Tag Archives: Society

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Review – Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is one of the most imaginative works of twentieth century fiction. The book is a dream, a vision, literally so. It depicts, as a framing narrative, a conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, the great figure at the head of the Mongol Empire. The two of them exist in a dream state, caught in a suspended moment. They discuss wonders and marvels, the result of Polo’s travelling. These are the cities of the title. Continue reading

Harambe and Post-Irony

Deaths can serve as salutary events. They bring people together in mourning and in reminiscence. In the case of the famous, they can unite the world in commemoration of great talent, excellent work, and, possibly, lost potential. We have already seen it in 2016, the year which has brought the early deaths of so many greatly loved fixtures of our culture: Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman. Continue reading

Samuel Johnson and the Vanity of Human Wishes

Samuel Johnson, the Dr Johnson of national memory, is primarily known for his wit. His epigrams are hardly common currency, but they do have a certain appeal – and a certain constituency. Who has not heard ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ or ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ (a particular favourite of Boris Johnson) deployed in conversation by someone altogether too keen on appearing intelligent? Continue reading

A Historical Scandal

Last month, Patrick Johnston, vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, was said to have uttered something outrageous. In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he justified the university’s cancellation of a course in sociology and anthropology by stating that ‘[s]ociety doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian’. Continue reading

John Aubrey and Prose Style

In the course of reviewing Ruth Scurr’s marvellous first-person biography of John Aubrey (John Aubrey: My Own Life, which is without doubt available in all fine bookstores), I picked up and read a rather pleasing edition of his Brief Lives. Unlike Suetonius, for example, Aubrey is not gossipy in a way modern readers would recognise; in fact, he is not a gossip at all. He has stories which are almost as salacious as those collected by the Roman – though it must be noted that his appraisals of eminent figures do not tend as much towards the grotesque – but in many ways that was not the point. Continue reading

Online Media and the New Boredom

We’re all bored, we’re all so tired of everything
We wait for trains that just aren’t coming
We show off our different scarlet letters –
Trust me, mine is better

Taylor Swift, “New Romantics”

We are all bored. Well, not exactly all of us – but boredom is everywhere; being bored, which, so our mothers told us, used to mean that we ourselves were boring, seems to be more ubiquitous, more pervasive, than ever. Continue reading

I Was BuzzFeed for a Couple of Days (and It Was Perfect)

I have always had an instinctive dislike of BuzzFeed, the new, sparky website seemingly entirely powered by faddish political opinions and years-old posts on Instagram which is more or less eviscerating traditional publishing and giving jobs to almost every journalist I can name.

Because this dislike was instinctive – because it was automatic – I decided I had better investigate the whole thing a little more. Continue reading