Thursday, May 24, 2012

Olives, Vines, and Vices

Before I moved to northeast England, I had no idea about the cultural and geographic divides that abound in the country. I have come to learn, however, that the north, generally, which begins around Manchester, still several more than a hundred miles south of where I live in Durham, identifies more or less in opposition to the south.

The differences are described in the following paragraph from
Road to Wigan PierGeorge Orwell's 1937 account of his trek through English coal-mining country. Orwell himself was a Southerner.

"When you go to the industrial North you are conscious, quite apart from the unfamiliar scenery, of entering a strange country. This is partly because of certain real differences which do exist, but still more because of the North-South antithesis which has been rubbed into us for such a long time past. There exists in England a curious cult of Northerness, sort of [a] Northern snobbishness. A Yorkshireman in the South will always take care to let you know that he regards you as inferior. If you ask him why, he will explain that it is only in the North that life is 'real' life, that the industrial work done in the North is the only 'real' work, that the North is inhabited by 'real' people, the South merely by rentiers and their parasites. The Northerner has 'grit,' he is grim, 'dour,' plucky, warm-hearted, and democratic; the Southerner is snobbish, effeminate, lazy -- that at any rate is the theory."

The theory, according to Orwell, originated thusly:

"[T]he English looked at the map, and, noticing that their island lay very high in the Northern Hemisphere, evolved the pleasing theory that the further north you live the more virtuous you become. The histories I was given when I was a little boy generally started off by explaining in the naivest way that a cold climate made people energetic while a hot one made them lazy, and hence the defeat of the Spanish Armada. This nonsense about the superior energy of the English (actually the laziest people in Europe) has been current for at least a hundred years. 'Better is it for us,' writes a Quarterly Reviewer of 1827, 'to be condemned to labour for our country's good than to luxuriate amid olives, vines, and vices.' 'Olives, vines, and vices' sums up the normal English attitude towards the Latin races."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This Must Be The Place

I am probably wrong, but This Must Be the Place, the Paolo Sorrentino movie starring Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, and David Byrne, strikes me as a nearly great movie. A review by the British critic Jonathan Romney articulates adequately my "general sort of" feelings about the film: it is less about the reality of American than an idea of America, as conjured by an Italian cinephile passionate about the Talking Heads. Don't miss it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Singer May Be Innocent, but Never the Song

This essay is brilliant -- about the "White Savior Industrial Complex" embodied by figures like Nicholas Kristof -- but in a way, novelist Cole's tweets are pithier and more to the point. There are seven in total; two are reposted below:

"The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege."

"I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly."