The crouching monster

Link: Magnificent Octopus: The crouching monster.

Isabella writes an excellent post about Patrick Hamilton, whom I haven’t read but have often meant to. She quotes here the opening of Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude:

"London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.

The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better."

This book was published in 1947.

Although I concur wholeheartedly with these sentiments of Hamilton’s, I was reminded of rather an opposite conclusion in a book which I read many years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed: The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy (best known for "The Constant Nymph"). I don’t remember many of the details of this 1920s (or thereabouts) book apart from the love-triangle theme, but what sticks in my mind is the liberation via commuterdom experienced by one of the characters.

I suppose commuting must once have seemed refreshing and novel.

Autumn books: innate morality

Nature‘s Autumn books issue came out last week. I enjoyed all the reviews, virtually all of which are of books that can be read and appreciated if you are not a scientist, so I’m going to post about them here in a series of posts. Nature content is site-licence or subscription only, so if you want to read the entire text of a review and aren’t a subscriber, let me know in the comments and I will tell you how.

First up, in an article entitled "The Chomsky of morality" Paul Bloom and Izzat Jarudi review  "Moral Minds: How nature designed our universal sense of right and wrong", by Marc Hauser.

From the review:

"In Moral Minds, Marc Hauser makes an audacious claim about moral thought. He argues that morality is best understood in much the same way as Noam Chomsky described language: as the product of an innate and universal mental faculty. For Hauser, moral intuition is not the product of culture and education, nor is it the result of rational and deliberative thought, nor does it reduce to the workings of the emotions. Instead, it is human nature to unconsciously and automatically evaluate the moral status of human actions: to judge them as right or wrong, allowed or forbidden, optional or obligatory.

As Hauser is careful to point out, he is not the first to make the leap from a chomskyan theory of language to a chomskyan theory of morality: this analogy was proposed by the political philosopher John Rawls, the legal scholar John Mikhail of Georgetown University in Washington DC, and by Chomsky himself. But Moral Minds is the first detailed exploration of this idea. It is a trade book, highly accessible to a general audience and drawing on diverse examples from literature, popular culture and history. But it is also a deeply significant intellectual contribution: everything that’s done in the new science of moral psychology in the coming years is going to be a response to this important and enjoyable work."

It’s an excellent review of what seems to be a fascinating book.

Where Hobbits dare

Our house is fairly well-stocked with books by Brian Sibley about various aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies. Well-enough, I had thought, until I read an excerpt in the Times the other day from his latest — a biography of Peter Jackson. The Times article focuses on the meetings between the Weinstein brothers and Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, at the time when Miramax was considering providing the backing. (In the event, the films were financed by New Line.) I particularly liked this part:

“Bob Weinstein had obviously read the treatment, or skipped through it, but I remember this moment as if a lightbulb had gone on and there was almost a palpable moment of sudden understanding. Bob said: ‘Wait! So the Elf is like a bowman, shooting arrows, yeah? And the Dwarf has got axes and he can throw axes? And Sam, he’s got this magic rope, right? And Frodo’s got this light thing?’ Then he got really excited and you could see there was this moment of utter revelation and he said: ‘It’s like that movie where they had the explosives expert and the code expert and the marksman and they all had their own special skill . . . It’s the f****** Guns of Navarone!’

“The best thing to do in these meetings is try and keep a straight face and, occasionally, kick each other under the table, which Fran and I were prone to doing.”

Almost enough to make me buy the book, though I’ve never yet read a celebrity biography that I’ve enjoyed, with the exception of Wired by Bob Woodward. (I read that one only because I read all Bob Woodward’s books.)

The Times article was published on 26 Oct, so will only be freely available for a few more days.

Six-word biography challenge

I am enjoying many of the six-word stories currently going the rounds, Caroline of In Search of Adam has invented a twist — the six-word biography. I picked this up at Marie’s blog Deep Thinker. It seems as if you actually get 18 words, as you are allowed three six-word lines.

Caroline’s three six-word bios of herself — pretty good I think:

1. Born 1973. Easily influenced by television.
2. Gets pregnant easily. Has three kids.
3. Teacher. Writer. Mother. Wife. Friend. Tit.

Here are Marie’s, also very neat:

1. Love singing, music, writing, reading, art.
2. I believe I’m a bit psychic.
3. Favourite colours are blue and burgundy.

My effort:

1. Made plans but life happened instead (ack: John Lennon)
2. Takes refuge in books and thoughts
3. What destination for my pilgrim’s burden? (ack: John Bunyan)

I am afraid I am not very witty or indeed original, but did my best. I challenge readers to write your own six-word autobiographies, either in the comments to this post or on your own blogs (in which case, please add a link in the comments).

Thank you.