Saturday, 29 December 2012

400th post

This is post no. 400. I've come a long way.

Admittedly, an awful lot of the writing on this blog has been turgid. But I think that the satisfactory posts have made it worth keeping. At least this blog has tracked how my writing skills have been honed (simpler, more elegant and less convoluted) and how my argumentative skills have improved (a bit subtler, less razor-tongued ranting).

Stay tuned for the next 400.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Utility

An entrepreneurial producer of suction, who is a Tory, publicly stated something along the lines of "Why are we funding English courses? Why does anyone need to study French lesbian vampire poetry?"

Let's play this guy's game for a while. Let's be childish. What is more important? Suction or language? Having your carpet cleaned by a new hoover? Or having people study the nuances of language, so as to improve political discourse? And any other kind of discourse?

This latest Tory government brand themselves as a useful government. Their perspective on education repels me, to put it mildly. Courses on the Humanities are looked at with an evil eye (or, at the very least, taken with a pinch of salt). University isn't there to provide a grounding in epistemology and knowledge. They're there for business courses and to churn out employable people, who will help our frail economy. How? By playing a vital role in the private sector.

The fact that, somehow, the population of the country is going to get the economy out of its slump in private business is laughable. But for these guys, the Keynesian model (which has been tried and tested - successfully!) is laughable. Somehow, we are going to get ourselves out of our misery with the help of those committed, responsible folks in the private sector! No, we cannot boost the economy ourselves by investing in growth (that will increase our deficit!). And how can we pave the way to all this? Get people graduated in business! Not only that, we have to privatise education to ensure that only those guys high, high, high up in the top help us out!

That is all education means to these people. A means to an end. They don't realise that their choices are not only useless but harmful. They're making a pig-sty of the economy and disparities in wealth are getting wider and wider and wider.

To get society in the right track, you have to open people's eyes. Whilst I am a sceptic of universities (I am, and always will be, an autodidact), I think that they enlighten the lives of millions. I think that academic rigour, intellectual curiosity, defiance and creativity are indispensable assets. Business is fine, but that is not going to change the world. (I say this without being snobbish or high-minded.) ICT (which is funded a lot) will lead nowhere. English people are hopeless at languages (yet the government believes that if we speak more languages that will help international relations!), yet those courses they are getting cut right-left-and-centre. Perhaps even more depressingly, science is not seen as an interesting subject that can enhance understanding, it just provides chemists, doctors and physiotherapists. The biggest irony about people who claim to be efficient and useful is that they turn out to be inefficient, useless and, in the larger scheme of things, pernicious.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Writers and the world

Taking into account exclusive factors (i.e. literary aspects which aren't part of the text), I think that you could divide writers into two camps: those who are 'visible' and those who are 'invisible.'

There has been an awful lot of self-promotion from writers. A lot of the time this can cloud the talent (or lack thereof) they may have.

Ernest Hemingway, for example, publicised himself as a gruff, macho guy. Yet his writing style is dull, spare and nothing to write home about. His themes are totally uninteresting. The reputation he managed to solidify, in my view, is due to his promotional stratagems, rather than the literary value of his novels.

The beatnik crowd cashed in on their chicness to sell millions of books. Jack Keroac's On the Road drew attention to the fact that it was written in a two-week frisson of creativity, preceded by seven years of non-stop travelling. It has consolidated itself as a modern classic, the only irony being that it is completely unremarkable. Similarly, Charles Bukowski publicised himself as a counterculture 'outsider,' who drank and fucked all day. His novels do, indeed, describe him drinking and fucking all day, but little more than that.

The 'invisibility' of writers used to be an integral part of an author's oeuvre. When Thomas Pynchon published V., a journalist tracked down his house for an interview. Pynchon jumped out of a window of the second floor, eloped and was never seen, nor heard of, again.There have been a number of novels bearing his name, but they appear very sporadically. They are very dense, suffused with allusions and bizarre imagery. They contain so much that many readers have felt tempted to read them as a kind of self-mythologisatising. People think that, in a Pynchon novel, lies the Pynchon persona.

Sadly, the literary 'recluse' has ceased to exist. Now, if you want to get published, you have to promote and promote and promote. If you are the shy type, like I am, getting your stuff out there is very difficult indeed. You have to go out to readings, soirees, make acquaintances with publishers and be a visible face.

Yet, being a 'visible face,' you are still visible only to a select few - the literati, book publishers and people who love to read (sorry to bitch, but they are in short supply.) In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, writers constantly appeared in prime-time TV chat shows. People cared what they had to say about the state of culture, politics and the arts. Even if this overshadowed their books (which is much, much important), these still sold in higher numbers.

All this aside, this is still bullshit. With all this, it is always difficult to gauge real literary value. Hemingway has been consecrated as a master, but his books really have little value. Often, it's those who cash in trends, or who are simply more 'visible,' who make their name.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Anarchism in the 21st century

In the early 20th century, the two most popular oppositional leftist ideologies were Marxism and Anarchism. Anarchism took a back seat after the First World War. As a stolidly pacifist ideology, it lost ground and Communism spread through vast expanses of Eastern Europe and Asia.

Since then, it has acquired pejorative connotations. Many people stress that there is more than "one" type of Anarchism. Perhaps so, but that has only been a recent phenomenon.Classical Anarchism is very clearly egalitarian, democratic and 'liberal' in the truest sense. (These meanings have often been besmirched by the failings of fiscal conservatism or neo-liberal free markets.)

When one thinks of 'Anarchy' as 'chaos', this is not at all true of the ideology. Anarcho-syndicalism, for instance, is meant to maximise order and efficiency. The presence of an overarching state can often lead to corruption, oppression and, perhaps more importantly, apathy. Libertarianism (in the leftist, not the right-wing American sense) is meant to reduce state power so as to then allow free inquiry, discussion and egalitarianism.

As such, Anarchism is direct democracy in the truest sense. With no concrete rulers, communities steer and direct society as they see fit. Instead of being oppressed by a manipulative media, people stick to Enligtenment values, become educated and make their own free choices.

And, by all means, the few times anarcho-syndicalism has been in place, it has worked. During the Spanish Civil War, certain sectors of Spain functioned effectively under this system.

With a bleak future ahead of us (economic meltdown and environmental disaster are in hindsight), this kind of society may come into being. It has certainly gained a lot more prominence, especially with the Occupy movement. If we find ourselves living in primeval swamps, and if the economic system breaks apart, national borders may blur. (National borders are not prioritised by Anarchists and, as such, the term 'Globalism' is truly Anarchist.) We may be able to regulate ourselves without government.

Friday, 7 December 2012

My favourite films of the year, '12

Here are my favourite films of the year. I also made a list of three films last year. (These were Midnight in Paris, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and The Tree of Life.) I've been following new releases quite closely now after I subscribed to Sight and Sound.

Films that narrowly missed this list were Tabu by Miguel Gomes, Amour by Michael Haneke and Cosmopolis by David Cronenberg.

The Master, dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson


I remember walking through a street in Manchester with my dad. There was a Scientology centre nearby, with a steward standing by the foyer. I loudly heckled something like (paraphrasing) "Look at that phony pseudo-mystical centre of brainwashing cunts!" This alarmed my dad who, fearing that the steward may have heard my loud diatribe, cautiously went "Shhhh!"

And this film, though it does not state so directly, follows what happens when you find yourself absorbed into that strange sect. The indoctrination therapies, the obnoxious bullying and the mandatory espousal of hocus-pocus quasi-mystical nonsense. It's little wonder that my dad was weary that the steward may have overheard my rant because, once these sly crooks set their eye on you, you're in for a whirlwind.

The film is even more heavy going, as the lead protagonist (not the master, incidentally, a disciple) is vulnerable, aggressive (The Master repeatedly calls him an 'animal') and simple-minded. He is the perfect prey for this opportunist's scheme.

The films becomes more wrenching as it progresses. We get therapy after therapy after therapy, with the disciple gasping for air. The Master, meanwhile, is constantly tested about the value of his endeavour by sceptics. He has no answers because, as a quack, he is only capable of producing vacous empty-headed babble short on either scientific or philosophical rigour. One of the many discomforting things about the film is that you somehow sympathise for him at times, no matter how facile or bullying he gets.

Finally, I'll mention that the misce-en-scene is fab - it really feels like 40s/50s America (and, later, UK). It is beautifully shot. And the performances (especially Hoffman's) are overwhelmingly good.

Into the Abyss, dir. by Werner Herzog

 Like the list I made last year, I've chosen another Herzog film. I think he's been on really good form of late.

The documentary deals with a devastating murder committed by a couple of ruffians in Texas, U.S.A. One of the criminals is ten days ahead of his sentence, looks remarkably calm, is unrepentant and denies the charges. The other convict, who genuinely exhibits feelings of guilt and remorse, gets a life sentence.

The film mainly consists of a series of interviews Herzog made with the convicts, family members, friends and witnesses. Herzog has been charged with exploiting his subjects in the past and here there are several scenes where the interviewees break out in tears.

Several ethical questions are obviously raised. How can the death penalty continue to be practiced? Are the criminals simply a result of their surroundings, having received little in the way of education? Herzog in the past has dealt with ethnographic and anthropological questions. Yet there's little sense of the interviewees being tools for a social case study. They are, on the main, seen as people who have undergone searing traumas. Herzog also completely avoids the political corruption in Texas (George W. Bush, as governor, signed off slip after slip of death penalties yet he does not figure at all in this film). What I mainly got from this film was a highly moving, emotional account of a human drama.

Nostalgia for the Light, dir. by Patricio Guzmán

Another documentary!

Guzmán apparently had trouble financing this when he pitched the idea. Astronomy, the Pinochet atrocities, the Atacama desert, Chilean history. How does it fit? As it turns out, there is no discrepancy with any of these things in the film.

There is an astronomy base in the Atacama desert, where astronomers observe the stars and record data. As this takes place, family of political prisoners whom Pinochet murdered, scour the arid surface for the remains of their relatives.

Time is a recurrent subject talked about, particularly from the scientists. The present, so we are told, is ever-elusive, as it can only be evoked through reflection. In addition to that, our bodies are made up of a great deal of calcium, which came from the stars. The astronomers are clearly searching for philosophical questions as well, something which is by no means exclusive from science. Archaeologists, meanwhile, are followed excavating relics of indigenous civilisations. The astronomers are on the look-out for figments of vast cosmological explosions that occurred billions of years ago. The archaelogists modestly admit their relics date from a few hundred years. (Interestingly, when I went to the Atacama Desert I was told by a tour guide that the Atacaman aborigines believed that the Spanish colonisers, and by extension the rest of the world, were invaders from space!)

And, perhaps more pertinently, the victims, instead of looking at the stars in awe, lower their heads to the ground in the hope they may find a bone or two of their kin.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Saimon A. King a la Marcel Proust

The carriage traversed past the slope, leading to the beckoning horizon, which glimmered incandescently like the jewellery, like the jewellery of my loved one, who swashed me with kisses and carresses, and, it buttressed a marvellous dividing-line, through which a fissure materialised, and it is these fissures which ameliorate the hum-drum reality of quotidian life, portals to a world where verisimilitude did not exist, where the world is better, and funnier, and more parodic, like Proust, because it is those rare jewels that make life living, that make you realise that you must rally on, because when love exists, matter functions, the fissures I experience with Bach, with Mark E. Smith and with the beckoning horizon which looms closer as the carriage approaches.

O-la-la, that was a crappy - and unfunny - parody!