Home » Blog » History

Art and Audio

Friday July 31st, 2015 in History | No Comments »
Unsurprisingly, I love an audio guide. I recently went on a holiday and got a hell of a lot more out of a visit to Château de Valencay due to an innovative audio guide ostensibly narrated by the château’s 19th century owner Talleyrand. He led a colourful life by which I mean he had sex with a lot of different people. Hearing about this certainly made looking at his clocks and occasional tables more interesting.
The place where I find audio guides most helpful is in art galleries. 
I haven’t always been a huge fan of art. I remember visiting my the National Gallery of Victoria with my sister when I was about 18. The highlight of the trip was when we stopped in front of this picture of a distressed ewe standing over her sick or dead lamb while being encircled by black crows who aren’t offering to do CPR or get the defibrillator. The picture’s called ‘Anguish’ and it’s not very nice. We looked at it for a few moments, then my sister said, ‘This is baaaaaaad’.
I found found that very funny. Ten minutes later I loudly declared ‘I’m bored now’.
Ten years later I finally managed some art appreciation. I visited the National Gallery in Washington DC and got an audio guide. I found myself standing in front of Vermeer’s painting Woman Holding a Balance. As I listened to the audio guide’s description of the painting it helped me to see it and I got why it’s considered a great painting. I wasn’t bored!

The 14th Century

Thursday May 5th, 2011 in Audio books, History | No Comments »

Well, bits of it anyway.

I’m about half way through the 28 hour long audio book The Calamitous 14th Century, but I think I’ve actually heard about half of it. The other half I’ve missed while doing incompatible activities at the same time like having a shower, putting on the washing or reading articles about Ricky Nixon’s disgraceful hair and conduct.

I normally stop audio books if I’m doing an incompatible activity but not with this one. The great thing about the 14th century is that the same things happens over and over again. War, plague, war, plague, nice trip to the country, war, plague.

So I’m finding it quite easy to dip in and out of the narrative, missing chunks of it, but still getting the general idea.

I’m glad there won’t be a test.

Two words!

Sunday January 16th, 2011 in Anarchism, Audio books, History, Politics | No Comments »

I’ve just read What is Property by Joseph-Pierre Proudhon, which stridently argues that all property is theft.

Proudhon wrote in the mid-19th century and has a flourishing style. In particular, he loves exclamation marks, writing sentences such as, “Days of conflagration and anguish!” He really peaks in brilliance though, with his two word explosions of repulsion. For example, “Deplorable pride!”

You don’t see many sentences like that now. But I think there is no better way to decry. Let’s take another example. The sentence, “false calculation” sounds like the sort of thing an accountant might write in the margin of a tax return. But the sentence, “False calculation!” suggests an error of huge importance, which we will naturally want to get hysterical about.

I also like the economy of this technique. When Proudhon writes, “Debased creature!” in just two words we are left in no doubt that, in his opinion, the way the bourgeoisie are behaving is pretty well not on.

So I would like to see more of the 19th century two-word exclamation of disgust in modern writing. I thought I’d start by describing some of my worst ever story tape experiences using this form. I am not saying that these books are necessarily bad, just that I had a rotten time listening to them.

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus: Infuriating inaction!

Momento Mori by Murial Spark: Existential calamity!

The Reef by Di Morrissey: Vexed exposition!

The Clicking of Cuthbert by PG Wodehouse: Interminable golf!

The Daredevil Tycoon by Barbara McMahon: Total crap!

So I recommend that you have a go yourselves. It’s fun. Wretched abacus!

Something to read on the train

Saturday January 1st, 2011 in Audio books, Diaries, History | No Comments »


I kept a diary from when I was in Grade 4 to when I was about 22. I’ve decided to scan my diaries because they’re starting to fall apart and the pencil is fading. Also, I would be very upset if they were destroyed in a fire, flood, or if our apartment was burgled by robbers with contacts in the black market for mid-90s adolescent angst.

So I’m spending the long weekend digitising. So far I’ve scanned Grades 4, 5 and 6, Year 7 and Year 9. Year 8 is too big to fit on the scanner (not to worry, it was a gloomy year – poetry, wandering around cemeteries, Wuthering Heights).

I’m listening to The Map that Changed the World as I scan. It’s interesting to compare the life of William Smith (author of the first geological map of England) to my own experiences recorded in my diary.

William Smith felt under appreciated and beset by snobs and had to go to debtors prison. I hated myself and almost everyone else and had to go to school. Two peas in a pod!

In the back of my Year 7 diary I made some predictions about the future lives of people at my school, including this assessment of a friend’s future chances:

GM: Junkie, Drugs, Drinking – slight possibility of being a university lecturer.

Learning

Sunday December 12th, 2010 in Audio books, Historical fiction, History | No Comments »

Via a conversation about Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, I ended up discussing English history on Friday night. Well, I say discussing, but actually it was more like receiving an uninvited 15 minutes lecture on the English line of accession to the throne. The person I was with loves nothing more than a monologue.

I’m not generally very good at remembering historical facts but when our self-appointed lecturer got up to the “And after Elizabeth” bit I jumped in confidently and said, “Then it was King James. The gay one.

I know King James was gay because I once listened to a highly-charged historical novel about King James’ gardener who has an affair with one of James’ courtiers. It’s called Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory, read by Steven Crossley.

Anyway, our self-appointed lecturer didn’t like being interrupted and also didn’t believe me. He said, “But James had a son Charles”, bizarrely assuming that producing heirs to the throne is always an act of love. When I tried to explain that I had my information from an extremely reliable source, an historical fiction story tape, he remained unconvinced.

Because I’m not very confident of my ability to remember facts, I let it go. And he moved on to the Charleses. I weakly attempted to turn the monologue back into a dialogue by chipping in with, “Wigs!” but it was basically pointless.

When I got home I looked it up. Although it’s not uncontroversial, the internet confirmed that some of King James’ biographers have concluded that James had homosexual relationships with his courtiers. I feel vindicated not only in this specific instance, but also more generally. Listening to historical romances is an improving activity.