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This month...

Musing on Literature

ANTHONY BURGESS

 
             
     

 

BUT FIRST:

Before Climate Change can be properly addressed....

 

     
     

28.10.19

This morning it was announced that HSBC bank had suffered a drop in profits and that in the last quarter they made "only £3.8bn".

The following 17-min TED-talk youtube was uploaded just 10-days ago:

'The Dirty Secret of Capitalism - and a new way forward'

Here's an early comment, which begins with a quote from the video:

"All we have to do is choose to have it (a new economics)?" That would work in an uncorrupted democracy, but we don't have that. We have a corrupt oligarchy, and the billionaires and large corporations that control it are never going to allow the ideas he is championing to come into being.

The fact is: there is no secret. What 'billionaire' Nick Hanauer reveals has been known since before time immemorial... or since capitalism first appeared - it must have been obvious to anyone, except dunces - likewise the truth of that comment. I guess I was about 12-years old when I first encountered capitalism and immediately noticed the key flaw: ie, Nick Hanauer's 'secret'.

Recent turmoil in various parts of the world such as in Chile and Lebanon are consequent of this flaw: 'austerity' pushed to its limits... so that BIG corp outfits like HSBC can wring ever more from their impoverished clients - even £3.8bn isn't enough. Venezuela has suffered from this more than most, pushed to the verge of civil war by western capitalist (Fascist) provocateurs - Argentina seems to have narrowly avoided a similar fate...

From long experience, the UK ruling elite has been amazingly successful and maintains a resilient establishment with a robust civil service, military and tradition of obedience, compliance etc. In the UK, after a demonstration (regardless of the issue), everyone usually returns to normal the next day or soon after... and life continues as before. I guess that's what they call the exclusively-English 'stiff-upper-lip'. To me it resembles a kind-of resigned surrender, capitulation from loss of hope, despair even - a masochistic caving-in.

The only chance for the UK right now is a decisive win for Corbyn in the next general election. The attacks on him are relentless... which I suppose means he stands a good chance, otherwise why would anyone bother? Every day BIG corp media, including the BBC, post or present derisive comments, usually discrediting quotes from annonymous right-wing outfits or selected interviewees. Occasionally they attack a policy but usually they go for the personal. Every time a Tory is interviewed about anything they take a stab at Corbyn... the aim of the constant attacks is to programme doubters' minds with a general sense of Corbyn being "unfit to be a PM.". Jews... or more correctly 'Israel supporting' Jews... are more than anyone out to destroy him.

But Nick Hanauer is certainly right - as anyone with more than half-a-brain will already know well - so why, if he's true to his preaching, doesn't he speak up for the Corbyns and Bernie Sanderses...? I'll tell you why: because he's a smug billionaire telling everyone: "Don't blame us, blame the system." in the hope of diverting the growing international venom against him and his billionaire associates.

Hanauer might as well have added, "Besides, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it so you may as well accept the staus quo and the approaching apocalypse it's leading to for your grand-kids."

His efforts will doubtless succeed for the moment, as decline into chaos builds across the world....

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ANTHONY BURGESS

   
     

 

Intro:

For light relief from aspects of the intensifying war between BIG corp and us millions they exploit (whether or not relating to brexit), I thought this month I'd indulge primarily in describing a more uplifting pastime I've been following for several decades.

This is an activity that began back in my early teens when I stumbled on Asimov's robot stories - and wondered about the amazing guy who wrote them. Years later, after discovering 'A Strange Man's Dream' and 'Poor Folk' - among other remarkable stories from Dostoyevsky - I learned of the bizarre events when he was arrested for subversion, then facing a firing squad was reprieved at the last minute and sent to Siberia for 7- years - which he later described in gripping detail in 'House of the Dead'.

Subsequently, I unearthed much more detail from a range of sources about these and other characters - mostly writers (though other artists too) whose work or some aspect of their life or lifestyle caught my interest. Some of these are in the 'Great Minds' dropdown on the Home page. There are many more (see BIML), and I occasionally encounter new ones - ever on the look-out...

The most recent, Anthony Burgess, I remember from way back in the 70s. Always drawn in by what he had to say about any issue - in the rare TV appearance, radio discussion or interview - I'm mystified now at why I never dipped into his work... maybe I did - in a bookshop or library - and have forgotten. His fiction isn't quite the kind I'd have chosen in those days. Back then my fictional interests resided solely in sci-fi... until I discovered Hesse... then Dostoyevsky... Kafka... Camus... Kerouac... etc. (again, see BIML); but even regarding those, it seems to me now, the subjects of Burgess's fiction would have struck me as... not abstruse exactly... but what I suppose I'd call 'compelling trivia', like popular TV, which after a few minutes (or even hours if you're not careful) you wake-up from and wonder why the hell you're reading or watching such pap. As for the non-fiction... it's much more cerebral and a bit like hearing him speak; so you get a sense of the familiar eloquence, culture, edification... uplift even.

So I regret failing to examine Burgess's non-fiction in the 1980s, at least, when I was absorbing the work of those other genius authors I mention. I make up a little for that omission now and include the fiction. One impressive little non-fiction publication is 'Ninety-Nine Novels - the best in English since 1939' (1984) with its 99 highly perceptive and concise analyses, most of just one page.

Occasionally, these days - not too often - I check the local £-shop for remaindered books, which luckily, unlike many items, retain the original £1 price-tag. A month or so ago I found there Jonathan Raban's 600-page 'Driving Home' (2010): essays and reviews first published between 1993 and 2009. I recalled how - back in the 80s when I worked near Shepherds Bush and could afford to buy new books (and before I went travelling around the US) I'd picked-up his 'Old Glory' in the local bookshop, dipped-in (as usual), found it gripping on each dip so bought it. Raban is a skilled travel writer and that book describes a trip he took down the Mississippi on a small boat. The guy serving told me as I paid - together with another equally thick volume - that he wouldn't recommend either of them, adding, while waving his hand at a big display, "what about Carl Sagan's 'Contact' ?" ('Contact' is an impressive sci-fi that I read a year or so later).

Stubbornly, I declined his advice at the time - and was glad I did, for the other book was Steinbeck's 'East of Eden', which I too wouldn't recommend, but still it's a great book and of all his work was Steinbeck's own favourite. (His 'Grapes of Wrath', on the other hand, is a masterpiece, while 'The Wayward Bus' and 'The Moon is Down' are fine works,... they stand out as what I'd recommend from several others of his I read back in the '80s).

Among the reviews in 'Driving Home', though, was a reference that led me to another tome on my non-fiction shelf: Martin Amis's outstanding 500-page 'The War Against Cliché ' - also reviews, but which unlike Raban's book, has a superb index. And then I spotted a section where Amis examines several of Burgess's books.

Youtube, I should add, has many clips of Burgess from as far back as the early 60s, soon after 'A Clockwork Orange' was published. Not all are complimentary; he was a controversial figure, which to me makes him all the more worth investigating. Here's a fine interview, though, from ~27-years later:

Face to Face (28th March 1989)

What struck me especially - perhaps partly because of where I live - was that during this key period in his life Burgess lived just up the road from here at Etchingham; what's more, his seminal novel was inspired from the summer of 1960 when he and his wife Lynne took a day trip to Hastings. It just happened to be when the town was famously invaded by vast numbers of highly groomed 'mods' with their multiple-mirrored motor-scooters, and similarly vast numbers of motor-biking 'rockers' in studded leather jackets. The Burgesses witnessed some violent clashes that day - and as ever, like with just about every event in his life, Burgess began to cook-up a new novel. Realising that contemporary slang would be too short lived for a novel where slang was essential if the dialogue was to 'sound' authentic, and failing to work-out some alternative, he briefly shelved it.

A year or so later, however, during a short holiday by boat to St Petersburg (then Leningrad), he was struck by the sound of certain Russian words, and decided these, with modification, could form the basis of the 'slang' required for 'A Clockwork Orange'.

Somehow - I guess I'll find out how as I look deeper into the details - the novel fell into Stanley Kubrick's hands and the rest is history, as they say.... But Kubrick's film only used the first section of Burgess's book... the violence and youthful wild anarchy. The rest of the novel shows the protagonist as he mellows and comes-good. So although the film made Burgess rich and famous he hated it - it was incomplete, and showed its author as if glorifying violence. Several years later Burgess wrote a sequel 'The Clockwork Testament' as if, it seems to me, a rebuke to Kubrick, a kind-of 'letter' in the form of a novel.

In his 'You've Had Your Time - being the second part of the confessions of...' (1990 - three years before he died), Burgess describes events around a conference he attended in New York in early 1966 where:

'...a delightful dynamic girl, fizzing with the champagne of the February Manhattan air, who took a fancy to the author of 'A Clockwork Orange', the only work of mine that had made any impression on the fractional percentage of Americans who read books. She, like many others, and not only in the United States, had expected its author to be acneous, brutal, coarse, in strange garb, burbling nadsat [the unique slang] or slavering over Ludwig van, swinging a bicycle chain. She was delighted to find a soft-spoken man growing grey and old.'

So I continue dipping into Burgess's work - there's far too much to do more than dip here and there... while reading leisurely his excellent 'You've Had Your Time'.

It's a great hobby though, researching eccentric or in some way controversial writers and other characters... until I get bored or have read or learned enough to feel that I understand something of how their minds worked, their motivations, the significance of their achievements, etc. If I unearth enough on Burgess, as with Hesse, Dostoyevsky, Kafka.... etc., whose work was unique (and significantly less extensive than Burgess), then I'll add him to the 'Great Minds' list. Burgess was, though, impossibly (for me) prolific. He covered an enormous range, gaining a reputation that was perhaps unique: always ready to write anything on any issue for anyone who cared to pay, and invariably producing good gripping copy that was, crucially, on time - a publisher's dream.

More to follow....