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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

Cats, Monkeys, and The News of The World

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The now-defunct News of the World used to have on its masthead the slogan "All human life was there." The slogan sounds fairly Biblical, which might be appropriate given that the tabloid's headlines often pronounced some righteous revelations of epic proportions. The quote actually comes, though, from Henry James' short story "The Madonna of the Future." In full, it reads "Cats and monkeys, monkeys and cats, all of human life is there."

The speaker of the quote is a Florentine artist who creates tasteless statuettes of animals (one imagines the chintzy sort of thing advertised at the back of the Radio Times); the narrator of the story does not approve:

They consisted each of a cat and a monkey, fantastically draped, in some preposterously sentimental conjunction.  They exhibited a certain sameness of motive, and illustrated chiefly the different phases of what, in delicate terms, may be called gallantry and coquetry; but they were strikingly clever and expressive, and were at once very perfect cats and monkeys and very natural men and women.  I confess, however, that they failed to amuse me.  I was doubtless not in a mood to enjoy them, for they seemed to me peculiarly cynical and vulgar.  Their imitative felicity was revolting. 
Although the News of the World no longer used this masthead by its end, the source still seems appropriate. Murdoch's press came to view celebrities and crime victims, politicians and soldiers, as little more than performing monkeys for the "preposterously sentimental" delight of the masses; stories were written with a semblance of realism, all the while being cynical and vulgar. The News of the Worlds claims to have hacked blagged in the "public interest," but its pretensions to imitative truth were ultimately baseless, tasteless, and, yes, revolting.

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Posted by Alistair at 7:50 am


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