A Progressive Rake

Funnies, rants, and quite a lot of gin

You see, this is what happens if you start believing the Art myth

by Stuart Brown

I thought that, a few months ago, I had made the nature of the Art myth clear: that it is a bullshitty nineteenth-century dogma arising from a Rousseauian sweet-toothed hero-worship of the creative individual, adapted using spurious pseudo-objectivist claims to function as a bulwark with which the privileged elites, long accustomed to defining culture according to their tastes but now threatened by post-Enlightenment democratization and egalitarianism, sought—and regrettably still seek—to defend their subjective views as somehow qualitatively superior in order to avoid having to face the otherwise obvious reality that taste is just taste, that no-one’s taste is better or worse than anyone else’s, and that to attempt to hoard all of the cultural resources of our society in order to reflect the proclivities of a tiny proportion of the populace is inconsistent with the principles of egalitarianism. Thus was invented Art, Literature, Greatness, and other such unsupportable and nonsensical concepts: all of them labels designed to give this veneer of objective superiority to the particular objects of elite adoration, so that these elites could continue to dominate culture at their pleasure.

Apparently some of you weren’t listening, and in particular the Guardian: a newspaper which generally I like, but sometimes despair of for the inconsistency between the pluralism and democratism of the politics they espouse, and the smug intellectual presumptuousness of a great deal of its arts and social commentary.

And so we come to this hideous little piece, published on their website, in which the author bemoans the fact that a popular author was popular; that when a popular public figure dies a great many people are sad about that; and that when a less popular person dies, less people are sad. (I will give him the benefit of ignorance, and allow that he was not aware that Pratchett had bravely and openly discussed his horrible condition, and that many of those who expressed their sorrow may not have read a single word of his books, but been touched by a man who had used his own personal disaster to contribute to breaking the prejudice and stigmas that surround dementia.)

This is what I was talking about, dear readers, this is precisely what I was talking about. Jonathan Jones, the author of the piece, is perfectly entitled to his literary opinions, and I don’t even take issue with his decision not to read any Pratchett. We all know our personal preferences and make exclusionary decisions based upon them; indeed I have not read Mansfield Park, though unlike Mr Jones I feel a complete lack of guilt for this omission, and have the intellectual honesty to declare that my neglect of it—and indeed, the entirety of Austin’s oeuvre—is founded upon my dislike of nineteenth-century fiction, an wholly subjective view which I feel no need to dress up in the ugly rags of claims of about what is and isn’t “literature” in order to justify.

This piece is a crystalline example of the Art myth in action: he has not a single argument to wield, whether persuasive (which is fine, try to persuade people of your taste by all means) or claiming the status of objective reason (which we could then, at least, take down piece by piece). No, Mr Jones merely delivers statements of his opinion as incontrovertible fact, and these purported facts are presented with all the élan of an automated phone-answering system.

For this is what really has me almost retching with ire over this arrogant little piece of drivel: for a man who sneers at Pratchett’s prose as “ordinary”, as part of a “middlebrow cult” (sweet Jeebus, as another popular figure Mr Jones no doubt holds in contempt would say, we musn’t only sneer at the lowbrow: even the middlebrow is contemptible), his own writing is clunkingly dull: his unoriginal and unimaginative opinions set forth with clichéd and turgid turns of phrase, which rise to an apotheosis of nonsense with “They enrich the very fabric of reality”, at which utterly meaningless and pompous locution I actually spat out my gin and tonic in nauseated fury.

Mr Jones contends that “life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers.” Does he really suppose that his own little gem has not wasted precious minutes of mine (and—I apologize—now yours), spewing forth in colourless cadences the same facile, presumptive nonsense about Art and Greatness that one could get for free from any first-year arts undergraduate; all underlined by an ill-concealed spite towards the success of a man who brought pleasure to millions?

Dear fridge designer…

by Stuart Brown

Thank you for designing me a fridge which produces a loud and incessant beep when the door has been open for more than 30 seconds, and which cannot be disabled. Apparently you think I am too stupid to close the door properly; and apparently you also think that either I am so slatternly that I never clean the fridge, or that I am so Aggie-and-Kim-ishly efficient that I can perform this task in less than half a minute.

I’m a small man, in many ways, and if it be my decision to spend the next few years of my spare time tracking down who you are, and where you live, so that I may break into your house one night, conceal myself in your bathroom, wait until you have a shower, and then press my face against the glass shouting “Beep beep, fucking beep” as you scrub your nads, then so be it.

Did you perhaps also design my tumble dryer, which plays a little six-note jingle repeatedly and unstoppably when its cycle has completed, letting me know that my clothes are now in exactly the state that I require them to be, merely not yet in the right place? You shall, it is true, escape a suitable punishment for this, but this is largely because my ire is more directed at the landlady who has prohibited us from drying clothes over her expensive carpets, but done nothing in three months to resolve the fact that the basement is so humid that hung out clothes simply do not dry properly there, thus forcing me to use this appallingly wasteful machine in the first place.

Beeps are fine things, when requested. But there seems to be a trend in modern technology design to impose beeps, jingles, and other cheerful warnings of how stupid one is. The function of a fridge is to keep things cool. The function of a tumble dryer is to wreck the environment by using grotesque amounts of energy to blast clothes into being in the state which they would naturally achieve in a not immoderate amount of time by themselves—blithely indifferent landladies notwithstanding. How I particularly apply that function is my business, and to prod me incessantly for not doing so in exactly the rather short-sighted manner which you consider correct is not a design feature, it is a pain in the beeping arse.

Linkage: roasting Naomi Wolf on fry

by Stuart Brown

Excellent post on language: a feminist guide making a few important points to Naomi Wolf in response to a recent article in which she restates the tired and tiresome old trope that certain features of the vernacular are “damaging” to speakers—in this case, young women—and that they need to stop using them for their own good. The money shot, perfectly expressing what I try to tell people on what may well be an equally tiresome basis:

It misses the point that negative attitudes to the language of subordinate groups are just manifestations of a more general prejudice against the groups themselves.

Have a read: A response to Naomi Wolf.

Got a fair amount of vocal fry myself, by the way. Never been suggested to me that my voice imperils my status.

Brown, S. & Brown, G. (2015) A preliminary investigation into the gustatory pleasures of the “Tim‎‑‎Tam Slam”

by Stuart Brown


Anecdotal data suggest that the “Tim-Tam Slam,” a novel consumption method combining confection and heated beverages originating in the southern hemisphere, may be efficacious in bringing about a positive sensory response. Tests were conducted and recorded to assess these anecdotal claims.


Subjects (n = 2) were matched for age (40;0), height (169±0.5cm), and DNA overlap (100%). Subjects originated from the northern hemisphere; one had been tranposed to the Tim-Tam’s native environment for a preliminary period of six months, and was undergoing habituation. The latter was transposed to the field specifically for the purposes of this experiment.


The materials used were:

  1. two Tim-Tam biscuits (variety: original); and
  2. a freshly-made cup of tea (variety: English Breakfast).

Some preliminary notes upon materials are required.


Tim-Tams are a biscuit confection originating in the southern hemisphere, though closely related to the northern hemisphere product Penguins. Both comprise a binary biscuitty structure (BBS), with the separate sections conjoined via a gooey inner bit (GIB). The gooey–biscuitty core is then entirely encased in a caramel exoskeleton.

Subjects independently assessed Tim-Tams prior to the experiment. They were found to compare favourably with their northern hemisphere relative, with the following noticeable differences:

  1. the Tim-Tam was observed to possess a pleasanter crunch in the BBS;
  2. the Tim-Tam additionally presented a higher caramelly quotient (CQ) than the Penguin, rendering initial appreciation higher, though leading to potential sickliness upon repeated consumption; and
  3. the Tim-Tam packaging was noted to be absent in euphonic verbal humour.


Tea is a hot infusion comprising “the taste of dried leaves in boiled water […] with milk squirted out of a cow” (Adams, 1980).

Subjects, though of English heritage, were correctly disposed to consider tea to be the very piss of the Devil.


The method of performing the Tim-Tam Slam is widely attested in the grey literature. Opposing corners are exscinded from the exoskeletal portion to expose a small amount of the GIB. The subject places one amputated corner within the beverage and uses the Tim-Tam in the manner of a straw, drawing fluid up through the GIB until it is felt to enter the oral cavity. At this point, the subject withdraws the Tim-Tam, inverts it, and ingests it.



Subject 1 clearly demonstrated a conventional, though extreme, adverse response to the process. Subject reported that “It just takes like tea. Warm, mushy tea.”

Subject 2 demonstrated an equally adverse response, though somewhat less conventional as his neurons freaked the fuck out and put him into a state referred to in less rigorous literature than this as “cataplexy.” Whilst the cataplectic response may be triggered by pleasure, in this instance subject reported the trigger to be “mingingness.”

At this stage, both participants exercised their right to withdraw from the trial.

Mid-life carousal

by Stuart Brown

mid-life carousal (n.) the substitution of shameless hedonism for existential panic, occurring roughly at the forty-year mark.

I entered my fifth decade a couple of days ago, and this is traditionally considered a period during which I should be purchasing a fast car, leaving my wife, or undertaking an unnecessarily strenuous and counterproductive gym regime. Lacking a driving licence or spouse, and already spending far too much of my gym time dicking around with the weights when I should be burning calories, I would not be able to manifest the usual symptoms of mid-life crisisery were I thus inclined, but I find that I do not have these urges anyway. The inevitability of nothingness and consequent futility of all life notwithstanding, I am largely of a cheerful and optimistic disposition, and I see the trivial fact that we live with a base-ten counting system as a poor justification for existential panic. So forty has been an excuse for a party, and little more.

As the particular combination of nucleotides that first came into existence forty years and nine months ago‎—‎and with any luck will continue replicating themselves for another forty years or so‎—‎rather unusually produced two independent organisms, I came over to Australia, where the other half of my DNA’s biomass is busily self-replicating, with the express and simple purpose of enjoyably poisoning a few million of the rather more sophisticatedly-specialized of its replicatory protein factories.[1]

That is, we drank an awful lot of Grenache.

Did we take stock of our lives, compare our achievements and failures, evaluate our aspirations, and make plans for the future?

No, we drank some more Grenache.

Did we rake over the groundwork of our thorough-going atheism in attempt to find a chink through which we could convince ourselves of the possibility of eternity, or speculate on the moral status of our immortal souls?

No, but I think the next bottle was a Pinot.

It is true that we had a serious conversation about our responsibilities towards inter-generational justice, specifically around the nature of environmentally-responsible behaviour and issues concerning economic security and taxation, but this is geekily normal fare for us. We also had another bottle of Grenache.

I feel, though, it would be unreasonable of me to not take this moment to branch out, experience, try something new. And so, in honour of the country in which we have caroused ourselves into our respective second halves, I have bought today a packet of Tim-Tams and some teabags. We had a rather fine posh lunch with the first bottle of Grenache on Wednesday: but I understand that this is nothing compared with the gustatory revelation that we will be undergoing later today.

Watch this space for a report.

[1] This is actually a myth: alcohol does not kill your neurons, and only usage on a level that even I cannot endorse will cause permanent damage to them.


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