Sunday, 27 September 2015

Hungover thinking

There aren’t many upsides to hangovers, but I can think of a couple:

The guilt they induce serves as a kick up the arse: a push to do something productive as soon as you’re able, to make up for having had to mope around doing very little while the hangover lasts.

(Entirely by serendipity, I’ve just discovered that a word for this is metanoia, meaning a life change resulting from spiritual conversion or penitence, from the Greek metanoein, to change one’s mind. I discovered this while looking up the definition of metonymical, which I mistakenly thought was spelled with an “a” (meta-), for the next paragraph but one: I had hoped it might be an adjectival way of describing something as being meta, in the sense of having a recurrent higher order.)

However, it’s a second upside I’m more interested in here. (Although it’s related to the arse-kicking upside, in that it also has implications for productivity.) It’s that I think differently when I’m hungover.

I’m convinced this is true. When I’m hungover I'm more observant; I'm more inclined to think and to think at length; I tend to think about deeper and more complex subjects; a broader range of ideas seems to be available to me; and I'm more productive in my thinking.

I don’t think this is narcissistic: I make no claims to think well in any state, it's that I have thoughts and ideas when hungover that I wouldn’t otherwise have – or at least not as readily. The ideas underlying many of the posts on this blog came to me when I was hungover - including, predictably but pleasingly metanymically (see above: I’m coining the term. I never use the word metonym anyway: that’s why I had to look it up), the idea for this one. 

I’ve recognised this for a while: I’ve long thought it helpful to consider important decisions while sober, drunk and hungover, partly because I spend not-insignificant portions of my life in the latter two of these three states, so it’s only fair for my sober self to take my drunk and hungover selves’ opinions into consideration, but also because I know that being drunk or hungover might facilitate inspiration.

Is this property of hangovers particular to me, or is it true for everyone? I don't know. There must have been reams written about the effects of alcohol, but I haven't read much of it. I know Hemingway said that whiskey put his thoughts on a different plane, but I assume he meant on imbibing, not the day after.

I doubt there’s been much if any research into how substances affect thought patterns beyond matters of addiction and impulse control. There ought to be. If anyone knows of any or has any good references on the subject, please do leave them below.

Meanwhile, I need to get up off my arse and do something with my day.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Book review: Fear of Music, David Stubbs, Zero Books, 2009

Best read with Spotify or similar to hand.

Despite being subtitled "Why people get Rothko but don't get Stockhausen", Fear of Music doesn't actually address the question of "why modern [read: avant garde] art is embraced and understood while modern [as above] music is ignored, derided or regarded with bewilderment as noisy, random nonsense perpetrated and listened to by the inexplicably crazed", as the blurb puts it, until its conclusion - a mere 26 pages out of 137. Rather, the first 111 pages set out the parallel histories of the two beasts.

The answers eventually proffered are: because the megabucks associated with modern art have familiarised the public with it; because modern music can feel like an infliction; because music more powerfully depicts the future, and the future is bleak; because humans are inherently more tolerant of visual than auditory chaos; and, a more general repetition of the first, because people aren't used to modern music.

Of these, I give most credence to the infliction and tolerance suggestions. To take the latter first, modern music much more commonly causes physical pain through sheer extent (in its case, volume) than modern art when experienced live, and auditory chaos also much more readily causes headaches (even at reasonable volume).

The infliction point is related. Although modern art often aims to challenge, it doesn't generally aim to cause as much unpleasantness to its audience as possible, whereas this does seem to be the aim of bands like Throbbing Gristle, Napalm Death and Sunn O))). A more appropriate comparison to these more extreme avant garde bands than the sublime (in an artistic sense) works of Rothko would be images of violence such as those force-fed to Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

The very premise of the book is on shaky ground in this respect. In setting out the history of avant garde music, Stubbs includes such figures as Jimi Hendrix, Kraftwerk, Joy Division, Brian Eno and Radiohead - hardly musicians that lacked a popular following. Furthermore, he states that millions of people already do embrace avant garde music (albeit calling this "a tiny fragment of the overall demographic"). Most damagingly, he even says "it's hard to conceive that Duke Ellington's music was once considered 'dissonant' or to recapture just what a fissure the joyful peal of Louis Armstrong's trumpet represented" - i.e., that in these cases at least the avant garde has been wholly accepted by and subsumed into the mainstream.

Likewise, although Rothko is indeed extremely popular, the same cannot be said of all avant garde art. The Tate Modern may receive millions of visitors per year, but this is due more  to its cannily having been established as a symbol of trendy London and to the monumentalism of the building itself than to its housing works by the likes of Giacometti, which are barely glanced at by the incessantly shuffling crowds, despite a Giacometti having sold for $141m this year. The public much prefers shows of works by old masters like Rembrandt and Leonardo or impressionists like Monet to the Futurists or conceptualists.

Having said all that, I like the premise of the book even if it's a false one, simply because it gives Stubbs the chance to provide his parallel histories of these two fascinating movements. And I like the book itself: Stubbs writes well and with a keen eye for what to cover from what must have been a wealth of material, and includes just enough of himself to add an extra dimension without being intrusive. I read it in one day, fighting to keep going through straining eyes (see the glasses in the photo above).

The book is also a fantastic way of discovering new music, and I recommend having access to Spotify or similar when reading it so that you can appreciate what's being discussed as you go along.

I also like the ethos of Zero Books, which claims to have the lofty aim of fighting the contemporary elimination of the public and the intellectual.

However, while both the publisher and the author seek to stand up for the avant garde, I do wish they hadn't taken such a free-thinking approach to grammar and spelling in the edition of FoM I read: practices such as printing words in a meaningful order, including every word in a sentence but only as many times as is required, subject-verb agreement, apostrophe placement, knowledge of what commas are for and reserving paragraph returns for the ends of paragraphs do help to convey a message more easily, boringly conservative though they may be.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Big Ones #1: Wasps

If, as you're meandering along, contemplating the beauty of every living thing and how best you can serve your fellow man today, you happen upon a wasp sitting placidly on some surface, does your position in the social compact mean that you're morally obligated to kill it? Discuss.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Swap meat

Grant Hutchinson, Flickr

Taking the EU's Emissions Trading System and the modern inclination to Instagram all our meals as my inspiration, I have a proposition for you.

Would you like to pay me to not eat meat so that you can eat it instead?

Just as countries that would prefer not to ween themselves off fossil fuels can get off the hook by paying others for their above-and-beyond efforts to do so, I offer you the opportunity to go on scarfing meat like there is a tomorrow in exchange for my refraining from partaking.

For the low, low price of just $12, €11 or £10 per day, I will let you scoff flesh with the guilt-free abandon that can only come from knowing that someone out there (me) is abstaining on your behalf. Each sausage I don't eat will be the anti-matter to the sausage that you do, with the two annihilating across space and time to leave nothing but the innocent lip-smack of blissfully methane- and CO2-less air rushing in to displace a pristine void.

How will it work? I'll be available by the day or by block booking. You'll pay me via PayPal or bank transfer the day before, and on the day itself I'll tweet photos of whatever I eat, thereby proving (or at least strongly indicating) the sacrifice I've made on the altar of your greed. In order to prove I'm not double-booking myself, I'll include a word of your choice in the tweet, and the absence of any tweets without that word will show that I'm all yours.

Obviously this only benefits the planet and thereby absolves you of your guilt if I'm not already a vegetarian, so on my unengaged days I'm prepared to tweet whatever photos of me chowing down on formerly sentient beings you need to feel confident that I am in fact depriving myself on my on days.

Step up, meat-eaters, and do your bit! (Tweet me or leave a comment or whatever).

Juxtapositions #1: Tiepolo and Mondrian

Tiepolo's The Building of the Trojan Horse, about 1760, National Gallery, London

Mondrian's Composition With Red, Yellow and Blue, 1942