Friday, May 18, 2012

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble - Simon Schama

Simon Schama is a British historian at Columbia University. He writes regularly for The Guardian, The New York Times, The FT, Vogue, The New Yorker, and a bunch of other newspapers. Scribble, Scribble, Scribble is a collection of his essays written since the late nineties.

This book contains a lot of definitions are descriptions about a lot of places and persons. Here are some of them:

About Washington DC:

  • Are there any city avenues more inhumanly broad than those of Washington DC¿
  • (...) most of the young people who make up the clientele and who come to love the place aren't there because of the romance in the city, but because they need to live in an idea made architecturally visible: the idea of democratic government.
  • (...) when the cherry blossom is doing its shameless thing, and the streets of Adams Morgan are warming to the kids on the block, it 's entirely possible to see Washington as not just DC, not just ideology made visible, but as an American community; and a good one at that.
About the Korean War:
  • The Korean question is both relic and omen.
About 9/11:
  • (...) if the script of Bloody Tuesday had been offered to a studio, it would have been turned down not for the scale of the horror, but for its failure to supply identifiable villains.
About Democracy:
  • The first and greatest weapon a democracy has for its own defence is the assumption of common equity; of shared sacrifice.
About George W. Bush:
  • Prayers (like vacations) are the default mode for this president, who knows how to chuckle and bow the head in the midst of disaster but not, when it counts, how to govern or to command.
About Isaiah Berlin:
  • Though he genuinely admired American energy and forthrightness, the mistaken conviction that exhaustive iteration was the same thing as understanding depressed him.
  • [he was] that unlikely thing: a seriously happy Jew.
About Winston Churchill:
  • No leader who made jokes against himself was in much danger of turning dictator.
  • Thrice he was the impassioned advocate of reduced arms expenditure, as Tory, Liberal and Tory again, and thrice again (in the naval arms race immediately before the First World War, in the 1930s and in the Cold War) he was gung-ho for rearmament.
  • [it was] Churchill's fundamental decency, the quality that made Orwell forgive him his anti-socialism and and his sentimental imperialism. Though limited in education and social experience, Churchill nonetheless had no difficulty translating his own romantic feeling for nationality to the aspirations of other cultures. It was natural, then, for him to end up the friend of Michael Collins as well as F. E. Smith, Chaim Weizmann as well as Emir (later King) Abdullah, and to see that a two-state solution in both Ireland and Palestine was the only way to satisfy equally legitimate longings for homeland.
About Gérard Depardieu:
  • Gérard Depardieu (...) must have worn the clothes of every generation after the Black Death.
About Pablo Picasso:
  • Picasso regcognised in Rembrandt an ancestor of his own dangerous visual intelligence, which could move freely between the aesthetic convenience of the nude and the messier, sexier reality of the naked model: etched images of half-dressed women warming themselves by the stove. Nothing like that stripping truth would happen again until Manet and Degas.
About Bolognese sauce:
  • Bolognese sauce isn't fast food.
About small children:
  • Small children are nature's little conservatives. They are warmed by fulfilled expectations. They have favourites in the kitchen - and why deny them¿
About stews:
  • Stews are bringers of contentment to a discontented world. I don't know of any other kind of food, except perhaps freshly baked bread and cakes, guaranteed to fill a kitchen with such a sense of abundance. They violate all the cool modern conventions, for they demand fat and time and copious carbs - mashed potatoes or parsnips, pasta or bread  to soak up the juicy mess.

But in general, this book is mostly aimed to the the Oxbridge / Ivy League Humanities crowd. For the rest of the World population, this book is a coin-toss: some bits are interesting, but most of it contains praises to artists and historians mostly unknown, at least to me (for instance: J. H. PlumbCharlotte RamplingAnselm KieferJohn VirtueRuskin).

The book is also extremely verbose -or "eloquent", if you are British. British verbosity is something Americans love, which why they forgave Christopher Hitchens' atheism. But for the rest of the World, especially non-native English speakers, this book is a painful read.

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