Monday, April 19, 2010
The future will be dominated by wars of resources and faith, predicts John Gray in this collection of his writings over the past 30 years. He attacks “liberal fundamentalists” and neo-cons and Blair-style “messianic politics”, accusing his opponents of “a weakness for uplifting illusions” that he doesn't share. A liberal conservative, Gray still clings to some beliefs: humans are predatory and violent, and civil society is worth defending. “Poetry and religion are more realistic guides to life” than science and technology, he concludes, although religion gets all the attention here. In fact, there is little sense of what Gray means by poetry, other than Keats’s “negative capability” and his admiration for “the greatest twentieth-century Tory poet” Philip Larkin. Also included here – among essays on Thatcherism, “evangelical atheism”, environmentalism, torture and globalisation – is a reverent piece about Damien Hirst, which ignores the fact that the multi-millionaire artist is a product of the same speculative bubble Gray correctly predicted would burst.
“Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” Yeats wondered after the 1916 Rising. Quite probably, says Clair Wills in this excellent cultural history that gives due emphasis to “the literary elements of the Rising – the staged drama at the GPO, the impetus for rebellion found in the theatre of the cultural revival, the poetic manifestoes”. Yeats’s “Easter 1916” was too equivocal for some, but Irish “Rising verse” flourished after the brave rebel leaders had been summarily executed by the British. In the north all memory of the Rising has been suppressed, Wills notes, while in the south an authorised version of events prevails. The Easter Rising became a symbol of Irishness (most evident in the availability of “Rising kitsch”), but also an inspiration. “The Easter week rising in Ireland by its very failure attracted,” Jawaharlal Nehru observed. “For was that not true courage which mocked at almost certain failure and proclaimed to the world that no physical might could crush the invincible spirit of a nation?”
Friday, April 16, 2010
Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities
Monday, April 12, 2010
It struck me as an exceptional issue, featuring:
· an interview with John Berryman (who committed suicide in January 1972), in which he is asked: ‘What about Eliot? You must have had to reckon with Eliot in one way or another, positively or negatively.’
Berryman: My relationship with Eliot was highly ambiguous. In the first place, I refused to meet him on three occasions in England, and I think I mentioned this in one of the poems I wrote last spring. I had to fight shy of Eliot. There was a certain amount of hostility in it, too. I only began to appreciate Eliot much later, after I was secure in my own style. I now rate him very high. I think he is one of the greatest poets who ever lived. Only sporadically good. What he would do – he would collect himself and write a masterpiece, then relax for several years writing prose, earning a living, and so forth; then he’d collect himself and write another masterpiece, very different from the first, and so on. He did this about five times, and after the Four Quartets he lived on for twenty years. Wrote absolutely nothing. It’s a very strange career. Very – a pure system of spasms. My career is like that. It is horribly like that. But I feel a deep sympathy, admiration, and even love for Eliot over all the recent decades.
· Joe Brainard’s Amazing But True: ‘A Portfolio of Visual Works’ · John Ashbery’s ‘The System’, probably the most important poem in Three Poems (and if you don’t believe me, see David Herd’s John Ashbery and American Poetry (pp.134-7)
· a portion of The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium by Harry Mathews (described by Edmund White as ‘a comic masterpiece’)
· Three Sonnets by Ted Berrigan
· Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Elegy for Neal Cassidy’
· Sonnets by Alice Notley
· A long poem by Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground – here’s a stanza:
succulent smooth and gorgeous
isn’t it nice
number one and so forth
isn’t it sweet, being unique
· Poems by James Schuyler, David Shapiro and Anne Waldman
It’s a strong contents list – but is it just me or is it more experimental than anything we’re offered today (and not just by The Paris Review*)? The crazy energy has gone.
*Though it’s good to see Schuyler in the current issue.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The historian Timothy Garton Ash is proud of his scholar-journalist status. A master of this “mongrel craft”, he composes perfect “essays in analytical reportage”. A major theme in this outstanding collection is how national identities are constructed, the narratives we tell ourselves – and how in this "decade without a name" these narratives begin to lose their shape and coherence, especially in Britain (“We have gone from a simplistic, misleading mythical story – ‘Our Island Story’ – to a condition where we have no story at all”). What does it mean to be British anyway? he asks. (He is pointedly an “English European”.) Elsewhere, he observes that when politics and the media meet there’s usually an element of “fact-fixing”. The runup to the Iraq war – towards which he maintained “a position of tortured liberal ambivalence” – being the obvious example. (“I was wrong,” he admits.) To call the last decade the noughties is “like strapping a frilly frock on to a sweating bull”, Garton Ash concludes. It was a decade dominated by disastrous US foreign policy and probably deserves to remain nameless.
Monday, April 5, 2010
At the heart of Night is the question “For God’s sake, where is God?”
At one point the SS hang two men and a boy in front of the inmates, who are made to file past them:
The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen
and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still
breathing . . . and so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between
life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at
close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his
eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows . . .”
. . . And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, witnessed all this.