August 30, 2014

Christopher Hitchens on Orwell and feeling inferior against otherwriters

Christopher Hitchens by Ralph Steadman
Christopher Hitchens said about George Orwell: 
"The point was made better by Lionel Trilling. The remarkable thing about Orwell and the encouraging thing was he is not a genius. He lived to only 46 years. He never went to university. He never had a steady job. He usually didn’t have a steady publisher. He will never be forgotten because he managed to disprove imperialism, Stalinism and fascism in one lifetime and made some imperishable raids on its territory that no-one is ever going to forget. All the time ill. All the time poor."
He then said:
"[George Orwell] shows how much difference a person of really average integrity and intelligence and education can make if they have a little courage and a little intellectual honesty. The shortcomings of the individual you can see in him too. But he basically won his own battle against his own prejudices. This is an example for all time. You don’t get the sense for example when you’re reading Proust or Nebokhov or George Eliot that you shouldn’t be in the writing business. All the people in history who said alas there was nothing I could do are lying or at least discrediting themselves. They could have. They just chose not to."

August 29, 2014

Philip Larkin in and on Belfast

Philip Larkin by Ralph Steadman
Philip Larkin was appointed sub-librarian at Queen's University Belfast in June 1950, starting in September of that year. He spent five years in Belfast. Leaving in 1955 Larkin for the University of Hull. He said of the context surrounding his move to Belfast in an interview with the Paris Review:
"After finishing my first books, say by 1945, I thought I had come to an end. I couldn’t write another novel, I published nothing. My personal life was rather harassing. Then in 1950 I went to Belfast, and things reawoke somehow. I wrote some poems, and thought, These aren’t bad, and had that little pamphlet XX Poems printed privately. I felt for the first time I was speaking for myself. Thoughts, feelings, language cohered and jumped. They have to do that. Of course they are always lying around in you, but they have to get together."
He also said to the Paris Review:
"The best writing conditions I ever had were in Belfast, when I was working at the University there."
In his 1950 letter to Monica Jones, Larkin described the city and its people 8 weeks after his arrival there:
"A wide and cobble-streeted town, lined with frowning buildings in the late Victorian manner & some indifferent shops. I’m already fed up with anything called Ulster, Northern, Victoria, etc., also with the Irish male face (craggy, drink-flushed, with greasy black curls and a too-tight collar & the Irish female face (plump, bad-teethed, pinkly powdered, with a diamante lizard on the lapel)."

August 28, 2014

The cartoonist as the true journalist

John pilger thinks so:
"The most effective defender of the paper is not one of these. He has shaggy dark hair and a beard - or he did when I last saw him. For more than 20 years I have turned to his work as you would reach for coffee in the morning. He is outrageous, anarchic, brilliant, sometimes inexplicable and a bit mad (not really). For those who doubt the truth is subversive and often absurd, I point them towards two pages in the Guardian, where he resides. 
Only Steve Bell exposes consistently, fearlessly, the bullshit of "public life". Indeed, his characters are often drowning in or water-skiing on the stuff. "Right, that's it," says the last governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, to Gordon Brown, then prime minister, and chancellor Alistair Darling, "heads down, tea break over!" They are up to their chins in a tank of turds. 
Steve Bell is a cartoonist and a true journalist with few rivals. He is Hogarth and Swift with a touch of Peter Sellers and a sprinkling of Orwell. He is more of an English original than one of his prime targets, Margaret Thatcher, the former petit-bourgeois totem. Often using the wickedly all-seeing penguin star of his strip, "If..." he rumbled both Thatcher and her protege, Blair, early in their criminal ascendancy."
In full here. The New Statesman also covered this with, 'John Pilger on Steve Bell and the cartoonist as true journalist.'

August 27, 2014

Sean O'Casey - Writing gets harder the more you do it

Irish writer Sean O'Casey and his wife Eileen Reynolds
Sean O'Casey, playwright born in the tenement slums of Dublin, said:
"When I write a new play. When I sit down to try to write a new play, I’ve had the experience of many plays before. Yet that new play that I am going to try to write gives me the same agony, the same trouble, the, same effort, the same Herculean work as the very first play I ever wrote gave to me."
Christopher Hitchens said the same thing:
"I hate to agree with George Will about this… The truth is, yes there is nothing like not writing for making you unhappy and if you have the compulsion then the only problem that you’ll have is, you surrender to this compulsion more and more and, you’ll find [writing] gets harder the more you do it. That seems a shame. It should get easier, it should become more like a facility for example. It becomes more difficult and it becomes more difficult because you are reading more and more work by better and better people and you’ve lost the sheer nerve and the blind solipsism that allowed you to think you could try it when you were young before you had made any proper comparisons. So it gets much more nerve wracking and much more difficult in every way costly for you and no doubt for your readers."
Samuel Beckett on writing more generally said in 1954:
"It’s hard to go on with everything loathed and repudiated as soon as formulated, and in the act of formulation, and before formulation."
Beckett also wrote:
"I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding."

August 25, 2014

Northern Ireland's vanity of the small difference

The Vanity of Small Differences by Grayson Perry - A series of 6 tapestries partly inspired by Hogarth's A Rake's Progress
It was W. H. Auden who wrote in his poem about partition: "Two peoples fanatically at odds, With their different diets and incompatible gods." Yet to outsiders, the two communities in Northern Ireland look, seem and act identically. Eugene Robinson wrote in the Seattle Times about how Northern Ireland Protestants and Catholics are at the same time identical and alien. He said:
"When I was the Post’s London correspondent in the early 1990s, I covered the Northern Ireland conflict. The first thing I went to see in Belfast was the notorious "peace line" between the Falls Road, a Catholic stronghold, and Shankill Road, a Protestant redoubt. Everything looked the same on both sides — the houses, the shops, the people — yet it was as if they were two different countries. Animosities had been passed down through generations. Even now, 15 years later, a civil exchange between two of the leading antagonists — Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams — is big news."
Kevin Myers wrote:
"Visitors to this archipelago [Britain and Ireland] are baffled by the differences that are so passionately cherished: for what they usually perceive are similar hedgerows, Georgian architecture, endless rain, common law, wigged judges, unarmed police officers, right-hand drive, a mysteriously ubiquitous brown sauce, tea, fish and chips, and midnight drunks seeking to reduce complete strangers to smears of DNA."
Christopher Hitchens wrote about Northern Ireland:
"I used to work in Northern Ireland, where religion is by no means a minor business either, and at first couldn’t tell by looking whether someone was Catholic or Protestant. After a while, I thought I could guess with a fair degree of accuracy, but most of the inhabitants of Belfast seemed able to do it by some kind of instinct. There is a small underlay of ethnic difference there, with the original Gaels being a little darker and smaller than the blonder Scots who were imported as settlers, but to the outsider it is impalpable. It’s just that it’s the dominant question locally."
He also said:
"In numerous cases of apparently ethno-nationalist conflict, the deepest hatreds are manifested between people who—to most outward appearances—exhibit very few significant distinctions. It is one of the great contradictions of civilization and one of the great sources of its discontents, and Sigmund Freud even found a term for it: "the narcissism of the small difference." As he wrote, "It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them."
Sir Ivor Roberts, president of Trinity College, Oxford wrote:
"On the island of Ireland, we had two branches of Christianity literally at each other’s throats in the name of nationalism and mutual religious intolerance. Why was this? The answer to the question comes, I think, in an essay by Freud nearly 100 years ago on the subject of what he called “the narcissism of small differences”. Freud’s contention was that it was precisely in the groups which had relatively little to distinguish each other that the jealousies, the narcissism most easily led to violent attempts to mark that difference and to want to obliterate those who most nearly resembled you. The read across to Northern Ireland is clear enough. 
To circumvent these “minor differences”, to move away from nationalism and tribalism/sectarianism involves reducing the extent to which people feel secure and understood only among people like themselves. Put another way, we need to find a way to overcome what has been described as social autism. The Canadian author and latterly politician Michael Ignatieff put it well “the pathology of groups so enclosed in their own circle of victimhood or so locked into their own myths or rituals of violence that they can’t listen, can’t hear, can’t learn from anybody outside themselves.” We need to overcome, in Northern Ireland, this bell-jar mentality by discounting and rejecting sectarianism in all its sinister forms and promoting not just trust but the kind of individualism that can survive only in conditions of trust. The murderous attack made against NI police officer Ronan Kerr for daring to join the new integrated police service in Northern Ireland is, of course, anathema to that approach and a classic example of intolerance and of the collective gangsterism in which paramilitary structures thrive."
It's Christopher Hitchens who is last and the best on it:
"Condemnation of bigotry and superstition is not just a moral question but a matter of survival."

August 24, 2014

George Packer - Emulation and imitation is a good way to learn how to write

George Packer - New Yorker
New Yorker staff writer George Parker spoke with Christopher Hitchens in 2009 and explained how he modelled himself and his writing on the work of George Orwell:
"I needed to know how does one become a writer, and so I just read straight through what was then the only collection of George Orwell’s essays and journalism and letters… I became a slavish emulator and imitator for a while in my 20s. I think it’s a good way to learn how to write - To find a writer you feel some affinity for, and just master their prose style, their rhythms, get the cadences into your own nerve system and then try to find your own way into it." 
As I noted in an earlier post, Hunter S. Thompson did the same thing, modelled himself on great writers, and he explained how he did this on Charlie Rose:
"If you type out somebody's work, you learn a lot about it. Amazingly it's like music. And from typing out parts of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald - these were writers that were very big in my life and the lives of the people around me - so yea I wanted to learn from the best I guess."

August 23, 2014

Avoid politeness, be constructively blunt

Henry Louis Mencken at work
There is a difference between being irreverent and offensive. Criticism and confrontation is a cleansing act that helps people and argument to refine and streamline. Just as destruction is not opposite to birth, reform and creation, so impoliteness can be constructive and politeness can be destructive. Don't be destructively polite, be constructively blunt. As Edward Land said"politeness is the poison of collaboration." Maria Popova echoed this when she said:
"[Refuse] to infest the garden of honest human communication with the Victorian-seeded, American-sprouted weed of pointless politeness."
Thomas Sowell said:
"When you want to help people, you tell the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell people what they want to hear."

August 22, 2014

Poetry and literature, the new scripture

Anyone who knows me by my social media presence knows that I love quotes. Yes it can be a meaningless act - Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that "I hate quotations, tell me what you know" - but if exercised correctly, quotations have huge instructional value. They inform us around the challenges and happenings of every day life. Like the words of Samuel Beckett - "never matter, try again, fail again, fail better" - these sooth and guide my conscience as I navigate the many obstacles and labour against the many rejections. Douglas Murray wrote in his article 'Have It By Heart' in the Spectator Magazine:
"It is worth filling your head with the best words in their best order because it gives you the greatest company as well as guidance throughout your life."
Yet as Sean O'Casey said:
"All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."

August 14, 2014

Ian Knox - Unionist politics are much funnier, Republicans make more ideas and less jokes

A typical cartoon on unionism by Northern Ireland cartoonist Ian Knox
Satirists like Loyalists Against Democracy (@LADFLEG) are regularly inveighed against for being too one sided, overly and unfairly shining a light on loyalist misbehaviour. Legacy media is often admonished with demonising loyalism. I have continually rejected these charges as unfounded and baseless.

And to best back up my position I defer simply to Ian Knox, long time Northern Ireland cartoonist. In 1999 he wrote that Unionist politics are simply much, much funnier:
"I’ve got a section [in my book Culture Vultures] on unionist politics but no equivalent one on nationalist politics, because, well… Unionist politics are much funnier. You might feel that a group of people grimly opposed to change would be less amusing than another group who feel that history is on their side, but it doesn’t seem to work like that. Aside from all the horrors of the last thirty-odd years - the slogans, the debates, the atrocities - it seems to me that while nationalism/republicanism might throw out more ideas, unionism generates more jokes."
He reiterated this self-evident situation, when he said in 2014:
"The whole world of unionism is much wilder and wackier."
And below is a typical Ian Knox cartoon of the republican tribe:

August 11, 2014

The Lundy terror, Ctd

The scene in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, as spectators watch the annual Burning of Lundy ceremony. Robert Lundy
I was struck by the Israel-Gaza debate. One point repeatedly made, as Ed O'Loughlin did, was that it is eminently possible to be fiercely critical of Israel policy without hating Jewish people. What a perfect epigram to articulate the situation in Northern Ireland - it's eminently possible to be fiercely critical of loyalist policy and conduct without hating the loyalist people.

Yet it remains that anyone who criticises loyalism is automatically calumnied, castigated and cast aside as either, a demoniser/generaliser (though it be eminently self-evident that loyalism does the demonisers work for them) or, a "Lundy", "Guilty Prod" or "Rotten Prod". This second reaction is by far the more dangerous, coming as it does with an exterminationist impulse, so let me look at the "Lundy"-"Guilty Prod"-"Rotten Prod" pejorative and slander more closely.

August 10, 2014

Christopher Hitchens on Indochina

17-year-old Nguyen Thi Hue, who is blind, with her mother. View Nachtwey's photo essay on Agent Orange.
Christopher Hitchens said in a 2007 interview with Vanity Fair:
"The American enterprise in Indochina was, I think, foredoomed by one thing, namely its direct inheritance from French colonialism in that region. The French empire should never have been restored after 1945. I think if President Roosevelt had not died, it wouldn’t have been. The United States should not have tried to come to its rescue, and shouldn’t have tried to succeed it. It’s not America’s role to succeed Western colonialism. It’s its role to help those colonies to become emancipated. And we missed that chance, and having missed it, engaged in a war where terrifying and illegal methods of warfare, like carpet bombing, the use of chemical defoliant, like Agent Orange, and other terrible war crimes were committed. And part of the reason why Cambodia went to year zero was that it had been half bombed back into the Stone Age already. And I’m sorry that should be on the conscience of anyone who supported the war, which I did not. But thought I don’t try and evade the responsibility for what the other side eventually did, not just in Cambodia, but also in Vietnam, but there was never any chance of keeping Vietnam partitioned, and it shouldn’t have been tried. Now furthermore, no American interest was really involved there. We were told we were fighting against the Chinese takeover, whereas the best insurance against Maoism in Indochina is always Vietam. That’s been proved many times since then. So none of this applies in the case of Iraq, where we went to overthrow a hideous dictatorship that was a local aggressor, a sponsor of international terrorism, had used weapons of mass destruction inside and outside its own borders, was hated by its people, and was in thoroughgoing breach of all important United Nations resolutions. None of this, by the way, was the case with the government of Vietnam."
In full here. Read Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair from August 2006 here.

August 09, 2014

Anti-Columbus Movement, Ctd

The first landing of Christopher Columbus by Dióscoro Teófilo Puebla Tolín
Within the theatre of political conversation, debate and argument in Ireland, and especially Northern Ireland, I find a self-hating, infantile and rejectionist school of thought that dwells within the republican mindset. The one that defines itself by it's relentless resentment towards Britain and its long involvement in Ireland. 

A reactionary ideology that sees British involvement as only one of land seizure, confiscation and conquest, degradation and exploitation, conflict and instability; as though prior to British involvement the island was one of immutable peace and stability; and as though, if Britain wasn't involved, other great super powers would not have done the same and probably much, much worse.

And that point was made on Radio 4, the grandest of ironies for myself - seen as a planter by the most extreme nationalist. The point was made by Dr Luciana Martins of Birbeck College who is from Brazil and was speaking about how Brazil emerged as a nation. She said:
"There was de kind of regret that we weren’t discovered by the British because the Portuguese legacy wasn’t so good. So there was something about, ‘Well if we were discovered by the British we would be the United States now’."

August 08, 2014

The authoritarianism of "West-Brit"

Study of Sean O’Casey by Dublin artist Reginald Gray, for the New York Times (1966)
"Sean O’Casey... a ‘West Brit’ or a ‘shoneen’?" This is the question southern protestant Irish blogger Patrick Comerford asked sardonically. A jibe at the violently hysterical reaction to his play 'The Play and the Stars' in which he challenged the unchallengeable - the inviolable 1916 revolutionary orthodoxy. That blog post written in 2011 looked directly at the term "west-Brit", it's origins and etymology in an article entitled, "‘West Brit’ is a racist and pejorative term unacceptable in a pluralist democracy". Patrick began by explaining that the term started out as a non-pejorative, positive sobriquet:
"Daniel O’Connell used the term positively in a debate in the House of Commons in 1832 when he said: “The people of Ireland are ready to become a portion of the Empire, provided they be made so in reality and not in name alone; they are ready to become a kind of West Briton if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again.”
It then became a negative, pejorative term:
"The term “West Brit” gained prominent usage in the land struggle of the 1880s. By the 1900s, DP Moran, founder of The Leader, was using the term frequently to describe people he did not consider to be sufficiently Irish. It was synonymous with those he described as “Sourfaces,” those who mourned the death of Queen Victoria, and It included virtually all members of the Church of Ireland and those Roman Catholics who did not measure up to his definition of “Irish Irelanders”."
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