#MondayBlogs Paint a Vulgar Picture with DH Lawrence – D.H. Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage

burning-photograph dhl

A friend of mine recently splashed out on a painting by the Nottingham-born artist Paul Waplington. Naturally, this gave me an excuse to photocopy a short essay by Lawrence called Pictures on the Wall and post it through her letterbox. ‘The human race loves pictures,’ declares Lawrence, ‘barbarians or civilised, we are all alike, we straightway go to look at a picture if there is a picture to look at’. This is perfectly true, although my first port of call for distraction and stimulation is the contents of a bookshelf. I remember once being shown around a house I was interested in buying, and being put off by the seller’s book collection. I just couldn’t bring myself to live in a space that had housed such a shabby collection of fiction. My partner at the time was appalled by what she perceived as my lack of sincerity. But I was deadly serious. The space had been polluted and I didn’t want to catch anything. We split up a year or so later.

Lawrence is fascinated by the pictures we hang on our walls. But needless to say they bring as much pleasure as pain. He takes particular offence at painting that have been hanging around for a long time as they represent ‘sheer inertia’ and a ‘staleness in the home is stifling and oppressive to the spirit’. He uses an analogy of fashion to explain these sentiments. Fashion in clothes changes because ‘we ourselves change, in the slow metamorphosis of time,’ consequently it is hard to imagine ourselves in the clothes we bought six years ago because we have since become different people. This is true, although fashion is also a process of aesthetic obsolescence that keeps the greasy wheels of capitalism turning.

Our reason for buying paintings, he argues, is that the painting somehow reflect or respond to some feeling in us. But as we grow (or age) these feelings change. If our feeling for a picture are superficial, our feelings for the picture wears away quickly. This is definitely true and I witness this every year when there’s a poster sale outside Nottingham Trent University for the latest batch of students. There’s only so long you can have a poster of a ‘doh’ing Homer Simpson, Bob Marley toking on a joint, or Tupac ‘God rest his soul’ Shakur on your wall before you feel a bit silly.

Lawrence, as subtle as a flying brick, has a simple solution for dealing with unwanted unfeeling pictures: Burn them.

Now this might seem extreme at first, and it is, but that’s because Lawrence doesn’t like art that’s reduced to materialism. ‘It is fatal to look on pictures as pieces of property. Pictures are like flowers, that fade sooner or later, and die, and must be thrown in the dustbin and burnt’. A picture, therefore, is only useful when it is ‘fresh and fragrant with attraction’. Once the aesthetic emotion is dead, the picture is no more than ‘a piece of ugly litter’.

And there’s more…

It’s a fallacy to see a picture as part of the architectural structure of a house, as somehow opening up the walls and functioning with the same purpose as say, the fire. Oh no. ‘The room exists to shelter and house us, the picture exists only to please us.’ Pictures are decoration, nothing more.

It’s at this point that a lot of readers probably pack in reading this six page essay. Life is too short to be scalded for having a painting on your wall for a decade. Some, good to his word, may even set Lawrence’s essay on fire. But try to have the one thing that Lawrence lacks, patience. He’s toying with you. He’s slowly building up to a bigger idea on how to make art more accessible to the masses. And to do this he brings in the example of public libraries.

In the 18th century books were very expensive. If you asked a gentleman whether he had read so and so he would most likely reply ‘I have a fine example in folio in my library’. Books being expensive rendered them a form of property, thereby overwhelming ‘any sense of literary delight’. It was only the development of the lending library system that changed the direction of the conversation to the contents of the book, the pleasure of reading for readings sake. ‘The great public was utterly deprived of books till books ceased to be looked on as lumps of real estate, and came to be regarded as something belonging to the mind and consciousness, a spiritual instead of a gross material property’.

FirstFoliosFolgerShakespeareLibrary-banner

Lawrence argues that the same principles apply to art as long as a ‘picture is regarded as a piece of property, and not as a source of aesthetic emotion.’ He suggests that we need a Circulating Picture scheme that follows the principles of the library, where we can hire pictures as we hire books until we’ve ‘assimilated their content’. Obviously he doesn’t offer any practical advice on how to implement such an arrangement, but the sentiments are honourable.

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In 2010 Lord Biro and me created a ‘recession-busting’ Hirst skull covered in jelly tots. You can read about that here.

Money is always a corrupting influence for Lawrence, and he suspects that a man who pays a hundred pounds for a canvas is doing it in the secret belief, or hope, that one day it will be worth thousands of pounds. The world of modern art supports these accusations, not least the vulgarity of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. But I think Lawrence’s arguments don’t necessarily apply to my friend. She hasn’t purchased her Waplington painting for financial reward, she’s bought it because he’s a local artist and, perhaps, it helps her feel a sense of home, within her home. And she certainly wouldn’t burn it because that’s wasteful and she’s someone who thinks about her impact on the planet. I’m quite sure she didn’t bother to read Lawrence’s essay on paintings but this doesn’t matter. If we’re still friends in ten years and the Waplington is still on her wall, I’ll post another copy through her door.

In 2019 Paul Fillingham and me will be creating a DH Lawrence Memory Theatre. It will include artefacts that address aspects of Lawrence’s life. Perhaps ‘Pictures on the Wall’ will be one of these artefacts. If you’d like to get involved and have any suggestions,  please submit your ideas here.

Source: #MondayBlogs Paint a Vulgar Picture with DH Lawrence – D.H. Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage

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#Mondayblogs: The oldest library in Scotland

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The Orkney Islands are made up of roughly 70 islands with 980km of coastline to keep you suitably distracted. The archipelagos are home to a ridiculous number of Neolithic sites that span back over 5,000 years and are lit up in the winter months by the Aurora Borealis. But I’m not here for that. I’m here for the oldest public library in Scotland.

Kirkwall is the capital of the mainland and home to the library. You know you’re getting close when you spot the tip of St. Magnus Cathedral and its red sandstone which has been worn away by fierce winds over the centuries. According to David M.N Tinch, the Cathedral possibly held the first collection of books as far back as 1544 for use by the clergy. But as these were all written in Latin they didn’t serve much use to the general public.

William Baikie, a local gent and bibliophile, was persuaded to bequeath his ‘eight score’ volumes to Kirkwall given that he was a confirmed bachelor. He agreed, and by his death in 1683 the first Publick Bibliotheck of Kirkwall was formed. His collection contained mainly theological and polemical works which make for a bit of a dry read but were indicative of reading habits of the time. At first they lived in the home of Reverend James Wallace, but were later transferred to the Cathedral where the collection began to grow. In 1740 the books got their own space thanks to revenues from a recently built Tollbooth. During this period libraries of an ‘improving’ kind had also started to develop, supplying books to the Highlands and surrounding islands.

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St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

By the 19th century there was a greater demand for a broader range of books and after a public meeting on 17 March, 1815, an appeal led to a donation of 200 books and £70. This resulted in the formation of the Orkney Library, intended for use by the entire country. Baikie’s Biblitheck was incorporated into the library.

Although it originally used the Subscription Model, the library was flexible, allowing strangers to borrow books without charge. Lending times were determined by your postal code, with those living on the periphery of the mainland given three weeks to loan a book. Gradually public libraries started to pop up across the islands in Stromness, Sandwick and Birsay. In Westray, Thomas Belfour started a free library for people unable to buy books and in 1903 Andrew Carnegie, who had made previous donations to the community, offered £1,500 for the erection of a Free Library Building on condition that Kirkwall Council guaranteed an annual sum of £80 to ensure the libraries continual development. Many of the older books, including the original Bibliotheck, were deemed unsuitable for a modern library and sold to raise funds. These were purchased by Archdeacon Craven and now reside in the University Library, Aberdeen in the collection Bibliotheck of Kirkwall. The library at Aberdeen featured in a previous post.

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The library was completed by 1909 and Andrew Carnegie attended the opening, declaring ‘It is the mass of the people who will benefit by it, and who must consider it as their special institution.’ But it wasn’t until 1946 that the library service really started to develop with the appointment of Orkney’s first County Librarian, Mr. Evan MacGillivray. MacGillivray was a real force of nature with a strong vision for library provisions that were delivered with military precision up until his retirement in 1973.

By 1954 he oversaw the amalgamation of the County Library and Kirkwall Free Library. This was followed by the appointment of three full-time assistants who helped him implement his vision of regularly supplying books directly to homes, no matter how isolated or hard to reach, known as the Family Book Service. The Family Book Service was in effect a personal door-to-door service that saw book borrowing in the outer islands grow from 3,846 to 57,752! The service was introduced by MacGillivray himself and resulted in 54 out of 56 households in North Ronaldsay giving it a go. In 1963 a similar scheme of mobile libraries provided service to mainland readers. The incredible impact of this personalised and professional service is worth bearing in mind today as volunteers are gradually replacing professional librarians across the UK as a result of government cuts.

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Me reading in Stromness with Hoy in the background. Bust of George Mackay Brown in Kirkwall Library.

When I started Dawn of the Unread I put forward the question as to whether it was possible for libraries to remain a focal point of the community in the digital age. In the Orkney Islands, perhaps because bandwidth is pretty poor and internet connections are intermittent, the library is at the heart of the community. During my visit I witnessed a celebration of Scottish Pen’s 90th birthday. This included readings in Orcadian dialect from Orkney Stoor, the latest publication from Duncan McLean’s small press. There was also a duet by a local songwriter and poet that was absolutely magical. Upstairs in the Archives is a collection of juvenile manuscripts known as ‘The Minervian Library’ created by 12 year old Maria Cowen and her 10 year old sister, Clara in 1864. This beautiful hand drawn collection is worthy of its own blog which I’ll publish next Monday.

The library itself saw a constant flow of people of all ages and I spent a good couple of days with the poet Aly Stoneman (author of our Ms. Hood issue) reading everything from the diaries of an Orkney farmer from the 1700s, to the poetry of George Brown Mackay, to the brilliant memoir The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. The librarians were fantastic, offering support and guidance to our endless questions, continuing the fine work started by Mr. Evan MacGillivray. But everything you need to know about the ethos and function of this library is in the motto on the County Library bookplate: “Faill not to keep your sone diligent reading and wreating, yt he losse not what he hes attained” William Baikie

Source: The Orkney Library, David M.N. Tinch

Orkney Library and Archive website

FURTHER READING

The best way to support libraries is to use them. Here’s my Orkney-inspired reading list.

  • David M.N. Tinch (1983) The Orkney Library: A Short History 
  • Duncan McLean (1994) Bucket of Tongues
  • Duncan McLean (2015) Orkney Stoor
  • Maggie Fergusson (2012) George Mackay Brown: The Life
  • George Mackay Brown (2014) Beside the Ocean of Time
  • George Mackay Brown (2014) Selected Poems 1954 – 1992
  • Amy Liptrot (2016) The Outrun
  • Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards (1981) Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney (Classics)

#30WildBooks to read in June

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Dawn of the Unread was created in 2014 to raise awareness of Nottingham’s local literary history and to support libraries. We were concerned at some very alarming statistics from the OECD that positioned England as being the 22nd most illiterate country out of 24 industrialised nations. The Literacy Trust supported these findings, declaring 35% of boys found books boring. For this reason we positioned illiteracy as a form of child abuse in our manifesto because there is a strong relationship between literacy and social outcomes. Those who don’t read are less likely to become home owners, vote, or, most worrying of all, have a sense of trust in society. The latest report from the Literacy Trust suggests this trend is getting worse, with a major drop in reading for pleasure after primary school.

We love books and we won’t give up encouraging people of all ages to read which is why we are throwing our full support behind a reading campaign with similarly worthwhile principles. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are hoping to increase our understanding of the value of nature and issues facing wildlife by suggesting 30 books to read throughout June.

Speaking about the initiative, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Audience Development Manager Trish Evans said: “Nottinghamshire is rich in literature heritage and creative literature programmes. We have links to world renowned writers such as Byron and DH Lawrence, celebrated events such as the Lowdham Book festival and vibrant popup poetry events across our county. With Nottingham also being designated as  UNESCO City of Literature we thought the time was write to celebrate nature writing and we believe that 30 Days Wild gives us a unique platform to explore the diversity and power of the genre.”

The list includes two of my all-time favourite books. Moby Dick by Herman Melville was once described by D.H. Lawrence as “the greatest book of the sea ever written”. One strong theme running through the book is perception, none more so in “The Doubloon” chapter where the personality of crew members determines how they perceive the Spanish coin. The wonderfully imaginative The Life of Pi by Yann Martel sees a young Indian boy called Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel stranded on a boat with a Bengal Tiger, Hyena, Zebra and Orangutan. His survival is dependent on his understanding and acceptance of the nature of these animals. Underpinning this adventurous spiritual narrative is an exploration of the relativity of truth as the reader has to decide whether events are true or not.

What both of these books do is challenge our belief systems. They ask us to think about where our ideas come from and the consequences of perceiving life from these perspectives. This is a pertinent moral in terms of conservation as our behaviour is having a profound impact on the environment. At the time of writing it looks as if Donald Trump is ready to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement, convincing himself that America does not have to reduce its carbon emissions. This would be disastrous for global warming and in turn wildlife (as well as humans!). But if you convince yourself that these things don’t matter, you have the freedom to do as you like. Like the Life of Pi, we chose which narratives we want to believe.

The book I will be reading in June is A Sky Full of Birds by Matt Merritt. I’ve met Matt a few times during my previous tenure as Chair of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and I follow him on Twitter. This project gives me an excuse to read his latest book. I spend a lot of my life staring into a screen creating digital literature projects so I try to offset this with walks in the wilderness whenever I can. On one such excursion I was circled by two swallows who darted around my head, making me aware of their presence. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I want to learn more about swallows and other birds and the #30wildbooks has given me the perfect opportunity to do this.

If you want to get involved, please select a book from the list here and then share your reviews using the #30Wildbooks hashtag on Twitter.

Nottingham Wildlife Trust website

#MondayBlogs The LeftLion perspective on the selling of the Central Library Site

LeftLion editor Ali Emm attended a meeting in December with other interested stakeholders regarding the selling of the Angel Row library site. Cllr David Trimble and Nigel Hawkins were on hand to answer questions…

 

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Issue 1 of Dawn of the Unread. Published 8 Feb 2014

On Monday 14 November, the Nottingham Post ran a piece detailing Nottingham City Council’s plans to sell the Central Library building on Angel Row to property developers. The people of Nottingham, including us to an extent, threw their collective arms in the air and started running around in a panic over what the implications of such a deal could be. Well, they took to the internet, as is the way in this day and age.

And rightly so, to some degree. After gaining UNESCO City of Literature status earlier this year, and with one of the lowest child literacy rates in the country, the news seemed to be more doom and gloom than bright and hopeful, and raised more questions than it answered.

Immediate action was taken by Nottingham People’s Assembly: they started a petition that was sensationally titled Save Nottingham Central Library – which, to date, has over 1,600 signatures – and organised a ‘Read In’ at Central Library at the beginning of December that was attended by over 200 people.

It warms our hearts to see that the city and its residents care about the library and its provisions, but we thought we should try and get a few firmer answers on the matter to see what exactly the plans are and why the council has made this decision before we got our pitchforks out.

As Cllr Jon Collins, Leader of the City Council, said in a press release, “The council has always been committed to our central library and library facilities across the city, given the range of services they provide for all citizens.

“Central Library isn’t just a place to borrow free books – it provides services for older people to come and meet and learn to use new technology, for mums and tots, schoolchildren, jobseekers, newcomers to the country looking to learn English, housing advice, access to free computers and Wi-Fi, local history investigation and research, and so much more. It would be ludicrous to lose such important services in a city centre and that has never been our intention.”

Ludicrous indeed. Going back as far as 2007, the Labour Manifesto stated that they would “Seek funding to develop a new Central Library in the city centre.” Reiterated in the 2011 Manifesto, the 2015 Manifesto further pledged, “We want to help families get on in life by providing a good range of leisure activities, free and cheap events and excellent public services, as well as creating a development plan for the new Central Library.”

So this news of development isn’t completely out of the blue – the council have been aware that the Central Library hasn’t been fit for purpose for some time, but money has been too tight to do anything about it with Central Government funding cuts to Nottingham.

During a meeting with Cllr David Trimble (the Portfolio Holder for Nottingham Leisure and Culture) and Nigel Hawkins (Head of Culture and Libraries) this week, we put to them the questions that have been buzzing around everyone’s heads. And it seems to us that, although there’s going to be upheaval, the library’s future is something to look forward to.

The building is indeed to be sold to Henry Boot Development Ltd, who have proposed redeveloping the site from a 30,000 sq ft four-storey building into a 100,000 sq ft nine-storey building accommodating Grade A offices. They are also hopeful that the current facade will be retained in the development. The real good news, though, is that approximately 20,000 sq ft of this space is earmarked for the new library and it will be let at no charge to the council. They have made it clear that there is no possibility of a Nottingham City Centre without a library. In addition to the library space, the council will be able to raise income from the rental of the remaining space within the property, although it will not be ring-fenced for library services.

Cllr David Trimble stated that it was a high probability that the library would remain on Angel Row, but they do have an alternative site in mind if this plan doesn’t come to fruition. He was also keen to point out that it was a land deal and not a property deal, and that after thirty years, the property’s lease would revert back to the City Council, meaning they will not be losing out on important city centre space.

Once the deal has been finalised with Henry Boot Development Ltd, there will be a year of due diligence where details such as planning permissions, designs and planning will be arranged. In the meantime, the Contact Centre will more than likely be moved to Loxley House, Station Street, and they are determined to make sure that disruption to services are kept to a minimum.

There will not be a like-for-like service in place, and they don’t want to be unrealistic about promising something they can’t deliver, however they will try and maintain as many of the services to their fullest. Important collections, such as Local Studies, will be kept in the city centre where they are most easily accessed by the public.

The new library will be designed with a view to its long-term function and what the city’s residents need – the councillors discussed how they want to define the place of the library in society and are committed to directly running them.

The entrance to the new library, if it remains within the the Angel Row site, will be prominent and on Angel Row itself. Although they are aware that the footprint of the library will decrease, they don’t believe that the current 30,000 sq ft space is being used to its full potential and therefore it being within a smaller space will not have an impact on the services it can and will provide.

At the time of the meeting, full plans have not been confirmed, so Cllr Trimble and Nigel Hawkins could only answer our questions to the degree of their awareness. They do, however, want to keep the public updated and involved as much as possible as the development moves forward.

 

If you have an opinion on the selling of the library site and would like to write a guest blog, please get in contact. Dawn of the Unread welcomes all perspectives.