Saturday, June 28, 2008

Zizek's new nature column

Slavoj Zizek has started writing a new nature column in the Guardian. Who'd have thought it?

Only joking, but his analysis of the disappearing bees is quite interesting. He rounds off with:

We pride ourselves for living in a society in which we freely decide about things that matter. However, we are constantly in the position of having to decide about matters that will fundamentally affect our lives, but without a proper foundation in knowledge. This is frustrating: although we know that it all depends on us, we cannot predict the consequences of our acts. We are not impotent but - quite the contrary - omnipotent, without being able to determine the scope of our powers. While we cannot gain full mastery over our biosphere, it is in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process.

Excellent! That paragraph says more to me about environmentalism than the entire legion of eco-babblers and save-the-whalers have managed in the past thirty years. This is what philosophy is about, for me. The best way to approach any subject is obliquely: that way you avoid dogmatism, the queasy sense that you are being preached at. Approaching a subject from a philosophical viewpoint allows a much deeper understanding.

it's a pity that so much British philosophical tradition seems so afraid of allowing any practical application. It seems happier to sink into ever deeper abstraction.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The auld symie

Friday, start of the weekend, feeling mellow. Here's a grand poem by Alan Bold. A symie is a devil.

The auld symie

Winter is deasie
An ootside the snaw
Churns like a salmon
In its deid-thraw

White gettin mair white
Pile on the stanes
Folk look stark naked
Clad in their banes

But still the auld symie
Wi bent kipper-nose
Maks for the kirk where
God alane goes.

Alan Bold

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Modern politics

More from Keith Ansell-Pearson's study of Nietzsche:
For Nietzsche, modern politics is characterized by an attitude of moral hypocrisy among those who wield political power. Instead of having the strength and courage to stand up and be independent, to have the will to command and rule, they choose instead to hide their impotence behind slogans such a ‘servants of the people’ and ‘instruments of the common weal’.

One wonders what he would have made of today's politics, with its gutless 'focus groups' and endless drivel about 'entering into a dialogue' and 'listening to the people'. The fact that the politicians don't even believe any of this rubbish, they're just doing it to a. not make any mistakes; and b. be seen to be attentive; merely adds to the contempt with which they should be treated.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Asceticism and askesis

Same root, similar meanings, but very different.

This is Keith Ansell-Pearson on Nietzsche's understanding of suffering:

It is the meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, which accounts for the ‘curse’ which has lain over mankind and its history. Christianity placed suffering under the perspective of guilt and, in this way, served to deepen it by making it ‘more inward, more poisonous, more life-destructive.’ The will that is concealed in the ascetic ideal hides a hatred of the senses, of happiness, of beauty; it is a ‘longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself’.

I find this interesting because I'm increasingly drawn to the idea of askesis, which Foucault developed in a series of lectures late in his life. The central idea of askesis, of course - the search for self-formation, a way of becoming who one is, was developed by Foucault from a reading of Nietzsche.

In the passage I quote above, Nietzsche is identifying that Christian guilt which serves to deepen suffering - not only do we suffer, but we are made to feel that this suffering is in some way our fault and that it is the fair result of man's fall. In this way, Nietzsche argues, our suffering is internalised and turned on ourselves, thus magnifying it. The Christian asceticism, then, is a destructive force.

And yet the idea of philosophical askesis which, too, focuses the individual's attention on his inner self, is a force for positive good. It allows the individual to understand better who he is and how he may interact with humanity. Two closely related activities, each doing the same thing, turning one's attention inward, and yet one is a force of nihilism and the other a force of progress. It's an interesting paradox.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Arts funding under the Tories

On the basis that Labour's wounds are now so grave it cannot survive, it makes sense to start looking at what the other lot of bastards will do when they take power. The Tories have unveiled their views on the arts. As reported in today's Guardian, the Tory shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, says a future government 'will "support, nurture, and encourage" the arts, and "will not set the direction of travel, except with the lightest of touches." Okay, that sounds good. Labour, he says, far from being the party for the arts, have become the party for arts bureaucracy. Again, I wouldn't argue.

So specifics, then. What would the Tories do? It's a curious mixture, I have to say. Some good, some bad.

1. Radical reform to the Arts Council - excellent.
2. Possibly funding large arts organisations through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport rather than through Arts Council England - disaster. Funding must be separated from government. What do politicians understand about arts? They would turn arts funding into a political game.
3. Help the arts maximise income from other sources - oh dear, the cynic in me sees that as a euphemism for cuts in government subsidy. But:
4. Help foster an American-style culture of philanthropy" for the arts in Britain - excellent idea. But:
5. The honours system would recognise cultural philanthropists - both those who give money, and those who work as volunteers - No! No! No! Jesus christ, cash for honours, now arts for honours. How to bring the arts into disrepute in one easy lesson.
6. More tax incentives for those who wish to give to the arts during their lifetimes - yes, that's more like it. A straight financial transaction, without the murkiness of 'honours for favours'.
7. National lottery independence act so the lottery "cannot be raided by politicians for their own pet projects" - good idea, but they won't do it because they need that money every bit as much as Labour do.
8.Paying tribute to Venezuela's radical classical music teaching programme, El Sistema, he will also say music teaching would be improved and streamlined - good idea, but the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is a current favourite in luvvy circles, so there's a niggling fear that the Tories are just grabbing at anything popular.

And that's my overall impression. Some good stuff, but not yet a coherent package. And, anyway, I have a long memory, I'm afraid. I remember the contemptuous and contemptible way Virginia Bottomley and co dealt with libraries in the 1980s. I don't ever want to return to that sort of philistinism.

Journalistic techniques

An article by Rowenna Davis in today's Guardian caught my eye. The article itself is fine, summed up by its heading - 'Our society's immature attitude to young people and sex leaves them ill-informed and at risk'. Can't argue with that.

But take this opening paragraph:

Over the past week, the media spotlight has focused unrelentingly on the darker corners of the teenage bedroom. First came news of a 10% rise in abortions among under-16s. Then there was the "pregnancy pact" apparently made by up to 18 high school pupils in Massachusetts in the US, who are believed to have planned to conceive at the same time. And, at the weekend, headlines screamed about condoms and morning-after pills being handed out to children as young as 11 by school nurses.

There's something seriously wrong with this. Consider the news reports that Davis refers to:

rise in abortions
pregnancy pact
condoms and morning-after pills in schools.

Anything wrong with that? On the surface, no: each relates to the same subject matter. But the problem is that the first and third items are British news. The pregnancy pact is American. It is therefore a completely spurious fact. The fact that Davis mentions it happened in Massachesetts is irrelevant. She is writing in a British newspaper on a British cultural topic. To embellish it with a news item from a completely different country - and the US is, indeed, completely different from the UK, is very poor journalism.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summary of the centuries

More from Keith Ansell-Pearson, discussing Nietzsche:

The seventeenth century is the century of ‘aristocratism’ (Descartes), consisting in the ‘rule of reason’ and the ‘testimony of the sovereignty of the will’. The aristocratic seventeenth century ‘looks down haughtily upon the animalic’, it is severe against the heart, without sentimentality and un-German. It is the century of strong will and strong passion. The eighteenth century is the century of ‘feminism’ (Rousseau), it is the rule of feeling and ‘testimony of the sovereignty of the senses’. It is the age of enthusiasm in which the human spirit is placed in the service of the heart, ‘libertine in the enjoyment of what is most spiritual’, it undermines all authorities. The nineteenth century is the century of ‘animalism’ (Schopenhauer), submissive before every kind of reality, it is the age of honesty and realism, but also weak in will, ‘full of dark cravings’, and ‘fatalistic’.

What would be the description of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? I guess the twentieth was the century of aggression, when the nation states which emerged in the nineteenth century began to clash and industrialisation was used to macabre ends, when the individual was subsumed by the state and confrontation could only be resolved by conflict.

And the new century? It's too early to say. It could go different ways. Either we are sliding into a self-induced impotence, a narcissistic inability to do anything because we can no longer see further than our own narrow, personal interests; or that state control which emerged in the twentieth century will reassert itself and the individual will be finally swallowed up by the all-seeing, all-conquering nanny.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

So it goes

Kevin Jackson, writing in The Sunday Times on the posthumous collection of Vonnegut's writings, makes this observation on Slaughterhouse-Five:

Powerful inspiration: but the book's enchantment for its time seems to have been more a matter of sensibility than content. It was an amalgam of old-style folksy and new-style wiseacre: flip, knowing, or slickly fatalistic: “So it goes.”

Jackson seems to have read a different version of the book from me. 'So it goes' could potentially be described as folksy, I suppose, or even slickly fatalistic. And David Copperfield could be called the first misery memoir.

'So it goes' is a way of saying the unsayable. It is a silent cry of pain, a desperate attempt to cling to some trace of humanity and decency in the middle of bastard inhumanity. It is the eloquence of the human spirit. It is indefatigability.

Joining the dots

Good article by Jeanette Winterson in the Times a few days ago, talking about the British Library and the value of libraries in general. As a librarian by qualification, though no longer practicising, I only wish that librarians, especially those spineless public librarians, could be similarly passionate in defence of the cultural treasures they manage. Our libraries deserve better custodians than those they are saddled with.

Anyway, Winterson concludes with a lovely message:

As I walked out across the square, past the Antony Gormley sculpture, and into the rush of Euston Road, it seemed to me that being one tiny dot, as we all are, isn't so bad if you know that you can join the dots, and that there is a pattern and a meaning.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The independent being

From Keith Ansell-Pearson's study of Rousseau and Nietzsche:

Rousseau argues that society exists not only to provide individuals with peace and happiness, though this is one of its aims, but also to educate them into moral beings. With Rousseau politics has becomes education. In contrast to Hobbes and Locke, the transition from the pre-political state of nature to civil society is construed by Rousseau in terms of a process by which human beings forsake their natural liberty in exchange for a higher moral or ethical liberty. In other words, Rousseau’s argument is that we only become truly free an independent when we become moral beings united in society.

I do have quite a degree of difficulty with this. Enamoured though I am of the concept of civil society, I get very edgy when it is described in quite such stark terms. I think my problem is the way that Rousseau seems to elevate the civil society above the individual: the individual only becomes realised when he gives up his liberty for the general ethic, when he combines into a common morality. I see and accept that this is important, but the typically strident way in which Rousseau describes the process seems, to me, to ascribe little, and certainly not enough, importance to the individual. It is in this way that all right-wing orthodoxy wilfully and all left-wing orthodoxy unintentionally goes awry. It leaves behind the individual and allows too much power to 'society' which, in time, becomes 'the state'.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Humanism and the renaissance #2

Ludovici gives the following wonderful excert from Nietzsche, on the downfall of the Renaissance and the baleful rise of the Reformation. In classic style, Nietzsche lays into Luther:

The Germans have caused Europe the loss of the great harvest of civilisation that was to be garnered for Europe – the Renaissance. Do we understand – do we wish to understand what the Renaissance was? The transvaluation of Christian values, the attempt, undertaken with all means, with all instincts, with all genius, to bring about the triumph of the opposite values, the noble values. There has been no greater war, there has been no more decisive question than the Renaissance, - my question is the question put by the Renaissance: neither has there ever been a form of attack more fundamental, more direct, more strenuously delivered with a whole front upon the centre of the enemy! To attack at the most decisive place, at the seat of Christianity itself, and here to set the noble values upon the throne, i.e. to introduce them into the most radical longings of those sitting there…. I see before me a possibility of a perfectly supernatural enchantment and colour-charm: it seems to me to gleam forth in all tremors of refined beauty, that there is an art at work in it, so divine, so devilishly divine, that one might seek for millenniums in vain for a second example of such a possibility; I see a spectacle so ingenious, so wonderfully paradoxical at the same time, that all Divinities of Olympus would have had an occasion for immortal laughter – Caesar Borgia as Pope…. Am I understood? Well, that would have been the triumph for which I alone am longing at present – Christianity would thereby have been done away with! What happened? A German monk, Luther, came to Rome. this monk with all the vindictive instincts of an abortive priest in his nature, became furious against the Renaissance in Rome. Instead of, with the profoundest gratitude, understanding the prodigy that had taken place, i.e. the overcoming of Christianity at its seat, - his hatred knew only how to draw its nourishment from this spectacle. A religious person thinks only of himself. Luther saw the depravity of Popery, while the reverse was palpable: the old depravity, the peccatum originale, Christianity, no longer sat on the throne of the Pope! But life! The triumph of life! The great yea to all things high, beautiful and daring! And Luther restored the Church once more: he attacked it…. The Renaissance became an event without meaning – a great in-vain! Ah those Germans, what have they already cost us! In-vain – that has ever been the work of the Germans. – The Reformation; Leibnitz, Kant and so-called German philosophy; the wars of ‘Liberation’; the Empire – every time an in-vain for something that had already existed, for something irrevocable

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I'm always grateful when I have a book or exhibition, such as the Klimt below, about which I can be positive. I get edgy whenever I have a run of negative reviews. I fear I'm turning into one of those culture bores who are weary of everything. As Voltaire said in Candide:

What a genius is this Pococurante. Nothing can please him.

So I really do enjoy being pleased sometimes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Klimt at Tate Liverpool

Okay, the moan over with in the preceding post, what of the Klimt exhibition. It's subtitled 'Painting, design and modern life in Vienna in 1900' and that is important. This isn't just about Klimt and indeed, since most of his most famous works aren't here it expressly isn't about him. But as a record of the times it is fascinating. It's easy to see in retrospect - but only in retrospect - the doomed nature of this art, the fading decadence, the dying glory, the slow, horrible slide into the Reich thirty years later. How these people would have hated that. For that alone, this is a very poignant exhibition.

Klimt an his cohorts founded the Secessionin Vienna in 1897, as a form of protest against the city's establishment and, in particular, the art establishment. There are clear parallels with Impressionism in France, but this was a different movement. They were strongly internationalist, wanting to see closer associations with foreign artists and art. And, importantly, they saw their base as wider than simply Vienna: they wished to reach out to the rest of Austria and, indeed Moravia, Bohemia and Poland. In their work there was an emphasis on unity with architecture and design. And, in so doing, they developed a distinctive Secessionist style. At the heart of this was Klimt.

What of this exhibition. Downstairs is a recreation of the Beethoven frieze which is very striking. I saw it on the Culture Show on BBC last week and wasn't impressed: it looked like an art student copying Klimt and, bizarrely, there was a giant gorilla sandwiched between the archetypal Klimtian women. The gorilla still seems a terrible mistake but the rest of the frieze, partly because of its scale and its fine symmetry, is arresting.

Upstairs, in the exhibition proper, the first three paintings actually tell you pretty much everything you need to know about Klimt. It's one of the most remarkable starts to an exhibition I've come across for a long time. Firstly, there's Nuda Veritas, from 1899, the long, thin painting here. This is pretty much a classic Klimt, if early, without the gold an paraphernalia. Already, it is possible to see his extraordinary style emerging.

Second is an amazing portrait of Joseph Pembauer from rather earlier, 1890. This is Klimt as you don't often see him, hper-realist, with the face simply sizzling out of the canvas at you in three-dimensional and human form. And yet, of course, there are details here which mark it out as no ordinary portrait. Behind him, on a red background with the date in Latin, is a highly decorative pattern, some form of musical instrument to reflect the fact that Pembauer was a painter. And the frame, which is Klimt's also, is covered in Greek classical imagery. In this painting you see the immense skill of Klimt as an artist, but also the beginnings of his own, peculiar style.

The third painting is of Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann, also from 1900. This is another typical Klimt work, but this time less ornate than the Nuda Veritas. It is a dreamy, elegant, romantic piece where the woman emerges from the canvas. It could almost be impressionist. Actually, what it reminded me of most was Vuillard: he had the same elegant way with women. And yet, here again we see the nascent Klimt style - the glitterin jewels on her dress so striking against the dark background.

In these three paintings we see a great deal of Klimt. Someone wrote recently - I think it may have been Waldemar Januszczak, that Klimt really pinched things from everyone, so you can see a bit of impressionism here, a bit of Van Gogh there, German expressionism and so on. Yes, that's true, but it still, to me, coalesces into a satisfactory Klimt style. It is instructive to see how it developed and changed over the years.

Apparently, there were many darker paintings. Most of these did not survive the Nazi morons, although, I believe, some photographs of them remain. It would have been useful to see more of this in the exhibition. As I said, there is a doleful feel to this, a definite sense of fin de siecle, but it seems that there may be a whole strand of the work which has been overlooked. It starts to come across in the Egon Schiele painting which is included here, The Hermits, a portrait of Schiele and his mentor, Klimt. (Although, I have to be honest, the hanging here did no favours: the painting is covered by perspex and the reflection of the lights and the viewers is such that it is very difficult to make out the detail. I learned more about this painting from studying an online image of it than the actual painting.) But this painting certainly shows a darker side to the movement, and I would have liked more of it.

Finally, Klimt is an extremely good landscapist. This was a major surprise to me. I knew one landscape of his, a dense wood (not in this exhibition, though there is one similar). But there are several others, very, very striking. Again, you might say they are somewhat derivative - impressionist and pointillist - but again I would argue that while there are elements, nonetheless the paintings as a whole are undoubtedly Klimt's and display his own style. The Park, from 1909, for example, could easily be dismissed as a pointillist work, imitative of others. But look at the twist of the trees in the bottom left an right. They are unique. That is Klimt.

The exhibition concludes with a roomful of erotic drawings, some of which are fairly work-a-day stuff, but some are genuinely erotic, even moving. There is a tenderness about them that you don't often get in erotica.

All in all, this is a worthwhile exhibition. It's on until the end of August. Just don't eat in the cafe. And take plenty cash in case they haven't fixed the debit card machines yet.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Learning to think

This little interlude appears in Brave New World, by way of explaining the problems the Fordists found with hypnopaedia, their way of teaching/indocrinating their babies and children by playing and replaying the same texts:

(A small boy asleep on his right side, the right arm stuck out, the right hand hanging limply over the edge of the bed. Through a round grating in the side of a box a voice speaks softly. [end p. 20]
‘The Nile is the longest river in Africa and the second in length of all the rivers of the globe. Although falling short of the length of the Mississippi-Missouri, the Nile is at the head of all rivers as regards the length of its basin, which extends through 35 degrees of latitude...’
At breakfast the next morning, ‘Tommy,’ someone says, ‘do you know which is the longest river in Africa’ A shaking of the head. ‘But don’t you remember something that begins: “The Nile is...”’
‘The-Nile-is-the-longest-river-in-Africa-and-the-second-in-length-of-all-the-rivers-of-the-globe...’ The words came rushing out. ‘Although-falling-short-of...’
‘Well now, which is the longest river in Africa?’
The eyes are blank. ‘I don’t know.’
‘But the Nile, Tommy.’
‘Then which river is the longest, Tommy?’
Tommy bursts into tears. ‘I don’t know,’ he howls.)

Obviously, Huxley was making his own point about the future civilisation, but doesn't that story also stand starkly as a warning about education by rote. John Stuart Mill would have shaken his head in silent understanding and regret. Our government would probably rue the lost opportunity of the failed experiment. And try again.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Stephen McCauley - Alternatives to sex

Stephen McCauley. Alternatives to sex. London: Granta, 2006

A story about William, a real estate agent who takes a vow of celibacy which he proves to be very poor at keeping. The novel is essentially about sex and real estate. At one stage a character says 'real estate is the sex of the new millennium'. There are numerous references to 9/11, especially in the early stages of the novel, as though trying to establish some moral compass.

It doesn't work. I try to stop myself from reacting badly to novels – they’re only bloody books – but this nonsense has made me seriously annoyed. This is witless, soulless, humourless drivel masquerading as a novel. It is described on the dustjacket by someone called Elinor Lipman as ‘genius at work, but genius of the best, most readable kind: witty, lovable and so amazingly smart about love in many forms’. It is none of those. My writing is a million miles closer to genius than this shit, and I do not believe I am blowing my own trumpet in saying so. It is simply a measure of how dismal this book is.

Okay, I get the fact that the author is parodying those who have vacuous lives, and who say, as one character does, ‘Do you think it’s easy to sell art since September eleventh?’ Yes, I get that. I see that he is trying to show that the concerns expressed by these pampered people were shallow. Of course. But the problem I have is that the author’s work is, itself, equally vacuous and shallow. The main character is forced into a moral decision at the end which feels entirely author-driven and doesn’t derive from the plot. The whole novel is smothered by an air of superciliousness, of ephemerality, of vapidity. It purports to be a love story and yet there is no love. Right at the end, the main says to his lover, ‘You’ve been at the center of [my life] for years now. I’m sorry I didn’t realize it sooner.’ But this is just the problem: he couldn’t realise it, because the fact wasn’t there until the plot demanded it.

So what do we have? We have a novel which cut and pastes a few glib references to 9/11 in order to establish some moral high ground, which mocks the hypocricy of a certain breed of Americans’s responses to 9/11, and then feeds us a shallow, emotion-lite piece of pap, sugared by feelgood-feelbad nine-elevenry. And this is what makes me so annoyed about this novel. It is nothing but surface. It pretends to say something but in the end says nothing. It uses 9/11 as a smokescreen to hide the fact there is only emptiness where the heart – or ‘spirituality’, to use its favourite word – should lie. 9/11: its impact on America was what? Let’s examine what this novel tells us, by way of quotes.

Firstly, a couple of characters make comments (so give the author some latitude – these are his characters talking, not him:

‘Humility is completely out of favor these days.’ [p. 96]

‘…[I’m going to write] an analysis of the spiritual soul of America in the wake of September eleventh... I’ve been looking down my very long nose at American consumerism for years, but now that I’ve embraced it, I understand it completely. It’s always been marvelous, but it needed a rationale. Now it has one: shop your way to a feeling of safety and security… Struck from above by a dastardly enemy and the response is an encouragement to visit Disneyland, buy bigger cars, and then launch an attack on a country unrelated to the problem.’ [p. 202-203]

Okay, got that? Shallowness and glibness, that’s the American way. But no, not necessarily. How about this?

Since the tragedy of the preceeding September, everyone I knew was trying to choose between combating the collective evil of manking by putting sefishness aside and doing good, and abandoning altruism altogether and doing whatever it took to feel good. Right now. [p. 5-6]

Hmm, ambivalent. A bit good, a bit bad. Let’s have some more, then, and see if we can work out what this novel is saying:

Everyone I knew felt they had, for the first time in their pampered lives, a mission, but no one knew what it was. [p.6]

Everyone I knew had felt a sudden need for reassuring moral absolutes, for patriotism, for righteousness. [p. 6]

So, maybe the novel is telling us that there was a moral response to 9/11. Let’s explore some more:

Since the previous September, people were willing to give serious consideration to taking what they could get while they could get it, even if they had no idea what they planned to do with it. [p. 49]

Oh dear, back to the shallow end.

Since last September, every middle-aged person I knew had decided to work on aging with grace and dignity. In light of what had happened, who would be shallow enough to even consider facial surgery or cosmetic injections? But thus far, none of my friends had perfected the plans for dignity. p. 72

Back up to the deep end again. Confusing this, isn’t it? What is the author trying to say? Maybe it’s all just about sex, then, since that is what most of the book is about:

Aggressive father figures seemed to have a special appeal since the previous September. [p. 32]

But maybe not:

‘...Sex. Does anyone care anymore? I doubt it. It’s all so pretragedy, twentieth century, isn’t it? You were very prescient to stay above the [end p. 273] bodily fray. It’s all about real estate now. Real estate is the sex of the new millennium.’ [p. 273-274]

You see? Now maybe, of course, there was an ambivalence about the American response to 9/11. Sure. But it is the job of a novel to come to some conclusion. This is just a mixture of glib, asinine, ill-conceived and poorly constructed shit. As the immortal Johnny Rotten once said to America, ‘d’you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The great English language

Lewis Grassic Gibbon:

If the great Dutch language disappeared from literary usage and a Dutchman wrote in German a story of the Lekside peasants, one may hazard he would ask and receive a certain latitude and forbearance in his usage of German. He might import into his pages some score or so untranslatable words and idioms - untranslatable except in their context and setting; he might mould in some fashion his German to the rhythms and cadence of the kindred speech that his peasants speak. Beyond that, in fainress to his hosts, he hardly could go - to seek effect by a spray of apostrophes would be both impertinence and mistranslation.

The courtesy that the hypothetical Dutchman might receive from German a Scot may invoke from the great English tongue.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Banned books

This list of the ten most challenged books in the US comes from the American Library Association's Banned Books Week website. Each September, they celebrate the freedom to read. It is one of the most important freedoms that humanity possesses.

Recidivists will always try to restrict the flourishing of the human mind. For some people, it appears that the only freedom that subsists is their own freedom to preach to other people how to live their lives. Such people must be resisted. The list of 2007 challenged books is:

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

4. “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6. “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7. “TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9. “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Off the list this year, are two books by author Toni Morrison. "The Bluest Eye" and "Beloved," both challenged for sexual content and offensive language.

Interesting that Huck Finn is there. I've just finished reading it tonight, by coincidence, and what a marvellous, free-spirited, joyful book it is. Anyone who thinks it is racist simply hasn't read it.