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Posts tagged ‘Books’

Who watches the watchmen?

Cover of "Watchmen"

Cover of Watchmen

I recently read Alan Moore’s Watchmen for the first time. Initially, I was not impressed — the story didn’t immediately grab me; the artwork felt strangely muted; the fear of nuclear apocalypse antiquated. The quotes from various reviewers (“Watchmen is peerless”; “A brilliant piece of fiction”; “A work of ruthless psychological realism”) seemed overstated.

Time magazine included it in its list of “100 best English-language Novels since 1923”. I thought this curious. After all, Watchmen was initially released as 12 separate issues. Is it really any kind of novel at all? Deeper consideration had me thinking of Victorian novelists (Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and many others) whose work was published in serialised form* so my skepticism was overcome, at least on that front. What finally convinced me, however, is that the more analysis I have applied to Watchmen, the deeper I think about it, the more rewarding I found it. For me, only great books can have this effect.

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Look upon my works…

Foot, Arc de TriompheInside Napoleon’s monument, the Arc de Triomphe, I saw a foot. The foot stood (if one foot can stand, disembodied) on a small plinth. It had a carved date, 1836.

Looking back through these photos, I was struck by a memory. In primary school one of the first poems I remember reading was ‘Ozymandius‘, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I suppose I was ten years old, or thereabouts. But what a poem to read.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

"whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command"Napoleon himself, of course, brought many things to France from the deserts of Egypt, so the memory is all the more poignant. But what I recall the most is the blinding and powerful understanding of what irony really means, how deep and profound it can be.

Where can one begin? To analyse the poem so rarely does it justice. If Ozymandias is the cause of despair, it is the transitory nature of his worldy empire that would engender the feeling. His works are gone, but what we see, mediated by Shelley’s words are the sculptor’s tribute, the work of “The hand that mocked”. The words carved into the base of the statue have a permanence that the conquests of the Pharaoh did not have – echoed further by Shelley’s own words which still evoke such responses.

To a bookish child (was I?), with an avid interest in ancient items (I still have a handle from an amphora, a gift from my grandmother, who used to dig things up) this engagement with the ostentatious deployment of irony was all but revelatory.

And to a bookish adult (am I?), it still is.


Photo by PJD, Arc de Triomphe, Paris. Do you remember your first taste of irony? Indeed, of any literary device? Metaphor perhaps, metonymy*, simile? Has poetry of prose ever suddenly struck you, a bolt from nowhere? Would you like to tell us about it? We’d like to hear…*we are all ears.

An ambassador for the Embassy?

Look who appeared on the front of the Embassy Theatre (our local cinema, definitely the best place to catch a film in town, as it is both beautiful on the inside and out) today. That’s right folks, Wellington is continuing to be Hobbit-ified (or should I say Tolkien-ised or Weta-fied?) more and more as the days count down to the world premiere of Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Overnight (street closure? Why not?!), the front of the Embassy (where the premiere will screen) was decorated with a new Weta Workshop creation, replete with over-sized hobbit-hole and Gandalf watching over Courtenay Place (if we can’t have Sir Ian McKellen in town for the premiere, we can have a giant sculpture of his character’s likeness, right?!). It’s definitely going to be a focal point in this city over the coming days and doubtless will look great at the end of the red carpet in nine days time…

… we had some fun taking photos of this latest Hobbit-related sculpture in the city tonight.


Photos by PJD and CIA, Wellington, 19 November 2012. Gollum is already in town too.

Not seeing how long it took is part of the intrigue…

Last week, PJD shared an in-depth glimpse into one of the art exhibitions that we have been most impressed with, ever. This was the incredible Slow Art exhibition at the Nationalmuseum, which we were lucky to find by chance when we were in Stockholm recently.

We were so surprised at the beauty of the pieces collected together in this small exhibition. In keeping with the theme, due to our captivation with what our eyes saw, we slowly took it all in.

Slow Art has really lingered in our minds; we have discussed many of the pieces we saw in the exhibition a number of times since we returned home to Leiden, reflecting on the fact that an overarching characteristic of the works was their exquisite beauty and uniqueness. So, today I thought I would share a few more of our favourite pieces. Sure, we loved them all, and the ones that PJD has already documented in his post were certainly amongst the most impressive. Yet, the depth of the quality in this small collection was quite astonishing, and these pieces really are quite something… Read more

Where the wild things were?

Behind the Fraumunster, back in Zurich, there are some cloisters. We like cloisters, and the cloisters behind the Fraumunster are quiet. When we were there, they were in fact so quiet that for twenty minutes or so we had them to ourselves. More than enough time to study some fonts, to look at the statues, but most of all to look at the carvings. The carvings are intricate, which always lead me to some deep thoughts about the skill of stone workers, and the possible worldview they held (see immanence or transcendence). In this rare case, I also found myself wondering how on earth the wild things ended up in Zürich. Of course, sadly, Maurice Sendak recently passed away, but like many people, Where the Wild Things Are has had an enduring effect on my imagination.

Seeing the familiar lank hair, and the slightly unnerving, not-quite-friendly but not-exactly-sinister animalesque faces evoked a strange sense of coincidence. This itself set off a half-remembered chuckle at detective novel cliché – there are no coincidences… but it got me wondering, was this a source for Mr Sendak? After all this time, is this where the wild things were?

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