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This report is taken from PN Review 48, Volume 12 Number 4, March - April 1986.

Insignificance Brian Morton

Einstein meets Marilyn Monroe. Throw in baseball star Joe DiMaggio, Monroe's most (only) loyal spouse, throw in the figure of The Senator, the other characters in Nicolas Roeg's new film, and you have a neat, one-apartment image of our cutural plight. Insignificance.

Relativity becomes a curious, knocked-down relativism. Hard science meets vapid eroticism: the one for the mind not the world; the other for the camera rather than the bedroom. Both consumable. On the other side, an anonymous, unaccountable power manipulating the more purposive of science's equations - not least the dread E = mc2 - while simultaneously massaging our secret fantasy life. It all adds up, if you will forgive the expression, to one great big bang.

In this, all that is left of heroism is sport: in place of endeavour, training; for honour, association rules. Increasingly, alarmingly since Brussels, even sport seems in danger of becoming a gladiatorial nightmare.

Roeg, and the original writer Terry Johnson, do not miss and hit the wall. Reality is not much less absurd. Those solemn Partisan Review essays about 'Avant-Garde and Kitsch' now seem old-fashioned to the verge of quaintness. Culture, and, dangerously, our educational values, seem to be stretched between a new intellectual orthodoxy and an inability - paranoid, schizophrenic, psychotic, neurotic, as you like, or just plain humourless - to distinguish between our cultural acts and aims.

The humanities in Britain are in a parlous state, not helped by an education ...


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