Call for the Dead

Call-for-the-Dead

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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Underworld USA: America unimagined

Ellroy’s homecoming in three movements

American Tabloid

Look at the Prez … look at the clown car. There they go, pretending to be real people. There they go, pretending to be running the world. Can’t be! Those people? No way!

Rewind.

Waaaaaaay back.

1990s … 1970s … 1950s.

Stop!

Look at them now. No. Not the ones in the foreground. Zoom past them. Zoom below the popular cast. Sharpen the focus on what’s underneath.

See the unfamiliar faces? See them talk and move about. See them hate and love. See them get it right and fuck it up. See them project the shadows that are the familiar faces and events.

That’s what James Ellroy wants in ‘Underworld USA’. Three books. American Tabloid (1995), The Cool Six Thousand (2001), Blood’s a Rover (2009).

American history 1958-1973. Told the way it never was, with characters that never were, who explain the characters we always knew, and how things really were.

Ellroy channelling Will Graham from the Hannibal fiction? Immersed so deeply in the subject he comes out transcribing a Zeitgeist mind-set of that era. Like it’s an unhealthy obsession. Like it’s an alien psychology. Like it’s a sickness?

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Why Wikipedia is doubleplus ungood

Wikipedia-Goebbels

Searching for wiki software, I came across unrelated links to articles on Wikipedia that intrigued me, if only because as a harsh critic of the confoundingly popular propaganda site I had not seen these items before.

The first is an open letter to Wikipedia by award-winning writer Philip Roth, published by The New Yorker in 2009. It chronicles his arm’s-length attempts to correct a completely baseless assertion about his novel The Human Stain, with all efforts to do so being rejected because the source of the baseless assertion is a secondary source, while Roth himself is the primary source.

The lesson here is pretty simple: a rule decreed and enforced by cretins unable to form independent judgements appropriate to specific circumstances make it more easy for a contemporary Joseph Goebbels, via any kind of publishing outlet, to be cited authoritatively on a great number of topics than any expert, or any subject of propaganda lies.

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Metaphor, Nietzsche, and Jobs

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We’ll get to Steve Jobs in a minute. First let me speak ill of someone who’s been dead for far longer.

After 35 years of being somewhat bemused and mystified by the po-faced fear of Nietzsche among philosophers and literati, I recently revisited him, albeit by way of British academic Lee Spinks’s 2003 primer from the Routledge Critical Thinkers series, entitled just Friedrich Nietzsche. It was quickly apparent that my interpretation of Nietzsche has been significantly at odds with all those who saw in him a prophet of totalitarianism. More importantly, though, Spinks reminded me of Nietzsche’s seminal challenge to ‘truth’ which I had forgotten in my distractions with post-Nietzschean ideas about objectivity and truth.

To summarise, Nietzsche developed a model over time that proposed ‘life’ as all things in the universe, and homo sapiens only a part of it, rather than being the subject defining the object. In that model homo sapiens came to split away from ‘life’ by attempting to define shared meanings and individuality apart from the universal whole.

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Objective journalism is not!

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Reading the ABC’s Alan Sunderland commenting on objective journalism had me struggling to make out what it was he was trying to say.

More particularly, he seemed to be fudging what journalism has been and is becoming.

Sunderland has been associated with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the migrant-focused Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) for his entire professional career, and he is now the ABC’s ‘head of editorial policy’. If someone in public broadcasting should know something about journalism, he should be near the top of the list.

Granted he was editorialising, but he did bury the lead to his opinion piece, if there was a lead at all. He failed to define his terms, and came across like a bureaucrat, carefully obfuscating the nominated subject area.

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The silver eggheads are here!

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There’s a self-indulgent charm to reading aged literary critique, particularly when it is about the Romantics, whom I despised at school, and continue to avoid with dedicated effort decades later. Matters take a distinctly odd twist when contemplating that seasoned critique leads to a yearning for even Romanticism to stage a comeback, if only it could fill the barren void of online un-literary barbarism. How did that happen? Let’s just say my mind can sometimes still work free of the censorious engineering paradigm that emulates thinking, but too often kills the necessary creativity to actually engage in it.

It is D W (Denys Clement Wyatt) Harding’s 1961 essay, ‘The Character of Literature from Blake to Byron’ that brought on this tangential rumination. That essay is part of an aged, yellowed paperback copy of The Pelican Guide to English Literature vol V: From Blake to Byron. There’s a certain pleasure in handling this book at all. It is one of the few survivors of my once quite extensive paper library, drowned in the Brisbane flood of 2012. I have it now only because it was in a box of random stuff I retrieved from storage prior to the facility’s submersion under the foetid, brown flood waters.

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Politics of cowardice and bullying

Arthur Chu’s typically Millennial quest, in his Salon comment, to redefine political correctness as the ahistorical property of ignorant nerds really annoyed me. Yet another attempt at erasing the past to come to convenient conclusions about a solipsistic world that didn’t exist before this guy’s birth, and whose people matter only insofar as they intersect his personal interests.

Calmer reflection a little later over a cup of tea and a cigarette – the absolutely most shocking of politically incorrect crimes in some circles – had me re-examining my own assumptions, and my own path in investigating the nebulous concept we all talk about as if we were talking about the same thing.
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A magical mystery racism tour

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Watching Millennials trying to ‘own’ the debate about racism today is commendable and tragic at the same time. Of course they own the problem now, but the futility of re-inventing positions that ignore all historical antecedents is saddening, particularly when some vociferous voices are so plainly ignorant of history, philosophy, and political thought. They bypass ‘knowledge’ to reach directly for a stalemate of completely unrealisable demands. Moreover, they are demands they seem unaware of standing against in all they do as civic troglodytes who have abandoned the idea of activism, political process, and effective citizenship.

Anger I can understand. If I were black and living below the poverty line in some American ghetto contemplating being murdered by state employees, or spending 30 to life in a private gaol, I would be pretty pissed off too. But would I be so pissed off that I’d stop at merely blaming all white people as the cause of my immiseration and alienation? That’s just impotent rage leading nowhere, and possibly worsening the situation by alienating potential political and social allies.

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What Orwell wrote about why I write

Orwell

With what I assume is a lassitude of realisation, in 1946, that once the war was won, the reality of lost empire, depleted wealth, and towering national debt, George Orwell wrote a short essay, ‘Why I Write’. It appears quite plain and almost too simple to be an Orwell exposition of anything, but in his own unassuming way he revealed quite a bit about himself, and, uncannily, about my own motivations.

To drown in his almost inconsolable meditations about his own loneliness as a child and into his thirties, you will have to read the essay yourself; I’m sure it is reproduced online somewhere and freely accessible.

I am interested in the four categories of motivation he proposes for writers: ego, aesthetics, impulse, and politics. It is admirable in itself to pick these apart. I perceive a lot of overlap between the qualities he mentions for each of these categories.

Ego

Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

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