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Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. An Atheist and Secular Critique.

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Review Article. Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2014.

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And who or what shall fill his place?

Wither will wanderers turn distracted eyes

For some fixed star to simulate their pace

Towards the goal of their enterprise?…

Xlll

Some in the background then I saw

Sweet women, men, youths, all incredulous

Who chimed, ‘This is a counterfeit of straw

This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!

XlV

I could not buoy their faith: and yet

Many I had known: with all I sympathised;

And though struck speechless I did not forget

That what was mourned for, I, too, long had prized.

God’s Funeral. Thomas Hardy. (1)

Terry Eagleton introduces Culture and the Death of God by announcing, “This book is less about God than about the crisis occasioned by his apparent disappearance.” He continues, “I start by showing how God survived the rationalism of the eighteenth century, and conclude with his dramatic reappearance in our own supposedly faithless age.” (Page iix) Determined, it appears, to wrong foot one of his most cutting critics, Gregor McLennan, that his ‘theological turn’ simply sets one “static slogan, (God is back) against another (God is dead)” Eagleton turns to cultural and intellectual history (2). That is, a would-be dynamic account, “The history of the modern age is among other things the search for a viceroy for God, reason, nature, Geist, culture, art, the sublime, the nation, the state, science, humanity, Being, Society, the Other, desire, the life force and personal relations: all of these have acted form time to time as forms of displaced divinity.”(Page 44)

Culture and the Death of God is not, then an account of the wider social and individual fortunes of atheism or secularism. The “lived experience” explored by Charles Taylor, the web of changing attitudes in the “move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood as one option among others…” is dismissed (like – initially – Taylor himself) to a footnote. (3) Yet Eagleton is not shy of referring to the loss of “fundamental value” “moral rationales” (some of the deepest parts of feeling) – once offered by religion – in “underlying political power”.

Eagleton’s latest work is not a “sociological” history of faith and secularism at all. It is the story of the, long in coming, installation of “authentic atheism”, resting on the faithless ‘marketplace’ where the Economy is “rank atheist.” Eagleton tries to associate the ‘New Atheism’ with the ‘War on Terror’. The “alarmed liberal intelligentsia” clutching at “Reason, truth, science, progress and objectivity…” in the shape of Sam Harris, might suggest a very literal End of Faith to halt religious violence. That is by a pre-emptive nuclear strike against terrorism. (Page 202)

The Enlightenment.

Culture and the Death of God offers a rapid overview of the Enlightenment. It is informed by a number of secondary works, such as Peter Gay’s classic account of the battles for “freedom”, and its synthesis of the Christian and Pagan heritage, and by Jonathan I. Israel’s more recent studies. The latter distinguished a ‘Radical Enlightenment,” of figures like Spinoza, Bayle. Diderot, based on “toleration, personal freedom, democracy, equality racial and sexual, freedom of expression, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge and a ‘Moderate’ version – Locke, Newton, Hume, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot and Kant, to throw in a few names. Israel commented, “the difference between reason alone and reason combined with faith and tradition..”

Israel traced modern ideas of “personal liberty, comprehensive toleration, equality, sexual and racial and a secular morality of equity” back to this radical strain (5). Eagleton is more interested in its stand on religion. Many, the majority, classed as Auflkärer (the German word he frequently employs) were deists, who had no beef with God, only with Revealed and, institutional religion. “It was religion in this institutional sense that most of the philosphes took as their target.”(Page 7) Indeed, even the most radical sceptics and atheists were frightened of a godless, and ‘thus’ potentially immoral, populace. “The Enlightenment’s assault on religion, then, at root a political rather than theological affair.”(Page 12)

In fact Enlightenment thinkers were not really capable of killing off God even if they had wanted to. The claims of Reason – even, one assumes, Hume’s extreme scepticism ‘Pyrrhonism’ – were curbed, and their overweening ambitions, bootless. “When human reasoning becomes autonomous, it approaches divine status; but a rationalised world is also one in which its presence gradually dwindles, so that he grows remote from rationality and becomes accessible only through faith and feeling. In this sense the other face of rationalism is fideism.”(Page 34)

The French Revolution’s brief radical Dechristianisation, never struck a popular chord. The idea that “patriotism should be the new faith, the Declaration of the Rights of Man its Apostles” did not last long. The Culte de l’Être suprême that followed struck no roots, although the Constitutional Church had some support.  Eagleton does appear close to one of Robespierre thoughts that, “Atheism is aristocratic. The conception of a great being who watches over oppressed innocence and punishes successful crime, is democratic through and through.” Nevertheless, he observes, the  ‘bloodless Supreme Being” could not, nevertheless take the place of the real, and bloodied, thing. (6)

Culture and the Death of God then takes us through a whole series of thinkers – remote from popular culture. The German Idealists tried to repair any split between reason and nature, the romantics went further and reinvented God as nature of culture, incarnate in Nationalism, and by the 20th century (modernist) Culture itself (post-Matthew Arnold) had risen to the empty throne, as the new vice-regent of God. As (falsely) in Eagleton’s eyes, as a source of social cohesion, the “corporate sense of culture” of ultimate value, and transcendence, all have stumbled along, ‘surrogates’ for the divine.

It is hard to take seriously Eagleton’s claim that “None of (these) divine deputies are “graven images of the godhead.” They are “phenomena in their own right, not simply a locum tenas or camouflaged version of something else.” But nearly every page of Culture and the Death of God traces religion in “textual styles of thought, which then unwittingly help to keep divinity alive in a more clandestine way.”(Page 45) So if many ideas do not simply stand in for God, if we look beneath the disguise – from the appearance to the ‘essence’ – we will find some divine contraband.

To cite just two cases. Nietzsche’s views on the ‘death of Man’, to pair with the ‘death of God’ are the condition for the birth of New Humanity. For Eagleton this is “orthodox Christian doctrine” – regardless of his notorious loathing on Christianity. (Page 159) Eagleton also asserts that Marx was “deeply informed by Judeo-Christian thought. It is not here, then, that an authentic atheism is to be found.”(Page 161) And “humanity for Marx is not a self-determining absolute, and so cannot scramble on to the empty throne of its Creator. If Marx is more religious than Nietzsche in some ways, he is less so in others.” (Ibid). In this – shabby – way at least one of the two most notorious atheists in history comes close to a posthumous conversion.

A Theology?

A commonplace – irritating – of some of the faithful is that people cannot really disbelieve in god. To try to do so is to end up with ersatz religion. Culture and the Death of God is not short in finding proof that we cannot do without ‘something’ to fill what Ferdinand Mount has called “an enormous empty space in people’s lives” created by the “the eclipse of a single God-centred explanation.” (7) Perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of these “substitutes” is of George Elliot’s devotion to Duty. A.N. Wilson has cited F.W.H. Myers’ that most beautiful and humane of Ethical novelists, “I seemed to be gazing, like Titus at Jerusalem, on vacant seats and empty halls – on a sanctuary with no presence to hallow it, and heaven left lonely of a God.” (8)

In these, and countless ways, Eagleton tries to demonstrate that  ‘God’ never really died in Western culture – his shadow loomed too large.

Before looking at what Eagleton considers authentic atheism – which does not mourn these sanctuaries – what exactly is his God centred explanation? In a sense only one part of the Godhead plays a role: Christ. Christian faith, he wrote in Reason, Faith and Revolution (2009) is not primarily about whether “there exists a Supreme Being” but “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.” (9)

This is what is presented to us, “The crucifixion proclaims that the truth of human history is a tortured political criminal. It is a message profoundly unacceptable to those sunk in dewy-eyed delusion (idealists, progressives, liberals, reformers, Yea-Sayers, modernisers, socialist humanists though one which as perfectly understood by a Jew like Walter Benjamin. Only if you can gaze on this frightful image without being turned to stone, accepting it was absolutely the last word is there a slim chance that it might not be. This chance is known to the Christian faith as resurrection. To acknowledge this thing of darkness as one’s own discerning in this monstrous image a reflection of oneself and one’s historical condition, is the revolutionary act which the Gospels know as metanoia, of conversion.”(10) Repentance, acceptance of this Revealed Truth, is a commitment to the future, not a submission to the past.

This, then, is the root of a “tragic sense” of religion, “Those who hold suffering and hope most finely in balance – the true tragic protagonists, so to speak – are those who rise up because they have little enough to lose, yet for that reason have the power to transform their condition.” One might call this Faith, a leap into the world itself, through divine grace. (11)

In Culture and the Death of God we learn of the social message contained within. The New Testament “shows no enthusiasm for social consensus. Since it holds that such values are imminently to pass away, it is not greatly taken with standards of civic excellence or codes of good conduct. What it adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that out forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is solidarity with the poor and powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.” (Page 208)

These images of suffering, of the crucifixion, the Passion of the Christ, or the Mel Gibson portrait of the Stations of the Cross, faced with the imminence of the passing of the world, are unlikely to appeal to many a Doubting Thomas. Creating something from what we do not see, on the basis of one writer’s Christology, beyond the range of possible experience (and with little sign of the gentle warmth and kindness of the Redeemer), and putting this at the heart of faith itself, is the purest and most virulent irrationalism. How this will end in “compassionate communities “is a mystery too deep to grasp. One suspects that not many theologians, who have their own rooted human rationality, would follow Eagleton, for all of those twentieth century writers who have made the “scandal” of the crucifixion at the centre of their thought.

Capitalism, Secularism and Fundamentalism.

“Whenever the Almighty seems safely dispatched, he is always liable to stage a reappearance in one disguise or another.”(Page 119)

The economy, for Eagleton, we have noted, is “atheist”. Culture and the Death of God explains, “The faithlessness of advanced capitalism is built into its routine practices. It is not primarily a question of the piety of scepticism of its citizens. The marketplace would continue to behave atheistically even if every one of its actors was a born-again Evangelical.”(Page 196) The coming of Postmodernism – a self no longer coherent enough to need to project itself as God onto the world, has bolstered its faithless character. There is “no Big Other, no grand totality or transcendental signifier.”(Page 190)  It is only now that the whole of Western society is undergoing the real harrowing of atheism.

Yet, “No sooner has a thoroughly atheistic culture arrived on the scene, one which was no longer anxiously in pursuit of that place-holder for God, than the deity himself was suddenly back on the agenda with a vengeance.”(Page 197) A vast list of causes, from the West’s international interventions, globalised capitalism, to social anxiety, anomie and powerlessness, has created a new surge in religion. “Western capitalism, in short, has managed to help spawn not only secularism, but also fundamentalism”. The latter, in its multiple forms, has appeared “as a refuge an a strength for those who feel crushed by its own predatory politics.”(Page 198) “The Almighty, it appears, was not safely nailed down in its coffin after all, He had simply changed address, migrating to the US Bible Belt, the Evangelical churches of Latin America and the slums of the Arab world. And his fan club is steadily increasing.”(Page 199) As a result we have a new ‘grand narrative, “the so-called war on terror.”

Is ‘secularism’ the “spawn” of capitalism? In Inventing the Individual. The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014) Larry Siedentop has argued that its liberal roots, the ‘privatisation’ of individual judgement, lie in Christianity and the importance it places on the individual, not the group, the family, the tribe or the nation. From the grace of faith, to freedom of choice to believe or not, the journey Charles Taylor describes, was not smooth. Secular states – that is not dominated by religious authorities with freedom of belief for all – are the result of a long European ‘civil war’, to establish these freedoms. The left, in the broadest sense of the term, has shouldered much of this struggle. Many believers, particularly from religious minorities, have joined. The fight was not borne forward by those uniquely dedicated to Truth of the Event of the Crucifixion but by those with more modest horizons, the love of their fellows, those dedicated to tolerance and liberty.

That there are those opposed to this ideal, ‘fundamentalists’ is all too clear. The problems they cause, above all from political Islam, are with us now. Eagleton wrote in On Evil “Had the West acted differently in its treatment of certain Muslim nations, it might have escaped at least some of the aggression that is now seeing visited upon it.”(12) But is less than obvious that extremist Islamism would have been killed in the egg, if ‘justice’ to their calls – that is, their demands for a theocracy – a Caliphate – had ever been met. The killers in Pakistan are those whose “radical innovation consist of bringing chaos into being, thus putting creation into reverse. By blowing a black hole in what God has fashioned, he tries to catapult himself into equal terms with him.” (13) What possible ‘justice’ could slake their murderous “death drive”?

Culture and the Death of God is stitched together from a patchwork of intellectual texts. It folds up when it’s placed over the real, the mundane real not the Lacanian Real. It is Eurocentric. The ‘war on terror’ is a thin enough doctrine, but it covers something much deeper. As Fred Halliday pointed out (in 2002), there is an “enormous, long and very violent clash within the Muslim world between those who want to reform and secularise and those who power is threatened or who want to take power in the name of fundamentalism.” (14) Comments about the decentred self of Western capitalism and a “new form of Western cultural supremacism” are, frankly, trivial in comparison with the depth of these clashes. (Page 202)

A Marxist stand, a democratic socialist position, would be to side with the secular intelligentsia, defending religious pluralism, and the working class against the pious Islamist bourgeoisie and the genociders of the Caliphate and Al-Qaeda. But I leave that, vast, issue, hanging.

Eagleton never bothers to distinguish between agnosticism – hard (it is impossible to know that god exists or not), or soft (there is no reason to believe or not to believe in god) – and atheism – god does not exist. Many people who hold to these views simply do not feel the need for religion, have no “religious experience” and have no more divine gaps in their lives than they have a Third Eye. Believers are right to smart at ‘New Atheist’ charges that they are “are thick and/or uneducated “(Ferdinand Mount). There is a great deal of kindness carried out by religious people and we should glory in these acts. To be told that our ideas are either ‘really’ religious and/or Western examples of Western ‘supremicism’ is equally condescending. And we observe that Eagleton’s particular New Left Church stands, on the evidence, with few followers and empty of newly converted sceptics

References.

(1) Cited in God’s Funeral. A.N. Wilson. John Murray. 1999. This is a much more humane and intelligible account of the loss of faith, and the ‘bereavement ’ felt by Victorians at this, than Eagleton’s lofty pamphlet.

(2) Mr Love and Justice. Gregor McLennan. New Left Review Second Series. 64. 2010.

(3) Page 3. A Secular Age. Charles Taylor. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2007.

(4). The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 1. The Rise of Modern Paganism. Vol. 2. The Science of Freedom. Peter Gay. W.W.Norton. 1977 (1966). Page 4 Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670 – 1752. Jonathan I. Israel. Oxford University Press. 2006

(5) Page 869. Jonathan I. Israel op cit.

(6) Page 266. Fatal Purity. Robespierre and the French Revolution. Ruth Scurr.Chatto and Windus. 2006. See also Religion and Revolution in France. 1780 – 1804. Nigel Aston. Macmillan. 2000. For Aston Robespierre and the Jacobins’ Supreme Being did have supporters but for the majority, worshiping this deity was “like taking an ice-maiden for bedfellow…”(Page 274)

(7) Page 215. Full Circle. How the Classical World Came Back to us. Ferdinand Mount. Simon & Shuster. 2010.

(8) Pages 151 to 152. A.N. Wilson. Op cit.

(9) Page 37. Reason, Faith and Revolution. Reflections on the God Debate. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2009.

(10) Pages xxvii – xxviii. Terry Eagleton Presents Jesus Christ. The Gospels. Verso 2007.

(11) Page 272. The Trouble with Strangers. Terry Eagleton. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

(12) Pages 157 – 8 On Evil. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2010.

(13) Page 97 Holy Terror. Terry Eagleton. Oxford 2005.

(14). Page 46. Two Hours that Shook the World. Fred Halliday, Saqi Books. 2002

See also: Eagleton, Terry (19 October 2006). “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching. London Review of Books.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Pegida: a German Right-Wing Anti-Foreigner Populism Emerges

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Deutschland PEGIDA Demonstration in Dresden

10,000 – 15,000 people  marched on Monday the 15th of December  through the eastern German city of Dresden in an anti-Islamisation demonstration.

The march was the largest yet for the far-right populist PEGIDA movement.

This demonstration and its background were given great prominence in le Monde yesterday (En Allemagne, le discours raciste se banalise). Le Monde emphasised how the numbers attending weekly marches have grown and grown.

The media had not brought up the eternal ‘German neo-Nazism’ hook but the result of the emergence of a growing anti-immigrant/migrant movement in the Germany, a country that has hitherto been immune to the appeal of UKIP/Front National politics. In other words xenophobia knows no European political borders.

The first signs of these developments was in the rise of  Alternative für Deutschland.

“Alternative for Germany received 4.7% of the vote in the September 2013 federal election, narrowly failing the 5% threshold for representation.The party won 7 of Germany’s 96 seats for the European Parliament in the 2014 European election, and joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group in June 2014. The party exceeded forecasts in gaining its first representation in state parliament elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia during 2014.”

The party is anti-Euro and against any transfer of sovereignty to the European Union. Its anti-immigration policies, and its ‘socially conservative’ (that is, reactionary) social stand, marks it even more firmly on the hard right.

Commentators (including Le Monde) observe an “overlap” between the AfD and PEGIDA,

 Der Speigel is one of many media outlets to cover the story  including those in the UK (Guardian)

15,000 march in anti-Islamisation PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) demonstrations in Dresden.

A record number of demonstrators turned out on Monday to march in support of the far-right populist PEGIDA group. The name loosely translates to “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West.”

“The people are with us!,” the group’s founder Lutz Bachmann shouted at the crowd. Monday’s turnout was 50 percent greater than that of a week ago. The rallies started in October in response to clashes between Kurds and Sunni Muslims over the West’s intervention in Syria.

But the nationalist group has largely been protesting over the immigration system in Germany, which has become Europe’s number one destination for asylum seekers – whose lands of origin include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as several African and Balkan nations.

The emergence of the movement has stunned politicians, one of whom – Ralf Jäger, the Social Democratic (SPD) interior minister for North Rhine Westphalia state – described PEGIDA’s members as “neo-Nazis in pinstripes.” While some neo-Nazis have been seen among the crowds, those gathered have mostly been disenchanted citizens.

More than 1,200 police kept a close watch on the non-violent crowds. Nearby, about 6,000 counter-protesters – made up of civic, political and church groups – marched under the banners “Dresden Nazi-free” and “Dresden for All.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the wave of PEGIDA marches and cautioned Germans against falling prey to xenophobic “rabble rousing.”

An associated right-wing BOGIDA protest took place in the western city of Bonn on Monday. While approximately 300 of the group’s supporters turned up, they were met by 2,000 counter demonstrators who called for peace and tolerance.

Der Spiegel.

Taz carries more details about Pegida’s opponents whose counter-demo moblised 5.500.

Reaktionäre Verrohung Europas!

The report by Michael Bartsch says that in response one marcher said that the threat was not the Islamisation of the West, but that of a reactionary and barbaric continent ( „Es droht nicht eine Islamisierung des Abendlandes, sondern eine reaktionäre Verrohung Europas!“) He notes however that this alliance against Pegida is “fragile” – it is composed of many very diverse groups, from the ‘anti-dogmatic’ far left, migrant and asylum groups, human rights organisations, religious bodies, to the established parties. The first group, prominent over years of anti-fascist activism, cannot easily co-operate with the later, particularly the governing CDU one of whose representatives, Martin Gillo, turned up at the end of their march.

British Conservatives.

This (from Wikipedia) relating to  the way the Tories have reacted to the rise of AfD is interesting:

During David Cameron‘s prime ministerial visit to Germany in April 2013, the British Conservative Party is reported to have contacted both Alternative for Germany and the Free Voters to discuss the possibility of cooperation, which was supported by the European Conservatives and Reformists group of the European Parliament.

In June 2013, Bernd Lucke gave a well attended question and answer session organised by the Conservative allied Bruges Group think tank in Portcullis House, London.

ConservativeHome, a British political website, viewed the AfD’s policies as, “wholly unremarkable,” in response to the AfD’s more cautious reception among the German public. The website also voiced the opinion that the party shouldn’t be compared to the UK Independence Party which calls for a British exit from the EU. According to the conservative grassroots site the AfD’s policies are much closer to those of the British Conservatives, who also reject the euro and wish to implement reform of the EU.

The Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan was speculated to have been advocating for the British Conservatives and AfD to link following the 2014 EU elections via the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists with possible membership in the EU parliament grouping European Conservatives and Reformists, which was formed after the Conservatives withdrew from the European Democrats sub group of the European People’s Party, to which Angela Merkel’s CDU belong.

Some British Conservatives such as Timothy Kirkhope were more reluctant to be seen as too openly courting the AfD, should it damage relations with Angela Merkel’s CDU, which they speculated could hinder attempts by the Conservative Party to renegotiate treaties before a proposed referendum on British EU membership in 2017. Hans-Olaf Henkel stated that the AfD had heard rumours that Angela Merkel had told David Cameron to keep his distance from the party during the run-up to the 2014 European Election.

Response from the political journalist Andrew Gimson writing at ConservativeHome was broadly positive about the possibility of the Conservatives working with AfD. Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome has also been welcoming towards cooperation with AfD, playing down the risks that cooperation would affect the relationship between David Cameron and Angela Merkel.

Before the European Election Bernd Lucke had been in talks with the Czech and Polish parties of ECR, but acknowledged the concerns the British Conservatives had about the admission of the AfD into the group.

Films and Books of the Year.

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Film of the Year.

Films.

Leviathan.

A “2014 Russian drama film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, co-written by Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, and starring Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, and Vladimir Vdovichenkov. A modern reworking of the Book of Job, the film is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.”

It is profound, shot with enormous clarity, disturbing, deeply moral and political. Vladmir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church must loathe it from the bottom of their hearts.

Deux Jours, une nuit.

A social drama by the Dardenne brothers – with great fineness: Ken Loach without the didactic miserablism. 

“In Seraing, an industrial town of Liège in Belgium, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is a young wife and mother, who works in a small solar-panel factory. She suffers a nervous breakdown and is forced to take time off from her job. During her absence, her colleagues realize they are able to cover her shifts by working slightly longer hours and the management proposes a €1,000 bonus to all staff if they agree to make Sandra redundant. Sandra later returns to work and discovers that her fate rests in the hands of her 16 co-workers, and she must visit each of them over the course of a weekend to persuade them to reject the monetary bonus. However, most of the co-workers need the proposed bonus for their own families and Sandra faces an uphill battle to keep her job before the crucial vote on Monday morning.”

Grand Budapest Hotel.

The film is ” written and directed by Wes Anderson and inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig.

“Located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka,[ a European alpine state[ravaged by war and poverty, the Young Writer (Jude Law) discovers that the remote mountainside hotel has fallen on hard times. Many of its lustrous facilities are now in a poor state of repair, and its guests are few. The Writer encounters the hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), one afternoon, and they agree to meet later that evening. Over dinner in the hotel’s enormous dining room, Mr. Moustafa tells him the tale of how he took ownership of the hotel and why he is unwilling to close it down.”

The colours and decor alone are worth the viewing.

Ida.

“Polish-Danish drama film directed by Polish-British Paweł Pawlikowsk.”

“In 1960s Poland,Anna, a young novice nun, is told by her prioress that before her vows can be taken, she must visit her family. Anna travels to her aunt Wanda, a heavy-drinking judge and former prosecutor associated with the Stalinist regime, who dispassionately reveals that Anna’s actual name is Ida Lebenstein, and that her parents were Jewish and were murdered during the war. Ida decides she wants to find their resting place. She and Wanda embark on a journey that both sheds light on their past and decides their futures.”

Agata Trzebuchowska as the Nun, Ida, is luminous.

Pride.

“Based on a true story, the film depicts a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984, at the outset of what would become the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign.The National Union of Mineworkers was reluctant to accept the group’s support due to the union’s public relations’ worries about being openly associated with a gay group, so the activists instead decided to take their donations directly to Onllwyn, a small mining village in Wales — resulting in an alliance between the two communities. The alliance was unlike any seen before but was successful.

Succeeds in showing everything that is good about this country and our labour movement. Memorable.

Books.

Out of Time. The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing. Lynne Segal. Verso.

“Perhaps one of the most affecting portrayals of love ever filmed is that of an elderly couple in the film L’amour (2012). The scenario of the aftermath of a beloved’s stroke unfolds with unbearable tenderness. Lynne Segal also sings of the wonder and warmth of friendship, touching, of sexual intimacy, and of sadness. Out of Time pleads for communication between generations. Its pages transmit a wealth of feeling, knowledge and reflection…”

(From, Tendance Coatesy.)

Fatherland. Nina Bunjevrc. Jonathan Cape.

A ‘graphic novel’, though since I first came across the form in France I will always think of them as ‘bandes desinées.” It is a tale of a Croatian nationalist father, the former Yugoslavia, Canada, family strife, and terrorism. It is personal, thought-provoking and sharply illustrated.

Jean Jaurès, Gilles Candar & Vincent Duclert. Fayard.

On the 100th anniversary of assassination of the founder of modern French socialism, Jean Jaurès, this is a welcome biography. Candar and Duclert have due reverence for the ‘legend of Jaurès’ – he showed great courage and political inspiration, the research that clarifies the historical and intellectual background (French republicanism and the splintered socialist left) of his life and political career, as a journalist, an activist, a leading member of the Second (Socialist) International and a Parliamentarian.

The authors are not afraid to look into Jaurès’ hesitations at the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair, his highly traditional cultural approach (including towards his wife and family), his “patriotic internationalism”, and his belief (bizarre for a democratic socialist, in modern eyes), that in the French Revolutionary Assembly he would have say “au côté” of Robespierre.

There is a chronology and bibliographical list and guide.

The founder of the (still published) daily l’Humanité and the first united French Socialist Party (1906 – section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO) cannot, naturally, be resumed in one single study. I am still working through literature by and related to Jaurès.

The Establishment. And how they get away with it. Owen Jones. Allen Lane

“As its mostly favourable reviewers have described it, The Establishment is a thoughtful and through exploration of the world of “powerful”, who “manage democracy”. This “oligarchy”, a self-selecting elite, as Ferdinand Mount has described it, it is one profoundly changed since the 1980s (The New Few or a Very British Oligarchy. 2012) To Jones it’s “politicians who make laws, media barons who set the terms of debate; business and financers who run the economy; police forces that enforce a law which is rigged in favour of the powerful.” What ties them together is a belief in their own rightness that they are “worth” their positions.”

(From,Tendance Coatesy.)

Boyhood Island. Karl Ove Knausgaard. Harvill and Seeker.

The third instalment of Knausgaard’s autobiographical panorama it marks a change of scene. Growing up on an Island off the coast of Norway, it is, as readers of the previous novels would expect, not an always joyful romp. It is very far from the experience of Holden Caulfied (or at least what I hear about Catcher in the Rye – I’ve not read it), and certainly François Sorel (le Grand Meaulnes – which I did read as a teen). If the novel is to be believed Norwegian young people seem to have an awkward adolescence close to the British one (and no doubt many of us in modern Europe).

A bonus is that Boyhood Island is translated into colloquial British English – which is appropriate given the previous sentence.

Worst book of the Year:

Revolution. Russell Brand. Century.

Everyone that matters has already torn this to shreds. I would add that not only does he refer to the Situationist Guy Debord as a “clever clogs”, to the wisdom of Swamis and God’s fairy chains in the stars, but that Brand employs (once, but it’s enough) the abomination of abominations – the verb got in the present perfect with the American participle “gotten”.

You can read more about Tendance Coatesy, Coates and all of his works on this,

Saturday Interview: Andrew Coates

Kim Kardashian: Delta Quadrant Endorses Left Unity.

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Kim Kardashian tweets picture of her big bum

Left Unity’s Delta Quadrant Section Back Kim.

In a shock move the Delta Quadrant section of Britain’s fastest growing left group, Left Unity, endorsed the controversial party’s resolution on support for feminist icon Kim Kardashian.

“As members of the vast expanding Delata quadrant we cannot stand idly by when our comrades are attacked.

Komrade Kim has the nicest bum in the Sol system.

As the biggest arse on your planet, Richard Seymour has said, she’s a “real tasty chic”.

In solidarity.”

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm

The Fate of Iranians as Regime Continues to Crack Down.

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Ghoncheh Ghavami

I have just finished the fine Iranian novel by Parinoush Saniee   the Book of Fate.

It is the story, that begins in the 1970s,  of Massoumeh, a young woman from a pious family (originally based in Qum). She meets  Saiid, an assistant at the local pharmacy, and falls in love, or has a crush, on him. When their letters are discovered her  brothers, in a rage, beat her. To remove the ‘shame’ and keep their family’s ‘honour’ she is forced her into a face-saving marriage.

Her family are not monsters, they can be loving and kind. Father and Mother allow  Massoumeh to turn down unsuitable partners. She is wed  to  Hamid, a graduate, who respects women, and encourages her to continue her education (in night school and later in university). Hamid is involved with a communist group that is deeply involved in the movement against the Shah. They have high hopes.

Massoumeh reads poetry and novels and, the revolutionary tracts and books circulating in Hamid’s circle. When Hamid is imprisoned, she manages to bring up two boys and a daughter independently by working in an office.

The coming of the Islamic republic does not free Massoumeh: she is purged from her work and prevented from completing her university studies because of her husband’s background (and one of her sons, who is linked to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq) . She herself is seen as “un-Islamic”.

Saniee does not hide the faults of the Iranian left, who thought they would take power violently from the Islamists, or the  numbing effect of the fall of the official Communism on those who placed their faith in the Soviet Union. It is, in the best sense, a humanist novel, which people can read in many different ways.

I stop there (the novel sweeps gracefully over a whole life, friends and family)  because one thing struck me in the report below: under the Shah Hamid is sent to Evin prison to be starved, beaten and humiliated. 

 Ghavami has been sent to the same gaol.

A British-Iranian woman detained in Iran for trying to watch a volleyball game has been sentenced to one year in a notorious prison, according to her family and lawyer.

Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, a law graduate from London, was found guilty of spreading “propaganda against the regime” following a secret hearing at Tehran’s revolutionary court.

Ghavami has been detained for 127 days in prison since being arrested on 20 June at Azadi (“Freedom” in Farsi) stadium in Tehran where Iran’s national volleyball team was scheduled to play Italy. Although she had been released within a few hours after the initial arrest she was rearrested days later.

…….

Iman, from London, said he hoped his sister would be moved to another wing of the notorious Evin prison, where she has been held since June in relative solitary confinement in a jail known for housing high-profile political prisoners and activists.

He said: “She will be in the same prison but we hope she’s going to be transferred to a general section of it where she can interact with other people because now she’s being held in solitary confinement. It’s hell for everyone who is kept there.”

Guardian.

This is the Iranian Islamic Republic.

This is Islamic ‘law’.

The  ‘honour’ of Massoumehes is  protected…

And they even dare to say this,

After acid attacks and execution, Iran defends human rights record.

“Iranian officials attacked the latest United Nations report on its human rights record Friday, blasting what they called efforts to impose a Western lifestyle on the Islamic republic.” (November the 2nd)

Written by Andrew Coates

November 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Hackney, Independent Hipster Republic: New Left Strategy.

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SmKNNke

Innovative Hipster Green Transport.

Faced with the meltdown of British politics the left needs new thinking.

As a service to the movement Tendance Coatesy presents extracts from this (leaked) document, which will be discussed as policy by the Left Unity Party and the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) at their forthcoming conferences.

“The success of comrade Alex Salmond in Scotland and the rise of UKIP shows the need for radical changes in left policies.

Drawing on the best social democratic traditions of the SNP, Beppe Grillo (MoVimento Cinque Stelle), and Lyndon LaRouche Left Unity and the LRC must take steps to change, fo’ shizzel.”

“Our programme begins with the Hipster base of the new vanguard of leftward moving masses.”

“Hackney is Amazeballs, totes!”

But what do we have?

Shit, dude, my bad’

The Independent ‘ipster Republic of Hackney – confederated with the Scottish Radical Independence Campaign – aims to change this.

Our borough is a fest burg – free from the control of the Westminster Monarchy and her Labour, Tory and Liberal political elite.

Our policies include:

  • Promoting  reuse: recycled hamsters, lucozade and taurine drinks in gourds.
  • Niche products: bladderwrack steak and absinthe flavoured chips.
  • A new University of Gerry Healy Studies – with no student fees!
  • Free crystal therapy care.
  • Promoting Hipster Hygiene in a new public baths. Though hipsters participate in the no shampoo and no soap movement, most keep clean with olive oil scrapers.
  • Cuneiform – the original writing form destroyed by Orientalists – to be taught in all schools.
  • Promoting ‘ipster enterprise:

hfs6ytt

How we will we pay for this?

Taking a leaf out of the SNP’s book we plan to offer an attractive package to socially aware and smartly ironic City enterprises to relocate in Hackney with a 20% reduction in all taxes.

Negotiations are underway with Donald Trump to build hipster golf courses on Hackney marshes.

We plan to stand and support no candidates in any elections.

But we will issue the following mordant campaign song,

“Wiv a ladder and some glasses, you can see to ‘ackney marshes, if it wasn’t for the ‘ipsters in-between!”

France, Demonstrator Killed Protesting at Sivens Dam Project.

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Photo : Florine Galéorn/AFP

 Death in Protest at Sivens Dam.

Opponents of  an expensive dam  project, which they will only serve to irrigate the lands of a small number of farmers practising intensive agriculture, gathered in force at Sivens over the weekend.

They included environmentalists, anarchists (autonomists)  and supporters of left parties.  Noel Mamere (Green Party) José Bové (Green and Confédération paysanne) , and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Parti de gauche),

The body of a man was discovered by police on the night of Saturday 25 to Sunday 26 October at the dam site, where clashes took place Saturday on the sidelines of the mobilisation.

“An investigation was opened under the authority of the Attorney Mr Albi to determine the cause of death and the identity of the victim,” a statement from the prefecture announced.

According to a source close to the investigation quoted by AFP, “a  man of around  thirty years old was one of those who were in the middle of the clashes”

The official, who managed onsite operations police during confrontations on Saturday night, said  seven members of the security forces were injured but firefighters had reported during in the evening that there had been no injuries i amongst the demonstrators.

According to Lieutenant-Colonel, “100-150 and hooded anarchists dressed in black threw incendiary devices” and other projectiles at police surrounding a mobilization of “2000” opponents. The majority of the protest remained peaceful, he stated.

“The police used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets,” the officer added.

Since the beginning of works on September the 1st,  skirmishes and rallies have multiplied around the site of the dam – which will create a reservoir that should store  1.5 million m3 of water.  This water retention project is supported by the General Council of the Tarn, which asserts that it is necessary to irrigate the surrounding farmland and that another wetland will be recreated.

 

Adapted from today’s L’Humanité 

A critical official report on the construction project by the Ministre de l’Energie was made public this morning. (France-Info)

” The choice of a dam was made “without any real analysis of possible alternatives. And” this is all the more regrettable that the investment cost compared to the stored volume is high. “The assessment of its need was carried out on the basis of  ” old data and standards,” which led to “overstatements.” And the study presented of the dam’s impact was ‘very average’.

The least one can say is that the report,  written by two specialist engineers, is highly critical of the Sivens dam project.  Amongst other grievances, serous financial problems were raised, or rather the issue of the project’s  “compatibility with the rules of the EAFRD (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) and the regulations on  on state aid”. These could lead, the report suggests, to an even “more severe interpretation” (than this report) by the  European Union.

 A long article in Le Monde on Saturday (Tensions dans le Tarn, où le barrage de Sivens attise la guerre de l’eau) described the influence of the industrial agricultural lobby behind the dam project. It noted that the water will be used for the large-scale cultivation of crops such as maize.  The author suggested that nobody but these farmers would benefit.

Apart from denouncing the  immediate environmental damage (to several rare species of animals, plants and insects), opponents have been mobilised to protest at the Sivens dam as the symbol of an obsolete model of agricultural production.

Today the former minister of Ecology,  Delphine Batho (Socialist) has denounced (le Monde)  the violence of “certain groups” in the protests. But she has also called for a return to the “Moratorium” which she instituted on such projects.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm