Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nights out in London

My trainer at the gym, Dan, asked me today how I filled my evenings without a television. He tells me that he likes his wide screen model, with his punching bag set up nearby. I replied that I had many things to keep me busy (such as updating my blog!) and also that I went out a lot in the evenings. For example, I said, last night Evan and I went down to Kings College London to hear a lecture by Raimond Gaita, Professor of Moral Philosophy at KCL, on the subject of 'Genocide & Collective Responsibility.' I can't say that Dan thought this a particularly fun way to spend an evening. But trust me - it was an excellent lecture.

Professor Gaita, who as readers of this blog will know is Australian, focused his lecture on Bernhard Schlink, the German novelist and author of 'The Reader' (made into a film with Kate Winslet) and a legal professor and judge. The subject included considerations of so-called 'German guilt' - the difficulties of the second generation of post-War German people, the definition of 'genocide' both philosophical and legal, and why and how the Holocaust has become such a paradigm for humanity. The lecture was part of "Arts & Humanities Week" at KCL, and I quote from the brochure:

     "The defining crime of what we call the Holocaust or the Shoah is not mass murder: it is genocide, often described as the gravest of the crimes against humanity. Though Raphael Lemnkin coined the word 'genocide' in 1943, the Holocaust has become our paradigm for understanding it. Yet, though The Reader is often called a post-Holocaust novel, neither in The Reader nor in Guilt about the Past does Schlink ask whether the concept of genocide is fundamental to Hanna's attempt to understand what she did, and to Michael's understanding of his 'entanglement' with her guilt. Does that matter? That is one of the questions I will explore in my lecture. Another is: what should be the roles of philosophy and literature in the elaboration and attempts to answer that question? I will, in effect, be exploring the role the humanities should play in our efforts to understand the moral implications of some of the most important concepts in the jurisprudence of international law."

As to the role of the humanities in humanising us, Professor Gaita seemed pessimistic, unable to point to any evidence that investment in education in the humanities has ever had a clearly humanising influence on humankind. The discussion following the lecture was enlivened by a contribution from a woman who seemed to be a faculty member - she made some insightful comments, in her Australian accent. Indeed, the philosophy world here seems to be rather thick with Australians. I was also somewhat intrigued by several references to 'legal philosophy' -- hmmm: could there be a fit there?

Following this deep and meaningful evening, we were invited to share a glass of wine with KCL people - I'm sure everyone felt they needed it - but we decided instead to go eat. We favoured Byron Hamburgers in Covent Garden with our custom - an upmarket hamburger joint. I enjoyed my meal very much, but Evan was less enthusiastic (as he has been generally unenthusiastic about London food so far - he finds it heavy compared to Sydney.)

Well, after that heavy philosophical experience and Dan's slightly incredulous response, I decided that it would be a good idea to see how young Dan spends his evenings (when not punching his bag). Just for this week he has returned to dance in a show where he spent seven years: 'Stomp', a very famous (I'm told) dance and percussion show. Actually it is a difficult show to slot into a genre, but Australians might think 'Tap Dogs.'  The production is described in the program as 'a unique combination of percussion. movement and visual comedy' which was created in Brighton in 1991 by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. Let's give Luke and Steve their due - it is an amazing show. And let's also give full due to the eight extraordinary performers whom Evan and I saw tonight: how they ever remember that complex choreography and simultaneously perform the percussion is mind boggling. 

As to Mister Dan - best body on the stage, mister! This is of course a good sign in one's personal trainer. When I mentioned my blog today, he kept suggesting items of interest which should be posted. When I finally managed to get through the reps - "put that on the blog!" When we decided that I had marginally improved at an exercise - "put that on the blog!" When I managed to lift a just a teensy bit more weight - "put that on the blog!" I got the feeling that he didn't completely believe in 'the blog', which somewhat inspired this post.

But kudos to all involved in 'Stomp' tonight!

For supper we stopped by Jamie's Italian - the Leicester Square version of Jamie Oliver's Italian chain. very glad we did - that is a restaurant to which I'd happily return.

The Tube

I have to report a sad and shocking incident on the Tube on Monday evening, Piccadilly line, westbound platform at King's Cross, about an hour after I boarded there to go to my Monday evening lecture. Someone was pushed on to the rails and lost his life, whether deliberately or by accident is not yet clear. I was aware that something had occurred, as the line was closed completely when I tried returning home from my lecture, but only read about the incident today in 'The Evening Standard', the free newspaper read by virtually every Tube-travelling Londoner. Read the news story here. After reading the story and getting caught in an humongous crowd deep in the bowels this evening, I suffered a moment of claustrophobia and decided to escape the confines of crowded Holborn Station and walk home. I remarked to Evan that I was experiencing an anti-Tube reaction; but this evening on our journey home we passed a Tube busker playing Pachabel's Canon on a violin. Inspired by the music, a couple decided to pause in their flight to the underworld to dance to 'Pachabel's Greatest Hit'. It was a restorative moment.

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