<< OCT - 19
Nov - 19



This month...

Musing on Literature





Before Climate Change can be properly addressed....




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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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 following his arrest for 'subversion', when facing a firing squad he was reprieved at the last minute and sent to Siberia for 7- years - which he later described in gripping detail in 'Notes from The House of the Dead'.

I subsequently unearthed much more 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 Dostoyevsky... then Hesse... 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 - though the judgment 'pap', at least in this instance, would be entirely subjective and apt to change over the years. As for the non-fiction, however... that's definitely more cerebral and 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 when I was absorbing the work of those other great authors. I make up a little for that omission now. One impressive publication is 'Ninety-Nine Novels - the best in English since 1939' (1984) with its 99 perceptive and concise analyses, most of just one page.

Occasionally, these days - not too often - I check the local £-shop for remaindered books, which 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 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 his trip down the Mississippi on a small boat. The guy serving in the bookshop told me, as I paid him... together with payment for 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,... and 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 interesting. 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 early-60s period Burgess lived just up the road from here in 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 happened to be the day when Hastings was famously invaded by vast numbers of 'mods' with their highly-polished, 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 excesses. 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'... maybe I'll sometime get around to Part-1 of his autobiography: 'Little Wilson - Big God', (1987) which Gore Vidal advised him should have been 'Big Wilson - Little God '.

It's a great hobby though, researching eccentric or 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 fork-out, and invariably producing good gripping copy that was, crucially, on time - a publisher's dream.

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From Paris Review

Anthony Burgess
Interviewed by John Cullinan


Much of the interview was conducted through an exchange of letters from June 1971 until the summer of 1972. On December 2, 1972, a portion of the interview was taped at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies of the University of Wisconsin. Burgess’s schedule during his two-day visit had been backbreaking; there was scarcely a break in the round of class visits, Joyce readings, and interviews. Tired as he appeared after that routine, Burgess showed no tendency to curb the flow of his responses; and his spoken portions, when spliced with the previous exchanges, seem as polished as a written draft.

Are you at all bothered by the charges that you are too prolific or that your novels are too allusive?

It has been a sin to be prolific only since the Bloomsbury group—particularly Forster—made it a point of good manners to produce, as it were, costively. I’ve been annoyed less by sneers at my alleged overproduction than by the imputation that to write much means to write badly. I’ve always written with great care and even some slowness. I’ve just put in rather more hours a day at the task than some writers seem able to. As for allusiveness—meaning, I suppose, literary allusiveness—that’s surely in the tradition. Any book has behind it all the other books that have been written. The author’s aware of them; the reader ought to be aware, too.

At what time of day do you usually work?

I don’t think it matters much; I work in the morning, but I think the afternoon is a good time to work. Most people sleep in the afternoon. I’ve always found it a good time, especially if one doesn’t have much lunch. It’s a quiet time. It’s a time when one’s body is not at its sharpest, not at its most receptive—the body is quiescent, somnolent; but the brain can be quite sharp. I think, also, at the same time that the unconscious mind has a habit of asserting itself in the afternoon. The morning is the conscious time, but the afternoon is a time in which we should deal much more with the hinterland of the consciousness.

That’s very interesting. Thomas Mann, on the other hand, wrote religiously virtually every day from nine to one, as though he were punching a time clock.

Yes. One can work from nine to one, I think it’s ideal; but I find that the afternoon must be used. The afternoon has always been a good time for me. I think it began in Malaya when I was writing. I was working all morning. Most of us slept in the afternoon; it was very quiet. Even the servants were sleeping, even the dogs were asleep. One could work quietly away under the sun until dusk fell, and one was ready for the events of the evening. I do most of my work in the afternoon.

Do you imagine an ideal reader for your books?

The ideal reader of my novels is a lapsed Catholic and failed musician, short-sighted, color-blind, auditorily biased, who has read the books that I have read. He should also be about my age.

A very special reader indeed. Are you writing, then, for a limited, highly educated audience?

Where would Shakespeare have got if he had thought only of a specialized audience? What he did was to attempt to appeal on all levels, with something for the most rarefied intellectuals (who had read Montaigne) and very much more for those who could appreciate only sex and blood. I like to devise a plot that can have a moderately wide appeal. But take Eliot’s The Waste Land, very erudite, which, probably through its more popular elements and its basic rhetorical appeal, appealed to those who did not at first understand it but made themselves understand it. The poem, a terminus of Eliot’s polymathic travels, became a starting point for other people’s erudition. I think every author wants to make his audience. But it’s in his own image, and his primary audience is a mirror.

Do you care about what the critics think?

I get angry at the stupidity of critics who willfully refuse to see what my books are really about. I’m aware of malevolence, especially in England. A bad review by a man I admire hurts terribly.

Would you ever change the drift of a book—or any literary project—because of a critic’s comments?

I don’t think—with the exception of the excision of that whole final chapter of A Clockwork Orange—I’ve ever been asked to make any changes in what I’ve written. I do feel that the author has to know best about what he’s writing—from the viewpoint of structure, intention, and so on. The critic has the job of explaining deep-level elements which the author couldn’t know about. As for saying where—technically, in matters of taste and so on—a writer is going wrong, the critic rarely says what the author doesn’t know already.

You’ve mentioned the possibility of working with Stanley Kubrick on a film version of Napoleon’s life. Can you remain completely independent in devising the novel you’re currently writing about Napoleon?

The Napoleon project, which began with Kubrick, has now got beyond Kubrick. I found myself interested in the subject in a way that didn’t suggest a film adaptation and am now working on something Kubrick couldn’t use. It’s a pity about the money and so on, but otherwise I’m glad to feel free, nobody looking over my shoulder.

Has working as a professional reviewer either helped or hindered the writing of your novels?

It did no harm. It didn’t stop me writing novels. It gave facility. It forced me into areas that I wouldn’t have voluntarily entered. It paid the bills, which novels rarely do.

Did it bring you involuntarily to any new subjects or books that have become important to you?

It’s good for a writer to review books he is not supposed to know anything about or be interested in. Doing reviewing for magazines like Country Life (which smells more of horses than of calfskin bindings) means doing a fine heterogeneous batch, which often does open up areas of some value in one’s creative work. For instance, I had to review books on stable management, embroidery, car engines—very useful solid stuff, the very stuff of novels. Reviewing Lévi-Strauss’s little lecture on anthropology (which nobody else wanted to review) was the beginning of the process which led me to write the novel MF.