Friday, 22 October 2010

Wishful Thinking

Do you remember the postcards? The clues to solving the movie’s mysteries…

They always seemed strange to me, as if here was another game, an inside joke, a director’s ruse to play with the audience; and perhaps the commercial possibilities; could they really tell us so much? Though I could be wrong; for I never looked at them.

To understand a film we should have a sense of its totality; details can help of course; but to view it as some cipher to decode, or a crossword puzzle with arcane clues, is surely to see it wrong; and will lead us astray. It can become some minor exercise, a sort of train spotting (which if truth be told is a lot of what film fandom is about – they know so much about the details), where symbols and signposts are noted and listed; maybe even freeze-framed and recorded. But this is like saying you understand the Weimar Republic because of the facts you write in your notebook…. Are dates and names really enough to grasp that time and place? This doesn’t seem right, for to understand a film we must have a sense of its feel, for it’s there its meaning will lie.

So what is it about?


What would humans be like without language? All that thought, but no ability to express it, except in grunts and wild gestures. All those complex ideas, the nuance of feeling; but you have nothing but ugly facial grimaces, the groping of hands and fingers, to express those shades, all those colours, of thought and meaning. All that frustration! at what you cannot say…. They do not understand! Head in hands you are reduced to an animal.

Or a machine…

Monday, 18 October 2010


Bashing Brodsky(III)

In what looks like the centrepiece of his book, a collection of essays covering a variety of poets and other matters, there is an extended analysis of Marina Tsvetayeva’s Novogodnee (New Year’s Greeting); which is over seventy pages long, and is, I surmise, what Brodsky saw, and what was meant to be seen, as the virtuoso performance of his critical acumen.

Is it?


written so long ago, I didn’t even
know I was a poet,
my words fell like spray from a fountain
or flashes from a rocket,

like brats, they burst into sanctuaries
asleep and filled with incense,
to speak of youth and mortality.
And now my unread pages

lie scattered in dusty bookshops
where nobody even lifts them
to examine.  And yet, like expensive wines,
your time will come, my lines.

Bashing Brodsky(II)

Am I tone deaf? You read the compliments on the back:

…eloquent and subtle (Washington Post)… combines the precision of scholarship with the passion of the poet (The Times)… exaction of genius (Seamus Heaney).

And then you read the book:

Bashing Brodsky(I)

Before I bash Brodsky a few words of praise:

On 18 January 1964 in Leningrad… Iosif Brodsky stood trial for the crime of not taking regular work and thus being a ‘parasite on the state’.  Asked why he had not tried to learn how to be a poet in some institution of higher learning, Brodsky answered: ‘ I did not think it was something that could be learnt….’  [he] was sentenced to five years’ exile with compulsory labour. (Amanda Haight)

A great man.

“A parasite on the state.”  These words should resonate deeply with us today.  For once again we are at the mercy of the Puritans, with the campaigns against benefit scroungers, and the attacks generally against people out of work.   All the superfluous people the government is to increase by thousands… The chutzpah of it all.  When the real scroungers, those who pay the Press’s bar bills, the banksters of the Square Mile, continue to enjoy our money; our large handouts… 

It’s part of a wider trend, of course.  The idolization of work has been a cultural norm for well over a century; on both the Left and Right. It is the absolute precondition for the modern industrial society; where even leisure time becomes a chore.   Despite the propaganda the Soviet Union was not a new socialist civilisation but a corruption of Western industry, a nation turned into a multinational corporation, and thus a peculiarly brutal variant of state capitalism, where instead of the profit motive people were sacrificed to the bureaucrats; who imposed a narrow theology, which they vigorously enforced – the major difference between the two societies, after the mass murders of Stalin. 

Think of life in the firm – dare you criticise its assumptions and PR?  As the West becomes increasingly dominated by Big Business, with its theology of the Market, so society will increasingly come to look like the corporation.  We will turn into the USSR.  And one day we will be arrested for collecting the dole.

Friday, 15 October 2010

We Killed the Indians

Abuse.  How intellectuals love it!  Rather than argue from the facts they prefer to ignore them; with arguments originating from their own prejudices, their strong emotional attachments – to power, wealth and nationality.  How strange.  For one would think that intellectuals, of all people, would revel in reasoned dispute.  But to stick to the facts is a form of equality, a sort of intellectual Gunfight at the OK Corral, and thus far too dangerous – for one’s ideas and academic reputation.  Best to create one’s own fictions, and live within them, with arguments reflecting those narrow premises, where you can live safe and comfortable: more downtown Houston than old Dodge City.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


He wrote one my favourite books, surely a classic of art criticism: Transgressions; The Offences of Art.  The next book I read was somewhat disappointing.   For rather than elucidating a topic, of which I knew little, it seemed to strain after a thesis; it had all the feel of facts squeezed into a theory.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Odd Society

So the Tories are to remove child benefit for the rich; for they don’t need it, and it will save money…  Here is a great Tory, writing 18 years ago about the Thatcher government and their attitude to this kind of thing.

Yet only child benefit earned their puritanical disdain on the grounds, allegedly, that it helped the rich.  Great concern was expressed that the Duchess of Westminster should receive some £7 a week from the taxpayer, which one way and another she did not really need.  These improbable levellers had of course to brush aside the awkward circumstance that at the same time as they were objecting to the Duchess receiving £7 a week from child benefit they were, by cuts in income tax, showering thousands of pounds per week on her ducal husband which he, too, did not really need.  For every pound the Duchess gained in child benefit, the Duke probably gained a windfall of £1,000 in reduced tax.  Yet Thatcherites favoured a means test for the Duchess but not for the Duke. (Sir Ian Gilmour, Dancing With Dogma)

Child benefit being a universal benefit is cheap to administer, and thus actually saves money compared to those that are means tested.  If Osborne wanted to save money, and have us all in it together, nice and cosy, like in the Blitz, why not raise the income tax by 1% on this same high income tax band? Is some millionaire going to empathise with the unemployed if his wife loses twenty quid a week?  Surely he needs to make a bigger, more proportionate sacrifice.[i]

Money.  Do we need so much?  Apparently middle class support is to collapse because a single person with an income of £44,000 may lose a couple of grand. Can that be right?  What about the poor people who struggle on the minimum wage; or the East Europeans who are exploited and paid below it?  Do we need it, really?  Expensive holidays every year?  The latest widescreen TV with cinema surround sound to watch…. Strictly Come Dancing? We need it, right? We need it badly.

Not like those poor people who can’t find work, and who will have to move to where, exactly?  The North of England, where the rents are cheapest?  Its Norman Tebbit again, the poor must acquire wheels, but this time at the point of a bailiff’s warrant (although they must now travel in the opposite direction, it seems).  So the middle classes and the rich people can live in central London like their counterparts on the continent. [ii]  With their money, of course, safely invested in the City; and insured by the rest of us.

And all that time we use to earn this money… saying yes to the boss, working late to read yet one more email; even logging in on Sunday… all that wasted effort; so that what, we can buy Sainsbury’s finest ice cream?[iii]

We are slaves to money.  What a price to pay.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Hero Worship

Some sentences seem to hang their owners.  Maybe it was a late summer afternoon in the bar, too much drink and plentiful reminisce about the old days, in the revolutionary Sixties, when we were this close to overturning The System; maybe it’s all a joke; maybe they mean it even; maybe I am too generous…

AC: Why do you think Mao looks so good?
PS:  Because he said the kind of things – believed them and really inspired people to believe them – which have to be done to have a decent society.  ‘Serve the people.’  ‘Public service not private gain.’  Marx, if he had come back alive, would have said Mao’s his boy…   I haven’t seen anything in Marx that isn’t good.  I think he’s got better and better, I really do.  Mao is the only real Marxist at the leadership level in the post-Marx period.  (Paul Sweezy[i] quoted in Alexander Cockburn’s excellent The Golden Age Is In Us)

It refers to the “revolutionary” Mao of the 1960s when he attacked the party apparatus, and in Harry Magdoff’s words, in the same interview, realised that the only way to remove the conflicts between the different parts of society, between bureaucrats and workers, intellectuals and the rest, was through hard struggle.  We must fight for peace and equality!

One of the curious things about the fall of the Berlin Wall was that along with the concrete and graffiti went Socialism, and the majority of the Marxist Left in the West.[ii] This was despite the reconfiguration of the Sixties, when the Soviet Union was no longer seen as a viable alternative, the Communist Party had lost influence; a Left independent of the two superpowers was the main goal, and there was increasing scepticism about the role of the state.[iii]  This passage may help explain why.