Saturday, 5 February 2022

The Need for Discernment

 TOO LITERAL TO SEE A JOKE OR DISTINGUISH A PENIS FROM A PENCIL" is a line (from his excellent 'Ode to Terminus') in which WH Auden criticises crude, undiscerning technocrats (perhaps encouraged by the crudities of a mathematical data-driven reductionism) who can see the superficial cylindrical resemblances between penises and pencils but overlook the far greater list of differences between the two objects and the enormous difference in thier functions. In 2016, at the time of Brexit and the Trump election there was much talk on the left about "Fascism". Brexit and Trump expressed a degree of national pride, Hitler and Mussolini expressed national pride; QED Brexit and Trump were "Fascist". So far, though, we don't have Blackshirts in the precinct. It is a humble opinion of mine which I, no doubt, have the right to express that a similar thing has happened on the right. The same resort to a vocabulary of historical extremes in order to express what are really fears has been made. Over the Covid response terms like "Totalitarian" are bandied about, again invoking the spectres of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Mao. I think this is as over-stated and inaccurate as the earlier charge of "Fascism." It really comes down to a need for a Linnaeus-style form of historical classificiation of genera and species where a measured forensic scrutiny capable of going past the superficial resemblances that ignite panic is in play. Trudeau certainly errs on the side of autocratic leftism and has recently been getting a deserved come-uppance at the hands of the Convoy. But does he deserve the epithet of "totalitarian" that fails to distinguish him from Benito Mussolini whose thugs beat up their enemies and publicly humiliated them by making them soil themselves in town squares? At the moment the elastic responsiveness of the Canadian democracy seems to be allowing the protest against him to be registered in no uncertain terms. This is bound to price in a big political effect once it is all over. Democracy, in that sense, still seems to be working in ways which it would be unable to work in a truly "totalitarian" regime. There would have been tanks and squadristi with coshes ranged against the trucks there and those trucks would have been reduced to twisted wrecks and their drivers would have been imprisoned and executed. Today, in the UK, England will play Scotland in a packed Murrayfield and the economy is doing fairly well despite the world-wide inflationary worries, gas prices etc . The Covid restrictions seem to be withdrawing and we will be back to the old vigilances of the preceding culture wars.

Friday, 4 February 2022

Patrick West on ‘Ulysses’

 It’s actually a very good essay by Patrick West. He describes Joyce, Ulysses and modernism very well. He says, in effect, that Joyce showed that ‘Victorian’ beliefs in the linearity of time, concrete personhood, a division between the inner and outer worlds of a person and an idea of moral redemption were all outworn by 1922.

However Joyce’s sense that all of these ‘Victorian’ (they actually had far longer heritages) ideas could so easily be dispensed with by Nietzsche, Freud and Jung is a luxury intellectuals’ idea - an entertaining fancy. Anyone who really jettisoned them would be in a mental institution unable to function. The fact that Patrick West earns a living by sense contained in the written word and has faith in language arranged in linear fashion shows that, while we/Joyce might toy with such ideas, existentially it’s impossible to exist without them. In practice modernism either requires that you admit yourself to an asylum or you shrug it off and return to the “linear” day to day world and continue to live (with the normal sense of responsible personhood).

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

An Orgy of Licensed Hatred

AN ORGY OF LICENCED HATRED because the function of Boris, as an Unherd article I posted a little while back suggested, is as ‘sin-eater’ or scapegoat. He is the Etonian, Marxist class enemy on the altar. He is the insouciant, unfeeling, lying, selfish, morally repugnant, braying Tory (in the tradition of Alan B’stard) but he is also the dangerous liberally educated who is more eloquent and fluent than his enemies around whom he can run rings verbally and, worst of all, direct Falstaffian laughter at. This is the punishment of intelligence. As Boris ebulliently rebutted Keir Starmer’s pious denunciation Starmer sat pinned back against the bench immobile with a look of pure hatred such as you see on those who envy and resent talent. Then Ian Blackford did his carefully choreographed walk-out after the histrionic and liturgical three accusations of lying, resembling a formal malediction.

These people are morally confused and desperately searching for the certainty of moral true north where real evil or good might reside. They think, in Boris, they might have found (they haven’t ) the true north of evil and the certainty that demands executive action. So, now, it’s like the chorus in Rigoletto screaming and chanting in unison - ‘Vendetta!’ because they think they can do so without fear of being called to account afterwards.

This has nothing to do with rationality or anything of real political importance. It’s the settling of scores through a religious frenzy. It’s an important moment because if they succeed they slaughter all of that….

And the introduction of the Police, those with the power to criminalise formally, to rubber stamp the certainty and make the permission to hate formal…….

Thursday, 27 January 2022

The Press

I had noticed that, unlike the formal, publicly-funded institutions guaranteeing liberty like the judiciary, apart from the BBC, the press is not publicly-funded, is unofficial and, of course, therefore subject to financial winds and political influences. Nick Aragua , a newspaperman, finessed this very helpfully for me by making the distinction between public institutions guaranteeing liberty versus the press being an *expression* of that liberty. 

The ship of government floats in a sea of the eyes of the people all looking at it, perceiving it and scrutinising it. Some of them get together and ally the articulacy of the tongue and the pen (and a certain amount of courage) to the scrutiny of the eyes and the press comes about. These ‘organs’ of scrutiny and articulacy are still subject to financial winds and political influences though. The ability of the eyes to look and speak/write goes back to the birth of liberalism which must have started with things like the invention of the printing press in the 15th (?) century. As the pamphleteering and polemics rose in inverse proportion to the decline in the fear, mystique and aura of monarchy, until we reach the point where monarchy is literally decapitated in 1649 and the Puritan rebel, John Milton, writes Areopagetica, liberalism and ‘liberty’ in the modern sense is born. It became an element in which we presume to swim which we must not, however, take for granted.

The financial winds and political influences mean, presumably, that the pure, unfiltered expression of freedom doesn’t always happen. You need the right conditions in terms of reporter, editor and proprietor to coalesce at certain times for the ‘heroic’ function of the press to be fulfilled that occasionally raises it to the level of the august ‘fourth estate.’ Such moments occur against an mundane background of selling enough papers to survive.

Returning to the eyes, it’s interesting that one of the first organs of the press was called ‘The Spectator.’

Tuesday, 25 January 2022


ARE MOST OF THE POPULATION MORAL INGÉNUS? So, when they are led by the nose by the ‘liberal’ press to designate what happened in Downing Street as ‘arrogance’ sneeringly looking down on and laughing at the common people, they are grateful to be told what real arrogance actually looks like, cheerfully go along with the narrative and join in with the opprobrium and denunciations?

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Wes Anderson's THE FRENCH DISPATCH - Review in The Brazen Head - 1/1/22

 Early on in The French Dispatch we encounter an imprisoned murderer who takes the art world by storm with an abstract nude painting of a female prison officer, with whom he manages to conduct an affair, secretly painted in his French prison. After his release he conducts an affair with the female reporter – named Berensen, thus echoing the name of the art historian Berenson – telling his story. The wall in the prison canteen on which he painted a series of abstract murals is, then, air-lifted to an art museum in Kansas after slow motion mayhem has unfolded between prisoners, prison staff and denizens of the art world. Next, a middle aged female American reporter reports on and has an affair with the boyish leader of a soixante-huitard revolution, naturally conducted via chess moves relayed through a loud hailer, before she encourages the lad to sleep with a female revolutionary who contradicts everything he proposes on principle. He is then electrocuted in an accident on a radio tower. Finally French Police Noir, Maigret and Tintin-style are comprehensively elided with French haute cuisine.

By now we are in no doubt that the movie is modern, it’s post-modern, it’s meta, full of cutesy kitsch, it appeals to the child in us and it wilfully and proudly obeys none of the rules or the unities and satisfies none of our expectations. There’s slow motion and freeze frame and switches from colour to black and white, from real life to cartoon. We are put in mind of the labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges’ psyche, and Magical Realism takes a bow. It’s a complicated delight with an endless stream of puns, verbal and visual.
There is, therefore, also a Chef/Police Officer who, in a joke typical of the rapid-fire surrealist jokes that are sprinkled throughout, is called Nescaffier and is played by an American actor of Korean heritage. All of the stories are set in a fictional French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé which is actually parts of old Angoulême, the home of the French Comic-book Festival. The French Dispatch salutes in passing the art dealer Lord Duveen who enriched himself by satisfying the thirst of American millionaires for European art, the overweight and brilliant American writer on World War 2, boxing and French cuisine, AJ Liebling and Mavis Gallant, the Canadian chronicler of Paris in May ‘68 all of whom appeared in the famed New Yorker magazine as writers or subjects. It’s all very affectionate, charming and whimsical in the tradition of Amélie and The Budapest Hotel. The whole, pitched as ‘a  love letter to journalists’ is framed within the Foreign Bureau Magazine of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun – The French Dispatch in which the stories appear in an obituary edition for the recently deceased editor and founder.
It’s studded with the stars, many of them current hot properties, who must make up most of Wes Anderson’s address book, many of them having appeared in his earlier films. All of the thespian brilliance and talent of Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalomet, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Anjelica Houston, Edward Norton, Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Cécile de France, Rupert Friend, Léa Seydoux, Benicio del Toro, Henry Winkler, Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and even Jarvis Cocker is showcased and shop-windowed to great effect. And that’s only half of the cast!
So, what do we think about all of this? How do we respond to it? It’s the nature of contemporary art and that includes le septième art, even when it’s set in other periods and unfamiliar places and, as this film is, studiedly untethered from any connection with now, to tell us something about the time in which it was made and the modern consciousness that made it.
Whimsy and Magical Realism, although they entertain and tickle us, somehow fail to satisfy us at a profound level. This is, perhaps, because of what they really are. Our modern zeitgeist demands the abolition of intelligence, wit, irony and humour for fear that they undermine or, perish the thought, laugh at the witless totalitarianism of identity politics and correctness. This means, in practice, that a ban has effectively been imposed on the brilliance of Western wit to exercise itself to its full extent in relation to the real contemporary world. The result of this proscription is that European and American wit, a sad and forlorn refugee, has had to migrate into intellectual exile, retreating into a green screen cultural vacuum where it cannot be incriminated by association with anything linkable to the actual modern world. In this instance it is welcomed into a French world set somewhere between the 30s and the 70s (thus allowing the existence of anachronisms like big-hearted show-girls) that is no more than the figment of someone’s imagination and is incontrovertibly ‘detoxified’ by being totally over and hermetically sealed in that vacuum. It is given free rein to do its soubresauts and pirouettes on condition that none of them mean anything or make any comment on our times. Wit can obtain as long as it is defanged and not dangerous to the status quo. And this is the sad comment on our times that the film, unwittingly, makes……

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Beyond Good and Evil?

The idea of beyond good and evil is ridiculous. When people espouse it the next moment you can guarantee you will find them denouncing someone for their moral failings…..their cowardice, backsliding, dishonesty etc…