My Silence – Part 3: Eyes and Ears

Any account of the past 20 months which entirely omitted what I have been  watching and listening to would be absurdly incomplete. On the other hand to produce any sort of detailed list, let alone decent exegesis, would not only be impossible because of my poor memory, but would mean that I never caught up! The following is therefore a brief summary of the television, literature and music which has made the most impression and which immediately springs to mind as I look back. A notable and obvious omission from this trilogy is film and the reason is that, while I have seen some good, even very good, films there has been nothing outstanding enough to warrant notice here.

In the field of television two box sets series, of very different nature, have dominated. First Buffy. As is my wont once I had become hooked I sat down and devoured all 7 series of Buffy in as short a period as possible; I also got some way through Angel though do not find it has half the compelling nature of the original (despite many pleasures). Buffy is an extraordinary triumph which it would take many days and pages to start to analyse properly. At its centre though is Joss Whedon’s ability to take an utterly absurd premise, the stuff of fantasy, and use it for moral, sociological, political and cultural comment and exploration without ever losing focus on producing a compulsive narrative and characters with whom the audience is deeply involved. Every series, every episode, has its own special strengths and identity.

Buffy and Spike

This last quality it shares with my other selection The Wire (as always I come late to these things). But in many other ways they are of course polar opposites – The Wire is above and beyond all political and everything else is sublimated to political ends. This is not to say that it lacks compelling narratives or brilliant characterisation but these are subordinate. Where Buffy’s roots are in the tradition of fantasy, The Wire’s are in those of realism. Both series play with and extend the boundaries of those traditions with extraordinary inventiveness but there is no getting away from the fact that ultimately they lie within them. Or in The Wire’s case up to a point. Because its realism is not that of psychological exploration which is so often taken to be the whole of realism; always it is the greater environment in which people live that dominates. The limits of free will and free action; the cultural realisation of Marx’s formulation ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’ In The Wire the circumstances are appalling; not merely those of any capitalist society but of a particular city and area which has been and is amongst the worst victims of capitalism.

Bubbles from The Wire – just finding the image brings a lump to my throat.

As many have observed it is the fact that The Wire’s ‘villains’ are capitalists which is one of its most radical facets. Yet the inescapable conclusion of battling the system, whether in emulation or from within, is defeat which in artistic terms means tragedy. The ultimate greatness of The Wire is that it does not dodge this conclusion – it is implacably tragic. The only possible route to, if not happiness then some degree of equilibrium, is to opt out of the fight altogether and tend one’s garden (or drink one’s beer on the porch!). I suppose it might be objected that this hopelessness should have been qualified with an indication as to how the system which destroys all it touches can in turn be destroyed, but this, it seems to me, is an absurdity – to have attempted this would have destroyed the series’ integrity. If by some minute chance you have not seen The Wire I envy you – I am really looking forward to my second viewing – but you should certainly rush out and get the box set.

At the intersection of eyes and ears I have massively enjoyed the 2011 and 2012 seasons of American Idol but if I continue commenting in detail on everything then this will be absurdly long, so will save that for a separate entry. I continue to tentatively and inexpertly explore the world of classical music; we went to a number of superb concerts but missed even more due to illness, so for the 2012/13 seasons will not be booking packages (which will save a lot of money) but just go on the day. The one concert which springs most consistently to mind was a string quartet performing Beethoven – this nearly moved me to tears because it came very soon after the loss of our beloved cat Chapin (much the worst personal event – beyond illness – of the past 20 months). He had developed a battery of symptoms which made him a very poorly cat and the final decision to have him put down was an easy one, as it was clear to us how sick he was; the vet was brilliant and kind and we held him as the lethal injection took effect. Still the loss of a pet who has been a big part of one’s life for 13 years is enormous. It is worth recording that we were a little worried about the effect Chapin’s death would have on his brother Tigger. We were anthropomorphising! Tigger almost immediately became livelier, much more vocal and far more assertive.

Chapin (black and white) and Tigger

Indeed it was Nanci (our dog) who seemed more effective and who has lost out because Tigger is a bit of a bully as he revels in his new position as top pet (was going to say dog!).

In contemporary music I loved the chirpy debut album by Cher Lloyd (see ), discovered Lily Allen, and spent many hours listening to the brilliant Maria McKee. But my biggest discovery was of the anarchist band Chumbawamba. I knew of this band but had thought their music was of a post-punk kind which I no longer listen to. This was indeed true of their biggest hit – Tubthumping – but all their more recent albums are folksy, gentle, melodic in style. Not though in content. They are razor sharp, brilliantly intelligent, witty and politically absolutely superb. If you have never heard them I urge you to do so – Abcdefg or Singsong and a Scrap are excellent starting points.

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