For 75 pages this was all clang clang clang goes the trolley ding ding ding goes the bell but then it turned a sharp corner and I think I done got thr For 75 pages this was all clang clang clang goes the trolley ding ding ding goes the bell but then it turned a sharp corner and I think I done got throwed off the bus. Ow! As it rattled off without me I was left to think carefully about what I’m doing when I read a novel (aside from avoiding the interminable election debates on tv, OMG another 3 weeks to go), and what I think a novel is doing or supposed to be doing. It’s good to be made to think about these things. But why did I get throwed off the bus?
This jampacked little book is all about the why of novels, and it's got some high standards to apply to both novels and readers, so you better shape up, you readers you. Hey - I do mean YOU. Yeah. That's right.
It’s like James Wood expects us to be listening to some random tune and be able to name the bass player and the producer’s previous hits and the singer’s favourite drugs and where it got to in the charts and its relation to the minor essays of Jean-Paul Sartre and Flaubert’s left earlobe.
James Wood is like the gold standard reader. When you read David Foster Wallace you notice that he notices everything, I mean everything, and notices everything about himself noticing things and so on, and so forth. James Wood does all that while he reads every single novel. Not one word passes casually beneath the Wood eyeballs. Every phrase will be cross-examined. Every paragraph will have bamboo shoved up its fingernails until it confesses where it stands in regard to Stendahl, Balzac and Dostoyevsky. And Flaubert.
Frankly, I was outclassed. I was more than a little crushed. I was talked down to. It had been made clear that I'd got on the wrong bus. Me! Moi! As the trolley lurched round another bend I was turning distinctly green. It was all going so well when JW was discussing the free indirect style of modern narration which enables an indeterminate locus of reality to emerge which is not the character speaking and not the author either but a fifth dimension equipoised between the two. All that was great.
But then he gets in to character, a brief history of consciousness and sympathy and complexity. Then the full florid obsessions emerged – no more 20th century, only French and Russians! Balzac! More Flaubert*! Pushkin! Stendahl! Diderot! Chekhov! Tolstoy! Yeah, that’s right, punk! All those guys you never read! You were going to get round to them but well I don’t know but you just never did! Well, I bet you’re regretting that now because you can’t talk about fiction without an intimate knowledge of alla those guys. Sorry. I bet you want to slink off back into the night now doncha. Go ahead, slink.
When the 20th century is reluctantly allowed into JW’s purview it’s Hardy (never read him), Buddenbrooks (never read it), Proust (same), Italo Svevo (huh?), Thomas Pynchon (no thanks) and Saul Bellow (oh, I read one by him – the wrong one).
It must be said out loud: James Wood is an old school patrician sneerer. Even though he’s earned the right to sneer a hundred times over, there’s still no need for it. Here’s where I gagged:
If prose is to be written as well as poetry novelists and readers must develop their own third ears. We have to read musically, testing the rhythm of a sentence, listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words, attending to patterns, repetitions, echoes, deciding whether a metaphor is successful and another is not, judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality. We must proceed on the assumption that almost all prose popularly acclaimed as beautiful (“she writes like an angel”) is nothing of the sort, that almost every novelist will at some point be baselessly acclaimed for writing “beautifully” as almost all flowers are at some point acclaimed for smelling nice.
Is this not a bit nauseating? Get off of your high horse, JW! Maybe there are 41 other human beings who read the right books with the perfect superconsciousness using their perfect brains bulging with culture in the way that JW advises, but the rest of us are real people who sometimes read in the bath with the radio on. Some of us have actually not read Flaubert’s Sentimental Education! Think of that! Some of us – you may have to lie down for this – have no intention of reading Flaubert’s Sentimental Education! We are the plebs your culture warned you about.
However, at the end of this book we get 20 pages about realism. Here James Wood defends the idea that the business of fiction is to get real life in some way onto the printed page. Suddenly James Wood is my new best friend! Yes! It’s about time someone stuck it to those old haddocks William Gass and Roland Barthes. I love this:
Realism, seem broadly as truthfulness to the way things are, cannot be mere verisimilitude, cannot be mere lifelikeness, or lifesameness, but what I call lifeness : life on the page, life brought to different life by the highest artistry. And it cannot be a genre; instead, it makes ther forms of fiction seem like genres. For realism of this kind is the origin. It teaches everyone else; it schools its truants.
So – what can I say – read the first 75 pages and the last 20, and don’t mess with Mr In-Between.
*We cannot write about rhythm and not refer to Flaubert, and so once again, as if unable to stop rereading the old letters of a former lover, I return to him. (Ugh) ...more
Meaning that the movie begins with the chronologically latest events of the story, then skips back to what happened just b THE STORY IS TOLD BACKWARDS
Meaning that the movie begins with the chronologically latest events of the story, then skips back to what happened just before that, then skips back again, and so on, back through the day. 13 sections.
This is not unique – there’s Philip Dick’s Counter-Clock World (1967), Pinter’s play Betrayal (1978), Martin Amis’ novel Time’s Arrow (1991), Julia Alvarez’s novel How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents (1991) and Alexander Masters’ Stuart: A Life Backwards (1995). This is a rape-revenge story, which because of the backwards chronology becomes a revenge-rape story. I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left refracted through French 21st century extreme cinema. It's the antidote to those meretricious movies. A different experience. I would argue : unmissable. But my tastes may not be yours.
FRENCH EXTREME CINEMA
Well, you can’t really deny it. Frontiers, Martyrs, Switchblade Romance, Baiser-Moi, Inside, Trouble Every Day, In my Skin, Calvaire. Some I like, some I hate. Irreversible is up there at the top, probably number 2 to Martyrs’ No 1. This stuff is soooooo violent. You never saw people suffer on screen till you see French extreme cinema.
BIZARRE CAMERAWORK INDUCING NAUSEA
Remember Leatherface at the end of Texas Chain Saw Massacre swinging his big ole chainsaw round and up and down? That’s how Gaspar Noe uses his camera for the first 20 minutes or so of this movie. So, that plus the violence plus the ugly painful soundtrack will be a bit too much for your mother-in-law, probably. This movie got plenty of walkouts.
AFTER THE HORROR, UNBEARABLE POIGNANCY
This is because we journey backwards through the day. We begin with the arrests, back to the revenge, back to the rape, back to the stupid argument in the bar which causes Monica Bellucci’s character to walk out alone and take some bad advice :
back to the intimate banter between the Monica, her boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend as they went out to the bar (“the only time she had an orgasm with me is when she fell out of bed and banged her head”), backwards before that to voluptuous scenes between Monica and boyfriend Vincent Cassel, a near perfect raunchy couple on a carefree morning. The movie therefore ends in perfect romantic-sexual harmony. Given what we have seen before, that is, know what is about to happen, the effect is devastating.
Amelie and Irreversible were released almost at the same time and of course the whimsical-cutesy fantasy Amelie became the world’s favourite French film up till then. It’s the total opposite of Irreversible. In Amelie romance thrives – a spooky, OCD version anyway – and Paris has never looked so lovely and manic dream pixie girls never so chic. Amelie clearly drives Tim Palmer quite insane and he takes the time to assemble some great anti-Amelie quotes :
Totally disconnected from all contemporary reality….cleansed of ethnic diversity and social problems with a broad CGI brush of smug totalising rightwing bluster… transposing euroDisney to Montmartre…. Opposed to everything Irreversible pursues
I can see all that, but, you know, Amelie and Irreversible are both great films. Suck it up Tim Palmer.
IT MUST BE AN OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD
Film critics and professors seem to develop weird obsessive linguistic tics which they can’t help or just don’t notice. In Annette Kuhn’s terrible book on the brilliant Ratcatcher, she can’t write more than two paragraphs without talking about space or using the word spatial. Here, it’s diegetic. Honest, it comes up every fourth sentence, bong, like a clock striking every ten minutes. Diegetic this, diegetic that.
Something unknown to Tim Palmer : the power of the synonym.
After that, we have a horrendously overused phrase : the French film ecosystem. This comes up about a thousand times.
And of course, it just wouldn’t be a film book written by a professor without some of those brainbending inscrutabilities, such as :
One rallying group goal – onscreen, issuing from that screen to coalesce around the spectator – is to subsume any regulated dispensation of diegetic information to a lyrical, contingent disbursement of cinematic data.
As a film fan, I must say that doing a film course at a university sounds like PURE HELL.
Prof Palmer’s prose is unpleasant and sclerotic, true, but his monograph is stuffed full of interesting angles, and I actually do recommend it to any fan of this movie or French extreme cinema in general. ...more
Literary Characters React to Notes from the Underground
This Accounts for a Good Deal. It Explains Everything. In Life, you see, we can't all, anLiterary Characters React to Notes from the Underground
This Accounts for a Good Deal. It Explains Everything. In Life, you see, we can't all, and some of us don't. Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush. This book is telling everybody “We can look for the North Pole, or we can play 'Here we go gathering Nuts in May' with the end part of an ants' nest. It's all the same to me." Amusing in a quiet way, but not really helpful.
Help, help! A hexistentialist! A horrible hexistentialist! Hex, hex! A hexistible horribilist! Oh my… I know it’s only a story. But, it is hard to be brave when you are a very small animal entirely surrounded by despair.
Well, it’s about this guy and he lives under some floorboards somewhere in a hovel, and he’s full of rage and horror and bile, like. Talks about toothache a lot. When I was reading this book I was thinking, I know this guy. This guy is my cousin. He’s a right misery. He’d split your head open for a tuppeny bit.
You've got a fiend in me You've got a fiend in me You got troubles and I got 'em too There isn't anything I wouldn't do To make everything twice as bad for you 'Cause you've got a fiend in me
Ha ha. That’s a parody. Did you get that? Friend – fiend! See? Okay, don’t knock yourself out.
When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. Now when the first baby fell out of its pram and banged its little head on the hard hard floor, it howled for the first time, and its howl broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went crawling around, and that was the beginning of Dostoyevsky.
I propose to dispense with the a spoonful of sugar, Mr Under the Floorboards. So it’s two Xanax on retiring and two at noon. Is that understood? Upon my soul, no more of that please. We are not a codfish.
I got a steel-jacketed antidepressant right here, just say so it’s yours.
There’s like this creep who lives in the ground, I think like Lord of the Rings, what’s those things, bobbits? Anyway he hates everything and he doesn’t have the internet. At least the bobbits got to travel. Not this dude. I mean, this is like from history so you know, there is a severe lack of things like credit cards and betties to pay for with the credit cards. . Way back then people were barely alive. I can’t even believe there were any people back then. So he’s waaa waaa everything I think and everything I do is wrong but hey, I like having toothache. I know! He’s just totally clueless. Reading this really wigged me out. Okay, all right, reading Spark Notes on this wigged me out. I was Seriously? And this is good because?
It’s a right cushy number, being the Devil. He gets to tempt people into evil (“come on, you can say she looked 16 late THE DEVIL SENDS OUT SPAM EMAILS
It’s a right cushy number, being the Devil. He gets to tempt people into evil (“come on, you can say she looked 16 later”) and then he gets to punish them for it. He appears to reside in Hell but spend most of his time out of it, and when he’s there he seems to enjoy himself immensely.
Of course, the Devil is a metaphor. But for 99% of the human race, he was real. If you want stats, we have them.
As in other matters of religious faith, there appears to be a difference between the experience of the USA and other Western countries. An opinion survey in 2005 found that 60% of Americans believe in the evil one [compared with] 21% of the British population and 17% of the French
This is all a little strange – there was a war in Heaven, and the rebellious angels were overthrown, and cast out of heaven into the fiery pit. Lucifer, once the chief and brightest of angels, was the rebel leader. So he became His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Of course if you believe that God is omnipotent then a rebellion in heaven could not happen unless God wanted it to. Nothing at all happens unless God wants it to. But the Lucifer origin myth is from before that concept, from a cruder, ruder time when gods fought each other in the sky, like in those Marvel comics about Thor.
DEPARTMENT OF ONTOLOGICAL CONFUSION
The Devil is a thing of great pervasive power in Christianity all the way up to the 20th century, when he begins to fade away. This world is regarded as a battleground between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Again, this is medieval thinking which almost says that God does not have supreme power, that the struggle is a genuine one, that on any given day it looks like the Devil has won the battle. In evangelical Christianity the ongoing guerrilla war will flare up into a gigantic conflagration at the second coming of Christ, who will lead the faithful in the final battle against the Adversary. What a crude idea. Clearly if God is omnipotent none of that razzmatazz is required. God just blinks and that’s all she wrote. Actually, God does not even have to blink. Doesn’t even have to think about blink. That’s real omnipotence.
THE WORLD AS GIANT LAB EXPERIMENT
The only way to make sense of the Devil is to see him as – either literally or metaphorically – the laboratory equipment in God’s giant Earth experiment. We humans are the guinea pigs or mice. We get to run around in search of food (= salvation). God erects all kinds of tests and barriers and pitfalls in our way (the perpetual availability of attractive sin – this is what the Devil does) and watches to see which mice get to the food/salvation and which fall into the cooking pot. Some mice go to heaven, most mice go to hell.
The reason they call me an atheist is that I do not see the reason for this experiment. It seems cruel and arbitrary.
THE DEVIL IN POPULAR MUSIC
This is not in this rather dull book, I just thought I'd chuck it in for fun.
Peggy Lee told her lover : I say the devil is in you and to resist you I try But if you didn’t continue I would die; Big Joe Turner in Shake Rattle & Roll told his woman I believe in my soul you’re the devil in nylon hose (he also sang the devilish line : I’m a one eyed cat peeping in a seafood store , which neither Elvis nor Bill Haley decided to sing) ; The Beatles sang she’s got the Devil in her arse – no, I mean heart! Ha ha, sorry about that, what could have possessed me to write arse; Morrisey said that Satan rejected his soul; Charlie Daniels said the devil went down to Georgia for a fiddlin’ contest, of all things; Max Romeo bragged up hisself : Lucifer son of the morning, I'm gonna chase you out of earth! I'm gonna put on a iron shirt, and chase satan out of earth; Biffy Clyro , whoever he she or it is, said I talk to God as much as I talk to Satan 'Cause I want to hear both sides; On the Harry Smith anthology Bill Reed’s old wife got snatched up : Old Devil got to the gates of hell, said punch the fire up we'll scorch her well but it didn’t work out because the old wife was tougher than the devil was and she got sent back to Bill; Robert Johnson sang Me and the Devil Blues: Early this morning when you knocked upon my door And I said hello Satan I believe it's time to go; the B52s found him in their car: He's pointing his pitchfork at me. He's in the front seat of my car! He's taking over! Oo, he ripped my upholstery. He's at the wheel, HELP! The devil's in my car. Martha Reeves wondered about demonic possession: Whenever I`m with him something inside Starts to burning and I`m filled with desire Could it be a devil in me or is this the way love`s supposed to be? We know what you mean, Martha.
And whilst the Devil might have faded out of most of ordinary life, he’s alive and shakin’ in some communities. Every other heavy metal, gospel and religious country music song is about the devil.
And : when the Devil goes to the movies, he can’t be less than flattered by the attention : Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Max von Sydow, Viggo Mortensen, Jack Nicholson, Tom Waits and Gabriel Byrne have all been him. That’s not bad for a metaphor.
I got this from the notorious 1001 Books you Must Read or We Will Put Your Household Pets in a Food Blender We Are Serious. I know some people do notI got this from the notorious 1001 Books you Must Read or We Will Put Your Household Pets in a Food Blender We Are Serious. I know some people do not like that list much but this slender bitter novel from 1922 would have otherwise passed me by completely.
This novel is a ferocious yet so genteelly understated attack on that exalted Victorian female virtue of self-denial. The idea is that you live a life of private misery because you do nothing to make your parents or anyone else the least bit upset ever. Never assert, never disagree, don’t marry the person you love, nothing for you, everything for them. And you revel in this secret pathological abnegation with all the pervy thrill of a hairshirted medieval monk. The more unhappy you are because you’re not doing anything you want to do the happier you are because you know you’re such a good good good person. May Sinclair then gives this a magnificent further twist – and by these actions, or non-actions, you compound the unhappiness of the very people you think you’re making happy by your self-denial.
This was great. Bleak, bitter, short - what's not to like here? Read in a couple of hours, but will glow in my mind for years to come. ...more
This being Richard Price, whatever it says on the cover – we’ll get to that in a moment – I thought I’d better keep a note of the characters just to tThis being Richard Price, whatever it says on the cover – we’ll get to that in a moment – I thought I’d better keep a note of the characters just to try to get them straight in my mind, I knew there’d be a whole phalanx of them, detectives, perps, victims, family members, ex-family members, ex-detectives, witnesses, slingers, dog walkers, sex workers, hopheads – so here’s the list I made
Billy Graves Joon Emmett Butter Gene Feeley Alice Stupak Roger Mayo Rollie Towers Aka The Wheel Theodore Moretti Eddie Lopez Charlene Carter Horace Woody Carla Garrett Jeffrey Bannion Thomas Rivera Eugene Bannion John Pavilcek Carmen Graves Declan And Carols Graves Millie Singh Jimmy Whelan Yasmin Assaf-Doyle Redman Brown Brian Tomassi Sweetpea Harris Eric Cortez Curtis Taft Tonya Howard Memori Williams Dreena Bailey Milton Ramos Ray Rivera Nora Rivera Esteban Appleyard Stephen Cunliffe Wallice Oliver Stacey Taylor Carlos Hernandez Billy Graves Senior Victor Acosta Richard Kubin Antoine Davis-Bey Salaam Pridgen Dennis Doyle Raymond Del Pino Shakira Barker Patricia Taft Martha Timberwolf Michael Reidy Elvis Perez Stanley Treestes Edna Worthy
That’s up to around page 80, I stopped the list after that, it was getting exhausting. If you find yourself in this novel, I won’t be surprised. I guess cops really meet a lot of people, they have whole townships of the dead and the living mooching around in their mental lobes. Me, I remember the names of around seven people, and I forget two of those usually. I’m not good with names.
THE MYSTERY OF THE TRANSPARENT PSEUDONYM
What’s with this thing on the cover : “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt” ? So apparently, the Times, tells us, :
He wanted to inoculate himself against literary critics who might sneer at him for writing a slicker, more commercial book. He was already late on delivering a separate novel … and hoped to hide the fact that he was moonlighting. And he wanted to see if he could write a stripped-down, heavily plotted best seller, without sacrificing his literary credentials.
The article explains that he found it a drag competing against himself. Okay, I dig that, because I have actually read 3 of his last 4, Freedomland, Lush Life and Clockers, and they are all monumental – vast books about one particular case examined in 700 small font page detail. So I get that he may have wished to change gear. But plenty of other writers do that, they have whole different types of books they write, look at Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates, doesn’t bother those guys, they chuck it all out with the one name on the cover. The article quotes Mr Price
“It seemed like a good idea in the beginning, and now I wish I hadn’t done it,” he said. “This pen name is like pulling a rabbit out of a glass hat.”
Well, I wish he hadn’t either, it’s silly. Although I maybe should have done the pseudonym thing for some of my own more lunatic reviews. I can see the benefit. Could have avoided a lot of flack. Anyway.
Yes, a rather unnecessarily provocative title, since it’s got nowt to do with white people. The cops, apparently, refer to criminals who’ve got away with major crimes due to lack of evidence or the death of witnesses as whites, and that’s what this book is about.
Castro inhaled again, blew out enough smoke to announce a pope.
HOMICIDE-FLAVOURED ICE CREAM
Any Richard Price fan will already be reading this and will not be disappointed, and any Wire fan (Mr Price wrote a few of those shows) who is not yet a Richard Price fan is advised to scoop up this like a new piquant New York homicide-flavoured ice cream. You get a hectic ride all right, although truth be told this more plot-driven style novel only gets going around page 100, but that's okay. By the end, every loose end is tied up, every dark motive brought to the light, it’s positively Victorian. The body count is high. There’s nothing not to like here.
This is Literature with a capital L in the form of a Doric column so high you’ll get a crick in your neck trying to see to the top of it. You really d This is Literature with a capital L in the form of a Doric column so high you’ll get a crick in your neck trying to see to the top of it. You really do feel like you are becoming a better person as you read this novel, even as you fight the drowsiness which is baked into each and every sinuous delectable palpable sensuous lapidary paragraph. Huh? What? What was that??
The story, such as it is, and it really isn't, is that two little sisters are orphaned and then looked after by their grandmamma who ups and dies and then they are looked after by elderly great aunts (they were my favourites but alas they didn’t last long – I think they couldn’t wait to get out of this book too) and then by their mother’s sister Sylvie who is like this kind of elegant bag lady drifter who lets the house go to rack and ruin and cares not a fig if the girls go to school.
There is a lot of mooning about in this novel. This is the third novel I read in recent times in which the protagonist is a teenage girl and who kind-of narrates the whole thing – I Capture the Castle and We Have Always Lived In the Castle were the other two. Maybe this one should have been called Castlekeeping. Okay, maybe not.
When you look at movies narrated by teenaged girls they seem to have a lot more zest, and hardly any mooning about. I’m thinking of Badlands, Clueless, Amelie, Freeway, True Grit, Mean Girls, Easy A, etc. Girls with some pep to them. In Housekeeping, sisters Ruthie and Lucille mostly troop about boredly observing small examples of nature, like bees and ripples and each other’s coats. About three quarters the way through, Lucille gets a little hacked off with this teenage novocaine Walden experience and slings her hook. The reader looks longingly after her but knows he must trudge on.
Here is how you can tell this is literature:
Lucille almost ran down the stairs. We heard the slish and moil of her steps in the hall
Yes, the hall is flooded, but slish and moil, hey? Here’s another:
Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy.
That’s on the same page as slish and moil. Okay, here’s another good one:
She seemed to dislike the disequilibrium of counterpoising a roomful of light against a worldful of darkness.
(Not a world full of darkness, a worldful of darkness. Important difference.)
This actually means that the aunt liked to eat her evening meal in the dark and not switch on the light.
Here’s another one:
Lucille would say I fell asleep, but I did not. I simply let the darkness in the sky become coextensive with the darkness in my skull and bowels and bones. Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world’s true workings.
This is some fancy hifalutin chat coming from such a callow youngster. And it never stops. Here she is thinking about her mother and her aunt (thinking about the mother and the aunt accounts for around 88% of Ruthie’s thoughts, with another 12% spent on her sister. She’s the only teenage girl ever who didn’t once think about pop music.) :
They were both long and narrow women like me, and nerves like theirs walk my legs and gesture my hands.
Eventually the profound musings became like a form of transcendental muzak :
Thoughts bear the same relation, in mass and weight, to the darkness they rise from, as reflections do to the water they ride upon, and in the same way they are arbitrary, or merely given.
Did I think this was any good? Well, you know, some people like Albert Ayler, some people like Jeff Koons, some people even profess to like the films of Eric Rohmer. What is Art? Rock Hudson said Art is a boy’s name.
Maybe we could rephrase that question then. Did I like it?
Here is a 100% fast fun astonishing intriguing hectic sprint through the strange subject of shame. Our tour guide, Jon Ronson, is an amiable journo whHere is a 100% fast fun astonishing intriguing hectic sprint through the strange subject of shame. Our tour guide, Jon Ronson, is an amiable journo who’s cherry-picked a few recent spasms of shaming for our delectation and schadenfreude. Like a freak show, we can gawp and shudder in delicious horror.
It felt like we were soldiers in a war on other people’s flaws
The idea is this. In the olden days public shame was part of the judicial process:
but that was abolished in 1839. And now… it’s BACK. Public shaming has been revived and is in full swing on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. People are making mistakes and they are getting EXTRA-JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT doled out by ourselves, armed with only our keyboards and mices and tablets and iphones. We – us – are now the angry crowd of pitchfork peasants. We shove the miscreants in the stocks and pillories and pelt them with three month old cabbages and decaying turnips.
ONE TWEET AND YOUR LIFE ENDS : JUSTINE SACCO
Here is the example – the Awful Example – of Justine Sacco. Here is what public shame and utter humiliation does. She was a New York PR employee of some hot shit American conglomerate called IAC which I never heard of. On 20 December 2013 she was off on holiday to South Africa. She used Twitter and had around 30 followers. She was at Heathrow airport waiting for the plane to Cape Town and tweeted
Cucumber sandwiches – bad teeth. Back in London!
That was the level – unfunny mild insults about British people. Hmph! But then :
Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!
Jon Ronson says “she chuckled to herself, pressed SEND and wandered around the airport for half an hour, sporadically checking Twitter. ‘I got nothing,’ she told me. ‘No replies.’” Then she went off on her 11 hour flight and couldn’t access Twitter. While she was in the plane her tweet exploded. Here’s how much it exploded: in October 2013 she was googled 30 times. In November 2013 she was googled 30 times. Between 20 and 31 December 2013 she was googled 1,220,000 times.
No words for that horribly disgusting, racist as fuck tweet from Justine Sacco. I am beyond horrified.
Her level of racist ignorance belongs on Fox news.
From IAC, her employers : This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question is currently unreachable.
Fascinated by the Justine Sacco train wreck. It’s global and apparently she’s still on the plane.
All I want for Christmas is to see Justine Sacco’s face when her plane lands and she checks her inbox
In fact her deeply tasteless comment was an attempt to spoof white ignorance. “Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making fun of that bubble.”
The world did not get the joke. (“I can’t fully grasp the misconception that’s happened round the world”.) She had to cut short her holiday. “People were threatening to go on strike at the hotels I was booked into if I showed up”. IAC fired her. (In this book people are getting fired for perceived-to-be offensive tweets right and left.) Jon Ronson puts his finger on the reason for the vast avalanche of insult which poured down on Justine Sacco in the last weeks of December 2013:
Dragging down Justine Sacco felt like dragging down every rich white person who’s ever gotten away with making a racist joke because they could.
SILENCE AND RESPECT
So JR looks at various horror stories of this type, of lives destroyed by thoughtlessness. Here’s another example. Two women were guiding a party of disabled adults around Washington for the charity they worked at. They liked to make spoof photos, like smoking in front of No Smoking signs, juvenile stuff like that. They went to Arlington Cemetery and just took leave of their senses. One posed in front of the sign which says “Silence and Respect” – she pretended she was yelling and was giving the finger as well. What humour – it’s the opposite of silence and respect, see? I get it! So did all of Facebook when they insanely put the photo up, and the woman in the photo was fired
and spent a year afraid to leave the house.
SHAMELESS: THE SICK NAZI ORGY
JR examines examples of people who have been horribly shamed but were NOT destroyed. A good example in Britain is Max Mosley. He has had a fair amount of shame to bear in his life – son of Oswald Mosley, who was head of the British Union of Fascists and a supporter of Hitler. Max became head of Formula One racing and he liked to attend S&M parties. One of which was filmed and splattered over a tabloid newspaper here in the UK. There he was whipping girls and being whipped by girls:
F1 BOSS HAS SICK NAZI ORGY WITH 5 HOOKERS
… At one point the wrinkled 67-year-old yells “she needs more of ze punishment!” while brandishing a LEATHER STRAP over a brunette’s naked bottom. Then the lashes rain down as Mosley counts them out in German.
Within a year Max had successfully sued the paper for breach of privacy and appeared on a few general political discussion shows in the UK. It turned out that the public couldn’t care less about S&M orgies. He was unshamed.
This inspires Jon to visit Kink Studios to see if he can answer the question : is the porn industry populated by people immune to shame? Unfortunately he gets frankly rubbishy answers and does not pursue this line. But it does make me wonder – what do the models in even the anodyne disrobings on the most vanilla of porn sites think about their intimate parts captured forever by the internet’s powers of recall? Assuming they don’t stay in the porn biz for life, does this ever have any repercussions in the private or public sphere?
WE ARE THE NEW CROWD OF PEASANTS WITH PITCHFORKS
This book is nothing more than lightweight journalism but JR has a knack – just when you wonder what this or that person in the story had to say, what was their angle, what happened to her afterwards – he’s anticipated you and he’s emailed or skyped or twittered the person and he’s got the reply. Jon interviews James Gilligan (author of Violence: A National Epidemic – read and reviewed!) who says that if shaming people worked prison would work and no one would reoffend, but it doesn’t work. In the end, says Jon, this has been a book about people who didn’t do very much wrong and got vengeance and anger rained down on them. Vengeance and anger and shaming appears to be our default position, here on the internet. I would have liked JR to discuss more why men get shamed in a forensic manner, such as for plagiarism, and women get shamed in a personal manner which very rapidly descends into misogynistic rape & death threats (always the ol’ rape ‘n’ death threats) – he mentions this in a couple of lines then veers off.
But that’s what this book is – filled with interesting ideas and questions, and leaping from one internet zone to another with the alacrity of an Olympic gold medallist gibbon – from Twitter to 4chan to instagram and back again. He didn’t ask us on Goodreads if we had any good stories, though. If he had, we would have collectively put our hands behind our head and gazed at the ceiling and said
Well, now, there was once this retired librarian called Ginnie Jones…
I found this book very difficult to read. Not like Joyce or Proust or Faulkner, but because – when exactly do you read this? In the evening after a go I found this book very difficult to read. Not like Joyce or Proust or Faulkner, but because – when exactly do you read this? In the evening after a good dinner? No! Well, at bedtime then? Not unless you want nightmares.
I have read a few of these concentration camp memoirs, which, strangely insultingly, are classified as FICTION when they are, of course, the truth. But here, in the concentration camp world, reality reads like fiction, it is true.
Tadeusz Borowski writes with a heavy black humour about Auschwitz, which some may find almost unbearable. I don’t have so much of a problem reading the cold histories of the theory and practice of hell, as it has been called. I now have a certain level of knowledge. I can distinguish between the wildcat camps of 1937-39, the political prisoner camps like Dachau, the work camps like Mauthausen, and the terminal points of the three extermination camps Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, which really should be much more famous than they are. (But their fate was to exist very temporarily, for a year or 18 months, then to be bulldozed, and for the ground to be ploughed, and tilled, and for a farmhouse to be built and a family installed there who were to say they had farmed the land of Belzec for generations. Unlike the camps which were liberated, and therefore photographed. No photos of Belzec!) And I can compare all those to the empire that was Auschwitz.
So the nuts and bolts of the holocaust have become well known to me over the years. Reading the stories of one who was there and was able to write after liberation, that’s another thing. It is jolting and upsetting. It’s someone real. The first jolt comes on the third page of the title story (and what a title, surely one of the greatest titles in literature). Here we have the bantering conversation of some of the men working on the “Canada” team. These were prisoners whose job was to get the Jews out of the cattle trucks, up the ramps and off to the crematoria. (“All these thousands flow along like water from an open tap” he says.) Once that was done they picked up all the luggage which the Jews could not, of course, take with them. In this luggage was a whole lot of food – good stuff too, wine, cured meat, sausage, cheese, you name it. The Canada team were able to “organise” some of this stuff back to their barracks, and there they dined well. They also had their pick of the clothes in the luggage, so they dressed pretty well too. Imagine, prisoners living well at Auschwitz!
It is almost over. The dead are being cleared off the ramp and piled into the last truck. The Canada men, weighed down under a load of bread, marmalade and sugar, and smelling of perfume and fresh linen, line up to go. For several days the entire camp will live off this transport. For several days the entire camp will talk about “Sosnowiec-Bedzin”. “Sosnowiec-Bedzin” was a good, rich transport.
So now we overhear a conversation between two of these prisoners. One worried. He appreciates the good things these transports of Jews are constantly bringing. But – how long can this go on? Surely, sooner or later, they’ll run out of people! And then what? No more sausages, for sure. Well, it was a worry.
The stories here inhabit what Primo Levi calls the grey zone, the compromised, corrupted world where there is no innocence, only degrees of guilt. Borowski had a “good Auschwitz” in the way many people had a “good war”. They didn’t die, and it wasn’t all ghastly all the time. He describes the recreational facilities in Auschwitz. You’ve imagined the gas chambers and Sonderkommando and the ovens, now imagine this:
Right after the boxing match I took in another show – I went to hear a concert. Over in Birkenau you could probably never imagine what feats of culture we are exposed to up here, just a few kilometres away from the smouldering chimneys. Just think – an orchestra playing the overture to Tancred, then something by Berlioz
This book is overshadowed by the author’s suicide at the age of 29. This is a distraction, like other author suicides. The work always stands by itself, it is not placed by the grotesque act of suicide into a sphere beyond judgement. Readers encounter the reality inside these words, not outside. And inside these stories the atmosphere is oppressive, the fumes acrid, the stench is unbearable, the company not the best. When I finished this book I looked around. The room was quiet and warm, the fire was on (spring is here, but it’s still cold). One of the cats jumped onto the windowledge for another few hours of birdwatching. I remembered we’re out of marmalade and thanked Tadeusz Borowski for reminding me of that.
Do I recommend this book? I can’t say that I do. 5 stars.
We hear a lot about radicalisation these days. Three girls aged 15 and 16 went off by themselves from east London to Syria to join Isis RADICALISATION
We hear a lot about radicalisation these days. Three girls aged 15 and 16 went off by themselves from east London to Syria to join Isis a couple of weeks ago. Three days ago a 19 year old guy was given 22 years in prison for wishing to cut off the head of a British soldier (he was caught before he did it, unlike Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who did behead a British soldier on the streets of London on 22 May 2013). The word for all of these young people is jihadis.
One of Us is an excellent book about the radicalisation of an anti-jihadi.
On 22 July 2011 he left a van with a bomb next to a government building in Oslo which exploded and killed 8 people. Then he drove a second van out of Oslo to a place called Utoya which was an island in a fjord. This was where a summer camp was going on. It was run by the youth wing of the left wing Labour Party. He got on a ferry and when he was on the island he walked round shooting the children who were there. He killed 69 of them and wounded many more. 57 of them were between the ages of 14 and 19. It was a small island. They had nowhere to run. Some of them jumped into the cold waters of the fjord and he shot them as they swum. When the police finally arrived he gave himself up without a struggle. He was not one of those you’ll-never-take-me-alive-copper guys. The shootings were only Part One. The trial was Part Two.
THE EUROPEAN TIMOTHY MCVEIGH
Anders Breivik was the European Timothy McVeigh. Both these guys were in their own minds at war against their own governments, which they saw as tyrannical and evil. McVeigh’s specific complaints against Washington seem diffuse, but Breivik was very specific: Multiculturalism and cultural Marxism.
We need to ask what he meant by this. And he was at pains to explain. In fact, if people had only listened, he might not have had to shoot all those children.
It’s the media who are most to blame for what has happened today because they didn’t publish my views. One therefore has to get the message out by other means.
My responsibility is to save Norway. I take full responsibility for everything out here and I’m proud of the operation. If you only knew what hard work it’s been. It was bloody awful. I’ve been dreading this day for two years.
What did he mean by hard work? Well, he did everything himself. Here are some of the things he had to buy (where did the money come from? A dozen maxed out credit cards) :
1 farm, isolated Respirator mask Heavy duty rubber gloves Protective apron TV stand Hotplate Sulphuric acid (large amount, from used car dealers) Powdered sulphur Sodium nitrate Ethanol Acetone Caustic soda Lab equipment (flasks, bottles, funnels, thermometers) Fuses several kilos of aspirin (for acetylsalic acid) protein powder steroids shooting lessons liquid nicotine electric drill metal cutters superglue bayonet plastic sheeting 3 toilet brushes Magnetic stirrer Spatula Distilled water Microballoons 1 set of dumbbells 6 tonnes of fertilizer 6 food blenders 1 dozen 50 kilo bags 1 Glock 17 pistol 1 semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 rifle A whole lot of ammo
He trained rigorously for the big day :
First he gulped down a big protein shake, then he fixed a big rucksack filled with stones on his back, another on his front, and carried a five-litre container filled with water in each hand.
Then he would stagger about for twenty minutes. And the bomb making was really dangerous :
The barn was full of chemicals, the liquids were unstable and his working processes were experimental. He had scarcely any safety measures.
It was such a shame he didn’t blow himself up with his dangerous unstable chemicals, but I guess he was just…lucky.
BACK TO THE QUESTION : WHY SHOOT ALL THOSE CHILDREN?
Strangely, this was a very similar attack to the Peshawar school massacre, which you will remember happened in December 2014. The Taliban were executing the children of the army, their enemy, both to punish the Army and to remove a number of future enemies. Really it was the same thing on Utoya island. These children were the future Labour Party elite. Breivik explained in his address to the court:
If we can force them to change direction by executing seventy people, then that is a contribution to preventing the loss of our ethnic group, our Christianity, our culture. It will also help to preventing a civil war that could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Norwegians. It is better to commit minor barbarity than major barbarity.
His attitude to the massacre was strikingly similar to Himmler’s remarks about the mass killings of Jews – a truly unpleasant thing to have to do, but future generations will be grateful, of this we can be sure.
BREIVIK’S MAIN POINT
That ethnic white Norwegians would by 2048 be a minority in their own country unless steps were taken. That the great number of Muslim immigrants and their much larger families would be the majority. That this was a very bad thing – cultural suicide. And that this was happening with the connivance or the acquiescence of the liberal left, the “cultural Marxists” as he called them.
We can see that Breivik is a terminal point in the spectrum of populist/rightist anti-Islam anti-immigrant politics which are now so prominent in Europe. E.g. Marine le Pen’s National Front in France – check it out, in the Euro elections in 2009 they got 6.3% of the vote and were 6th, in the same elections in 2014 they got 25% and were 1st. Here in Britain we have the rise of Ukip, in the Netherlands they have the Freedom Party led by Geert (“I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam”) Wilders, and so on. So we see that Breivik’s views were extreme but were only the outer edge of what has now become part of the political mainstream.
A STRANGE COLLUSION OF NEED
Breivik saw his trial as the most important phase of his mission. Because he knew the world’s spotlight would be on him, and then he would have his chance to explain his political message. Everyone had ignored his internet rantings before, but now, now they wouldn’t. They’d be hanging on his every word.
However, there was a psychiatric report on him : paranoid schizophrenia. Insane! Not legally competent to stand trial! He was outraged, offended, massively angry.
And so were all the families of the victims. They didn’t want him to be insane either. They wanted him to be judged responsible for his actions. (This strange conflict with the psychiatrists happens at many big trials, like that of Jeffrey Dahmer for instance.) A second report was commissioned. Result : dissocial personality disorder with narcissistic traits. Meaning : he was sane! Much relief by both Breivik and the victims’ families. How strange. ( A personality disorder is the psychiatrists’ get out of jail free card. It means you are a person who commits extreme acts without remorse but you aren’t mentally ill. You’re just evil.)
BREIVIK IN PRISON
He got 21 years, which doesn’t seem like enough, but they can extend it indefinitely, apparently. He thought he would be able to live the life of a political theoretician in jail, with a pc and a printer and correspondents all over the world. Turned out not to be like that at all. He got a typewriter which was glued to the desk and no pc. His correspondence dwindled to nothing quite quickly. He wasn’t any kind of hero to anyone. He had a string of complaints about his treatment :
He was often given only enough butter for two, or, at a pinch, three slices of bread, even though they knew he ate four. “This creates unnecessary annoyance because I either have to eat dry bread or be made to feel guilty for asking for more.”
God forbid that Anders Breivik should ever be made to feel guilty, hmm?
Is excellent, a very gripping read, and opens up a whole morass of complex questions. I thought Asne Seierstad strayed into tastelessness in some passages recounting the details of how some of the children died (“The bullet had hit Elizabeth’s ear canal, seared through her cranium and gone right into her brain and out the other ear. Only when it got to the pink phone cover did it stop”) but overall this was a great effort.