Weekend Miscellany: Road Murder, The Neuroscience Delusion, HBO at The Valve

A few things of interest I’ve found while browsing around:

At the Guardian site, Kate Summerscale on the literary legacy of the infamous Road Hill murders:

Even after the confession and conviction of the killer in 1865, the case was attended with doubts and unease. Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone – described by TS Eliot as the first and the best detective novel – was suffused with the events at Road Hill. “It is a very curious story,” observed Dickens when the book was published in 1868, “wild and yet domestic.”

Collins diluted the horror – instead of a child-murder, there was a jewel theft; instead of bloodstains, splashes of paint – but he fashioned from it a template for detective fiction. A shrewd investigator strives to expose the secrets of the inhabitants of an English country house. His task is to distinguish the innocent from the guilty, real clues from red herrings. His methods are indirect, his reasoning inspired, and a highly improbable suspect turns out to have committed the crime. The novel borrowed many of the specifics of the Road Hill story: a sullied and missing nightdress; a laundry book that proves its loss; an inept local police officer; and a renowned detective summoned to the countryside from London. (read the rest here)

Also at the Guardian, Ian Rankin reviews Summerscale’s book on the case’s chief investigator, Inspector Whicher. Actually, he doesn’t so much review it as recapitulate its central story; there’s only one word in the piece that really constitutes any kind of comment on the book itself–fortunately for Summerscale, it’s “engrossing.”

At the TLS, Raymond Tallis is unimpressed with “The Neuroscience Delusion”:

At first sight, the displacement of Theory, with its social constructivism and linguistic idealism, by talk of something as solid as “the brain” of the writer and “the brain” of the reader may seem like progress. In fact, it is a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The switch from Theory to “biologism” leaves something essential unchanged: the habit of the uncritical application of very general ideas to works of literature, whose distinctive features, deliberate intentions and calculated virtues are consequently lost. Overstanding is still on the menu.

Much of his discussion is focused on A. S. Byatt’s work on John Donne:

…by adopting a neurophysiological approach, Byatt loses a rather large number of important distinctions: between reading one poem by John Donne and another; between successive readings of a particular poem; between reading Donne and other Metaphysical poets; between reading the Metaphysicals and reading William Carlos Williams; between reading great literature and trash; between reading and a vast number of other activities – such as getting cross over missing toilet paper. That is an impressive number of distinctions for a literary critic to lose. But that is the price of overstanding. (read the rest here)

Finally, over at The Valve, the guys have been talking (again) about The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire. I wonder: are these really the ‘three most talked about HBO series‘? Wouldn’t that depend on who you’re talking to? For instance, perhaps women viewers talk more about other shows–ones that aren’t characterized by “boobs, cussing, and spectacular violence“? Sex and the City comes to mind, for instance. (OK, in its own way it has two of those three elements…)

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