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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Blog entries on '23 January 2007'

Tuesday 23 January 2007

Derbyshire and Cohen

In a post earlier today, Jonathan Derbyshire quotes from (some of?) his forthcoming interview with Nick Cohen, "in which he and I discuss his forthcoming book What's Left?" I suspect that I will have plenty to take issue with in Cohen's book, but I've yet to see a copy, and so will reserve my comments to simply trying to work out what Jonathan (and Cohen) mean in the following. Cohen is quoted as saying, "Because you’re no longer a socialist putting forward a programme, you don’t have to stand for anything. That’s why so many people read Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore – they don’t have to commit to anything. They just have to jeer." Jonathan calls this a "chastening diagnosis" He goes on to say, "at least in setting it out Cohen shows that there is still an alternative on the left to Chomsky’s suave nihilism and Moore's lumpen idiocies."

The only coherent reason for singling out Chomsky and Moore in this way is that they are both bestselling authors. Politically their methods are miles apart and, whilst no doubt many people buy books by both writers, their agendas and their constituencies are very different too. Moore's populism is useful for puncturing the pomposity of the powerful; Chomsky's critiques are far more considered and careful. Regardless of this, I take objection to Cohen's statement that those who read Chomsky and Moore do so merely to "jeer". Of course, when one buys a book one commits to nothing whatsoever. But many of those who have bought books by Chomsky and Moore, like I'm sure some who will buy Cohen's book, do so because of a profound interest in what is going on in the world. Those books represent just part of a way that they might begin to understand and engage in it. Further, I have no idea whatsoever how Chomsky can be called a "nihilist" (Derbyshire I'm sure knows what this word means, so I have no idea why he applies it). I'm guessing that it might be because Chomsky offers a partial critique of the Left from the Left, but I'm unsure. And the phrase "Moore's lumpen idiocies" sounds like the silliest kind of snobbery to me.

What underlies this rather forceless little attack on Moore and Chomsky, and those who read them, is Cohen's statement, followed by Jonathan's comment that "‘socialism as a practical political project is simply dead.’ What remains is the anti-imperialism of fools." What that actually equates to meaning is that those who opposed the war in Iraq, and the subsequent killing of 650,000 Iraqi civilians, are idiots. Well, I'm an idiot then. I console myself by thinking, nay jeering, that at least I know what nihilism means.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 23 January 2007

Proust and Vermeer

A Proust/Vermeer dissertation at the Essential Vermeer site (via Moleskine Modality). Quoting from Anthony Bailey's study, The View of Delft:

Through Vermeer Proust meditated his own end. In May 1921 the exhibition of Dutch painting at the Jeu de Paume was attracting crowds, drawn to see among other things, Vermeer's View of Delft and Girl with a Pearl Earring. According to George Painter's biography of him, Proust had read in the Paris press articles on the Vermeers by Lèon Daudet and Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. At last he decided he had to go and see them. At nine one morning, a time when he is usually just going to sleep, Proust sent a message to Vaudoyer asking him to accompany him to the Jeu de Paume. Leaving the apartment he had a terrible attack if giddiness, and recovered from it and went on down stairs. At the exhibition, Vaudoyer steadied the writer's shaky progress towards the View of Delft. Proust was apparently revived by Vermeer for he managed to go on to the Ingres exhibition and then to lunch at the Ritz before returning home, though according to Painter he was still 'shaken and alarmed' by the attack. He never went out again.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 23 January 2007

Kurp on Nabokov

Patrick Kurp on Nabokov:

On July 2 we will observe the 30th anniversary of Vladimir Nabokov’s death, a reality that remains unacceptable. I have never fallen so hard for a writer as I did for Nabokov in 1970, when I started reading all his available books, out of order, early self-translated Russian titles mingling promiscuously with the American and post-American masterpieces. One of the reasons I fell in love with Tristram Shandy was that I read an essay by Frank Kermode in which he likened Nabokov’s Bend Sinister to Sterne’s masterpiece. Nabokov was never a systematic critic of literature but his influence on my tastes was lasting. Dostoevsky remains “Dusty,” and Freud, more than ever, is the “Viennese quack.” The aim of reading and writing, he taught us, is “aesthetic bliss.”

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Tuesday 23 January 2007

MIA facing "very significant challenges"

The encyclopedic Marxists Internet Archive is in trouble:

In early November we came under sustained denial of service attack from Internet hosts in China attempting to exploit a misconfiguration in our server's operating system. The nature and origin of the attack, our previous history with the PRC, and the experience of others suggest that this maybe politically motivated and directed by the Chinese government. Protecting ourselves necessitated rebuilding part of the kernel and rebooting the system remotely. The failure of the system to properly boot into the new kernel caused a prolonged outage as we scrambled to find someone with the necessary access to get the system back into the previous configuration. More...

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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