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Book Reviews German Matters politics

Elise Reifenberg (aka Gabriele Tergit)

I am currently reading a book about a doomed society on the brink of Fascism. Where publicity takes the trivial and ephemeral and promotes it as serious journalism. Set in a city where it is important to be seen in the right places. A society where there is a strong underlying current of racism. A place where a spectacle is required every evening to entertain manual workers, secretaries and shopkeepers. A city where greed and cheap, unreliable information dominates the public space. This could be London; this could be today.

In fact this is Berlin in 1930 where a man whose name roughly translates as Cheeseburger sings sickly romantic songs and becomes the equivalent of a Tik Tok celebrity – reports about him soon dominat the front pages of the city’s many newspapers and journals. Such is Käsebier Takes Berlin, a demanding book ably translated from the German by Sophie Duvernoy. (You can improve your knowledge of Berlin Argot at https://www.fluentu.com/blog/german/berlin-slang/)

Not the least interesting aspect of this novel (early metrication??) are the cultural references to be found in the notes- from Schiller to Fontane including scenes of the famous, louche “Romanisches” cafe. If you enjoyed the recent series on KaDeWe on BBC you will enjoy this spectacle of the frantic Weimar period.

Then there is the evocative smell of newspapers hot off the press. Journalists who become frustrated by sub-editors who cut their best phrases and compositors who have a scarcely veiled contempt for content as long as it fits elegantly on the front page.

Finally Berlin itself as it was in the pre-war period is touched upon; the Biergartens beside the Spree, the absurd architecture of prosperous flats and yet the strange variations in property prices. This latter caused by insecurities in the currency together with the speculations of dodgy developers. This too gives Tergit’s Weimar novel contemporary relevance.

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Art and Photographic History Art Exhibition Reviews politics Uncategorized

Today’s Crisis of Brilliance in Ukraine

During this peculiar August weather, I have been reading David Boyd Hancock’s remarkable account of young British Artists and the Great War. Firstly, the account has introduced me to the Slade Artists whose work I was fortunate to see a few year’s ago in the Dulwich Art Gallery. So I have become acquainted with the critical instructor Henry Tonks whose sarcasm of student’s drawing was interlaced with great conviction about fostering the development of fine talents. I have learned much about the deep courage of Stanley Spencer, the lyrical regard of Paul Nash and his brother for the countryside, and of how Nevinson subverted Futurism to convey the mechanical dreadfulness of modern warfare.

Secondly, Boyd Haycock is excellent on the personal relationships affecting the development and interaction between the painters. The upbringing of Mark Gertler and his passion for the wayward and difficult Dora Carrington, I found fascinating as the figures of Bloomsbury enter the scene: Strachey, Fry and of course, Ottoline Morrell. Rupert Brooke and D.H.Lawrence are included too and the various links with art dealers, sponsors and critics completely convey the vivid and sometimes lurid time.

Thirdly, the response of these sensitive souls to the destruction so suddenly released in 1914 is powerfully conveyed. Minds as well as bodies are for ever traumatised and the pictures generated under fire have enormous power. Reading about the stalemate which ensued and the trench warfare, the horrors suffered under artillery bombardment and perhaps especially, the unnatural distortion of countryside inevitably bring contemporary issues to mind.

One interesting exhibition which has displayed the artwork in relation to the Ukrainian conflict has taken place in Brussels and is the subject of an engaging article from The Guardian- Making sense of the senseless: Ukrainian war-art exhibition arrives in Brussels and may be viewed at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/31/ukrainian-war-art-exhibition-arrives-brussels-captured-house

Another which well repays viewing and includes outstanding sketches by George Butler may be seen on this BBC website and shows extensive video clips with further artists at

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-61347805

Finally, there is this academic discussion relating Ukranian artist’s work with issues of Russian colonialism from Columbia University. It also includes Music and Film.

Categories
politics Psychoanalysis

Fake News: Strivers V. Skivers?

I have been considering two tools of resistance to current orthodoxies during this summer of drought and discontent. Both of these items require listening time and both are deeply engaging if given attention.

The second sound clip was recorded some five years ago and tackles at root the dangers of free market philosophy for mental health. David Bell and David Morgan are two Psychoanalysts who have treated modern cuture to rigorous and liberating scrutiny.

Categories
Book Reviews Literature politics Psychoanalysis Uncategorized

Politics as Theatre; Then and Now

I have read for the second time now an article in the TLS by someone who goes by the name of Docx. This curious appellation reminds me somehow of XTrapnell, a strange character in Antony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time”. In this article, a book review, Docx pins down the theatrical absurdity of Johnson’s manipulation of Parliament and reiterates the latter’s motivation in his illegal prorogation of Parliament. He touches on the psychology of Boris, recently referred to as delusional by the Leader of the opposition and quotes D.W.Winnicott’s notion of the False Self to underline the splits in the man’s psyche. Johnson avoids guilt and the expectation is that paranoia features as his acting becomes increasingly absurd.

This acting resembles the theatre of the absurd which once was called Pataphysics. The loss of meaning which we see in the plays of Beckett and Ionesco is acted out on the floor of the House of Commons. The audience of Conservative MPs are complicit in the act and the opposition, though more in touch with compassion, find it difficult to bring the charade to a meaningful conclusion.

I have just finished reading the most remarkable life story of Richard Brinley Sheridan which is written by the outstanding Irish writer and political commentator, Fintan O’Toole. It is called A Traitor’s Kiss. There are many reasons for recommending this book so I shall confine myself to just three. Firstly, because it so closely illustrates this connection between politics and the theatre. Sheridan’s father, with whom he had a particularly interesting oedipal conflict, taught rhetoric so that Sheridan imbibed and used the power of heightened speech in his drama and in his political speeches. One only need consider the figure of Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals to grasp his power over language. Secondly, O’Toole’s explanation of the basic integrity of Sheridan’s love for Ireland, democracy and far sighted anti-imperialist radicalism is thoroughly illuminating with respect to Eighteenth Century political shenanigans. Thirdly, the biography is imbued with a real feeling for the duelling, the striving for status, the struggle against poverty, the wenching and resulting illegitimacies pursued in the chaotic Regency times. The reader comes away with some understanding of the complexities of both Whig factions and the decide lack of safety considerations within the candlelit Drury Lane theatre.

The article which underlined for me this connection between politics and the theatre was an edited version of a lecture given on behalf of the Voltaire Association in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on March 17th. It was given by the Harvard Professor, Robert Darnton and entitled Despotism Centre Stage- Theatricality and violence in Paris on the eve of revolution. It appeared in the March 25th, 2022 copy of the Literary Supplement and so very fascinating that I have read it several times to appreciate just how the masses in the streets of Paris, the Parlement and the Chatelet Court all became embroiled in a political carnival in which magistrates acted out their remonstrances (a forcefully reproachful protests) with speeches and gestures so that Paris itself became a free for all vaudeville. with the aristocracy and the monarchy as the players caught in a tragedy. Here is a small example of the scenes on the streets leading up to the Revolution:-

For anyone who wishes to hear the lecture itself:-

Watching this which mostly concerns events in 1788, I am reminded too of the dramatic events of the August Coup in 1991in the Soviet Union https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Soviet_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat_attempt

The drama acted out in those few days goes some way towards understanding the current conflict in the Ukraine; Putin’s response to Gorbachev’s reforms over 30 years ago.