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Time for a little much-needed levity on these pages. Last week I dug out my mix tapes from twenty years ago. Some of you might remember these things – you bought the singles (or the albums), or borrowed them from friends and then recorded them onto cassette tapes so you could play them on a walkman or anywhere else on a ghetto blaster.
In December 1962, Kingsley Amis and his then wife, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, were separately approached by The Observer newspaper and asked to name their favourite novel of the last ten years.
Their response raised a few eyebrows in London’s literary community, since both chose a moderately successful paperback, now long forgotten, by the novelist Elizabeth Taylor which was called Angel. Dealing with an unremarkable Buckinghamshire stock-broker’s wife who imagines how different her existence might have been had she made other choices, the Amises chose the novel because, as Amis remarked to Karl Miller in a letter, “it is written in a style that perfectly matches its subject”.
ONE readers used to reading the unvarnished truth on this site will hardly welcome my first comment this week – namely, that the worst of this financial crisis is yet to come, probably in the autumn of this year or early next year at the latest. However, I’ll also argue today that there are signs of hope – not of a return to what we called “normality” over the last twenty years, but of a return to sanity and morality.
Towards the end of his life, Karl Marx admitted that he had underestimated the capacity of capitalism to adapt to changing social and economic circumstances. In making this admission, Marx was acknowledging the truth that the capacity to analyse and recognise features of a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that one produces the best solution to that problem.
How can today’s young artists, writers and intellectuals recapture the ideals of those caught up in les evenements of May 1968 in Paris? Is it still possible to feel that sense of adventure, creativity and youth in a world where we struggle just to find enough money to feed ourselves, a world whose defining characteristics are insecurity and uncertainty?
Daphne Kauffmann’s first novel, Nos mots croises (“Our Crossed Words”, Editions Intervales, Paris, 2009) attempts to answer these questions. Kauffmann interleaves her experience as a young writer and musician struggling to make a career with the recollections of Michel Besmond, a soixante-huitard who continued the adventure into the seventies, travelling to Mexico and beyond.
The Rolling Stones’ last live album was the usual re-hash of hits everyone has heard everywhere over the last forty years – hardly even worth stealing. But one track makes it worth buying the double-CD deluxe version – their cover of Muddy Waters’ fifties classic, “Champagne and Reefer.” (check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=724c8pQ9bRo)
This post has been edited following abusive and damaging comments made by a reader. The author considered removing this post but was dissuaded by other writers and ONE Magazine editor Martin Belk, who collectively support his right to speak freely and without fear of intimidation.
These days, the talk from academic critics is of there being “no young poets from Scotland”, and that – even where younger artists are writing- these writers are not taking risks. In other words, the youngsters are no good but even where they’re good, they’re dull.
A Matter of Art
Can art matter in the age of the internet now that noone pays for anything anymore?
By way of a springtime gift, I can’t offer readers of ONE anything better than to direct them to this piece by Philip Blond, a Director of Demos, the London-based research institute:
In it, Blond describes with laser accuracy the nature of the current crisis – and what needs to happen to get us out of the crisis. Among many sound points in his analysis, one point struck a deep chord with me – namely, that the UK is crippled by the fact that too many of the people and too much of the talent lives (mostly of necessity) in the South-East of England.
As the media we’ve been used to collapses around us and politicians are proving to be more corrupt than at any time since the English Civil War, it’s worth looking backwards to get a taste for how things might be in the future.
Three hundred years ago, before the advent of learned journals and newspapers, Europe’s intellectuals conversed with each other by letter. These letters were written in Latin and took dangerous, twisting paths from the author to the recipient. If they survived the highwaymen and the perils of the voyage, the letters were ready avidly by those who received them, and most usually by an extended circle of admirers as well.
The recent entry by my ONE colleague Stephen Thompson on science and mysticism came at a time when, coincidentally, I’d just delivered a talk at the University of Wales on how scientists should communicate with the public.
However much one might disagree with Jonah Goldberg, the New Review columnist, there can be no doubting the importance of his #1 US best-seller, “Liberal Fascism”, recently published in Britain and every bit as relevant to this country as it is to Goldberg’s native United States.
These days, it’s a commonplace to say that idealism in politics has been replaced by gross materialism. And it’s even more common – in Britain at least — to lay the blame for that gross materialism at the feet of the Conservative party and Margaret Thatcher’s government.
But whatever one might think about Thatcher and her politics, at least the Conservatives of the 1980’s had (initially) the great merit of honesty. They didn’t pretend to foster a new society: indeed, Thatcher famously remarked that, “there is no such thing as society.”
Nick Davies, a former investigative reporter with The Guardian, has just published “Flat Earth News” (Vintage, www.flatearthnews.net), probably the most important book about hackery for decades.
Main Street in Park City is crammed with people for the first time during the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. People are running down to giant screens at the bottom of the street where Aretha Franklin is singing “I vow to thee my country”: the image of a black woman born in a brothel, beaten and raped as a teenager, singing in front of two million people in the National Mall and millions more around the world says it all – the chance for America to once more become what it first claimed it was more than two hundred years ago.
Does prize culture in the arts spells disaster? In an era where “Everyone’s a Winner”, the bar continues a downward decent, and children are given “diplomas” for completing nursery — James W. Wood argues that creators, artists and audiences should have only one interest: pleasure.