Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Eggheads are not all they are cracked up to be

I heard a lecture entitled Late Work given by Professor Peter Brooks under the auspices of the British Academy at the Royal Society in London yesterday evening.
What with the Prof himself, a distinguished panel, and erudite observations from the large audience, it was probably the most intellectually charged event I’ve ever attended. Much of what transpired went over my head.
Unfortunately my abiding memory will be surprise at how many brainy people can have such poor hygiene standards - but more of that later.

As best I understood Brooks, he is fascinated by the change of tack some great writers, painters, and others take towards the end of their lives.
It would be wrong to consider this work as either the product of maturation or aging. No judgement was to be made about whether the output could be considered a late flowering but was rather a sharp and unexpected change of direction.
Brooks cites Titian, Matisse and Cezanne – one of the latter’s late works The Garden at Les Lauves is illustrated above – among painters who took a surprise route before meeting the Grim Reaper. Beethoven and Wagner amid composers and of writers Rabelais, Hugo, Proust, and Yeats.
Any one of these would have warranted more detailed attention. Unfortunately Brooks chose to focus on Freud especially his late work Moses and Monotheism. I was soon lost as to whether the father of psychoanalysis literally meant sons have a desire to kill their fathers.

The 75 minutes flew by and it was time for refreshments. Given this was a free event, I was impressed by the quality and quantity of the booze on offer at the reception in an adjoining room.
Nibbles were less generous – peanuts and other savouries. No complaint there; the budget weighed on the side of the drinks as it should.
But I was struck by how many clearly intelligent people were happy to plunge their hand into the communal bowls with no thought to what nasties might have been on the fingers of the previous forager.
When you leave the most bog standard of curry houses, the salver of pan to freshen up your mouth comes with a spoon with which to transfer the aromatics to your hand.

Strange I should leave the British Academy bash feeling more lowbrow than when I arrived. The older I get, the more I realise how little I know. It would be nice to have a late work of one’s own.


  1. Yes, and what about those loose unwrapped mint mouth fresheners that one gets in restaurants, left in a communal bowl at the entrance/exit? They are apparently very contaminated with human DNA, to put it politely, following visits by the diners to the 'gents' and 'ladies', respectively.

  2. A very valid observation, good on you for mentioning our hygiene rituals, or lack of them. Measles and other virus's are rampant around the globe.

  3. This is a very hard boiled piece.


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