Wednesday, 12 August 2009

in all desire to know there is a drop of cruelty

Am currently loving Nietzsche. He's a bit nuts and surprisingly funny. I'm reading Beyond Good and Evil and even I'm taken aback at the number of times I laugh out loud while reading. I've turned down plenty of page corners and underlined juicy morsels - my intention is to write a proper, meaty Nietzsche post at some point in the future, but for today this excerpt must suffice. I find his insights into those who purport to practice "high culture" to be particularly interesting, his observations are as true now as they did over 100 years ago. Having said that, the next chapter ends with the statement, "we men wish that women should not go on compromising herself through enlightenment..." Ouch. Still arranging my opinions on the great philologist.

Anyway, the excerpt:

In late ages that may be proud of their humanity, so much fear remains, so much superstitious fear of the "savage cruel beast" whose conquest is the very pride of these more humane ages, that even palpable truths remain unspoken for centuries, as if by some agreement, because they look as if they might reanimate that savage beast one has finally "mortified." Perhaps I dare something when I let one of these truths slip out: let others catch it again and give it "milk of the pious ways of thinking" to drink until it lies still and forgotten in its old corner.

We should reconsider cruelty and open our eyes. We should at long last learn impatience lest such immodest fat errors keep on strutting about virtuously and saucily, as have been fostered about tragedy, for example, by philosophers both ancient and modern. Almost everything we call "higher culture" is based on the spiritualization of cruelty, on its becoming more profound: this is my proposition. That "savage animal" had not really been "mortified"; it lives and flourishes, it has merely become - divine.

[and here's the crux!] What constitutes the painful voluptuousness of tragedy is cruelty; what seems agreeable in so-called tragic pity, and at bottom in everything sublime, up to the highest and most delicate shudders of metaphysics, receives its sweetness solely from the admixture of cruelty. What the Roman in the arena, the Christian in the ecstasies of the cross, the Spaniard at an auto-da-fe or bullfight, the Japanese of today when he flocks to tragedies, the labourer in a Parisian suburb who feels a nostalgia for bloody revolutions, the Wagnerienne [note the feminine!!] who "submits to" Tristan and Isolde, her will suspended - what all of them enjoy and seek to drink in with mysterious ardour are the spicy potions of the great Circe, "cruelty."

To see this we must, of course, chase away the clumsy psychology of bygone times which had nothing to teach about cruelty except that it came into being at the sight of the sufferings of others. There is also an abundant, over-abundant enjoyment at one's own suffering, at making oneself suffer - and wherever man allows himself to be persuaded to self-denial in the religious sense, or to self-mutilation, as among Phoenicians and ascetics, or altogether to desensualization, decarnalization, contrition, Puritanical spasms of penitence, vivisection of the conscience, and sacrifizio dell'intelletto a la Pascal, he is secretly lured and pushed forward by his cruelty, by those dangerous thrills of cruelty turned against oneself.

Finally consider that even the seeker after knowledge forces his spirit to recognize things against the inclination of the spirit, and often enough also against the wishes of his heart - by way of saying No where he would like to say Yes, love, and adore - and thus acts as an artist and transfigurer of cruelty. Indeed, any insistence on profundity and thoroughness is a violation, a desire to hurt the basic will of the spirit which unceasingly strives for the apparent and superficial - in all desire to know there is a drop of cruelty.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Ich <3 Berlin

Photos of Berlin trip:

Duck Fat in the Holy Land

Two cultural highlights this week. I took the Boy to lunch at the Fat Duck for his birthday and The Philosopher and I went to see Jerusalem at the Royal Court. I've been thinking a lot about the function of reviewing lately and this week has clinched it: reading reviews prior to experiencing the subject of the review is a bad, bad idea.

Yes, Fat Duck is fantastic and it's distinctly different from any other restaurant in the UK, but a life changing experience it is not. The best I can think to equate it to is a surprising and rather fun one night stand. You're not having the kind of sex that's going to ruin you from ever wanting to have sex with anyone else ever again, but it's definitely enjoyable. However, if you have to pay £400 for the pleasure of having sex that doesn't rock your world, you're probably not going to rush back anytime soon.

I love food, but I don't cook. This is heresy to lots of foodie people, but I'm not that fussed. I love eating out. It's what I do. So for me the idea of a restaurant whose raison d'etre seems to be to establish yourself as the kind of restaurant people come to once, maybe twice in their lives is completely inane. I don't know if my expectations were too high or whether I had read too many reviews and knew what was coming, but I just expected more. The other problem is that I recently went to a foodie evening at The White Swan, a pub in Clerkenwell. I live practically around the corner and had never heard of this place. The Philosopher found out about an evening they run about once a month - a fine food and wine evening - so along we went. It was absolutely fantastic: delicious food, divine wines, a jaunty sommelier chatted about our wines, and our hosts were angels. I'm sure it has something to do with expectations, given that mine were sub zero going to The White Swan and through the roof at The Fat Duck. Hand on heart, if you handed me a cheque for £500 and said I could pick between the two places for dinner tomorrow night, I'd high tail it straight back to The White Swan.

Heston's gaff is, for me, exactly the opposite of what dining out should be. Going to a restaurant is not first and foremost about the food. It's about the experience and here's where I think The Fat Duck gets it wrong. Heston thinks food is about memories, which is certainly true in many cases. The problem with this is that there should be no place for reminiscing and reliving one's memories in a restaurant. Unless, of course, you're on your own, eating out is above all a
shared experience: it's about creating new memories, not reliving old ones. At The Fat Duck, yes the food is delicious, but it should be a restaurant full of tables for one. What's the point of going out to eat with anyone else if you're only interacting with the plate of food in front of you and not your company? Inward looking eating is just plain creepy and it's certainly not the thing for me. I'd take a convivial table full of laughing and conversing friends over a table full of serious-faced sullen cows, ears plugged up with headphones, (yes! headphones! at the table!) any day of the week.

I feel like I've finally learned my lesson. The Philosopher and I went to see Jez Butterworth's
Jerusalem at the Royal Court. We bought our tickets ages ago, which was clever going on our part, as the run has been sold out for weeks. I knew it was going to be good: Lloyd Evans doesn't say that a show is among the very best, after having reviewed more than 700 shows for the Speccie, and not mean it. Apart from his review, which gives nothing away, I read nothing else. I wanted the experience of seeing the show to hit me with the full force of its amazingness. And boy did it.

It's not often that I say this, but there is some truly terrific theatre on in London at the minute:
Acordia at The Duke's, Phèdre at the National, Winter's Tale at the Old Vic, even Helen at the Globe is pretty fun. Jerusalem wipes the floor with all of them. Do whatever you have to do to get a ticket, this is that good. At 3 hours and 10 minutes, this is one of the longest plays I've ever seen, but perhaps one of the only shows I've ever seen where my attention never wavered. Not once was I aware of time outside the world created by this play. And it is an incredible world, by turns hilarious and witty, yet terrible and cruel. The performances are breath-taking. Mark Rylance in the lead is like no one I've ever seen. Typically, when the lead is so strong the rest of the ensemble pales in comparison, but this cast seems better for having Rylance in their midst and, though I don't often say so, the entire cast are equally sublime.

I wish I could write what the play was about and what I felt about it, but that would be unfair. You need to experience this play. It's the most important thing on stage at the moment. This play is a revelation. It's theatre in its most perfected form and you'd be a fool to miss it.

Monday, 3 August 2009

das Antichrist

I went to see Antichrist last Wednesday with two female friends. That they were female friends is important, I think. Nothing more uncomfortable than sitting next to a male friend while a woman walks around naked on screen and then performs a clitroidectomy.

With this film Lars von Trier has introduced the word clitroidectomy back into common vernacular. He has also made it perfectly clear that he hates women. Possibly therapists, but definitely women.

Until someone reminded me this afternoon, I had already forgotton I had seen Antichrist. This is my review: I forgot about Antichrist less than one week after seeing it.

So, see this film if you want to be able to say you saw this film. Or if you don't mind wasting three hours of your life in a darkened room. Do not see this film if you previously rated von Trier's The Five Obstructions as your second favourite film of all time. You will exit the cinema wishing you had become a Jørgen Leth devotee instead. You will not, however, make the same mistake again.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

windmills and pavilions

In the chaotic mess that is my life just now, I still manage to take time out to see cool stuff. It keeps me inspired, makes me happy and recharges my mental batteries.

I went to check out the Dalston Mill, a temporary windmill constructed by architects, EXYZT for the Barbican's Radical Nature exhibition on now. This is my kind of architecture. It's temporary, yet more concerned with adding value to its community than most permanent structures. The windmill powers a grinding machine and a battery operated lighting system.

When I rocked up this afternoon, there were about 20 people lined up at the bar, happily frosting cakes as part of a cake-decorating course. The bread ovens were fired up, people were sitting in deck chairs admiring the wheat field, and the little stage had been taken over for a swap shop. Did she just say wheat field? Indeed I did. The wheat field is a sort of reimagining of Agnes Denes' 1982 'Wheatfield - A Confrontation' where she planted and harvested two acres of wheat in Battery Parl landfill in downtown New York. The Dalston Mill wheat field is by no means as spectacular as the Batter Park field, but it's a lovely idea and a nice parallel.

Lately it feels as if London's had an injection in its public life with events, festivals, and pop ups galore. It's difficult to know whether this DIY explosion is an effect of the recession or whether we've just finally come round to the joys and the dynamism of a new kind of cultural life, but long may it continue.

I'm a little loathe to divulge this next detail, for fear of letting a best-kept secret out of the bag, but it's too fantastic not to share. There's a tiny little pavilion next to the big lake in Victoria Park that does one of the nicest breakfasts in London. A friend raved me about the
Pavilion Cafe and, though I'd been meaning to get round to dropping in for ages, today marked my fist visit. A brief moment of panic at walking in to the faintly campsite looking pavilion soon dissappeared when, sat on a bench overlooking the lake, a veggie breakfast was parked in front of me. It's like any other veggie breakfast you've ever had only much, much better - it has smashed avocado! Sigh x 10. If you love breakfast, you must go to this place. Only please take me with you.