Loan Shark: The birth of predatory lending, by Charles R. Geisst. 401pp. Brookings Institution Press. £20.95
Dr. David Cowan
Loaning at interest has always been morally suspect. Abrahamic scriptures forbade usury, Shakespeare characterized loans as exacting a pound of flesh, and Dickens’s Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop embodies the traits of the usurer in his devilish pursuit. Despite huge economic growth, the practice of predatory lending continues to blight society. Charles R. Geisst, an investment banker and professor, combines scholarship and a practitioner’s eye to analyse the nineteenth-century origins of “loan sharking”, as prevalent today as it was when the term was coined in the 1880s. Interest can be explained as the cost of the impatience or urgency in what we consume set against future income or investment. Loan sharks specialize in manipulating such urgency, not to collect the debt but to sink their teeth into the debtor from the outset. Loans are structured to keep the principal sum tantalizingly out of reach to secure repeated… Continue reading at Times Literary Supplement
Oil Booms and Business Busts: Why resource wealth hurts entrepreneurs in the developing world, by Nimah Mazaheri.
224pp. Oxford University Press. £47.99 (US $74).
Dr David Cowan
The oil industry, prone to boom and bust cycles, is in one of its deepest ever downturns. While oil-rich nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran – the two states studied in Nimah Mazaheri’s book – have survived these shocks in the past, things seem different this time. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia believes the kingdom needs a “Thatcherite revolution”.
Economists have long pondered the paradox that resource-rich nations invest little in diversifying their economies; they call it the “resource curse”. Mazaheri applies this to Saudi Arabia and Iran and concludes that despite oil wealth these economies have failed to encourage entrepreneurs and small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and failed to build a relationship between government and what he calls “the non-elites”, the owners of SMEs. This has led to commonplace bribery, a lack of opportunities (especially for female entrepreneurs), and the inability of SMEs to…continue reading at TLS
By Dr. David Cowan
But, is it art? You say. In western society, jewellery is seen by many people as a personal adornment certainly, a consumer foible perhaps, a fetish depending on preferences, or simply an indulgence. It can also be viewed as cultural or spiritual. The Medusa exhibition in Paris wants us to see it as art. Just like the face of Medusa in Greek mythology, the exhibition states its aim to display jewellery that attracts and troubles the person who designs it, looks at it or wears it.
The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris offers a 1961 quote by Roland Barthes to explain how gemstones became jewellery and art:
“There has been a widespread liberation of jewellery: its definition is widening, it is now an object that is free, if one can say this, from prejudice: multiform, multi-substance, to be used in an infinite variety of ways, it is now no longer subservient to the law of the highest price nor to that of being used in only one way, such as for a party or sacred occasion: jewellery has become democratic.”
The accent in the exhibition is on the avant-garde artists and contemporary designers who have reinvented, transformed and detached from its own traditions. It is organized around four themes of Identity, Value, Body and Instruments. Each section prologues the often negative preconceptions that surround jewellery and the deconstructs them to reveal jewellery’s underlying subversive and performative potential.
There are over 400 pieces of jewellery featured, including the creations of artists, jewellery-makers and high-end jewelers. The artists include Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Louise Bourgeois and Sylvie Auvray. A highlight, and the feature of the exhibition poster, is a reproduction of Salvador Dali’s Ruby Lips from the years 1970-80 by Henryk Kaston, which is a broach of 18 carat gold, rubies, and cultured pearls.
Jewellery is most associated with women and consumerism or wealth. The majority of men usually content themselves with a watch and a ring or two, perhaps a bracelet, tiepin or pin badge. It is only recently that more men have experimented with jewellery, wearing more rings, bracelets and body piercing pieces. However, this feminization of jewellery is itself a later development, and the use of male jewellery a return to previous times. The industrial revolution allowed the production of more jewellery for women reaching down through levels of society, rather than as emblems of male power.
As gender discussions continue unabated today, the discussion of gender relationships with jewellery becomes even more open. Jewellery does, after all, play an important part of identity and identity politics. The use of items may indicate one is a punk or a biker, a fop or an alpha male. Religious significance in the use of jewellery is also highlighted, which also relates to the use of power and rituals of power in the political sphere.
The avant-garde jewellery makers and designers include René Lalique, Art Smith, Tony Duquette, Bless and Nervous System, while the contemporary creators include Gijs Bakker, Otto Künzli, Dorothea Prühl, and Seulgi Kwon. Prominent in this category is The Crown created by Vivienne Westwood, made of white and gold metal, velvet, faux crystals, plastic based pearls and faux ermine fur, and featured in her Autumn-Winter 2000/01 Gold Label runway show. Ted Noten's Superbitch Bag (2000), particularly in the context of debates about gun control and the Weinstein scandal, gives one pause to think.
But not all is left to the avant-garde, the more traditional high end jewellers feature, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Buccellati. Particularly impressive here is the Serpent Necklace by Cartier Paris. Created in 1968, the necklace is made of platinum, white and yellow gold, with 2,473 brilliant diamonds totalling 178,21 carats. The serpent has eyes of pear shape emeralds, and an enamel body with green, red and black accents.
Fifteen works and installations by contemporary artists, including Mike Kelley, Leonor Antunes, Atelier EB and Liz Craft are laced throughout the exhibition, echoing the themes of the four sections. These works show art as decoration and ornament, shedding light on the relationship between jewellery, the body and the world. Another aspect shown to us is a number of anonymous, ancient and non-Western pieces. These included prehistorical and medieval works, punk and rappers’ jewellery, and some items of costume jewellery.
The curator Anne Dressen, has done an outstanding job putting together an appreciation of diverse ways of understanding jewellery and its relationship with bodies and society. The note earlier on the impact of the industrial revolution highlights the economic questions of production, which also include the moral concerns over the ethical sourcing of diamonds and gold, or the cheap labour used to produce and sell luxury items in developing and newly industralised economies. Dressen curated the exhibition in collaboration with Michèle Heuzé and Benjamin Lignel and scientific advisors.
To answer the question is it art, or just bling, this exhibition demonstrates very clearly the argument in favour of art. I’m inclined to agree, and such inter-disciplinary displays are only to be welcomed. So long as there are bodies and societies to adorn, there will be controversial places for jewellery to perform a role in creating and reflecting identity and taste.
By Dr. David Cowan
What better way to bring Paris Fashion Week to a close than to launch a new museum dedicated to one of the greats of French and global fashion, namely Yves Saint Laurent.
The museum opens to the public on Tuesday, October 3rd, showcasing YSL’s work from his first Dior days through to his greatest creations and his death in 2008. The Dior connection is emphasized by the presence of his old cane left on the desk where YSL used to work.
THE MUSEUM SHOWCASES YSL’S WORK FROM HIS FIRST DIOR DAYS THROUGH TO HIS GREATEST CREATIONS
On four floors, starting with the salons where customers once sat and watched his work modelled, the visitor can see a variety of designs, jewelry, swatches, notepads, photographs and books on display. Entering the museum you’re first confronted with an impressive montage of YSL’s Warhol screen-prints.
READ THE COMPLETE REVIEW AT..... FASHIONWEEKONLINE.COM
Bonnie Prince Charlie, born in exile in Rome in 1720 and buried there in 1788, spent a mere 14 months of his life in Scotland; in 1745-6 and a brief clandestine 1750 return visit. However, he left behind legends and a true legacy of history and Catholicism. This fascinating exhibition provides a comprehensive narrative exploring the lives and events of the Jacobites and their attempts to reinstate the deposed Catholic Stuart king, James VI and II, and his heirs to the throne after his exile to France. Exhibits are drawn from public and private collections across Britain, France, Italy and Vatican City, forming the largest exhibition of the Jacobite era for some decades.
The exhibition is themed on the five Jacobite challenges to the throne, culminating in the doomed 1745 campaign and its bloody end at Culloden, and Charlie’s famous escape to the Isle of Skye. Entering the exhibition to airs of the Skye Boat song, visitors may feel they have fallen into a time shift like the heroine of TV’s Outlander. For those of us who encountered the Jacobites in school, it’s a visualization we might wish we didn’t have to wait 70 years for. It is the visual that is essential here, because Jacobitism reflected more the human passions and feeling in the Scottish enlightenment sense than rationalist ideas and argument.
The academic theory of material culture is very present, as the exhibition helps us to understand the objects of the Jacobite rebellion, their production, consumption of Jacobite items and their afterlife. Objects on display including paintings, costumes, jewellery, documents, weapons and glassware, illustrating the secrecy of Jacobite allegiance, the depth of feeling for a fading notion of royalty, and their material culture. Most striking is a gold communion set, encrusted with diamonds, belonging to Charlie’s younger brother Henry, who became a Cardinal; the York Chalice on loan from the Vatican Collection which has never left Rome before; and, a tartan frock coat said to have belonged to Charlie. Other highlights are weapons and shields used in the Battle of Culloden, the official order for the massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, a Gaelic bible, an execution block, and marble grave markers. Most touching is a letter by Charlie, aged eight, apologising to his father for upsetting his mother.
An impressive collection of Jacobite portraits starts with the familiar John Pettie Victorian romantic portrait of Charlie entering the ballroom of Holyroodhouse, and includes a towering portrayal of James II, a striking portrait of Flora MacDonald and a sketch of a forlorn-looking Charlie in his mid-fifties. The exhibition wonderfully captures the breadth of the rebellion, the depth of Catholic feeling, and how close Scotland came to changing the course of religious history.
The original text was first published in The Catholic Herald here
As a callow undergraduate I was intrigued by the book title The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, but JP Donleavy’s text didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Perhaps If I had read one critic’s take, that it was a "warmed-up Ginger Man," I might have saved myself a few pennies. The author died aged 91 at his home in Mullinger on September 11, and it’s his 1955 novel The Ginger Man which he leaves as his legacy and the one with the cult status.
The Ginger Man, which was turned down by 40 publishers, chronicled the drunken exploits of a young American studying at Trinity College, Dublin, after World War Two. It received critical acclaim, including famously from Dorothy Parker and close friend the writer Brendan Behan, who told him “this book is gonna beat the Bible." It has since gained a place in the literary canon. In 1998, The Modern Library placed it in the list of 100 top books, which placed Ulysses by James Joyce in the top spot.
Despite, or more likely because of, the ban in Ireland until the 1970s its success grew by word-of-mouth. Worldwide, it sold more than 40 million copies. Its impact was because of the way the novel traversed the landscape of post-war moral change in Ireland. The Ginger Man remained censored in the United States until 1965, while it remained banished in Ireland until the late-70’s. When it was made into a play it closed after three nights in Dublin under pressure from the media and Church. The main trouble was the sex and language, which shocked at the time, but it also questioned authority and traditional values of Catholic Ireland.
In "Me and My God," Donleavy said "...the Irish idea is to vulgarise things as a way of demonstrating their liberation from the shackles of the Church." In a more generous tone, he explained "The Church is the biggest cultural influence on this country and I'm certainly not against religious ceremonies. The act of going to church is important for the psyche."
JP Donleavy was born in New York, the son of Irish Catholic immigrant parents. In an interview with The Independent, he joked of his origins "I remember when there was some suggestion that the Donleavys were once Kings of Ulster, the Rev Ian Paisley said he would never allow a pornographer like me on the throne of Ulster." In 1946 Donleavy went to Trinity College, Dublin, one of a handful of Catholics at a Protestant university. He explained how he saw religious connections operating, “I was instantly aware of a degree of secrecy in the way people approached you and introduced themselves if they'd learned you were Roman Catholic…. It would be too strong to say the Church had set up a conspiracy. But it did operate like a giant octopus."
The Rev Ian Paisley wasn’t the only one to consider The Ginger Man pornographic. It was placed on the pornography list of his publisher Olympia Press, which pitched a disgruntled Donleavy into a twenty-year legal battle. A contemporary review in The New York Times described the publisher thus, “Maurice Girodias, best known as a purveyor of pornography in his famous Olympia Press but also not incidentally the publisher of such modern classics as Nabokov’s Lolita, J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and Pauline Reage’s Story of O.”
The Ginger Man was part of the angry young men syndrome in literature and the sexual revolution, but it seems Donleavy disliked the modern effect upon the women of Ireland. Feminists have since been disturbed by the text, but also by his public statements. A case in point being when he told one interviewer, “The other night I was watching a programme on Irish television with a group of women discussing their sex lives. I can't say I'm not liberal, but I found it slightly objectionable. People forget there's such an element in life as good taste." He was also quoted as saying, "The only advice I could give women is to return to the Church."
Donleavy has left 27 books behind, and The Ginger Man remains in print even if it didn’t fulfil Behan’s prophecy and outstrip the Bible. However one measures it Ireland has lost one of its biggest literary figures, but it seems his reputation is still trapped in time rather than the timelessness of great literature. Perhaps with death will come a reappraisal.
You can see a short interview from RTE here. The image is taken form this film.
By, Dr. David Cowan
For the past few years Glyndebourne has been a family occasion for us, taking our two children for the full experience, champagne, a wonderful dinner and of course tremendous opera. This year was a bit special, because of Thomas Allen. Not so much his singing, as the fact that a matter of a few days previous he had been shaking hands with our daughter to present her with her BA degree from Durham University as Chancellor of said institution.
But what of this opera? Ariadne auf Naxos is a philosophical comedy, which Strauss and Hofmannsthal envisaged taking place in the private theatre of a Viennese aristocrat infused with the high art of the enlightenment (though the first version of Ariadne was in a baroque setting). At Glyndebourne this was certainly not the case, just as it was not the case when the same director Katharina Thoma staged the opera a mere four years ago, in 2013. The setting here was the 1940s and an English country house transformed by war into a hospital for the wounded. It could have easily been Glyndebourne itself.
The great, and enchanting, surprise was Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, who has a most powerful voice. In the Prologue, the Music Master is at pains to tell the Prima Donna she is at the heart of the opera, and so it was for Davidsen, who at the height of her performance brought audible gasps from the audience rewarded by tremendous and well-deserved applause. Davidsen won the 2015 Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition at 28, so we knew beforehand she was good, but this good? A lightly qualified yes.
The qualification is that Davidsen while a wonderful, and very tall at 6 feet 2 inches, physical presence still needs to animate the use her body more dramatically to keep up with her voice. This is no doubt something the now 30-year-old actress will gain through experience and the hopeful arrival of a stronger director able to help shape the kind of performance anyone who saw her will know is forthcoming. We hear Wagner in Ariadne’s duet with Bacchus, and I look forward to someday hearing, and seeing, her as a Wagner heroin.
Whatever the Music Master says, however, it was not all about her. This was a strong cast. I particularly appreciated Angela Brower’s Composer, always looming in the background when not in the action. Ariadne as one of the patients attentively looked after by the nurses, a charming trio of singers deserving a mention. Thomas Allen offered us a witty Music Master, while AJ Glueckert as Bacchus was a powerful performance, especially in the climatic duo, though somewhat compromised by his attire in what looked more like RAF mechanic overalls than a godlike pilot’s uniform.
Cornelius Meister conducted the London Philharmonic with great mastery of the Strauss score. Erin Morley as Zerbinetta was mischievous with a wonderful line in come-hither looks, which enlivened the sad circumstances of the hospital. I was not convinced though that she was helped by playing the part tranquillised in a straitjacket during her showpiece aria. Björn Bürger played the Harlequin with great charm. The quartet of men playing the four comedians were delightfully funny. Visually the staging was quite stunning.
In her programme note, Thoma describes the opera as a debate about the merits of high and low art, explaining it is ‘a journey from despair and disappointment to hope. And the challenge is to draw the two parts together in a cohesive way.’ The main, perhaps only real, disappointment of the evening was the overall effect being diminished by the rapid dispensing of Hofmannsthal’s intriguing idea of a courtly opera-within-an-opera and the odd juxtaposition of wartime suffering and the comical, and the cohesion sought never really surfaced.
8/16/2017 0 Comments
Samuel Beckett’s play of a mystified 69-year-old Krapp, enigmatically performed by legendary Irish actor Barry McGovern, raises questions of aging, memory and recollection, as Krapp reflects with some frustration on the tapes of his 39-year-old self. Krapp's Last Tape is a short one-man play about those conversations we have with ourselves, the internal dialogue. Except Krapp has recorded his thoughts each year of his birthday in an annual ritual. This means his internal dialogue is externalized by the taped record.
Beckett had had his play All That Fall broadcast by the BBC in 1957 and he arranged to hear the recording in full at a Paris studio; his first encounter with the technology. Such was his fascination he undertook to see how such technology could be used in drama. Krapps Last Tape was the outcome, and when first staged in the following year we are referred to it being set in the future, as the technology was not commercially available. Today we assume the play is set in the present, or perhaps even the past, and can only marvel at the retro quality of the technology.
This is a powerfully subtle new production directed by Michael Colgan, a longtime Artistic Director of Dublin’s Gate Theatre, bringing together two experienced and fine interpreters of Beckett’s work in McGovern and Colgan. The actor has been performing Beckett’s stage works for more than three decades, while Colgan was Artistic Director at the Gate for over 30 years. McGovern is visually and verbally impressive, someone we can join in silent dialogue with as he takes us through his own trajectory of bewilderment and bemusement.
Krapp’s internal dialogue with his younger self is with a man who has some confidence, who has a desire for a more engrossing sex life, but also recalls a farewell to love for one woman. He berates himself for being the “young fool he took himself for” and forsaking a life’s love for literary ambitions. He reflects also on his 39-year-old-self explaining his mother’s death after a long viduity, a meaning that sends him to his dictionary in search for the meaning of the word, finding out it is a quality, state, or period of being a widow.
Yet, do we really want to revisit earlier times? In our social media age we are perhaps forever recorded. This Krapp's Last Tape is a genius of work both by the playwright and McGovern the actor, but what would Beckett make of our current obsession with recording, narrating and curating our lives in public electronic format? The technology gives us a special time dimension to this play, not just the distance between the ages of this man, but the time he has to reflect on his inner self. Harder to do in the 24/7 communication environment of social media.
At the end Krapp disappears into the darkness, leaving us to reflect. When we look at world events and the impact of social media on these events, we might want to reflect on the technology that allows it and the lack of reflection and attention to words that fuels our vacuous social dialogue. If only such reflection could be translated into more thoughtful politics, we might have less darkness.
Dr. David Cowan
A political event widely celebrated at this year’s festival is the 50th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Though Ironically here in Edinburgh, Scotland had to wait until 1980. There is a veritable variety of shows on offer to celebrate this landmark legislation. One of the funniest on offer is Lord Dismiss Us, which rises above the comedy to offer sensitive messages about times then and now for those in, or exploring, same-sex relationships.
Lord Dismiss Us is written and directed by Glenn Chandler, and is an adaptation of Michael Campbell's novel of the same name, which came out, as one might put it, in 1967. The play is set in a boy’s boarding school seemingly rife with sexual activity among the boys, aided and abetted by the staff, comprising 14 unmarried masters. The premise of the play will bring to mind films like Lindsay Anderson’s If with Malcolm McDowell, released in 1968, and Another Country with Rupert Everett, with a little of Brideshead Revisited thrown in. However, the play escapes these parallels by proffering its own take on relationships, and giving us a slice of unique comedy.
Chandler is the creator of the wonderful TV series Taggart, and this no doubt attracted some of the audience along with his reputation as a successful stage writer and director. As the audience makes its way into the theatre they are greeted by the boys of Weatherhill School taking the register, posing the sorts of questions school masters quiz their charges with at the best of schools. We are then into the play and enveloped in a feverish sexual atmosphere under threat from a new headmaster, deftly played by the delightfully versatile David Mullen in a dual role as the effete chaplain, who has proclivities for artistic pictures of nude boys. The headmaster is determined to stamp such nonsense out and to this end he starts a purge with his wife, charmingly played by Felicity Duncan as a keen helper to her husband while ambiguously attached to the chaplain.
Caught in the middle of all this is Terry Carleton, a wonderful new talent in Joshua Oakes-Rodgers. Terry has been previously entangled with Peter Naylor, but becomes infatuated and idealistically in love with a new boy Nicholas Allen, who has arrived under something of a cloud from Eton and has plans to enter the church. Allen, played by Joe Bence with a knowing strut that seems to entice and evade Terry, leaves clandestine notes for him to communicate their relationship. Naylor, played with great range by Jonathan Blaydon, wreaks revenge on Terry in the best way a schoolboy knows, he eventually rats to the teacher.
In the midst of this increasingly fetid atmosphere, which leads to an attempted hanging and the chaplain losing his job, is the compromised master Eric Ashley, who had himself been a boy at the school of an earlier gay vintage. Ashley, sensitively played by Tom Lloyd, is caught at the nexus of master and boy, headmaster and master, just about everyone and the headmaster’s wife, as he alternately offers diplomacy and subversion. Matthew McCallion is masterful as John Steele, playing it straight in more ways than one as the military brat who wants things to be “normal” while watching out for the wayward Terry and others.
Directed by Chandler, the play hurtles towards its conclusion at a pace just short of an Orton farce, culminating in a Wildean pastiche of a school play Peter Piper and the most intentionally atrocious Canadian accent you’ll ever hear, climaxing to Terry’s proclamation of victory as a writer.
Dr. David Cowan
I’ve only seen this production once before, in Toronto where Mary was played more in a more demure performance. We don’t get that in this absorbing production, with Jean Wilde as an earthy and distraught Mary.
Testament of Mary is a solo performance depicting the mother of Jesus telling the gospel story from her side and questioning his death and divinity. In a New York Times interview author Colm Tóibín explained “I thought of writing a play in which the Virgin Mary, the silent woman we prayed to, would speak. But the impulse to write the play was not political, was not to intervene in a debate about the church, but rather to work with a voice that had mattered to me personally, a voice that was iconic as well as human.” He added, “I wanted to create a mortal woman, someone who has lived in the world. Her suffering would have to be real, her memory exact, her tone urgent. But she would also have to live at some distance from the rest of us.”
Mary can’t bring herself to say Jesus’ name. She relates how she told the disciples they couldn’t sit in a chair she deliberately leaves empty for her son, which is an allusion to the Jewish tradition of the empty chair left for Elijah at Passover. The production gives us a sense of the claustrophobia of Mary’s loss and resentment towards the disciples after the death of Jesus. The early Christian community was one of hiddenness. It was an underground movement that was communal in its arrangements not out of ideology but out of necessity. This hiddenness is recognised in this production by the audience being addressed as friends and the use of torches when darkness ensues, giving us the impression we are all being watched, like Mary herself.
In historically Protestant Edinburgh, home of Scottish Reformer John Knox, the attack on Mary is less problematic than it has been in Tóibín’s homeland of Ireland. The book and play have proven controversial in Catholic circles, with one critic referring to it as a “by-the-numbers hatchet job.” I’m not a supporter of religious controversy, it rarely achieves much and usually misses the point. However, the peek behind the curtain taken by Tóibín is not controversial for anyone who studies theology, so I find the “shock! Horror!” of it all a bit of a ho-hum.
The play posits a Mary devoid of a son who is saviour, but once you take his divinity away then you either have a patchy iconoclasm or a drama about parental loss. I suggest it lacks the power or originality to achieve the former, and can be enjoyed more as the latter. No parent ever wants to bury their child, and in the climax Mary grieves with a power only a parent feels for the loss of their child, railing against the world, "When you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it."
Poor ticket sales on Broadway led to the original show closing early, suggesting the New York theatre-going audience didn’t think it was worth it either. The Catholic News Agency, wrote the show “depicted the Virgin Mary as a doubting skeptic who thought Jesus died in vain, and failed to attract a large audience and closed on Sunday less than two weeks after it opened.” I suggest it is simply a sign of the secularity of society, which is less connected to the biblical Mary or concerned by the religious devotion of believers today.
Perhaps as a play it fails to break through the established religious barriers, neither achieving popularity based on laughing at religion like The Book of Mormon, nor challenging us enough spiritually to get beneath the skin of believer and disbeliever alike. Like Mary the play remains bereft of a firm place in the audience imagination. There are not many places you will get to see this play, and rarely will you see such a powerful portrayal of parental embitterment and loss as that performed by Jean Wilde, so if you want to see the play for its own sake or for such a powerful portrayal of loss then you will find an excellent testament of this Mary in Edinburgh until August 28th.