Rothko on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland

Rothko on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland

From my brother’s blog here is a post on, as he says, another reason to visit the National Gallery of Ireland!

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“We favour the simple expression of the complex thought.”

— Mark Rothko with Adolph Gottlieb, New York Times, June 1943

If you haven’t been to the newly renovated National Galley of Ireland yet, then here’s another great reason to go: there is a Mark Rothko proudly hanging in the Millennium Wing, which to the best of my knowledge is the very first time an original Rohtko has ever been on public view in Ireland. CORRECTION: Donal Fitzpatrick informs me on Twitter that there was a Rothko entitled The Green Stripe on view in IMMA in 2010.

Black and Red on Red (1963) is on a temporary loan from a private collection, so it will be worth your while making it your business to see it sooner rather than later, as the Gallery are unsure about the duration of this loan.

Rothko was an American painter of Russian Jewish descent who…

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Great facts-of-life scenes: Elizabeth Taylor, “At Mrs Lippincote’s”

I read somewhere that someone (bear with me) explained the facts of life to their son by reading them a chapter of Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green Was MY Valley” wherein a father explains the facts of life to his son. I don’t think I, or anyone else, will be using this from Chapter 8 Elizabeth Taylor’s “At Mrs Lippincote’s” (by the way, Oliver is seven … and this Hardy, Brontë and Stevenson reading child is regularly referred to as ‘backward’ without apparent irony by other characters):

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“I still don’t make out where babies come from,” said Oliver, when he closed his book, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. “Oh, where from. I know that. But not how that began.”

“Oh,” said Julia. “I see. Well, now,” she assumed an expression, controlled her mouth. A flat and unemotional tone, she had read once in a pamphlet on sex-instruction. He wondered what was wrong with her voice. “This bores her,” he decided. She sounded unutterably fatigued. “It bores her more than anything else in the world.” Julia, busy drawing on the back of an envelope, seemed to be conveying a wrong impression and leaving out the most important part. She had never been good at drawing and had in any case only a hazy idea as to how such things are arranged. Bladder, then some loopy tubes, glands. ‘It looks like a picture of a Sheraton chair ‘, she fought, discouraged Half-way through , curiosity made her give a glance at him. His gaze slanted down away from her, at the table. When she stopped speaking, his eyes swept down under the lids and took a narrow peep at her. He rolled up his handkerchief and stuffed it into his mouth.

The door opened. “What is it?” asked Roddy.
“As, there you are!” She rocked and sobbed, than stopped and dabbing her eyes, rose briskly. “The facts of life,” she explained.

Roddy, who had also read a pamphlet on how babies are born, was appalled.

“Don’t look so hurt! She cried. “You are not responsible. You are only a victim.”

She stacked up the tray. “You are home very early, Roddy.”

“Yes. The Old Man’s gone to a conference, so Is skipped off. I thought I might be able to give you some help for the party.”

“Ah, how kind of you. We’ll twist the furniture round in the drawing-room and see what we can make of it.” She went out with the tray.

Roddy, who as a leader of men disregarded the intricacies of his own body, looked at Julia’s drawing without recognition; then, conscious that his son now regarded his parents in a new light (and hilariously at that) he murmured “Well, then,” rocked on his heels uncertainly for a moment and followed Julia.

Oliver, when his amusement had died down, began to feel he owed his parents some kindness. He was touched that his father had gone to such lengths to bring about his existence and that Julia should have been so bored. ‘I must try to be a better son,’ he thought. ‘I will run wild more and please them.’

Participants needed for Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County Project

Participants needed for Ireland’s Holy Wells  County-by-County   Project

Here is a project which sounds fascinating, and straightforward to get involved in!

Pilgrimage In Medieval Ireland

Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County  is a very exciting project set up and run by Dr. Celeste Ray  Professor of Anthropology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.  Celeste has been carrying out research on Irish holy wells since 2000 and has spent a lot of time researching Ireland wells.  The project came about thanks to National Geographic Funding  and Celeste is currently in Ireland carrying out  fieldwork and research and promoting the National Database to be given to the National Folklore Collection.

L3 Holy well at Ahadagh Co Cork photo by Amanda Clarke

What is Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County  Project?

Ireland’s Holy Wells County-by-County  is a community-sourced survey of Ireland’s holy wells and their associated traditions. This citizen-research initiative encourages young people to interview their older neighbors and relatives and add their knowledge of well lore to a national database that will be given to the National Folklore Collection.

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Eleanor Parker on myths about the Middle Ages

An interesting piece that touches on anti-Catholic myths, historical myths, and science vs. religion myths.

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The medieval Church, let’s be clear, had no objection to scientific progress. Throughout the Middle Ages, scientists and scholars – many of them monks and friars – explored their curiosity about the natural world, debating, reasoning, theorising and delighting in learning of all kinds. Medieval scholars studied many varieties of science, including subjects we would now call astronomy, mathematics, engineering, geography, branches of physics (such as optics) and, yes, medicine.

They didn’t define these subjects precisely as we do today, and they didn’t approach them by the same methods or draw the same conclusions. Scientific knowledge and methods change and develop over time. But to suggest that because the various medieval ways of approaching these questions were different from ours they must be an obstacle to “progress”, a sign of “stagnation”, is to impose a kind of intellectual conformity which refuses to see value in any culture but our own. That’s a worrying attitude to teach to schoolchildren.

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Equally troubling is the sense of cultural superiority implicit in that term “superstition”. What value can there be, for teaching history, in using such a label unless you explain what you mean by it? The term is both inappropriately pejorative and far too broad, since people have different views of what qualifies as superstition.

What most people intend when they talk about medieval superstition is probably a vague reference to the devotional practices of medieval Catholicism – pilgrimage, a belief in miracles and saints’ relics, visits to holy wells, and so on. These practices were not confined to peasants in the Middle Ages, or to the uneducated. Social and intellectual elites engaged in them as enthusiastically as anyone, and for centuries they were an unchallenged aspect of learned as well as popular faith. To understand medieval religion, it is essential to try to explore why such practices held meaning for so many kinds of people – not just to dismiss them as superstitious.

Generally speaking (and bearing in mind the difficulties of generalising about a period of 1,000 years), the worldview which underpinned such practices was of a universe in which every created thing held the potential to be a vessel for God’s grace. There was nothing in the world so trivial that it could not be of importance to God. Everything had its purpose and place, from the planets to the tiniest herb. There were blessings to be said over the fruits of each harvest and the tools of everyday work, prayers for every hour of the day and every possible human need.

Medieval scientists calculated times and calendars, developing intricate theories about the interlocking cycles of the natural year, the movement of the stars and the Church’s calendar; and for ordinary people those cycles were woven into their daily lives, so that every day of the year belonged to a saint whose story might point one to God.

It is this worldview which lies behind the kind of miracle stories some people smile at today, where saints cure sick cattle, find lost property or alter the weather. No human concern was beneath God’s notice, or too small to be the occasion for a miracle. When faced with more serious difficulties, it was not fatalism which led people to seek God’s help in illness; it was faith, which believed God could and did intervene in the world.

Pilgrimage can provide genuine health benefits (if not quite in the way medieval Christians would have explained it), as well as being an opportunity to travel, meet new people and have profound spiritual experiences in places hallowed by centuries of devotion.

Cornelius Medvei: “We don’t take characters and develop them; we set ourselves writing puzzles and try to solve them”

Cornelius Medvei: “We don’t take characters and develop them; we set ourselves writing puzzles and try to solve them”

The Making of Mr Bolsover is a novel which it is relatively easy to find critical words phrases to describe – mock-heroic, deadpan, quietly subversive – yet each leaves one with a sense of dissatisfaction. Ostensibly it is the political biography of a former civil servant who begins to live wild and embarks on a career in local politics. The narrator periodicaly references weighty biographies of the likes of Gladstone, Disraeli and Lord Salisbury The book is set in a recognisably contemporary world with references to email and mobile phones, but these are rather incidental to a more timeless depiction of suburbia and the wild places near suburbia that could be set any time in the last fifty or so years.

Medvei is a somewhat obscure figure – indeed, the first two Google results are for a different man entirely (his father?), a high powered legal professional. And while while this is the man his bio doesn’t mention his novel. I get the sense Medvei may not be the world’s most assiduous self-promoter.

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Cornelius Medvei‘s father lives near to the writer Alexander Masters (of “Stuart: A Life Lived Backwards) who wrote about him in the Spectator
(under the headline “There’s nothing wrong with plugging a friends book”

Cornelius Medvei, whose father lives in Sussex, a few fields away from me, has published three novels. They are fables that are witty, wry and thin (in terms of pages) and nobody except Susan Hill and I reads them. The latest one, The Making of Mr Bolsover, is about a local politician who becomes a prophet and ends up living in a wood, cooking rats. On the back cover is a review of Medvei’s first novel, Mr Thundermug. ‘Delightful, unforgettable and splendidly peculiar.’ That review is by me. ‘A book of genius,’ says another review — that’s by Susan Hill.

Cornelius writes ‘like nothing else I have ever read’, says Susan. I’ve met her only once, at a fundraising event for the Emmaus homeless community in Oxford. We instantly forgot about the homeless and talked about Cornelius. About how odd he is; how lanky; how his writing makes you feel he’s been
teleported from the 1920s, part-Kafka, part-John Collier; how at unlikelymparties you turn round and find him standing six inches behind you, quiet and steady as a post; and how he should be in every bookcase.

I’ve had Mr Bolsover on my desk for the past six months. I tore it open the instant it arrived, finished it in two hours, then shoved the book aside in despair. It is brilliant; and, again, it won’t sell

Masters takes on Medvei when walking together:

‘What is wrong with you?’ I demanded as we began our walk up onto the Downs. It was a drizzly day. ‘Why can’t you write a straightforward book that will give you a decent income?’

‘I don’t know,’ groaned Cornelius, bending himself into the wind. ‘I thought this one would do it. It is very funny, it has a strong plot.’

‘And it is full of obscure 19th-century
references to political theory. Why don’t you write about 21st-century issues?’

Mr Thundermug was about alienation,’ he protested.

‘The hero was a monkey who spends his time gazing at the sky and having
philosophical thoughts while his wife eats the bugs out of his fur.’

‘Bookshops often put it in the children’s section,’ admitted Cornelius. ‘They don’t know what to make of it.’

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‘Couldn’t you include a murder or a love interest — something that the reader can get his teeth into?’

‘My second book, Caroline, was a romantic novel.’

‘About a man who falls in love with a
donkey!’

‘I often find that one in crime,’ agreed Cornelius.

We get to read Medvei’s own justification for the detached, rather abstracted style of Mr Bolsover:

‘And then you have adopted this strange detached style for Mr Bolsover, a sort of arch remoteness, as though you’d attached your pen to the end of a long stick, like Matisse …you don’t try to get inside Mr Bolsover’s head, like another novelist would. You don’t explain why he changes from a councillor into a rat-eater.’ (actually in the novel he is a rat eater before a councillor – SS)

‘Precisely! Political biographies don’t. Why did Trotsky become an advocate of permanent revolution? In the biographies there’s a wan passage about him being an idealist, or driven by a sense of mission; but otherwise they pass over it. The motivations for change in these books are either not identified or are banal. In Mr Bolsover’s case, he was hit over the head by a library book.’

I could identify with a approach of Medvei’s to writing , setting him (and Masters) apart from the usual approach of so many creative writing seminars and so forth:

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He paused at a hedge, pushed aside a strand of bramble to reveal a muddy
bridleway and stooped into it. ‘There are different reasons people write, and we’ve got ourselves caught in a wrong one. We don’t take characters and develop them; we set ourselves writing puzzles and try to
solve them. Do you know that story by Somerset Maugham that starts, “I wonder if I can do this?” No? Read it. He is another of us.’

This algebraic attitude to writing also explains why Cornelius’s books take so long. ‘I can see this scene or that twist, but I don’t know the answer overall. I just know the feeling I’m after. I’m always going on at my students about how they should spend more time planning essays before starting writing, but that’s never the way I do it. I just jump in, start writing, chasing this feeling that will be an answer to the puzzle, and get bogged down. It leads to endless points of despair.’

Masters’ semi-tongue in cheek point – that knowing an author gives their books a life and dimension beyond the supposedly detached critical review of a strange – is somewhat incident in this piece to a consideration of the sameness and rather formulaic nature of much contemporary writing.

Leandro Herrero: Never Sell Your Time

I have blogged quite a few posts featuring the work of Leandro Herrero on my other, more medical blog. His observation that a team is not a meeting. And that “inspirational” leadership can be a cover for less than enlightened management. And lessons from monks. And the hype associated with the prefix “neuro”

Anyhow, here is a post on how time is the greatest resource we have:

Time is man’s last asset. Sell time, you will be depleted soon. It’s a finite asset. As a consultant I have professional fees, but not daily or hourly rates. I never charge per days or per hours. I respect others to do so. Some do, from psychoanalysts and lawyers, to plumbers and locksmiths. Other people don’t. Executive search firms usually charge a percentage of the salary of the appointee. Private schools don’t charge by the number of hours the kids are in the place. Brand and advertising companies don’t charge by the number of creative directors or principles or assistants involved, or the number of days taken until the concept is created.

In my Consulting and Speaking engagements, I provide value and I am paid for it. My advice, thought leadership, speech, consultation, collaboration, or hands-on-deck project execution has a value and a fee. My time is unaffordable.

All the essays we will never write on Jorge Luis Borges

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I was asked recently to write an essay on my favourite writer, Jorge Luis Borges (who, as it happens, inspired my forthcoming book with Influx Press, Imaginary Cities). If you know Borges’ writing (and if you don’t, I envy you for being able to read it for the first time), you’ll know that a conventional essay wouldn’t quite suffice. The following is my attempt to write an essay on Borges through what is not expressly said but instead hinted at or pointed to. It’s the only fitting way, I think, to begin to do him justice (if you haven’t read Borges, start with Labyrinths and you’ll soon find, in a strange way, you already have).

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