J G Ballard on viewing Crivelli’s Annunciation

Via Bibliokept:

I am sure that a large part of the enduring mystery of the Renaissance masterpieces in the National Gallery was due to the absence of the explanatory matter that now drains away much of the strangeness and poetry of the Old Masters. I would stare at Crivelli’s Annunciation, charmed by the peacocks, loaves of bread and other incongruous items, the passer-by reading a book on the bridge and the Virgin in her jewel box of a house. I was forced to use my own imagination to stitch these elements into a master narrative that made some kind of sense, rather than read an extended wall caption and be solemnly told that the peacock was a symbol of eternal life. Perish the thought, and let the exquisite bird be itself, and nothing more or less than itself. What could be more natural, and more mysterious, than a peacock and a loaf of bread appearing on the scene to celebrate the forthcoming birth of the Saviour?

From J.G. Ballard’s autobiography Miracles of Life.



Jarod Gott on Tinder, writing and the presentation of the self

Recently I was at Dreams, Hallucinations and the Imagination, a conference organised by the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual ExperienceDreams and like experiences are an interest of mine generally, clinically and personally (if you follow) at some point I would like to blog about this fascinating meeting more, especially from my perspective as an interested party but not part of a specific sleep/consciousness/philosophy of mind group.

One of the most memorable presentations was the last, from Jarod Gott,   a neuroscientist from Melbourne with the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour . He gave a bracing and no-sacred-cows-untouched talk entitled “Neural correlates of “synthetic” perception: Towards a common statespace model for dreams, hallucination and imagination”

I may not have entirely expected, reading through the various papers by conference speakers I could find online on the way to the airport, that Gott has written a piece for Quilette on dating in the age of Tinder.  It made me quite glad to be too old and too married to have any familiarity with Tinder itself. One of Gott’s asides (which I have highlighted in bold below) made me wonder something about writing in the world today:

Now you are cooking with gas! Expect several days of intimate, evocative and tantalising back-and-forth, conversations running into the early hours of the morning, a reliable hit of dopamine at the peering at of one’s lock screen. You organise a face to face, a real live date—and the anxiety hits infinity, as this person who you have finally clicked with, will suddenly become real. So you meet up, and you can’t even recognise them. To make matters worse, you never actually do. Their digital persona is more familiar than anything physical existence can do justice to, and you fade out of each other’s lives, wondering who that imposter actually was, and how they got that other person—the one who you really felt something for—to type all those sweet and lovely messages. The hollow feeling grows profound, as you slowly realise, that you never will get to find out and that maybe, just maybe, you have actually lost your mind.It took some serious contemplation, to untangle why I was repeating this cycle. In part, I can attribute my recently improved skills as a writer, in building an entertaining and beguiling narrative, and pulling somebody haplessly into it. Maybe I am just too good at this? No. It’s something else entirely. I revisited my best encounters, ones that became lasting and rewarding friendships, relationships or anything in between. What pattern did these follow? I can say for certain—these addictive, high-frequency textual exchanges, giving one’s phone a poker-machine like quality—came at the tail end of months of physical intimacy, if they came at all. We existed, perhaps, in a much more tribal state. Every waking moment together, where it was at all practicable; no zero-sum playing of games, no existential desire to weed out deal-breaking traits and experiences, like landmines in a Cambodian rice field, lest they blow up under your tread, leaving you gamed by some malevolent sentient other. When you fall in love the way that you do when you travel, the world has a way of contracting and such details fade into irrelevancy. When you scour the Internet for mates using Tinder, the world has a way of expanding—and nobody is ever good enough, and nobody, ever, can be trusted: to be all they appear to be; to be who they say.

In the context of his piece, Gott dismisses the impact of his “recently improved skills as a writer”, but these two sentences got me thinking about how writing has become more and more about presentation of a kind of self. It is sometimes claimed we  live in a golden age of writing, that the net result of email/social media/SMS is an explosion in the written word, albeit writ on the water that is the Internet.

Whatever the truth of that, the impulse of much more of the writing we do is to present a certain sense of the selfl and . The internet is a powerful agent of Girardian mimeticism, and one wonders if “improved writing skills” are a powerful agent of imposing conformity.

And one wonders if writing-as-presentation-of-a-self makes Literature (deliberate big L) more inclined to solipsism, more virtue-signally, less interested in the world and others and more focused on Thinly Disguised Autobiography (or Thinly Disguised What I Wish Was Autobiography)


The lost worlds of Debois and Julieta Guipeal at the Tipperary County Museum

The lost worlds of Debois and Julieta Guipeal at the Tipperary County Museum

This is Portrait of a Man, by Julieta Guipeal:


Apologies for the photo quality – this was taken with my phone’s camera in a well-lit (and thereby reflective) space.

It is currently on display as part of an exhibition called Reflections in Tipperary County Museum, Clonmel. Here is a bit of background on the exhibition:

Earlier this year [2018], Tipperary County Museum initiated a vital research project which focused on the origins of its municipal art collection. Art Historian, Catherine Marshall was appointed Curator in Residence at Tipperary County Museum to oversee this particular project. The result of Catherine’s findings will be documented in a specialised catalogue in early 2019 and the accompanying exhibition ‘Reflections’ will exhibit approximately 65 paintings which have remained unseen by the general public for many years.

This Tipperary Art Collection is the result of active, committed and sustained citizenship by a small group of people, from those who established the South Tipperary Fine Arts Club in the 1940s, to individual donors like William English in the 1980s and more recently Tipperary County Council S.R., South Tipperary County Council and our now unified Tipperary County Council.

Portrait of an Artist and others of the most interesting works (including “F***lands 1982”) are part of the William English Bequest. I haven’t been able to find out much about William English online (possibly because there is an artist of that name) this article:

Subsequently, the original collection was added-to by a number of bequests, the most notable of which came from Clonmel man, William English. This brought relatively modern artists (working in the late decades of the 20th century) into the gallery: Robert Ballagh, Patrick Pye, Leo Hogan, Julieta Guipeal, and the Clonmel-born artist, Martin Quigley.

The above article by Margaret Rossiter is the only online reference to Julieta Guipeal I could find.  The catalogue for the exhibition states “All attempts to find the artist Julieta Guipeal have so far come to nothing. While almost all of the William English Bequest was acquired in the Limerick area, enquiries about Guipeal there have yielded no information, nor have early international searches”:


Here is another, unfortunately blurry, view of Portrait of A Man:

Julieta Guipeal is not the only lost artist on display. Here is a work whose very title is a mystery. Is it  EA or A1/2?  We known it is signed by “Debois”, but who is Debois? Again, apologies for the quality:


Here is the image in a bit more context with a great big stonking reflection of myself hogging the frame:

While in Guipeal’s case one can make assumptions (possibly misleading ones) about gender and possible ethnicity, in Debois’ case we have even less to go on. As the catalogue states “No information has come to light about the artist who signed this work, Debois, and no indications of how William English came across his or his work. That is all the more intriguing since the work itself is so tantalisingly dreamlike and surreal”:



So there you have it – I have posted before here about the amnesia of our supposedly information-saturated age., and here we have two intriguing works, each by an artist apparently unknown for anything else.

You are not alone: the word “sonder”

I recently came across the word “sonder”

Coined in 2012 by John Koenig, whose project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, aims to come up with new words for emotions that currently lack words.[1][2]Related to German sonder- (special) and French sonder (to probe).[3]

(neologism) The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.

I am not that sure how I feel about it. As with solastalgia I am somewhat suspcious of the resort to neologism. I have a nagging sense that there is another, already existing word for this… perhaps I should think of a word for this nagging sense.

“What is Beauty?” considered in Dungloe courthouse

An interesting tale from the Donegal courts. A vet who set up a clinic in Bunbeg was denied certification by the veterinary authorities as the word “beauty” was in the clinic’s proposed name. Dungloe District Court evidently had jurisdiction:

The title of the practice is Animal Beauty and Care Clinic, but the VCI said the term beauty could be equated with some unacceptable cosmetic surgery taking place in the practice to modify an animal’s appearance, the court heard.

Mr Podiaru appealed the decision at Dungloe District Court against The Veterinary Council of Ireland, 53 Lansdowne Road, Dublin. His counsel Dean Regan said it was a case that centred on the definition of the word “beauty”.

Mr Regan said the VCI was suggesting that the word beauty meant trying to modify an animal’s appearance and was unethical. He said it was unreasonable to suggest that beauty was linked with some sort of mutilation of an animal.

Counsel for the VCI Hugh McDowell said that for the appeal to succeed it must be shown that the VCI erred in law or acted unreasonably.

President of the VCI Peadar O’Scannail told the court that “if ever a blade was taken to an animal to beautify it, that is a red line for the Veterinary Council”.

He said there were cases of dogs having their tails cut for cosmetic reasons and that was not allowed.

Mr O’Scannail said there was a danger that the public might draw an inference that something untoward was happening at the practice.

Obviously legal argument ensued to ensure nothing untoward would trouble the sensibilities of Gweedore folk:

Judge Paul Kelly read from some veterinary practices which provided for dog grooming. Among the services were “nail clipping” “paint on highlights” and “anal gland expressing”.

The judge wondered what was the difference between dog-grooming and beauty?

At one stage the Oxford Dictionary was produced, and the definition of beauty read out in court.

In a rather Solomon like decision, Judge Kelly found for Mr Polidaru but didn’t award costs as he could have engaged more with the VCI earlier. But that would have denied us the legal speculation on the nature of beauty outlined above.

“the unfortunate matter of the suffix -anus”

I am pretty sure I have overshared from John Wright’s “The Naming of the Shrew”but ah sure one more for the road:

First, the unfortunate matter of the suffix -anus. In Latin nomenclature, it simply indicates position, connection or possession by, as in sylvanus (‘belonging to woods’), africanus (‘coming from Africa’) and alphonsianus (for Professor Alphonse Milne-Edwards). It has nothing to do with anything anatomical. The English name for the body part is from the Latin noun with the same meaning, itself a derivative of anulus or annulus – ‘a ring’. On the page, or if pronounced as in ‘pat’ or in ‘part’, the suffix is unremarkable; only when pronounced (properly, as it happens) with an ‘ay’, as in ‘pane’, does it become a source of infantile sniggering (for notes on pronunciation, see here). Taxonomists, wary of offending those they wish to honour, tend to avoid the suffix, if possible. But some names suffer more than others, and no doubt Milne-Edwards was delighted with his epithet. Professor Roy Watling, formerly of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, told me of the occasion he and his colleague Alex Smith wished to name a new species of mushroom in the genus Leccinum (a bolete). It was to honour the distinguished boletologist Walter Snell. Faced with the unthinkable snellianus, they settled on Leccinum snelli.

Other taxonomists have not been so considerate. The nineteenth-century botanist William Hemsley, for example, does not appear to have thought through his name for the bramble species Rubus cockburnianus, with which he wished to honour the Cockburn family. Rafinesque, although of French descent, lived and worked in the US, so he should have realised that his Soranus was open to misinterpretation.

More forgivable because of the language difference is Bugeranus, the generic name of B. carunculatus, the wattled crane, with which the German ornithologist Gloger presented Herr Buger. For temporal as well as language reasons, the nineteenth-century German botanist Karl Sigismund Kunth cannot be held responsible for the specific epithet of the invasive gamba grass Andropogon gayanus, with which he honoured the French botanist Claude Gay.

However, P. J. Hancox, writing in 1987, must be guilty as charged for giving us the improbable imperative therapsid genus Dolichuranus; that dolichos is Greek for ‘long’ does not forgive.

“Drunker than nine hundred dollars”

Recently I’ve been reading “The Filthy Thirteen: From the Dustbowl to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest – The True Story of the 101st Airborne’s Most Legendary Squad of Combat Paratroopers” by Jake McNiece (with Richard Kilblane)

McNiece, who died aged 93 in 2013, was a member of The Filthy Thirteen, a WWII demolition unit which inspired The Dirty Dozen. The book is a highly entertainingly, rambunctious read. As they depart the stage of life, the Greatest Generation tend to get a stultifingly reverent press, so this is a necessary corrective.

In this extract – which gives a flavour of the book – there’s an expression for extreme drunkenness – “drunker than 900 dollars” – which was new on me:

I had a total exemption from the draft because I was a fireman but I began to feel uneasy about not offering my services, whatever they might be. So I went back to Ponca City, Oklahoma, to visit my mom and dad for a few days.

Then I got into some problems down there at the Blue Moon Tavern on South Avenue. I was out carousing around one Saturday night doing the town up in good shape and fashion. Of course, I was drunker than nine hundred dollars and looking for trouble.

There was one particular individual that I wanted to put the ugly on. Thad Tucker and I had always had lots of difficulties. Well, I wanted to whip him real good one more time, but I knew the minute that I stepped inside his joint he would call the cops.

So I got a friend of mine to go down with me in his good clothes. He owed Thad quite a bit of money. Well he went in with a cock-and-bull story that he had just married an Osage squaw and wanted to pay him off.

He asked Thad to come on out to the car a bit. He would give him a big shot of whiskey then pay him. Well, when Thad came clear out into the driveway, I walked up and went to work on him. I knocked him down and was putting the boots to him in that gravel driveway. I was so drunk that I lost my balance. When I lifted my foot to kick him, I kind of staggered back. He then jumped up and made a run for the front door of his joint.

When he did, I scooped up a big rock about the size of a baseball and threw it at him. I was still in good shape and could throw pretty straight. I hit him right in the back of the head and it just peeled his skin. It nearly scalped him. He went down but by then I could already hear sirens blowing all over the place. Squad cars were coming in from every direction. So I thought, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Then I took off and ran across the street.

This was back in 1942 and there were not many dwelling places on the north side of South Avenue. That was where the Hearst brothers had a big corral. So I made it over into that horse lot and tore out across the field. It had been raining. The mud and horse manure were just like soup, about ankle deep all over the place. In the dark I could just see the light-colored horses. While I ran I could miss the bays and the whites and the grays but I hit one of the black ones and tumbled down in that crap. I finally escaped out of there and went on home.

McNiece uses nine hundred dollars as an index of extreme drunkenness a few other times in the book. I can’t find other online usages. Any leads?