Latitude 2015: Thursday 16th - Sunday 19th July
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Latitude Festival

Latitude Festival announces 2015 theme: For Richer, For Poorer, For Better, For Worse

For the second year, the New Statesman is media partner to Latitude, the music and arts festival in Henham Park, Suffolk.

For the second year, the New Statesman is media partner to Latitude, the music and arts festival in Henham Park, Suffolk. Last year the NS hosted events on surveillance and privacy, dystopian fiction and videogames, featuring Jimmy Wales, Meg Rosoff, Laurie Penny, Helen Lewis and Toby Litt. The music bill was headlined by Damon Albarn.

The 2014 festival theme was Secrets and Lies. The NS can exclusively announce that the 2015 theme will be For Richer, For Poorer, For Better, For Worse.

Taking its cue from the traditional marriage vow, Latitude’s literature and arts programming will explore how individuals and communities conduct our public, private, personal and – especially pertinent after May’s election – political relationships.

Tania Harrison, arts programmer for Latitude Festival said:

“Whether it’s clicking ‘yes’ to Google’s terms of service, saying ‘I do’ in a marriage ceremony, or putting an X in a political party’s box at the general election, the agreements we make affect the lives of everyone around us. Yet at the same time, there’s a tension between the world in which we’re told we’re ‘all in this together’ and our society itself, with its growing extremes of rich and poor, social media oversharing and increasingly secretive state security agencies.

"This space between a promise and its fulfillment, participation and exclusion is incredibly rich territory for the people who make art and ideas. We’re working with an array of theatre companies, writers, performers and speakers to bring the theme to life at Latitude.”

Performances and events from organisations such as Forest Fringe, Theatre Uncut, The Roundhouse and Clean Break will look at the marriage between government and the electorate as well as last year’s near-uncoupling of England and Scotland. A new piece by Action Hero called Wrecking Ball “uses Terry Richardson and Miley Cyrus’s collaboration on a music video to examine how the nature of modern celebrity, mediated as it is by online and social media, means that many of us feel we have very intimate relationships with people we’ll never really meet.”

Harrison says the programme promises to address “whether we’re happy staying married to the status quo to, or whether - in the words of many a Facebook profile – it’s complicated”.

The New Statesman will host a satellite event in London in advance of the festival. 

 

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Ned Beauman's Madness Is Better Than Defeat brings jungle fever to a story of cinema

The author's lustrous and smart fourth novel never quite coalesces into purposeful significance.

“We were in the jungle… There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little, we went insane.” That’s Francis Ford Coppola describing the filming of Apocalypse Now, but it’s also a fair summary – give or take a few hundred pages of CIA machinations, mega-corp skulduggery and hallucinogenic-fungus consumption – of the plot of Ned Beauman’s fourth novel, a teeming shaggy-dog comedy of megalomania and obsession in which nothing and everything seems to be going on at once.

The setting is the Honduran jungle in the late 1930s. Under the command of a visionary director, a Hollywood company sets out to make a film (called Hearts in Darkness, ho, ho) on location at a freshly discovered Mayan temple. When they arrive, they find the temple already half-dismantled by a team of New Yorkers in the service of a reclusive billionaire. The Angelenos scuttle up the steps of the hemi-ziggurat; the New Yorkers pitch camp at the bottom. Decades pass and the two sides, lost to the outside world, evolve a demented micro-civilisation.

Or is that the setting? The setting is also 1930s California, where a studio magnate creeps silently through a mansion. The setting is prewar New York, where a playboy is kidnapped by goons at an octopus-wrestling match. The setting is Virginia in 1959, where a CIA operative called Zonulet sifts through a warehouse packed with innumerable spools of film. The setting is a hospital in Maryland, in which Zonulet may be imagining the events of the book after inhaling a deliriant hallucinogen. The setting is Borges’s Aleph, or Leibniz’s monad: that mystical point in the universe “from which all other points are visible”.

As the narrative moves forward and Beauman gleefully particle-collides his various fascinations – postmodern paranoia, Hollywood screwball comedy, occult mysteries, spy fiction and the real-life on-set horrors of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and the 1930s film serial The New Adventures of Tarzan – such interpretations flicker in and out of probability like quantum states.

Beauman is a sparkling writer, and his book bustles with diverting micro-narratives. There’s a murderous fugitive Nazi who persuades the camp that he’s part of the “German-American Alliance” that won the war, a mousy anthropologist who becomes a leader of men, a newspaperman who gets a Murdoch-style stranglehold on the temple’s occupants, and many more.

But the underlying order is symbolic. The director of Hearts in Darkness, the sprawling meta-movie at the centre of the novel, argues that all good cinema follows a simple rule: its narrative intensifies in five or six escalating steps before “giving way to a thrilling interval of weightlessness or flight, then returning to the status quo”. Represented as a diagram, this trajectory resembles a side view of half a ziggurat, which can also be seen as a diagram of a succession of people following in each other’s footsteps. For example, a novelist writing about someone making a film of a doomed expedition into the jungle. Madness begets madness in this novel, almost as if some conspiracy or occult order were being worked out.

Is any of this familiar? Narrative as geometry, with diagrams. Chipper 1930s banter. Funny but significant names (Poyais O’Donnell, which references a 19th-century con trick; Zonulet, which means “little zone”). Nazis. Contagious insanity. An octopus. An airship. A nightmare conspiracy that may just be a druggy hallucination. A few years ago, Beauman told an interviewer that the work of Thomas Pynchon has had “no impact on British fiction, really, apart from perhaps on me and Tom McCarthy”, but this book isn’t so much influenced by Pynchon as colonised by his work. In chapter after chapter, one can feel the shadow of Gravity’s Rainbow sweeping across the text like the spaceship in Independence Day.

Perhaps there’s a point here. Beauman recapitulates Pynchon as Hearts in Darkness recapitulates Heart of Darkness, and so the shape of the half-ziggurat is redrawn. But when a writer steers this close to his models, comparisons are inevitable, and Beauman’s writing, lustrous and smart as it invariably is, lacks much of the moral and emotional seriousness – the fear, the loss, the sorrow, the threat – that acts as a counterweight to Pynchon’s comic and intellectual games. The result is a novel of great intelligence and humour, cleverly structured and brimming with tricks, that never quite coalesces into purposeful significance. It’s a tremendous rainbow, but I’d have welcomed a bit more gravity. 

Madness Is Better Than Defeat
Ned Beauman
Sceptre, 416pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear