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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Bound for the darkness on a late night train,

Station bar is closed and a small light shields

100 years of death on this ride through the rain,

100 miles charging by the wet and damp fields.

 

Dotted here and there, a sofa shop

And a witches lair.

The clock is tick tick ticking late

And the security camera clicking, sealing the fate

Of the night in the station.

 

Tomorrow we could be Edinburgh, we could be Hull or Slough

Wizzing round the track past the horse and plough,

The name of a pub the conductor may be found,

They’re dreaming tripping over the track, a burning human sound

And some scarecrow’s head turns around.

 

The wooded path, shudder reflection, swampy sea of bricks

We find them in the darkness, in the darkness of the rain,

Station again, now I travel just for the kicks

I get from the darkness of the late night train.

 

29.11.2012

I make eyes at strangers, to stay in their head for three minutes

I can’t help but look back.

Nothing. Nevermind

Yes, they could be a potential friend, but only in the same way my sperm stain could be a potential son.

What I need is courage, courage on the battlefield of love.

 

Oh, that word? Forget Owen and his gang,

That is it, the old lie.

Well, maybe we could make such a concept together, this perfect stranger and I!

But soon we’ll come to realise I’m just a moth vs. a butterfly, Branston’s vs. Heinz, the timid vs. the bold.

If eyes told the truth, I’m sure I’d have stopped long ago.

 

So, what can I do but wait for them?

They who has no party trick or childhood nickname,

who can’t sip macchiato in flaunted style or win the fight they really should’ve won.

 

I want to become acquainted with some aproned waitress

And make a daisy-chain to loop round her neck. I want to sit still

without hearing all this human noise.

Noise which I have no courage to silence with a yell:

‘Amore, amore…the old lie!’.

 

28.11.2012

It is fair to say that spectators and speculators on Philip Larkin, from Anthony Thwaite to Christopher Hitchens, reveal in their prose the idea that Hull says more about Larkin than the other way round. This might be only partially true. For studying Hull and its literary tradition, we can try to understand how this popularly neglected, post-industrial northern Town provides a fertile establishment for some of our countries great writers.

The old King’s Town of Hull produced its earliest significant literary father Andrew Marvell in the early 1600’s. Marvell was a republican hero as well as poet and was elected into Parliament from Hull in 1659 as kind of a predecessor to the much celebrated William Wilberforce. The obscure Marvell relished in the tradition of metaphysical poetry of the love kind, developing his craft at the intellectual haven of Trinity College in Cambridge, alma mater of Newton, Russell and more recently, Stephen Hawking. He happily served Hull from the houses of Westminster for the rest of his life and created a significant legacy to those studying such periods in English poetry.

Most, if not all of the popular writers descending from Hull are not part of any scene or movement. I sometimes realise with mild annoyance that we are so decidedly out of the popular music circuit in England, apart from a brief spell in the 90’s with the Adelphi Club, and would probably be unfashionable to be so for the reasons illustrated below. None of Hull’s poets really form any meaningful collective – Motion was just starting to divulge his poetry toward the end of Larkin’s career and indeed, life – and have tended to reside at the University, a place which attracted Professor David Wheatley.

In spite of declining to host such musical endeavours, one of the wittiest and lyrically provocative songwriters in pop music, Paul Heaton also made Hull his adopted home as commander of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South. As a modern champion of left-wing causes in a Town one feels would be unwilling to propagate him otherwise, Heaton encapsulates the idea that the mundane can be beautiful and must be celebrated with a pinch of irony. Hull, it seemed, was the perfect catalyst for this spirit.

Hull certainly feels decorated by the baby boomers with its long concrete 60’s department stores, interspersed with Victorian structures like the Train Station Hotel and old theatre.  Fashion, fame and glamour somehow clash with this, being perched on the rugged coastline reaching out toward Scandinavia. Working class-ness and the blunt demeanour of the people supply ample opportunity for one learning the craft of kitchen sink realism, demonstrated through the writers I have included.  The attraction seems plausible; what else by way of art and reflection can be done but observing, writing, residing in the cocoon? Larkin sums up this unlikely breeding ground in a letter to Robert Conquest; ‘Hull is like a back drop for a ballet about industrialism crushing the natural goodness of man, a good, swingeing, left-wing ballet’. [1]

Pursuing the location further, Hull is unique because it is awkwardly positioned and so, if you come here, you come for a reason. Cold, rugged, halfway to Scotland from London, numbingly unexciting, it maintains its satisfying quirks: the cream telephone boxes, its artistic flare, approachable via the immense suspension bridge, a good University.  There couldn’t be more of a subtle place for a writer to be, particularly one desiring to be induced by their surroundings.  Interestingly, Hull is where many such writers chose to live rather than originate here, like Larkin, Roger McGough and Andrew Motion. Larkin, unlike the others, never became emancipated from the place and eventually immortalised Pearson Park in high windows in 1967.

To make sense of this, one must conclude that writers require the blank setting to fill their imagination, with deprivation of high luxuries being a familiar virtue, in particular for those inclined toward poetry. It was of course the deep isolation of the trench which lead poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen to record the tragedy they witnessed forever on paper.  Terry Eagleton says ‘The Hull setting was symbolically apt for Larkin: as the 20th Century unfolded its wars and revolutions, he cowered behind the book stacks in this remote provincial outpost’[1]. Whilst I think perhaps that last description is a little unfair, Larkin truly did create a fragile nest and often complained about Hull and the political state of his beloved England in his letters to, among others (like lifelong friend Kingsley Amis), his fellow librarians. In contrast, contemporary George Orwell actively engaged in politics, writing extensively on the Soviet revolution and WWII, whilst fighting for the Imperial Police in India in his earlier days. One cannot imagine such a ‘street fighter’ would choose Hull as an apt setting for his life’s work.

There is therefore hope that the literary tradition of Hull will continue, so that the same attractions that are highlighted bring a few more significant novelists, poets, essayists and intellectuals here. The ‘Larkin 25’ celebrations a couple of years ago officially acknowledged the importance of Hull for modern literature, but to me sent out a more profound message: there’s inspiration in this soil yet.


[1] Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, Christopher Hitchens, first published in 2000 by Verso.


[1] Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 1940 – 1985, edited by Anthony Thwaite, first published in 1992 by Faber & Faber Ltd.

In observing the current and on-going ethno-religious turf ‘war’ between Israel and the forces of Hamas in the Gaza strip, who can blame Gaza? Well, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks apparently, who let slip on air that he believed the violence has ‘got to do with Iran, actually’[1], proceeding to immediately contradict this statement by insisting ‘no one gains from violence, not the Palestinians and not the Israeli’s’. If the latter were true then what would Iran gain from getting involved, or as Sacks is probably implying, providing Hamas with weaponry?

The common remark in the press by all sides is that a nation of peoples has the right to defend itself against attack. One of the many problems with this dispute though begins when we try to assess who, in playground terms ‘started it’, and whether they were justified. Another problem is that the more a population of displaced Palestinians grows, according to Wikipedia by 3.2% each year, the more tension and bloodshed the overspill will cause, as will almost certainly happen on the West Bank over the next  few years. A further complication is that the international bodies of the UN and the EU do not want to be seen as supporting Hamas, the Sunni Islamist political party regarded as a terrorist organisation, who in all likelihood would create an Islamic Muslim Brotherhood state if they gained the appropriating land – even if their current ‘plight’ is a political one. See, it’s hard to even know which terminology to use.

I believe this last issue is a problem shared by many commentators who cannot bring themselves to condemn the Zionist occupation of Israel against a militant Islamist regime, the likes of whom are damaging the prospect of cultural peace and progression in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, often forgetting the poor (literally) Palestinian citizens in the process. In these matters Israel is clearly not the liberal peaceful, terrorist-fighting secure state it claims to be, shown by its obsession to retain the Holy Land of Jerusalem as pure from the Arabs and often use ancient history to justify their occupation (evidence which is, anyway, inconclusive as far as archaeology is concerned. This is testified through my sister’s own experiences in Israel and this senior Israeli archaeologist: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/2705-senior-israeli-archaeologist-casts-doubt-on-jewish-heritage-of-jerusalem). Far from a liberal agenda, Israel always conscripts its teenagers to fight for the Army in constant preparation.

Another furry aspect surrounding this battle and the Jewish Question at large, is the ethnic versus religious debate, which is why I suspect observers are so hesitant to condemn the Zionist Jews (if they don’t). Unlike Islam which claims to be universal (and Hamas would probably like to see Islamism in place right across from the ‘Jordan to the Mediterranean’[1]), Judaism is for a place and a people. We need to be sure this is a political quarrel and not just a religious one and meanwhile condemn the abhorrent idea of a state designed for only one ethnicity and religion based on Biblical folk tales, which date back thousands of years.

Again, one can’t over-emphasize that it is the citizens who suffer eternally in this despicable conflict, with Sky News claiming that over 20 Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday, with 3 Israeli deaths.  The reckless retaliation of Hamas to the initial Israeli attack a few days ago is certainly going to further harm the citizens of Gaza, whilst underground bunks are being prepared in Tel Aviv (a city which is very culturally developed).  These problems which I’ve outlined detail partly why this issue is so contentious; the war within the war in Gaza, the citizens of which are constantly punished and degraded at ‘home’ and in ‘Jewish’ territory – read Chomsky’s recent account[1] – the confusion over the Zionist conquest, who started the fight this time round, who is supplying all of the weapons, etc. It is a desperate situation which may require a desperate solution.  As someone I follow on WordPress stated a week before the latest outburst, ‘The violence between both parties has become so cyclical it shows no sign of stopping unless there is a radical change in dialogue between them’ (http://ozkaterji.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/94/).

I can’t profess to say much more on this news because I feel as though I don’t know anything like enough about it, nor do I have friends or any colleagues in Israel or Gaza to provide insight. Hopefully the communities keep going. I am tempted to quote former British PM David Lloyd George on the First World War, that ‘If people really knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow’.  As we continue to search for a solution which evidently won’t be a two-state one, the dark smoke clouds will also continue to obscure the horizon in this small part of the middle-east. Symbolic, or what?




A realisation that has laid dormant inside me for a serious number of years now is that what I am principally attracted to in music is melody. It is the thing that does it for me. Contained inside the melody of a song you can somehow imagine your greatest ambitions, the deepest melancholy or the bluest ever sky. Music just stimulates these intense feelings for me, although it usually works best when combined with a matching lyric.

More often than not, some kind of context will contribute significantly to this emotional effect; for instance if I know that the Go-Betweens are from sunny Brisbane, then there is a reason that I am reminded of girls on sandy beaches and land-rovers cruising across the Australian outback when I hear them. The same thing happens when listening to Richard Hawley in the knowledge that he hails from the steel and mill city of Sheffield, England; I remember the time and place which this music represents. It will happen also with Edith Piaf; in fact the list of artists is inexhaustible.

This is an interesting point: because of this context that music is naturally placed in, some genres or even just a short musical hook, can only remind you of one place, culture or situation. For example when I listen to reggae I will normally be reminded of something like the hot sun shining down on a Jamaican bazaar, or Rastafarians with dreadlocks perhaps.  Melody has one the most important parts to play in the structure of this musical experience. Some types of melody were created distinctly by movements or groups of people, such as the Chicago blues tradition, and before that in Africa or the major chord structure of the bass hooks featured in most reggae songs. When you hear these melodies, you are instantly emotionally and intellectually transported to a place, and like life itself it can be a dark or a beautiful place – think Scott Walker vs. Leonard Cohen.

Although most casual fans of music are indeed susceptible to melody the most in song (it is after all what the chart music manufacturers aim for), I would argue that they have a bad definition of what melody really means. Melody doesn’t just mean the same four to eight bars of notes recurring in succession. Melody, for me, consists of a rounded, engaging tune with a theme, which works best when it is not an oft-used one. The content of chart music usually consists of a simple but ‘catchy’ keyboard lick, with a 4/4 time dance-track imposed over the top. Alas, some people think that melody is tantamount to cheesiness, but it isn’t necessarily; besides, I am often unashamedly attracted to the sensibility of cheesiness in music. Manic Street Preachers are certainly able to channel this, as did Frank Zappa, albeit ironically most of the time. Decent melody outside of the pop charts is much more interesting than this and engrains itself in the musical world and delightfully in the head of the listener.

There were of course times when I was slightly ashamed to appreciate the melodic factor in music, mainly due to the pressure of music-loving friends. Those were friends that would only have time for Tool, Bullet for My Valentine, Cradle of Filth etc. Now I know why Nirvana was always my favourite heavy rock band. I don’t care anymore to feel shame admitting that I am attracted to a lovely melody in song for the reasons above than pretend to like or understand those from which it is conspicuously absent. I would like to look more into the components of music and their effects and need to look at the copy of Musicophilia I somehow acquired by Oliver Sacks and I also understand that Edward Said wrote a great deal on music. Meanwhile, I’ll leave this here with a great melody I’ve been digging the last week or so:

Human privacy is something we don’t tend to think about much, other than when considering the prospect of having it removed from us. Except I did, the other day when walking past a window with some particularly short and shoddy curtains which, whilst helping to illuminate the room somewhat, also drew my attention towards the student-standard MacBook, football posters, etc. there for all to see. It may also have been because I had on that day seen Andrew Sullivan’s ‘classic tory’ views on transparency within the American government, who claimed that whilst the government should certainly be accountable for its behavior  they shouldn’t be totally exposed, nor should the content of meeting discussions be disclosed. They must have their privacy. So, is privacy perhaps the defining concept in the life of the free individual in a functioning society, those of us in the West?

Retreating to a Marxist perspective, one can muse on the idea that the existence of the private sphere comes from an oppressive capitalist society and that we are social creatures by nature, and a free-market global economy has isolated us from this very nature for hundreds of years. But we seem to have a more tenacious and inherent natural desire for privacy than almost anything else in Western society. We will fight for it at the risk of losing our lives, and overall it has clearly triumphed. Perhaps then, privacy is the embodiment of freedom itself.  For those cynical about what this life virtue can produce, please listen to Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds as the soundtrack for reading and you’ll note a caricature of the perils of isolation centered on the private home.

What we consider the most oppressive societies in the world are surely those who do not permit a private life for the individual. North Korea is probably the best example of such a place which has strict ‘lights out’ blackout in the capital of Pyongyang around 10 p.m. All phone calls are monitored so private discussion is difficult to have at all, giving an unfailing reminder of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, actually published one year after the founding of this horrific state.  A Korean citizen however, probably would not be able to think like Winston Smith; from a young age the confines of their social environment (and language, as is again demonstrable in Orwell’s newspeak) would undoubtedly constrict their concept of freedom or privacy or the possibility of such ideas even existing, let alone being attainable.

Again, I seem to have made ‘privacy’ synonymous with ‘freedom’, but can the two ideas actually conflict with each other? Those who feel uncomfortable around public toilets (like maybe those who are not cis-gendered) may dislike the social pressure of having to enter a designated male or female cubicle, in which case their freedom is limited by having to make a choice. Meanwhile, their business is still private. Social critics and Marxists will point out that our structures of upholding privacy in life, like this such example, or say being pressured to move into our own houses and flats from a young age, make us prisoners of ourselves and our true human nature. I myself see some aspects of this in society (with things like schooling), but reject the overall interpretation of a great social human nature. If we have any ‘natural’ aspects as humans, it is surely that we are curious and envious. These traits are shown through our fanaticism with tabloid newspapers in Britain and it is shown through the stoning of the woman who might have had a secret love affair in Saudi Arabia. Privacy, it seems, in the name of individual benefit, must be retained to a significant extent.

We like our privacy, but I wonder if we are so quick to permit others the same right. The sensation surrounding Julian Assange over the last two years is an intriguing case. Given that he and his associates leaked private files containing sensitive government information, does he still have a right to move freely without interruption or defend himself in the court facing a rape charge? Those who think not have to admit that, for them privacy is a content-free construction: if they permit it for one body, they must permit it for everybody. So bearing this in mind, I wonder whether I agree with Andrew Sullivan’s view. In the context of this discussion it must be pointed out that when we punish individuals, we do so by taking away their privacy (amongst other things), something I don’t necessarily disagree with, a thought which I think we like to relish for ‘moral’ or actual criminals. Assange if convicted might face the consequences of this in prison and it is up to the law to take into account the full details of the case. Still, I am sure we like to delve in the private lives of others more than we might admit. Trans* people, if asked often say that the reason so many people feel uncomfortable when they cannot immediately gender-type a person is because they want to know about the genitalia of strangers. And yet we would hardly say that a stranger has the ‘right’ to know such personal details.

If we are going to learn about humans and their habits and behavior for anthropological, socially progressive and historical means, a good degree of transparency seems like a must. There is a conclusive split between personal and social privacy and this is an argument elaborating on the former. There is a reason we feel horrified at the extreme invasions of privacy featured in The Lives of Others (2004), which is that we are so used to having our private lives relatively un-tampered with. But the more we shut ourselves off from the rest, the quicker society follows the trend.

The question ‘can philosophers make a difference in the world?’ is overbearing in its demand for a simple or common empirical explanation. In truth, the question should be rephrased as whether ‘thoughts’ can make a difference and as anyone could tell you, they surely do to an unquantifiable extent, particularly when actions are determined by these thoughts. One such zeitgeist in social philosophy was personified through Bertrand Russell in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, who led marches with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to Trafalgar Square and personally sent telegrams to President John F. Kennedy and senior Soviet Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev, warning them of the potential domino effect a full scale confrontation between Cuba and the USA would have worldwide. The ‘anti-nuclear war’ stance was finally accepted as the best condition by the parties concerned after a two week standoff, achieving victory for Lord Russell’s political premise and ending the first serious nuclear incident since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A generation on and fifty years of globalization later, we are faced with a new global predicament. The advancement of technology has rendered the rarefied cable communication via telegram redundant, making the Russell’s of the world significantly quieter in an electronic media frenzy of Twitter, instant messaging and information uploading. But these transformations have also undoubtedly helped increase the rate of production and trade, including in the energy, arms and weapons department. Long term, nations will have to work together for the slightly daunting prospect of combating climate change (regardless of its source), but in the short term we must work on the nuclear question which has almost come full circle, with the increasing threats of war between the US and Iran and Israel and Iran. The idea that the dark armies of theocracy are constructing such a monstrous threat whilst we are asleep almost permeates our deep soul, if we can profess to have such a thing, and it’s hard to not feel lost in a wave of helplessness or passivity.

What can be done? It seems we need more signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – something which removes us (The West) from the objective standpoint some like to take who accuse the entire world of being a sort of moral level playing field – and perhaps a louder throat-clearing from the United Nations. But then we come down to that old conundrum: can we fight aggression with aggression? Putting this aside for one moment, it seems there are some things which can be achieved to help prevent or slow down the possibility of a large scale disaster. Australia, who have one of the world’s largest natural sources of uranium (according to John Pilger a couple of weeks ago[1]), a crucial ingredient in the development of nuclear weapons, has just done a trade deal with India (perhaps to help boost their economy which suffered a great setback in the midst of a power crisis last year) to sell them Uranium, clearly ignoring the fact that they are non-signatories of the NPT. Neither is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a country already harbouring large Taliban groups; the mind boggles at what Australia is playing at, or with as this case may be.

If Pakistan becomes aggressively involved with India, it seems likely that Iran and Lebanon could follow suit and trigger a nuclear arms race which would make Cuba seem like a measly thumb war, compared to the full scale arm wrestle of international nuclear conflict. The potential collision between the messianic and apocalyptic religiosity of these Islamic states and the nuclear fissions is probably the most alarming aspect and something which separates our times from the last. The Red Army had a communist agenda which was defeated in part, in Asia and the Middle-East by the forces later to become Islamic republics; I remember reading somewhere that Osama Bin Laden claimed that the hard part of their struggle was ‘defeating the red army’ and that conquering the USA would be something akin to a walk in the park. The conflict between Western Democracy and Islamist dictatorship is an ideological one fuelled by religious convictions which are universally known to be deadly strong. This is not just about the political defeat of capitalism but the implication of the caliphate and they are almost complete with nuclear threat on their side.

Literary tradition has long had it that there is some connection with writing and the nuclear issue. The first to write perhaps influentially on the subject was, predictably George Orwell who penned You and the atom bomb in 1945[1], and who spoke of ‘how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years’. Perhaps the Russell’s and Orwell’s and other humanists need to speak up in the modern age to address the issue which will affect us all in the coming years. With Barack Obama as president for the next four years (to address my last piece!), the issue should hopefully be played out gently on the world stage, but the actions and reactions of the White House seem never far from escalating. We’re all keeping cool for the time being, and this is the best we can hope for to live day by day.