The philosopher Bernard Williams writes scathingly about the “fetish of assertion”, that impulse to ram home your case as though its content is all that counts. Listening skills don’t figure much in this kind of verbal joust; the interlocuter is meant to admire and so to agree, or to counter with equal assertiveness – the familiar dialogue of the deaf in political debate.

Richard Sennett, Together (Allen Lane, 2012)

The rebuke in this passage isn’t aimed only at readers: it’s for writers too, when their craft turns away from the discursive and conversational. (Does this rule out polemics and broadsides? I don’t think so, though I certainly think it’s a strike against a default literary mode of blunt rage and low sniping.) Attending is an art that authors and audience owe to each other.

Image © Marc Wathieu, used under Creative Commons

Against talent

At a children’s talent show, listening to flaky child sopranos warbling about over songs built for the meandering squelch of autotune rather than any naked human voice, I started thinking about Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda. I don’t think about Gwendolen Harleth very often – though she’s possibly my favourite George Eliot heroine (alright, favourite after Dorothea Brooke), she’s a character about failure, and since George Eliot is bound up in probably the biggest failure of my life, the resonances are all just a bit too keen.

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Someone to hear me scream: the problem with Prometheus

20120609-200617.jpgThe best things about Prometheus are the things that aren’t explicitly do to with the Alien series, which makes it a shame that the film has been crafted and sold as part of the Alien series, because the most disappointing thing about Prometheus is that it’s not really an Alien film. Sure, it has the motifs of an Alien film: tough female heroes, reproduction as horror, face raping space vaginas. But its addition to that world diminishes rather than expands the mythology – and as I’m going to talk about that mythology in some detail, spoilers are pretty much inevitable from here. (And after you’re done reading this, go and see what the brilliant Nathan has to say about the same showing of the same film. I think he liked it more than I did.)

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