Archive for December, 2020

Lord of Misrule

Posted: December 27, 2020 in John Stammers Page

As this is the period of the Lord of Misrule, let me introduce you to:

Georges Le Gloupier: the Custard Pie Thrower

or, as he was styled, entarteur.

Belgian writer (An Anthology of Subversion), critic, and actor, Noel Godin, developed another character to his list, that of Georges Le Gloupier.

Let us celebrate 30 years of the guerrilla patissiere!

Wiki tells us: Since 1969, when Godin planted a pie on the face of the French novelist Marguerite Duras, he has pied dozens more, including choreographer Maurice Béjart, France’s best-known television anchorman Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and film maker Jean-Luc Godard.

And, diverse authority figures as Microsoft boss Bill Gates, former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe, TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson, economist Milton Friedman, conservative commentator Anne Coulter and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy have all found themselves coated in viscous gloop as a result of custard pie-related attacks.

Prof Kershaw said, the use of the custard pie is different from egg, flour-throwing:

It’s all about the clown as outsider – like the fool in Shakespearean drama or the mediaeval court who has the licence to insult the king or queen.
You’ve got to get close to the victim – it’s not like throwing an egg from a distance. This makes the protester stronger.

Noel Godin used a special phrasing for his activities, with terms like “tempêtes patissières” (pastry storm) to describe his practice.

It was when his group managed to target Bill Gates, in 1998, that he knew he had achieved his greatest goal: ‘My work here is done’, he intoned before leaving the stage.
Having used the actorly references, let me assure readers that quite a few films and also books about and starring Noel have appeared since then:ël_Godin

He is also featured in a Bansky-produced hour-long pseudo-TV piece. The Antics Roadshow.

A book celebrating Noel Godin’s anarchy-satiric work, was published in 2005:

‘Entartons, entartons les pompeux cornichons!: 30 ANS DE GUERILLA PATISSIERE : “L’ENTARTEUR” RACONTE’ published by Flammarion. ISBN-10 : 2080685465
Written in French. 

Groups of like-minded anarcho-satirists banded together, expanding the work.
I remember TV reportage from the 1990s of such targetings. The usually well-dressed, i.e. to fit in with the assembled, pie-throwers approached their target chanting ‘Gloup! Gloup! Gloup!
They were an established phenomenon of the time, and if not an expected, at least in most cases an accepted, hazard of one’s position.
There were, of course, the one’s who, perhaps targeted too often (French philosopher Bernard-Henry Levy), lost their sense of humour. He has been targeted eight times, to date.
Did Bernard-Henry’s response betray an inner nature so contrary to his public self, and so therefore reveal a superficiality? Or was this someone for whom losing face so publicly was one insult too far?
It could have been just a particularly bad day. Heaven knows we all have those.

Eight times, though.
Had it become personal? If you look at the work Bernard-Henry Levy has done to date, you cannot but wonder, Why him?
The bigger the profile, the bigger the hit.
Yes, but where does deserving come into this? Bernard-Henry Levy does seem to live his life in public ( but because of his status, the impacts of his campaigns are also that much greater.
The sense of humour; that is so essential. So many big names that have been ‘hit’ have been able to laugh and walk away.
To take oneself so seriously? It is essential to do so in order to get ‘up there’, but to attain, and keep on attaining, the right balance… that is an art. A very difficult art.ël_Godin


You could say ‘Something happens everywhere.’ Well, I do.
Is this proof? In the village of West Linton, the Scottish Borders:

properly made standing silhouette figures have been mysteriously appearing.

The work of Silhouettesman, which I suspect is a misnomer for several gadgies, who you will find credited on Facebook:

Wheel barrow

It all started March/April this year, in, yes, lockdown. And they still keep cropping up here and there. There about 30 of them by now around the village, by all accounts.
We made silhouettes to reflect the ghosts of the events that were supposed to be happening.’

And now another dimension has emerged. Due to the great popularity of the works, it is hoped there can be a charity connection.
A friend of ours was Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit,’ explained one of Silhouettesman.
‘His brother has set up Tiny Changes in his honour.’

The number of extant works I gave, above, is an estimate only.
Because they are beginning to be sold by raffle, to fund the charity.

Now, isn’t that a great way?

The Electric State, by Simon Stalenhag. Published by Skybound Books, 2019. ISBN-10 : 1501181416

Simon Stalenhag is a Swedish artist and concept creator.
He began his career creating photo-painting images of rural Swedish landscapes, dotted with defunct machinery, but he scaled up the machinery. So what you get are huge derelict machines littering ordinary landscapes.

His work became central to the Netflix TV series, Tales From The Loop. The series is maybe like an updated take on A Town Called Eureka, but without the central actor-characters.
No, perhaps the likeness to that series is so minimal to be inconsequential.
He produced two book works on this central concept. The Loop is an underground particle collider.

The Electric State does not have the saccharine quality of that TV series.
It is a novel, and graphic novel.
We see here again the huge machines littering the landscape, but this time centred on southern California. The concept and story-line is of a post-War 111 setting, where huge drones and android-type machines were the fighting forces.
The destroyed now litter the desert, town, urban and rural landscapes. We see huge destroyed androids slumped in abandoned barns, strangely humanoid. It is very, very eerie.
Through this landscape The Girl, a young woman, travels. She escaped her adoptive parents, rescued her brother, and together travel across to the coast and a supposed safe haven.

The population has been decimated, and the survivors have turned to using neurocasters, virtual reality headsets. Only, these headsets, big, duck-billed things, are fed by transmitters, and feed-back from mental states of other wearers. They create a virtual community. It takes over their lives. Her adoptive mother fell into the pool and drowned wearing her headset; to deal with his grief, her husband turned once again to the headset. It gets to the point when not many live long without their headset.

We later see huge wandering neurotransmitters followed by hoards of devotees; they wander aimlessly, until the people collapse through exhaustion. Dead devotees also litter the landscapes.

For the more nerdy types of readers, Simon also incorporates several actual maps of the areas the book covers, so we can follow the journey. I admit that I did.

The book is a graphic novel.
It does not, though, follow a perzine mode in any way.
The graphics are very high standard, the text spare, and the story-line pieces together cumulatively,
And what is especially enjoyable is that not all the narrative is in the text, there are sequences of graphics that explore aspects of the story that are not narrated. Likewise with the text and graphics do not mirror, but have a more nuanced relationship.
This is a book to return to. Details in the pictures, and connections in the narrrative, reveal themselves slowly.

Hannah Gadsby

Posted: December 8, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby has been very busy of late.
Her 2018 sell-out, hard-hitting show, Nanette is available on Netflix.
2019 saw her tour another show, Douglas, also available on Netflix.

In Douglas she says something like, If I’d known I was going to do another show I wouldn’t have put all my best material into the first one. It’s this disarming approach that really works for her. She can use this approach because it in dialogue with her earlier show, a show of a very different character.

Disarming? But do not confuse this with deferential.
Male comedians can play deference because it plays against status, and is seen as that. To play lower status has always been a dependable, stock-in-trade, (male) comedic resort.
For a woman, deference, she argued, it is just the norm, the expected: not to be too clever, too pretty, too aggressive, or even, admit it, too funny. The women who break that last rule really come in for it.

As is usual with me, I came into her work back-to-front, with Douglas first.
I was knocked out. She is just Great.
In Douglas she opens by giving a dissertation format, this is what she is going to do, this followed by this, with jokes here and here. It promises to be dry, formulaic. Ah, but then the life is in the performance.
Compare, say, a Penn and Teller magic show, where the show you/tell you how it works. But it still works, the spectacle is still breathtaking.

And so it is with Hanah Gadsby.
She is usually marketed as a lesbian comedian. I cook more than I lesbian, she quips. Why am I not the chef comedian?
Subtle. This is her style. How get in underneath the veneer of the industry. Marketing, yes, marketing. What control do we have over how we are marketed, made money from?

In Nanette she manipulates her material, and it is very strong material at times, very subtly, with great sensitivity and clarity of vision.
I don’t hate men, she says, though heaven knows she has every right to. ‘I don’t think women are superior, either…’
Both are susceptible to abusing and abuse, to power-madness… and, well, yes, it is a long list.
But men’, she says, ‘you really need to pull your socks up.’
And if anyone doubts this, they seriously need to watch these shows and apply a little self-honesty.


Her Art History training comes to the fore in Douglas. She has an hilarious take on Old Master paintings.
What we all forget is that they were not photographs, capturing a momentary image. No, they were worked at, worked over, for hours, days… months. Everything is chosen, decided.
She shows a clip from a Renaissance piece of a naked cherub with a diaphanous shawl. Only the shawl is tucked neatly into its buttock cleft.
‘A decision,‘ she says, pointing this out.
She piles up the examples, and I defy anyone not to find these very funny.

In Nanette she tells us how comedy works: it is about tension, and release. Only, she admits to us the audience, she is the one imposing the tension on us. To build up the tension manipulates our emotional responses; she ‘plays’ us, all comedians do.
Hannah Gadsby asks, though, is this fair? Is this a acceptable? How can I continue as a comedian? she asks, doing this to you?
This is part of the rapport she builds/bridges with the audience. And it is palpable, even on-screen. Who knows how powerful it must be in performance.

It is her clear-sightedness that startles, it allows her to be even-handed, and also to see her own short-comings, as well as our gendered ones. At the heart of this is that concept of ‘honesty’. How can we be – is it even advisable to be – honest with each other, never mind ourselves?
It is not something we already have, but degrade; it is something we can chose to work towards.
And honesty is a part of integrity. It is a part of being able to feel good about ourselves, to feel/know we are safe, steadied, responsible for ourselves.

Douglas also explores neuro-diversity.
Many of us now have training in ‘equality and diversity’, a few in near-diversity. And yet I have witnessed untold occasions where trained people just do not recognise these in real life situations. And responses have been… bad. Real life is messier, more diverse, expresses itself in so many different ways.
Take ‘masking’, for one. When one masks one’s ‘condition’, and depending on how experienced they are at it, it makes situations tricky. But masking is a not just saving face, but an attempt at saving sanity. Ultimately it all collapses back in on the masker, and burn-out sets in. Burn out makes life very, very hard.

This just a bit of what I have come away with from these shows.
Give ’em a whirl.

Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society by Marcel Detienne and Jean Pierre Vernant (Harverster Press), is a deeply researched and innovative book.

In Book XXIII of the Iliad, towards the end of the funeral games for death of Patroclus, there is a chariot race. One of the contestants is the relatively young and inexperienced, Antilochus, son of the wise Nestor.

Nestor says to his son, …these are slow horses, and they may turn-in/ a second-rate performance. The other teams/ are faster. But the charioteers/ Know no more racing strategy than you do./ Work out a plan of action in your mind/ dear son, do not let the prize slip through your fingers. (translation Robert Fitzgerald).

So what he does is, up to the home straight, he managed to hold on level with the others; in fact he was neck and neck with Menelaus in joint second position. Then they came upon a narrowing of the track where a landslide had encroached. Antilochus would not rein in, which caused Menelaus to do so, and so gave Antilochus the chance he needed and he pulled ahead.

He came second.
However, Menelaus would not let it go at that: Antilochus, you were clear-headed once./ How have you acted now?….

Antilochus, to maintain amity split his winnings with Menelaus.

Another version of this is, Antilochus drove his chariot with a clear plan, which was to force the brinkmanship with Menelaus. This he did successfully: he had inspected the course, found the narrowing, and planned around it.

His error was to be too obvious; he should have got away with it by making it look as though his horses had run away with him. He would have had to prepare for this, though, by surreptitiously displaying moments of loss of control earlier in the race. He would have won the same, but also kept his prize, and his prestige.

This second version is the way of the true cunning.

With this version, the book says, we begin to notice clusters of words, phrases, that occur again and again. In Greek we have

Metis – informed prudence

Dolos – cunning

Kerde – tricks

Kairos – ability to seize the opportunity

Pantoie – multiple

Poikile – many coloured

Oiole – shifting

They all describe the polymorphic, polyvalence of wily intelligence

The most important is Metis. She was once a goddess, first wife of Zeus. She helped him in the fight to dethrone his father, Chronos. Her reward? To be swallowed by Zeus. After all, he cannot have such an unruly presence in his ordered realms. Swallowed she gave him the power to foresee events.

Such is the fate of all who help a dictator to power: we saw it in Soviet Russia, where Stalin cleared away all the old, original, Bolsheviks from government. It is indeed everywhere to be seen still.

The book also calls upon the work of Oppian, second century AD Latin writer of hunting and fishing treatises.

Hunting and fishing are worlds of duplicitous dealings, he says. To be good at either craft, art, one must have the ability to appear to be/do one thing whilst being/doing another. One must be a master of camoflage, subterfuge.

He wrote, ‘In this world of hunting and fishing, victory is only to be won through metis.’
That word again.

There are a number of essential qualities one must have.

1 – Agility, suppleness, swiftness, mobility

– one must move as swiftly as one’s prey; be able to ‘leap from stone to stone’ etc.

2 – Dissimulation

– one must be able to lie in wait whilst appearing not to do so etc.

3 – Vigilance

– one must be sleepless, untiring; or, appearing to sleep whilst being fully alert, watchful.

One must be, in essence, ‘a master of finesse’: polupaipalos. One must be a master of cunning and multiplicity.

There are a number of animals highly regarded for their metis, their cunning:

The wily fox

A master of strategy and cunning. His den is underground; it has innumerable exits.

He knows how to make his body itself a trap: when stalking, birds say, he can lie as if dead for hours in order to disable their vigilance.

In fables, the book notes, the fox’s words ‘are more beguiling than those of the sophist.’

Anything shifting, scintillating, that shimmers, beguiles the senses: one is no longer fully alert but distracted, lulled even. One then, is prey to the master of metis.

The octopus

The octopus ‘is a knot made up of a thousand arms, a living, interlacing network.’ And, just as the fox’s den has innumerable exits, so does the octopus have innumerable means of escape and capture.

It is like the snake, and thereby we see Typhon here.

It is also like the labyrinth – this is the fox’s den again.

For Oppian, the octopus is ‘as a burglar… under the cover of night.’

We see in this the octopus and its use of its ink to cover its escape, but also to hide in it in order to capture prey.

For the master of cunning this is the smokescreen he/she uses to gain the required object.

…like the fox, the octopus defines a type of human behaviour…’ that one must ‘present a different aspect of oneself to each of your friends…’ like the octopus that can change colour to fit in with its environment, background.

The book also notes: ‘The octopus-like intelligence is found in two types of man’: the sophist, and the politician.

Each is an apparent contrary of the other.
Contrary, and yet also, oddly, complementary.

And here lies another aspect of cunning: as well as appearing as one thing whilst being another, he must also use both qualities where and when necessary.

The octopus is supple enough to squeeze through a chink to escape, but also solid enough to hold its prey in a hard and fast clutch.

This is known as ‘the bond and the circle’: the circular reciprocity ‘between what is bound, and what is binding‘. This can be seen in the use of the fishing net; the more one struggles, the more one becomes ensnared.

Ten centuries separate Homer from Oppian – throughout this period can be cited a number of examples of this complex of ideas.

The underground den of the fox, and the sea environment of the octopus, throw up a metaphysic where gods and goddesses rule mankind’s fortunes.

The fox is decidedly chthonic, he has the qualities of the old gods of the race of Chronos, the Giants/Titans etc, the pre-Olympians. He is a emissary from Chaos, where ‘there is no up, or down, no side to side’: the unformed space, brimming with potential, but not active as such.

– So much like a definition of the astrophysicist’s ‘Quantum soup’.
Uncanny? Or is there a.cultural/educational link in the imagery?

This is the state of mind of the master of metis: all awaits its birth in the intent, concentration, and single-mindedness, of the hunter/master of cunning.

The octopus lives in the sea, medium of the goddess Thetis. She has similar properties to those which Metis had.

The fate of Metis may also answer what happened to the biblical  Lilith; they did seem to share many qualities, and most of these centred around closeness of identification with animals.
The realm of Middle-eastern demons does not seem to have its counterpart in Greek culture.

It also answers the question Why. Why what?
Why Aeschylus fell foul of the Orphics for supposedly betraying their secrets in his play Agamemnon. For Cunning was claimed by the later Orphics as theirs.
I could suggest it has a kindred spirit in Bacchus, also.

You know what that means. Now I am going to have to dig out Euripedes’ The Bacchae from about thirty years ago, and re-read it in this light!

I would suggest the violation of Orphic secrets was in Aeschylus’ use of the net:

Agamemnon returned home after ten years at Ilium. In the meantime his wife, Clytemnestra, had taken another lover.
Added to, or because of, that, in order to gain a favourable wind to take their ships across to Ilium in the first place, Agamemnon was advised to make a personal sacrifice to the gods. He chose his own daughter Iphigenia.

Quite rightly, Clytemnestra was inconsolable. And so the consequences would be terrible.

When he arrived home after ten years Clytemnestra was well prepared – she had made ready a pathway strewn with royal purple. He walked over this, in effect insulting the gods by setting himself on their level.

This was planned. His next error was take the obligatory bath prepared for him as all weary travellers of renown did. In the bath she snared him with a net, and then he was killed.

There began a terrible period of retribution we know as The Orestia.

Clytemnestra was a mistress of cunning: she planned this long in advance; she made it look as though Agamemnon had violated honour to the gods (the purpled path), and she used trickery to ensnare him with the net, used honeyed words to lure him. The deed, though, was committed by Clytemnestra.
Cunning specifies that a third person should do the deed, whilst the possible suspect, herself, gives herself a solid alibi.

The hacker who ricochets his signal throughout the world communication system is a modern practitioner of cunning.

It is these lapses from the absolute, that Greek drama is all about.

I have given two instances of users of cunning connected with The Iliad; the third, of course, is Odysseus, master of tricks. Who knows how many more are yet to be found.

One last note: for the master of cunning, it is only a matter of time before he is revealed, makes an error, or is supplanted.
The master of cunning may seem to be laying low, but he is constantly on the go, obliterating traces, changing habitat, watchful, always watchful. He does not drop his guard. Ever.