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The Canons of Culture (NEW CONCEPTS)
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Mick Harper
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Modern canons are bound up with awards ceremonies -- the culture market being too fractured and too democratic. Consider this:

The sound of a diversity bomb set to music Hugh Muir
Of the various baubles handed out to the creative types each year, the Mercury Prize is known for being one of the most political. It went to the Ezra Collocative, the first time a jazz artist has won it. But however the judges got there, or why, this year they kind of got it right.

Maybe, but being black British (with a token white) had more to do with it than any desire to give jazz its moment in the limelight -- and the fact to be celebrated by a full-page splash in a Guardian op-ed, somewhere that features the Mercury Prize as often as it does the planet. Not that I have the least knowledge of modern popular music -- I've certainly never heard of the Ezra Collective -- but I know lots about awards ceremonies being political. As to whether the lads ever get inducted into the Hall of Canons, only time will tell.
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Mick Harper
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There is no better hallmark of 'being in the canon' than appearing on a stamp. It is the ultimate accolade. [Which reminds me, has anyone seen a stamp with King Charles's head on it?) So I was intrigued by this two-page spread in the Guardian op-ed section

Black History Month Which exceptional Black Britons deserve to be on a stamp? Our star panel decides

It gave us a list and a quick potted bio of each. (I will asterix the ones I have personally heard of)

Beryl Gilroy teacher and memoirist
Linton Kwesi Johnson poet and musician *
Ottobah Cugoano abolitionist writer
Malorie Blackman bestselling author
Prof Uno Owobi CBO of Race Council Cymru
Olive Morris racial justice campaigner
Nadine White journalist
Lenny Henry actor and broadcaster *
Mary Seacole nurse and businesswoman *
Pat McGrath makeup artist
Doreen Lawrence campaigner, mother of Stephen *
Olaudah Equiano abolitionist writer

and I'm a polymath! Getting on a stamp requires, I would have thought, to be familiar to the average stamp-licker. As for the canon... let us say the Exceptional Black Britons' canon needs working on. Another fifty years should do it.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Ottobah Cugoano was worth a look.


Guardian wrote:
Cugoano was born near the coast of present-day Ghana where he was kidnapped in 1770 by slave traders. He was only 13, later writing: “I was early snatched away from my native country, with about 18 or 20 more boys and girls, as we were playing in a field … Some of us attempted, in vain, to run away, but pistols and cutlasses were soon introduced, threatening, that if we offered to stir, we should all lie dead on the spot.”

Guardian wrote:
Cugoano took on the reasoning used by apologists for slavery, that Africans were complicit in the trade, by inviting readers to imagine slave raids on Britain by African pirates “assisted by some of your own insidious neighbours, for there may be some men even among you vile enough to do such a thing if they could get money by it.”


According to the Guardian then he faked the bit about being captured by Africans. How do they know this?


https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/nov/20/blue-plaque-for-anti-slavery-campaigner-ottobah-cugoano
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Mick Harper
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Good spot. It sounds to me like a jaded English writer looking to write a potboiler (or a PR pamphlet). But then jaded English writers should feature on our stamps. We're a national glory!
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Wile E. Coyote


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I don't like to mention this as it might be considered offensive, but there you go. Ottobah Cugoanao and Olaudah Equiano, both abolitionist writers, both on the list, look like the same person.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottobah_Cugoano

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olaudah_Equiano

In fact experts can't tell them apart

http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/2686
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Wile E. Coyote


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Maybe this genre deserves a critical look.

In 1787, possibly with the help of his friend Olaudah Equiano, Cugoano published an attack on slavery entitled Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (1787). By now a devout Christian, he wrote work informed by that religion. He used arguments around Christianity and global economics and politics for this cause. His writing called for the abolition of slavery and immediate emancipation of all enslaved people. It argues that an enslaved person's duty is to escape from slavery, and that force should be used to prevent further enslavement. The narrative was sent to King George III, the Prince of Wales and to Edmund Burke, a leading politician.[9] George III, along with much of the royal family, remained opposed to abolition of the slave trade.


After 1791, Cugoano disappears from the historical record and it is likely that he died in 1791 or 1792.[10]
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Wile E. Coyote


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Funny thing is they both look a lot like Charles Ignatius Sancho

and some folks think the portrait is in fact he.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_Sancho
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Mick Harper
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Excellent! Now we can dispose of Charles Ignatius Sancho. Looks like? The portrait of him is what you might call identikit. But that's not art criticism, it's just that I simply refuse to believe that Gainsborough would have painted the portrait of someone who was, at the time, described as a 'shopkeeper and writer'.


Charles Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 14 December 1780) was a British abolitionist, writer and composer.

Sorry, shopkeeper, writer and composer. Beats Anthony Burgess.

Born on a slave ship in the Atlantic, Sancho was sold into slavery in the Spanish colony of New Granada.

In other words, his details won't be available as they would be in a British colony.

After his parents died, Sancho's owner took the two-year-old orphan to Britain

That's lucky! Spanish slave-owners taking their slaves to Britain (where they are freed on landing) are unusual. Taking two-year-old slaves is... even more unusual. Can you provide us with the trifecta, señor?

and gifted him to three Greenwich sisters, where he remained for eighteen years.

Black domestic staff were quite sought after in the Britain of the eighteenth century. Charles Ignatius Sancho, it seems, was one of them. Well, not for the first few years obviously when, I suppose, the sisters would have to raise him as the son they never had.

Unable to bear being a servant to them, Sancho ran away to the Montagu House in Blackheath

Duh? Domestic staff don't normally run away. I think they mean he was headhunted by a bigger establishment. No, perhaps headhunting is not appropriate in this context. Anyway, he changed employer.

where John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu taught him how to read and encouraged Sancho's budding interest in literature.

It's a well-known habit of dukes to teach their staff to read.

After spending some time as a butler in the household, Sancho left and started his own business as a shopkeeper, while also starting to write and publish various essays, plays and books.

It's possible. Although, if he were an actual person I think it more likely that he acquired a ghost-writer. I'm not knocking the dude, he might have done all they said he'd done. He might have ghosted other black dudes. But while it was quite normal for butlers to become shopkeepers, not even Jeeves opted for the life of the litterateur. Why not? Because there's no money in it. Not in any century.
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Mick Harper
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Sonic Life by Thurston Moore A personal history of US alternative rock

Every branch of the arts has its canon and Thurston Moore and Sonic Life are apparently at the epicentre of US alternate rock. I thought rock was supposed to be alternate already, but what do I know? As you are aware by now, I won't have any kind of music in the house. But get this

He appears to have come out of the womb with impeccable alt-rock taste. The first single that turns his head, aged five, is the Kingsmens' garage-rock classic Louie Louie. (Guardian review)

Now, as it happens, I was obsessed with this song and the version by these dudes and me and my teenage mates used to sing it non-stop walking along Lewisham High Road. That was about twenty years before garage was invented so, hey, what do they know?
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Mick Harper
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Here is Anthony Burgess's list of the ninety-nine best novels in English since 1939 (you were supposed to add one of your own). I have put in bold (23) the ones I have definitely read. Those in red (18) I have some memory of -- a combination of half-read and read-but-forgotten. Plus I have read better known books, perhaps better books, by an author than the one idiosyncratically chosen by Burgess. It seems a shockingly low number but maybe it isn't when I see what others have to say.

1. Henry Green – Party Going (1939)
2. Aldous Huxley – After Many a Summer (1939)
3. James Joyce – Finnegans Wake (1939)
4. Flann O’Brien – At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)
5. Graham Greene – The Power and the Glory (1940)

6. Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
7. C.P. Snow – Strangers and Brothers (1940)
8. Rex Warner – The Aerodrome (1941)
9. Joyce Cary – The Horse’s Mouth (1944)

10. Somerset Maugham – The Razor’s Edge (1944)
11. Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited (1945)
12. Mervyn Peake – Titus Groan (1946)

13. Saul Bellow – The Victim (1947)
14. Malcolm Lowry – Under the Volcano (1947)
15. Elizabeth Bowen – The Heat of the Day (1949)
16. Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter (1948)
17. Aldous Huxley – Ape and Essence (1948)
18. Nevil Shute – No Highway (1948)
19. Norman Mailer – The Naked and the Dead (1948)
20. George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
21. William Sansom – The Body (1949)
22. William Cooper – Scenes from Provincial Life (1950)
23. Budd Schulberg – The Disenchanted (1950)
24. Anthony Powell – A Dance to the Music of Time (1951)
25. J.D. Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

26. Henry Williamson – A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951)
27. Herman Wouk – The Caine Mutiny (1951)
28. Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man (1952)
29. Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
30. Mary McCarthy – The Groves of Academe (1952)
31. Flannery O’Connor – Wise Blood (1952)
32. Evelyn Waugh – Sword of Honour (1952)
33. Raymond Chandler – The Long Goodbye (1953)
34. Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim (1954)

35. John Braine – Room at the Top (1957)
36. Lawrence Durrell – The Alexandria Quartet (1957)
37. Colin MacInnes – The London Novels (1957)
38. Bernard Malamud – The Assistant (1957)
39. Iris Murdoch – The Bell (1958)
40. Alan Sillitoe – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958)
41. T.H. White – The Once and Future King (1958)
42. William Faulkner – The Mansion (1959)
43. Ian Fleming – Goldfinger (1959)
44. L.P. Hartley – Facial Justice (1960)
45. Olivia Manning – The Balkan Trilogy (1960)
46. Ivy Compton-Burnett – The Mighty and Their Fall (1961)
47. Joseph Heller – Catch-22 (1961)
48. Richard Hughes – The Fox in the Attic (1961)
49. Patrick White – Riders in the Chariot (1961)
50. Angus Wilson – The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
51. James Baldwin – Another Country (1962)
52. Aldous Huxley – Island (1962)
53. Pamela Hansford Johnson – An Error of Judgement (1962)
54. Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook (1962)
55. Vladimir Nabokov – Pale Fire (1962)
56. Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means (1963)

57. William Golding – The Spire (1964)
58. Wilson Harris – Heartland (1964)
59. Christopher Isherwood – A Single Man (1964)
60. Vladimir Nabokov – The Defense (1964)
61. Angus Wilson – Late Call (1964)
62. John O’Hara – The Lockwood Concern (1965)
63. Muriel Spark – The Mandelbaum Gate (1965)
64. Chinua Achebe – A Man of the People (1966)
65. Kingsley Amis – The Anti-Death League (1966)
66. John Barth – Giles Goat-Boy (1966)
67. Nadine Gordimer – The Late Bourgeois World (1966)
68. Walker Percy – The Last Gentleman (1966)
69. R.K. Narayan – The Vendor of Sweets (1967)
70. J.B. Priestley – The Image Men (1968)
71. Mordecai Richler – Cocksure (1968)
72. Keith Roberts – Pavane (1968)
73. John Fowles – The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
74. Philip Roth – Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
75. Len Deighton – Bomber (1970)

76. Michael Frayn – Sweet Dreams (1973)
77. Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
78. Saul Bellow – Humboldt’s Gift (1975)
79. Malcolm Bradbury – The History Man (1975)
80. Robert Nye – Falstaff (1976)
81. Erica Jong – How to Save Your Own Life (1977)
82. James Plunkett – Farewell Companions (1977)
83. Paul Mark Scott – Staying On (1977)
84. John Updike – The Coup (1978)
85. J.G. Ballard – The Unlimited Dream Company (1979)
86. Bernard Malamud – Dubin’s Lives (1979)
87. Brian Moore – The Doctor’s Wife (1976)
88. V.S. Naipaul – A Bend in the River (1979)
89. William Styron – Sophie’s Choice (1979)
90. Brian Aldiss – Life in the West (1980)
91. Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker (1980)
92. David Lodge – How Far Can You Go? (1980)
93. John Kennedy Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces (1980)

94. Alasdair Gray – Lanark (1981)
95. Alexander Theroux – Darconville’s Cat (1981)
96. Paul Theroux – The Mosquito Coast (1981)
97. Gore Vidal – Creation (1981)

98. Robertson Davies – The Rebel Angels (1982)
99. Norman Mailer – Ancient Evenings (1983)
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Grant



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Seven.
Burgess was a terrible pseud but some of his books were excellent and he was undeniably a clever, creative bloke.

Some of his choices have dated rather badly - French Lieutenant's Woman anybody?
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Mick Harper
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That's very poor though it beats the only member of my extended family to respond when I tried it out on the twenty or so of them, which means they are cowering under the cultural radar. And surprising from someone who is sufficiently familiar with Burgess to know he was a 'terrible pseud'. I would have thought he was one person you couldn't level the charge at, the genuine article and no mistaking.

They have all dated, isn't that part of their charm? Those that weren't read contemporaneously. I disagree about the French Lieutenant's Woman, though I haven't read it. How could it be 'dated' if it is set in the early nineteenth century? On the other hand I have read Fowles' The Book of Ebeneezer Le Page (if he wrote it) so you may be right.
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Grant



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Roger Lewis wrote a biography of Burgess shortly after he died and took him down rather unfairly but very amusingly. Burgess clearly invented much of his life story including the twenty languages he spoke, and the brain tumour which he never actually had.

However, he was a very good writer. The Enderby books are hilarious. Nothing Like the Sun is the best novel about Shakespeare. He also wrote music but I've never heard any of that. Clearly a very clever man.

Was he a pseud. Yes, because anyone who thinks Finnegans Wake is a great book is a pseud.
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Mick Harper
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All great minds think up a backstory. Do you really think I'm a reclusive, impoverished curmudgeon living in a west London basement? The only part of Burgess's I was deeply impressed by -- but you have made me doubt it -- was that he wrote the Enderby books to pay for his dying wife's treatment (or something). The AE aspect though is his (I suppose, alleged) lifelong belief that he was really cut out to be a world class classical music composer, not a literary giant at all.

PS He didn't include any of his own books which is doubly surprising.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Mick Harper wrote:

PS He didn't include any of his own books which is doubly surprising.


Not at all, if he had, he would only been able to choose 66 others.
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