Nice, old Faber cover (via

I note I've not really said, of late, what I've been reading. Well, lots of things, of course, but the books that stick in the mind include William Golding's Pincher Martin (a lovely old Faber paperback I picked up in a local charity shop; the latest incarnation, you'll note, has a truly awful cover design), Dan Hind's The Threat to Reason (Verso; Dan's book is a wonderful antidote to the idiocies of Euston Manifesto-type pillocks and I'll be doing a lot to recommend in the coming weeks), and Roberto Bolaño's Amulet (New Directions; and one of my Books of the Week you'll have noted). The Bolaño oddly reminded me of Richard Brautigan; something both casual and heart-wrenching about the writing.

Update: Actually, I've just posted a tiny, capsule review of Pincher Martin over on The Book Depository which reads:

Whenever William Golding's name is invoked, we recall his dystopian, best-selling classic Lord of the Flies. That novel, first published in 1954, has sold millions of copies worldwide, including more than 25 million in English alone. But Golding's skill as a truly modern writer is better showcased in his most perfectly realised work, his masterful third novel Pincher Martin. The story of a shipwrecked sailor, set at the time of World War Two, it is also an existential quest into our anti-hero Christopher Martin's sense of himself, of his past actions (including violently forcing himself on a female friend) and his gathering awareness of what is really happening to him as he tries to survive on an outcrop in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, drinking from rock pools, eating whatever he can find, and fighting for his life and his sanity.

Readers Comments

  1. I'm very interested in Hind's book, and I look foprward to whatever you have to say about it.

    Also, coincidentally, I find myself especially interested in William Golding's work of late, too, after years of assuming it was ok to ignore it. I've never even read Lord of the Flies... should I skip it and go right to his others?

  2. Hi Richard,

    Well, I intend to push Hind's book like mad. Indeed, I'll be blogging tomorrow about how I want to use Hind's book as a bit of an experiment to see if RSB's noise translates into sales. It doesn't bother me if it doesn't -- I'm not here to sell books -- but I'm intrigued to see if it does, and I'd really like to see Dan's book do well.

    It isn't perfect: a little jagged to begin with and a little limp at the end, but I'll have more to say about it anon. Also, I'll be interviewing Dan and maybe hosting something a little more interactive with him too.

    The thrust of his book is, however, excellent. Essential, it is a fairly obvious call about getting things into perspective. Homeopathic medicine might be nonsense, but the real peril to people's health comes from big pharmaceutical firms refusing to give AIDS drugs to the South. That kind of thing.

    On Golding: I'm no expert. I've read four or so. But I'd heartily recommend Pincher Martin.


  3. Damian Counsell Thursday 24 May 2007

    As a "pillock" I'm probably going to have difficulty grasping your answer to this question, but, please, indulge me. Is there something specific in the Euston Manifesto that is demonstrably "idiotic"? I'm sure every member of the Euston Manifesto Group would appreciate the insights you have to offer.

    Those of your readers who'd like to hear Michael Walzer, Fred Halliday, and others talk about some of the preoccupations of the pillocks might be interested in attending our conference on 30May07 at SOAS. The details are at

  4. Pillock is far, far too kind: morally abject may be better.

    If you can't see why cheerleading the deaths of 600,000 Iraqis (nearer to 1 million deaths if you include Afghanistan) puts you beyond the pale, god knows what arguments I can muster to convince you of your moral and intellectual inadequacies.

    And your pointless comment suggests that you have also failed to notice that I've already linked to your risible website in my brief comment above, so your additional signposting is superfluous.

  5. Damian Counsell Thursday 24 May 2007

    Can you point to a place in the manifesto where we "cheerlead" the deaths of any Iraqis at all?

    I'm generously inferring that the least absurd way of interpreting your argument is something like this:

    1. 600 000 Iraqis have died as a direct and predictable result of military intervention by coalition forces in Iraq.

    2. The Euston Manifesto supported that intervention.

    3. Therefore the authors of the Euston Manifesto are "morally abject".

    None of these things is true, and, given that two of the four main authors of the document have consistently and publicly opposed military intervention in Iraq---as have the two speakers at our conference I refer to above---number 2 is provably so.

    One of the dangers of this medium's anonymity is that people say things about others on blogs that they would never say to them if they met them face-to-face. This appears to be a site about reading and you claim to be a Web consultant. The first piece of advice I'd give anyone writing on the Web is to do some reading before lying about and insulting strangers, especially in such an hysterical way. One of the benefits of this medium is that its newfangled search engine technology can be used to avoid embarrassing displays of ignorance and prejudice. It makes basic research so much easier than it used to be.

    I'm pretty relaxed about this kind of thing: every rant and crazy conspiracy theory about the Euston Manifesto makes the document's point about the state of contemporary debate better than its text. With enemies like this we hardly need friends. I'll add your righteous condemnation of our imagined crimes to my collection of quotes over on my own blog. But some people do get upset at being libelled and, at the very least, obvious nonsense like this just looks silly, even to people who might otherwise be sympathetic. I wouldn't recommend this approach to online discussion to your clients.

    Nice puppy, by the way.

  6. As you say, the joy of the internet is that anyone can happily click away from this site and go and read the nonsense at

    You've made your "point". Now go away.

  7. Here from the Manifesto on Iraq. It's written in such a way as to take a moral high ground while not taking a political position, but even then this still reads as support for the occupation:

    “The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for the successful implementation of democratic change. We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted — rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

    This opposes us not only to those on the Left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Baathist thugs of the Iraqi so-called resistance, but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country. We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends, while devoting most of one's energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi "insurgency". The many left opponents of regime change in Iraq who have been unable to understand the considerations that led others on the Left to support it, dishing out anathema and excommunication, more lately demanding apology or repentance, betray the democratic values they profess.”

    The crucial question here is who are they referring to when they talk about 'those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country'?

  8. Frankly, the bombing left make my blood boil so much that I find engaging with them on any level very difficult (hence my non-reponse above). No doubt some Euston Manifesto signatories did oppose the war -- and certainly it is now such an atrocious mess that it is all but impossible to support the ongoing slaughter that the war (or should I say "humanitarian intervention"?) unleashed -- but, as I see it, the justification for creating the EM was precisely to articulate a pro-Imperialist ("humanitarian intervention" in EM-speak), pro-war Left. Certainly, all the pro-war Lefties I know of support -- and find succour -- in the EM. For me, the EM embodies that position. And that position is morally abject.  
    For those EMers appalled by the war, why are you co-signees with those who support it? Damian says above, "two of the four main authors of the document have consistently and publicly opposed military intervention in Iraq". So that would leave 2 who think that bombing innocent people is justifiable then?
    Defending pro-war Nick Cohen (EM signatory), I read over on EM signatory, pro-war Norman Geras's normblog ( that he thinks one can only see the EM as pro-war if you embark on a "clever-clever, a.k.a. nincompoop" account of what EM is trying to achieve.
    If half of a committee think that bombing innocents is a good idea, wouldn't the other half of that same committee be acting very foolishly indeed (one might say, in bad faith) if they signed a document alongside those who were pro-war and didn't think that they would be tarred with the same brush? Especially as whether or not to support war is kinda serious?

  9. What perplexes me about the EM is its obsession with the nastiness of the armed resistance, as if condemning it would make the slightest difference. It has nothing to do with opposition to the invasion and occupation. An historical comparison: in 1979 and onward, there was never any embarrassment about telling the Soviets they got what they deserved for invading. Our governments saw no problem in funding Islamic militants who beheaded Soviet conscripts. They even invited them to embassies for garden parties. Bin laden was one who enjoyed their hospitality. No doubt they would tell those of us appalled by these brutes that “these things happen in war“. Has anything changed when our troops commit atrocities? I think the EMers would counter that liberal invasions are more moral than state communist invasions. They should tell it to the bereaved families as this would be great consolation.
    But now those who say more or less the same thing about the US invasion, yet do not fund the armed resistance or invite them to garden parties, are somehow beyond the pale. Surely all we can do is to oppose what our own governments are doing and learn from history that those in power are never driven by morals but expedience. Admittedly opposition to the invasion didn't have much impact in 2003, so one wonders whether it ever will. And, except to appease a bunch of Cuthbert Cringeworthys who have signed the EM, what difference will it make to condemn the buzzing of the hornets?

  10. Mark - you are, of course, correct to smell a rather large and dopy rat. He's clogging up your comments box. Damian Counsell is precisely the sort of passive-aggressive, condescending twit that gets the Eustonians their reputation for abortive pedantry and platitude. He would like you to know that he is quite relaxed about all the unfortunate things people say (oh, the poor misguided darlings!), even though he seems to spend a lot of his time engaged in puerile 'rebuttals'.

    It is true that not *all* of the Euston Manifesto's authors supported the invasion of Iraq, although in no case is this on a matter of principle, so far as I am aware. For instance, I am certain that Alan Johnson is far more hostile to the antiwar left than he is against US imperialism. This is signalled, among other things, by his 'Platform 5' post at Normblog, and his decision to edit Democratiya, a 'left' pro-imperialist fanzine dedicated to puffing people like Kanan Makiya (throwing him soft-ball questions and pandering to his idiotic delusions and narcissism).

    The basic imperative of the EM, aside from shoring up Norman Geras' apparently limitless vanity, is to unite those liberals who supported the Iraq war with those couldn't yet still adhere broadly to the interventionist ethic. The absolute calamity of the Iraq occupation being as obvious as it was, it was decided - apparently on the back of 'Unite Against Terror' - to try and put all that behind us and unite on what really matters, the defense of empire, and of Israel. To which end, the American Empire must be credited with pursuing the aims and priorities of Western liberals, and the catechisms of left discourse are therefore appropriated to that purpose - 'solidarity', 'internationalism', 'intervention', 'anti-fascism', 'Enlightenment' - all those excellent and laudable traditions are enclosed and handed without embarrassment to the American state department and the CIA. To which end also is the territory of working class struggle casually invaded and festooned with stars n stripes: we must support the IFTU at all costs, because it supports the occupation of Iraq. And so on.

    It is pointless taking this minute, cultish, mutual masturbation club seriously for the slightest moment. Consistency, they know nothing of: witness Nick Cohen repeatedly, drunkenly, delivering Extreme Unction to the Left. Principle, too, is an unwelcome, suspicious stranger to them: take Geras, who is so concerned about those who stand by in the face of catastrophe, telling us that if he had known what would befall Iraq, he would still not have made any public sign of opposition. They are all, without exception or extenuation, tumescent pillocks.

  11. Damian Counsell Friday 25 May 2007

    Shorter "lenin":

    "I haven't got a substantive argument, but you smell. So nerr!"

    Coming in from a stroll in the sunshine to this epic, baroque hissy-fit from a Hizb-allah supporter is the sort of delight that makes all that sitting in pubs arguing about manifestos worthwhile.

  12. Mr Counsell, I would recommend you take the trouble to polish up your rhetorical skills a bit, but the effort is probably beyond you. I'll persuade Mark Kaplan to add an entry in his 'Notes on Rhetoric' under 'hissy fit'. He doesn't need to add any notes about the sort of line that goes: "you are a Hizballah supporter, and are therefore a) culpable and shamed before the imaginary tribunal, and b) a sort of excitable rube whose gyrations provide me with sublime satisfaction". At any rate, I don't mind you reminding everyone that I took the correct side in the recent assault on Lebanon, and I'll happily add further examples of my degeneracy if you think it will assist you: I have argued, for instance, that Al Qaeda is 'misunderstood', that the Iraqi resistance are right to attack coalition troops, that Maoists should take over Nepal, that there should be more US presidents like Kennedy (dead), that a suicide attack on Blair would be admirable if accompanied by the wholesale slaughter of his cabinet etc etc. I am, as it were, with the evildoers of the world. You have me bang-to-rights.

    And there I think we can decently end our correspondence.

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