Sunday, 4 October 2009

Moldavite

The full version of Moldavite, Volume One of my novel, can now be downloaded at Obooko. Just sign up and download as many ebooks as you want! Browse fiction and non-fiction categories in the left hand margin. Moldavite is listed under General Fiction and Poetry.
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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Economy of Attention

A very interesting clip from bloggingheads tv here about autism and the "economy of attention". The economy of attention is understood here to mean an economy running parallel with the fiscal economy. Martin Cowen himself has cognitive characteristics associated with the autistic spectrum. He has some interesting things to say not only about what such "diagnoses" may mean, but also about the implications of certain cognitive traits for the way our culture of information functions. So his book is not only about autism and economies, it's also about stereotypes and diversity. Really thought-provoking.

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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Through the Sonia Sotomayor Looking Glass

Matt Semino hits the nail on the head in his article about Sonia Sotomayor and the effect of race and gender issues on the judicial system. Western culture still has a long way to go before it reconciles itself to the dismantling of a male-white-dominated perspective in its key institutions. The important thing, however, is that the debate should be out in the open, and conducted with honesty.
Through the Sonia Sotomayor Looking Glass
These issues, and the denial, hypocrisy and cultural angst they have engendered, are woven into the fabric of our everyday life and institutions. Britain made a fortune out of the slave trade, and exported it to the United States, where it continued to live on despite, or perhaps even because of, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". The man who wrote these words, some of the most inspiring in the English language, fathered children by a slave who was his wife's half sister. Thomas Jefferson. Over two hundred years later, a Michael Jackson or a Sonia Sotomayor still find that their faces don't fit, and Jefferson's own grave misgivings about where this institutionalized denial would lead have been proved more than justified.
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Thursday, 6 August 2009

E-publishing: To E or not to E?

The new permutations of writing and publishing made possible by the internet are exciting, confusing and distracting all at the same time. Knowing what to invest time and energy in, and how, and above all why, calls for great creative self-confidence, skill and discipline on the part of writers. Some interesting perspectives on some of these issues can be found at Books Ahead.
The recently retired General Manager of Microsoft Prague, making a keynote speech at the school where I work, in my view made the point about technology and all forms of work:
Content is King! What applies to the world of education - where we have a tendency to forget that the effective classroom does not revolve around interactive white boards and other bells and whistles - applies to the world of words. It's so easy to get carried away with the buzz of communicating that we can neglect the art of good content.
How we express ourselves is also part of the message: the music industry, for example, has worked itself into a cleft stick of creative rigidity, devoid of experimentation with instruments and arrangements. Hey, I live in Moravia in the Czech Republic, where ethnic folk musicians are trained in classical music at conservatoires and think nothing of experimenting with jazz and other genres. This is high quality art that is alive!
The real creative potential of the internet for authors is the opportunity it provides to break free of rigid institutional hierarchies and inject something fresh, trenchant and playful into the world of letters, without the constraints imposed by having to reach a wide enough audience for commercial viability. Not that there's anything wrong with being commercially viable! It's just that the dog should be wagging the tail, not the other way round.
This is a cultural vicious circle that runs deep: once the tail starts wagging the dog, art becomes a production line trundling out what will sell. Tastes, in turn, are shaped by what makes it out of the culture factory, resulting in a culture of sound-bites, cliches and lowest common denominators. This state of affairs is not just artistically lamentable: it's positively dangerous. We are human: our wits have always been the only thing that stand between us and extinction. If we allow our wits to grow dull, we're finished.
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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Celebrate MJ's Birthday 29 August 2009

Click on the Youtube link below to see how MJ's birthday is going to be celebrated around the world on 29 August 2009:



See also MJ's charity foundation healtheworld
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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Not such a freak after all?

I am fascinated by mystical traditions and hidden schools, but I used to think these interests made me a bit of a freak! My novel Moldavite deals with these themes, among others. I am currently writing a novel about the discovery of hidden mystery traditions in Prague and the Middle East, going back to Egyptian star maps.
If you like this kind of thing as much as I do, check out the Tarcher Books (a favorite of mine for publishing my role-model Julia Cameron) Book of the Month by Graham Hancock: Occult America. This promises to be a fascinating read. Being a social scientist by training, it is my "tick" to look for the cultural connections here. John Dee lived in an age when arrant mumbo jumbo flourished side by side with extraordinary scientific discoveries and scholarship, sometimes in the same individual. Perhaps it is no accident that we are rediscovering these mysterious undertows in our own culture now? Happy reading!
And before I head off for beddy-byes, more tomorrow on the planned event for Michael Jackson's birthday on 29th August.
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Michael Jackson the "Wounded Messenger"

Matt Semino's piece The Wounded Messenger
is the best review of Michael Jackson's life and work I have found. At last a review of his life and work that is worthy of the name. Matt Semino is an international corporate lawyer and legal commentator who advises clientele in the entertainment, media, fashion, real estate and private equity industries.

For those interested in a blow-by-blow comparison of the media distortion and mudslinging surrounding MJ, watch the TV program put together by Maury Povich using the footage that didn't appear in the infamous Martin Bashir documentary about MJ. Here is the first of a series of clips:

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Friday, 31 July 2009

Michael Jackson and the Black Heart of Music

Even people who were not fans of Michael Jackson would have to concede that he was uniquely original and innovative, as a composer, a vocalist and as a dancer, not to mention his pioneering work in video clips. He sometimes kept us waiting a while for a new album, but the wait was always more than worth it. His was no cardboard cutout, formulaic musical entertainment for people with two brain cells or less. It was the real deal, on all levels and across several genres. Surely this is how he would want to be remembered.

Anyone who has ever striven for excellence in any field knows that once it is attained it becomes a double-edged sword. One of the first things it breeds is envy. The good is the enemy of the best, and mediocrity can be surprisingly vicious. MJ was not the lowest common denominator. He was the yardstick. The black yardstick.

Surely breaking the music industry records of such icons as Elvis and the Beatles makes MJ the best the industry ever had. But this is an industry that throughout its entire history has taken the best of black music – blues, jazz, R & B, soul, you name it - and rehashed it with white faces in front of it. Without black music, white music would be as dead from the neck down as it all too often is from the neck up. And then along comes Michael Jackson and reinvents all the categories and ups all the benchmarks. How very inconvenient.

The fact that this is nothing new does not make it any less true. The history of western culture is strewn with examples of black culture being bleached out of sight – going right back to black pharaohs of Egypt and the Sudan. Our cultural roots, black and white, lie there. Anything, if suppressed for long enough, will eventually turn into a monster. Here perhaps lies the key to the black heart of the music industry - and the demise of its king.



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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Michael Jackson - Moonwalking with Dionysus

An obsession with trivia at the expense of essentials can be the mark of a mind out of its depth. While the concept of a media mind can often prove to be a contradiction in terms, where MJ is concerned it is a mind in need of a lifejacket before it drowns in its own sleaze. Rarely has a celebrity been the target of such vicious or gratuitous mudslinging, whether regarding his appearance, or his sexuality. I would suggest that these aspects of his persona were not just plucked at random out of the air, but rather represent unresolved issues in our culture that we have projected on to him. At was as if he lived out a dynamic reconciliation of opposites – black/white, male/female - that our culture, often hypocritically, insists be kept separate. The most problematic of these was the polarity between sexual magnetism and innocence. In a society where sex sells and is for sale, it must of necessity be perceived as diametrically opposed to innocence. To the pure all things are pure. To the corrupt all things are corrupt. If we really find it so difficult to believe that a man can be both sexually magnetic on stage and innocent at the same time, does this not say at least as much about us as it does about him? By the same token, underneath the relentless, morbid obsession with his face lies perhaps the uncomfortable truth that his face would never have fitted, no matter what he did with it. It was as if his body became a battlefield for our mainstream culture, a culture that has a notoriously ambivalent relationship with the body.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Michael once described himself as a ‘force of nature’. In his work he seems to have tapped into primordial energies that for the most part lie dormant in our post-modern culture, which is crudely cerebral and cynical, yet oddly puritanical. In ancient times, Dionysus, often also equated with the god Pan, was of all the gods the only one who had a human mother. He was described as eternally young, fully male yet with an androgynous mystique, dual-natured, enigmatic, a god of many faces. A master of performative intoxication, he was beloved of women, the powerless and outsiders, but viewed with suspicion by the establishment. I find this analogy resonant.

Every society has its blind spots and hypocrisies. Where these lie can usually be gauged by the amount of venom unleashed when they are exposed. For example: if skin color were really no longer an issue for us, why would a pale-skinned Michael pose a problem? Does an African American cease to be an African American when his skin lightens beyond a certain shade? And who decides what that shade is? We are talking here about the first ever African American to be “allowed” to perform on MTV! Am I the only one who detects a touch of paternalism here? Why would the color of his skin deserve more media attention, say, than the fact that he burst through the cultural frontier between ‘black’ and ‘white’ music? Were we not through this media pre-occupation with his skin in fact displacing an anxiety that we were not prepared to admit that we still had? We so love to believe that we are tolerant and egalitarian, but when the chips are down what we really want is for everybody to conform. It is perhaps because of our closet obsession with conformity, wrapped in the rhetoric of tolerance and freedom, that we crave, and devour, our celebrities to the extent that we do. We want to benevolently bestow our tolerance on people of all races, creeds, sexual orientations, etc., but we are only willing to do this as long as we keep control of the categories and the yardsticks. And we let the media do our dirty work for us. They have this power because we let them have it.

If Michael reclaimed and lived out the Dionysian mystery for us, he paid a tragically high price for it, both in life and in death. His message of reconciliation was dearly bought. Paradoxically, in the mystery tradition of Dionysus, for all its compelling, hypnotic music, the most reliable sign of a person inspired by him was, we are told, a melancholy silence.

Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.
(Lao Tzu)


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Friday, 24 July 2009

I'll be Home Late Tonight: We're Having a Revolution

A new book of essays by writers from central and eastern Europe, called The Wall in My Head, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is due to be published in November. See here for my own essay (published under my other name!). Like other contributors, I can't believe that this was already twenty years ago! We knew at the time that we were in the middle of history, but we didn't expect the history part to come so soon.... Humbling.
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Saturday, 7 March 2009

Where did February go?

Well I know that most of my February went in a two-week bout of flu, but even so I managed to finish a translation of African Tales by O.D. West, which is soon to be published by Triton in Prague. We are doing the proofs this weekend.
Then a lot of time and energy went retrieving my lost bank and ID cards after the theft of my handbag late January. In addition to that, all has not been plain sailing at work.....
But good things are happening this week for readers and the planet! Check out Ebook week and gogreenreade.com to find out more.
And don't forget to download the first two parts of my novel Moldavite!
If you like online novels, check out the blog online-novels, which has an impressive and eclectic list of free online reading!
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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Nursing the flu, fighting crime

Apart from finishing my article on Bohumil Hrabal for Words without Borders, I have been out of action with flu for a few days. The financial crisis is hitting street level in the form of increased pickpocketing and burglary. I had my bag stolen in a store, my mother had her house burgled. Still we have a lot to be thankful for.
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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Online Novels

Yesterday I was contacted by Susan Crealock of Online Novels to post my novel Moldavite on her blog.
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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Back in Moravia

After a hectic but enjoyable few days on an education conference in Prague, I am at last back in Moravia to relax and write for a few days! Am currently very interested in Words Without Borders and Online Novels and looking forward to more comments from new readers of the first few chapters of my novel Moldavite on Smashwords. There is just such an exciting world of reading and writing out there. What fun!
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Saturday, 17 January 2009

Moldavite

A lot has been happening since my last post to this blog (too long ago!). Have been having some technical hassles with widgets on this and one of my other blogs. Those darn widgets and templates!
Before Christmas I finished translating African Tales by O.D. West from Czech into English (published by Triton in Prague) and this is now at the publishers.
I am also about to publish my own novel Moldavite. This is an exciting time for me!
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