On one level, it's a love story between two very different beings.
On another, it's a coming-of-age story...
On a third level, 'Bloodchild' is my pregnant man story."
Octavia E. Butler,
(1984 / 2005)
"'Bloodchild'... [is] a number of... things...
On one level, it's a love story between two very different beings.
On another, it's a coming-of-age story...
On a third level, 'Bloodchild' is my pregnant man story."
Octavia E. Butler,
(1984 / 2005)
HE AWOKE – and wanted Mars.
The valleys, he thought.
What would it be like to trudge among them?
Great and greater yet:
the dream grew as he became fully conscious,
the dream and the yearning.
He could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world...
Philip K. Dick
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus by the French artist Édouard Manet (1832-83) has just been purchased for £7.83. This is far less than the sum that would have been achieved on the open market. The reason for this is because the British government refused to allow the painting to be sold to a foreign buyer.
Once-upon-a-time export bars were justified on the grounds of ensuring that a work of art was being "saved for the nation". Interestingly, the new owner of the portrait - the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford - has rephrased this dubious claim. Manet's work, we are assured, has been "saved for the public".
The museum is obviously keen to justify the expenditure on this portrait of a foreign person by a foreign artist.
The purchase will, we are told, "completely transform" the Ashmolean, helping to turn it into "a world-leading centre for the study of Impressionist and post Impressionist art."
Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus is, in other words, a commodity used as a means of competing with rival collections, both in the UK and abroad. However, the Ashmolean is only able to take part in the competition because this particular item of trade has not been allowed to reach its true "value". This is due to the fact that "aesthetic importance" and national pride are deemed, in this instance, to outweigh considerations of mere money. The result being that the Ashmolean was able to purchase the item in question for only 27% of its market value.
The artwork's worth on the open market "net of VAT" was £28,350,000. The enormous difference between this and the £7.83m paid by the Ashmolean represents a huge loss in taxation - at a time when Britain's economy is in a parlous state and when the government (it claims) is doing its utmost to tackle tax avoidance.
Mindful of this, the Ashmolean seeks to reassure us that it is "planning a full programme of educational activities, family workshops, and public events inspired by the painting."
But consider for a moment how many "educational activities" could be implemented for, say, £20 million (the difference between the "true" value of the artwork and the sum paid by the Ashmolean).
Fortunately we don't need to worry about this because money is very rarely talked about in our hallowed museums.
Manet's Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus is destined to merge seamlessly into the Ashmolean collection and be toured around various temporary exhibitions. A little label will list the charitable organisations and anonymous givers responsible for "saving it for the public". Yet the true cost of the commodity will be omitted.
Manet's money should not, however, be ignored.
Nor should one further, pressing issue. Just because Manet's painting is now "publicly" owned does not necessarily mean it will never again become a financial commodity. Alterations to the Museums Association's code of ethics mean that public museums in the UK are now able to "ethically" sell objects from their collections, albeit in exceptional circumstances.
This means that the same inventive logic and sleight of hand deployed to acquire Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus could be equally used to justify its future sale. As long, of course, that the money raised can be shown to be "for the benefit of the museum’s collection."
Where, however, will all this end? Might the change to the code of ethics be the first step towards the situation in the United States? San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for example, recently sold Bridle Path by the American artist, Edward Hopper in order to "benefit acquisitions." Perhaps one day the Ashmolean could do the same with the support of the Museums Association and the connivance of the British government? The museum would go on to make a tidy profit from its Manet - some of which could then be used to support future "educational activities". And so it goes on...
Money might well be a taboo subject in museums. But the issues raised by Édouard Manet's Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus should serve to remind us that museums have their own carefully constructed economy: one that is just as inventive and artful as the "real" economy with its clever strategies of quantitative easing dreamt up by bands of unethical bankers.
With this in mind, should the Ashmolean have been allowed to buy the painting under such circumstances?
The answer, I think, is no.
Instead, the British government should take a leaf out of the Museums Association's code of ethics. It ought to have allowed the export, on the condition that all monies raised in taxation from the sale were ring-fenced and used to fund "educational activities" in our museums. This would go some way to offsetting recent reductions in museum funding - with outreach and education programmes suffering disproportionately as a consequence.
This outcome would be far more ethical and more effective than the spurious tokenism used by the Ashmolean to disguise its glee at acquiring a work of art that only a fraction of the public will see or have any interest in.
"Donations help keep Manet in UK". So reads the title of an article about this matter in today's Financial Times.(1) The newspaper chooses to foreground the generosity of "1,048 people who donated sums which ranged from £1.50 to £10,000". Framing the story in this manner is a carefully considered ploy. It seeks to underline the sense of universal public support and popular approval for this deal.
These contributions are certainly laudable. But they pale into insignificance given that the bulk of the £7.83m came from "the Heritage Lottery Fund, which contributed £5.9m, and the Art Fund, which gave £850,000". The support of these official bodies plus the above-mentioned loss in tax revenue mean that the Ashmolean's latest acquisition must indeed have cost the state at least £20m.
This is, indeed, a conservative estimate. It is reported that 80% of the painting's value would have been levied in tax had it been sold on the open market.(2) It is the case, therefore, that the seller not only avoided a large tax bill; he or she also accrued more money by selling it to a UK museum for less than £8m as opposed to securing over £28m from a foreign buyer.
So, in a way, the FT is right: a very large donation has indeed kept Manet in the UK.
(1) Hannah Kuchler, "Donations help keep Manet in UK", Financial Times, 09/08/2012, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/4168b256-e174-11e1-92f5-00144feab49a.html.
(2) Maev Kennedy, "Ashmolean buys Manet's Mademoiselle Claus after raising £7.8m", The Guardian, 08/08/2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/aug/08/ashmolean-buys-manet-mademoiselle-claus.
Anon (2011) "Culture Minister defers export of stunning portrait by Edouard Manet", Department for Culture,
Media and Sport, 120/11, 08/12, http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/media_releases/8686.aspx
Anon (c.2011) "Last chance to keep Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus in the UK", Department for Culture,
Media and Sport, undated, accessed 08/09/2012 at, http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/news_stories/8685.aspx
Anon (c.2012) "Manet portrait saved for the public", undated, accessed 08/09/2012 at,
Atkinson, Rebecca (2012) "Ashmolean acquires threatened Manet portrait for £7.83m", Museums Association, 08/08,
Burch, Stuart (2012a) "Biting the hand that feeds", 22/03,
Burch, Stuart (2012b) "I scream, you scream, we all scream for The Scream", 20/03,
Burch, Stuart (2012c) "A Pearl of Dream Realm economics", 16/07,
Holmes, Charlotte (n.d.) "Sale of collections", Museums Association, accessed 08/09/2012 at,
Quantitative Easing (after Alfred Kubin)
The Bank of England is very, very fond of money.
Its insatiable love for lucre has led it on a hell-bent mission to churn out the stuff in colossal quantities.
This is known quaintly as “quantitative easing”.
Fortunately, the super intelligent electronic age in which we live means that the Bank of England doesn’t need to print money like it did in ye olden times. These days a simple press of a button is all it takes to magic it up.
And we are talking big magic.
An estimated £375bn – and counting.(1)
Meanwhile, bankers get bonuses for failure. HSBC has been implicated in drug running and money laundering. And those clever boys at Barclays Bank have been diligently manipulating the LIBOR rate. Oh, and don’t forget the ever-increasing and ever-more costly efforts being made to save the Euro.
For a long time I struggled and failed to comprehend this will-o’-the-wisp economics. Now, however, it all makes perfect sense.
You see, the mistake I made was to think that I was living in a town called Nottingham in the middle of England. Whereas in reality I am a resident of the Dream Realm in a city known as Pearl.
One thing above all others characterises this place: it's an all-pervading fraudulence. This condition is so pervasive that it is easily overlooked.
To the casual glance, buying and bargaining go on here according to the same customs as everywhere. This, however, is mere pretence, a grotesque sham. The whole of the money economy is “symbolic”. You never know how much you have. Money comes and goes, is handed out and taken in: everyone practices a certain amount of sleight of hand and quickly picks up a few neat ploys. The trick is to sound plausible. You only have to pretend to be handing something over. Here fantasies are simply reality. The incredible thing is the way the same illusion appears in several minds at once. People talk themselves into believing the things they imagined.
Everything required to understand the likes of Bob Diamond, Barclays Bank, the Bank of England and the LIBOR-rate rigging scandal is contained in that one paragraph.
The words are not mine: they are taken from Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side (Die Andere Seite). The Austrian expressionist artist wrote this mind-blowing novel in 1909. Little did he know that, over a century later, it would help me come to terms with an early 21st century financial crisis.
I am re-reading the book in conjunction with Nottingham Contemporary’s exhibition of early works by Kubin. The show opens on Saturday 21st July. I can’t wait to see it.
The staff at Nottingham Contemporary have rather unwisely asked me to lead a guided tour through the exhibition at 1 o’clock on Wednesday 1st August.(3)
What on earth will I talk about?
Thankfully – in contrast to our financial services – a “strong hand” dictates all that occurs in the Dream Realm.
So I certainly shouldn’t be lacking Kubinesque inspiration...
(1) “Q&A: Quantitative easing”, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15198789.
(2) Alfred Kubin, The Other Side, transl. Mike Mitchell (Sawtry: Dedalus, 2000). The modified quotations reproduced here are taken from pages 60 and 62.
(3) “Wednesday Walk Throughs”, http://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/event/wednesday-walk-throughs-4.
Until recently I have lived my little life in only two dimensions.
All that changed on Tuesday 3rd July.
Because on that evening – and very much against my better instincts – a Siren persuaded me to pay a small fortune for a pair of cheap plastic spectacles.
Despite resembling sunglasses these eyepieces afforded no protection against ultraviolet light. They were, however, effective at creating a spurious sense of depth when watching 3D movies at the cinema. The effect they produce is similar to that experienced when looking at Soviet realist portraits of Stalin. All too often Uncle Joe looks like an overlaid cut-out that could at any moment topple out of the frame.
A reviled monster of a slightly different kind featured in the film that I settled down to watch. The creature in question had been brought back to life thanks to another siren song, this time broadcast across vast tracts of the cosmos. This call succeeded in luring a rag-bag band of unsuspecting space travellers into its slithery embrace for the purpose of injecting a little fire into their bellies. Hence the title of the film: Prometheus.
Ridley Scott’s blockbuster revives and reprises a creature that was first introduced to movie-goers way back in 1979. This was Alien, one of the masterpieces of cinematic history.
For its part, Prometheus must count as one of the disasterpieces of the silver screen – whether it be in two dimensions or three.
Luckily for me, the saving grace of Prometheus was the fact that it happened to be the first (and I suspect last) time that I opted to pay for an extra dimension. Fittingly enough, this 3D experience turned it into an expensive novelty.
Alien was visually stunning, excellently written and well acted with a plausible (albeit fantastic) plot that remains to this day thought provoking, gripping and genuinely scary. Moreover, it was underpinned by an excoriating social commentary on the machinations of big business. The omninational Weylan-Yutani corporation’s casual disregard for its human employees contrasted with the genuine interest and sympathy they generate in us, the audience.
Prometheus is the absolute antithesis of all this. Its plot merits no comment whatsoever.
And yet, bizarrely enough, the fact that it is so utterly awful renders it the perfect prequel to Alien.
A specially-made pair of 3D spectacles should be hastily manufactured and given to Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial creation. I have a feeling that its razor sharp mouth would hang open in gob-smacked admiration for its master’s work.
This is because Prometheus is the ultimate parasite.
It owes its existence entirely due to its host. Without that host – i.e. the original film – it would be nothing. Alien’s prequel is a mind-numbingly naked commercial venture that treats the paying public with the same contempt as the Weylan-Yutani company showed to the doomed crew of the spaceship, Nostromo.
One member of that crew is the character, Kane – played so brilliantly by John Hurt. In a particularly memorable scene we see him in a prone position, his features occluded by the facehugging Alien.
The best way to sum up Prometheus is to look upon Kane as an embodiment of the 1979 film as a whole. Thanks to the prequel it is now no longer possible to properly appreciate that movie. This is because, enfolding it in a deathly embrace and leeching it of all its vital signs, is its bastard spawn: Prometheus.
The unearthly star of Alien would surely applaud this act of ruthless parasitism.
But s/he would, I feel, have one criticism. The name is all wrong.
The single word title beginning with “P” should not be Prometheus but Parasitoid: a parasite that kills its host.
Because that’s exactly what Prometheus does to Alien.
In Lionel Marks’s antique saleshop window haughty Henry Lionel Leopold dear Henry Flower earnestly Mr Leopold Bloom envisaged battered candlesticks melodeon oozing maggoty blowbags. Bargain: six bob. Might learn to play. Cheap. Let her pass. Course everything is dear if you don’t want it. That's what good salesman is. Make you buy what he wants to sell. Chap sold me the Swedish razor he shaved me with. Wanted to charge me for the edge he gave it. She’s passing now. Six bob.
James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922
Images to celebrate James Joyce’s Ulyssess on “Bloomsday” – 16th June.
Martin, Stephen J. et al (2012) “Global Honey Bee Viral Landscape Altered by a Parasitic Mite”,
Science, 08/06, 336 (6086), pp. 1304-1306, DOI: 10.1126/science.1220941
Margaret Atwood has interesting things to say about Bradburian immortality:
“Ray Bradbury: the tale-teller who tapped into the gothic core of America”
The Guardian, 08/06/2012
1971, RCA, 2:53
Images to accompany my recent exhibition review of Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery in the county of Kent (Museums Journal, Issue 112 (05), pp. 54-57).
The museum is rightly grateful to that most capacious of collectors, Julius Brenchley (1816-73). This hoarder has been mentioned in an earlier blog posting, which also alluded to the bedroom antics of Maidstone Museum’s former curator, William Lightfoot. See “Brenchley's bedroom benefaction”.
The weather in Stockholm today is terrible.
This is precisely the sort of thing that kills me. What happens whenever I feel like going for a nice walk where it’s quiet and dry? The rain pours down and flattens my hair, that’s what.
I wonder what it’s like back in dear old Blighty?
On second thoughts, I don’t really care: I’ve said farewell to that particular land’s cheerless marshes. I swear it’s the last time I sit on a delayed, overcrowded train stuck among the railway arches somewhere between London, Liverpool, Leeds or Birmingham. There’s nothing worse than being hemmed in like a boar.
Even so, I’d still like to go back now and then to chat about precious things.
But, really, the things you read in the British newspapers! All those jeremy hunts spouting inane rubbish about love, law and poverty.
Perhaps it’s just me, but don’t the way things are going make you wonder if the world has changed? I don’t trust anyone these days, not with all the lies they make up. True, people don’t have long hair any more. And all the pubs have shut down together with the churches. But the liars are still at large: everyone’s out to snatch your money or wreck your body.
God, my limbs ache. And it feels so lonely, despite being hemmed in by so many bores.
And the media doesn’t help either. I read about a gang of kids peddling drugs. Honest to God, I never even knew what drugs were at their age. I was too tied to my mother’s apron strings to worry about incarceration, castration or coronations.
Actually, that reminds me of one bright spot to brighten up Blighty’s cheerless marshes. Did you see that picture on the front of the other day’s Daily Mail? I know she only suffered mild concussion, but it was a really wonderful thing to see her royal lowness all bandaged up and with her head in a sling.
I wonder what Charles thought when he saw it? He’d probably liked to have been the monarch on the front cover, veiled in some regalia nicked from his mum.
Why is it that he of all people should be next in line for regality? I bet if the libraries or archives were still open any one of us could find some historical facts to prove that they are a pale descendent of some old queen from eighteen generations back.
No-one cares of course. Especially not those flag-waving patriots hemmed in like boars along their rain-soaked street parties that stretch from London to Liverpool, Leeds to Birmingham.
Honestly, the only way to get them to listen would be to break into Buckingham Palace armed with just a rusty spanner hidden inside a sponge.
Sneaking past Charles wouldn’t be difficult: he’d be too busy struggling into his mater’s bridal veil and practicing his coronation steps to notice me flit past.
And I bet his mother would confuse me for someone else:
“Eh, I know you”, she’d rasp, “and you cannot sing”.
“That’s nothing”, I’d reply whilst prising my corroded tool from its soft wrapping: “you should hear me play piano”.
This won’t happen, of course. It’s raining too hard for me to venture out.
So I may as well stay here where it’s quiet and dry.
Perhaps I’ll take a surreptitious peek at the Daily Mail online. Oh, look! It says here that the queen has just taken a nasty tumble...
Morrissey/Marr (with Mills, Godfrey & Scott)
“The Queen Is Dead (Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty)”
The Queen is Dead, Rough Trade / Sire, 1986, 6:24
11. hunt out
or drive from cover
or shelter by hunting
or persistent search;
to track out;
to arrive at
Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 / 2012
“Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go!”
So goes a text message sent to James Murdoch by Jeremy Hunt, just hours before the Secretary of State for Culture was appointed to oversee News Corporation’s £8bn bid to take control of the satellite broadcaster, BSkyB.
Hunt claims that this was entirely consistent with his publicly-stated position.
Oddly enough, this is probably the reason why Mr Hunt will retain his job. Because the real issue here is whether Hunt was an appropriate individual to fulfil an impartial, “quasi-judicial” role in relation to News Corporation’s bid.
And who was it that considered Hunt to be the “solution”? Step forward Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne and his boss, Prime Minister David Cameron.
If Hunt were to resign these two politicians would be dangerously exposed.
Meanwhile, it has today been reported that the cap on tax exemption for charitable giving announced by Osborne in his last budget has been dropped.
No surprise there. What is of note is the very deliberate timing of this announcement, coming as it does on the day that Hunt gives his evidence to the Leveson inquiry into media ethics and during a period when parliament is not in session.
Words like unethical, incompetent, vacillating, self-serving and undemocratic spring to mind.
Now compare those words with the ones spouted by David Cameron when launching a new draft of the Ministerial Code fewer than two years ago:
We must be different in how we think and how we behave.
We must be different from what has gone before us.
Careful with public money.
Transparent about what we do and how we do it.
Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence.
Mindful of our duty.
Above all, grateful for our chance to change our country.(1)
So, great and congrats, Dave – there is no doubt about it: you really are changing our country.
(1) Oonagh Gay, The Ministerial Code, Standard Note: SN/PC/03750, last updated 27th March 2012, available at, http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03750.pdf.
Para, jämsides med.
En annan sort.
Bevingaren, 1980: 90
Even a parasite like me should be permitted to feed at the banquet of knowledge
I once posted comments as Bevingaren at guardian.co.uk
Note All parasitoids are parasites, but not all parasites are parasitoids
Parasitoid "A parasite that always ultimately destroys its host" (Oxford English Dictionary)
I live off you
And you live off me
And the whole world
Lives off everybody
See we gotta be exploited
By somebody, by somebody, by somebody
<I live off you>
Germ Free Adolescents
is a short step.
The word is
now a virus.