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AFEW years ago George Steiner caused a major stooshie when he used the occasion of his Edinburgh Festival Lecture to suggest that the way forward was for the Festival to strip itself down to nothing, rethink its priorities, and start again. My outrage was directed not so much at Steiner himself - for after all wasn't that what Festival and Fringe directors did every September? - as at the affronted reaction his comments sparked.
IT'S NOT THE time for yet another rehash of CP Snow's "Two Cultures" argument - that the breakdown of communication between the sciences and humanities stands in the way of solving the world's problems - but do we still apply different kinds of value to different kinds of knowledge and appreciation? Why is someone who enjoys Chekhov, John Irving, Cartier-Bresson and fine food "cultured", when someone who knows the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Boltzmann's Constant and the difference between igne
IT MAY SOUND like another premature obituary, like those pronounced over the still moving bodies of the novel, the opera, jazz and a gaggle of other endangered creative species.
IS THERE JUST too much "culture" out there? Have we finally reached the point of overload? The Edinburgh Fringe programme resembles a phone book; record catalogues - from majors and independents alike - are now so full that there are not enough hours in the day to listen to new releases; theatre hasn't so much survived as thrived; and Google offers a staggering menu of 8,058,044,651 web pages.
NORMAN Mailer moved the location to the "cactus wild" of Southern California, but there is no mistaking that the town of Desert D'Or, the setting for his controversial third novel The Deer Park, is modelled on Las Vegas, Nevada.
WHAT does Freddie Mercury have in common with the founder of the Indian nuclear programme or Israel Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta? The answer is that all are or were adherents of Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that probably exerted a deep influence on Judaism, Mithraism and Christianity. Yet far from belonging to the distant archaeological past, Zoroastrianism is winning new believers and establishing new and active communities all over the world.
I’VE never been asked to join which, from my (Groucho) Marxist perspective, is sure confirmation that Rotary is a good thing.
IN THE great cycles of cultural evolution, species come and species go. For a time there the great plains of Academia were grazed by an enormous creature known as Jewish-American Literature. It was perfectly adapted to its habitat: serious, lengthy, often earnestly moral, pulling along a weight of tragic history, its humour fashionably wry, dark and ironic.
DICTIONARIES of quotations are dangerous things. Memorable perceptions taken out of context are apt to become unexamined incantations. Almost no-one - other than philosophers and cultural historians - knows anything more about George Santayana than that he once wrote (in The Life of Reason, which was, incidentally, published exactly 100 years ago): "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
LAST night at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, Scottish Opera continued its ambitious double bill of 20th century musical drama, Bela Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s challenging monodrama Erwartung.
MY DEAR, the people! And the noise! I make no bones about it. I’m not an urban man. As August approaches, I have to gird my loins for a fresh immersion in the Edinburgh Festival, and every year I reel back from it, agoraphobic and plagued with tinnitus.
THE BBC is desperately trying to portray the upcoming Olympiad as a mythological encounter with epic dimensions rather than the bureaucratic muddle which already gives Athens the look of the Games that Never Were, the latest competitive hiatus in the Olympic movement’s downward-spiralling history.
MY DAUGHTER - 14 going on ... it varies - said the f-word the other day. Not "Festival" - I’ll be EIFing and blinding any day now myself - but the one first uttered on the BBC by Ken Tynan. I was only mildly startled and not so much reproachful as self-reproachful, never having practised a consistent "pas devant les enfants" policy or established a clear watershed in that regard.
THERE’S A favourite BBC saying, much used by a former colleague, which runs: "Don’t worry, it’s only the wireless - nobody dies". It’s delightfully reassuring when the producer has misbooked, the engineer has lost a line, or the presenter has flubbed like a Flowerpot man. It was always a misleading nostrum, even before Dr David Kelly gave it the lie.
YOUR scientific colleagues must wonder at the slightly wistful look you wear.
AFTER my last column, a gentleman e-mailed from Florida to say that the "Rodins" destroyed in the World Trade Centre attacks were almost certainly fakes. His explanation and evidence (available on request) were longer than the original column.
BY NOW, the embers are probably cooling, not just from what they’re calling "the Saatchi fire" (as if he set it, or was consumed by it), but also from the debate it sparked off.
MY NIECE took her Higher English last week. We sacrificed a cockerel - or rather, a couple of Safeway corn-fed chicken quarters - to success.