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Blog entries on '05 July 2007'

Thursday 05 July 2007

Dan Hind interview (part 4)


Dan Hind, author of The Threat to Reason


Below is the fourth part (first part, second part, third part) of my interview with Dan Hind, author of The Threat to Reason (Verso):


Yesterday, there were good reviews of Dan's book over on Lenin's Tomb (where the latest Christopher Hitchens book, God is Not Great, is also soundly dismantled) and at the Socialist Review. Right, onto the interview:


Mark Thwaite: Now, postmodernists! They're a rum lot aren't they? Lots of anti-foundationalist mumbo-jumbo. Surely they are a threat to reason!?


Dan Hind: Well, some of them would certainly like to think they are. It's dangerous to generalise, though. The post-modern impulse to cast doubt on the legacy of the Enlightenment has a strong historical justification. Ideas and language we associate with the Enlightenment have been used repeatedly by European powers to justify aggression and state terror. The Americans in the Philippinnes were bringing progress to the region, as they are in Iraq now. So it is quite right to question the uses made of the Enlightenment. Now I don't agree with some post-modern positions, and some I plain don't understand. I think it is wrong to dismiss the ideas of the Enlightenment outright because of the use that has been made of them in the past, which is sometimes a temptation. 'Radical' critiques of reason and morality can, I think, lead to a withdrawal from the work of knowing, and of trying to change, the world.


Still, even at their most radically anti-rational, post-modernists pale into insignifance as a threat to reason. A philosopher might tell a journalist that they can never report truthfully on a situation; this might give the journalist pause, it  might even undermine his or her self-confidence a little. But politicians and businessmen have journalists killed when they stumble on a story, or simply when they are in the wrong place. Now it is not a subtle point, but it is worth making; post-modernists don't kill journalists as part of their efforts to derail Western metaphyisics. What is a more serious threat to your capacity to make reasoned judgments about the world - academics who claim that reason is a chimera, or institutions that use violence to suppress information that might have a disruptive effect?


MT: I'm been particularly dismayed recently by the so-called "bombing left"? How do you respond to them and their (ir)rationalism?


DH: You're talking about Christopher Hitchens, Johann Hari, David Aaronovitch, I guess, the enlightened supporters of intervention in Iraq. One of my main aims in writing the book was to try to gently prise their fingers off the Enlightenment. So in a sense the book is my response to them. They wanted to claim that US-UK military intervention in the Middle East had an 'objectively' enlightened quality, somehow; to side with America was to side with progress. This is an idea that depends on a very eccentric understanding of what the Enlightenment itself was about, and a wilful reluctance to find out what was going on in 2002-2003. Plenty of people were able to see that the invasion was not about promoting democracy, or confronting religious tyranny, and that it was likely to be a disaster for the Iraqi people. Interventionist liberals thought they could see a bright shining future. Clearly the people who protested against the war had a better title to the Enlightenment than the 'bombing left; they had the courage to use their own reason and weren't suckers for any old mood music that the White House put on.


Power is very adept at finding reasons why we should stand by and let them do what it wants. The language of Enlightenment was part of that process in 2002-2003. It is time to put an end to this blackmail - 'either you're with us or you're against the Enlightenment', not only in our dealings with state power, but also with the corporations. States and corporations are very dangerous, and if you ever hear them talking about the forward march of progress and the triumphant possibilities offered to us by modern science, then you have to start worrying.


MT: What are you working on now Dan?


DH: I am working on a longish article about the possibilities and opportunities presented by new technology. I am not a techno-utopian, by any means - posting on the Guardian's Comment is Free is enough to cure anyone of that. But I am interested in looking at the potential of new technology. And I am also writing a proposal for a new book. When I say writing, I am mostly staring at a blank piece of paper and then checking the Amazon ranking for The Threat to Reason. I mean, I am only human.


I am also trying to do some work at the day job, at Random House.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 05 July 2007

Rushdie and Melville

I've been arguing with the fabulously-named Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky over on the excellent Kenyon Review blog about the literary worth of Salman Rushdie's work. I'm not a fan, Sergei is:


I see The Satanic Verses as Rabelaisian in style and intent: a satiric excess that reflects what happens to language when empire makes it both an official language of power and a language of immigrants. The secret of empire is that you never truly conquer another people: you marry your children to them. That’s also true in language. You don’t teach those you conquer to speak your language; instead you find yourself speaking Anglostani on the streets of London or Calexican on the streets of L.A. To me, Rushdie’s linguistic excess is funny, and the inconsistencies in his tone reflect the clashing of worlds. That’s the most important narrative of our time, and if the writing sprawls and lacks purity, that’s exactly the point.

During our debate, Sergei brought my attention to some great old reviews of Moby Dick that can be found via melville.org. One, from the London Literary Gazette (December 6th, 1851) reads in part:


This is an odd book, professing to be a novel; wantonly eccentric; outrageously bombastic; in places charmingly and vividly descriptive. The author has read up laboriously to make a show of cetalogical learning... Herman Melville is wise in this sort of wisdom. He uses it as stuffing to fill out his skeleton story. Bad stuffing it makes, serving only to try the patience of his readers, and to tempt them to wish both him and his whales at the bottom of an unfathomable sea...

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 05 July 2007

Joseph Epstein on Paul Valéry

Via Books, Inq., Joseph Epstein on The intimate abstraction of Paul Valéry.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 05 July 2007

No to Tate!


Catherine Tate as Donna, the runaway bride


Completely concurring with Emma over on the Snowblog who said yesterday:


Words cannot convey the horror, shock, sadness and derision I feel upon hearing that Catherine Tate is going to be the new Companion. I utterly give up. Russell T Davies, you are *ruining* Doctor Who and it's not yours to ruin. It's going to be dire. I am so mad.

Tate seems such a backward step to me. Her annoying mannerisms (and, jeez, Donna the runaway bride was such an annoying character) coupled with her limited actorly range (plainly, I'm out of my depth talking about the telly!) surely mean that the new Companion will move Doctor Who back towards the sillier plots and away from the recent darker episodes.



Carey Mulligan, star of the Blink episode


Why can't it have been Carey Mulligan (who did such a splendid job as Sally Sparrow in Steven Moffat's excellent Blink episode)?


Don't do too much TV, but I do like my Who ... and this has pissed me off!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Serendipoetry

Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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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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