Thirty years tracking Hannibal Lecter

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Imagine a world in which Hannibal Lecter was unknown.  It existed until 1981, when Thomas Harris published the novel ‘Red Dragon’.  My own relationship with the Hannibal Lecter myth now spans three decades and takes in unimaginable changes in the world as well as in myself, which is to be expected in the span of almost half a life.  That relationship began when I was an undergraduate student, still naïve and inexperienced in the ways of the world with which I coincided.  That’s why I think of it as a personal experience.  A journey that has significance to me because of the way I experienced it, not as an impersonal series of film reviews.  A journey that did not come about as unaffected by changes in the real world, and the fictional ones I traversed.

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The Expanse (2011 – )

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The series of books is definitely entertaining, and often genuinely engaging, even if each 600-page book is probably a third longer than it needs to be.

Authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing collectively as James SA Corey, pad their narratives with long character ‘insights’ that are often counterproductive in exposing the authors as not quite as insightful as they may think they are. Or as being slightly contemptuous of an audience they regard as simple-minded enough to think of other people as simple-minded.
Nevertheless, they have a winning formula.

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Free speech does not reveal truth

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Brendan O’Neill is a controversial polemicist whose radical politics are difficult to unpick and fathom. When he wrote about truth and free speech in the March 2017 edition of Spiked, of which he is the editor, I found myself nodding in full agreement with some paragraphs, but recoiling from others as misrepresentation and bad reasoning. I think O’Neill is pushing his own agenda, which has free speech in mind only so long as it serves his own interests.

Here’s my own reasoning, staring with a summary of O’Neill’s argument.

Broadly speaking, his argument is that we are being lied to and censored in the name of truth by ‘what we might call the new clerisy: the insulated, technocratic-leaning political class that has dominated public life for the past 30 years or so’. The term clerisy is borrowed from extensive but tendentious Milton quotes. It is extended by referring to ‘the political and cultural establishment’ as a new kind of church assembly functioning to determine what topics can and cannot be discussed, and what is the truth of them.

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Cosmos: an ideological odyssey

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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s script in the 2014 documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, is a relentless defence of science against an always unnamed superstitious barbarism. The vehicle is the explanation of how we came to understand our universe as we do today by scientific investigation standing against shadowy forces of ignorance and ideological zealotry.

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Phantoms of fear and loathing

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… what the Internet and its cult of anonymity do is to provide a blanket sort of immunity for anybody who wants to say anything about anybody else, and it would be difficult in this sense to think of a more morally deformed exploitation of the concept of free speech.

― Richard Bernstein, New York Times, 27 August 2008.

Why write about Wikipedia again? Because I had more feedback on my last post than on any ten others in the past year… and all of it anonymous. Only one of these already anonymous interlocutors wrote publicly. The rest contacted me ‘below the line’.

It was like being admonished by phantoms. Not really what I’d call stalking, but a backdrop of disembodied voices, with the more menacing ones almost drowning out some other, more nuanced tones.
Most of what the ‘ghosts’ had to say was just pure bile. No problem. I won’t repeat it here. But some of it seemed genuinely outraged. Shame these ghosts weren’t prepared to say what they had to say publicly.

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Wikipedia on par with Fox News

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Go looking for the reasons why users of an IP range can be banned from editing their own user pages on Wikipedia, and the waters become deep and murky really fast. In the end you have to conclude that it’s an American mind-set now so deeply ingrained in many of its citizens that the astonishing crypto-fascism of it is no longer apparent to its propagators.

The journey quickly changes from being a search for coherent explanations of Wikipedia policy to being a an exploration of a mass psychosis in Amerikaner society.

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Tinkering with conscience

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To propose that John le Carré’s zenith was the 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I have to retrace my steps through his body of work, and my own historical connection to it. Why bother? Because my bedside reading for a couple of weeks now has been a journey of discovery and re-discovery as I make my way through his collected works. And because I realise more clearly now why Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy always seemed so memorable.

In reading some novels for the first time, I realised that my memory is faulty, according le Carré greater status as an influence on me than is merited. It’s really only three novels I was fond of over time: The Spy Who Came in Form the Cold (1963), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), and Smiley’s People (1979). I didn’t know the earlier Call for the Dead (1961) or A Murder of Quality (1962) until much more recently; they are fine novels in their own right, but not quite as significant.

The Looking Glass War (1965) struck me as bland and aimless years ago, and still does today. I didn’t read A Small Town in Germany (1968) until last week, and though I found it engaging, I thought the agonising about rehabilitated Nazis running West Germany for the Allies was affected, and the accent on a British betrayal of Jews to the unreconstructedly brutish Germans was far too self-righteous to sit well. Though I suppose it might have gone over well at the time, especially as an expression of le Carré’s class-based angst, being increasingly guilt-riddled as they were for the failure of Britain to be a more fitting home for liberal freedoms and its heroes.

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Call for the Dead

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In life there are sometimes threads of interrelated synchronicities. A couple of days ago I posted a draft list of my top 40 favourite films in response to a challenge to do so by Randy Resnick. My number two is the excellent Thomas Alfredsen 2011 adaptation of John le Carré’s singular 1974 novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Today I came across some explanation of what it was about le Carré’s characters I found so authentic. But first some nostalgia.

When I was a teenager I consumed le Carré’s novels with a voracious appetite, and to begin with, much to the alarm of my school masters. Being thoroughly British, they thought a young German boy should learn the Queen’s English first from Ladybird readers and approved ‘adolescent’ fiction (they really flipped out when I carried around Peter O’Donnell’s The Impossible Virgin for a couple of days, anticipating the title presaged sordid content!). The subject matter of le Carré’s spy thrillers was considered risqué for entirely different reasons. Le Carré was considered unsound for casting aspersions on the old British stiff upper lip. As if there was a secret conspiracy by which I would be unaware of bullshit British conceits so long as no one mentioned them.

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Hot tar, aching memory, Golda Meir, and the Yom Kippur War

A month ago, and thirty-seven years, Golda Meir died, aged eighty.

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Today hardly anyone remembers her name, or never heard it to begin with.

The original ‘iron lady’, but on the other side of the political fence from Thatcher. A Zionist labour activist in the 1910s, a leader of the Jewish people in Palestine in the 1920s. A lobbyist for Jewish refugees in the 1930s. A founder of Israel in the 1940s. A minister of the Israeli government in the 1950s. Its Prime Minister in the 1960s and ’70s. A hero to her people, and in the world.

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