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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


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!

160616joyce


Gates and Gatz

Tuesday, 31 May, 2016 1 Comment

Don’t want to let the month of May end without mentioning the Top 10 Books chosen by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, billionaire, philanthropist and avid reader. Aaron Hicklin, proprietor of the bookshop and website One Grand Books, has been asking people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stuck on a desert island and Gates responded with a mix that ranges from sci-fi to business to biology. Included is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The novel that I reread the most. Melinda and I love one line so much that we had it painted on a wall in our house: ‘His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.'”

Think about that sentence for a moment:

“His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

How many good people and how many awful people have shared the same dream of success only to see it slip from their reach? Some accepted defeat with grace; others were driven mad by failure. Jimmy Gatz failed vulnerably, unflinchingly, memorably.


Seven questions with Parag Khanna

Friday, 13 May, 2016 1 Comment

After five days of posting about CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, it’s time to talk to the author, Parag Khanna, about his book. Here goes!

1. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What inspired you to write Connectography?

Parag Khanna: My love of geography and travel, and my obsession with geopolitics going back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and my introductory class in Geopolitics taken 20 years ago at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. All of the many ideas that had not yet found expression in The Second World and How to Run the World needed to be contained and also wrapped in a meta-theory that also encompassed these previous books. I also wanted to update these with new insights as these countries evolve, and include more recent travels.

2. Eamonn Fitzgerald: For writers, geography remains a very popular science for interpreting our world. Four years ago, Robert Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate described how countries’ histories have been shaped by their relationships with water and with land. Last year, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography explained how a nation’s geography affects its internal fortunes and international strategies. Is that kind of terrain-based approach outdated? Are you saying in Connectography that geography is no longer destiny?

Parag Khanna: Not at all. Robert Kaplan is a dear friend and mentor and inspiration for me. Connectivity doesn’t invalidate geography but builds on it. Connectivity is how we make the most of our geography. Some places turn their geography into an advantage — for example Singapore and Dubai — while others don’t. China is surrounded by 14 countries but now it is using connectivity across terrain to extend its geopolitical influence in non-military ways. Connectivity is now a deep part of our relationship with geography, and that is what this book explores.

3. Eamonn Fitzgerald: One of the hottest new words coined during the last decade was “crowdsourcing,” which means getting people to contribute to a project via a website where they can make contributions. Why should “connectography” be part of our vocabulary a decade from now?

Parag Khanna: Connectography should be part of our vocabulary because geography alone assumes that geography is an unchangeable force. However, we now use topographical engineering to modify our geography, and that tells us a great deal about the fate of human civilization than geography alone.

Parag Khanna

4. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Responding to a journalist who asked what is most likely to blow a government off course, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reputedly said, “Events, dear boy, events.” Did you encounter any unexpected events when writing Connectography that forced you to rethink a chapter or change a section?

Parag Khanna: Great question. In fact, I only found events that reinforce my conclusions. During the time of writing, Russia invaded Ukraine, but the gas pipelines are the really important long-term contest, and it is building a bridge to Crimea. In other words: Infrastructure is a key tool and battlefield. China began dredging sand to build up South China Sea islands — yet more topographical engineering. Every day I see more examples of the thesis coming to life.

5. Eamonn Fitzgerald: What’s the most surprising response (positive or negative) you’ve had so far about the book?

Parag Khanna: I’m so pleased with people’s appreciation of the maps. It has been a global outpouring of excitement and admiration for the maps made by two truly amazing teams of digital cartographers whom I worked with at Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m so gratified that their intense work has received such widespread recognition.

6. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Can you sum up the three key points you’d like the reader to take away from reading Connectography?

Parag Khanna: Rather then enumerate takeaways, I simply want readers to gain an appreciation for the categories of connectivity (transportation, energy and communications) that we have ourselves built and have such a profound impact on our lives. This premise plays out in so many ways in the book (economics, climate change, geopolitics, urbanization) that I hope readers will learn about many issues they are not personally familiar with.

7. Eamonn Fitzgerald: Connectography has been published and you’re busy right now promoting it, but what’s next for Parag Khanna?

Parag Khanna: That’s a great question. This was a trilogy, and I don’t know the word for a series of 4, so I will not write another one. I intend for this to have a long shelf life, so we shall see!

Our thanks to Parag Khanna for taking the time to answer these questions. CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization is a useful guide to globalization and its impact on trade, communication and culture. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” says Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future, but where we’re going, we do need maps and Parag Khanna is pointing us in the right direction.


Drezner vs. Khanna: KO

Thursday, 12 May, 2016 0 Comments

 CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization “Parag Khanna may well be the most connected man alive,” writes Daniel Drezner in his New York Times review of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. That flattering description of the author is followed immediately by this sentence: “‘Connectography’ represents Khanna’s latest effort to arbitrage his personal networking skills into a theory of geopolitics.” With this kind of praise, we are in Alexander Pope territory, where a compliment is so subtle that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even entails condemnation. The tactic of damning with faint praise was articulated in Roman times by Favorinus, but the expression comes from Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot (1733): “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.”

Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, does not rely on indirect criticism, however, of Khanna’s new book. His critique is of the candid kind and some of his observations are scathing. Example:

What is particularly odd is that Khanna believes he is evincing a savvy worldview and yet offers a utopian vision of connectivity’s effect on people. He insists that the forces of connection will overwhelm the forces of division. In the book’s most blasé sentence, Khanna argues that “the virtues of tolerance and coexistence will come to the Middle East through a combination of ‘to each his own’ cartographic remapping and supply chain interdependence.” I would gently suggest that there will be a very long and very violent stretch between the current Middle East and Khanna’s placid vision — and that it’s the bumpy part that is salient right now.

Then, right at the end, Drezner closes in and lands a devastating KO: “I wish that Khanna were right about the power of connectivity. The world would be a better place. I fear, however, that he does not know what he is talking about.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll have a seven-question interview with Parag Khanna.


Mappa Mundi

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016 0 Comments

Welcome to our third day of reading Parag Khanna’s new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Maps featured in the first post here on Monday and they’re central to today’s post as well. In the introduction to his book, Khanna follows the Prologue with A Note About Maps in which he writes: “Mapping the complex dynamics among the three greatest forces shaping our planet — man, nature, and technology — will require a whole new kind of geographic literacy.” Technologies such as Maptitude, StatPlanet, Project Tango and GeoFusion are some of the new tools of the new cartographic trade when it comes to adding economic and cultural data to maps, and that’s just the start, says Khanna:

“With the rise of the global sensor network dubbed the ‘Internet of Everything’ (Internet of Things + Internet of People), our maps will perpetually update themselves, providing an animated view into our world, as it really is — even the five thousand commercial aircraft in the sky and the more than ten thousand ships crossing the seas at any given moment. These are the arteries and veins, capillaries and cells, of a planetary economy underpinned by an infrastructural network that can eventually become as efficient as the human body.”

Those aircraft and ships are bound for port in what Parag Khanna calls “mankind’s most profound infrastructure” of the 21st century: the city. By 2050, there will be at least 40 cities with a population of more than 10 million people — the megacities.


Emporium Dubai

Tuesday, 10 May, 2016 0 Comments

It’s the second day here of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna, and we’re reading Part Four, “From Nations to Nodes,” which kicks off with “If You Build It, They Will Come.” The chapter is mainly about Dubai, a city Khanna calls “Home to the World,” and, coincidentally, it’s one of the few sections of the book that contains a reference to language: “Money has long replaced Arabic as the official language of Dubai. Its daily lingua franca has become English and among South Asians Hindi and Urdu, but the glue that binds everyone together is the desire for stability, prosperity and connectedness.”

Driven by this yearning for stability, prosperity, connectedness and the convenience of a lingua franca, 250,000 Chinese now reside in Dubai, as do 30,000 Somalis and 40,000 Kenyans. Ashish Thakkar, a Ugandan of Indian descent, “got his start shuttling back and forth to Dubai’s bazaars to purchase secondhand computer parts,” writes Khanna, but he also quotes Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who speaks of the “agony of being a minority in my own country.” The “most noted intellectual dissident” of the emirates used the “extinction” word in a conversation with the author, which gives Khanna occasion to ponder the price of transforming Dubai into a home to the world: “It is as if the Filipina or European boutique owner greeting a fellow foreigner with the Arabic ‘As-salamu alaykum’ is doing so out of respect to a local population that no longer exists.”

More connectography here tomorrow, and, a special treat, we’ll have a seven-question interview here on Friday with Parag Khanna.

Dubai


Culture was about chaps, geography was about maps

Monday, 9 May, 2016 1 Comment

We’ve moved on quite a bit since the maxim “culture is about chaps, and geography is about maps” used be trotted out at the club when the cigars and the brandy were being passed around. Ours is a networked world and neologisms are needed to define and explain it. Parag Khanna has come up with “connectography” to explain what’s going on and his new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, is our reading for the remainder of the week here. In essence, Khanna’s thesis is that cities will matter more than states and supply chains will be a more significant source of power than soldiers. Updated for the 21st century, the new maxim states that culture is about connectivity, geography is about grids and the map is no longer the territory.

To help us will recognize the forces that will define our world, we need to understand the links between the old and the new Silk Roads, says Parag Khanna.

More connectography tomorrow.


Putin, perfidy and pastry

Saturday, 23 April, 2016 2 Comments

There are many compelling reasons to read Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. Perfidy is one. The villainy of Russia under Putin is well documented by non-Russian media, but it acquires a new pungency in a fiction that mirrors fact. Snippet:

“What fuelled the Kremlin kleptocracy, what motivated it, was not to bring back the Soviet Union, nor to reinstall the worldwide dread generated by the Red Army, nor to formulate a foreign policy based on national security requirements. In Russia today, everything happened to maintain the nadzirateli, the overseers, to protect their power, to continue looting the country’s patrimony.”

The characters in Palace of Treason ping-pong around the world — from Paris to Moscow to Athens to Vienna to Washington — as they attempt to steal secrets and outdo each other in a deadly game of influence zones, encompassing Europe and the Middle East. All of this activity demands feeding and Jason Matthews has come up with a novel touch: each chapter ends with a short recipe for one of the delicacies consumed by the protagonists. When an Iranian nuclear scientist is caught in a honey trip, he’s served shirini keshmeshi: Persian pastries dotted with raisins. “Jamshedi goggled at the cakes. Here he was, sitting with a blackmailing Russian intelligence officer, spilling his country’s secrets, and this prostitute was serving him the confection of this childhood.”

Palace of Treason recipe for shirini keshmeshi: “Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, melted butter, vegetable oil and eggs. Add saffron diluted in warm water, small raisins, and vanilla extract. Blend well. Put dollops of dough on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and bake in a medium oven until golden brown.”

Palace of Treason


The Deceiver by Forsyth

Saturday, 5 March, 2016 0 Comments

Browsing this evening in a rather topsy-turvy second-hand bookshop run by an ex-banker and came across a thriller stamped “First English Edition.” Unusual, that. Especially unusual as the author is the great Frederick Forsyth. His “first editions” tend to be in English.

Anyway, The Deceiver is a page turner of the best kind and is full of ripping-yarn stuff. Rich dialogue, too. “Sam, I know you’ve been in more tight places than a shepherd’s right arm.”


World Book Day reading: The Yid

Thursday, 3 March, 2016 0 Comments

Today is World Book Day and our recommendation for this special occasion is The Yid by Paul Goldberg, a Russian émigré to New York in 1973. His debut novel opens in Moscow in February 1953, when three goons in a Black Maria leave the “castle-like gates” of the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square to arrest Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, a Red Army veteran and actor at the Jewish Theatre. But Levinson performs a grandiose stage trick and escapes. So begins this absurd, deadly droll escapade in which the “Yid” and his associates attempt to assassinate Stalin before he can see through his “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Snippet:

A Black Maria is a distinctive piece of urban transport, chernyy voron, a vehicle that collects its passengers for reasons not necessarily political. The Russian people gave this ominous carriage a diminutive name: voronok, a little raven, a fledgling.

At night, Moscow is the czardom of black cats and Black Marias. The former dart between snowbanks in search of mice and companionship. The latter emerge from the improbably tall, castle-like gates of Lubyanka, to return laden with enemies of the people.

The arrest of Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, an actor from the defunct State Jewish Theater, is routine. An old, likely decrepit Yid, Levinson lives alone in a communal flat at 1/4 Chkalov Street. Apartment 40. No hand-wringing wife. No hysterical children. No farewells. No one to hand the old man a toothbrush through the bars of a departing Black Maria.

In the parlance of state security, arrests are “operations.” This operation is easier than most: collect some incriminating rubbish, put a seal on the door, help the old man into the truck, and a little before dawn, the Black Maria drives back through Lubyanka’s armored gates.

This is wonderful stuff and it shows just how powerful the book is as a format for entertainment and enlightenment. On World Book Day, then, let us remember what John Milton wrote in Areopagitica in 1644:

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

The Yid