Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Clear Language: Practical or Prosiac?

Having just finished reading ‘Down and out in Paris and London’ by George Orwell I went on to read his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ which was suggested reading for our History and Context of Journalism lecture. In reading the latter I noted Orwell’s rules of English language; examples of which were

  • Don’t use metaphors
  • Use plain/simple everyday language
  • Never use a long word, where a short one will do
  • If it is possible to cut a line, cut it
  • Never use the passive voice if you can use the active voice

Having read the essay it was easy to recognise the author of that and the novel were one in the same.

I have to say that the novel was rather dull, it offered a factual account of Orwell’s time on the brink of poverty in Paris and London. I turned the pages will little anticipation or emotion.

It turns out; there is something to be said of ornate language.

Metaphors, similes and such provide perspective, insight. Writers often talk about their voice and what simplifying the English language does is take away that voice.

Elaborate language and detailed descriptions set the scene, set the tone, the mood.

Without these things people and places become lifeless.

Obviously dependant on vocation, reading an account of someone’s daily routine, event by event can become immensely tedious, it’s their reaction, their perspective that we value.

I recently read a novel ‘Buddha Da’ by Anne Donavon, the novel follows a Glaswegian family as their father/husband discovers and turns to Buddhism. The novel is split into chapters each written in first person narrative from the perspective of each family member, each angle is refreshing, each character tells their story in a different way. Were this novel to follow Orwell’s rules the tale would become an agenda of a family. Little more.

Don’t get me wrong there is certainly place for Orwell’s rules, administration is shrouded in jargon and vague, unclear lexis. And like most it takes me hours to dissect. Terms and conditions are usually pages of scrawl, so unclear the reader has little knowledge at all of what he/she is reading. Orwell’s named this language ‘Contagion’, essentially ‘pollution’ of language. Orwell believed contagion was used to hide the truth, which in the case of T’s and C’s is obviously the intention.

There exists an independent body that aims to work with government administrations to clarify their language, they are called the ‘Campaign for Plain English’. I think this is brilliant, political and governmental language should reveal itself, rather than hide behind the metaphorical bush of buzz words and vague phrases.

Horrie, who seems a strong advocate of Orwell’s rules recently patented his ‘bullshit generator’ aiming to decipher elaborate laguage.

Nevertheless (or ‘but’ as Horrie would prefer) plain language has it’s place, it might be in admin, even news journalism. But it is not in literature, music or poetry.

Let us enjoy the beauty of an incomprehensible piece of prose that finds a new way to describe the sway of tree’s branches in the wind.

Take Keats for example….

Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,—

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


Go on Horrie, I dare you to put that through your ‘Bullshit Generator’

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Freud & Frolicking

 Feeling a little peaky of late, I am determined not to let my ‘blogasm’ (Chris Horrie coined this term, not me) cease. I’m going to continue and try achieving multiple ‘blogasms’. This enthusiasm for sexual metaphors has spawned from the sexual nature of recent lectures. Some cry out to return to the sexual repression of previous weeks but no we have been thrown into the works of Joyce and teachings of Freud like lamb thrown to the slaughter.

I did however did very much enjoy last week’s lecture.

Horrie of course did not hold back; he introduced the surrealism of psychoanalysis, music and art and it’s relationship with sex and let’s face it, its influence is clear.

I knew a little about the work of Freud, (and even played in a production of Oedipus at school), I also knew Kate Bush (I have 2 LP’s of hers) but I did not know that the song ‘Running up that Hill’ was based on Freud’s idea that our sexual frustration manifests itself in the form of a shadow chasing us in our dreams, the song is about running from that shadow, essentially the shady figure of sexual tension, let’s call him ‘Horny’. Horny shows up in every medium, as Chris points out.

I have lots (and lots) of books about surrealism; it is my favourite period in art. My father first encouraged my love of surrealist art by giving me a huge tome of Dali paintings when I was but a nipper. (Freud might have something to say about the fact my relationship with surrealism was born from my father, still.)

I have books on M.C.Escher and Andre Breton. I am obsessed with Salvador Dali, have visited lots of exhibitions of his work and his biggest museum and home in Figures Spain.I also love Rene Magritte, and know a great deal about him (I did my AS level French oral on ‘The life and works of Magritte’) I visited fairly recently an exhibition of his in Brussels, and want to go back, as they have a new museum there dedicated to him.

The beauty of surrealism is that there is always a sub-text, a hidden idea. Our friend 'horny' often lurks behind a giant lizard or floating limbs. There are artistic analysts how aim to understand the mind through the examination of art, there has even been testimony's in court by such people attempting to 'expertly' asses the mind of a suicide victim before she died by looking at their recent artwork.

Often within surrealism the image presents an expression of the sub-conscious. The famous melting clocks of Dali, have a definite dream-like quality. The idea of art creating a reverie, has allowed an expression of the sub-conscious. Freud believed that the sub-conscious was preoccupied more often than not with sex; this suggests artistic expression can be an outlet for sexual repression or anxiety. 

Art is not the only medium that seeks to express the sub-conscious. As I look at my abundant book- shelves, I suddenly notice they ooze with sexual literature, Ideas of sexual repression and the character’s quest for liberation.

Anais Nin

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Arthur Golden


Michael Houellebecq

Vladimir Nabokov

Hanif Kureishi

The last, Kureishi is my favourite writer and in novels such as ‘Intimacy’ and ‘The Black Album’ seeks to create an expose of political and sexual discovery. In ‘Intimacy’ the narrative concerns the protagonist’s yearning for sexual satisfaction, the character’s journey becomes a quest for sexual experimentation. In many of Kureishi’s novels he provides a harsh, crude portrayal of the human condition and suggests that men’s fixation with sex is their reason d’etre and there life is esstentially a quest for pleasure. Like Kureishi, Freud’s analysis of the human mind can leave one with a feeling of sadness, their idea’s reduce men to animals and the idea that the sub-conscious is  pre-occupied with sex, lacks a true representation of the complexity of the mind.

I intentionally don’t touch on his portrayal of women, which is arguably misguided; I somehow think his portrayal of man is somewhat more insulting. 

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Why Gag Griffin?

The BBC are preparing for impending doom this afternoon. Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party is set (despite much objection) to appear on tonight’s highly anticipated Question Time. Predicted protests promise to be a thousand strong.

There has been much discussion about the party’s legality, cabinet minister Peter Hain still argues that the party are an ‘unlawful body’ as there white’s only membership rule breached codes of race relations laws. However right now, they stand as a legally elected party. They gained six percent of the vote in last European election and won two MEP seats.
What irritates me about this particular debacle is that lefties are always banging on about free speech, there favourite past-time is standing outside parliament with lentil soup lobbying on behalf of some pressure group about some fellow’s human rights.
Surely if they really believe in human rights for all they should support the public’s right to a free political opinion, however abhorrent one may find it on a personal level. If free speech is something to be valued then why gag Griffin? Even if we let him speak only to be horrified or amused at the lunacy of such a man, don’t prevent him from expressing his political point of view just because the majority oppose it.
Pressure groups love the phrase ‘infringing human rights’, by having their membership lists printed in the press, surely the rights of the member’s are infringed?
It seems the left advocate free speech as long as it is free speech that concurs with their ideals.
I believe in freedom, freedom to vote, freedom to choose.
The BNP hold a horrendous reputation and I certainly would not support them, however I believe there are a lot of people who jump on the political bang-wagon, who in reality know very little about the party. The BBC has always claimed to be an impartial informant to the public. The BBC maintains they represent a fair proportion of the public. So let’s hear what Griffin has to say for himself, let’s hear what his party stands for, what his manifesto contains, what they would like to achieve, and more importantly let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth! This is an opportunity to challenge him, to expose his party’s weaknesses.
I commend the BBC for having the courage to stand up to politicians and viewers alike. I believe it to be the right decision. Not because I excuse the BNP but because I believe it just to represent all extremes of the political spectrum.
Geert Wilders, the far right wing Dutch MP, if you remember was refused entry to the UK, under the grounds that he would incite racial hatred.
This decision was overturned this month and he has since gained entry. What the public forgot was that this man, who was immediately dubbed a racist because of which side of the fence he sat politically was invited to the UK by The House of Lords. The House of Lords invited him to provide an acute party perspective. Let there be more of this, if there is not debate, if both sides of the coin are not fairly represented that what does that mean for the future of democracy?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A little aside article which i thought should go up

Students; Allies or Aliens? 

Students. This word once conjured the image of a studious looking fellow, standing in front of an archetypal Oxbridgesque building, gowned, wearing a graduation cap and looking decidedly smug.

Today I feel we have a somewhat different reputation. Human beings seem to view us with pitying disdain. They appear to cower away believing that our disease ridden, spot infested bodies may infect them with some sort of anti-social plague. 

I like fight with full iron fist this stereotype. I talk to old ladies at bus stops, I hold doors open for people, I even smile.

‘What? Why?’ I hear you cry; surely you are too hung over, drugged up or illiterate to make any of the aforementioned gestures, but no; Arguable though it is, we students have a brain and heart. We, as a breed can even be respectful.  

My grandma, living in a bungalow on a busy street, curses like a scullion at us ‘youth’. What precisely is it Nanna that you dislike about today’s student generation? I ask facetiously. ‘Well, they’re noisy, vandalising yobs, who litter our streets and clutter our pubs.’ Admittedly find me a student who doesn’t enjoy a night out, even a night out which results in inebriation and sometimes vomiting. Nevertheless, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and sleeping in until noon is not all we are good for.


In July this Year, question-time produced a novelty ‘young persons’ special and keen teen Suzanne Burlton’s competency made me squeal with joy, there are indeed teenagers with something to say who hope to go on and invest their time and energy into books and politics as opposed to beer and one night stands. 

Still, the younger generations are taking less interest in politics. During the recent Tory party conference I conducted a ‘vox-pop’ for my journalism degree; I asked nigh on fifteen students whether they thought David Cameron would make a good prime-minister, a startling response re-occurred time and time again.

‘Who’s David Cameron?’ this makes my political blood curdle and my heart weep.

We are the generation who will inherit the repercussions of the recession; we are the generation who will have to live with the decisions of our forefathers. We must take an interest in the world around us, because even if politics affects us little now, it will certainly affect us later.

In the 2009 UK European Elections the turnout was 35 per cent of the population entitled to vote. I daresay more people vote on x-factor. Whilst I do watch x-factor, this statistic is abysmal.

So whilst I firmly denounce the stereotype of the student I believe that we collectively need to do more to regain our once prestigious reputation. In light of the recession it’s highly likely that we, upon graduation will find it hard to gain our dream job, which the government unrealistically promise as a prize for completing our degree.

Your browser may not support display of this image. We need more apprenticeships, we need companies to take bigger risks on graduates without much experience but who are enthusiastic and eager to learn. There are no pub crawl apprenticeships.  

Joyce & Zola: Salacious & Scintillating

 After two fascinating concurrent lectures, one common theme leapt from the warm, dark lecture theatre. Sensationalism. The ramblings of Joyce (Ulysses) and the drama of Zola (Germinal) both seek to evoke a strong reaction from their readers.You can taste the bile of both writers; the novels are bold and uncompromising.

They strip away convention and etiquette and expose what they believe to be the harsh reality of the world. I think of dipping into Ulysses, like a child dipping into a huge tub of chocolate ice cream; it’s messy but good. I enjoy the raw semantics, the crude depiction of war, sex and suppression. Both Novels convey a powerful message and create allegories for social injustice. Ulysses’ modernist style permits the idea of liberty, the freedom of the writing and the freedom of the thought. Much of the novel reads like a stream of consciousness, the voice of the novel is heard through the imagery; Joyce paints us a picture of the time. Zola does the same, rather than using the voices of the characters to tell the story, he uses the suffering and the hardship of their lives to show the audience who his characters are. The writing in both novels has clear inspiration from the time they were created.

Germinal (1885) has a clear motivation to reveal the oppression of capitalism, the influence of Carl Marx has a clear voice. The ‘iron fist inside the velvet glove’ is what is keeping Germinal’s characters from reasonable living conditions. Zola’s character Etienne provides an insight into the world of the proletariat. The struggle for a voice under suppression. Throughout the novel, the conditions of the miners worsen and the result can only be a strike, where they can use the only strength they have, numbers.

This inevitable revolt is an example of the dialectic theory; synthesis Hegel defined as the result of a thesis and an antithesis co-existing; the synthesis is the consequence, in this case a strike.

Germinal’s title refers to the name of a month in the French Republican Calendar, a spring month, as ‘German’ derives from the Latin word meaning ‘seed’, the novel describes the hope for a better future, Zola plants a seed he hopes will grow into realisation of the need for change.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


Having been granted an incredibly lengthy summer break, I thought only fair to intellectually challenge myself. ‘The History of Western Philosophy’ by Bertrand Russell has long graced my bookshelf, used only as a resource. When coming across philosophers in other literature, I could easily refer to this book to glean a little information on their theories. I have found this an immensely useful tool. However I firmly believed it would be nigh on impossible to read this book cover to cover as if an Austen novel. Nevertheless (hopefully I get some points for endeavour) I tried. I have to say to varying degrees of success. I skipped some bits, I read with intrigue some bits, overall I found much of it relatively comprehendible, the chapter titled Hegel was not one of these bits.
However since today’s lecture I have put together a mini-analysis of Hegel, which I think one can digest with relative ease.
Hegel has three major theories which you can dissect to understand his wider philosophy.
1) Alienation. This is the idea that the mind can perceive it’s own thoughts, thus being alienated from itself. Hegel has a circular conception of life, starting from an ‘enlightened’ state, being ‘at one’ with god, at this point our consciousness is internalised. Then, after ‘the fall’ from the garden of Eden (when Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge) our thoughts become externalised. Our minds will only internalise again when humans regress to a state of ‘oneness’ with god.
2) Change. Hegel believes, contrary to empiricists that there are no objects, there is only change. Nothing is static. This preceded the scientific idea that all matter is an evolving chemical reaction. Furthermore, he believes change is constantly occurring, change is time. Therefore you can only understand what is happening to you after it is has happened, and it is therefore no longer happening. This suggests to me that we are only able to conceive our thoughts retrospectively.
3) The previous theories of Hegel are substantiated by the last, which is Dialectic. This theory explains that everything has a counterpart, and an outcome. ‘Dialectic’ coming from the Greek, meaning debate is defined as ‘the investigation of the truth of opinions, especially logical discussion.’
The idea of a debate is that there are two opposing sides of an argument and a result, this result may not necessarily be a solution, one of Hegel’s favourite outcomes was often revolt or war. However there will always be a result.This affirms again the scientific atomic theory, as a good example would be a proton existing, it’s counterpart being an electron and matter being the result of these two co-existing. The proton would be the thesis, the electron, the antithesis and the matter would be the synthesis. The idea can be used in an abstract sense or a more practical sense such as the Thesis; a home team Antithesis; an away team and the synthesis being the game.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

What's hard and pink in the morning?

The Financial times crossword!
Forget the crossword, how about the workings of the entire financial world, which the class were asked to get their heads round in an ambitious two hours. Nevertheless, with the help of Horrie's metaphors and the recurring exchange of a ten pound note between him and Josh, I found myself grasping many ideas that previously had seemed alien to me. Maths and finances has never been my forte, I'm a student with a taste for shoes and dining out. I've simply never had a head for numbers but here I was, mouth agape(proof of concentration) , fathoming the concept of hedge funds and credit creation ratio. And it's affect was long lasting. Yesterday whilst watching television with my cricket obsessed boyfriend, I became (shock horror) quite interested. We were watching, (not yet another test match) but Panorama, which was looking into the life of Sir Allen Stanford, owner of Stanford International Bank, business mogul and large sponsor of the English Cricket team.
Standford is awaiting criminal charges whilst a fully fledged investigation is carried out into fraud claims. A Venezuelan financial analyst, Alexis Dalmandy is claimed to have discovered the fraud whilst looking over SIB's banking history.
He explains: “I was stunned. First, it looked so simple, so unsophisticated. The language used was not quite right. I downloaded the financial statements and to my surprise the “business model” jumped out at me: investing in Stocks, Bonds, Hedge Funds and the like. That’s OK if you’re managing a fund, but not a bank.”
No matter how hard he tried, he could see no way in which SIB’s business model could produce the returns it claimed to or fund the dividends it was continuing to pay its investors.

The Securities and Exchange Commission's complaint alleges that SIB has sold approximately $8 billion of so-called "certificates of deposit" to investors by promising improbable and unsubstantiated high interest rates. These rates were supposedly earned through SIB's unique investment strategy, which allowed the bank to achieve double-digit returns on its investments.

How did I understand all this? Simple. The credit creation ratio, by establishing a respectable looking bank in Antigua, by (as Horrie says) building a fountain in the lobby, flitting around in a few private SIB jets, buying up lots of land and sitting on the laps of the Antiguan government, people put their faith, but more importantly their money in SIB.
Only when, Dalmandy published his article revealing his suspicions that Stanford was acting fraudulently, did it's customers rush to withdraw their funds. As we learnt in last week's lecture, the cash is there on the basis that all account holders will only ever withdraw a certain percentage of their balance at any one time. The fact that everyone enveloped SIB looking for final withdrawals meant that the equilibrium that kept the bank afloat, fell and the bank drowned. Leaving investors with shortfalls or losses and Stanford with world of trouble.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Why Empiricists are contrary Marys.

You know the phase that children go through, aged around 10 when every response to their parents becomes ‘why?’
Parent ;‘It’s time for bed now’……child; ‘why?’ parent; ‘because you’ll be tired tomorrow’…child ‘why?’…parent; ‘because you won’t have had enough sleep’…child ‘why?’ etc. etc.
When I, as a delightful 10 year old would play this world renowned game with my mother she would say ‘Because I say so contrary Mary’ and send me to my bedroom without further ado.
I feel this behaviour can be likened to that of an empiricist. By nature, an empiricist is required to ask ‘how?’ and demand proof of every fact presented to them. Surely this can become inextricably tedious?? ‘it’s time to go Chris’
‘how do you know?’….‘because we have to be there at two’…. ‘how do you know?’….’because Brian told me’….. ‘how does he know?? Etc etc

How can an empiricist not make their own lives and the lives of those around them hell? by constantly requiring physical evidence.
Kant draws to my mind a sensible conclusion. A metaphor he uses to illustrate his conclusion shows perhaps an initial need for proof; A child may use marbles when first learning mathematics he can see (with his own eyes) that when he places two marbles next to another two marbles, it leaves him with four marbles. Nevertheless once the child has grasped the idea that two and two equal four, he no longer requires the marbles in order to prove it each time he adds up his toy cars. He has then an A-priori understanding that two and two equals four.

I do not believe in God and were someone to try and convince me of his existence, I would undoubtedly use the lack of proof as a defence for my belief. On other hand if Josh told me that we had no lectures next week, I would be inclined to believe him...because he is a friend and with an establishment of friendship comes a level of trust. In the first instance, I am an empiricist, demanding proof of a higher power that I don’t believe exists on the other hand, I’m quite lazy and am happy to believe Josh’s (perhaps unreliable) information if it means I can have a chocolate bar and read the paper as opposed to running around looking for Horrie to check my information.
I think as a journalist is important to have an empiricist view point to avoid getting into libel suits, as a human I think it is important not to be too cynical. So perhaps to be like one of my favourite comedians, Bill Bailey says ‘a relaxed empiricist’ is a happy medium. Bailey says whilst he demands proof for some things, if someone he knows well tells him a fact, he’s inclined to believe him.