Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Eulogies #1

I have decided to write a series of 'eulogies.' In these pieces I want to write as to why I admire certain individuals. I am particularly fond of eccentrics, misfits, loners and innovators.

The first part of 'Eulogies' will be about Charles Crumb, brother of cartoonist of Robert Crumb.

Charles Crumb appeared in a film called Crumb, which documented the creative process of cartoonist Robert Crumb. The film also documented the lives and habits of his other brothers, Charles and Maxon. The film is about the three brothers, rather than just a portrait of Robert Crumb as a cartoonist. (Hence the title.)

Robert became a world-renowned cartoonist, justifiably so. His panels are densely layered, methodically detailing the minutia of quotidian American life. However, like many artists, he was also a product of circumstance. He was drawing transgressive and iconoclastic comics at a time when 'hippie' and 'underground' comics kicked off.

Robert Crumb is obsessive about comics and the creative process. However, his love for comics started at childhood when Charles introduced them to him. If anything, Charles was more obsessive than Robert. All he cared about was comics. If anything, his work - back then, at least - was more accomplished than Robert's. It was so baroque that each panel was stuffed with 'wrinkles' and knotted patterns. Robert had other interests, but all Charles cared about was comics.  

But Robert left the house and started a career in comics. Charles stayed at home until he died at the age of forty. He became mentally ill. He ceased drawing comics.

Robert talks in the documentary as to how Charles started to 'lose it' in his late teens. His comic strips became more and more elaborate, more ornate. He developed a strange writing style, where perfectly legible handwriting would break off into an intricate, blotchy scrawl. The characters in his comics started to become even more unhinged; he developed a penchant for 'psychotic bunny rabbits.'

Charles also became obsessed with the Walt Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. Like other 'normal' kids, Charles and his siblings would play 'pirates' in the streets. Pirates became the sole subject matter of his comics. Like Robert, Charles was also quite the sex fiend. The interest escalated so much that Charles became obsessed sexually with the film's lead star, child actor Bobby Driscoll.

Charles was mortified should anyone else find out, so he suppressed his desires and died a virgin. His suicidal tendencies, his depression and his monomania were all heightened. He stayed indoors and  read his sizeable book collection. When a film crew arrived at his house, he said that he really wanted to read Kant and Hegel, but he hadn't got around to it yet.

Yet Charles had so much promise. He was very handsome as a young man. For this reason, he was bullied by envious jocks. Charles was quiet, self-effacing, sweet, intelligent, creative and articulate. Granted, he was deviant. However, he was also philosophical and resigned.

He was like a monk from antiquity, who withdrew from the rest of the world to confound his sins. He never left his room because he was too scared of the outdoors. The world is a callous and unforgiving place and would have spat him out. Whenever things went against him, Charles would always quip 'How perfectly goddamn delightful it all is to be sure.' Robert said 'That always took the wind out of my sails.' The life of Charles Crumb is a sad tale, but it can be uplifting. Yes, his talent went to waste. Yes, his entire life went to waste. It is also a reminder of how the world can be so cruel and inhospitable to eccentric individuals. However, it is uplifting to find an individual who wrestled with his demons and turned them into strange and warped art.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Ahoy Facebook #5

Here are my most recent rants on Facebook, starting from late January. Enjoy. Or not.


What bothers me about the US is that, even at its sanest, it sees itself as being exceptional. It is exceptionally democratic, free etc. etc. It is 'the best country in the world.' That arrogant superiority complex has always been there, the only difference is that it has now turned into psychosis.
It is patently clear that there is something inherently undemocratic in your system when a developmentally challenged demagogue is elected having lost the popular vote by a margin of three million ballots. Part of a representative democracy is that you elect representatives so that they can actually represent you and hopefully pass legislation. There is also something inherently undemocratic when a president is elected with with a strong mandate and all of his proposed laws are quashed.
There is something adolescent and, again, a tad psychotic, about disliking government for the sake of it. There are so many Americans, even to the left of the Democratic party, who say 'government takes power away from you.' Well, I don't mind paying more tax knowing full well that, if I get run over by a car, that I won't be confronted with an exorbitantly high bill. In Europe, we pay more taxes, regulate our industry a lot more, yet we are still perfectly happy and, yes, perfectly free. We still value freedom, the only difference is that we have a more grown-up attitude about it. And few people in Europe are insular enough to say that their country is somehow better than anyone else's.
Not to mention, we actually have some wonderful institutions. Again, we are grown-up enough to realise that they have great value and we don't say 'these institutions are taking power away from us.' I already mentioned the NHS, but the BBC has produced some wonderful, enriching programs about culture and science. It has also produced some top-notch popular entertainment. We are not constantly barraged by stupid, shouty, condescending billboard all the time. I think that we are all the better for not having the debased side of capitalism shoved in our faces on a daily basis.
A psychotic lives in a world where he thinks that he is unique, exceptional and harbours special powers. This is the USA right now and it's pretty pathetic.


The following rant isn't directed it at the concept of 'collectivism.' I'm well aware that a concept like 'society' is a collectivist idea and concepts that I approve of, like progressive taxes, the NHS, welfare etc., are collectivist concepts. This rant is directed at people who devote their entire lives to 'collective action.'
People who believe in collective action emphasise that they believe in 'the majority.' Most of the time they impose their own will onto people who just want to get on with their own lives. Individualists believe in the will of the majority in the true sense. We believe that its true manifestation lies in the ballot box, not in blood-splattered revolution. Many collectivists claim to speak for classes of people without consulting them, nor understanding their real needs. Individualists realise that human nature is not a single organism. We recognise that humans are diverse and we recognise that our lives are much more interesting and colourful when everyone is different.
A lot of these people defend the abominable atrocities committed by people like Lenin, Stalin and Pol Pot. Any action, no matter how immoral or disgusting, is justifiable so long as the idea is a noble one. For them, the Holocaust wasn't a horrible event because of its consequences, it was horrible because they find the idea of fascism to be repellent. They are actually perfectly content with killing another person to defend their own depraved ideals. In many cases, they are repressed sociopaths. They harbour fantasies about marching over to the house of commons and shooting everyone there. Given the chance, they would actually do it.
These people believe that solitude, introspection and self-realisation are wastes of time. They rarely read widely. They rarely read the whole spectrum of literature, philosophy, history, science and art. Instead, they read Marxist thinkers who write anachronistic jargon-laden tripe. All this does is reinforce their own skewed view of the world. The whole notion of self-development, of growing and developing as a person, is laughable to them. Instead, in their spare time they play video games (often to live up their fantasies of blood-splattered revolution) and get drunk with their mates. The rest of their time is devoted to 'collective action,' which rarely changes their environment.
These people are obsessed with making changes to their environment, but they hardly ever do so. Most of the time, they get together with people who think exactly the same way they do, wave placards and manically shout platitudes and meaningless slogans into a megaphone. Individualists often make much more pronounced changes to their environment, often in infinitely more interesting ways. Such a person spends long periods of time on his own, introspecting, and creating something interesting. They often create books, symphonies etc. which communicate interesting ideas. These ideas are consumed by people and their lives are enriched. In fact, monks and ascetics who never communicate with other people often live much more fulfilling and meaningful lives than such people who believe in collective action.
And in the end, they actually fetishise the cult of personality they claim to abhor. Their figures become so beatified that they end up being totally exempt from scrutiny. They will completely overlook the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is actually an incompetent leader, for instance. They rarely value the needs of the community, who actually bear the brunt of these horrible regimes. Instead, they are sycophantic towards Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che Guevara, etc.
Ultimately, the whole thing is just a whole load of posturing. They are disappointed when they learn that they 'you are not that left-wing.' This isn't because of the substance behind your politics, it's because you are not that extreme and 'cool.'
They join fringe causes and movements. Now, joining a mainstream party like Labour will actually make concrete changes. Prior to Corbyn these people wouldn't be seen dead anywhere near the Labour party.
Rant over.


I don't wholly agree, I think that the canon and our body of knowledge grows exponentially and that new material should be added. However, I do agree that universities and schools are obsessed with 'usefulness' and with churning out students to the workforce. They are also teeming with shops and clubs that sell you overpriced crap. If I were prime minister, I would remove all business departments from universities and would make it illegal for anything to be sold on campus. Imagine how well that would go down.



For many people on the left, the term 'neo-liberal' a lot of the time just seems to be a synonym for 'bad'.


Taking the most positive and optimistic outlook, I think that we'll only have another Labour government by the time I'm forty.

This is very, very nice.



I hate identity politics.
For one thing, your race, your class and your gender are completely arbitrary. You were born into them. Identity is surely something that is willed. Being a computer technician, a writer, a chess player, a pianist etc. are tangible identities. Going around and accusing people of oppression just because of their 'privilege' isn't a very constructive thing to do. To state the bleeding obvious, it's surely much more sound to criticise people for what they say and do, not for where they come from.
And all this is very rich considering who it comes from. These accusations are usually levelled by graduate students, who have had their PHDs funded by their wealthy parents. They get the best of both worlds - they get privilege and they get to be oppressed.
The fact is that there are no nations and no races that don't have blood on their hands. If you want to take this specious argument to its logical conclusion, then not only am I a psychopathic murderer for having British heritage - Africans, Asians, etc. etc. are too.
There is a whole school of thought that actively misreads texts just so that they can propagate their ideological propaganda. A lot of these people start with preconceived notions, read a text by a dead white author - say, Dickens or Shakespeare - and shout 'that racist!' This creates an atmosphere where everyone neurotically self-censors themselves, because it is not very nice to be falsely accused of racism.
It is true that certain races and classes are born into a disadvantaged position. If you want to be constructive about it, you should join a political campaign or join a think-tank that constructs policy, because falsely accusing people of racism, sexism etc. won't do anything to change it.
I remember thinking as an undergraduate how lucky how I was to be able to sit at a desk at a university library and read about the history of thought. Most people had been excluded from even reading about all this for centuries - and I would have been excluded, too. That's why it's so angering to see these pampered twits complain about their oppression.

People often complain about the obscene wages that football players receive. Granted, it is completely obscene. But what about bankers? Why are people who work in the city meritocratic exemplars whilst football players are berated for being greedy?
There is a tinge of classism to these complaints. The fact is that many football players come from working class backgrounds and work awfully hard to reach the top. Many people who work in the city, meanwhile, are Eton-educated and have reached their cushy positions after walking out of Oxbridge.
The fact remains that football players are very skilled at what they do. They don't 'just kick a ball.' A lot of tactics, athleticism and drive go into those performances. In many countries, football is one of the few sectors that allows working class people to rise in social class. In a country like Per├║, football is one of the few opportunities that working class black people have to rise to the highest social class.
It's really smug how intellectual types look down on football. Even George Orwell, who often challenged the hypocrisy of these types, complained about football fans. Watching Real Madrid vs. Barcelona is somehow beneath them after wading through a copy of 'Critique of Pure Reason.' Football is one of the few opportunities that many driven working-class people get to go as far as they can.

Last night I dreamed about a Bill Gates conference. He was giving the conference in front of the business world's creme-of-the-creme. He was talking about how the Labour party should reinstitute Clause IV. The clause committed the Labour party to 'the common ownership of the means of production.' It was controversial for a long time until it was eventually amended by Tony Blair. Bill Gates, meanwhile, is the greatest success story of unbridled capitalism. So, yeah, that definitely was a very weird dream.

This track really is an overlooked gem. It is experimental in a really subtle, understated way (often the most interesting type of experimentation). This is probably my favourite Miles Davis line-up, when he was transitioning from an adventurous acoustic sound to an electric/fusion one. The albums from this period (Nefertiti, In a Silent Way, Filles De Kilimanjaro) are just superb.


I hope that this isn't true for two reasons: 1) I want to write a short story about Ted Heath that more or less sees him in a sympathetic light (selfish reason) and 2) I feel profoundly sorry for all victims of paedophilic abuse (unselfish reason).

This is my Amazon shopping basket. All items have been 'saved for later.'
End This Depression Now! - Paul Krugman
The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy by Roberto Mangabeira Unger
Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time (Princeton Foundations of Contemporary Philosophy) by Tim Maudlin
Averroes by Majid Fakhri
A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful 2/e (Oxford World's Classics) by Edmund Burke
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Philosophy of Science: Very Short Introduction 2/e (Very Short Introductions) by Samir Okasha
Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium (Classics) by Seneca
Meditations (Penguin Classics) by Marcus Aurelius
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth
From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel C Dennett
Thomas Becket by Frank Barlow
Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain by Rodrigo Quian Quiroga
Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics by O'Rourke, P. J. New edition (1999) by P. J. O'Rourke
The Road to Wigan Pier (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell
Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell
The Canterbury Tales (Wordsworth Poetry Library) by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Gesualdo Hex: Music, Myth, and Memory by Glenn Watkins
A Theory of Justice by John Rawls
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Lucky Jim (Penguin Modern Classics) by Kingsley Amis
The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Whatever it Takes: The Real Story of Gordon Brown and New Labour
Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation by Gordon Brown
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
Edward Heath: A Singular Life by Michael McManus
The Destruction of European Jews by Raoul Hilberg
Roy Jenkins by John Campbell
The Bible: Authorized King James Version (Oxford World's Classics) by Robert Carroll
The Origins of Totalitarianism... by Arendt Hannah
Eichmann in Jerusalem (Penguin Classics) by Hannah Arendt
Kant's 'Critique of Aesthetic Judgement': A Reader's Guide (A Reader's Guides) by Fiona Hughes
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (World History) by R. H. Tawney
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
The Glorious Revolution: 1688 - Britain's Fight for Liberty by Edward Vallance
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu
Royal Family, The by William T. Vollmann
Europe Central by William T Vollmann
The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield
How to be a conservative by Roger Scruton
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan
The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War by Professor Margaret MacMillan
Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa by Pauline Butcher
The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Penguin History) by C L R James
David Boring by Daniel Clowes
Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer by Scott H. Hendrix
Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem) by David Kynaston
God's Fury, England's Fire: A New History of the English Civil Wars by Michael Braddick
Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII's most faithful servant by Tracy Borman
Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government (O'Rourke, P. J.) by P. J. O'Rourke
Constantine: Unconquered emperor, Christian victor by Paul Stephenson
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: An Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to Key Philosophical Texts) by Jill Vance
Hermits: Insights of Solitude by Peter France
Cultivating Humanity: Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education by Martha Craven Nussbaum
The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz
The Fragility of Goodness: Luck And Ethics In Greek Tragedy And Philosophy by Martha C. Nussbaum
Hegel's 'Phenomenology of Spirit': A Reader's Guide (Reader's Guides) by Stephen Houlgate
Essays and Aphorisms (Classics) by Arthur Schopenhauer
Harry Partch: A Biography by Bob Gilmore
Keynes: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Robert Skidelsky
The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering by Norman G. Finkelstein


Very interesting conversation about the nature and history of music.


I wish my brain wasn't chemically imbalanced.

I find it somewhat mystifying why certain politicians are considered 'principled' when they steadfastly refuse to compromise. Somehow politicians who compromise, make some accomplishments and get their hands dirty aren't.
For instance, Tony Benn was a national treasure for precisely this reason. As minister of industry, however, he wanted to create a planned economy which rationed all goods. He wanted to nationalise 80% of industry. He wanted to impose high tariffs and import controls. Now, not only is that politically suicidal, it's scary.
Criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn are always prefixed with 'he's principled' and 'says what he thinks.' Well, at the cost of Labour losing seats, I don't think that amounts to much.
There are other principled politicians who compromised their beliefs but managed to get a lot done. Gordon Brown, I would say, is principled and did a lot of good as chancellor by investing in public services, creating jobs and getting many people out of poverty.

I found this lovely puzzle of Raphael's 'The Academy' in a charity shop that I am volunteering in. It consists of 3.000 pieces, so it will be a mammoth task. It is one of my favourite paintings. It includes all of the major Greek philosophers, with Plato and Aristotle at the forefront. Raphael also features Michelangelo, his contemporary.
I've never done puzzles before, but I just had to buy this. I can add puzzles to the list of unfocused interests that currently occupy my scattered mind: current affairs, British economic history in the 40s-70s, football, classical records, arty films, literary novels and obscure/esoteric philosophy.

Friday, 19 May 2017

My problems with women #2

I wrote a post called 'My Problems With Women' almost three years ago. Well, I'm now reprising it.

When I wrote this post three years ago, I detailed my inadequacies and frustrations. Well, three years later I haven't made all that much progress and I doubt if I ever will. I am now almost twenty-seven.

I have reached the point where I don't know if I really care all that much. A therapist I had even told me that I wasn't suited for a relationship. I found this remark slightly puzzling - isn't the desire to find a partner and to settle down universal?

Sexually, I'm frustrated. In other domains, I wouldn't mind having a relationship. I don't get why it should have to be such a big commitment. Starry-eyed mystics wax lyrical as to how love is ineffable and that it is difficult to define. Well, if it simply involves an individual really liking another person, and having these feelings reciprocated, I don't get why it should be such a big investment.

But I don't know if I really care anymore because, the few tentative times that I have tried starting a relationship, it has gone nowhere. I tried speed dating and online dating, but nothing has happened.

I am aware that I am awkward and that I struggle to connect to others easily. I think that many girls just find it inordinately difficult to talk to me in the first place and couldn't possibly fathom the idea of taking it any further. What annoys me is that over the years I have made several friends, all of whom are male. They all appreciate my quirks and like me as a person. It annoys me that I can connect to these people as friends, but I haven't been able to with a woman.

I don't really understand social cues all that well. I am told that I should try to be more sexual and forthright. Well, the few times I have tried to be sexual it has been humiliating and embarrassing. I am quite handsome, so I do get girls looking at me on the street from time to time, but I don't really know how to act on it.

It's also frustrating that I didn't act on this whilst at university. I was there for five years, a really long time. There were some girls there with similar behaviour and interests, most of whom were postgrads. Now that I am - hopefully - about to enter the work force, if I met women now I would probably find their personalities to be a bit plain.

I value my independence. I like to have a lot of time to read, write, listen to music, watch films and so on. I probably find it a lot easier than others to be single because I don't have to depend on others so much. However, I also like the idea of really liking someone and appreciating that person - and vice versa.

So yeah, I will probably be perpetually single.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Job search

I cannot find work. I have been job-searching for about eight months. This has been my primary activity, so much so that the things I really want to do have been side-lined to the periphery. I have signed a 'social contract,' so to speak, so I understand that I have to make these sacrifices. However, my lack of progress makes this incredibly frustrating.

My own background just makes me bitter about the entire thing. When I was in my late teens I was completely isolated from 'society.' By 'society' - yeah, very loose, very vague, I know - I mean standard forms of behaviour and activities. I was very messed up. I wasn't in mainstream education, I didn't have friends, I was rabid and I was angry.

And, ultimately, I exploded. I really did. Because of the lack of external and social stimulation, and because I was manic and inside my head all the time, I lost it. I was paranoid, delusional and manic.

Thankfully, after this explosion I reformed myself. I went back into mainstream education, made friends and engaged more with what other people were doing. And I did well at education - I graduated with a first class degree and I stayed on for postgraduate studies.

I remember when I collected one of my essays, the lecturer left all of the essays outside of her office. There were maybe 70 essays there. I leafed through all the other assignments. I received the highest mark - 85% - the closest to that was 72%.

I don't mean to hold a grudge against the other students, but a lot of them weren't that bothered about studying. A lot of them were into clubbing etc. I don't mean to assume that they haven't had problems, but I'm sure they didn't have an episode and I'm sure - judging by their body language alone - that they were a lot more well-adjusted than I was.

Out of curiosity, I checked what a lot of them are up to on Facebook. A lot of them have the exact jobs that I have applied to - I can't even make it to the interview stage. When I saw this, I threw my laptop at the wall and broke the hard-drive.

I know that it isn't healthy to compare yourselves to others, but I can't help but get bitter at all this. I have played the game for a long time and I can't make much head-way. Other people - and, again I shouldn't generalise nor make assumptions - don't go through all this trauma and find work easily.

So, yes, it is rather dispiriting. I really don't want to return to any further education - I lost motivation with that during postgraduate studies. I've been told that I shouldn't pursue a PGCE (a qualification to become a school teacher). When I try other options, employers throw my application away. It's really frustrating.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The general election

So we have upon us a new general election. Most progressives and moderates like myself just wait for it with dread. It was announced two months in advance and caught everyone by surprise.

You could argue that it was long overdue. Theresa May has zealously pursued a Hard Brexit with no mandate from the electorate. And still, however life-defining it might be, it just seems boring. There is no substance in anything the parties are saying. It's almost like May knows she doesn't have to try, so she just parrots empty phrases about 'stable and strong government.' Corbyn has never said anything of any substance, beyond extremely vague statements about 'a better society.' Our parliamentary system is devised to enable a strong opposition to hold the government to account. With no opposition - Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are a shambles - we just have a one party state. This is a farcical election, as everyone already knows the outcome in advance. Yet, paradoxically, it should be the most important post-war election since Brexit is a defining moment.

This is the most horrendous and authoritarian government I have ever had to endure in my life time. There is the 'snooper's charter,' which infringes on your data protections rights. May and the right of the Tory party want to impose their will on others. They want to control immigration at all costs, even when this will obviously have detrimental effects on the economy. May wants to tear apart all the progressive values that Britain has held for years - diversity, toleration, openness...

It is also annoying how Theresa May appropriates policies from Ed Miliband - and no-one bats an eye-lid about it. When Miliband proposes a cap on energy prices, talks about stronger state intervention in the economy, he is chastised for it. When Miliband wants to ease austerity and scrap a surplus target, he is berated for it. When May does it, she is a sensible woman.

But the current climate,we are told, is rife with 'populism'. Populism can be defined as a distrust of the elites and a desire to overturn them. No mainstream party in their right mind should pander to these sentiments. May panders to xenophobic sentiments. Instead of being congenial with Europe, May panders to popular paranoia by lashing out against the EU and its lifeless bureaucrats.

Which is why in normal times, this government would really get a beating. In normal times, this would not be tolerated. Why on earth does Corbyn not bring up Brexit? If the opposition were properly organised and called the government out on all this, they would trash them.

But now is the time that the Labour left finally took control of the party. They have waited 120 years for this moment. This country is a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. The Labour party was founded to form part of parliamentary democracy. When outside interests and pressure groups have tried to hijack it - most notoriously in the 1980s - it has breached the constitution of the country and the party. But Corbyn doesn't care - his little tribe finally has power. To be fair, there is nothing particularly 'hard left' about his proposals. However, there is nothing at all imaginative about them. Renationalising the railways, pumping money into the economy - this is old stale Keynesian stuff. Labour are in desperate need of a strong leader with imaginative ideas.

Why have we done this? This is the legacy bequeathed to us by David Cameron, who vowed to unite the country and modernise his party. He achieved the opposite - the country is the most divided it has ever been and his party atavistically pines for the halcyon days of the 1950s.

This is a nightmare scenario. The EU has many faults. By imposing harsh austerity, in its own way it has helped to foment these xenophobic and populist sentiments. However, the ideals of the EU have been met, as this is the longest period of peace in the history of Europe. That really trumps all other arguments. Whenever the UK has distanced itself from Europe, it has put that in jeopardy.

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.'


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.

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