Stories and the internet

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 29 April 2010 on

New technologies have an effect upon the way we ‘consume’ fiction (amongst other things), but they also have an effect on the kinds of fictional scenarios that are plausible if stories are set in the present. ‘Don’t let a mobile phone ruin your movie’ is the tagline of and premise behind a still-current series of Orange cinema adverts (which, although they do not ‘ruin’ my trips to the cinema, certainly constitute a source of irritation).

Continue reading

The Social Network (Fincher, 2010)

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 8 November 2010 on

I got to see The Social Network on Saturday night, a film I had wanted to see for some time. It begins with a character returning home (well, home on campus) after a night out and venting his frustration via the internet. After the movie, I wanted to do the same. A couple of days later, the impulse to get out what I want to say and the opposing one not to spend time and space simply being negative about something are still battling, and are in fact proving a distraction, so I am just going to make a few observations, which make no claim to completeness or balance, so that I can get them out of my system! My points are reactions partly to the movie, and partly to positive things that have been asserted or suggested concerning the movie in its reviews (see David Denby’s piece in The New Yorker for the piece where praise multiplied by prestige of outlet is highest).

Continue reading

The Road

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 10 August 2010 on

This blog contains spoilers.

Most of last week I was camping in the Lake District, and I managed to read a novel that I’ve been wanting to get around to for a long time.

I spend more time than might be healthy worrying about fuel and food shortages, resource conflict, and social collapse – thinking about all the things that need to keep happening to keep society going, and about how I’d cope if I found myself in the position of Robinson Crusoe, or the ‘castaways’ on Desert Island Discs. Should I be spending time learning how to grow my own food? Build drystone walls? Fashion spectacles for if my eyesight continues to deteriorate?! For this reason, and because I was so gripped by No Country for Old Men, I felt primed for The Road.

Continue reading

The 30 books I intend to read in 2017

Not necessarily in this order…

  1. Graham Greene. The End of the Affair. Penguin, 1962. (Book first published 1951.) 187 pages.
  2. John Yorke. Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them. Penguin, 2013. 300 pages.
  3. Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Vintage, 2005. (Book first published 1997.) 457 pages.
  4. Patricia Highsmith. The Talented Mr Ripley. Vintage, 1999. (Book first published 1955.) 249 pages.
  5. Robert B Pippin. Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy. University of Virginia Press, 2012. 106 pages.
  6. The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. Composed and arranged by Douglas R Hofstadter and Daniel C Dennett. Penguin, 1982. (Book first published 1981.) 483 pages.
  7. Alison Bechdel. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Jonathan Cape, 2006. 232 pages.
  8. Alberto Manguel. A History of Reading. Flamingo, 1997. (Book first published 1996.) 319 pages.
  9. Dudley Andrew. Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film. Princeton University Press, 1995. 350 pages.
  10. Steve Silberman. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently. Allen & Unwin, 2015. 521 pages.
  11. Ali Smith. Autumn. Hamish Hamilton, 2016. 260 pages.
  12. George Eliot. Middlemarch. Wordsworth Editions, 2000. (Book first published 1872.) 688 pages.
  13. Herman Hesse. The Glass Bead Game. Trans. Richard and Clara WInston. Vintage, 2000. (Das Glasperlenspiel first published 1943.) 530 pages.
  14. Martin Jay. Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme. University of California Press, 2005. 409 pages.
  15. Patrick Ness. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Walker Books, 2008. 479 pages.
  16. Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity. Penguin, 2012. (Book first published 2011.) 841 pages.
  17. Tony Judt. Ill Fares the Land. Penguin, 2010. 237 pages.
  18. Eleanor Catton. The Luminaries. Granta, 2013. 832 pages.
  19. Bruce Springsteen. Born to Run. Simon & Schuster, 2016. 510 pages.
  20. Joe Moran. Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV. Profile Books, 2013. 376 pages.
  21. Richard Feynman. Six Easy Pieces. Penguin, 2001. (It’s complicated.) 138 pages.
  22. James Gleick. The Information. Fourth Estate, 2011. 427 pages.
  23. Richard McGuire. Here. Hamish Hamilton, 2014. 320 pages.
  24. David Hendy. Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening. Ecco, 2013. 335 pages.
  25. Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. Penguin, 2015. (Book first published 2014.) 466 pages.
  26. Stephen Miller. Conversation: A History of a Declining Art. Yale University Press, 2006. 328 pages.
  27. Sven Birkerts. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Fawcett Columbine, 1994. 229 pages.
  28. Raymond Williams. Border Country. Parthian, 2006. (Book first published 1960.) 436 pages.
  29. Ted Hughes. Birthday Letters. Faber and Faber, 1998. 198 pages.
  30. David Bordwell. The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2016. 142 pages.

That’s 11,385 pages. Dividing that by 300 (which allows for a fair few non-reading days) produces a number just under 38. So if I aim to read 40 pages a day, every day, then by the end of 2017 I will have read all of these books!

Small, striking moments

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 3 April 2010 on

This is the comment I wanted to leave on Girish’s latest blog entry, which has the same title as this one, but there wasn’t enough space in the comment box!

I’ve been working on Hitchcock’s Rope for some time now. It’s a film full of striking moments (like the moment, already discussed by V F Perkins, where a swing door’s movement is synchronised with a character’s actions, perhaps suggesting complicity between the director and the murderous protagonist). There are two great moments that sprang to mind after reading this blog. Perhaps I thought of them because they’re arresting moments, moments of thought, for the characters as well as for the viewer.

Continue reading

The weight of the past

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 5 December 2010 on

(This is a companion blog to an earlier entry which used 4’33”to think about what happens when the medium used to (re)produce music shifts. The current entry thinks about photography, with the help of a book and a television programme.)

A few weeks ago, in a cafe or a restaurant, I noticed a couple looking through a set of photographs that they had just gotten back from being developed – a commonplace sight as recently as perhaps six or seven years ago, but much less so now.

Nostalgia touches photographs in many ways. In her beautiful book On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote:

A photograph of 1900 that was affecting then because of its subject would, today, be more likely to move us because it is a photograph taken in 1900. The particular qualities and intentions of photographs tend to be swallowed up in the generalized pathos of time past. Aesthetic distance seems built into the very experience of looking at photographs, if not right away, then certainly with the passage of time. Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.

Continue reading

Who am I writing for? Who should I be writing for?

This is the first entry in a new category of posts on this blog: ‘Research ponderings’. I intend these posts to be places where I try to feel my way through some of the perplexities I encounter while working on my research. This will be helpful to me in its own right, but what will of course be even more helpful is if fellow researchers read my ponderings, and are kind enough to offer any words of guidance they might have. I will try in each entry to stick to a particular problem, or at least a tight cluster of them, and avoid lamentations concerning intractable states of affairs.

I’m at an exciting stage in my research leave. The reading I’ve been doing is connecting lots of dots, and giving me lots of new thoughts. Articles are forming themselves in my head, and even splitting into multiple articles as the issues I’m dealing with clarify.

Anyway, here’s one of the things I’m trying to think through…

I want to write an article that uses the insights of phenomenology to offer new tools for the close analysis of screen drama. My problems are all variations on the same theme: the things I want to do to make the case I want to make are somewhat at odds with the demands of research as I think it is understood in contemporary academia.

Continue reading

Anthony Minghella on the moral responsibility of drama

…But these issues, along with the perennial concerns of style and mechanism and beauty in play-making, exercised me less than the attempts, however rudimentary, to create a world of feeling, to emulate what I have most responded to in the work of others: moments of insight which enlarge upon the narrow range of direct experience possible for any of us. And here, with the obligation to be accurate, is where drama acquires something like a moral responsibility. The world offered back to the audience, be it magical, funny, or tragic, had better be scrupulous: or else, like Flute’s Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we kiss the wall’s hole and not the lips at all. Which is why the theatre – of all the dramatic media least disposed to adornment or mediation, roughest, live, and the harshest arena of judgement – is finally the one I most respect, most care for, and most fear.

Anthony Minghella, in the introduction to his Plays: One. Methuen, 1992.

Arrival (Villeneuve, 2016)

This post contains spoilers.

Communication is at once one of the great themes of fiction, and the very stuff of most fiction most of the time. Arrival, written by Eric Heisserer, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and based on a short story by Ted Chiang, is a ‘first contact’ film that holds in check spectacular views of alien spacecraft and scenes of high-tech battle, and instead focuses most of its energies on dramatising the attempts of a group, organised and commanded by the US military but led by two professors (one of linguistics, one of physics), to communicate with a pair of newly-arrived extra-terrestrials. It is very much a film about communication, and one that has been warmly received in many reviews. But its view of communication – and especially of how we might overcome our limited human skills in this regard – seems to me to mainly waver between the peculiar, the limited, and the naive.

Continue reading