Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bye-Bye 2010

'Freedom of Information reveals that 8 out of 9 positive comments on the ID cards website were written by Home Office personnel themselves.'

'Photoshop Handsome' by Everything Everything . . . the lines 'Airbrush! -- What have you done with my father? -- Why does he look like a carving?' have now entered Pindar family lore.


I have a piece on Henri Michaux in Poetry News – available to Poetry Society members . . .

And you can read 'my' poem 'Chain Letter' (a cento – or is it a cento?) on the PN Review website . . .

This poem appears in my debut collection Emporium.

It's out next year.

I wonder what people will make of it?

I shall keep by me at all times this quotation from Oscar Wilde's ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ (1891):

'In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which the public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean. We have been able to have fine poetry in England because the public do not read it, and consequently do not influence it. The public like to insult poets because they are individual, but once they have insulted them they leave them alone.'

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The English Opium Eater: A Biography of Thomas De Quincey, by Robert Morrison (Phoenix)

It began with toothache. Thomas Quincey (who called himself De Quincey) bought a tincture of opium at a druggist’s shop in 1804 and discovered that “Happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket.” It was the start of his “opium career”, as recounted in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), which influenced Baudelaire and Poe among others and did so much to romanticise the drug. Drawing on new sources, Morrison has written a balanced and affectionate account of a life of unfulfilled promise. He is especially good on De Quincey’s life-changing encounter with Wordsworth and Coleridge and his role in establishing the cult of the Lake Poets (although later Wordsworth shunned De Quincey for marrying a farmer’s daughter). It is also illuminating on Ann, the prostitute who rescued De Quincey in London, then mysteriously disappeared. De Quincey certainly visited prostitutes, Morrison says, but Ann is probably a composite of several women, including Mary Magdalen and his dead sister Elizabeth.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

MPs vote to raise tuition fees in England

A defining moment. I'm utterly disgusted. How did it come to this?

Our central concern is that the removal of the fees cap - and the differentiation in costs between university degrees that will follow - will hamper efforts to widen access to higher education and increase social segregation across the sector. We believe that the claw-back mechanism proposed by Browne will not, in fact, keep fees down – and there is little disincentive for elite universities, where the access issue is most acute, to charge very high fees. A parallel concern is that those university subjects associated with the highest earnings premiums will see the highest fee rises, making them off-limits for youngsters from non-privileged homes.
The Sutton Trust response to Lord Browne’s review

(thanks to Red Dog for this)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ecologica, by André Gorz, tr. by Chris Turner (Yale University Press)

Ecologists often talk about species extinction, but in Ecologica the social philosopher André Gorz (1923–2007) contemplates the extinction of capitalism. Shortly before his death, Gorz predicted the global economic meltdown. “The real economy is becoming an appendage of the speculative bubbles sustained by the finance industry,” he observed in “The Exit from Capitalism” (2007), included here, “until that inevitable point when the bubbles burst, leading to serial bank crashes and threatening the global system of credit with collapse and the real economy with a severe, prolonged depression.” Unlike most economists, however, Gorz regarded our over-dependence on the financial industry as a sign that capitalism has reached its “internal limit”: “the art of making money by buying and selling nothing but various forms of money”.

But which will come first, capitalism’s extinction or the extinction of humankind, the logic of capitalism leading to climate catastrophe? In place of a destructive “religion of growth”, Gorz argues for “de-growth”, a productive alternative to capitalism. We need to develop “self-limiting” lifestyles of our own, he says, wasting and consuming less, but also working less. Our quality of life cannot be judged by GDP figures alone, he says. We need to get away from “growth in itself” as our raison d’être, especially when growth in recent years has meant nothing but a “growth in debts”. Economists lack any notion of what is sufficient – some idea of a limit beyond which we are producing and consuming too much.

So how do we achieve the long-promised “exit from capitalism”? Here, Gorz is less forthcoming, but it seems to involve “‘social experimentation’ around new ways of living communally”, and the use of “alternative technologies”. The emergence of free software on the Internet might offer a new model, he suggests. Skilfully translated by Chris Turner, this provocative collection of essays challenges “the domination by capital of our mode of life”. One of the best pieces here is “The Social Ideology of the Car”, a masterpiece of clarity and insight, in which Gorz argues that the car killed off the city, as it did all alternative modes of transport, and now, as the roads become increasingly congested, “the car is killing off the car”.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, by James Hannam (Icon)

The Taliban are frequently referred to in the press as "medieval", Hannam says in this engaging history, but while life in the Middle Ages was often short and violent, it doesn't deserve to be caricatured as backward or primitive. The denigration of the Middle Ages began in the 16th century, he explains, reaching its apotheosis in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was generally agreed that the Church had kept everyone in the dark throughout the so-called Dark Ages, impeding scientific progress. But this narrative doesn't fit the facts, Hannam argues. Of course, theology came top of the Church's priorities, but it also promoted the study of God's creation: natural philosophy, which went on to become what we know today as science (the word "scientist" was not coined until 1833). In short, "the most significant contribution of the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages was to make modern science even conceivable". And where did natural philosophy flourish? In universities, the first of which were founded in the 12th century.