Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Window in Iran

After spending a few months in the 1960s I rented out H.G. Wells’ Time Machine and popped back to the present, to have a look around.  How old fashioned it all seemed!   I had left the space age and returned to the kitchen sink dramas of the previous decade – had I set the controls right…  No, no, the dates are correct; and the costumes look contemporary; and the mobile phones are a new idea; are the humans themselves wired to the ground... 

So I sit and watch as the camera follows the characters around, like dog on its lead, her owner walking down the High Street on a Saturday afternoon; everywhere so crowded, so busy, there is scarcely time to stop; so much to look at.  Shop! Shop! Shop!  Hardly a moment to see what you are buying…

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Looking in the Mirror (Part Two)

My intention is not to condemn an individual when it is the institutional culture that is the problem.  Would we expect BP not work in Libya, because of its human rights record?[i]   Why expect the LSE to behave differently…[ii]   To dissect David Held’s apologia is not put him in the stocks but to better understand our liberal establishment; their ideas and motivations; their blind spots and their naiveties.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Looking in the Mirror (Part One)

Two weeks after the LSE received Lord Woolf’s report it was announced that David Held is to leave for Durham University.  It appears to confirm the original story of an institution and a few of its employees gone astray.  But is this a true picture?  A wider investigation, going far beyond Lord’s Woolf’s terms of reference, could well draw a different conclusion: the LSE is the rule and not the exception, and in Britain today the source of a university’s funding is less important than its amount; and this is normal business practice, supported by the government. 

So let us go back and do our own inquiry.[i]  Its starting point is professor Held’s apologia, published shortly after the spring uprising, and before the NATO intervention in Libya.  On their own terms it is hard to disagree with these justifications. They are all so reasonable!  For wherever there is a real possibility of softening the cruelty of a regime, of weakening it from within, a serious person will try to do so; although it may lead to difficult moral choices.  However, we must be careful; for self-interest and political myopia can blind us to the real consequences of our actions; and it is easy to hide the truth from ourselves.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Dusty Answer

We live surrounded by walls.  Occasionally we try to break through them; their immaculately sealed bricks and cement.  Strange aren’t they?  These walls that we do not see, although they are high and impenetrable.  Indeed, most of our lives we’re unaware that they even exist; some may never see them.  How odd and unsettling…  Everywhere there are walls and everywhere we avoid them, so easily; we live as if in the open air, walk as if through wild meadows, run across the wide sands of an endless beach as if the high waves were our only companion…  Many believe that this is so: there are no walls here, you silly man.  What nonsense are you talking now!

One day the path we know so well is blocked by obstacles.  How odd.  How disconcerting…

Sunday, 27 November 2011

London


Circe

She looks up,
Her eyes
Greedy in supplication,
And smiles.

She wants him.

She wants him
To fill her cup,
A golden cup,
She holds on her palm
She stretches out
Towards him.

He looks at her hair,
Its tower of tight curls
Above an alabaster face
Where big black yolks
In her egg white eyes
Penetrate his defences…

Recovering his composure
He stares at the silk strap,
Following its slow slide
From off of her shoulder
Smiling to himself
On the measure of his control.

He looks at her nose;
Her prominent chin;
The open, expectant, lips:
An estuary to be explored
By another he surmises,

Before he falls:
A corkscrew of hair 
Bounces loose
Against her cheek.

She crumples.

She crumples
And falling to the floor
She gives thanks
To his feet.
Her cup he fills
                 With his smile.


Friday, 25 November 2011

The Blue Bouquet

…. As I crossed the street, I heard someone come out of a doorway.  I turned around, but could not distinguish anything.  I hurried on.  A few moments later I heard the dull shuffle of sandals on the hot stone.  I didn’t want to turn around, although I felt the shadow getting closer with every step.  I tried to run.  I couldn’t.  Suddenly I stopped short.  Before I could defend myself, I felt the point of a knife in my back, and a sweet voice:
            ‘Don’t move, mister, or I’ll stick it in.’
            Without turning, I asked:
            ‘What do you want?’
            Your eyes, mister,’ answered the soft, almost painful voice.
            ‘My eyes?  What do you want with my eyes?  Look, I’ve got some money.  Not much, but it’s something.  I’ll give you everything I have if you let me go.  Don’t kill me.’
             Don’t be afraid, mister.  I won’t kill you.  I’m only going to take your eyes.’
            But why do you want my eyes?’  I asked again.
            ‘My girlfriend has this whim.  She wants a bouquet of blue eyes.  And around here they’re hard to find.’
            My eyes won’t help you.  They’re brown, not blue.’
            ‘Don’t try to fool me, mister.  I know very well that yours are blue.’
            Don’t take the eyes of a fellow man.  I’ll give you something else.’
            Don’t play saint with me,’ he said harshly.  ‘Turn around.’
            I turned.  He was small and fragile.  His palm sombrero covered half his face.  In his right hand he held a country machete that shone in the moonlight.
            ‘Let me see your face.’
            I struck a match and put it close to my face.  The brightness made me squint.  He opened my eyelids with a firm hand.  He couldn’t see very well.  Standing on tip-toe, he stared at me intensely.  The flame burned my fingers.  I dropped it.  A silent moment passed.
            ‘Are you convinced now?  They’re not blue.’
            ‘Pretty clever, aren’t you?’ he answered.  ‘Let’s see.  Light another one.’
            I struck another match, and put it near my eyes.  Grabbing my sleeve, he ordered:
            ‘Kneel down.’
            I knelt.  With one hand he grabbed me by the hair, pulling my head back.  He bent over me, curious and tense, while his machete slowly dropped until it grazed by eyelids.  I closed my eyes.
            ‘Keep them open,’ he ordered.
            I opened my eyes.  The flame burned my lashes.  All of a sudden, he let me go.
            ‘All right, they’re not blue.  Beat it.’
            He vanished.  I leaned against the wall, my head in my hands.  I pulled myself together.  Stumbling, falling, trying to get up again, I ran for an hour through the town.  When I got to the plaza, I saw the owner of the boarding house, still sitting in front of the door.  I went in without saying a word.  The next day I left town.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Silly Billy

I like reading the letters page of the TLS.  I am always interested in the stupidity of clever people:

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Going...

A wonderful elegy for Peter Campbell in the LRB; Mary-Kay Wilmer capturing the eccentric nature of this journal; and describing a culture that was perhaps more common in the publishing world thirty years ago than it is today.  The LRB part of that odd market which the corporates have undermined, and Kindle may yet destroy; that world of the often patrician publishers, unconventional sellers, and obsessive buyers. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Dangerous Pages

I usually transfix people with the story of John Zorn: his apartment so full of books and records that he took out the kitchen for more space.[i]   Earlier today I heard a story that trumps this.  It left even me speechless.

It is a bungalow filled to the ceiling with books.  They are stacked like bricks, a few volumes wedged in sideways to keep them secure.  There is hardly any space in the house: just a narrow corridor between the front and back doors leading to a small patch of room, big enough for an armchair.

There was no sink or toilet in the place… 

One night the owner went outside to urinate.  The door banged shut behind him; and a wall of books fell down and wedged against the door, so that he could not open it.  This man was an old person.  The bungalow was in the middle of nowhere.  It was a winter’s night.  He died of hypothermia…



[i] Read the interview – it is rather brilliant.  

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Old Friends...

As a taster for my article on the LSE's links with Libya Ceasefire Magazine has posted a video of the Ralph Miliband lecture with David Held and Saif Gaddafi.  Held's introduction, which I hadn't seen until after I wrote the piece, is a perfect illustration of my argument.   Watch it, and see.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Too Nice to Leave

Our past should be like an historic monument we visit now and then, with its impressive rooms and expensive paintings, its silver cutlery and the Dresden dinner service locked safely away.   All so beautiful, we should say, as we go from room to room.  Or it as an amusing vignette we use to liven up dull company, that pregnant moment after the heavy desert, for example.   A few words, a story, sometimes a striking image, all the original things that have happened in this place; and then you shut the door, and talk about Margaret and Alice from PR, and how Rebecca found them together in the disabled toilet. 

When everyone has left you should walk out of the door and get into the car, and leave the distant gates of this country estate behind; until the next time; when you will drive down a different road, and enter some other house.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

An Odd Place

The past is dangerous.  Although for scientists with their simple certainties such an obvious truth is easily overlooked.  For a mouse, they say, and their experiments show it, the past holds no dangers; gone for one minute it returns again safely to the present.  100% success!  They assure him safety is guaranteed, for a mouse that is, and they tell him so, so he knows for sure that risks are possible. 

They are rightly proud of their achievement; but it is a limited one: they put the mouse into a past they know nothing about.  What is it like there?  What exactly is its experience? They are curious, but their experiments do not take them very far; and in fact they can go no further.  If now a man…   They search for someone prepared to take the risk; someone, they think, who has lost all interest in life; a failed suicide seems a good idea.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Norwich


The Market

He is writing about universities in America.  But what he is actually describing is how markets really work.

The US university system, by contrast, appears to concentrate a hugely disproportionate share of resources in a small group of very wealthy and exclusive private institutions.  (Howard Hotson, Don’t Look to the Ivy League)

This is one effect, amongst many.  The heavy concentration at the top raises the price of admission, as demand is high but supply is limited; for there are few places in the most prestigious universities.  It is only towards the bottom, at the Primark end of the spectrum, that prices will reduce to a level the majority can afford.  Higher education for everyone!  Although the good stuff is only available for those with the biggest wallets; the small print to which our politicians never refer.  The newer universities cannot compete with Oxford and Cambridge, and the select Redbricks: you cannot manufacture an elite university over a couple of years; and it is not a product that can be made cheaply and sold to everyone at a low price.  These institutions have a history and a culture that cannot be easily reproduced; a culture that is attractive both to the faculty and its wealthy patrons; although each for their own reasons – the one academic, the other social and instrumental.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

New Gods

This is no ordinary hotel.  You do not stay for a few days, reconnoitre the territory, and go.  This is not a hotel where you rent a room by the hour, and wear yourself out under the local businessmen.  It’s not a place you pose for fancy shots in cheap lingerie; the hotel price the cost of tawdry fame.  People stay so long here they die in its beds.  It is a home for some; a death sentence for others.  Santschin is killed by off by the laundry steam that invades his family’s room.  If only we were reading Tennyson, we’d imagine it as a mist off the marshes; but there are no illusions here; no large metaphors: it is just filthy fog, fatal for those who cannot afford the higher cost of comfort further down the stairs.  Santschin was a clown in a cabaret troupe; the whole crowd crammed into the small rooms at the top of the hotel; three narrow floors for the poor.  Poverty kills, even in the best place in town.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Creativity

It is a mother.  Giving birth to herself.  Constantly.  Endlessly renewed, endlessly reborn; it is fresher, more fertile, richer, with each passing year.  Hosukai, for instance:

From the age of six I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things.  From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of any great note.  At the age of seventy-three I finally came to understand somewhat the nature of birds, animals, insects, fishes – the vital nature of grasses and trees.  Therefore, at eighty I shall have made great progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, and at one hundred I shall have become truly marvellous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own.  (in Japanese Art by Joan Stanley Baker)

The madness of being alive.  Forever.  

Perfection impossible

the artist aware always of his mistakes

even if he must create them.

Never finish.  You kill it, once the act is done.

Art: the eternal dissatisfaction.

He is seventy three and he is walking around an old print; over the bridges, down to the bay, back up to the new town, when suddenly he stops at a doorway.  There is an orchid in a pot on the floor.   Its white petals a picture; it pulsates with life, and everything vibrates around them.  Yet the petals are silent and still; like carefully placed stones in an austere garden.  They electrify this dark and empty space, white paper windows to the far side.   They are bold yet simple and they have possessed this small place.  White flowers in a black frame; the artist before them.  It is a quiet doorway.  They have possessed it and grabbed it to penetrate it completely; yet nothing moves, all remains quite still; utterly silent is the scene before him.  A cat pops out, and walks quietly out of the frame.

It will be thirty years before he gets that right.  Perhaps he never will.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Norwich


Japanese Poetry

Art film.  It can suffer the same problems as lyric poetry.  Marvellous in short moments of crystallised atmosphere; but sinking into insipidity when extended into longer forms.  The intensity of a few stanzas stretched into monotony when strung out across hundreds of pages; with too many longueurs; too many dull images filling up the valley floors between the mountain peaks of the individual scintillating shot and the few extraordinary scenes.

It is the use of film as texture that marks out the art movie.  It thus lives with the ever-present danger of image overload; risking the failures of the “poetic” novel with too many inconsequential characters lost amongst too much description.  This Transient Life is no exception.  From the first moment to the last this film is dominated by its own surface; the camera shoving images between our willing eyelashes; Jissôji Akio some old train hand shovelling coal into the fire…

Sunday, 25 September 2011

I Would Like to Complain…

Why do we read reviews?  As always the context will determine the answer.  In the newspapers and the popular magazines they have a particular purpose: to persuade us to buy books.  The odd negative review counterbalanced by the overwhelmingly positive responses to new work; the cultural section given texture and colour by the individual reactions and personal judgements of the writers and columnists.  There is usually an extended essay to give weight this section; and to attract people to the paper and magazine.  In this context the answer is relatively easy: we read the reviews for the judgements they contain – good, bad or nothing special.  Or simply to pass the time.  To fill the hours outside work when we are bored and aimless: perhaps the most important reason, after habit, why most people read the press.  In this industry the reviews serve mostly an instrumental function, part of the advertising fabric, so essential to a newspaper’s health.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Queer Beasts

The storm settles, sentences stutter, slow down and disintegrate; stumbling into incoherence, until, at last, the words, finally, come, slowly, to a stop.  There is silence on the streets of London.  The cameras are dismantled, presenters shoved into buses; whole paragraphs are swept from the streets.  Hackney is free of journalists.  The Great Uprising; London on Fire; The Fall of Capitalism; Barbarian Rampage; the zoo opened, the feral beasts let out…  The cleaners sweep them all away.  Chucking the rebels into black bags they throw them into the garbage trucks; tipping famous reporters onto the council dump.  The soixante-huitards are howling; and the bins overflow with clichés.  It is overtime for the workers.

You’ve forgotten it already?

Perhaps only the shop assistants of Footlocker will remember these days.  Leaving work to walk home amongst old friends...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Professional Amateurs

Bryan Magee.  Have you heard of him?  You haven’t?  You should.  Broadcaster, Labour MP, Social Democrat, professor, music critic and writer; he has many insightful things to say across a range of topics: politics, music, literature, and his core interest philosophy.  His book, Confessions of a Philosopher, is a classic, with many acute comments about the British intellectual scene, the cold war, academics and the arts.  It includes two wonderful portraits: of Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell.  Both are unforgettable, once you have read them.  And yet Magee isn’t regarded as a serious philosopher; for he is not an academic, in the purest sense; he is not part of the profession, using its language and codes, the always-fashionable jargon, those glass-topped walls that keep the amateurs away.  Only the professionals count!  Christopher Janaway in the bibliography to his short book on Schopenhauer calls Magee’s own monograph on the same philosopher a “sometimes idiosyncratic account of [his place] in the history of ideas”.  Personally I would take that as a compliment.  I don’t think this is what professor Janaway intends.  It is more a warning about a dangerous minefield than an invitation to explore new territories.  This guy is odd.  He is not one of us….  A bureaucrat doesn’t like an outsider mucking about with his files…[i]

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher


I just said I didn’t know
And now you are holding me
In your arms,
How kind.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher.
Yet around the net I am floating
Pink and pale blue fish are caught in it,
They are beautiful,
But they are not good for eating.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher
Than this mid-air in which we tremble,
Having exercised our arms in swimming,
Now the suspension, you say,
Is exquisite.  I do not know.
There is coral below the surface,
There is sand, and berries
Like pomegranates grow.
This wide net, I am treading water
Near it, bubbles are rising and salt
Drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer
Air than water.  I am closer to you
Than land and I am in a stranger ocean
Than I wished.


Aldeburgh


Chameleon

The house was set in an old garden, among fruit trees, oaks and limes.  It was painted yellow, had a steep roof, and was surrounded by a high grey wall.  The trees round the edge of the garden grew over the wall and their branches spread over the road.  For many years past, two wide green benches had stood by the wall for the tired traveller to rest on.  Swallows nested in the house, and the crowns of the trees were a-twitter in the summer evenings.  The long wall, the trees and the benches were a source of cool and shade in the heat and dust of summer, and on bitter winter days they were at least an intimation of a human presence.

One summer day, the green benches disappeared.  Wooden scaffolding went up, topping the wall.  In the garden, the old trees were felled.  One could hear them splinter and crash, and hear the death-rustling of their branches as they hit the ground.  The wall came down.  And through the gaps in the wooden scaffolding, people could see the denuded garden of the Bernheims, the yellow house now exposed to the scorching heat, and they were as indignant as if the house, the wall and the trees had all been theirs.

This is not the collapse of an old social order, demolished by war and revolution.  It is the creation of a new one, built on new money; and its attendant arrogance: of a man who believes he has no obligations to the town he lives in.  He builds his own world, which he supports with his own labours.

Friday, 9 September 2011

I’m Lazy

The quality of Labour MPs is pretty poor these days.  Talking their one talent.  Although it wears them out, it seems, and they are too tired to do much else.  For some even a short article is too long to read.  Thus we have a letter from Denis MacShane attacking Andrew Gamble for nostalgia about a “golden age” of working class culture.[i]  This is precisely what Gamble doesn’t argue, as the MP would know if he read past the first paragraph, where such a position is outlined, only to be heavily qualified a little later.

It is well known in the universities that many professors never read further than the introduction and conclusion of a book.  It appears our MPs never get past the first few sentences of an easy article.  Too tired after filling out their expense forms to read much else.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Let Me Join You

He is shouting at the audience.  But they are only listening to the drums and guitars.  He shouts about the violence, he quotes poets and writers, but the crowd is only interested in the music; and his weird antics.  He is a circus show, that is how they see him, in town to waste their time for a few minutes; a short break, a welcome rest, between the usual drudgery at the market stalls.  He tells them of their own violence; the nastiness of this community; he screams out at the oppression of carrots; how they provoke you, so blatant in a woman’s basket.  Carrots!  It is now that he begins to lose his audience; the band will quickly follow.  Carrots just a little too close to earthy reality; a symbol, it seems, for wifely availability, when husbands are out at sea.  He couldn’t, perhaps wouldn’t, pay the price; so a local woman accuses him of rape. 

It is a fantastic scene: after her rejection the camera closes in on the woman’s face, her anger shutting down her expression like a shutter a shop window.  The camera then pulls away, and we see her lying on the floor, convulsed in what looks like an epileptic fit – our hero goes towards her; but he is helpless, not knowing what to do.  Then suddenly she jumps up, rips off her blouse and bra and runs away into the market shouting rape.  The whole community comes out; and runs after him…

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Even Thugs Can Have Their Say

Hooligans are everywhere.  Not even bookshops are safe. 

I pass the religious section in my local Waterstones, and see two thugs grinning from the shelves.  One is staring into the far distance – to god atop the Empire State?  The other, some bald guy smirking into his oversize chin, appears to be looking at his wallet. 

You get the picture?  The usual dichotomies.  The simple clichés.  They’re in the ring, apparently, fighting about some thing or other.  Old style one hopes: all mud and dirt, pulling ears, gouging each other’s eyes out…

God and goodness, I believe is the idea.  It is an easy way to make money.

A war criminal and his publicist, the pimp and his prostitute, are talking about morality.  They have no shame.  No shame!  It is Blair’s one abiding legacy.  Together with the bank account his kids will inherit.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Ballad and the Source

The title feels stagy.  The old Virago cover reinforces this feeling: Atkinson Grimshaw’s Ariadne at Naxos; its transparent heroine standing on the edge of a sickly estuary, the far shore set on fire by the declining sun.  It suggests something contrived and artificial.  A ponderous sensitivity, like garden fairies in Wellington boots, the weakness of the worst fin de siècle Symbolism: its heavy, all too literal, academic style incommensurate with the evanescent atmospheres it so wants to capture.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Monday, 29 August 2011

Punch Him in the Face

They drink too much.  And though polite they often hate each other; and rather a lot, we are led to believe.  A don’s life, what a life it is.  There are books about, but not that many.  And most of their talk seems somewhat lacklustre; dull, if you’d like the truth.  There are moments of wit, but erudition hardly any.  A don’s life: we’d pay for the privilege, wouldn’t we?

A View from the Top

…but without the hedgehog’s generalizations – on the class struggle, imperialism, (colonial) dependency etc… the poor foxes like myself are condemned to a sort of intellectual pointillism lacking an overall design.  Even more, we remain deprived of the satisfactory experience of digging a tooth into and clamping a jaw on a generalization in order to break its neck.  (Raymond Carr quoted by Ronald Fraser TLS 29/07/2011)

Carr wrote the standard history of modern Spain.  He is referring here to Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, and the fox who knows lots of little ones.

This quote came to mind after my recent punch up with Michael Albert.  As I recovered from the severe swelling around the forehead, and surreptitiously peering over my dark glasses when no one was about, I mused on what he meant by my “special approach”.  I didn’t think I had one.  I haven’t, of course.  But what if I did?  I’d be a hedgehog, like disciples everywhere; such as those who follow Freud and Marx, Darwin and the rest…

Sunday, 28 August 2011

To Carl von Gersdorff

Forgive me, my dear friend, for not thanking you earlier for your letters, of which each one reminds me of the vigorous cultural life you lead, as if you were basically still a soldier and were now seeking to show you military cast of mind in the realm of philosophy and art.  And that is as it should be; only as fighters have we in our time a right to exist, as vanguard fighters for a coming saeculum, whose formation we can roughly presage from our own selves – that is, from our best moments; for these best moments do obviously estrange us from the spirit of our own time, but they must have a home somewhere; therefore I believe that we have in these moments a sort of obscure presentiment of what is to come.  Have we not also retained from our last common Leipzig recollection the memory of such estranged moments which belong in another saeculum?  Well then – that is how it is – and let us live for wholeness, fullness and beauty!  But that takes a vigorous resolve and is not for anyone.

…Next Tuesday our new philosopher is giving his inaugural lecture, on the “obvious” subject: “Aristotle’s Meaning for the Present.”

You are kindly remembered here.  I celebrated the daimon rites with Jakob Burckhardt in his room; he joined my ritual act and we poured a good two beer glasses of Rhone down on the street below.  In earlier centuries we would have been suspected of witchcraft.  When I got home at eleven-thirty that night, feeling rather demonic, I found to my surprise friend Deussen there, and walked the streets with him until about two in the morning.  He left by the first train in the early morning.  I have an almost ghostly memory of him, as I saw him only in the pale lamplight and moonlight.

Write again soon, my brave and valued friend!  You now know that the vignette is needed in a hurry.  Cordial greeting from your

Saturday, 27 August 2011

On the Appointment of Rudolf Eucken to the Chair of Philosophy


Slowly he fades,
His voice, some words,
From a streetlamp,
Its white face
Hanging free.

“Goodbye…” you hear
To the sound
Of footsteps
On cobbled stones.

Silence. 
How it surrounds you
In this street
You no longer see.

But you wait still,
Under a light
Far too weak
To illuminate this night
Around you.

Leeds


Friday, 26 August 2011

Go Away!

I seem to upset people all the time.  Many’s the chief executive who has gone home crying to his wife.  Why won’t that Mr Schloss just listen!  Why indeed…

After I wrote my piece on the Hackney riot I was naturally proud of it.  And being my usually naïve self – innocence the source of most trouble – I thought I’d comment on Michael Albert’s piece on the same topic, referencing my own very different perspective. 

His reply was initially odd, then hopeful, then finally derogatory.  Unable to be saved by him I had got on his nerves.  How often have I experienced that before.  Paul, if you would just listen to me you would see the truth!  You could become a director of the company, if you would only accept reality.  I have remained in my happy ignorance.

Maybe I wasn’t clear.  Perhaps what I write is odd.  My style strange?  Do I make any sense at all…  You must tell me good reader.

An alterative explanation is that my perspective is too different for him to understand.  There is an old Chomsky story about how a small Marxist paper rejected a piece he wrote on the fall of the Berlin Wall.  They were so ideologically conditioned they couldn’t understand it.  His view that the collapse of Communism was good for Socialism simply could not be assimilated into their theology.  In this case, it could be the tendency to reduce every explanation to politics; one of the new religions of the age; coupled with his strong ideological commitments.

So maybe it is the same as with those old Marx fans.  You must judge, my friends.

I Know Nothing About Them

A couple of interesting replies to my piece on the Hackney riot on the Media Lens Message Board.  Inevitably I have responded.  It seems a shame to lose it into internet oblivion….

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A Victory for Law and Order

…the police spring into the saddle, swords drawn and swinging, coming out of the sidestreets, with police on foot sealing off the streets behind them.  Horses fall, riders lurch, the paving stones are torn up, exploring fingers dig between them, stones rain upon the breaking walls of police.  Two powers are trying to come to grips, the mass of the powerful and the mass of the powerless, and the police cordons have been torn asunder while the hungry are forcing their way towards the well-fed.  Above the frenzy of the people rises the singing of those who are pressing from behind.  Now some are singing and some are bleeding, and sometimes a shot splits the frenzy of the songs, so that for a fraction of a second there is silence and one hears the falling of the autumn rain, and the drumming of it on roofs and windowpanes, and it is as if it were raining on a peaceful world preparing to sink into its winter sleep.

But then comes the lament of a motor horn, sounding like a wounded beast, and from far off comes the confused sound of the streetcars’ bells, whistles shrill, trumpets cry like children.  A dog who has been crushed howls like a human, becomes human in the hour of its miserable death, chains and bolts rattle from doors and again a shot rings out.

From the university comes Marinelli with fifty young people armed with carbines, to reinforce the students.  The fire engines come.  Their hoses send forth cold jets of water that falls with a painfully powerful hiss among the people.  For a few moments the crowd scatters.  Then it reassembles.  Little groups form and develop.  A shot strikes a hose.  On the pavement lie firemen’s helmets.  The hose is torn.  Police clatter up in lorries.  The street paving rumbles.  The windowpanes tremble.  The police are at once dragged down, stamped on, bloodied, scattered and disarmed.  Workmen smash carbines over knees.  Women are swinging sabres, pistols, rifles.

From the grey northern quarters more hordes come pouring, carrying household implements, pokers, spades, axes and shovels.  High up above, a machine-gun stutters.  Someone lets out a cry, and at once thousands have turned to flee.  A thousand hands are raised, pointing nowhere.  From every rooftop, guns are pointing.  From every rooftop machine-guns stutter.  Behind every projecting wall crouch green uniforms.  Black muzzles are poking out of every window.

Someone shouts” ‘Soldiers!’
(The Spider’s Web, by Joseph Roth)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Poor Hackney

It was a very British riot.  Civilised, as I walked through its aftermath, and quiet.  It is the quietness, the general calmness, that I will remember the most.  Disturbed only by the police; with their occasional sirens and later, when I reached Mare Street, the helicopters’ thick pulsating whir, transforming the sky into a mechanised motor; a London shopping district into a battle zone.  It was not what I was expecting; although if truth be told I had no idea what to expect.  Who knows what will happen when madness and rage, those two media stars, visit central Hackney.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Friday, 12 August 2011

Literalism

A woman in pants and bra, her lipstick scarlet, her tongue extended like some wobbly diving board, performs lasciviously before John Faustus, gesturing him jump in.  He does.  Lust has overwhelmed his senses.  We are watching an arrogant scholar reduced to a travelling showman; to an old fashion celebrity who has fame and every woman that he wants.  A large mind once intoxicated by knowledge and its possibilities has been reduced to a body’s appetites.  It is the senses that hold court now.

It is a sad fall.  To give up the chance of eternity for drink and pretty girls.  It seems so trivial, conjuring up Alexander and his paramour from the dead, mucking around with the pope’s dinner, cavorting with the empress…  It is a circus act; with no grandeur in it, and thus no tension, we feel, as the play comes to its close.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

(Liberal) Fundamentalism

Janet Malcolm, attacking a review of a new Naipaul book, which criticises his misanthropy and its all too common corollary, an overly sentimental attachment to animals, quotes Milan Kundera:

Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.  And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.  (Letters, TLS 29/10/2010)

Her view?  The reviewer has failed that test.  Before going any further it is worth quoting the context:

[following a long description of a lorry full of cattle, and the author’s anguish over their treatment] It’s worth thinking again of Naipaul’s chilling remark about the pigmies in the face of this overwrought lament; “It is hard to arrive at a human understanding of the pigmies, to see them as individuals.  Perhaps they weren’t.”  (William Boyd, TLS 06/10/2010.  My italics)

It is easy to love what is far away: Stalin’s Russia, Obama’s America, and red squirrels on the European continent.  There are no ugly contradictions or irritating resistance for us to overcome.  We do not have to compromise or argue our points of view.  Thinking is superfluous: for us they are either saints or victims; who we can worship and sometimes assist; allowing two extremes of human behaviour, submission and domination, to sit comfortably side by side in our modern living rooms. 

How much harder to accept other people as their really are; as humans like you and me, with their strong personalities and different ideas; their resistance to our imperial benevolence. 

It is easy to hate what is in another continent.  Clerics in Iran, communists in Angola; G.W. Bush in the White House…  People turned into simple abstractions, with none of the complexity of those close to us.  Abstractions to which we give a simplistic moral value, they are evildoers in a public melodrama, to protect us the pain of real understanding; and the hard work that that entails.

And how much easier it is with the lower species…  Love the beast and hate the human; although we too are animals.  As Nietzsche might have said: how human this is, all too human!

Why should this be so?  Let us speculate…

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Weather in the Streets

A book creates its own reality.  Rosamond Lehmann had a vision when she was young; and her interest in the paranormal became almost an obsession after the sudden death of her daughter Sally.  This belief in spiritualism and parapsychology gives a curious atmosphere to her autobiography; the second half dominated by the spirit of the dead.   It is a world most of us cannot inhabit.  Too strange and odd; it is like having tea with a woman who believes herself the Queen.  At the beginning we experience an awkward curiosity; by the end we are mostly weary.  The one desire the kettle to be boiled, the tea drunk; the goodbye kiss on the doorstep to come quickly.  If our imaginations are good we dream up drugs to dethrone her.

Friday, 29 July 2011

And I Always Thought

And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough.  When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up yourself
Surely you see that.


Friday, 22 July 2011

Norwich

A Short History of Russia (before the revolution)

We were sitting – all the family – drinking tea under the limes at sunset.  Beyond the lilacs the mist was already rising from the gully.

The sound of scythes being sharpened came to us.  It was the peasants from the next estate who had come out to mow the merchant’s meadow.  They were not shouting and swearing as they usually did.  The scythes went swinging through the grass, about twenty of them; you could tell by the sound.

Suddenly one of the men started up a song.  Effortlessly, the powerful silvery tenor poured forth, immediately flooding gully, grove, and garden.  What with the lilacs and the mist you could not see anything, but I could tell by the voice that it was Grigory Khripunov singing; only I would never have thought that weedy little Grigory from the factory had such a powerful voice.

The men took up the song.  And we suddenly felt dreadfully awkward.

I don’t know the tune, can’t catch the words; but the song swells and swells.  Never have the neighbour’s men sung like that before.  I feel embarrassed to remain seated, have a tickle in my throat and want to cry.  I jump up and run off into a far corner of the garden.

It was after that that everything began to go to pieces.  The men who had been singing brought in syphilis from Moscow and spread it all through the neighbouring villages.  The merchant whose meadow was being mown took to the bottle and once, when drunk, set fire to his own hay lofts.  The deacon began getting illegitimate children.  The ceiling in Fyedot’s izba fell in completely and Fyedot did nothing about it.  In our family the old people began to die and the young people to grow old.  My grandfather began to say the most stupid things, quite unlike his old self.  As for me, the next morning I went and cut down the ancient lilac.

That lilac was centenarian, aristocratic, the flowers were pale blush and sparse, and the trunk so gnarled it almost defied the axe.  I chopped it all down and beyond it rose a grove of birches.  I cut down the birches too, and beyond them was the gully.  From the bottom of the gully I could now see nothing but my own house rising above my head.  It stood open to every wind and storm.  If I were to dig underneath it, it would collapse and bury me.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Careless George

At what age do people walk away from the left?  The early twenties, for the majority, a few months after their first full time job.  A minority crawl away many years later; when, their faith weakened by repeated failures, they are seduced by the comfortable life; the mood music and soft lights on the other side of the party wall too powerful at last to resist – it is hard, when in middle age, to accept that others, less talented than oneself, are paid more and better respected; and have all the pretty girls and darling acolytes.  A few never change.  Their faith, and in some case their values, are much too strong and deeply embedded ever to be removed.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Palimpsest

Where has all the power gone?  The third part of my series on the left puts the spectacles on...  Look at what it finds it here.

Monday, 4 July 2011

They are Bigots

There is no surprise, I have answered the comments referred to in my previous post; which I have only recently read.  The one is extraordinary; and shows, I think, a major problem with the left – its intolerance of different ideas; exhibited here as an attack on the common man. 

Why this should be so is not entirely clear, but seems linked to its historical tendency to splinter into many small groups, each following their own theology.  Part of the reason must be its intellectual nature: everything comes to depend on one’s own set of quite strictly demarcated views.  It is a world where relatively simple ideas become formulas; maintained against all criticism.   An intellectual rigidity results; and intolerance naturally follows.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A Note in Music

At what moment does the present become the past?  This question mark? Yes, if you take me literally, it is true, that last t and this s are now part of eternal history.  This last full stop reminds us so; it joins them. 

The past present with each tap on a keyboard.  We calibrate it so easily, waving goodbye to these odd questions, which dart around like dragonflies over a pond.  The past?  We type it away, each tap reducing thought to our fingertips; tap tap tap to your silly questions.  That is our answer!  The last full stop the last thing we see when the train punctures the horizon.

Ah! if only life was so simple.  So come on, let us think a little more broadly.  About years rather than seconds; let stages of life replace just last week.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Friday, 1 July 2011

When Conservatives Become Socialists

The second in my series on the left for Ceasefire Magazine has now appeared.  You can find it here.  There are a couple of comments; neither of them mine.  They will come, I have little doubt.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Arbitration

Two men on their own blogs are talking to each other; they are arguing with one another about the same thing.  One is on the ground floor and the other is at the top, looking down.  The one appears to have just entered the building; the other has been there for a long time.  One seems fresh, the other somewhat stale; they appear to come from the same country; though their talk is in different dialects.  We listen carefully, or try to, trying to understand what it is all about.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Strictly Casual

Tom’s view:

‘There’s a new chap come into the office…  Long hair and some queer sort of tie.  More like an artist.’  He laughed heartily, and added: ‘Seems a decent sort of chap, though…’

Grace sees him later:

…his features, she decided, were plain.  More like an artist, Tom had said.  What characteristic nonsense to apply a label simply because he did not shave his head and oil the stubble, and generally take precautions against a certain appearance of individuality.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Victory Begins with Defeat

Ceasefire Magazine has published the first article in what I hope is a little series on that amorphous thing we call the left.  You can find it here.  There is a long comment, and my slightly briefer response.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Strange Comforts

The faith is extraordinary.  We are machines.  Machines that kiss, caress and fuck in order that new machines can do the same, because God has made us so...

God? 

In a scientific culture what would you expect God to be?  Go on.  Think about it.  I’m here, and I’m thinking too; but not so very hard.  I’ve done it all before, as a few of you know, though I keep on doing it; interminably for some, I acknowledge this, I know.  So tell me, what have you thought.  Not enough time, you say.  Oh come on, I want nothing too profound; just a quick guess will do.  So, what do you think?  In our modern age, in our new world of reason and sound sense, what God would you expect us all to worship?

Created in our own image, of course.  So.  What is that image?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Friday, 17 June 2011

Divine Wind

For centuries learned men would muse on the ineffable.  The harder it was to articulate the greater they would try to do so, and many tomes were written; and many a seminarian was lost amongst their strange and complex sentences.  Centuries went by, and the absolute remained unattainable; still a distant realm unknown to the human mind.  Meanwhile, whole libraries were written, but nothing new could be found; for none was possible: the ungraspable was the unutterable, and the learned could only kneel before it in wondrous ecstasy.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Festival Opens

Voices.  It is darker now.  The blue gone, the grey is going; marbles of white light float on black water; we feel it, its presence pushing against us.  We feel the night on the edges of the bay.  It is close to us.  And voices.  Muffled, raking, indistinct.  There are voices all around us.  Everywhere words, like pebbles under waves; we see large diaphanous hands in fine lace gloves; they pan the beach, moving it, shaking it, slowly.  The beach shifts, collapses; folds rise here and there.  Going under…  We hear a stone plunge in the near distance.  There are seagulls, and a dog barks.  The lampposts, sentries of light, they hold back the night, encroaching all about us.  We feel it, and see it as it squeezes between the posts, pushing onto the pavement…  They stand so still, and so silent; and they are strong – always they hold back the night.  To watch us, stare at us, staring us out.  We return to words, the loose phrases; we catch some laughter – a momentary shock, a thing we understand, sounds clearer than syllables.  There is relief in human utterance.  Someone shouts, and another and another; a sentence shoots up into the night sky!  We strain after it, amongst the voices all around us; the air a busy room, far too crowded to get in.  There is music, closer and louder; close now to where we stand; waiting patiently.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Invasion on the Farm

I am Prytherch.  Forgive me.  I don't know
What you are talking about; your thoughts flow
Too swiftly for me; I cannot dawdle
Along their banks and fish in their quick stream
With crude fingers.  I am alone, exposed
In my own fields with no place to run
From your sharp eyes.  I, who a moment back
Paddled in the sharp grass, the old farm
Warm as a sack about me, feel the cold
Winds of the world blowing.  The patched gate
You left open will never be shut again.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Do You Know Me?

If you don’t understand your own society you will not understand another.   How much confusion arises from this simple mistake!  Misled by the superficial codes, and the illusions and abstractions, that form the cultural mix of the country in which we are raised, we take them for reality.  We then climb onto a jet plane and land amongst a new mosaic of arresting images, customs, and baroque descriptions, and we think these are real too.

With the exception of this lone voice, no one of importance praised the work.  Mishima found himself in a peculiarly Japanese situation; he had alienated the Bundan but there was not one hostile squeak from the critics, just a silence – a characteristic Japanese method of criticism.  (The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, by Henry Scott Stokes)

How little does the writer know of Western literary culture.  What he describes is an all too common technique to silence writers and thinkers who go beyond the boundaries of respectable opinion.  Russian Climate quotes Schopenhauer’s view of his treatment in Germany; a hundred fifty years later we see the same process used against Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky in America.  It is the easiest and most effective way to eradicate work that is too difficult and uncomfortable to assimilate.

Monday, 30 May 2011

I Like It!

You see it so often. In fact you see it all the time. 

Peter Singer’s almost reverential review… of On What Matters by Derek Parfit claims that the work is the “most significant work in ethics since Sidgwick’s masterpiece [The Methods of Ethics] was published in 1873”.  On the contrary, two much more important books were published by Friedrich Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and On the Genealogy of Morality (1887).  (John Greenbank, letter to the TLS 27/05/2011)

The argument is nonsense, of course. For you cannot disprove a person’s preference by replacing it with one of your own.  This is the academic equivalent of saying vanilla ice cream is better than choc-chip because I prefer it.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Friday, 20 May 2011

Invitation to the Waltz

Under control.  A life like the family jewels, to be flashed around on special occasions but otherwise kept under lock and key.  Do not let anything show you are free, and therefore vulnerable; keep your exuberance, your wild emotions, within narrow limits; show that they are in your charge.  Sometimes they may peep through the railings, but never must they leave the grounds…

Saturday, 14 May 2011

This is Kitsch

Decades ago Harold Rosenberg wrote an important article about kitsch.  In it he criticised the great Dwight. C. Macdonald, who had attacked the poor quality of popular entertainment.  For Rosenberg, who also criticised Macdonald’s own cliché’s about high culture, this was another form of the genre – writing about kitsch is kitsch.

If you don’t like popular culture ignore it; for it is not worth our attention, he wrote.  This is a stellar insight, which if followed can save much wasted time.  Much angst would have been avoided, and the twitter traffic reduced considerably, especially from the disgruntled Left, if this advice had been taken over the last few weeks.  Why worry about the royal wedding; why even think about it?  Being utterly indifferent to the event I was able to avoid nearly all of it, save for a few pictures in the Guardian, and the front covers of the celebrity magazines that decorate our supermarket shelves.  My one vague interest, as I passed William and Kate on my way into the Co-op each week, was in the race between hair loss and the ceremony I wondered which would win. 

It was all so easy to ignore!  So why get so worked up?  It suggests people are just a little too close to it…

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Beautiful Because Strange

I saw the usual Buddhist furniture – service bell, reading-desk, and scarlet lacquered mokugyo – disposed upon the yellow matting.  The altar supported a stone Jizo, wearing a bib for the sake of child ghosts; and above the statue, upon a long shelf, were smaller images gilded and painted – another Jizo, aureoled from head to foot, a radiant Amida, a sweet faced Kwannon, and a gruesome figure of the Judge of Souls.  Still higher were suspended a confused multitude of votive offerings, including two framed prints taken from American illustrated papers: a view of the Philadelphia Exhibition, and a portrait of Adelaide Neilson in the character of Juliet.  In lieu of the usual flower vases before the houzon there were jars of glass bearing the inscription ‘Reine Claude au jus; conservation garantie.  Toussaint Cosnard: Bordeaux.’  And the box filled with incense-rods bore the legend: “Rich in flavor – Pinhead Cigarettes.’  To the innocent folk who gave them, and who could never hope in this world to make costlier gifts, these ex-votos seemed beautiful because strange; and in spite of incongruities it seemed to me that the little temple did really look pretty.  (Writings from Japan, by Lafacadio Hearn)

Which is the more exotic: Jizo and Kwannon or Pinhead Cigarettes and Ms Neilson?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Echoing Grove

Rosamond Lehmann.  Roll the name around.  Go on.  Roll it around your mouth, your lips; say it quietly and slowly.   Do you like it?  The first name full, rounded, softly judicious; and the second sharper, harder, with that heavy footstep on its last syllable.  Perfect, isn’t it, for a novelist?

Monday, 2 May 2011

Too Human...

Insight and freedom of thought are much too expensive, it seems, for our modern university.  Hunter College couldn’t afford it.  Although only paying $18,000 a year they still had to get rid of Professor Norman Finkelstein.  It is, considering his work and international reputation, a derisory salary.  He was a bargain!  Nevertheless, his price, to think independently and speak freely, was too high and so they forced him out.  His response is characteristic, and suggests something of the man: I don’t want much.  Just enough to do what he was born to do: to teach…

Friday, 29 April 2011

Leeds


Foreign Travel (II) He’s Welsh You Know

I can’t resist a Bertrand Russell quote.  So I went all the way to Penrhyndeudraeth, and had a charming time.  As usual there was the wit and sharp intelligence; and as always I learned something new…

I couldn’t remember where in Wales Russell died so I checked on the AA’s route finder to help me get the exact location. What do I find: Russell was born in Trellech in Monmouthshire.  He is Welsh!   

Joking aside the exchange is interesting, I think, for what two people can achieve when they share similar views, but disagree on some of the detail.  It may also reflect a certain bias in myself – perhaps I overrate the power of cultural constraints.  I’m not sure, it is more, I think, we are coming from different perspectives, but it is something I’m reflecting about.

Foreign travel (I)

I decided to take a holiday. I wandered around the coast for a few days, and came close to renting a caravan.  I was having a great time, everywhere I went, on every cliff top and empty beach, I got my soapbox out.  I was having a wonderful time talking to the waves and the seagulls, curious as ever; and always free with an appropriate question.  What an audience!

Then a human turned up.  He didn’t like what I had to say.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Miles in Bed with Benjamin

I have always remembered this.  Miles Davis telling John McLaughlin “Play it like you don’t know how to play the guitar”.  It was, I guess, to get him to play much simpler, with a little uncertainty, more fragile and tentative, and spare; to create some space for In A Silent Way to breathe.   I also remember McLaughlin’s commentary:

Miles always spoke very cryptically, but at the same time you knew what he was saying was really it … He plays and you know, and that’s what he likes.  He makes you creative.  He puts your creativity on the line.  He’ll make you do something that’s you, but also in tune with what he wants.  That’s hard, but it’s an incredible challenge that everyone should have because it makes you aware of areas you can go that you wouldn’t normally get into…  (Miles Davis, by Ian Carr)

And Dave Holland too, I remember him.  Though his comments are more of the time, but not wrong for that – spot on in fact:

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Something Better

I was going to post something about Japanese Art, by Joan Stanley-Baker.  Then a terrible thought came into the house and stole it.  Oh how I ran to catch this thief.  She was just too fast for me.  So quick in her short pink dress and black tights; her heels at least three inches high…   I’ve put an ad out, and the cops are searching.  I have great hopes they’ll succeed.  Are there many women these days who wear pink high heels, and whose hair is done in a topknot?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

On Reaching The Delta


It seeps through you
This river
Its channels
The stories you tell

The stories
Small deposits
And the river
Goes on its way.

It flows around you
This river
Its islands
Old stories you tell

Old stories
What remains
After the river
Embraces the sea.


Friday, 22 April 2011

London

The Deep and the Shallow

Have a read of this…

A mother had, for their education and betterment, given her children Aesop’s fables to read.  Very soon, however, they brought the book back to her, and the eldest, who was very knowing and precocious, said: ‘This is not a book for us!  It’s much too childish and silly.  We’ve got past thinking that foxes, wolves and ravens can talk: we’re too grown up for such nonsense!’ – Who cannot see in this hopeful lad the future enlightened Rationalists? (from Essays and Aphorisms, by Arthur Schopenhauer)

…and tell me: who were you thinking of when you quickly jogged through these sentences?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

All Around You

CCTV has changed over the years.  Today they stalk the ordinary person, following him through the streets, keeping an eye on the fancy property, to ensure the wealth and privilege, that towers all around her, is given the respect it deserves.  Be good.  Be peaceful.  And above all be law-abiding, they quietly remind us; and gracefully accept, they insist, the robberies of the rich; who use those same laws to steal from the public purse.  The cameras watch, and they keep her to the centre of the pavement; far away from the barricades in the middle of the road.  Revolution is only for thugs and lunatics their pictures tell us; and as we can see for ourselves all too clearly on the evening news.  Though sometimes they record the strangest things; and we watch as young men smash up the Ritz, while police officers stand aside

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Lost in Chauvet

We watch as two albino crocodiles stare at us. Are they twins? Both are looking through the glass; trying to find the creatures within. Curiously and acutely they look; staring now through our dark windows, catching the vague shadows that float, dissolve and disappear. Maybe, just maybe, there is something for them to catch…

Sunday, 10 April 2011

No Shame

I was talking with a friend the other week and Japan, inevitably, appeared in the conversation.  First wriggling around the margins it found its way in, and took over all our sentences.  We couldn’t get it out of the room.  My friend was yelling blasphemies, and I was trying to be reasonable; of course.  But it would not go away. 

How did it get in?  Like a good salesman with a simple slogan that promised great riches: he could sum up one country in a word.  Shame.  He had great teeth and his eyes were clear and bright, and shining with the translucency of fanaticism…  There is only one thing you need to know about this great civilisation: it is a shame culture.  We let him in, but he quickly bored us – he had nothing else to say.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The original

professional amateur:

…the amateur is not necessarily inferior in skill to the professional; the difference between them is simply that the former does because he wants to what the latter does for pay.

In journalism, this means that the amateur is less vulnerable to the pressure of the market, and so to what I regard as the most corrupting influence on art and letters today, that of the cheap cultural goods sold in bulk to the mass public.  The amateur may not know as much about any particular subject as the expert does, but what he does know (which may be rather impressive) he knows as part of his own life and of our culture in general, instead of in the narrow way the specialist knows it…  The amateur, even the dilettante, would seem a necessary figure if our culture is not to dry up into academism.  (from The Responsibility of Peoples)

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Hard Sell

What happens when a salesman is let down by his product?  He so much wants to believe there is no rust under the freshly painted bonnet; and that the brakes were not broke long ago.  He would like to tell us it is wonderful, and he would, if we gave him a chance.  But though polite, we are very firm: look at those two tyres there, aren’t they flat?  And those headlights, is one not smashed, and the other missing?  The words stumble at his lips, and his sentences fall all around him…

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Ouch!

Sometimes the questions can be more revealing than the answers.  In a recent interview we seemed to glimpse, for moments at least, the assumptions that underlie the thinking of our liberal establishment; the worldview of the “soft end” of our corporate media.  The answers were interesting too!  With two of them touching on some deeply held beliefs.  We heard their shock, we felt their pain; and there were reverberations around the internet - the mainstream had taken a hit.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Disputes

This is not so much a review as a demolition.  We watch as Richard J. Evans wields the wrecking ball time and time again.  When he has finished Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is left as a pile of bricks and dust.