Thursday, 31 January 2008

Public Aspiration

“More and more individuals, owing to their bloodless indolence, will aspire to be nothing at all—in order to become the public.”

Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, in The Present Age, and Of the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, tr. A. Dru (London: The Fontana Library, 1962), p.72.

The Use of Mozart

Helvetica is rightly deemed the typeface that best typifies modernism: it is bland and functional. Of its aesthetic qualities, others say otherwise:
The Helvetica Medium lower-case ‘a’ . . . is the most beautiful two-dimensional form ever designed. Its luxurious sensual curves are balanced by points of crisp tension. Its lovely counter makes me think of Mozart. [1]
The pretension is by-the-by, but what gets my goat is that the name of Mozart is doomed to suffer from its invocation by blighters wishing to impart the aura of aesthetic genius to ugliness and insipidity.

[1] Katherine McCoy, quoted by Ryan Bigge, “The Official Typeface of the 20th Century”, The Smart Set, 5th November 2007.

Fewtril no.231

History is no keen judge: the silliest affairs can become the profoundest events, and the weakest ideas the strongest currents.

Fewtril no.230

It is a cold head that counts upon opportunities to persuade itself and others that it is attached to a warm heart.

Fewtril no.229

Those who beheaded Louis XVI of France for the sake of a democratic republic probably did not consider that so clear a lesson and so direct a solution to the abuse of power could not thereafter be made so easily. To say the least: beheading the people and their representatives is a more difficult — not to say, more bloody — proposition.

Fewtril no.228

I’ll never fit in; I have trouble faking outrage.

Fewtril no.227

There is a terrible lot of straw men walking around — so why not attack them?

Fewtril no.226

Some might say we are blessed by political moralism, in that for every matter about which one might feel guilty, there are a thousand unconscionable ways in which one might feel absolved — so long as one remains an adherent. Yet even if one were to succumb to this graceless convenience, guilt would find its own way, attaching itself at last to one’s own existence and advantages.

Fewtril no.225

The madman’s flight from reality is dramatic compared to what is normal: a steady and sane retreat — most cunningly into a narrow study of some aspect of it by which the rest is blocked out.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

V for Victimhood

Audism is “the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community” [1] and is “the most dramatic form of historical enactment of the enforcement of phonocentrism”. [2] At the appearance of yet another oppressed minority, one subject to the terrible and entrenched prejudices of phonocentrism and audism, it is only appropriate that we all make the effort to express ourselves in the little bit of sign-language that we all know.
.....
[1] Harlan Lane, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1992), p.43; quoted by H-Dirksen Bauman, “Listening to Phonocentrism with Deaf Eyes: Derrida’s Mute Philosophy of (Sign) Language”, Essays in Philosophy, Vol. 9:1, January 2008.
[2] H-Dirksen Bauman, op. cit.

Rudolph the Valued Member of the Reindeer Community

“[I]nclusive school programming may allow children to perceive . . . reindeer such as Rudolph as a reindeer, not as a ‘red-nosed reindeer’.”

Susan Gately, “A Textual Deconstruction of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Utilitarian, Mechanistic, and Static Constructions of Disability in Society and in SchoolsEssays in Philosophy, Vol. 9:1, January 2008, wherein we happily learn that “Rudolph eventually rejects the institutionalized notion that one with a red nose has no worth.”

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Out of Sobriety

Apartheid — let us give thanks for a word as holy as it is useful in the defamation of all that is private, selective, and independent! For it is with due reverence that we can say today that schools “dedicated to excellence . . . [but] detached from the mainstream national education system” have created “the apartheid which has so dogged education and national life in Britain since the Second World War”. [1] If only we had known it was apartheid all these years! — then we would have done something about it: we would have gone on marches, had benefit concerts, bought posters and t-shirts, and done badly in our exams in solidarity with our state-educated brothers. As it was, we had forgotten “that our work in the sphere of education is part of the struggle for overthrowing the bourgeoisie” [2]; and, as it is, the realisation has come late, such that the situation is now dire:
Privately educated people dominate politics, the civil service, the judiciary, the armed forces, the City, the media, the arts, academia, the most prestigious professions — even, as we have seen, the Charity Commission. [3]
What is to be done? “[W]ho is prepared to fight the necessary class war?” [4] I tell you: there is nothing for it but to shut down these divisive schools, carpet-bomb Islington and Hampstead, and have the Home Counties placed under quarantine, a course of action that would be fully in accordance with our new-found sobriety.
.....
[1] Anthony Seldon, “Enough of this educational apartheid”, The Independent, 15th January 2007.
[2] V. I. Lenin, Speech at the First All-Russian Congress on Education, 28th August 1918, from V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Ed., Vol. 28, tr. and ed. by G. Hanna (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1966), pp.87, reproduced online at From Marx to Mao.
[3] George Monbiot, “Only class war on public schools can rid us of this unhinged ruling class”, The Guardian, 22nd January 2008. (Mr Monbiot is one amongst several privately educated people in the media who stands nobly and resolutely by his position in furtherance of the cause of putting an end to the dominance in the media of the privately educated.)
[4] Ibid.

From the BBC

I heard a BBC reporter call the British Council “scrupulously non-political”, a phrase which I must suppose has the sense of: prevailing left-liberalism indistinguishable from that of the BBC.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Fewtril #224

It is said that our age of machines and mass-movements discredits the whole ethos of chivalry as the useless relic of another age — such words wherefrom we learn that utilitarian minds do not reckon otherwise: that it is a lack of chivalry and the triumph of utility that discredits our age.

Fewtril #223

Art, we are told, must be accessible to all, as if it must serve the purpose and attain the status of a public convenience.

Fewtril #222

Those who deplore the stance of us-and-them adopt it towards those who laud it.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Further Decadence

HM Government has employed someone to tell us that Britain is about to undergo a “new Renaissance” that will produce “the greatest art yet created”. [1] Well, say what you like, but when our government tells jokes, it tells them well. (Speaking of jokes, is it not funny that we have a minister of state for culture in a land sincerely devoted to trash?) The present minister for culture, James Purnell, hopes for “the reclamation of excellence from its historic elitist undertones”. [2] On we go, comrades!

[1] Sir Brian McMaster, “Supporting Excellence in the Arts”, quoted by John Harris, “Britain on verge of ‘new Renaissance’, minister claims”, The Guardian, 5th January, 2008.
[2] Quoted by John Harris, ibid.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The Bishop and the Wordmonger

The Bishop of Rochester is a “vicious bulldog” who has used “unholy tactics”, the effect of which has been “to suffuse toxic fear through the land” — or so says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, foreigner to understatement and perennial foe of moderate language. “Whatever his psychological flaws”, says she, “his latest rant in a right-wing newspaper cannot and should not be forgiven.” [1] His great offence: — to speak of no-go areas “where adherence to [Islamic] ideology has become a mark of acceptability” and where “[t]hose of a different faith or race may find it difficult to live or work” [2], a state of affairs to which Ms Alibhai-Brown herself as much as admits: “There are indeed some localities where Wahabi Islam has taken a hold and imposed cultural separatism between those believers and the rest”. [3] Perhaps then the offence is that the bishop took to speaking of this matter without the leave or consultation of mediators such as Ms Alibhai-Brown, professionals who might always be trusted to find the right words.
.....
[1] Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, “No-go areas that are all in the bishop's mind”, The Independent, 7th January 2007.
[2] Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, “Extremism flourished as UK lost Christianity”, The Telegraph, 7th January 2008.
[3] Alibhai-Brown, op. cit.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

The Epoch of the Ant-Hill

A society that is subjected to the glare of sociology comes to be regarded, for the sake of understanding, as an example of an abstract system of relations and forces, rather than as an instance of the affairs of actually existing persons. In its scheme, men as persons no longer exist; there are only men as perfected type-individuals. Outside the dreams of sociologists, bureaucrats and other miscreants, such a society does not exist — as Margaret Thatcher notoriously and rightly indicated — but the great threat of its approximation looms whenever sociology finds its way into the minds of the powerful, wherewith — no longer merely descriptive but prescriptive — it tends to make a society in its image.
.....It is of great importance, therefore, to note the turn of thinking that has come with the monstrous presumption that society — that is to say, all those persons and associations conceptualised as a unity under the jurisdiction of the powerful — is something that can be run, not guided, not ruled, but run as if it were a machine-system; and yet, as it happens, it can be run, but only to the degree of the dissolution of the persons that are its actual constituents.
The age of great men is going; the epoch of the ant-hill, of life in multiplicity, is beginning. The century of individualism, if abstract equality triumphs, runs a great risk of seeing no more true individuals. . . . [S]ociety will become everything and man nothing. [1]
It is atomised individuals — stripped of character and personhood, place and belonging, and therein made equal to one another — who make the most perfect mass-men. Yet, imbued with a set of causes and crusades, and with a political moralism that strives for universality, they can become whole again — but not whole persons.
.....
[1] Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 6th September 1851, Amiel’s Journal, tr. M.A. Ward (London: Dodo Press, 2006), p.52.

R I P

George MacDonald Fraser