Hold court?

中国日报网 2016-12-02 15:46



Hold court?Reader question:

If a song “managed to reach the U.K. Top Ten and hold court for over a year”, what does it mean? What does “hold court” mean exactly?

My comments:

It means that the song in question became one of the most popular songs one time in the United Kingdom and remained popular for a while (over a year).

It was once ranked among the best ten songs in the country. The Top Ten is a chart that lists the 10 songs that has sold the most copies in the past week (or month, year). Reaching the Top Ten therefore means a song is among the cream at the top.

Hold court?

“Hold court” originally refers to a king holding a meeting with courtiers or members of his court, the royal court that is. As you can imagine, when the king holds court, he presides over it, dominates the proceedings and is always the center of attention.

Similarly, a judge presiding over a criminal court is described as holding court also. Here, likewise the judge is the central figure, the big authority and most important person in the whole courtroom. And when he speaks giving his verdict or final judgment, everyone obeys him – or at least they’re supposed to do so.

Anyways, as a metaphor, holding court becomes synonymous with anyone whose presence commands everybody’s attention in a meeting room or elsewhere. For example, someone conducting a news conference can be described as holding court for reporters because here this someone is the central figure. He or she is literally surrounded by reporters who laps up every word he/she has to say without fail.

Or in a party, if someone is really entertaining, he or she may command everybody’s attention. At that moment, he or she can also be described as holding court, like they’re a king or a queen.

All right?

Fine. Here are real media examples of people holding court one way or another:

1. IN THE words of paroled drug trafficker Bill Bayeh: “Life is beautiful.”

Seven months after his release from jail, the former Kings Cross cocaine and heroin kingpin certainly appears to be making the most of his time on the outside.

The Sun-Herald found Mr Bayeh, 56, lapping up the atmosphere at Double Bay on Friday.

Surrounded by shiny Mercedes, Porsches and Audis, Mr Bayeh held court for a few hours at the Cosmopolitan cafe, swilling scotch and chatting with a host of colourful characters. Up the road in Kings Cross, he once owned a notorious coffee lounge of the same name, from which he ran his drug empire worth millions of dollars.

The kerbside table in Double Bay is a regular haunt for Mr Bayeh, sources saying he can often be found there in some eyebrow-raising company. One local, who asked not to be named, said Mr Bayeh had been seen deep in conversation with Hells Angels boss Felix Lyle.

Whether renewing old friendships or igniting new ones, the Knox Street scene is a far cry from the jail cell he occupied for 15 years.

Mr Bayeh told The Sun-Herald he had been “working for himself” since his release from Silverwater jail last July. “Life is beautiful. I’m feeling good.”

Asked if he was working as a fruiterer, as he had told the State Parole Authority he would be, he apologised, saying: “I would love to have a coffee with you but it’s part of my parole conditions that I can’t talk to the media. When I get off parole, we can have a coffee.”

- It’s a ‘beautiful’ life for Bill the fruiterer, SMH.com.au, February 12, 2012.

2. It’s been many decades now since historians began to dismantle “Great Man” theories of history, emphasizing their narrowness and artificiality. Histories from below, social history, microhistory: All of these well-established trends have been aimed at making the historical narrative more inclusive, more fine-grained, less elitist. Yet there is still a group of people who tend to be overrepresented in historical writing: namely, writers. “The past is what’s written down,” Jill Lepore writes in her new book Joe Gould’s Teeth. “It is very quiet; only people who can write make any sound at all.”

Lepore has long been interested in gaps in the historical record and in the way some figures inevitably crowd out others. Her first book, The Name of War, which won the Bancroft Prize in 1999, reconstructed a war between New England colonists and Native Americans from the natives’ point of view; she has since written a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister and a “secret history” of Wonder Woman. In a 2001 article in The Journal of American History titled “Historians Who Love Too Much,” she declared that one of her aspirations is to “betray people who have left abundant records in order to resurrect those who did not.” Even when we try to turn away from the powerful and famous in favor of the marginal and obscure, we are limited by the evidence available to us. Some people speak volumes; others are silent. It’s easy to say that history should be about more than great men, but in practice we are often stuck with those who felt themselves, rightly or wrongly, to be great. It takes work to see past them, to read between the lines.

Joe Gould’s Teeth, Lepore’s eleventh book in 18 years, takes for its subject a man who could not stop writing, and who certainly thought of himself (despite much evidence to the contrary) as a great man. In Joseph Mitchell’s 1942 New Yorker profile “Professor Sea Gull,” Joe Gould is introduced as “a blithe and emaciated little man who has been a notable in the cafeterias, diners, barrooms, and dumps of Greenwich Village for a quarter of a century.” Gould was the scion of a wealthy New England family and had attended Harvard, but by the time Mitchell encountered him he was homeless, roaming the streets of New York, subsisting on plates of diner ketchup (“‘the only grub I know of that’s free of charge’”), and cadging drinks. “He sleeps on benches in subway stations, on the floor in the studios of friends, and in quarter-a-night flophouses on the Bowery,” Mitchell writes.

What separated Gould from the rest of the city’s down-and-out was that he claimed to be working on a book called The Oral History of Our Time. The book was to be, in Mitchell’s words, “a great hodgepodge and kitchen midden of hearsay, a repository of jabber, an omnium-gatherum of bushwa, gab, palaver, hogwash, flapdoodle, and malarkey, the fruit, according to Gould’s estimate, of more than 20,000 conversations.” Gould told Mitchell he had been working on the Oral History for 26 years, filling up composition books he then stashed with various friends around the city. He boasted that he was setting down “the informal history of the shirt-sleeved multitude” and believed he was destined for posthumous fame:

A couple of generations after I’m dead and gone … the Ph.D.s will start lousing through my work. Just imagine their surprise. “Why, I be damned,” they’ll say, “this fellow was the most brilliant historian of the century.”

Mitchell’s first profile of Gould, “Professor Sea Gull,” was an intriguing and memorable piece of journalism. His second, written more than two decades later, was a masterpiece. “Joe Gould’s Secret,” published in The New Yorker in 1964 and then brought out the following year, along with “Professor Sea Gull,” as a book, is one of the greatest pieces of nonfiction of the twentieth century, and in its psychological acuity and narrative mastery it stands alongside the works of Joseph Conrad and Henry James.

“Joe Gould’s Secret” is framed as a confession. Gould had died in 1957 and only now, Mitchell tells us, can he reveal the truth he’d learned about the man he’d made famous more than two decades earlier. Mitchell relates how, after the publication of “Professor Sea Gull,” Gould begins to show up regularly at The New Yorker offices to ask for money—what he called “contributions to the Joe Gould Fund”—and to hold court for hours at a time. Mitchell, initially tolerant of Gould’s erratic behavior, becomes increasingly frustrated as various attempts to get the Oral History published come to naught. Eventually, after Gould sabotages a series of meetings with book editors, Mitchell snaps:

“I’m beginning to believe,” I went on, “that the oral history doesn’t exist.” This remark came from my unconscious, and I was barely aware of the meaning of what I was saying … but the next moment, glancing at Gould’s face, I knew as well as I knew anything that I had blundered upon the truth about the oral history.

Mitchell came to believe that Gould had been lying for decades about the state of his magnum opus in order to convince friends to keep supporting him. The composition books he had been able to inspect contained not oral history but variations on a handful of autobiographical topics. “[Gould] must have found out long ago,” Mitchell speculates, “that he didn’t have the genius or the talent, or maybe the self-confidence or the industry or the determination, to bring off a work as huge and grand as he had envisioned”; his constant scribbling in fact amounted to a desperate avoidance of the project he had set for himself.

Gould failed to write the history of the shirt-sleeved multitude, but he did, via Mitchell, manage to leave a literary legacy of a sort. Although initially disgusted by Gould’s deceptions, Mitchell comes to identify with him all the more strongly, in part because he himself has long been procrastinating writing an autobiographical novel, modeled on James Joyce’s Ulysses, which never comes to fruition. He even comes to have a sort of respect for Gould’s charade: “The Eccentric Author of a Great, Mysterious, Unpublished Book—that was his mask,” Mitchell marvels. “And hiding behind it, he had created a character a good deal more complicated, it seemed to me, than most of the characters created by the novelists and playwrights of his time.” Somehow, even in exposing Gould, Mitchell manages to glorify him. We’re back to the great man, ambitious and influential even in his failure.

- Scandal in Bohemia: Jill Lepore uncovers racism and sexual harassment in the life of a Greenwich Village hero, NewsRepublic.com, April 18, 2016.

3. U.S. President Barack Obama brought the House down Wednesday as he passed a diplomatic torch of sorts to Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau, along with a pointed warning about the perils of injustice and inequality.

In what was almost certainly his last visit to Canada as president, Obama held court for nearly an hour before a joint session of the House of Commons and the Senate, basking in cascades of applause and heaping praise on the country’s young new prime minister, with whom he’s become fast friends.

Trudeau has brought new energy and leadership to Canada and to the everlasting alliance between the two countries, Obama said. The world will continue to benefit from Trudeau’s time in office, he added, as his own era comes to an end.

- Obama warns about perils of inequality in speech to Parliament, CTVNews.ca, June 29, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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