The somewhat charming yet utterly meaningless use of ‘friendship’ in Paris Hilton’s ‘best british friend’ catchphrase echoes the commonplace critique of the superficial status of ‘friendship’ in the world of social and processional media. When social relations are managed through dating, socializing and networking sites they are accordingly understood. A possible polemic critique of their effect on our conception of the lover, friend or colleague may situate these as aspects of ‘the collectivism, mechanization, standardization, and soullessness οf modern existence.’ (Evola 1961) Continue reading “§100 Aristocracy of friendship”
At some stage, those who undertake a PhD must confront the fact that they are to become writers. At some point they will inevitably have to embrace that “lonely and ugly experience” that seems “a sort of easy process”, but isn’t (see Note §76).
What is the status of friendship in a culture which, prima facie, claims the social as a defining feature. A guest at Joe Rogan’s podcast reflected on this. Gabrielle Reece suggested that for the “next generation” “the tricky thing is going to be connection and be able to have real conversation and to concentrate long enough to be with somebody”.
To elucidate the suggestion made in §Note 96 that Bruce Robinson has a poetic comportment to his craft, we might consider those who feel the opposite about their own writing process. Despite Robinson declaring the process ‘lonely’, ‘ugly’ and ‘nightmarishly difficult’, for others it is a wonderful and magical experience. Does this mean that their relation to the activity any less authentic? If so, in what way? If not, how so?
“It’s a horrible process … I don’t enjoy writing. It’s a lonely and ugly experience … It’s the most nightmarishly difficult thing to do … I find it very hard.”
There is something tiresome about our intellectuals. I am reminded of this when I hear Martin Amis promote his latest book.
The tragic suicide of Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis has raised serious questions about how much emotional support and preparation ‘reality TV’ contestants should receive before their lives inevitably become lived out in front of the public before they lose interest. However, beyond this – and, indeed, beyond whether this is evidence of a deeper state of masculinity being in crisis or not – we might also consider what this says about the current phase of a genre that has always brought the basis of ‘reality’ and how the contestants understand it into question. The two recent deaths of previous Love Island contestants ultimately reveals that reality TV is no longer an amateur’s game.*
The two tribes that continue to divide the British middle-classes remain roughly the same as those comically explored in David Lodge’s Nice Work (1988). In a concentrated shift of the rich/poor gulf which defined the ‘two nations’ of Benjamin Disraeli’s Victorian Britain, today’s bourgeoisie is divided between those that adhere to an industrial ethic of small business ownership and wealth creation, and those typified by the so-called Hampstead dinner-party set of the culturally posh, New Class, intelligentsia.
Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) is the departure point in Georges Didi-Huberman’s Confronting Images (2005/1990). Panofsky established Iconology, which moved beyond iconography – the descriptive identification and classification of allegories, symbols and themes in an image. Iconology offers an interpretation of meaning by considering how culturally-historical “themes and concepts [are] manifested in images, stories, and allegories’ (Didi-Huberman, 2005: xv).
This note continues our examination of design (see n§89), by exploring aspects of its historical definition. It focuses on Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), a ‘great Florentine critic and biographer’ (Gombrich 1951, 272) whose Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550/1568) is considered a founding work in art history. Continue reading “§91 Vasari’s definition of ‘Disegno’”
“I will create a car for the great multitude …” ~ Henry Ford describing his ambitions for the first Model T in 1908
The very nature of Henry Ford’s mass-produced automobiles reveal one side of the two-fold meaning of ‘individuality’ as it relates to creative and commodity culture. On the one hand, they bear the mark of their creator (Henry Ford) and can be read as individual units of a private genius made manifest and massified through his moving assembly line: as commodities, automobiles exist as individual units to be sold en masse to individual consumers.* However, for some, the mass-produced nature of these individual units renders them removed from any individual mark of creativity at all.
The extent to which entrepreneurs are framed by and align themselves with narratives that place them ‘against the odds’ of success is a well-documented legacy of the ‘up-by-your-bootstraps capitalism’ celebrated by Horatio Alger Jr.’s ‘rags to riches’ narratives (Weiss, 1988). One central and pervasive instance in recent years has been the rise of ‘the dropout’ as a figure associated with the myth of entrepreneurial success (Watt, 2016). However, 2019 has heard a different kind of dropout entrepreneur’s story, and this appears to be just the beginning. *
It is a well-known and oft-quoted anecdote of Hunter S Thompson’s life that in his youth he retyped the great works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway verbatim.* He did so, in his own words, to get a “feel for what it feels like to write that well“; to hear and learn how to play the keys of a typewriter as if it were music. In doing so, he claimed he gleaned a sense of those whose literary works played such a big part in his life.
The following is a comment on the status of musicians and their qualification as artists. The mere appearance of a musician going about their day – instrument case in full swing, casual song rehearsals in corridors, airs of composure before concerts – produces in the undersigned a pang of boredom. Continue reading “§86 Musicians: The Filofax girls of the Arts”
The composer and pianist Igor Stravinsky is quoted as saying the following in 1962: “One has a nose. The nose scents and it chooses. An artist is simply a kind of pig snouting for truffles.” (referenced in Andriessen & Schönberger, 2006: 205)
In Note §83 I considered an episode of In Our Time (2000) where Martin Amis brought attention to what he described as a “revolution in [his] consciousness” regarding clichéd perspectives on traditional gender roles. I ended the note by suggesting that the forces behind this shift in consciousness meant Amis failed to recognise (or at least name through the duration of the discussion) how an acceptance of this encroaching moral standard leads to the proliferation of an increasingly sensitive and aesthetically destitute worldview.
In early 2000, Melvyn Bragg was joined by Martin Amis and Cora Kaplan to discuss ‘Masculinity in Literature’ for Radio 4’s In Our Time (first aired 20th January 2000). The discussion is mostly reflective on the immediate century past which saw various social movements, historical events and cultural currents challenge what were previously deemed ‘traditional’ male and female roles. A key aspect of the discussion is based on the way and extent to which these changes can be traced through the various literary representations of the period, which Amis articulates in his opening paragraph:
In a previous few notes we have shown that Karen Blixen’s claim that she is ‘three thousand years old’ is ultimately attributable to a poem by Goethe. In the following we share the full poem, so as to provide a full contextualization for the passage (the last of the four paragraphs below). Continue reading “§82 Goethe’s ‘Three thousand years of learning’: Full Poem”
A persuasive idea is the one that modern western thought is influenced by especially three figures – Nietzsche, Marx and Freud*. The latter is of such seminal quality that Adam Curtis’s examination – in documentary form – of Freudian theory’s influence on the 20th Century is named The Century of the Self (Curtis 2001). Among the effects on our modern lives of the ‘psy’ sciences (Rose 1999b, 1999a) perhaps the most powerful is that which the parental relation enjoys in explaining the human subject’s formation. Continue reading “§81 On your mum and dad”
“This morning, while I was working on my collection I was thinking about how much unnecessary time I’m losing on this. Then I said, it’s just an organisational procedure. With an organisational procedure, you feel you touch the world order.”
These are the words of Ernst Jünger, reflecting on a life spent collecting various items of fascination: fossils, shells, walking sticks, beetles, WW1 helmets… At first, we may hear these words as a mere reflection on the nature of being a hobbyist: i.e., an individual committed to a leisurely activity for its intrinsic pleasure, to alleviate boredom, or to distract oneself from the day’s work. However, based on Jünger’s description we are justified in considering whether the word ‘hobby’ is appropriate at all.
In a recent podcast interview, Jordan Peterson brought attention to the problem of rationality in the existential quest to find ‘meaning’ in life. “Rationality”, he warned, “tends to fall in love with its own productions”. This, he explained, is why the ancient Egyptians (and to some extent Catholics) placed an onus on ‘attention’ being a higher virtue than ‘intelligence’.
Marketing has within a decade undergone a shift in form – from overt to covert promotion. Ours is the present in which ‘content’ triumphs over ‘commercials’. Qualms about ‘advertorials’ and ‘sponsored content’ are in the age of content marketing redundant – along with such editorial interstitial spaces themselves. Continue reading “§78 Journalism: Occupational Incompetence and Hazard”
When the philosopher, literary critic, feminist and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva added ‘novelist’ to her list of designations with The Samurai in 1992, she was asked in an interview with Elisabeth Bélorgey how she accounts for a shift from theory to narrative fiction. Kristeva replied:
“While reading Proust’s manuscript notebooks I recently noticed the following question in notebook one, leaf twelve: “Should this be turned into a novel. A philosophical essay?” Knowing how to deal with a topic that preoccupies us is an ever-recurring problem, should we treat it theoretically or fictionally? Is there are choice? Is it legitimate to favor one procedure over the other?” (1993, 77)
The relationship between mass-production and ‘the individual’ has never been straight forward. The alienating forms of labour associated with assembly-line production and environments deemed optimal for creating products en masse are largely associated with reducing the individual worker to a mere cog in a machine. However, beyond this process the commodities produced are often framed as a strange form of utilitarianism.
Further to a previous note ( “§72 Bluffing human sciences”) diagnosing the illiterate university the following provides George Steiner’s specific reform proposal: Continue reading “§75 Towards a true university – resuscitating the passion of uselessness”
In Note §68, I considered the tension between monetary value and artworks in light of the spectacle surrounding Banksy’s Love is in the Bin. As the event and the artwork settle as a clear moment in the history of art, we can now begin to elaborate further on the implications of this artistic happening. Here are two further observations: Continue reading “§74 ‘Love is in the Bin’: Incomplete intensions and inauthentic imitations– Part II”
Much contemporary literature sees the city-spaces that are not inherently marked by capitalist exchanges as constituting positive forms of social relationality. Such meeting places including old style neighborhood coffee stores, pubs or perhaps libraries are sometimes called ‘third places’ marked by community ethos. Continue reading “§73 The Guilty in the City”
One of the aspects of the ‘intellectual dark web’ form of ‘public intellectualism’ (Weiss 2018) is its similarity to ancient gladiator games. In this vein, one of the enemies Jordan Peterson has named as his is the ‘radical left’ in the humanities and the social sciences:
While one of Foucault’s major contributions is the recognition of a transformational break around 1800 in terms of disciplinary power, little attention has been placed on the appreciative leanings of others, such as that of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s.
Academics are encouraged, ad nauseam, to expose themselves to ‘constructive feedback’ and share their findings as widely and rapidly as possible. These agents of ‘impact’ are frantically busy. Pace this tendency, James Watson, the co-‘discoverer’ of the DNA molecule, once said:
‘…I think …what we’ve lost … in …science today is: leisure.’ (Watson, 2010, my emphasis)
Our fast-paced present breeds intellectual impatience and experiential insatiability. Is ours not an age advanced enough for four millennia of elevated culture to find a home?
As a random sample ours is the present: where fifteen minutes of optimistic-yet-curious ‘wisdom’ is passed down to the chattering classes from a TED stage; where VOX can’t leave an hour long video with Obama alone without decorating it with a nauseating amount of animations; and where nuggets of ‘thought’ on Medium are preambled by an inanely standardized (and let’s hope not standardizing) ‘read time’ , calculated on the basis of 275 words per minute – the alleged ‘average reading speed of an adult’.* Thus ordered the technocrats… Continue reading “§69 History Crash Course: 3 Centuries in 3 minutes”
“We have been Banksy-ed” declared art experts at Sotheby’s after the original Girl with Balloon art-work was shredded just seconds after the hammer came down at record price of over £1 million pounds*. It was then re-certified and re-titled by Pest Control, Banksy’s authentication body, as Love is in the Bin, 2018. This will now be marked as a key moment in the history of art, with some commentators even comparing it in status to Marcel Duchamp’s famous readymade sculpture Fountain, 1917.
Sarah Churchwell’s Behold America: A History of America First and the American Dream (2018) provides a genealogical account of two expressions that were mobilised by Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign. The work reveals that his promise of putting ‘America First’ was not merely a gesture towards economic protectionism and “American jobs for American workers” but was the conscious use of an expression that occurs throughout American history in discourses of white supremacy and nationalism.
“…Alfred … finds… nature – quite threatening because it is quite uncontrolled and it makes him cold, and it blows him away…His inspiration comes from art, from painting, from literature…’ (“Alfred Brendel – In Portrait” 1996: 00.59.58- 01.00.45)
Why does pianist Alfred Brendel have an aversion to nature? Continue reading “§66 Boring Modern Nature”
It’s hard to escape. The board room, the class room or a farmhouse in the Cotswolds. Be aware – its about to get mental.
This is the scourge of mental health awareness. It’s everywhere, it’s infectious and you’d have to be crazy to question it, right? Continue reading “§65 You don’t have to be mad to work here”
Classical pianist Alfred Brendel is widely considered one of the greatest of our times. In a BBC documentary he is presented as a disciplined musician, whose character extend beyond the typical musician. He has published highly regarded poetry and essays on music. Born in Austria he is a cosmopolitan who enjoys socializing in cultivated circles. He entertains a sophisticated set at parties in his Hampstead home and is considered an intellectual* in his own right.
However, this well-rounded and cultivated portrait is challenged by a scene in the documentary about Brendel’s relation to ‘nature’… Continue reading “§64 Art as ‘veil of order’”
“It’s kind of amazing to be away from it for a few weeks. You know, I happened in June to be in some place where I wasn’t watching television and I wasn’t reading the paper. It was amazing to be away from opinion for two weeks. I came back actively revived … [Because] there is a blunting effect… what goes on all day with this constant opinion is that the clash and confrontation seems more important than the explanation of something.”
At one end of our contemporary ‘culture wars’, President Donald Trump is a figure of pure and unadulterated banter: a source of celebration through memes, social-mediatic trolling and a vessel to vent spleen on the scourges of political correctness and liberal elitism. At the other end, his presidential status and style are representative of a very real danger to the American experiment: for many, Trump is the first American fascist.
Alongside the proliferation of brewers, flavours, styles, hops, and processes of fermentation, the ‘craft beer movement’ has taken the art of labelling products into a whole new terrain. Despite being rooted somewhere in the usual need to differentiate one’s product from an increasingly crowded market, the typography, tropes, colours and motifs that adorn craft beer tins suggest we are witnessing the emergence of a genre sui generis of product design and illustration.
Visit any of Europe’s art museums or sites of historical interest and you will find hordes of people who flew hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles to see works by Rembrandt, da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh, Michelangelo. Having thrown their entire being across the world, these philistines insist on observing their experience through their personal digital devices. A majority, it now seems, flock to stand in front of these original works despite a copy being available a few clicks away through the same technology they extend by arm or selfie-stick.
A fake pop star becomes a fake fashion designer before becoming a fake style icon in an increasingly fake magazine.
Great institutions are plumbing new depths. Trading with irony – the weakest of editorial assets – Vogue is a pale shadow of its former self and is anything but en vogue today. Their latest release is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Victoria Beckham’s 10-year-old fashion label showing just how far the publication has strayed from its once-confident roots.
If ever you needed proof that social justice is now simply a marketing tool baked into corporate culture, look no further than Nike’s selection of Colin Rand Kaepernick as the face of their latest campaign. They say you should never mix politics with sport, which is proven positive because of what Kaepernick did and does to this day. While the opposite claim is made this is really a far cry from anything truly political. Kaepernick’s pole position of “wokeness” is in part maintained by a refusal to give interviews and an undying appetite for social media mentions and Instagram posts.
It is well-documented that despite social and political causes to the contrary (i.e., attempts to allow productivity gains to supplement more free-time rather than exponential growth), the time-saving application of new technologies have not led to less working time but rather increased output and engagement with the mediums through which work is now increasingly conducted. Continue reading “§56 Hurry up, please. It’s time.”
While Albert Hofmann (1906-2008) is considered the ‘inventor’ of LSD, the Swiss chemist was himself under the influence: …of Ernst Jünger. Continue reading “§55 Under the influence – Jünger’s radiance”
In a recent comparative review of James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (2018) and Jaron Larniers’ Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), Jamie Bartlett draws attention to the fact that writers on tech (journalists, critics, academics etc.,) share a processual challenge inherent to the process of those who write its code. This, he surmises, is because, Continue reading “§54 The responsibility of tech writing”
In his interview with ANow (Video No. 5), Danish writer Peter Hovmand entertained an idea, attributed to Danish writer Karen Blixen (1885-1962), ’that his thinking [is] at least four-thousand years old’ (Watt, Note §51). Continue reading “§53 Steps to an accounting of the mind*”
“The Terminator was there from the start!”, said Mark Fisher on how we should not think of the human in a mythical originary form without an inherent relationship with technics that are not something we simply make and master.
The same applies to contemporary philosophies of technology and being, in which anything like the ‘human condition’ came about only through thinking that technics forced into being itself. For Bernard Stiegler, technics separated the human out of purely immanent relations with nature. With a chisel or tending a fire, temporal horizons of planning, teaching and sociality with language developed alongside these technologies. So, too, did temporal notions of being itself, including death.
Already in 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote his famous adage, ‘the medium is the message’, meaning that the form of any medium is more influential than what they ‘say’ as their content. The form, be it the printing press or electricity, changes the very possibility of being and thinking far more than their particular events of use. This is the question of globalized capitalism and particularly its manifestations in online immediacy and social media we need to ask today. For Stiegler, technics is both a gift and poison for this exact reason – they gave the human its possibility of being, but now seem to be actively destroying being in the immanent investments we make in faceless global networks.
In Terminator, SKYNET system only becomes the enemy of humanity when it becomes self-aware. This anthropomorphic view thus necessitates a particular move: The machine can only become hostile when it becomes like us. It also needs to live the myth of being in control and agency as a coherent and goal-directed entity. It would seem much more likely though that this naïve attitude is already in tatters if one is to recognize our being the ‘limb of the machine’ already in immanent global subjection to algorithmically guided decoding of social relations.
McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. ‘The Medium is the Message’ In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill Chapter 1. web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/mcluhan.mediummessage.pdf
In ANow Profile no. 5., the Danish writer, Peter Hovmand (44.29mins), was reminded that in the past he had echoed Karen Blixen’s sentiments that his thinking was at least four thousand years old. He meant, of course, that his thinking is not unique – that one’s thinking, and thinking as such, is only ever the inheritance of a long tradition going back attic Greece:
“We owe a lot to the old Greeks, and Nietzsche owes a lot to them, and we should be aware of that” (45.05)
In 1841, the ‘sage of Concord’, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) penned something similar, which is worth dwelling on to comprehend the full implications of this sensibility:
‘There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has left, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.’ (Emerson 1965, 139)
Based on this short extract, it is worth drawing out the fact that Hovmand also reflected on the role that empirical science and scientism has had on the declining fate of the public intellectual. Indeed, following Emerson’s line of thought here, the intellectual should never claim individualism or personal celebrity. His genius, like that of a more artistic sensibility, is always indebted to those that came before and his responsibility is only ever to the past and the past to come.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1965. “History.” In The Portable Emerson: Essays. Poems. Journals. Letters, edited by Mark van Doren, 139–64. London: Viking Press.
The epigraph to Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971) is a quote from Dr Johnson. It reads:
“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”*
It is perhaps too easy to think of such beasts as messy inebriates and characters of low-brow living: those who settle on the base instincts, values and desires; those who show little to no consideration to others, have no want for refinement or inclination to good manners. In Hunter’s case, we are perhaps encouraged to think of him in these terms due to the myth of his person (not to mention his Gonzo-alter-ego, Raoul Duke) and Ralph Steadman’s distinctive scribblings which accompany most of his publications. However, the true beastly that Hunter describes, by way of Johnson, are those that surround themselves with the distractions of things (clothing, values, etiquette and other such fakery) to mask that they will never know what it is to feel the pain of being a man. We might then suggest that it is ‘bourgeois man’ who is the real beastly one. D.H. Lawrence appears to have agreed, and has explained why in the following untitled poem (often called How Beastly the Bourgeois Is):
How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species—
Presentable, eminently presentable—
shall I make you a present of him?
Isn’t he handsome? Isn’t he healthy? Isn’t he a fine specimen?
doesn’t he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn’t it God’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the thing?
Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another man’s need,
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.
How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species—
Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable—
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life than his own.
And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long.
Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.
Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
How beastly the bourgeois is!
Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp England
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.
For Thompson, noone epitomised this beastly type more than Richard Nixon:
* Quoted in “Anecdotes of the Revd. Percival Stockdale” (1809) in Johnsonian Miscellanies (1897), vol. II, p. 333, edited by George Birkbeck Hill;
Based on Tom McCarthy’s description of Friedrich Kittler’s discipular followers,* it comes as something of a relief that I seem to have arrived late to the writings and thought of this German media theorist. I’d rather not burn my tongue on the work of Kittler until any remnants of hipsteria have passed. Seven years after his death, now is perhaps the time for an original relation to his works.**
As the ramifications of the digital age are increasingly felt and yet their source and meaning remain ultimately concealed, perhaps we should all be reading the ‘Derrida of the digital age’, or at least being exposed to his central ideas.
* In both his 2011 piece for the London Review of Books blog and in a conversation with The Guardian’s Big Ideas podcast, McCarthy brings attention to the fact that Kittler’s not-without-irony-semi-officially named disciples and former students called themselves Kittlerjugend.
** McCarthy did something similar – purposefully putting off reading Kittler in case an academic ‘take’ on the subject of his novel clouded his own perception.
In 1991, Camille Paglia claimed that feminist academics are incapable of understanding sex:
‘There are sexual differences that are based in biology. Academic feminism is lost in a fog of social constructionism. …Emboldened by dumb French language theory, academic feminists repeat the same hollow slogans over and over to each other. Their view of sex is naïve and prudish. Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist’s. The sexes are at war.’ (Paglia 1992, 50; my emphasis)
As the essay’s original title reveals – “Rape: A Bigger Danger Than Feminists Know” (Paglia 1991) – Paglia aims to sophisticate intellectuals’ conception of the complexity between the sexes, by pointing to the problem of rape.
Compare this with Arthur Koestler’s claim: ‘Without an element of initial rape there is no delight’* (Scammell 2009).
Scammel – Koestler’s biographer – is quick to provide a qualification: ’”Rape” was an overstatement, but it shows Koestler’s awareness of the dangers of his behaviour, and there is no doubt that he subscribed to the belief that a little force added spice to sex.’ (ibid). What Koestler speaks of is the seduction of his future (second) wife, Mamaine – ultimately a consensual act but with looming danger of transgressing the boundary of volition. This ’element of …rape’ does not constitute a transgression, but retains a suggestion. Maybe it can be thought of as an act, a simulation, that offers the thought of the danger possible in the vulnerable situation of submission. As such, rape seems to offer a key in the war and peace of the sexes. For sex to be an authentic interface between them an element of battle must be included. Moreover, this inclusion takes the form –by means of simulation – as a sexual act, whereby the male and female actors act out the eternal battle that is never enacted: rape.
This Janus face of the danger/delight nexus seems to speak to a view of consensual relations that is often scorned. In Jerry Hall’s terms: lady in the parlour, saint in the kitchen, whore in the bedroom. Alternatively:
“Who has ever heard of good sex being described as ‘spick-and-span’?”**
* AK to Mamaine Paget, “Tuesday night,” May 1944; Mamaine Paget’s diary, January–May 1944
**I am grateful to my ‘C.H.’ for this elegant formulation, poignantly deflating the petit bourgeois take at the sad, managerial, grey and static reality, jousting at the real thing, which sadly and probably is a fixture in most bedrooms of our neighbours… And maybe even yours?
Paglia, Camille. 1991. “Rape: A Bigger Danger Than Feminists Know.” New York Newsday, January 27. https://www.newsday.com/.
Paglia, Camille. 1992. “Rape and Modern Sex War.” In Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays, 49–54. New York: Vintage Books.
Scammell, Michael. 2009. “Commissar or Yogi?” In Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. Random House.
Paranoid, conspiratorial and all the while prophetic, composer, writer, and novelist Anthony Burgess anticipated the decline of the humanities, the power of faceless technocrats, the deterioration of language and the rise of (millennial) youth:
‘Stop talking about relevance, all we have is the past’ wrote Burgess in an open letter to the (disappointing) students attending lectures at TCNY college. ‘There were forces’, claimed Burgess when interviewed by William F. Buckley, in The Firing Line in 1972, ‘a zeitgeist, and a spirit of the age’ that people fail to understand because of an obsession with the present and a failure to study the past.’ (Burgess and Buckley 1972)
Burgess brilliantly and prophetically wrestled with academe’s obsession with youth and it’s abandonment of history, rigor and traditional standards. The body of traditional learning was failing and Burgess worried that the young were being grossly manipulated, and encouraged to rebel and protest. He foresaw the preparation of a technical elite capable of taking over the state being prepared at the expense of the protest kids, with their banners and chants, who would never rule when matched against these hard-eyed technicians.
Burgess also warned against a degradation of standards and a tendency on the part of the young to diminish vocabulary. He calls out “Black English” with it’s “fecal obsessions” as the “language of deprivation…with the reek of slavery and the clank of the chains in it” . Words as mere counters for resentment and not devices for analysis.
Burgess saw parallels with the limited vocabulary of Newspeak with its aim of nullifying critical political analysis. “Government does not like clear speech or thought”. Burgess identified the abetting by elders of an ‘anti-critical’ attitude rooted in a desire to be “young”. Allying with the young feels good because ‘getting old is ugly’. Youth is now a state, a place in which it is pleasant and safe to decadently dwell.
What would Burgess have made of AI, Emojis and Social Justice Studies?
Burgess, Anthony, and William F. Buckley. 1972. “Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Ep.74 [Television Broadcast].” PBS, December 21.https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/objects/6250.
Sometime prior to 22nd of April 1958, a young friend of Hunter S. Thompson, Hume Logan, asked the twenty-two-year-old for some life-advice. Sometime before the 6th of August 2014, I did the same, and was grateful when I received the same advice that Hume received half a century before. Here it is, for anyone that may ask for life-advice, in sincerity, of a trusted friend:
August 6th 2014
April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.
I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?
The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?
The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.
I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.
If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.
And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,
When asked his opinion on Berlin Karl Lagerfeld suggested that something is missing in the city, which used to be there:
“Berlin could be great, but for me Berlin is like a human body with an arm and a leg missing. What they did there – the Russians – made it forever something [which does not have] the soul which Berlin was famous for… they want to be trendy, they want to be so trendy that they look sometimes like a second-rate London. That’s not that easy. For me – I know so well the past of Berlin, and the spirit of Berlin – and the whole thing and the Berlin [of] today, I don’t know. For me there is not enough left from what […] Berlin [was] all about – the spirit of Berlin. There was a way. There was a tournure d’esprit [mindset]. Someone who was typical for that was Helmut Newton. He had this kind of genius.” (Lagerfeld 2014: 04.50-06.00).
In Back to Blood from 2012 Tom Wolfe describes the inhabitants of Miami’s Wynwood as a ‘new social phenomenon – and … real estate phenomenon – of the late nineteenth century: the “art district”.’ (Wolfe 2012: Ch. 18). After the artists, without talent, have inhabited a new area, ‘Here they come…droves of well-educated and well-healed people skipping and screaming with nostalgie de la boue, “nostalgia for the mud” eager to inhale the emanations of Art and other Higher Things amid the squalor of it all.” Berlin is an excellent example and a key source for such ‘art districts’. It is more the representation of art and its use as a lifestyle accessory that matters than art itself. In fact, Berliners are hardly artists at all. They are hipsters. And the figure of the hipster is a sad and wretched figure in our contemporary society. He is completely lost, in search of something. His modus operandi is negation, irony and inversion: he rejects and dismisses, and what momentarily exists in the spaces ‘in between’ he uses to adorn the surface of his being as if it were profound. Berlin- city of lost souls? Ghost-town? /Fred Weibull References BBC. 2008. “1963: Kennedy: ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner.’” http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/26/newsid_3379000/3379061.stm. Lagerfeld, Karl. 2014. The Big Interview: Karl Lagerfeld Interview by Tyler Brûlé. https://monocle.com/film/design/the-big-interview-karl-lagerfeld/. Wolfe, Tom. 2012. Back to Blood. New York: Little, Brown & Co
In Back to Blood from 2012 Tom Wolfe describes the inhabitants of Miami’s Wynwood as a ‘new social phenomenon – and … real estate phenomenon – of the late nineteenth century: the “art district”.’ (Wolfe 2012: Ch. 18). After the artists, without talent, have inhabited a new area, ‘Here they come…droves of well-educated and well-healed people skipping and screaming with nostalgie de la boue, “nostalgia for the mud” eager to inhale the emanations of Art and other Higher Things amid the squalor of it all.”
Berlin is an excellent example and a key source for such ‘art districts’. It is more the representation of art and its use as a lifestyle accessory that matters than art itself.
In fact, Berliners are hardly artists at all. They are hipsters. And the figure of the hipster is a sad and wretched figure in our contemporary society. He is completely lost, in search of something. His modus operandi is negation, irony and inversion: he rejects and dismisses, and what momentarily exists in the spaces ‘in between’ he uses to adorn the surface of his being as if it were profound.
Berlin- city of lost souls? Ghost-town?
BBC. 2008. “1963: Kennedy: ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner.’” http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/26/newsid_3379000/3379061.stm.
Lagerfeld, Karl. 2014. The Big Interview: Karl Lagerfeld Interview by Tyler Brûlé. https://monocle.com/film/design/the-big-interview-karl-lagerfeld/.
Wolfe, Tom. 2012. Back to Blood. New York: Little, Brown & Co
For the most part, writing and drinking go hand in hand. There are as many aphorisms, anecdotes and quotations about and from writers and their daily boozing habits as there have been literary treatments of individuals’ relationships with the bottle. However, a particularly interesting theme that is given less attention is ‘the hangover‘…
In particular, how hangovers relate to the creative process. Perhaps the most well-known literary treatment is in Kingsley Amis’ drinking manual Everyday Drinking (1983), where he addressed this ‘strangely neglected’ subject by differentiating between the ‘physical hangover’ and the ‘metaphysical hangover’. This distinction has been widely exalted, and yet hangovers remain secondary to their cause in terms of literary treatment and exploration. That is why The Idler’s Star Letter (from the May – June 2018 issue) deserves a little attention. It will resonate with any writer that wakes a few hours prior to the impending doom of the day ahead, and provides some advice which will complement Amis’ sage recommendation when the metaphysics of the night before are fully realised: Sir: As a recent Oldie reader turned Idler I should like to pass on a method of releasing extra hours for true idleness. This involves harnessing that most unlikely source of productivity: the dehydrated, sleepless hours before dawn that typically follow an evening of undue attention to the grape and grain. It is useless to try and resume slumber in such a situation. The wait for morning is far too long. The brain, on the other hand has undergone a clear-out of its clutter akin to the total rebooting of a PC. The said cranial organ may be throbbing faintly but it is also ripe and ready to go to work. I suggest making the most of this rare moment of mental clarity. OK, it’s 4am. Park that thought. Get out of bed, make a hot drink and hold a couple of analgesics in reserve. Then put on screen whatever report, article or briefing has been giving you writers’ block for days. With decluttered frontal lobes, no phones ringing and minimal background noise, clarity will set in. The words will flow like wine from Jean-Claude Juncker’s claret jug and the piece will be put to bed, to which destination you can eventually return, optionally after my own salvation, a fried tomato sandwich and two Nurofen. Either way, a couple of wasted and uncomfortable hours have been converted into productive output, with the bonus of more idling time ahead. John Newlands, Newcastle upon Tyne. /Pete Watt
In particular, how hangovers relate to the creative process. Perhaps the most well-known literary treatment is in Kingsley Amis’ drinking manual Everyday Drinking (1983), where he addressed this ‘strangely neglected’ subject by differentiating between the ‘physical hangover’ and the ‘metaphysical hangover’. This distinction has been widely exalted, and yet hangovers remain secondary to their cause in terms of literary treatment and exploration. That is why The Idler’s Star Letter (from the May – June 2018 issue) deserves a little attention. It will resonate with any writer that wakes a few hours prior to the impending doom of the day ahead, and provides some advice which will complement Amis’ sage recommendation when the metaphysics of the night before are fully realised:
Sir: As a recent Oldie reader turned Idler I should like to pass on a method of releasing extra hours for true idleness. This involves harnessing that most unlikely source of productivity: the dehydrated, sleepless hours before dawn that typically follow an evening of undue attention to the grape and grain.
It is useless to try and resume slumber in such a situation. The wait for morning is far too long. The brain, on the other hand has undergone a clear-out of its clutter akin to the total rebooting of a PC. The said cranial organ may be throbbing faintly but it is also ripe and ready to go to work.
I suggest making the most of this rare moment of mental clarity. OK, it’s 4am. Park that thought. Get out of bed, make a hot drink and hold a couple of analgesics in reserve. Then put on screen whatever report, article or briefing has been giving you writers’ block for days. With decluttered frontal lobes, no phones ringing and minimal background noise, clarity will set in. The words will flow like wine from Jean-Claude Juncker’s claret jug and the piece will be put to bed, to which destination you can eventually return, optionally after my own salvation, a fried tomato sandwich and two Nurofen.
Either way, a couple of wasted and uncomfortable hours have been converted into productive output, with the bonus of more idling time ahead.
John Newlands, Newcastle upon Tyne.
The first lecture in Foucault’s course Society Must be Defended (c.f. 2003) was delivered in 1976. By then, his lectures at Collège de France were packed and had become ‘one of the events of Parisian intellectual life’ (Eribon, 1991, pp. 222–3). From the outset Foucault lamented the lectures having become a ‘spectacle’ and expressed a desire for a more collaborative arrangement:
‘thirty or forty of us could get together in a room. I could tell you roughly what I’ve been doing, and at the same time have some contact with you, talk to you, answer your questions and so on, and try to rediscover the possibility of the exchange and contact that are part of the normal practice of research or teaching (2003, p. 3).
As Stuart Elden has emphasized Foucault’s lament concerned ‘…the lecture as performance, with the assumed role as expert, was not to his liking, and that the preparation was getting in the way of the research itself.’ (Elden, 2008, p. 21). Foucault is reported to have ‘dreamed of holding a seminar in which truly collective work could be done’ (2003, p. x).
Three decades later, prima facie, it might seem that the zeitgeist has made real Foucault’s dream. In the innovative ‘network society’ there is a rise in conferences and other social events and an emphasis on cooperation, as can be gleaned from a ridiculous conceptual topography – ‘entrepreneurial ecosystems‘, ‘startup community’, ‘coopetition’, ‘co-working spaces’ etcetera.
And yet, it seems that the sincere collaborative spirit that Foucault asked for – ‘the exchange and contact …part of the normal practice of research or teaching’ –is missing in a deep and fundamental sense. Standing on the shoulders of giants and pursuing truth requires self-abnegation and submission to the serious game of truth (or maybe ‘the Glass Bead Game, as per Hesse), rather than the false humility of the self-actualizing figure of the entrepreneur…
In Christopher Isherwood’s ‘introductory note’ to the first edition of his Goodbye to Berlin (1939), he explains that the six ‘fragments’ that make up his farewell to the city were initially intended for a much larger ‘episodic novel’. In the opening to the first fragment (‘A Berlin Diary’, Autumn 1930), the following exquisite reflection on his literary method is provided:
‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording a man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.’ (2011, p. 14)
Is this fragment such a ‘development’ of what he speaks? Is it ‘carefully printed’ or clumsily ‘fixed’? These, of course, are questions that can be pursued at length by literary biographers. What is more immediate are the insight Isherwood offers regarding his writing process. What begin as open and unthinking observations and experiences become ‘notes’, then ‘fragments’ and ‘diary entries’. These biographical gestures are then extracted to third-person prose, rendering them worthy, in Isherwood’s view, for consideration to be written up as a novel .
Again, in his introductory note (to a collection of fragments, not yet a novel), he states how his first-person ‘I’ is replaced with the third person, ‘Christopher’:
‘Because I have given my own name to the ‘I’ of this narrative, readers are certainly not entitled to assume that its pages are purely autobiographical’ (2011, p. 9).
It is a rare treat to glean such a literary process, and it is of comfort that what begin as notes, by way of fragments, may become something much more grandiose, even if the current instance never did:
‘I had intended to call it The Lost. My old title has been changed, however; it is too grandiose for this loosely-connected sequence of diaries and sketches.’ (2011, p. 9)
Isherwood, Christopher. 2011. Goodbye To Berlin. London: Random House.
The latest phase of victim culture is upon us. While the previous phases can’t necessarily be traced chronologically, we can see periods of certain emphases regarding what constitutes a ‘victim’ in relation to their supposed perpetrator. The ‘calling out’ of ‘microaggressions’ enjoyed its heyday around 2015/16, whereas its extension into concerns around correct pronoun use and concerns about ‘misgendering’ self-identified categories of persons and groups provided a segue to questions concerning ‘compelled speech’ in 2017.
The success of ‘calling out’ and demanding that individuals ‘check’ their privilege however has not in fact stopped microaggressions and (by consequence) “micro-offenses”. Rather, it has allowed what is constituted by the term to proliferate.* As micro-aggressions become smaller, and increasingly micro-scopic, the requirement becomes for every one of us to check our privilege that much closer. In turn, victimhood is not merely understood as a subject-position but rather a cultural phenomenon. With this, a new type of victim has emerged: the privileged victim.
Indeed, the imperatives from the screeching and increasingly militant ‘victims’ and their SJW champions has meant anyone with the slightest hint of ‘privilege’ is required to ‘check it’ at an increasingly microscopic level. In turn, its acknowledgement – “I know I am priveleged, but …” – means the ‘checked’ perpetrator takes their own position as victim.
We have therefore witnessed the way in which cultural commands and programmatic imperatives become concentrated to the point that they rebound and exceed the basis on which they were posed in the first place.
This is the desired result of those that demand it, who, of course, are ostensibly enlightened to their own privilege in the first place. So there we have it, the three ideal-types of our contemporary victim culture: the victim, their privileged saviour, and the victim of privilege. How complete, how negative, how boring!
References and footnotes:
Campbell, Bradley, and Jason Manning. 2014. “Microaggression and Moral Cultures.” Comparative Sociology 13 (6): 692–726.
*A form of this was predicted by the late Christopher Hitchens in the what he saw as the proliferation of feminism leading to male victims speaking in the name of its cause:
Almost 50 years after the very first Christopher Street Liberation Day event (which marked the anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 28th 1970), today’s ‘Pride NYC‘ feels more like a festival than an act of political defiance. Christopher Street’s drag queen, cop-kicking radicalism has been all but knocked out by the commercialised celebration of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. LGB now has way more letters in the party but not everyone thinks that’s for the best.
Inclusivity, for all its claims of tolerance, has been remarkably hostile to diverse opinions with evermore niche groupings calling out crimes on one another. Few have garnered more attention and uncritical acceptance than the trans movement. As with Pride, the mainstream have fallen over themselves to demonstrate their ‘wokeness’ when it comes to ‘trans causes’ and it is perhaps this that has emboldened the movement to drown out the voices of its brothers and sisters. Rather than adding to the gayety of rainbow nations, trans campaigners represent a particularly militant syllable: their condemnation has extended beyond ‘calling out’ square straights to others in the LGBT community.
DeDe (aka @HermanDHerman) is almost a lone voice of resistance. Dede tweets regularly on the colonization of LGB by T and unashamedly reclaims LGB from T. Pulling no punches, Dede’s is the voice of Stonewall, not the Warby Parker branded rainbow flags, the Starbucks window displays or the cops in hotpants. The men and women of Stonewall were never willing to bow to convention but nor did they hate straights. They just wanted to be left alone; able to work and live with the same rights as others.
While the mainstream media isn’t prepared to question the trans movement, DeDe is. Challenging its very essence she writes:
Trans is not gay.
You don't need to take chemicals and hormones to be gay. You don't need to have parts of your healthy body sliced off to be a lesbian. We never demanded that language be changed. We never colonised another groups spaces and demanded they have sex with us. 1/
— (((DeDe))) (@HermanDHerman) June 1, 2018
Brilliantly capturing the dangers of self-identity over commonality DeDe is unapologetic.
We will not let you erase lesbians & gay men with your queer eugenics. We will not let you entice children from their parents & make them slaves to pharmacuticals and surgeries. We will not let you drive women from sport or experiment on babies or close down rape crisis centres7/
— (((DeDe))) (@HermanDHerman) June 1, 2018
Perhaps the battle of Stonewall is not yet over.
The danger of internet algorithms does not simply reside in the ‘big bad corporations’ that wield their power, but in their intrinsic technological quality. Of course, we should all be cautious, and perhaps fearful of algorithms, however not just because the information they extract from our archived habits (social interactions, likes, followings, purchases, and clicks) can be used to manipulate our future conduct.
Their danger resides in the fact that the data they crunch is derived from the internet, which sees its users operating in an innately human way: ‘searching’. By constantly searching (for products, information, advice, friends, people, stories etc.,), we are willingly handing over who we are as a species and what we want as a culture.
While much of what we search for are a product of procrastination and boredom, these little things are not nonsense and ineffectual but rather the basis on which algorithms’ capacity to ‘know us’ become so acute and discerning.
In 1994, Douglas Coupland released Life after God* – a collection of short-stories exploring the tensions at the heart of the “first generation raised without religion.” Like every ‘generation’ before them, this generation (‘Generation X’) were lost, however they were lost in a very specific way. They were lost and therefore trying to navigate a world that has no external reference-points or traces of the divine. Despite writing before Google and the pervasive use of the internet, one passage resonates today, albeit with a new technological emphasis:
“I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments – we hear a word that sticks in our mind – or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly … And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection – certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether, one we didn’t even know was going on inside us.” (  2002, 25)
We should recognise that these algorithms now crunch these private little moments, and in doing so reveal the real lives we are really living. This is their real power and utmost danger.
References and footnotes:
* His second novel since Generation X: Tales of an accelerated culture (1991).
Coupland, Douglas. 1996. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. New Ed. London: Abacus.
———. 2002. Life After God. New edition. London: Scribner.
Since the release of Low in High School in November last year we have become acquainted with a new Morrissey. While many still love him, many more apparently can’t come to separate the man from the music. The apparent offence so many are taking is banal and indicative of a culture overly concerned with safety and securing a carefully curated social network. However, if one can stomach it, it is worthwhile considering where Morrissey’s views have come from and were formed.
The answer to the question ‘where’ (in the geographical, rather than the ideological sense), is quite surprising. The answer is ‘Los Angeles’. It is not that Morrissey formed his views from the political climate of this ‘progressive’ city, but rather that his residence there (which he took up in the mid-90s) gave him an outsider-view of Britain and what he saw as its cultural decline. Through this, one might be reminded of the world articulated by Michel Houellebecq in his 2015 novel Submission (Soumission), which he wrote while observing his native France from a remote dwelling in Ireland. While there are parallels between Morrissey’s and Houllebecq’s self-imposed exile, Morrissey’s character can be understood as the binary opposite to Houllebecq’s protagonist, François. Unlike François’s fated submission, Morrissey has been in a state of perpetual and espoused defiance. In addition to the opinions he espouses in interviews, his music carries similar commands (put to his friends, of which he has claimed to only keep seven). Whatever you make of his views and their implications for the contemporary political climate, Morrissey’s defiance speaks to a resolve that, for some at least, remains the reason for why he is ‘still rock ‘n’ roll’. At the very least, the parallels between Morrissey and Houllebecq may allow us to enjoy him on literary grounds, for the intrinsic literary quality of his music and person. He is, after all, already a Penguin literary classic. /Pete Watt
The answer to the question ‘where’ (in the geographical, rather than the ideological sense), is quite surprising. The answer is ‘Los Angeles’. It is not that Morrissey formed his views from the political climate of this ‘progressive’ city, but rather that his residence there (which he took up in the mid-90s) gave him an outsider-view of Britain and what he saw as its cultural decline.
Through this, one might be reminded of the world articulated by Michel Houellebecq in his 2015 novel Submission (Soumission), which he wrote while observing his native France from a remote dwelling in Ireland. While there are parallels between Morrissey’s and Houllebecq’s self-imposed exile, Morrissey’s character can be understood as the binary opposite to Houllebecq’s protagonist, François. Unlike François’s fated submission, Morrissey has been in a state of perpetual and espoused defiance. In addition to the opinions he espouses in interviews, his music carries similar commands (put to his friends, of which he has claimed to only keep seven).
Whatever you make of his views and their implications for the contemporary political climate, Morrissey’s defiance speaks to a resolve that, for some at least, remains the reason for why he is ‘still rock ‘n’ roll’. At the very least, the parallels between Morrissey and Houllebecq may allow us to enjoy him on literary grounds, for the intrinsic literary quality of his music and person. He is, after all, already a Penguin literary classic.
Up until fairly recently, the term ‘ambition’ designated something quite ambivalent. In contemporary Western societies, however, describing someone as ‘having ambition’ is often a neutral and approving act. Earlier generations weren’t shy about engaging the synonymous arsenal aimed at ‘the ambitious’: ‘upstart’, ‘arriviste’, ‘new money’, ‘social climber’ – all held a derogatory charge.
Ambition’s root is the Latin ‘ambire’ (literally ‘go around’), which designated the political canvassing for votes. What would become the English ‘ambition’ can be seen in Cotgrave’s translated ‘ambitieux’ as ‘greedie of honors; desirious of promotion’, and ‘ambition’ as ‘excessive desire of honor, preferment or promotion’ (Cotgrave 1611), signalling vice.
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is crucial regarding ambition’s ambiguity. In his poem Dell’ Ambizione he examined what thitherto had been considered a vice: ‘every man hopes to climb higher by crushing now one, now another, rather than through his own wisdom or goodness’ (DA 73-74). While he didn’t overturn ambition’s status as vice his highlighting its usefulness informed subsequent such readings. Contemporary ambition can be historically situated in MacIntyre’s After Virtue (1984) and, Sennett’s The Corrosion of character (1998).
Unrestrained ambition is encouraged in all aspects of our lives, perhaps foremost through the fundamental ‘rolling out’ into every aspect of contemporary life the quintessentially modern phenomenon of work (Jünger 2017; 1930). Examples abound. Business schools teach it, entrepreneurial cultures encourage it, and writers now write because of it (fearing their careers will suffer if they don’t). It seems remarkable that there is no reservation about ambition anymore. There is the example of the social mountaineer par excellence, Meghan née Markle: formerly Actress of Los Angeles, now Duchess of Sussex. What is really at play here is the unbridled and soul-corrupting ambition to move on and up, by any means necessary.
I don’t mind the corruption of the Windsors, – or the house of ‘leprosy’, as Lady Di might have had it. But I do mind the corruption of the soul through the vice of ambition.
Cotgrave, Randle. 1611. A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues. London: Adam Islip. http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cotgrave/.
Hoipkemier, Mark. 2017. “Machiavelli and the Double Politics of Ambition.” Political Studies 66 (1): 245–260. doi:10.1177/0032321717720375.
Jünger, Ernst. 1930. “Totale Mobilmachung.” In Krieg Und Krieger, edited by Ernst Jünger. Berlin: Junker und Dünnhaupt.
Jünger, Ernst. 2017. The Worker: Dominion and Form. Edited by Laurence Paul Hemming. Translated by Bogdan Costea and Laurence Paul Hemming. Illinois: Northwestern University Press. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1023207117.
MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1984. After Virtue. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. 1965. On Ambition, pp. 735-740, in Vol II, “The Chief Works and Others.” translated by Allan Gilbert. Durham, N C: Duke University Press. http://www.worldcat.org/title/machiavelli-the-chief-works-and-others/oclc/841913172.
Sennett, Richard. 1998. The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. New York: Norton.
In a recent interview with James Delingpole, Peter Hitchens gave some fascinating insights into the broad range of his personal, moral, religious and political convictions. Some were well-known, others may surprise you. Of note is the serpentine nature of his curriculum vitae, and how this now appears in the concentrated form of his rhetorical shapeshifting.*
Like his late brother and many others who occupy contrarian positions on ‘the right’ (conservatives and libertarians alike), Hitchens began his political life as a Trotskyist, and in doing so was disciplined through a totalising worldview indebted to a close and specific interpretation of Marxist writing and thought.
Later in the podcast, Delingpole wittingly suggests that it is perhaps this background (based on the necessary immersion in the literature of revolutionary socialism) that has formed his position today, because this background provided a form of training akin to that of a Jesuit under what is known as the ‘Jesuit formation’.
There is a parallel here that was known to the late Hunter S Thompson, who once said that he liked nothing more than arguing with a “good, mean Jesuit“:
In the short segment above, Lettermen never let Thompson elaborate on why he loved arguing with “good, mean, Jesuits”, which is why Delingpole’s hour with Hitchens is so revealing. The fact is that Trots and Jesuits have done their reading, and in having done so argue from a position of disciplinary rigor and certitude that makes them worth sparring with. In Thompson’s experience, the fact that the Jesuits are “as smart as they are mean” allows intellectual combat to be a means of refining one’s own arguments and sharpening one’s duelling tongue.
To paraphrase a written elaboration from his Kingdom of Fear (2003):
Smart boys from […] the Society of Jesus are always fun for this kind of banter, and I am always on the lookout for these people, but rarely for anything except as sparring partners. There is nothing like a corrupt Jesuit […] to sharpen up with. And some are even wise in their own shrouded way (Thompson 2003, 16).
References and Footnotes:
Thompson, Hunter S., Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century. (London: Simon and Schuster, 2003)
* At one point, Delingpole likens Hitchens to an eel, and on another occasion recalled a time of betrayal when Hitchens sacrificed his potential political allegiance with Delingpole to win an argument outright.
“I am an eye.
A mechanical eye.
I am the machine that reveals the world to you
as only the machine can see it.
I am now free of human immobility.
I am in perpetual motion.
I approach things, I move away from them.
I slip under them, into them.
I move toward the muzzle of a race horse.
I move quickly through crowds,
I advance ahead of the soldiers in an assault,
I take off with airplanes,
I fall on my back and get up
at the same time that the body falls and gets up.
This is what I am, a machine that runs in chaotic maneuvers,
recording movements one after the other,
assembling them in a patchwork.
Freed from the constraints of time and space,
I organize each point of the universe as I wish.
My route is that of a new conception of the world.
I can make you discover the world you did not know existed.”
~ Dziga Vertov, Kino-Eye Manifesto (1923)
John Bergers seminal “Ways of Seeing” recognized the impact of ‘reproductive machines’ on works of art. Photographs not only transported viewers to previously inaccessible locations and situations (as detailed by Vertov) but crucially for Berger radically altered the consumption of ‘European art in the 20th century’.
Stripped of scarcity, art’s ubiquity was countered with the authenticity of, and reverence to the original. To stand before a real Leonardo was a near religious experience of far more importance than simply gazing at a postcard bearing the same image. This worshiping, argued Berger, stripped Art of its true power and the ubiquity of its context. No longer were works welded to the physical structures and institutions that commissioned them (namely churches, cathedrals), now they could be seen in our own environments.
Berger wanted us to relearn these ways of seeing, to recognize the surroundings of a work’s creation and to re-engage in a childlike way, free from rarified reverence and pomposity and judgements largely informed by value and scarcity.
How might he have navigated Instagram and social media with its filters, graphics, and visual trickery? Facsimile robbed viewers of a moment in history but Instagram, a new machine not for reproduction but invention, robs viewers of a moment in reality. Whilst galleries might strip the casual consumer of any sense of the painter’s circumstances, social media strips the image of any sense of truth while occupying the form that is most associated with truth, the (amateur) photograph. Perspective, the European artistic concept that placed the eye at the center of any experience is now being challenged by the new machines, but these machines do more than simply overcome physical constraints, they now step beyond the physical into the imaginary. Context is relevant, but at the level of consciousness, not material. Although Instagram is not art, it’s impact and new ubiquity on our understanding of images has implications or at least parallels with the phony reverence that Berger’s Ways of Seeing called out. His work is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. We must learn new ways of seeing.
Like many political junkies living in the UK, I tune in every week without fail to watch BBC’s Question Time. Like all addicts, I know the stuff isn’t good for me. It leaves me each week part-satisfied, but also knowing I’ll need to tune in next week for more of the same.
The “questions” (put by the members of the audience), that the show claims to make “time” for, are as inane as the “answers” (provided by a panel of five, consisting of representatives of various political parties, commentators, businesspersons, musicians, comedians etc.). As Peter Hitchens (a regular panel-member) described it recently, it is the most politically vacuous and unthinking of shows that there is. Occasionally, a Hitchens or a David Starkey will drop a one-liner and defeat a political adversary, but even these are banal and par for the course (after all, as a public service organisation, the BBC’s core mission is to “inform, educate and entertain”). What’s more, if it is ‘put-downs’ that you are after, YouTube is saturated with ‘schoolings’, ‘fails’, ‘triggers’ etc. For the most part, Question Time has become (and has been for as long as I have known it) a platform for making predictable party-political points, verbal signals of personal virtue, and appeals to the demographical leniences of the programme’s host town.
Due to recent travel commitments, I have sadly missed my beloved fix two weeks on the trot. However, rather than “catch-up” through my ‘series link’ or the BBC’s iPlayer, I have instead indulged in the following:
In just three minutes, you get everything you may have missed and more. Not only that, the comedic reductionism that Enfield and Whitehouse master here is enough to wean even the most ardent political junkie off the real thing. The only question left, is whether Enfield does a better job than Glaswegian comic Limmy, whose own rendition of the programme is even shorter and perhaps reveals more about political junkies like me than those we feed off.
Flipping channels in a hotel recently, I came across a show about avalanches. Naturally, I was reminded of intellectual accountability in the halls of public discourse.
For those needing a refresher (as I did), avalanches are not primarily the result of the weight or amount of accumulated snow, but the lack of friction the snow encounters on its path downward. After several cycles of melting, freezing, and accumulation atop each newly-frozen crust, the snow blanketing a mountain can become a stratified stack of separate layers capable of freely sliding over and past one another. The slightest tremor can trip the first domino: it is, quite literally, a slippery slope.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2013), economist Daniel Kahneman describes a phenomenon known as an availability cascade as a chain of events caused largely by the media’s exploitation of people’s erroneous capacity to assess an issue by its salience and fluency.
As the press increasingly compete for ‘attention-grabbing’ headlines, a statistically insignificant risk can get trapped in a feedback loop—breathless coverage and its resultant panic mutually reinforcing one another, self-propagating and inexorable, and potentially redounding to “public panic and large-scale government action”. An avalanche.
But we shouldn’t be so swift to condemn. Despite our purported desire for journalism to be a sacrosanct bastion of truth-seeking and reporting, media outlets are businesses operating in free markets and beholden to their stakeholders. If we want journalists to present us with representative, equitable coverage of the facts as they are, that must become the market’s demand in practice. Each individual must embody the friction that resists the intoxicating advance of sensationalism, independently quantifying each risk and weighting it by its statistical significance instead of how many people are talking about it—and turning off the TV until coverage is proportionate. You and I write the rubric by which these firms operate, and if we’re willing to abide mass hysteria, we’re just as culpable for flattening that poor skier.
Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013.
Waiting for yet another flight to depart at the typically uneasy and hurried atmosphere of the airport keeps returning my thoughts to unconscious desire and repression. In psychoanalytic theory, there is no desiring immanence, no ‘enjoyment’ unless there is simultaneous repression.
A rather obvious everyday example would be any masochistic pleasures that sexual tendencies might yield as their share.
The airport is a ‘nonplace’ par excellance, a space with no stable identity. Its only purpose is for ‘moving through’ under the aegis of managed and disciplined flows. It does not exist in its own right, for it simply functions by intensifying restless motion. When the airport grows by extension, adding new terminals into its folds with respective proliferation of checkpoints and corridors, it is marked by certain monstrous qualities. Spaces compound upon each other but are often thoroughly disjointed while porous, coupled zones of isolation (why it is all-but impossible to return to a previous area once the gates have closed behind you). It produces an ambiance of perennial cataclysm, a systemic movement that seems to hang together in only a miraculous fashion.
Curiously, the gated spaces also exhibit a sort of an ‘honestly’ capitalist milieu. Checkpoints, security theaters, inflated prices and rather nasty customer practices by airlines (as we can read in the news time and again) all fall under the anxious gaze of luxury storefronts, priority lanes and lounge services. It is as if nonplace has been colonialized by the obvious. And while few may admit to liking the airport experience, all this offers the goods to unconscious desire. While the discipline to follow orders gives desire the repression into a machinic part, the offerings of all types exchanged under the banner of exclusivity equally provide fetishes for desire to latch onto. It might be that the nonspace of the airport as an anonymous movement of desire can reveal a great deal about us and our contemporary social relations.
It seems that anything other than plain prose and simple speech is treated with the utmost suspicion these days: ‘exclusive’, ‘lofty’, ‘insular’ and/or, perhaps the worst crime of all, ‘elitist’. And yet there are many (too many!) reasons why certain intellectual, artistic and scientific disciplines carry distinct vocabularies and adhere to specific modes of speaking which render them gobbledygook to the uninitiated.
In an age where popular political discourses are increasing framed in simple binary terms, ‘experts’, ‘intellectuals’, and those that, for whatever reason, stand above or outside the everyday, are all-too-easily denigrated on account of the language they employ. Within the arts, humanities and the social-scientific disciplines, the language used serves to
1) frame the debate (within the discipline)
2) demark it against other disciplines
3) equip its speakers with the necessary words through which they can discourse with the appropriate amount of nuance their subject requires.
In this sense, disciplines employ language for the purposes of ‘content ‘and ‘form’ to mark the boundaries around which debate can ensue.
Similarly, Twitter – the medium through which much of the bleating and accusations of “elitist” are mounted – requires a certain set of disciplinary skills. In no more than fifty characters a meme, insult, complement, promotion, or observation can succeed or fail. And yet, this means that Twitter is, itself, an exclusive medium for debate.
It is with these thoughts in mind that one is reminded of the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus, whose highly accomplished and at times ‘difficult’ tone made him sound like an elitist despite never denigrating the masses or lowbrow culture. As Jonathan Franzen puts it:
‘the calculated difficulty of his writing was … aimed … at the bright and well-educated cultural authorities who embraced a phony kind of individuality – people Kraus believed to have known better’ (Franzen 2013, 11–12).
With these words in mind, isn’t Twitter ‘Kraus in reverse’? A medium for those that, by virtue of the fact they can, should know better?
Franzen, Jonathan. 2013. The Kraus Project. London: HarperCollins UK.
The news this week that Meghan Markle’s father will not be attending his daughter’s wedding coincided with me rereading Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle (2013). Some strange but significant parallels can be drawn between the two.
The novel is based on the story of Mae Holland, a recent university graduate who manages to secure a position in one of the world’s most powerful technology and social media companies. Desperate to align herself to the values of this organization, Mae ends up ‘going clear’, meaning she willingly gives up every remaining remnant of her private life through an all-seeing, all–embracing media technology.
In many ways, Meghan Markle has done the same. By joining the ‘inner circle’ of a family whose institution has survived through the carefully plotted and precise orchestration of public service and performative duties, Markle’s new status places her on a similar level to Mae’s ‘performative absolution’. Even after her marriage on the 19th May, Markel’s everyday life will resolve itself around a series of highly photographed and reported public ‘interactions’ rendering each social encounter an ‘event’ under perpetual public scrutiny.**
The Circle warns us that there is perhaps a correlation between how much we show of ourselves and how authentic we are or can be. In a world saturated with a neediness for ‘likes’, ‘zings’, and ‘retweets’, can we even afford to put forward our true selves longer?
However, Markle is not the real victim here and the tragedy of this story is not one of anything she has sacrificed on her part. Quite the opposite. She is affirming her true self. Like Mae, Markle’s visibility is self-inflicted. The real victims are those closely associated with the central perpetrators of these performative imperatives. In The Circle, Mae’s father (who suffers from MS) is exposed on account of his daughter’s decisions, and it is Markle’s father (who suffers from reported mental health problems), who will no longer be attending his daughter’s wedding as a result of the extended pressure that comes with his daughter’s heightened celebrity.
* Header image is a statement from Ms. Meghan Markle via @KensingtonRoyal (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44151239, accessed 17.05.2018).
** There is of course an irony that one of the first things she did when the wedding was announced was to close her active social media accounts.
Following on from a previous note on the Amises, memoirs* and the wittiness of the British (see note §16), here are some little truths from Martin Amis about why he misses the British (or Londonders more precisely) and why the Americans aren’t as comparatively witty:
”I miss Londoners. I miss the wit. Americans, they’re very, well, de Tocqueville saw this coming in about 1850 – he said, it’s a marvellous thing, American democracy, but don’t they know how it’s going to end up? It’s going to be so mushy that no one will dare say anything for fear of offending someone else. That’s why Americans aren’t as witty as Brits, because humour is about giving a little bit of offence. It’s an assertion of intellectual superiority. Americans are just as friendly and tolerant as Londoners, but they flinch from mocking someone’s background or education.” (Brockes, 2017) *Martin Amis latest book The rub of time : Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump : essays and reportage, 1986-2016 was published by Jonathan Cape late in 2017. It is his second memoir, or novel, as he insists it be called. References: Brockes 2017, Martin Amis: ‘I miss the English’, The Guardian www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/16/martin-amis-miss-the-english-homesick /Fred Weibull
”I miss Londoners. I miss the wit. Americans, they’re very, well, de Tocqueville saw this coming in about 1850 – he said, it’s a marvellous thing, American democracy, but don’t they know how it’s going to end up? It’s going to be so mushy that no one will dare say anything for fear of offending someone else. That’s why Americans aren’t as witty as Brits, because humour is about giving a little bit of offence. It’s an assertion of intellectual superiority. Americans are just as friendly and tolerant as Londoners, but they flinch from mocking someone’s background or education.” (Brockes, 2017)
*Martin Amis latest book The rub of time : Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump : essays and reportage, 1986-2016 was published by Jonathan Cape late in 2017. It is his second memoir, or novel, as he insists it be called.
Brockes 2017, Martin Amis: ‘I miss the English’, The Guardian www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/16/martin-amis-miss-the-english-homesick
Foucault’s suggestion as to what work is, at least of the scholarly kind:
“That which is susceptible of introducing a significant difference in the field of knowledge, at the cost of a certain difficulty for the author and the reader, with, however, the eventual recompense of a certain pleasure, that is to say of access to another figure of truth.” (Foucault*)
Perhaps this can offer some respite to those that perceive writing as nothing but pain (see § 23 ) … /Fred Weibull References: *Foucault, quoted by Rabinow in Series Preface to Essential Works of Foucault: Power. The original: “Des Travaux” in Dits et ecrits (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), vol. 4, p.567
Perhaps this can offer some respite to those that perceive writing as nothing but pain (see § 23 ) …
*Foucault, quoted by Rabinow in Series Preface to Essential Works of Foucault: Power. The original: “Des Travaux” in Dits et ecrits (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), vol. 4, p.567
The only successful slave revolt in history was led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1791. The rebellion was captured by C.L.R James in The Black Jacobins (1938).
James’s account was not only the definitive account of the revolution but one seen from the perspective of the common man, or ‘history from below’. Influenced by Marx and his dialectical materialism, James recognized the opportunity for cultural impact being contained in the tensions between the ruling classes and the masses. His work both celebrates an important moment in history and in doing so raises questions around the very nature of revolution. Toussaint L’Ouverture is portrayed as a man that shaped history and informed effective social movements. The Black Jacobins celebrates the intelligence, boldness, and righteousness of the revolutionaries. The contrast between the island of Haiti today, one of the poorest nations on earth, isolated and rife with conflict and corruption after years of isolation, could not be starker. The vision and aspiration of that time provides a rare example of black consciousness and confidence in a period of intense oppression; a far-removal from the social justice movements of today that draw their energy from the victim-centred culture of identity politics, and a vague notion of diversity that is rooted in ‘400 years of slavery’ And yet, it is this tension between movements that reflect the values of the elite and those from below that once again generate new opportunities and movements. Kanye’s questioning of 400 years shows a profound confidence in black people. Daring to step outside the narrative of oppression, to imagine autonomy and a new life. Paradoxically, the contemporary left and its various causes (such as Black Lives Matter) have more in common with the bourgeoisie than they do the common man. These protests are middle-class endeavors, so much so that it takes a former common man, one who has shaped his future to dare to question the received wisdom to reveal them as such. West is far from eloquent, but his bravery in a climate of twitter, speech censorship and permanent indignation is nothing short of heroic. /Martin McNulty
James’s account was not only the definitive account of the revolution but one seen from the perspective of the common man, or ‘history from below’. Influenced by Marx and his dialectical materialism, James recognized the opportunity for cultural impact being contained in the tensions between the ruling classes and the masses.
His work both celebrates an important moment in history and in doing so raises questions around the very nature of revolution. Toussaint L’Ouverture is portrayed as a man that shaped history and informed effective social movements. The Black Jacobins celebrates the intelligence, boldness, and righteousness of the revolutionaries. The contrast between the island of Haiti today, one of the poorest nations on earth, isolated and rife with conflict and corruption after years of isolation, could not be starker. The vision and aspiration of that time provides a rare example of black consciousness and confidence in a period of intense oppression; a far-removal from the social justice movements of today that draw their energy from the victim-centred culture of identity politics, and a vague notion of diversity that is rooted in ‘400 years of slavery’
And yet, it is this tension between movements that reflect the values of the elite and those from below that once again generate new opportunities and movements. Kanye’s questioning of 400 years shows a profound confidence in black people. Daring to step outside the narrative of oppression, to imagine autonomy and a new life. Paradoxically, the contemporary left and its various causes (such as Black Lives Matter) have more in common with the bourgeoisie than they do the common man. These protests are middle-class endeavors, so much so that it takes a former common man, one who has shaped his future to dare to question the received wisdom to reveal them as such. West is far from eloquent, but his bravery in a climate of twitter, speech censorship and permanent indignation is nothing short of heroic.
In his essay, The Decay of Lying (1889), Oscar Wilde challenged Aristotle’s mimetic notion of ‘art imitating life’ with the claim that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. In America, it seems that this mimetic tension can be found in the way that religious organizations continue to negotiate the marketplace.
This is largely because the various denominations that make up what Harold Bloom calls the ‘American Religion’ are unified in their attempt to reconcile an individual’s conduct in the material world (‘that of Man’) with religious principles and/or metaphysical convictions (‘that of God’). Even a staunch and espoused secular pursuit of the American Dream is haunted by a reminder (on the dollar bill) that it is still ‘in God’ they are ‘trusting’. In his landmark work on the history of religion in America, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (1994), R. Laurence Moore, wrote: “In our times, it is hard to imagine a religious organization whose operations are totally outside a market model.” Indeed, as the American experiment goes on, it appears that within this market framework ‘that of God’ is understood as imitating ‘that of Man’ much more than ‘that of Man imitating that of God’. Reflecting on Moore’s words in the opening chapter to their edited collection, Religion in the Marketplace in the United States (2016), Stieverman et al., write: The truth of [Moore’s] observation has not diminished in the intervening years. Things that once might have seemed overstated for effect are today quite literally the case. Moore wondered about a future where would-be prophets would have to “learn the ways of Disneyland in order to find their audience.” That was metaphorical then. It is an actual practice now. The fastest-growing evangelical church in the United States in 2012 was Triumph Church, a multisite megachurch in Detroit, Michigan, with more than 11,500 in regular attendance. Staff and volunteers at Triumph are trained by Disney Institute. Twenty years ago, Moore speculated that religious leaders would struggle “to reach the many Americans who would feel perfectly comfortable at a prayer breakfast held under McDonald’s generous golden arches.” He was invoking the fast food franchise to make a point. Since then, more than a few Christian outreach programs have been modeled on Ray Kroc’s ideas. One can, for example, find drive-thru prayer ministries run by Seventh-day Adventists in California, Pentecostals in Florida and Michigan, Independent Christian Churches in Arizona and Texas, Methodists in Georgia and North Carolina, and even Lutherans in Massachusetts. /Pete Watt References: Bloom, Harold. 1992. The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. First Printing edition. New York: Simon & Schuster. Moore, Robert Laurence. 1995. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stievermann, Jan, Philip Goff, and Detlef Junker. 2015. Religion and the Marketplace in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
This is largely because the various denominations that make up what Harold Bloom calls the ‘American Religion’ are unified in their attempt to reconcile an individual’s conduct in the material world (‘that of Man’) with religious principles and/or metaphysical convictions (‘that of God’). Even a staunch and espoused secular pursuit of the American Dream is haunted by a reminder (on the dollar bill) that it is still ‘in God’ they are ‘trusting’.
In his landmark work on the history of religion in America, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (1994), R. Laurence Moore, wrote: “In our times, it is hard to imagine a religious organization whose operations are totally outside a market model.” Indeed, as the American experiment goes on, it appears that within this market framework ‘that of God’ is understood as imitating ‘that of Man’ much more than ‘that of Man imitating that of God’.
Reflecting on Moore’s words in the opening chapter to their edited collection, Religion in the Marketplace in the United States (2016), Stieverman et al., write:
The truth of [Moore’s] observation has not diminished in the intervening years. Things that once might have seemed overstated for effect are today quite literally the case. Moore wondered about a future where would-be prophets would have to “learn the ways of Disneyland in order to find their audience.” That was metaphorical then. It is an actual practice now. The fastest-growing evangelical church in the United States in 2012 was Triumph Church, a multisite megachurch in Detroit, Michigan, with more than 11,500 in regular attendance. Staff and volunteers at Triumph are trained by Disney Institute. Twenty years ago, Moore speculated that religious leaders would struggle “to reach the many Americans who would feel perfectly comfortable at a prayer breakfast held under McDonald’s generous golden arches.” He was invoking the fast food franchise to make a point. Since then, more than a few Christian outreach programs have been modeled on Ray Kroc’s ideas. One can, for example, find drive-thru prayer ministries run by Seventh-day Adventists in California, Pentecostals in Florida and Michigan, Independent Christian Churches in Arizona and Texas, Methodists in Georgia and North Carolina, and even Lutherans in Massachusetts.
Bloom, Harold. 1992. The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. First Printing edition. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Moore, Robert Laurence. 1995. Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stievermann, Jan, Philip Goff, and Detlef Junker. 2015. Religion and the Marketplace in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
‘There is always a little thought occurring even in the most stupid institutions; there is always thought even in silent habits.’ (Foucault, 1981*).
In a recent article in The Guardian, Martin Parker argued that we should bulldoze the world’s 13 000 business schools**. This imperative is a useful thought experiment. Imagining your local business school’s death encourages contemplation: ‘What – if anything – should be resurrected?’ Three things come to mind: These examples alone prove that it is possible to think even in the most stupid institutions. But perhaps it is better to do this thinking outside of business schools, and academe altogether. After all, what intelligent person wants to hang around with a bunch of petty-minded institutionalised village idiots anyway? Line those bulldozers up, Parker! /Fred Weibull References: * Foucault, So is it important to think? pp. 454-458 in Faubion (ed) Power. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Essential-Michel-Foucault-1954-1984/dp/0140259570#reader_0140259570 [The original interview took place weeks after Mitterand’s presidential victory. It was conducted by Didier Eribon and published in Libération, 30-31 May, 1981] See also: Hoskin and Frandsen. 2010. Thinking in Stupid Institutions. [Presentation], https://warwickagainstthecuts.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/thinking-in-stupid-institutions-nov-30-2010.pptx **Martin Parker, Bulldoze the Business School, The Guardian, 27 April, 2018 theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/27/bulldoze-the-business-school The article anticipates Parker’s forthcoming book – Shut Down the Business School: What’s Wrong with Management Education (May, 2018 and Pluto Press). *** Thrift, N. 2005. Knowing Capitalism, Sage. https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/knowing-capitalism/book226578
In a recent article in The Guardian, Martin Parker argued that we should bulldoze the world’s 13 000 business schools**.
This imperative is a useful thought experiment. Imagining your local business school’s death encourages contemplation: ‘What – if anything – should be resurrected?’ Three things come to mind:
These examples alone prove that it is possible to think even in the most stupid institutions.
But perhaps it is better to do this thinking outside of business schools, and academe altogether. After all, what intelligent person wants to hang around with a bunch of petty-minded institutionalised village idiots anyway?
Line those bulldozers up, Parker!
* Foucault, So is it important to think? pp. 454-458 in Faubion (ed) Power. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Essential-Michel-Foucault-1954-1984/dp/0140259570#reader_0140259570 [The original interview took place weeks after Mitterand’s presidential victory. It was conducted by Didier Eribon and published in Libération, 30-31 May, 1981]
See also: Hoskin and Frandsen. 2010. Thinking in Stupid Institutions. [Presentation], https://warwickagainstthecuts.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/thinking-in-stupid-institutions-nov-30-2010.pptx
**Martin Parker, Bulldoze the Business School, The Guardian, 27 April, 2018 theguardian.com/news/2018/apr/27/bulldoze-the-business-school
The article anticipates Parker’s forthcoming book – Shut Down the Business School: What’s Wrong with Management Education (May, 2018 and Pluto Press).
*** Thrift, N. 2005. Knowing Capitalism, Sage. https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/knowing-capitalism/book226578
How sharp was Hunter S. Thompson’s observational gaze? The “rebel with a cause” had something to say…
…on Dylan: ‘Dylan is a goddamn phenomenon, pure gold, and mean as a snake. If you get U.S. records over there, listen to his “Masters of War” sometime.’* …on Tom Wolfe: ‘Wolfe’s problem is that he’s too crusty to participate in his stories. The people he feels comfortable with are dull as stale dogshit, and the people who seem to fascinate him as a writer are so weird that they make him nervous. The only thing new and unusual about Wolfe’s journalism is that he’s an abnormally good reporter; he has a fine sense of echo and at least a peripheral understanding of what John Keats was talking about when he said that thing about Truth & Beauty. The only reason Wolfe seems “new” is because William Randolph Hearst bent the spine of American journalism very badly when it was just getting started.’** …and on Keith Richards: In an obscure interview with Richards in 1993, Hunter S Thompson’s critique was less obvious. After thanking Richards, HST ends the conversation by having him down as “just a rock ‘n’ roll punk”.*** How might this be interpreted? Should it be interpreted? Is there anything else to it than a friendly recognition of the man behind the hyped rock ‘n’ roll façade? I’m not sure. But I do think it is hard to escape the suggestion that there is something punctuating and deflating about this claim, however nonchalant and innocent it may have been intended (unlike the piercing verdicts on Dylan and Tom ‘Wolfie’ Wolfe). It might be a claim that puts The Rolling Stones member in his proper place. I don’t think Hunter held him in the same esteem as Johnny Depp did, and most certainly not as he did his early writing role-models, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Maybe the truth stares us blatantly in the face, from one of Stones’ own titles: It’s only rock and roll but I like it /Fred Weibull References *Hunter S. Thompson. Letter addressed to Bobo, dated 31 January, 1964 (Woody Creek) in Proud Highway – Saga of Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, Ballantine Books, New York. ** Hunter S. Thompson. The Great Shark Hunt, Gonzo Papers Vol. 1, [Previously Unpublished Jacket Copy for Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas], 1980, CBS Publications. page 70. *** Hunter S Thompson Interviews Keith Richards, 1993, Late Night Productions https://youtu.be/0UKBQgR97R8?t=564 (accessed 03.05.2018)
‘Dylan is a goddamn phenomenon, pure gold, and mean as a snake. If you get U.S. records over there, listen to his “Masters of War” sometime.’*
…on Tom Wolfe:
‘Wolfe’s problem is that he’s too crusty to participate in his stories. The people he feels comfortable with are dull as stale dogshit, and the people who seem to fascinate him as a writer are so weird that they make him nervous. The only thing new and unusual about Wolfe’s journalism is that he’s an abnormally good reporter; he has a fine sense of echo and at least a peripheral understanding of what John Keats was talking about when he said that thing about Truth & Beauty. The only reason Wolfe seems “new” is because William Randolph Hearst bent the spine of American journalism very badly when it was just getting started.’**
…and on Keith Richards:
In an obscure interview with Richards in 1993, Hunter S Thompson’s critique was less obvious. After thanking Richards, HST ends the conversation by having him down as “just a rock ‘n’ roll punk”.***
How might this be interpreted? Should it be interpreted? Is there anything else to it than a friendly recognition of the man behind the hyped rock ‘n’ roll façade? I’m not sure. But I do think it is hard to escape the suggestion that there is something punctuating and deflating about this claim, however nonchalant and innocent it may have been intended (unlike the piercing verdicts on Dylan and Tom ‘Wolfie’ Wolfe). It might be a claim that puts The Rolling Stones member in his proper place. I don’t think Hunter held him in the same esteem as Johnny Depp did, and most certainly not as he did his early writing role-models, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Maybe the truth stares us blatantly in the face, from one of Stones’ own titles:
It’s only rock and roll but I like it
*Hunter S. Thompson. Letter addressed to Bobo, dated 31 January, 1964 (Woody Creek) in Proud Highway – Saga of Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, Ballantine Books, New York.
** Hunter S. Thompson. The Great Shark Hunt, Gonzo Papers Vol. 1, [Previously Unpublished Jacket Copy for Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas], 1980, CBS Publications. page 70.
*** Hunter S Thompson Interviews Keith Richards, 1993, Late Night Productions https://youtu.be/0UKBQgR97R8?t=564 (accessed 03.05.2018)
The writing life is easily romanticised as a simple mode of existence, and yet only a handful of writers cut it… and cutting it is key. Real writing is pure pain. It doesn’t take a writer to know this. Just look at how few real writers there have been. This is one reason why there is so much interest, chat and speculation about the rituals, lives, habits and quirks of writers. Their lives can often be measured out in a series of coping mechanisms. How do so few cope with the pain we hear so much about? Why are so few willing to even take a stab at it?
Hemingway once said “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Nietzsche, it seems, would agree, as his Zarathustra states that he ‘loves only what a person has written in blood.’ The writing life is one of sustained bleeding and correlative pain. It is necessarily unsustainable. Eventually all writers bleed out. Either artistically or physically. It is therefore better to bleed out than never to have bled at all. When Charles Bukowski was asked what it was that makes a man a writer, he replied, “it’s simple, it’s either you get it down on paper or you jump off the bridge.” The choice then is between a quick jump or slowly bleeding out. It’s simple really. /Pete Watt Recommended reading: Rilke, Rainer Maria. 2001. Letters to a Young Poet. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. New edition. Random House Inc. Zweig, Stefan. 2017. Casanova, Stendhal, Tolstoy: Adepts in Self-Portraiture: Volume 3, Master Builders of the Spirit. London: Routledge. Zweig, Stefan. 2009. Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky: Master Builders of the Spirit. London: Transaction Publishers. Zweig, Stefan. 2017. Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: The Struggle with the Daemon. London: Routledge.
Hemingway once said “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Nietzsche, it seems, would agree, as his Zarathustra states that he ‘loves only what a person has written in blood.’ The writing life is one of sustained bleeding and correlative pain. It is necessarily unsustainable. Eventually all writers bleed out. Either artistically or physically. It is therefore better to bleed out than never to have bled at all. When Charles Bukowski was asked what it was that makes a man a writer, he replied, “it’s simple, it’s either you get it down on paper or you jump off the bridge.” The choice then is between a quick jump or slowly bleeding out. It’s simple really.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. 2001. Letters to a Young Poet. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. New edition. Random House Inc.
Zweig, Stefan. 2017. Casanova, Stendhal, Tolstoy: Adepts in Self-Portraiture: Volume 3, Master Builders of the Spirit. London: Routledge.
Zweig, Stefan. 2009. Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky: Master Builders of the Spirit. London: Transaction Publishers.
Zweig, Stefan. 2017. Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: The Struggle with the Daemon. London: Routledge.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of their third studio album, ‘Mezzanine’, Massive Attack have decided to convert the album’s digital music files into DNA. Following a relatively newly-discovered solution to the demands of data-storage (pioneered by Functional Materials Laboratory at ETH Zurich) ‘Mezzanine’ will soon comprise of 920, 000 strands of DNA.
Beyond demonstrating their perpetual, yet discerning, embrace of new technology and media, this novel move will guarantee that ‘Mezzanine’ will truly stand the test of time.* While in general terms, the process of encoding digital files into DNA is a technological solution to the shelf-life of existing modes of digital storage (n.b., ‘Mezzanine’ was released three years before the first Apple iPod), this gesture also suggests the Brighton-based duo foresee their album sustaining its musical relevance for the foreseeable future. This is increasingly a rarity for many musical acts, and emphasizes the importance of Massive Attack and their album for future genealogical studies of the genre.**
The same however cannot be said for Pete Tong’s ongoing Ibiza Classics Tour, which began two years ago to mark a twenty-year anniversary of its own: twenty years of “BBC Radio 1 in Ibiza”. The most-recent iteration of the tour included a reimagining of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ (1991), which prompted Massive Attack’s 3D to take to Facebook to condemn Tong’s collaboration with conductor Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra as little more than a ‘nostalgia nightmare roadshow’ in what seemed to be the latest in an ongoing spat between the two camps.*** Undeniably, the nostalgic nature of Tong’s Ibiza Classics can be seen as part of a wider trend in contemporary music to increasingly seek to sanitize, regulate and dilute the productive talent of producers like Massive Attack from DJs like Tong.
Now that one crucial part of electronic music’s DNA has been encoded, future considerations of the genre may see that Tong’s ‘nostalgic nightmare’ is a product of the same cultural climate that has led to this fractioning. Nostalgia, after all, is as much a sentimental longing for something lost as it is a celebratory and reminiscence of what was. The sentiments of Tong’s Ibiza Classics therefore lament the loss of an Ibiza in light of one he helped create: one that now fits into a broader cultural sensibility that finds Morrissey condemned on account of his outspoken personal views, music festivals as ‘safe-spaces’ for the chattering classes, and Ibiza a retreat for the moneyed young to dance away to DJs getting paid great fees to ‘plug it in, pre-mixed’ on USB ‘sticks’ to ‘coin it’ while they still can.****
* On its release in 1998, ‘Mezzanine’ entered the UK charts at number one and has been deemed an electronic music masterpiece ever since. At twenty, it can also be seen as an artefact showcasing a turning point in late-90s trip-hop, which rendered it one of NME’s Top 100 Albums of all time.
***The frustration being that Massive Attach did not receive any royalties for the use of the track, which in their own shows they perform accompanied by photos of refugee camps to raise awareness and money for The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
****David Guetta famously had to cancel his world tour after losing a USB stick that contained his ‘entire set’. Note that in the video above, which sees the Prodigy and Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson taking on a travel agent, there are ‘complementary mix stix’ available to prospective travelers.
‘I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.’
‘He thinks like a child…; he writes like a distinguished author; and he speaks like a genius.’
The first is a quotation taken from Vladimir Nabokov’s opening paragraph in the foreword to Strong Opinions, an article and interview collection from 1973. The second is written by Martin Amis in 2011, about his late friend Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011).
Nabokov elaborated on what he meant by ‘speaking like a child’:
’Throughout my academic ascent in America, from lean lecturer to Full Professor, I have never delivered to my audience one scrap of information not prepared in typescript beforehand and not held under my eyes on the bright-lit lectern. My hemmings and hawings over the telephone cause long-distance callers to switch from their native English to pathetic French. At parties, if I attempt to entertain people with a good story, I have to go back to every other sentence for oral erasures and inserts. Even the dream I describe to my wife across the breakfast table is only a first draft.’ (Nabokov, 1990: xv)
Christopher Hitchens was, as Amis suggested, different to Nobokov in this respect the point of being his polar opposite. Amis had Hitchens down as “one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen”.* However, when Amis considers Hitchens and diagnoses him through the inversion of Nabokov’s sliding spectrum, he makes a serious mistake. Amis praises the unquestiobably formidable rhetorical qualities of ‘The Hitch’ as more talented than Cicero and Demosthenes: ‘In debate, no matter what the motion, I would back him against Cicero, against Demosthenes.’ In addition to inverting the ranking of the categories genius–distinguished author – child, in relation to the activities of thinking–writing–speaking, Amis does something else – and herein lies the error: he changes the definition of child. The full quotation reveals Amis’ violation, as it includes a qualification:
‘He [Hitchens] thinks like a child (that is to say, his judgments are far more instinctive and moral-visceral than they seem, and are animated by a child’s eager apprehension of what feels just and true); he writes like a distinguished author; and he speaks like a genius.’ (Amis, 2011, my emphasis)
This qualification certainly alleviates the harshness of describing someone as “thinking as a child”. However, Nabokov’s diagnosis of his own shortcomings as an orator were precisely that: shortcomings. And he characterized those shortcomings through the metaphor of a child. When describing his own ability to speak to that of a child’s Nabokov’s judgment was not flattering. On the contrary: he meant that he does not speak eloquently. Amis is well aware of this, quoting Nabokov as having said already in 1962 that “spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle”. In spite of this awareness, Amis apparently can’t resist the urge to soften the blow on the true implication that the Nabokovian reversal would carry. For what it would mean to name Hitchens as someone who “thinks like a child” is describing him as someone whose written and spoken word (however appearing as, respectively, ‘accomplished’ and ‘genius’) serve only to act misleadingly: as decoys, detracting from the absence of sophisticated thought and the shortcomings of rigorous and sustained reasoning.
In an as of yet unpublished ANow Seminar, recorded in 2016, we discuss the tendency of a new aspect in contemporary debating: camp as a rhetorical form. The growing tendency of this form can be seen in the examples of Milo Yiannopoulos and Rylan Clark, who both employ over-the-top emotional posturing when engaging in discussions or debates. In Rhetoric Aristotle drew attention to the use of emphasizing one of ethos, pathos or logos over the other to advance one’s rhetorical position. The camp rhetorical mode utilizes affect, in a stylized and exaggerated way. The opportune switch from logical reasoning to a superficial pathos – through, for instance, the comedic mobilization of a sexual innuendo – is opportunistic, and – arguably – a rhetorically sophisticated diversion-tactic. Hitchens (Christopher) was a master of this gear-shifting between the rhetorical forms (a practice associated with the Sophists known as kairos (see for example Kinneavy, 2000).**
The dissemination of thought and ideas through audio-visual modes of communication (such as podcasts and YouTube videos) is associated with the rise of an emphasis on the spectacle of ideas (TED, for instance), rather than necessarily their careful contemplation. Camp as a political rhetoric and the rhetorical gear-shifting ‘kairotic’ skills of Peter Hitchens is part of this development. While enjoying the entertainment value of this contemporary form of jousting – the spectacle of YouTube “idea sports”, whether through Hitchens***, Peterson, Milo, Murray, etc – perhaps we should be reminded that our enjoyment of the spectacle might come at a high cost. After all, the thinking genius is a child we might not want to throw out with the bathwater.
*Originally published in, Amis, Martin, The Guardian, Amis on Hitchens: ‘He’s one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen’, 24 Apr 2011, originally published here: www.theguardian.com/books/2011/apr/24/amis-hitchens-world (but at the time of writing unavailable there).
*** N.B., Hitchens’ ability to shift from logos to pathos (even Campness) can be observed around 4 minutes in this link.
Nabokov, Vladimir, Strong Opinions ,[1990(1973)]: p. XV, Foreword. Vintage Books, New York
Around 2008 the following prophetic question was presented to me:
“What will happen when China discovers it no longer needs to servilely submit to the idea that ‘the West’, in general, and Silicon Valley, in particular, is the source of ideas and creation?”
Post Magazine recently suggested that the increase in labels stating ‘Created in China’ (rather than ‘Made in China’) is of transformational significance, and perhaps is an early verification that we are moving closer to an answer to the question put to me. Similarly, a book entitled ‘Created in China – How China is Becoming a Global Innovator’ from 2016 challenges the “metrics traditionally used to describe and measure China’s capacity for innovation.”
Does this statement reflect the practice it claims? Has the process begun? Is China beginning to imagine itself as a nation of ‘creators’? Perhaps not, but since the question above posited ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, it is perhaps a matter of timing. When then? In 2025? In this case we ask which social practices are necessary to be in place to enable this fundamental transformation. And ‘fundamental’ is the correct term for this change. For a new spirit of creativity to take hold in Chinese culture, it cannot be an alteration of its Western competitor; it cannot be another cultural form neatly appended with the prefix ‘post’. For if it were – which seems the current Chinese ‘creativity’ status – that ‘creativity’ will ultimately derive from the West. They would then belong within that twentieth century monstrosity of the Maoist-Capitalist ‘cultural’ landscape where historically anchored Western ideas are transplanted into the People’s Republic by the whims and fiat of its State Council. At the moment, perhaps, ‘Created in China’ is rhetorical scaremongering, wishful thinking, save for ‘non-thinking’…
/ Made by Fred Weibull
KENZO’s video is a stylistic masterpiece and has rightly been heralded as one of the best perfume commercials of all time.
Never conventional, never afraid and offensive to the last. This was rock and roll. Daring to be different, thumbing convention and courting pearl-clutchers was its essence (or at least its image), but is this still so?
The Nation of Domination, under the leadership of Faarooq (1996-1998), was, like so many radical political movements, fraught with infighting and power struggles. The movement didn’t last long, but it’s brief time in the media spotlight (just 3 years) left a legacy: namely, a leader to take the movement forward. That leader was the Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson), and the ‘movement’ was stardom, by any means necessary.
Professional Wresting is perhaps the perfect playpen for primal prejudice. We all know it exists solely within the ring and is not real life, but what’s so wonderful about this ‘sport’ is the seriousness with which it doesn’t take itself seriously. The Nation of Domination was not a spin-off of the Nation of Islam, but instead a cartoon band of pro-wrestlers that found their niche by baiting the crowds with talk of black power, civil unrest, and the start of a successful career for Rocky Maivia (Johnson). It is perhaps uncomfortable to think that this movement could be appropriated and trivialized to the extent it was, but in truth, the jeers are a marker of the movement’s success. WWF’s (now WWE) franchise is premised on its acts’ capacity to be parodied so brazenly: from the WWF’s “Rocky”, to ‘the Rock’, to Hollywood’s ‘Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’, to Dwayne Johnson, the highest paid actor in America, by any means necessary.
Of the many contributions of reality TV to contemporary culture, one is the humorous exchange that can take place in domestic settings and between ordinary people. Outside of the heavily stylized and increasingly staged ‘reality shows’ such moments are rarely captured and must therefore be saved from falling into oblivion.
The following excerpt is one such moment. It is taken from Martin Amis’ memoir Experience (2000). It is a sign of Martin’s ability to identify the comedic quality in his father’s (Kingsley Amis) curmudgeonly commentary: *
‘— Get your hair cut, said Kingsley doggedly. Get your hair cut.
There was no one else in the room, but he wasn’t telling me to get my hair cut. Over the years Kingsley must have told me to get my hair cut ten or twelve thousand times. But he wasn’t telling me to get my hair cut. The year, now, was 1984. I was newly married to an American academic called Antonia Phillips, and there was a child on the way. I didn’t need to get my hair cut.
— Get your hair cut … Get your hair cut.
This suggestion was being offered to the television set, more particularly to the actress Linda Hamilton every time she appeared on screen. We were watching a tape of The Terminator (again). An old science-fiction hand, Kingsley was a great fan of The Terminator, and seven years later he would make no secret of his admiration for Terminator 2 (‘a flawless masterpiece’), which I took him to at the Odeon, Marble Arch.
— Get your hair cut … Get your hair cut.
In Terminator 2 (1991) Linda Hamilton wore her hair up or back. In The Terminator, on the other hand, she was decidedly “full-maned, as people were then, in 1984.
— Get your hair cut … Get your hair cut.
— I hope you’re going to stick with this, Dad, I said. I hope you won’t weaken if anyone accuses you of being boring or repetitive.
— Get your hair cut … Get your hair cut.
— Because there are some who might point out that this film has already been made. Even if Linda Hamilton could hear you, and even if she thought it was a good idea, she couldn’t go back and get her hair cut.
— Get your hair cut … Get your hair cut.
— But don’t listen to them, Dad. You’ve set your stall out. Now it’s up to you to see this thing through.
— Get your hair cut … Get your hair cut.
After a while, when the action started and it became clear that Linda Hamilton wouldn’t have time or leisure to get her hair cut, Kingsley stopped telling her to get her hair cut.’
(Martin Amis, Experience, 2000: pp. 54-55).
To appreciate the tone of the monologue, see this video of Martin re-enacting the living-room TV experience by reading it out loud.
* For an account of Kingsley’s life see L.A. Times obituary from 1995
Peter York’s forthcoming book, How the World Works: Or, Everything is Fashion – Especially Politics, might just be what is needed to make sense of the post-Brexit, post-Trump, political world. Despite the vapid repetition of Andrew Breitbart’s mantra that ‘politics is downstream from culture’, there has yet to be a sustained and concerted effort to make sense of 2016 from a cultural-phenomenological perspective.
York is principally known for the Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (which he co-authored with the late Harpers and Queen editor Anne Barr in 1982), however in recent years he has turned his attention to hipsters. Central to his understanding of ‘hipsters’ appeared to be his critique of their often-espoused claim of authenticity, which he explored more broadly in Authenticity is a Con (2014). This critique, it seems, provided the conceptual basis for his 2016 BBC4 documentary Peter York’s Hipster Handbook. Like David Brooks and his two studies of what he called BOBOs (‘bourgeois-bohemians’, taken from the French bourgeois-bohème), York’s social commentary and analysis is unified by an attempt to understand the tribal make-up of niche but highly pervasive cultural trends and subcultural groups.
York’s astuteness and resolve for articulating the socio-cultural tribes of contemporary society is only matched by the English Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry, who in recent years has made documentaries framed around the social research he undertakes as part of his artistic method. However unlike Perry, whose artistic discipline finds him curating tropes, themes and motifs from what he identifies as different ‘tribes’ (a term Perry uses more broadly than York to refer to classes, social types, forms of masculinity, identity, celebrity, and voters) in order to bring his observations to final artistic form (be that a vase, a tapestry, or portrait) that he then presents to his subjects, York meanders through such tribes with the objectivity of an alien Dandy who seems to have landed from a different place or time to tell us what all this nonsense means.
York describes his ethnographic prowess as ‘urban taxonomy’ – a phrase whose ‘ponceyness’ he is keen to celebrate because he holds no claims to be ‘authentic’ himself (quite the contrary). In a world increasingly defined by mistrust of experts, I would suggest a self-knowingly inauthentic guide to politics is just what we need. After all, York’s track record demonstrates he knows exactly what he is doing and who/what he is observing. This is why news of his forthcoming book whose very title claims that ‘everything is fashion – especially politics’ is so welcome: an inauthentic guide to an inauthentic world? Yes, please!
A Swedish documentary from 1998 called 102 Years in the Heart of Europe is a rare treat and proper gem in the genre (or any genre, really). The journalist Björn Cederberg and producer Jesper Wachtmeister deserve recognition for their cultural contribution. What the documentary* offers is namely a portrait of the German writer, warrior and collector, Ernst Jünger (1895-1998). Without prior arrangement, the Swedes manage to persuade Jünger to conduct an interview in his home in Wilflingen.
Jünger had met some of the most influential people in Europe during the 20th century: Hitler, Goebbels, Niekisch, Brecht, Albert Hoffman (the inventor of LSD), Heidegger, Kohl, Salvador Dali and Mitterand.
The interviewer invited the centenarian, Jünger, to gauge the quality of the people he had met.
Cederberg: “After all those years are there any names or persons that have made a special impression [eindruck] on you? ”
“Mostly the impression has been negative. I was associated with Goebbels. He was a very intelligent man, but what did it lead to? Suicide and being forced to shoot his children. I’ve never met anyone like Leonardo da Vinci, anyhow. [laughs]. But it’s always possible. The absolute genius… Genius is not dependent [hängt nicht] on the epoch [zeitalter]. Genius makes the epoch.” (22m:17s – 23m:40s)
Compare this conception of ‘genius’ with the one offered by Harold Bloom (in his book Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, 2002), as quoted in ANow Note §5. Bloom is concerned – writing in 2002 – that the internet, given its ‘great ocean of texts’ will undermine the proper discernment of ‘a work of transcendent eminence’. Sixteen years on and a slightly larger web we can question how and if Bloom would have reformulated the question with even greater emphasis. Nonetheless, if we follow Jünger’s conception of the idea of genius in relation to the epoch or ‘age’ might we be less worried, given that the emergence of a genius is independent of the time or age? Yes, if the detection (or ‘discerning’ in Bloom’s terms) of his (or her, some might think it apt to add) output is necessary for the making of the age (paraphrasing Jünger). No, if the creation of the age or epoch (zeitalder) is independent from the detection and identification of the ‘work of transcendent eminence’.
In this connection we might explore in a future note the importance of the following three or four important and related moves:
1. Heidegger once drew attention to the possibility that there might be Supermen (ubermensch) in our midst.
2. The heroic Ian Hamilton took the burden of responsibility for making it his task to make available before a present audience and posterity great works of poetry and literature, notably through The New Review (through which Philip Larkin became famous), his near-perfect biography on Robert Lowell and other poetry collections. Hamilton was acutely aware and articulate about the importance of this task.
3. Nietzsche indicated that it is the task of a philosopher to lay bare the truth but not to engage in the political practice of repeating it until it is understood: after all, Zarathustra returned to the mountains having realized that the people were not ready for his words. The time, however, might come. Nietzsche anticipated that there will be chairs in his Zarathustra…
4. Enoch Powell emphasized the point (in his interview with Frost) that sometimes a speech is heard only when it is listened many times. The possibility remains, presumably, that it will never be heard at all (although the eternal recurrence of the same would suggest otherwise…) (see ANow Note §10).
*More details about the film here
News began to circulate this week about the guest list for the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next month. With Teresa May, the Obamas and Donald Trump not making the cut, emphasis was made about who will not be attending the marriage rather than who will.
The decision (taken by The Royal Household) not to have political heads of state in attendance is not just a careful strategic move in a highly divisive political time, but the first diplomatic gesture from a ‘new type’ of royal couple. As Harry Mount pointed out in The Spectator late last year, the marriage of these two marks ‘a deep shift at the top end of British society’: ‘the aristocracy has given way to the glamocracy’ he declared … ‘[t]hese days, young royalty and aristocracy are increasingly mixing with, and marrying, international money, beauty and fame.’ Indeed. One cannot help but think the Obamas would have been invited if the wedding took place this time two years ago and there wasn’t the same risk of mass protest that there is if Trump was to step foot onto British soil.
The decision of who not to invite is a sign that this new ‘glamocracy’ is starting to explore its remit and spread its glamorous wings. The important thing, it seems, is that it doesn’t spread them too far, often, or flap them too vigorously. We Brits are a fickle bunch, especially when it comes to the one family we all keep in common (whatever our opinions on the legitimacy of the institution).
If anyone is likely to flap too hard, it is Miss Markle who is being scrutinized by the British public ever since they were introduced to her in the couple’s first shared interview following their engagement.
Stephen: ‘”Oh, I’d like to go round the Commonwealth”, well don’t think we’re going to fucking pay for it! Bloody cheek! Yeah, I’d just like to have a cruise round the Commonwealth myself love, but I’ve got a business to run!
I’ve gone right off her. How pushy is she? Sit there and be a little bit demure and a bit quiet. Remember Katherine and Wills? Katherine spoke but she was very soft and kept it to a minimum.’
Christopher: She’s got too much of a voice. Give it time though, he’ll whip her into shape. You know what Americans are like, they like giving it a bit of that.
Stephen: I’ve gone off her … I reckon she’s trouble.
Between them, these two are as perceptive as Alex de Tocqueville in this brief armchair analysis. The Americans are, after all, said to be ‘shallower, freer with their money, friendlier, more uncertain of themselves and their values, and more demanding of approval than the Europeans.’** What is more, as A.N. Wilson put it to another Spectator writer last year, Markle has to make the British people comfortable ‘bowing or curtseying to her’. This is no small feat, and as this ‘new type’ of Royal couple are brought together in front of us on the 19th May, they are glamocratic guinea pigs with no blueprint for how to conduct themselves in this highly turbulent time.
* Quoted in full due to copyright on the clip restricting viewing outside the UK https://twitter.com/Channel4/status/936706441762578432
** Riesman, David, Nathan Glazer, Reuel Denney, and Todd Gitlin. 1950. The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press., p. 19.
Scots, typically inebriated, are a UK comedy staple. Never just drunk, poverty and violence (metered out or on the receiving end of) aren’t usually far behind. ‘Limmy’ (Brian Limond) is part of this rich tradition but his DIY Piece-to-camera mastery allow his characters to brilliantly transcend these standard tropes to offer audiences a far richer comedy experience that taps into and provokes paranoia, narcissism and surrealism. Limmy’s latest output is his Vines tour. Playing off hours of internet spewing, Limmy pushes audiences into uncomfortable places in much the same way that Andy Kaufman did, albeit with an iPhone, a thick Scot’s brogue and a keen eye for the digital zeitgeist. Surely Kaufman would have seized on the opportunity to regularly upload 90-minute online multiplayer monopoly events (complete with 30-minute winning speeches) had he been able.
Limmy’s latest output is his Vines tour. Playing off hours of internet spewing, Limmy pushes audiences into uncomfortable places in much the same way that Andy Kaufman did, albeit with an iPhone, a thick Scot’s brogue and a keen eye for the digital zeitgeist. Surely Kaufman would have seized on the opportunity to regularly upload 90-minute online multiplayer monopoly events (complete with 30-minute winning speeches) had he been able.
Like all online sensations, the amount of content on, about and from Jordan B. Peterson is extensive.* Unlike many others, there is much that is worth engaging with, dwelling on, and at times returning to with Peterson. In a way, this is my point. With so much to go through some minor gems of revelation and disclosure can go unnoticed. One such instance was a line uttered as part of a conversation with Ben Shapiro on The Rubin Report, Peterson explained how in the case of himself and Shapiro, their public intellectual acclaim is a result of people “com[ing] for the scandal but remain[ing] for the content.”
In note §2, I suggested there was a danger that what Douglas Murray recognizes as the ‘intellectual dark web’ (whose ‘web’ Peterson, Shapiro and Rubin help spin) might operate at a level of sensationalism and scandal, and in doing so risk the potential to obfuscate the substance of the content behind what makes them captivate great audiences and sell out shows. This is discussed at some length in the conversation.
There is therefore great hope in what Peterson is saying here, which is compounded by the fact that he recognizes it.
This doesn’t appear to work the other way around, however. As people have been reported as leaving Morrissey gigs on account of outbursts that were once celebrated as amusingly eccentric, and ignoring the questionable quality of Gervais’ content in his recent show on Netflix, which ‘gives Gervais’s comedy far more credit than it deserves.’ I would suggest that scandal is fine as long as it is about something worth sticking around for. Jordan B. Peterson appears to be one such instance.
*In a high-profile confrontation with a “social justice warrior”, Peterson suggests it is very unlikely to have watched ‘all’ his videos due to their sheer number.
This Saturday (14 April, 2018) dates the 50 year anniversary of the divisive speech which Enoch Powell is infamous for – that which, mistakenly became named the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, and which Powell himself simply referred to as ‘the Birmingham speech’.
Ten years after the speech, in 1978, Powell said in an interview:
“I have been guilty, I suppose, of underestimating rather than overestimating. I was just looking at the figures that I was speaking about in 1968 for the end of the century. The estimates that was regarded with such ridicule then and denounced by all the academics … are less than the official estimate which the Frank reports at the beginning of the year offered. So that upon the whole I have leaned upon underestimation of a magnitude and a danger.”
He also said, “My prospect is that politicians of all parties will say ‘Well, Enoch Powell is right’ not in public but in private, ‘and it will no doubt develop us, he says, but it is better for us to do nothing now and let it happen, and perhaps after our time, than to seize the many poisonous nettles we would have to seize if we were at this stage going to attempt to avert the outcome. So let it go on until a third of central London, a third of Birmingham and Wolverhampton are covered. Until the civil war comes. We won’t be blamed. We will either have gone or will slip out from somewhere somehow.’”
A key question which has resurfaced time and again since – in what is often considered inappropriate (not to mention ‘racist’) accounts – is the question “Was Enoch Powell right?” (or variations around this theme). Douglas Murray has, for example, recently ventured to address this question.
Enoch Powell was a classics scholar who translated Herodotus’ Histories, read the Bible in Greek as bedtime reading during his WW2 service as cadet (according to Sir Hardy Amies, in Cockerell, 1995:10.00-10.25), and appointed Professor of Greek at the age of 25 at the University of Sydney. His intellectual-cum-rhetorical skill was detected already at School, where he was described as“fiendishly clever” and generally considered a “formidable” debating opponent.
BBC Radio 4 devotes a programme to the event, promising ‘reflection’ on ‘one of the most incendiary speeches in modern British politics’. During the programme the speech will be broadcast in full. This constitutes ‘the first time it has been broadcast complete on British radio’.
The details of the broadcast are:
Sat 14 April, 2018
20.00 (GMT), BBC Radio 4
Regretably the reference cannot be found for the following statement that undersigned attests he know to be more or less verbatim as follows “A speech might not be heard the first time it is held.” (Enoch Powell)
The question remains if it will be heard this time around…
Cockerell, Michael, Odd Man Out: A Film Portrait of Enoch Powell, aired 11 Nov. 1995, BBC. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4990742/
Patreon, Kickstarter, Unbound, and Brewdog’s ongoing Equity for Punks initiative are all instances of ‘membership platforms’ that allow mere mortals to become patrons, benefactors and minor shareholders. This is a democratic formation of what was once a gesture of ‘aristocratic generosity’ – a central reason for the nobility’s popularity in previous ages, and a more-recent source of leverage for royalty to remain ‘relevant’ in an age of heightened democratic principles and imperatives (Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, has done more for charity than any other monarch before her).
Following the premier of his Symphony No. 1 (performed 1800, published in 1801), Ludwig van Beethoven was relieved from the vulgar “necessities of life” by wealthy Viennese aristocrats (Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky) under the condition that he remained living in Vienna and contributing to its cultural scene. From 1809, “Ludwig van” accepted a contract of 4,000 florins a year which, following the death of his original patrons, was honoured by Archduke Rudolph until Beethoven’s death in 1827.
For Nietzsche, generosity is a central virtue partly because it is premised on a removal from material attachment and acquisition. In this sense, ‘generosity’ is always an aristocratic gesture. In the democratic ‘membership platforms’ described above, it is not generosity (as Nietzsche understood it) but a form of collectivized partaking; the platforms are based on individual membership, association and ownership and therefore give the individual a sense of ‘being part’ of a trend. Rather than an act of generosity they encourage an association and stake that is akin to a proliferated form of venture capitalism combined with the allure of wearing a badge of cool. In a strange twist of fate, today, and in particular on-line, it is ‘the people’ rather than aristocratic families that decide the fate of artistic culture and merit. This is not necessarily a cultural race-to-the-bottom as one can imagine Nietzsche suggesting, but rather evidence that Americanism has won out over Old Europe, and the aristocracy of the age is what Edgar Allen Poe once described as an “aristocracy of dollars”.
‘There is nothing wrong with journalists taking sides on the issues and conflicts they cover. Having investigated and reported what is happening, they are as entitled as everybody else to let the world know what they think about it.
‘What they are not entitled to do, however, is to get their evidence mixed up with their emotions, so that they risk seeing what they want to see rather than all that is there. There is a difference between taking sides and taking liberties with the facts to promote your favoured cause.’*
There are no ‘independent’ angels sitting above the fray as guardians of the public interest.
*Mick Hume, Whose War is it Anyway? The Dangers of the Journalism of Attachment, 1997, referenced on http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/whatever-happened-to-investigative-journalism/21277#.WsZwKZMbNBw (accessed 05.04.2018)
“There is more politics in academe than in politics itself.”
“No place is as petty-minded as the world of Higher education.”
Before satisfying these whys with an answer, let us qualify and contrast the baseness of their base by attending to the stark contrast that they pose to the noble principle – that which serves as the very foundation of the academic institution itself: the pursuit of truth.
The two statements are variations around the same theme: the dynamic between individuals within academic institutions being characterised – passively or actively – by a propensity for a low estimation and an attempt to want to pull down what is high into what is base. Into the mud. Qualified by pettiness the ensuing ‘politics’ is sometimes characterised as the desire toward domination, not unlike that of a cynical bus driver abusing his temporal and relatively low power to compensate for its blatant lack.
On the historical idea of the University, the eminent (now also Emeritus) Professor Richard Roberts singled out two ‘seemingly incompatible ideals’ or ‘conceptions’ (2004:p.94). One was the historical idea of the University concerning the idea of the research-driven University, rooted in the German tradition and notably captured (if not originating) with Wilhelm von Humboldt’s University in Berlin: ‘Freheit der Forschung; Freiheit der Lehre; Einheit der Forschung und Lehre’ (Roberts, p94). The second , the University of the intimate teaching realm: ‘that of John Henry Newman, and his ideas for a teaching body based on the Keble college of his youth’ (ibid).
But how can it be such that academe is a place that quintessentially – or perfectly – harbours pettiness (and its political component, or ‘power effect’) when it concomitantly instantiates par excellence, the delicate protection in one unity (einheit) of freedom of research (forschung) and learning (Lehre) and/or the provision of an intimate alma mater as per Newman and Keble College, conducive to protecting the delicately sensitive, vulnerable and creative realm of thought?
One answer that offers an explanation is attributed to the Politics Professor Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905-1972). Allegedly, Sayre formulated the claim as: “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low”. (Issawi, 1973)
Charles Philip Issawi, Issawi’s Laws of Social Motion, Hawthorn Books, 1973. p. 178.
Newman, John Henry, The Idea of a University, New York: Chelsea House, 1983 [1852 and 1858].
Earlier this week (05.04.2018), Sean Penn became the proud author of a novel. In the run up to its publication, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff received critical condemnation from all who had the apparent misfortune of being tasked with reviewing it. ‘All’, that is, apart from Salman Rushdie, Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, Douglas Brinkley and Art Linson whose comments on the novel are used as part of its marketing blurb.
The novel was discussed on the BBC’s Front Row with Cathy Rentzenbrink who provided an example of Penn’s apparent propensity (ahem!) for alliterative diarrhoea:
“Whenever he felt these collisions of incubus and succubus, he punched his way out of the proletariat with the purposeful inputting of covert codes, thereby drawing distraction through Scottsdale deployments, dodging the ambush of innocents astray, evading the viscount vogue of Viagratic assaults on virtual vaginas, or worse, falling passively into prosaic pastimes.”
For reasons that are perhaps clear from this extract, rather than address the novel’s literary merits and inferiorities, Rentzenbrink and Stig Abel (Front Row presenter) discussed how the very fact that Penn has written a novel is a gesture that is part of broader phenomenon of actors (principally male actors, it was noted) turning their hand to this form and process.
The discussion rightly pointed out that for Penn, the creative process of writing a novel gave him a break from collaboration (an imperative of acting) and the imposition of a director’s vision etc. Front Row pointed out that the problem with this is that Penn’s novel amounts to an unedited “ideas-dump”, with no unifying theme or narrative thread beyond his own exuberant delight in working alone with no accountability to anyone other than himself. He agreed with Stephen Colbert that the novel is something of an ‘improvisation’, however many critics feel he has fallen short on realising the Beat and Gonzo-style he appears to be emulating.
It wouldn’t be right to comment or speculate further on the novel’s literary qualities without having read it myself, however, it is of note that the trend of actors to turn to writing novels (a phenomenon that despite being identified seemed to perplex Rentzenbrink and Abel’s discussion) can be seen as an instance of the broader tendency of actors to seek recognition beyond the remit of their craft. This was addressed in ANOW Seminar No. 2, where we discussed Johnny Depp’s great cultural deed of bringing further recognition to the life and work of the late Hunter S. Thompson. Indeed, Hunter S. Thompson’s name that comes up again in relation to this novel, with Salman Rushdie suggesting that Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S. Thompson ‘would love this book.’
The fact that a literary review of this novel cannot seem to escape the phenomenon to which it is a part would suggest that as a cultural artefact of contemporary celebrity Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff should, in one way or another, be treated seriously and certainly not dismissed on literary grounds.
“Genius” is a term now very much in fashion, Historicism (against which Nietzsche warned us) triumphed in the age of Foucault, but that era now passes. Still, the World Wide Web will be no friendlier to the age of genius. In that great ocean of texts, how many will be able to discern a work of transcendent eminence?’
~ Bloom, Harold. 2002. Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: Warner Books., p. 195.
With the development and proliferation of blockchain technologies – the digitized, decentralized, public ledger most associated with cryptocurrency transactions – the potential for these to be used and developed outside the niche world of cryptocurrencies is going somewhat unnoticed. As work and employment become increasingly atomized and precarious, the framing of selves in relation to work is ripe for reconstitution in light of blockchain technologies’ proliferation. Whereas the entry of gig-economy platforms raise questions concerning entrepreneurial activity and enablement, the suggestion in the attached link hints at the potential of blockchain to reach and reconfigure our relation to employment, work and self-understanding.
London Review of Books (LRB) has involved Alan Bennett as one of their go-to social media ”stars”. What happens when someone like that scrutinizes the British dating reality TV show Love Island, as he does in his latest contribution? Spoiler alert: no surprises: ‘unleashing’ Bennett’s analytical gaze upon Love Island results in him reassuring the skeptical audience – presumably petrified of the show’s seductive vulgarity – that it is only a symptom of something much more culturally important.
Something that is missing here – and indeed anywhere else, as it seems – is an appreciation for the novelty of Big Brother, Geordie Shore, Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life and others. Bennet’s optics fail to recognize this genre’s significance. Reality TV has brought considerable cultural value to entertainment. Geordie shore is, as Alex Nieminen said, ”a piece of art”. It has brought about a new human cultural type. Without this 3-decade long TV-world we wouldn’t have artists like reality-TV-wind-up-merchant-artist Stephen Bear, one-liner-poet Scotty T of Geordie Shore or “loves it”-undercover-comedic-genius, Paris Hilton. It seems that the Brits are particularly good at this game.
But, to be nice, and in the spirit of Bennett, let’s end with a reassuring stuffy reference: “The corner of the human heart that they speak for might easily manifest itself in worse forms, and I for one should be sorry to see them vanish. “ (George Orwell, The Art of Donald McGill, 1941)
Douglas Murray’s recent tour of the US appears to have confirmed his previous admiring identification of an ‘intellectual dark web‘. There is much to be optimistic about here, especially the suggestion that there is a latent promise that intellectualism in the age of social media and identity politics is not dead.
According to Nietzsche thinking (philosophy) serves as a cure against boredom. He also said ‘Against boredom the gods themselves fight in vain’*
* Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1968. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. 1st ed. Middlesex: Penguin Classics., p. 164