Art-icles of war

Photo: Ivan Radic. Wikimedia Commons
Artivism – The Battle for Museums in the Era of Postmodernism
Alexander Adams, Societas – Imprint Academic, pp 215, £14.95
GUY WALKER welcomes a spirited sortie onto the cultural battlefield

One function of placing fine paintings in ornate gold frames or sculptures on marble plinths is to demonstrate the special status accorded to fine art in human affairs. These objects earn this status by virtue of their ability to furnish us with some of the most sophisticated pleasures in the hierarchy of human pleasure. The treatment of the pulling down of statues from their plinths to serve baser ends (rather than for reasons of historical guilt) is, therefore, a cultural matter. As a result, it is in no way demeaning to say that the latest book by artist and art critic, Alexander Adams, fires an impressive salvo in what have become known as ‘Culture Wars’.

‘Artivism’ is the pressing of art and resources for art into the grubbier service of political protest and campaigning. It is also the displacement of fine art by what is no more than political activism. This is antithetical to the uplifting precepts of Emmanuel Kant, whose ‘Categorical Imperative’ made human beings ends in themselves in his ‘Kingdom of Ends’, never to be used as mere means to ends. The ability to produce representative art is a pleasure-giving end of this kind, one which appeals to deep human needs rather than shallow political outlooks. The greatest artists of the past understood this intuitively, and underwent long technical apprenticeships in order to fulfil this role properly.

Adams’ survey of the phenomenon and origins of artivism is comprehensive in its breadth. Although the book begins with the Athenian Parthenon and references Leonardo and Michelangelo, he finds the real philosophical origins of it in the rational Enlightenment begun by Bacon and Descartes. Their mathematical and “scientific method….encouraged the collection of data”. This led directly to Jeremy Bentham’s anti-Kantian, utilitarian approach which emphasised the best mathematically calculated ‘outcomes’ for the largest number above all things; there are echoes here of the impersonal big data approach and equality by outcome or ‘equity’ that plague modernity. Adams underscores an essentially conservative allegiance later, in his conclusion, by writing “….every institution established ( or substantially reshaped) according to Enlightenment liberalism has fallen to progressive subversion.”

Rather than Kant, Adams uses other big guns to underpin his art-for-art’s sake, pro-formalism, pro-connoisseurship, pro-objectivity and pro-canon thesis – first, Benedetto Croce,
“[Art] has its own object, the Beautiful, that stands independently on equal terms with the other three (Logic, Economics and Morality). […] true poetry must have no utilitarian, moral, or philosophical agenda.”

Equally weighty support comes from George Orwell:
“…many writers about 1939 were discovering that you cannot really sacrifice your intellectual integrity for the sake of a political creed – or at least you cannot do so and remain a writer.”

Goya’s images of war might be “if not a cry for passivism, a call for pity and restraint”, but they only survived to be in the canon (if one remains) in the twenty-first century by placing artistic execution above political executions that could have been recorded by a plethora of lesser artists.

The author studies the aetiology of the disease of ‘cultural entryism’ that demotes fine art and promotes activism, that has colonised our public museums. This occurred in stages. First was the movement, demanded by Enlightenment universalist and utilitarian principles, from private, monastery or university-owned art collections to public libraries, galleries and museums: “The modern state encroached on the functions of monarchy, aristocracy and church, so noblesse oblige was replaced by the duty of an enlightened bourgeoisie, industrialists and landed gentry.”

This inevitably led to a symbiotic relationship between corporate business and the state, incarnated in bodies such as the Arts Council of England (ACE) and the American National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the emergence of a variously located ‘managerial elite’ whose progressive, Whiggish ideas involve a desire for “..homogenisation, globalisation, technocracy, atomisation and planned economies…”. To these can be added a desire for increased immigration and anti-capitalism. Once in control this elite effected a “territory grab of resources earmarked for art without any consideration for the wishes of the public…” and it is these resources that are used to commission and fund artivism.

Having explored this historical pathology and its philosophical origins, Adams unpicks economic and psychological strands. The funding of artivism by public bodies and corporations has created an underclass of artistically emasculated ‘artists’ subject to “no aesthetic competency threshold” and reduced to a kind of dependent serfdom. Some are real artists reduced to penury and dependency, others have no talent at all. Adams encourages pity for these latter“…a generation of non-artists (produced by universities) doomed to redundancy, deliberately left unskilled, chockful of abstruse theory and puffed up with self-regard, for whom the art world (and wider society) has no use whatsoever. Where else could these graduates have gravitated to except artivist quasi-social work?”

In the face of this, a return of old-style patronage of artists by wealthy patrons which guaranteed that only the excellent survived and thrived while the untalented withered from the field, might be welcomed, to put this deluded underclass out of the misery of its unrealistic artistic aspirations. It might also remove a “client class” of minorities cynically and exploitatively created by “…corporations wishing to improve their images, pressure groups wishing to make an impact, charities needing to disburse sums periodically and state agencies with annual budgets to be allocated.”

Psychologically, Adams detects a vengeful totalitarian predilection within the ‘managerial elite’ who run the arts show. In a further echo of a modernity where the BBC uses our licence fees to admonish and sermonise us on our lack of virtue, this elite uses tax pounds and dollars extracted from the populace to remind them how despicable they are. This is one of the abounding ironies and paradoxes Adams indicates. He also shows how potentially dangerous activist renegades are tamed by the “ruling class” to the extent that they become establishment “foot soldiers” – and how foreign artivist migration advocates are often in conflict with the wishes of the local populations they visit. The managerial elite use the tactic of making us pay for our own humiliation as a “power play” intended to reinforce and signal the subjugation of the populace, the desire for which may derive from the “Dark Triad (narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy)”. It’s that sombre and that pathological for Adams. As in much climate activism, a profound anti-humanism is in play, as well as a depersonalisation where ‘collectives’ refers to persons as ‘bodies’ and ‘voices.’

This is an excellent publication doing fine work in identifying, naming and recording a phenomenon which Adams describes as “a predatory pike released into a carp pool” and “an invasive species”. If I have any quibbles, they are as follows.

He makes it clear in the body of the book that real “artistic merit” and “artistic endeavour” must trump everything in the art world and complains, for example, that “Feminists state that all art must be political because there is no division between art and politics.” Orwell and Croce seem to back this up. However, the beginning of the book is a little confusing on this point. He writes, “Drawing lines between art, artivism and political action is not always possible. This ambiguity (and precedents set up by art of older eras) allows overt political action cloaked as artivism to enter the area we set aside for public arts, allowing artivism to assume the status and resources of art.”

He illustrates this ambiguity with examples of artistic resources being used in the creation of the “political statement” of the Parthenon and the lending of their talents by Leonardo and Michelangelo to the political projects of their patrons. He also cites the socialist content of Millais’ and Courbet’s work. A writer and critic of Adams’ undoubted firepower should be able to make the fine but real distinctions between the passing contemporary content and the brilliant artistic execution that makes it survive amongst a welter of similar material or between artivism – and also between an artist lending his talent in return for remuneration to projects that aren’t his, and prototype artivism. He seems to make exactly this distinction in the rest of the book.

He raises a very interesting idea early on:

There is more than a touch of the religious rite about artivism. The activist- shaman-priestess prescribes the place and time of communion, her assistants prepare the space and provide necessary materials. The tribe gathers to attend the publicly announced rite, respectfully assisting by witnessing and participating as directed.

My regret is that he didn’t pursue this line later in the book. He writes very well, but there is a strange stylistic tic whereby he frequently omits the definite article as in “…but it is worth bearing in mind that progressive artivism of today is complementary to….” This sometimes gives a clunkiness to the prose.

Stuckist demonstration. Photo: WIkimedia Commons

But excellences by far outweigh the quibbles. I could add to the former a welcome practical prescription for resisting artivism in the chapter of that name, under the headings of “1, Ethics, 2. Exclusion, 3. Defunding, 4. Reduction, 5. Education, 6. Enforcement”, and the pages devoted to the true dissidents known as the ‘Stuckists’ after Tracy Emin’s derogatory term. I also enjoyed the pace-changing of the entertaining and colourful insertion of Case Studies between chapters, especially the swingeing take-down of Banksy.

The book ends on a pessimistic note. Adams feels our arts establishment has an “inherent foundational flaw” deriving from its roots in the Enlightenment’s rationalism. He suggests, root and branch: “…maybe it would be better to lose trust in that system.” One senses, perhaps, a longing for the more Darwinian days of the Renaissance.

A VOYAGE to OBVERSIA

LEMUEL GULLIVER continues to indite his extraordinary adventures to GUY WALKER
WARNING : THIS TEXT FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY CONTAINS DISCRIMINATORY LANGUAGE

Before Dawn we heaved Anchor and steered to the West in our Passage to the West-Indies but, for four Days, we were driven by a violent Storm eastwards towards the Coast of Africa. We lost a Man who fell from the Fore-mast into the Sea. When the Storm abated and the Wind slack’ned I took an Observation and computed that we werein the Latitude of 14 Degrees and 4 Minutes North and 20 Degrees Longitude West. The Vessel was staunch but there was some Damage to our Rudder which we repaired in a make-shift Manner with heavy Cordage. McRory, who knew the Region, was of the Opinion that we should seek the Island Nation of Obversia which he estimated to be in our Environs. He recommended a Visit to the Island for the Purpose of repairing our Rudder and also because he considered Obversia, and especially its reputed Grand Academy, which he had visited while with the Khiliast Navy, a Curiosity which might be a Diversion and an Occasion of Learning to me. He related that, being so close to Africa, the Island was populated by Blackamoors[1] of great Beauty and the most sable Complexion. He also discovered[2] to me that the Island had once, for a Century, been a Portugueze Out-post for which Reason the Portugueze Tongue was spoken there. For this Reason, although inhabited by Blackamoors, European Manners, Cloathes and Customs and a European Language were in Use amongst them. In Truth the Island rejoyced in all the Benefits of Mind and Spirit under which the Flowers of Christendom flourish which was an Anomaly to the Western Coast of the Continent of Africa[3]. I remarked to McCrory that I had a great Facility in learning Languages and I was sure that my Portugueze would be sufficient for me to be understood in Obversia.

The following Day the Island was descryed and, with a fair Wind, we steered with Ease towards the Harbour of the capital City which was known by the Citizens simply as Obversia City. As we drew near to the Port  we saw common Blackamoors on fishing Canoos practising their Trade with Nets. On marking[4] us they became greatly enlivened and began to steer back to the Port alongside us. As we came closer we saw Blackamoors and their Ladies on Pleasure-boats. I supposed from their Habit that they were Persons of Quality. They were dressed in fine European Cloathes and the Ladies carryed Parasols and other Effects of Luxury. They too became excited upon seeing us and directed their serving men to turn their Boats towards the Harbour-side. We made a Signal for a Pilot as there were some Shoals and Rocks near the Harbour Mouth and a Pilot-craft approached us. We apprehended that, counter to normal Use, the Obversian Pennant at the Stern of the Craft was flown at the nether Part of the Flag-pole instead of the superior Extream. The Officers, once aboard, to our Consternation, prostrated them selves before us tho’ we were much at a Loss to understand the Cause of this.

On disembarking on the Quay-side we were honoured by being met by a Party which included the Blackamoor King and Queen of Obversia in their royal Persons. They were accompanied by the Cavalry of the Body-guard stretched along the Quay-side and a liveryed military Band played beautiful Airs in Welcome of us. The King wore on his Head a light Helmet of Gold, adorned with Jewels, and he had a Sword encrusted on the Hilt and Scabbard with Diamonds. We could not forebear to Notice that he wore it suspended in such a Manner that the Hilt was towards the Ground with the Scabbard uppermost. His Queen and her Courtiers were magnificently clad with fine Gowns and Petticoats embroidered with Figures of Gold and Silver.

We were supplied with a Legate and were thrown into great Disquietude as all of the Obversian Nobility, including the King and Queen, gave strong Marks[5] of Rivalry with each other in the Degree of Pleasure they could express at our Coming and in the fawning Nature of their Greetings to us. I asked the Legate the Cause of this. He bowed deeply and removing his plumed Tricorn, he answered that the Obversian People of Quality wished to demonstrate how much they appreciated and were in Astonishment at the Miracle of Humans of a white Complexion shewing that they too could make Shift to build and navigate a Merchant-man. This in Spight of all the Disadvantages preventing such an Atchievement which Triumph they, therefore, wished to celebrate. I was curious as to how they had contrived to forget the Aptitudes of the Portugueze In-comers who had departed the Island only Decades before but kept my Counsel on this Affair. In Addition to this Enthusiasm the Citizens of the City showed Rivalry in their Eagerness to provide Billets for our Sailers in their Homes. I marked some of their Number coming to Blows at the Periphery of the Croud upon this Article. It was clear that they saw the Advent of white People they considered to be at a disadvantage by their Whiteness as an Opportunity for the Display of their Virtue, Solicitude and the Degree to which they could graciously descend[6] to us. We became sensible[7] that we were much prized by them as an Opportunity to Ostentation.

We were presented to the King and Queen and we were in great Surprize when they made the lowest of Reverences[8] to us. Before yet speaking any Words of Welcome the King instantly made a Discourse to us in a Manner, the abject Nature of which is not expected of a royal Personage and which, therefore, caused us a great Disturbance in our Minds. He beat his Breast, dishonoured himself and told us that it pained and grieved him sorely that the Continent from which he and his People hailed was guilty of manifold Crimes. He told us unbidden that Tribes from Africa of which we had not heard and which he named the Yoruba, the Igbo and the Fulani[9] had been known to traffic in slaves they had taken from other Tribes in Warfare. We wondred why he was treating of the Article of[10] Slavery but he continued that many Hundreds of Thousands of white Folk had been abducted for the Purpose of Slavery from the Shoars of Nations such as Ireland, the Nether-lands, Britain, Iceland, Greece and Italy for many Centuries by Pyrates and Corsairs from the Barbary Coast[11] of Northern Africa. Although none of his Kin or his Forbears had taken part in such Commerce and none of our Party’s Kin or Forbears had been affected by it he bore a terrible Burden of Guilt for his Continent. This was in Spight of our bearing no personal Grievance against him. Our Admiration[12] increased as we knew that Slavery had always been conducted without Scruple in every Empire on Earth including our own. His Regret at a Lack of Adherence by his Kin to an Ideal which, it seemed to us, had seldom been witnessed on Earth seemed a great Curiosity to us. In spite of it being past our Conception what had guided him to make such Disclosure to us we made a Semblance of accepting his Entreaties and those of his Queen graciously and smiling.

On completing these Acts of Prostration he promised obligingly that our Ship should be repaired in Dry-dock, our Provisions replenished and that there should be a Banquet in our Honour that Evening. He then asked me if there was any further Assistance or Entertainment he could provide for us. As McRory had mentioned the Fame of the Grand Academy of Obversia I took the Boldness to ask his Majesty if it might please him for us to be shown this august and renowned Institution. He could scarcely forebear to shew his Delight that we took such an Interest in Obversian Learning. He immediately consented and directed the Legate to accompany us on a Visit as soon as we had been refreshed with Victuals and Beverages provided by his Royal Kitchen. He told us that the Grand Academy of Obversia was one of the most illustrious places of Learning in Christendom and that it was founded on the finest European Traditions of Inquiry and Study established by Scholars of Distinction such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Albertus Magnus, Peter Abelard, Erasmus, Mercator, Bacon, Kepler, Newton and Des Cartes.

The Grand Academy of Obversia

After Noon we were raized on garlanded Litters and taken in Procession to the Gates of the Grand Academy. Here, to our Relief, the Crouds departed leaving us in Peace. Above the entrance Portal bearing the royal Crest was inscribed the motto QUIDQUID EST, FALSUS EST which was ascribed to a great Obversian poet named Epop. Through the Portal we could discern that the Academy was arranged in a Multitude of Colledges with fine Chapels, and Schools in the same Manner as Oxford or Cambridge. We spied conversing Scholars, young and old, in black Gowns taking their Leisure in the Paths in the Courts of the Colledges.

At the Entrance we were greeted by the Warden of the Grand Academy who was to be our Guide. This grand Personage wore gilded Robes of great Volume. McCrory spied that  his Eye-glasses were upside down on his Nose. He entreated us, before he led us on our Visit, to hear him as he set out for us the noble Principles on which his Academy was founded. We consented to his Entreaty upon which he proudly descanted for us on the Purpose of the Academy. This was, firstly, following Aristotle and Aquinas, to study profoundly and at length the Forms in which Nature was clothed and disposed according to the good Offices of the Creator. Having made such Discoveries which he gave the Appellation of The Coin of Nature it was the Travail and dedicated Industry of his devoted Scholars to find the Contrary to such Dispositions – this he named the Obverse of Nature.

He lamented to us the Discovery of an unfortunate Principle that he and his Scholars had encountered in their Enquiries. They had discovered that it was impossible to reverse Nature and find the Truth in its Contraries without depending on the prior existence of that Nature. Or, to express it differently, It was not possible for them to operate on No-thing at all in the Beginning and so they were obliged to operate on the Something that was, by Casualty[13], already provided for them. He boasted that, in the Face of such Adversity it was their Determination not to be defeated, but to struggle with Valor, by these Means, for the Publick Good.

In the Future their Hope was to be able to erase Nature and re-make it solely as the Product of their good Offices and their Science in place of those of the Almighty. He described this as the Principle of the Clean Slate or Tabula Rasa. This Principle, he hoped, might, in Time, permit them to take full Ownership of all Knowledge and all Being. He continued that, in this Undertaking, it was their Pleasure to replace the Will of the Almighty with their Will, an Aim, once achieved, which they would consider the greatest Triumph. He sighed and repined that, for the Moment, they had found them selves unable to dispense with the Inconvenience of original Nature.

The Grand Library

On Purpose to survey the first Stage in this Procedure he led us to the grand Library of the Academy where a Multitude of Scholars and Doctors studyed the Forms in which Nature, the Earth and human Beings were cloathed and embodied according to the Disciplines established by learned Men of the Past.

The Warden disclosed to us that, once the Substance of the Objects under Scrutiny had been established they took their Findings to the Chamber of Opticks out of a Design of finding what was their Opposite which is where he led us next.

The Chamber of Opticks

This was set in a large kind of a Room, containing a gently smoaking Fire ventilated with Bellows, and filled with Handicrafts[14] employed with polishing Lenses and silvered Glasses purchased at great Expense in the Low Countries. We also saw many Examples of the Apparatus known as the Camera Obscura.

We were fortunate enough to witness a young Scholar bring the detailed Diagrams of the internal Anatomy and outward Form of the Body of a human Female he had garnered in the Grand Library to the Chamber. He gave them to a Servant operating the Lenses, Mirrors and the Camera Obscura. The Servant set the Parchment Diagrams in Frames. He was soon able to direct his Apparatus in such a Manner as to project Images which reversed the Drawings so that the Left was on the Right and the Feet were where the Head is by Custom. The Scholar immediately set to sketching the up-ended and reversed Images. He divulged to us his Enthusiasm at finally arriving at the end of his Journey to see the Truth. He felt Pity for the un-schooled and ignorant who were deceived by the lying Appearance of Nature as she was and the shallow Belief that this was all there was. He continued in his Enterprise by using Optickal Contrivances which erased the Visage from the female Body so that she was no more than a Body with no Person inhabiting it. Another piece of Machinery erased her entirely from the projected Image of the Parchment.  To our Horror a final optickal Engine rendered the Female Body Male by removing the Dugs and appending a Beard and a male Organ of Encrease to her. We were in great Amazement at the Appetite for Perversity that this Scholar displayed. He told us of a Volume he was intending to publish in a short time, which would guarantee his Renown in the great Universities of Europe, upon the Obversian Method and which he hoped to name Definire se Contra Natura.

As we departed from the Chamber of Opticks we noticed a low Building into which a Stream of earnest young Scholars with scant Beards in the Coats of common Working-men were entering while another Stream of bemired Scholars issued from the other End. Two Chimneys, from which Smoak emerged stood above the Roof of the Building. There was also a Tower made of Wood with a great mounted Wheel, Cables, Pullies and Hoists. Waggons and Horses waited beneath the Tower. We enquired of the Warden what the Purpose of this Building was. He told us it was the Structure set above the Vertue Mines.

The Vertue Mines

We enquired of him in what these Mines consisted and he was pleased to tell us that, the raw Material of Conceptions for Re-appraisal had constantly to be dug out of the Ground in order to generate the Coins of Nature by Means of the Investigations that took place in the Grand Library. These could then be obverted in the Chamber of Opticks. For the Purpose of unearthing the Material in sufficient Quantity the young Scholars made excavations in the Mines. They had already made Discovery of things in Nature that were subjected to Study in the Library and obverted in the Chamber of Opticks such as “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female  created he them.”[15]which we had seen corrected in the Chamber of Opticks. He related that the Scholars had also mined un-formed Potential in Botany, Agri-culture, Architecture, and Military Engineering which were being driven to the Grand Library in Waggons as we spoke. The Miners had recently discovered a new Vein of Material which they had named History. They had brought to the Surface Practices and Institutions formerly regarded as of Benefit to Man-kind such as the Christian Church and the Effects of good Government. Here I durst ask the Warden in Point of the Appellation of the Vertue Mines. He assured me that this would become manifest as we proceeded on our Visit. Our next Visit did indeed satisfy my need of Understanding in this Respect.

The Schools of the Oeconomy of Vertue and Obversian Ethics and the Royal Mint

On the other Side of the Vertue Mines was a grand Edifice which seem’d a series of Buildings joyned together which the Warden informed us was the School of the Oeconomy[16] of Vertue combined with the Royal Mint and The School of Obversian Ethics. He was pleased to inform us these Buildings had been founded after the Revelations granted to certain Obversian Sages. It had been revealed to one that if the Truth lay on the Obverse of the Coin then what laid on the other Face must needs be a Lie. As telling Truth and Lies are moral Actions then this betokened that an entirely new System of Vice and Vertue might be established on the Foundation of such Coins.

Another esteemed Sage who began his Career as a Theologian but who later worked in the Treasury of Obversia had further been granted a Series of what he termed Epiphanys. In the first he grasped that if there were sufficient Coins of Vertue and Vice a whole new Currency of Ethics could be founded upon them. This caused him to found the School of Obversian Ethics.

The second Sage was sensible that moral Powers are the Commodity of greatest Value to Humans, which are, uniquely, the moral Creatures on the Earth. He had observed that they alone care about Reputation, Swine for example seldom being troubled by such Things, and that the Thirst for Righteousness and Justification is greatest in them. This being so it was revealed of a sudden to him, in his second Epiphany, that if a Nation were in Possession of enough of this Currency of Truth and Lies and, hence, of the Vertue attached to the Obverse Side of them it might be possible to convert this new Virtue into an Authority which affords moral Dominion. Supremacy in the moral Domain would be the true Supremacy. This Undertaking he imagined in the Guise of the Atchievement of the Transmuation of base Metal to Gold sought for so long by the Alchemists.

He made the Calculation that, to compleat the Venture, Obversia must needs claim Authority for their Ethics by boldly seizing the Hill of Legitimacy in the moral Domain from the other Nations that previously held it. This Annexation, what is more, had best be executed with a good Supply of the Fewel of a burning Indignation at the Manner whereof Human Kind has been fraudulently deceived into believing that the Coin of Nature is the Truth. Accompanied, thus, with the Indignation of a Jeremiah[17], it would be the more credible.

For this Reason the Nation that seized the high Hill of Legitimacy in such Matters and  the Authority to say what was right and wrong might rule all Nations. It would also permit them to declare their own unceasing and impregnable Goodness. In this Manner they could truly become Self-righteous and Justified by their own Proclamations. They hoped the Authority seized in this way might entail their Right to pronounce on the Vice of others and that they might be endowed with the Power to justify and condemn their Fellows. It was on these intellectual Foundations that he set the new School of the Oeconomy of Vertue. 

We could not forebear observing privately among our-selves that his Calculations were in a curious Contrast to the Teaching of the Customs of our Church which insists on our fallen Nature rather than our Self-proclaimed Goodness. We recalled to Mind that in our Dispensation it is only for Almighty God and his Son Jesus Christ to confer Righteousness on helpless Sinners. We were put in Mind of the Chief-priests and Pharisees who condemned our sovereign Lord.

The Warden continued that the Sage made the further Observation that if the new Currency might be sold abroad the Influence of Obversia would become great in the World. By Force of Confidence Obversia could set the golden Standard of what was good and evil in the World and arrive through several Gradations to the Superior Nation taking the Role of Instructor in Wisdom and Knowledge to all other Nations and Races who would be obliged to pay a Subaltern Court[18] to it. For this Reason the Royal Mint was established to stamp out new Currency. He and the King were hopeful that, in Time, the People of all Nations must clamour to be taught of this newly minted Currency of Vertue in their Grand Academy. As a Consequence, it was their earnest Hope that all former false Currencies would be debased. This would give Obversia Dominion over much of the Earth.

The School of Active Repudiation

As we drew near to this Institution we observed its Semblance to a Seminary. I descryed the Inscription Malum sit Bonum Meum carvedover the Lintel of the Entrance. The Warden happily imparted to us that, to improve the Likelihood of the Obversian Currency becoming dominant in the World, Doctors and Virtuosi in the School of Repudiation had bred up innumerable Examples of a type of zealous Jesuitical Scholar skilled in the beneficial Undermining and Repudiation of the Commonplaces foolishly accepted in the World as normal Currency. These Scholars were despatched into other Lands to prepare them for the Advent of Coin from the Obversian Mint as fore-running Propagators of correct Ideas in the like Manner in which the Church of Rome broadcasts its Faith from the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide. In their Mission, the Head of the School related to us, they counted them selves as performing a Role like that of John the Baptist who made streight the Way of the Lord[19] and prepared the People for his Truth. Each Scholar worked assiduously in a Cell in the School. As we passed the Cells, for our Benefit, the Warden proudly elicited the Exhibition of the Talents of several of the Scholars trained in these Aptitudes.

The first we encountered boasted to us that he was preparing the Repudiation of the Music of the West which he derived from a Coin stamped in the Royal Mint which had been entrusted to him. On the Reverse of the Coin was the Music of Europe. In much of Europe People mistakenly had some Imagination that Composers such as Cima, Scarlatti, Corelli, Lully, Purcell, Byrd and those of our Period such as Johann Bach and Antonio Vivaldi brought Delight to those who heard their Music and enabled the Worship of the Almighty. In egregious Folly such Compositions were considered the Height of the Excellence of Atchievement. It was his Mission to lead Europeans away from such Mis-conceptions and to shew them the true Malevolence in the Music, rejoycing in revealing Truth in Opposition for them on the Obverse of his Coin. It was his Contention that, because of the Susceptibility of the fairer Sex to the sweet Enchantments pretended as the Aim of Music the Men who, exclusively, were its Practitioners, were enabled in their disguising the real Aim of it behind a deceiving Veil and a Plot. For, in Truth, Music was a Fraudulence whose real Purpose was to beguile Women in to continued domestick Drudgery and Subservience.

A second Scholar in his Cell told us of the Eagerness of his Anticipation for the Commencement of his Mission in Europe. He had been vouchsafed a Coin on which the Truth about Time and Time-keeping had been inscribed. He would carry the good News that the Purpose of Time and the Keeping of Time with Time-pieces and Sun-dials was the Subjection of Citizens and other Races to the Tyranny of Europe. He would reveal to his Audience that their Predilection for Orderliness in Publick Affairs and in Commerce had acted as a Trojan Horse whereby they had been en-slaved by Monarchs and others charged with keeping good Order. For, in their Folly, they had accepted the Measuring of the Movements of the Stars, the Planets, the Earth, the Seasons and the Passage of the Light as chosen by iniquitous Europeans driven by the most pernicious Motives. The Cosmolabes, Pantocosms, Planispheres, Scaphes, Quadrants, Sextants, Octants, Alidades Armillery Spheres, Orrerys, Globes, Dioptras, Astrolabes, Pocket-glasses, Perspectives, Clepsydras, Torquetums, Triquetums, Telescopes, Meridian Circles and other Satanic Instruments used by Astronomers for these Purposes were all part of an occult Conspiracy whose Design was to keep People in Thrall. He had a Design to promise them that when such a Tyranny had been overthrown they would know true Contentment. There must be a Bonfire of these Instruments which had brought Nothing but Woe to human Kind. When all of this had been encompassed it would be assuredly to the Satisfaction of the Common Weals[20].

A third Scholar confided in our Party that his Destination was to be the new World of the Americas. He was pleased to relate that Projectors[21] working in the Grand Library had carried out a Study of  the Science of Mathematicks which had been taken to the Chamber of Opticks in the certain Knowledge that it must have been conceived in Iniquity. In the Chamber its Principles had mercifully been reversed and it was the new Incarnation that he had been entrusted with taking to the new World. The wicked Conceit[22] that Mathematicks is a Language which trades in publick Certainties that cannot be disputed or that there are Answers in the Discipline which are Right and others which are Wrong has been abandoned. Indeed, to insist on such Conceptions to young Children he regarded as an Oppression and a Tyranny on Citizens and their Children. The perpetuating of the Conception that it treats of Matters which can be commonly agreed in Publick as Objects that cannot be contradicted has been up-ended to the Benefit of all Nations. Discovered in the Grand Library, the Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks such as Euclid and Archimedes have been designated as Reprobates and their Works have been proscribed for the Injury that they undoubtedly cause to human-Kind. The same has been decreed for the Mahometans who invented Al-gebra and those who carry on this villainous Trade close to our own Times such as Newton and Leibnitz have been revealed for the Deceivers and Corrupters of Youth that they are. It is suffered to be believed, tho’, that Newton brought some Advantage to us in his Study of Opticks. Otherwise, without these pernicious Influences it is sure that Societies must be able to thrive more successfully.

As we proceeded and were presented to more Scholars we marvelled at the Extent and Variety of their comprehensive Undertakings and the Profundity of the Enmity they felt for the Common-wealth in which they had been raised and the Extent to which they were devoted to repudiating it. A great Impression was made upon us by how studiously and comprehensively they employed the Methods of Study they had been tutored in according to the Instruction set down by the great Doctors whose works they encountered in the Grand Library. Their Zeal was an Occasion of great Admiration to us. We questioned in secret amongst our selves why it may be that these Scholars felt such active Hatred of Matters which we had considered as Advancements in our Societies.

We departed from the School of Repudiation and took some Refreshment with the Legate and the Warden in the Dwelling of the Latter. He was pleased to invite our Party to spend the Night in his Residence and, in the Morning we were shewn the School of Politickal Science.

The School of Politickal Science

The Doctors here had discovered in the Grand Library that the Human Polities that thrive in Nature and in History are conceived in two Matters. Firstly they have rescued Human-kind from the Predicament of constant War by establishing the Authority of Kings who can ensure the Rule of Law. Secondly, they have established, in England for example, Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and a Constitution which act as a Bulwark against the Tyranny of Kings tempted to exceed their Power and as a Pledge of the Liberty of the Common Citizen.

In Obversian Reverse of these Achievements their Endeavour was to under-mine Authority and blame it for all the Ills that befall us. Their Legend was that all Aspects of Lacrimae Rerum[23] are always the Fault of the Government on which we depend and which protects us from our natural Condition of War. They also sought to malign those Regimes which had established a Tradition of Liberty and were an Example and a Beacon to other Nations for their being wicked and depraved in their Essence and Founding just as Adam and Eve were the Origin of our Woe in the Garden of Paradise.

The Master of the School of Politickal Science was especially delighted to enlarge upon one Principle of Government particular to Obversia of which he was manifestly proud on behalf of his Nation. This was the Obversian Principle of politickal Opposition whose Champion was a notable Member of Parliament by the Name of Sir Kirkley Streamer. Under a Necessity of conforming with Obversion the Party not in Government made it their chief Priority to avoid forming Policy on the Grounds of any independent Philosophy to which they adhered. Instead, they set to, like the Scholars in the Grand Library, studying the Policy of the Government. The Product of their Studies was then submitted to a Cabal of those skilled in the Art of Mathematicks. They would discover the mathematickal opposite to the Policy of the Government and this would immediately become the Policy of the Party not in Power. The Government would then be castigated with righteous Vehemence for not doing the diametrickal Opposite of what it was doing.

I further made bold to own [24] to the Warden that upon one Article I was confounded. I was not mercurial enough to discover nor were my Intellects [25] strong enough to conceive how it was that the King of Obversia, who commanded the Empire of Vertue in the ways made plain to us, could fall to grovel before us as he had on the Quay-side for the Wickedness of his Forbears. To us this appeared as a Confession of his Guilt. The Warden was pleased to make clear to us that this Display had been a Shew of the King’s great Vertue of Humility. This Vertue depended on the greatest Obversion of all, one that was known as The Royal Obversion. The King had made it his Endeavour to carry out a personal Study of Obversion and the Coining of Vertues it led to. In this Study he had happened on the Conception of Progress in Morals. He seized on the Opportunity this offered for defining himself compleatly in Opposition – or Obversion – to the Past. If the Coin of the Past was decreed entirely vicious then the other Side of the Coin was that the Obversian Present under his Reign was entirely good. This allowed him to grovel and make Penance for past Actions that he manifestly had no Part in while making a fine Exhibition of the Quality of his Humility in the Present. This was seen as Evidence of the great Genius of the King and he was much applauded for this Master-stroak. This Strife in the Comparison between the Present and the Past put me in Mind of a similar Struggle carried on in my own Country between the Ancients and the Moderns[26] where the Moderns falsely insisted that Sweetness and Light were the sole Preserve of present Authors schooled in modern Sciences.

I further enquired of the Warden whether the Royal Obversion might not be founded on an inherent Loathing of Man-kind and its History. The Warden was gratified by this Insight which he took as witness to my growing Understanding of what he named the Obversian Enlightenment. He agreed that such Loathing supplied the perfect Pretext for the Signalling and bragging him self of Humility of which the King and his Subjects were so desirous. It was a Contrivance – for truly the King felt no sincere Loathing for himself – which the whole Body Politick had greeted with Satisfaction at its Adroitness. He continued that in the final Building on our Tour we would see this Principle brought to Fruition in the most gratifying Manner.

The School of Performing Arts

The Legate who continued to accompany our Party, confided in us that one of the King’s Ministers in the Treasury had arrived at the Conclusion from Observation that the Obversian Monopoly on Vertue could be achieved by the minting of less costly and debased Counterfeit Coinage which used smaller Quantities of Gold and Silver. The King claimed his Authority in the World on the Perception of his Humility and other Vertues. However, this Perception had been secured at no personal Cost to him in Point of the unknown Victims of those Africans who had trafficked in Slaves a Century before. The King had no real Connexion to the Victims. The Advisor understood that the critical Necessity was the Force of Confidence in the Perception rather than the genuine Nature of the Currency of Vertue and for this Reason invented the Idea of a Bubble or Vertual Currency which would be of great Use in saving the Expense on the King’s Exchequer of real Vertue. Once the Principle of the Primacy of Perception was understood it was equally understood that it might be extended to a Range of other Vertues. McRory was bold to say to me that this was a Tradition that differed from the Scottish one that considered that a Man’s true Vertue and Vice lay in his Heart visible only to his Creator who can see all Things.

In the School of Performing Arts the Students were, therefore, being schooled in the Art of the Performance of Vertue with no Foundation in Reality. For this Reason we were shewn Students who enacted the Semblance of Humility by making Grimaces and by bowing and scraping before us in respectful Imitation of the King’s much admired Practice. We also witnessed Students who beat their Breasts, tore their Garments and lamented loudly the Pain they suffered upon witnessing the Woes of the Poor which were represented by Players[27] in Rags hired for the Purpose. They made great Advertisement of their Pity and Compassion and wiped away Tears with Kerchiefs made of fine Silk. Largely, it seemed to us that they were the Children of the Obversian Gentry. Others made a Fanfaronade[28] of their Zeal under the Colour of grieving for the Injustices of those oppressed by Tyrants in foreign Lands thousands of Miles away of whom they had read in the Volumes produced by Travellers and Writers of fantastickal Tales. There was a special Class in the Art of conveying Sincerity.

As another Day had almost come to an End the Warden invited us once more to return to his Lodgings for Sustenance and to take rest that Night. He told us that we would witness the crowning Example of Obversian Ingenuity of which he, the Legate and the King and Queen were justly proud the next Morning.

The Island of the Poor

In the Morning we were taken by Carriages to the opposing Side of the Island of Obversia. We arrived at a small Port and were embarked in Wherries[29] and were steered to an Island at little above a League from the Shoar. On departing we beheld Companies of Soldiers acting as Centrys posted in the Port and along the Coast to either Side for a considerable Distance and it was a Matter of Conjecture to us what their Purpose might be. In our Wherry we were accompanied by more Soldiers and by two Paynters of Portraits with their Assistants who carryed their Material for Painting and Easels. In other Craft there were also some Families of the Obversian Nobility accompanied by Valets and Ladies-in-waiting. As we neared the Coast of the Island we descryed more military Centrys along the Shoar facing their Fellows on the opposing Coast. We drew near to the Quay-side and the Wherrys’ Companies disembarked save the Sailers charged with steering them. At first we did not see any poor People. We marked that the small Landing-stage was fortified against the Interior of the Island and that, to visit the Island, we must needs pass through a large Gate set in a Bastion of stone mounted with Crenellations and watching Fusiliers with their Pieces charged[30].

Our Party mounted Carriages with the Legate, the Paynters and the noble Families and their Entourages and we were driven to the Interior accompanied by a detachment of Cavalry. We were able to distinguish that the Country was miserably wast. We drew near to a small Hamlet consisting of five or six Hovels in Ruins with smoaking Chimneys wherein some Families kept[31]. We could see a Knot of uncouth Children playing in the Dirt near a Dung-heap. We witnessed a Valet speak to some of the filthily bemired Children and their Mother. He offered them a Joynt of Mutton which the Mother secreted in her Hovel before she returned. One of the Painters next required the poor Family of Mother and Children to strike poses denoting their Indigence. The poorly clad Creatures assumed attitudes of Supplication. At this the Father of one of the noble Families stepped forward leading with him his Wife and his Children carrying Paniers of Bread and Fruit brought over with them from Obversia. He arranged his Family and him self in Attitudes of giving Succour to the poor Family, proffering Food to them. Tho’ one of the poor Children looked wild and cried at the Sight of the Bread it was not permitted that they might taste the Provender for that it might spoil the Composition. The Paynter’s Assistants set up an Easel and the Paynter fell to making Drawings for his Portrait of the wealthy Family giving their Alms. As the Painter was working we espied other Inhabitants at the Edge of the Hamlet, among them some of the Fathers dressed in Rags and half dead with Weariness. They carryed the Implements of Farming such as Hoes and Mattocks.

The Numbers of poor Islanders encreased by Gradation until there was a small Croud. I made bold to ask the Legate the Number of the Islanders. He told me it rose to an Estimate of five Thousand Souls. I enquired whence they derived and he was pleased to make plain to me that some were the Families of Debtors from Obversia while others were made up of Samples of poor People purchased by  Obversian Merchant-men and the Obversian Navy in foreign Lands on Promise of better Lives. As I was inquisitive on every Particular I further enquired of the Cause of their current Penury and Misery  and he was at Pains to explain that there was little natural Shelter and that the Soil on the Island was extremely thin on the Rock beneath and of a poor Quality so that it was barely possible to scrape a Living from it. For this Reason the Island people lived in an Abjection of Poverty. I further enquired if it was not true that, at a Distance of only one League, was the Bounty of Obversia with a Populace of thirty Thousands and excellent and plentiful Soil for Cultivation and the Grazing of Cattell[32] of all Kinds. He told me that this was indeed true. Obversia supplied all Manner of Luxury. When I asked him why, therefore, the Obversians did not suffer the Islanders to make their Passage to Obversia to live in greater Felicity he shewed him self greatly amused. He enlarged upon the Attempts that Islanders often made to take Boats to Obversia and how, due to the Vigilance of the Military Forces on the Coasts being sure to destroy all small Boats that were discovered, by holing them or setting them on Fire, successful Traverses of the Streight were rare. I confessed that I was in much Admiration why such unnecessary Efforts might be made when there was such Plenty on the larger Island. The Legate once more rallied[33] me upon my Question. He said it was manifest that I had still gained no Understanding through Custom of the Oeconomy of Obversia. He agreed that it was true that the Plight of the Islanders might be resolved with little Difficulty. The Obversians chose to maintain the poor Islanders in their mean Condition tho’ they could easily rescue them from it and bring them to encrease the Numbers of contented Citizens living in Plenty without overburthening the Realm. However, in Terms of the Oeconomy of Vertue, farming the Islanders for the Pretexts and Assistance they furnished for the Performance of Vertue was the most profitable Form of Industry in the Realm and the most useful Employment to which they might be put. That true Pity for such Creatures would be desirous of remedying their suffering by alleviating it was of small Concern as this was a Calculation for the Exchequer alone. Indeed he considered it a Mark of the Genius and Wisdom of the King and his Treasurers that the Maintenance of the Island at a Distance from Obversia betokened that no Drain on true Compassion was ever required as the Islanders might be easily forgotten on returning to Obversia. At this Juncture he revealed him self manifestly amused by our Innocence in these Matters. He continued that the Use of the Islanders for the Purpose of generating a fine Reputation for Charity was a most effective Manner of increasing the Authority of the Obversians and, thence, their Power. For this Reason the Island was a great Convenience to the Gentry and the Usefulness of the Islanders for this Purpose was greater than any Benefit they might bring as super-numerary Citizens. What is more the Opportunities that the Islanders supplied for the Performance of Vertue by Obversian People of Quality also sustained another profitable Industry in the Form of the Paynters who made a Record of the Charity of the Nobility for publick Display. The Islanders, maintained as they were, were a wonderful Advantage to Obversia.

Continuation of A VOYAGE TO THE HOUYHNHNMS

I had several Men died in my Ship of Calentures, so that I was forced to get Recruits out of Barbados, and the Leeward Islands, where I touched by the Direction of the Merchants who employed me, which I had soon too much cause to repent; for I found after-wards that most of them had been Bucaneers………


[1] An archaic term for a black person now considered disparaging and offensive

[2] Revealed

[3] It is known that in the East of Africa the Christian Coptic church flourished

[4] Noticing

[5] Signs

[6] Condescend

[7] Aware

[8] Bows

[9] All tribes from what is modern day Nigeria

[10] Addressing the subject of

[11] The Coast of North Africa

[12] Astonishment

[13] Accident

[14] Labourers

[15] Genesis 1:27

[16] This word at this time generally meant rules for living but was slowly evolving into the modern sense of economy

[17] Prophet from the Old Testament notable for his denunciations of poor morals or Jeremiads

[18] To accept the role of inferiors paying tribute to Obversia as the superior nation

[19] Isaiah 40:3 and Mark 1:3

[20] Realms

[21] Men of Science

[22] Idea

[23] The tears in things – Human suffering

[24] Admit

[25] Intellectual capacity

[26] A battle in which Swift was fully engaged. It is thought that he invented the phrase Sweetness and Light

[27] Actors

[28] Noisy parade

[29] Sailing skiffs

[30] Muskets loaded

[31] Lived

[32] Livestock in general

[33] Made fun of

Escaping from reality – ‘The French Dispatch’

GUY WALKER greatly enjoys a playful new film, but finds it ultimately insubstantial

Early on in The French Dispatch we encounter an imprisoned murderer who takes the art world by storm with an abstract nude painting of a female prison officer, with whom he manages to conduct an affair, secretly painted in his French prison. After his release he conducts an affair with the female reporter – named Berensen, thus echoing the name of the art historian Berenson – telling his story. The wall in the prison canteen on which he painted a series of abstract murals is, then, air-lifted to an art museum in Kansas after slow motion mayhem has unfolded between prisoners, prison staff and denizens of the art world. Next, a middle aged female American reporter reports on and has an affair with the boyish leader of a soixante-huitard revolution, naturally conducted via chess moves relayed through a loud hailer, before she encourages the lad to sleep with a female revolutionary who contradicts everything he proposes on principle. He is then electrocuted in an accident on a radio tower. Finally French Police Noir, Maigret and Tintin-style are comprehensively elided with French haute cuisine.

By now we are in no doubt that the movie is modern, it’s post-modern, it’s meta, full of cutesy kitsch, it appeals to the child in us and it wilfully and proudly obeys none of the rules or the unities and satisfies none of our expectations. There’s slow motion and freeze frame and switches from colour to black and white, from real life to cartoon. We are put in mind of the labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges’ psyche, and Magical Realism takes a bow. It’s a complicated delight with an endless stream of puns, verbal and visual.
There is, therefore, also a Chef/Police Officer who, in a joke typical of the rapid-fire surrealist jokes that are sprinkled throughout, is called Nescaffier and is played by an American actor of Korean heritage. All of the stories are set in a fictional French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé which is actually parts of old Angoulême, the home of the French Comic-book Festival. The French Dispatch salutes in passing the art dealer Lord Duveen who enriched himself by satisfying the thirst of American millionaires for European art, the overweight and brilliant American writer on World War 2, boxing and French cuisine, AJ Liebling and Mavis Gallant, the Canadian chronicler of Paris in May ‘68 all of whom appeared in the famed New Yorker magazine as writers or subjects. It’s all very affectionate, charming and whimsical in the tradition of Amélie and The Budapest Hotel. The whole, pitched as ‘a  love letter to journalists’ is framed within the Foreign Bureau Magazine of the Liberty, Kansas Evening SunThe French Dispatch in which the stories appear in an obituary edition for the recently deceased editor and founder.
It’s studded with the stars, many of them current hot properties, who must make up most of Wes Anderson’s address book, many of them having appeared in his earlier films. All of the thespian brilliance and talent of Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalomet, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Anjelica Houston, Edward Norton, Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Cécile de France, Rupert Friend, Léa Seydoux, Benicio del Toro, Henry Winkler, Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and even Jarvis Cocker is showcased and shop-windowed to great effect. And that’s only half of the cast!
So, what do we think about all of this? How do we respond to it? It’s the nature of contemporary art and that includes le septième art, even when it’s set in other periods and unfamiliar places and, as this film is, studiedly untethered from any connection with now, to tell us something about the time in which it was made and the modern consciousness that made it.
Whimsy and Magical Realism, although they entertain and tickle us, somehow fail to satisfy us at a profound level. This is, perhaps, because of what they really are. Our modern zeitgeist demands the abolition of intelligence, wit, irony and humour for fear that they undermine or, perish the thought, laugh at the witless totalitarianism of identity politics and correctness. This means, in practice, that a ban has effectively been imposed on the brilliance of Western wit to exercise itself to its full extent in relation to the real contemporary world. The result of this proscription is that European and American wit, a sad and forlorn refugee, has had to migrate into intellectual exile, retreating into a green screen cultural vacuum where it cannot be incriminated by association with anything linkable to the actual modern world. In this instance it is welcomed into a French world set somewhere between the 30s and the 70s (thus allowing the existence of anachronisms like big-hearted show-girls) that is no more than the figment of someone’s imagination and is incontrovertibly ‘detoxified’ by being totally over and hermetically sealed in that vacuum. It is given free rein to do its soubresauts and pirouettes on condition that none of them mean anything or make any comment on our times. Wit can obtain as long as it is defanged and not dangerous to the status quo. And this is the sad comment on our times that the film, unwittingly, makes……

Travels into several remote Nations of the World by Captain Lemuel Gulliver – A Voyage to Khiliastica

This is the opening extract from a hitherto unknown chapter of Gulliver’s Travels, as discovered by GUY WALKER. The full version is here

I continued at home with my Wife and Children about Five Months in a very happy condition, if I could have learned the Lesson of knowing when I was well. I left my poor Wife big with Child, and accepted an advantagious Offer made me to be Captain of the Adventure, a stout Merchant-man of 350 Tuns: For I understood Navigation well, and being grown weary of a Surgeon’s Employment at Sea, which however I could exercise upon occasion, I took a skilful young Man of that Calling, one Robert Purefoy, into my Ship. We set sail from Portsmouth upon the second day of August, 1710; On the Fourteenth we met with Captain Pocock of Bristol at Tenariff, who was going to the Bay of Campechy, to cut Logwood. On the Sixteenth, he was parted from us by a Storm; I heard since my Return, that his Ship foundered, and none escaped, but one Cabbin-Boy. He was an honest Man, and a good Sailor, but a little too positive in his own Opinions, which was the Cause of his Destruction, as it hath been of several others. For if he had followed my Advice, he might have been safe at home with his Family at this Time, as well as myself.

Four days from quitting Captain Pocock at Tenariff and 100 Leagues South of the Azores my Ship’s Company discovered that several of our fresh Water Barrels were holed and that an urgent Need for new Provision in this Respect pressed on us. Amongst my Men was a Scotsman by the Name of McCrory. He made it known to me that he had once been taken Prisoner near to Antigua and obliged to serve for two Years on Board a Man of War from the Island Nation of Khiliastica which he believed nearest our Position.

On the Sixth day a Boy on the Top-mast discovered Land and Signs of Humanity. A large and a much smaller Island were descryed together with a third Island to the East composed entirely of a Volcanoe. The Wind being northerly, and approaching from the North East we ran South-West Half a League off the long North-West shoar of the Island. McCrory agreed that this was indeed Khiliastica.

By use of a Perspective-glass I had purchased in Woolwich I could see that the main Island rose high out of the Sea and was well-cultivated. Beeves and Sheep grazed in well-ordered Pastures inclosed with good Fencing and Windmills were plentiful. Smoke rose from many Habitations. On the opposed side of the Island to ourselves I was able to distinguish the small Volcanic Island with a little Smoak issuing from it. My Curiosity was rouzed by the long wide Strand that ran on our side from the northern Tip of the larger Island diagonally to its Western Extream. Beginning at the Tip were considerable Piles of darken’d Wood in Heaps. After each Heap another, every one in a Gradation of lesser states of Dilapidation than the last which signified, as we progressed South-West along the shoar it was as though the true original Form of the Heaps disclosed itself to us. It soon became clear that they were once finely crafted Vessels set on towering Trestles which had collapsed with Age. The south-westerly Examples were intact and made of new Wood. Planked, Ship-carpentered and caulked with Competence, they were very broad of Beam and stoutly built with a deep Draught. The Super-structure consisted of a wide, long House with a low Roof and a Dove-Cote in the Prow giving the Vessels the appearance of nothing so much as Noah’s Ark. I espyed a new set of Trestles with no Ship resting on it which completed the Procession at its South Western end.

Ahead of us began to rise the small Island situated just North of the larger Island’s western Tip and divided from it by a Streight, by my Computation, of one Third of a League in Width. On the main Island the procession of Arks was succeeded by the Opening of a large Harbour. The first Half of this was devoted to a Miscellany of Basons and Dry-docks, taken together forming a Dock-yard as impressive as that of Venice or of Chatham or Portsmouth. Derricks and Cranes were in abundance as were many-masted Merchantmen and Men of War tyed up on the Dock-sides. This Array was again succeeded by the Habitations of a Town. McCrory confirmed to me that this Metropolis was the capital Town of Khiliastica. By means of my Perspective-glass I was able to discern that these Habitations gave Evidence of Prosperity in the Quality of their Decoration and Maintenance. The Roofs were in excellent Repair, the Windows were plentiful and filled with Glass and the stone Lintels richly carved. Publick Statues, Fountains and Flowers abounded. I was under Perplexity of Mind occasioned by the seeming absence of any Token of human Presence or Activity. Another Mystery I was at a loss to understand was a Con-stellation of sparkling Lights that danced constantly about the Town even in places where there were no Windows. The Lights, danced as Sun-light does on the Sea in Summer.

It was my Intention to weigh Anchor and lower the Long-Boat in order to enter the Harbour and investigate the Town when The Adventure was overcome by a sudden Flurry from the North-East and driven past the Harbour Mouth towards the lesser Island. The Wind fell as suddenly as it had arisen and, noticing Signs of Habitation and Husbandry equally on the small Island and the Convenience of a sufficient Jetty, we took in our Sails, hove to and moored beneath the Island.

Above us we could see a simple Chapel with a Bell-cot for a single Bell and the thatched Cover of a Well where we hoped we might replenish our Water-barrels. We were greeted hospitably at the Jetty by a bearded Man of middle Years and his Children. McCrory revealed at this Juncture that he could speak the Tongue of Khiliastica having been obliged to learn it on board the Man of War in which he had been pressed into Service. He was content to act as my Interpreter. The Native of the small Island gave his Name as Khelat Per Zhall. He invited myself and my Landing-party to take the Steps up to the Farm-stead wherein he dwelt. He presented his Wife to us and, with great Courtesy, consented to my Men drawing Spring-water from his Well for the replenishment of our Provisions. He also consented to dining on board The Adventure that evening. His Wife was pleased to give us Refreshment in the Form of a small Cyder. Khelat Per Zhall also shewed me his Family’s House and their Chapel from which it was evident that they were properly observant of their Religion. This Chapel contained simple Statues, the Scriptures of that Religion and an Altar-Table.

Credit: Shutterstock

That Evening, encouraged by the Presence of McCrory who was able to converse in his language, I asked Khelet how he and his Family came to live in Separation from the Inhabitants of the Metropolis. In Answer he related the Tale of his Determination to remove himself and his Family to the smaller island for Reasons of religious Dissension. He told me that, in their Idleness and much in the manner of the Israelites when they began to worship the Golden Calf in the Absence of Moses, above ten Years before, the Khiliasts had happened on vicious and novel Creeds and Practices of their own Invention which had turned them into a Sect. According to the Chain of Being and in the true Humility to which their Station obliged them their old Religion enjoyned them to show Gratitude to their Creator and to his Minister on earth, their King who, for the Care of them shewed much Diligence. Their new Creed turned upside down such Doctrine. Instead of Gratitude for the Blessings of the Condition of being human and of its Sustenance they practised perverse Scorn and Derision for them. In their Conception the more they were seen to take Pleasure in trampling on and rejecting their Humanity the more they demonstrated the Virtue of Humility. This led them to strive ostentatiously in Rivalry with each other in the Degree of Abasement they could atchieve. They derided the Gift of being sapient Creatures above mere Animals and even took Pleasure in counting themselves as lesser than Crows and Apes. Their newly created Humility was in truth the Opposite of and an inversion of true Humility and signified instead that their Hearts were filled with Pride – a Pride taken in how humble they were. Hearing of such Perversion it was easy to understand Khelet’s Disgust and the Cause of his Desire to remove himself and his family apart from this Sect of Inversion.

Next he explained that the people of the Town were all engaged that day in an annual religious Festival of great Moment to them. This explained to me the Absence of human Activity. I pressed him further as to the Nature of their religious Practices and, being of a hospitable Character, he offered to act as my Guide on a Visit to Khiliastica – for that was the Name he gave the larger Island. I asked Khelat if he feared meeting his former Country-men from whom he had dissented so violently. He told me that he had visited the Festival on several Occasions before out of Curiosity and had succeeded in not being recognised by disguising him self. He told me it was his Custom on such Occasions to wear a leathern Mask covering half of his Face and the principal Lineaments of his Countenance and to give out, if asked, that he was the Victim of burning and Laceration in a Fire which had made his Face unsightly. I accepted his kind Offer and, the next morning, the Wind having settled and the Day set fair, we left The Adventure tyed at the Jetty and embarked in the Long-boat with Khelat Per Zhall and McCrory in the Party. Landing at the Quayside in the Harbour of Khiliastica we found the Town as deserted as it had appeared the day before.

Immediately on disembarking the Mystery of the dancing Lights was resolved for me. In many Places, on Squares, on Streets and on the Quay-side were placed long Fences twelve Foot high. These Fences bore silvered Glasses attached to them like those found on a Lady’s Dressing Table but of a giant Proportion. Everywhere we went we were accompanied, consequently, by our own Reflexions which was a disturbing Sensation for me. Glancing through the Windows of the Habitations I was able to see rich Furnishings and musical Instruments such as Guittars, Spinets and Lutes. Khelat found some fine Horses which had been left with plenty of Water and Oats in a nearby Stable so that we were able to quit the Town towards the Interior of the Island. I was relieved to find that the giant Glasses ceased as we left the outer Precincts of the Town.

I asked him, by Means of McCrory, further in point of the great Appearance of Prosperity and Industry of the Isle, Town and Dock-yard. He told me that this was due to the countenance and encouragement of the King who was a renowned Patron of Learning. He had made it his Business, in his Youth, to make Mercantile Œconomy one of many studies effected in Venice, London and Antwerp. Returning to Khiliastica he had guaranteed the extensive Prosperity of his Subjects by instructing them in the Wisdom he had acquired in the Domains of Iron-smelting, Animal Husbandry, Agri-culture, Glass-blowing and Maritime Commerce. As a result of his good Offices on their Behalf his Subjects lived in considerable Comfort and Security while the King was able to live chiefly upon his Demesnes without troubling the Khiliasts with Subsidies brought upon them. He told me that such was the Opulence the King had brought to their Land through the good Ordering of their Industry that his Subjects, discounting, of course, their Domesticks, had many hours of Leisure at their Disposal and it was this that had led to the Idleness which was a Cause of their Folly.

The Road rose to a Hill which our Party mounted with Ease on our fine Coursers. Reaching the Summit of the Hill a grand Prospect was laid out before us. A wide Valley was shewn with, at its extreme End, a grand Demesne inclosing a Palace and voluminous Royal Parks and Woods of at least twenty Stangs [1] within a circular Wall of hewn Stone with iron Gates. The Demesne lay at half a League’s Distance. I concluded that this must be the Residence of the King of Khiliastica which Conclusion Khelat confirmed to me. He told me the Demesne was named the King’s Kapital.

In the Fore-ground, in the Valley’s Bottom was a Ring of Tents and luxurious Pavilions encircling a large Ground in the Semblance of a Country Show in which a Variety of Diversions was taking place. At the Center of the Show-ground a large number of what appeared as Emmets from our Hillock swarmed around a new Ark set on a Stage fashioned in Beams of Wood. Khelat informed me that the grand Festival of the Catastrophe lay before me. I could descry a Multitude of human Figures moving across the Ground and around the Tents. We began to descend. Arriving in the Valley Bottom we dismounted so as the easier to investigate the Festival and the Khiliasts on foot. My first Observations were of the Appearance of the Khiliasts and their Habit. The Ladies bore Gowns of watered Silk resplendent with Figures of Gold and Silver. Their Petticoats were of the finest Lace and they wore Pearls and Diamonds fastned in their Hair and on their Forms. The Gentlemen were dressed finely in the European Manner and wore plumed silver Helmets and Swords sheathed in golden Scabbards enriched with Diamonds. More remarkable than the Extravagance of their Attire was a singular Accoutrement that each wore. Framed around their Necks and placed over their Shoulders was a small Harness in the form of a metal Bracket which held a small Glass of the size of a Lady’s Hand-glass beneath their Visage at the top of their Chest. The Glass was so tilted that, at all times, these Persons of Quality could observe their every Expression. It was evident that they did or said few things without verifying the Attitudes that they struck in the silvered Glass about their Necks. Much of their Attention was given to this Activity. I saw many of them making Grimaces and complaisant Smiles at their Glass. It seem’d, in truth, that they had brought portable Versions of the Mirrors of giant Proportions that adorned their Town by the Harbour-side. Only the Domesticks and the Children were not furnished in this way.

In point of Domesticks these Persons were attended by an Army of Valets, Ladies-in-waiting, Cooks, Waiters, Servants, Handicrafts , Postilions, Coachmen, Grooms and Ostlers for their Horses and Carriages. The Servicing of their Needs was largely conducted outside the Circle behind the Tents. It was here that the Victuals, Dainties and Delicacies that they consumed were dressed.

The Festival-ground was broad of a Diameter of a Quarter of an English Mile and arranged into a Variety of Tryals and Contests, in which the Khiliastic Nobility and Gentry particularly encouraged their children, with Prizes awarded to the best Attempts. At one Point on the Circumference of the Show-ground was a Table of great Length at which sate a row of venerable Professors, Virtuosi, Projectors , Universal Artists and Doctors in the Manner of Jurymen and in the greatest Solemnity with all of the outward Tokens of their Learning on Display. It was they who judged the Outcome of the Tryals and Contests making Judgements and Pronouncements from whence there could be no Appeal. These grave Personages were known as The Panel.

To aid my understanding of the Spectacles before me Khelat thought it fit to describe to me somewhat the Khiliastic Religion and its Import. He told me that a great Virtuoso, the most venerable, indeed, at The Panel, sitting in his Hours of Idleness, had suffered a Series of Visions or Revelations concerning the End of Days. These he had committed to Parchment and given the name of The Apocalyptick Prognostickations. Thereafter these served as the Scriptures of the new Khiliastic Religion.

A Procession of Flagellants, By Goya

The Import of these Scriptures was that the Prosperity and Contentedness of the King’s Island was a Chimaera given Creedence only by Fools and Blockheads. Those things that bore the Semblance of great Benefit were, truly, the Occasions of great Disaster. It had been revealed to the Professor that a Cataclysm of terrible Proportions was imminent. This was to be engendered by the Heat from the Island’s Smithys, the Furnaces of the Glass-blowers and the Dock-yard, the Establishment of all of which the King had so encouraged, and from the Multitude of domestick Fires. All, taken together, would burn a Hole in the Sky. Through this Hole would enter Comets with blazing Tails and Fire-balls from the Sun which must end in a Conflagration of the Island. The Sky and the Clouds would fall to Earth with great Combustion and the Habitations of the Khiliasts, the Kapital, the Metropolis and the Dock-yard would be devoured in an infernal Blaze.

In addition to the disastrous Effect of the Smithys and Furnaces it was revealed to the Virtuoso that the Flatus and Ructations issuing from Cattell and Horses and even from the Islanders themselves, taken together with Emanations of a Natural Gas generated from Leaves turning to faetid purulent Matter after their Fall from the Trees were adding to the Erosion of the Clouds. Because it increased the Volume of Flatus from Live-stock kept for eating the Consumption of Shoulders, Legs, Loins and other Joynts of Animal Flesh was deemed a Sin. In the same Manner the Use of Wool and Leather for the making of Cloaths was despized.

Many Trees were felled each Year in the Forests of the Island for Timber to make the Ships in the Khiliast Navy and for the Merchant-men and other Barques. The Virtuoso condemned this Practice for the Reason that the Trees removed the Natural Gas from the Air that burned a Hole in the Sky.

The first Signs that the general Conflagration was to be visited on the Island would be Fires in the Forests and a Rising of the Ocean’s Waters to overwhelm the Metropolis and the Dock-yard. A young Prophetess would arise in the last Days tearing her Weeds in the Manner of Job .She would be known by her braided Hair and her Denunciation of earthly Kings as Satans. This Maid would un-Mask these Evil-doers in their true Nature – as dysmal Architects of the Extinction of the Earth rather than great Benefactors of their People. If there were Apostates from this Creed in some Quarters such Schismatics of Religion would be taken as infallible Proof of its Veracity. In this Way the Sheep would be divided from the Goats.

This Account aided me in my Understanding of how, in Addition to the moral Causes described before by Khelat, the Khiliasts rejoyced in the Occasions the vain Prognostickations afforded them for Play-acting, Dramatick Conceits and other Distractions. In the Opinion of Khelat the Khiliasts took Pleasure and found Entertainment in the constant Condition of Disquietude and Disturbance of Mind these Apprehensions and Alarms engendered and in the Opportunities for Zeal and Evangelism they afforded to them as a Remedy to their Idleness.

Khelat further related that it was chiefly the Eminences of the Panel who sustained the Apprehensions of Calamity in the Minds of the remaining Mortals of the Island. It was they who confirmed the Visions of the Virtuoso who wrote the Apocalyptick Prognostickations by means of regular Observations of the Effluvia of the Sun, Changes in the Celestial Bodies and in the Progress of certain Comets and of the Levels of the Sea and the Temperature of the Air. For these Purposes they used a large Selection of mathematickal measuring Instruments, Globes, Rules, Compasses, Quadrants and Astrolabes. These Paraphernalia conferred an Authority, and Reverence as great as that attendant on Priests on them.

As a Consequence the Khiliasts had little Time for the common Pleasures or Amusements of Life and all their Conversation was taken up in Questions about the Health of the Sun and the latest Reports of the Panel. Their chief Discovery was of a guiding Purpose in their complaisant Idleness. It also gave them Contentment to know that they were virtuous in their constant Condition of Disturbance.


[1] A rood or one fourth of an acre

The closing down of History

Credit: Shutterstock
GUY WALKER calls for a realistic view of humanity’s record


Earlier this year a Palace coup at the National Trust saw the Chairman, Tim Parker, helpfully defenestrate himself before the pursuing Imperial Guard did it for him. The revolting soldiery were later in hot pursuit, through the gilded corridors, of the Director-General, Hilary McGrady, overseer of an absurd National Trust slavery report. They had been entrusted with the fascinating educational resource of our concrete national history. Instead of preserving its precious stones like true custodians, in an access of intellectual vandalism, they had traitorously tried to recut them into conforming with the ephemeral taste for wokery.

This is an example of the tidy rationalistic minds behind modern technocracies regretting the fact that history did not arrange itself according to their orderly notions of perfect justice, resembling much more what W.H. Auden, in his 1969 poem, Moon Landing, called “the usual squalid mess called History”. Why should this be a truer description of what history is

The Tower of Babel probably never existed in reality but, the invention of a storyteller or a myth-maker whose genius should not be under-estimated, it is a wonderful symbolic encapsulation of the nature of the human realm. That realm consists of the undeniable fact of a variety of races, languages and cultures living alongside each other, often in competition.

As humans, in spite of the fact that many of our greatest pleasures such as eating, drinking and sex derive from the animal part of our nature, we like, as modern technocrats, to flatter ourselves that we are somehow ‘above’ or transcend that animality. Of course we don’t. The anally retentive, retrospective rationalists demand perfect manners and reassuring orderliness in the relations between human races and cultures. However, it is hard to deny that this fallen, sublunary human sphere contains more than an element of the Darwinian evolutionary that we are familiar with observing in animals.

Because of this, sooner or later in the squalid mess called History cultures inevitably emerged with greater vigour, confidence, and technical and military capacity. Little caring for prissy rules about good manners and seldom consulting handbooks of rights etiquette, these cultures found it almost impossible to prevent their vigour spilling over into neighbouring territories. This happened countless times with, to name but a few in the full catalogue, the Assyrians, various Chinese dynasties, the Mongols, the Romans, the Huns, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Ottomans, the Benin, the Zulu, and, more recently, the British, Belgian, French, German and Italian. To have expected such incursions not to have happened in the thousands of years of human history is to be ludicrously fastidious and legalistic. It would be like asking the weather to be well-behaved. Indeed, if you subtract the imperial there is practically no human history left.  

In addition, one could easily argue that, in spite of the infringements of perfect ‘after you’ politeness, ‘compassion’ and thoughtfulness such over-flowings represent, the Darwinian effect also showed the good side of evolution – the propagation of vigour, refinement and civilisation. At the risk of sounding like a Monty Python sketch, it is true that Europe was left with excellent road and irrigation systems by the Romans, and India inherited useful technology and rail, communication, administrative and legal systems from the British. We should, perhaps, then, not rail at the fact of empire but look at the nature of particular empires. It might have been more pleasant to be subjugated by the British than by Darius’s Persians or Attila’s Huns, for example. 

Why is it that the modern “Justice Warriors”, who bully the likes of the management of the National Trust into assuming such ridiculous attitudes, have such unreasonable expectations of human history? Perhaps it is because, ironically lacking in historical self-awareness, they are unaware that, curiously, they were born into a distinctive modern technocracy whose self-flattering and comforting idea – that it can control and order the nature of reality – they share. They do this in spite of the fact that we have seen such ideas tested to revealing destruction in recent years in the failure of Big Data to predict economic and political outcomes and in the inability of ‘The Science’ to achieve cognitive harmony on subjects like climate change and COVID. Such visions, born out of control freakery, usually prove inadequate.  

Justice Warriors, consciously or not, take for granted that human conduct can be arranged according to platonic ideal of perfect kindergarten thoughtfulness that exists nowhere on earth except in the imagination of a tiny remnant of virtual aunts or in the legal libraries of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. There is a difference between noticing that things are not platonically ideal, and expecting such perfection to be easily accessed or imposed on earth. One wonders also whether, were such a finicky, paternalistic vision to be achieved, we would all be grateful for it. 

We can only conclude, then, that the modern rationalistic justice warrior has absurd expectations of humanity. He or she, taking for granted that he or she adheres scrupulously to it, thinks everyone should live up to a notional, managerial standard. The past too has somehow to be dragooned into inoffensive moral antisepsis in order to make it presentable in polite company. To understand how unrealistic this is we have only to look at the subject so close to the hearts of Justice Warriors: justice. In the real world, justice systems are imposed in order to fight a rearguard action against the excesses of human nature, to provisionally hold a line and put markers down – not to impose a perfect reign of justice of a kind that we might envisage as existing only in heaven itself or on a hopeful “protocol” somewhere. We are making the best of a bad job just as we do by resorting to democracy, “the worst form of government except for all the others” as Churchill put it. 

Auden, who enjoyed sex and cooking, was notorious for his slovenliness and poor personal grooming, so was well qualified to speak of squalid messes. Perhaps the mentality of the modern justice warrior is that of someone with a version of OCD whereby they compulsively attempt to wash both the present and history clean in order to make it perfect according to a neurotic vision they have. They haven’t learned to accommodate the truly human, or to realize where it is that they find themselves. Fortunately, our squalid human history contains many redeeming visions of heaven and perfect justice; it is only sane to believe that they just aren’t here.

Of course a man can imagine what it’s like to be a woman!

GUY WALKER says we must be allowed to imagine opposites

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Dr. Lydgate, Edward Casaubon, Will Ladislaw, and Daniel Deronda are excellent examples of well-rounded and believable male literary inventions, with a variety of qualities of character.

Portia, Beatrice, Miranda, and Viola are excellent examples of brave, intelligent, and virtuous women, while Lady Macbeth, Regan, and Goneril are equally good examples of wicked women with the added factor, in the case of Lady Macbeth, that she is even regarded with a degree of human sympathy in her wickedness. Shakespeare also wrote a poem treating the story of the rape of Lucretia, the wife of a Roman aristocrat, by the King’s son. Rembrandt, an artist famous for his paintings of marital intimacy, especially with his own wives, produced two paintings of the victim. Seldom (especially in the second version, painted in 1666) have the anguish and shame of a rape victim been more tenderly evoked or better understood.

The remarkable thing about these very well-known creations is that they were all created by writers, a playwright, and an artist of the opposite sex. To take it further, Deronda and Shylock are created by writers who were not Jewish, and Othello is created by a writer who was neither black nor a convert to Christianity from Islam.

Modern orthodoxies might, however, insist that they shouldn’t exist. In Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race, the thesis is that it is futile to speak to white people about what it is like to be black in Western democracies because the simple fact of not being black disqualifies one from the possibility of understanding black experience and, therefore, from having a worthwhile opinion. A similar logic is often applied to the proposition of men being able to understand or hold opinions about female experience.

This being the case, how did Rembrandt, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and William Shakespeare, along with a host of other successful writers, manage to pull off the trick of evoking or inventing such believable characters, thus giving the lie to such thinking? Surely it is a combination of two things.

The first thing is the intense familiarity with the opposite sex that being social and sexual animals affords us. For example, most women have one or many of the following – a father, a brother, a male sexual partner, a son, a male friend. Secondly, we have the human aptitude for imagination afforded by the unique quality of self-awareness. This means that, although not all humans do it, it is relatively easy for us to think ourselves into the skins of those with a different skin colour, religion, status, or sex. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but space travel is hugely advanced and regular shuttles have been running for a long time. It is impossible to conceive (pun intended) us without our being constantly in each other’s orbit and being the very opposite to estranged aliens or alienated strangers.

I’m all in favour of the celebratory French dictum “Vive la différence!” For the heterosexual majority, the ever-renewed joy of sexual relation resides in the mystery of the otherness of their partners and mates and the fact that the two sexes complement each other to make the complete human wholeness.

However, this can be taken too far. Men and women are from the same sexually reproducing species, and therefore, in sexual relations with each other biological imperatives often encourage lifelong pair-bonds. As a result, sexual relation is the extant bedrock of most of our society. All of this, in fact, leads to an astonishing intimacy. Our other-gendered partners could not be less alien to us as, in a sense, they are us, being part of our wholeness. One can play here with the various meanings of the verb to know. If a couple know each other in the supremely intimate biblical sense, it is pretty likely that they will also know what makes each other tick. That being the case, how could we not have a very close acquaintance with each other? By definition of what sex is, what in the world do we study, whether we like it or not, more than our sexual partners? We may say different things but, for the most part, we speak the same human languages.

Given such intense and inevitable familiarity, a small effort of imaginative sympathy is bound to give intelligent and sensitive people a very good understanding of what motivates the opposite sex. To return to race or religion, that same imaginative sympathy can be applied in exactly the same way. Before we are black or white we are human – hopefully a statement that is the very opposite of racist. When Shakespeare created Othello or wrote Shylock’s “If you prick us do we not bleed” speech, he accessed a black man’s and a Jew’s consciousness by means of a humanity he held in common with them and perfectly understood their plight. Imagination triumphed and our human sameness, rather than demographic characteristics and differences, was insisted and focused on.

You could argue that such imaginative versatility is one of the very sophisticated qualities that distinguish our civilization, one of the jewels in its crown that lead to our ability to embrace considerable diversity within its aegis. So why is it that that very excellent quality is so under attack? What is to be gained from insisting so vehemently and so angrily that there are impassable obstacles in the way at the borders leading to the foreign lands of the other sex or of other races and religions, or that common humanity is trumped by demographic differences?

Who profits and what is driving those who prefer to propagate the myths of antagonism and alienation over the obvious truths of familiarity and commonality? The attempt to drive a wedge between the sexes, on whose happy relations we literally depend for our lives, might seem like an assassination attempt on the human race.

There is a clue in the very particular way chosen to describe human history here:

The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs 

That, of course, is from the Communist Manifesto. Some people, then and now, profit from sowing discord and division (then it was class; now it is class, gender, race, and religion) because such false accounts of reality, configured entirely in terms of antagonism, exploitation, grievance, and alienation, afford opportunities and excuses to live out angry dramas and gain power based on the unjustified assumption that they are true. So habituated are we now to preferring to see things in terms of such antagonisms that we are almost dependent on the hits of outrage endorphins they give us and find it difficult to imagine weaning ourselves off them and seeing things in any other way. To see if this is true you have only to watch news programmes where virtually every item is routinely and unthinkingly configured in terms of who has been aggrieved by whom and who owes apology and compensation to whom. Division triumphs, and this is why we are no longer allowed to know each other and be friends.

Two poems by Guy Walker

Guy Walker is a French and Italian teacher who lives on the south coast of England. He edits the magazine https://www.british-intelligence.co.uk/ and blogs at https://roseatetern.blogspot.com/

Spleen by Charles Baudelaire – English Verse Translation


I have a thousand years of memories.

A chest of drawers rammed full of elegies,

Of served writs, billets doux and balance sheets,

Romances, heavy plaits rolled in receipts,

Encloses fewer secrets than my mind;

A pyramid or staggering crypt, you find

Contains more dead than does a limed mass-ditch.

– I am a moon-abhorred graveyard, in which

The biting worms there, like remorseful dread,

Attach themselves onto my hallowed dead.

I am a boudoir decked with shrivelled roses,

And heaps of tired couture, which juxtaposes

With grieving gouaches, bleached Bouchers which inhale

The odour leaked from an unstoppered phial.

When dull indifference’s first born, Ennui,

Takes on the spans of slow eternity,

Then, under heavy flakes of snowy years,

For length, the limping, hobbled days can know few peers.

– And you, a living being, you are no more;

As if drowned on Sahara’s trackless floor,

An old Sphinx who the maps say isn’t there,

Forgotten by a world which doesn’t care,

A granite mass that’s swamped in fear whose cries

Keen desperately; yet to a sun that dies.

Human Discourse

Behind plate windows, and beneath large skylights,

Thick woollen scarves and coats and autumn twilight.

“Technologies in art are superseded,

Egg tempera gave way to oils. What’s needed

Now‘s modern media.” And the crowd of French

Girls laugh and murmur; fidget on the bench.

“The lemon chia seed cake’s lovely, will

You have another latte?” Seeing light spill

Across the Common, passers-by steal glances,

“You can’t dispute that my device enhances.”

Professor Croce cleans his glasses, blinks,

Begins another peroration, thinks

Conception matters more than tools. A dog

Skitters on wooden laminate. “You’ll jog

The waitress, fooling ‘round!” — “ . . . used orpiment,

Lead white and cinnabar.” A hatstand meant

For fewer coats slews drunkenly, till caught,

And ‘busboys’ stack up plastic racks now brought

To steaming scullery door. The street-doors yawn,

Black revenant wind intrudes with dry leaves drawn

From gardens. Later on, and side by side,

The Prof and Eugene cough, their legs astride

And rocking back, sequestered maleness grasped;

They study walls and ceiling tiles while fast

Around white streaming bowls, they let careen

Their urine’s curtain, slewed on porcelain’s sheen.

Seen and unseen – horrors of the Holodomor

The Last Road, by Nina Marchenko

Mr Jones, 2019, directed by Agnieszka Holland

GUY WALKER admires an overdue film about a usually ignored atrocity

This film deals with a real event – the ‘discovery’ and reporting by a Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones, of the Holodomor (man-made starvation) which took place in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-3. There is scholarly dispute about the degree of intent, but, essentially, Stalin’s policies caused a famine in one of the world’s most productive breadbaskets which resulted in the deaths of between three and ten million Ukrainians and the conviction of 2,500 for cannibalism. Stalin’s policies caused the famine by vindictively suppressing 6 million kulaks – enterprising peasants who bettered themselves and thus became considered as bourgeoisie – through the forced collectivisation of farms and by the requisitioning of grain – ‘Stalin’s gold’ – which he used for export to pay for the industrialisation of the USSR. One of the first journalists to draw attention to the event was Malcolm Muggeridge. He managed this in spite of working under a regime where the Press Department of the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs once told him “You can’t say that because it’s true”. Later, to convince the West that the Holodomor was not true, the USSR was aided by George Bernard Shaw who visited and helpfully reported back that he “saw no evidence of starvation”.

We live in a world where television fascist dystopias are ten a penny and every time Donald Trump uncaps his vulgar gold pen or Boris Johnson steps up to a lectern the media class hallucinate goose-stepping Nazis. The same people contrive, simultaneously, to blink at the wall-to-wall post-Gramscian Marxism with which our culture is sodden. This might mean that the rarity of a film about real events casting a 70-year Communist experiment which led to the Holodomor in a bad light is to be considered a welcome corrective. Of course one can argue that the function of art is not to redress political balances but it’s hard to argue that this fine piece of art does not intend to make a political contribution. Holland was born behind and was a refugee from the Iron Curtain and, therefore, perhaps tacitly, assumes the wickedness of the USSR as a given we all know about. This being the case the only question is, considering the need of a dumb and somnolent, Hollywood-blunted Western audience (who may be resistant to it) to have everything spelt out in ten-foot letters, does Holland pull her punches too much? The film feels on the cusp of being Polish and addressing an American audience.

She and the screenwriter, Andrea Chalupa, go quite a long way to make the politics clear. The whole is framed by George Orwell (Joseph Mawle), disillusioned by Gareth Jones’ Ukrainian revelations, tapping out drafts of Animal Farm. Jones loudly and helpfully proclaims “the Soviet union is not the workers’ paradise” and the odious American apologist for Stalin, Walter Duranty, actually mouths the classic heartless platitude about omelettes and broken eggs. In addition, there is a character, Duranty’s secretary Ada, played by Vanessa Kirby, who personifies the way in which the panic about the Nazis pushed out the ability to recognise the Communist menace. Jones, who had already interviewed and even flown with Hitler before coming to Russia, also contains the history of the period in his personal experience. Ada walks a fine line and, having promoted the USSR under Duranty’s influence, gets it in the end.

The film reeks of Holland’s directorial class. She brilliantly sharpens the contrast between the freezing monochrome of the Ukrainian famine where people live on tree-bark and human flesh, and the warm polychrome of an England where food is almost literally waved under your nose. Another contrast is heightened; this time, that between Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones. Duranty, the New York Times (famous in our time for its uncritical embrace of authoritarian, woke culture), Pulitzer prize-winning journalist in the pocket of the Soviets is a true press lizard. In exchange for a life of extravagant decadence in Moscow he detoxifies and renders the USSR palatable to his readers sufficiently to ease the delicate consciences of US businessmen so that they can feel comfortable about exploiting attractive Russian markets. The US recognised the revolutionary USSR in 1933 because of Duranty’s account of it. On the other hand there is the inconvenient truth–telling of Jones who is what a journalist should be.

Techniques are honed and the cinematographer, Tomasz Naumiuk, deserves great credit. Lovingly detailed, dark-walled Moscow interiors lit by candles oppress claustrophobically. The 1930s modernist gleam of the Hotel Metropole where journalists stay only as long as it suits the NKVD, enchants, deceives and chills. The smoke and mirrors of the Russian state is evoked by shifting, kaleidoscopic reflections of people in mirrors and spectacle lenses, and long, soulless corridors. Frantic internal emotion is suggested by speeding up film. And, in the portrayal of the Holodomor we have trademark Holland realism. Typically, she doesn’t flinch at the horror created because the horror was real and the reality was both horrific and banal. Circled Ukrainian children sing to him a ghastly song about starvation in angelic voices before swiping Jones’ food. Then, after he has unwittingly participated with some children in an act of cannibalism, he sees children as carrion creatures encircling him in the snow. Both, admittedly poetic sequences could be seamlessly grafted straight onto a horror film. This shuffling nightmare is horrific and chills most because it was real. Holland ensures that it sinks slowly into and lingers in the consciousness.

Vanessa Kirby portrays a consciousness overwhelmed and haunted by twin nightmares very effectively. James Norton, reprising his Russian associations in McMafia, is excellent as the earnest and driven seeker after truth. Peter Sarsgaard is the suitably loathsome and Mephistophelean Soviet puppet, Duranty. He conveys menace, corruption and moral abandonment with finesse. 

Some people will still need it all spelt out. Perhaps only those who deserve to understand the film will do so.