20th April 2020


I’ve been stunned beyond adequate reflection by the Orwellian propaganda drama coming out of the White House – meltdowns; cancelling funding to the WHO in the middle of a pandemic. This as the (unsurprising) news of UK leadership failures has finally been published, by The Sunday Times, no less! I managed to tear my eyes away from the news long enough to finally get round to watching Craig Mazin’s Chernobyl – incredible storytelling and way too resonant for today’s crises for comfort.


Despite the melancholic distractions, I calmed myself down from all this terror with another junction of maths and literature – a choral arrangement for a famous Biblical story (unnamed so I don’t get sued). Exploring the polyphonic arithmetic required to move from sombre Gregorian Chant to ecstatic four-part harmony with just four tenor voices, and manipulating the simple note arrangements on the staves is pretty soothing.


The past few days have also permitted some beautiful reading in the sun. I finished Saunders’s extraordinary Lincoln in the Bardo, and was particularly moved by the melancholy between worlds and unfinished business, note “A Heavy Bough Hung Down” – a song that evokes both Abel Meeropol’s ‘Strange Fruit’ (“Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”) and Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche or Love’s Misery, Canto II (Lust Conquered), 162:

Now those pageant beauties which of late

Had there trim’d up a Temple for Delight,

Were all unmask’d ; and Melancholy sate

Shrouding her hideous self in mid-day night.

The heavy nodding Trees all languished.

And ev’ry sleepy bough hung down its head.


This otherwordly delight has kicked me into getting through stacks of pleasure reading beyond some online-exam-prep work: returning to Morrison’s Beloved and Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is liberating and devastating all over again, and is also helping reorient my own critical writing. While I’ve been picking away at a chapter on Wallace and Infinity, I should (cloudy weather permitting) be able to complete a draft, from the overwhelming notes, by next week.

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