told me to get ready fast because he was moving B46 to a much better position. Delighted and puzzled as to why this hadn't been done sooner since the space had been free before, I shifted my stuff pronto to the wider area with much improved visibility.
The signs and prints on the left belonged to another exhibitor.
In the past I've had stands at book fairs in America, in the UK, in Germany and in France and I've never ever liked playing the role of sales/PR person for my own work or being in those high-pressure environments. But one thing makes up for innumerable discomforts: the special people one encounters. For this reason I'm grateful to the inspiration which led me to the Paris Salon du Livre 2015.
Demonstrations of litho printing were given by a master printer.
Many talks took place during the fair, at very loud volume and often all at the same time.
School children arrived in vast numbers. (Note Trans-Sib in foreground)
African poets performed with music and song.
Back home, ribs settling down, I'm gradually catching up with loads of things left undone when I rushed off, hence my poor blogging performance. Isn't it pretentious and silly to think that blogging or not blogging matters one jot to the universe?
In the universe on Saturday, a wonderful visit from the Lucy and the Tom, both of them together this time. No matter how well you think you know blogger friends you've been reading for some time, their physical presence adds details which neither photos or mental pictures can ever fill in. It was my second 'live' meeting with Tom and my first with Lucy: all the fine qualities she expresses in Box Elder were manifest while entirely new ones were added. Tom, temporarily but frustratingly incapacitated by an injured foot, was still in fine form and we three enjoyed much laughter as well as more than one glass of wine chez moi and with lunch at The Junction across the street. Thanks be to real friendship in the real world.
As this Easter day ends I wish you, my friends known and unknown, a springtime renascence. And what could be more life-affirming than the Kemptons' seriously smiling faces.
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