Monday, 13 July 2009

Big ants

I had a long chat to Tony Bradman today on the phone, ostensibly about a thing I hope to be doing for OUP - Tony being the lead author on that project. I've never met Tony but this is the second long telephone conversation we've had, in which we seem to have established a long list of similar enthusiasms and inspirations.

I mentioned to Tony that I had just read Cormac McCarthy's The Road and it was no surprise to discover that Tony had also read it and had a minor obsession with it. It is a haunting book. Images from it keep popping into my head and I suspect that they will for some time to come.

Tony hadn't come to the book as a Cormac McCarthy fan, like I was. He had tried to read All the Pretty Horses and had not got on with it. I suspect he will have another go. All the Pretty Horses is a brilliant book and I am still traumatised by Cities of the Plain, the third in that trilogy of novels.

The Road is a beautifully written thing that is almost an antidote to the nightmarish cultural eradication the book envisages. If someone can write like this then surely there is always hope that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, the human race can be better than it seems to want to be. Science may hold the answer to the problems facing the world, but has also been the cause of many of them. Culture is the thing.

Without culture there seems to be little point in human existence. In Alice Roberts' excellent recent BBC TV series The Incredible Human Journey, a case was made for art being the deciding factor in the human race's supremacy over the neanderthals (technology having previously been thought to be the key factor). Art gave a form to belief and bonded us. Of course you could argue that it was belief that bonded us and that art merely articulated that belief. But without articulation beliefs are in a constant state of flux. We defined ourselves with the creation of sculpture and wall paintings. And stories, surely.

Without culture, human beings are just big (and comparatively inefficient) ants.

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