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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Environmental Rant: Hand Driers

Monday, June 15, 2009

One of life's pleasures as a schoolchild was to come in dripping and chill from a winter's rugby or football game, and to win the squabble for the hand driers in the changing rooms. I would clamp the collar of my rugby shirt over the blower, and blast hot air down the top, turning the wet mud on my torso to a cracked, brown glaze, which could then be picked off and flicked at my peers. Like the hot showers that would follow, though, that warmth would last only for thirty seconds, and one had to build up a resistance against pushing the button just three times, two times, just once more.

As an adult, though, and an environmentally conscious one at that, I have a bit of a problem with hand driers. Just consider the huge energies and infrastructures required simply to deliver that brief spurt of air from the hand drier. In a huge concrete furnace, coal burns and smoke churns, whilst a dash of power runs down miles of cable, passes through substations, filters through a transformer box, so that a stream of electrons will get jammed in a small coil of resistant wire, which will warm a stream of air - and all simply to dry your hands. The hand drier is a metaphor for the egocentrism of our lives, as we exploit power and fabricate devices to do jobs that are essentially unnecessary. For there is a way of drying hands that has been used for centuries, and that involves nothing more than a shake of the excess water, and a little patience in the air. Of course, in the modern day, we grumble that we simply do not have the time.

If the hand drier has a benefit that maybe, just maybe, outweighs its energy-sucking pointlessness, it is its social one. Mirroring the pleasure of hand driers as a child, the hand drier offers a way of cutting oneself off from the human world. As an adult, stuck in one of those dreaded conversations facing the wall of the urinal - stare straight ahead; don't dare to look sideways at your pissing conversationalist! - there is no better way of signalling an end to chat that hitting the blast of the hand drier, its hot air drowning out that of the unwanted interlocutor.

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Posted by Alistair at 8:26 am

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