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. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

A Socialist Queen?

Thomas Frank, in an excellent book on American politics, describes the changes that have taken place in Kansas over half a century; and how a left populism had been transformed into the right wing of the Republican Party; with the liberal establishment, rather than the corporate capitalists, its number one target.  These changes, which symbolise a wider national trend, are the result of a political strategy, essentially a 30 years culture war on the liberal elite, dreamed up by the Republicans to win over the Southern Democrats, and other mid-westerners – the old populist core. 

…many of the great political upheavals… of their twentieth century were launched from the territory west of the Ohio River.  The region… gave the country Socialists like Eugene Debs, fiery progressives like Robert La Follette, and practical unionists like Walter Reuther; it spawned the anarchist IWW and the coldly calculating UAW; and it was periodically convulsed in gargantuan and often bloody industrial disputes… there were once Socialist newspapers in Kansas and Socialist voters in Oklahoma and Socialist mayors in Milwaukee and… radical farmers across the region forever enlisting in militant agrarian organizations with names like Farmer’s Alliance, or the Farmer-Labor Party, or the Non-Partisan League, or the Farm Holiday Association.  And… Social Security, the basic element of the liberal welfare state, was largely a product of the Midwestern mind.  (What’s The Matter With America?)

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Specialist

Look at him!  So happy with his new delivery, and so contented, surrounded now by all these filing cabinets; the last one received today.  The door blocked, and he is trapped forever in his self-made labyrinth.  At first the shock, and then the ecstasy: never to leave this room again!

He sits down, with a smile on his face.  This is the happiest he has ever been.  Composing himself, he puts on a sombre mask and slices up his scholarly articles; and places them meticulously inside his empty drawers: passion next to bearded heads on coins.

Passionate beards?  It doesn’t seem possible in our clean-shaven century, as those austere Victorian patriarchs walk across our memories.  Although this is an odd one; a Roman who kills dinner guests with rose petals, and would like to make of his penis an accommodating flower.  He shifts and cuts, and allocates; he puts castration next to cult, the Vestal Virgin in amongst the blue food; he sorts and catalogues, he analyses, and cuts and cuts until there is nothing left…

Friday, 11 March 2011

Tears

When the unpleasant character
Of the deceased
Was made known
Some mourners felt ashamed
Of the tears they had shed
At his graveside and claimed
They had been weeping for joy.
                                    Kurt Bartsch

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Just Weigh It

Deep amongst the footnotes of Dropout Boogie I asserted that everything in our society is being reduced to a single standard: money.  It is a trend, of course, rather than an established fact.  However, I hadn’t realised just how close we had come. Discussing the trial over the ownership of some unpublished Kafka manuscripts Judith Butler describes what the current holders want to do with them.[i]

Eva and Ruth would claim that no one needs to inventory the materials and that the value of the manuscripts should be determined by their weight – quite literally what they weigh.  As one of the attorneys representing Hoffe’s estate explained: ‘If we get agreement, the material will be offered to sale as a single entity, in one package.  It will be sold by weight…  They’ll say: “There’s a kilogram of papers here, the highest bidder will be able to approach and see what’s there.”  The National Library [of Israel] can get in line and make an offer, too.’

The scientist, the bureaucrat and the retailer have merged together – only what can be accurately measured can have value, determined solely in monetary terms.  This is the model for the 21st century citizen.  It is also an attractive model, for many.  Why?  You no longer have to think too hard; to scramble over all those uncertainties, on which no absolute judgement is possible.  Is Dickens better than T.S. Eliot?  Of course, he weighs 120 kilos more!


[i] They are the daughters of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of Max Brod, who was given the papers by Kafka.  Although he was told to destroy them he published some – The Trial, Castle etc. – but kept others, which have remained unpublished.  It is these papers that are on trial in Tel Aviv.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Perfect for the Last One. Somehow it Wouldn’t Go…

There is a scene in Die Zweite Heimat where the main character Herman Simon has hitched a lift. His driver is a maniac driving down the autobahn at maximum speed in a fast Mercedes. He is a former pilot with a head wound, which causes him to occasionally blackout for a few seconds. He drives at high speed, while monotonously counting 1,2,3,4…, to make himself aware of, and perhaps stop, these potentially fatal occurrences.

During the drive they talk about his occupation. Conversation can replace arithmetic, and is the reason he picks up hitchhikers – they can take the wheel when he goes off. He is a salesman, selling equipment to technicians. He calls them stupid, with a harsh, cynical, arrogant laugh: you just wind them up and off they go, doing what you want them to do, playing with their little toys. (He also laughs, in fact becomes hysterical, when Herman tells him the subject he is studying…)

So true. Or at least in many cases it is the truth – too often the technical expert is obsessed by the details and has no idea of the big picture, or its meaning; which often they cannot see or even recognise. When this deficiency is pointed out to them it is usually dismissed as irrelevant or non-existent.  The natural reaction to what we do not understand; which in turn provides an opportunity for those who would manipulate us; exploiting our ignorance to their own ends.

So, to continue the discussion of the last post, who is the more intelligent? Our clever salesman or the engineer he manipulates. The man who can work out complicated formulas or the man who works out him…

We live in a society founded on the machine; and which is being constructed in its image. The answer is easy, isn’t it?

Oh, sorry, I left you on the side of the road. And Herman is gone, and you never did find out what he was studying. Would you like to know?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Nincompoop

You write a piece.  Then you read one that confirms it, absolutely.