Cockburn on liberals

From The Nation, 24 November 1984, reprinted in Corruptions of Empire:

`Could the officer have aimed to warn or wound rather than to kill? Could the team have used Chemical Mace or tear gas?’ This was in a November 2 New York Times editorial, apropos the N.Y.P.D.’s shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, the 66-year-old Bronx woman who was behind in her rent. I love liberals when they try to think constructively.

Paying for education

As seems likely, we in the UK are about to see the price of education hiked by another few grand a year. It turns out that the problem of what to pay for education was solved by William Blake a couple of centuries ago:

What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath, his house, his wife, his children
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy
And in the wither’d field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain

or, if you prefer, fame costs:

Theodor Adorno and Michael Gove

So there I was, minding my own business, when I discovered that the Frankfurt School was responsible for giving gay men and women in Ireland the right to marry.

“Well now,” says I, “what else might they be responsible for, these gnomes of Frankfurt.” It turns out they have been the source of the “ideas” for education policy in the United Kingdom for decades. From Dialectic of Enlightenment:

Cultural education spread with bourgeouis property. It forced paranoia into the dark corners of society and the soul. But since the real emancipation of mankind did not take place with the enlightenment of the mind, education itself became diseased. The greater the distance between the educated consciousness and social reality, the more it was itself exposed to the process of reification. Culture became wholly a commodity disseminated as information without permeating the individuals who acquired it. Thought became restricted to the acquisition of isolated facts. Conceptual relationships were rejected as uncomfortable and useless effort. The aspect of development in thought, all that is genetic and intensive in it, is forgotten and leveled down to the immediately given, to the extensive. Today the order of life allows no time for the ego to draw spiritual or intellectual conclusions. The thought which leads to knowledge is neutralized and used as a mere qualification on specific labour markets and to heighten the commodity value of the personality. And so that self-examination of the mind which works against paranoia is defeated. Finally, under the conditions of modern capitalism, half-education has become objective spirit. In the totalitarian phase of domination, it calls upon the provincial charlatans of politics, and with them the system of delusion as the ultima ratio: forcing it upon the majority of the ruled, who are already deadened by the culture industry. The contradictions of rule can be seen through by the healthy consciousness so easily today that it takes a diseased mind to keep them alive. Only those who suffer from a delusion of persecution accept the persecution to which domination must necessarily lead, inasmuch as they are allowed to persecute others.

Arise Kilnamanagh and take your place among the nations of the earth

Dublin, perhaps uniquely, has suffered mythologization by genius and by sentimentality. Caught between Leopold Bloom and the Leprachaun Museum (yes, there is), the city of Dublin, the living breathing people and the physical structures they live in and on, has fallen out of sight. Joyce and Flann O’Brien caught its speech, but the one did it so perfectly people are afraid to read him, and the other was so accurate they think the humour is a laughing matter; James Plunkett wrote Dublin on a human scale and gave it flesh and blood characters, but is little known outside Ireland. We have ended up with Bloomsday and Paddy’s Day, the first now more kitsch than the second.

Karl Whitney has now written a book that gives us back Dublin as a city, not the set of a novel, or the battlefield of dreams of some misty eyed tourist in search of their heroic and downtrodden ancestors.
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The creative process blog tour

In Darran Anderson’s words, this seems to be a Ponzi scheme of some sort, but Kirsty McCluskey has passed me the black spot, so here are my answers to the questions.

What am I working on?

Right now, I am working on an article for the Honest Ulsterman  on the politics of Irish memory of the First World War, overlapping with some ideas from an article to appear there on why Italian Fascists have a thing about Bobby Sands; a major overhaul of a set of notes for a course on Turbulence and Noise; a paper on fast methods of computing noise over large areas.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In acoustics (science of) as a genre, my work fits into a certain niche between numerical analysis (using computers to get answers to hard problems) and applied mathematics (pencil and paper). When I write for students, I try to produce coherent narratives rather than a simple set of notes, and introduce the cultural and social context of the technology, through examples (Nazis in space), and encourage wider reading (Tom Wolfe, Jed Mercurio, Yeats and MacNeice in notes on aircraft control).

In my non-scientific writing, I have brought science and technology to fora where they might not otherwise appear, and a particular technical background to historical and political issues.

 Why do I write what I do?

Science: because I’ll be fired if I don’t. Also, it’s only science, or scholarship, when it is published so that other people can read it, contest it, and use it.

Non science: I think I have something different to say about some familiar issues, and something common to say about unfamiliar ones.

How does my writing process work?

In both cases, I write randomly, throwing down fragments, ranging in size from bullet points, as aides memoire, to full paragraphs. When I have something like a first draft, I print it out, delete the electronic original, and write it again. If needs be, rinse and repeat. The first pass lets me generate the material, and identify gaps in the argument, without being constrained by a need to produce good prose. The subsequent passes let me form a coherent argument, without worrying about the content.


Roman a Clerc

[Declaration of interest: Kirsty McCluskey is a friend of mine, and I read the book in various drafts.]

Ruritania is not Greeneland, but the Catholic geology of both should be mined properly, if it is to be mined at all. Kirsty McCluskey’s new novelette, The Royal Confessor, is built around the relationships between the ailing monarch of Santa Teresa, his niece, and his Jesuit confessor. Fernand, veteran of Borodino, is prey to some unnamed terror which increasingly extreme religious devotions cannot ease; Sophie, his widowed niece, lives on the charity of the royal household, where the heir apparent Lucien is powerless to protect the island’s autonomy secured by Fernand’s skillful diplomacy decades earlier; Father Neri, the confessor, can offer no consolation to the old soldier, but duty obliges him to come when called.

Catholicism has taken on some of the otherness once reserved for distant tribes of which we knew only that we ruled them, and can be an easy gimmick for a lazy writer. This is especially true of confession (strictly the Sacrament of Penance), whether the use of the `seal’ to set up a thriller, or as a form of therapeutic talking cure (“Fr Eud will see you now.”).

The (A) point of Penance, which distinguishes it from secular therapies, is the relationship to the world outside the penitent. Simply unburdening oneself of one’s concerns is not enough: to be fully reconciled, after forgiveness, the penitent accepts some penance which is commensurate with the sin. Fernand has seen and done terrible things at Borodino; he wants his confessor to reconcile him with his God; his confessor can find no way to bring him to confess the sins which weigh upon him; no penance is possible.

Among the pleasures of the book, then, is an intelligent fictional treatment of a genuine dilemma, and probably one which has been set as an essay question in theology exams: how to absolve a penitent who will not confess his sin. Fernand believes himself damned, but cannot take the only refuge open to him; Neri does not believe him damned, but cannot offer him the only consolation of worth.