January 2010

The Guardian reports on The Battle to Save the Staffordshire Hoard – an effort to raise £3.3 million to buy, for the British public, the massive hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure discovered last year in a field near Lichfield. Historian David Starkey refers to the 1,800 gold and silver objects – buried for over a millennium – as “gangland bling … the Rolex watch and gold chains of a gang leader.”

Such a quip might seem more press magnet than historical analog, but Starkey goes on to make a rather beautiful statement about the vital ties between history and legend.

“It underscores what I always say, which is that history is not just about reason and logic, which is what you get with the school curriculum, it is about story and myth and emotion. This hoard has got all of those things.”

There have certainly been rumblings about Staffordshire’s importance – particularly the immediate claims, based solely on the treasure’s quantity, that it would be more important than Sutton Hoo. But its importance as a catalyst for furthering study of a cloudy and fascinating time in English history is undoubtable.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is the ‘history’ of what happens to Staffordshire: Will the public rally around the appeal, to keep it as the national treasure it most surely ought to be? And what will it become in the popular mindset – what will this collection of martial objects mean as a discovery, rather than a historical or archaeological item? It’s a question raised at the time of the Hoard’s announcement, last September, by this excellent blog post by medievalist Karl Steel.

In it, Steel wins my (belated) analogy of the year award for 2009: “Sutton Hoo ship burial sites … speak of an intent valuing more than just the objects themselves … The Staffordshire find, on the other hand, is a jumble. If Sutton Hoo is a Henry James novel, Staffordshire is (very nearly) Tristan Tzara’s Hat.” He goes on, more importantly, to pose the question of what this discovery says about its contemporary discoverers – one reemphasized by this new appeal’s demand that the worst thing that could happen is that the Hoard might be “split up and that can’t be allowed to happen.” As Steel puts it:

“… I doubt we’re going to understand more culturally from this hoard then we did from Sutton Hoo … But we can perhaps learn something else precisely by virtue of the hoard objects’ cultural irrecoverability. I wonder what value we can get if we can also attempt to preserve our initial fascination with the hoard as a hoard, in this moment in which our desires and those of some eighth-century Mercian coincide? Can this shared desire, that emphasizes the gold, the weight, the worry about ‘mates’ finding out, say anything to us?”


Satellite image of Great Britain, Jan. 7, 2010. Thanks to NASA.

An expansion on the review of a show of modernist California architecture, and how it relates to Thomas Browne, J.G. Ballard, Shelley, and others, over at my personal blog site, may interest some of those who traverse the Old Weird Albion.

A nice piece in today’s Independent from UK-film-industry reporter Geoffrey MacNab on why the Brits are currently obsessed with – and rather good at – rock-music biopics. MacNab’s piece is inspired by the new Ian Dury flick starring ex-Gollum Andy Serkis (hooray!!) and a forthcoming Julien Temple doc about Dr. Feelgood (what?!?! double-hooray!) that allegedly:

“…is as much an Iain Sinclair-style essay about Englishness and the psychogeography of Canvey Island as it is a conventional account of the rise and fall of Dr Feelgood.”

His theory is, essentially, that the British film industry has never been at ease with genre filmmaking, but is quite adept at kitchen sink drama and character studies of eccentrics and “troubled visionaries” (as he describes Feelgood guitar legend Wilko Johnson, who now apparently sits behind a telescope on his roof all night, “scanning the heavens for the rescue ships,” like a kind-of proto-punk Wilfred Mott). It’s just these skills that combine in the telling of stories like Feelgood’s and Dury’s – not to mention Ian Curtis, whose portrayal in the biopic Control MacNab sees as a launchpad for so many of these flicks.

It’s interesting to see the artists chosen as biopic-ammunition – particularly the willful choices of artists whose lives and stories don’t immediately translate overseas, to America, nonetheless the non-English-speaking world. Sure, Ian Curtis and Factory Records have massive cult followings here, but Ian Dury? Dr. Feelgood? It seems unlikely that these will break the bonds of the film-festival circuit outside of the British metropolitan areas. Which is absolutely wonderful.

A note to myself I’ll share with anyone else: writer Amy Cutler’s conference paper on the poetry of industrial archaeology in the north of England – primarily Ted Hughes and Peter Riley – shared on her blog. An exciting look at modern poetry and its connection to the constant search for the cultural self of England – not to mention a proper dig into Peter Riley, a wondrous poet, if one whose work isn’t easy to come by (at least on this side of the atlantic). (Riley’s Excavations is a primary influence on a project of mine that, with a little luck, will get announced very soon.)

If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder to myself to read every damn thing on Cutler’s blog – with notes, of course, shared right here…