Category: politics


INTERSTELLAR directed by Christopher Nolan (USA, 2014)

Looking to the stars for hope.

Should we stay or should we go?

Brion Gysin , the English-born painter and poet who introduced William S Burroughs to cut-ups believed that leaving the planet was the only thing that gave any purpose to life on earth; “we are here to go”, he said.

This perverse notion is one that Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan transform into the interstellar overdrive of their extraordinary cinematic vision – a space odyssey of epic proportions.

Reasons to go are indeed pressing since Earth is rapidly becoming uninhabitable with crops literally turning into dust. We are not privy to the precise reason for this state of affairs but Professor Brand (Michael Caine) alludes to humankind’s selfish tendencies as being a primary cause. This is also something Naomi Klein, in her book This Changes Everything, has rightly identified as a key factor in climate change.

If, as seems probable, the future of humankind is due to the largely man-made catastrophe of global warming, it begs the question as to how we are going to prevent fucking up another planet too. The mysterious Eureka solution that saves the world suggests that a last-minute reprieve is possible; a central message that is as delusional as it is dangerous. Continue reading

Maggie Thatcher and Hilary MantelThe best kind of  killer is one who can hide in plain sight  and  is able to pass unnoticed in a crowd.

Hilary Mantel does not look like an assassin. On the contrary, she seems so prim and proper.  I’m sure she often gets mistaken for a Tory.  She is always well turned out, wears pastel shades and her hairstyle is not so dissimilar to Thatcher’s.

This is what makes her short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983,( published in The Guardian) seem so out of character.

It has caused a minor storm in a tea-cup among those who still misguided enough to argue that Thatcher saved, rather than ruined,  the nation. To those who merrily sang Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead las year, Mantel is an unlikely heroine. Continue reading

The sixth in a series of 13 book reviews from my pre-blogging years. 

WORKING-CLASS CHILDHOOD. AN ORAL HISTORY by Jeremy Seabrook (1982)

When I was young, the children ran around barefoot. Now it’s their hearts that are bare”. This quote is that of an old man from Sheffield and establishes the main theme of this book.

Drawn from a wide variety of sources, Jeremy Seabrook explores the changes in society between the 1930s and 1970s mainly from the perspective of children, though mostly taken from the memories of older interviewees..

The hard, often cruel, upbringing in the pre war years prepared kids for the harsh world of adulthood. Discipline was strong and communities close-knit as people faced up to the common threat of poverty.

Seabrook highlights the way the increasing dependence on material wellbeing has brought many benefits but has  fundamental drawbacks; he writes: “All the talk of change turns out to be changing people so that they fit the modified needs of cold economic processes; the only revolution turns out to be the revolution of the fixed wheel”. Continue reading

REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS by Susan Sontag

"Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else; they haunt us"

This book was first published in 2003 but couldn’t be more topical. Images of James Foley’s beheading at the hands of ISIS terrorists that briefly circulated via You Tube and Twitter this week are just the latest in a never-ending sequence of atrocities that raise ethical, and politically charged, questions about what the media should show in print, online or on TV.

It is human nature to be torn between fascination and repulsion when confronted by such images. The late Susan Sontag understood that deciding whether or not to view such graphic representations of man’s inhumanity to man makes us either spectators or cowards. Being neutral is not an option.

Regarding The Pain Of Others is both a companion piece and an updating to Sontag’s 1977 collection of essays On Photography. In it, she explores how still photographs come to influence and, in some cases, define the way we regard war and conflict.

Her starting point is the Three Guineas essay published in 1938 in which Virginia Woolf wrote of the horror and disgust she felt at seeing photographs of victims of the Spanish civil war. These  forced Woolf to conclude “War is an abomination, a barbarity, war must be stopped”. This outrage is perfectly understandable, even praiseworthy, but also naive.  Sontag asks pointedly: “Who believes today that war can be abolished?” Continue reading

The third in a series of 13 book reviews I wrote in my pre-blogging years.

 KIPPS – The Story of a Simple Soul by H.G. Wells (1905)

kippsThe excellence of this novel is not sustained to the end. Book III (Kippses) comes as quite a disappointment with its excursion into the domestic problems of the newlyweds (Anne & Kipps). Other events like the birth of their son are merely sketched in as the story drifts towards an anti-climatic conclusion.

Books I and II are, however, quite wonderful. Firstly, the plight of Kipps as he is forced into a dead-end job and sent out into the world in a state of complete innocence are superbly described.

Wells’ touches of irony are almost always effective, for example he describes the pitifully short amount of leisure time Kipps has at the end of the day as follows: “the rest of the day was entirely at his disposal for reading, recreation and the improvement of his mind”.

The confused dreams of Kipps are very believable. He, for instance, longs to be more learned but knows nothing about books, It is another irony that at the end of the novel he acquires a bookshop.

If confusion without money is bad enough, confusion with a windfall of £1200 a year proves to be just as bad. One feels for Kipps as he struggles to learn the “manners and rules of good society” and is taken advantage of by the so-called respectable classes. Continue reading

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