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#Brexit: Words fail

Friday, 24 June, 2016 0 Comments

The anthem of the European Union is based on the final movement of the Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Ludwig van Beethoven. His famous Ode to Joy was inspired by the 1783 poem by Friedrich Schiller, which says the kind of romantic things that German Romanticism said: “Alle Menschen werden Brüder / Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.” (All people become brothers / Where your gentle wing abides).

“There are no words to the anthem; it consists of music only,” says the EU, which deleted the message and reduced the lyric to a nebulous, insipid sentiment.

It’s an ode to less today.


#Brexit: History is in the making

Thursday, 23 June, 2016 0 Comments

History will be made today in Great Britain. Regardless of result of the referendum, we will witness the slow-motion crumbling of two Unions: the UK and the EU. If the British vote to leave, the EU will begin to crumble because the audacious act of departure will mortally wound the “project” and will encourage others to hold similar referendums. If the British vote to remain and England’s desire for independence is defeated by an alliance of multicultural Londoners and Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Union will be gravely damaged.

UK_EU A European Union without Great Britain would be forced to confront its founding fallacy of Germany pretending to be weak and France pretending to be strong. Neither Paris nor Berlin wants to face this embarrassing reality, but the absence of London as a diversion will lead to sobriety. Then, there’s the fragility of the eurozone. It may be possible to keep Greece on life support indefinitely, but not so Italy. Its debts are alarming, the unemployment rate is frightening and there’s no growth. As well, Italy straddles that other great EU fault line: immigration. Italy is the country of choice for African migrants and their numbers will keep on growing for the rest of this century.

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” So says a character in that great Anglo-Irish-European novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, and the nightmare of history will return with a vengeance if the “Leave” side wins. Ireland’s borders, internally and externally, will take on new significance and the country may have to rethink its political relationships. The same goes for the Scots, whose nationalists would demand another referendum that might take them out of a non-European Britain. And the Welsh? They play Northern Ireland in Parc des Princes in Paris on Saturday, with a quarter-final place in Euro 2016 at stake.

History is in the making.


#Brexit: Wolff on Johnson and Trump

Wednesday, 22 June, 2016 0 Comments

On one side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson wants Great Britain to regain its post-war sovereignty, on the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump is promising to restore American greatness. The two are charged with opportunism by their opponents; of not believing in what they say. In the eyes of their supporters, however, the message is clear: It’s the real people against the elites. Well, that’s how Michael Wolff sums up the situation for USA Today in What the Brexiters and Donald Trump have in common:

“Both views, in addition to emphasizing national pride, also target as the enemy the superstructure of remote, seemingly soulless, modern governmental management. In the case of the Brexit campaign, the enemy is Brussels and the cold-blooded, unaccountable, ever-expanding, ‘bureaucratic leviathan’… In the case of the Trump campaign, the enemy is a political establishment of complex policy abstractions and self-interested bias that is not only embodied by Hillary Clinton but that has also hopelessly tainted most figures in the Republican party.”

Donald Trump is a political lone wolf, says Wolff, and “his hyperbolic and pugnacious retro views” may, in fact, “reinforce the technocrat’s uneasy hold on the uneasy status quo.” Boris Johnson, in contrast, is “a smart, popular, charismatic, as well as opportunistic, politician with wide support in his party.” If one ends up in the White House and the other in 10 Downing Street, there might be a meeting of minds on some matters, but the conceptual gap between the world’s sole superpower and a Britain that has turned its back on “global anomie” would be huge. Unbridgeable, perhaps.

Still, says Wolff, “there is a conservative message here of return, of cultural revanchism, of a search for national meaning, of a determined deviation from the modern norm, that has gone mainstream and that is not going away.” In the end, it all comes down to how people view their world. Does the future looks bright? Is life full of promise and do most people feel like they are doing well? Or does the future seem uncertain and prosperity and security more elusive? Voters in the United States in November and tomorrow in Great Britain must decide.

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#Brexit: Michel Houellebecq makes his move

Tuesday, 21 June, 2016 0 Comments

10 September, 2001: The publishers of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform, Groupe Flammarion, who had been charged with hate speech in France, publicly apologized for any offense its anti-Islamic themes might have caused. The book ends with an Islamist terror attack on a resort in Thailand. On the following day, an Islamist terror attack did take place, not in Asia, but in the USA. However, the 2002 Islamist atrocity in Bali was remarkably similar to the one described in Platform.

7 January 2015: Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission is published. It depicts a not-too-distant Europe losing the cultural civil wars and France drifting towards an Islamic takeover. As fate would have it, the publication date coincided with the Islamist massacre at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

23 June 2016: The day Britain votes on whether to leave the European Union, Michel Houellebecq’s exhibition of his own photography opens in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo. Houellebecq is cheering for Brexit: “I’d love it. I’d love it if the English gave the starting signal for the dismantling. I hope they won’t disappoint me. I’ve been against the [European] idea from the start. It’s not democratic, it’s not good,” he says in a Financial Times profile published at the weekend.

“I really like England, I really like the fact of it having been the only country, for quite a while, to have resisted Hitler. I’d really like it to leave, to signal the independence movement.” Michel Houellebecq

The first picture in his Rester vivant exhibition shows a angry reddish dusk seen from his apartment. A line from of his one of his poems: “Il est temps de faire vos jeux” (“It’s time to place your bets”) is superimposed onto the gory sky. Another image, France #014 (1994), shows the word “Europe” carved in concrete. With Houellebecq, the timing is always significant. Place your bets.

Irlande


#Brexit: Alan Posener plays the German card

Monday, 20 June, 2016 0 Comments

“Brexit would be irresponsible. The EU — and liberal Germans EU — need Britain in order to help contain a Germany that may have little to do with the ‘new Germany’ I saw celebrating falling borders not quite a decade ago.” So says the Anglo-German journalist Alan Posener, who writes about politics and society for Die Welt, which describes itself as “liberal cosmopolitan” but is generally labelled as conservative in the German media spectrum. In a new twist of the so-called Project Fear meme, Posener warns that “German nationalism can only be contained by a united Europe” in the Guardian today. To support his case, he cites Margaret Thatcher liberally:

“By its very nature, Germany is a destabilising, rather than a stabilising force in Europe,” Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, explaining why she had tried to get Mikhail Gorbachev to oppose German reunification. She also met with leading historians in order to understand the German “national character”. According to the memorandum of the meeting, this included “angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complexes and sentimentality”.

Note: Poesner is to be thanked for his translation of “abendländisch,” a word that’s tossed around a lot by the German talking class. It is, says Posener, “a term which is hard to translate, but basically means anti-Anglo-Saxon.”

Demanding that Britain save Germany from itself and that Britain save Europe from Germany is a big ask of the voters, but Posener seems convinced that unless they put a cross next to “Remain an member of the European Union” on Thursday, “Germany could become a danger to itself, Europe and the west.”

Germany_Britain


I Was Young When I Left Home

Sunday, 19 June, 2016 0 Comments

In 1961, Bob Dylan reworked the traditional song 900 Miles and turned it into the poignant I Was Young When I Left Home. He played it just once during a home recording session in Minneapolis at Christmas-time that year and it was finally given a general release in 2005 on No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol 7.

Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron in the epic space opera film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, made his film breakthrough in the Dylanesque Inside Llewyn Davis, and here he offers up a beautiful interpretation of I Was Young When I Left Home.

“I was young when I left home
An’ I been out ramblin’ ’round
An’ I never wrote a letter to my home
To my home, Lord, to my home
An’ I never wrote a letter to my home.”


Remembering those who built for us

Saturday, 18 June, 2016 0 Comments

On 18 June 1952, Michael Fitzgerald and Catherine O’Donnell were married in the village of Lisvernane, County Tipperary. The ceremony was followed by a meal at Riversdale House Hotel in the Glen of Aherlow. Transport for the bride and her family was via a Ford V8 driven by Jack Fraser, grocer/publican/undertaker, but cars were scarce in the Ireland of the early 1950s so some of the guests cycled. The wedding cake was prepared by the bride, baked by Mrs Ryan-Russell, who had a Stanley Range cooker, and the icing was added by the confectionery specialists of Kiely’s Bread Company in Tipperary town. The sun shone and the couple went on to spend 59 years together, during which time they earned love and respect from those who loved and respected them.

Mammy and Daddy

Scaffolding is one of the first poems Seamus Heaney wrote. It’s a metaphorical work about the construction of a marriage and the measures needed to keep it firm in the face of the shocks. Walls of “sure and solid stone” will be strong enough to stand on their own, says Heaney. “Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall / Confident that we have built our wall.”

Scaffolding

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)


Hodgson’s choices (contd.)

Friday, 17 June, 2016 0 Comments

Our post here last Sunday criticized Roy Hodgson for his use of substitutes in England’s opening Euro 2016 game with Russia. With a one-goal lead, the manager opted for strength instead of speed and his introduction of the flat-footed Jack Wilshere and James Milner led to a draw, when a win was there for England’s taking.

Yesterday against Wales, Hodgson chose differently. At half time and a goal behind, he opted for the fleet-footed Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge. Later, he brought on the gifted young Marcus Rashford. The result? A win for England thanks to goals from Vardy and Sturridge. The moral of the story? Who dares wins. Rashford was impressive in his competitive debut but starting with him against Slovakia on Monday might be too bold a move. Vardy and Sturridge should be on from the start, though, as they work well together and can magic goals out of thin air.

Slovakia lost their opening game to Wales and then went on to defeat Russia. They’ve got a good side and can be counted on for a surprise or two. At the end of May, they beat Germany 3-1 in a friendly game, and while Germany are no longer the gold standard of international football, they don’t lose too many matches, friendly or not. To win against Slovakia on Monday, Roy Hodgson will have to be daring. It’s his choice.


Facebook predicts the end of text. Fail

Friday, 17 June, 2016 0 Comments

After 2020, Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, head of Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London on Tuesday. Mendelsohn even suggested that the written word will be replaced by moving images and sound:

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

Does it? Facebook is said to be hosting eight billion views a day on its platform, but most of that is happening in silence. Millennial news site Mic, which is averaging 150 million monthly Facebook views, said 85 percent of its 30-second views are without sound, while PopSugar says its silent video views range between 50 and 80 percent. Note: Facebook counts a view at three seconds.

The result is that publishers are now creating videos that have the same look and feel and they increasingly feature text that does the talking, as it were. This Facebook video about a futuristic bike features visuals with a text explanation of the content. Prediction: Text will outlive Facebook and cat videos.


Bloomsday 16.6.16

Thursday, 16 June, 2016 0 Comments

On 16 June 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle walked out together through Dublin’s Ringsend district. The writer went on to immortalize the day in Ulysses and in Dublin today wandering Joyceans will roam the city, visiting many of the places where the book is set in an attempt to reconstruct the events of the novel through readings, performances, food, drink, costumes and general celebrations of the genius that is Joyce. Apart from a fistful of euros, nothing else is needed for Bloomsday.

With the Euro 2016 tournament taking place in France, the country where Joyce eventually settled, it’s worth having a peek at the role football played in Ulysses. The best place to start for this kind of research is Finnegans Web, which offers an HTML version of Ulysses. There’s a link to Concordance Text Search (Omnicordia V-1.5), which will look up words in Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero. And football? The word occurs three times in Ulysses:

“Cissy Caffrey whistled, imitating the boys in the football field to show”
“If you bungle, Handy Andy, I’ll kick your football for you.”
“(Halcyon Days, High School boys in blue and white football”

Joyce had what kid’s would call an awesome vocabulary. A cursory glance at Ulysses reveals: abscission, boustrophedon, comestible, excrescence, frangible, gavelkind, messuage, ormolu, pruritic, thaumaturgic, unguiculate and football. Happy Bloomsday!

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Marshall McLuhan: today’s media and today’s terror

Wednesday, 15 June, 2016 1 Comment

After Larossi Abballa had killed a French police officer and his partner near Paris on Monday evening, he posted a 12-minute video from the scene to Facebook Live. Speaking in a mix of French and Arabic, he smiled evilly as he urged his viewers to target the police, declared that the Euro 2016 football tournament would “be like a cemetery,” and pondered what to do about the dead couple’s three-year-old son.

“When people get close together they get more savagely impatient with each other,” said Marshall McLuhan in a television interview in 1977. Anticipating the arrival of Facebook Live, he accurately predicted the downsides of social media platforms: “Village people aren’t that much in love with each other, and the global village is a place of very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.”

With France in despair and the European Union in disarray, McLuhan foresaw the current rage, the hooliganism and the hatred of the elites: “All forms of violence are a quest for identity… Identity is always accompanied by violence… Ordinary people find the need for violence as they lose their identities, so it’s only the threat to people’s identity that makes them violent.”

McLuhan also anticipated that the likes of Larossi Abballa would use social media to broadcast their nihilism: “Terrorists, hijackers — these are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow, to get coverage, to get noticed.”

And in the same interview he predicted the current clash of civilizations: “The literate man can carry his liquor; the tribal man cannot. That’s why in the Moslem world and in the native world booze is impossible. However, literacy also makes us very accessible to ideas and propaganda. The literate man is the natural sucker for propaganda. You cannot propagandize a native. You can sell him rum and trinkets, but you cannot sell him ideas. Therefore, propaganda is our Achilles Heel, our weak point”

Note: Four hours after Larossi Abballa had made his statement on Facebook Live, French police stormed the house in Magnanville, and shot him dead. (The three-year-old boy was unharmed.)