Saturday, 16 February 2013

Things I Discovered on the Internet February 3 to 16

This brought tears to my eyes - but then the very mention of Auden moves me, mainly because I love him so much and also a little bit because of the story my brother told me, which his tutor at Oxford, a contemporary of Auden's, told him, about how during their final exams my brother's tutor and Auden were placed at neighbouring tables in the examination hall and, while my brother's tutor scribbled away, Auden sat beside him, writing haltingly, as if forcing his pen through sand or snowdrifts, tears streaming down his face.

And, having been reminded of Auden, I disappeared down one of the Internet's myriad (possibly infinite?) rabbit holes and came back with this, which includes a very good summary of many of the things that make Auden's poetry great and an elucidation of his reticent (hurray -I was so relieved when I read the other day that since the 1990s the power of the Evangelical movement has been waning) Christianity, which aligns entirely with my beliefs, although I lack the articulacy to explain them so well:

"...accordingly we are to take one thing and one thing only seriously, our eternal duty to be happy, and to that all considerations of pleasure and pain are subordinate. Thou shalt love God and thy neighbour and Thou shall be happy mean the same thing":

This told me so much I did not know about another marvellous poet - not least this incredible anecdote:

"Life on the dairy farm was unforgiving, sometimes comically so. One of the few treasured family heirlooms, a watch handed down from Murray’s grandmother to his father, was swallowed whole by a cow."

This, via The Essayist tumblr, introduced me to John Jeremiah Sullivan who is a dazzling writer (his work is beautifully analysed by James Wood here) I have now bought a book of his collected essays and discovered that he can write about anything and be interesting, but, even if he weren't interesting, the subject of the piece I found on The Essayist, (reality TV), is - at least to me - interesting in itself, despite the article being several years old.

The reason I find it interesting is my suspicion that, quite unawares, we are all being changed by reality TV, mainly because of the way in which it establishes celebrity as a goal to be attained on its own, where once celebrity was merely a by-product of an individual's achievement in something other than fame itself.

This new phenomenon is altering expectations and behaviour, I fear. We think about ourselves differently since we have been shown how everything, however mundane, can be framed as performance (and don't get me started on Facebook in this context). Every gesture, every shopping expedition, every walk in the country is potentially a spectacle, recorded by an unseen camera, synthesised into narrative with the help of an understanding voiceover. In this way of seeing, a life that is not watchable - for instance, a life spent reading or thinking, a life lacking hectic human interaction and, ideally, conflict - may become a life that is not worthy of being led.


  1. Interesting post about Auden as I've been looking in 2nd hand and new bookshops for a decent collection of Auden's poetry and haven't been able to find one. I'm sure I could get one from Amazon but I wanted to have a look at the collection first. His reputation seems to be suffering over here which is a shame as his stuff is interesting.

    My husband and I went to a Britten concert and we hear a piece, I think it was an Ode to St Cecilia and the words were by Auden, hence the interest.

    1. Your comment led me to this interesting article about Auden and Britten's relationship in The Guardian:

  2. What an interesting article. The piece is lovely if you get a chance to hear it. Thanks!