Friday, May 28, 2010

A spasm of managerial self-destruction

Things still happening at Middlesex Philosophy . . .

Professor Osborne, who has taught there for more than 20 years, said: “I'm annoyed, to put it mildly. The suspension is unjustified because there's no specific allegation against me. The university is deliberately using the suspension to keep us from informing our colleagues about the details of the programme's closure. This is a spasm of managerial self-destruction. It's extraordinary.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Middlesex Philosophy Update

More news from Middlesex:

"Hello, I am writing from the Save Middlesex Philosophy petition. First of all I will give an update on the campaign; we have so far not had any reasonable communication from the management. Instead they have suspended 3 staff (Peter Osbourne, Peter Hallward, and Christian Kerslake) and 4 students for their parts in the protests. If you would like more information on this then please visit

I am also writing to request that if anyone is in London and would like to show their support could they come to the Middlesex Hendon campus either today (Thursday 27th) at 4pm or tomorrow for a two day protest. The hearing for the suspensions are on Friday so it would be great to get as many people together to show that they cannot bully their staff and students. Apologies for not giving more notice, but this has been a sudden development and it has been difficult to communicate, especially since the management seem to be trying to track our movements.

There is also a new petition specifically for the possibility to greylist the University, so if anyone with any sort of academic affiliation could sign it that would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your support,
 Michael Rybarczyk"
The Guardian letter and a report in THES

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Middlesex Philosophy Rally

Heavy-handed treatment of staff and students at Middlesex University as it plans to close down its Philosophy department:

"Three members of staff were also suspended on Friday [21 May] afternoon: Professors Peter Osborne (head of the CRMEP) and Peter Hallward (programme leader for the Middlesex Philosophy MA programmes), and senior lecturer Dr. Christian Kerslake (who learned about his suspension over the weekend), pending investigation into their involvement in the occupations. This means that half of the Philosophy staff have now been suspended from duty."

I'd be very sorry to see the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy disappear.

Publishers aren't happy about this either.

What can be done to save Middlesex Philosophy?

Well, you could sign the petition.

And there's a rally tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the university's Hendon campus.

Happy Birthday Miles Davis (1926–91)

Some Aspects of Miles Davis from Miles: The Autobiography (Picador, 1990)

“The music we did together changed every fucking night; if you heard it yesterday, it was different tonight. Man, it was something how the shit changed from night to night after a while. Even we didn’t know where it was all going to. But we did know it was going somewhere else and that it was probably going to be hip, and that was enough to keep everyone excited while it lasted.”

“It was loose and tight at the same time. It was casual but alert, everybody was alert to different possibilities that were coming up in the music.”

A tragic missed opportunity:

“Jimi Hendrix was there, too. He and I were supposed to get together in London after the concert to talk about an album we had finally decided to do together . . . We were waiting for Jimi to come when we found out that he had died in London, choked to death on his own vomit. Man, that’s a hell of a way to go. What I didn’t understand is why nobody told him not to mix alcohol and sleeping pills.”

“I got further and further into the idea of performance as process. I had always written in a circular way and through Stockhausen I could see that I didn’t want to ever play again from eight bars to eight bars, because I never end songs; they just keep on going.”

“I used to love poetry, especially the black poets – The Last Poets, LeRoi Jones, Amiri Baraka [sic] – in the 1960s, because the shit the poets were saying and writing about was true, although I know a lot of people – black and white – didn’t want to admit that it was true, then or now. But it was, and everybody who knows anything about this country and who is aware of truth knows that what they were writing was the truth.”

Dinner at the White House, 1987:

“At the table where I was sitting, a politician’s wife said some silly shit about jazz, like ‘Are we supporting this art form just because it’s from here in this country, and is it art in its truest form, or are we just being blasé and ignoring jazz because it comes from here and not from Europe, and it comes from black people?’

This came from out of the blue. I don’t like questions like that because they’re just questions from someone who’s trying to sound intelligent, when in fact they don’t give a damn about it. I looked at her and said, ‘What is it? Jazz time or something? Why you ask me some shit like that?’

So she said, ‘Well, you’re a jazz musician, aren’t you?’

So I said, ‘I’m a musician, that’s all.’

‘Well, then, you’re a musician, you play music . . .’

‘Do you really want to know why jazz music isn’t given the credit in this country?’

She said, ‘Yes, I do.’

‘Jazz is ignored here because the white man likes to win everything. White people like to see other white people win just like you do and they can’t win when it comes to jazz and the blues because black people created this. And so when we play in Europe, white people over there appreciate us because they know who did what and they will admit it. But most white Americans won’t.’

She looked at me and turned all red and shit, then she said, ‘Well, what have you done that’s so important in your life? Why are you here?’

Now, I just hate shit like this coming from someone who is ignorant, but who wants to be hip and has forced you into a situation where you’re talking to them in this manner. She brought this upon herself. So then I said, ‘Well, I’ve changed music five or six times, so I guess that’s what I’ve done and I guess I don’t believe in playing just white compositions.’ I looked at her real cold and said, ‘Now, tell me what have you done of any importance other than be white, and that ain’t important to me, so tell me what your claim to fame is?’

She started to twitch and everything around her mouth. She couldn’t even talk she was so mad. There was a silence so thick you could cut it with a knife. Here this woman was supposedly from the hippest echelons of society talking like a fool. Man, it was depressing.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, by Jenny Uglow

Kingship is a performance, and Charles II was “a supreme performer”, writes Jenny Uglow in this acclaimed portrait of a man and his age. “Not everyone liked Charles’s act, but they admitted that the mask was superb.” Charles mixed charm with evasion, his most dominant trait being cynicism. The fact we have a royal family today is due in large part to his cunning, says Uglow. Whereas royal absolutism prevailed in continental Europe, Charles (who was 19 when his father was executed) became “a monarch of the dawning Age of Reason”. He loved sport and sex, and a good gossip, and his court resembled “a private menagerie: he indulged his courtiers like pet animals”. Uglow’s buoyant prose makes this an easy and enjoyable read, richly recreating the fascinating first decade of the Restoration. The theme of a demoralised nation calling out for change seems oddly topical, as does the contempt into which Parliament fell during the Interregnum. As Pepys observed, “Boys do now cry ‘Kiss my Parliament!’ instead of ‘Kiss my arse!’”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr Dylan

“Now they asked me to read a poem
At the sorority sister's home
I got knocked down and my head was swimmin'
I wound up with the Dean of Women
Yippee! I'm a poet, and I know it.
Hope I don't blow it.

I'm gonna grow my hair down to my feet so strange
So I look like a walking mountain range
And I'm gonna ride into Omaha on a horse
Out to the country club and the golf course.
Carry the New York Times, shoot a few holes, blow their minds.

Now you're probably wondering by now
Just what this song is all about
What's probably got you baffled more
Is what this thing here is for.
It's nothing
It's something I learned over in England."

“I Shall Be Free, No.10”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tom Raworth

I'm honoured that Tom Raworth dropped by to post a comment.

Everyone interested in poetry should pre-order Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems . . .

"The poems have no purpose, though their author is happy should others find them interesting to read. This book collects some early works missing from the Collected Poems (2003). The rest were written since then. They will help the reader lose weight, have an attractive smile, be at ease with members of the opposite (or their own) sex, have relief from constipation, speak in tongues, fillet herrings and ultimately boost the Nation's economy." Tom Raworth

All Kinds of Magic: A Quest for Meaning in a Material World by Piers Moore Ede

Piers Moore Ede, an atheist suffering from a vague spiritual emptiness, rejects the materialism of the west and travels to the Himalayas, India and Turkey in search of something "numinous", holy and transcendent. The journey eastwards in search of enlightenment is a well-worn trope that this book does little to revitalise.

The mystics Moore Ede encounters respond wearily to his requests for magical knowledge. "Many foreigners wanting this, actually," one sadhu observes. "Always asking jadoo, asking miracles." Moore Ede spends all his time asking jadoo. He watches with interest as a woman, claiming to be an incarnation of Kali, wails and gnashes her teeth, and he is revolted by another female oracle who appears to suck a bucketful of black liquid from the stomach of an unruly boy. There is an uncomfortable, freak-show element to these encounters.

"Many young people I spoke to seemed to resent the continual string of western seekers following the well-trodden path to the east," Moore Ede notes. "And who could blame them? They were lifting themselves up by the bootstraps, finding economic freedom their parents could never have dreamed of. That all these westerners should come here asserting the need to leave the material world behind was both patronising and faintly hilarious." Had Moore Ede developed this point further he might have given his book an edge, but he misses the real story for a rehash – almost a parody – of the hippy dream.

All Kinds of Magic is most reminiscent of the bestselling books by the controversial anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, whom Moore Ede discusses in a chapter on shamanism. The style of this passage, for instance, when Moore Ede's head is touched by a blind Sufi master, is pure Castaneda: "In that instant a warm heat began to pulse across my crown. For a second my mind began to ripple with surprise, and then it quietened. I felt a great slackening of pressure, and a sense of a wise awareness passing through me. It was like an electric current travelling through circuits, or a warm liquid flushing out a blocked-up drain."

Moore Ede comes across as somewhat credulous at times and his analysis is shallow, but the writing is energetic and compelling. His description of taking ayahuasca or yagé is a worthy climax to his quest. It begins with "snort[ing] what felt like a jet of battery acid into each nostril" and ends with him "travelling to cyber realms, through fantastical worlds made up of DNA strands and stardust". As William Burroughs observed of this drug: "Yagé is not like anything else. It produces the most complete derangement of the senses."

In these postmodern times there is something rather quaint about setting out in search of "truth" or "meaning", but with the aid of a powerful hallucinogen Moore Ede gets his answer. At the same time, one senses that the "raw spirituality" he seeks in the east has long gone. A sadhu tells him in broken English of "one temple in Ahmadabad where Hanuman statue is granting anyone who asks visas for America", while an Indian phone company offers free talk time for sadhus.

Distracted by supernatural sideshows, Moore Ede misses the chance to really engage with the political reality of the places he visits. In India, for instance, the supernatural is political. Moore Ede doesn't have much time for the Indian rationalist Prabir Ghosh, but as Ghosh observes: "By exposing these god men we are shaking the very foundations of power. Many of them have political affiliations and entreat their devotees to vote one way or the other." Moore Ede is enjoying his spiritual tourist trail too much to think about politics, but I sympathised with the Tibetan waiter in Darjeeling who tells him: "I am not having much time for miracles. For me, a real miracle would be if the Chinese announced immediate withdrawal from our country."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, by Michael Wolff

“I hope you’re going to use your access to Murdoch to really screw him,” a fellow journalist told Michael Wolff, who had nine months with the great man. Wolff’s liberal instinct is to mock, and Murdoch was dismayed when he read the manuscript. Yet this isn’t a hatchet job. The unexpected arc of this enjoyable book – especially with its fascinating afterword on Murdoch’s war on the internet – is that “journalism’s great debaser is now its last protector”. Murdoch’s unshakeable faith in newspapers as the industry declines is almost touching, but Wolff argues that Murdoch doesn’t understand the internet because he thinks only in terms of market domination. Will his paywall work? Nobody knows, and a lot hangs on the question: will people pay to read Jeremy Clarkson online? Murdoch is loathed, Wolff explains, because he doesn’t need approbation, and comes across as a workaholic, friendless, autistic, monomaniac with a love of gossip. “It’s one man’s war,” Wolff says, “a relentless, nasty, inch-by-inch campaign.”

Right of Reply

The Abingdon Herald, 12 May 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde, by Charles Juliet

A visit from Samuel Beckett in 1940 prevented the Dutch painter Bram van Velde (1895–1981) from committing suicide. It was unlikely to have been anything Beckett said. “There is nobody more silent,” van Velde observes. “From time to time he used to let slip a few words. But they were not encouraging.” What Beckett brought was not encouragement but understanding. “For the first time somebody understood his paintings, his silent struggle, his obstinate determination to hold out at the extreme limit of creative possibility,” explains the French poet and novelist Charles Juliet, who explores his meetings with both men from 1968 to 1979 in this short book.

At the age of twenty-five van Velde devoted himself to painting and for thirty years sold nothing, working in poverty and total isolation. “I wasn’t free to live any other way,” he tells Juliet. Beckett experienced a similar lengthy period of neglect. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not published,” Beckett says. “One does it to be able to breathe.” Both men revere Van Gogh. “When you think that he never sold a single canvas,” Beckett observes admiringly.

In 1973 Beckett muses on the “ontological indecency” that prevented his books from being published for so long, and he also amusingly dismisses all the essays and theses on his work as “a useless form of vivisection . . . academic dementia”. Earlier, in 1968, he tells Juliet of a moment of “sudden revelation” at the end of a jetty (as recalled in Krapp’s Last Tape), yet Beckett gave strict instructions to his biographer James Knowlson to kill this canard once and for all. (“All the jetty and howling wind are imaginary,” Beckett told Richard Ellmann.) If Juliet’s interview is accurate, it would appear to be a myth of Beckett’s own making.

This is a powerful record of two isolated, intense presences. Juliet’s conversations with Beckett take up only a third of the book, and the Irishman comes across as mildly manipulative and passively domineering. Van Velde is more nervous and mentally fragile, and in terms of sheer oddness the book belongs to him. “Life is such a horror that one feels that anything can happen,” he tells Juliet. “If someone came around to shoot me tomorrow, I wouldn’t even be surprised.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Trotsky: A Biography, by Robert Service

Trotskyites who like to compare their man favourably to the murderous Stalin will probably be disappointed by this bold and balanced biography. As Service observes, “If ever Trotsky had been the paramount leader instead of Stalin, the risks of a bloodbath in Europe would have been drastically increased.” He also notes that Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution (1923), in which writers are expected to toe the party line, prepared the way for “cultural Stalinism”. Then there’s the little matter of Trotsky’s advocacy of “exceptional measures” during the Kronstadt rebellion. And he founded and trained the Red Army. In short, he was "no angel”. He had a “lust for dictatorship and terror”. He also abandoned his first wife and their two baby girls in Siberia, and later drove one of those daughters to suicide. Service does admire Trotsky’s prose style and the single-minded constancy of his vision, although the downside of such revolutionary zeal is nicely summed up in one sentence: “He lived for the dream which many people found a nightmare.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cameron by a nose or Brown nose? Not even Clegg nose

Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton): Miles. Erno's going to lead the revolution and head the new government.

Miles Monroe (Woody Allen): Don't you understand? In six months, we'll be stealing Erno's nose. Political solutions don't work. It doesn't matter who's up there. They're all terrible . . .

Sleeper (dir. Woody Allen, 1973)


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Public Service Announcement

This month the brilliant US poet Peter Gizzi will be reading in the UK at the following venues:

University of Warwick
Monday 10 May @ 3 p.m. with Michael Heller
WHERE: The Chaplaincy

University of East Anglia
Wednesday 12 May @ 7 p.m.
WHERE: Arts 2.51

Cambridge University
Friday 14 May @ 8 p.m. with Jimmy Cummins
WHERE: Bowett Room, Queens’ College

University of Sussex
Monday 17 May @ 5 p.m.
WHERE: Arts A 155

Royal Holloway Poetics Research Group

Tuesday 18 May @ 7 p.m. with Drew Milne
WHERE: Centre for Creative Collaboration, 16 Acton Street, London WC1

“In his visionary quest, his raw emotion, and his New York school spontaneity, Gizzi performs a clinamen that relates him to O’Hara, John Ashbery, and, beyond these poets, to Rimbaud and Hart Crane . . . Gizzi shows himself to be a master of the mot juste and of sound structure.” Marjorie Perloff

“Peter Gizzi’s disturbing lyricism is like no other – the innermost whir of the daily curtain rising on outer catastrophe. His phrasing can wrench the heart, his eye refracts ordinary light into acute images. In The Outernationale we are ‘listening to a life/unlived any other way’ –unmistakably, as poetry.” Adrienne Rich

“Peter Gizzi’s achingly beautiful poems create tiny openings for being – the whole lonely, searching grandeur of a one – to find and examine its contours between the conditions of ‘what happened’ and ‘what’s happening.’ One might be sung down from a ledge by this book’s insistence on ‘the warmth of the mind reflected in a dark time’ and its acute rendering of the range of human feeling in all its complicated, ordinary marrow.” Anselm Berrigan

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Rules of Poetry

Sir, I write regarding your story about Mr Pindar’s success as a prize-winning poet (Abingdon Herald, April 7). Firstly, I must congratulate Mr Pindar on his poetic success and wish him more to come.

However, I must take issue with his comment that, and I quote: “people ask what my poem is about, and I say it means what they want it to mean”.

The rules of writing poetry are simple and few in number, and simply state this: poetry is the best words in the best order, it must take the reader on a journey, be interesting, be uplifting, be sad, but leave the reader wanting more.

People like to enjoy the reading experience and fully understand the subject matter.

Poetry is not an IQ test and has no room for ambiguity or confusion.

Hard to understand does not mean better.

Poetry, painting, story writing, sketching or sculpture and others are forms of communication, and deliver a message to the reader, viewer or listener and must be unambiguous at least, so as not to spoil the pleasure and enjoyment.

Maurice Shea Hadland Road Abingdon

Letters page, The Abingdon Herald (28th April 2010)