Monday, 24 April 2017

The physiognomy of politicians #4


What can we learn about Michael Gove when we look at him?

First off, he is a nerd. A total and utter swot. He has thick spectacles, his eyes often blankly lurch left-wards and right-wards and he speaks with a nasal, albeit plummy, voice. As he speaks, he does not move a limb in his body, nor exhibit any other kind of emotion. His protruding lips and his magnified, gyrating eyes make him look like a fish. 

So we can tell from his appearance that he semi-autistic. This accounts for his ideological inflexibility. He is a complete ideologue. He completely revamped the national curriculum, making it 'classical,' rigorous and doctrinaire. He is an economic liberal and wants to make large cuts to the public sector. He wants to privatise the NHS, though he is reluctant to admit to this when pressed. He wants to leave the European Union, bandying about populist rhetoric about 'taking back control.' He supported the Iraq war, even when it turned out to be a complete disaster that destabilised the Middle East. 

But let's cut him some slack. You can't accuse him of being inconsistent. He might well be a economic liberal, but he is also a social liberal. He was a very good justice secretary. He understood what his predecessor did not - that prisons are meant to reform citizens and turn them into better, more responsible citizens. They're not there to punish them. As such, he reinstated prison libraries. 

We can tell from his appearance that he is a bookish nerd. His favourite book is The Strange Death of Liberal England. He read a one thousand page biography of J. F. Kennedy whilst his wife gave birth. We can tell from his appearance that he is semi-autistic. Like most autistic people (like myself), he assumes that everyone should think the way he does. He was a 'clever dick' who received a comprehensive education but who nonetheless went to Oxbridge. As such, his experience should be comparable to any other lower middle-class or working-class kid out there. Those kids who live in council houses, play video games and watch trashy TV wouldn't at all struggle with Shakespeare or advanced mathematics because he didn't.

He has real reformist zeal. At times his rhetoric resembles that of a Labour education secretary from the 1960s. Anthony Crosland wanted to 'destroy every fucking grammar school in England,' even 'if it was the last thing he did.' Gove, likewise, believes in radical reform. This is why he irritated Theresa May, who deals with problem on an incremental basis. This is why she left him out of her cabinet. She also happened to find him to be a tad bit insufferable.

So we can tell that he is a nerd and and that he is semi-autistic, but how can we tell that he is a populist? Well, like all politicians he is shifty. When he is grilled about previous statements - such as the statement that he would never be prime minister, despite subsequently running for the position - he is really shifty. To his advantage, he does not look nervous. He does not stutter nor exhibit any emotion. His eyes keep gyrating as he talks complete and utter fabricated bollocks.

And this works to his advantage. He declares that 'people have had enough of experts.' He sensed the populism in the air and he sensed the mounting hatred against the Westminster elites. He sensed how people hate self-appointed experts pontificating to the working man as to how they really shouldn't vote for Brexit.

Yet this is a bookish man, who reads a 1.000 page book whilst his wife gives birth. This is a man who looks and sounds like a complete swot. What credentials does he have to be a man of the people? Indeed, what credentials does he have to say that we shouldn't have experts?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The physiognomy of politicians #3



What can we learn about Peter Mandelson, going by his appearance?

Well, to begin with, he is rather expressionless. He seems to amble about from place to place without exhibiting the faintest emotion. He seems slightly unhinged when he talks. As he talks, he appears to be suppressing details that he does not want to unleash upon the public.

And Peter Mandleson is the king of spin, the so-called 'prince of darkness.' He was the first ever 'spin doctor.' We could easily envision dwelling in a dark corner of a room, as he sips his tea and strokes his white cat. We can easily envision hundreds of his minions storming into this dark room with data, with news items, with gossip and with sleaze. He peruses all of this information with the same expressionless and hinged look. He peruses all of this information as he sips his tea and strokes his white cat.

In that very room, the true levers of power are wielded. In that room, spin is formulated. In that room, headlines are formulated. All of that data, news items, gossip and sleaze is condensed into a catchy headline that lands into the front page of every newspaper. 

Mandelson ambles around from place to place, with legions of press reporters following him closely. He is a highly effective and articulate communicator, as he manipulates their feelings and emotions. He tells him a given situation is such and such a way and should be resolved in this other way. The reporters believe him and write their given articles.

Mandelson has always been part of New Labour and has always sought to make it electable. He is the grandson of Herbert Morrison, a grandee of the 1945-51 government. Morrison was part of the right of the party and thought that the Labour party should end its obsession with class and appease the middle classes. His grandson Mandelson thought the very same thing in 1983, as it was clobbered on the back of a radical left-wing program. He joined Neil Kinnock's press team and sought to modernise the decimated party.

We can tell this when we look at him. Despite his emotionlessness, it looks like he is about to shoot off somewhere to manipulate outcomes. Despite the lack of expression, he appears to be restless. This is what he is suppressing all of the time - an endless onslaught of energy.

And he is still at it, even as a lord. He is apparently shuffling about in the background trying to end Corbyn's tenure. Whilst I myself am not the greatest fan of Mandelson's wing of the party, I am less of a fan of Corbyn's wing. Which is why I hope that he is brought down before the election this coming June.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The physiognomy of politicians #2


What can we ascertain about Theresa May's personality from her appearance? Well, like Gordon Brown, she is inscrutable. And that makes her an interesting physiognomic case study.

May is an introvert. We can tell that when we look at her. She often has a piercing look on her eyes, as she purses her lips. She seems to be a natural brooder. She does not seem to like you, or anyone else for that matter. She appears to be judging you from a distance. You are afraid that she might take your human rights away from you. You are afraid that she might look at your internet history, come to the conclusion that you are a dirty perv and launch an inquiry about it.

May is determined, cold and calculating. That is why she was the only Tory who emerged triumphant after Brexit. She 'just gets the job done.' Indeed, she lasted six full years as Home Secretary, while others wither away in that department. Now she has been entrusted with leading Britain over the cliff. We are most likely set for a Hard Brexit. As we leave the single market, as the pound weakens and as inflation soars, she shoots off to different parts of the world pleading for a trade deal. It doesn't matter if it's a pernicious, demagogic misogynist like Trump. It doesn't matter if it's a prolific violator of human rights like Erdogan. The people voted for this outcome and she wants to secure what's in the best interest for the country.

For all her coldness and determination, like Brown she also has asperities. She struggles to think on her feet. With her in the helm, you get the impression that Brexit negotiations would drag on for all perpetuity. The Conservative party has struggled to formulate tangible policies under her helm. We can tell that when we look at her. Even Corbyn can make her look fidgety. She often seems evasive. She can be prone to the occasional platitude, the most egregious one being 'we want a red, white and blue Brexit.' (What on Earth does that mean?) She often feels insecure in large crowds.

Yet, like Brown, she also cares about justice. This comes through mostly in her rhetoric, not in her voting record or her policies. Like Brown, her father was also a minister. She is a communitarian. Unlike Thatcher, she does believe that there is such a thing as society. She wants to help out those who are just about managing.

We can also tell from her physiognomy that she is stubborn and inflexible. When dealing with the opposition, she often scowls. She often juts her lips and grimaces. As such, she is also something of an ideologue. She wants to bring back grammar schools when the public has opposed them. Studies demonstrate that they are a barrier to social mobility. Her ideological leanings also make her pander to populism. She wants to control immigration figures, even if it irreparably harms the economy. She wants social cohesion at all costs. She panders to some nasty xenophobic sentiments.

She certainly is inscrutable. Yet, from this study, we have managed to deduce something about her personality. As Kenneth Clark said, she is a bloody difficult woman.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The physiognomy of politicians #1


What can we ascertain from Gordon Brown's personality by looking at him? He is dogged, principled, awkward, aloof, impassioned, a fighter, emphatic, tortured, evasive and, like all politicians, conniving.

Gordon Brown struggled to communicate his message. He literally saved the world. The banks collapsed and he bailed them out and, as a result, left a deficit. Yet, in PMQs, he accidentally declared 'I saved the world.' That, of course, sounds ludicrous. David Cameron could not prevent himself from ridiculing it. Gordon Brown remained solemn and serious as the entire house burst out laughing.

We can ascertain from looking at Gordon that he is a tragic figure, that he is doomed. He contrives a false smile for the cameras, as we can patently tell that he is suffering. He struggles to talk to common folk. He calls voters 'bigots.' He really, really shouldn't. If you want to win votes, that is certainly not a smart strategy. However, the woman he talked most certainly was a bigot.

Politics, ultimately, is dog-eat-dog? He should have made the killer move and called a snap election, when he had a lead in the polls, but he thought that it wasn't the ethical thing to do! And he lost the election! But Gordon cares about social justice! Gordon cares about equality! Gordon cares about public services! And he was wiped out!

He has an awkward gait. He seems to hunch his his back perpetually. He often sticks his tongue out into his cheek. He often hovers around awkwardly, not knowing what to do.

And this is why he lost. This is his greatest tragedy. He lost in an age completely obsessed with personality. Before politicians could win general elections and still have a completely awkward personality. The only thing that mattered back then was to get the blood job done. Just look at Attlee, for Christ sake. Just look at Heath. Also, back then, politicians could win general elections and also be studious academics. Gordon wrote his PHD thesis on the history of the Labour party. But now, how could a bookish weirdo dwelling in a dark corner of a university library possibly now lead a country?

And, still, if you ask me, his personality is a lot more interesting than most other politicians. Cameron is content-free. People say that Corbyn might be reckless and incompetent, but he at least has a personality. Well, he seems dead boring to me. He seems like a thoughtless chap who just jumps on the latest leftist bandwagon. He is a dull voluntarist who joins the latest fashionable cause. Gordon, as we can ascertain from his physiognomy, is a much more interesting character. He is the son of a minister, he is passionate and deeply cares about his party and his country. He reformulated the Labour party. It had to re-adapt to a globalised economy, which had done so much good for the third world.

We can tell from his physiognomy that he is the dual opposite of Tony Blair. Blair is all spin and charm. Blair also dragged the country into the harrowing Iraq calamity. And now the Labour party is in tatters and ruins. Gordon certainly didn't want that to happen.

And, as Cameron strolled into 10 Downing Street, Gordon walked away with his wife and beautiful boys (which, contrary to New Labour spin, he wanted to shield from the public eye, as he wanted to keep his publci and private life separate). He walked awkwardly, as usual. And we could tell from his physiognomy that so many dreams and aspirations evaporated at that very moment.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Heimat - Edgar Reitz



I thought that I'd make videos about books and films that have struck me. This is one is about Heimat, directed by Edgar Reitz. I wanted to keep talking at the end, but my parents arrived!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Drone Age: Streetview Stories

This is a review I just wrote for Michael Brooks' latest book. You can read his blog here.

The Drone Age: Streetview Stories is the latest book by Michael J. Brooks. It explores similar themes to his preceding novel Digital. It explores themes such as privacy, interconnectedness, loss of privacy, collective guilt, mass proliferation of pornography and violence, virtual reality and paranoia.
In his preface, Brooks states that 'the drone is the defining technology of the 21st century.' Many commentators are claiming that we are undergoing a new technological revolution – and that we are struggling to keep up with it. Brooks claims that political figures, television and cars are being supplanted by new media such as drones, computers and social media. Sometimes painting with broad strokes, Brooks claims that the entire social matrix is being remade by these technologies.
The 1960s and 1970s are often mentioned. These years are commonly characterised as an epoch of paranoia. A collective neurosis pervaded about the hydrogen bomb, government surveillance and the Vietnam draft. This sense of paranoia also suffuses this book. Indeed, some of the characters are mad, as in 'Antrocophene Now.' In 'I am at Ease with Myself,' the central protagonist lived through that period. Having worked for the government as a computer scientist in the 1960s, he later surmises that he can strike drones in the middle East by swiping left or right on a Tinder account. Another story which likens contemporary politics to the 1960s/70s is 'The Assasination of Mark Zuckerberg,' which is modelled on a story in J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition. In Ballard's story, Joseph Kennedy's death is morbidly re-imagined as a 'downhill motor race.' In Brooks' own offering, he argues that politicians have been replaced by social media (hence Zuckerberg's inclusion). Ballard argued – in line with the theories propounded by Marshall McLuhan – that we lived in a media landscape. Politicians back then commanded a towering presence on our television screens. Our lives were increasingly artificial, as we increasingly tuned in to our television sets. Now, Brooks contends, politicians have lost their power to reach us, since we choose to glue ourselves to social media instead. Interestingly, Donald Trump won an election by bypassing traditional journalistic media and instead reached social media users directly via Twitter. On the whole, there's a sense that that there are now more reasons to be paranoid, but we are apathetic instead. The paranoia of the 1960s has become a reality – government really is spying on us, we really do live in a global village and American imperialism has become even more pronounced – but we choose to live in the bubble of our Facebook profiles.
All this would suggest that we live in de-ideolgised times and that we live in a global village – politically, personally and economically. If anything, the events of the last year prove that ideology has returned and that this apathy has dissipated. There seems to be a backlash against the idea of this ever-increasing interconnectedness. Borders are closing and nationalism is on the rise. Liberalism and civic rights in the 60s were both consolidated whilst those values are now unravelling. Hence, the 1920s and 1930s are perhaps a more apposite comparison to our own times.
Brooks also argues that we are losing our privacy. One story ('All Watched Over by Lights of Sky') suggests that we are losing personal relationships and that that era was an age of innocence. We are saturated by an an omni-presence of pornography and this seems to put romantic love at jeopardy. Pure thought and introspection also seem to be in jeopardy because the internet and social media distract us. Both of these themes are classic preoccupations of literature. Indeed, many people claim that the entire medium is at risk because of it and Brooks rues all this. He also seems to take a moralistic stance against the sleaziness and narcissism of hook-up culture and the air-headedness of social media. There is a perennial sense that we need to de-plug ourselves from such media so that we can simply get the chance to think. As such, the whole project could well be seen as an attempt to give literature a life-line.
Another theme that recurs is that, for all the technological advancement, we are still human. Brooks does believe that there is such a thing as human nature. There is plenty of violence and bloodshed in human history and we still retain those tendencies. In the final story, a Vietnam vet meets a younger character who works at the military. The veteran argues that humans have always had the tendency to be irrational, frail and to carry a guilty conscience. War for the contemporary military officer is completely impersonal – he merely strategies from a distance and strikes drones, whereas the vet had to fight in the horrors of the battle field. This story – as do several others in the book – argues that, however much technology advances, we remain the same. Technology and science might outgrow us, but we might still manage to destabilise it.
The book also evinces an almost anarchistic dislike of government and foreign wars. There is a sense that we share a collective guilt about drone strikes in Yemen, the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Calais crisis. Indeed, at a time when there is conflict and bloodshed in the middle east, we close our borders to refugees. The book appears to despair at this injustice.
There is, finally, a sense that technology can help us to transcend our human limitations. The phrase 'self-transcendence' often recurs throughout the book. A story set in the Silicon Valley charts a character submerging himself in a virtual reality. This seems to offer a more tangible hallucinatory experience than psychedelic drugs. However, even casual use of social media is described as transcendent. There is a sense that we are constantly escaping from the real world – be it our relationships or suffering in the third world – to submerge ourselves in a virtual one.
Stylistically, the book uses a lot of complex sentences that sometimes give me a bit of a headache. In future, Brooks could try to be simpler and more succinct. As such, the book didn't always flow well enough for me. As a whole, though, the book is very well-written. Brooks uses a lot less jargon than usual, which boded well for me.
The book as a whole is sometimes too 'macro,' in that it focuses on broader political events instead of developing the nuances of plot and characterisation. On the whole, this is a fascinating book that explores interesting themes and appears to urge literature to innovate itself more and to engage more with the contemporary world.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Jazz and democracy

This is part two of a forthcoming book called 'Collected Essays.'

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It is often stressed how jazz is inherently democratic. Indeed, Michelle Obama stated: 'There is no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble' (Thompson 2014). It is the purpose of this essay to interrogate this relationship. It will analyse how jazz is democratic by looking at its formal features. Following this examination of form, it will look at the political implications of the genre. It will look at how jazz started in a country that granted its citizens special constitutional freedoms. Duke Ellington:
Put it this way, jazz is a good barometer of freedom. In its beginnings, the United States spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet provided in this country (Ellington 1973).
Having established why this is the case, this essay will explore how jazz is censored by totalitarian regimes. It will explore how jazz aligns itself with the resistance, which campaigns for the democratic process. It will do so by looking at its history in Nazi Germany and the USSR. This essay will argue that jazz is inherently democratic because it places special emphasis on improvisation, which this essay will liken to freedom of expression. At the same time, a jazz ensemble places strong emphasis on co-operation and for these reasons it resembles a liberal democracy. It believes in freedom, the individual, human rights and civic responsibility.
Although it has these implications, it would be useful to clarify what jazz is in the first place. Totalitarian regimes that clamp down on jazz often struggle to define it (Benz 1998). Jazz can be either rigidly composed or entirely improvised and it involves either a group or solo improvisation. The music is often based on certain keys and thematic melodies. It sometimes follows them very rigidly, other times very loosely. In its most extreme variations, there are no adherence to tonal or melodic rules whatsoever.

There is a sense, going by this description alone, that it has a strong emphasis on freedom. Two more terms that need to be defined are 'freedom' and 'democracy.' When defining freedom, this essay will turn to Leviathan (1651) by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes makes a distinction between 'freedom' and 'liberty': 'A free man is he, that in those things, which by his strength and wit is able to do, is not hindered to doe what he has a will to do. (…) Whereas liberty is: all actions which men doe in common-wealths, for feare of the law, are actions which the doers are at liberty to omit' (p. 146, 1651). Freedom involves acting completely without restraint. In other words, it is acting, as Hobbes would term, within 'the state of nature.' Liberty, meanwhile, involves acting within the parameters of the law as prescribed by any given society. It involves all the actions you are at liberty to do within those parameters. Jazz could be said to be a music borne of freedom, since it was created by an oppressed minority who were not at liberty to express themselves. Formally, meanwhile, it could be said to conform to Hobbes' definition of liberty. The musicians sign a social contract, in the same way that the citizens of Hobbes' commonwealth did. They can express themselves, but at the same time they all have roles and responsibilities. Meanwhile, free jazz conforms to Hobbes' definition of freedom. This essay will soon liken free jazz to anarchism. Anarchism is an ideology that is wholly opposed to the law. It wants to return to a primordial 'state of a nature,' which Hobbes believed led to a perpetual state of war and which needed a strong autocrat to control. Free jazz in many ways is a manifestation of that 'state of nature,' since the musicians do not need to adhere to musical rules.
These are the definition of freedom that this essay will work with, but what about democracy? 'Demos' means people whilst 'kratos' means power/rule. A democracy is therefore a government which has been elected by a group of people. A liberal democracy has a belief in the individual, who is moral and rational enough to decide for himself. It also a belief in reason and progress. Growth and development are the natural condition of mankind and the politics of compromise must be used to attain it. Society is consensual and there has to be a desire for order and co-operation, not disorder and conflict. There is, finally, a belief in shared power and a suspicion of concentrated power, be it in individuals, groups or governments (Museum of Australian Democracy 2013). Jazz also shares this belief in shared power, whilst retaining its belief in the individual. Dave Brubeck: 'Jazz is about the only form of art existing today in which there is freedom of the individual without the loss of group contact' (p. 176, 2003). As Dave Brubeck correctly identifies, jazz is both individual and collective. Inevitably, we end up fetishising individual performers to the detriment of the collective. This also happens in liberal democracies, where individual politicians are praised or disparaged for achievements made by groups of people. As regards the other definitions of liberal democracy, each member of a jazz band has moral and rational worth. Each member is usually rewarded with his own solo and he uses his reason to improvise it. It also depends on his moral worth, since each member of the band must respect the rights of the other members. The members must back the soloist and play in the appropriate key and metre. Jazz also shares a belief in reason and progress, since it has usually aligned itself with progressive movements. As this essay will soon examine, many jazz musicians supported the civil rights movement. Jazz also has a belief in consent and shared power. Power is equally distributed, since all members are given the opportunity to solo. Jazz is also inclusive, since anyone can play it. Although it was created by the black community in the USA, it has flourished in all parts of the world. It is particularly popular in Latin America (Meredith 2007) and Eastern Europe (Lerski 2009), for instance. It also been embedded into the folkloric music of all cultures.
It is clear that jazz conforms to these definitions of freedom and liberal democracy. Having gauged how jazz conforms to these definitions, this essay will start by examining how the formal features of jazz are democratic and why these formal features rankle dictators and autocrats. It will also compare it with political ideologies. Jazz appears to be an expression of freedom. At the same time, the player usually improvises within a certain key. The political implications of this are that, within the context of a piece, the player is at liberty to play whatever he wants. In more structured jazz, such as dixieland and bebob, a solo usually must bear a stronger resemblance to the main tonal centre and to the main melody. This is to some degree similar to free speech in a democracy. A citizen is at liberty to say and do whatever he wants as long as his words and actions comply with the law. When the jazz improviser expresses himself within these constraints, he is also respecting the needs of his fellow performers. There is a sense of civic responsibility to this, since he is responding to the notes and chords that they are playing. These forms of jazz are more structured and conform to the definition of a liberal democracy. Meanwhile, free jazz is analogous to anarchy. The musicians do not have to play in key and they often actively avoid it. It is equivalent to a lawless society, where each musician can express himself in any way he likes. The performers do not need to respond to one another, however they can if they if they feel like it. Since there are no rules, the results are often arbitrary. Anarchist societies want to optimise individual freedom as much as possible – and so does free jazz. Anarchism has historically aligned itself with radical forms of resistance and also opposed the Soviet Union (Yaroslansky 1937). As this essay will later examine, free jazz in particular was excessively monitored by the Soviet authorities. As this paragraph has demonstrated, jazz is formally radical. This is another reason why it is proscribed. Even in its earliest incarnations, such as dixieland and rag-time, it was radically different from other forms of music. It employed dissonance and discords. This is why, alongside modernist art, it is usually considered degenerate by these regimes. It is an affront to classicism, which many dictators do their utmost to uphold. It is also an affront to popular taste, which many dictators try their utmost to exploit and control.
These are formal features that this essay has identified and, above all else, they signify the commitment that the genre has to freedom. Thelonious Monk stated that 'jazz is freedom' (Jazz Online 2014) Due to its improvisatory character, it has these associations. However, totalitarian regimes also clamp down on it for other reasons. Certain genres of music have certain formal components that make them particularly interesting. However, music has always had socio-economic implications. Musical genres are, for better or worse, often associated with certain demographics. Jazz in particular has always been associated with counter-cultures. The reason for this is that jazz is not only an expression of freedom for those who perform it, it also elicits a sense of freedom from its consumers. This is another reason why it has democratic credentials. This essay will now ascertain how jazz elicits these emotions by examining a passage from Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea (1938). Sartre's definition of freedom stresses that individuals must make make their own rational and moral choices in a Godless universe bereft of meaning. Like jazz, this is a viewpoint that has chimed with counter-cultural movements. In his novel Nausea, the character Roquetin experiences pangs of nausea and throughout the majority of the novel feels maudlin. However, he enjoys moments of exultation when listening to jazz:
I am in the music. Globes of fire revolve in the mirrors; rings of smoke encircle them and spin around, veiling and unveiling the hard smile of the light. (…) That movement of my arm unfolded like a majestic theme, it glided along the song of the negress; it seemed to me that it was dancing (p. 38, 1938).
There is, more than anything, also a loss of control here. He loses control of his arm and it moves of its own accord. The music appears to elicit a sense of abandon. This is antithetical to totalitarian regimes, as they want to control every aspect of life, including the emotions of individuals. Interestingly, Roquetin is disdainful towards classical music. Classical music is much more rigid and formalised. Although totalitarian regimes do proscribe avant-garde classicism, they do their utmost to uphold pure classicism. The prime example of this is the Nazi's fetishisation of Richard Wagner. Roquetin writes: 'And the concert halls are overflowing with humiliated, injured people who close their eyes and try to turn their pale faces into receiving aerials. […] The mugs' (p. 246). Going by Roquetin's descriptions, jazz music also elicits freer emotions from its consumers. Classical music forces the listener to concentrate in a much more focused way. As Sartre writes, its listeners often have 'aerials' at the ready. As Sartre's novel demonstrates, jazz elicits a sense of abandon from the consumer. A soloist's improvisation signifies his individual freedom and the jazz aficionado also expresses his individual freedom when listening to a piece of jazz music. Such emotions generally reach this their apex with jazz. As the character in Nausea states, more composed music such as classical music does not elicit the same emotions from him.
These are the emotions that jazz often elicits from the listener. The character in Sartre's novel is a middle-class historian. However, in its origins jazz was not positively regarded and was considered primitive folk music (Philipp 2009). Like other forms of popular art, many people argued that jazz was not art at all. An article called 'Jazz Must Go' argued this case in 1921 (Philipp). Jazz was even considered a backward form of expression by middle-class black people, despite the virtuosity and creativity that was obviously present in the music. It was only until the civil rights movement that this demographic started to feel proud of jazz (Philipp). During this period, there were claims that the music was being appropriated by white people. There were claims that black musicians were being financially exploited. Malcolm X writes the following in his autobiography:
I've seen black musicians at a jam session – a whole lot of difference. The white musician can jam if he's got some sheet music in front of him... But that black musician, he picks up his horn and starts blowing some sounds that he never thought of before. He improvises, he creates (p. 78, 1965).
There is a sense that, starting from its origins, that jazz was music created by the oppressed. However, even though it was created by minority groups, it was played by both white and black musicians. From its beginnings, it could be played by any race, creed or class. As white people were part of a higher economic strata, they often exploited the musicians who created it. This reifies how jazz often goes underground and aligns itself with fringe causes. Once black citizens started to gain rights, jazz swiftly aligned itself with the civil rights movement. In the 1960s, several of the frontrunners of free jazz, such as John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, supported the movement (Wright-Mendoza 2015). Coltrane performed in Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement and shared Malcolm X's views on pan-Africanism (Wright-Mendoza). Meanwhile, Norman Granz, modern jazz impresario and founder of Verve Records, defied segregation laws by refusing to have 'coloured' and 'white' seats at his concerts (Wright-Mendoza). Jazz also aligns itself with progressive movements in democratic countries. Yet despite Malcolm X's claim that black musicians were more adept at this form of music, from its origins jazz had a universalist belief system. And yet, despite its formal complexity, it was lambasted for being tawdry.
It is ironic how jazz, for all its intrinsic sophistication, has been characterised as 'crude.' Yet many of its detractors – often censors and racists – characterise it as such. This essay will now turn to the history of its repression in totalitarian regimes. It will first evaluate its history in Nazi Germany before turning looking at its history in the USSR. Jazz was particularly popular in the Weimar republic. During the First World War, Germany was economically blockaded. Thus, Jazz became known in Germany around 1919. Rations were lifted, which led to a 'jazz rage.' This was before the advent of bebop, which was a more cerebral form of jazz. The genre at this point was centred around dance. It reached a peak between 1924 and 1928 and it was so popular that it led to a 'Jazz fashion.' Its reception in Germany was similar to its reception in the USA, with many German orchestras regarding it as noise. It was only until the advent of symphonic jazz that the musical cognoscenti recognised its merits. The world-wide economic depression of the late 1920s led to a declining interest in jazz (Benz).
Nonetheless, jazz continued to be an integral part of German culture. Nazi ideology harboured a strong dislike of the genre. This essay will look at how the Nazis came to classify the genre and why it repelled them on ideological and racial grounds. The Nazis defied jazz because it was a music of free expression, consent and equal rights. For this reason alone, it sought to regulate it. However, it also sought to taxonomise it because it was an Afro-American type of music with strong links to the Jewish community. In 1928, Bernd Polster wrote an article which attacked the genre: 'The fundamentals of jazz are the syncopation and rhythmic aspects of the Negro. Their modernisation is the work of New York Jews. […] So jazz is Negro music seen through the eyes of the Jews' (p. 9, 1989) From a purely formal perspective, its syncopation and dissonant nature were enough to guarantee its proscription. The Nazis railed against all forms of modernism and 'degenerate' art. Because jazz is associated with minority groups, this highlights how tolerant it is of diversity. This contravenes the social homogeneity that the Nazis wanted to impose on people and its desire to control every sphere of human interest. Although the Nazis were influenced by more suspect aspects of Enlightenment thought, such as eugenics, jazz espouses universalist Enlightenment values. Although nominally an Afro-American form of music, it is open to all people and cultures. It is universalist and cosmopolitan. This is opposed to the nationalism of the Nazis, as well as its belief in the inherent superiority of certain races. Of course, the prime reason why it is an affront to Nazi ideology is due to the latter reason.
As this essay has stated, the Nazis tried to classify all aspects of culture. Having examined why jazz rankled them on ideological grounds, this essay will now examine how they tried to censor it. All culture was subject was to Nazification. This process was called 'Gleischaltung' (co-ordination) and music had to conform to the 'Nazi ideal.' (Treuman 2015) Special emphasis was placed on the racial provenance of jazz and it was classed as 'Negermusik' – Negro Music (Benz). When the Nazis first seized power, jazz was occasionally played on the radio. By 1935, it was completely prohibited (Benz). Initially, the Nazis struggled to classify it because they struggled to define it in the first place. Goebbels, as minister of propaganda, called it 'American nigger kike music' (Transpontine 2008). This radical classification of the genre struggled to gain traction because swing music was especially popular. As such, the Nazis tried subtler ways to regulate jazz. The tenor saxophonist Trevor Skvorecky lived in Germany at the time and described some of the regulations in his novel The Bass Saxophone (1967). These were some of the regulations he recalls seeing enforced:
'Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands. […] In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics […] So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs) […] All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.' (p. 9, Skoverky 1967).

These regulations try their utmost to suppress the existence of swing without outlawing it completely. Existing features of jazz – such as syncopation and instruments such as saxophones – are quelled as much as possible. Although racial aspects are proscribed, these regulations try their utmost to uphold folkloric traditions. This emphasises their nationalism and their desire to root out interloping foreign cultures. It is also evidence as to how their far-reaching totalitarianism had to make concessions to popular taste.
Eventually, swing music was encouraged. This essay will now examine in what ways the Nazis used swing for propagandist purposes. Swing consisted of largely of set arrangements performed by a big band. This constricted improvisation, which was considered primitive and backward. Musicians such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller came to be tolerated by the Nazis for a short period. It was considered an acceptable 'white' replacement for atonal primitive noise. So much so that swing music was even played at the Berlin Olympics (Benz). However, swing music would enjoy its greatest resurgence during the Second World War. Because the Nazis concentrated more on war time efforts, they neglected their regulatory controls on culture and jazz reached a new peak between 1941 and 1945 (Benz). Many soldiers simply wanted to relax and listen to music after coming back from the turbulence of war. By 1944, Goebbels started to see jazz as a strong propagandistic tool (Benz) and he wanted to take 'swing to the enemy' (Dickson 2014). Goebbels wanted to re-write existing swing songs by replacing them with anti-Semitic, anti-Roosevelt and anti-Churchillian lyrics. This was done to 'instil fear into the heart of the enemy' (Dickson). Some of the songs included the following lyrics: 'Another war, another profit, another Jewish business trick. Another season, another reason for makin' whopee' (Dickson). Although several of these oldies were politically incorrect and salacious, none of them were especially anti-Semitic! Eventually, Goebbels recruited a band, with salaries paid for by the government. The groups were led by a singer called Ludz Templin, who was obsessed with American culture. When bombing raids failed, the Nazis turned to, in their own words, 'syncopated anti-Semitism.' The group was allowed to listen to American broadcasts, which had been made illegal in Germany. This allowed them to keep up to speed with trends in American music. They listened to American songs and 'rearranged them to suit Nazi dogma' (Dickson). Ultimately, the Nazis still despised jazz for all the reasons already propounded by this essay. They used it as an affront to the values of Western Europe and the US, by taking their culture and inverting it. In many ways, it was a subversion of values celebrating freedom, plurality, democracy, the individual, consent, etc. It took a type of music that actively celebrated such values and substituted it with lyrics that claimed that the whole of western society was controlled by greedy Jews, or other crude racial stereotypes.
This was the extent to which the Nazis endorsed jazz. This essay will now at look how they dealt with protesters who aligned themselves with it. As this essay has previously stated, in totalitarian regimes jazz usually aligns itself with the resistance. The Nazis were especially brutal and methodical in dealing with dissent. As this essay has explored, musical genres are often associated with certain demographics. This essay explored the impact that jazz has on the listener and it also pinpointed that jazz is associated with counter-cultures. In the Weimar republic jazz was the most popular form of music and it still remained in the popular consciousness, even by the 1940s. The Swing Kids was a youth movement that danced to swing records (Holocaust Memorial Day 2012). By 1936 the Nazis had closed all youth groups and forced all young people to join Hitler Youth. Once the Swing Kids started, they chose non-violent ways to defy the Nazis (Holocaust Memorial Day). They held dance festivals and played banned jazz and swing. In these festivals, they chanted 'swing heil' as opposed to 'heil Hitler' and openly mocked Nazi ideals, activities and symbols (Holocaust Memorial Day). They grew their hair long and adopted American and English fashions (Subculture). They were pacifists and did not want to take part in military service. Aside from this, the movement was largely apolitical and were more concerned with culture and fashion (Subculture). The Gestapo started to use violence to suppress their activities. As society was heavily regulated and streets were constantly patrolled, the events held by the movement were clandestine affairs. In 18 August 1941, there was a brutal police crackdown. Their leaders were deported to concentration camps. They cut their hair and some of the members were sent back home and were closely monitored. As a result, the movement became more politicised. They stoked up their political campaign by distributing anti-fascist propaganda. In January 1942, Himmler wrote to Heydrich urging him to clamp down on the leaders of the movement. They were sent to concentration camps, where they were subjected to beatings and forced labour. Clubs were raided and participants were sent off to camps (Subculture). By this point, the movement had been entirely depleted. It is worth noting that this was one of the few resistance movements that emerged – and it chose to align itself with jazz. Swing Kids was initially a non-political movement and they only became politicised once the Nazis started to repress them. They were free-spirited and obviously could not find a release for their energy in the heavily controlled Nazi regime. Obviously, the regime was heavily censorious and conformist. As the analysis of Nausea demonstrated, jazz tends to provoke a sense of exultation and release from the listener. Although it was not a political gesture, they chose to organise a movement precisely for this reason. However, the Nazis suppressed the movement for one of the many reasons that they suppressed jazz – it was an expression of individual freedom.
Ultimately, the Nazi assault on jazz proved to be unsuccessful. This was because their terminology was too lax. The Nazis were more successful in proscribing modern classical music and any type of music made by Jews. All of these musicians either fled Germany or were sent to gas chambers (Treuman). Such music was easier to define. Twelve-tone music, for example, was systematically organised. It also depended on state grants, whereas jazz was privately organised by individuals.
Of course, like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian society in that it sought to control all human enterprise. This essay will now turn to an assessment of jazz in the Soviet Union. Throughout the existence of the USSR, jazz stood alongside movements that campaigned for the democratic process. As stated earlier, jazz evinces strong Enlightenment values. Like Nazi Germany, the USSR pursued some of the most sinister currents in Enlightenment thought. However, some of the most benign currents, which it assiduously and dogmatically pursued, were its belief in equality and social justice. It would eventually systematically violate these core values. The values that jazz held – cosmopolitanism, universalism, freedom of expression and a belief in the individual – were actively proscribed by the Soviets. As well as disliking its individualistic streak, it strongly disliked its cosmopolitan streak. It meant that it was a form of capitalistic American culture that was seeping into their own. As such, the Soviets wanted art to conform to Soviet ideals. Apart from the era of the New Economic Plan, artists were forced to conform to state propaganda. An example of this would be the 'Socialist Realism' of the Stalinist period. The cultural policy of the 'Iron Fist' demanded that all culture follow this mantra, which was defined by Joseph Stalin (Lerski 2009). Most art, let alone jazz, was considered bourgeois. Vladmir Lenin made the following pronouncement about music: 'I can't listen to music too often. It affects your nerves, makes you want to say stupid things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty in this vile hell' (p. 217, Marcus 1989). This phrase is indicative of the strong distaste that the Soviets have towards 'beauty' and it is also indicative of the distaste they had towards the therapeutic and conciliatory aspects of music. It is almost as if the world is riven with economic inequality and to pretend otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking. The Soviets wanted all art to conform to their particular view of aesthetics, which was communitarian. Of course, improvisation is the core element behind jazz and, as this essay has established, it is a manifestation of individual freedom and creative expression, both of which were anathema to the Soviet regime (Vanhellemont 2009). Jazz was banned, ultimately, because it suggested freedom and the Soviets wanted to create a homogeneous society (Koktobel Jazz Party 2014). Initially, a debate raged as to whether jazz was symbolic of the black struggle against racial oppression in the USA, or whether it was merely an expression of 'bourgeois individualism' (Culshaw 2006). Maxim Gorky wrote an essay in 1928 called 'On the Music of the Gross,' where he claimed that jazz was a symbol of the seedy side of capitalism (Lee 1983). The latter argument won and the existence of jazz in the USSR was soon in jeopardy.
Because of its founding principles, the USSR did not take kindly to jazz. It would soon clamp down on it. Initially, jazz was popular and officially tolerated before Stalin's cultural repression. During Lenin's rule, the pianist Leopold Leopold Teplitsky was sent to the USA to study jazz techniques (Lee). Under Stalin's Iron Fist, laws were passed that prohibited anyone from playing or importing jazz records. After collectivisation in 1932 and the purges of 1936, jazz was rehabilitated. 'Fox and trot' lessons were offered to workers. Interest in jazz rose during WWII and, as in Nazi Germany, regulations were relaxed after officials diverted their attention to the war. During the Cold War, the Soviets revamped their propaganda campaign, with American music singled out as being 'part of a capitalist plot to take over the world.' In 1947, the Soviet Union started a large propaganda campaign called 'Anti-Cosmopolitanism.' This campaign argued that western culture had 'degenerated' and that the Soviet Union had nothing to learn from the west. Jazz bands fell foul of this campaign (Vanhellemont). Public use of the word jazz was forbidden, saxophones were confiscated and hundreds of musicians were sent to concentration camps. Jazz musicians formed bands in gulags (Lee). Like the Nazis, the Soviets soon sought to sanitise jazz and a 'Jazz Orchestra' was established. Its intention was to add symphonic music to the 'vulgar' pop music of the west. They tried to remove syncopation and improvisation. The music that this band played could scarcely be called jazz – it was, really, big band music (Vanhellemont). The attempt to make jazz more 'European' and 'Soviet,' via symphonic touches, was an attempt to make it more standardised and rigid. By shedding its improvisatory nature, it was shedding those features which made it a hallmark of 'bourgeois individualism.' Also, adding symphonic touches was also an attempt to make the music more 'Russian.' There is, after all, a strong history of Russian symphonic music and there is such a thing as a Russian 'style' in the classical tradition.
Through the remainder of its existence, the USSR remained sceptical of jazz. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the most revolutionary style in the west was experimental or 'avant-garde' jazz. This essay has likened this style to anarchism. The Soviet tried to regulate jazz, by adding symphonic touches. Free jazz is impossible to regulate because there is no underlying structure. It epitomises all the elements that repulsed the Soviets and takes them to extremes. The swing bands that played Glenn Miller arrangements were state-sponsored, whereas the avant-garde was pushed underground. Experimental jazz was banned by the Soviets. In the 1980s, KGB agents would stealthily wander into venues playing such music and switch the electricity off (Culshaw). Additionally, free jazz, with its screechy timbres, exemplifies all of the aspects of modernism and 'degenerate art' that the Soviet and the Nazis sought to proscribe.

As the years wore on, the Soviet Union stagnated culturally and economically and some tame attempts were made at liberalising it. Despite some political obstacles, culture thrived in Poland (Lerski 2009). Only certain genres were allowed to flourish, especially those with folk rhythms and without syncopation. During the Stalinist period, jazz was outlawed altogether. Jazz went underground and could only be played at private gatherings. Whereas Polish filmmakers and composers had to conform to the dictates of Socialist Realism, jazz performers increasingly went underground and swapped records clandestinely (p. 6, Brooke 2015). Film, particularly of the serious variety, depends heavily on state funding. As such, it was a medium that was used to promote Socialist Realist propaganda. Likewise, classical music also depends on grants – as this essay demonstrated, the Nazis also found it a lot easier to regulate. Jazz, meanwhile, is usually organised privately and made at the discretion of a group of individuals. As such, it has parallels with the American amendment granting its citizens rights to free assembly. Jazz has a grassroots quality that is a lot more difficult to control. Indeed, in the Soviet Union free jazz thrived in remote areas far away from centralised bureaucracies, such as Lithuania (Mitropolsky 2011). Because of this grassroots, democratic and anti-authoritarian streak, Polish filmmakers often sought to integrate jazz into their films to criticise the regime (Brooke). In 1956, more liberal elements entered the Communist party in Poland (Lerski). A magazine was founded called Jazz, which issued daring polemics against the regime. In the late 1950s, musicians in the Soviet Union were exposed to American jazz, the music grew in sophistication and an avant-garde scene soon emerged. Momentum grew when Dave Brubeck visited the Soviet Union in the late 1950s (Lerki). Despite the cosmopolitan nature of jazz, the scene in Soviet Union could only become more technical by familiarising itself with the advances made in the USA. Jazz scenes soon evolved throughout the Soviet Union, but the more radical and experimental ones were usually ostracised.
The form of jazz resembles a liberal democracy. As Dave Brubeck identified, it allows for both free expression and consensual activity. Jazz also originated in a society that granted its citizens constitutional rights that prioritised free expression and free assembly. Just as anarchist societies have no rules or regulations of any sort, pure free jazz has no rules. This is why this essay likened free jazz to anarchism. Jazz usually aligns itself with progressive causes, such as the civil rights movement. For these reasons, totalitarian regimes try to root it out. It is centred around improvisation, which is contrary to the pathological control that totalitarian regimes try to exert. For these reasons, they often ban jazz altogether, with the Soviet Union even banning the saxophone. Jazz has always been at the forefront of new musical developments. As such, it also rankles these regimes, who condemn it as 'degenerate.' These regimes often try to uphold pure classicism, with the Soviets delineating it as 'Socialist Realism.' Even when some laws and economic policies were eventually liberalised, the Soviets still banned experimental jazz, which has usually been at the forefront of the 'avant-garde.' As an analysis of Nausea demonstrated, Jazz also provokes a sense of release and abandon from the listener. This is why it also aligns itself with the counter-culture, which rankles totalitarian regimes because they want to keep society controlled and homogenised. The 'Swing Kids' in Nazi Germany exemplifies this. Jazz was created by black musicians at a time of racial inequality and it was created in the midst of oppression. Malcolm X claimed that white business people often exploited them financially. Like blues, it has been associated with an oppressed underclass. It has been continuously associated with these classes, even in Nazi Germany and the USSR. This was one reason why the Soviets briefly considered approving it, but they soon discarded this idea. Because it is associated with Afro-Americans, and because it has connections with the Jewish intelligentsia, it was proscribed by the Nazis. Although it was created by a racial underclass, jazz has a universalist and cosmopolitan belief system and can be played by anyone in any place. This riled both the Nazis and the USSR, since the former was a nationalistic creed and the latter launched a campaign against 'cosmopolitanism' and economic globalisation. These are the reasons why jazz is intrinsically democratic and these are the reasons why totalitarian belief systems root it out.

Works Cited
Benson, Bruce (2009) The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Benz, Jill. (1998) Jazz in Germany 1919 – 1945. [Online] Return 2 Style. Available from: http://www.return2style.de/swingaring/amijazz3.htm.
Brooke, Michael. (2015) Sounds of the Underground. Sight and Sound. January, p. 6.
Culshaw, Peter. (2006) How Jazz Survived the Soviets. [Online] The Daily Telegraph. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandjazzmusic/3656544/How-jazz-survived-the-Soviets.html
Dickson, Andrew. (2014) Spring Time for Hitler: How the Nazis Fought the Allies with Jazz. [Online] The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/sep/16/propaganda-swing-nazi-jazz
Ellington, Duke. (1973) Music is my Mistress. New York: Da Capo Press.
Hobbes, Thomas. (1651) Leviathan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lee, Andrea. (1983) An American Sound. [Online] The New York Times. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/04/17/books/an-american-sound.html
Lerski, Cezary. (2009) Polish Jazz – Freedom at Last. [Online] Culture.Pl. Available from: http://culture.pl/en/article/polish-jazz-freedom-at-last
Marcus, Greil. (2001) Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. London: Faber and Faber.
Meridith, Bill. (2007) Latin Jazz: The Jazz Tinge. [Online.] Jazz Times. Available from: https://jazztimes.com/features/latin-jazz-the-latin-tinge/
Mitropolsky, Mikhail. (2011) Red & Hot: The Fate of New Jazz in Russia. [Online] Furious. Available from: http://www.furious.com/perfect/russianjazz.html
Monk, Thelonious. (2014). Great Quotes – Thelonious Monk. [Online] Jazz Online. Available from: https://jazzonline.gr/jazznews/others/item/756-great-quotes-%E2%80%94-thelonious-monk.html?format=html&lang=en
Philipp, Zola. (2015) The Social Effects of Jazz. In York Review. 6.1
Polster, Bernd. (1998) Swing Heil – Jazz im Nationalsozialismus. Berlin: Transit Buchverlag.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. (1938) Nausea. London: Penguin.
Skvorecky, Joseph. (1967). The Bass Saxophone. London: ECCO Press.
Thomson, Marcus. (2014) Wesley Watkins Uses Jazz to Teach Democracy. [Online] Oakland Magazine. Available from: http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/Oakland-Magazine/September-2014/Wesley-Watkins-Uses-Jazz-to-Teach-Democracy/
Transpontine. (2008) Nazis and Jazz. [Online] History is Made at Night. Available from: http://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.co.uk/2008/01/nazis-and-jazz.html
Treuman, C. N. (2015) Music in Nazi Germany. [Online] The History Learning Site. Available from: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/nazi-germany/music-in-nazi-germany/ Available from: http://moadoph.gov.au/democracy/defining-democracy/
Unknown author (2013). Defining Democracy. [Online] Museum of Australian Democracy.
Unknown author. (2012). Case Study: Swing Kids. [Online] Holocaust Memorial Day 2012. Available from: https://web.archive.org/web/20110817231332/http://hmd.org.uk/resources/education/case-study-swing-kids
Unknown author. (2017) Swing Kids. [Online] Subculture. Available from: http://subcultureslist.com/swing-kids/
Unknown author. (2007) Jazz Music in the Soviet Union. [Online] Master and Margarita. Available from: http://www.masterandmargarita.eu/en/09context/muziekjazz.html
Unknown author. (2014) Communism vs. Jazz. [Online] Koktebel Jazz Party. Available from: http://en.koktebel-jazz.ru/about_jazz/20140501/1013175535.html
Wright-Mendoza, Jessie. (2015) How Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement Came Together in the 1960s. [Online] Blank on Blank. Available from: http://blankonblank.org/2015/05/jazz-civil-rights-movement/
X, Malcolm. (1965) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. London: Penguin.

Yaroslansky, E. (1937) History of Anarchism in Russia. New York: International Publishers of New York.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Obscene Bird of Night - José Donoso



I thought that I'd make videos about books and films that have struck me. This is one is about The Obscene Bird of Night, by Chilean author José Donoso.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Ahoy Facebook #4

Part 2 of 'Collected Essays' is in the works, as is my novel. I really need to find a job, but tragically enough most employers toss away my CV with impudent indifference. Wankers. And if they scour through my online history to judge me, encounter this and jump to the conclusion that I am reprehensible human being, then that just enhances how fucked up this society and job market is.

Ahem, sorry about that frustrated rant. In the meantime, here are some bits and pieces from my Facebook page. I need to stop dicking about and procrastinating online and focus on the things that REALLY matter - employability, reading and writing. 

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Lists. I really like pointless lists.
This is my current Amazon shopping basket:
Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson - Camille Paglia
Cultivating Humanity: Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education - Martha Nussbaum
The Price of Inequality - Joseph Stiglitz
Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach - Martha Nussbaum
The Fragility of Goodness: Luck And Ethics In Greek Tragedy And Philosophy - Martha Nussbaum
Hegel's 'Phenomenology of Spirit': A Reader's Guide - Stephen Houlgate
Essays and Aphorisms - Arthur Schopenhauer
Harry Partch: A Biography - Bob Gilmore
Keynes: A Very Short Introduction - Robert Skidelsky
The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering - Norman Finkelstein
Sayings and Anecdotes with Other Popular Moralists - Diogenes the Cynic
Subtotal (11 items): £152.84
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About a week ago I had a dream involving Polly Toynbee. Dateline London (political punditry program on the BBC) was taking place on a boat. Polly Toynbee, who appears fairly regularly, was a snow-woman. She was melting and everyone else was very concerned. They took her to the other end of the boat, to keep her away from the sun.
Dream interpretation: The precarious state of social democracy. Although most 'welfare states,' boast the best share of wealth distribution, and the highest levels of happiness (i.e. Sweden, Denmark, Norway etc.), it is in danger of being wiped out all over Europe. It is being besieged by a surge of left-wing and right-wing populism. Hence why Polly Toynbee was melting away in my dream.

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Sorry, but awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for literature does strike me as gimmicky and even a bit silly. The decisions of the committee over the years have really irked me. For instance, in my humble opinion, Argentina and the USA are two of the countries that have made the greatest contributions to literature. No Argentinean author has EVER won it. (They wouldn't give it to Borges because he supported right-wing dictatorships in Latin America. In fact, 'right-wing' authors aren't well-represented. Having political biases in a LITERARY award is not the way to go.) Bob Dylan is the first American 'author' to have won it since the early 90s. (What about Thomas Pynchon? Cormac McCarthy? Both of them are alive!) Over the years, they also have tended to award the prize to obscure writers no-one has ever heard of (and whose stock does not seem to rise once they have won it). There are a lot of writers out there who have worked ceaselessly hard to produce rich and complex pieces of work. That's why I think that awarding the prize to a folk/rock/pop singer is slightly insulting. Whatever merits his music might have (I have never heard it properly, but it's always struck me as being a bit preachy and obvious), it does not merit a prize in literature.

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I have always found walking through the woods/countryside to be a great way to manage anxiety, stress and depression. I have also found that it's a great way to gather your thoughts and clear your mind.
When I started to think about this, I had a look for empirical research in psychology. A lot of it says that the reason why we often find the woods/nature to have such an effect on us is that for centuries we lived in nature and that out cognitive make-up is designed for living in such places. Our minds are not attuned to living in industrial cities and this hence causes stress for a lot people. A lot of 'neo-luddites' (among the psychotic-murderer-cum-mathematician 'Unabomber') claim that all of the advanced technology we are swamped with all of the time is altering our true 'nature.' The more extreme variations of this theory call for a complete abandonment of technology and for us to return to the woods.
The problem with this theory is that 'nature' as we know it now is generally not completely 'natural.' The countryside is harvested etc. and is constantly under the control of human influence. Even as we go for walks to get away from the city, we are very much under the sway of artificial man-made technology.

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It is of the utmost biological necessity for most of the human species to be boring. If this were not the case, we would cease to exist.
So much so that it makes me think that people who take an interest in interesting writers, filmmakers, composers, philosophers, theorists - i.e. stuff that is ostensibly useless - are genetic mutations People who are interested in, and devote their entire livelihoods to this stuff, do not contribute to others in any tangible way. Hence, they are often labelled as parasites, wasters, scroungers etc. etc. The ultimate example of this is someone who devotes all of his time and effort to all this stuff whilst simultaneously not reproducing.
That is not to say that engineers, scientists, astronomers, biologists, chemists etc. follow their interests because they want to be useful. On the contrary, the utility of their professions most of the time is a mere by-product of their area of interest.
This is really why I was such a terrible student at school. GCSE is all about stuff that has real life application to it. It is only when you go further academically that it becomes more esoteric, useless and, hence, more interesting. It is only at that stage that I finally took a shine to education. This is why applying for jobs for me now is so depressing (as an 'advertising copywriter'). It reminds me of GCSE English assignments - i.e. write persuasively, for an audience in mind and makes it as bland as possible. (There is no way in heaven that I would have chosen to study Literature at university if GCSE were my only introduction to the subject.)
Another problem is that most people cannot lead an 'examined' life because they constantly struggle to survive. Over the centuries, humans have had to struggle with poverty, slavery etc. etc. Many humans still have these problems. How can you have these lofty pretentious thoughts in your head when people are dying of hunger and when we also have jobs to create?
But if everyone were interesting and had some lofty ideal on their mind, I would not be here sitting writing this. The human species would have perished long ago. Most people are boring and practical because they have been genetically programmed to be that way. But as a liberal ideologue would have it, it is better to have a colourful, pluralistic and heterogeneous culture than a staid and homogeneous one. Genetic mutations make the world slightly more vibrant and interesting.
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No, no, noooooo! Hopefully the next four years will result in a protracted stalemate. Even though both the house and the senate will be Republican-controlled, none of the Republicans like him. The fact that this man could be elected leader of United States is perhaps demonstrable proof for the non-existence of God.
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I hate people who politicise all culture with a passion. They go around insisting that everything must be 'useful' and they question the worth of, say, novels, art, classical music philosophy, etc. Everything must have a 'political conscience,' otherwise it's just masturbation. They don't realise that THEY are useless and in the end they just putrefy culture by seeing everything in bi-partisan lines.

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Somewhat disturbed to see so many people jumping on the Fidel Castro bandwagon. Cuba might have have had some merits, especially as regards excellent public services, healthcare, education, etc. However, if you don't think there's anything wrong with clamping down on all free speech/press, with getting rid of all intellectuals, artists, citizens etc. who disagreed with the regime, with imprisoning gays, with having top government officials live in palaces, with having no economic freedom whatsoever (no cafeterias, no shops - absolutely everything state-owned), then there's something deeply wrong with you.
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Sound-bite of the day: Liberals and social democrats of all stripes need to come together to fight off the crazies.
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Last night I had a dream with Mario Vargas Llosa (great Peruvian writer) and Juan Rulfo (great Mexican writer). I was with a throng of people, which M. V. L. was leading somewhere as he talked rather excitedly. We arrived at a state of the art building. There were still several construction workers there making the final touches. M. V. L. turned to Rulfo and said something like 'My work will last and yours won't.' He turned to me and led me into the building. We arrived at a soundproof room, where several M. V. L. books were strewn on the table. He told me that he was leaving all of the books that he ever wrote in this building, and that this building was designed specifically to withstand all damage for millennia and protect everything within it.
Funnily enough, I remember reading that the Ancient Greeks used to do this. If they thought that a book was particularly worthy, they would place it in a special building to preserve it for future generations. They didn't have a printing press back then, though!
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2016 might well have been a rotten year for most of us, but I did at least manage to get through a lot of books.

http://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/5993530?utm_content=yyib_button&utm_medium=email&utm_source=yyib_2016_12
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Excellent read, especially the bits about the Tories' distortion of Labour's economic record. Also, it's readable and clear for us economic illiterates.

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2016/12/how-media-misled-us-over-brexit-and-donald-trump
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This song epitomises everything I hate about The Beatles, the flower power movement and 'the baby boomer generation.'
So, on the one hand they were preaching 'peace and love' (a stupid maxim), yet they were still unwilling to contribute back to society by paying their fair share of tax. They still would have lived extravagant lives in the UK but, alas, it was all a bit too much, so they had to flee unlimited wealth and glamour of the US.
The baby boomer generation and the hippy movement was all about masturbatory indulgence whilst simultaneously protesting against social injustice and authority. On the one hand, they indulged in drugs, sex and what-have-you. On the other hand, they waved the occasional placard. They were spoilt brats, who had benefited from the highest levels of growth up to that point in history. The Labour government at the time was trying to create a more equitable society. They effectively failed, presiding over Britain's economic and industrial decline. At least those old socialist fogeys TRIED and you can't really say that about The Beatles and their cohort.
And it's that generation who have screwed us over. It's that generation which voted for Brexit. They lived through full employment and the highest levels of global wealth and it's their complacency which wrecked my own opportunities. Yet they have the GALL to complain about millennials.
Beyond that, I've never cared for The Beatles' music that much. They have a few songs which are quite nice, but I've always struggle to see how it's so revolutionary and innovative. That's pretty much why I stick to classical music and jazz.

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MY TOP TEN FILMS OF THE YEAR
1. Son of Saul (Lazlo Nemes, Hungary)
2. The Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet, UK)
3. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, Colombia)
4. The Club (Pablo Larraín, Chile)
5. The Pearl Button (Documentary) (Patricio Guzman, Chile)
6. High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, UK)
7. Hitchcock/Truffaut (Documentary) (Kent Jones, USA)
8. Papusza (Krzysztof Krauze, Poland)
9. Arabian Nights Part 1 (Miguel Gomes, Portugal)
10. The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker, USA)
I missed quite a few films this year - I didn't see Ken Loach's latest social justice flick, for instance. Scorcese's 'Silence' looks like something I'd really enjoy, but since it was released on the 1st of January 2017, it is exempt from this list.
Obviously, these lists are at their most interesting when they reflect your own personal tastes. No bogus attempts at 'objectivity' were made here.
The fact that the first two films in this list were made by 27-year-olds is perhaps a sign that cinema is in a healthy condition.
Although several of these films were made in 2015, this list covers films which were released theatrically in the UK in 2016.
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After buying a beer from the local shop, I came home and saw a beautiful full moon. It was a very nice sight indeed. I thought of some 8th century Chinese poets who marvelled at it. Legend goes that Li Po died because he was alone on a boat, found a full moon to be stunning, tried to reach it, fell out of said boat and drowned.
But then, I started to laugh because it was such a cliché! I started to picture Chinese poets looking at the moon and reciting poetry in my head - for some reason that cracked me up! This is what post-modernism has done to us! You can't find hokey things like full moons and poetry beautiful anymore! Fuck you, post-modernism!
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I uploaded this onto YouTube, a charming ditty from the Renaissance era. This is my contribution to the fascinating archival stuff that you can find on this website!