Friday, 20 September 2019

Churchill on Churchill 2: A Jolly Good Fellow

I'm still listening to the 76 hour audiobook of this.

It think its the largest book I've ever experienced. I'm still thinking about what to say about it and how to review it. There is SO MUCH happening, so much information and so much that could be said that its hard to know where to start.

Also, its history and saying anything meaningful about it would rely on a grasp of detail which I generally don't have.

I think I will have to, rather than reviewing the book, review the experience of reading the book, or of listening to it and then re-reading fragments of the text.

So to begin with, here is an kind of abstraction or condensation of what Marlborough was up to when he was *becoming Marlborough* - the guy who literally has his own song.

If you've ever sang "for he's a Jolly Good fellow",  then that was based on a French Folk tune. And that tune was about the rumoured death of Marlborough after the battle of Malplaquet.

"Marlborough Has Left for the War" also known as "Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough", "The Death and Burial of the Invincible Marlbrough".

In which he did not actually die.

But that tune, in a sense and at at distance, commemorates him, and the death he didn't have.




......................


This is the middle part of the Marlborough story

We've seen him growing up, (or inferred what it might have been like as sources are minimal) and we have seen him at court, scheming and boning the kings mistress, and we saw him get married.

Now we have two whole (large) volumes in which he can do all the stuff that made him famous, adored, then despised -

What this is, essentially, breaking it down is; being the military and diplomatic fulcrum of a multi-nation protestant alliance against the France of Louis XIV And running around in Flanders and Germany trying to outmanoeuvre French armies and fighting, almost once a year a series of super-big set-piece battles against French forces which he almost always wins, very often against the odds




THE SEASONAL PULSE OF WAR

Marlboroughs working life is made up of two great interconnected games. He is playing 'Diplomacy' and 'Warhammer' at the same time.

Fighting the French are the English (soon to be British, with the Act of Union) under Queen Anne (& Parliament). The Dutch who I think are a republic, and some German states, and Austria I think,

Queen Anne wants Louis to recognise her claim to the throne, stop trying to make England Catholic and to kick out the Pretender ("maybe 'tis our brother?") the son of the last Stuart king who got booted out by William during the glorious revolution.

Parliament want that, and also whatever random stuff any particular Parliament has currently come up with.

The Dutch want the French out of their country and a nice thick barrier zone to make sure they don't come back. And in the initial stages of the war, they want this preferably *without fighting a battle*.

The German states want something complex to do with the balance of power over on that side of Europe, but they are often fighting a bunch of other people at about the same time for complex reasons of their own.

And later on, after Louis schemes a relative onto the Spanish throne, all the same people want that relative off the throne.

Point being, all the forces aligned against France have different reasons for being there, different kinds of risk they are willing to take, and are subject to complex forces of their own (In Britain, hot serving maids and crazed factionalism become a thing). Plus all of these reasons and imperatives are continually shifting all the time.

While in France, the national policy is whatever Louis says it is.

France is unified and central, everyone else is divided and seperate.

So, all the time, but especially in winter when little fighting can take place, Marlborough's Diplomacy game is to vist, write, persuade, argue, cajole etc etc all the members of the grand alliance to keep throwing in troops, to work nicely with each other and to let the army keep fighting.

When spring and summer come around, the giant mud-stomping, dust-clogging, country-denuding armies of the time can stamp around doing things, then Marlborough gets to play Warhammer. If he played Diplomacy really well, he gets more guys for his Warhammer army.

But really, all of these things are happening all of the time. Every military decision, even the smallest, is also a political decision which can echo back up into that endless game of Diplomacy and change things there.

It is the dual nature of his job, or position, that really defines Marlborough's role. And its his position as a kind of "temporary", but necessary, Protestant Caesar, that really defines him.





ITS THE JOHN AND EUGENE SHOW

Prince Eugine of Savoy!



A man with a large face and apparently quite un-prepossessing on first meeting, but someone who soon impresses everyone (military) around him with his ability to just keep punching dudes in the field.

Eugene is European Protestantisn's main travelling tactical facepuncher until Marlborough turns up.

The very close friendship and deep co-operation between the two men is another defining feature of Marlbroughs success.

They both like battles rather than sieges and marching about. They are both willing to roll the dice against larger forces. They both like, and excel in field command.

These two just get on really, really, really well. In all of Marlboroughs major victories, Eugene is right there beside him, often commanding part of the forces. They occasionally disagree but they never turn on or backstab each other. They seem to amplify each others better qualities for the most part.

Its curious that, with his wifes defining relationship with the Queen having a dominating effect on his fortunes at home, for half of Marlborough's working life, he had another defining friendship, a work-wife really.





BATTLES ARE BIG, AND GENERALS SOMETIMES FIGHT

The battles of the period are fucking huge.

Some get exceeded by the Napoleonic wars. Some are not exceeded till WWI. But even then, a lot of WWI battles have huge numbers dying over very large ranges over many days.

These battles start at sunrise, they go on till dark and then stop. The fronts stretch roughly to the horizon. About three miles to each side. Everyone dies in a day. They are meant to be controlled by one man on a horse. There's a great deal of pre-planning and delegation of responsibility for different fronts, but the main concept still seems to be based around one guy on a horse being aware of everything that is happening and making all the key decisions, when to advance, retreat, commit reserves etc.

The level of bloodshed is startling in many of these large set-piece battles.

Generals will sometimes get stuck in themselves. This is considered a 'forgivable lapse' when Marlborough himself starts rallying cavalry charges, gets his horse shot from under him and is thrown into a ditch, only to be rescued by another charge. Winston considers it a shameful failure when during Blenheim, the French General Vendomme "a savage beast", gets too excited and commits himself to a central melee, ends up fighting in hand-to-hand with a pike and loses control of his forces.

Battles have to stop at sundown as everyone is knackered and no-one can find each other. One battle ends with Marlbrough ordering his troops to 'sit on their arms' till dawn. They think, or hope, they have the French encircled, but when day comes a lot of them have just made off in the night.

The are also rarely as decisive as any general might wish. I think the main hope for a horse-&-musket general is to beat up the other guys army with just your infantry and artillery, then after they are exhausted and break away, you send in your reserved cavalry to run them down, and END THE WAR IN ONE BLOW.

This never seems to quite take place. Turns out the enemy have cavalry and reserves too, so you need to commit yours to take care of theirs, so even if you beat someone really badly, by the time night falls you are too exhausted to pursue and finish so a lot of their (demoralised and upset) army manages to get away.





AN AVERAGE DAY FOR MARLBOROUGH

A classic Marlborough-style battle goes something like this.

The French have slightly, or a lot, more troops, and are often in a defensive position.

You (Marlborough) consider this good, because you have scouted their position and you think your troops are better trained and your army works a bit better across the board.

Everyone thinks that any 'fair' battle between roughly equal forces will probably be a battle of annihilation, so almost no-one wants to fight one. The only time anyone will really commit to a real battle is if they are trapped, or if they think they have such an advantage that they can reasonably win. (Or if political or psychological factors come in, like Louis telling his general - "You better fucking fight or else" or if honour or morale won't permit a retreat.)

So if you are a commander, like Marlborough or Eugene, who wants to have a big, lines-on-a-map kriegspiel Warhammer battle, then you need to essentially trick or force the other side into having one.

Marlborough deals with this (firstly by lying to his own employers, but more on that later) by attacking the French when the French are pretty sure they have the advantage in numbers and ground, so they don't want to withdraw.



MORNING

So in the Morning of a Marlborough battle, the French commander wakes up to someone telling him there are Allied troops right outside. Ok, so the allies marched in the night/early morning. But they can't move troops/artillery/cavalry through the swamp/forest/flooded lowlands plus we are well set up here so lets fight this one out.

Ah shit, looks like the Allies are throwing competent forces against every part of the line. They can't mean to concentrate *everywhere*. Where are their reserves? Where do they mean to *really* attack?

Usually its in the morning of a Marlborough battle that he could easily lose if the enemy commander was very bold and knew, or guessed what he was up to. Often Marlborough has thrown troops across difficult ground and they are not necessarily well supported and often he is deeply involved with some Kriegspiel cleverness/bullshit like starting to concentrate a combined arms group on his side of the battlefield. This is all delicate shit and could easily be messed up by a strong counterattack.

However, its getting towards lunchtime and its time for the French to start making minor mistakes.



LUNCHTIME

Ok, the allied troops are pretty good and they are pushing us back *here* and *here*. We still have reserves and we are pretty sure they still have theirs...

We don't want to lose this village or treeline or whatever, so send in troops to get them back.

Ok, minor fuckup. In this fight over this relatively small village, we sent in too many reserves at the same time. Now there is a logjam and they can't manoeuvre. Or we pushed the allies back, but they just retreated, they didn't completely go away so we still have to think about them. Or we sent in cavalry to wipe out the infantry but they didn't do quite as well as expected.

Or if you are VENDOMME "DRIVE ME CLOSER SO I CAN HIT THEM WITH MY SWORD" you act like a Warhammer General and fucking dive in to wherever the fighting is thickest and try to issue army-wide orders from there.

The sun is high. Both forces are committed all across the line.

The French may still have cavalry reserves. But, their C&C is confused. Many small units have been repulsed. It's not clear what the allies are doing. You can't see their manoeuvres through the fighting lines. You have the vague but growing sense that you have been fucked somehow. Possibly the General is missing, off dealing with some serious problem to stop the line being rolled up, and now some prince or cavalry commander is 'in charge'.

You still have most of your men. And you have been inflicting huge casualties on the allies. But they haven't gone away and you are not sure what is happening.



DINNERTIME

Its 'oh shit' time. While Marlborough's troops and artillery were toughing it out being outnumbered and often unsupported, but being a *little bit* better than their opposing forces, they have tied up the French side and put enormous pressure on its command, both psychologically and in pure informational terms.

From the other side this looks like chaos, and it is a little because no particular section of the battle has gone according to anyone's plan.

But while all this has been going on, Marlborough has been building his pontoon bridges, moving his men through the forest, guarding his reserve elite cavalry, accumulating unspent Warhammer command points, hoarding magic the gathering cards or whatever the fuck his smartass plan was. And while it was, and is, a plan complex enough that it would be intensely vulnerable to disruption if the enemy knew what it was, they didn't and don't.

Plus Marlborough has Eugene, who he can send as a highly effective commander to deal with any developing fuckups on his side.

So now its mid-afternoon, all committed troops are under enormous stress and at their limit. But now Marlborough plays his Royal Flush hand, or uses his cascading game-breaking but tournament-legal special rules and hits the French line at the point they had to take guys from to back up the other guys who went to help the first guys who got into trouble.

Then, in Blenheim at least, he lawnmowers whatever is in front of him. And in other battles, generally does pretty well.

Marlborough wins! Whooo! And we have Peace in Our Time.

Except we don't because night falls, a lot of the French get away, the battle hurts them but isn't decisive, Louis has more troops somewhere, the Allied troops are also exhausted and badly mauled, and the allies are still politically fragmented and want different things. Also Louis XIV is the fanciest boy ever really _really_ doesn't like backing down.

Still the allies have gained a serious advantage for the season, which is enough to depress the French, convince parliament to keep voting money for the war etc etc, and the Dutch have a bit more of their country back, see you next year.


Monday, 16 September 2019

What do you think of art in games?

AND WHY?

I'm thinking here specifically at noisms over at Monsters and Manuals, whom I would consider the head of the Puritan Iconoclasts, those who think the need for art if games is overblown.

- It costs a bomb (which keeps the prices of development high and arguably keeps poorer creators out of the market).

- It stops people imagining stuff for themselves. Why do you need it in a game communicated almost entirely through words?

- It seals the 'vision' of what a thing is in one particular way, the 'approved' idea of a thing.

- Other arguments I forgot.

Personally I find myself, by intuition and desire, almost entirely on the Cavalier Idolater side - I fucking love art in games and prioritise it when I can.

HOWEVER

My arguments for doing so are less coherent than the Puritans against.

SO -

What do you think, and why do you think it?

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The Pale Stage

This is a concept for a kind of Netflix Series/Streaming series which you are getting because, as this is the one thing I am *not* meant to be concentrating on or working on and that means, apparently, that its relatively easy for me to type up.

…………..



Origins


I started thinking along these lines when I was trying to work out how a Deep Carbon Observatory Film might work on a budget and Scrap showed me this surrealist theatre-film 'Holy Mountain' and I began to think that the best way to do it would be to film a kind of staged re-enactment of the events of the 'story' as related by those who survived it, and then to do postmodern jiggery-pokery with that.

That idea stuck in my head for a long time, neither leaving nor changing very much.

After that, binging charity-shop DvDs of 'The Mighty Boosh' which is an old British comedy show about a pair of men who go on surrealistic adventures each episode. The costuming, staging and use of back-projection have this comedic janky aesthetic but the show had a powerful and unique feel, it didn't look or feel like anything else, and the relative cheapness of the show, (they had minimal resources but they were also willing to *be* cheap, and to make use of that), gave them an infinity of places they could afford to go, as it was all made of tape anyway.

Then more recently, I watched Powell and Pressburgers 'The Red Shoes', which I had heard Scorsese banging on about in a bunch of interviews. I am very glad that I did watch it because it is very good. The film is a three-hander between an old impressario who is slowly fading, a young ballerina and a rising composer and the complex tug of influence and power between them. Central to the plot is a performance of 'The Red Shoes', a ballet based on the Fairy Story of the same name, and which becomes a mirror to the psychology of the story.

The key thing about 'The Red Shoes' is the visual and story language of the central performance. The director(s?) take the visual language of the stage and the visual ability of film and blend them into a new language. It’s a kind of pseudo-theatre, beginning as if it were 'filmed theatre', with a camera on the stage, but compressing the time of the performance and expanding the field of the stage through a complex space, without surrendering the representation that it is 'the stage', not a simulated other reality. Allowing the central dancer to essentially 'dance' through space and through the symbolised story.

The only thing I can think of that more of you might have seen is the nightmare performance bits of 'The Black Swan' where Natalie Portman is putting on a ballet performance but also having a meltdown at the same time, I think similar shifts in time and space take place, but to very different effect.

It (the Red Shoes section) feels like pure visual poetry.


.......


So all of these are representative, partly symbolic 'cut-down' realities which enable you to compress and shift stories and to tell them quite powerfully (and, more importantly, cheaply).

The other influence for this was the Star Trek: TNG 'holodeck' episodes. Strange bottled para-reality dream-quests inside a larger reality, which was itself moving in a galaxy of quests. The holodeck is essentially a meta-theatre.










The Pale Stage Show Itself


It’s a dual-reality story about a life of a theatre, but also about the stories they put on. Or really a tri-reality story as it’s about a theatre in an un-named fantasy world.

Paradox here is that we never leave the theatre but that the world outside is much larger and more varied culturally and physically than any other fantasy world in any other mainstream TV series.




THE THEATRE


The core area, the 'Pale Stage' in question, is a huge, winding, old theatre in a major city in a fantasy reality.


  • The technological/social era here is Rennaisance/Regency/Victorian.
  • Maybe wigs and possibly gunpowder but definitely not automatic weapons or industry.
  • And it has to be an age of sail, or at least some other kind of globalisation/colonisation in which a wide world is being pulled closer together, this is because we are going to need to pull stories and performances from every corner of this world.
  • And it should have reasonably tight social hierarchies because I like the costumes and the manners.
  • Think about the theatre in pretty much any Gothic novel, or in Phantom of the Opera, all of those combined into one.
  • Its really big so there are lots and lots of secret and open spaces for drama to happen in.
  • And a key idea of the show is that the cameras never actually leave the theatre, all we learn about the outside world is the words and evidence that people carry into the theatre with them.




THE CAST/CHARACTERS


Lots of great things about telling stories about theatres. Like the Enterprise, they have hierarchies and formal roles, together with a sound reason for all of these types of people to be interacting with each other all the time. Personality type is 'artistic' so you don't need a lot of excuses for interpersonal drama. And new people are continually being rotated in and out, new directors, new writers for particular performances, star actors etc.

Impresario - The character of the Impresario is a little like Treguard from the first few series of 'Knightmare'. In later series he was more of a helpful challenger, but to begin with he was almost sinister, someone who was both the quest-giver and the challenger at the same time. The Impresario is meant to be a little distant and very powerful and possibly threatening. They are totally dedicated to Art, and to the survival of the theatre, and their energy and drive is the main reason it exists and is any good, but they are potentially quite a dark and threatening figure. No-one is sure exactly what drives them, they are quixotic and charismatic and could equally be the hero or villain of any episode depending on circumstance.

Female Star - Female star is hyper-talented, driven and relatively lower-class compared to most actresses. She's a 'music-hall favourite', and essentially lights up a stage and a role, but is intensely narcissistic and self-destructive, but also capable of learning. Female Star doesn't have a deep education so that gives people around her the chance to be 'explainer' characters, diving into the literary history and socio-politics of the Pale Stage world.

Male Star - Male Star is a fading Olivier type, a powerhouse actor from a just-previous generation. Someone steeped in the theatre but with an acting style which is just a little out of fashion.

Female Star - is rising and Male Star is setting so scenes between them are also struggles for power, with her grasping more to her and him trying to hold on, and also arguments over aesthetic, tonality and who a performance is for and how it should be done.

Rude Mechanicals - These are kinda soap-opera characters from the lower rungs of the society outside. In the periods before we meet the actual audience, they are a penumbra or interface between the closed world of the theatre and that of the city beyond. They react a little more like normal people and have normal people problems like bills and housing. They tell us a little about how the main theatre people are seen from outside but also tell the viewer about the society and world of the Pale Stage.

Newb - The 'this is how a theatre works' and 'let me describe the cast and what they do' character. An audience stand in for the first few episodes. Maybe they will become 'the understudy' and then 'the hero' or maybe not.

Fixer - The saner, more likable person who interfaces between The Impresario and the Cast. Not an insane, charismatic para-genius but a relatively stable, intelligent and more empathic personality. Someone reasonable for the audience to like and essentially a 'quest giver' for the show.

Patron - The rich person who is partially funding the theatre. A little glimpse of the higher rungs of society outside and a window into the meta-politics of the world beyond. So if the Rude Mechanicals are discussing some political shift in the news-sheet in the bottom row, this person may actually be directly involved in, impacting and impacted by, those events. This is also the only person possibly more powerful than the Impresario. This person may also have political and social desires and designs and the funding of the theatre may well be part of these.

The Audience - The Audience, high and low, is like a character or chorus for the show. We see them crowding in at the beginning of a performance, we might shoot long extended sequences of micro-drama of them actually watching the show and we are with them int the interval and as they leave.

The audience actually comes in two parts, the mass, who are like a kind of impressionistic blur of sound and movement, voices and fragments of speech, like a great beast, and the elite, who get box seats, and who are like para-characters in the show (the meta-show we are watching, not the one on stage).



THE 'SHOWS' - WHAT THEY ARE


The shows or stories or performances would be fantasy 'stories', but original ones. More like the slightly dark fantasy adventures in late-period OSR adventure design. MotBM would fit neatly into this.

In relation to the outside world, these could be actual real events, re-enacted, like a Georgian Theatre doing 'The Death of Captain Cook'. Or they could be legendary historical stories like a Shakespearian History play. Or they could be pure fantasies like The Tempest. This is a time of world-system building so they could be like Sinochure or Pseudo-Arabic plays which came into fashion in Victorian times as stuff like 'The Arabian Nights' was translated and then for a few years, everything is pseudo-Chinese or pseudo-Arabic.

The key element of this is that *everything is invented*. Its not just a replay of a Victorian theatre, its a theatre on a completely different planet with a completely different history and this is one culture 'discovering' or at least finding out about and integrating cultural elements and stories from all over that world and all over its history.

And I'm thinking here more like OSR-syle fantasy, so there might be Slug-Men somewhere beyond the equator and an actual city of Glass.

And ABSOLUTELY NOT either happy hippy soft-ass 'Standard 5e Fantasy' or 'Game of Thrones boring-ass fantasy'. (And not that soft-looking 'Urban Fantasy' CGI show I keep getting shown ads for recently and which I don't like the look of at all.)

The whole point of the thing is to be able to make highly original fantasy stories on TV that are not like any other stories, and to be able to do a lot of them and have them all be different.


.....


That's where the shows come from, a more complex question is how they actually work in the episodes.

There are essentially three layers to the show;

- The Outer World, its politics, society, age of discovery etc, sensed only through inference. This is quite world-buildy and quite 'historical drama' "Bad news from Vervire, there's been a revolution - gasp".

- The world of the cast, this is the most emotionally vivid and clear to the viewer. This is like a soap-opera or melodrama, full of relationships etc, it could segue all the way from low-level relationship drama to full-on Phantom of the Opera Gothic Melodrama.

This also gives a TV audience the thing they want; familiarity. They have the same cast of characters turning up regularly and their stories have internal coherency, but for many of the actors, they are playing actors, and get to 'act' in stories of different quality and nature each week.

- The pocket realm, or simulated world of the 'story' or performance they are putting on.

Ideally, all three layers of reality should interact with each other in an interesting way, producing a kind of pressure-cooker or refraction/amplification effect in each episode.

Of course, that's harder said than done. Its 'easy' to do in something like 'The Red Shoes' when the whole nature of the psychogeography and moral meaning of the story is built around this reduction/amplification effect, but you can't have every episode being 'The Red Shoes'.

Probably you would have to have different 'types' of episode, based on the nature of the interaction between the pocket reality of the performance and the outer reality.

- A 'Red Shoes' episode where it’s an amplifier for what's going on outside, and a creepy prognostication of what's going to happen.

- A 'comedy' or 'fishbone' episode, something like 'Noises Off', where the emotional and moral nature of the reality outside is opposite or cuts across that of the pocket realm (drunks trying to put on a tragedy or everyone is sad due to actual tragedy and they have to put on a comedy, or theatre culture split and the story is a romance). Results could be comedic, or telling and deep.

- The socio-political drama story where the nature of the performance actually impacts on actual events happening outside and suddenly larger social forces and power agents are interested. So it supports/doesn't support one side or another in a sociao/political argument, or its about a particular world culture and is considered regressive/too avante guarde by the outer world. We could call this a 'twitter' story.

- A 'Magic Powers' story. Because it’s an actual fantasy world out there, you could have actual genre elements intrude, like para-reality elves turn up or the performance of the story produces actual noetic effects or some immortal force, like a dead wizards soul, or a ghost, takes and interest.

Ok, that's all I've got right now.









Questions;


"HOW IS THE KICKSTARTER DOING THOUGH???"

Could be better. It's here in this image if you want to click through;



Essentially, I asked for what might be quite a lot of money for what is essentially a very Niche project. It might not (probably won't) make its target.

There are still reasons to click through though;

- I am reading the whole poem on Youtube day by day and have moved on to talking about the verses a little on the KS.

- Daniel is doing a breakdown of his art and how he approached each image.

My current plan is to try to do this KS as well as possible, knowing it (probably) won't reach its goal, and then basically launch another, much smaller, much shorter one, with a much lower figure for an absolutely minimal print run. The price to just 'print' 500 books isn't actually that large, its just the add-ons like postage and trying to make a profit that make it difficult.

So I think its possible we might actually get a print-run on the second Kickstarter? Which makes this one promotion for that one?

Well I basically put Daniel and Maeto in a crap situation and have to try to make the best of my screwups. Whatever happens, a PoD version and PDF version will definitely be available and anyone who was into the KS gets notified about those.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Louis XIV - Supervillian


I am still listening to Churchills 'Marlborough', and have even managed to find the four-volume set so now I can give you quotes, and images like that above. 

This is Winston on Luis XIV;


"We have no patience with the lackey pens which have sought to invest this long, hateful process with the appearances of dignity and honour. During the whole of his life Louis XIV was the curse and pest of Europe. No worse enemy of human freedom has ever appeared in the trappings of polite civilisation. Insatiable appetite, cold, calculating ruthlessness, monumental conceit, presented themselves armed with fires and sword. The veneer of culture and good manners, of brilliant ceremonies and elaborate etiquette, only adds a heightening effect to the villainy of his lifes story. Better the barbarian conquerors of antiquity, primordial figures of the abyss, than this high-heeled, beperiwigged dandy, strutting amid the bows and scrapes of mistresses and confessors to the torment of his age. Petty and mediocre in all except his lusts and power, the Sun King disturbed and harried mankind during more than fifty years of arrogant pomp."



There's a millions words of this sort;

Got the whole set for £20 total,
from the estate of "an old man who just really liked Churchill."
These books are lots of fun. Sorry for the crap post but I'm sick at the moment I think. These things have portraits, maps of battled fort diagrams, copies of handwritten letters, I will try to scan some in for a future post.


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2095152504/gawain-and-the-green-knight-adapted-by-patrick-stuart



Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Gawain and the Green Knight Hadback Kickstarter

I'm back off my holidays and it's time to watch me crash and burn in excitingly new ways, and also to watch me awkwardly read poetry on Youtube.

That's what the public wants right? Chivalric Renaissance Poetry? Because that's what you are getting.





For, quite a long time a team made up of Daniel Puerta (artist), Mateo Diaz Torres (layout) and I, have been working on an illustrated hardback book of my version of the poem 'Gawain and the Green Knight', which you may remember me blogging a few years ago.

Here is a sample of Daniels art;



If you would like to see more, click the links here, the images or the Green Knight Himself to the left to go to the KICKSTARTER.

If you want a book of chivalric poetry, arguably ruined by being partially re-translated into my own idiom, in HARDBACK, with about 18 illustrations - THEN YOU HAVE TWENTY (ONE?) DAYS TO GRAB ONE SO CLICK THAT KICKSTARTER.

If you have questions, comments etc, ask here, on the Kickstarter or anywhere.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Churchill on Churchill Pt 1


I have an Audible account. I get a credit  every month, any single book costs one credit and, in the interests of efficiency I like to spend them on really long books. In the past this has lead to me downloading and listening to the Unabridged King James Bible and getting part way through Don Quixote.

I'm currently in the middle of my holidays and since I knew in advance I would be facing many, many hours in airplanes, airports and hotel rooms, I purchased, for one credit, another extremely long book.

This is 'Marlborough, his life and times' by Winston Churchill.

Marlborough is John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, a courtier, politician, diplomat and, crucially, general, around the beginning of the 18th century. He is also an ancestor of Winston Churchill, who was born in Belnheim Palace, a mansion built by and for Marlborough to commemorate his greatest military victory.

(From now on I will refer to Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister as 'Winston' or 'Churchill' and John Churchill Duke of Marlborough as 'Marlborough'.



DISCLAIMERS

I listen to this on my phone so I don't have direct access to the book to check details and provide quotes. I also know very little about the period, and the huge amount of information given in the book does somewhat sleet past me, so I'm ok on generalities but not on detail. Plus I'm only half way through the book. Its a million words long, comes in three or four volumes and takes about 70/80 hours in total to listen to. So my apologies for the many innacuracies, bad memory formation etc etc.

I AM ON HOLIDAY SO I AM NOT CHECKING;
 SPELLING, 
FACTS, 
GRAMMAR 
OR HISTORICAL DETAILS. 
HAVE FUN IN THE COMMENTS.






THE BENEFITS OF READING THIS PARTICULAR EXTREMELY LONG BOOK.

Like a lot of really extremely long books about one particular subject, (I'm thinking here especially of 'Black Lamb, Grey Falcon' by Rebecca West), when the subject is of a deep enough complexity, with enough 'moving elements' and with a wide enough range of interconnections, then the book becomes a kind of dual mirror showing us an image of its subject, and everything around them (as intended here specifically; 'Marlborough; His Life and Times') but also a lens on the personality of the writer and their feelings and attitudes. (And if you want to get post-modern about it, also the feelings and attitudes of you, the reader.)

In this case the book is about the culture and political position of England at the turn of the 18th Century, about Marlborough, and especially about Winstons VERY STRONG feelings about Marlborough.

Marlborough, it seems is someone it is very hard to have a neutral take on. He is Marmite. He has so many good and bad qualities that most writers just have to end up going one way or another with him. In particular, a historian, McCauly, damned Marlborough to hell in his history of those times.

So in rides Winston, with fresh access to recently rediscovered family documents and a great deal of available time, he is going to rescue the reputation of his ancestor from sad nerds like McCauly and reveal that he was in fact, the best Englishman ever, which for Winston, makes him essentially the best human ever, and that every decision he made was either genius, brilliant, the product of a bad day or in a handful of occasions, wrong.





WHEN BIAS IS GOOD AND BAD

This is one of the most insanely biased books of History I have read, its also very good. A brief note on what I think to be the difference between useful and corrupt bias in History.

Histories that deliberately ignore or 'forget' facts, that don't present or even pretend to consider counter-arguments. In short histories that change the factual record and the fragile substance of reality, these are evil.

Winstons history, so far as I can make out, is not like this. He does, genuinely, believe that almost everything Marlborough did was brilliant. However, he does not *lie*. He serves you the whole meal, and then simply spends a long time explaining *why* the olives taste weird, pointing out that the Wine, which tastes like trash is simply not to your palette and that the plate, while it has been cracked, has also been repaired, which in a way should give you much more reassurance than a simply whole plate. So he brings up all the details and elements you would need to shape your own opinion and then gives you his opinion. But its entirely possible, in fact likely, that you will get half a million words into 'M: HL&T' and come away with an entirely different opinion of Marlbrough himself.

Churchill is also writing a legendary history in the high style.

There are two kinds of history, the analysis, or taking-apart history, which flenses reality, questions everything and tilts facts and possibilities this way ans that, like a shell beneath a halogen lamp, this history is very useful and necessary and usually leaves you feeling somewhat dead inside and mildly despairing of the great dead machine of causality we are all trapped inside, and the Legendary or meaning-imbuing history, which also considers facts and strings them together but which is more about filling reality with the breath of life, like a baloon. This second history is full of excitement, individual incident and social detail, almost everyone is mildly heroic or mildly villianous, there are goodys and baddys. This History absolutely has reality going in a particular direction and the actions of the people in it were good or bad depending on whether they helped or hiNdered this process.

One of these histories helps us work out what reality is, but robs us of the strength we need to live in it, the other is more about giveing cultures and individuals the strength and sense of purpose to act in history. And one tends to be 'our ethnoculture is great, possibly the best ever' i.e. Homer, and the other tends to be 'our Enthnoculture = partially wrong' i.e. Thucydides. (Of course if you go too far into 'Our Ethnoculture = ALWAYS WRONG, probably WORST EVER' then you are back into a different kind of legendary history. You can also see these as 'modernist' or 'legendary' histories, though I suspect both viewpoints have existed together as long as there have been people.

And most big histories have both elements, and both are necessary to survival, perhaps. And both can be good or bad, though Legendary history is a lot more swingy between the two.

Winston Churchill is, perhaps unsurprisingly, writing 'Our Enthoculture = BEST EVER'. Its about the rise of the Prodestant (NOT Catholic), English Speaking (some Scots & Welsh also allowed), Free (as in, arguably somewhat more free than many other European peoples depending on how you account 'freedom') Peoples VS the total and utter French Catholic Tyranny of Louis XIV, who, as the exemplar of everything not English, not Protestant and definitely not free, is the worst human to ever exist (so far).

Your tolerance for the book will depend a great deal on your tolerance for that idea, which is probably lower than mine.

But this is the energy of the book, it lends it motive force. The bias is open and declared, not slinking about beneath the surface of the words. The facts are all in place. The prose is great. The descriptions are in -depth (you will need your map of Europe with you).

Free (Prodestant) Europe lies beneath the breibboned, high-heel of the French, who are rolling about everywhere kicking everyones ass. England in particular has a Catholic monarchy who are essentially in the pay of the French state. Will a Hero emerge? Yes. You have read the title of the book.





THE UNKNOWABILITY OF JOHN CHURCHILL

Marlborough rose on sex and beauty. His family were middle-range country gentry. They were split by the English Civil war, and this strange duality of loyalty pursues Marlborough as part of his character for the rest of his life. There is always a sense that he is, or could be, maybe, possibly, on both sides of any issue.

Marlboroughs dad was a classic High Tory Cavalier, God, King and Country all the way. He goes in deep with James II during this civil war and this loses the family their house when Cromwell wins.

HOWEVER, his grandma (or aunt?) who has title to the property, goes in deep with the Parliament, and this, after some very long and brutal court-cases, gets them their house and lands back. (The house is half burnt down).

HOWEVER, then the Restoration happens, bringing Charles II to power, now Parliament is out. However however, Churchills dad is still a local hardcore super-loyalst of note, plus Charles is trying to be reasonable, so there are no recriminations for his grandma being for Parliament.

(I'm reminded here of what a lot of Afghan families were said to do, which is send one son to the Mujadeen and the other to whoever is currently occupying the cities, so no matter what happens, they have someone on the inside.)

So this is how John Churchill grows up, in a family with some status, but very little money, in a half-burnt down (slowly being rebuilt) house, with a Parliamentarian matriarch and a Royalist dad, apparently both seemingly getting along. And with some very fortunate genetics, because both he, and his sister are considered to be highly attractive for the culture of the time.

This is John Churchills first step on the ladder of power; his sister is fucking the king (which a fair number of people were doing at the time). She gets him into the court as a Royal Page. He is young, good looking and famously, and this will be another deep theme in his life, amazingly agreeable, polite, well-spoken and well, just a CHA 18 guy. He is amazingly easy to be around, for most people, most of the time. (His astonishingly good social skills become a kind of inverse trap later on.)

The King likes him, the Kings mistress Barbara Villiers likes him. Everyone likes John Churchill, which is handy because, though his is circulating at the pinnacle of power of the English state, he is also the poorest person in the room, by quite a way.

Compared to Gen Pop he's still extremely privileged, he has a Gentry name and upbringing and his family has land. Compared to everyone at court he is very poor indeed. He has his looks and his charm and that's about it.

John Churchills second rung on the ladder of power is that he is fucking the Kings mistress (which the King half-knows about but doesn't really mind so long as its not too blatant, because Charles II thats how he rolls, John does have to literally jump out of a a window at one point). So he is the side-piece of the kings side-piece. This gets him a wedge of cash at one point, and a military commission, which forms the nucleus of his financial stability from that point on.

Marlborough likes fighting and seems to be good at it, and he is very good at diplomacy and politics. This is really the core of his ability, performing elaborate and complex diplomacy and translating that into successful military force.

He is also near-impossible to really know. He is incredibly polite, gracious and accommodating. He is also beautiful, and possibly (probably, though its very hard to tell) deeply subtly manipulative. He is almost Taoist in his ability to place himself in a position right at the centre of events and to essentially 'surf' the waves of incident, so that his rise and success, to any outside observer, seems to happen almost by accident. Time and time again he is in the right place at the right time to be afforded more and more power. This would be enough to make him the villain of a book by Dumas. But when given this power, he generally seems to do the right thing with it.



SARAH CHURCHILL

(She's played by Rachel Weitz in 'The Favourite'. In reality she was a blonde, but the relative level of beauty, hawkish foreign policy personal dominance and intelligence and the fact that she *may* be frigging off the Queen, who is certainly in love with her, are all on-point.)

One thing Marlborough doesn't seem to change or alter is his marriage once he makes it. He is relatively young and insecure when he encounters Sarah. She is also (relatively) poor, and not his families preferred match, and also seems to be highly suspicious of him. Like him she is very fair, and regarded as a great beauty.

Marlborough is a quasi-Tory by instinct, though really of no party, and Sarah is an absolute dyed-in Hawkish Whig from day one. They never really change in these basic affiliations. (And again, his family ends up split over the basic political questions of the day.) Its a time of deeply intense and obsessive (i.e. modern) factionalism in English politics, but John and Sarah remain a tight, coherent unit and, at least so far as we can see from their letters, they never break this bond.





THE STRANGE POLITICAL SITUATION IN ENGLAND

Marlborough only really betrays one King.

Its just after the Restoration. Marlbrough is very closely attached to James II, the brother of Charles II.

England has a protestant culture (largely) and a Catholic ruling family. No-one is really comfortable with this but they were sick of Cromwell so they put up with it. The English middle and mid-ruling classes are utterly obsessed with the idea that the Catholic powers of Europe, especially France, are going to infiltrate their power structure and try to re-catholocise England by force and stealth. And that is a completely reasonable fear because that is exactly what the French monarchy wants to do, and in fact, thinks it is doing.

Everyone is being bribed by the French, its not a question of whether they *take* the bribes, but of whether they *act* on the bribes.
The Monarchy of Charles II is essentially bankrolled on the down-low by Louis.

So the King is in the pay of the French court, and there are varying levels of knowledge about this. But the King is also not really doing much for the French court. He is quite easy going and doesn't seem to be re-catholicising anything and is relatively chill and content to bang hotties and have great hair. Its not clear who is screwing who here. Its possible Charles is screwing the French by taking their money, promising to forward the Catholic cause and not really doing anything. Its entirely possible the French know this and are largely fine to simply take England 'off the board' with a cash injection.

The tenor of English politics is, everyone is worried about the Catholic/Prodestant thing, everyone is on the take *somehow*, everyone is low-key lying to or manipulating everyone else, there are varying circles of knowledge, no-one seems to really know what is going on.

Marlborough, as a very young and recently married man, navigates this in his position as a Main Guy to the Kings bigoted brother.

While Charles is very Lebowski-ish about things, James is, firstly, a lot less charming, and secondly, a lot more intensely Catholic. He is really deeply committed to the increasingly-unlikely and massively-unpopular recoversion thing. (Secretly.) And serving him in the most intimate capacity is Marlborough, this very protestant, but exquisitely obliging young man.

(Intimacy is another quality of the age. No-one seems to have much private space, by modern comparisons, very high-status people get barely any time alone. The King is woken up by people and put to bed by people, his every moment is a political act and political performance. So 'private space' as we would concieve of it, barely exists. It exists inside the skulls of the people involved and in those ever-shifting circles of connections.)

Charles dies and James becomes King.

This rapidly becomes utterly intolerable to the English ruling class. They could manage the religious divide when it was embodied in the person of a likeable, charismatic, moderate, super-chill and politically astute guy with amazing hair. James is not likeable, not charismatic, not moderate, has no chill and is politically stupid and somewhat nasty. A plot is hatched to bin the King and swap him out for William of Orange.

(Between James becoming King and becoming intolerable, there is actually another, failed plot to oust him by the Duke of Monmouth. This miscarries horribly, Monmouths rebellion is crushed and the southern peasantry/yeomenry that sided with him are destroyed, enslaved and shipped to Barbados, where their descendants still live.)

The sheer level of scheming, the massive quantity of the infiltration, conniving and persuading, the high level of secrecy required and the massive unlikelyhood of success make this a truly epic-level plot. Other histories would call this a successful invasion of England by the Dutch, Winston regards it as a Protestant Coup. Its both really. William invades, James's army and navy largely evaporate, William becomes King, James runs off to France to scheme eternally.

At the centre of this is Marlborough. At a key point he rides away from James in the night and joins up with William. How deep was he in the conspiracy? What did he know and not-know? Was he a driver of it? What information did he give away? We have no idea. As is usual for Marlborough, he simply seems buoyed up by events, like a leaf in the stream, carried to exactly the right place.

Its easy to see why people absolutely hate this guy. His manner is too easy. You never know when he is lying. He seems to get away with everything and to always be in the right place. Strategically, if you think of it sensibly, he is either supremely lucky or working insanely hard behind the scenes to make sure things turn out just right for him. Or both. But you have no idea how far ahead he is thinking, or what his plans are. He never seems frustrated or angry or frightened. He is just always there, smiling, charming, agreeable, regretful. Marlborough being Marlbourough, riding the wind like a kite.




THE BORING WILLIAM YEARS

William is a largely competent and completely uncaring King of England. He essentially regards it as a useful strategic element in his wars against France. He doesn't govern badly. He is definitely protestant and, this time, 100 per cent fighting French tyranny and not soaking up bribes on the side, so that's a plus. Everyone in England hates him. He is exactly what they asked for and they can't stand it.

The scheming continues. A clique of people in the ruling circles are absolutely exchanging conspiracy letters with the exiled James II in his French hideaway. As the situation was with Charles and the French, they are making big promises and not doing anything. Marlborough is amongst this set and is, by spoken word (he doesn't write anything down) absolutely conspiring against his new king with his old king.

However, he doesn't seem to actually *do* anything, or to surrender any meaningful information. Does William know some of his guys are writing to James on the side? He seems to. Does he know how much they are doing it or how much Marlborough is doing it? What the shit is going on? Again, who is manipulating who, how much and to what end? Its all incredibly creepy, suspicious and difficult to parse. Still, as a grand result of all this, very little takes place.

There is an opinion in history that Marlborough did in fact reveal plans for an attack on the port of Brest, which got people killed when the French prepared ahead of time. Winston Churchill thinks this is nonsense, or at least, that he didn't reveal anything the French didn't already know and weren't acting on. Its remarkable how much the claims and counter-claims, interpretations and counter-interpretations, are like a modern conspiracy theory. Someone, or everyone, was lying to someone, but their motivations and intentions are the subject of argument.

It is very misty around Marlborough.

He does OK in the William years but isn't really advanced much. The English are very tired of William and are lining up a number of post-William possibilities, one of which is Anne.

Its here we enter the realm of filmed history.



THE FAVOURITE

Sarah Churchill and Anne knew each other since youth.

Sarah was always blonde, beautiful, attractive and confident. Anne was a dumpling of middling intelligence but of very strong will. (And its curious how everyone comments that Anne was not very clever, but had a very strong personality nonetheless, and left her particular mark upon history despite being surrounded by highly intelligent manipulators. It seems being a little dense but utterly resolute can be a reasonable answer to manipulation.)

Anne seems blindingly obviously to be in love with Sarah from a young age. They write letters to each other with fake names.

Were they boning? God knows. Its impossible to work out the relative sexuality of anyone through the layers of culture and time. Its possible they were at it constantly, its possible the relationship was entirely chaste. Its possible, even likely that Anne didn't think of her feelings as anything we would currently consider 'gay'. But she was deeply and massively, and obviously from her letters, in love with Sarah, and she seems to have extended this love, affection and loyalty to Sarahs husband, Marlborough.

So when William dies and Anne becomes Queen, John and Sarah Churchill are right there beside her, as a tight little unit of loyalty, another leaf riding on the stream to exactly where it intended to be.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching

There's a lot I liked about this. Sadly, it’s easier for me to express my discontent than the things I agreed with. I will briefly talk about the things I liked, then go on about the things I hated, then do some questions I had, then probably cycle back to the positive.


THINGS I LIKED

I liked the opening lessons or statements and found the quality slowly dropped off, especially towards the end.

Reading these and thinking about them generally gave me a feeling of reflective calm, which is a rare resource for me. I liked the conception of lessons or statements leading or gesturing towards what cannot be described.
The 'finger pointing at the moon' stuff.

I liked the conception of the Tao as a kind of unmoved mover, beyond conceptions of space and time but encompassing both.

I like the lessons about indifference to virtue, or at least to the conception of performed or obvious virtue.
This cut quite close for me as the difficulty of the problem of 'good' and of doing good, when that desire is itself intermixed with a desire for reward, (even internal reward of self) and of a desire to be perceived as good, and with the social rewards of 'good conduct'. This seems a perennial human problem and of particular relevance today.




STUFF I HATED

I absolutely despised the MURDEROUS and shameful incuriosity of Taoism. The mind is meant to interact with the world, and a mind unchallenged by any interest in the outside reality sinks into a kind of perverse inner death which, I am sure, seems like wisdom; the mind can deal very well with its own products if it allows nothing else in. Such a mind might well seem self-comprehending and even, but there will be little there to be comprehended.
You certainly cannot drown in a swimming pool drained of water.

An absence of interest in reality, or in modern thinking, the conspiratorial belief in narcissistic shit like simulation theory, is a sin and a flaw. Reality challenges and educates us, that challenge introduces disorder and suffering, but through this we grow, and learn. Wisdom in the absence of curiosity is cheap fucking wisdom.

Don't be passionate as you will suffer and wear out, ok, fair enough. But if you are never passionate then how do you know anything about your own nature? What your limits are, what provokes you, what you can or cannot do, the substance of your being. Some of these things only come out or reveal themselves in situations of stress. This is another cheap form of wisdom. Know yourself easily by making sure there is not much to know.

The later stuff about immortality and the obsession with preserving, particularly your own, life, I regard as pathetic and worthless. But there is thankfully not too much of that here at this early stage.

A lot of this is just "how to survive under various tyrannies". Which, fair enough, might be reasonable and useful advice, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. The deep political quietism and massive retreat from 'difficult' issues is, maybe wise?  I don't know. It seems like it could be wise or fucking stupid depending a lot on context and circumstance. Especially in the later parts it seems to slip more deeply into conservative authoritarianism.
If this is the  *less* conservative and authoritarian version of Confucius then I don't think I am going to like Confucius much.

No Particular Advice About Anything - I'm not exactly looking for Dale Carnegie or plumbing advice here, but the totality of the message seems to be "become one with the Tao and either you will be able to solve this or it just won't bother you that much", which, again, fair enough might not be bad advice, but its very hard to tell if I'm being Barnumed here, and it would be a little useful to have a handful of slightly more concrete suggestions.

I think I've worn out my anger. On to;



QUESTIONS

Are you training Hermits or rulers here Lao Tzu? Because you appear a little confused on this point. Seems like the advertising claims to be training people to be hermits while the Facebook algorythms mainly show the ads to executive types.

Also - women.

Presumably someone somewhere has done something about what Feminist Taoism might look like, or what it might look like from a more-classically-female perspective, i.e. if you don't really necessarily want to go of and live as a 'sage' on a mountain, if you have quite a lot of complex interrelated social work to do and if you would actually like to retain some complex connections to the social world.

I have the same disagreement with this over the nature of 'nature', and moral laws which claim to link human moral good with 'natural law' as I do with most such philosophies.

Nature is exactly as vast, indifferent and infinite as described. Its also often naturally catastrophic, cold, inhuman, often governed by wild chance. There is no stable state of nature, only brief periods of relative meta-stability. Neither do I believe in any baseline original human culture (i.e. "when we were in the stone age" etc.)
Human existence is a river, and its narrowing and deepening as things go on, not widening. To return to the prehistoric past would be to return to any one of many and varied cognitive and social modes, not to a pure land where things made sense. There is no pure land. It’s a river, which Taoism should be able to grasp and understand, but if it did, then all the stuff about abandoning technology and going off to be simple wouldn't make much sense.
A microchip is exactly as much part of the Tao as a plough or a flint arrowhead. It cannot be otherwise.

I suspect humans can be alienated from their nature as Lao Tzu suggests, but this may be much more complex and partial a process and experience than can be solved by just going off to be hunter-gatherers.

'Human Nature' is very much up for grabs, to an almost disturbing extent.

Probably my biggest disagreement with Lao Tzu is that I don't think the Tao can create virtue on its own. The infinite has no interest in us. Our annihilation or our development is all the same to the Tao. So its fakery in a way, this stuff linking human goodness and virtue to the Infinite.




AND YET

Part of me *feels* as if some or much of this is true. Or perhaps should be true, or can be true. I did, and do feel a sense of calm and a slight relief from my crushing internal angst and stormy temperament when considering the Tao. I do feel as if contemplating the Tao *should* help turn you into the kind of person described, maybe more by Chuang Tzu than here, and kind of low-key, ultra-chill, very-calm, good person. That would please me.
It seems like it *can* be true, even if it is not *necessarily* true, and perhaps that is enough.

Still, like most religions, you are better off not finding out too much about Taoism. There are too many inconsistencies, too many assumptions about history and human nature that have been easily and totally overturned by the actual observation and interest in reality which Taoism seems deliberately-ignorant of, and like most faiths, waaaaay to many fiddly little bits of theology/philosophy that just don't make any fucking, (even basic, to-a-12-year-old) sense, and which when you try to get them all fitting together, produce reams and reams of blather, like a failed calculation resulting in infinite numbers.