Theodore is a difficult case. I like his tough-mindedness and his insistence on describing things as they are, and I enjoy the fact that he's clearly...moreTheodore is a difficult case. I like his tough-mindedness and his insistence on describing things as they are, and I enjoy the fact that he's clearly a creature of the right (do these terms right & left still carry any weight anymore?). And I recognise the truth of much of what he says. But there's a but. When he anatomises the deterioration of public and private morality in Britain, he fails consistently to make it clear that he's talking about a specific section of the British people. When he describes the childhoods brutalised, the bacchanalia of the average Saturday night, the junkies and the crims, he's talking about the underclass and part of the working class. As an example, he considers the Soham murders, and details Ian Huntley's very numerous relationships with underage girls. He accuses the parents of these girls either of not caring a stuff about their daughters' welfare or actively colluding. In most cases they were unconcerned if their 15 year old daughter was going out with 28 year old Huntley. So TD's vision of British society is one of depravity - the parents are depraved, and so of course are the kids. And in the public discourse about these events, the parents must never be criticised (that would be judgemental) but the authorities (school, police) must always be criticised. Whilst what he says is true, he does not say that the vast British middle class do not act like this. Their kids are not barfing and mooning and falling down in heaps on the streets every friday and Saturday night. So TD's visions of hell are true but partial. Doesn't make his essays any less painful to read, however.(less)
Dalrymple's great subject is the underclass – he's worked with them for years as a doctor in an inner city area and in prisons,...moreTHE BRITISH UNDERCLASS
Dalrymple's great subject is the underclass – he's worked with them for years as a doctor in an inner city area and in prisons, he knows what he's talking about, this is a guy I respect, and he's thrusting before our horrified faces the terrible facts of the matter. He sounds like a right wing git half of the time but maybe I'm turning into a right wing git because mostly I think he's got it dead right but sometimes he's just like a slightly more intellectual Jeremy Clarkson who can write well and maybe his books are nothing more than the posh version of Is It Just Me or is Everything Shit
Which is something that makes my flesh crawl - I hate all the jeremiads which pour forth about modern life from every source these days, and all these complainers think we'll wag our bonces and ruefully say "ah how true", oh how they denigrate and carp, the economy, the ecology, the music the kids listen to, the reality shows, the celeb culture, the poxy politicians, the schools, the police, everything according to all these foisters of their own neurotic unhappiness has been on a one way downhill roll into shitness since 1956 when yes of course all was sweetness and pop songs had tunes and we were good, ah, remember when we thought we were good, and there was none of this political correctness and there were hardly any immigrants – oops, what a giveaway! Did I say that? No, you moaning modern-life-is-rubbish demiwolves, you didn't say it but you meant it.
Try being anything other than a middle class white guy in 1956, then report back.
Oh wait – the moaning demiwolves are all middle class white guys.
On the other hand there are lots of things wrong with Britain in 2012. One of them is that there's a swathe of the population who are simply redundant, not required anymore. The underclass. All they do is make their own lives a living hell and break into your house if you leave the smallest window open. And if you run into a gaggle of them on the way home from the pub they just might take it into their heads to kick you to death. In 1956 all these people worked, there was almost no unemployment, imagine that, but now Chinese and Indian people do all the backbreaking factory work in China and India making all our ipods and stuff & so the 20% of the population who can only do factory work [euphemism alert ] have nothing to do except drugs and each other. TD describes the calamitous moral decay of this class of people (you don't need me to recap, Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer have done this already)
He identifies the underclass as something which has been growing since the 60s, is mostly white and is aided but not caused by the Welfare State. Lack of employment is one thing but the miasma of drug usage, domestic violence, child abuse and all types of crime except those which require brains needs further interrogation. On p 12 he is saying that they are like children who have been encouraged to behave badly by misguided liberal parents. This is a big theme which runs through all of TD's thinking. Liberals took over the way society runs itself and have wrecked it with their ludicrous cuddly notions of being nice to people. They have given the feckless (the sturdy beggars of yesteryear) a loaded gun – now the feckless have realised they are themselves passive victims. TD tells us that when apprehended, all the criminals of the underclass will portray themselves as "Putty in the hands of fate" or "marionettes of happenstance". They never stab someone intentionally, no, they tell you "my head went. The knife went in."
Another burglar demanded to know from me why he repeatedly broke into houses and stole VCRs. He asked the question aggressively as if "the system" had so far let him down in not supplying him with the answer, as if it were my duty as a doctor to provide him with the buried psychological secret that, once revealed, would in and of itself lead him unfailingly on the path of virtue. Until then he would continue to break into houses and the blame would be mine.
Hark - I hear an old song from West side Story... do you hear it too?
Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, You gotta understand, It's just our bringin' up-ke That gets us out of hand. Our mothers all are junkies, Our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!
Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset; We never had the love that every child oughta get. We ain't no delinquents, We're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good!
There is good!
There is good, there is good, There is untapped good! Like inside, the worst of us is good!
TD points the finger at (please, anyone in the caring professions should look away now!)
The legions of helpers and carers, social workers and therapists, whose incomes and careers depend crucially on the supposed incapacity of large numbers of people to fend for themselves and behave responsibly. …their entire therapeutic worldview of the patient as the passive, helpless victim of illness legitimises the very behavious from which they are there to redeem him from. … ...the idea has become entrenched that if one does not know or understand the unconscious motives for one's acts, one is not truly responsible for them.
Officer Krupke, you're really a square; This boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care! It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed. He's psychologic'ly disturbed!
We're disturbed, we're disturbed, We're the most disturbed, Like we're psychologic'ly disturbed.
(Spoken) In the opinion of this court, this child is depraved on account he ain't had a normal home.
(Spoken) Hey, I'm depraved on account I'm deprived.
My father is a bastard, My ma's an S.O.B. My grandpa's always plastered, My grandma pushes tea. My sister wears a mustache, My brother wears a dress. Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess!
Also the spectre of the swinging 60s haunts the pages :
If anyone wants to see what sexual relations are like, freed of contractual and social obligations, let him look at the chaos of the personal lives of members of the underclass.
(note – great American book detailing all the chaos : Random Family)
However - there should be a word for someone who wrecks their own arguments by continually overstating them to the point where they sound mad, and TD does this every so often, alas. I won't embarrass him by quoting some of the dafter parts. And also, in the end, while I admit of the awfulness whereof he speaks and the eloquence which makes these essays not only bearable but compelling, he offers absolutely no answers. He's a great diagnostician (is that a word?), and I kind of suspect that if he proposed any solutions they might involve abolishing parliament, appointing a National Salvation Council and setting up Re-education Centres for every social worker. Giving teachers electric cattle prods would probably be part of it too.
I recommend TD if like me you're comfortable with despair and you're quite happy to read and weep. (less)
Here's a mean-spirited book by an English journalist who presents for our entertainment America as Freak Show. Roll up, roll up, for only a few dollar...moreHere's a mean-spirited book by an English journalist who presents for our entertainment America as Freak Show. Roll up, roll up, for only a few dollars see... the Modern Primitives! Women who bind their feet in order to wear 7 inch heels! Yes! Peer inside the mysterious Elohim City, created by crazed Christian cultists armed to the teeth! Visit Murray, Kentucky, home of a terrifying gang of teenage vampires! And so on. Jeffreys writes with a horrible air of superiority about nearly all of his freaks. "Like many elderly southern gentlemen of his type, there's probably not a single human pleasure he rates as innocent, except maybe wearing sheets and burning crosses" (page 130). For Jeffreys, all the cliches are true. He sets up the easiest of targets in order to have great fun in kicking them around. I open the book at random (page 83) : "'The Lord is with us tonight,' Wayne says in a southern accent which bears about as much resemblance to Standard English as rural Hundustani." This book is inviting us to laugh heartily at the trailer park zoo on display. We should congratulate ourselves on how much more intelligent and attractive we are than these creeps and weirdos, says Jeffreys, and reading this book I imagine he does, frequently. Returning from another expedition to California or Alabama I can imagine him chortling about the latest great story he's bagged (maybe a bunch of goofballs who think they've been raped by aliens), one hand on his laptop and the other on his coke spoon. Oops ! I just lapsed into Jeffreystyle for a moment there - for example (page 135) "despite her husband's denials she hired a private investigator, one of those bottom-feeders who usually have one hand on a whiskey bottle and the other rooting around in someone's trashcan". I did enjoy two chapters - one in which a psychologist has a very funny rant against Christmas ("Haven't you felt enraged by someone to the extent that you bought them a present?") and an account of the Burning Man Festival - here, just for a moment, Jeffreys seems to actually like the people he's with. But that's rare. Mostly I get the impression that after another encounter with a wacko from Waco he can't get back to the hotel fast enough. As an Englishman myself, I almost feel I have to apologise to Americans for this book. (less)
This is a posh version of something like "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World" by Francis Wheen, where various modern intellectual fads and fancies ge...moreThis is a posh version of something like "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World" by Francis Wheen, where various modern intellectual fads and fancies get a bad kicking. But Ophelia and Jeremy are actual philosophers - you can tell because they write sentences like :
One important active - 'active' in the sense in which a volcano is active - 'site of contestation' in disputes over realism or relativism, truth or consequences, epistemology or politics, the warranted or the useful, is social constructivism in science and knowledge.
I feel like tapping the desk and barking out "yes yes, so far so obvious, do get on, we haven't all day you know".
Well, I have to admit this one was a bit too hard for me. When you can't tell the difference between the obvious and the profound you should move on and take a look at whatever is in the next cage.
Mariel in her review of Revolution in the Head wrote
Life in the '60s must've been grey. In my mind it is The Beatles and French New Wave.
Well, not qui...moreMariel in her review of Revolution in the Head wrote
Life in the '60s must've been grey. In my mind it is The Beatles and French New Wave.
Well, not quite. Half way through the 60s, life - in Britain anyway - suddenly BURST INTO COLOUR. Consider these movies :
Room at the Top
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
A Taste of Honey Victim
The L-Shaped Room The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
This Sporting Life Billy Liar
All pretty good movies and mostly about gritty stories about Northern towns where life was tough and ground down and definately black and white - but then...
A Hard Day's Night
still black and white, but - in a truly emblematic way, four gritty Northern lads come down (on a train) to London, and a pop explosion takes place :
The Collector Darling The Knack Life at the Top
From now on, it's big bold vibrant COLOUR and it's SWINGING LONDON, goodbye to the dour North...
Blowup Georgy Girl
Accident Bedazzled Charlie Bubbles How I Won the war I’ll never forget what’s is name The Jokers Poor Cow Smashing Time
30 is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia All Neat in Black Stockings The Charge of the Light Brigade Girl on a Motorcycle If… Isadora Oliver! Petulia Secret Ceremony Sympathy for the Devil Up the Junction Wonderwall Yellow Submarine
The Bed-Sitting Room Kes The Magic Christian Oh! What a Lovely War Three into Two Won’t Go Twinky
Deep End Performance
You can see some gritty working class angst-tales still being made (Kes, Up the Junction) but mostly it's zany fun and frolics. So, the 60s was, like football, a game of two halves, and in the second half, the inmates took over the asylum, to mix my metaphors.
This book is a very cool oral history of the life and times of what was known as the "underground" by the hipsters, movers and groovers who did it way back when. They didn't, in the end, make a revolution, but they did have a right old go. This book is for hippies and 60s fans. You will laugh and you will gurgle.(less)
Well, in some chapters the authors choose very bizarre aspects of American TV culture to focus on, and their style isn't especially inviting - in fact...moreWell, in some chapters the authors choose very bizarre aspects of American TV culture to focus on, and their style isn't especially inviting - in fact it's rather horrible - and in every way I would have preferred someone else to write this necessary book. But they didn't. Anyway, Americans should take a peek at this just to get a little flavour of the way a whole swathe of the world's population thinks about their great - and frightening - country. (less)
A great and compelling book, but somehow, even in Reagan's America, it's hard to go along with the conspiracy theorists who make out that the governme...moreA great and compelling book, but somehow, even in Reagan's America, it's hard to go along with the conspiracy theorists who make out that the government was merrily fiddling away while Rome burned. I mean, look at the response which people got when they wanted to close the bath houses.(less)
This is a very bracing and challenging book. For example:
All violence is an attempt to achieve justice
Say what?? Our author explains... justice here m...moreThis is a very bracing and challenging book. For example:
All violence is an attempt to achieve justice
Say what?? Our author explains... justice here means what the violent person perceives to be justice, for himself or on behalf of others, to get what’s “due” or “owed” to him. The purpose of violence is to maintain “manhood”… which is to say that the perpetrator wishes to replace feelings of shame and inadequacy with feelings of pride and self-worth. It is quite clear that we can prevent violence and also clear how we can do so if we want to.
Okay, I'm already drowning in confusion. Where is James Gilligan coming from exactly?
Well, he sets out his stall clearly in this involving, jargon-free and startling book and he's sold me on his theory. But it's radical. The reasons why violent criminals do what they do, why murder erupts in seemingly mild people, why school shootings happen - why indeed Mohammed Atta and his gang flew planes into buildings in 2001 (even though this book was published 5 years before that event) - it's all found here, in this analysis of male psychology. I don't mean to misrepresent JG's arguments by summarising them to death, but here's a flavour of what he says:
- American culture is vastly more violent than other Western societies (other industrialised democracies, that is). The murder rate is between five and 20 times higher than other Western countries – even though the USA imprisons 5 to 20 times more people and still maintains capital punishment.
- Prison perpetuates violence and is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Capital punishment encourages more murders than it deters. The violent prisoners believe more in the death penalty than does society as a whole, as can be seen when they inflict it on each other and on themselves far more than the state does.
- The courts desire to separate the good (not guilty) from the bad (guilty) and the bad from the mad (not guilty by reason of insanity). The judicial regime then assumes that the bad are rational and that, for instance, violent criminals do not want to go to prison, do not want to be subjected to violence themselves, and do not want to die. So the thinking is that violent crime will be reduced if the criminals know they are going to be caught and punished. Unfortunately this is wrong on all counts. These violent men place the integrity of their self, and their group’s honour, and their loss of face, above considerations of self-preservation. Violent crime is committed not for material gain but to gain respect amongst the criminal’s peer group, whoever they may be. Self-respect is prized far above any considerations of risk of violence to themselves. Also, prison is the opposite of a deterrent. Many violent prisoners (and psychiatric patients) protest loud and long about their desire to be free but when their release date nears they instigate a violent episode which ensures their further incarceration. In many cases the violence of violent criminals represents an effort to force others to provide care and at the same time covers the wish for such care.
- Murder is interpretable – especially murders which are called “motiveless”. They are extreme forms of symbolism. For instance, why do trivial incidents lead to major violence? JG says the central concept of SHAME has been overlooked in analysing violence. But shame is not overlooked by the prison authorities, who are hereby accused of perpetuating a horrific regime of violence against the prisoners in their care. All within the prison system from the judges on down are well aware of the reality and the near universality of rape in the prisons. it is tacitly tolerated. The most violent prisoners are therefore given power over their fellows (similar to kapos in concentration camps) in return for not causing any problems themselves. For the prison guards this is divide and rule – they are always aware that they could be overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers if the prisoners were united. The prison culture of never snitching is obeyed by prisoners and guards, so the horrors of male rape go on week in week out and no one is held responsible.
- Some stats: 2 million men in prison in the USA on any given day of which 1 million are convicted and the rest on remand. The turnover of the latter group is such that in a given year approx 10 million men have been incarcerated for some time and approx 5 million have been released.
- There's a correlation between the social structure of a prison and the class structure of American society (here's the radical bit). In society as a whole, the middle class despises and fears the lower class and wishes to emulate the upper class. The middle and lower classes do not combine together to appropriate and redistribute wealth from the upper class because the upper classes employ the same tactic of divide and rule. The upper class claims to support a "war on crime" or "war on drugs" but in actuality they perpetuate social policies which encourage crime, which is a disease of the poor. The motivation is the same as the prison officers who tolerate the thousands of male rapes which go on week after week. If the poor are so busy wreaking havoc on each other they will never become politically aware. And their violent ways make the middle class regard them as something other than fellow citizens with a common cause. The middle class never notice that they have much better reasons to be angry at the very rich and the party that represents the very rich than at all the violent criminals put together (p 187). Whew!
- The upper classes encourage violent crime amongs the poor by
1) punishing more and more people in harsher ways 2) outlawing drugs which inhibit violence (marijuana, heroin) and promoting the one drug which exacerbates violence (alcohol) 3) manipulating tax laws to keep the poor poor 4) denying the poor access to education, especially in prison 5) perpetuating racial divisions in society 6) promoting public entertainments which glorify violence as the source of masculine pride and power 7) making lethal weapons easily available 8) maximising the assymetric treatment of men and women 9) encouraging homophobia 10) perpetuating unemployment
So okay, what's the solution to all this, James Gilligan M.D. ?
I admit it, this book is strong on analysis, and feeble on prescription. He tells us that comparative poverty is THE main cause of the men's feelings of inadequacy which lead to shame which lead to violence. To fix that, the USA must be... fairer. Like... er... no... here it is again...Sweden. And that's about it. So reading this book is like like going to a brilliant doctor who tells you why you feel like shit in great and insightful detail, you're rapt, this guy is so good, so glad I came here, yes that's so true - yes, doctor you're so right - what must I do to stop feeling like shit all the time? Well, he says, I would resign your position as a middle manager in Bryant Agricultural Feedstuff Receptacles Ltd, and become a writer of haiku. And move to Sweden.
Didn't care for this because i think I disagree with his premise, which is that people have misunderstood the nature of the Islamist/jihadist movement...moreDidn't care for this because i think I disagree with his premise, which is that people have misunderstood the nature of the Islamist/jihadist movement and think it's been formed to drag us back to the 13th century. A lot of this seemed like dancing on the head of a pin or even a whole box of pins. What was it Lenin said? "Philosophers have sought to understand the world. The point, however, is to change it." Something like that.(less)
The subtitle of this heavenly concoction is: A celebration of American pop culture at its most joyfully outrageous.
This is not so much a book as an as...moreThe subtitle of this heavenly concoction is: A celebration of American pop culture at its most joyfully outrageous.
This is not so much a book as an aspirin to banish gloom. Of course, America marches on and this book needs a major update to include such modern phenomena as Celebrity Rehab and Autobiographies by People who Aren't 25 Yet - still, it's a wonderful panorama of some truly ghastly shit. For instance
Aerosol cheese Boudoir photography (That special present for that special someone) Breasts, enormous (Can't mock Americans for that, we have this fetish over here too, but I liked that there was a page called "Breasts, enormous") Death cars Fingernail extremism ( I see that creeping in here - now there are entire salons springing up just for nails with slogans like "rake his back and make him howl with these razorsharp bejewelled babies" - no, I made that up. But nearly) Liberace (So many facelifts he couldn't shut his mouth) Meat snack foods
"Modern Americans buy meat snack food in shrink-fit plastic packages at the convenience store. They call the snacks Slim Jim, Chubby Sausage, the Big Jerk — manufacturers' words for sorbitol, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, monosodium glutamate, corn syrup, and lactic acid starter culture combined with chunked, ground, and formed beef and mechanically deboned poultry. The term "meat snack," like "cheese food" and "creme filling," is food-industry poetry, used to evoke thoughts of meat (or cheese or cream) about products that contain little or none of the substance in question."
- this quote should be written into the Constitution or something like that. Genius!
Mood rings Perky nuns Pet clothing Reclining chairs Waltzing waters Tammy Faye Bakker (Didja ever see a documentary called "The Eyes of Tammy Faye Bakker"? It's a bug-eyed must-see. The stuff that poor woman went through.) Baton twirling Children's names (Which have got immeasurably worse since this book came out - my daughter went to school with Bracken, Angel and DeQuayne) Cool Whip Dinosaur Parks Lawn ornaments Panty-hose Crafts Shag Rugs Sno-Globes (yes!) Unicorns and rainbows Velvet paintings White lipstick
Photography is the crossroad where opposing ideas smash right into each other because all the lights are on green perma...moreNICE PICS, SHAME ABOUT THE TEXT
Photography is the crossroad where opposing ideas smash right into each other because all the lights are on green permanently. It's realistic, it's artificial, it's revolutionary, it's reactionary, it's exploitative, it's celebratory, it's pornographic, it's erotic, it's banned, it's compulsory, it's banal, it's exciting, it's everywhere, and anyone can do it. The democratic art. Looking through this book I was thrilled by the greatness of many of these photos, bemused by the ordinariness of others, and depressed by the pretentious wankery in the explicatory comment. Taken at random:
"one of his pictures seemed very much like another, but that was deliberate"
"Prince's photograph is a copy of an image based upon illusion and myth, and meditates upon both the creation of images and their consumption within our society. Of course, for a minority of commentators, Prince has merely taken someone else's hard work and made a million"
"the artist sets up a continual dialogue with the viewer about the nature of water and how we might regard the surface of a river as a reflection of ourselves and our collective psyches"
Over and over, our author Gerry Badger presents such tired old cliches as if they were gems of insight, as if they were actually worth writing down in the first place. I think writing about photography must damage the brain, I don't know why. This is a beautiful looking book, with great layout and a feel of generosity in its acceptance of so many genres of photos - and what an electric charge I got on seeing (page 14 and 15) the very first photograph of a person (in 1838 or 39, a guy in the Boulevard du Temple having his shoes shined) - and how horrible is the photo by Lee Miller of a Nazi suicide on p 97 - and - and - well, I could list half of the book like that - but eventually I had to give up reading the text, the photos pulled me up and the writing pushed me down. So, friends, this is the ideal book to look through carefully when you're next in a bookshop! (Five stars for the photos, 1 star for the text, average - 3 I guess).
This book was published in 1994 and the argument rages on today. It's a war about when we say "we" what do we mean and who are we anyway. "We" used to...moreThis book was published in 1994 and the argument rages on today. It's a war about when we say "we" what do we mean and who are we anyway. "We" used to be white, male and middle aged as is well understood - you know, the people who drew the maps, laid down the laws and decided what you should find funny. Things were SO much simpler then.
That particular human identity has now been put on trial and found guilty of several serious perversions. The maps weren't right, the laws were despised, the jokes were not funny, they just made other people weep inside. So, Justice has been done, and that we was taken out and shot. A letter stating that it lost its life in brave service to truth and beauty has been sent to its family who shed tears over old photographs and tell each other what a beautiful person we used to be, how we were always kind to our slaves and never chastised women lightly.
So far so good. A job well done. But then the liberal, intelligent people who had dismantled this ugly superstructure either went mad or were replaced like in "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" by some other people who looked like them but were completely insane and started barking on about chestnuts being dangerous for kids, ice cream being dangerous for kids, cholesterol and sex being dangerous for everyone, Enid Blyton was a racist, Tom and Jerry was as bad as American Psycho, you can't smoke within a mile of another human being, and everything now had to be printed in 46 different languages including this review. And also, it's compulsory to be a lesbian. It was very confusing and it still is. All those stories from the right wing press about kids being banned from singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" - I thought they were all made up. But then Georgia (aged 6) sang "Baa Baa Woolly Sheep" to me. What??
But it always seemed to me that the people complaining about pc were just right wing shitbags who were fuming that they couldn't call black people, gay people and women the various names that they wanted to. Same people who moaned on about how the word "gay" had been traduced and co-opted and now couldn't be used properly as if a shift in lexical usage was the equivalent of the gulag archipelago.
But then in comes the human rights and health and safely people, and what was a life-affirming and successful campaign has become a hideous thousand armed beast which ties us up in mind-forged manacles every time we try to think straight. Should a guy who preaches jihad against the West be deported from Britain? Er, is he a foreign national? Yes. Well then, yes he should. Oh but his family are all in the UK plus the country he came from uses torture regularly so that would be breaking the human rights convention. Okay. What did the human rights convention say about liquidating 20,000 civilians during the Shock and Awe campaign in 2003? Not a lot really. But we can't sack a Muslim man if he refuses to guard the Israeli embassy in London because he hates Jews. One thing leads to another. I think I am becoming one of my own nightmares.
Bruce Wayne ("Batman") : It's sometime difficult to think clearly when you're strapped to a printing press.
A writer like Janet Malcolm is willing to stick her cool impeccably made-up and coiffed head into a hornet's nest and after looking steadily about her...moreA writer like Janet Malcolm is willing to stick her cool impeccably made-up and coiffed head into a hornet's nest and after looking steadily about her, and getting stung a few times, emerge to write short, elegant, lapidary volumes on such matters as who owns memory (The Silent Woman), are all journalists liars (The Journalist and the Murderer) and was Freud a fraud (In the Freud Archives). Fate itself thrust Mary Lefkowitz's head (which, honesty compels me to note, looks uncannily like Charles Hawtry from the Carry On films) into a whole other nest in 1991. This is a fascinating book about culture, about whose voice prevails, about how we know what we know, about race, about rhetoric and its lies, about history, about responsibility and demagoguery, about trust breaking down and about the bad only requiring that the good do nothing. ML's book is about her struggles with a fellow professor at her university. First she found that he was teaching untruths about her own subject (ancient Greece). Then she found he was teaching antisemitism. ML is white and her opponent was black, and his subject was Afrocentrism. Uh-oh! It was bound to end in tears before bedtime.
So who gives a flying fart about whether ancient Greece was or was not heavily or slightly influenced by ancient Egyptian ideas? Who cares if Aristotle stole his ideas from Egyptian works which are now lost? I don't care! Except it turns out that I do because that's just the local battle ML was dragged into - for you and me it would probably be other skirmishes, but the same battlefield. It's easy to mock ideas about Mark Chapman being a CIA drone and under post-hypnotic orders to kill John Lennon just as it's easy to get a shamefaced guffaw out of the sad types who tell you about the time they got anally probed by aliens from Jupiter whilst hovering 200 miles above Boise Idaho. It's all mad stuff, ha ha ha – but really, keep taking your medication. But not so funny to come up against Muslims who believe that 9/ll was perpetrated by the Israeli government who then skilfully planted fake evidence to implicate some innocent Muslims. Not so funny to keep hearing that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or did happen but only killed 900,000, or did happen but wasn’t unique, or did happen but killed more non-Jews than Jews. Also not so funny to contemplate some black people seriously believing that the white race was created by a black scientist called Yakub. Without being patronising, we can see that some of these pernicious ideas are psychological lifelines to people who feel their culture to be constantly judged as wanting by the overweening arrogant fuck-you move-your-shadow majority white culture. This is surely clear, but it doesn’t make it right to believe them, or right to allow them to be taught in a university, or right to afford them equal airtime. In our cultural discourses we now revel in the formerly excluded narratives of women, black people and gay people but the enlightened thought tsunami which sluiced them in should not be a reason for narratives of social comfort and excuse to become so orthodox they squeeze our histories so painfully carved by centuries of forensic work out via wastepipes made of fuzzy postmodernist claptrap.
So ML found that she had drawn the short straw, she must go into battle against what she calls the Myth of the Stolen Legacy, which tells black people that a) the Greeks stole all their stuff from Egypt, and b) that Egyptians were black; and while we’re at it, c) the Jews funded most of the American slave trade. And ML duly found herself slapped with a libel writ by Tony Martin, the Afrocentrist black professor she was arguing against. Which being America took six years to resolve (in her favour). Meanwhile she found the ur-text of all this incorrect teaching, Black Athena by Martin Bernal, and the rest of the book is an account of why this theory is wrong, is corrosive and must be opposed.
Fighting talk – essential for any interested parties, which I kind of think means all of us. (less)