Jane Austen: petulance and partisanship

Jane Austen

The flash of ‘to the barricades’ anger I encountered recently, when I casually disparaged Jane Austen’s work as not great literature, in what I thought was not that serious a conversation, made me re-examine how I came to make my remark, and why the anger I encountered knocked me back on my cognitive haunches.

It is true that another impetus for delving into this subject is my recent preoccupation with literary critique more generally, but my focus here is Austen, my prejudices about her writing, and how they clash with orthodox views.

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Perfidia (2014)

Perfidia book cover

As with all of James Ellroy’s fiction since the 1990s, I am infatuated with the book.  With the prose and the characters.  Unlike Ellroy’s previous fiction, this one exposes something new, hinting at something that was never Ellroy before.  Or maybe it is a change in my perceptions, seeing something that isn’t there, or was always there.

What I think connects me with Ellroy’s fiction most of all is an old-fashioned idea of passion.  The kind that drives courtship and romance, but also anger and violence.  It is the id unleashed to dramatic effect, where the base expectation is of chaste and civilised containment in an orderly, ordered society.  Writing for The Telegraph, Chris Harvey relayed some of Ellroy’s thoughts on this powerful driver of life and dramatic tension:
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Ellroy bleeds for Hopkins

Book covers

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

– apocryphal, Ernest Hemingway


The Lloyd Hopkins trilogy is not Lee Earle ‘James’ Ellroy’s first work, nor his best.  But I can see that he sat his typewriter and bled to produce it.  Perhaps he just didn’t bleed quite enough.  It seems that Hopkins is Ellroy’s fictional alter ego: tall, energetic, nervy, intuitive.  A genius cop who breaks all the rules.  A womaniser who ruins his marriage that way.  A dark past that hovers over him.

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Censorship in the most censorious age

This essay is a reply to a comment by Michael H on an editorial I wrote in August about the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and the Tor Project defending the right for the American neo-Nazi online Daily Stormer to be granted hosting and DNS propagation.  It started as a reply to the reply, but grew longer than expected, and is therefore presented as an essay in its own right.

Fifteen, twenty years ago I would probably have agreed with all of Michael H’s points.  What happened since then included the personal experience of watching Western centre-left parties become conservative, and conservatives become openly, unashamedly corrupt lackeys of short-sighted plutocrats.  Short-sighted because they act nihilistically to destroy a consumer base they need to sustain their own profitability over the longer term, and to maintain stable societies in which consumption, not civil strife, is the leitmotif.

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Modern Classics of Science Fiction (1992)

Edited by Gardner Dozois, and originally published as The Legend Book of Science Fiction (1991), this weighty anthology reminded me why I stopped reading science fiction in the 1980s.

Gardner Dozois (pronounced doze-wah) was most famously the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine between 1984 and 2004 (the publication was re-named Asimov’s Science Fiction in 1992).  He has also been editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies since 1984.  As a writer he began in the late 1960s, sticking mainly to short-form pieces, and winning Nebula Awards in the early 1980s.
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Brian Aldiss, 18 August 1925 – 19 August 2017

Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Michael Kustow, and JG Ballard at the 1968 Brighton Arts Festival.

By an Aldissian cosmic coincidence, I missed notice of Aldiss’s death for several days, even as I was reading his ‘The Worm That Flies’ in Gardner Dozois’ 1991 Modern Classics of Science Fiction.

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Old friends: Clash by Night (1980) by Henry Kuttner and CL Moore

The spectacularly ugly cover of clashing colours and motifs.

If one of the domains of science fiction is to extrapolate a present phenomenon into an imagined future outcome, the anthology of stories by husband and wife writing team Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) and Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987), Clash by Night, is an exemplar of the genre that has weathered time more handsomely than most.

Published in 1980, but containing stories that were already decades older, I lost my copy to the Brisbane flood of 2010/2011, along with hundreds of other books.  To my knowledge the book has not been reprinted, and the authors are now largely forgotten in the Sturm und Drang attending the rapid, enforced obsolescence that is a hallmark of the internet-driven cult of the new.  Fortunately I was able to replace this one recently, and made it my bedside reading for a few nights earlier this month.

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Respectfully, EFF & Tor, you’re wrong

Der Stürmer

In this small opinion piece I will give you the reasons journalists and bloggers are too slack or ignorant to table when ‘reporting’ on the reasons given by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) and the Tor Project for opposing a ban on the American neo-Nazi hatespeech vehicle, Daily Stormer.

All the reasons cited by the EFF to oppose censoring the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer web site by denying it registration, DNS propagation, and CloudFlare services are impeccable.

If the underlying premisses were realistic.

At the core of the EFF’s thinking is the assumption that policy and law in a functioning democracy should be the transparent levers by which unacceptable conduct is addressed.

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Conspiracy echoes in Charlottesville

US President Donald Trump’s prevarication on calling out white supremacists as terrorists and subversives resonates with the chilling 2001 BBC film, Conspiracy, about the Wannsee conference at which SS General Reinhard Heydrich bullied other representatives of the Nazi German hierarchy to accept the SS’s ‘Final Solution’ to the ‘Jewish question’.

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Skorzeny’s register oddly à propos again


By a string of coincidences I came across Otto Skorzeny’s memoirs again a few days ago. They are freely available through the Internet Archive as a scan of the book, and several execrable versions of the OCR. Worse, it is a badly translated, hardly proofread book, filled with run-on sentences, typographical and grammatical mistakes, missing words and inconsistent formatting.

But all that seems almost appropriate when considering the book as a whole. As an historical artefact and symbol of the story it represents. But more of that later.

My original online search was for Israeli counter-intelligence activities. This yielded up the names Dan Raviv and Yosse Melman as authors of several books on Israel’s espionage operations. One of the searches under those names offered up a link to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, featuring an article the pair had written about Otto Skorzeny, advancing as declassified insider-information the almost bizarre suggestion that he had been an Israeli hit-man! A story so bizarre, on the face of it, that it couldn’t have come out of Hollywood. And yet it’s an apparently accurate account of an Israeli mission to neutralise German rocket scientists working for Egypt in the 1950s and ‘60s. A mission overseen, among others, by Yitzhak Shamir, former head of the Mossad, and former Israeli Prime Minister.

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