A Prescient Passage from Metamorphoses

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Bk Xll, Melville trans.


Remind you of anything … does it?


... Here Rumour dwells,

Her chosen home set on the highest peak,

Constructed with a thousand apertures

And countless entrances and never a door.

It’s open night and day and built throughout

Of echoing bronze; it all reverberates,

Repeating voices, doubling what it hears.

Inside, no peace, no silence anywhere,

And yet no clamour of voices, but muted murmerings

Like waves one hears of a remote sea, 

Or like a far-away thunder rumble,

When Jove has clashed the rain-clouds.

Crowds throng its halls, mobs of liteweights

That come and go, and rumours everywhere,

Thousands of them, false mixed with true, roaming to and fro,

And words flit by, phrases all confused.

Some pour their trash into idle ears,

Some just pass it on, and as each

Gossip adds something new so the story grows.

Here is Credulity, here reckless Error,

Groundless Delight, Whispers of unknown source,

Sudden Sedition, Overwhelming Fears.


All that goes on in heaven or sea or land

Rumour observes and scours the whole wide world.





Notes on Conspiracism

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”

Picnic in the Ruins

Ruskin College and Fascism


The text below was written for publication in The Trumpet, the Students’ Union journal of Ruskin College. Though this journal had previously published a pro-Hitler article it only published the first half of this reply, omitting any reference to the fascist propaganda they had published. Whether this had anything to do with one one of the editors of the journal being a Pagan is something I will not comment on

The word ‘ironic’ is, we’re told, overused – likewise for ‘surreal’. But I don’t know what other words to use about one aspect of the Burford Levellers’ Day, 15 May,2003. There were a number of men dressed in the uniform of the Parliamentary army of the English Civil War carrying replica period muskets. The irony .. or whatever .. is that many people in the political culture which created Levellers’ Day would wet themselves if working people armed themselves in order, as a community, to suppress muggers, twockers and vandals; or, as a political class, formed militias to defend the transition to a post-capitalist society. Indeed, one of the stalls at Burford was from Amnesty calling for the control of firearms. By whom? By nation States ! So the people are to be unarmed? Because of crime? Not quite. The major UK restrictive legislation on the ownership of firearms was in the 1920s, out of fear that the British working class would follow the example of the Russian Revolution.

This political culture will defend the ‘armed road’ in the past, but now thinks entirely within the framework of the capitalist state. It is wallowing, or rather is drowning, in Heritage. Continue reading “Picnic in the Ruins”

Zikek on Lenin

Unpubl. Letter to The London Review of Books on Slavo Zizek.

‘Lenin and Lacan eh ? wot a pair – fnaar, fnaar!’: as a Viz character might say. Indeed, Slavo Zizek’s review of d’Encausse’s book on Lenin reads like a parody out of an upmarket Viz. He offers a classic hack defence of Lenin, spiced up with references to various bourgeois cultural dissidents whom Lenin himself would have despised (Bataille, Junger, Oshima, Lacan).

It is clear that, for Zizek, Lenin figures entirely as a symbol. He tells us, following d’Encausse, that Lenin destroyed the ideas of his opponents, but not the opponents themselves. The anarchists murdered by the Cheka, and the Kronstadt dissidents slaughtered by the Red Army might well disagree. Continue reading “Zikek on Lenin”

Jenny Dahling and History

The Archers and the Suppression of the Temporal

It is, I suppose, a fairly obvious observation to say that one of the constitutive features of soaps is the absence of history: In that events occur but there are no changes to the framework in which those events occur

It seems to me that The Archers is an exceptionally good machine for the suppression of history, in the sense that so much is about the essential continuity of the central family and its relation to the land. In each generation there is a crisis over the manner of the succession, but it is always amicably resolved. In other words, the Archers’ farm lives in the sensibility of tradition and rurality. It is the Burkean moment of Conservatism. Now Brian’s outfit is seemingly quite different in that Brian goes out of his way to see his role as making profit and emphasising that farming is no different from any other business. Brian is always one for the latest thing. He is the Hayekian moment of conservatism. If Simon (Debbies’ ex-, who lectured the local college) had ever read to him that wonderful passage from the Communist Manifesto on ‘the constant revolutionising of production … all that is solid melts into air’ he would surely have approved – until he realised that it came from the pen of Old Charlie. Continue reading “Jenny Dahling and History”

Hills and Mountains

Hills and Mountains, and ‘The Social Construction of Reality’

Movies in certain categories I avoid on a prejudice beyond argument:

  • Anything with Hugh Grant .
  • Anything set in Wales.
  • Comedies of village life.
  • Edwardian period pieces – actually it’s set in 1917, close enough; and I’ve just realised that no period in the UK after 1911 is characterised by the name of a monarch.

This movie is all of these. And it is just wonderful and brilliant.

The story, on the face of it, is stunningly silly: A couple of English cartographers arrive in a South Wales boarder village, take some measurements and announce that the local ‘mountain’ is actually 16 feet short of the 1,000 feet which is the official definition of a mountain – it is merely a hill. The villagers respond by a series of ruses to detain the cartographers in the village, meanwhile they carry bucketfulls of earth up the hill in order to make it into a mountain. Continue reading “Hills and Mountains”

Parrots and Owls: Reflections on The Culture Studies Industry


Occasioned by Remembering the Nineties, conference at Birkbeck College, London 8 September ’00


What is the purpose of an event such as Remembering the Nineties ? It was called a ‘conference’. Yet there was was an implicit conspiracy to minimise conferring. Papers started late, people drifted in, papers were too long and mainly delivered with no sense of audience, there was very little time for questions and discussions. So, if not about conferring, what was it about ?

It struck me as odd that at the very beginning of the afternoon session the first speaker thanked the audience for still being there. Perhaps this was a recognition of the audience-blindness of the majority of speakers: papers delivered at breakneck speed, with a premium placed on cleverness and semi-ironic self-referentiality – all drenched in the obligatory references to Derrida, Lacan and so on. One of the few exceptions to this was a paper on the problem of memory in autobiographies. Its carefully nuanced empirical respect for primary texts showed up in glaring relief the wild speculations of the bulk of the contributions. Continue reading “Parrots and Owls: Reflections on The Culture Studies Industry”

The Base/Superstructure Model: Conformist, not Communist

E P Thompson, regarded as one of the greatest of the ‘British Marxist Historians’, argues that the model of base and superstructure is essentially inadequate:

This metaphor from constructional engineering .. must in any case be inadequate to describe the flux of conflict, the dialectic of a changing social process … The model [i.e. base/superstructure] has an inbuilt tendency to reductionism..( THOMPSON E P ‘Peculiarities’, p 79).

( THOMPSON E P ‘Peculiarities’, p 79.)

Marx and Engels did use the term ‘superstructure’ in The German Ideology (For example, MARX/ENG German, p 57). However the terminology of base/superstructure attained the status it had in the marxist tradition through its use in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. This text itself attained its canonical status through Engel’s review of it in Das Volk, August 1859, there ‘Engels invented dialectics, the progenitor of unresolvable ambiguities within the Marxist tradition’. (CARVER Marx & Engels, p 117, and Ch 4.)

An immense load has been place upon this text, more than is justified by the remark in it that its propositions have been ‘a guiding thread’ (MARX 1859 Preface, p 181). For example, G A Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History is almost entirely devoted to defending this text, and it quotes the ‘substantive’ portion of this, beginning with the words ‘In the social production of their life ..’ as a frontpiece. What is remarkable and important here is that this Preface was composed by Marx entirely for tactical purposes and, as such, cannot be taken as a serious statement of his position. Continue reading “The Base/Superstructure Model: Conformist, not Communist”

A Pomo novel for X-Factor Fans

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”

Has Roth Lost The Plot ?

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 ?”