Posts Tagged ‘culture’

In Our Time, On Our iPods

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

The BBC has now released a podcast of every edition of Radio 4’s weekly broadcast In Our Time. Whilst we’ve been able to ‘listen again’ to these for a while, this is the first time the complete archive has also been made available to download.

In Our Time invites experts to discuss topics within its wide remit of cultural, historical, philosophical and scientific themes. It’s a simple format, largely unaltered since it was originally broadcast in 1998. The discussions, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, are largely convivial and rarely confrontational, but regularly feature some of the best academics, intellectuals and literati in their field. Read the terms of service and use appropriately folks.

Wooh! New Adam Curtis

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

An Adam Curtis TV series is always something of an event, and his new work, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (starting tomorrow on BBC2) promises to be a welcome addition to an already impressive resume.

His previous works include Pandora’s Box (1992) – on political and technocratic rationalism – The Century of the Self (2002) – Freud and mass-consumerism – and The Power of Nightmares (2004) – radical Islamism and American Neoconservatism.

Curtis’s distinctive style combines critical insight – typically delivered in a calm, reassuring voice – with a highly creative use of imagery and sound. Though hardly unique, his technique of mixing archive footage of reportage and popular culture with eclectic soundtracks pre-empted web-based mash-ups by years, and the effect is still disturbing, compelling and at times, hypnotic.

In this new work, Curtis takes on the internet, suggesting that the myths of utopianism and democratisation that evolved from ecology, systems thinking and the hippy counter culture, are serving to contribute to the illusion of social connectivity and the perpetuation of a global capitalism.

Much of Adam Curtis’s previous work is available to view at thoughtmaybe, and to download from Internet Archive. Hopefully, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace will be added sometime in the future. In the meantime, it will no doubt be available for viewing in the UK on BBC iPlayer. Adam Curtis also blogs at

When everything fell into parts…

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

This weekend I’ve enjoyed reading about Young Vienna, a group of Fin-de-Siecle writers who frequented Café Griensteidl and other coffeehouses in the Austro-Hungarian capital at the turn of the 20th century. The group included Stefan Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler, whose stream-of-consciousness writing prefigured Proust, Joyce and Woolf. According to Watson (2000), its coming together represented a pivotal moment in intellectual thought, at a time when the rigid sense of order defined by Newtonian physics was being challenged by the discovery of particles and quanta, and which coincided with increasingly Modernist influences in art and music, epitomised by Schoenberg’s experimentation with dissonance and atonality.

Another in the group, Hugo von Hofmannsthal suggested these epoch-defining events were defined by a shift towards multiplicity and indeterminacy. In describing his concept of ‘das Gleitende’ (the moving, the slipping, or the sliding), he declared:

“Everything fell into parts, the parts again into more parts, and nothing allowed itself to be embraced by concepts any more.”
(Quoted in Schorske, 1981: 19)


Schorske, C. (1981). Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York: Vintage Books

Watson, P. (2000). A Terrible Beauty: The People and Ideas that Shaped the Modern Mind. London: Orion

Image: Reinhold Voelkel | Café Griensteidl (1896)

Cult of Less?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Most of us find getting rid of junk and clutter therapeutic and liberating, and for some, digitising and relinquishing our books, photos, videos and music represents more than a contemporary spin. Our newly-emptied shelves and pared-down lifestyles might resemble some kind of minimalist utopia, but if we continue to access these things in their new formats, are our lives any less cluttered? Does the mere act of transferring our possessions from a physical to digital environment really equate to some form of spiritual transformation?