Saturday, July 18, 2009

Playfulness and Poetry.

Besides doing extensive revisions on my book about Coleridge and Lamb in the past couple of weeks I have also been trying to read as much as possible. I recently reread McGann's Romantic Ideology and was frustrated once again with his strange, sometimes paradoxical and overly theoretical response to Romanticism. I was also reading a group of essays entitled Literary Theories in Praxis (ed. by Shirley Staton). The essays in this book are very interesting, but perhaps even more interesting are the short introductory remarks to each essay. But what has struck me through all this reading is not the truth of any particular literary theory but the inadequacy of all the theoretical attempts in their effort to grasp or really come to terms with literature. For example, Lipking's effort to "make sense" out of a poem like Yeat's Sailing to Byzantine does nothing for me but render the whole idea of poetical analysis 'non-sense.' Besides years of academic use of this poem rendering it rather dead (a fact that Lipking admits), Lipking's effort to make sense of this poem reminds me of the mass hysteria that drives such analysis into constructing habitual boundaries of acceptable meaning which students are then, through the process of anticipatory socialization, compelling into concluding 'for themselves.' As unpopular with 'intellectuals' as it might be, it seems to me that poetry cannot be analysed but only played with. This is not to say that poetry is a game but rather that it is a ground of aesthetic play that affords us space to make our own meaning. In our constant drive to reconcile the mind with the heart, and the individual with the universal, literature and art in general allows us a place in which we can play through this struggle, pulling in one direction and then in the other in this most human of endeavors. I speak up, therefore, for the play of poetry and the painful irrelevance of much analysis that so regularly looks toward fixed and correct meanings.

Stay tuned for some more observation on this issue as I try to post some blogs about my recent readings of Colerige.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Barbarism or Compassion?

There is so much wrong with Harper’s government it seems almost comical to bother to recite the problems. And since I am not particularly partisan it amazes me that people would bother to defend a so blatantly incompetent government. At a basic level, Harper just is not fit to govern. His has demonstrated over and over that he has no respect of Canadian’s, no respect for the House of Commons, no respect for the country, its basic legal system or the media. He practices the politics of hate and division and seems not to care even about the core issues that he is supposed to represent. It is ironic that in his own master’s thesis he condemned deficit spending as a device to win votes and now finds himself running the largest deficit in history. Harper has demonstrated again and again that he doesn’t really care about issues unless they are perceived vote winners, then he his right on the band-wagon.

But what frightens me is not Stephen Harper per se, but the fact that we live in a time when someone like this can get elected more than once and when the politics of hatred and division are not just repulsive to people. It seems to me that in very troubled times there are two paths to take. One is the path of division and the other is the path of inclusion and compassion. This is the way it was in the thirties when some countries went to the extreme right while others looked to reform capitalism with more humane solutions. It is now clear that we are going to be facing the same kind of choice. How are Canadians going to react to this dilemma? Do we continue to elect a man who, in the midst of crisis, will do anything he can to divide and conquer, or do we look toward a kinder, gentler future? Do we accept a government which even outside of an election campaign runs any kind of negative advertising or do we demand that our leaders rise to the occasion? Do we let our governing party create handbooks instructing committee chairs on how to shut down debate or do demand real discourse and real respect?

History is a mess of violence and bloodshed, militarism and oppression. But behind the scenes individuals on the margins have constantly worked for compassion and justice. It is not that immoral actions have never had results. Pyramids and railways have been built with slave labour. But how long are we to tolerate inhumanity, violence, hatred, cut-throat competition, and division until we finally say ‘NO MORE!’ ? I regularly write to my MP, one of the most outspoken haters in parliament to demand more respect. But it is time for everyone to make a change in themselves, me included, to insure a better future.

I could go on and on about this governments mistakes and incompetent efforts. But it is not about this anymore. It is time to make a more fundamental change, one that requires a Prime Minister who actually talks to average people, works in a soup kitchen once a week, reads poetry and has a passion for people, refuses the politics of hatred and division, and won’t let the ideologies of money and profit get in the way of humanity.  Now that it has once again become clear that Capitalism is not flawless and the so-called market cannot solve all our problems, we are facing a choice between compassion and barbarism. I hope we can choose compassion for the sake of my children and their children.

John Adams once wrote “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children the right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” Unfortunately, our leaders are still studying, and practicing, politics and war and it is time for us all to move on to a better stage of historical development. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fascism and Western Politics

I recently used the word Fascism and watched a number of other bloggers go crazy, while others suggested that they were disappointed with my rather angry outburst. So, though I admit that the outburst was initially a little strong, (and I rewrote it the same day), there is an important issue here that should be discussed.

Fascism is a word that is particularly provocative and raises the shackles of many, particularly in right-wing circles where they don’t like being accused of any association with this particular political approach. However, it should be made clear, and I have talked about it on my blog before, that despite the excessive emotion that the word elicits, it is a word that applies quite well to many Western Governments and political parties.

Mussolini famously defined Fascism as a significant collusion between Big Government and big business. And it is conveniently forgotten how popular Mussolini was in North America in the 1930s. This popularity resulted in a special edition of Forbes magazine devoted to Mussolini’s politics which suggested that this was the future of Capitalism. This particular edition of Forbes is now almost impossible to obtain but it makes clear how Capitalists and Conservatives felt about Fascism.

Then in the 50s an American academic and statesman named Bertram Gross wrote a remarkable book entitled Friendly Fascism which outlined how, despite the war, the US had slowly instituted fundamental principles of Fascism through the back door, though with less of the blatantly racist and militaristic rhetoric of the European fascism of the 1930s.

Since Bertram’s book, the fascist mechanisms in the US and other Western countries have dramatically increased and the connection between big business and big government has continually expanded, though in many cases this relationship is so cozy and inherent that it goes unnoticed. Another writer who has talked about this is of course Gore Vidal who documented the military-industrial complex of the US in a startling fashion. Noam Chomsky has also added a great deal to this discourse as have Howard Zinn and a number of other writers. 

Last year I wrote a long blog discussing why the Harper Government is essentially fascist as outlined by Mussolini, Gross, and Vidal. This is not hyperbole but a serious political discourse which most people in the West are unwilling to engage in simply because they don’t want to admit the fundamental ways in which Government has become aligned with business. Furthermore it is not hyperbole to talk about the ways that supposedly moderate parties like the Liberals under a leader like Ignatieff could be seen as inheritors of the friendly fascist tradition. Besides Mr. Ignatieff’s obvious support for Western militarism (including the militarism of the State of Israel), Ignatieff has defended torture, and uses a political discourse that is at times frighteningly Euro-centric and stands up for many of the basic assumptions that neo-conservatism stands for.

Though a blog does not afford the space to properly address the intricacies of these issues, we ignore them at our peril. Democracy in the Western nations is increasingly in crisis: participation rates are falling, public discourse is narrowing (largely as a result of media ownership), access to political office is becoming increasingly more difficult, political discourse is creeping ever closer to business discourse, and Conservative parties are continually attacking basic human and labour rights. I recommend Gross’s book as well as several books by Vidal in order to realize that suggesting a link between Western Governments (and Parties) and Fascism may sound provocative but is by no means hyperbole. Conservatives (and even Liberals) may bristle at the connection but if they ignore it they are not being honest about political discourse. 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Liberals advocating military coups!

For all of you who think the Liberals are moderates here is a link of a prominent Liberal blogger illegally advocating a military coup against elected official and ranting in an anti-labour mode. 

I guess for some Liberals  democracy, moderation and workers rights are fine until they don't like the results. 

Unfortunately far too many Liberals, just like the Tories, are anti-union, anti-democratic, and will be glad to advocate these kinds of fascist tactics. If a Tory blogger had advocated this coup Liberals would have been glad to make it an issue in the media but if Liberals say something like this it seems to be happily ignored. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Faith and the Future

What if you knew the world was going to end? Not just your life or the lives of some people, but everyone and everything. All the achievements of our rather sad race wiped out in one go. Everything we do in our lives is predicated on our inherent faith that the future of the civilization is in some sense guaranteed. The symphonies of Beethoven, the plays of Shakespeare, the great monuments of the world, all of them are predicated on faith in the future. We raise our children, and do our jobs, we write novels, or invent new technologies, because we believe that these things will mean something in the future. Religious and non-religious people act equally on their faith. If you had no faith you would simply be a nihilist and I have never really met one of these.

Of course the terrible irony in life is that many of those who claim to have religious faith spend their entire lives trying to destroy the progress of the human race. And I am not talking about the ‘technological’ progress of the human race, although there are those who would destroy this too. I am talking about the aesthetic progress that we make; the progress we make toward being more loving, affectionate, tolerant, caring, poetic, and insightful human beings. Every day you can see them doing it. It is these politicians who constantly promote negativity, dividing people with intolerance and hate. It is religious fanatics who kill in the name God or drive a wedge of intolerance between people with different sexual or spiritual proclivities. It is soldiers who support coups in places like Honduras who will do anything they are told, no matter how brutal or ugly. Of course in most cases these people represent the most prosperous and powerful of all people in our society, which is a difficult and painful irony for all who oppose such hatred and evil. But the rich and powerful can do little without the support of much of the population. Thus, the philosopher Bertrand Russell pointed out that the supporters of the terrible in power are just as bad as those in power themselves. And Dr. King reminded us that those who passively accept evil are as much involved in it as those who perpetrate it.

But my greatest sadness, and it is a sadness that I feel in the very depths of my soul, is that I don’t know how to fight any more. I am losing the faith that I need to go on and I don’t know what to do about it. I remember reading that while St. Francis was working in his garden one day when someone asked him what he would do if he knew he was not going to live through tomorrow, and he simply replied that he would continue working in his garden.