Wednesday, 29 September 2010

First War

First war resembles
   a beautiful girl
we all want to flirt with
         and believe.

Later it's more
   a repulsive whore
whose callers are bitter
        and grieve.
               Shmu'el Hanagid

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Bill is Back

You see it from the other side, and are confused: have I been wrong all these years?  

One of the advantages of not relying on the newspapers for information and analysis is that you don’t imbibe their world view; allowing perhaps for a more independent perspective; it also means you are not led by the priorities of politicians and editors.  Think of how much time is wasted following the various crises that the Times or the Guardian deem important.  Remember SARS?  Have you forgotten the Millennium Bug? [1]  But there is a downside; you fall behind events, and you develop biases of your own; for however distorted the mainstream media it nevertheless has a point of view, based to a degree on facts and valid opinion.  You forget about this, and are surprised when you find it.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


The initial reaction so strange and unexpected.  My first thought, when considering a title for this piece, was Scum.  But this would give him far too much importance.  After all, it suggests something either you hate passionately or fear greatly; yet I feel nothing at all about him. Like the columnists in the Mail and Express it is as if he lives in another country, of which I have no interest.   He’s somebody I read many years ago, who was on my side, therefore the right one, but even then I thought him a bit of a poseur, a cocktail rebel…  Then he switched sides, glorying in all that carnage; for democracy, he would have us believe.  So we mustn’t use strong words about a non-entity, an insignificant belle-lettriste injecting himself with pomp and self-importance, with intellectual gravitas, as an athlete their steroids.

The chapter “Something of Myself” abounds in empathetic references to Franz Kafka, William Morris, Theodor Adorno, Betrand Russell. Gore Vidal, Orwell… (Sudhir Hazareesingh in the TLS 16/08/2010)

David Runciman describing a type describes him:

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Extremist

Sometimes just to quote is enough…

If his writings continue to proliferate without our being able to stop this intrusion of Nazism into human education, how can we not expect them to lead to yet another translation into facts and acts, from which this time humanity might not be able to recover?  Today, more than ever, it is philosophy’s task to work to protect humanity and alert men’s minds: failing this, Hitlerism and Nazism will continue to germinate through Heidegger’s writings at the risk of spawning new attempts at the complete destruction of thought and the extermination of humankind.  (Emmanual Faye, quoted in a review of his HEIDEGGER by Taylor Carman TLS 10/09/2010)

Who can actually read Heidegger?  Let alone explain him to the rest of us.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


How Weak Are You?

How appearance becomes being. – Even when in the deepest distress, the actor ultimately cannot cease to think of the impression he and the whole scenic effect is making, even for example at the burial of his child; he will weep over his own distress and the ways in which it expresses itself, as his own audience.  The hypocrite who always plays one and the same role finally ceases to be a hypocrite; for example priests, who as young men are usually conscious or unconscious hypocrites, finally become natural and are then really priests without any affectation; or if the father fails to get that far then perhaps the son does so, employing his father’s start and inheriting his habits.  If someone obstinately and for a long time wants to appear something it is in the end hard for him to be anything else.  The profession of almost every man, even that of the artist, begins with hypocrisy, with an imitation from without, with a copying of what is most effective.  He who is always wearing the mask of a friendly countenance must finally acquire a power over benevolent moods without which the impression of friendliness cannot be obtained – and finally these acquire power over him, he is benevolent.  (Friedrich Nietzsche)

When I wrote about masks, and their power of manipulation, it appears I went too far[i]….  The masks we wear, and the roles we play, are not so easily controlled. They can, it seems, bend us to their will.  Can they break us too?

Monday, 13 September 2010

Found You!

Christa T. told me stories about her children; and it struck me that, unlike other mothers, she didn’t notice only the flattering episodes and enjoyable moments: she was incorruptible. A few days before, Anna and her little sister hand in hand had followed a funeral procession and had been stopped only at the last moment from going right up to the graveside.

She was wild with excitement, said Christa T.: I explained to her that only close relatives were allowed to be there when a person is buried. Then she said to me: Oh, please die soon, I want to know how you’re buried!

But then you won’t see me again.

I know, Anna said calmly.

She’s so factual, Christa T. said, without a trace of affectation….

The narrator looks back over a shared past.  She is trying to understand her dead friend; recalling memories, reading her notes and poems; and creating imaginary conversations with mutual acquaintances…. Who was she really?  Can she define her; can she capture Christa T.?

From the very beginning she was different, that was her attraction; detached from everyone else, she was outside the school conventions, the ritual obsequies to her teachers.  It was they who must submit: to her!  She was aloof from everyone; and always so knowing, it was as she’d done it all, already; as if she had travelled to Berlin and all the smart capitals, although she was a local only, living in a village a few miles away.[i] Then suddenly everything changes: walking amongst school friends Christa T. from nowhere blows a trumpet! It is the moment the narrator finds her best friend.

That moment is what the book is about. It is a search for the character who blew that trumpet. Though the search, it seems, is destined to fail: even Christa T. cannot explain herself, for in her notebook she writes of “the difficulty of saying I”.  What chance someone else?

This phrase seems to me a profound truth; and the novel’s attempts to answer it an insight into friendship and our own identity.  What do we know of our friends?  And ourselves: how much do we really understand of our own characters?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Pub Talk

It is May 1929, you’re in a bar in Düsseldorf and a Communist is talking to you.  Ah! Hampstead! (He knows it well having been there to see Karl).  You talk about Goethe and Byron, the flatlands of John Stuart Mill, but, although he likes you, tonight he wants to provoke: all that English liberal sentiment.  Blah!  So he asks your opinion of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; which you know of vaguely, some odd fellow with mobile features…  you mumble away, and tail off, unsure what you’re saying.  He smiles, and nods – he walks arm in arm with History -, and he tells you a little more: the anti-semitism, the thuggery, the hate; the big conspiracies.  And then he says, your Lord Grey was worse than that!  And he talks over your stupefaction, reminding you of the dead on the lord’s hands – how many did he kill?  Your Liberal Party worse than the Nazis!  Can this be true?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Should We Put Countries on the Couch?

Will the Palestinians be saved through therapy?  This is the suggestion of two Frenchmen who, in the contemporary fashion, turn their particular specialism into a metaphysical idea which becomes the way, or so they believe, to understand and save the world (Trauma (I) It Will Save Us).

Reality is a little more mundane:

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Nice to See You

Why write about a film?  To make money, to show off your latest designer jewellery – Marx, Foucault, Lacan –; or do you write to understand, to make sense, of what you have seen?

We all need a living, so the first reason seems acceptable; especially if the reviewer gives an honest account of the film.  The last reason is the most rewarding, both to the writer and the reader; for it has the possibility of giving new depth and meaning to a movie.  The third reason, lets call it the Zizek phenomenon, after its pre-eminent superstar, Slavoj Zizek; seems an almost pointless exercise; the academic as nouveau riche.