Thursday, 31 December 2009

Old Peel shows - the 1978 Festive Fifty

A four-cd boxset has recently been issued called "Kat's Karavan". This purports to cover John Peel's career as a DJ and is made up of tracks that he played on the radio from 1966 to 2004 and Peel comments between tracks - somehow this tries to give a feel for a John Peel show. It also comes with a booklet that I would have liked to have seen. But this package retails for the (in my view) amazing price of £34.
What a great montage!

By contrast, some Peel fans have, over a long period of time, posted entire original Peel shows on the internet. These also cover his whole career, but are totally authentic documents. I have collected about 30 such shows over the past year and they are tremendous listening. Today I have been working through four shows from late 1978 which include the "Festive Fifty" of that year. At that time Peel just did an "all time" FF rather than the current year that he moved too (as the all-time one became rather predictable). But 1978's shows the start of the influence of punk. It is a real treat to hear four Siouxsie and the Banshees tracks in the first ten of the FF. I can still rmemeber the shock of the two SATB sessions of 1978 and the subsequent "The Scream" album - among the most profound influences on my own listening.
When "Hong Kong Garden" came out as a single, one of my neighbours Dad refused to allow it to be played on the house stereo as it would damage it to play such noise!
I saw SATB quite a few times over the years but nothing prepared me for the first time around 1980. I had only just started going to concerts a year or two earlier and had only seen bands like Smokie and Sutherland Brothers and Quiver! But 1978 saw myself and many of my friends really change what we listened to and we started to go and see more contemporary music (interspersed with Genesis, Rush, lots of heavy metal - a somewhat eclectic mix). Only when I got to London in 1981 did I really focus on just contemporary stuff - The Cure, New Order, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Sisters of Mercy, and so on. Happy days!

Very much how I remember her

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Organising my trip to Linz - thoughts on summer holidays

Confirmation has come that Linz Opera House does recognise that I bought a ticket for the "Kepler" performance in early January and that I can collect the ticket from the box office on the day. As a result, I have been able to start booking my trip. I have decided to drive to Linz taking in some other places of interest on the way. So the first part of the journey is the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland - I have an overnight sailing and a cheap inward facing cabin with no windows. I will be taking Emma back to Cambridge that afternoon, sorting out her stuff and then carrying on to Harwich for a 11:45pm departure.

On Thursday I will drive to Heidelberg, which I should reach just after lunchtime, giving me a couple of hours to have a walk round - maybe taking in the "philosopher's way", the walk on the far side of the river. Then, on Friday morning I plan to visit Tubingen and see the University before driving on to Linz, hopefully arriving late afternoon. Then I have Saturday in Linz, where I want to visit the Kepler house at 5 Rathausgasse and the Castle where the Kepler statue is. Then the opera is that night. Finally, on Sunday I have the 1,000km journey back to Hook of Holland for the 10:00pm sailing back!

Linda has also come up with a closely related Italian holiday plan for July in which I will drive to Pisa and meet her there. Then we could go to Florence, Lake Trassimeno, maybe Rome, then on to Naples and Pompeii (which we both really want to visit) and maybe even Sicily. And like France, we hope to stay in some little guesthouses. I am already planning to return to the UK via Graz and Prague and so complete what I have begun to refer to as the "Kepler trail"

Book order with Christmas money

A small flurry of book buying using the present from my mother - a snapshot of my current reading interests

Robert Darnton, The Case for Books; Phillip Roseman's The Story of a Great Medieval Book: Peter Lombard's Sentences; Three by Anthony Grafton - Defenders of the Text, Commerce with the Classics and Worlds made by Words; Sharon Farmer's Syncretism in the West: Pico's 900 Theses; Greg Milner's Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music

Just a £15 Waterstone's token left to spend - will be spent this afternoon

First new book arrives post Christmas - Mona Baker's In Other Words (yet another book on translation, though this one a little more technical that other recent ones)

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Contact with academics worldwide

Today's work included reading Brian Copenhaver's piece on Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola from the Standford Philosophy Encyclopedia. This lead me to the detailed bibliography of Pico maintained by Michael Doherty, editor of the recent collection of essays on Pico that I had got out of the LSE library just before Christmas (and which featured an essay by Sheila Rabin on Pico and astrology). This bibliography also referenced a PhD thesis by someone called Darrel Rufkin specifically on Pico's Disputatione adversus astrologiam divinatricem - which is my own main interest in Pico as it is the work that Kepler discusses in De stella nova.

A quick search on Google finds me contact details for Darrel Rufkin and I had just sent him a query about where I might get a copy of his thesis when an email from Sheila Rabin arrives, a somewhat late reply to my last email to her back in November. This talked a bit about Latin translation, Lynn Thorndike and the recent performance of Philip Glass's opera on Kepler which she saw. And while I was composing a reply, an email from Darrel Rufkin arrived telling me how I could get a copy of his thesis from soemthing called Proquest. A quick preview suggests that this would be something very good to acquire and so I now have a 470 page pdf file of his dissertation. I am intending to study this in some detail, not least because it is the first PhD thesis that I have ever seen, but also because its expository structure about Pico's work is similar to my own PhD plans.

Finally, another email from Sheila Rabin who has guessed that the other Pico work I had mentioned in my reply to her was by Darrel Rufkin. Apparently he has a background in classics and has been commissioned to produce a full English translation of Pico's Disputatione.

I remain greatly impressed by how easy it is to email queries to academics and actually get a reply.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Back to work

A gentle re-start to work. First up, sorting out the various piles of papers stacked all around the study - various articles, notes, lists, essays, etc. Two boxes of stuff have gone to the garage and a little floor space has appeared.

I was surprised to discover just how many articles I have printed off from the online Stanford Philosophy Encyclopedia - again, one box full goes to the garage, and the remainder are filed in the Kepler project files.

I know have a reading pile and a separate note-taking pile. My early year goal is to take notes on the material I have already read and not add too much new reading to the note-taking pile. My next work will be on updating my Kepler working bibliography

Today's (limited) reading - a chapter from The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy on "Literary forms of medieval philosophy". Absolutely fascinating and exactly the sort of academic article that I can't write but would love to be able to do

A list of books to find at LSE is slowly being compiled, including another one that I had thought of buying but which I thought probably cost too much - Catherine Wilson's Epicureanism at the origins of Modernity

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Christmas Period

As we approached Christmas, there is the gradual wind down in work. I have been mainly reading Field's Kepler's Geometrical Cosmology and Munday's Introducing Translation Studies, both quite thought-provoking in their different ways.

Emma has returned from Cambridge for a couple of weeks. This might be our last ever time when she will be back with us for so long. This makes me rather sad but I am determined to not let it get me down. Emma arrives home with a job offer for next year - perhaps the most important things that has happened lately.

There are frequent shopping trips for various things - the highlight for me is the annual Emma-book-buying trip. This year she is most keen to buy books related to her future work. This would not have been my choice, and it does seem odd to wrap up a book on management consultancy for Christmas for her

On the Tuesday before Christmas we have a trip to Oxford to meet Code's parents. They are over for a week with some family and friends. We haven't met them before though Emma stayed with them in the summer. We have lunch in Jamie's and then a walk round Oxford for a couple of hours, including the dodo at Pitt Rivers and Christchurch meadows

Then over Christmas itself, I have three days virtually totally off work - depending on whether skimming through books counts as work. My main christmas presents are, as usual, various books - Tycho's Opera Omnia Vol 1-5, Campion A History of Western Astrology Vol 2, The Palgrave Advances in Renaissance Historiography, Rosan's The Philosophy of Proclus and Dick Dastardly's Guide to Being Dastardly! I bought Emma an expensive handbag and Linda an expensive watch.

Two of my heros

Boxing day is spent - as usual - at Andrew and Julie's, except for Emma who spends it with Code in London. My mum comes with us and seems to have a good day. Highlight is perhaps the DVDs made by Andrew from his collection of home videos - including some of Emma aged five or so.

In all, we have three days with my mum. I find myself thinking lots of thoughts about mum at the moment, assessing how she is doing, whether she is busy enough, how often I should visit and so on. Her downward mental trend seems to me to be more pronounced, but it is hard to say whether this is important or not at this stage.

Most popular present seems to be the ER boxset - all 15 series for £65. We have started to watch this from the beginning and might finish all 331 in 2010 at the current rate.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Merging my old blog into this one

Prior to this blog (which I started in July 2008), I had kept another blog recounting the development of our business and the activities of this business through to June 2008. Towards the end of our summer activities, I had started this new blog, but had always rather liked the idea of finding some way to join them back together.

Past searching through the detail of how this blog works hadn't revealed the secret, but a quick look today found exactly what I needed to do. So 85 old blog entries have been added here today covering June 2007 to June 2008, and including various holidays, my yoga teacher training course and the development of Well Being Breaks Ltd. We didn't run holidays abroad in 2009, but the company is just starting to make a decent profit off the back of the courses we are running around our local area.

Not far off 400 entries in total now on the blog. The story of my (recent) life . . . . . .

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Kepler talk II - Biography class

Not much work the last couple of days. Tuesday was spent at my mum's sorting out her Christmas shopping, yesterday we were in Oxford doing some of our shopping and then Emma needed a lift to the station to go to London for another interview. The weather is getting noticeably colder and there was even some snow in London.

Today Linda and Emma have gone to London for a day out and I have an entire day free for work. Starting at 6:00, I began drafting a short piece for tonight's biography class. We are supposed to have selected something that presents a challenge in respect of our chosen subject. I have therefore decided to do the period 1603-1604 for Kepler in respect of the nova of 1604 and Kepler's changing view of astrology. It takes about five hours to knock out the five sides of material. Overall I am really happy with this. I still don't do anywhere near enough writing (at least compared to reading) and so to have a piece work well is quite a change.

For the rest of the day I was mainly working on a couple of chapters from The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. About 500 pages of the 900 pages of this are relevant to my current work. I nearly bought a copy but instead am working from the LSE copy. Also looking at an article by Miguel Granada on Aristotle, Copernicus and Bruno and the topic of centrality and the size of the universe. And one last push is required to finish Field's Kepler's Geometrical Cosmology.

The evening biography class is a big success. Feedback is universally positive, despite the complex subject. Indeed most feel it is extremely interesting rather than obscure and uninteresting. After the class, as we have a quick drink in the downstairs bar, our class teacher repeats his praise for the piece and suggests that this is already close to the standard that a biography should be. He asked me how long it had taken to get to this version and is somewhat surprised when I say I had knocked it out this morning (as are the other class members who overheard this). This supports his view that I am definitely on the right tracks. I am, ofcourse, extremely pleased with these comments!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Oxford!

In past years, Linda and Emma have been to a "cultural" event just before Christmas - often the ballet in London. But this year they were a little slow in booking and so we have instead a new tradition in which we all go to the Oxford Playhouse. This year's treat is "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", the London production with the hydrolically controlled flying car.

So this evening's culture starts with a trip round some of the shops in Oxford - me food buying for the coming onslaught of tasty treats, Linda and Emma elsewhere. Then to the castle complex for a wander round the Christmas market, then to Carlucio's, where we are one of just three taken tables - recession or just timing?

Actually the evening turns out to be pretty good. We have seats right at the front of the theatre which I find interesting as I can watch the musicians. And the performance is actually a lot of fun. Great performances from the kids, and the male lead - not so convinved by the female lead. Lots of energetic performances from the many dancers, two great villians. That we are the only ones there without young children is neither here nor there!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Field on Kepler, contact with Caroline

In a desire to continue the flurry of Kepler related study, I have been reading Judith Field's Kepler's Geometrical Cosmology. This is a complex work, more mathematical than many, focusing on Mysterium Cosmographicum and Harmonice Mundi. It is also a very coherantly argued book, which a whole series of connected ideas that work very well together. Field clearly has the necessary mathematics to tackle these works, which is quite unusual. I have just about finished up to the end of the discussion of M-C and was considering leaving H-M for a few more days. But you never know, it might be good to rattle off the entire book.

I had an email from Caroline, my friend on last year's MSc course. As I suspected, she and Felix are now living in Germany (Hamburg). She didn't say exactly how her MSc had gone but she evidently doesn't have to retake anything. I had hoped she might have circulated her dissertation as others had, but she didn't - a shame as her topic was one I would have liked to have read about.

My aim in contacting her had been to see if she was still interested in doing any translation work. I didn't tell her much about my plans, but I have been thinking about how best to check my own work. So if I get accepted to the PhD programme, I had wanted to devise some sort of translation plan for myself and for others to review my work. Caroline can do both Latin and German into English. Not sure yet what to ask her about in detail. For instance, should I just have her look at passages that I have struggled with, or maybe let her loose on some German that I won't be looking at?

No doubt this will all become clearer in the future as I think about it more (hopefully once I have been accepted)

Friday, 11 December 2009

Last Latin lesson of 2009

I had thought, like two or three others, that next week was our last Latin class of the term, not this week. This was relevant as we were all going to have brought in goodies to eat during our last class. Still there was enough to go round without our contribution.

The Latin class has been the most eye-opening course of the last few months. In particular, I have discovered what a rich and complex field translation studies is. I had approached the subject with a somewhat naive view that there were fairly fixed meanings in the original language and that translation produced a reasonably fixed meaning in the target language. But reading Unberto Eco, George Steiner, etc, has shown me just how wrong this view is. And that it is wrong helps my own goal related to my PhD. I don't need to fear the idea that there is just one "correct" translation against which my work would be measured.

But all this has served to highlight my own lack of imagination in respect to English. Probably this is a matter of me tending to go with my first idea, rather than doing a second review and perhaps changing my translation, based on what a English speaker would actually say to produce the same meaning. So, for instance, in today's Latin class I had initially translated "dominus meus nuptias hodie facere uult" as "My master wants to make a marriage ceremony today" while on review, the better expression is "My master wants to get married today". At present, I haven't really thought about translation enough to polish or edit a first draft into something that reads like it isn't a translation.

I was particularly struck by a discussion in Umberto Eco's book (Mouse or Rat) about translations into English of Dante's inferno. I hadn't realised that the original Italian is in a somewhat complex rhyming pattern of ABA, BCB, CDC, etc. Eco provided an example of the original together with several English versions which were radically different from one another. I have discovered that we have three versions at home, one of which does rhyme (the Dorothy Sayers) version. Each time I come across the great variety of apparently acceptable translations, I am somewhat amazed. Slowly I am developing more of a feel for this issue.

Over our lunchtime goodies, I was talking to the Australian lady who I think works as a lecturer at Oxford. I manoevred the subject round to the production of tranalations by academics and she pretty much confirmed how much of this is farmed out to others. Indeed, she does so herself. So I am thinking about investigating this much more seriously. In my case, this could take the form of using a second tranlator to correct my first attempt. Alternatively I could use someone external where I have found a passage too hard. Finally, I am quite struck my the idea of using a German-English translation as a way of interplaying with a Latin-English one. As soon as I get accepted for my PhD, I will be working out the detailed practicalities of each of these.

In the meantime, I really have to work hard over the Christmas break on getting the work we have done so far fully set into my head. Overall, I am very pleased with the course so far. But I do have lots to do to really get the most from it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

My first (proper) academic lecture

After John's rather tongue in cheek suggestion that I give his Kepler lecture, today is the day when it happened. My first proper academic lecture, even though it was only to the small group of us who are taking History of Science this year. A day or two of preparation a week or so ago and I was all set. Overall, I have to say that I was very pleased with how it went. I worked off a series of chronological notes, with brief stops for Mysterium Cosmographicum, Astronomia Nova and Harmonice Mundi - lots of interesting biographical add-ins. Even a brief digression to explain Kepler's three laws in terms of Newtonian mechanics. Not many interruptions from John, so he must have thought it ok.

I have been thinking lots about academic life recently - off the back of reading Kenny's A Life in Oxford and the occasional dip into Rhythms of Academic Life, a collection of essays I bought last year. Though I still consider it very unlikely that I could find a way into academic life at my age, I do have a very rough plan that might succeed. If all goes well with Oxford, I am going to try and do some supervision teaching if possible. Then I have to try and publish a couple of things while I do my PhD. Then use the PhD to publish a book. Hopefully that could then get me a short-term teaching contract of some sort, somewhere. Not a great plan and not a high chance to success, but it is at least some sort of plan.

So a very exciting day for me and one that I was really pleased with the outcome of.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Anthony Kenny & PJ Harvey

I wonder if Anthony Kenny and PJ Harvey have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before.

I have been reading Kenny's A Life in Oxford for the past couple of weeks - my current late night read. I had nearly bought this when it was first published in the late 1990s but somehow it slipped through my grasp - but I recently tracked it down on abebooks and paid about twice the price it was back then. Reading this is all part of my attempts to immerse myself in something of the Oxford atmosphere, hopefully as a prelude to getting accepted for my PhD soon.

I have now moved on to his earlier autobiography, A path from Rome - his account of his education and training as a Catholic priest up until the early 1960s when he left the Church. As always, I am deeply impressed by accounts of just how much classic literature was consumed by students in such circumstances. I have read next to nothing of such literature.

And on the subject of PJ Harvey - I have recently downloaded a compilation of videos of her over the past 15 years or so and I was rather shocked to see a film of her from the recent tour with John Parish. She has a long history of weight-related issues and currently is looking rather poorly - probably at least a stone underweight. Yet in contrast, in the film of her performing "Dress" at the V Festival in 2004 she looks terrific. What has gone wrong?

So I have been working my way through all PJ Harvey's cd releases. Of course I used to have a copy of her very rare first cd in the limited edition with the demo versions on it, but sold it for £100 on Amazon a while back. I have also been digging out some live recordings from various sources, including a quite magnificent show from the Royal Court Theatre in London from 2004 which is "semi-acoustic". Has a great version of The darker days of me and him on it.

PJ Harvey live from 2004

She has such great legs when she is a decent weight!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Thoughts on translation theory

I started reading up on translation theory back in September. I knew pretty much nothing about this subject, having had little contact with other languages throughout my education. I studied French to "O" level and failed it (despite having been quite good in the first form - change of teacher is to blame). I did two years of Latin at the Grammar School about which I remember virtually nothing and I did a year of German, which I remember I really disliked! I am the typical science student, not arts.

First recent reading was Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat? This has quite a few passages about the translation of his own works and provided the first clear-cut statement of the "negotiation" view of translating - a three fold model of original writer, translator and ultimate reader. I had typically held views that represent the naive view of translation i.e. that there was a fairly firm, clear and distinct meaning in the original text which is brought out by the translator. I was aware that translation was mainly about meaning retention rather than something that occured on a word-for-word basis, but I was nonetheless rather shocked to discover just how liberal this principle could be. Of particular interest were the cases where Eco showed examples of several different translation of the same piece e.g. of Dante's Inferno. The variety of translation produced was quite amazing.

This was confirmed by reading Robinson's Becoming a Translator and skim reading Lander's Literary Translation. There is a great deal of freedom involved in this process - more than I had imagined.

So when I started my Latin course at the end of September, I was very focused on the translation aspects of the course, rather than issues such as speaking Latin, or translating from English into Latin. This means that I am principally concerned with the grammar structure and the issues of how to tie together the various components of the text. So far, I have been very pleased with the course. I still haven't really learnt the noun declensions and verb conjugations but I am beginning to develop a little bit of sense of the structure (so far anyway)

And a comment from one of Emma's friends at Cambridge set me off on another track. She had said that for bulk translation work, she tended to use a software programme as this avoids the constant looking up of words in dictionaries and can also supply the complete set of alternatives to parse each word. As a result of this, I came across a programme called Blitz Latin and have been investigating this in some detail. It is not that this provides accurate translations, it is more that it does tell you the various alternatives available for each word and tells you the grammar structure. I am very interested in this as a tool

One thing I did do with Blitz Latin was some "testing" against various sources where I do have both the original Latin and a translations - for instance, Jardine's tranlation of Kepler's Defence of Tycho against Ursus and various pieces by Sheila Rabin e.g. Pico. This has confirmed just how "free" some translations are, but has also enabled me, in one or two cases, to approximate the finished text, which I'm rather please about. Indeed, in some cases, I would say that my approximation would have been worth perhaps a 7 or 8 out of 10.

And getting the gist of a passage has been a lot easier than it might have been

All this has huge implications for my PhD project. I am slowly beginning to get an idea about how this might work out in practice day to day - the need to produce a word document of the text, various ideas about the actual process of translating, my working practices, etc. All good stuff and leaving me much more confident than I might have been. What, afterall, might my standard be in, say, 18 months, given what I think I have achieved so far?

But the main area that does worry me at the moment is a statement I read somewhere that knowledge of the target language is often more important than knowledge of the source. Oddly enough, I feel less confident about this aspect. I need to consider this much more.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Prep for Kepler talk & good news for Emma

Today's History of Science lecture is on Tycho, who we failed to cover last year in the compressed version of the course. Afterwards I have a very brief talk with John to outline what my plans are for next week's Kepler presentation. He doesn't want to see it beforehand but will leave me to it - interrupting if he thinks it necessary. He has never done this before on this course, but seems confident that I know more about Kepler than he does and so it will all go ok.

At the LSE library I do a slightly random search of some sections and find a book on Pico della Mirandola that I had seriously considered paying £45 for only last week, Kristeller's Eight Renaissance Philosophers, a really interesting book on comets and popular culture, and the Cassirer (ed) volume, The Renaisance Philosophy of Man. Very pleased to have borrowed all of these.

While doing all of the above, I accumulated 11 missed calls, all from Emma. Either good news or bad. One was a voice mail and the news is good. She has been offered a job next year with one of the large American management consultancies - not necessarily he number one choice, but definitely good enough if nothing better comes along. So she can now relax from what has been an increasingly difficult process for her.

I only just managed to get my motivation high enough to go to my Biography class tonight. This continues to develop in very thought-provoking ways. Tonight we were mainly considering three of Peter Ackroyd's biographies, in very different styles. I hated one - the extract we had from Chatterton - I sharn't be writing anything like that at any point in the future!

Afterwards I walked back to Westgate with Katie who is writing a biography of a Tibetan Buddhist leader that she is associated with. With her interest in science fiction and Buddhism, she is probably the participant most like me on this course. Most of the others are more history or literature focused - and perhaps far more serious. Katie works in Birmingham and lives in Banbury, so attending the course is quite a commitment. Not sure I would do that trip after work

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

LSE exam result - at last

It has been months since I took the one exam for my MSc that I was doing this year. Rumours abounded that one's tutor might know you results as early as July, but if they did, they weren't saying. I had a vague idea that they would be out in November and it turned out that this was November 30th. Then the great day arrives and it turns out they are released at 8:00pm - why so late?

But the upshot it, as I would have expected, I have achieved the distinction mark for PH400 - 75%. I put on my PhD application that I thought I would get a distinction, so that is all ok - should they ask me about it at any point. There is, of course, no news from Oxford. But looking around the website again, I did discover that they don't interview many people - only those who they have some query about. So maybe silence on this front is a good thing.

So back to work - today I am studying Simon's article on Kepler and astrology from 1975, an article by Bruce Moran on Melanchthon and the reception of Copernicanism, and I am finishing off my notes for the Kepler talk next week.

For the first time this autumn / winter, there has been a sharp drop in temperature and a heavy frost. I can barely see out the study window for heavy condensation. Time to put the heating back on for another hour!