Friday, 16 December 2011
To the outsider, one of the most striking features of the British is their affection for animals. Another striking feature is their lack of affection for each other. People carry dogs in their arms as they would (elsewhere, at least) a child; and they charge rent to children who remain in the "family" home as they would (and even this might not happen elsewhere) a stranger. People are strange, and animals are kin.
The imperative to consume is here and now so all-consuming, that the overlay of thought and feeling that has distinguished the human from the merely animal is being eroded. When nothing but instincts remain, hitherto-humans become endlessly manipulable by their arousal and satisfaction; so long as hopes and dreams, principles and commitments, are recast as basic needs, they can be sold and sold and sold again: this is what Mark Fisher calls "capitalist realism." But the other side of this coin is that, unless something "adds value," which is to say, unless it feels like the satisfaction of a basic need, it is so excessive as to cease to mean anything, so surplus as to cease to exist. In this category are increasingly interned all of the higher, that is, human, achievements: loyalty, care, protection, patronage, love.
The only real tie that binds us now, above and beyond the quasi-instinctive consumption practices that we share so utterly and completely, is the tie between parents and their young children. But dogs too care for their young. As do hedgehogs. And only for so long. When animals come of age, the bond between adults and their offspring falls away, to be replaced by and by with an entirely new bond between the now-adult offspring and their young. Instinct will only spread so thinly. To the outsider, the absence of anything like family cohesiveness in Britain is remarkable. Parents appear, if anything, over-"invested" in their children, but the tie seems astonishingly to weaken as the children grow older, and children are finally dispatched to the world as if this were the wilderness and survival of the fittest were the best we have to hope for. Small wonder, then, that ageing parents get left behind (for the state to take care of badly). As for siblings, they are a matter of almost total indifference; and friendship is all but a myth. It turns out that instinct is a poor foundation on which to form our bonds; it would as soon set us against each other as it would appear to unite us in pursuit of the same ends. A world of consumers is a dog eat dog world. Except that, here, no-one would dream of eating a dog.
The infamous British reserve has few cracks. Rather incongruously to the outsider, however, it does give way very quickly when the opportunity arises to be naughty about private body parts, intimate sexual acts, and basic biological functions. All of a sudden, what had seemed buttoned-up fortresses of inhumanity leave down their guard wholly, light up their eyes brightly, and giggle like eager schoolgirls, as if to say, "Mummy, I'm home!". And, in the animal world, it seems indeed that they really are.
Monday, 14 November 2011
In 1967, Gore Vidal wrote:
The portentous theorizings of the New Novelists are of no more use to us than the self-conscious avant-gardism of those who are trying to figure out what the next ‘really serious’ thing will be when it is plain that there is not going to be a next serious thing in the novel. Our lovely vulgar and most human art is at an end, if not the end. Yet that is no reason not to want to practice it, or even to read it. In any case, rather like priests who have forgotten the meaning of the prayers they chant, we shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books, pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods, perhaps in silence or with new words.
Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Thursday, 21 July 2011
I purposefully abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. - I only intreat every body to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Friday, 8 July 2011
Monday, 4 July 2011
Thursday, 30 June 2011
Before the death of Brian Haw is entirely forgotten, and with it the man and his campaign, we would do well to include in our brief respectful acknowledgment of the merits of his cause and the courage of his methods a moment of regret, not just for the manner in which we sometimes handled him too roughly but also for the manner in which we generally treated him so well. It is said that a man can be killed by kindness; certainly, a man’s protest can be silenced by tolerance.
On 16 January 2007, The Guardian reported Tony Blair as saying: “When I pass protestors every day at
One moment during Haw’s decade-long campaign crystallized this oppression-by-tolerance of our political system: the moment in 2007, when Mark Wallinger won the Turner Prize for an artwork comprised of a faithful reconstruction of Haw’s
While Brian Haw must be honoured for his commitment to resisting the wrong-headed and immoral foreign policy of Britain, he must also be honoured for unintentionally showing up its very objectionable domestic policy; that moment when his protest against the state of Britain was transformed into an artwork called State Britain revealed something startling about the conditions of our time and place: the fact that protest against our liberal democratic government is not actually – at least not straightforwardly – possible, given that any protest, whatever its content, unwittingly lends support to the apparent liberality of the polity that non only permits it to happen but “thanks God” that it can. And that’s what we call freedom.
Friday, 10 June 2011
Friday, 21 January 2011
And this too, at a time when what is called "higher" education has sacrificed itself so entirely to determining the extent of its quantity and, what is not, in the New Labour target culture, qualitatively different, its "quality," that it is no longer much else but the detemination of the extent of its quantity and quality. Open the pages of Times Higher Education these days, and what you see advertised in its jobs pages are lectureships in Higher Education. No, not lectureships in the higher education of students in Philosophy, or English Literature, or Physics, but lectureships in the higher education of students in Higher Education. In these times of unprecedented university cuts, when education has become so utterly defined by targets that the survey of students' sense of satisfaction as they sit in their "Introduction to Phenomenology" class is taken to constitute the success of their introduction to Phenomenology, the university has nothing but itself left to teach its students. The question is whether students' sense of satisfaction will be taken as constitutive of their higher education in Higher Education; if so, the university may find itself hoist by its own petard. Having savaged the possiblity of education in all disciplines but itself, the university may finally, having had to turn on itself for sustenance, end in savaging the university. It is too late, now, to feel that such an end would be anything but welcome.
But perhaps there is hope in the surprising guise of Gove: hope that, as education consumes itself at the top, it opens up again, nearer the bottom, to a healthier set of foods - including the recommended daily amount of roughage that has been utterly neglected by the over-refined, over-processed offerings of New Labour; hope that what had appeared as a devastatingly over-involved eating itself to death is only the last stage in a peristalsis that begins anew, now, to improve all our intellectual diets.
Saturday, 15 January 2011
During the nineteenth century, when industrial modes of cloth production began to undermine the distinction that had been easily available to those who could afford dresses made of fine fabrics, middle class women became fearful of being mistaken for their servants and, what was almost worse, of their servants being mistaken for themselves. There promptly followed the introduction of the servant's uniform so that style continued to remain the preserve of the privileged. Society has changed sufficiently for the imposition of a class uniform to have become outrageous. But it has not changed so much that the benefits of such a uniform are no longer felt. It is simply that, now, the middle classes, constrained from dressing others in it, consent to dressing themselves in it, and opt to preserve a badge for their position in society by claiming as their birthright, no longer style but rather a green-quilted absence of it.