Monday 14 December 2015

Yawning with Admiration

Writing about Adele's dreary song Hello  - in a piece quoted in today's excellent Dabbler post on the mystery of melody - Clive James uses the wonderful phrase 'yawning with admiration'. Wonderful and widely applicable: just think how many admirable works of art leave you, yes, admiring, but yes also, unmoved, bored, even on the verge of nodding off.
 I'm sure we could all compile our own list, but mine would have to include a great many of the contemporary 'literary' novels I used to read - clever, neatly executed but unengaging and unsatisfying. So-What Fiction I call it, and there's an awful lot of it around. At a more exalted level, where the admiration is vastly more merited, I would include in my list - let's see... Poussin's paintings, Reynolds' virtuoso portraiture, much of Haydn's music (yes, I know, I know) and even some Mozart, a lot of 18th-century classical architecture and many stately home interiors, the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, much jazz of the 'cooler' kind, and, I have to admit, quite a lot of Jane Austen (EmmaMansfield Park) and of Henry James when he's spreading himself in those big novels. I suspect there's an awful lot more than that fairly random sample - perhaps a deal of yawning with admiration is the price we pay for taking an interest in these things. But that's enough confessional for now... Anyone else?


  1. Virtuosity is not enough on its own even though it makes you feel kind of obliged to admire. You need something personal that no other artist conveys (perhaps unconsciously and blithely). I read Pale Fire on Patrick Kurp's recommendation and was hugely impressed by the virtuosity but couldn't wait to reach the end. It all seemed too self-regarding. Trollope and Wodehouse, I'm afraid, don't do it for me. Too cosy. Adele's '21' was wonderful. It's interesting that Clive James implies boredom. A good work of art has to interest you so that you can't help but want to know where it goes. If you don't care.......

  2. With you all the way regarding Poussin, Nige. The Scottish National had an exhibition recently, of the seven sacraments, in a not very large hall with one of those circular seat jobbies in the middle. ideal for casting the inspectorial optic thro' 360 degrees.As I swivelled, as far as Penance and with Robert Hughes undying admiration of him ringing in my ears I thought 'then why are my eyelids drooping'

  3. I was standing in front of A Dance to the Music of Time just the other day Malty. I did not feel a novel sequence coming on...
    PS: I just realised I forgot to list Proust! Huge admiration, huge yawns.