In The Critics this week

D J Taylor on the art of the rock lyric, Ryan Gilbey on Tom Cruise and Tom McCarthy on the postwar E

In this week's Critic at Large essay, D J Taylor pays tribute to some of the greatest practitioners of the rock lyric, including Howard Devoto, Mark E Smith and Cathal Coughlan. In a companion piece, Jude Rogers sticks for up for a younger generation of lyricists -- from Joanna Newsom's nature poetry to the comic demotic of Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner.

Elsewhere, Ryan Gilbey reviews Knight and Day, the new Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz vehicle, and wonders whether Cruise is committing career suicide. Rachel Cooke is bemused by the BBC's new high-concept drama The Deep, Antonia Quirke listens to a Stephen Sondheim Prom, Fisun Güner examines the work of the photographic pioneer Camille Silvy and Will Self dines at the Stockpot with Nicholas Lezard.

In Books, Ziauddin Sardar is unpersuaded by Tariq Ramadan's new plea for pluralism. Stuart Evers interviews Tom McCarthy about his new novel (which will be reviewed in the next issue of the NS) and the state of British fiction, Jonathan Derbyshire is impressed by James Robertson's state-of-Scotland novel, And the Land Lay Still, Ruth Sunderland considers some remedies for banking failure, Colin MacCabe remembers a friend and former colleague, the critic Tony Tanner, and Sarah Churchwell reviews Francine Prose's exploration of the "afterlife" of Anne Frank's diary.

Getty
Show Hide image

Listening to recordings from the Antarctic, I felt I could hear the earth groan

The Science Hour on the BBC World Service.

A weekend of listening to the radio news ­revealed nothing but sounds of the sucker-punched going through their pockets in a panic and repeating, “I thought you had the keys.” So, never was talk of “a perfectly flat area of just whiteness” more alluring. The oldest Antarctic ice yet recorded was recently found. “For millions of years,” the presenter Roland Pease assured listeners  (25 June, 9am), “snow has been falling, snow on snow, all the while trapping bubbles of air and other chemical traces of climate . . . insights into the ice ages and warm periods of the past.” How was this ice located? “The finding part is pretty easy – you just go there and start shovelling, and ice comes up,” the lead geologist, Jaakko Putkonen, said.

There it was, buried under a layer of dirt “in barren wastelands” high in the middle of Antarctica. An “incredibly mountainous and remote and . . . quite hideous region, really”, Pease said, though it was sounding pretty good to me. The world dissolved into a single, depthless tone. Then Pease mentioned the surprising fizzing of this ancient ice – trapped air bubbles whooshing as they melt. Which is perhaps the thing you least expect about ice regions and ice caps and glaciers: the cacophony. Thuds and moans. Air that folds and refolds like the waving of gigantic flags. Iced water sleeping-dragonishly slurping and turning.

On Friday Greenpeace posted a video of the pianist Ludovico Einaudi giving a haunting performance on a floating platform to mark an imminent meeting of the OSPAR Commission, as it decided on a proposal to safeguard 10 per cent of the Arctic Ocean. Einaudi looked occasionally stunned by the groaning around him. A passing glacier popped and boomed like the armies of Mordor, ice calving from its side, causing mini-tsunamis. When last year I spent some time at the remote Eqi Glacier in Greenland, close to the ice cap, local people certainly spoke of the ice as if it were living: “It’s quiet today,” delivered as though gazing at the fractious contents of a Moses basket.

“This huge cake of ice, basically flat”, Putkonen said, perhaps longing for a moment of deep-space silence, for peaceful detachment. He wasn’t the only one being forced to reappraise a landscape very differently.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies