“I disapprove of what you say….”

Hands up who knows how this quotation, allegedly by Voltaire, finishes.

I disapprove of what you say.....

That’s right: “….but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It strikes me that this point of view needs repeating and repeating, needs re-examing and needs debating, especially in our modern times.

I read that a group of ‘antifascists, feminists, and people who participate in the class struggle’ felt it was appropriate to disrupt a speech by well-known right-wing M.P. Jacob Rees-Mogg.

I also read that well-known left-wing M.P. Diane Abbott has been receiving ‘sickeningly racist and sexist abuse’.

I have only picked two examples, which seem to me to typify some of the standards of poitical ‘debate’ which are seen as acceptable at the present. I would like to widen the argument to include more censorship issues, including art, film, theatre, music (yes, really) and no doubt others, but you, dear readers, are all intelligent and aware enough to provide your own. Just look up ‘modern examples of left-wing censorship’ or ‘modern examples of right-wing censorship’ on any search engine (more than one is available) if you want more. BEWARE if you have high blood pressure.

In principle, I feel that speech should be free. Something about the basic principles of censorship appals me. If you start to censor anything, where do you stop? Who does the censoring?

I hope you notice that in the course of this confused amble through my thoughts I have avoided expressing any political opinions; unless a basic objection to censorship is political.

I tentatively conclude that free speech is important and that censorship is wrong. Every case where it is advocated should be considered very carefully. (Personally I feel, for example, that nobody should be allowed to advocate violence; but you may well disagree.) It hugely worries me to see free speech of any sort being suppressed.

Footnote 1: The quotation of the title was used by one Evelyn Beatrice Hall to summarise Voltaire’s views; they are not his words.

Footnote 2: An alternative to Voltaire was expressed by Samuel Johnson: “Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” The picture, sharp-eyed people, is of Dr Johnson.

Footnote 3: I also note that the BBC’s political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, needed a bodyguard at the Labour Party conference. Meanwhile, a local politician here in sunny Hampshire was telling me how anti-Conservative Ms Kuenssberg is. When the BBC gets flak from both sides of the political argument (sorry for the warlike metaphor) they must be doing something right.

Advertisements

‘Running Girl’ and ‘Kid Got Shot’ by Simon Mason

These novels were two of the batch I recently received from the Ms O. #1 Lending Library. (See  The Ms Oblique Library )

Running Girl‘Running Girl’ was, to use a hackneyed phrase, a breath of fresh air. I suppose it’s a Young Adult detective story. The main protagonist (why do people seem to frequently say “chief protagonist”?) is Garvie Smith, a disaffected teenage genius. A former girlfriend of his has been murdered and he is, naturally, drawn to find the killer. Detective Inspector Singh has been assigned to the case; he is described as “stiff and uncompromising”. Their two paths intertwine; the story is told from both viewpoints, although Garvie’s predominates.

So far, so standard, and the plot is just that: a standard detection story, with characteristic twists and turns. Why then do I think it’s so fresh? To start with, it’s told well. There’s no gimmicky or attempt at unnecessary  novelty. It can be followed with no difficulty apart from the puzzle itself. Perhaps this is a function of reading a YA detective story after more convoluted adult versions.

Then the characters are involving; I think we always have to have a concern for what happens to characters and to feel some sort of empathy for them. Garvie and Singh are well drawn, rounded people, with their virtues and faults.

The language used, especially in descriptions, is nice and clear. (Yes, I do mean nice.) I like “black holly and pale beech trees darkening with rain” and “his short black hair stood up from his head in a layer of fine bristles”. The author avoids overdoing similes and metaphors or straining for them. The dialogue sounds accurate.

Kid Got ShotIn ‘Kid Got Shot’ we encounter the same principal characters in changed circumstances. The storyline again involves a teenager who is murdered. There is an interesting mix of racial backgrounds; the victim is Polish, and I forgot to mention above that Garvie is mixed Scottish and Barbadian, the detective Singh a Sikh. New characters include a comic but menacing gangster.

Once again the descriptive passages, which normally I skim through in my lust for a plot, are evocative and involving, making me read them more than once. Some noteworthy examples are the description of wire fences chattering in the wind, while “clouds tore  themselves to pieces and tossed the bits against the dark sky”; shredded cherry tree blossoms “like party-coloured fish flakes in the gutters”; and tower blocks like “vast grey Stickle bricks…. sequinned with satellite dishes, standing in a concrete pool”.

There is only veiled mention of sex and some limited violence. This may or may not please you.

There is more emphasis on Garvie and his peculiar, reckless personality than before, perhaps less attention to Singh and Garvie’s friends, less attention to school. There is more plot; is again rather involved and I’m not sure even now that I am completely clear about what led to the murder and the motives for it. There are some loose ends which could be tied up nicely in a third book: How does Garvie get on in his exams? What is the outcome for Singh? I recommend both books.

Did you notice I split an infinitive? Apparently that’s O.K. now. But there are some grammatical rules up with which I will not put. And that’s my last word.

Oblique Aphorisms

Aphorisms, apparently, are pithy observations which contain general truths.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Source unknown

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, expressing in her words the view of Voltaire

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

Samuel Johnson

Samuel_Johnson_by_Joshua_Reynolds_2

Picture of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

 

The management does not necessarily agree with these pithy observations.

“(As a nation, we are) spending money we haven’t got, on things we don’t need, to impress people who don’t care.”

Mr Oblique Senior (aged 91)

“Sometimes, when you get what you want, it doesn’t taste as good as you thought it would.”

East Enders, BBC1

“You never blow your trip forever.”

Daevid Allen

Daevid_Allen

Photograph of Daevid Allen by Ilan Lukatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Water will wear away a stone, but it won’t cook supper.”

Ann Leckie

“Every bad day has an end.”

Ash’s dad

“There are no such things as problems, only opportunities for development.

Mark Oblique

If you wish, you can regard these as gnomic utterances; or you can ponder them as Zen koans; or just ignore them totally.

“We (shops) sell everything you want, but nothing you need.”

Mrs Oblique

“What if the Hokey Cokey really is what it’s all about?”

Source unknown

“The early bird catches the worm- which is great as long as you’re not the worm.”

Our Girl, BBC1

Earlybird_gets_the_worm_(16888219726)

Photograph by Airwolfhound [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Grime: An Oblique View

Grimes

I have been challenged by Mr Oblique Junior to explain why I think he likes the musical genre of Grime. I had intended to write a post about Grime anyway, but this gives me a way to approach it.

Now listen carefully if you don’t know anything about Grime. According to Google, it is “a form of dance music influenced by UK garage, characterised by machine-like sounds”. It is not hip-hop, which features “rap with an electronic backing”; but apparently, our researchers tell us, it “draws influence from dancehall, ragga and hip-hop” (Wikipedia).

Clear? No, of course not. A curse of modern music is the continual argument about what defines a particular genre, to the extent that there have even been fictional genres created and believed. I like the idea of “Progressive Death Country”, although William Gibson was ahead of everybody else with fictional bands “Dukes of Nukem”, “Lo/Rez” and their ilk. No, I won’t explain. Go read William Gibson.

Grime is a particularly English genre. Prominent figures are Stormzy, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal. To appreciate what it is actually like you of course have to listen to it. To me, after some limited exposure, it’s characterised by a very bare, stripped down musical sound, almost minimalist dance music with often clever elements of electronica, with lyrics rapped in what seems to me frequently to be a very slow style across the top. But, as I said, you have to listen to it to appreciate what it is.

What seems to characterise it lyrically is a preoccupation with sex and violence, and usually a focus on the personal life- even the life as a celebrity- of the writer. I am not necessarily referring to any of the artists  named.

There really is in some of it a very dismissive attitude towards women and what really grates on this middle-class, late middle-aged, rather liberal-minded, white male listener is the frequent use of the N-word and the B-word. Oh, go on, you know the words I mean.

I’ll probably keep my f***ing b*****s ’til I’m 49”

goes the lyric I’m being played at the moment. Although that may not be grime, I believe.

“I make her think I love her, so I can f*** her when I want.”

However, to put my point of view was not the aim of this blog. Why does my 21 year old son like Grime?

He is very open about music, and will patiently listen to my choices, to the point of planning to come to a techno gig with us. I wonder if to some extent the fact that I am uncomfortable with the lyrics is a factor in his liking for it. Although we might deny it (I certainly did- but see “An anecdote” below) there is perhaps for all of us a wish to move on from the music of our parents and perhaps to shock them; or just to find something that is our own, and definitely not theirs.

I am sure that this wish is often unconscious, and I am sure that this is not the only reason or the main reason for Mr Oblique Junior liking Grime. The music is very striking, bare, new and challenging. It is a very fresh and young form of music; I wonder if anybody over 30 makes it or really gets it. It’s rebel music for a new generation. I speculate that this is the appeal to him.

So there you are. It is of course about the music, but it’s also about the cultural aspects. Popular music is all about change, and all about moving on from the choices of previous generations. Disco (still don’t really get it), punk (oh yes), and then electronica (definitely) were all new forms of music that moved me on from the rock music of my teenage years. But certainly for me, Grime is beyond the point at which I can understand my children’s choice in music. No, I don’t really understand why Mr O. Jr. likes it. Try asking him.

Please note: I almost certainly don’t understand the nuances of the N word as used in grime and hip-hop. Apparently the spelling, with an -a rather than an -er, makes it acceptable when used by certain groups.

An anecdote: When I was a teenager, I only used to listen to records when my parents were out. When they came back from the shops one day, Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs was concluding a rather noisy feedback guitar solo on that catchy little number, ‘Split Part 4’. My father and I had a very rare parent/ teenager spat:

HIM: Do you call that music?

ME: It’s better music than your silly old Beethoven.

Ho-hum. He did later go in with me on a new hi-fi system we could listen to away from the living room.

 

‘Underworld’ by Don DeLillo

I wanted so much to like this novel, because it was given to me at a special time (see ‘A Literary Wedding‘) and it looked like a special book.

Hopeful anticipation is always in danger of disappointment. I want to consider carefully why it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

It begins with a prologue, set at an epic baseball game in the 1950s. Characters include Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, a radio commentator and a boy playing truant to attend.

Next setting is an art installation in the middle of nowhere, at which redundant aircraft are being painted by volunteers. We meet Nick Shay and start to discover his life; it appears he might be the first-person protagonist of the novel. Themes from the baseball game start to reappear, and I feel I’m getting a grip on it, just. Then Mr de Lillo drops in a chapter where every paragraph is a different part of Nick’s life, and I start to find it wearying.

We encounter the civil rights movement, student protest, nuclear bombs and the Cold War, comedian Lenny Bruce, the baseball from the epic game, The Highway Killer, another possible murder, Jesuits, adultery, chess and a miraculous apparition. Among others. Viewpoints, settings and chronology vary wildly.

It’s a book of epic length, 827 pages in the paperback edition, and soon I started making notes. I’ve done this with Dickens and Tolstoy, to keep track of the characters. With ‘Underworld’ I did it to keep track of the plot.

There is some beautiful writing in it: “They’re all back there in the railroad rooms at the narrow end of the night.” The speech of Italian/ Americans is evocatively written. There are some superb set-piece descriptions, for example of the enormous art intstallation of painted aircraft.

UnderworldI am very aware that I’m not a literary reader; I am primarily plot-driven. I can’t grasp the overall narrative arc (or do I mean plot?) of the story. Is it centred on nuclear warfare? The baseball? A murder? A life- Nick’s? I’ve briefly looked at reviews, which seem universally good, and have seen the novel described as “cinematic”; but this is clearly not plot-driven mainstream cinema. I searched in my mental cultural database for a suitable comparison, and could only come up with the Beatles track ‘Revolution Number 9’, which has a similar repetition of themes, only perhaps without the closer ties of the narrative themes in ‘Underworld’. I am however reminded of other variations of chronological narrative structure, such as ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell as well as books by Martin Amis and Sebastian Faulks. I can’t at the moment think of any that are particularly satisfying. (William Gibson tends to write in trios of chapters, each centered on a particular protagonist, but brings them all together eventually; and there are of course flashbacks in all sorts of novels. I am not familiar with more experiment work; I am not going to attempt James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. As I have remarked before, I am over reading books because I think they will be good for me.)

In the end, I just wanted to get to the end, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book.

Oh, and it’s too big, at least for a paperback. It makes my wrist ache. This is a good reason for Kindles.

Fashion Police Bulletin #3

Before we get going on our latest bulletin, the Fashion Police would just like to clarify their position on gender. That is…. we don’t care about gender. Identify how you like. Dress according to however you see yourself. (And in our humble opinion, unisex toilets would be a very civilising influence on those who identify as male. However, this is moving away from our role as arbiters of good fashion taste.)

Nevertheless, there are many- dare we say a majority- of people who do identify quite clearly with traditional male or female genders. Thus we use these terms when necessary, without implying that they are binding or exclusive, or that you should necessarily dress according to your stated or self-identified gender, if you wish to state it or self-identify it. Indeed, we saw a gentleman (for his beard implied to us that that was how he saw himself) in Southampton the other day in a very fetching dress and make-up. The Fashion Police applaud such individuality and flair.

Colour The Fashion Police find themselves in the happy position of being able to start this bulletin with thorough approval of the brighter shades that are making some sort of a comeback this Spring. This is most evident in shops, and seems to be trickling through to the high street. While it is generally not the Fashion Police’s role to be prescriptive, we thoroughly approve.

Ready-Ripped Clothing We hate to labour a point, but we are very perturbed to find that our views on ripped jeans (see Bulletin #2) have been ignored; in fact that there is evidence of ‘artfully’ ripped tops being for sale. In one horrific example, the holes looked much like bullet holes. Don’t do it (Penalty according to extent of pre-ripping.)

T-shirtWriting on T-shirts The other day we saw a young lady (for that is presumably how she self-identified) with a neat T-shirt, on which was printed the word “……imist”. The dots are to indicate that none of us could see the rest of the word. “Optimist”? “Pessimist”? “Soroptimist”? (We have never worked out what that last one means.) Now we could have stared intently at her chest until we could see the word clearly, but the male members of the Fashion Police felt this was inappropriate. The moral? Please don’t wear a T-shirt with writing on unless you are happy to have people look at your chest. Especially not long texts; some of us are not happy until we have read them all. No penalty; just a word to the wise. (I’ve been dying to use that expression since I heard it on EastEnders the other night.)

Sports Short In a well-known clothing store today there was a banner advertising a “Sports short”. In another part of the store there was a banner advertising “T-shirt and shorts”. Are we missing something? Is a “short” different from a “pair of shorts”? Is this a protest against an archaic use of the word shorts, as a plural for what is now a singular item? Or is it just sloppy thinking? You may well argue that this is totally outside the remit of the Fashion Police. You’d be wrong. Sort it out, P*****k.

Back-to-front Baseball Caps Still? Are they all taking the mickey? After all we have said?

 

My poetic heroes

Roger McGough. Brian Patten. T.S. Eliot. Adrian Mitchell. Robert Graves. Rupert Brooke. And did I mention T.S. Eliot?

What was this straight-seeming chap doing shaking the foundations of poetry; re-making it? He looked like a bank manager, for goodness’ sake. (Hey, fellow pedants, check out the discussions on the web about that apostrophe.)

As usual, I don’t know enough about it. I’m probably talking rubbish. Who cares? It’s my right to write rubbish and your right to ignore it.

But, T.S. Eliot….. “I grow old…. I grow old/ I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.” Just read it. Don’t try to ‘understand’ it.

thomas_stearns_eliot_by_lady_ottoline_morrell_1934