Friday, 28 March 2008

Back in the UK, and mirrors for princes.

I arrived back from Poland on Wednesday night, exhausted but happy to have enjoyed some time in a very cool city - Krakow. I expected somewhere very different to other European cities. In terms of day to day life, security, getting around easily, and the atmosphere in pubs, cafes and restaurants, it is up there with the very best of them. We spent our first evening in a very hip bar off the main market square that felt a lot like the typical student hang-outs in Dublin's city centre. The clientèle certainly reminded me of the crowds that fall out of bars on the Parliament Street end of Temple Bar. I felt bad for arriving without a word of Polish, but nobody minded, and when I apologised in a bar for having to speak in English, the response was, "You can't learn all the languages, and we only have to learn yours".

And now for a totally unrelated train of thought. My work at the moment is returning me to an area that I have not looked at for about two years; the 'Mirrors for Princes' genre. They exist in some form right on into the Renaissance and beyond, but I have really only read about the medieval variations. They're tracts in which a cleric or philosopher advises a prince on how to live and how to rule - one of the most famous being the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum (translated into English from Arabic in the twelfth century), in which Alexander the great benefits from the wisdom of none other than Aristotle himself. The 'Mirror' genre tends to focus on three core areas - first control of the self (that is, the prince), second control of family and household, and thirdly control of the kingdom or state, generally speaking in that order. I've been doing some thinking about this, and wonder whether we have an equivalent literature in the modern world, and what forms it takes. 'Molehill Politics' ( ) in this weeks New York Review of Books focuses on the rather different campaign styles of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in the ongoing race for the Democratic nomination in the United States, and wonders whether their actions now can tell us something about how they might govern. Bill Clinton famously suffered from the apparent assumption that ones actions in the home, as it were, reflect or influence a leader's actions in the world. Perhaps, then we continue to divide our advice to rulers into spheres of self control (public image and appearance), household control (personal life) and state control (good governance).

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Revisiting an old friend

Today is a very special day. Some years ago, when I was a first year undergraduate, I had to pawn all my cd's because of some very poorly planned spending in my first three months. I only really remember two of them (although I think I pawned about ten) - the soundtrack to the nineties movie version of Romeo and Juliet and the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction. Both soundtracks were simply awesome, and I've missed them ever since. All these years later I have finally bought the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction again, and have had a very pleasant afternoon listening to it.

It's amazing how music can transport you through time - this wasn't just the soundtrack to a popular movie, it was the soundtrack to many a teenage night-time walk. I would load up my shock resistant Sony disc-man and sail on into the night. "You know what they call a Big Mac in Europe... a Royale with cheese"... classic.

I'm still a bit ashamed of selling off my cd's all those years ago - and in a funny way it's been bugging me ever since. I think this week I put it to rest. Ahem... "The gimp's sleeping"...

Friday, 21 March 2008

I'm visiting Poland in a few days, and have been distracting myself from work by reading some Polish history. I know shamefully little, but with an ever growing Polish population in my own country (Ireland) it really is about time that I learned some more. I've just read A Concise History of Poland [ should you wish to check to check it out], and was impressed by the span of what is a fairly short volume. I'm not a historian, and often find historical text books a little too meaty, but this account of Polish history was a pleasure to read. The study of Irish or English history is happily limited by geography - it is helpful to end one's study of a people where their island meets the sea. The Poles have a more fluid geographical past, with the 'nation' moving around and over the borders of many of today's existing states in the region. Writing their history cannot be an easy task. I'm going to squeeze as much of Heart of Europe: A Short History of Europe by Norman Davies [ ] in as I can before we leave on Monday. It's a heftier volume though, so I don't expect to be able to report much about it.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

More time, less productivity

I'm trying to prove something a friend of mine told me here. This blog is the product of one very unproductive week. It's holiday season in the British University at which I am a research student, and I have a whole week to catch up on reading and to write the many wise tomes that I frequently tell myself are hiding under my eye-lids, if only I had the time to write them. Well. It's day four, and this week has proven to be more than a little lazy. So this blog is a starter's block. Write something every day and the rest will follow, my friend tells me. So here we are - I'm rolling the dice and trying a blog. A thought a day is my aim - and it will be someone else's thoughts as much as possible. This is a place for the things that catch my eye.

What do you know, that work on my desk suddenly looks less daunting... I'll keep you posted.