“an author whose books were marvellous but rather the same” – Elizabeth Taylor and Andrei Makine


I have just begun reading Elizabeth Taylor’s At Mrs Lippincote’s (not, it feels obligatory to point out, not that Elizabeth Taylor. From Valerie Martin‘s introduction:

Though I never met either of them, Kingsley Amis introduced me to Elizabeth Taylor. He did it slyly, with deceptive nonchalance, as one might present a powerful relative to an acquaintance at a party; he knew she was important but had his doubts about me. This happened in his novel Difficulties With Girls. After a poor lunch of macaroni cheese, Jenny Standish, much neglected wife of the libidinous Patrick, has gone to the library in search of steady company. ‘Everything seemed to be out, bar an enormous saga about Southern Belles, but then she spotted a new Elizabeth Taylor on the returns shelf.’ At home, Jenny is disappointed to discover that ‘the new Elizabeth Taylor turned out to be an old Elizabeth Taylor in a new impression and with a different outside, and she must have been slipping not to have checked, always advisable with an author whose books were marvellous but rather the same.’

I am just starting to read Elizabeth Taylor (though I already know her mother died of politeness, suffering appendicitis on Christmas Day and refusing to bother the doctor), but, as Martin goes on to write “for any novelist, let alone one as famously cranky and hard on the women as Sir Kingsley, to stop cold the progress of his own story in order to extol the virtues of another novelist is unusual, to say the least” and so far I am impressed. The quote from Difficulties With Girls Martin cites also put me in mind of another novelist with a seemingly very different thematic concern than Taylor’s, Andrei Makine. I have had occasion to cite Makine a couple of times before. And I am nursing a longer essay on this remarkable writer, whose work is of a high pitch of lyrical intensity, who offers an unimpeachable insight into the tragedy of Russia in the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, with emotion but without sentimentality, managing to depict the USSR as a tyranny which treated the lives of its citizens (supposedly what the whole enterprise was about) as utterly disposable – while, without exoneration or excuse, capturing the moments of idealism that could capture youthful enthusiasm.


But they are rather the same – a narrator born in the post war couple of decades, now an exile in the West rather like Makine himself, recovering via memory a now vanished world which was defined by the gargantuan, heroic sacrifices of the Great Patriotic War (as WWII is still known in Russia) There are variations – The Woman Who Waited’s erotic longing and ironic release, The Life of An Unknown Man’s satire of the New Russia, Confessions of a Lapsed Standard Bearer’s more direct focus on childhood memory, A Life’s Music musical themes – but the overall pattern is the same.

And yet, his work is marvellous. So much for range!



Mourinho at Baselworld

It is hard to parody the overheated rhetoric of the luxury watch business’ merchandising arm. In his book Timekeepers, Simon Garfield has some very funny passages on the world of haut horologie. Garfield is evidently a watch aficionado, but one aware of the somewhat absurd side of this business.

Anyway, here is a passage on Jose Mourinho at Baselworld 2017. Mourinho’s campaign for/with Hublot can be viewed here and is as grandiose as you would expect (though in fairness in the below video he doesn’t seem to be just going through the PR motions). I present this piece really in the spirit of a previously shared profile of The Rock from GQ – as a relief from the times I fear a little too much of monasticism and worries about whether the classical and early Christian worlds were really in conflict dominates this blog too much…

Baselworld has chosen its name well. It is indeed a world of its own, held each March in a multi-tiered exhibition hall of 140,000 square metres, and most of the big brands have created a nation state within it. When I visited in 2014, for example, Breitling had built a huge rectangular tank containing hundreds of tropical fish above its stand, for no other reason than that it could. And it wasn’t a stand, it was a ‘Pavilion’. Elsewhere, Tissot and Tudor had giant walls of flashing disco lights above their wares, while TAG Heuer had placed one of its watchmakers at a bench at the front of its pavilion to demonstrate how doubly difficult it was to build a watch while being watched. Just as motor racing fans love the occasional crash, TAG Heuer aficionados stand around waiting for their man to drop a screw on the carpet. I crushed my way into the Hublot conference with José Mourinho, then still the Chelsea manager, the company’s latest brand ambassador. Every watch company needs its ambassadors: the fact that they do not usually wear the watch while achieving their greatest feats is not a major consideration. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have signed for Audemars Piguet and Jacob & Co. Alongside Mourinho, Hublot also has Usain Bolt. Breitling has John Travolta and David Beckham, Montblanc Hugh Jackman, TAG Heuer Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, Rolex Roger Federer, IWC Ewan McGregor, and Longines Kate Winslet. Patek Philippe, ever keen to market itself as a brand with longevity and cross-generational worth, has shied away from asking, say, Taylor Swift or other shooting stars to represent its interests. Instead, it celebrates its client list from another era, starting with Queen Victoria.

Mourinho has just flown in to Basel from the Chelsea training ground at Cobham. He is wearing a grey raincoat over grey cashmere knitwear, and he accepts his watch with light applause and a short speech about how he has been part of the ‘Hublot family’ for a long time as a fan, but now it’s all been made official (i.e. he’s received his bank transfer). His watch is called the King Power ‘Special One’, almost the size of a fist, 18-carat ‘king gold’ with blue carbon, a self-winding Unico manufacture Flyback Chronograph with 300 components, 48mm case, all the mechanics exposed on the dial side, blue alligator strap, a skeleton dial, a power reserve of 72 hours, an edition of 100 and a price of $44,200. Just like Mourinho, the blurb says, ‘The watch is provocative . . . the robust exterior hides the genius below.’ Astonishingly, it’s both stunning and hideous at the same time. Call for availability

The strangest thing about the Hublot King Power was not that it looked like an armoured tank, but that it didn’t keep very accurate time. When the popular American magazine WatchTime conducted tests on an earlier model, it found it gained between 1.6 to 4.3 seconds a day, which is not what you’d expect from a Swiss watch costing so much. My Timex Expedition Scout does better, losing about 18 seconds a month, or about 4 minutes annually. Four minutes annually, in the scheme of things, is nothing. You can run a mile in that, but it takes longer to stroll the length of the Baselworld carpeted walkways. Because I only had Timex money and not Hublot money I spent most of my time at the fair looking at the marketing, the thing that had brought me here in the first place. I particularly liked the text for the Mondaine Stop2go, which, as with most Mondaine watches, modelled itself on the Swiss railway clock. But this one was designed to run fast for 58 seconds and then stop at the top of the dial for two seconds before moving on again. It was an unnerving thing to see on the watch itself – time really standing still – but I was also thrown by the accompanying tagline: ‘What does two seconds mean to you?’ At the Victorinox Swiss Army stand was a man who said that his watches reflected the same attributes as its knives, being both functional and reliable

“an expert on Brecht, the law of contract, the price of light bulbs and how to stack loo rolls”

The full text of Henry Hitchings‘ review of Nicholas Hytner‘s memoir in the current TLS isn’t available online, but there is just enough to include this gem:

“The artistic director of a modestly resourced theatre once told me that his job obliged him to be an expert on Brecht, the law of contract, the price of light bulbs and how to stack loo rolls.”

William Gerhardie – review of “God’s Fifth Column”, The Dabbler, 2015

Another William Gerhardie piece, this time ten years on from the SAU blog one and covering much of the same ground about his odd kind of fame. The Dabbler had a feature called the 1p book review, on books that, in theory at least, cost only 1p via Amazon marketplace. I also had encountered Gerhardie again in the memoir of Rupert Louis Ferdinand Frederick Constantine Lofredo Leopold Herbert Maximilian Hubert John Henry zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, Count of Loewenstein-Scharffenec, financial manager of the Rolling Stones.


1p Book Review: God’s Fifth Column by William Gerhardie

Seamus Sweeney reads God’s Fifth Column: A Biography of the Age 1890-1940 – an unusual work by an author who at one time looked like becoming one of the greats…

William Gerhardie has achieved an odd kind of fame; famous for not being famous.

He is a writer whose champions specifically focus on his obscurity, or rather the obscurity of his later life. Gerhardie was well-known in his early career, and the same few quotes that recur in his blurbs give testament to his appeal to his contemporaries. Evelyn Waugh said of him, “I have talent, but he has genius”, and for Graham Greene “to those of my generation he was the most important new novelist to appear in our young life. We were proud of his early and immediate success, like men who have spotted the right horse.”

Born in St Petersburg, Gerhardie was an English merchant of great wealth who was thrown into a sack in the 1905 Revolution. According to his son, he was only spared by being confused by the mob with Keir Hardie (this does have the air of a somewhat convenient anecdote). A Russian education for William was followed by being packed off to England to prepare for a commercial career of some kind; he ended up returning to the land of his birth as part of the failed Allied intervention after the 1917 Revolution.

As well as the acclaim of Greene, Waugh, Katharine Mansfield and Edith Wharton, Gerhardie also achieved a fair measure of worldly success, being taken up by Lord Beaverbrook as a potential protégé on the strength of The Polyglots. Beaverbrook’s attempts to turn him into a bestseller failed, and a lengthy decline into obscurity began. In 1931, aged 36, he published an autobiography, and moved into Rossetti House in London, behind Broadcasting House. He would remain there until his death in 1977, “a hermit in the West End of London” in the words of Holroyd and Robert Skidelsky’s introduction to God’s Fifth Column.

Every so often, Gerhardie achieves some revival  degree of revivial. I myself tried to stoke the embers in 2006. William Boyd, a longtime admirer partly based Logan Mountstuart in Any Human Heart on Gerhardie. Michael Holroyd seems the most devout keeper of the flame.

 There was another flurry of interest when his biographer, Dido Davies, died in 2013. Davies was a former heroin addict and author of sex manuals who had her funeral written up in Mary Beard’s blog.

 Of his novels, Futility, Doom and The Polyglots are widely available. Futility is the most amenable to (my) contemporary taste,  while Doom and The Polyglots are much shaggier stories but with much to recommend them. The latter,  with its vain narrator, is notable for a remarkably clear-eyed portrayal of children free of sentimentality or faux-toughness. The former features a fictionalised Beaverbrook and a piecemeal apocalypse.

 One of his works I have yet to track down is Meet Yourself As You Really Are written with Prince Rupert Lowenstein, father of the Prince Rupert Lowenstein (or more properly, Rupert Louis Ferdinand Frederick Constantine Lofredo Leopold Herbert Maximilian Hubert John Henry zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg, Count of Loewenstein-Scharffenec) who became financial manager of the Rolling Stones. In his biography A Prince Among Stones (which Sir Michael Philip Jagger, perhaps actuated by jealousy due to relative lack of names, responded: “Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think your ex-bank manager should be discussing your financial dealings and personal information in public”) the younger Lowenstein describes the work:

He [Prince Rupert] was a writer, or more precisely, he had had a modestly successful book first published by Faber and Faber … which he had written with William Gerhardi, a novelist, playwright and critic, born in St Petersburg to English parents, who was a renowned and pioneering supporter of Chekhov’s writing in the West. (Gerhardi was also a keen supporter or the Tsarina, whom he had met as a young man, and believed that the best influence in Russia was, contrary to all normal belief, that of Rasputin who had been violently against the war in Germany…)

 Meet Yourself as You Really Are was a very early example of home psychoanalysis, one of those psychological quizzes that offers instant insights into your personality and psyche … You are asked a long list of questions about all aspects of your life, covering everything from childhood to phobia, social behaviour to daily routine. I remember one that asked ‘Do you like your bath water tepid/hot/very hot?’ … From these answers and a scoring systems, you could discover your personality type among multiple permutations (three million possibilities, the book’s strapline proclaimed) leading to a number of basic key type.

William Gerhardi and my father had decided to name these different types after rivers, so you might at the end of the process discover you were the Rhine, the Nile, the Tiber or the River Thames, the latter with its conclusion ‘You’re the sort of poor mutt who always pays.’

 After his death, within various cardboard boxes labelled “DO NOT CRUSH”, was found the manuscript posthumously published as God’s Fifth Column. He had been working on this from 1939, and it made it into the Metheun catalogue of upcoming publications for Autumn 1942, but was then withdrawn (the relevant correspondence disappeared during the War; Gerhardie claimed he had withdrawn it at his own request for revision).

The “god’s fifth column” of the title is the comic spirit, subverting humanity’s well-intentioned, seemingly rational plans. Gerhardie defines it thus:

God’s Fifth Column is that destroying agent – more often the unconscious agent, sometimes malevolent or maladroit in intention – of spirit within the gate of matter. Its purpose is to sabotage such structures and formations of human society, built as it were of individual human bricks, as have proved to be unserviceable for association into larger groups of suffering units because insufficiently baked by suffering to cement with their immediate neighbours.

Later, he writes “Comedy is God’s Fifth Column sabotaging the earnest in the cause of the serious.”

Despising overarching explanations of history, and keen to defend the individual against all the collectives, from family to state, that seek to the control the “suffering unit” that is the individual person, Gerhadie’s history is a series of tableaux, of scenes in which the same figures -Tolstoy, Shaw, Margot Asquith, Arthur Balfour, various royals of various  nations – recur.

Holroyd and Skidelsky edited out a quarter of the text which was unready for publication; the bulk of the text  relates to the 1890-1919 period, with the next twenty years much more briefly dealt with.  Gerhardie’s judgments are direct, his authorial voice magisterially certain of his subjects. A sample:

Bernard Shaw sent the greater writer of the Russian soil [Tolstoy] his The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet, which drew a blank from Tolstoy, who answered that he ‘looked forward to reading it with interest’. Which, in author’s vocabulary, may be taken to mean he had already dipped into the thing without much interest and elected to write before he had to confess disappointment. In his accompanying letter Shaw stressed that virtue was ineffective because habitually cloaked in pious language, and would gain by the prestige of blunt, full-blooded, pithy speech, in which vice masquerades attractively before an admiring adolescent world.

 This suggestion also seems to have drawn a blank. Virtue knocked dumb by meekness drew tears from Tolstoy’s old eyes, and he could not see it swaggering in jackboots.

 But the letter is key to Shaw. He is a swaggerer, and he knows it and enjoys it. A man of trepidation in most things, he takes a double step. Metaphorically, even physically, as he strides up like a conquerer before the cine-camera. He adds an incongruous flourish of defiance to his old-maid’s signature: uses belligerent barrack room terms to convey Salvation Army sentiments.

This extract is fairly representative. God’s Fifth Column is full of entertaining anecdote, and Gerhardie has extracted from a host of memoirs of the age a host of arresting observations and unexpected encounters. His style, lapidary in Futility, tends to the verbose (not to mention tendentious) here, and ironically given his disdain for the great abstractions that press on the “suffering unit”, much of the narration is taken up with abstraction.

Read at length, the style becomes slightly grating; however as a book to dip and out of, it works very well.



Nthposition review of “The Book of Skin”, Steven Connor, 2003

This book is a good example of contemporary (well, 14 year old at this stage) academic writing in the humanities – jargon and theory rich, concerned with unpicking privilege and inequality (and yet its very existence based on the privilege and hierarchy of the academy)

Over time I was less harsh on academic books on “readability” grounds. I never “pursued”  Armando Favazza’s  work on self-laceration, or at least I don’t remember Armando Favazza until just now.



The Book of Skin

[ bookreviews ]

“I want to be able to follow out (and follow others in following out) the intrigues (from that same root, tricoter), the knitting, the sifting, the inriddling of history… I expect to end up materially implicated, perhaps incriminated in the things I am up to here, in the skin… I am to be found writing here, though, not as the skin’s inquisitor but as its amanuensis” Thus, towards the end of his first chapter, does Steven Connor proclaim his intention in writing this book.

Reading The Book of Skin is a formidable undertaking. On the first page Connor refers to Barthes, Emmanuel Levinas, Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Baudrillard, and “the abiding presence of skin in the work of Jean-François Lyotard.” The reader no doubt has her own opinion on the work of the Parisian postmodernists, but even their most avid fan can hardly claim their influence on the clarity of prose, certainly in English, has been good. Connor, as befits, one supposes, a Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck College, is immersed in their tendency to verbiage, and to tendentious (or at least debatable) statements delivered with a confidence that brooks little opposition. I could only bring myself to read a chapter a night, afterwards soothing myself with the most vapid airport novels I could find. The tiny typeface, evocative of particularly daunting textbooks, does nothing to encourage the reader.

It is invidious to quote in isolation fragments which do, in fairness, make more (but not much more) sense in context. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to give the reader a flavour of the verbal environment of the book: “The two kinds of skin markings, letter and picture, discourse and figure, encode absolute and empty time. The law that enacts its everlasting marks is a law of vengeance, measure and ordeal, enacted in linear time. The marks of law mark the entry of law into time.” Another sample: “In fact, for Didier Houzel, the non-orientable manifold is in no sense a desirable or healthy condition. It typifies the experience of the autistic child, whose life is the enactment of an unmasterable internal turbulence.” Everything seems to either “enact” or “encode” something else, and often on the flimsiest of pretexts.

My favourite sentence, and the moment when I almost abandoned the book altogether: “Lyotard’s concern is with the topography and the temporality of this typography.” I’m sure it is.

From the occasional binding of books in human skin (John Horwood’s murder trial and execution were recorded in a volume bound in his own skin) to the differing portrayals of male and female bodybuilders in muscle magazines (the male bodies shinier, harder-looking than the female), the cultural history of the skin is fascinating. Connor displays great erudition – references to Flann O’Brien, to Chaucer and Shakespeare, to Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers carving “4 REAL” into his arm, to the urban legend of Shirley Eaton’s death during the making of Goldfinger after being painted in gold among many others – which leavens the work somewhat. When not cramming in as many references to French thinkers as he can, he is a witty writer, for instance when writing of now-obsolete terms for colour: “the term ‘isabelle’, to signify a rather soiled-looking calico, in memory of the Infanta Isabella, daughter of Philip II of Spain, who vowed not to change her underwear until her forces had taken the city of Ostend. (The grubbiness of the shade they finally attained may be gauged from the fact the siege lasted from 1601 to 1604)”

The early chapters (which “consider the various forms of the skin’s visibility”) are particularly freighted with theoretical ballast, while later chapters (“discussions of aspects of the skin which do not begin or end with the skin’s appearance”) – where the literary theory is in the background, and a particular aspect of skin is discussed in each – are far more readable. Even here the ghosts of the Left Bank rise to haunt the reader – for example at the end of a lucid chapter on the persistent idea that while pregnant were pregnant, any shocks or cravings they experienced would be transmitted to the foetus as a suitable skin marking (for example, desire for a particular fruit would transmit itself into a birthmark in the shape of that fruit, which would change with the seasons in accordance with the ripening of the fruit) Connor can’t resist a bit more theory: “The law of beings is subject to the accident of adversity, which is its own prior law.”

Nevertheless, the later chapters, put bluntly, “make more sense” – one even sees how the theory has its place. Perhaps Connor would have been better served by reversing the order of the chapters, and discussing “the various forms of the skin’s visibility” after the paradoxically more concrete “discussions of aspects of the skin which do not begin or end with the skin’s appearance.”

It would barbarous to dismiss this book simply because it is difficult, but it would be equally wrong to praise it for that reason. Alberto Manguel’s Reading Pictures combined erudition and learning with a clarity of expression and even, at times, an entertainers touch. There is much in The Book of Skin to provoke thought and discussion, many references to works (for example, Armando Favazza’s on self-laceration) which intrigue (and which I intend to pursue), yet one wishes Connor hadn’t made the book such hard work.


New York songs: Liza Minnelli, Carey Mulligan, Lou Reed, The Clash, Lang Lang

New York has been much celebrated in song. In recent years, these songs have tended towards the unpleasantly grandiose; New York as an arena of near-unlimited personal fulfillment and narcissistic referentiality.

There is a rich seam of song dealing with the seamier, less salubrious side of New York – tapping into a cultural depiction of the city as a circle of hell, part of a wider tradition of depicting urban life as profoundly distressing dating back to Juvenal. In recent years a certain sanitising of New York has taken place, both literally and metaphorically. Having spent the summer of 1999 there it is a city I love, but also find the somewhat fawning tone of much Noo Yawk discourse rather parochial.

The modern template of the New-York-is-amazing-and-so-am-I song is New York New York, or more properly “Theme From ‘New York, New York’. Ironically, the original cinematic deployment of the song, with Liza Minnelli’s vocals, in Martin Scorcese’s movie was as a devastating moment of personal crisis:

In a more recent depiction of New York as a glossy hell, Steve McQueen’s Shame, Carey Mulligan sings the same song to similar effect:

Lou Reed’s album New York is perhaps the ultimate riposte to the grandiose New York song. It is almost parodically intense and focused on New York as a hellhole. The music was straightforward rock – derided by some as “truck driver music”, but the lyrics were tight punches of pure dyspeptic anger:

The Clash’s “The Right Profile” is a tribute to Montgomery Clift, but makes it here for the lyrics evocative of New York sleaze with an appropriately spikey musical counterpoint:

New York, New York, 42nd Street
Hustlers rustle and pimps pimp the beat
Monty Clift is recognized at dawn
He ain’t got no shoes and his clothes are torn

Finally, I am not that averse to the New York is great genre, and Elbow’s “New York Morning” is a more wry and amused take on this genre than most. I particularly love the line “In the Modern Rome/where folks are kind to Yoko”. Lang Lang’s recent album “New York Rhapsody” has a certain amount of Noo Yawk bombast for my taste, but I enjoyed his take on “New York Morning”:

Who does IBM Watson say that I am?

Recently I came across IBM Watson Personality Insights. This purports the following:

Personality Insights extracts personality characteristics based on how a person writes. You can use the service to match individuals to other individuals, opportunities, and products, or tailor their experience with personalized messaging and recommendations. Characteristics include the Big 5 Personality Traits, Values, and Needs. At least 1200 words of input text are recommended when using this service.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to feed IBM Watson various blocks of my texts to see how consistent its findings are, across a range of texts. The demo is available here

First I tried 10706 of fiction. This is from an ongoing work in progress, or rather a piece I have worked on and abandoned and restarted several times. It is not a coherent narrative but lengthy passages of coherent narrative strung together.

Anyhow, here is what Watson said, and given the word count it deemed the analysis “very strong”:


You are inner-directed.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of belongingness.

You are relatively unconcerned with both achieving success and tradition. You make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents. And you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.

Sounds plausible, although I am not sure I quite so unconcerned with “both achieving success and tradition.” A few specific likes and dislikes are featured:

You are likely to______
– like country music
-be concerned about the environment
-read often
You are unlikely to______
-like rap music
-like romance movies
-eat out frequently

At various stages of life I have eaten out frequently…. but not anymore, more through the circumstance of having three young children than anything else. Otherwise, fairly plausible. And there are also percentiles on various traits given. I think this post could degenerate even further into navel gazing if I include those, so I will move swiftly on to another specific text, this time my post on Personas for Electronic Health Records on the CCIO website. This is only 807 words, so is counted as “weak”:

You are shrewd.

You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. You are assertive: you tend to speak up and take charge of situations, and you are comfortable leading groups. And you are self-assured: you feel you have the ability to succeed in the tasks you set out to do.

Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and achieving success. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

Again, plausible enough, although I am beginning to find this uncannily like cold reading. The likes and dislikes;

You are likely to______

be concerned about the environment
read often
be sensitive to ownership cost when buying automobiles

You are unlikely to______

like country music
like romance movies
eat out frequently

Hmmm – I do like country music. In moderation. The “likely to”s seem OK, the “unlikely to”s less so.

Anyhow, time I suppose to feed another long-ish piece to Watson. So here is my post on The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel. from the SAU Blog Sept 2005. At 2452 words, this is a “decent analysis”:

You are shrewd and skeptical.

You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. And you are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much.

Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and taking pleasure in life. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

The “likely to” is much less plausible this time:like musical movies (yes), have experience playing music (tragically not), read autobiographical books (sometimes, but not that habitually) The “unlikely to” is a mixed bag:  like country music (see above)
be influenced by social media during product purchases (I would like to think so)
be influenced by brand name when making product purchases (I would like to think so… but that may be wishful thinking)

This could go on all night… but I will wrap up by looking at a post from A Medical Education, the parallel blog to this which features more (somewhat) medically related writing. I have often reflected on whether these two blogs reflect a wider duality or tension within me. I am sure they do. Anyhow, this piece on a particular project I was involved in met the wordcount (although quite a bit of the post is quotation)

At 2622 words, another “Decent Analysis” And what do you know, it is pretty much identical to the prior example based on the Lonely Planet book :

You are shrewd and skeptical.

You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are energetic: you enjoy a fast-paced, busy schedule with many activities.

Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and taking pleasure in life. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

The only difference is “energetic” replaces “solemn”, and the order of the some of the points. And the likelys and unlikelys are identical to the prior piece.

I haven’t got into the various percentiles for the sake of space, but this is where the surprises have really been. I am coming up in the highest percentiles for “Openness” consistenly, and much lower ones for “Agreeableness.” I also think I value tradition much more than what this would indicate…. but perhaps tradition is not what it used to be, and the traditions I am interested in conserving are no longer continuous traditions in any case.

 Is the whole thing accurate? IBM are at pains to point users to the “science behind the service” 

A well-accepted theory of psychology, marketing, and other fields is that human language reflects personality, thinking style, social connections, and emotional states. The frequency with which we use certain categories of words can provide clues to these characteristics. Several researchers found that variations in word usage in writings such as blogs, essays, and tweets can predict aspects of personality (Fast & Funder, 2008; Gill et al., 2009; Golbeck et al., 2011; Hirsh & Peterson, 2009; and Yarkoni, 2010).

IBM conducted a set of studies to understand whether personality characteristics inferred from social media data can predict people’s behavior and preferences. IBM found that people with specific personality characteristics responded and re-tweeted in higher numbers in information-collection and -spreading tasks. For example, people who score high on excitement-seeking are more likely to respond, while those who score high on cautiousness are less likely to do so (Mahmud et al., 2013). Similarly, people who score high on modesty, openness, and friendliness are more likely to spread information (Lee et al., 2014).

 Amongst other things:

To compute the percentile scores, IBM collected a very large data set of Twitter users (one million users for English, 100,000 users for each of Arabic and Japanese, and 80,000 users for Spanish) and computed their personality portraits. IBM then compared the raw scores of each computed profile to the distribution of profiles from those data sets to determine the percentiles.

Of course, this is using a selected group  – i.e. Twitter users – whose personality portraits may not be representative. There is also a marketing bias to some of the language used which I can understand from a commercial point of view. I would be curious to submit different texts from different times in my life.

Speaking personally, there is a consistency to the verbal reports, but also differences. One does have to wonder how much depends on the type of prose being submitted, and there does seem to be a fiction/non-fiction difference. I don’t seem to be that big on personal enjoyment… and as mentioned before, the lower percentiles for things like tradition, personal enjoyment and other factors are surprising to me. There is a rather unpleasant fixed-in-a-formulated-phrase quality to the whole experience.

Finally (I promise) one can analyse one’s Twitter personality.  This time IBM  had 14394 words to analyse – “very strong analysis” And here is the result:

You are inner-directed and tranquil.

You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them.

Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.

You are relatively unconcerned with both taking pleasure in life and tradition. You prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. And you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.