Watching the English – The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
p1 A main object of this book is clearly political, though – in one of the many ways in which this text is not so about but is of its putative object – this purpose is then promptly forgotten and the political is never acknowledged. It is about the continuance of the English identity (said by some commentators to be extinct), which is found to be constituted in the persistence of behavioural codes. Continue reading “A Cosy Look at English Cosiness”
Peter Knight’s, Conspiracy Culture – From the Kennedy Assassination to the X-Files
This asks the question as to how the prevalence of conspiracism relates to the Postmodernish sensibility. This is not so much as a review, but a few notes on conspiracism.
Richard Hofstadter’s ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ (in The Paranoid Style in American Politics – and Other Essays) written just as the modern version was really taking off (1963) takes the clinical notion of paranoia and uses it as a lens to examine the practice of conspiracist thinking. A rough summary of his thesis is that major sections of the American population had come to feel dispossessed of a nation forged in the two great struggles of a democratic-popular revolution and the war against the slave-owners. The ‘paranoid’ response to the feeling of dispossession has been that, rather than attempting a serious analysis, it constructs: ‘conspiracy as the motive force in historical events. History is a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power’. It’s a good read and points out things which, once pointed are obvious (but certainly didn’t occur to me), such as that ‘a fundamental feature of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy’, eg the Ku Klux Klan’s taking on aspects of Catholicism. Continue reading “Notes on Conspiracism”
The Telescreen and Bentham
So many accounts of Nineteen Eighty Four miss much of what is distinctive about it; namely that is not just in the abstract about ‘government control’, but is a very particular satire on British Stalinism during the 1940’s, which yet draws one of its central motifs (the telescreen) not from the USSR but from the bourgeois writer Bentham, via Dostoyevsky via Zamyatin. The motivation of the rulers in that world is actually the self-conscious joy in the exercise of power, which merely uses the State as the best instrument for this. Further, in that book, the inhabitants of it are not known by numbers (I originally wrote this as a response to a blog-post on why it is thought dehumanising for persons to be identified by numbers). Continue reading “The Central Image in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’”
Speaking Out: Writings on Sex. Law, Politics and Society 1954 – 1995, by Antony Grey, Cassell UK, 1997
Published in The Freethinker, journal of the National Secular Society
In the early days of the deliberations of the Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution its name in internal memos was bowdlerised to ‘Huntley and Palmers’ (Grey p242). It is a mark of how much has changed that this absurdity was ironically celebrated by Julian Clary in his high camp TV show. ‘Judge’ Julian has two cute bondage-attired aides, who are named … Huntley and Palmer !
For those of us who cannot remember – and find it hard to imagine – what life was like for gay men pre-67 many of these essays are a valuable resource. It now comes as a shock to read an account of a visit in 1960 to an Amsterdam gay club, in which Grey writes of his astonishment at the normality of same-sex dancing. For many, it is now astonishing that this could have caused surprise. Continue reading “Indignant Pages”
The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Richard Zimler
Originally written as letter to fellow member of a book discussion club.
The novel is set in Lisbon in 1505, during a pogrom against the indigenous Jews, who are known as ‘New Christians’, having been forced to convert eight years previously. The story centers around the murder of the uncle of the narrator, Berekiah Zarco and his search for the killer and investigation of their kabbalist circle. At the end of the story Berekiah decides that he has no future in Portugal and emigrates to Constantinople.
The text of the story is prefaced by ‘Author’s Note: The Discovery of Berekiah Zarco’s Manuscript’. This purports to tell how Richard Zimler whilst staying in an ancient house owned by a friend of a friend in Istanbul’s medieval Jewish Quarter found a MSS in Jewish-Portuguse written in Hebrew characters and composed between 1507 and 1530. This MSS was written by Berekiah in a way ‘which ‘reveals a straightforward technique resembling hat of the Spanish picaresque novel’. Zimler goes on to explain the relation between this supposed MSS and The Last Kabbalist .. ‘Although ..[it].. is more than a translation, I have stayed rigorously faithful to the content of Berekiah’s writing’ except by leaving out prayers and discussions on the Kabbalah. Continue reading “A Pomo novel for X-Factor Fans”
The Plot Against America,Philip Roth, Vintage 2005
Philip Roth is one of modern America’s best-known novelists, famed for his comic Portnoy’s Complaint and his Pullitzer Prize trilogy beginning with American Pastoral. The Plot Against America was inspired by a remark in Arthur Schlesinger’s autobiography that in 1940 isolationist Republicans had considered inviting Charles Lindbergh to put himself forward as a presidential candidate. Roth asks ‘What if ?’
This novel is his answer.After Lindberg arrived at Paris following the first solo flight across the Atlantic he became ‘the most famous man alive’. His achievement and his person became an icon which expressed the fantasies both of conservatives (he was a teetotal nonsmoker who did not dance, was a ‘real gent’) and of modernists (the Nietzschean hero incarnating his will in technology to perform an act whose meaning was itself) (1). This fusion of contraries renders it unsurprising that he became an admirer of that political movement, National Socialism, whose rhetoric and theatre fabricated that same fusion. Nothing is made of this cultural meaning of Lindbergh by Roth, who instead Roth does focusses on Lindbergh’s anti-semitism and admiration for Hitler. Continue reading “Has Roth Lost The Plot ?”
Callinicos on Equality
Alex Callinicos, Equality, Pluto Press, London, 2000
David Murray and Mark Neocleous, Radical Philosophy, No 109, Sept/Oct 2001
Between 1994 and 1998 the wealth of the richest 200 people in the world grew from $440 million to $1042 million; the latter sum is equivalent to the income of 41 per cent of the world’s population. Following Noberto Bobbio’s hugely influential claim that the distinction between left and right centers on the idea of equality, many of the left have argued that the response to global problems such as this is to demand equality. In this book Alex Callinicos joins them. The result is not only a disappointing book, but one which is also symptomatic of the current paucity of thinking on the left.
In this book Marx is presented alongside Tawney and Crosland as providing the traditional socialist agenda concerning equality. The presentation of this triad works in a highly deceiving way. Because Tawney and Crosland wrote arguments for equality, lumping them together with Marx has the effect of encouraging the view that, as a tradition, they were all after the same thing. But nothing Callinicos says here about Marx justifies the view that Marx was somehow ‘for’ equality.
Continue reading “Marxism Against Equalism”